The History of Kalabras

The History of Kalabras


Kalabras an unknown race dominated Tamil nadu from 3rd century AD to 6th century AD .They captured entire Tamil nadu, Kerala, few parts Karnataka and Lanka, They are otherwise called as Kalappirar and their rule is referred as dark age of Thamizhagam but recent researches indicated that it was a period of progress. Their rule was an eclipse to Chera, Chola and Pandya monarchs. It was golden period to Tamil literature, Jainism and Buddhism. But their race, origin and religion are not indentified, till today there are many controversies about history of Kalabras, hence even today they are indentified as unknown race of Tamil nadu. The ruling period of Kalabras are called as Kalappirar Kalam and irrunda kalam. They destroyed Tamil society and culture, after end of their rule Brahminical culture was uplifted in society.

Kalabras changed many systems in society, administration, literature and unified Thamizhagam under single big authority for the 1st time, but there was no development during Kalabras period throughout Tamil nadu, the remaining evidences states that they were against Tamil culture and different from Tamil origin. So it was called as Dark Age Tamil nadu.

Kalabras began to decline at end of 6th century AD and completely declined by 9th century AD, Because of combined force of two main powers of Tamil nadu. It was a turning point in the History of Tamil Nadu.


There are various literary works, inscriptions, coins that gives numerous references about Kalabras. But it is not enough to know about chronological order of Kalabras.

Important Literary Works

  1. Vinayavinichayam
  2. Periyapuranam
  3. Navalar charatai

Above works are about Kalabras invasions and rule


Inscriptions of Cheras, Pallavas and Pandyas talk about the little information about the Kalabras.

  1. Pulankurichi inscriptions
  2. Velvikudi grant
  3. Dalavaipuram copper plates of Pandyas
  4. Kuram plate of Pallavas
  5. Nerur grant of Chalukyas
  6. Inscriptions at Kongunadu

The above mentioned inscriptions deal with works, rule, administration, literary works and the end of Kalabras.


Kalabras coins are found at Thanjavur, Madurai and other places which provide detail account on influence, number of mints, in kingdom, progress in metallurgy and about trade.


Kalabras did not leave any proofs behind them, historians even wonders whether proofs were intentionally destroyed. Because of this problem origin, character, religion or social structure of Kalabras is not known. The past researches states that Kalabras were south Indian and Dravidian in origin. Most of the historians think that Kalabras were anti-Brahminic, anti-ritualistic who forcefully occupied the land during 3rd century A.D and whose identity is not known. But few historians like S.Krishnaswamy Iyengar identified Kalabras with Kalavar of Thiruvengadam hills. Others like T.A.Gopinatha Rao viewed Kalabras as kalavar kalvan and identified with Muthuarayars of Tamil Nadu. But they were different from traditional Tamils in language, religion and customs. Recent researchers viewed Kalabras as Kannada descent and occupied the hill track between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. They were also called as Kalavar, Kalabaru, Kalabras and they inhabited a country called Kalavar nadu, Kalavapu nadu, Kalapira nadu, Kalavar thiru rajiyam as per an inscription found in Karnataka.

An inscription from Bellur refers to inhabitants of Kalapira nadu as Kalabhora which is presently called as Saravana Belagola. Tamil Sangam Literature does not have information about Kalabras. The earlier information about Kalabras was found in Ashoka’s Edicts which is called as Kalaburiar. It states about Kadamba invasion which caused Kalabras to move towards Bangalore, Kolar and Tirupathi belt.

Many historians states Kalabras as Buddhist and Jain people because most of the Kalabras ruler were follower of Buddhism and Jainism, but these Buddhist and Jainism people were ever attacked another religion or kingdom.  In fact Asoka became a Buddhist on seeing the bloodshed he has caused in war.  So Jain or Buddhist groups could not really be the Kalabras.

However By the mid of 3rd century A.D the political and social condition in Thamizhagam favored for external intervention. The Pandyas, Cholas and the Cheras of Sangam age were engaged in frequent conflict with each other which made the country weak and vulnerable to conquest and they neglected the defense of the northern frontiers. So Kalabras found it easy to conquer Thamizhagam and subdue the Tamil powers.


At the mid of 3rd century Kalabras moved to the plains of Thamizhagam through the hill tracts of Puttur. They occupied Kongu country and Chera, Chola, Pandyas kingdoms.

Velvikudi grant refers invaders as a brave and ocean like army (it states that – “then a Kali king named Kalabaran took possession of the extensive earth driving away numerous traditional kings – ADIRAJAS). Many traditional powers surrendered to Kalabran authority. The Buddhist and Jain literary works states Achyuta Vikranta of Kalavr Kula (Kalabras ruler) kept many Chola, Chera, Pandyas kings in prison. The imprisoned monarchs were ordered to compose Navalar Charithai in praise of Kalabras. The Karnataka inscription refers to Kali Deva and Velvikudi grant refers to Kali arasan (meaning wicked king of Kalabras), It also states about conquest of Madurai.

Pulankurichi inscription deals with Kochedan kuvan (important ruler of Kalabras) who ruled over Thamizhagam upto 442 AD. He reorganized administration in Kongu nadu, Chola nadu and Pandya nadu. Vajra Nandi who considered eminent Kalabra king founded Tamil sangam at Madurai during 470 AD. He promoted the growth of literature and spreaded Jainism. These views show Kalabras extensive conquest, political unification, created centralized administration and promoted growth of education and arts.

At the zenith of its glory the Kalabras kingdom included Lanka also. Kaveripattinam was the capital of kingdom. It grew into great centre of political, cultural and maritime activity but during 6th century Kalabras began to decline. The Pandyas, who retained several different parts of Thamizhagam, regrouped and made common cause with Pallavas against Kalabras. Kadungon of Pandyas and SimhaVisnu of Pallavas attacked Kalabras and took control over Madurai (for Pandyas) and Kanchi (for Pallavas). As Pallavas Settled in the upper part of Thamizhagam Kalabras were pushed southwards so they made alliance with Cholas but it made them suffer to a lot. But they retained some parts of Kongu nadu.

Later Kalabras rulers Kadan, kookodan, veeranarayanan, kookodan Ravi, ravi kandan and ravi kodai frequently fought against Pandyas, Pallavas and chalukyas. But By the 9th century Kalabras were declined.


Brahminic historians mentioned Kalabras rule as a dark period in the history of Thamizhagam this is because Jaina culture was a challenge to the Brahminic culture during Kalabra era. No doubt it was a dark period in the sense that Kalabras did not leave any source material to throw light on their history. Despite little available sources indicate that their rule was a turning point in the history of Thamizhagam. For the first time in history Tamils were reduced to unity. Kalabras subdued powers of Pandyas, Cholas and Cheras – bought them under a common authority. During their administration there was no much development in society, but few steps of development were seen under them in few fields of society.

For administration purpose the country was divided into large provinces, Naadu, Mangalams/Kurams, Urs. This system was followed throughout the Kalabras period.

Kalabras gave importance to both inland and foreign trade. Kaveripattinam became a great emporium. Mints were established at Madurai, Kaveripattinam – large varieties of coins were issued. Inscription on coins were in Tamil or Brammi script, Symbols in coin were ship, fish, crab, bull, elephant, tiger, horse, lotus, flower, plant, sun, moon and star. Jaina munis were also seen in early coins. The Dravidian deities like Lord Shiva, Muruga and Hindu deity like Vinayaga are seen on later coins. The coins were mostly copper alloyed with zinc lead and silver. Kalabra coins were combined with artistic elegance of Gupta coins. This indicated in Kalabras interest on trade religion and local traditions.

Early Kalabras were Buddhist and later Kalabras were Jains who made Kanchi centre of Buddhism and Madurai centre of Jainism. Buddhist viharas and Jain monasteries were built large in number. The Jain monks lived in eight hills of Pandya country; among these hills they established viharaas and pallis for oral lessons grammar literature philosophy and medicine in Aanai Malai, Thiruparakundram, Samana Malai and Sithannavasal.

Kalabras contributed a lot to literature. Tamil language occupied a pride position in education learning and religion. Prakrit and Paali too received encouragement. They established schools (pallis) and colleges (periya pallis). Vedic schools gave importance to Sanskrit and restricted admission to Brahmins. Tamil was enriched with simple style of songs on nature particularly birds Thirumoolanar composed Thirumandhiram and Buddhadatta composed Vinayavinichaya.

Tamil sangam declined with the decline of Pandyas. Jaina Sangam founded by Kalabras encouraged the growth of Tamil literature. The great works of Kalabras age were immortal Kural, Silapadhigaram and Manimegalai. The authors of these classics were themselves Jains and Buddhist.


Kalabras conquest of Tamil country led to “non peasants establishing their authority over peasants of plains”. Their decline was due to revival of traditional powers and combination of numerous powers of south India. Their exit from political scene led to the rise of Brahminical system, marked by Vedic rites agraharas caste system untouchability and neglect of Tamil. The fall of Kalabras represented a significant event in Tamil Nadu. The traditional powers regained their authority but due to their support their Brahminical order was gaining authority and Jainism declined with Dravidian values of social equality, principals of sacrifice and service for promoting welfare of people.

Reference Books

  1. Tamil nadu a Real History, K.Rajayan,
  2. A History of South India, K.A.Nilakanta sastri,
  3. History of Tamil nadu (to AD 1336), N.Subrahmaniyan

Keywords: Kalabras , Kalappirar, Velvikudi grant, Ashoka’s Edicts, Kadamba, Achyuta Vikranta, Pulankurichi inscription, Kochedan kuvan, Vajra Nandi, Kaveripattinam, SimhaVisnu, Naadus, Mangalams/Kurams, Urs, Buddhism, Jainism

Suparna  R