Chera dynasty

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Chera Kingdom
Unknown, c. 4th century BCE–12th century CE (1124)
Extent of Chera kingdom
Capital Mahodayapuram
Languages Malayalam (West Coast dialects),[1] Old Tamil
Religion Dravidian folk religion
Hinduism: Shaivism, Vaishnavism
Jainism, Buddhism
minority: Christianity, Judaism, Islam
Political structure Monarchy
 •  Established Unknown, c. 4th century BCE
 •  Disestablished 12th century CE (1124)
Succeeded by
[[Venad, Samoothiri]]
Today part of  India
List of Chera kings
Early Cheras
Uthiyan Cheralathan  ·   Nedum Cheralathan  ·   Selva Kadumko Valiathan   ·   Senguttuvan Chera  · Illam Cheral Irumporai  ·   Mantaran Cheral
Interregnum (c.300–800)
Later Cheras
Kulashekhara Varma 800-820
Rajashekhara Varma 820-844
Sthanu Ravi Varma 844-885
Rama Varma Kulashekhara 885-917
Goda Ravi Varma 917-944
Indu Kotha Varma 944-962
Bhaskara Ravi Varma I 962-1019
Bhaskara Ravi Varma II 1019-1021
Vira Kerala 1021-1028
Rajasimha 1028-1043
Bhaskara Ravi Varma III 1043–1082
Ravi Rama Varma 1082-1090
Rama Varma Kulashekhara 1090-1102
Related articles
Silappatikaram  ·   Patiṟṟuppattu
Muchiri  ·   Thondi  · Vanchi
Tholan  · Śaṅkaranārāyaṇa
Cheraman Perumal  ·   Mukundamala
Kollam Era
Battle of Kandalur Salai
School of Astronomy and Mathematics  ·   Vazhapalli plates

The Cheras were the principal ruling dynasty of the present-day state of Kerala and to a lesser extent, parts of Tamil Nadu in South India. Along with the Ay kingdom in the south and the Ezhimala kingdom in the north, they formed the ruling kingdoms of Kerala in the early years of the Common Era.[2] The origins of the dynasty are unclear and it is understood that they were speakers of Proto-Tamil-Malayalam [3] while some being practitioners of literary writing in Old Tamil. In fact, most of their history is reconstructed from the body of literature known as the Sangam literature written in Old Tamil around the 3rd century CE. Together with the Cholas and the Pandyas in the adjacent modern-day State of Tamil Nadu, the Cheras formed one of the three most powerful warring Iron Age kingdoms of the southern-most States of South India.

The earliest traveller's accounts attesting the existence of the Cheras are by the Greek ambassador Megasthenes (4th century BCE), Pliny in the 1st century CE, in the Periplus of the 1st century CE and by Ptolemy in the 2nd century CE.[4] While Pliny and Ptolemy refer to the Cheras as 'Calobotras', the Periplus refers to them as the 'Keprobotras'. The earliest Sanskrit works which refer to the Cheras and Kerala is probably the Aitreya Aranyaka. It refers to the land as Chera-'pada' - and as one of the three peoples who did not follow some ancient injunctions.[5] There are also brief references by Katyayana (4th century BCE), Edicts of Ashoka (2nd century BCE), Patanjali (2nd century BCE) and Kautilya (c 2nd century CE) though Pāṇini (5th century BCE) does not mention of the land. However, it is the Tamil works collectively known as the Sangam literature that form the most important sources for a more detailed history of the Cheras and ancient Kerala. These works roughly span the period 100 CE to 300 CE. Among them, the most important sources for the Cheras are the Pattittupattu, the Agananuru, the Purananuru and the Silappatikaram.[6]

The exact antiquity of the Chera dynasty is difficult to establish.[7] However, based on the traveller's accounts and the Sangam literature, it can be confirmed that they were already existing in the 4th century BCE. The Sangam literature describes a long line of Chera rulers. It records the names of the kings, the princes, and the court poets who extolled them. The internal chronology of this literature is still far from settled and a connected account of the history of the period is an area of active research. Uthiyan Cheralathan, Nedum Cheralathan and Senguttuvan Chera are some of the rulers referred to in the Sangam poems. Senguttuvan Chera, the most celebrated Chera king, is famous for the legends surrounding Kannagi, the heroine of the Tamil epic Silapathikaram.[8]

The exact location of the Chera capital has been subject to some speculation. The Chera capital has been called, 'Vanchi' and 'Karur' in several works. This has led to several theories identifying the Chera capital in places called 'Karur' in both Kerala and Tamil Nadu. However, it is fairly clear that the capital was near the famous port known as Muziris, now identified to be near modern-day Kodungallur.[9] Pliny refers to Muziris[10][11] as the Chera capital, while the author of the Periplus identifies the capital to be a couple of miles away from the mouth of the river at Muziris. Ptolemy who identifies the capital as 'Karoura' gives a geographical location that is very close to Muziris as well. The capital of the Cheras and the port of Muziris were very close and almost indistinguishable.

It is understood that the Cheras started their imperial expansion from the Kuttanad region and that various other regions such as Tyndis and Kongunad have been gained or lost at various times during the continuous conflicts with the neighbouring kingdoms.[9] The Cheras also seem to have fought battles with other neighbouring dynasties such as the Pallavas, the Rashtrakutas, the Kadambas and even with the Yavanas (the Greeks) on the South Indian coast. After the end of the Sangam era, around the 5th century CE, there seems to be a period where the Cheras' power declined and is, in many ways, a dark period in Chera history.[12]

The Chera kingdom owed its importance to trade with the Middle East, North Africa, Greece and Rome. Its geographical advantages, like the navigability of the rivers connecting the Ghat mountains with the Arabian sea, the favourable Monsoon winds which carried sailing ships directly from the Arabian coast to Chera kingdom as well as the abundance of exotic spices combined to make the Chera empire a major power in foreign trade.[12][13]

The recorded history of the Chera dynasty is broadly divided into two phases. The First Chera Empire from 4th century BCE to 5th century CE. And the Second Chera Empire also known as the Kulasekhara empire (8th century CE - 12th century CE). Little is known about the Cheras before these periods and also between these two prominent phases - and is often called a 'historical darkness'. The second dynasty, the Kulasekharas ruled from Mahodayapuram (now Kodungallur) on the banks of River Periyar.[14] The Kulasekharas fought numerous wars with their powerful neighbours such as the Cholas and Rashtrakutas. During these battles, they were forced to moved their capital further south to Kollam and this forms the beginning of their next phase, the Venad empire.[15]

The Chera rulers of Venad, based at the port of Quilon or Kollam in southern Kerala, trace their relations back to the Later/Second Cheras. Ravi Varma Kulasekhara, ruler of Venadu from 1299 to 1314, is known for his ambitious military campaigns to former Pandya and Chola territories.[16]

Etymology of the word Chera[edit]

A commonly held view is that the name Chera, like the Chola, is a name of great antiquity and of obscure origins.[7] However, several theories have been put forward for the origin of the word 'Chera' and it is still a matter of considerable speculation. One approach proposes that the word Chera is probably derived from Cheral, meaning "declivity of a mountain" in ancient Tamil.[17][18] This theory emphasises the mountainous character of parts of Kerala and the subsequent derivation of 'Keralam' from 'Cheralam'. Another attempt is made to derive the word from 'Kera' (a root word for coconut) and this theory emphasises the coconut as one of the primary products of the land. Another theory argues that the word is a derivation from the word "cher(meaning sand) + alam" and it literally refers to the area as slushy land.[19] Still another theory suggests that the word Cher or Chertha means 'added' - and this could make 'Cheral' as the land added to mountainous or hilly country.[20]

In other sources, the Cheras are referred to by various names. The Cheras are referred as Kedalaputa ("Kerala Putra") in the Ashoka's edicts (3rd century BCE).[21] While Pliny and Ptolemy refer to the Cheras as Calobotras, the Graeco-Roman trade map Periplus Maris Erythraei refers the Cheras as Keprobotras.[22]

The term Ceralamdivu or Ceran tivu and its cognates, meaning the "island of the Ceran kings", is a Classical Tamil name of Sri Lanka that takes root from the term Chera, from which the dynasty name is derived.[23]

Early Cheras[edit]

Indian literary sources[edit]

While there are several mentions in literary works of Sanskrit and Greek, the primary literary sources giving detailed accounts of the early Chera Kings are the anthologies of Sangam literature, created between c. 1st and the 4th centuries CE.[24][25] Among the Sangam literature, the most important sources for the Cheras are the Pattittupattu or the Pathirruppattu, the Agananuru, the Purananuru and the Silappatikaram. The Pathirruppaththu, the fourth book in the Ettuthokai anthology of Sangam poems, 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:[26]

  1. Nedum Cheralathan – Kumatturk Kannanar
  2. Palyane Chel Kezhu Kuttuvan -Palaik Kantamanar
  3. Narmudi Cheral – Kappiyarruk Kappiyanar
  4. Senguttuvan Chera – Paranar
  5. Adu Kottu Pattu Cheralathan – Kakkaipatiniyar Nacellaiyar
  6. Selva Kadumko Valiathan – Kapilar
  7. Perum Cheral Irumporai – Aricil Kilar
  8. Ilam Cheral Irumporai – Perunkunrurk Kilar

Sangam literature is rich in descriptions about a number 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.[27] A chronological device, known as Gajabahu synchronism, is used by historians to help date early Tamil history.[28] 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.[29][30] 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 2nd century CE. 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 CE.[31]

Family tree of the kings of the Chera dynasty based on Sangam literature. The monarchs ruled in the first two centuries of the Common Era.

Archaeological sources[edit]

Archaeology has found epigraphic evidence of the early Cheras.[32] Two identical inscriptions near Tiruchirappalli, dated to the 2nd century CE, 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.

Rulers according to the Sangam poems[edit]

Uthiyan Cheralathan

The first of the known rulers of the Chera entity was "Vanavaramban" Perumchottu Uthiyan Cheralathan. His capital was at Kuzhumur. 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.[26][33]

Nedum Cheralathan

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 gave a part of Umbarkkattu (Anamalai) to Kannanar.[20]

The greatest enemies of Nedum Cheralathan were Kadambas of Banavasi. He also won another victory over the Yavanas (Westerners) 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. 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. The Chola ruler was also killed in the battle by a spear thrown at him by Nedum Cheralathan.[20]

Nedum Cheralathan is claimed to have conquered Bharatavarsha up to the Himalayas and to have inscribed his royal emblem on the face of the mountains.

Palyani Sel Kelu Kuttuvan

"Puzhiyarkon" Palyani Sel Kelu Kuttuvan was the brother of Nedum Cheralathan. 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". In the later years of his life, Palyani retired from military life and spent time in arts, letters, gifts and helping Brahmins.[20]

Narmudi Cheral

"Kalangaikkani" Narmudi Cheral (son of Nedum Cheralthan) is praised in the 4th set, written by Kappiyanar. He, famous for his generosity over the defeated, won a series of victories of the enemies. In the battle of Vakai-perum-turai Narmudi Cheral defeated and killed Nannan of Ezhimalai, annexing Puzhinadu.[20]

Ilango Adigal, author of the epic Silappatikaram

Selva Kadumko Valiathan

Selva Kadumko Valiathan was the son of Anthuvan Cheral and the hero of the 7th set of poems composed by Kapilar. 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 as the Athan Cheral Irumporai mentioned in the Aranattar-malai inscription of Pugalur.[20]

Vel Kelu Kuttuvan (Senguttuvan)

Vel Kelu Kuttuvan, son of Nedum Cheralathan, ascended to 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. Under his reign, the Chera kingdom extended from Kollimalai in the east to Tondi and Mantai on the western coast. The queen of Senguttuvan was Illango Venmal (the daughter of a Velir chief).[20]

In the early years of his rule, Senguttuvan successfully intervened in a civil war in the Chola Kingdom. The 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 firmly established the Chola throne.

The land and naval expedition against the Kadambas was also successful. The Kadambas had the support of the Yavanas, who 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 wrote the legendary Tamil epic Silappatikaram, which describes his brother Senguttuvan Chera's decision to propitiate a temple (Virakkallu) for the goddess Pattini (Kannagi) at Vanchi.

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.[34] 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 CE, depending on whether he was the earlier or the later Gajabahu.[8]

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 given some villages to Brahmins in Kuttanadu.[20]

Perum Cheral Irumporai

"Tagadur Erinta" Perum Cheral Irumporai 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 powerful ruler Adigaman Ezhni. He is also called "the lord of Puzhinad and Kollimala" and "the lord of Puhar". Puhar was the Chola capital. Perum Cheral Irumporai also annexed the territories of a minor chief called Kaluval.[20]

Illam Cheral Irumporai

Illam Cheral Irumporai 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.[20]

Yanaikatchai Mantaran Cheral Irumporai

King Yanaikatchai Mantaran Cheral Irumporai preserved the territorial integrity of the Chera Kingdom under his rule. However, by the time of Mantaran Cheral the decline of the kingdom had begun. The Chera ruled from Kollimalai in the east to Tondi and Mantai on the western coast. He defeated his enemies in a battle at Vilamkil.[20]

The famous Pandya ruler Nedum Chezhian captured Mantaran Cheral as a prisoner. However, he managed to escape and regain the lost kingdom.[20]

Kanaikkal Irumporai

Kanaikkal Irumporai is 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 and he later committed suicide by starvation.[20]

Religion and Society during the Sangam era[edit]


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 were 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 the spot.[33] 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.[33]

Another important institution was the manram which functioned in each village of the Chera kingdom. Its meetings were usually held by the village elders under a banyan tree, and helped in the local settlement disputes. The manrams were the venues for the village festivals as well.[33] 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. 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.[20][full citation needed]

Revenue was accrued through a combination of taxes on land and trade. It is unclear as to the share of the agricultural produce that was accrued by the state. Taxes were imposed on internal trade as well articles for exports and imports and this brought in a lot of revenue. Smuggling was heavily cracked down upon and elaborate arrangements were made for security in the kingdom. Roads were patrolled at night by watchmen with torches. The Cheras had a well-equipped army which consisted of infantry, cavalry, elephants and chariots. They were also in possession impressive navy fleet which was regarded as one of the most powerful in the Sangam era.[35] The Chera soldiers made offering to the war goddess Kottavai before any military operation. It was traditional when the Chera rulers were victorious in a battle to wear anklets made out of the crowns of the defeated rulers.[33]

Foreign trade[edit]

Silk Road map showing ancient trade routes.

The sea has been a decisive factor in shaping the history of trade and migration in Kerala. Among the early pioneers of trade were the Phoenicians and the Arabs of Oman and the Persian Gulf who were all very well known for their prowess at sea. It is very likely that the first spices made their way to the Middle East through them.[36] It is also speculated that there was an overland route establishing trade contacts with the Indus Valley Civilisation around 2000-3000 BCE. Trade contacts with the Middle East and North Africa were definitely in place around 1500 BCE as pepper (which was indigenous to Kerala) was available in Ancient Egypt around that time.[37]

Chera trade with foreign countries around the Mediterranean sea can be traced back to before the Common Era and was substantially consolidated in the early years of the Common Era.[10][38] In the 1st century of the Common Era, the Romans conquered Egypt, which helped them to establish dominance in the Arabian sea trade. The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea portrays the trade in the kingdom of Cerobothras in detail. Muziris was the most important port in the Malabar coast, which according to the Periplus, abounded with large ships of Romans, Arabs and Greeks. Bulk spices, ivory, timber, pearls and gems were exported from the Chera ports to Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, Rome, Phoenicia and Arabia.[39] The Romans brought vast amounts of gold in exchange for pepper.[40][41][42] This is testified by the large number of Roman coins that have been found in various parts of Kerala. Pliny, in the 1st century CE, laments about the drain of Roman gold into India and China for unproductive luxuries such as spices, silk and muslin. This trade declined with the decline of the Roman empire in the 3rd-4th centuries CE.

There were also extensive trade contacts with the Chinese and this is confirmed by the discovery of Chinese coins from the 1st century CE. It is speculated by some authors that the trade with China is older and lasted longer than the trade with the Greeks and the Phoenicians. Kollam was an important port of trade with the Chinese and Marco Polo, in the 15th century CE, discovers extensive trade ties between Kerala and China, mainly in the trade of pepper.

Society and religion[edit]

Chera kingdom in the Sangam Period

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 worship. The war goddess Kottavai was propitiated with elaborate offerings of meat and toddy. The Cheras probably worshipped this mother goddess. It is theorised that Kottavai was assimilated into the present day form of the goddess Devi.[43][full citation needed] There is no evidence of snake worship in the Chera realms during the Sangam Age.[44]:17 It is thought that the first wave of Brahmin migration came to the Chera kingdom around the 3rd century BCE behind the Jain and Buddhist missionaries. It was only in the 8th century CE that the Aryanisation of the Chera country reached its climax.[44]:10

Though the vast majority of the population followed native Dravidian practices, a small percentage of the population followed Jainism, Buddhism and Brahmanism. These three philosophies came from regions in northern India to the Chera kingdom.[44]:11 Populations of Jews and Christians were also known to have lived in these territories.[45][46][47]

The division of the society into castes and communities was conspicuously absent and practices of untouchability and exclusiveness were unknown. There was dignity of labour accorded to all work and no one was looked down upon due to their work or occupation.[48] A striking feature of the social life of the Cheras in the Sangam age is the high status accorded to women. Women enjoyed freedom of movement as well as the right to full education. Child marriage was unknown in the early Sangam era and adult marriage was the general rule. The practice of 'bride-price', where the groom would pay the girl's parents, appears to be prevalent in the time. Women were free to follow any occupation though most of them were involved in weaving or the sale of goods.[49] A martial spirit was pervasive and women even went to the battlefield along with the men, largely playing a key role in keeping up the morale of the fighting forces.

Agriculture was the primary occupation of the people and Rice was the main staple of the people. Various agricultural occupations such as harvesting, threshing and drying are described. Fish and meat were also eaten liberally. There is a mention of ney-ven choru or butter-laden rice with meat of the best quality being served to guests assembled for a wedding (mentioned in Agam 136). Liquor, mainly wines, that were brought by the Yavanas (or Westerners) was quite popular. However, the local population was partial to palm-wine or Toddy. Music, poetry and dancing provided entertainment for the people. And poets and musicians were held in high regard in society. Sangam literature is full of references about the lavish patronage extended to court poets. There were professional poets and poetesses who composed poems praising their patrons and were generously rewarded for this. Musical instruments such as drums, pipes and flutes were also known in the time.[50]

Decline of early Cheras[edit]

The Chera empire enters a period of "historical darkness" in the 6th, 7th and 8th centuries. Little is known for certain about the Cheras during this period. Kerala seems to have been affected by the Kalabhra upheaval in the 5th and 6th centuries CE. Though there is no authentic information about them, some Buddhist records mention that the Kalabhra ruler Achuta Vikkanta managed to extend his influence over a large part of Southern India. Tradition tells that he kept the Chera, Chola and Pandya rulers in his confinement. The Kalabhras were defeated around the 6th century by the rise of the Chalukyas, Pallavas and Pandyas.[51]

Kalabhras controlled large parts of southern India in the 5th and 6th centuries CE

The main sources of knowledge of the period are through the inscriptions of other South Indian kingdoms such as the Chalukyas, Pallavas, Pandyas and the Rashtrakutas. They all claim to have overrun Kerala or at least parts of it. The Chalukyas of Badami must have conducted temporary conquests of parts of North Kerala. An inscription of Pulakeshin 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. Pulakeshin 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. Vinayaditya also claims to have subjugated the Chera king and made him pay tribute to the Chalukyas. King Vikramaditya II (734-745) is also claims to have defeated the Cheras. An inscription to this effect was found in Adur (Kasargod district of Kerala), perhaps testifying to their dominance in the region. Their influence came to an end in 755 CE with the rise of the Rashtrakutas.

Around the same period, the Pallavas also claim conquest over the Chera kingdoms. King Simhavishnu (560-580) and Mahendra Varman (580-630) are the first Pallava rulers to claim victories over the Chera kingdom. Narasimhavarman (630-668) also claims victories over the Cheras and the Pandya ruler Sendan (654–670). King Nandivarman II of the Pallavas allied with the Cheras in a fight against the Pandya king Varaguna I. Among the other dynasties, the Pandyan king Sendan (654-670) also claims a victory over Kerala. The Rashtrakutas also claimed control over Cheras. Dantidurga (752-756) and Govinda III (792-814) are said to have had victories over the Kerala kings. In this manner, the post-Sangam era was in many ways a 'dark period' in Kerala history where it was invaded by outside powers in rapid succession. However, the claims of these dynasties to have established sway over Kerala is not supported by any tangible evidence and, in all possibility, are limited to certain small outer regions of Kerala.[52]

The Pandyan kingdom came the closest to establishing sway over Chera territories. They did this by repeated attacks on the Ays who were located on the southern border of the Cheras. The Ay kingdom, long functioned as an effective buffer state between the Chera kingdom and the Pandya kingdoms. But with the decline of the Ays, the Chera kingdoms were exposed to direct conflict with the Pandyas, and later with the Cholas.[53] The Pandyas conquered the Ays and a made it a tributary state. As late as 788 CE, the Pandyas under Maranjadayan or Jatilavarman Parantaka invaded the Ay kingdom and captured the port city of Vizhinjam. However, the Ays did not seem to have submitted to the Pandyas easily, as the Ay king Karunandan, appears to have been still fighting after a decade.[54] This seemed to offer proof that conquered lands in South India, such as Vizhinjam in this case, are not settled permanently but used to assert their independence at the first available opportunity.[55] Shortly thereafter, the Ay kingdom appears to have merged with Venad kingdom and there are almost no mentions of them

Second/Later Cheras[edit]

A depiction of Cherman Perumal, from "A History of Travancore from the Earliest Times" (1878) by Peshkar. Shankhunni Menon

Second/Later Cheras, formerly known as Kulasekharas were the nominal rulers of the Chera kingdom, a loose federation of regional chiefs, which existed between the 9th and 12th centuries CE.[56]

The rule of later Cheras was based at the city of Mahodayapuram near the present day Kodungalloor, Kerala.[57] The Perumal government was described by historian MGS Narayanan as a "Brahmin oligarchy with ritual sovereignty".[56]

The Chera kingdom of the Perumals was the only large state that existed in pre-modern Kerala. It was a loose federation of Aryan-Brahmin settlers ("Naduvazhis") nominally acknowledging the sovereignty of the Cheraman Perumal and supporting him in defensive wars against the other Tamil powers. There was a Brahmin oligarchy which supported the Perumal. Most of the Perumals were saintly scholars who remained influenced by the power of Brahmin councillors ( "Tali Adhikaris"). State formation was weak and state military enterprise in the imperial Chola style was out of the question.[58] In the Chera period the quasi-autonomous Brahmin settlements were administered by the "Sabha" under the supervision of the Naduvazhis. Naduvazhis were mostly the sons of Brahmins because of the Marumakkathayam system which promoted sambandham, a form of Brahmin-Sudra (Aryan-non-Aryan) matrimonial alliance.[58]

The Chera state had only a precarious existence for three centuries, within which the Perumals were subordinate to the neighboring Cholas for more than half a century. The Cholas often controlled the Chera state during the 11th century. The Cholas had conquered the Cheras but the latter continued to rule as feudatories of the Cholas for well over a hundred years. It was only in the last decades of the 11th century, when the power of the Chola kingdom had weakened, that the Perumal of Mahodayapuram asserted his sovereignty. But this did not last long. The reign of the last Perumal, Rama Varma Kulashekhara|Rama Kulasekhara, was disturbed by internecine quarrels which led to his abdication of throne in favour of his Son Kotha Varma[59] Subsequent to the disappearance of Rama Kulasekhara at the beginning of the 12th century, the land of Kerala was governed by dozens of Naduvazhis under a feudal system which went by the Brahminical codes of morality, precedents and traditions.[58]

The Chera state had extensive trade relations with countries of the outside world. Sulaiman and al-Mas'udi, the Arab travellers who visited Malabar Coast during the period, have testified to the high degree of economic prosperity achieved by the state from its foreign trade. Sulaiman makes specific mention of the brisk trade with China. Malayalam emerged as a distinct language during the Kollam era, and Hinduism became the prominent religion of the state.[59]

Second/Later Cheras; According to
Prof. Elamkulam Kunjan Pillai;[20] Prof. M. G. S. Narayanan
  • Kulashekhara Varman (800–820 CE)
  • Rajashekhara Varman (820- 844 CE)
  • Sthanu Ravi Varman (844- 885 CE)
  • Rama Varma Kulashekhara (885- 917 CE)
  • Goda Ravi Varma (917- 944 CE)
  • Indu Kotha Varma (944- 962 CE)
  • Bhaskara Ravi Varman I (962- 1019 CE)
  • Bhaskara Ravi Varman II (1019–1021 CE)
  • Vira Kerala (1021–1028 CE)
  • Rajasimha (1028–1043 CE)
  • Bhaskara Ravi Varman III (1043–1082 CE)
  • Ravi Rama Varma (1082–1090 CE)
  • Rama Varma Kulashekhara (1090–1102 CE)
  • Rama Rajasekhara (800-844 CE)
  • Sthanu Ravi Kulasekhara (844-883 CE)
  • Kota Ravi Vijayaraga (883-913)
  • Kota Kota Kerala Kesari (913-943 CE)
  • Indu Kota (943-962 CE)
  • Bhaskara Ravi Manukuladilya (962-1021)
  • Ravi Kota Rajasimha (1021–1036 CE)
  • Raja Raja (1036–1089 CE)
  • Ravi Rama Rajaditya (1036–1089 CE)
  • Aditya Kota Ranaditya (1036–1089 CE)
  • Rama Kulasekhara (1089–1122 CE)

Cheras of Venadu[edit]

In the absence of a central power at Makkotai, the divisions of the 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. The original Chera dynasty migrated to Kollam (Quilon) and merged with the Ay kingdom.[60] Ramavarma Kulasekhara, the last Chera King of Makotaiya Puram (Kodungaloor), became the first ruler of the Chera-Ai Dynasty and was called Ramar Thiruvadi.[60]

The rulers of the kingdom of Venadu, based at port Quilon in southern Kerala, trace their relations to the Perumals of Makkotai. Venadu 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 CE.[20]

The Pandyas probably led a successful military expedition to Venadu and captured the capital city of Quilon between 1250 and 1300 CE. The records of Jatavarman Sundara Pandya and Maravarman Kulasekhara Pandya testify the establishment of Pandya rule over Venadu Cheras.[20] The Chera-Ai Dynasty was a vassal country under the Pandyan dynasty. After the invasion of Malik Kafur in 1311 CE the Pandyan dynasty was defeated and the last Tamil Chera-Ai ruler Veera Udaya Marthanda Varma was forced to abdicate in favour of two Matriarchal princess from the Tulu Kolathiri kingdom called Attingal and Kunnumel Ranis.[61]:234

Ravi Varma Kulasekhara[edit]

The death of the celebrated Pandyan king Jayasimha initiated a civil war in Venadu. Ravi Varma Kulasekhara, the last of the Venadu kings, came to throne according to the patrilineal system, and came out successful in this battle. Ravi Varma ruled Venadu as a vassal of the Pandyas till the death of king Maravarman Kulasekhara. After the death of the king he became independent and even claimed the throne of the Pandyas (Ravi Varma had married the daughter of the deceased Pandya ruler). He later annexed large parts of southern India and raised Venadu Cheras 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 was 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.[20]

The success of Ravi Varma was short lived and soon after his the death the region became a conglomeration of warring states. 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 raiders of the south and checked the tide of Islamic advance. Under the rule of Chera Udaya Marthanda Varma, the Venadu gradually extended their sway over the Tirunelveli region. Vira Ravi Ravi Varma (1484–1503) was the ruler of Venad during the arrival of the Portuguese in India.[20]

Copper-plate grants[edit]

Vazhappally Script
Vazhappally Plates-Detail

The Vazhapally Plates are a set of copper-plate grants issued by Kulasekhara Mahodayapuram King Rajashekhara Varman (820-844).[61]

The Tharisapalli plates are a set of copper-plate grants issued to Mar Sapir Iso, the leader of the Saint Thomas Christians by Ayyanadikal Thiruvadikal in 849, conferring on the Palli and Palliyar a large number of privileges, including the 72 royal rights. These copper-plates are still present at Devalokam Aramana Kottayam, the headquarters of Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church (successor to the Saint Thomas Christians).[61][62][63]

The Jewish copper plate was given to the Cochin Jews by Kulasekhara (Later Chera dynasty) king Bhaskara Ravi Varman I (962-1019 CE). This inscription conferred on a Jewish leader Ousep Rabban the rights of the Anjuvannam and 72 other proprietary rights.


Mahodaya Puram or Mahodaya Pattanam, Makotai was the capital city of Chera dynasty between 8th and 12th centuries CE. It was spread around present day Kodungallur (Cranganore), Thrissur district, and Kerala.[20]

The city was built around Tiruvanchikkulam temple (10°12′37″N 76°12′23″E / 10.2103°N 76.2064°E / 10.2103; 76.2064 (accident site)Coordinates: 10°12′37″N 76°12′23″E / 10.2103°N 76.2064°E / 10.2103; 76.2064 (accident site)) and was protected by high fortresses on all sides and had extensive pathways and palaces. The temple was a centre of Saivite cult in the early years of the later Chera age. The royal palace was at Gotramalleswaram, now known as Cheraman Parambu. The city administration was controlled by a special representative body, the Kuttam. Mahodaya Puram was also called Vanchi by the later Chera rulers after their former capital.[20]

The Chera rulers shifted their capital to Mahodayapuram from Vanchi. Chera ruler Kulashekhara Varman (9th century) styles himself in his works as the "Lord of Mahodayapuram". The famous Jewish Copper Plate grant (1000 CE) was issued by Muyirikkode (Mahodayapuram).[20]

Mahodayapuram was famous throughout South India in the 9th and 10th centuries as great centre of learning and science. A well-equipped observatory functioned there under the charge of Sankaranarayana (c. 840 – c. 900), the Chera court astronomer.[64] It functioned in accordance with the rules of astronomy laid down by Aryabhata. Chera ruler Sthanu Ravi equipped a section of the observatory with some special machines (the yantras; Rasi Chakra, Jalesa Sutra, Golayantra etc.) and hence it came to be called Ravi Varma Yantra Valayam. It seems that that arrangements had been made in the city for recording correct time and announcing it to the public from different centres by the tolling of bells at regular intervals of a Ghatika (25 minutes). IThis practice (Nazhikakkottu) continued until the early 15th century.[20]

The districts of the city were:[20]

  • Senamugham
  • Kottakkakam
  • Gotramalleswaram
  • Kodungallur
  • Balakrideswaram, etc.

Kanyakumari was the most southerly point of Chera territory.[65]

Decline and fall[edit]

In the 11th and 12th centuries, the Cholas attacked the Chera state from the west. The Chola ruler Raja Raja made a number of successful military campaigns to the Chera kingdom during the rule of Bhaskara Ravi. The Cholas attacked the capital from the north and ravaged the city. Chola records suggests the fall of the fort at Udagai (Makotai, Mahodayapuram) sometime before 1008 CE. Other records suggests the Chola ruler's long journey through forests for burning down Udagai.[20]

The Chola ruler Rajendra Chola probably surrounded the capital and killed the Chera king Bhaskara Ravi II in a decisive battle at Mahodayapuram in 1019 CE. The number of Chera generals and chieftains were also killed in the battle.[20]

During the long war during the rule of Rama Varma, Mahodayapuram and neighboring places were completely burnt down and destroyed by the Cholas.The prolonged wars had weakened the Chera power considerably and some chiefs ("Naduvazhis") took advantage of the chaotic opportunity and asserted their independence. The royal palace at Gotramalleswaram was probably also burnt down and the king is known to have stayed at multiple locations such as Nediatali in Kodungallur and at Kollam (1102 CE). Later the Rama Varma shifted his capital to Kollam.[20]

After the end of the Chera state, Mahodayapuram fell into the hands of the Kingdom of Perumpadappu. Traditionally, the rulers of Perumpadappu are regarded as descendants of the Chera rulers in the maternal line. In 1225 CE, the Perumpadappu ruler Vira Raghava issued the famous Syrian Christian Copper Plate grant to Iravi Kortanan from Mahodayapuram. Mahodayapuram served as the capital of Kingdom of Perumpadappu between the 13th and 15th centuries.[20]

After the decline of the Chera Dynasty, the following kingdoms came into existence:

  1. "Zamorins of Calicut.
  2. The kings of Travancore (inheritors of Venad, the southern Chera territories, and also the Ay kingdom).
  3. Kochi (Cochin, soon dominated by the Portuguese colony of Goa).
  4. The Hoysalas (from Mysore)
  5. Vijaynagar kingdom (with their centre in Karnataka)."

This is how one of the powerful southern dynasty of India ended.[66]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Asher, R.E. and T.C.Kumari (1997) - Malayalam, pg xxiv. As per current understanding, the split of Malayalam from Proto-Dravidian is before the Sangam era, ie in the pre-historic era - reference provided.
  2. ^ A.Sreedhara Menon (2012) - A Survey of Kerala History, pg 65
  3. ^ Asher, R.E. and T.C.Kumari (1997) - Malayalam, pg xxiv
  4. ^ A.Sreedhara Menon (2012) - A Survey of Kerala History, pg 33
  5. ^ A.Sreedhara Menon (2012) - A Survey of Kerala History, pg 27
  6. ^ A.Sreedhara Menon (2012) - A Survey of Kerala History, pg 28
  7. ^ a b N. Karashima (2014) - A Concise History of South India, pg 30
  8. ^ a b "India – Britannica Online Encyclopedia". Retrieved 2012-08-29. 
  9. ^ a b A.Sreedhara Menon (2012) - A Survey of Kerala History, pg 73
  10. ^ a b "Artefacts from the lost Port of Muziris." The Hindu. December 3, 2014.
  11. ^ "Muziris, at last?" R. Krishnakumar, Frontline, Apr. 10-23 2010.
  12. ^ a b "Ancient India: A History Textbook for Class XI (1999)" Ram Mohan Sharma; National Council of Educational Research and Training, India
  13. ^ Cyclopaedia of India and of Eastern and Southern Asia. Ed. by Edward Balfour (1871), Second Edition. Volume 2. p. 584.
  14. ^ (Ancient name, Chully ref: Akam. 149)
  15. ^ A.Sreedhara Menon (2012) - A Survey of Kerala History, pg 118
  16. ^ Romila Thapar. Early India: From the Origins to AD 1300. University of California Press, 2004 pp 368
  17. ^ Sivaraja Pillai, The Chronology of the Early Tamils – Based on the Synchronistic Tables of Their Kings, Chieftains and Poets Appearing in the Tamil Sangam Literature.
  18. ^ Vincent A. Smith (1 January 1999). The Early History of India. Atlantic Publishers & Dist. ISBN 978-81-7156-618-1. Retrieved 29 September 2012. 
  19. ^ Komattil Achutha Menon (1961) - Ancient Kerala, pg 7
  20. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab A Survey of Kerala History by A. Sreedhara Menon – Kerala (India) – 1967. This theory lends itself more towards the myths of the Parasurama tradition.
  21. ^ Keay, John (2000) [2001]. India: A history. India: Grove Press. ISBN 0-8021-3797-0.
  22. ^ Robert Caldwell (1 December 1998). A Comparative Grammar of the Dravidian Or South-Indian Family of Languages. Asian Educational Services. p. 92. ISBN 978-81-206-0117-8. Retrieved 1 August 2012. 
  23. ^ M. Ramachandran, Irāman̲ Mativāṇan̲ (1991). The spring of the Indus civilisation. Prasanna Pathippagam, pp. 34. "Srilanka was known as "Cerantivu' (island of the Cera kings) in those days. The seal has two lines. The line above contains three signs in Indus script and the line below contains three alphabets in the ancient Tamil script known as Tamil ...
  24. ^ Kamil Veith Zvelebil, Companion Studies to the History of Tamil Literature, p.12
  25. ^ K.A. Nilakanta Sastry, A History of South India, OUP (1955) p.105
  26. ^ a b Subodh Kapoor (1 July 2002). The Indian Encyclopaedia. Cosmo Publications. p. 1449. ISBN 978-81-7755-257-7. Retrieved 5 October 2012. 
  27. ^ Barbara A. West (1 January 2009). Encyclopedia of the Peoples of Asia and Oceania. Infobase Publishing. p. 781. ISBN 978-1-4381-1913-7. Retrieved 4 October 2012. 
  28. ^ V., Kanakasabhai (1997). The Tamils Eighteen Hundred Years Ago. Asian Educational Services. ISBN 81-206-0150-5. 
  29. ^ Zvelebil, Kamil (1973). The smile of Murugan: On Tamil literature of south India. Brill Academic Publishers. pp. 37–39. ISBN 90-04-03591-5. The opinion that the Gajabahu Synchronism is an expression of genuine historical tradition is accepted by most scholars today 
  30. ^ Pillai, Vaiyapuri (1956). History of Tamil Language and Literature; Beginning to 1000 AD. Madras, India: New Century Book House. p. 22. We may be reasonably certain that chronological conclusion reached above is historically sound 
  31. ^ Kamil Zvelebil (1975). Tamil Literature. BRILL. p. 38. ISBN 978-90-04-04190-5. Retrieved 4 October 2012. 
  32. ^ See report in Frontline, June/July 2003
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  34. ^ See Mahavamsa – Since Senguttuvan (Kadal Pirakottiya Vel Kezhu Kuttuvan) was a contemporary of Gajabahu I of Sri Lanka he was perhaps the Chera king during the 2nd century CE.
  35. ^ A.Sreedhara Menon (2012) - A Survey of Kerala History, pg 75
  36. ^ A.Sreedhara Menon (2012) - A Survey of Kerala History, pg 58
  37. ^
  38. ^ "Pattanam richest Indo-Roman site on Indian Ocean rim." The Hindu. May 3, 2009.
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  40. ^
  41. ^ "History of Ancient Kerala". Government of india. Retrieved 6 October 2012. [dead link]
  42. ^ Raoul McLaughlin, Rome and the distant East: trade routes to the ancient lands of Arabia, India and China Continuum International Publishing Group, 6 July 2010
  43. ^ P. 104 Indian Anthropologist: Journal of the Indian Anthropological Association By Indian Anthropological Association
  44. ^ a b c Cultural heritage of Kerala: An Introduction. A. Sreedhara Menon. East-West Publications. 1978.
  45. ^ The Jews of India: A Story of Three Communities by Orpa Slapak. The Israel Museum, Jerusalem. 2003. p. 27. ISBN 965-278-179-7.
  46. ^ The Encyclopedia of Christianity, Volume 5 by Erwin Fahlbusch. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing – 2008. p. 285. ISBN 978-0-8028-2417-2.
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  52. ^ A.Sreedhara Menon (2012) - A Survey of Kerala History, pg 82
  53. ^ A.Sreedhara Menon (2012) - A Survey of Kerala History, pg 98
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External links[edit]

External links[edit]