Cheraman Perumal myths
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Myths of Cheraman Perumal are a group of tales regarding the last Cheraman Perumal of Kerala following his disappearance.
Legend of Cheraman Perumal
The identity of Cheraman Perumal is debated. He could have been the first or last in the series of Cheraman Perumals, the Later Chera rulers of Mahodayapuram. There are references to many Cheraman Perumals across the historical Tamil Nadu and Kerala region and this has made his identification difficult. He is believed to have ruled for 12 years (20 years in some version).
There are also speculations that the Cheraman Perumal legend was used by the Nambudiri Brahmins of Kerala, to support their superior status. It is said in one of the Brahmin legends that rulers belonging to the Chera dynasty were brought in from outside to rule Kerala, following the failure of the local village councils. These rulers were called Cheraman and the title Perumal (god) was suffixed to elevate them. This legend mentions twelve Cheraman Perumals which contradicts the twenty five Cheraman Perumals described in Keralolpathi.
Kerala used to be a predominantly Buddhist region[when?] and there is a theory that Perumal might have been synonymous with the Buddha.The surname Perumal could also have come from the legendary saint king Kulashekhara Azhwar. He was one of the twelve Vaishnava saints. As an ardent devotee of Lord Rama, he received the surname Perumal which his descendants use to this day. His descendants include the Travancore Kings who use the additional surname "Padmanabhadhasa" after Marthandavarma.[full citation needed]
Francis Buchanan, in his book Journeys from Madras through the countries of Mysore, Malabar and Kerala, mentions a completely different tale about the Perumal lineage. Bhutaraya Perumal (also called as Cholu/Chozha) was murdered by Cheraman Perumal with the help of Brahmins, after the latter was defeated by the former, forcing him to abdicate the throne. Then the Brahmins crowned Cheraman Perumal as the Kshatriya king over the whole of Buddhist Kerala. Historians confirm that this tale is again spun to prove the superiority of Brahmins in Kerala and also their fight against the strong Buddhist monarchy of Kerala.[by whom?]
Mysterious disappearance of Cheraman Perumal
There are several theories about the place the last Cheraman Perumal is supposed to have left for, at the end of his reign. It could be
- Mecca (which gave rise to the story of Tajuddeen Cheraman Perumal)
- Kailasa (which gave rise to the story of Cheraman Perumal Nayanaar)
- Any Buddhist site such as Kapilavastu, Lumbini, Sarnath
- Nalanda university, which was once headed by Buddhists from Kerala.
But the lack of evidence regarding his travel to any of these places has made his disappearance a mystery.
There are also other tales that identify Cheraman Perumal as:
- The husband of a Kshatriya woman and three Sudra girls, who beget the future kings of Kerala.
- The king who sent a message to Ceylon to bring back the carpenters, under the protection of Ezhavas.
- The one who went to Mecca in 628 A.D. and converted to Islam taking the name of Abdul Rahman Samiri.
- The one most popularly told in Muslim circles as having witnessed the splitting of the moon and converted to Islam by the Prophet Muhammad with the name of Thiya-uj-uddan (Crown of Faith).
- The one who gave his sword to the Nair chief at Calicut making him the Samoothiri of Calicut.
- The king who gave trading rights to Syrian Christian merchants Mar Sabor and Mar Proth.
- The one who gave his cap to Ayikkara Yajamanan, symbolising his authority.
- The king who became a Saivite saint, visited Siva temples across South India along with Sundarar, then believed to have become a faithful steward of Siva in Kailasa.
- Having become a Buddhist.
The controversy of Tajuddeen
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The myth that is popular among the Muslims of Kerala goes like this: "Once Cheraman Perumal was walking with his queen in the palace, when he witnessed the splitting of the moon. Shocked by this, he asked his astronomers to note down the exact time of the splitting. Then, when some Arab merchants visited his palace, he asked them about this incident. Their answers led the King to Mecca, where he met Prophet Mohammed and converted to Islam. Prophet Mohammed named him Thajuddin. The king then wrote letters to his kingdom to accept Islam and follow the teachings of Malik bin Deenar."
This is the Islamic version which does not fit into the history of the 63 Nayanmars (Saiva Saints)[]. Cheraman Perumal, also known as Perumaakothaiyar and Kalarittu Arivaar was a saintly Chera king who ruled from Kodungallur and was an ardent devotee of the Lord Mahadeva of Thiruvanchikalam just 3 km from Kodungallur. Researchers and experts conclude that there is no truth to this story since the Prophet lived from 570 to 631 CE and Cheraman Perumal who was a contemporary of Saint Sundarar, who lived later than Saint Thirugnana Sambandar and Saint Thirunavukkarasar, who are contemporaries and dated to have lived during Prophet Mohammed's time. Saint Sundarar and his friend Saint Cheraman Perumal are dated to have lived in the later part of 7th century and early part of 8th century CE. Saint Sundarar wrote 'Thiruthondar Thokai' in which he describes the lives, achievements and miracles of Saiva saints who lived before him, which includes Saint Thirugnana Sambandar and Saint Thirunavukkkarasar. If he sang about these two saints who lived at the time of the Prophet, he must have lived later than them which means his friend Cheraman Perumal must have lived later than the Prophet Mohammed. The veracity of this story has to be verified.
But Sadasivan, in his book A Social History of India, argue that it was the king of Maldives, Kalimanja, who converted to Islam. Mali, which was known to seafarers then, might have been misunderstood as Malabar (Kerala) and this might have given rise to the tale of Tajuddeen in the Cochin Gazetteer.
Depictions in cinema
- S.N., Sadasivan (Jan 2000), "Caste Invades Kerala", A Social History of India, APH Publishing, p. 303,304,305, ISBN 817648170X
- Wentworth, Blake (24 April 2013). Bhakti Demands Biography: Crafting the Life of a Tamil Saint. UC Berkeley. Archived from the original on 8 May 2013.
- Periapuranam by Chekkizhaar, 12th century CE
- Panniru Thirumurai Varalaru by Vidvan K Vellai varanan, first edn. 2008, Sarada Publishers
- "Mammootty to star in film on Kerala ruler Cheraman Perumal". Bollywoodlife.com. Retrieved 8 May 2015.