Tamils - a Trans State Nation..

"To us all towns are one, all men our kin.
Life's good comes not from others' gift, nor ill
Man's pains and pains' relief are from within.
Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."
Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C 

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Home  > The Tamil History - History & Geography > Pallava > Chera Dynasty >  The Cheras - Dr.N.Subramaniam > Chola Dynasty > Pandya Dynasty T

The Cheras


The Cheras were a family of rulers whose Kingdom comprised roughly the Western and South-Western parts of the Tamil country. the southern extension of the Nilgiris did not operate as a barriers to the limited communication system of the se days; and parts like Tondi and Musiri collected and transmitted abroad the pepper, ivory, sandal and other precious commodities of the hinterland. Though largely a mountainous country, it was rich in spices and other valuable natural products (flora as well as fauna) not easily got elsewhere. In historical times, they ruled from more than one capital, the chief among them being the port of Tondi and the inland town of Karuvur of Vanji.

The meaning of the word "Chera" is not clear. The "Cerobothra' of the Periplus, and Asoka's "Keralaputra" refer to them. Though Megasthenes who mentions the Pandyas does not refer to the Cheras, it is Possible that the Cheras flourished as independant rulers even in the fourth century B.C. the earliest reference to them is in the Asokan edicts. It has been suggested that they were the oldest among the three crowned monarchs in Tamilaham in view of the common expression "Chera, Chola, Pandya" and the also the Tolkappiam expression "Pondai Vembe Arena Varium, Maperum Tanaiyar Malaindapuram". It seems that because the Pandyas has assumed a lunar ancestry, the Cholas followed up with a Solar ancestry, leaving the Cheras free to claim descent from the Fire-God.

It was a characteristic of early Tamil polity for senior members of collateral branches of the same family to rule from different provincial capitals simultaneously as near equals of the chief ruler of the dynasty. so we have among others the "Cheral" and the "Irumporai". families ruling at the same time and along with the "Kodais". Udiyan Cheral, Imayavaramban Neduncheral Adan, Senguttuvan belong to the first group; Cheraman Kanaikkal Irumporai, Anduvan Cheral Irumporai, Perumcheral Irumporai and Illancheral Irumporai belong to the second group; and Cheran Kokkadai Marban Kottambalattut Tunjiya Makkodai belong to the third group. their territory comprised the Kongunadu and the modern dharmapuri district also. The Adigamans of Tagadur and the northern Velir along with the Avis (like Vel Avik Koman, Vai Avikkopperumpehan etc.) were their feudatories. Succession to the Chera throne was determined in the usual patrilineal way with reference to primogeniture, though the issue has generated an unending controversy, even as the indentification of Vanji has.

Chera history could go back to earlier than the third century B.C., but the earliest Sangam reference we have to a Chera rule is in the second verse of the Purananuru. He is perum Chorru Udiyan Cheral Adan, about whom the incredible story of his feeding the two armies of the Mahabharata battle is told.

This is the result of a mis-understanding of that verse, which in my opinion relates to the Chera's blessing to the Aimperunkulu who victoriously fought the Satavahanas, perhaps in the preKalabhra days. So we could assign the second century B.C. to this king. There is another Udihyan Cheral mentioned in the Padirrupattu who was the father of Imayavaramban, but he must be distinguished from Perum Chorru Cheral.

The Padirruppattu along with Purananuru gives us most of the information on the Sangam Cheras. In the extant eight decades of the anthology, we get to know about eight Chera rulers: (1) Imaya Varamban Nedun Cheral Andan who reigned for 58 years; (2) Palyanai Selkelu Kuttuvan who ruled for 25 years; (3) Kalangaikkanni Narmudi Cheral who ruled for 25 years; (4) Kadal Pirakkottiya Senguttuvan who ruled for 55 years; (5) Adu Kotpattu Cheral Adan who ruled for 38 Years; (6) Selvakkadungo Vali Adan who ruled for 25 Years; (7) Perum Cheral Irumporai who ruled for 17 years (8) Ilan Cheral Irumporai who ruled for 16 Years. Of these, No. 1 was the father of No. 4 who is the hero of Vanji kandam in Silappadikaram. Father and son were noted for successful sojourns to the Himalayas and defeat 0f the pirates on the Arabian Sea. Number Seven was the victor in the battle of Tagadur. This family patronised poets to an incredible degree and in an unprecedented manner; and kapilar and Paranar were among the beneficiaries. The grateful poets wrote the praise of their patrons in verse.

The Chera rulers married among the Velir also, as we can see in Selvakkadungo's marriage with Vel Avikkoman Paduman Devi and Peruncheral Irumporai's marriage with Venmal Anduvan Sellai.

The Cheras of the Sangam Age temporarily went off the stage of Tamil history when the country came under Kalabhra rule. The Tamil Navalar Charitai speaks of Chera submission to the kalabhras. But even when the Kalabhra domination had lifted, there was no great Chera revival comparable to the Pandyan revival with Vijayalaya. their later history was one of subordinate, provincial leadership under the suzerainty of the Pandyas or the Cholas. the Chola conquest of the Chera country was completed of the Chera country was completed when Rajaraja I destroyed the Kandalur Salai naval forces.

During the last phase of their rule as independent monarchs, the Cheraman Perumals of the early 9th century. He was a Saivite and said to be a contemporary of Sundaramurthy Nayanar, but one cannot be sure of the legand of his conversion to Islam. With his passing away the Chera epoch came to an end, the Kollam era (C.A.D.825) commanced. It is in this period that the Jewish merchant community was settled in Kollam and Sri Sankaracharya spread his philosophical ideas.

The Later history of the Western coast beyond the western ghats sharply deviates from Tamil history; Malayalam was developed as a separate language; the land began looking westwards rather than eastwards. The Jews, Arabs and Christians settled on that coast and a composity population developed a culture less orthodox and oriental than the Tamil country to the east of the ghats. But the ruling families in Kerala were perhaps descendants of the early Cheras.


1. Tolkappiam: Porul: 60

2. Vide my paper on "Perum Chorru Udiyan Cheral Adan", Journal of Indian History, Vol. XLI, Part II, 1963.



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