The Chera Dynasty was also known as Keral Putra because of its control over the state of Kerala. The western areas of Tamil Nadu and almost the entire central part of Kerala were under the control of the Chera rulers. Historians found it difficult to record the Chera dynasty in chronological order along with their achievements. However, from the available records, it is evident that there were a few noteworthy rulers in this dynasty like Cheran Senguttuvan, Neduncheralathan and Uthiyan Cheralathan. Cheran Senguttuvan is quite famous of the three, as he was the king mentioned in one of the five Tamil epics, Silappathigaram. The Chera Dynasty started off in Tamil Nadu and the town of Karur was their capital. Within no time, they started expanding their rule to the neighbouring state of Kerala as well by crossing over the Perar River, now known as Periyar River.
History of Chera Dynasty
Kerala and parts of southern Tamil Nadu formed the erstwhile Chera kingdom with Tiruvanchikulam near Cranganore as its main capital. They rivaled the neighboring dynasties of Cholas and Pandyas in prosperity. Cheras had strong overseas trade links with Romans in natural produce such as spices, ivory and sandal.
The first Chera ruler was Perumchottu Utiyan Cheralatan, a contemporary of the great Chola, King Karikalan. After suffering a humiliating defeat at the hands of the Chola ruler at the battle of Venni, he committed suicide.
His son, Imayavaramban Nedum Cheralatan, another important Chera ruler, succeeded him. During his long rule of 58 years, Imayavaramban Nedun Cheralatan consolidated the Chera Dynasty and extended its frontiers. He inflicted a crushing defeat on his sworn enemies, the Kadambas of Banavasi (see Uttar Kannad for details). Imayavaramban’s reign is of special significance to the development of art and literature. Kannanar was his poet laureate.
However, the greatest Chera King was Kadalpirakottiya Vel Kelu Kuttuvan, who is also identified with the mythical hero of the Silappadigaram (The Jewelled Anklet). Silappadigaram is one of the three great Tamil epics of the Sangam Age. The great Tamil poet, Paranar, refers to his military exploits including his famous victory at Mogur Mannan and Kongar.
The last known Chera ruler, Cheraman Perumal converted to Islam and built the first mosque in India. The Cheras faded out of history by the 8th century AD.
List of Kings from the later Chera Dynasty
- Kulashekhara Varman (800 AD to 820 AD)
- Rajashekhara Varman (820 AD to 844 AD)
- Sthanu Ravi Varman (844 AD to 885 AD)
- Rama Varma Kulashekhara (885 AD to 917 AD)
- Goda Ravi Varma (917 AD to 944 AD)
- Indu Kotha Varma (944 AD to 962 AD)
- Bhaskara Ravi Varman I (962 AD to 1019 AD)
- Bhaskara Ravi Varman II (1019 AD to 1021 AD)
- Vira Kerala (1021 AD to 1028 AD)
- Rajasimha (1028 AD to 1043 AD)
- Bhaskara Ravi Varman III (1043 AD to1082 AD)
- Rama Varma Kulashekhara (1090 AD to 1102 AD)
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
Chera Style of Architecture
The Dravidian style of Architecture is the characteristic South Indian style and is mainly found in the Southern Indian states of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala, Telangana, and Andhra Pradesh. The Dravidian architecture can mainly be seen through the temples; which were of various shapes such as square, rectangular, octagonal, star-shaped etc and they were made from stones. They were constructed by sandstone, steatite or granite. The Vastu Shastra, an ancient science of architecture and construction, states it as one of the three styles of temple building.
In front of the sanctum (mukha mandapa), there used to be a hall (usually of rectangular shape) where the devotees stood to be able to see the main deity of the temple. The nityarchana mandapa is where the worship of the small (moveable) representative of the main deity is done every day. There used to be a flight of stairs to connect the first prakara with the sanctum sanctorum and was called sopana. It was in front of this flight of stairs where the main mandapa was. The other deities and the consort of the main deity (Lakshmi or Parvati) were kept in the subsidiary shrines or altars.
Many of the Dravidian temples had halls for various purposes. For example, hall for holding large audience- ranga-mandapa, hall for occasional sacrifices-yajna, hall for dance recitals- nritya-mandapa, hall for marriage ceremonies- kalyana-mandapa, hall in the middle of the temple tank used for festivals- vasanta-mandapa, hall for festive occasions- utsava-mandapa, place where the festival vehicles were kept- vahana-mandapa and asthana-mandapa- where the processional deity held alankara-mandapa where the deity was dressed before being taken on cavalcade. There also used to be a treasury, a kitchen (paka-sala), store room (ugrana), dining hall (Ramanuja-kuta in a Vaishnava temple and Siva-kuta in a Siva temple) in such temples.
List of rulers from the former Chera Dynasty
- Perumchottu Uthiyan Cheralathan
- Imayavaramban Nedun-Cheralatan
- Palyanai Sel-Kelu Cheran Chenkutuvan
- Kalankai-Kanni Narmudi Cheral
- Vel-Kelu Kuttuvan
- Adukotpattu Cheralatan
- Kuttuvan Irumporai
- Ilamcheral Irumporai
- Poraiyan Kadungo
- Tagadur Erinda Perumcheral
- Yanaikat-sey Mantaran Cheral
- Kanaikal Irumporai
Many Chera rulers were glorified in the ancient Sangam literature works. The most famous ruler of the Chera dynasty was Cheran Senguttuvan, who was the hero in one of the great Tamil epics, Silappathigaram. Few other collections of Tamil literature like Kalithogai, Pathitrupatthu and Ettuthogai mentions the bravery and valour of the Chera rulers. Mahabharata mentions that Chera found the famous Kurukshetra war and that they were on the side of the Pandavas.
Hinduism was the most prominent religion in the Chera dynasty. A very minor portion of the dynasty had people following Jainism and Buddhism as well. During the olden days, most of the Chera rulers worshipped the Goddess of War, Kottavai and today, this war Goddess is worshipped as a form of Goddess Devi Herself. Trees, forefathers, departed leaders and the like were worshipped by the Cheras.
Facts about Chera Dynasty
- The Cheras were also known as ‘Keralaputras’ in the history. The Chera kingdom occupied the region of a narrow strip between the sea and the mountains of Konkan range.
- The Chera rulers also occupied high position in the history of south India. Nedunjeral Adan was a famous Chera king. He conquered Kadambas with his capital at Vanavasi (near Goa). He also defeated the Yavanas.
- Nedunjeral Adan had a good relation with the Greeks and Romans who came in large numbers as traders and set up large colonies in south India.
- Nedunjeral Adan fought a battle with the father of the Chola king Karikala. In this battle, both the kings were killed.
- Nedunjeral Adan was called as Imayavaramban. The literary meaning of the term Imayavaramban is “one who had the Himalaya Mountains as the boundary of his kingdom.” However, it seems to be mere exaggeration.
- Sengutturan was the greatest king of the Chera dynasty as mentioned in the Chera tradition. He had defeated the Chola and the Pandya kings.
- The Chera power declined at the end of the 3rd century A.D. They again acquired power in the 8th century A.D.
- The kingly families of Cochin and Travancore, which claim to be Kshatriyas, are descendants of the Chera kings, and were originally Nayar, as were the Samantans or local chieftains.
- The Chera kings, the first known rulers of Kerala, were by origin of Nayar, not Kshatriya caste, as is clearly shown by their being classed in the Sanskrit epics as of degenerate race, outside the recognized caste system.
- The development of authority by the Chera kings, theoretically all-powerful, is suggested in the references in Shilappadikaram to the ‘king’s council’ and the ‘five assemblies’.
- The council of the King consisted of the inner group of respected elders and of powerful noblemen, rajas of districts like the ‘ruler of Alumbil’, who on one occasion makes a speech full of wise advice; the council was not merely the highest advisory body, but also the final judicial tribunal which assisted the king when he held his daily durbar to consider petitions and render judgments.
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