Mushika Kingdom

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Mushika kingdom
c. 6th century BCE (conventional dating)–early 11th Century CE
Capital Ezhimalai
Languages Tamil
Religion Hinduism and others
Government Monarchy
 •  Established c. 6th century BCE (conventional dating)
 •  Disestablished early 11th Century CE
South India in first century CE, showing Puzhinadu

The Mushika Kingdom (Mushaka Rajya, also called Ezhimalai Rajya, Puzhinadu, Kolathunadu, Chirakkal Rajya among the more common names) was an ancient kingdom of the Tamil Sangam period in present-day Kerala, India, ruled by a royal dynasty of the same name. Its dominions, for most of its recorded history, covered the present-day regions of Northern Kerala, Tulunadu and Coorg, between the western slopes of the Western Ghats in the East and the Arabian Sea in the West.[1] It was one of the five primary ruling dynasties in the ancient Tamilakam of recorded history, and in the Tamil Sangam Period, along with the Cheras, the Pandyas, the Cholas and the Ays. Ezhimalai Nannan was the most powerful ruler of Ezhimalai. He expanded the kingdom to include Gudalur and Coimbatore in his lifetime. With the death of Nannan towards the close of the 5th century C.E, in a battle with the Cheras, the kingdom was absorbed by the Chera kingdom, though they had several periods of independence alternating with those of being vassals or tributaries of the Cheras, as well as of the Pandyas. Most mainstream scholars believe that the erstwhile Kolathiri Dynasty (who had their last capital at Chirakkal, Kannur) are descendants of Nannan and the Mushika Royal Family, which the Family itself believed, and a fact that has been upheld by the various Tamil, Sanskrit, and Malayalam texts surviving to this day.[2][3][4][5]


Like with the other ruling dynasties of recorded history's ancient Tamilakam, namely the Cheras and Pandyas and Cholas and the Ay Dynasty among others, pre-ancient Dravidian legends trace the origin of the Mushika Royal Family to the legendary Kumari kandam of prehistoric times. Keralolpathi mentions this Dynasty as a direct line of the Cheras and having descended from Cheraman Perumal.[6][7] According to other legends, Parasurama is said to have appointed Ramaghata Mushika the first king of Mushika Dynasty, and therefore christened the Dynasty itself as Royalty.[8][9]

More conventionally though, their origins, again like those of the other ancient South Indian dynasties, are rather obscure, and several possibilities exist. The most plausible theory is that they, early on, started as a separate branch of the imperial Cheras/Pandyas/Cholas, originating in the Thiruvananthapuram area, before establishing themselves as a separate kingdom, which was sometimes a feudatory, and at other times with a reasonable degree of autonomy or independence.[10][11] The Mushika royals were one of the lineages of Velir family, of the Tamil Sangam era.[12] Over the millennia, they frequently intermarried with the Cheras, the Pandyas, the Cholas, the Ays and the Sinhala Royalty of Sri Lanka.[13] It is possible that they also gave rise to the royalties of the Lakshadweep and the Maldives. They have also had matrimonial alliances and relationships with the rulers of Magadha, the Chedis, the Yadavas and the Somavasmi Dynasty (of the Orissa region).[14][15] The Arakkal and the Nileshwaram Royal Families are both branches of this Royal Family, having branched out from them, over the centuries.

Among all the Royal Families living today, the Travancore royal family (Thiruvithamkoor) is closely related to the Mushika (Kolathiri) Royal Family, the two being close sister dynasties.[16][17][18][19][20] In fact, both the Mushika and the Thiruvithamkoor Families have been known by the same name(s) of Mushika itself, as also Kupaka/Kolathiri/Kolaswarupam across their recorded history.[21][22] This also suggests that the Mushika Family had the same ancestry as the Thiruvithamkoor Family originating from the Thiruvananthapuram region. Also worth noting is the tradition of mutual adoption of children between the two families. Thiruvithamkoor adopted princesses and princes more often from Mushika than the other way round.[23][24] During the Sangam Period, around the beginning of the Common Era, there was a Velir King by the name of Ay Nannan.[25]

Ezhimalai, the ancient capital, as seen from train

The best known king in the recorded history of this dynasty and kingdom was Udayan Venmon Nannan also known as Nannan or Nandan.[14][15] Documented records of the rule of 118 kings up until Srikanta at the start of the 11th Century CE have been compiled in the Sanskrit text known as Mushikavamsa, actually a poem composed by the poet and historian Atula, who was one of Srikanta's courtiers. The territories they ruled over were known as Kolathunadu or Kolathirinadu. The Kovilakam (meaning Palace in the local Malayalam language) of the Kolathiris was located in Chirakkal where it still stands. The Mushika Royals were responsible for building many of the existing ancient temples of Northern Kerala and adjoining areas, besides forts like those at Bekal Fort, and major ports like those at Valapattam.[26] The Arakkal and Nileshwaram Royal Families are both branches of the Kolathiri or Chirakkal Royal Family.

Kin-ships and intermarriages with the other South Indian Royalties[edit]

The Nannan (Mushika) Dynasty, one of the Tamil Velir lineages, had matrimonial alliances with the Cheras, Pandyas and Cholas, and with the other Velir lineages. The marriages were mutual with daughters being both given and taken.[27][28] The dynasty had several kings bearing the name of Nannan. In fact Nannan was a very common name in the then Tamilakam, and the surviving Sangam texts, especially those by the poet Paranar, speak of multiple Nannans, mostly from the Nannan (Mushika) and Ay (Venad) Dynasties.[29][30] Especially during the Tamil Sangam period (300 BCE to 200 CE), the Nannan Dynasty along with a handful of other Velirs, had very frequent and intimate marital relations with both the Cheras and the Cholas.[28] With available texts and research, details of many of these marriages and alliances in terms of the exact names and timelines or periods of those concerned, are not completely known. A few are however known in some detail.

  • Nannan I (possibly the earliest recorded (known) king of the dynasty to bear the name) married the daughter of the Chera King Perunchorruthiyan sometime around the 3rd Century BCE. Sangam texts as well as several versions of the Mahabharata cite a Chera king by the same name to have fed the rival armies in the Great War.[31][32]
  • Isanavarman (possibly in the early centuries of the Common Era) married a Chedi princess Nandini.[33][34][35][36]
  • The same Isanavarman also married the daughter of the then Chola King. Their son Nrpurama was the next king.[33][34][35][36]
  • The same Isanavarman's brother-in-law (sister's husband) was the then Chera King Jayaraja (Raghupati).[35][37]
  • A later king Virochana defeated the Pallavas, and married Harini, the daughter of the Pallava King.[34][38]
  • Kandan Kari Varman (The Mushika King who lived in the Eleventh Century CE) is referred to as a close relative of the Ay-Chera King Vira Kerala.[39][40] Both of them met with defeat at the hands of Rajendra Chola when they staged an uprising against the Chola Dynasty. Kandan Kari Varman was also known as Ramakuda Muvar Tiruvadi.[41][42] Tiruvadi was a title taken exclusively by the Ay Dynasty and this lends further credence to that the Nannan (Mushika) Dynasty was actually a branch of the Ay Dynasty originating in the Thiruvananthapuram area.[43] Several inscriptions exist in both the Kasargod-Kannur area (in Eramam) and in the Thiruvananthapuram-Kanyakumari area, throwing light on the synchronism between Rajendra Chola, Chera Vira Kerala and Kandan Kari Varman and that the latter Mushika King belonged to the Ay Dynasty.[44]

Mention in extant classical texts and records[edit]

The Mahabharata mentions the Mushika as one of the kingdoms of South India, and is grouped with the Cheras, Pandyas and Cholas.[45] The Mushika Dynasty in the Mahabharata indicates the Ay Dynasty in Thiruvananthapuram area possibly before the formally known Mushika Dynasty branched out.

The Tamil Sangam period is replete with mention of the Mushika Family, and especially that of their most famous ruler Nannan, who had his capital at Pazhi (Pazhayangadi).

The Greek traveler Strabo, who lived around 100 BCE, mentions the kingdom of Mushika in his accounts.[46][47] The Greek geographer Ptolemy mentions the Ay Dynasty, the mother dynasty of Nannan (Mushika) in the Second Century C.E, and refers to it as "Aoi".[48]

Description in Tamil Sangam Literature[edit]

Ezhimalai Nannan[edit]

Ezhimalai Nannan (approx. 3rd century BCE, sometimes approx 1st-5th century CE) was a South Indian ruler of the Mushika kingdom and was a suspected contemporary of Mauryan emperor Bindusara, in the Sangam Period. Ezhimalai Nannan, a celebrated hero in the Sangam literature, is famous for his military expansions and battles against their powerful neighbors, the Chera kingdom.[49]

Ezhimalai was a flourishing seaport and center of trade around the beginning of the Common Era, it was also one of the major battlefields of the Chola-Chera Wars of the 11th century. Mooshika Vamsham, written by Athulan in the 10th century, throws light on the history of the Mushika Royal Family in particular and of North Kerala in general.[14]

Under Nannan, an able military commander also, Mushika kingdom transformed into a force in South India, and stretched into Wynad and Gudalur Districts in the foothills of the Western Ghats, and the northern parts of present-day Coimbatore district, Tamil Nadu. Eager to expand his kingdom, Nannan waged war against the Cheras, and successfully defeated the Chera commanders at the Battle of Pazhi.

It is believed that Nannan buried an immense treasure of coins in the foothills of Ezhimalai. Sangam literature gives us a vivid picture of the life of people at Ezhimalai. Paranar, the court poet of Nannan, describes the victory of Pazhi in his works. The victories of Nannan over the Cheras and other neighbouring chieftains are alluded to in the Agamnanuru, Nattinai and other works. However the Chera king, Narmudi Cheral, defeated him at the Battle of Vakaipperum Turai and consequently the Mushika kingdom passed into the hands of the Cheras.[50][51]


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