Origin of the Words Pandyan and Madurai

Inia Pandian

TAMIL TRIBUNE, June 2002 (ID.2002-06-04)

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1. Pandyan

2. Madurai

1. Pandyan

Pandyan is the name of one of the three royal dynasties that ruled Tamil Nadu. Pandyan was the oldest of the three dynasties. The kingdom ruled by this dynasty was called Pandya Nadu. Even today some people in Kanya Kumari District (the southern-most district of Tamil Nadu) use the name "Pandy" to refer to the neighboring Thirunelveli District. What is today Kanya Kumari District was originally part of Pandya Nadu. Then it became part of Chera Nadu (ruled by the Cheran Dynasty). Chera Nadu became Malayalam country, one of which was the Travancore Kingdom. Kanya Kumari was part of Travancore until the mid 1950s. At that time it was transferred from Travancore to Tamil Nadu (or Madras State as it was called in the 1950s).

A friend told me recently that the book "A New History of India (Fourth Edition)" by S. Wolpert states that the name Pandyan came from the Aryan name Pandu. Pandu was a principal character in the Aryan epic Mahabharatam. This is not correct. Pandya dynasty precedes the time frame of the Mahabharatam epic. The Pandya dynasty has been referred to in the context of Mahabharatam.

The noted Tamil Scholar and linguist Devaneyan (popularly known as Pavanar or Devaneya Pavanar) states that the word Pandyan came from the Tamil root Pandy. Pandy means big or strong. Even today, a grossly overweight man is referred to as, rather derisively, Pandyan. So the dynastic name Pandyan means a strong dynasty. The name Pandyan is purely Tamil in origin and not of Aryan origin. 

2. Madurai

Madurai was the capital of the Pandyan kingdom. It is today the headquarters of Madurai District in Tamil Nadu.

Some people think that the name Mudurai came from the name of the northern, Aryan city Madura. Again, Devaneya Pavanar provides a more rational root for the name. According to him, it came from the Tamil word mathi (moon). It is noteworthy that the celestial symbol of the Pandyan dynasty was the moon. (The celestial symbol of the Chola dynasty was the sun.) 

Mathi---> Mathirai ---> Mathurai (Madurai)

The word Mathirai originating from the word "mathi" is natural. See for example,

Kuthi ----> Kuthirai

Kuthi is the Tamil word for jump, and kuthirai means horse (an animal that jumps).

Over time, the name Mathirai changed to Mathurai (Madurai).

EDITOR'S NOTE: Some Tamil names are spelled differently by different authors. Some common spellings of Tamil names used in this article are given below.

Kanya Kumari - Kanyakumari

Madurai - Mathurai

Pandyan - Pandian

Pavanar - Paavaanar, Paavanar

Thirunelveli - Tirunelveli

[SUMMARY: Languages and linguistics: Tamil, Sanskrit etymology (origin of words) from Paavaanar Devaneyan's books.]


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