Pandya King Who Ruled Vietnam

By S Swaminathan
It is a well known fact that India’s cultural empire extended to South East Asia in the first few centuries of our era. Hindu empire existed for over a thousand years in several countries in the region. But the fact that a Pandya king ruled Vietnam was missed by many historians. The first king in Vietnam was known by the name Sri Maran. Translated in to Tamil it is Thiru Maran. We knew several Pandya kings by these names through inscriptions and Tamil Cankam literature. The oldest Sanskrit inscription discovered in Vietnam mentions the name Sri Maran. Unfortunately we did not get the complete inscription. Most of it is not legible.
The inscription is known as Vo-Chanh Inscription. It was inscribed on a rock as two parts. This is about the donation made by the family of the king Sri Maran. We have fifteen lines on one part of the rock and seven more lines on the other side. Of these only nine lines are readable. Scholars who took a copy of the inscription say the poetry part is in Vasantha Thilaka metre in Sanskrit and rest is in prose.
The king donated all his property to the people who were close to him and ordered that it should be honoured by the future kings. The inscription ends abruptly. But we could read the words ‘Sri Mara raja kula’ very clearly. Though we couldn’t get much information about this king from other sources, Chinese historians confirmed that the Hindu empire that existed in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia started with Sri Maran.
Chinese historians named Thiru Maran as Kiu Lien and said that he captured Champa following a revolt. Champa was part of modern Vietnam. The French scholars who excavated most of the South East Asian sites have identified Kiu Lien as Sri Maran. All the kings’ names who followed Sri Maran were in Chinese style and beyond recognition. The revolt started in AD 132 against Chinese and Sri Maran ruled from AD 192.But the kings’ names end with Fan (in Chinese) which is nothing but Varman. As a surprising co incidence we have both Varman and Maran names in the Pandyan Kingdom in Tamil Nadu.
There are more than 800 Sanskrit inscriptions in South East Asia. Mula Varman was another king whose inscription was found in the thick jungle of Borneo (Indonesia).
Now let us look at the Tamil literature to get some corroborative evidence. The last king who ruled during the second Tamil Academy (Second Tamil Sangam) was Thiru Maran. When a tsunami struck his capital he moved his capital to the present day Madurai. May be he or his representative might have ruled Vietnam.
Velvikkudi Copper Plate inscription also mentions Thiru Maran, Sri Maran as titles for a few kings. The king who ruled during the days of Tolkappiyar also had the title Thiru. He was Nilam Tharu Thiruvil Pandyan. We see the name Maran at least ten times in the colophon of Cankam poems. Most importantly the author of Natrinai poems 105 and 228 was Muda Thiru Maran. Velvikkudi Copper Plate says that Agastya was the Kula Guru of the Pandya clan and we see Agastya statues in several places in S.E. Asia. (See my article ‘Did Agastya drink the ocean?’ for more information) .
The author of Purananuru poem 182 was Kadalul Maintha Ilam Peru Vazuthi. The translation of the king’s name will sound ‘the king who died in the sea’. This king might have died during an expedition to S E Asian countries. So it was not uncommon for a Pandya king to travel to a foreign country in first or second century.
We have more evidence from the Tamil inscription in Malaysia, the discovery of Tamil coins in Thailand, Greek and Roman writers’ references about South Indian Marine trade to support our argument in favour of Pandya’s expedition to South East Asia. (For more information on inscriptions of Champa/Vietnam please read R.C. Mazumdar’s book).
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