Chera Dynasty: The Oldest Known Kings Who Ruled Kerala
The Chera Dynasty is one of the important ancient Indian dynasties. The dynasty is also known in the name of Keralaputras. It reigned from prior to the Sangam Age till 12th century AD. The principal enemies of the Chera Dynasty were the Pandyas and the Cholas. It is believed that they extended their empire from central Kerala (Kuttanad area) to Puzhinadu, Kudanad in the north and Kongunad in the east.
The Chera Dynasty is regarded as one of the very old dynasties that reigned over India. The Sangam Age spanned from third century BC till the 12th century AD.
Along with the Pandyas and Cholas, the Chera Dynasty constituted the three main belligerent Tamil dynasties in the Iron Age which originated in the country in the beginning of the Christian period.
The expression Chera Dynasty denotes two chronicled Tamil kingdoms that reigned prior to the Sangam age era till the 12th century in the contemporary Tamil Nadu and Kerala in Southern India. The first Chera empire ruled till 5th century AD. The second Chera Dynasty, which is referred to as the Kulasekharas of Mahodayapuram, reigned since the 9th century. There is scarcity of information regarding the Chera rulers in the middle of the two dynasties.
Origin of Chera Dynasty
The exclusive source of information about the early Chera monarchs is the compilation of Sangam Age writings. The Chera monarchs were the oldest recognized kings of Kerala. They did not belong to the Kshatriya community and it is believed that they belonged to the Nair community. The oldest Chera monarch was Perumchottu Utiyan Cheralatan and he is regarded as the establisher of this empire. Imayavaramban Nedum Cheralatan was his son and heir who made a significant contribution in turning the empire into one of the strongest empires of his period. There was significant growth in the domain of art and literature during the rule of Imayavaramban Nedum Cheralatan. Nonetheless, Kadalpirakottiya Vel Kelu Kuttuvan is considered as the best monarch of the Chera empire. His name has been cited in Shilappadikaram, the Tamil epic. They were involved in overseas business with the Romans and the commodities traded include ivory, spices, and sandalwood.
Territory of Chera Dynasty
The early Cheras enjoyed dominance over a huge province in the Kongu area.
The Ganga or Kongar people of the Western Ganga Dynasty were overpowered by Emperor Senguttuvan. The Cheras also reigned over the western seashores of Malabar (Kudanadu) and the Kodunthamizh provinces of Travancore (also known as Venadu) through feudal lords.
The Porainad or the contemporary Palakkad for which Theari (Para) served as a capital was annexed to the empire of the Cheras. This took place once the Chera Emperor tied knots with the only princess of the Porainadu Empire.
Conventionally, the Chera Empire was typically split into five segments based on topographical aspects and they are as follows:
Kudanadu (the western territory)
Puzhinadu- Erstwhile Ezhil Malai Dynasty, also known as the sandy territory
Kuddanadu/Kuttanadu (the territory of lakes)
Karkainadu (the unassailable mountainous territory, towards the east of Kudanad)
The principal harbors in the Chera Empire were as follows:-
Kalaikkarias, Bramagara, Muchiri Pattanam (Muziris) on the riverbanks of Psuedostomos/Chulli river
Tondi, to the south of the Lueke Island, and on the riverbanks of Makkali river
Semne, Podoperoura, Bakarei, and Koreoura/Kothora, (at the mouth of Baris river).
In territorial cities flanked by Muziris and Tondi, the prominent ports were Kouba, Naroulla, and Paloura. In territorial cities flanked by Baris and Psuedostomos, the prominent ports were Mastanour, Pasage, Pounnata, Kourellour, Karoura, Aloe, Pantipolis, Arembour Bideris/Videris, and Adarima Koreour.
Religion during Chera Dynasty
The various religions practiced during the Chera Dynasty include Jainism, Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, Islam and Christianity. The mother deity was named as ‘Kottravai’. She was subsequently imbibed into the contemporary incarnation of Devi according to the Hindu religion.
Military Strength of Chera Dynasty
The Cheras owned a well-resourced military comprising foot soldiers, horseback troops, battle elephants, and war horse-drawn vehicles.
The naval power of the dynasty was also noteworthy. Prior to any kind of conflict, the warriors of the Chera dynasty showed their respect to the Kottavai, the war deity.
Conventionally, the Chera monarchs came out as triumphant in a war when they put on the ankle bracelets created with the coronets of the vanquished kings.
Life during Chera Dynasty
The people ruled by the Chera Empire were not split into groups and socio-economic classes. The Varna system did not materialize distinctly.
There was no place for withdrawnness and social restrictedness. Groups of people like the Kuruva, Pana, Veta and Paraya were respected by the monarchs. These communities imparted knowledge and benefited from social independence and egalitarianism. A number of renowned bards of the Sangam era were Panas.
During the Chera dynasty, women were given a superior position in the society. They went to school and did not hide their faces. Auvvaiyar (circa 500 AD) was the most famous bard during this era. Child wedding was unheard of and there was no restriction on widow marriage.
Administration of Chera Dynasty
The most significant governmental foundation of the Chera dynasty was autocracy or autarchy. There was a considerable extent of splendor and ceremoniousness related to the monarch as an individual.
The monarch put on a gold coronet which was adorned with valuable gems and jewels. The ruler was a dictator in the Chera dynasty. However, his authorities were restricted by a group of ministers and academics. The durbar took place every day and the monarch listened to the concerns of the mass he ruled and tried to solve them at that moment.
The Regal Queen enjoyed a significant and honored position. She always used to sit beside the monarch in all spiritual events.
Another major establishment was the “manram”. The manram acted in every rural community in the Chera Dynasty. The gathering typically took place beneath a banyan plant and was organized by the aged people of the village. They played a crucial role in providing assistance to resolve the regional disagreements. The manrams served as the sites for the village carnivals also.
Regime of Chera Dynasty and inheritance
Throughout the spreading out of the kingdom of the Cheras, the kin of the regal household established mansions at different areas of their territory, including Karur, Vanchi, and Tondi.
While ruling their empire, the Chera rulers adopted the collateral arrangement of inheritance consistent with which the most aged family member, irrespective of the place he stayed in, assumed the position of the monarch. Younger princes and crown princes or heir- apparent assisted the reigning monarch to run the empire.
The monarchs of the Chera dynasty were involved in regular marriage with other groups or tribes and conflict with the Cholas and Pandyas for hundreds of years. In ancient Tamil writings, it was mentioned that the Chera monarchs were Kuttuvan, Cheral, Kollipurai, Irumporai, or Athan. The kings were known in names like Makothai or Kothai. The upper class among the Cheras were known as “Cheraman” as a whole.
Vanavaramban and Irumporai families
King Uthiyan Cheralathan, his sons and grandsons were members of one division of the Chera Regal family known as the “Vanavaramban line”.
Prince Antuvan Cheral and the sons and grandsons of Prince Antuvan Cheral were members of another division which was known as the “Irumporai line”.
Antuvan Cheral, the famous Chera prince, is the father of the monarch Selva Kadungo. On certain occasions, Antuvan Cheral is recognized with the younger brother of King Uthiyan Cheralathan, Palyani Sel Kelu Kuttuvan. This was mentioned in Purananuru by Madamisyar.
There was a city named Karur which served as the administrative center of Prince Antuvan Cheral. Ay Antiran, the Ay monarch was a senior person who belonged to the same period of Prince Cheral.
It was believed that the Ay kings possibly had more strength in comparison to the Cheras at the period of Ay Antiran’s regime. Prince Cheral and three other rulers of the same descent are considered as people belonging to the same period as Nedum Cheralathan and his sons.
There was a remarkable event in the chronicles of the Chera Dynasty. King Nedum Cheralathan and King Selva Kadumko Valiathan tied knots with two sisters.
Other reigning families
Other than the two abovementioned families, there were some other Chera rulers and the names of these monarchs were mentioned in the Sangam literature. All of them were not members of the principal descent of the Chera Empire. Yanaikatchai Mantaran Cheral Irumporai is one of the major names among these monarchs. In all likelihood, Yanaikatchai Mantaran Cheral Irumporai was the son and heir of King Illam Cheral Irumporai. He was also the idol of the cast off 10th decennary. Another Chera monarch, Kanaikkal Irumporai, has been mentioned in the Sangam verses. Perum Kadungo, who was also known as “Palai Paitiya”, was a monarch of this dynasty who reigned from the Vanchi city. In the Sangam literature, Kothai Marpan with Tondi as its capital has been cited.
Perumchottu Utiyan Cheralatan was overpowered by King Karikalan, the famous Chola monarch. Cheralatan committed suicide following the loss at the conflict of Venni. It is noteworthy that Cheraman Perumal, the last recognized monarch of the Chera dynasty, switched to the religion of Islam. He was also responsible for constructing the oldest Islamic shrine in the country. By 8th century AD, this dynasty gradually disappeared from history.
The early Cheras reigned over Kongu Nadu, Kerala, Dharmapuri and Salem. They possibly annexed the southern part of Thiruvarur and Nagapattinam districts following the wedding of the 2nd monarch of the first Chera Empire with the regal clan of the Cholas.
Earlier, Vanchi Muthur served as their capital and it was situated in the Kanthallur-Kizhanthur area in the district of Idukki, Kerala. However, they shifted their governing center to Karur Vanchi or Karur in 2nd century AD. The 2nd Chera Empire reigned from the fringes of Muziris, lying on the riverbanks of Periyar.
List of Chera Monarchs
Given below is a list of the Chera monarchs. They can be divided into three line of descent and they are the Vanavaramban line, the Irumporai line, and the second Chera monarchs.
Palyani Sel Kelu Kuttuvan
Adu Kottu Pattu Cheralathan
Vel Kelu Kuttuvan
Selva Kadumko Valiathan
Illam Cheral Irumporai
Perum Cheral Irumporai
Second Chera Monarchs
Rajashekhara Varman (820- 844 AD)
Kulashekhara Varman (800–820 AD)
Rama Varma Kulashekhara (885- 917 AD)
Sthanu Ravi Varman (844- 885 AD)
Indu Kotha Varma (944- 962 AD)
Goda Ravi Varma (917- 944 AD)
Bhaskara Ravi Varman II (1019- 1021 AD)
Bhaskara Ravi Varman I (962- 1019 AD)
Rajasimha (1028- 1043 AD)
Vira Kerala (1021- 1028 AD)
Ravi Rama Varma (1082-1090 AD)
Bhaskara Ravi Varman III (1043–1082 AD)
Rama Varma Kulashekhara (1090- 1102 AD)
The abovementioned list was prepared as per the research performed by Professor Elamkulam Kunjan Pillai. The Second Chera Dynasty is sometimes referred to as the Later Chera Dynasty.
Sthanu Ravi Kulasekhara (844-883 AD)
Rama Rajasekhara (800-844 AD)
Kota Kota Kerala Kesari (913-943 AD)
Kota Ravi Vijayaraga (883-913)
Bhaskara Ravi Manukuladilya (962-1021)
Indu Kota (943-962 AD)
Raja Raja (1036-1089 AD)
Ravi Kota Rajasimha (1021-1036 AD)
Aditya Kota Ranaditya (1036-1089 AD)
Ravi Rama Rajaditya (1036-1089 AD)
Rama Kulasekhara (1089-1122 AD)
This abovementioned list of the 2nd Chera Dynasty was prepared as per the research performed by Professor M. G. S. Narayanan.