The history of Kerala goes back more than several millennia. Stone age carving in Edakkal Caves had pictorial writings believed to be dating to at least 5000 BC, from the Neolithic man, indicating the presence of a prehistoric civilization or settlement in this region. From as early as 3000 BC, Kerala had established itself as a major spice trade center. Kerala had direct contact across the Arabian Sea with all the major Red Sea ports and the Mediterranean ports as well as extending to ports in the Far East. The spice trade between Kerala and much of the world was one of the main drivers of the world economy. For much of history, ports in Kerala were the busiest (Muziris) among all trade and travel routes in the history of the world.
A 3rd-century-BC rock inscription by emperor Asoka the Great attests to a Keralaputra. Around 1 BC the region was ruled by the Chera Dynasty, which traded with the Greeks, Romans and Arabs. The Tamil Chera dynasty, Ays and the Pandyan Empire were the traditional rulers of Kerala whose patriarchal dynasties ruled until the 14th century. The Cheras collapsed after repeated attacks from the neighboring Chola Empire and Rashtrakuta Empire. In the 8th century Adi Shankara was born in central Kerala, who travelled extensively across the Indian subcontinent, establishing institutions of Advaita Vedanta philosophy. Feudal Namboothiri Brahmin and Nair city-states subsequently gained control of the region.
There are myths concerning the origin of Kerala. One such myth is the creation of Kerala by Parasurama, a warrior sage. The Brahminical myth proclaims that Parasurama, an Avatar of Mahavishnu, threw his battle axe into the sea. As a result, the land of Kerala arose and was reclaimed from the waters.
He was the sixth of the ten avatars (incarnation) of Vishnu. The word Parasu means 'axe' in Sanskrit and therefore the name Parasurama means 'Ram with Axe'. The aim of his birth was to deliver the world from the arrogant oppression of the ruling caste, the Kshatriyas. He killed all the male Kshatriyas on earth and filled five lakes with their blood. After destroying the Kshatriya kings, he approached assembly of learned men to find a way of penitence for his sins. He was advised that, to save his soul from damnation, he must hand over the lands he had conquered to the Brahmins. He did as they advised and sat in meditation at Gokarnam. There, Varuna -the God of the Oceans and Bhumidevi - Goddess of Earth blessed him. From Gokarnam he reached Kanyakumari and threw his axe northward across the ocean. The place where the axe landed was Kerala. It was 160 katam (an old measure) of land lying between Gokarnam and Kanyakumari. Puranas say that it was Parasuram who planted the 64 Brahmin families in Kerala, whom he brought down from the north in order to expiate his slaughter of the Kshatriyas. According to the puranas, Kerala is also known as Parasurama Kshetram, i.e., 'The Land of Parasurama', as the land was reclaimed from sea by him.
This legend, however, may be a Brahmin appropriation of an earlier Chera legend where a Chera King, Velkezhu Kuttavan, otherwise known a Chen Kuttuvan flings his spear into the sea to claim land from it. The myth of Parashurama is debatable as the legendary king Mahabali, under whose rule Kerala was the land of prosperity and happiness, was granted rule over netherworld (Patalam) by Vamana the avatar of Vishnu, who actually comes before the avatar of Parashurama according to the avatar stories of Hindu mythology. There is however a counter-point to this line of argument, because as per the 'Vishupuranam' Mahabali was ruler of the entire World (there is no mention of a place called Kerala) and eyed to capture the abode of the Devas when Vishnu incarnated as 'Vamana' and banished him. Also it is not necessary for one Avatara to end before the other one begins. Parasurama also appears along with Sri Rama in the Ramayana as well as the Mahabharata,as a Guru for Karna.
One legend of Kerala even makes Parasurama a Pandya ruler. In another legend, the Pandyas themselves are the manifestations of Parasurama. P.N. Chopra writes, "Parasurama is deemed by the Keralites as the father of their national identity." The Kollam Era is also known as "Parasurama-Sacam". Travancore Rajas claim descent from Chera King Bhanu Bikram, who according to legend was placed on the throne by Parasurama. Scholar K. Narayanan Sivaraja Pillai mentions, "Even as the West Coast owes its very rudiments of civilized life to Parasurama...". In the Keralolpatti, Parasurama is said to have selected goddess Durga (Kali) to be the guardian of the sea-shore of Kerala. According to legend, Chera King Kuttuvan Chera (also called Kota Varman) once enraged, threw an into the sea, thereby causing it to retreat and the land to dry. According to another legend, a Pandyan called "Vadimbalamba ninrapandyan" threw his spear into the sea, hereby causing the same effect. There is another story of Ukkira Pandiyan obtaining a spear from the Sivan of Madura, and throwing it into the sea, causing the shore to retreat. Tradition says that Parasurama minted gold coins called Rasi and that in Travancore, he sowed them and buried the surplus in Cairns.
Kerala finds mention in the annals of international trade from as early as 3000 BC, having established itself as the major spice trade centre of the world and traded with Sumer. The Aitareya Aranyaka is the earliest Sanskrit work that specifically mentions Kerala.
The earliest written record mentioning Kerala is contained in the Sanskrit epic known as the Aitareya Aranyaka. Later, such figures as Katyayana (circa 4th century BC) and Patanjali (circa 2nd century BC) exhibited in their writings a casual familiarity with Kerala's geography. Megasthanes, the Greek Ambassador to the court of Emperor Chandragupta Maurya (4th Century BC) mentions in his work Indica on many South Indian States, including Automela (probably Muziris), and a Pandian trade centre. Ancient Roman Natural philosopher Pliny the Elder mentions in his Naturalis Historia (N.H. 6.26) a Muziris probably modern-day Kodungallur or Pattanam as India's first port of Importance. Later, the unknown author of the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea notes that "both Muziris and Nelkunda (modern Nillakal) are now busy places".
Laterite rock-cut caves (Chenkallara), Hood stones (Kudakkallu), Hat stones (Toppikallu), Dolmenoid cists (Kalvrtham), Urn burials (Nannangadi) and Menhirs (Pulachikallu) are the Megalithic monuments found in Kerala.
A Keralite identity is associated with the development of Malayalam, subsequently evolved sometime during the 8th and 9th centuries (Kerala's main native language). It believed to be originated as an offshoot of Tamil as all historical records available till date from Kerala is in Tamil, the principal native language of neighboring Tamil Nadu was Tamil. Malayalam (derived from the local words: mala (means Mountain) and aalam (means kingdom)) as a composite phrase means the living/inhabitants of Mountain Kingdom. This phrase, which in earlier times implied the geographical location of the region, was later replaced by Kerala
Buddhism and Jainism reached Kerala in this early period. As in other parts of Ancient India, Buddhism and Jainism co-existed with early Vaishnavism and Shaivite beliefs during the first five centuries. By the 8th and 9th centuries, 2nd Chera kings inclined to Vaishnavism and some of them wrote great literary works in the stream of Vishnu Bhakthi. In the 8th century Sri Sankara (also known as Adi Shankara) was born at Kaladi in central Kerala, who travelled extensively across the length and breadth of the Indian sub-continent, establishing institutions of Advaita Vedanta philosophy. The places of his visit and location of the Muths that he had instituted in the north, south, east and west, are broadly considered to be limits of the geographical expanse of ancient India.
The significant presence of West Asians - primarily traders - on the Malabar coast has been recorded in many Roman and Tamil sources. They were encouraged to settle and set up trading outposts and factories by the local kings. Many migrations into Kerala were to escape religious and/or racial persecution. Jews of Kerala claimed to be remnants of the Jews that left the northern Kingdom of Israel following the Assyrian invasion of 721 BC. The white Jews were refugees from Spain following the promulgation of the Edict of Expulsion. Thomas the Apostle visited this region in 52 AD and preached Christianity among many enlightened Hindu Groups and Jewish people who are now known as Nasranis. Another well recorded arrival (in the Tharisappally records) is of Mar Sabor and Mar Proth on invitation from the Kollam King. They arrived from Assyria in the 9th century AD and were the founders of the present Christian religion in Kerala shores independent from Vaishnavism. With the advent of Islam in West Asia the traders visiting Kerala's shores contained ever larger proportions of Muslims. Malik Ibn Dinar created the first Muslim settlement in Kerala in the 7th century AD. Arab Muslims eventually dominated the sea trade with Kerala until the arrival of the Portuguese in the 15th century AD. As the Muslim settlers gained strength clashes erupted between them and the Christian & Jewish settlers in the 9th century AD. This resulted in Muslim control of trading centres and the latter communities scattering to places such as Angamaly and others further south.
Vasco da Gama's voyage to Kerala from Portugal in 1498 was largely motivated by Portuguese determination to break the Arabs' control over trade of spices grown in Kerala. The spice trade with the Middle East pre-dates Islam.
Da Gama established India's first Portuguese fortress at Cochin (Kochi) in 1503 and taking advantage of rivalry between the royal families of Calicut and Cochin, ended the Arab monopoly. Conflicts between Calicut and Cochin, however, provided an opportunity for the Dutch to come in and finally expel the Portuguese from their forts.
The Dutch were, in turn, routed by the Nairs of Travancore (Thiruvithamcoore) ruler Marthanda Varma at the Battle of Kulachal in 1741. Hyder Ali of Mysore conquered northern Kerala in the 18th century, capturing Kozhikode in 1766. Hyder Ali and his successor, Tipu Sultan, (but Nairs under the capable Diwan of Travancoore Raja Keshavadas (Keshava pillai Diwanji) defeated Tippu near Aluva) came into conflict with the British, and the four Anglo-Mysore wars were fought across southern India in the latter half of the 18th century. Tipu Sultan ceded Malabar District to the British in 1792, and South Kanara, which included present-day Kasargod District, in 1799. The British concluded treaties of subsidiary alliance with the rulers of Cochin (1791) and Travancore (1795), and they became princely states of British India, maintaining local autonomy in return for a fixed annual tribute to the British. Malabar and South Kanara districts were part of British India's Madras Presidency.
Organised expressions of discontent with British rule were relatively not infrequent in Kerala. Uprisings of note include the rebellion by Pazhassi Raja, Velu Thampi Dalawa and the Punnapra-Vayalar revolt of 1946. In 1919, consequent to their victory in World War I, the British abolished the Islamic Caliphate and dis-membered the Ottoman Empire.
This resulted in protests against the British by Muslims of the Indian sub-continent which is known as Khilafat Movement, which was supported by Mahatma Gandhi in order to draw the Muslims into the mainstream national independence movement.
In the year 1921, the Khilafat Movement in Malabar culminated in widespread riots against the British government and Hindu population in what is now known as Moplah rebellion. Kerala also witnessed several social reforms movements directed at eradication of social evils such as untouchability from among the Hindus, pioneered by reformists like Srinarayana guru, Chattambiswami etc. The non-violent and largely peaceful Vaikom Satyagraha of 1924 was instrumental in securing entry to the public roads adjacent to the Vaikom temple for people belonging to untouchable castes.
After India's independence in 1947, the princely states of Travancore and Kochi were merged to form the province (after 1950 a state) of Travancore-Cochin on July 1, 1949. Madras Presidency became India's Madras State.
The state of Kerala was created on November 1, 1956 when Malabar District of Madras Presidency, Tranvancore-Cochin and Kasargod taluk of South Kanara District were merged to form the state of Kerala and Kaniyakumari from Travancore was given over to Tamil Nadu based on the recommendations of the State Reorganisation Commission set up by the Government of India. Elections for the new Kerala Legislative Assembly were held in 1957; this resulted in the formation of a communist-led government headed by E.M.S. Namboodiripad. Many Indians consider this the first democratically elected communist government in the world; however, both San Marino (in 1948) and Guyana (in 1953) had elected communists to power years earlier. The social factors leading to elections of the communists was discussed in the 1959 book The red interlude in Kerala by Kainikkara Padmanabha Pillai. Radical reforms introduced by the E. M. S. Namboodiripad government in favour of farmers and labourers helped change, to a great extent, the iniquitous social order that had prevailed in Kerala for centuries.
Another feature was the large migration of people, especially Syrian Christians from Central Kerala to Malabar regions; termed as Malabar Migration. Furthermore, a substantial proportion of Mappilas numbering between 3 and 4 million people have left Kerala to seek employment in the Middle East, especially in Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Omen, Bahrain and Qatar.The kingdoms of the Cheras were located to the south of the great Mauryan Dynasty and Keralaputra and Cheraputra were first mentioned in the inscriptions of Ashoka the Great. However we come to know many details about the Chera Dynasty from the poems of the Sangam literature.
The first Chera ruler was Perumchottu Utiyan Cheralatan who founded the Chera dynasty. He was succeeded by his son Imayavaramban Nedum Cheralatan who converted the Chera dynasty into a powerful one and extended and enriched his kingdom from all aspects. Imayavaramban’s reign was also very important for the development of art and Literature as he patronized art and culture greatly. His poet laureate was Kannanar.
Trade and Commerce flourished during the reign of the Cheras. The Cheras traded in ivory, timber, spices and exported precious gems and pearls to the Middle East and these trade contacts with the Middle East established Judaism.
Though the Cheras had their personal religion, a large number of other religious traditions also existed during their rule. Buddhism and Jainism both were introduced in Kerala by the second century BC.
Chera Dynasty (Tamil: சேரர் ) in southern India is one of the most ancient ruling dynasties in India. Together with the Cholas and the Pandyas, they formed the three principle warring Iron Age Tamil kingdoms in India. They are among the triumvirate of the Three Crowned Kings. Cheras ruled from before the Sangam Age (3rd century BC to 3rd century AD) until the 12th century AD.
Along with the Pandyas, Cholas and Satyaputras, Cheras ("Keralaputras") in the late megalithic phase are also mentioned in the inscriptions of Maurya Emperor Asoka. In the early centuries of the Christian era, the Chera Kingdom was as important as the kingdom of the Pandyas and the Cholas. The Chera kings of the Sangam Age were known by many titles such as Vanavar, Villavar and Malaiyar. There were two important lines of Chera Kings and the kings belonging to these two lines ruled the Chera kingdom. The first one started from Uthiyan Cheralathan and the second from Irumporai.
Although the Cheras killed Ilamcetcenni, the father of the Chola king Karikala, the Chera king also lost his life. Later the Cheras and Cholas temporarily became friends and concluded a matrimonial alliance. The Cheras later allied with Pandya rulers against the Cholas. But, the Chola forces under Karikala Chola defeated the allies in the Battle of Venni, and the wounded Chera king, Uthiyan Cheralathan, committed suicide. After second century AD, the Chera power declined rapidly. The reign of the Cheras was interrupted by the Kalabhra Interregnum and the Cheras after king Kulashekhara Varman are called Kulasekharas of Mahodayapuram. The first Chera dynasty lasted till circa 5th century AD and the second ruled from the 9th century. Little is known about the Cheras between the two dynasties.
The early Cheras ruled parts of Kerala (Malabar) State, Kongu Nadu, Salem and Dharmapuri from time immemorial. The dynasty probably added the Southern Nagapattanam and Thiruvarur districts after the marriage of the second king of the first Chera Dynasty into the royal family of the Cholas. The Chera Kingdom owed its importance to the trade with the Romans. Muziris, the famous sea port with two Roman regiments, was in the Chera kingdom and throughout the reign of the Cheras, trade continued to bring prosperity to their kingdom, with spices, ivory, timber, pearls and gems being exported to the Middle East and to southern Europe. Evidence of extensive foreign trade from ancient times can be seen throughout the Malabar coast, Karur and Coimbtore districts. It is said that the Romans built a temple of Augustus at Muziris.
Chera inscriptions of the 2nd century AD referring to the Irrumporai clan have been found near Karur , identified with the Korura of Ptolemy. During the time of Cheras, Jewish, Christian, and Muslim immigrants established Nasrani Mappila, Juda Mappila and Muslim Mappila communities. Nedunjeral Adan is said to have attacked the Yavana ships and held the Yavana traders to ransom. His son Senguttuvan (the Red/Good Chera), the most famous and powerful Chera king is famous for the legends surrounding Kannagi, the heroine of the legendary Tamil epic Silapathikaram and his wars. King Senguttuvan defeated his rivals and established his cousin securely on the throne. 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 AD, depending on whether he was the earlier or the later Gajabahu.
The second dynasty, Kulasekharas, ruled from the outskirts of Muziris on the banks of River Periyar called Mahodayapuram (Kodungallur). Though never, regained the old status in the Peninsula, Kulasekharas fought numerous wars with their powerful neighbors and diminished to history in 12th century as a result of continuous Chola invasions.
In the Sangam Tamil lexicon the word Chera meaning "hill country", derived from Cheral, meaning "declivity or mountain slope" in Classical Tamil language. The Chera Kings were called Chera-alatan ("Lord of the Slopes") in classical Tamil.
The only sources available regarding the early Chera Kings are the anthologies of Sangam literature, now generally agreed to belong to the first few centuries AD and a few mentions in the writings of ancient Greek and Romans such as the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea
The earliest extant Tamil literary works, such as the Kalittokai, mention a mythical continent called Kumari Kandam, which was believed to have been located to the South of the present-day Kanyakumari tens of thousands of years ago, between the then Kumari and Pahrali Rivers. Pandyan kings such as Chenkon, and the Cheras, supposedly ruled this country. Sangam literature further says that they fought and defeated the Nāga tribes, who might have been a non-Dravidian people. Kalittokai again mentions a war between the combined forces of Villavars and the Meenavars (possibly the Cheras and the Pandyas respectively), and the Nāgas, their arch-enemies, eventually losing the war, and subsequently Central India to the Nagas. Sangam literature is full of names of kings and princes, along with the poets who extolled them but these are not worked into connected history so far and the chronology is not settled. Their then capital is believed to be modern Karur in Tamil Nadu.
The Cheras, the Pandyas and the Cholas are the three ruling dynasties of the southern region (Bharatavarsha) in the Hindu epic of the Ramayana. They are also mentioned in the Aitareya Aranyaka, and the Mahabharata, where they take the side of the Pandavas in the Kurukshetra War.
In Sanskrit Kera means "coconut" and "Kerala" (Kera Alam) is "Kera kingdom". Sangam Literature never uses the name Kerala but Ashoka's edicts mention his tributary tribal dynasty known by the name Kedalaputho who were outside Ashoka's empire in 261 BC. Pliny, the Roman historian of the 1st century, who probably visited Kerala, called the area Caelobothras in his Natural History. The unknown author of the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea mentions Chera as Cerobothra whose capital is Karur. Archaeology has found epigraphic evidence of the early Cheras in the recorded history of South India: some inscriptions trace the dynasty from the mythical Puranic kings of the Lunar dynasty. The most important inscription is that at Pugalur (Aranattarmalai) which refers to three generations of Chera Rulers; Athan Cheral Irumporai, his son Perumkadungo and his grandson Ilamkadungo when Perumkadungo was ruler and Ilamkadungo appointed prince.
In early Tamil literature the great Chera rulers are referred to as Cheral, Kuttuvan, Irumporai, Kollipurai and Athan. Chera rulers were also called Kothai or Makothai. The nobility among the Cheras were called Cheraman in general. The word Kerala, of possible Prakrit origins, does not appear in Sangam Literature. Pathirruppaththu, the fourth book in the Ettuthokai anthology, mentions a number of Kings of the Chera dynasty. Each King is praised in ten songs sung by the Court Poet and the Kings are in the following order:
- Imayavaramban Kudako Nedum Cheralathan
- Palyane Chel Kezhu Kuttuvan
- Kalankai Kanni Narmudi Cheral (son of Nedum Cheralathan)
- Chenkuttuvan Cheran or Kadal Pirakottiya Vel Kezhu Kuttuvan (son of Nedum Cheralathan)
- Attu Kottu Pattu Cheralathan (son of Nedum Cheralathan)
- Chelva Kadunko Azhi Athan
- Thakadur Erintha Perum Cheral Irumporai
- Kudako Ilam Cheral Irumporai
The first recorded King was Uthiyan Cheralathan with capital at Kuzhumur in Kuttanad (present day Idukki district). Uthiyan Cheralathan is also regarded as the founder of the dynasty, and was contemporary to Karikala Chola. His queen was Veliyan Nallini. Their son Imayavaramban Kudako Nedum Cheralathan is praised in the Second Ten of Pathirruppaththu, the pathikam (poet) of this decade refers to his parents, though they are not praised in the First Ten which is blank. Nedum Cheralathan consolidated the Chera kingdom, and literature and art developed highly during his period. Kannanar was Nedum Cheralathan's court poet.
The third, fourth and fifth kings were sons of Nedum Cheralathan, while the mother of fourth King (also known as Kadal Pirakottiya Vel Kezhu Kuttuvan Seran Chenkuttuvan or simply Chenkuttuvan) was Chola Princess Manikilli. Chelva Kadunko Vazhiyathan was the son of Anthuvan Cheral Irumporai and Porayan Perumthevi. Perum Cheral Irumporai was the son of Aazhiyathan and Ilam Cheral Irumporai was the son of a Chera ruler Kuttuvan Irumporai, son of Mantharan Cheral Irumporai, the celebrated ancestor of ninth King Ilam Cheral Irumporai.
Illango Atikal wrote the legendary epic Silapathikararam sitting at a Jain monastery in Trikkanamathilakam. Silapathikararam describes the Chera king Senguttuvan's decision to propitiate a temple (Veerakallu) for the Goddess Pattini. 'Purananuru' refers to a certain Udiyan Cheral. It is said that he fed the rival armies during the Kurukshetra war. Imayavaramban Neduncheralathan, another Sangam Age King claimed to have conquered Bharatavarsha up to the Himalayas and to have inscribed his emblem on the face of the mountains. Senguttuvan was another famous Chera, whose contemporary Gajabahu I of Sri Lanka of Lanka according to Mahavamsa visited the Chera country. Manimekalai written by Chathanar describes the city of Vanchi as Buddhist centre.
 Extent and trade
The early Cheras controlled a large territory of the Kongu region. Senguttuvan won a war against Kongar or Ganga people Western Ganga Dynasty. They also ruled the Kodunthamizh regions of Travancore (Venadu) and the Malabar (Kudanadu) west coast through vassals. Present day Palakkad, the Porainad, with capital at Theari (Para) became a part of the Chera kingdom after the Chera monarchs marriage with the only princess of the Porainadu dynasty.
The legendary Mushika ruler, Nandan, was killed in a battle with the Cheras. They were in contact with the Satavahanas in the north and with the Romans and Greeks. Trade flourished overseas and there was a considerable exchange of gold and coins, as seen by archaeological evidence and literature. The Romans brought vast amounts of gold in exchange of 'Kari' (Pepper) from Malainadu. Muziris has been referred to by the author of the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea as an inland port probably near Kodungallur.
It is believed that the Cheras were Shaivite Hindus . Some kings of the dynasty referred to themselves as Vanavaramban, Imayavaramban etc. While Cheras had their own 'Kottravai', the mother goddess, who was later on assimilated into the present day form of Devi. Other religious traditions like Jainism and Buddhism came to this area during the period of the Chera Kings.
The Chera Kingdom was divided into five provinces and .
- Poolinadu (the sandy land, the northern most division, extended from the Agali river to Ponnani river)
- Kudanadu (the western land, from the Ponnani river to Periyar)
- Karkainadu (the rocky land, east of Kudanad)
- Kuddanadu (the land of lakes, Kottayam and Quilon)
- Venadu (from Kuddanadu up to very near to Cape Comorin)
The main ports in the Chera Kingdom were, Thundi (Tyndis), on the banks of Makkali river, south of the Lueke Island, Bramagara, Kalaikkarias, Muchirippattanam (Muziris) on the banks of Chulli/Psuedostomos river, Podoperoura, Semne, Koreoura/Kothora, and Bakarei (mouth of river Baris). In land cities between Tundis and Muziris were, Naroulla, Kouba, and Paloura. In land cities between Psuedostomos and Baris were, Pasage, Mastanour, Kourellour, Pounnata, Aloe, Karoura (the capital), Arembour Bideris/Videris, Pantipolis, Adarima Koreour.
Sea-ports in the Aioi/Ay Kingdom, south of Bakarei were Melkynda/Nelcynda/Nilcinna, Elangkon/Elangkor, Kottiara, Bammala, and Komaria. In land city south of Baris was, Aioi Morounda.
After the Kalabhra interregnum
The Kalabhras dynasty ruled over the entire ancient Tamil country between the 3rd and the 6th century in an era of South Indian history called the Kalabhra interregnum. The Kalabhras displaced the kingdoms of the early Cholas, Pandayas and Chera dynasties. Little is known about the Cheras between the two dynasties. Mostly, they were the allies of the powerful Pallavas, against the Pandyas and Ays.
The Kalabhras were defeated around the 6th century with the revival of Pallava and Pandya power. A Pandya ruler, Maravarman Rajasimha I (c. 730 – 765 AD), mentioned in a number of Pandya copper-plate inscriptions, was a prominent ruler during the early 8th century CE. He claims to have defeated a prominent Chera king. The name of the Chera king is not known, however from the details of the battles between the Pandya and the Chera, the Chera territory ceded seems to have included the entire Kerala and the Southern Pandya country from Kanyakumari to Thirunelveli, with capital at Karur.
The copper plates of the Pallava dynasty kings of the period give us a glimpse about their field of action. In the reign of Pandya king Parantaka Nedunjadaiyan (765-790 CE), the Cheras was still in the Karur region as a close ally of the Pallava dynasty. Parantaka Nedunjadaiyan defeated the local king Atiya of the Ay kingdom, at first, at Ayiraveli Aiyilur, and pursued him to Pugalur and vanquished him. The Pallava and Chera came to help the Atiya, but were also defeated. That this war between Cheras and Pallava on the one hand and the Pandya on the other, took place at Karur is indicated by Dalavaypuram plates which specifically say Parantaka Nedunjadaiyan defeated the Kadava (Pallava) at Karur. But the Vaishnava saint Thirunmangai Alvar, states that the Pallava won a victory over the Pandya at Karur. This would indicate that the Karur battle was indecisive.
During this period, the port Vizhinjam (former capital of the Ay kingdom), seems to have slipped out of the hand of the Cheras and was controlled by the Ay kingdom. Parantaka Nedunjadaiyan states in his Srivaramangalam plates, that he defeated the Ay king at Vizhinjam. But, within a short period, the Cheras regained the Vizhinjam area. Parantaka Nedunjadaiyan's son, Sri Mara Srivallabha, claims to have killed the Chera in a battle at Vizhinjam. But, again around 850 to 900 CE the Vizhinjam region was under the control of the Ay kings Karunan Tadakkan and Aviyalantadakkan.The Second dynasty Kulasekhara dynasty (Second Cheras)
The Chera Kings Rajashekhara Varman and Kulashekhara Varman spearheaded Hindu religious movements in their roles as celebrated Saivite and Vaishnavite saints. Kulasekhara became one of the celebrated Alvars and his poems came to be called the Perumal thirumozhi.
Kulashekhara Varman ruled around the 8th and 9th centuries. He called himself Kongar Kon (the king of the Kongu people) hailing from Kollinagar (Karur). Though Kongar were defeated by Cheran Senguttuvan in the 2nd century AD, the Kongu region had been occupied by the Kongars of Karnataka Western Ganga Dynasty around 470 AD. The title 'Kongar Kon' indicates Kulasekhara had regained control of Kongu from the Western Ganga Dynasty around 800 AD. Other titles of Kulasekhara mentioned in the Perumal thirumozhi are Villavar Kon, Malayar Kon, Kollikkavalan, Koikkon and Koodal Nayagan. Adi Shankara was his contemporary. Kongumandala Satakam also says that Rajashekhara Varman went to Kayilai with Sundarar from Kongu Nadu.
The kingdom perished in 1102 CE soon after the Chola King ransacked the Chera Capital at Kodungallur. As a result, the last of the Cheraman Perumal, Rama Varma Kulashekhara moved to Kollam and ruled from there. He finally succeeded in driving away the Cholas but could not regain power due to the enmity he earned from the Brahmins. His kingdom was confined to the South of Kerala and was called Venad. The Travancore dynasty originated from the remnants of the Second Chera Dynasy.
Rama Varma Kulashekhara (1090- 1102 AD) was the last king of the Chera Dynasty that ruled Kerala from 800- 1102 AD. After significant military success over the Chola dynasty he abdicated the throne.Rama Varma Kulashekhara ascended the throne during a period of severe crisis. Kulothunga Chola I had occupied Nanjanad and south Kerala and was proceeding towards Kollam, the capital of the Venad kings in 1096 AD. Rama Varma resolved to beat back the Cholas and rallied all his patriotic forces. A large body of Chera army transformed into suicide squads (Chavers).
The capital city of Mahodayapuram (present Kodungallur) and surrounding places were devastated in the long war and the king, without even a palace of his own, is known to have stayed at alternative frugal accommodations. Towards the end of the war he shifted the capital from Mahodayapuram to Kollam and led a large army to stem the Cholas in the south. Kulothunga Chola I was defeated and withdrew towards Kottar. The Cholapuram records (1100 AD) that record the achievements of Kulothunga Chola refer to this. The Cholas could not regain their influence beyond Nanjanad after this defeat. The move from Mahodayapuram to Kollam however marked the end of the Kulashekhara Empire. Venad attained the status of an independent kingdom, of which Rama Varma Kulashekhara is regarded as the founder.Sangam Age Chera Kings
- Perumchottu Uthiyan Cheralathan (Contemporary to Karikala Chola)
- Imayavaramban Nedun-Cheralatan (Son of Uthiyan Cheralathan, contemporary to Perunarkilli)
- 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
- Kulashekhara Varman (800–820 AD)
- Rajashekhara Varman (820- 844 AD)- also called Cheraman Perumal.
- Sthanu Ravi Varman (844- 885 AD)- contemporary of Aditya Chola
- Rama Varma Kulashekhara (885- 917 AD)
- Goda Ravi Varma (917- 944 AD)
- Indu Kotha Varma (944- 962 AD)
- Bhaskara Ravi Varman I (962- 1019 AD)
- Bhaskara Ravi Varman II (1019- 1021 AD)
- Vira Kerala (1021- 1028 AD)
- Rajasimha (1028- 1043 AD)
- Bhaskara Ravi Varman III (1043–1082 AD)
- Rama Varma Kulashekhara (1090- 1102 AD)- also called Cheraman Perumal.