Inscriptions of Chennai in the 13th century make frequent references to certain chieftains or officers called Nilagangaraiyans and their philanthropic activities. They seem to have been intimately connected with Chengalpattu district as a whole, and their activities deserve special mention ( K V Raman). The term Nilagangaraiyan was the common family name or title, which each one of those chieftains added to his own personal name.
A chief is mentioned in an inscription from Tiruvottriyur, dated to the 28th year of Rajadhiraja I. The names of the next two chiefs occur in the inscriptions of Kulottunga III found at Thirumazhisai and Tirunirmalai (2 of 1911 and 557, 556 of 1912 (dated 1202, 1210 and 1217 AD). The next chief, Nilagangaraiyan Kadakkan Cholaganga figures in the inscriptions of Rajaraja III (535 and 562 of 1912 – dated 1222 and 1235 AD respectively).
The names of three chiefs occur in the inscription of the Telugu-Choda king Vijayagandagopala found at Tiruvottriyur, Tirunirmalai and Thirumazhisai (117 of 1912, 5 of 1911, 547 of 1912 and 1 of 1911; the dates of these inscriptions range between 1259 and 1276 AD).
Another chief Panchanadivanan Tiruvegamban Nilagangaraiyan figures in an inscription of the Pandyan king Maravarman Kulasekhara taken from Tirunirmalai.
The fact that some of them call themselves Chola-Ganga also reminds us of the part that the Gangas played in the Tamil country and their contact with the Cholas. Again, as Robert Sewell thought, the suffix vanan in the name Panchanadivanan which was assumed by most of them, may point to their descent from the famous Banas (R. Sewell, Historical Inscriptions of Southern India, p 370). However, the affix Pillaiyar added to their names shows that they were probably junior members of the royal family. It has been surmised that because Nilagangaraiyan is referred to in inscriptions as a Pillaiyar of Vijayagandagopala, he must have been the son of the latter. But this need not necessarily be so, for the term Pillaiyar, as in numerous cases in South Indian history might have been simply a term of endearment to refer to important officers and chiefs.
That the Nilagangairaiyans were such an important set of officers is borne out by the inscriptions found near Chennai. They show that the Nilagangaraiyans served the Chola kings like Rajadhiraja I, Kulottunga III, Rajaraja III, the Kadava king Kopperunjinga, the Telugu-Choda king Vijayagandagopala and the Pandya kings like Jatavarman Sundara Pandya II and Maravarman Kulasekhara I, all of whom held sway over Tondamandalam at various times.
The dates of these epigraphs, featuring the Nilagangaraiyans , range between the 11th and 14th centuries AD.
About five inscriptions from the Vishnu temple at Tirunirmalai speak about the various gifts made by the Nilagangaraiyan chieftains at different times. One of them, which is dated to Kulottunga III’s time, records a gift of money (ten panam) for maintaining a lamp in the temple made by one of the agambadi-mudalis of Panchanadivanan Nilagangan alias Cholagangadeva (546 of 1912). Another one (535 of 1912) records the gift of two lamps to the same temple made by Thiruchur-Kannappan Abayampukkan Nilagangaraiyan Kadakan-Cholagangadeva , in the sixth year of Rajaraja III’s reign -1222 AD (it is significant to note here that another member of the Nilagangaraiyan family is mentioned in an inscription as coming from Thiruchuram in Puliyur Kottam, i.e., Tirusoolam near Pallavaram, Chennai –275 of 1909 from Thirukachur, Chengalpattu taluk).
Another epigraph dated to the 24th year of Vijayagandagopala records the gift of money made by Vallamerinda Panchanadivanan. An inscription dated to the 17th year of Jatavarman Sundara Pandya from the same temple reports the gift of six velis of land and taxes by Arunagiriperumal Nilagangaraiyan. A later epigraph, dated to the 37th year of Maravarman Kulasekhara I (about 1304 AD) records the gift of the village of Vadakkupattu alias Kumaragopalanallur to the Pammanakha Nayanar temple (in Pammal near Pallavaram) made by Panchanadivanan Thiruvegamban Nilagangaraiyan. The purpose of this gift was to celebrate a festival in the temple on his birthday.
An epigraph of Vijayagandagopala, which does not bear his regnal year, records an order of Nilagangaraiyan giving the lands in the village of Valattuvalvittanallur to the temples of Nirvanna Perumal at Thirunirmalai and Thirumazhisai Emberuman (4 of 1911).
The epigraphs found in the territory around Chennai overwhelmingly show that certain subordinate chieftains or officers called the Nilagangaraiyans were active in the region from around 11th century to early 14th centuries and that both Vaishnavite and Shaivite temples there benefited immensely from their patronage.