History and Growth of the Town
Tirunelveli is an ancient city, as evidenced by the findings of archaeological excavations which have been going on since 1840s, in the outskirts of the city in Adichanallur (now under Tuticorin district). At this site, the archaeologists have unearthed and urn which could date back to 500 B.C, containing a complete human skeleton and clay vessels with some rudimentary Tamil Brahmi script inscribed on them. Other ancient urns in which the elderly were buried have also been found in the same district. Along with skeletal finds, husks, grains of rice, charred rice and celts have also been found.More recent excavations at this site has led to the discovery of a habitation site of the Iron Age people. Archaeologists opine that it is about 3000–3800 years old, from the Neolithic period. This has assured us that Tirunelveli has been an abode for human habitation for 3000 years or more. Now, Adhichanallur has been announced as an archaeological site for further excavation and studies.
The known history says that Tirunelveli had been under the prominence of the Pandya kings, serving as their secondary capital while Madurai remained its primary capital. It was an important city of the Chola kingdom (c.900–1200) and of the Vijayanagar empire. The city was the chief commercial town in the period of Arcot Nawabs and Nayaks. They were among the various ruling dynasties of Tamil Nadu. In fact, they called the city “Nellai Cheemai”, with cheemai meaning a developed foreign town. It was the Nayaks who, in 1781, granted its revenues and local administration to the British. In 1801, it was annexed by the British, who governed it until India achieved independence in 1947.On acquisition from the Nawab of Arcot in 1801, the British anglicized its name as Tinnevelly and made it the headquarters of Tirunelveli district. This happened despite the fact that their administrative and military headquarters was located in Palayamkottai (which was also anglicized as Palankottah),during their operations against the Palayakars. Post-independence, both towns reverted from their anglicized names to their original names and grew together as twin cities.