This section is from the book "Some Contributions Of South India To Indian Culture", by S. Krishnaswami Aiyangar. Also available from Amazon: Some Contributions of South India to Indian Culture.
As a result of recent research work, chiefly epigraphical, it is now generally agreed that South India, particularly the Tamil country, had developed a good and thorough-going system of local administration under the Cholas. This period extends from the end of the ninth century to well-past the middle of the thirteenth century. The same system continued during the Pandya revival with hardly any difference. Even the Vijayanagar rulers did not interfere with the system as it then obtained, but much rather confirmed and continued it. As in this particular region, Mahammadan rule was of a very temporary character, the system continued down to the British times, that is, down to the commencement of the nineteenth century when the East India Company took over the administration of various parts of South India. It can therefore be safely stated that the system continued more or less unchanged except under the British. Under the Cholas, the system stands revealed to us Minerva like in full working order. When it actually did come into existence, who bad the credit of originating it would he interesting speculation, hut with the material accessible to us, it could be nothing more than speculation.
The first certain historical glimpse we get of this part of India is in a somewhat specific statement of Megasthenes preserved to us through one of his many successors who have, each in his own way, handed down to us such of the details recorded by Megasthenes as interested him. He says that Herakles begot a daughter in India, whom he called Pandaia. He is said to have assigned to her the part of India lying to the southward and extending to the sea. Herakles divided this territory into 365 villages and so arranged matters that each village brought into the royal treasury its revenue on a particular day so that the 365 villages brought in the revenues in the 365 days, obviously of the year. This arrangement is said to have been made with a view to giving the queen the assistance of the guard that brought in the tribute, so as to enable her to compel defaulters to pay up with their assistance if need be. He states that this queen had an army of 500 elephants, 4,000 cavalry and 130,000 infantry. She is said to have possessed great treasure in the fishery for pearls which according to Arrian were greatly prized by the Greeks and the Romans. This is the first clear statement that we get in regard to a governmental organisation in South India. The introduction of Herakles and the doubt among scholars as to the exact Indian deity for whom the Greek Herakles is made to stand would vitiate the correctness of the details given by Megasthenes. While differences of opinion may be possible in regard to the particulars, there could be no reasonable difference of opinion in regard to the part of the country under reference. This is the part of the country extending southward to the sea, obviously the peninsular part of India corresponding to the Stri-rajya of the Puranas, and what is more the specific mention of the pearl-fishery leaves no doubt that it is the Pandya country, that is under reference in this passage from Megasthenes. Tamil tradition knows of a queen, daughter of the first king, Sundara, who is no less than God Siva worshipped in the great temple at Madura. Being the only daughter she was heiress of the kingdom in her own right and probably it is this story that Megasthenes had heard of, thereby indicating that the tradition goes back, to an age anterior to Megasthenes. In this case Megasthenes' Herakles would be the equivalent of Siva. The division of the territory into 365 villages or revenue units is an indication of early civil division of the Pandya territory. Some such division seems to have obtained in the age of the classical literature where we hear of divisions like Nadu and Valanadu, explicitly and of fortresses dominating adjoining country. But anything like a clear and specific division of the country into various parts, and the actual organisation under which these parts were governed we are not enabled to see in this body of literature.
But we do gain a glimpse from the somewhat longstanding tradition regarding the country called the Tondamandalam, that is the region extending between the two Pennars and surrounding Madras, the headquarters of the Presidency in modern times. This was originally forest country inhabited by people who were in the semi-nomadic stage of civilisation of cattle-rearers and cattle-lifters.
Civilisation was introduced into this country by the great Chola ruler, Karikala, and his successor, through the agency of an illegitimate son, as tradition has it, who goes by the name Adondai. This Adondai was the valiant son of the Chola ruler through one of the women attendants of the palace and had been brought up secretly like a prince. He showed himself to be a young man full of spirit and fit to be entrusted with commissions worthy of royal princes. When the king discovered the young man, he entrusted to him the task of the conquest of the uncivilised region of Tondamandalam. After several un-successful attempts against the fortress of Pulal, which was the principal stronghold of these forest-folk, he ultimately captured the fortress through the miraculous intervention of Siva himself.1 Having brought the country under the authority of the Chola, the conquering prince was entrusted with the commission, under the authority of the said Chola himself, to reclaim the country to civilisation, and introduce the necessary means for its development. The very cultivators had to be introduced from the surrounding territory and as they could not be found in sufficient number for this vast region in the Chola country, they were imported from all over the surrounding region, quite a large number coming from Tulu. Hence down to the present times, the inhabitants of this region are composed of Vellalas (land-holders and cultivators), who fail into several divisions, of whom the Chuliya Vellala and Tuluva Vel]ala form the two principal sections. Before the introduction of these cultivators the country had to be secured and kept free of robbery by the predatory folk, who constituted its original population. This was done by clearing the better parts of the country and erecting in suitable localities 21 forts all over the region, each fort to dominate the country around it and be the citadel thereof. The country dependant on each fort was constituted into a division, to which the name of the dominating fort was given. Hence down to quite modern times, the region of the Tondamandalam was divided into Kottams, the name of each one of which is derived from a fortified townlet or city. The larger divisions in this part of the country are therefore known by the term kottam (Sansk. goshtaka), answering to the mandalam and mahamandalam of the neighbouring regions. The survival of this division from a time long anterior to the great Cholas of South India confirms the tradition that this particular organisation had existed in early times. If a newly conquered territory had been thus organised, the presumption that the country already under a well organised government must have had a similar division would seem warranted. If the conquest and organisation was through the agency of the Cholas, it is perfectly natural that this organisation took on the form of the actual organisation then obtaining in the Chola country. The great Chola Karikala, as is said in the poem Pattin-appalai, destroyed the forests where they existed, dug tanks where water facilities did not exist, and thus spread fertility over the region which for the far greater part of it, was remarkable for its unrivalled profusion. Whether this does not indirectly indicate his achievement in the conquest and civilisation of the Tondamandalam does not seem to need discussion. It may be mentioned however that another old verse, relating to this Karikala and his kingdom, states in so many words that the crops produced in other countries which watered by tanks and water-lifts would not equal the paddy gathered by gleaners after a harvest in the ancestral territory of the great Chola. This contains the clear indication that the efforts of the Chola to reclaim forest land and bring it under cultivation cannot be held to refer to the Chola country of his forefathers. Not very long after this age must have come in the rule of the Pallavas in the northern half of this region. One of the very earliest of the Pallava charters, the Mayi-davolu grant, is a copper-plate charter which was issued from Conjeevaram by the then heir-apparent to the governor of this part of the country. The prince's name was Sivaskandavar-man; but the father's name is not given; the latter is referred to however under the style "Bappadeva " which might mean, the revered father, as was pointed out already. What is of interest in this particular connection is that the prince issued the charter from the royal headquarters of Conjeevaram to what obviously was the provincial headquarters at Amaravati in the Guntur district. The village granted is given the name Viripara 1 and is described as being situated in the Andhra-patha, the Vadugavali of the Tamils, meaning the Andhra country of course. The royal charter granting this village was addressed by the prince to a hierarchy of officials which gives us an insight into the character of the political organisation of the country. As translated in the Epigraphia Indica it reads, "to the Lords of provinces, royal princes, agents, rulers of districts, customs officers, prefects of countries, etc."; but the original is capable of being rendered, "in all of this region, the royal prince, the general, the governors of districts, the customs officers and rulers of sub-divisions, these in the enjoyment of villages, the chiefs of cattle-herds and of cowherds, ministers, officers of forests, commanders, peons, orderlies and others of our officers deputed by us on commissions, to tour the country."