The Elusive Kalabhras (3rd CE – 6th CE)

On a cold winter day, some time in 406 CE, groups of Germanic tribes – barbarians to the chroniclers of the Roman Empire – made their way down the Rhine. They were the Vandals, Suebians and Alans from further afield. The event, called the ‘Crossing of the Rhine’, was important because these tribes used the frozen river to make their way down and breach the boundaries of the Roman Empire. Already in deep decline thanks to political turmoil, economic drain and earlier Gothic inroads made as the Huns swept into Europe, these latest waves of invasions from the north sounded the end of the once great Roman Empire.
This event has been well chronicled and you can find mention of the Gothic invasions even in school textbooks in India. Ironically, it was this reference that I remembered when I was studying a similar ‘wave’ that swept by closer home, in India, 200 years before, in the 3rd CE. These were waves of ‘invaders’, the Kalabhras, who made their way from beyond the northern boundaries of Tamilakam – the area covering modern-day Tamil Nadu and Kerala – to take over the once-prosperous city of Madurai. These invaders defeated a succession of princes from the ruling dynasties of the South, the Sangam-era Cholas, Cheras and Pandyas, who had dominated the land for centuries. And, for the next 300 years we are told, it was as though a veil had fallen over the region.

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