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|Chera Kingdom (Keralaputras)
Coat of arms
Extent of Chera Kingdom
|Capital||Early Cheras: Kuzhumur, Vanchi, Karur, Tondi
Second Cheras: Mahodayapuram, Kulashekarapuram
|Languages||Early Cheras: Tamil
Second Cheras: Tamil
|Historical era||Middle Ages|
|-||Established||c. 5th century BC|
|-||Rise to fame of the first recorded line of Cheras|
|-||Rise of the second line of Cheras||800 AD|
|-||Continuous Chola and Rashtrakuta attacks||1102 AD|
|Today part of||India|
Chēra dynasty, or Chēral dynasty ruling from before the Sangam Age (3rd century BC – 3rd century AD) until the 12th century AD, is one of the most ancient ruling dynasties in India, and rules over an area corresponding to modern-day Kerala. Together with the Chōlas and the Pāndyas, they formed the three principal warring southern kingdoms in the early centuries of the Common Era known collectively as Three Crowned Kings. They are also referred to as Keralaputras in Sanskrit (sons of Kerala) or Cheraman, short form of Cherathalamakan.
During the time of Mauryas in northern India (c. 4th century BC — 3rd century BC) the Cheras (along with the Pandyas and the Cholas) were in a late megalithic phase on the western coast of ancient Tamil land. The cultural exchange with the northern India and the flourishing trade with the Roman Empire later contributed to the state formation. The kingdom, at its zenith, spread over most of the modern day Kerala and Coimbatore, Salem and Dharmapuri districts of modern day Tamil Nadu. Some records suggest the possible annexation of Nagapattanam (southern part) and Thiruvarur districts of Tamil Nadu.
The Cheras were in continuous conflict with neighboring Cholas and Pandyas. Some Chera rules are said to have defeated the combined armies of the Pandyas and the Cholas and their ally states. They also made battles with the Kadambās of Banavasi and the "Yavanas" (Romans) on the Indian coast.
The Tamil poetic collection called Sangam literature describes a long line of Chera rulers. It records the names of the kings and the princes, and of the court poets who extolled them. Uthiyan Cheralathan, Nedum Cheralathan, Palyani Sel Kelu Kuttuvan, Narmudi Cheral, Selva Kadumko Valiathan, Senguttuvan Chera, Perum Cheral Irumporai, Illam Cheral Irumporai are some of the rulers referred in the Sangam poems. Senguttuvan Chera, the most celebrated and powerful Chera king is famous for the legends surrounding Kannagi, the heroine of the legendary Tamil epic Silapathikaram.
After second century AD, the Chera power decayed rapidly with the decline of the lucrative trade with the Romans. The domination of first Chera dynasty lasted till circa 5th century AD.
The Later Cheras ruled from the 9th century. Little is known about the Cheras between the two dynasties. The second dynasty, Kulasekharas ruled from a city on the banks of River Periyar called Mahodayapuram (Kodungallur). Though never, regained the old status in the Peninsula, Kulasekharas fought numerous wars with their powerful neighbors and diminished to history in 12th century as a result of continuous Chola and Rashtrakuta invasions.
The Chera Kingdom owed its importance to the trade with the Romans. The geographical advantages, like the abundance of black pepper and other spices, the navigability of the rivers connecting the high mountains with the Arabian sea and the discovery of favourable trade winds which carried sailing ships directly from the Arabian coast to Chera Kingdom in less than forty days, combined to produce a veritable boom in Cheras's foreign trade. Muziris, the famous sea port with two Roman regiments, was in the Chera kingdom and throughout the reign of the Cheras, trade continued to bring prosperity to their kingdom, with spices, ivory, timber, pearls and gems being exported to the Middle East and to southern Europe.
The word Chera is derived from Cheral, which is a corrupted form of Classical Tamil word, Charal, meaning "declivity of a mountain". The Chera Kings were called Chera-alatan (alatan means "lord"). Cheras are sometimes referred to as "Keralas" among historians. The word "Kerala" is possibly the Canarese variation of the Tamil word "Cherala". The name "Kerala" first ever finds place in a historical document as Kedalaputho ("Keralaputra") in Asoka's edicts (261 BC). Historians consider "Keralaputra" (Sanskrit for "son of Kerala" or "son of Chera") as an alternate name of Cheras. The Graeco-Roman trade map Periplus Maris Erythraei refers to this Keralaputra as Celobotra. Pliny the Elder, the Roman encyclopaedist of the 1st century AD, states that "at the time of this writing" the name of the king of "Muziris" is Caelobothras. The Greek Ambassador Megasthenes (4th century BC) as "Charmae". He says that the force of the rulers of the "Charmae" is highly depended on their 60 war elephants.
Literary sources 
The earliest extant Sangam literary works, such as Kalittokai, mention a mythical and supposedly submerged continent called Kumari Kandam, which was believed to have been located to the south of the present-day Kanyakumari tens of thousands of years ago, between the then Kumari and Pahrali Rivers. Pandya kings such as Chenkon, and the Cheras, supposedly ruled this country. Sangam literature further says that they fought and defeated the Nāga tribes. Kalittokai again mentions a war between the combined forces of Villavars and the Meenavars (perhaps the Cheras and the Pandyas respectively), and the Nāgas, their arch-enemies, eventually losing the war.
Pathirruppaththu, the fourth book in the Ettuthokai anthology of Sangam Age, mentions a number of rulers of the Chera dynasty. Each ruler is praised in ten songs sung by the Court Poet. The rulers (many were heirs-apparent) are mentioned in the following order:
- (King) Nedum Cheralathan – Kumatturk Kannanar
- (Prince) Palyane Chel Kezhu Kuttuvan -Palaik Kantamanar
- (Prince) Narmudi Cheral – Kappiyarruk Kappiyanar
- (King) Senguttuvan Chera – Paranar
- (Prince) Adu Kottu Pattu Cheralathan – Kakkaipatiniyar Nacellaiyar
- (King) Selva Kadumko Valiathan – Kapilar
- (Prince) Perum Cheral Irumporai – Aricil Kilar
- (King) Ilam Cheral Irumporai – Perunkunrurk Kilar
The Cheras, the Pandyas and the Cholas are the three ruling dynasties of the southern region (Bharatavarsha) in the Hindu epic Ramayana. Cheras are possibly mentioned in Aitareya Aranyaka, and Mahabharata, where they take the sides with the Pandavas in the Kurukshetra War. However, historicity of these enthusiastic claims are challenged as the great war of Mahabharata is dated as early as 3102 BC, about three millenniums before the establishment of Chera dynasty.
Chronology of Cheras 
Sangam literature is rich in descriptions about a lot of Chera kings and princes, along with the poets who extolled them. However, these are not worked into connected history and settled chronology so far.
A chronological device, known as Gajabahu synchronism, is used by historians to help date early Tamil history. Despite its dependency on numerous conjectures, Gajabahu synchronism has wide acceptance among modern scholars and is considered as the sheet anchor for the purpose of dating ancient Tamil literature.
The method depends on an event depicted in Silappatikaram, which describes the visit of Kayavaku, the king of Ilankai (Sri Lanka), in the Chera kingdom during the reign of the Chera king, Senguttuvan. The Gajabahu method considers this Kayavaku as Gajabahu, who according Mahavamsa, a historical poem written in Pali language on the kings of Sri Lanka, lived in the latter half of the second century AD. This, in turn, has been used to fix the period Senguttuvan, who ruled his kingdom for 55 years (according to the Pathirruppaththu), in the 2nd century AD.
Archaeology has found epigraphic evidence of the early Cheras in the recorded history of South India: some inscriptions trace the dynasty even from the mythical Puranic kings of the Lunar dynasty. Two identical inscriptions at Pugalur dated to 2nd century describe three generations of Chera rulers of the Irumporai clan. They record the construction of a rock shelter for Jains on the occasion of the investiture of the Crown Prince Ilam Kadungo, son of Perum Kadungo, and the grandson of Athan Cheral Irumporai (perhaps Selva Kadumko Valiathan). Inscriptions found at Edakkal Caves, Wynad also describes the Cheras as "kadummipudha chera". The Aranttar Malai iscription at Pugalur, Tamil Nadu assigned by historians to the 1st century AD mentions three generations of Chera kings.
Early Cheras 
The Chera, Chola and Pandya were the three ancient Tamil rulers of southern India, called "Tamilakam". The Cheras ruled western Malabar Coast, the Cholas ruled in the eastern Coromandel Coast and the Pandyas in the south-central peninsula. There were also numerous small vassal kingdoms and city-states called "Vels".
The Cheras ruled over major part of modern Kerala, and Coimbatore and Salem districts of modern Tamil Nadu. Tamil was the language of entire region; Malayalam the language Kerala developed in a later stage only. Their capital was at Vanchi (also known as Vanchimutur). The location of the historical city Vanchi is generally considered near the ancient port city of Muziris in Kerala. However, Karur in Tamil Nadu is also pointed out as the location of the capital city of Cheras. Another view suggests the reign of Cheras from multiple capitals.
It is possible that the Cheras reigned an independent kingdom in the 4th century BC. Along with the Pandyas, Cholas and Satyaputras, Cheras ("Keralaputras") in the late megalithic phase are also mentioned in the inscriptions of third century BC Maurya Emperor Asoka. According Asoka inscriptions, the Cheras lived on the borders of the Maurya empire. An expression in the ancient Tamil grammar work, Tolkappiyam, suggests that the Cheras were the 1st to establish the kingdom compared to Pandyas and Cholas. However, the Chera Kingdom possibly rose to prominence on the fall of Pandya sovereignty.
In early Tamil literature the Chera rulers are referred to as Cheral, Kuttuvan, Irumporai, Kollipurai or Athan. Chera rulers were also called Kothai or Makothai. The nobility among the Cheras were called "Cheraman" in general.
King Uthiyan Cheralathan (2nd century BC) 
The first of the known rulers of the Chera kingdom was "Vanavaramban" Perumchottu Uthiyan Cheralathan. He had his capital at a place called Kuzhumur in Kuttanad. He expanded the kingdom northward and eastward from their original home in Kuttanad. Uthiyan Cheralathan was a contemporary of the Chola ruler Karikala Chola. Mamulanar credits him with having conducted a feast in honour of his ancestors. In a battle at Venni, Uthiyan Cheralathan was wounded on the back by Karikala Chola (Pattinappalai ). Unable to bear the disgrace, the Chera committed suicide by starvation. His queen was Veliyan Nallini.
The Sangam work, Purananuru has a reference to Uthiyan Cheralathan, which is widely misinterpreted as he feeding the two rival armies of the Mahabharata war. The event, however, is possibly related to the Chera war with the Satavahanas, and hence the period of Uthiyan Cheralathan could be assigned in the 2nd century BC.
King Nedum Cheralathan 
Uthiyan Cheralathan was succeeded by his son "Imayavaramban" "Kudakko" Nedum Cheralathan. He ruled for 58 years as a Crown Prince first and as an absolute king later. Nedum Cheralathan probably consolidated the Chera kingdom, and literature and art developed highly during his period. Nedum Cheralathan is praised in the Second Ten of Pathirruppaththu composed by his court poet Kannanar. Nedum Cheralathan, famous for his hospitality, even gifted a part of Umbarkkattu (Anamalai) to Kannanar.
The title "Kudakko" (King of Kudanad) proves that the Cheras had by this time brought Kudanad under their sway. During the reign of Nedum Cheralathan five junior princes helped the him in the military expansions and conquests. They were Antuvan Cheral, Palayanai Sel Kelu Kuttuvan, Selva Kadumko Valiatan, Narmudi Cheral and Vel Kelu Kuttuvan. The greatest enemies of Nedum Cheralathan were Kadambas of Banavasi. He also won another victory over the "Yavanas" on the coast. The chief of the Yavanas was captured and paraded in public with hands pinioned to his back and head poured over with ghee. Later,this Yavana was released on ransom. Mamulanar refers to a sea coast township called "Mantai" and the exhibition ornaments and diamonds captured by Nedum Cheralathan there.
Nedum Cheralathan was killed in a battle with a Chola ruler. But, the Chola ruler was also killed in the battle by a spear thrown at him by Nedum Cheralathan.
Palyani Sel Kelu Kuttuvan 
"Puzhiyarkon" Palyani Sel Kelu Kuttuvan, a brother of Nedum Cheralathan, spent 25 years as Crown Prince and never became a king. He helped his brother in the conquests of northern Malabar. At least a part of northern Malabar came under the Chera rule in this period as is proven by the title "Puzhiyarkon". He later led the army and conquered Kongunad (Palyani Sel Kelu Kuttuvan is also called "Karuvureriya Olavalko Perum Cheral Irumporai", Kongunad had earlier conquered by Ay Antiran with capital at Vanchi on the banks of Periyar). In the later years of his life, Palyani retired from military life and spent time in arts, letters, gifts and helping Brahmins.
Narmudi Cheral 
"Kalangaikkani" Narmudi Cheral (son of Nedum Cheralthan; never became the king, was a Crown Prince under his father for 25 years) is praised in the 4th set, written by Kappiyanar. He, famous for his genoricity over the defeated, won a series of victories of the enemies. After an attack by Nannan of Ezhimalai on Punnadu (in Kodagu), the Chera army under Narmudi Cheral marched against the Mushika forces. In following battle of Pazhi, Narmudi Cheral was defeated. However in the battle of Vakai-perum-turai Narmudi Cheral defeated and killed Nannan, annexing Puzhinad.
King Selva Kadumko Valiathan 
Son of Anthuvan Cheral and the hero of the 7th set of poems composed by Kapilar, Selva Kadumko ruled Chera kingdom for 25 years. His residence was at the city of Tondi. He married the sister of the wife of Nedum Cheralathan. Selva Kadumko defeated the combined armies of the Pandyas and the Cholas. He is sometimes identified the Athan Cheral Irumporai mentioned in the Aranattar-malai inscription of Pugalur.
King Vel Kelu Kuttuvan (Senguttuvan) 
Vel Kelu Kuttuvan, son of Nedum Cheralathan, ascended the Chera throne after the death of his father. Vel Kelu Kuttuvan is often identified with the legendary Kadal Pirakottiya "Senguttuvan Chera"- the most illustrious ruler of the early Cheras of the Sangam Age. This warrior king is said to have ruled for 55 years, from 170-166 AD, defeating many chieftains. Under his reign, the Chera kingdom extended from Kollimalai in the east to Tondi and Mantai in the western coast. The queen of Senguttuvan was Illango Venmal (the daughter of a Velir chief). The son of Senguttuvan Chera was Kuttuvan Cheral. It is not clear whether Prince Kuttuvan Chera ascended the throne or not. During Senguttuvan Chera's reign, Perum Cheral Irumporai, Ilam Cheral and Adu Kottu Pattu Cheralathan helped him in his expansions as Crown Princes or Junior Princes.
In his early years of rule, Senguttuvan successfully intervened in a civil war in the Chola Kingdom. The civil war was among the Chola princes and the Cheras stood on the side of their relative Killi. The rivals of Prince Killi were defeated in a battle at Neriyavil, Uraiyur and he established firmly on the Chola throne.
The land and naval expedition against the Kadambas was also successful. The Kadambas had the support of the "Yavanas", they were routed in the Battle of Idumbil and Valyur. The Fort Kodukur in the which the Kadamba army took shelter was stormed and the Kadambas was beaten. In the following naval expedition the Yavana supported Kadamba army was crushed. He is said to have defeated the Kongu people and a warrior called Mogur Mannan.
Ilango Adigal (probably the brother of Senguttuvan Chera) wrote the legendary Tamil epic Silappatikaram sitting at a Jain monastery at Kunavayilkottam (Trikkanamathilakam) near Vanchi. Silapathikararam describes Senguttuvan Chera's decision to propitiate a temple (Virakkallu) for the goddess Pattini (Kannagi) at Vanchi. According the Silappadikaram, an astrologer appeared in the court of King Nedum Cheralathan and predicted that Ilango, the younger son of the king, would become the ruler. The prediction displeases Prince Senguttuvan. In order to respect the sentiments of his elder brother, Illango abdicated all his claims to the throne and took to the life of a Jain ascetic.
Senguttuvan Chera was perhaps a contemporary King Gajabahu of Sri Lanka. King Gajabahu, according to the Sangam poems, visited the Chera country during the Pattini festival at Vanchi. He is mentioned in the context of King Gajabahu’s rule in Sri Lanka, which can be dated to either the first or last quarter of the 2nd century AD, depending on whether he was the earlier or the later Gajabahu.
Adu Kottu Pattu Cheralathan 
Adu Kottu Pattu Cheralathan was a Crown Prince for a long 38 years. Trade and commerce flourished in the Chera kingdom during his rule. He is said to have gifted some villages to Brahmins in Kuttanad.
Perum Cheral Irumporai 
"Tagadur Erinta" Perum Cheral Irumporai (son of Selva Kadumko, Crown Prince under Vel Kelu Kuttuvan). He defeated the combined armies of the Pandyas, Cholas and that of the chief of Tagadur. He destroyed the famous city of Tagadur which was ruled by the a powerful ruler Adigaman Ezhni. He is also called as "the lord of Puzhinad and Kollimala" and "the lord of Puhar". Puhar was in fact the Chola capital. Perum Cheral Irumporai also annexed the territories of a minor chief called Kaluval.
King Illam Cheral Irumporai 
Illam Cheral Irumporai (son of Perum Cheral Irumporai, probably succeeded Vel Kelu Kuttuvan). He also defeated the Pandyas and the Cholas and brought immense wealth to his capital at a city called Vanchi. He is said to have distributed these treasures among the Pana poets.
King Yanaikatchai Mantaran Cheral Irumporai 
King Yanaikatchai Mantaran Cheral Irumporai preserved the territorial integreaty of the Chera Kingdom under his rule. But, by the time of Mantaran Cheral the decline of the kingdom had began. The Chera ruled from Kollimalai in the east to Tondi and Mantai in the western coast. He defeated his enemies in a battle a place called Vilamkil.
The famous Pandya ruler Nedum Chezhian captured Mantaran Cheral as a prisoner. But, the Chera was managed to escape and regain the lost kingdom.
Kanaikkal Irumporai 
Kanaikkal Irumporai said to have defeated a local chief called Muvan. The Chera then brutally pulled out the teeth of his prisoner and planted them on the gates of the city of Tondi. The later Kanaikkal Irumporai was captured by the Chola ruler Sengannan (Kalavali by Poygayar) and he later committed suicide by starvation.
Government and society 
Monarchy was the most important political institution of the Chera kingdom. There was a high degree of pomp and pageantry associated with the person of the king. The King wore a gold crown studded with precious stones. The king was an autocrat, but his powers limited by a counsel of ministers and scholars. The King held daily durbar to hear the problems of the common men and to redress them on spot.
The Royal Queen had a very important and privileged status and she took her seat by the side of the king in all religious ceremonies.
Another important institution was the "manram" which functioned in each village of the Chera kingdom. Its meeting were usually held by the village elders under a banyan tree and they helped in the local settlement disputes. The manrams were the venues for the village festivals as well.
In the course of the imperial expansion of the Cheras the members of the royal family set up residence at several places of the kingdom (at Vanchi, Karur and Tondi). They followed the collateral system of succession according to which the eldest member of the family, wherever he lived, ascended the throne. Junior princes and heir-apparents (crown princes) helped the ruling king in the administration.
King Uthiyan Cheralathan and his sons grandsons belonged to one branch of the Chera royal family called "Vanavaramban line". Prince Antuvan Cheral and his sons grandsons belonged to another branch called "Irumporai line". The prince Antuvan Cheral mentioned below is the father of King Selva Kadungo. He is some times identified with Palyani Sel Kelu Kuttuvan (younger brother of King Uthiyan Cheralathan) as is evidenced by Madamisyar in Purananuru. Antuvan Cheral had his seat at a city called Karur. The Ay ruler Ay Antiran was an elder contemporary of Antuvan Cheral. The Ays were probably more powerful than the Cheras during the time of Ay Antiran. Antuvan Cheral and three others in his line are regarded as contemporaries of Nedum Cheralathan and his sons. It is important to note that King Selva Kadumko Valiathan and King Nedum Cheralathan married two sisters.
Apart from these two clans, are also some other Chera rulers who figure in Sangam works. These rulers did not belonged to the main Chera line. One of the most important of them is Yanaikatchai Mantaran Cheral Irumporai. Probably, he is the son and successor of King Illam Cheral Irumporai and the hero of the lost 10th decade. Another Chera ruler Kanaikkal Irumporai is also referred in the Sangam poems. "Palai Paitiya" Perum Kadungo was a Chera ruler based on the city of Vanchi. Kothai Marpan with capital at Tondi also figure in the Sangam literature.
Provinces and ports 
The traditional Chera Kingdom was generally divided into five divisions on the basis of topography.
- Puzhinadu- former Ezhil Malai kingdom (the sandy land)
- Kudanadu (the western land)
- Karkainadu (the impregnable rocky land, east of Kudanad)
- Kuddanadu/Kuttanadu (the land of lakes)
The main ports in the Chera Kingdom were,
Tondi on the banks of Makkali river, south of the Lueke Island, Bramagara, Kalaikkarias, Muziris on the banks of Chulli/Pseudostomos river, Podoperoura, Semne, Koreoura/Kothora, and Bakarei at the mouth of river Baris.
Naroulla, Kouba, and Paloura.
In land cities between Pseudostomos and Baris were,
Pasage, Mastanour, Kourellour, Pounnata, Aloe, Karoura, Arembour Bideris/Videris, Pantipolis, Adarima Koreour.
The Cheras had a well-equipped army which consisted of infantry, cavalry, elephants and chariots. There was also an efficient navy. The Chera soldiers made offering to the War Goddess Kottavai before any military operation. It was tradition that the Chera rulers emerged victorious in a battle to wear the anklets made out of the crowns of the defeated rulers.
Foreign trade 
Chera trade with the foreign countries around Mediterranean can be traced back to the pre-Christian era. They were in contact with the Satavahanas, Greeks and Arabs. In the 1st century of Common era, Romans conquered the Egypt and that helped them to establish a monopoly in the Arabian Sea trade. Many documentary and archaeological evidences of legendary port of Chera empire, Muziris, correspond to this period; Periplus of the Erythraean Sea portrays the trade in the kingdom of Cerobothras (Cheraputras) in detail. Muziris was the most important port in the Malabr coast, which according to the Periplus, abounded with large ships of Romans, Arabs and Greeks. Bulk of spices, ivory, timber, pearls and gems were exported from the Chera ports to Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, Rome, Phoenicia and Arabia. The Romans brought vast amounts of gold in exchange of Pepper. Hoards of Greek, Roman and Arabic coins unearthed from Kollam, Kottayam, Eyyal, and Kodungallur corroborate these ancient trade relations. Chera coins were also excavated from various locations in Kerala and Tamil Nadu, such as Pattanam (probably the location of Muziris), Karur, Namakkal, Erode and Coimbatore.
Roman ships reached the Chera kingdom through two ways. First through the ports of northwest India from Indus to the Tamil lands and the second directly from the Gulf of Aden to southern India. Most of the Chera ports had begun as large fishing villages where territorial product could be collected and exchanged. Then these villages became more urbanized and commercial as a response to growing trade contacts.
The Chera trading stations of Naura and Tyndis began as busy fishing villages, but later the presence of large number of pirates posed a major threat to the Roman ships and Roman merchants had to resort to more southerly ports of Muziris and Nelcynda. Roman ships did not sail further east during this period. Consequently, the Chera ports became more significant for Romans. Hundred of Romans possibly spent months in the Chera kingdom awaiting favorable conditions for returning to Europe while some Roman officials were entitled to stay throughout the year to make arrangements on behalf of sailors arrived seasonally. These Roman agents conducted trade dealings with the locals and Peutinger Table marks the presence of a Roman Temple (of Augustus) in the Malabar coast for the use of these visitors. According to Periplus, special consignments of grain were sent to places like Muziris. This was probably to support the resident Romans who needed something to supplement the local diet of rice.
It was not possible to deep-hulled ships to reach Muziris (the port was situated upriver). The Romans were forced to wait at the edge of the lagoon while their cargoes were transferred upstream on smaller crafts. Muziris was a large settlement owed its prosperity to shipping from the Roman empire and northern India. Black pepper from the inland hills was brought to Muziris by local producers and stacked in warehouses to await the arrival of Roman merchants.
By the time of Pliny's writing Muziris too was full of pirates. Chera-Pandya war during this time further exacerbated the conditions and diverted Roman trade away, causing the decline of both the kingdom and its dynasty.
A number of coins belonging to Chera rulers have been discovered from both Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Silver coins with the portrait of a Chera king and legend "Makkotai" written in Tamil-Brahmi script have been found near Karur. There are also coins with legend "Kuttuvan Kotai" and "Kollipurai" along with the Chera symbols of bow and arrow.
Society and religion 
The Chera population was not divided into castes and communities. The Varna system had not taken a clear shape. Social exclusiveness and un-approachability were unknown. Communities such as the Pana, Kuruva, Paraya and Veta were held in high esteem by the rulers. These people educated and enjoyed social freedom and equality. Many great poets of the Sangam age were Panas.
Women enjoyed a high status in the Chera realms. They educated and never covered their faces. Auvvaiyar (c. 500 AD) was the most outstanding poet of her age. Child marriage was unknown and widow marriage was permitted.
Most of the Chera population followed native Dravidian practices. The worship of departed heroes was a common practice in the Chera kingdom along with tree worship and other kinds of ancestor worships. The war goddess Kottavai was propitiated with complex sacrifices. The Cheras probably worshiped this mother goddess. Kottavai was later on assimilated into the present day form of goddess Devi. There is no evidence of snake worship in the Chera realms and till 7th century AD there is no proof of Ganesha worship either. Perhaps the Brahmins came to the Chera Kingdom in the 3rd century BC following the Jains and Budhhists. It was only in the 8th century AD, the Arynisation of the Chera country reached its climax.
A small percentage of the population followed Jainism, Buddhism and Brahmanism. These three philosophies came from northern India to the Chera kingdom. A small Jewish and Christian population also lived in the Chera territories.
Decline of Early Cheras 
The fourth and fifth centuries witnessed the decline and fall of the Western Roman Empire. Also in the post-Sangam, the Chera kingdom was invaded by a number of northern powers. A Kadamba record of the 5th century at the Edakkal cave in Wayanad bears testimony to the Kadamba presence in the deep south. Chera Kingdom seems to have affected by the Kalabhra upheaval in the 5th and 6th centuries AD. According to Buddhist works, Kalabhra ruler Achuta Vikkanta kept the Chera, Chola and Pandya rulers in his confinement and established control over large portion of southern India. The Kalabhras were defeated around the 6th century with the revival of Pallava and Pandya power.
The Chalukyas of Badami must have conducted temporary conquests of Malabar. An inscription of King Pulakesin I claims that he conquered the Chera ruler. A number of other inscriptions mentions their victories over the kings of Chera kingdom and Ezhil Malai rulers. King Pulakesin II (610–642) is also said to have conquered Chera, Pandya and Chola kingdoms. Soon the three rulers made an alliance and marched against the Chalukyas. But the Chalukyas defeated the confederation. King Vinayaditya also subjugated Chera king, and made him pay tribute to the Chalukyas. King Vikramaditya is also said to have defeated the Cheras.
King Simhavishnu and Mahendra Varman are first Pallava rulers to claim sovereignty over the Chera kingdom. Narasimha Varman and the Pandya ruler Sendan (654–670) also won victories over the Cheras. King Nandivarman II of the Pallavas allied with the Cheras in fight against the Pandyas under Varaguna I. Rashtrakutas also claim control over Cheras. King Dantidurga and Govinda III is said to have defeated the Cheras.
The Ay Kingdom, situated south of the Chera kingdom, functioned for long as an effective buffer state between a declining Chera kingdom and an emerging Pandya Kingdom. Later, the Pandyas conquered the Ays and a made it a tributary state. As late as 788 AD, the Pandyas under King Maranjadayan or Jatilavarman Parantaka invaded the Ay kingdom and took the port city of Vizhinjam. But, the Ays does not seem to have submitted the Pandyas and fought against them for almost a century.
Second Chera Kingdom (Medieval Cheras) 
The Chera power re-emerged into light c. 9th century AD under King "Alwar" Kulasekhara Varman, who succeeded his father Thidaviradhan in 800 AD. By this time the Chera capital was at Tiruvanchikkulam (Mahodayapuram) near present day Kodungallur. He established the "Second Chera Kingdom" from the new capital at Mahodayapuram. But his sovereignty was constrained by the pre-existing power of the Aryan-Brahmin settlements across his kingdom and the hereditary chieftains called "Naduvazhis". The Second Cheras allied with the Cholas against the Pallavas, and with Pandyas against the Cholas between 8–10th century AD. By the last centuries of their rule, Kulasekharas became an active ally of the Pandyas and Lambakannas of Sri Lanka, against the raising Later Chola power. In 805 AD, Rashtrakutas conquered the Later Cheras and during a brief period between 855 and 865 AD Rashtrakutas continually ruled over them.
According to Bishop Cadwell, it was under the Brahmana influence the rulers changed their Dravidian names to Aryan titles in this period. The second ruler Rajasekhara Varma has been identified with famous Saivite saint Cheraman Perumal "Nayanar". By this time, the Cheras had close contacts with the Ays in the south. They helped the Ays to fight the Pandyas. The relations between Cholas and Cheras were very friendly during there decades. Chera ruler Sthanu Ravi Varman even helped the Cholas with an army to fight against the Pallavas. The royal court of Sthanu Ravi Varman was adorned by the famous astronomer Sankaranarayana and there was an observatory at the capital city Mahodayapuram.
The annexation of the Ay kingdom (now under the Cholas) into the Chera kingdom by King Goda Ravi Varma created tensions between the Cholas and Cheras. The Cheras further provoked the Cholas by granting political asylum the defeated Pandya ruler Maravarman Rajasimha II. Along with the Cheras, the Ays under King Vikramaditya Varaguna (885–925) also seems to have helped the Pandyas in their fight against the Cholas.
During the reign of King Indu Kotha Varma Chola emperor Parantaka Chola invaded and annexed the north-western parts of the Kongunadu. This area was ruled by a relatives of the Cheras called "Kongu Cheras"(in the middle of the 10th century, Kongu region of the Chera Kingdom became an independent entity under the rule of the members of a collateral Chera family called "Kongu Cheras". Kongu Cheras bore the titles and the names of the neighboring Cholas). Immediately, the Chera army joined with Pandyas in their fight against the Cholas.
King Bhaskara Ravi Varman I issued the famous Jewish Copper Plate conferring a Jewish chief. The prolonged Chola-Chera war ("Hundred Years War") began during the era of Bhaskara Ravi Varman. Emperor Raja Raja Chola (985–1016 AD) defeated the Chera armies at multiple locations (such as at Kandalur, Vizhinjam, probably at Quilon, Mahodayapuram-Udagai etc.) in the their kingdom. The Cholas had annexed the whole of southern Travancore south of Kuzhithara from the Cheras by the end of Raja Raja Chola's rule. During the time of Emperor Rajendra Chola, the Chera regained southern Travancore and sent an army to Sri Lanka to help them against the Cholas. But, soon the Cholas sacked Vizhinjam and Kandalur and advanced into Malabar by Palghat pass. In the following battle at Mahodayapuram, King Bhaskara Ravi Varman I along with his numerous generals and chiefs was killed. But, the Cholas failed to bring the whole Chera kingdom under their control. Only regions south of Trivandrum continued under Chola hegemony. Cheras under King Vira Kerala rebelled against the Cholas in 1028 AD. But, Cholas suppressed the uprising and won several victories in campaigns ensued. Vira Kerala was captured and executed, ruler of Venadu and the Mushaka chief of Iramakutam were killed. The prolonged wars had weakened the Chera power considerably. Some chiefs ("Naduvazhis") took advantage of the chaotic opportunity and asserted their independence.
Later, the Cholas established supremacy over vast regions of the Chera kingdom. The Cheras acknowledged the supremacy of the Cholas, but made sustained efforts to re-establish themselves. Finally, the Cheras reorganized their defences and became completely free of Chola control. The Cheras also helped the Pandyas to recover their territories from the Cholas. The Chola Emperor Kulattunga Chola defeated the Pandyas in retaliation and attacked the Chera kingdom (at Kandalur, Vizhinjam, Quilon, Mahodayapuram). The newly crowned King Rama Varma Kulasekhara faced with an unprecedented and chaotic crisis. He transformed large body of his army to suicide squads (known as "the Chavers") and resisted heroically. After the sacking of Mahodayapuram, he shifted his capital to Quilon. Finally the Cholas were defeated and forced to withdraw to the south. The retreat marked the virtual end of Chola domination in Kerala. Rama Varma Kulasekhara seems to have abdicated the throne in favour of his son Kotha Varma and retired from public life.
Second Chera rulers 
- According to Prof. Elamkulam Kunjan Pillai;
- Kulashekhara Varman (800–820 AD)
- Rajashekhara Varman (820- 844 AD)
- Sthanu Ravi Varman (844- 885 AD)
- Rama Varma Kulashekhara (885- 917 AD)
- Goda Ravi Varma (917- 944 AD)
- Indu Kotha Varma (944- 962 AD)
- Bhaskara Ravi Varman I (962- 1019 AD)
- Bhaskara Ravi Varman II (1019- 1021 AD)
- Vira Kerala (1021- 1028 AD)
- Rajasimha (1028- 1043 AD)
- Bhaskara Ravi Varman III (1043–1082 AD)
- Ravi Rama Varma (1082–1090 AD)
- Rama Varma Kulashekhara (1090- 1102 AD)
- According to Prof. M. G. S. Narayanan;
- Rama Rajasekhara (800–844 AD)
- Sthanu Ravi Kulasekhara (844–883 AD)
- Kota Ravi Vijayaraga (883–913)
- Kota Kota Kerala Kesari (913–943 AD)
- Indu Kota (943–962 AD)
- Bhaskara Ravi Manukuladilya (962–1021)
- Ravi Kota Rajasimha (1021–1036 AD)
- Raja Raja (1036–1089 AD)
- Ravi Rama Rajaditya (1036–1089 AD)
- Aditya Kota Ranaditya (1036–1089 AD)
- Rama Kulasekhara (1089–1122 AD)
- Vazhapalli inscription of Rajasekhara Varman
- An inscription dated to 11th regnal year of Sthanu Ravi from Kudalmanikyam temple.
- Inscriptions of Goda Ravi Varma discovered from various temples such as Avittathur, Tripunithura, Udayamperur, Nedumpuramtali, Chokkur, Triprangode etc.
- Inscriptions of Bhaskara Ravi from Tirunelli, Trikkakkara, Trikodithanam and Perunna. Jewish Copper Plate of 1000 AD.
- Chalappuram temple, Eramam village, North Kerala have a stone inscription dating to 1020 AD. This refers to the Chola invasion under Rajendra Chola and a Mushaka ruler called Kandan Kari Varman.
- Tazhakad church near Iringalakuda contains an inscription dating to the rule of Rajasimha. This inscription refers Iravi Chathan and Chathan Vadukakan.
- Rameswarathukoil inscription (1102 AD)
Decline of Second Cheras 
In the absence of a central power at Mahodayapuram, the divisions of the Later Chera kingdom soon emerged as principalities under separate chieftains. The post-Chera period witnessed a gradual decadence of the Nambudiri-Brahmans and rise of the Nairs.
Venad ruler Kotha Varma (1102–1125) probably conquered Kottar and portions of Nanjanadu from the Pandyas. Under the reign of Vira Ravi Varma the system of government became very efficient, and village assemblies functioned vigorously. Udaya Marthanda Varma's tenure was noted for the close relationship between the Venadu and Pandyas. By the time of Ravi Kerala Varma (1215–1240), Odanadu Kingdom had acknowledged the authority of the Venadu rulers. The next Venadu ruler Padmanabha Marthanda Varma is alleged to have been killed by Vikrama Pandya in 1264 AD.
Probably, the Pandyas led a successful military expedition to Venadu and captured the capital city of Quilon between 1250 to 1300 AD. The records of Jatavarman Sundara Pandya and Maravarman Kulasekhara Pandya testify the establishment of Pandya rule over Venadu.
The death of the celebrated King Jayasimha initiated a civil war in Venadu. Ravi Varma Kulasekhara, the last of the Venadu kings came to throne according to patrilineal system, came out successful in this battles. Ravi Varma ruled Venadu as a vassal of the Pandyas till the death of King Maravarman Kulasekhara. But, after death of the king he became independent and even claimed the throne of the Pandyas (Ravi Varma had married the daughter of deceased Pandya ruler). He later annexed large parts of southern India and raised Venadu to the position of a powerful military state for a short time. The chaotic situation in the Pandya kingdom helped his conquests. The Venadu ruler invaded Pandya kingdom and defeated the prince Vira Pandya. After annexing the entire Pandya state, he crowned as "Emperor of South India" in 1312 at Madurai. He later annexed Tiruvati and Kanchi (the Chola Kingdom). Under Ravi Varma Venadu attained a high degree of economic prosperity.
The success of Ravi Varma was short lived and soon after his the death, the region became a conglomeration of warring states. And Venadu itself transformed into one these states. The line of Venadu kings after Ravi Varma continued through the law of matrilineal succession.
Aditya Varma Sarvanganatha (1376–1383) is known have defeated the Muslim in raiders of the south and checked the tide of Islamic advance. During the rule of Chera Udaya Marthanda Varma, Venad gradually extended their sway over the Tirunelveli region. Ravi Ravi Varma (1484–1512) was the ruler Venad during the arrival of Portuguese in India.
The pulaya ,Cherammer, cheruma community is the most prominent among the scheduled caste and scheduled tribe communities in Cheranadu(Kerala).
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- A magnum opus on Tamil-Brahmi inscriptions – Book review – http://www.hinduonnet.com/fline/fl2013/stories/20030704000207100.htm
- Mahavamsa – http://lakdiva.org/mahavamsa/
- Aihole Inscription of Pulakesi II – http://www.mssu.edu/projectsouthasia/HISTORY/primarydocs/Epigraphy/AiholeInscription.htm
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See also 
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6th century BCE