Parutha meenkal vaanathil ulla vinmeenkalodu por thotupathu pola.” (the ocean waves rose so high that it seemed that huge fishes were at war with the stars in the sky), exaggeration, perhaps. But this is how the Thalavaipuram copper plate, belonging to the period between 1018 and 1054 brought out by the Pandya kings, describes giant waves, most possibly a tsunami.

And there is more hyperbole: the valiant Pandya kings “stopped” the tsunami!

An earlier copper plate, the Seevaramangalam plate of 784 AD, also talks about a tsunami. Ancient Tamils had witnessed catastrophic destruction due to giant waves centuries ago, much like the Asian tsunami of December 2004, and the Pandyas had to shift their capital to Madurai after the city of Kapaadapuram was destroyed in one such calamity.

At least three copper plates made during different periods of their rule make a reference to a tsunami, graphically describing the phenomenon to bring home its enormity.

“Ilayanputhur copper plate (676 AD), probably the earliest plate of Pandya period, says the sea will turn black when the tsunami hits,” M. Rajendran, author of ‘Pandiyar Kala Cheppedugal’ (Copper Plates of the Pandya Era) said on Saturday at the 36th Book Fair here.

Mr. Rajendran, an IAS officer of the 2000 batch, has rendered into simple Tamil the contents of 25 copper plates of the Pandya rulers. Despite the unmistakable tone of hyperbole and eulogy when it comes to describing the exploits of the kings, the plates do give rare insights into the society of the 8th -17th century.

“I have translated into simple Tamil the English rendering of all the 25 copper plates by eminent archaeologists including Dr. Fleet, Dr. Hultzch and P.A. Gopala Rao. My objective is to inform the ordinary man about historical details, since epigraphy is considered only an intellectual pursuit,” said Mr. Rajendran, who published last year the copper plates of Chola Kings and is planning one on the copper plates of the Pallava period too.

The Parthivasekarapuram plate (865 AD) talked elaborately about the guidelines evolved for the warden and students of a Vedic school.

“Students were not allowed to keep women assistants or lovers in the hostel. They will be fined if they violated the rule and they would not be served food till the fine was paid,” Mr. Rajendran said.

The Thalavaipuram plate also prescribed six qualifications for a Brahmin to get land as a gift from the king, while Thiruvalla plate claimed that 8.15 am was the right time for performing the puja in temples.

“They believed that at that time, the shadow of a man was 12 feet longer than him and it was the perfect time,” said Mr. Rajendran.

An interesting detail about Goddess Meenakshi is found in the Thalavai Agraharam plate. “It says Meenakshi, the queen, was born with three breasts and the extra one disappeared after she met Chokkanatha (Lord Shiva).”