Facebook icon
Twitter icon
e-mail icon

Tamil civilisation - is it the oldest?

Article Author: 


It may be timely to pose the question of as from when did Tamil civilisation exist. The tsunami of December 26, 2004 vividly demonstrated the destructive force of tidal waves and what havoc the attendant deluges could cause. It was, however, not unknown to the ancient Tamils who occupied southern India from that time. Their traditions refer to extensive lands submerged in the remote past that had once existed in the Indian Ocean, south of Kanya Kumari or Cape Comorin. They had indeed a word for such happenings. They called it kadatkol - meaning the sea devouring the land.

The name of the lost lands is Kumari Kandam. At the time of those inundations, they were home to a high Tamil civilisation that hosted the First and Second Tamil Sangams or Acadamies of Advanced Learning. The Tamil language and literature as well as the philosophy and culture were cultivated and fostered through such Sangams. The works of these two Sangams were lost when the cities in which they were created were submerged by such inundations. Though the tradition of these Tamil Sangams and the deluges which destroyed them lived on, there was no historical evidence forthcoming to back them until very recently.

Recent Developments

The current state of play as known to history, until the recently emerging evidence, is that the history of the Tamils is said to begin in the pre-historic or more acceptably in the proto-historic period of about 500 BC. Tamil / Dravidian culture associated with the megalithic sites in places such as Adichanallur (more correctly Adityanallur) in the Tinnevely District of Tamilnadu and across the Palk Straits in Pomparippu in north-western Ilankai/ Sri Lanka are regarded by historians / archaeologists as belonging to the Dravidian peoples of whom the Tamils at that time were their first and foremost representatives.

Those finds from Adichanallur though dated earlier to be around 300 BC have now been shown to date back to 1,700 BC, following the currently ongoing excavations with advanced dating techniques. The archaeologists, studying the inscriptions on stones and artefacts, reported recently on that basis that Tamil civilisation existed more than 4,000 years ago. They went on to say that Tamil / Dravidian civilisation which began in present day Tamilnadu spread to the other parts of the world from there, as they considered Adichanallur to be the cradle of Tamil civilisation. Linguistic data of Tamil and other existing Dravidian langages too support only a movement from south to north of the spread of those languages, as Tamil is shown to be their parent language.

This present state of knowledge has however received a startling knock from another quarter with the recent underwater archaeological finds relating to the lost Tamil continent of Kumari Kandam. For what those discoveries reveal, though at the presnt moment only the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, has been uncovered, is the existence of a lost continent and lost cities in an antediluvian era stretching back before the melt-down of the Last Ice Age and the inundations of those lands.

The evidence thus far reveals the existence of man-made structures twenty-three metres beneath the sea, five kilometres off the Tarangambadi- Poompuhar coast near Nagapattinam in South India. Its existence at such a depth is calculated as having taken place over many thousand years ago. This ties in with the geological evidence of such happenings at that time as well as the Tamil traditions of the first two Tamil Sangams referred to earlier.

The unfolding archaeological and geological evidence is proving to be the historical validation that Tamil civilisation which reached a high-point during those two Tamil Sangams had their beginnings 11,000 years ago or circa 9,000 BC. What is the evidence currently available, be it archaeological, geological or other which will substantiate the Kumari Kandam tradition?

Literary Evidence

According to th Kumari Kandam tradition, over a period of about just 11,000 years, the Pandyans, a historical dynasty of Tamil kings, formed three Tamil Sangams, in order to foster among their subjects the love of knowledge, literature and poetry. These Sangams were the fountain head of Tamil culture and their principal concern was the perfection of the Tamil language and literature. The first two Sangams were not located in what is now South India but in antediluvian Tamil land to the south which in ancient times bore the name of Kumari Kandam, literally the Land of the Virgin or Virgin Continent.

The first Sangam was head-quartered in a city named Then-madurai (Southern Madurai). It was patronised by a succession of eighty-nine kings and survived for an unbroken period of 4,400 years during which time it approved an immense collection of poems and literature. At the end of that golden age, the First Sangam was destroyed when a deluge arose and Then-madurai itself was swallowed by the sea along with large parts of the land area of Kumari Kandam.

However, the survivors, saving some of the books, were able to relocate further north. They established a Second Sangam in a city called Kavatapuram which lasted 3,700 years. The same fate befell this city as well, when it too was swallowed by the sea and lost forever all its works with the sole exception of the Tolkappiyam, a work on Tamil grammar. Following the inundation of Kavatapuram, the survivors once again relocated northward in a city identified with modern Madurai in Tamilnadu, then known as Vada-madurai (Northern Madurai). The Third Sangam lasted for a period of 1850 years and most scholars agree that that Sangam terminated around 350 AD.

Literary evidence of the lost continent of Kumari Kandam comes principally from the literature of the Third Tamil Sangam and the historical writings based on them. Many of them refer to the lost Tamil lands and to the deluges which ancient peoples believed had swallowed those lands. The Silappathikaram, a well known Tamil literary work, for instance mentions, “ the river Prahuli and the mountain Kumari surroundered by many hills being submerged by the raging sea”.

The Kalittogai, another literary work, specifically refers to a Pandyan king losing territories to the sea and compensating the loss by conquering new territories from the Chera and Chola rulers to the north. In his commentary on the Tolkappiyam, Nachinarkiniyar mentions that the sea submerged forty-nine nadus (districts), south of the Kumari river. Adiyarkkunelar, a medieval commentator, says that before the floods, those forested and populated lands between the Prahuli and Kumari rivers stretched 700 kavathams, ie for about 1,000 miles. As observed by Prof.(Dr) M. Sunderam, “The tradition of the loss of a vast continent by deluge of the sea is too strong in the ancient Tamil classics to be ignored by any serious type of inquiry.”

Archaeological & Geological Evidence

A discovery made by a team of marine archaeologists from India’s National Institute of Oceanography (NIO) in March 1991 has begun to bring about a sea-change. Working the off-shore of Tarangambadi-Poompuhar coast in Tamilnadu near Nagapattinam, a research vessel equipped with side-scan sonar, identified a man-made object and described it as “ a horse shoe shaped structure”. In 1993, it was examined again and NIO’s diver archaeologists reported that the U-shaped structure lies at a depth of 23 metres and about 5 kms offshore.

The significance of that discovery is that it is a much older structure to any discovered earlier. Subsequent explorations carried out by Graham Hancock and his team, who working in association with Dr Glen Milne, a specialist in glacio-isotacy and glaciation induced sea-level change, were able to show that areas at 23 metres depth would have submerged about 11,000 years before the present time or 9,000 BC. The historical significance of that fact is that it makes the U-shaped structure 6,000 years older than the first monumental architecture of Egypt or of ancient Sumer or Mesopotamia (in present day Iraq) dated around 3,000 BC and traditionally regarded as the oldest civilisations of antiquity.

The Durham geologists led by Dr. Glen Milne have shown in their maps that South India between 17,000-7,000 years ago extended southward below Cape Comorin (Kanya Kumari) incorporating present day Ilankai/ Sri Lanka. It had an enhanced offshore running all the way to the Equator. The maps portray the region as no history or culture is supposed to have known it. The much larger Tamil homeland of thousands of years ago as described in the Kumari Kandam tradition takes shape. It supports the opening of the Kumari Kandam flood tradition set in the remote pre-historic period of 12,000 –10,000 years ago. The inundation specialists confirm that between 12,000-10,000 years ago Peninsular India’s coastlines would have been bigger than what they are today before they were swallowed up by the rising seas at the end of the Last Ice Age.

With its description of submerged cities and lost lands, the Kumari Kandam tradition predicted that pre-historic ruins more than 11,000 years old should lie underwater at depths and locations off Tamilnadu’s coast. The NIO’s discovery and Dr. Milne’s calculations now appear to confirm the accuracy of that prediction. At that period of time, Ilankai/ Sri Lanka was part and parcel of South India. It is, however, in the inundation map for 10,600 years ago as seen that the island to the south of Kanya Kumari had disappeared to a dot, and the Maldives further ravaged.

But more importantly, a neck of sea is seen separating Tuticorin in South India from Mannar in what is now Ilankai/ Sri Lanka. It is however in the map for 6,900 years ago that the separation of Ilankai/ Sri Lanka from the South Indian mainland is complete as it is today. Ilankai/ Sri Lanka’s separate existence as an island, so it seems, began 6,900 years ago or circa 4,900 BC.


At present, no civilisation, as known to current history, existed in the Tamil lands of South India around 9,000 BC. Yet the discovery of the U-shaped structure by India’s marine archaeologists leads us to seriously consider that it was the work of a civilisation that archaeologists had failed to identify as its ruins lie submerged so deep beneath the sea. As Mr. S. R. Rao, the doyen of Indian marine archaeology, stated in February 2002, “I do not believe it is an isolated structure; further exploration is likely to reveal others around it”.

Though it is understood that no further explorations have taken place since 1995, the Boxing Day Tsunami of last year can be expected to renew interest in them. There is ample scope for socio-anthropologists, archaeologists, geologists and scholars of Tamil and Tamil history to further research the subject. Given that the First and Second Sangams were a golden age of literary, artistic and musical creativity amongst the Tamils, we are looking at a civilisation which had reached a high level of development, organisation and cultural advancement from as early as 11,000 years ago from today.

N. Parameswaran is a writer on Tamil history. His latest book is ‘Tamil Trade and Cultural Exchange.’ His previous publications are ‘Early Tamils of Lanka-Ilankai’ and ‘Medieval Tamils in Lanka-Ilankai.’ He can be contacted on +61-8-3541039.

We need your support

Sri Lanka is one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a journalist. Tamil journalists are particularly at threat, with at least 41 media workers known to have been killed by the Sri Lankan state or its paramilitaries during and after the armed conflict.

Despite the risks, our team on the ground remain committed to providing detailed and accurate reporting of developments in the Tamil homeland, across the island and around the world, as well as providing expert analysis and insight from the Tamil point of view

We need your support in keeping our journalism going. Support our work today.

For more ways to donate visit https://donate.tamilguardian.com.