The southern end of the Indian peninsula was divided into three kingdoms --- Chola, Pandya and Chera. Even Magasthenes mentions the Pandyas, who were renowned for pearls. The Pandyas had their capital in Madurai.
The Pandyas had flourishing business with the Roman empire and even sent an embassy to the Roman emperor Augustus. The brahmanas enjoyed considerable influence with and performed many sacrifices.
The Cholas, were based in Cholamandalam (Coromandel). Karikala was a celebrated Chola king whe founded Puhar, identical with Kaveripatnam, the Chola capital. It was a great business centre and they had a flourishing trade in cotton. The Cholas maintained a very good navy also.
However, under Karakul’s successors, the Chola power declined rapidly and the two neighboring powers, the Cheras and the Pandyas expanded at their cost.
The Chera or the Kerala country included the narrow strip of land between the sea and the mountains and covered parts of both Kerala and Tamilnadu. Their story is marked by their constant conflicts with the Pandyas and the Cholas. Their greatest king was Senguttuvan, the Red or the Good Chera. Although their internecine and Sri Lankan wars weakened them, they profited a lot from natural resources and foreign business. All of them were fairly rich. They grew spices, especially pepper, pearls, silk. Uraiyar was well-known for cotton trade at this time.
All these details come to us from the Sangam literature. A sangam was an assembly of poets held in Madurai under royal patronage.