Chera Dynasty

Chera Dynasty
Chera Kingdom
c. 5th century BCE–1102 AD


Extent of Chera Empire
Capital Early Cheras: (Vanchi Muthur in Kizhanthur-Kandallur, Karur Vanchi
Second Cheras: Mahodayapuram, Kulashekarapuram
Language(s) Tamil]
Religion Hinduism, Jainism
Government Monarchy
King Nedum Cheralathan
Cheran Senguttuvan
Historical era Middle Ages
 - Established c. 5th century BCE
 - Rise to fame of the First Recorded Line of Cheras 800 AD
 - Rise of the Second Line of Cheras
 - Disestablished 1102 AD
Today part of  India
Part of a series on the
Chera dynasty
 · Uthiyan Cheralathan
 · Imayavaramban Nedun-Cheralatan
 · Cheran Senguttuvan
 · Tagadur Erinda Perumcheral
 · Yanaikat-sey Mantaran Cheral
 · Kulashekhara Alwar
 · Rajashekhara Varman
 · Rama Varma Kulashekhara
Vanchi Muthur
Karur · Muchirippattanam 
Mahodayapuram · Kulasekharapuram
After the Cheras
Kingdom of Calicut
Kingdom of Cochin
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Part of a series on the
History of Kerala
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Pre-history of Kerala
 · Edakkal Caves · Marayur
Sangam period
Sangam literature
Muziris · Tyndis 
Economy · Religion · Music
Early Cheras
Early Pandyas
Ezhimalai kingdom
Ay kingdom
Saint Thomas Christians
Modern age
Vasco da Gama
Dutch East India Company
Travancore–Dutch War
Battle of Colachel
Mysore invasion
Pazhassi Raja
British East India Company
Madras presidency
Third Anglo–Mysore War
Velu Thampi
Malabar Rebellion
Punnapra-Vayalar uprising
Narayana Guru
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Chera Dynasty (Tamil: சேரர் ) in South India is one of the most ancient ruling dynasties in India. Together with the Cholas and the Pandyas, they formed the three principle warring Tamil kingdoms in southern India. Cheras ruled from before the Sangam Age until the 12th century AD, leaving Venad Cheras as their indirect descendants.

According to the Sangam literature, the dynasty was founded by Uthiyan Cheralathan (circa 3rd century BC). The reign of the Cheras was interrupted by the Kalabhra Interregnum and the Cheras after king Kulashekhara Varman are called Kulasekharas of Mahodayapuram. Sometimes Early Cheras of the Sangam Age and Kulasekharas of Mahodayapuram are treated as separate dynasties, since large differences existed between their rules and policies. The first Chera dynasty lasted till circa 5th century AD[1] and the second ruled from the 9th century. Little is known about the Cheras between the two dynasties.

The early Cheras ruled parts of Kerala (Malabar) State, Kongu Nadu, Salem and Dharmapuri from time immemorial. The dynasty probably added the Southern Nagapattanam and Thiruvarur districts after the marriage of the second king of the first Chera Dynasty into the royal family of the Cholas. Muziris, the famous sea port, was in the Chera kingdom and throughout the reign of the Cheras, trade continued to bring prosperity to their kingdom, with spices, ivory, timber, pearls and gems being exported to the Middle East and to southern Europe. Evidence of extensive foreign trade from ancient times can be seen throughout the Malabar coast, Karur and Coimbtore districts. Their ancient capital was Vanchi Muthur in the Kanthallur-Kizhanthur (Kuzhumur) region of the Idukki district of Kerala.[1] They moved their administrative capital to Karuvur in 2nd century.

Chera inscriptions of the 2nd century AD referring to the Irrumporai clan have been found near Karur (Tiruchchirapalli district), identified with the Korura of Ptolemy. During the time of Cheras, Jewish, Christian, and Muslim immigrants established Nasrani Mappila, Juda Mappila and Muslim Mappila communities. Nedunjeral Adan is said to have attacked the Yavana ships and held the Yavana traders to ransom. His son Senguttuvan, the most famous and powerful Chera king is famous for the legends surrounding Kannagi, the heroine of the legendary Tamil epic Silapathikaram and his wars, also is mentioned in the context of Gajabahu’s rule in Sri Lanka, which can be dated to either the first or last quarter of the 2nd century AD, depending on whether he was the earlier or the later Gajabahu.[2]

The second dynasty, Kulasekharas, ruled from the outskirts of Muziris on the banks of River Periyar called Mahodayapuram (Kodungallur).[3] Though never, regained the old status in the Peninsula, Kulasekharas fought numerous wars with their powerful neighbors and diminished to history in 12th century as a result of continuous Chola invasions.



Ilango Adigal, auther of Silappatikaram

In the Sangam Tamil lexicon the word Chera meaning "hill country", derived from Cheral, meaning "declivity or mountain slope" in Classical Tamil language.[4] The Chera Kings were called Chera-alatan ("Lord of the Slopes") in classical Tamil.[5]

The only sources available regarding the early Chera Kings are the anthologies of Sangam literature, now generally agreed to belong to the first few centuries AD and a few mentions in the writings of ancient Greek and Romans such as the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea.[6]

South India in BC 300, showing the Chera, Pandya and Chola tribes

The earliest extant Tamil literary works, such as the Kalittokai, mention a mythical continent called Kumari Kandam, which was believed to have been located to the South of the present-day Kanyakumari tens of thousands of years ago, between the then Kumari and Pahrali Rivers. Pandyan kings such as Chenkon, and the Cheras, supposedly ruled this country. Sangam literature further says that they fought and defeated the Nāga tribes, who might have been a non-Dravidian people. Kalittokai again mentions a war between the combined forces of Villavars and the Meenavars (possibly the Cheras and the Pandyas respectively), and the Nāgas, their arch-enemies, eventually losing the war, and subsequently Central India to the Nagas. Sangam literature is full of names of kings and princes, along with the poets who extolled them but these are not worked into connected history so far and the chronology is not settled. Their then capital is believed to be modern Karur in Tamil Nadu.

The Cheras, the Pandyas and the Cholas are the three ruling dynasties of the southern region (Bharatavarsha) in the Hindu epic of the Ramayana.[7][8] They are also mentioned in the Aitareya Aranyaka, and the Mahabharata, where they take the side of the Pandavas in the Kurukshetra War.[1][9][10][11]

In Sanskrit Kera means "coconut" and "Kerala" (Kera Alam) is "Kera kingdom". Sangam Literature never uses the name Kerala but Ashoka's edicts mention his tributary tribal dynasty known by the name Kedalaputho who were outside Ashoka's empire in 261 BC. Pliny, the Roman historian of the 1st century, who probably visited Kerala, called the area Caelobothras in his Natural History.[12] The unknown author of the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea mentions Chera as Cerobothra whose capital is Karur. Archaeology has found epigraphic evidence of the early Cheras in the recorded history of South India:[13] some inscriptions trace the dynasty from the mythical Puranic kings of the Lunar dynasty. The most important inscription is that at Pugalur (Aranattarmalai) which refers to three generations of Chera Rulers; Athan Cheral Irumporai, his son Perumkadungo and his grandson Ilamkadungo when Perumkadungo was ruler and Ilamkadungo appointed prince.


South India in 01 AD

The Chera, Chola and Pandya are traditional Tamil siblings and descendants of the Kings of ancient Tamilakam, Chera and Pandya meaning old country, Chola meaning new country. The Cholas ruled in the eastern Coromandel Coast and the Pandyas in the South Central Peninsula. There were also numerous small vassal kingdoms and city-states in South India like Kongu Nadu, Ay kingdom, Mushika Kingdom, Malainadu (the Anaimalai Range in Kerala), Kuttuvanadu and Cherapayalmalai (Both in northern Malabar). Chera rulers engaged in frequent intermarriage as well as warfare with the Pandyas and Cholas.

In early Tamil literature the great Chera rulers are referred to as Cheral, Kuttuvan, Irumporai, Kollipurai and Athan. Chera rulers were also called Kothai or Makothai. The nobility among the Cheras were called Cheraman in general. The word Kerala, of possible Prakrit origins, does not appear in Sangam Literature. Pathirruppaththu, the fourth book in the Ettuthokai anthology, mentions a number of Kings of the Chera dynasty. Each King is praised in ten songs sung by the Court Poet and the Kings are in the following order:

  1. Imayavaramban Kudako Nedum Cheralathan
  2. Palyane Chel Kezhu Kuttuvan
  3. Kalankai Kanni Narmudi Cheral (son of Nedum Cheralathan)
  4. Chenkuttuvan Cheran or Kadal Pirakottiya Vel Kezhu Kuttuvan (son of Nedum Cheralathan)
  5. Attu Kottu Pattu Cheralathan (son of Nedum Cheralathan)
  6. Chelva Kadunko Azhi Athan
  7. Thakadur Erintha Perum Cheral Irumporai
  8. Kudako Ilam Cheral Irumporai

The first recorded King was Uthiyan Cheralathan with capital at Kuzhumur in Kuttanad (present day Idukki district). Uthiyan Cheralathan is also regarded as the founder of the dynasty, and was contemporary to Karikala Chola. His queen was Veliyan Nallini. Their son Imayavaramban Kudako Nedum Cheralathan is praised in the Second Ten of Pathirruppaththu, the pathikam (poet) of this decade refers to his parents, though they are not praised in the First Ten which is blank. Nedum Cheralathan consolidated the Chera kingdom, and literature and art developed highly during his period. Kannanar was Nedum Cheralathan's court poet.

The third, fourth and fifth kings were sons of Nedum Cheralathan, while the mother of fourth King (also known as Kadal Pirakottiya Vel Kezhu Kuttuvan Seran Chenkuttuvan or simply Chenkuttuvan) was Chola Princess Manikilli. Chelva Kadunko Vazhiyathan was the son of Anthuvan Cheral Irumporai and Porayan Perumthevi. Perum Cheral Irumporai was the son of Aazhiyathan and Ilam Cheral Irumporai was the son of a Chera ruler Kuttuvan Irumporai, son of Mantharan Cheral Irumporai, the celebrated ancestor of ninth King Ilam Cheral Irumporai.

Illango Atikal wrote the legendary epic Silapathikararam sitting at a Jain monastery in Trikkanamathilakam. Silapathikararam describes the Chera king Senguttuvan's decision to propitiate a temple (Veerakallu) for the Goddess Pattini. 'Purananuru' refers to a certain Udiyan Cheral. It is said that he fed the rival armies during the Kurukshetra war. Imayavaramban Neduncheralathan, another Sangam Age King claimed to have conquered Bharatavarsha up to the Himalayas and to have inscribed his emblem on the face of the mountains. Senguttuvan was another famous Chera, whose contemporary Gajabahu I of Sri Lanka of Lanka according to Mahavamsa visited the Chera country.[14] Manimekalai written by Chathanar describes the city of Vanchi as Buddhist centre.

South india in the Sangam period.

Extent and trade

The early Cheras controlled a large territory of the Kongu region. Senguttuvan won a war against Kongar or Ganga people Western Ganga Dynasty. They also ruled the Kodunthamizh regions of Travancore (Venadu) and the Malabar (Kudanadu) west coast through vassals. Present day Palakkad, the Porainad, with capital at Theari (Para) became a part of the Chera kingdom after the Chera monarchs marriage with the only princess of the Porainadu dynasty.

South India in AD 300

The legendary Mushika ruler, Nandan, was killed in a battle with the Cheras. They were in contact with the Satavahanas in the north and with the Romans and Greeks.[15] Trade flourished overseas and there was a considerable exchange of gold and coins, as seen by archaeological evidence and literature. The Romans brought vast amounts of gold in exchange of 'Kari' (Pepper) from Malainadu.[16] Muziris has been referred to by the author of the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea as an inland port probably near Kodungallur.


It is believed that the Cheras were Shaivite Hindus .[17] Some kings of the dynasty referred to themselves as Vanavaramban, Imayavaramban etc.[18] While Cheras had their own 'Kottravai', the mother goddess, who was later on assimilated into the present day form of Devi. Other religious traditions like Jainism and Buddhism came to this area during the period of the Chera Kings.

After the Kalabhra interregnum

The Kalabhras dynasty ruled over the entire ancient Tamil country between the 3rd and the 6th century in an era of South Indian history called the Kalabhra interregnum. The Kalabhras displaced the kingdoms of the early Cholas, Pandayas and Chera dynasties. Little is known about the Cheras between the two dynasties. Mostly, they were the allies of the powerful Pallavas, against the Pandyas and Ays.

South India in AD 700

The Kalabhras were defeated around the 6th century with the revival of Pallava and Pandya power. A Pandya ruler, Maravarman Rajasimha I (c. 730 – 765 AD), mentioned in a number of Pandya copper-plate inscriptions, was a prominent ruler during the early 8th century CE. He claims to have defeated a prominent Chera king. The name of the Chera king is not known, however from the details of the battles between the Pandya and the Chera, the Chera territory ceded seems to have included the entire Kerala and the Southern Pandya country from Kanyakumari to Thirunelveli, with capital at Karur.

The copper plates of the Pallava dynasty kings of the period give us a glimpse about their field of action. In the reign of Pandya king Parantaka Nedunjadaiyan (765-790 CE), the Cheras was still in the Karur region as a close ally of the Pallava dynasty. Parantaka Nedunjadaiyan defeated the local king Atiya of the Ay kingdom, at first, at Ayiraveli Aiyilur, and pursued him to Pugalur and vanquished him. The Pallava and Chera came to help the Atiya, but were also defeated. That this war between Cheras and Pallava on the one hand and the Pandya on the other, took place at Karur is indicated by Dalavaypuram plates which specifically say Parantaka Nedunjadaiyan defeated the Kadava (Pallava) at Karur. But the Vaishnava saint Thirunmangai Alvar, states that the Pallava won a victory over the Pandya at Karur. This would indicate that the Karur battle was indecisive.

During this period, the port Vizhinjam (former capital of the Ay kingdom), seems to have slipped out of the hand of the Cheras and was controlled by the Ay kingdom. Parantaka Nedunjadaiyan states in his Srivaramangalam plates, that he defeated the Ay king at Vizhinjam. But, within a short period, the Cheras regained the Vizhinjam area. Parantaka Nedunjadaiyan's son, Sri Mara Srivallabha, claims to have killed the Chera in a battle at Vizhinjam. But, again around 850 to 900 CE the Vizhinjam region was under the control of the Ay kings Karunan Tadakkan and Aviyalantadakkan.

Adi Shankara, the Hindu philosopher who consolidated the doctrine of Advaita Vedanta, was Kulasekhara Varman's contemporary.

The Second dynasty

The Chera Kings Rajashekhara Varman and Kulashekhara Varman spearheaded Hindu religious movements in their roles as celebrated Saivite and Vaishnavite saints. Kulasekhara became one of the celebrated Alvars and his poems came to be called the Perumal thirumozhi.

Kulashekhara Varman ruled around the 8th and 9th centuries. He called himself Kongar Kon (the king of the Kongu people) hailing from Kollinagar (Karur). Though Kongar were defeated by Cheran Senguttuvan in the 2nd century AD, the Kongu region had been occupied by the Kongars of Karnataka Western Ganga Dynasty around 470 AD. The title 'Kongar Kon' indicates Kulasekhara had regained control of Kongu from the Western Ganga Dynasty around 800 AD. Other titles of Kulasekhara mentioned in the Perumal thirumozhi are Villavar Kon, Malayar Kon, Kollikkavalan, Koikkon and Koodal Nayagan.[19] Adi Shankara was his contemporary. Kongumandala Satakam also says that Rajashekhara Varman went to Kayilai with Sundarar from Kongu Nadu.

The kingdom perished in 1102 CE soon after the Chola King ransacked the Chera Capital at Kodungallur. As a result, the last of the Cheraman Perumal, Rama Varma Kulashekhara moved to Kollam and ruled from there. He finally succeeded in driving away the Cholas but could not regain power due to the enmity he earned from the Brahmins. His kingdom was confined to the South of Kerala and was called Venad. The Travancore dynasty originated from the remnants of the Second Chera Dynasy.

Rama Varma Kulashekhara (1090- 1102 AD) was the last king of the Chera Dynasty that ruled Kerala from 800- 1102 AD. After significant military success over the Chola dynasty he abdicated the throne.Rama Varma Kulashekhara ascended the throne during a period of severe crisis. Kulothunga Chola I had occupied Nanjanad and south Kerala and was proceeding towards Kollam, the capital of the Venad kings in 1096 AD. Rama Varma resolved to beat back the Cholas and rallied all his patriotic forces. A large body of Chera army transformed into suicide squads (Chavers).

Cheraman Perumal Juma Masjid, believed to have been built upon the request of an unknown Chera dynasty ruler and probably the first Mosque in India

The capital city of Mahodayapuram (present Kodungallur) and surrounding places were devastated in the long war and the king, without even a palace of his own, is known to have stayed at alternative frugal accommodations. Towards the end of the war he shifted the capital from Mahodayapuram to Kollam and led a large army to stem the Cholas in the south. Kulothunga Chola I was defeated and withdrew towards Kottar. The Cholapuram records (1100 AD) that record the achievements of Kulothunga Chola refer to this. The Cholas could not regain their influence beyond Nanjanad after this defeat. The move from Mahodayapuram to Kollam however marked the end of the Kulashekhara Empire. Venad attained the status of an independent kingdom, of which Rama Varma Kulashekhara is regarded as the founder.

List of kings

Sangam Age Chera Kings

  1. Perumchottu Uthiyan Cheralathan (Contemporary to Karikala Chola)
  2. Antuvancheral
  3. Imayavaramban Nedun-Cheralatan (Son of Uthiyan Cheralathan, contemporary to Perunarkilli)
  4. Cheran Chenkutuvan or Senguttuvan
  5. Palyanai Sel-Kelu Kuttuvan
  6. Poraiyan Kadungo
  7. Kalankai-Kanni Narmudi Cheral
  8. Vel-Kelu Kuttuvan
  9. Selvak-Kadungo
  10. Adukotpattu Cheralatan
  11. Kuttuvan Irumporai
  12. Tagadur Erinda Perumcheral
  13. Yanaikat-sey Mantaran Cheral
  14. Ilamcheral Irumporai
  15. Perumkadungo
  16. Ilamkadungo
  17. Kanaikal Irumporai

Kulasekhara kings

  1. Kulashekhara Varman (800–820 AD)
  2. Rajashekhara Varman (820- 844 AD)- also called Cheraman Perumal.
  3. Sthanu Ravi Varman (844- 885 AD)- contemporary of Aditya Chola
  4. Rama Varma Kulashekhara (885- 917 AD)
  5. Goda Ravi Varma (917- 944 AD)
  6. Indu Kotha Varma (944- 962 AD)
  7. Bhaskara Ravi Varman I (962- 1019 AD)
  8. Bhaskara Ravi Varman II (1019- 1021 AD)
  9. Vira Kerala (1021- 1028 AD)
  10. Rajasimha (1028- 1043 AD)
  11. Bhaskara Ravi Varman III (1043–1082 AD)
  12. Rama Varma Kulashekhara (1090- 1102 AD)- also called Cheraman Perumal.


  1. ^ a b c [1][dead link]
  2. ^
  3. ^ (Ancient name, Chully ref: Akam. 149)
  4. ^ A Survey of Kerala History by A. Sreedhara Menon – Kerala (India) – 1967
  5. ^ Sivaraja Pillai, The Chronology of the Early Tamils – Based on the Synchronistic Tables of Their Kings, Chieftains and Poets Appearing in the Sangam Literature.
  6. ^ Nilakanta Sastri, K.A., History of South India, pp 106
  7. ^ "The Ramayana and Mahabharata: Book VII: In the Nilgiri Mountains". Retrieved 2011-03-16. 
  8. ^ V.Jayaram (2007-01-09). "The Ramayana Kishkindha". Retrieved 2011-03-16. 
  9. ^ "Britannica Article on Dravidian". 2004-01-09. Retrieved 2011-03-16. 
  10. ^ "Mahabharata: The Great War and World History". Retrieved 2011-03-16. 
  11. ^ "The Sampradaya Sun - Independent Vaisnava News - Feature Stories - October 2007". Retrieved 2011-03-16. 
  12. ^ Cerobothra
  13. ^ See report in Frontline, June/July 2003
  14. ^ See Mahavamsa – Since Senguttuvan (Kadal pirakottiya Vel Kezhu Kuttuvan) was a contemporary of Gajabahu I of Sri Lanka he was the Chera King during 170–185 AD.
  15. ^ Throughout the era trade continued to bring prosperity to the area with spices, ivory, timber, pearls and gems being exported to Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, Rome, Phoenicia and Arabia. Evidence of extensive foreign trade from the ancient period is available throughout the Malabar Coast, from the Greek, Roman and Arabic coins unearthed from Kollam, Kodungallur, Eyyal (near Thrissur) etc in Kerala. Sangam Chera coins are found in Pattanam, near Kodungallur in Kerala, Karur, Namakkal, Erode and Coimbatore regions of modern-day Tamil Nadu. These foreigners were called Yavana in the ancient times
  16. ^
  17. ^ P. 104 Indian Anthropologist: Journal of the Indian Anthropological Association By Indian Anthropological Association
  18. ^ P. 15 The Ācārya, Śaṅkara of Kāladī: A Story By Savita R. Bhave, M. G. Gyaltsan, Muṣṭafá Amīn, 1933– Madugula, I S Madugula
  19. ^ "Kulasekara Alwar". Retrieved 2011-03-16. 

See also

Rama Varma Kulashekhara Kerala Cheraman Perumal Ilango Adigal Mukundamala Kodungallur pulaya Ezhavathy


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