Nadu, the cradle of Dravidian culture, has a very rich history
dating back to thousands of years. Some anthropologists and
historians believe that human activity in this region began
as early as 300, 000 years ago. It is also suggested that the
first Dravidians were part of the early Indus Valley Civilization
and had to migrate southwards to escape aggressive Aryan advancements
around 1500 BC. However, the recorded history of South India,
including Tamil Nadu, is available only from the 4th century
The early history of Tamil Nadu, between the periods of 1st - 9th century AD, had been dominated by the Cheras, Cholas, Pallavas and Pandyas rulers. All these dynasties engaged in continual skirmishes; but their steady patronage of arts served the expansion of Dravidian culture. It is also considered the golden period of Tamil literature famously known as " the Sangam Age", which lasted till the end of 3rd century AD. The Sangam literature provides a deep insight into the cultural, social and economic conditions of that period.
The early Cholas ruled Tamil Nadu between 1st and 4th centuries AD. The Cholas ruled the present Tanjore and Tiruchirapalli (Trichy) region and were known for their excellent military expertise. At the peak of their glory, the Chola kings expanded their influence as far as Ceylon (Sri Lanka) in the south and hundreds of kilometers across the northern region. The Cholas were great lovers and patrons of art and architectures in Tamil Nadu. The Brahadeeswara Temple of Tanjore (an UNESCO's World Heritage Site) is a classical example of the magnificent architecture of the Chola kingdom.
During the second half of the 4th century AD, Pallavas emerged into prominence and dominated the region for next 400 years. They ruled the most of the present day northeastern Tamil Nadu, with Kanchipuram emerging as the most important center of their political and cultural activities. During Pallavas, the Dravidian architecture reached its epitome. Popularly referred as "the temple builders," the Pallavas constructed a large number of temples including amazing temples of Mahabalipuram, Kailasanathar Temple at Kanchipuram and the Kapaleswarar Temple at Chennai. In the 6th century AD they defeated the Cholas and their authority reached as far as Sri Lanka. But, the internal feud led a gradual decline of the Pallava dynasty and they lost their supremacy by the end of the 9th century AD, when Aditya Chola defeated them.
The Chola Empire extended its boundaries up to Orissa and parts of West Bengal in the north and to Ceylon in the south by defeating the Pandyas. By the end of 11th century AD, Chalukyas- another famous dynasty of south India- rose into prominence together with the Cholas, but couldn't stand the mighty Chola kingdom for long time. Eventually, Cholas became prominent and ruled Tamil Nadu till the end of the 13th century AD. As Cholas declined, the Pandyas once again emerged into prominence, but soon they were subdued by Muslim invasion from the north, in the beginning of the 14th century AD. The invasion completely destroyed the Chola and Pandya supremacy in the region and led to the establishment of the famous Bahmani Kingdom.
The supremacy of the Bahmani Kingdom in the south was not without challenges as the Vijayanagar Empire emerged as an alternative power and posed a major challenge to Muslim advancement to the south. But, the 1564 battle of Talikota led to the victory of the Muslims and the formidable Vijayanagar Empire came to an end. The Muslims divided the empire into many small kingdoms and was given to the Nayaks to rule. The Nayaks of Madurai and Tanjore were most prominent of them all. The reconstructed some of the oldest temples in the region. The Nayaks were subdued once the Europeans entered into fray for supremacy in the region, with later emerging as victorious.
The East India Company established its factory in Chennai in 1640, which emerged as the most important trading post for the company. Under the British colonial rule, most of the south India was integrated into the region called Madras Presidency. But the British supremacy in the south was not without challenges. The French and Dutch also entered into the fray for supremacy in the region. The British had to fight a number of battles with them, notably the French at Wandiwash in 1760, and the Dutch at Tharangambadi, which led to complete surrender of the Dutch, and reduced the French dominations in India to Pondicherry.
Tamil Nadu played a significant role in India's freedom struggle. After India's independence in 1947, Madras Presidency became Madras State in 1953. In 1956, under the states Reorganization Act, the Kannada-speaking areas were transferred to Mysore (now Karnataka), and the Malayalam areas to Kerala on linguistic lines. In 1968, the name of the state was changed from Madras to Tamil Nadu.