R.Champakalakshmi in her book Trade, ideology, and urbanization: South India 300 BC to AD 1300 describes two urbanisation phases in Tamil Nadu. One is during early period (which she believes was stimulated by external trade), and the other was during the medieval Chola period (9th-13th Centuries):

The major periods of urbanization can be recognized in Tamil Nadu, the first coinciding with the early centuries of the Christian era, i.e. the Sangam period, and the second with the period of Colas, i.e. from the ninth to the thirteenth centuries ad. The intervening period provides through fairly large-scale agrarian expansion the basis tor the growth of urban centres in the Cola period. (pp 205)

Apart from these two periods, do we know of any other Urbanisation phases in South India (say during the Pallava period or the Vijayanagar period)?

3 Answers 3


Note: although the question title states 'ancient India', the examples which the OP specifically mentioned ("Pallava period or during Vijayanagar period") fall within the Indian classical (Pallava) and medieval / early modern periods (Vijayanagara).

Pallava Dynasty

This dynasty existed from 275 AD to 897 AD. The capital Kanchipuram was a city of some importance:

Kanchipuram grew in importance when the Pallavas of southern Andhra Pradesh, wary of constant invasions from the north, moved their capital south to the city in the 6th century....Under the Pallavas, Kanchipuram flourished as a centre of Hindu and Buddhist learning....a Chinese traveller who visited Kanchipuram in 640, recorded that the city was 6 miles (9.7 km) in circumference

Vijayanagara and Bahmani

The Vijayanagara Empire (1336 - 1646) and, to a lesser extent, the Bahmani Sultanate both developed urban centres. In History of Medieval India, 800-1700, Satish Chandra writes:

The Vijayanagara and Bahmani kingdoms dominated India south of the Vindhyas, for more than 200 years. They not only built magnificent capitals and cities, and beautified them with many splendid buildings and promoted arts and letters, but also provided for law and order and the development of commerce and handicrafts.

Citing KD Morrison and CM Sinopoli (2006) and Michael C. Howard's 'Transnationalism and Society: An Introduction', among other sources, Wikipedia notes on Vijayanagara:

The city rapidly grew from an ancient pilgrimage center in 13th-century, to being founded as a capital of Vijayanagara Empire in early 14th century, to being a metropolis stretching by some estimates to 650 square kilometers by early 16th century.[18] It became the world's second largest city, after Beijing, by about 1500 CE.

Chandra cites Niccolò de' Conti, a merchant and explorer from Venice who wrote after a visit in 1420 to Vijayanagara:

'The circumference of the city is sixty miles, its walls carried up to the mountaills, and enclose the valleys at their foot .... In this city there are estimated to be ninety thousand men fit to bear arms...'

Ancient South India

Some this is covered in the book cited by the OP. Generally, for ancient south India, evidence of large-scale urbanization is lacking, though there were certainly important trade centres and ports. Examples include Uraiyur, Arikamedu, Alagankulam, Madura and Nagarjunakonda (Vijayapuri in ancient times) which was

a renowned centre of Buddhism and Buddhist learning, also considered to be an important focus in local trade network. An amphitheatre, the only one of its kind in the sub-continent, was the best example of public buildings. A magnificent tank reservoir with galleries on three sides and a pillared pavilion on the fourth was built in the northwestern corner of the valley. A massive dock-reservoir was seen to the north of the citadel. A large number of pillared halls have been excavated, of which one appears to be a public hall. Numerous masonry cisterns, with ornamented steps and benches with smooth floors were unearthed

Other sources:

Jairus Banaji, 'Exploring the Economy of Late Antiquity: Selected Essays' (Cambridge University Press, 2016)

K. Rajan, 'Iron Age - Early Historic Transition in South India: an Appraisal' (2014)

  • 1
    @justCal Niccolo de Conti's wiki page mentions a 1579 an English edition of his account, but Vijayanagara does not seem to be mentioned there so it must be in Poggio's record of Conti's account (an English version of which I haven't yet found). Dec 19, 2019 at 2:43
  • Yes, I was hoping, but I didn't see a directly accessible source either, oh well... The sixty miles of walls intrigues me.
    – justCal
    Dec 19, 2019 at 4:43

Keezhadi seems to be the ancient urbanization. Indian union government has less interest to do archeological research over there. If it is done, we could fine more truths which would be equivalent to Indus Valley Civilization.


Keeladi has shown that Prof Champkalakshmi is absolutely wrong in that Keeladi has shown that so far the excavated site is about 600 yrs BCE. A lot older than the Sangam age. Kacheepuram the southern Taxilla and Nalantha is a city by any standards.

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    Please document/reference your sources.
    – Steve Bird
    Dec 18, 2019 at 21:05
  • The Wiki article on Keeladi also lists from 6th century BCE, The entry for Sangam period seems to cover this time frame as well, spanning from c. 6th century BCE to c. 3rd century CE. I am unclear where your assertion that the site is a lot older than the Sangam age is from. As stated above, please document your sources.
    – justCal
    Dec 19, 2019 at 1:36

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