Swept off its feet, literally
T. A. SRINIVASAN
Capitals were lost and rivers buried as giant waves hit the coast of ancient Tamil land.
DECEPTIVELY CALM: The Rameswaram Express passing the Pamban Bridge.
``Tsunami" as the deluge that shook the southern part of the country, is called, is not something new as far as Tamil Nadu is concerned. Ancient Pandya Nadu was literally swept off its feet, not once, but twice in the pre-Christian era, as revealed by Tamil literature, a fact confirmed by historians.
The first flood was believed to have struck the Tamil Nadu coast around 500 B.C., and the second 200 years later. As a result the Pandyas lost their capital cities `Then Madurai' in the first sea-swell and Kapadapuram in the second and vast areas, 49 Naadus to be specific and two rivers.
Scholars call this catastrophe `Kadal Koll.' The term, however, is not found in the Tamil Lexicon published by a band of scholars under the leadership of the late S. Vaiyapuri Pillai in the 1920s under the auspices of the Madras University.
The phenomenon is referred to as `Kadarperukku,' which seems to be more apt. `Koll,' according to the Lexicon, means planet.
Sangam literary work, `Kalithogai' (Mullaikkali, verse number 4) calls it `Kadal vowal.' The poem says that when tidal waves swept away his land, the Pandyan monarch did not despair, but forged ahead into the territories of Cheras and Chozhas and brought the invaded country under his sway, thus making good the loss of territory due to the sea-swell.
`Silappadikaram' describes the destructive tidal wave as the vengeful retort of a vanquished sea, smarting under an earlier victory over it, traditionally attributed to an earlier Pandyan potentate. Kadal Vadimpalampa Nindra Pandyan, was said to have thrown his spear towards the sea. The sea retaliated by swallowing a large area including Pahruli river and Panmalai Adukkam.
The first sea-swell took place during the reign of King Kadunkon and it not only swallowed his capital, Then Madurai, but also vast areas. The king moved northwards and set up his new capital, Kapadapuram, which literally means the gateway. It was at Then Madurai that the Pandyan kings Kaisinavazhudhi to Kadunkon set up the first Tamil academy known as Mudhal Tamil Sangam which saw the lauch of many works including ``Mudhu Naarai," ``Mudhu Kurugu" and ``Kalariyavirai." All of them were lost during the sea-swell.
It was in the second Tamil academy that Tholkappiyam was dedicated to the public by its author, Tholkappiyar. According to scholars like Dr. Thamizhannal, the fact that three Tamil academies were set up between 1000 B.C. and 200 A.D. indicates that the sea-swells might have rocked the Tamil country sometime during these 1,200 years.
Rich and beautiful
The second capital of the Pandya kings is also mentioned in Valmiki Ramayanam as `Pandya Kapadakam,' city rich and beautiful. This great city was also swallowed by the sea during the reign of Mudathirumaran. The king, who was searching for a suitable site for the new capital by set up a temporary headquarters at Manavur, near Madurai, which is identified with the present Manalur near Madurai on the road to Rameswaram. The king felt that they had lost two capitals as they were situated close to the coast and hence decided to set up the new capital in interior land.
Madurai was chosen as the capital with the ancient Siva temple there and as the nucleus of activities. The king named the city Madurai after the capital he lost to the sea.
The commentator of the Silappadikaram, Adiyarku Nallar, mentions two rivers which were lost during the deluges, Pahruli and Kumari. Dr. U. Ve. Saminatha Iyer, in his glossary to the epic says that these were two rivers, which were lost during the sea-swell along with many areas. Adiyarku Nallar says that in the submerged Then Madurai, 89 Pandya kings ruled patronising the Tamil academies and of them seven kings were poets themselves.
IN RUINS: Poompuhar.
All these only prove the point that the ancient Tamil country protruded into the Indian Ocean far beyond the present Kanyakumari, below the southern limit of the present Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka also lost vast territory in the south during these sea-swells, according to `Mahavamsam' and `Rajavali.'
While the two major deluges reduced Tamil Nadu to its present size, minor turbulences swallowed cities like Poompuhar, Korkai and Kadalmallai (Mahabalipuram) that existed on the eastern coast. All these had passed into pages of history.
The `tsunami' has thus been visiting the Tamil coast from time to time in the past two centuries. On December 31, 1881, a tidal wave attacked the then Madras and Pamban island due to the earthquake in Car Nicobar islands and another on June 26, 1941, again on Madras and Pamban due to tremors in the Andamans.
The tidal wave of December 23, 1964, washed away the Pamban rail bridge and reduced Dhanushkodi to a ghost town. Only it was a cyclone that man knew about whereas the tsunami of December 26 was unprecedented, at least in recent times.
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