THE BASE-SOCIETY AND THE CHERA DYNASTY-HISTORICAL RESEARCH ON SOUTH INDIA ,KERALA ,ITS PEOPLE AND THE KINGS

THE BASE-SOCIETY AND THE CHERA DYNASTY
-Dr.M.Immanuel
The early Chera country is the one that had a remote and glorious past. The Ithihasas speak about it. The epics speak about it. But it is a great distress that the available records with us do not speak about them wholly. The records in the Sri-Padmanabha palace museum, at Trivandrum speak about 57 or 60 lists of generation of kings starting fromAyyan Thiruvadi or Vanavan. The periods are not clear and certain. The writer of the State Manual of Travancore, T.K.Velu Pilla writes:

"The rulers of Travancore trace their descent from the great dynasty of Chera kings whose exploits are recorded in the old literary monuments of India, the Ithihasas and thePuranas and the works of the Sangam period of ancient Tamil literature. They have a long and continuous history beginning from a period earlier than the commencement of the Christian era. Kulasekhara Alwar, one of the early kings of the Vanchi used the significant title, Keralachudamani The Chera descent of the Maharajas of Travancore is warranted by the indisputable evidence of inscriptions discovered in various parts of south India. A later inscription, one of the Paranthaka Pandya, (12th century A.D) discovered at Cape Comorin makes specific mention of the Chera king of Travancore1."

This evidently points out to us a link between the extreme southern regions of the present Kanyakumari District and a linguistic relation with the Tamils and their literature of early periods. The author of the State Manual further explains:

"Thiruvati is admittedly a title used by rulers of Travancore through many centuries. Thiruvatidesom and Venad denote the same country. Venad is derived from Vanavanad, the country of the Vanavan. The title Vanavan denoted the Chera king in ancient Tamil literature2."

Now it becomes necessary for us to know and identify, if possible, who these "Vanavan" are or were? Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan which published The History and Culture of the Indian People acknowledges that:

"Among the great Pandyas, after Mara Varman Avanisulamani, another king Sendan who was otherwise known as Vanavan is mentioned3."

This somewhat gives us a clue that the term 'Vanavan' is not strictly confined to the geographical restrictions of only the Chera country, but extends even further, upto the Pandya kingdoms, etc. When this term, "Vanavan" is linked up to the Tamil Pandyas, it also is connecting us to the early literature of the Tamils, especially of the Sangam periods. This particular literature gives us some important information of the Base-Society of our ancient land. Elamkulam Kunjan Pilla, an expert on the Early History of Kerala, gives us a very critical and factual picture of these ancient people of our country. Elamkulam explains that the Sangam People:

"Call their leaders Chenon, Nadan, Aayan, Pothuvan, Parathavan, Uuran, Kurumpura Nadan, Kudu Nadan, KuttaNadan, Kanthan, Marpan, Kaalai, etc and adore them for protecting their people from the Tigers, elephants and such beasts of forests, and other foes of the neighbourhood. Their leaders adorned themselves with garlands made from the little flowers of Palm-trees and equipped with finely made Bows and arrows, Spears, sharp Swords and long javelins, challenging even the Seas for war because they could not find their equals to fight them in the land. Out of fear or respect, sometimes the people address their leaders (kings) as Chennon or Mayon, meaning gods. They use Sandalwood to bake their meat or fish, the fumes of which rise to the skies spreading its perfumes into the open air."

Here, we see a society eating meat of hunted deer, home-bred oxen or goats or cows, netted fish, dried or baked, drinking wines of Palm-juice mixed with crushed sugar cane and coconut water. We also see them enjoying the auspicious Mukkani like the tender Palm-fruit sap4.

This explains to us the type of people living in those days without any sort of discrimination of a caste system, as we seem this day, without the influence of any outside force of an Aryan race. The people who lived in the region of Kurunjiwere called Kuravar, Punavar, or Adavar. Their leader wasNadan. The people living in the Paalai region were calledMaravar or Vettuvar and their leader was Kaalai or Vidalai. The people who lived in the mid-lands were called Idayar. The people of the sea-shore were Meenavar. They were all simple people climbing on Palmyrah or Coconut-trees, feeding their cattle in the grassy lands or catching fish from the sea. Some were engaged in picking up pearls from the depth of the sea. They were a simple people. But all the complications of a confused caste system are seen only in a very later stage of period. Distinctions and stratifications are made to the Base-Society in the latter period. But even in this latter period, some the roots of the base society are seen and traceable from the records. Elamkulam says:

"A king of Aye dynasty or Ayar Kula is described in the Pura Naanooru (verses, 105-120) as Ayar Perumagan PerunkalNadan (CKCP.90) They are Yadavas of Vrishni tribe. Sri Vallabha is a common word for Aye kings. According to theTharissa Palli Shassana, the right to collect taxes for gold, coins, cattle, harvests, etc., was with these Chantor5."

We could find a sort of uniformity or similarity in the occupation, culture and ethnic behaviour among these societies, mostly traceable to a common ancestry which were latter fragmented and divided through some strange phenomenon, very likely of the caste system, imposed by a third political force. This unification of a variety of clans is seen as below:

"The Villavas of Kanniyakumari, Malabar and the Tulu country have link with the Ezhavas. 'The descendants of theVillava king, Chenkuttuva were Kshatriyas, and it was not wrong that the Tamils have claimed that Villava means the one who has the 'Bow' as the banner. The Symbol of Villava was Vill (Bow) only. But the Villavas of Tulu, Theeyars ofMalabar, the Ezhavas of Travancore and the Channar (Santor) of Kanniyakumari and Thirunelveli are same (CKCP.156- Notes). The Villava was also called Aaluvar, orAlwa. It was with great respect that the Palmyrah tapper was addressed by the Ballals as Aaluva or as Vaidya6." (CKCP.290-93)

Discussing the origin of the Caste system Elamkulam argues:

"The basic foundation of Chatur Varna Dharma (Caste system) rests on 'Selfishness'. The prescriptions, in the pretext of Parasurama Dharma or Poorva Achara (ancestral tradition), that observance of 'Chastity' is a 'Sin' for the Brahmin ladies, is based only on 'Selfish motives' (SNK.128)... It is difficult to say what happened in Kerala during the 7th and 8th centuries AD. A very big group of Brahmins entered Kerala through the Tulu country and engaged in destroying and devastating Buddhism in order to impose the Chatur Varna Dharma (Casteism), during this period. Prabhakara and 'Sankara' are the most important persons who stood to devastate Buddhism in order to establish Casteism in the 7th-8th century AD. In the 8th century AD a big group of Aryans entered into Kerala. It was in between the 8th and 11th century AD that the country had come under the grips of the Sharp Jaws of Caste system in Kerala7."

Elamkulam further explains the term, Chantanmai (Nobility) and connects it to the Palmyrah-tapper, linking him with theChekava (warrior) staying in the war-house (warrior or ruler):

"The Palmyrah tapper (producer of Sura or Amrit), the Villava, the bow-bearing Chekava staying in the war-house and Aaluva (Alwar), the ruler of the land or king, are not different in their racial origin. That is why, the meaning of the word, Chantanmai, is expressed as equivalent to nobility; and to the occupation of Palmyrah tapping (production of Soma or Palm-juice)."

Quoting from Elamkulam, R.N.Yesudasan, the author of A People's Revolt in Travancore, a book on the first Human Rights Movement in Kerala, reveals, perhaps the beginning of a development of a worsening caste system in the country:

"At about this time, the priests also began to propagate new doctrines of morality. One such law was that all beautiful girls should be socialized and assigned to the temple for the services of the gods. In Kerala, the women who took the livery of the gods and became the public property of theNambudiris came to be recognized as honoured members of society. Women of any status who refused to expose their breasts before the Brahmins were looked upon by them as immoral and immodest. If the women did so, they were liable to be put to death according to the proclamation. 'The women, who did not yield to the wishes of the man of the same or superior caste, are immoral and should be put to death immediately'. The Nairs and other lower classes attributed to these Brahmins the highest position in the social hierarchy and looked upon them as 'the holiest of human beings' and the visible representations of God on the earth (Bhudevans). 'Their persons are holy, their movements 'procession', and their meal 'nectar'8."

This reveals to us a state of affairs, which is very much different from the present concept of the social system. But the earlier records reveal some secrets to us. The Nadars or Shanar (Santor) who are presently considered as one of the backward classes were in a very high position of social status in the early days. The same thing is applicable to the other groups of the Base-Society linked up with the Nadars. Nagam Aiya who wrote the State Manual of Travancore records:

"The Shanars are a class of Hindus inhabiting Thirunelveli and southern taluqs of Travancore. They belong to one of the races that are commonly classed as Dravidians, Tamil being their mother tongue. The correct form of the name of this race is Shandrar which is derived from a Tamil wordSal. The expressions Shandror and Shandravar are also derived from the same root and are but different forms ofShandrar9."

He also explains the link up of this clan with the other important clans too:

"The Shanars are called Kaali Puthirar (the sons of Kaali or Bhadrakali, the great Bellona of India), and this goddess is considered as their tutelary deity. Enathi Natha Nayanar, one of the sixty-three disciples of Siva, is described as having belonged to the Shandrar castein the Tamil work Periyapuranam and as Sakshikulotbhavain the Sanskrit work10."

This term Nayanar is expressed in many ways in historical records, like Nainar, as in the Tamil inscriptions, Nadalwar, Nadavar, Nattathi, Alwar, Aluvan (as in Kerala), Villava, Tiruvadi, Thiruppappu, etc., linking up with more than 250 tribes of the Base society of our land. This link connects us to the Ezhavas or Chovans of Kerala, Shanars of Travancore, the Chouhans and Povars of Maharashtra, the Bants and Poojaris of Mysore, the Sens of Bengal and so forth. The word Varma has been marked as Vanmar in the Inscription of 1144 AD. Its origin may have been fromPeruman (Perum Mahan) or Vanavan to Vanman and toVarman. All these words indicate to mean 'Noble' and epithets for Santan or Nadan. The title of Tiruvati of the Chera kings is the true representation of the Thiruvazhuthi of the Tamils connected with the Nadans or Kuravas of the Sangam period who form one of the common people of the Base-Society. An unbiased analysis of the history of ancient India reveals that the early Chera dynasty is totally represented and participated by the Base society and the lineage can still be traced to their roots as Uravinmurai, a term equivalent to "kinship groups" expressed by Romila Thapar11, a progressive minded historian of this 21st century.

A more thorough and 'Honest' research on these lines would surely lead us to link up many of the aboriginal dynasties to the common Roots of a Base-Society in India.

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References:
 1 : The Travancore State Manual Vol.I. 10,11
 2 : The Travancore State Manual Vol.I. 12

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Cheras lived for a long time in the Vindhya Mountains.

 Vanchi is Vindhya; the aborigines of the Chotanagpur area still call Vindhya, vanchi.

  So, naturally the Cheras who travelled south gave the name Vanchi to their new capital of Karur and later to their capital near Cranganore and later to Travancore itself.  It is significant to note that Quilon came to be called Ten Vanchi (the Vanchi of the South)-

CHERA KINGS OF Karur:-350BC TO 380 AD



Karur (கரூர்)
Location of Karur (கரூர்)
in Tamil Nadu and India

Its history dates back over 2000 years, and has been a flourishing trading centre in the early Sangam days.It was called Karuvoor or Vanji during Sangam days.
 It was ruled by the Cheras, Gangas, Cholas, the Vijayanagara Nayaks, Mysore and the British successively.
The names of the early Chera kings who ruled from Karur, have been found in the rock inscriptions in Aaru Nattar Malai close to Karur. 
The Tamil epic Silapathikaram mentions that the famous Chera King Senguttuvan ruled from Karur.
 

Rulers

Karur was ruled by different Chera kings. Kongu Cheras (capital:Karur (Vanji), ruling nearly the whole of old Kongu - lineage unclear- Cheran kootam)
Vanavan @ Vanavaramban [430-350 BC].
Kuttuvan Uthiyan Cheralathan [350-328 BC] ruled for 22 years.
Imayavaramban Neduncheralathan [328-270 BC] ruled for 58 years.
Palyaanai Chelkezhu Kuttuvan [270-245 BC] ruled for 25 years.
Kalangaikanni narmudicheral [245-220 BC] ruled for 25 years.
Perumcheralathan [220-200 BC] ruled for 20 years.
Kudakko Neduncheralathan [200-180 BC] ruled for 20 years.
Kadal Pirakottiya Velkezhu kuttuvan [180-125 BC] ruled 55 years.
Adukotpattuch Cheralathan [125-87 BC] ruled 38 years.
Selvak kadungo Vazhiyathan [87-62 BC] ruled 25 years.
Yanaikatchei Mantharanj Cheral Irumborai [62-42 BC] ruled 20 years.
Thagadoor Erintha Perum Cheral Irumborai [42-25 BC] ruled 17 years (unification of Upper and lower Kongu).
Ilancheral Irumborai [25-19 BC] ruled 16 years.
Karuvur Eriya Koperumcheral Irumborai [9-1 BC].
Vanji Mutrathu tunjiya Anthuvancheral [BC 20 – 10 AD].
Kanaikal Irumborai [20-30 AD].
Palai Padiya Perum kadungko [1-30 AD].
Kokothai Marban [30 –60 AD].
Cheran Chenguttuvan [60-140 AD].
Kottambalathu tunjiya Maakothai [140-150 AD].
Cheraman mudangi kidantha Nedumcheralathan [150-160 AD].
Cheraman Kanaikkal Irumborai [160-180 AD].
Cheraman Ilamkuttuvan [180-200 AD].
Thambi Kuttuvan [200-220 AD].
Poorikko [220-250 AD].
Cheraman Kuttuvan Kothai [250-270 AD].
Cheraman Vanjan [270-300 AD].
Mantharanj Cheral [330-380 AD] found in Allahabad inscriptions of Samudragupta.

 The archaeological excavations undertaken in Karur

. These include mat-designed pottery, bricks, mud-toys, Roman coins, Chera Coins, Pallava Coins, RomanAmphorae, Rasset coated ware, rare rings, etc. Karur may have been the center for old jewellery-making and gem setting (with the gold imported mainly from Rome), as seen from various excavations. In 150 Greek scholar Ptolemy mentioned “Korevora” (Karur) as a very famous inland trading center in Tamil Nadu.

there is a Vishnu temple at Thiruvithuvakkodu suburb of Karur, sung by famous Kulasekaraazhvaar [7-8th century AD]. The same temple is presumably mentioned in epic Silappadikaram as Adaha maadam Ranganathar whose blessings Cheran Senguttuvan sought before his north Indian expedition

After the Sangam Cheras, Kongus (Gangas), a Chera related native clan ruled Karur. The history of modern Kongu Nadu dates back 
to the 8th century. The name Kongu Nadu originated from the term "Kongu", meaning nectar or honey. 
Kulasekhara known as Kongar Kon (the king of the Kongu people) ruled Kongu Nadu from Karur during this  
period.
The arch rivals Cholas conquered Karur and ruled it for forty years. The Kongus (Gangas) again conquered Karur as vassals of 
Hoysalas. Malik Kafur ended the Hoysalas & Vijayanagara empire absorbed Karur