Etymology of Chera Dynasty
The word Chera probably derived from ‘Cheral’ which means declivity of a mountain in ancient Tamil. They were also known as ‘Keralaputras’.
Historical Reference of Chera Dynasty
The most primitive reference with regard to the Cheras is evident in the rock inscription of Ashoka and the reference to them is also found in the geographies of Ptolemy and Periplus. However, there is no concrete evidence about the Chera kings of that period. It is known from the ‘Silappadikaram’, a Sangam poem that a Chera king by the name Sangultauana once ruled. As per that book, this king ruled in the period of Chola king Karikala’s grandson and Pandya king Nedujodian.
Rule of Chera Dynasty
As per recorded history, the Chera dynasty was broadly divided into two phases. The Early Chera ruled between the 4th century BC to 5th century AD and later Chera (also known as the Kulasekharas) were in power between the 8th and 12th century AD.
In the 12th century A. D. the Cheras were a feudatory of the Cholas. However, in the 13th century A. D., the Pandyas became prominent and made the Cheras their feudatory. Again the Cheras rose into prominence when Malik Kafur in 1310 A. D. gave a smashing blow to the might of the Pandyas. The then Chera king Ravivardhan Kulasekhara defeated the Cholas and the Pandyas. However, the Chera king was defeated by the Kakatiya king Rudra I. The last powerful king of the Chera dynasty was Ravivardhan and the kingdom of the Cheras declined after him.
The lands south of the Mauryan Empire which included the Malabar Coast, Karur, Coimbatore and Salem districts in South India were all part of the Chera Dynasty.
Origin of Chera Dynasty
Along with the Pandyas of Madurai and the Cholas of Kanchipuram, the Cheras formed a triarchy of Dravidian ruling houses whose rival claims kept South India in a state of intermittent warfare for more than a thousand years. Nothing is known of the origins of the Chera dynasty. The kingly families of Cochin and Travancore, which claim to be Kshatriyas, are descendants of the Chera kings who were originally Nayar.
Rulers of Chera Dynasty
The first Chera ruler was Perumchottu Utiyan Cheralatan, a contemporary of the great Chola, King Karikalan. After suffering a humiliating defeat at the hands of the Chola ruler at the battle of Venni, he committed suicide.
His son, Imayavaramban Nedum Cheralatan, another important Chera ruler, succeeded him. During his long rule of 58 years, Imayavaramban Nedun Cheralatan consolidated the Chera Dynasty and extended its frontiers. He inflicted a crushing defeat on his sworn enemies, the Kadambas of Banavasi. Imayavaramban’s reign is of special significance to the development of art and literature during the rule of Chera Dynasty.
However, the greatest Chera King was Kadalpirakottiya Velkelu Kuttuvan, who is also identified with the mythical hero of the Silappadikaram. The last known Chera ruler, Cheraman Perumal converted to Islam and built the first mosque in India. The Cheras faded out of history by the 8th century AD.
Administration of Chera Dynasty
The development of authority by the Chera kings, theoretically all-powerful, is suggested in the references in Silappadikaram to the ‘king’s council’ and the ‘five assemblies’. The council of the King consisted of the inner group of respected elders and powerful noblemen. The council was not merely the highest advisory body, but also the final judicial tribunal which assisted the king when he held his daily durbar to consider petitions and render judgments.
Religion of Chera Dynasty
After the Aryanization of Kerala, religious dedication was accepted as another kind of substitute for the physical sacrifice of the king on the termination of his customary period of office. At least two Chera kings renounced their temporal power and took up the life of the religious renunciation. One was the Vaishnavite devotional poet, Kulasekhara Alwar, who ruled Kerala in the 8th century and, on giving up his throne, wrote a stanza comparing his attitude with that of the worldly-wise who mocked his resolution. Later, Cheraman Perumal, the most famous ruler of Kerala is said to have given up his throne in 825 and to have gone on a pilgrimage from which he did not return.