There are scattered references in Sangam literature, such as Kalittokai 104, to how the sea took the land of the Pandiyan kings, upon which they conquered new lands to replace those they had lost. There are also references to the rivers Pahruli and Kumari, that are said to have flowed in a now-submerged land. The Silappadhikaram, one of the Five Great Epics of Tamil Literature written in first few centuries CE, states that the “cruel sea” took the Pandiyan land that lay between the rivers Pahruli and the mountainous banks of the Kumari, to replace which the Pandiyan king conquered lands belonging to the Chola and Chera kings (Maturaikkandam, verses 17-22). Adiyarkkunallar, a 12th century commentator on the epic, explains this reference by saying that there was once a land to the south of the present-day Kanyakumari, which stretched for 700 kavatam from the Pahruli river in the north to the Kumari river in the south. As the modern equivalent of a kavatam is unknown, estimates of the size of the lost land vary from 1,400 miles (2,300 km) to 7,000 miles (11,000 km) in length, to others suggesting a total area of 6-7,000 square miles, or smaller still an area of just a few villages.
This land was divided into 49 nadu, or territories, which he names as seven coconut territories (elutenga natu), seven Madurai territories (elumaturai natu), seven old sandy territories (elumunpalai natu), seven new sandy territories (elupinpalai natu), seven mountain territories (elukunra natu), seven eastern coastal territories (elukunakarai natu) and seven dwarf-palm territories (elukurumpanai natu). All these lands, he says, together with the many-mountained land that began with KumariKollam, with forests and habitations, were submerged by the sea. Two of these Nadus or territories were supposedly parts of present-day Kollam and Kanyakumari districts.
None of these texts name the land “Kumari Kandam” or “Kumarinadu”, as is common today. The only similar pre-modern reference is to a “Kumari Kandam” (written குமரிகண்டம், rather than குமரிக்கண்டம் as the land is called in modern Tamil), which is named in the medieval Tamil text Kantapuranam either as being one of the nine continents, or one of the nine divisions of India and the only region not to be inhabited by barbarians. 19th and 20th century Tamil revivalist movements, however, came to apply the name to the territories described in Adiyarkkunallar’s commentary to the Silappadhikaram. They also associated this territory with the references in the Tamil Sangams, and said that the fabled cities of southern Madurai (Ten Madurai) and Kapatapuram where the first two Sangams were said to be held were located on Kumari Kandam. These sangams may have overlapped in parallel to the third historic sangam; the second century BCE Tissamaharama Tamil Brahmi inscription detailing the thiraLi muRi (written agreement of the assembly) was excavated a few miles from the coast of the historic Tenavaram temple, Matara, Sri Lanka.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Tamil nationalists came to identify Kumari Kandam with Lemuria, a “lost continent” posited in the 19th century to account for discontinuities in biogeography. In these accounts, Kumari Kandam became the “cradle of civilization”, the origin of human languages in general and the Tamil language in particular. These ideas gained notability in Tamil academic literature over the first decades of the 20th century, and were popularized by the Tanittamil Iyakkam, notably by self-taught Dravidologist Devaneya Pavanar, who held that all languages on earth were merely corrupted Tamil dialects.R. Mathivanan, then Chief Editor of the Tamil Etymological Dictionary Project of the Government of Tamil Nadu, in 1991 claimed to have deciphered the still undeciphered Indus script as Tamil, following the methodology recommended by his teacher Devaneya Pavanar, presenting the following timeline (cited after Mahadevan 2002):
- ca. 200,000 to 50,000 BC: evolution of “the Tamilian or Homo Dravida”,
- ca. 200,000 to 100,000 BC: beginnings of the Tamil language
- 50,000 BC: Kumari Kandam civilization
- 20,000 BC: A lost Tamil culture of the Easter Island which had an advanced civilization
- 16,000 BC: Lemuria submerged
- 6087 BC: Second Tamil Sangam established by a Pandya king
- 3031 BC: A Chera prince in his wanderings in the Solomon Islands saw wild sugarcane and started cultivation in Present Tamilnadu.
- 1780 BC: The Third Tamil Sangam established by a Pandya king
- 7th century BC: Tolkappiyam (the earliest known extant Tamil grammar)