Middle Kingdoms of India, Part 63

BY: SUN STAFF

(King) Kulashekhar Alwar


Jul 25, 2015 — CANADA (SUN) — A serial presentation of India's great history, religious movements and temple architecture.


The Cheras

'The Chera kingdom owed its importance to trade with West Asia, Greece and Rome. Its geographical advantages, like the abundance of exotic spices, the navigability of the rivers connecting the Ghat mountains with the Arabian sea, and the discovery of favourable Monsoon winds which carried sailing ships directly from the Arabian coast to Chera kingdom, combined to produce a veritable boom in the Chera foreign trade. [60bb-cc]

The Later Cheras ruled from the 9th Century. Little is known about the Cheras between the two dynasties. The second dynasty, Kulasekharas ruled from a city on the banks of River Periyar called Mahodayapuram (Kodungallur). [60dd] Although they never regained their old status in the Peninsula, the Kulasekharas fought numerous wars with their powerful neighbors and were diminished in the 12th Century as a result of continuous Chola and Rashtrakuta invasions.

The Chera rulers of Venadu, based at the port Quilon in southern Kerala, trace their relations back to the Later, or Second Cheras. These dynasty rulers were formerly known as Kulasekharas. They were nominal rulers of the Chera kingdom, comprising a loose federation of regional chiefs from the 9th to the 12th Centuries A.D. [60ee] The rule of the Later Cheras was based at the city of Mahodayapuram, near the present day Kodungalloor, Kerala. [60ff] Their Perumal government has been described as a "Brahmin oligarchy with ritual sovereignty".[60ee]

Ravi Varma Kulasekhara, Chera ruler of Venadu from 1299 to 1314 A.D., is known for his ambitious military campaigns to former Pandya and Chola territories. For the followers of Bhakti Vaisnavism, however, one name stands above all other: King Kulashekhara, the author of the nectarean Mukunda-mala-stotram.

The Tamil poetic collection known as Sangam literature describes the long line of Chera rulers, including the Kulasekharas, dating back to the first few centuries A.D. It records the names of the kings, the princes, and the court poets who extolled them. Foremost among these Sangam works is the Mukundamala, or Mukunda-mala-stotram, a poem in Sanskrit written by Kulashekhara Alvar, one of the last kings of the Chera dynasty in Kerala.

King Kulashekhara held power as the 9th Alvar, around 1100 A.D. The Alvars (Alwars) are the twelve mendicant saints venerated by the Srivaishnavas of South India. King Kulashekhara's Mukundamala is written in the style of the Bhakti saints of his day. It begs Sri Mukunda (Lord Krsna), to give its unworthy author a place at the Lord's lotus feet, birth after birth.

One of King Kulashekhara's devotional poems is also found in the Divya Prabhandham, namely Perumal Thirumozhi. His writings are all dedicated to Lord Krsna and Lord Rama. In one song, he identifies himself with Devaki, the mother of Krsna. Kulasekara expresses Devaki's desolation at being separated from her child and her prays for association with Him.'


FOOTNOTES:

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

[60cc] Cyclopaedia of India and of Eastern and Southern Asia, Ed. by Edward Balfour (1871), Second Edition. Volume 2. p. 584

[60dd] (Ancient name, Chully ref: Akam. 149)

[60ee] Perumals of Kerala: Political and Social Conditions of Kerala Under the Cēra Perumals of Makotai (c. 800 AD-1124 AD) , M. G. S. Narayanan, Xavier Press (1996)

[60ff] Focus on a PhD thesis that threw new light on Perumals, R. Madhavan Nair [The Hindu]


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