Middle Kingdoms of India, Part 62


Chera Thiruvanchikulam Siva Temple (Mahadeva Temple)
Kodungallur, the Thrissur district, Kerala

Jul 23, 2015 — CANADA (SUN) — A serial presentation of India's great history, religious movements and temple architecture.

The Cheras

In our last segment, we introduced three predominant empires from the Sangam era who inhabited South India and the Deccan Plateau: the Chera, the Chola and the Pandya. Following will be a more detailed description of these empires, and many others in the region, along the timeline of their appearance or rise to power in the south. We begin with the Cheras.

'From early prehistoric times, Tamil Nadu was the home of four famous states: Chera, Chola, Pandya and Pallava. The oldest extant literature, dating from 300 B.C. to 600 A.D., mentions the exploits of the kings and princes of these ruling dynasties, and of the poets who extolled them. The line of Cheras rulers was also populated by great King/poets, among whom King Kulashekhara, author of the much loved Vaisnava prayer, Mukunda-mala stotram, was certainly one of the greatest. We will talk more about the Kulashekharas in a segment to come.

The Cherans, who spoke Tamil language, ruled from their capital city of Karur in the west (the Korura of Ptolemy), and traded extensively with the west Asian kingdoms. By the early centuries A.D., civil society and statehood under the Cheras were developed in what is presently western Tamil Nadu. Their kingdom later extended to the plains of Kerala and the Palghat gap. Also running along the river Perar, their territory occupied land between the river Perar and river Periyar, creating the two harbor towns of Tondi (Tyndis) and Muciri (Muziris), [60t-u] where Roman trade settlements flourished. [60v]

The Cheras were in continuous conflict with the neighbouring Cholas and Pandyas. They are said to have defeated the combined armies of the Pandyas and Cholas, and their ally states. They also battled with the Kadambās of Banavasi and the Yavanas (the Greeks) on the Indian coast. After the 2nd century A.D., the Cheras' power decayed rapidly with the decline of lucrative trade with the Romans. [60w]

A little known dynasty called the Kalabhras eventually invaded and displaced three Tamil kingdoms between the 4th and the 7th Centuries A.D. This era is referred to as the 'Dark Age' in Tamil history. The Kalabhras were eventually expelled by a joint effort of the Pallavas, Pandyas and Chalukyas Badami. Information about the origin and reign of the Kalabhras is scarce. They left neither artifacts nor monuments, and the only sources of information are scattered mentions in Sangam, Buddhist and Jain literature.

It is known that the Kalabhras patronized Vaisnavas, Shaivites, Buddhists and Jains. [60x] The late Kalabras appear to have been Vaishnavas and Shaivites. Scholar F.E. Hardy traced Kalabhras palace ceremony to a Vishnu or Mayon temple. [60y]

They are also known for patronizing Skanda or Subramanya, the war god son of Shiva and Parvati. The Kalabhras imprinted his image on their 5th Century coins, especially during the reign of their Kaveripumpapattinam rulers. [60z] King Achuta worshiped Vaisnava Tirumal, and some scholars take this as evidence of the Kalabhras patronizing Hinduism. [60aa]

(To be continued…)


[60t] Artefacts from the Lost Port of Muziris, The Hindu. December 3, 2014.

[60u] Muziris, at Last? by R. Krishnakumar, www.frontline.in Frontline, Apr. 10-23 2010.

[60v] Pattanam, Richest Indo-Roman Site on Indian Ocean Rim, The Hindu. May 3, 2009.

[60w] Ancient India: A History Textbook for Class XI (1999), Ram Mohan Sharma; National Council of Educational Research and Training, India

[60x] P. 146 Kerala State Gazetteer, Volume 2, Part 1 by Adoor K. K. Ramachandran Nair

[60y] Veermani Pd. Upadhyaya Felicitation Volume by Veermani Prasad Upadhyaya

[60z] P. 150 and P. 152, The Peacock, the National Bird of India By P. Thankappan Nair

[60aa] Buddhism in Tamil Nadu: Collected papers By G. John Samuel, Ār. Es Śivagaṇēśamūrti, M. S. Nagarajan, Institute of Asian Studies (Madras, India)


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