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.
The Eastern Archipelago was a region with which the Tamils were much more familiar apparently, and their commercial efforts seem to have gone on as far as the comparatively distant coast even of China.2 We have direct evidence on the Tamil side of not merely knowledge of the islands near the eastern shore of the Ray of Bengal, but also of regular commercial voyages and even settlements of people. During the period with which we are concerned people in the south, particularly the coast of the Chola country, kept up a busy trade over-sea.
1 H. G. Rawlinson's India and the Western World, p. 99, where the Greek Ins. is quoted.
2 In the excavations at Chandravalli, Mr. R. Narasimha Chariar says a coin of the Chinese Han. Emperor Wu-ti of the 2nd century B.C. was found as also a denarius of Augustus.
The principal ports from which these fleets of commerce started and of which we have any reference are two in the Chola country, namely, Kaveripatam at the mouth of the Kaveri, and Tondi farther south on the coast of Rammad set over against Jaffna. Puhar which is the Tamil name for the port at the mouth of the Kaveri is spoken of as a great port where a crowd of merchant shipping brought horses from across the waters, spices, particularly pepper, gold and precious gems from the northern mountains (Himalayas). Sandal and aloe-wood (akil) from the western hills, pearls from the southern sea, coral from the eastern sea, various kinds of commodities from the Ganges, other commodities coming down the Kaveri, food articles from Ceylon and the wealth produced in Kalaham, other rare articles (such as camphor, rose water, etc.) from China and other places.1 This catalogue of articles coming from various places in the east into Puhar is confirmed by various references in the Silappadhikaram which state specifically sugar-candy from the western region of the Yavanas, black aloe from the east, stones for rubbing sandal from the northern mountains2 and sandal from the southern hills. There is a further reference in the same work to the special quarter of the town near the port occupied by the Yavanas (rendered by the commentator Mlechchas)1 and people from various countries whose profession it was to go oversea and trade.
1 Pattinappalai, 11. 185-192.
2 Canto IV, 11. 35-38. This is also referred in the Nedunalvadai and Perum Kurinchi.
Referring to the port of Tondi2 which in those days was considered a port in the Chola country, the fleet of ships arriving there brought the following commodities; aromatic aloe (akil), silk, sandal, fragrant articles and camphor. The commentary explains elaborately the varieties of these articles that came in indicating also the sources from which they came. In regard to the first akil, four varieties are mentioned, of which two seem to take their name undoubtedly from the localities of production. They are respectively named takkoli (product of Takola) and kidaravan (the product of Kidaram). Under camphor, there are two varieties that are named respec-tively varusan and varosu both of which seem the Tamil name of Barus or Barusai of Ptolemy, and another variety which is specially called China camphor. Apart from Barus there stand out the names Takkola and Kadaram. Takkola, or as it is sometimes written Takkolam in Tamil, is the famous port in the Malay peninsula near the mouth of the Takopa river which gives the name to one of the aromatic plants, the fruit of which is called takkolam. The port of Takkola is mentioned as a prominent mart of the east shore of the Bay of Bengal by Ptolemy. Kadaram that is referred to there is apparently the Kadaram that is found associated with one of the titles of Rajendra Chola, and which figures in the records of both Rajendra Chola and his father Raja Raja. These records refer to the same place in Sanskrit as well in the form Kataha. Hence we are justified in taking it that the Sanskrit Kataha is the Tamil Kadaram. Is it the same as the Tamil Kalaham? Kalaham used to be identified hitherto with Burma by antiquarians. Kalaham is equated with Kadaram by the commentator Nachchinarkkiniyarl; and the articles of import therefrom referred to by the commentator as "articles of enjoyment," seem similar to the articles that the embassy from San-fo-Chi carried to China in the tenth and eleventh centuries of the Christian era. We seem therefore justified in taking Kalaham, Kadaram and Kataha all of them to be one place, and that place as being the island or group of islands dominated by Sumatra, the Savakam of the Tamils, the Yavadvipa of Sanskrit, and Sabadiu of Ptolemy. The classic Manimekhalai has much so say in its own legendary fashion of Savakam, and a mythical king of the island by name Punyaraja. The work refers to a famine for the relief of which a man possessed of a miraculous bowl which supplied food without its being ever exhausted, agreed to go. The information of the famine was given to him in one of the ports of the Pandya country by a body of people who came from over-sea. He started with the next commercial fleet that sailed forward towards the east. Being overtaken by a storm the fleet had to go for shelter to one of the islets round Ceylon. When the fleet set sail again they sailed away in the belief that he was on board.1 In another connection the same work refers to an island which the work calls the island of the "naked Nagas" apparently Nakkavaram, the modern Nicobars, then inhabited by naked cannibals. The particular point to notice in this connection is that the individual concerned was born a rich man and had squandered away all his wealth in evil company. Disgusted with himself he set forward on a new life and got into the company of a body of merchants trading overseas. In the course of the voyage the fleet of ships got tempest-tossed and several of them destroyed. He took hold of a broken piece of mast and reached the island. The story goes on to say that he was threatened with death having been sighted by the cannibals.
1 Canto V, 11. 9-12.
2 Canto XIV, 11. 100-111.
1 The Nighantu Pingalandai gives the equation also.
1 Canto XIV.
He managed however, to satisfy the cannibals that what they were doing was wrong, and so far persuaded them into friendship to him that they were quite prepared to send him away with whatever he cared to take from the accumulated wealth of the previous ship-wrecks near the shore. They brought him quantities of all kinds of articles of wealth and let him take whatever he liked of them and as much as he pleased. When the next regular fleet of ships touched that port under the lead of the merchant chief Chandradatta he got on board ship and sailed across to the Tamil coast. The story indicates regular caravans of ships going backwards and forwards across the sea, and the number of incidental references that we get to various matters connected with overseas navigation in this class of works goes to confirm the conclusion that they were familiar with the islands on the eastern shore of the Bay of Bengal. This is confirmed by the specific statement of the author of the Periplus in reference to the eastern ports of the Tamil country that "there are ships of the country coasting along the shore as far as Damirica,1 large vessels made of single logs bound together called Sangara; but those which make the voyage to Chryse2 and to the Ganges are called Colandia and are very larger." 1
1 Meaning appa rently to the end of the Tamil country on the west coast.
2 Gold country, Suvarnabhumi, the Malay peninsula generally.