The History of Chera Dynasty: The Rise And Fall

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The Chera dynasty was one of the three main powers of the Sangam period (Time period: 1st century BCE- 2nd century BCE) that ruled the southern India with the other two being the Cholas and Pandyas. Tracing the history of the Chera dynasty takes us back in time to its founder, Uthiyan Cheral Athan. The Chera kingdom was established in the ninth century in parts of present-day Kerala.

Although Uthiyan Cheral Athan founded the empire, yet he was not the most popular one. It is the Chera ruler, Senguttuvan whose achievements were sung far and wide. Moreover, the Chera dynasty set the trends for naval trade by the exchange of various supplies between kingdoms. Archaeological evidences like the Sangam literature provides us a view into the rich history of the Chera dynasty. To know about the main heroes, their deeds and conquests let us dive into the details without any further delay. 

Rulers of the Chera Dynasty  

There were a total of nineteen Chera rulers who ruled several parts of the southern India, starting from Uthiyan Cheralathan and ending with Rama Varma Kulashekhara’s reign. There are several sources that records the Sangam period and its events. The top references are drawn from the Tamil literature text Pathitrupattu, a panegyric collection which was composed by several male poets and one female poet. Ample archaeological evidences validates the existence of the rulers, their engagement in warfare and interests. This article has tried to capture some of the main rulers of the Chera dynasty and the rich literary sources that encapsulate their journey.  

The names of the rulers are provided chronologically for your reference: 

  1. Uthiyan Cheralathan 
  2. Nedum Cheralathan 
  3. Selva Kadumko Valiathan 
  4. Senguttuvan Chera 
  5. Illam Cheral Irumporai 
  6. Mantaran Cheral 
  7. Kulashekhara Varma 
  8. Rajashekhara Varma 
  9. Sthanu Ravi Varma 
  10. Rama Varma Kulashekhara 
  11. Goda Ravi Varma 
  12. Indu Kotha Varma 
  13. Bhaskara Ravi Varma I 
  14. Bhaskara Ravi Varma II 
  15. Vira Kerala 
  16. Rajasimha 
  17. Bhaskara Ravi Varma III 
  18. Ravi Rama Varma 
  19. Rama Varma Kulashekhara 

 Uthiyan Cheral Athan  

  • Uthiyan Cheral Athan was the founder of the Chera dynasty. This evidence of him being the earliest king was extracted from ancient Tamil texts. He was also called “Vanavarambam” according to one such Tamil text “Pathitrupattu“, which literally translates to two possible meanings:
    “One whose kingdom reaches the sky”
    “One who is loved by the Gods”. 
     
  • His headquarters were located at Kuzhumur as per the Sangam literature text Akananuru. Both the texts reveal that he took the responsibility of preparing food for the Pandavas and the Kauravas at the Kurukshetra battle. The dialect of the Cheras was Malayalam. 
  • Relations: He was married to Nalini who was the daughter of Veliyan Venman Ay Eyinan, the leader of the Chera warriors. Both of them had a child whose name was Imayavaramban Nedum Cheralathan (Pathitrupattu ii) 
  • There is mention of Perum Cheral Athan in the decade of the Tamil literature, Pathitrupattu where he is thought to be identical with Uthiyan Cheral Athan. Perum Cheral Athan fought in the battle of Venni against the Chola king Karikal. The latter attacked the Chera ruler on the back. Due to sheer disgrace, Perum Cheral Athan committed suicide by starving himself to death. 

Nedum Cheralathan  

  • Nedum Cheralathan was the second king of the Cheras after he succeeded his father, Uthiyan Cheralathan. His ruling years started when he was just a crown prince and spans 58 years. He was also known as Imayavarambam Nedum Cheralathan. Kannanar was one of his court poets. 
  • He was the contempary king to the Chola ruler Perunarkilli. He is praised as a king in the Second Ten of the poem Pathitruppaththu which was composed by the poet Kannanar.
  • He gained the status of “adhiraja” which literally translates to “the supreme king” or “the supreme ruler” after he is believed to have won over the the “seven crowned kings”. He ruled from Marandai which was the capital of his state unlike his father’s capital named Kuzhumur. 
  • The name of his wife was Uraiyur Chola Nalchonai who was the daughter of the Chola king Manikili. Their son was Ilango Adigal who was initially a Chera prince but grew up to be a Jain monk and a poet. Nedum Cheralathan also patronized Buddhism and Jainism in his kingdom. His other sons were Chenguttuvan Chera, Kalankakkanni Narmudi Cheral and Adu Kottu Pattu Cheral Athan. Chenguttuvan turned out to be the most celebrated ruler of the entire dynasty. 
  • He was a successful ruler who won several wars with neighbouring states such as the Kadambas. He also conquered an army on the Malabar Coast where he captured many Yavana traders and released them later in exchange for ransom.  
  • According to the second decade of the Patittupattu, he is claimed to have conquered territories extending to the Himalayas. However, there are no further evidences confirming the same. He was killed in a battle with a ruler of the Chola dynasty which is the longest serving dynasties in world history. 

Selva Kadumko Valiathan  

  • Selva Kadumko Valiathan was the son of Anthuval Cheraval and the third king of the Chera dynasty. He controlled the areas of Pandar and Kodumanam (present-day Kodumanal, Tamil Nadu). 
  • Selva Valiathan lived in the city of Tondi and ruled for 25 years. He married the sister of Nalchonai who was the wife of the second Chera king Nedum Cheralathan. He tackled the combined armies of the Pandyas and the Cholas with his military prowess. 
  • He is often identified with Mantharan Poraiyan Kadumko, Pasum Put-Poraiyan and Perumput-Poraiyan. Moreover, he is even recognised with Ko Athan Cheral Irumporai, the name of which is inscribed in the Aranattar-malai inscription of Pugular in the 2nd centure CE. 

Cheran Chekuttuvan  

  • Selva Kadumko Valiathan was succeeded by Cheran Chekuttuvan who was the fourth king of the Chera dynasty. His rule lasted for 55 years. He was born to the 2nd Chera ruler, Nedum Cheralatan and his wife Nalchonai. He alongwith other Kuttuvans are eulogised in the panegyric text Patitrupattu by the male poet Paranar. His other names include Kadalpirakoottiya Vel Kelu Kuttuvan, Senguttavan, etc. 
  • A succession dispute took place amongst the Cholas, and the Cheras intervened in the process. Cheran Chekuttuvan established his brother-in-law Killi on the throne of the Cholas. The rivals tried to usurp the power of the Cheras but were unsuccessful in their attempts. They were defeated in the battle of Nerivayil where nine other contenders to the throne were killed in the process. 
  • The Chera kingdom under Cheran Chekuttuvan had great naval powers. When the Kadambas who were the arch rival of the kuttuvan challenged their military capabilities through sea, the latter emerged victorious by destroying their entire naval fleet. 
  • An expedition was made to the north India by the king in search of a stone to carve the Pattini idol (Patitrupattu). The idol is actually Kannagi who was a chaste legendary woman mentioned in the Tamil epic Cilapathikaram. 
  • Cheran Chekuttuvan’s wife Illango Venmal was moved by Kannagi’s tragic life story and wanted her to be worshipped as a symbol of chastity, followed which the expedition was made. The idol was placed in the Bhagavati temple also known as the Kannaki temple. 

Mantharan Cheral Irumporai  

  • Manthara Cheral Irumporai was the sixth king after Illam Cheral Irumporai. He was one of the mighty kings of the Chera dynasty who invaded different territories.  He was called “Yanai Katchai” whuch means “the One with an eyesight like an elephant”. 
  • The Tamil literature states that the cheras alongwith 5 other kingdoms fought a war against the Pandya ruler Nedum Chezhian in which the latter emerged victorious. Subsequently, the Chera king Manthara Cheral Irumporai was imprisoned at an isolated Madurai fort. However, he managed to escape the prison and returned to his territory where he ruled many years with peace. 
  • Manthara Cheral Irumporai also fought against Mantharan Cheral, and Thervan Malayan chief of Miladu and was supported by the Cholas in the conquest. As per the poet Kurunkozhiyur Kizhar, the king also saved a city named Vilamkil from invaders. 

Rama Kulasekhara  

  • Rama Kulasekhara was the last king of the Chera dynasty. He rule from 1090 BCE to 1102 BCE. Several inscriptions mentions him and his achievements. His contemporaries include the Chola kings Kulottunga and Vikrama Chola. He recovered the Kollam Trivandrum Nagercoil region from the Cholas around 1100-1102 AD, but that lasted only for a short period. 
  • As per the books “Muhammed Rasulullah” authored by M. Hamidullah and “Malabar Manual” authored by William Logan, it is said that he was the first Hindu ruler to have converted to Islam when he adopted the name Thajuddin. He was strongly influenced by Prophet Muhammad and his teachings. However, these theories are not confirmed yet. 
  • Kollam was the second headquarter of the Chera kingdom during Rama Kulasekhara’s rule. There were consistent wars taking place between the Cheras (Kollam) and the Cholas-Pandhyas. According to scholars, to cease the attacks and to gain the loyalty of Venad, strategic marriage proposals were kept in view. 

Wrapping it! 

With Rama Kulasekhara’s defeat in 1102 AD, ended the rule of the Chera dynasty. It was a long period of conquests between the three supreme rulers (the Cheras, the Cholas and Pandyas) of the south India where the Cheras emerged victorious several times under its great rulers. Tracing the history of the Chera dynasty is an easy affair when you take this article as a guidance. We hope these facts and theories so compiled will help you out in your preparation for the UPSC exams. 

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