Kulasekhara dynasty (Second Cheras)

Mahodayapuram Chera Kingdom or Kulasekhara kingdom

800 CE–1102 CE


Kulasekhara kingdom, an approximate representation
Capital Mahodayapuram(Near Muziris), Kulashekarapuram
Language(s) Tamil]
Religion Hinduism
Government Monarchy
Historical era Middle Ages
 - Coronation of Kulasekhara Varman 800 CE
 - Chola attacks under Kulothunga Chola I 1102 CE
Today part of  India

Kulasekhara or Later Chera dynasty was a Hindu dynasty founded by the saint King Kulashekhara Varman. The dynasty ruled the whole of modern Kerala state (Malabar or Kudamalainadu), Guddalore and some parts of Nilgiri district and Salem - Coimbatore region in southern India between 9th and 12th centuries AD mostly from the outskirts of the sea port Muziris, called Mahodayapuram, on the banks of River Periyar.[1] The Kulasekharas traces their ancestry back to the powerful Chera dynasty of the Tamil Sangam Age. The age of Kulasekharas of Mahodayapuram is known in history as the Golden Age of Kerala.

After the disappearance of the Kalabhras rule in south India the Chera dynasty was revived around 9th century as Kulasekharas from Kodungallur (Mahodayapuram or Thiruvanchikulam) rather than from their former capital in Kongunad, Vanchikarur. The kings took the title of Perumal during this period and patronised Vaishnavite or Shavaite sects. The Kulasekharas were from the Villavar martial clan and the Chera king had the title Villavar Kon indicating Villavar clans founded theancient Chera Kingdom and supported by Paluvettaraiyar, Vanavar and Malayar and other ethnic Tamil clans. The Later Cheras had a second interior capital at Udagai in the Kongunad. They shared the present day Kerala state with the Mushikas in the north and the Ays in the south and other Chieftains ruling small regions of rest of the region. The kingdom was in continues wars with the neighboring Chola dynasty and the Rashtrakuta Empire leading the way for enormous increase in the power of Namboothiri Brahmins in the socio-economic life. And as a result of continuous wars with the Cholas, the education institutes and temples were progressively neglected. Centres of education were converted to Kalaries for imparting military training by Kalari experts. Suicide squads were set up to meet the challenge. Rama Varma Kulashekhara (r. 1090–1102), the last of the Kulasekharas and the first Kulasekhara Venad ruler moved his capital to a provincial capital Kollam when Later Chola king Kulothunga Chola I sacked Mahodyapuram. The death of Rama Varma Kulashekhara signalled the end of the Mahodayapuram Cheras and from the ruins of which arose the Kulasekhara state of Venad and hence the kingdom of Travancore.

In spite of these political disturbances, there was intense religious activity in Kerala during the Kulasekhara ages. While Jainism and Buddhism declined, Hinduism]] made phenomenal progress. Already Christianity and Judaism had struck deep roots in Kerala. It is possible that Islam also made its advent into Kerala in the 7th century AD. The development of Malayalam language and a unique identity of Malayali emerged during this period.


Literary sources and academic debates

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 · Edakkal Caves · Marayur
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Tapatismnwrana and Subhadradhananjaya, two dramas written Kulasekhara Varman establish the fact that the author was a ruler of Kerala with Mahodayapuram as his capital. A Sanskrit manuscript discovered from Tekke Madham, which gives details of the life of Padmapada, a disciple of the Hindu philosopher Adi Shankara (788-820 AD), spells out a contemporary ruler of Mahodayapuram. Sivanandalahari of Adi Shankara mentions a king by name Rajasekhara. These works establishes that that Adi Shankara was a contemporary of Kulasekhara Varman (ruled 800-820 AD) and Rajashekhara Varman (ruled 820-44 AD).

The court astronomer of Sthanu Ravi Varman (ruled 844-85), Sankaranarayana, through his work Sankaranarayaniyam has contributed necessary evidence to establish the chronology of Sthanu Ravi Varman. Yamaka Kavyas of Vasudeva Bhattatiri is of great historical value. The devotional songs of the Saiva Nayanars and the Vaishnava Alwars cannot be neglected. Works like the Muthollayiram (C. 800 CE), Perumal Thirumozhi of Kulasekhara Varman and Periyapuranam of Sekkilar (12th century CE) contain vivid historical accounts of the Kulasekhara kings. Takkayagapparani of Ottakuthan (12th century CE) points to the transfer of Chera capital from Karur to Mahodayapuram. The poet Tholan is also believed[by whom?] to have lived in the 9th century AD.

South India after the Kalabhras
A Pookkalam, the Kulasekhara Age also witnessed a development of various cultural activities. New festivals were celebrated among which Onam was the most significant.

The work of historian M.G.S. Narayanan is often regarded as the primary material in Later Chera studies.[2]

The rule of the Kulasekharas is a period in Kerala history which underwent re-interpretation as a result of epigraphic evidence. Traditionally, it was believed that the Perumals (kings) who ruled Kerala were invited from outside Kerala by the Brahmin community to rule over the country for a limited period of 12 years after which the Perumal was to abdicate and retire from public life. The story is related to the founding myth of Kerala by Hindu god Parasurama and the settlement of 64 Brahmin villages. Keralolpathi gave credence to this story which was repeated by orthodox historians. Even historians like K.A. Nilakanta Sastri accepted the story of the imported Perumals and suggested that Kulasekhara Alwar, the first Later Chera ruler, was one such foreign ruler invited to rule over Kerala.[2]

Elamkulam Kunjan Pillai analysed epigraphic and other documentary evidence to establish that a Chera dynasty, different from the Sangham era Chera kingdom, existed in the ninth century with their capital at Mahodayapuram (Makothai). He named this dynasty the Kulashekharas of Mahodayapuram. Narayanan furthered and refined this work.[2]

Political history

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.

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.

Kulasekhara Varman

Chera kingdom under Kulasekhara Varman

Kulasehkhara dynasty was named after the founder and devotional Vaishnavite poet and one of the 12 Alvars, Kulashekhara Varman (r. 800-825 CE), described himself as Villavarkon ("the king of Villavars") in his poems. Kulasekhara Varman is also known as Kulasekhara Alvar or Ramarajasekharan. The initial territories of Kulasekhara Varman included Kudamalainadu only. Kulashekhara Varman re-united the present day Kerala state into a united homogeneous and ruled from the capital city of Mahodayapuram (present Kodungallur) built around the great Siva temple of Tiruvanchikulam.[3] The former capital, Vanchi, was in the hands of the Pandyas and no trace of the palace at Makotai remains today. The author of the Kokasandesa found it in ruins even in the 16th century.[3] During his Zenith, the Kulasekhara kingdom extended throughout the present day Kerala state, Nilgiri dt. including Gudalur and the Salem-Coimbatore region. It was probably during this period Udagai became the second capital of the Kulasekara dynasty with a member of the Kulasekara family appointed to rule over this region.

Kulashekhara Varman was also called himself as Kongarkon ("the king of the Kongu people") hailing from Kollinagar (Karur). Though the Kongars were defeated by the first Chera king Cheran Senguttuvan in the 2nd century CE, from 5th century CE the Kongu region had been occupied by Western Ganga Dynasty. The title Kongarkon indicates Kulashekhara Varman had regained control of Kongu (Salem-Coimbatore region) from the Western Ganga Dynasty in his reign. Other titles of Kulashekhara Varman mentioned in the Perumal thirumozhi are Malayarkon, Kollikkavalan (Kolli is a mountain in Namakkal districtt., Tamil Nadu), Koikkon (the ruler of Kozhi or Uraiyur near Trichy, the Chola capital) and Koodal Nayagan (master of Kudal or Madurai, the Pandya capital).

Adi Shankara, the Hindu philosopher who consolidated the doctrine of Advaita Vedanta, was his contemporary. Kulasekhara Varman is said to have married the Pandya Kings' daughter. He made pilgrimages to Thiruvarangam (Sri Rangam) in Chola kingdom, and Thiruvenkatam (Thiruppathi) in Thondainadu. It is believed that he renounced the crown to become a Hindu saint and lived in Srirangam, an important Vaishnavaite center, to serve the deity of Ranganatha. He died in Mannar Kovil in 820 AD.

Chinese Fishing nets, the trade with the Chinese was at its height during the rule of the Later Cheras

Kulashekhara Varman was also one of the celebrated Tamil Bhakti cult poet saints (alvars) and his poems are called Perumal thirumozhi. Works such as the Tamil language Perumal Tirumozhi and Sanskrit dramas like Mukundamala, Tapatisamvarna, Subhadradhanjaya and Vichchinnabhiseka and a prose work Aschrya Manjari in the same language have been attributed to him.

It was during time of Kulasekhara Varman, the traditions of Koothambalams in Hindu Temples and the Devadasi system began. Temple sculpture making and drawing proceeded long in this period. Salais or schools associated with temples were very famous (Kanthalur Salai, Parthivapuram Salai, Thiruvalla Salai, Moozhikkulam Salai etc.). They were residential in nature, with students living in proximity to the teacher.

Rama Rajashekhara Varman

The second and fourth Kulasehara kings Rajashekhara Varman and Varma Kulashekhara (885- 917 AD) spearheaded Hindu religious movements in their roles as celebrated Saivite and Vaishnavite saints respectively.

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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Rajashekhara Varman (usually identified with Cheraman Perumal Nayanar) was the second in line of the Mahodayapuram Cheras. But, recently some historians regard him as the first Mahodayapuram Chera ruler. Unlike his Vaishnavite father, Rajashekhara Varman was an ardent devotee of God Siva and was a Saivaite-Nayanar regal saint. It was during his reign (820-44 AD) the Kollavarsham began. Rajashekhara Varman was born and ruled in Mahodayapuram (Thiruvanchikkulam). But, he is also said to have ruled from the original seat of Cheras, Karuvur Vanchi (modern Karur). His kingdom included ruled the Koduntamizh regions of Kuttanadu, Venadu and Tenpandinadu, the first two north and south modern Kerala and the third, the southern tail end districts of Tamil Nadu.[citation needed]

Rajashekhara Varman spent most of his time in religious activities and in meditation at the Siva Temple in Thiruvanchikkulam. It was during this time that a Saivaite saint. Sundaramoorthy Nayanar. made a pilgrimage to the Thiruvarur Temple in the neighbouring Chola kingdom. Rajashekhara Varman with desire to meet this Tamil Saiva Saint, also went to Thiruvarur at this same time. He wrote Siva praising Tamil hyms called Mummanikkovai during this period in Thiruvarur. After meeting with Sundaramoorthy Nayanar, Rajashekhara Varman went with him to the Siva temple at Vedaranniyam in the Chola kingdom and other Siva temples all over the Pandya kingdom. He composed further hyms in Tamil in praise of God Siva known as "Ponnvanna Anthathi" and "Thirukkalyana Gnana Ulla". All the above hyms composed by him have been included in the eleventh "Thirumurai" (Thirumurais are a collection of the sacred hyms in Tamil, sung on God Siva by various Tamil Saiva Saints of Tamil Nadu and few from the Kerala State). Finally at the request of Rajashekhara Varman, Sundaramoorthy Nayanar opted to visit the palace of this Cheras at his capital city of Mahodayapuram, travelling through Kongunadu. Kongumandala Satakam says that Rajashekhara Varman went to Kayilai with his friend and Saivaite saint called Sundaramoorthy Nayanar. Both Rajashekhara Varman and Sundaramoorthy Nayanar died in Thiruvanchikkulam in 844 AD. Some historians[who?] say that he died unable to bear the grief of the death of this great saint.[citation needed]

Rajashekhara Varman is also reputed to have issued the Vazhapalli plates. However, the recently discovered Kurumathur Inscription (from Areekkode in Malappuram District) by Rajashekhara Varman dates 871 CE, proving to be the earliest documented evidence of the Chera rule out-dating the Vazhapalli plates.[citation needed]

Sthanu Ravi Varman

Front and reverse of Tharisapalli plates with Pahlavi, Kufic and Hebrew signatures. During the Kulasekhara period merchant guilds and trade corporations played a very significant role in the economic and social life of the times. The Terisapalli Copper Plate also testifies to this.

Rajasekhara Varman was followed by his son, Sthanu Ravi Varman (844-85), a contemporary of the Chola king, Vijayalaya Chola. Sthanu Ravi Varman (sometimes called Ravi Varma Tribuvanachakravarti Kulasekaradeva or (Ko)kandan Ravi) was too a Shaivaite like his father. His queen was called Kilanadigal. Sthanu Ravi Varman and his daughter both being of Saivite faith, and with the prevailing good relations that existed with the Chola country, had made their endowments to the Siva temples in the Chola country.

With the rise of the Cholas in the middle of the 9th century, Aditya I, (c. 871 – c. 907 CE) expanded the Chola kingdom by defeating the Pallavas. But, friendly relations appear to have existed between the Kulasekhara under Sthanu Ravi Varman and the Cholas in the reign of Aditya I. Sthanu Ravi Varman is stated in inscriptions to have received royal honours from Aditya I. During the same period, Sthanu Ravi Varman helped Aditya I to capture Kongunad from the Pandyas. A general named Vikkiannan (the chieftan of Kodumbalur) was greatly instrumental in winning this war, and was rewarded jointly by the Chola and Chera kings with a crown, palace, elephants, royal palanquin, drum and the given the title "Sembiyan Tamil Verl". The amicable relations which the Kulasekharas maintained with the Chola is borne out by the Tillaisthanam inscriptions.

Aditya I’s son, Parantaka I had a queen by the name Villavan Mahadeviyar probably the daughter of the Venad ruler of the Chera country, who refer themselves as "Villavar'. By some historians this Venad king is often identified with Sthanu Ravi Varman. So, Parantaka I married a daughter of Sthanu Ravi Varman called Villavan Mahadeviyar. Sthanu Ravi Varman's other daughter by the name Kilanadigal married king Vijayaragadeva from another Chera royal family ruling a part of Kerala. After Aditya I, Parantaka Chola I had the Kulasekharas as his close ally and the relationship were further strengthened during this reign.

Parantaka I also married Udaiya Pirattiyar Kokkilan Adigal, the daughter of Rama Varma Kulasekhara, son of Sthanu Ravi Varman. Parantaka I also married the daughter of another Chera king Paluvettaraiyar Kandan Amuthan named Arumoli Nangai ruling from west Paluvur of the present Tirutchirappalli in Tamil Nadu bordering Kerala. Sometimes, Kandan Amuthan is identified as Sthanu Ravi Varman himself. Such as in the Anbil Plates of Parantaka Chola II refers Sthanu Ravi Varman as the prince of Kerala, Kandan Amudanar, a Paluvettaraiyar. In fact, Paluvettaraiyar were petty chiefs ruling present Kilapaluvur and Melapaluvur, in the Udaiyarpalayam taluk of the Tiruchirapalli district, during that period.[4] Parantaka I had an elder son by Kokkilan Adigal named Rajathithya, a second son by the name Gandarathitha and a younger son by Arulmoli Nangai named Arinjaya Chola (Sometimes Arinjaya Chola is identified as the son of Parantaka Chola I and Villavan Mahadeviyar).

However, during this age of Sthanu Ravi Varman, Chera-Pandya relations were also friendly. Pandya king Parantaha Vira Narayana (860-905 AD) married the Kulasekhara princess Vanavan Mathevi, and to them was born Maravarman Rajasimha II (900-920 AD), another Pandya monarch. Ayyan Atikal Tiruvatikal, who issued the famous Tharisapalli plates(Third Quilon copper plate, Tharissapalli Deed I or Kottayam plate) of 849 AD for the Later Chera king to Isodatta Virai for Tharissapalli (church) at Curakkeni Kollam, was the governor of Venad under Sthanu Ravi Varman.

Tharisappalli Copper Plates

But, some historians say that it was given by king Sthanu Ravi Varman himself, to Isodatta Virai. This is the first deed in Kerala that gives the exact date.[5]

In same year as of the Tharisapalli plates, the villagers of the Chalukkipparu has gifted a village named Chathanur in the Thondainadu to the temple of Siva named as Tiruayanisuramudaiya Nayanar. The Kulasekhara Queen Kilanadigal provided gold for a lamp at the temple of Thiruvannamalai in Thondaimanadu (adjacent to Chola kingdom) in the year 851 AD. Sthanu Ravi Varman also gifted land for lighting lamp at the temple at Kuttalam in Pandya kingdom in 870 AD. The observations of the Arab Merchant Sulaiman (851 AD) affirms the flourshing trade between Kerala and China during his region.

A native of Nandikkaraiputtur (Chera kingdom) Velankumaran was the general of the Chola prince Rajathithya, son of Parantaka and Kokkilan Adigal. But, he died very young in a war in Thondainadu.


Sankaranarayana, who composed the astronomical work Laghubhāskarīyavivaraṇa, attended Sthanu Ravi Varman's court. He is believed to have established the first astronomical observatory in India at the capital-Kodungallur.[6][7] The first extant reference to a place of observation with some instruments in India is in the treatise Laghubhāskarīyavivaraṇa authored by Śaṅkaranārāyaṇa. In this work, Śaṅkaranārāyaṇa speaks of a place with instruments in the capital city Mahodayapuram. The observatory was fitted with an armillary sphere which is a model of the celestial sphere. At the directions of Śaṅkaranārāyaṇa, in every Kadigai duration of 34 minutes, bells were sounded at different important centres of the town to announce correct time.

The following is a translation of the verses in Laghubhāskarīyavivaraṇa containing references to the existence of an observatory in Mahodayapuram:[8]

"(To the king): Oh Ravivarmadeva( Sthanu Ravi Varman), now deign to tell us quickly, reading off from the armillary sphere installed (at the observatory) in Mahodayapuram, duly fitted with all the relevant circles and with the sign (-degree-minute) markings, the time of the rising point of the ecliptic (lagna) when the Sun is at 10° in the Sign of Capricorn, and also when the Sun is at the end of the Sign Libra, which I have noted."

Govindaswamin who wrote commentary on Mahabhaskariya of Bhaskara I belonged to Kerala in Mahodayapuram.

Relations with Cholas deteriorates

South India in 10 century showing the three dyasties, the Chola, the Pandya and the Kulasekhara

The reign of the saint king Rama Varma Kulasekhara (885-917 CE) was noted only for the strengthening of the friendly ties with the Cholas through a marriage alliance. Rama Varma Kulasekhara helped Parantaka Chola in his successful campaigns against the Maravarman Rajasimha II of the Pandyas. Maravarman Rajasimha II escaped to Ceylon, and with the assistance of the king of Sri Lanka fought back with Parantaka Chola and his allies namely the Pallavas and the Chera king Rama Varma Kulasekhara at Thirupurambiyam. But he was defeated and again took refuge in Ceylon. The foreign traveller Al-Masudi visited Kerala and left behind an account of the life of the people during Rama Varma Kulasekhara's reign.

His successor Goda Ravi Varma (917-44 CE) is known as the author of innumerable inscriptions. These have greatly assisted the historians in solving the riddles relating to the chronology and limits of the Kulasekhara kingdom. His kingdom comprised practically the whole of Kerala. The relations with the Cholas deteriorated for the first in centuries during his period, because of two reasons. The annexation of the Ay kingdom by the Kulasekharas and the granting of political asylum to the Pandya ruler, Maravarman Rajasimha II. Being a strategist, the Goda Ravi Varma took effective steps to garrison the frontiers in order to keep enemies at bay. Maravarman Rajasimha II was the last Pandyan king of the first Pandyan empire. He had once plundered the Chera capital at Vanchi in Kongu Nadu.[9] After the successive defeats at the hands of Parantaka Chola I, Rajasimha II fled to Ceylon but then unable to secure refuge, he went to Kerala, as he himself had descended in part from a chera king where he spent the rest of his days keeping a low profile.[9]

Chera kingdom under Rama Varma

King Indu Kotha Varma (944-62 CE) succeeded Goda Ravi Varma. During his time the Chola-Kulasekhara relations remained nearly tense. It was however eased with the death of Parantaka I in 955 CE .

However, Arinjaya Chola married the daughter of Indu Kotha Varma named Athithan Kothai Piratiyar.

Wars with the Cholas

Bhaskara Ravi Varman I (962-1019 CE), the next ruler has immortalised himself in Kerala history with his Jewish Copper Plate grant of 1000 CE. His kingdom stretched from the present day Calicut to Tiruvanandapuram region encompassing the Kudamalainadu, Kongunadu and Venad. Bhaskara Ravi Varman II appears to have assisted Bhaskara Ravi Varman I in ruling his Chera Kingdom as his co-regent probably from Udagai in the Kongunad. It was during his reign the War of Hundred Years (c. 990 to 1105 CE) against the Cholas began.[10] The authenticity of this event is strongly disputed among the scholars. One of the important findings of M.G.S. Narayanan was that there was no substance to support the theory of a hundred years of war between the Cheras and the Cholas. The Cholas had conquered the Chera kingdom but the latter continued to rule as feudatories of the mighty Chola kingdom for well over a hundred years.[2]

However, the King faced total defeat by the hands of Chola king Raja Raja Chola I. Raja Raja Chola I invaded Kulasekhara kingdom in 994-995 AD and destroyed the navy of Bhaskara Ravi Varman I in the famous Kandalur War.

But according to M. G. S., there was no substance to support the theory of a Hundred Years of War between the Cheras (Kulasekharas) and the Cholas. The Cholas had conquered the Chera kingdom but the latter continued to rule as feudatories of the mighty Chola kingdom for well over a hundred years. It was only in the last decades of the 11 {+t} {+h} century, when the power of the Chola kingdom had weakened, that the Perumal of Mahodayapuram asserted his sovereignty.[2]

Raja Raja Chola I wanted the disruption of the supply lines of trained warriors and armory from Kandalur Salai to the Ay kingdom (Ay kingdom was under the rule of Cheras and were the allies of the Pandyas). So, he waged war on the Kandalur Salai in 988 AD, and partly destroyed this military academy. But, soon the Cheras reinstated their positions again in Kandalur Salai and continued with the functions. This made Raja Raja Chola I to wage war again on Kandalur Salai in 994-995 AD, and effectively destroyed the navel academy.

One of Raja Raja Chola I's queens was Villavanmathevi, the daughter of the king of Venadu of Chera kingdom. He also had a queen known as Panchavanmathevi (who was the daughter of a Paluvettaraiyar called Kandan Maravan, the Chera king of Paluvur on the west of Thirutchirappalli, and was mother of Rajendra Chola I)

Kudiyattam was a new temple art which emerged in the Kulasekhara period

Son of Arinjaya Chola, Parantaka Chola II married Paranthahan Theviammanar, another daughter of Indu Kotha Varma. The Chola monarch Uththama Chola had a queen called Panchavanmatheviyar, the daughter of the Chera king Paluvettaraiyar known as Kandan Sundera Cholan.

After the Kandalur War, in another the war against the Pandyas, Raja Raja Chola I seized the Pandya king Amarabhujanga and a Chola general also defeated the Ay king and captured their capital, Vizhinjam. To commemorate these conquests Raja Raja Chola I assumed the title Mummudichola, ("the Chola king who wears three crowns - the Chera, Chola and Pandya"). After his capture of Aye kingdom, Raja Raja Chola I re-named a village called Muttam in Valluvanad (one of the provinces of the Ay kingdom, the other being Nanjinad) into Mummudicholanallur a subdivision of Rajarja Tennadu, or the Ay kingdom under Raja Raja Chola.

Jewish Copper Plate

The Jewish Copper Plate was conferred on a "Jewish Chief Joseph Rabban, the rights of the Anjuvannam and 72 other properietary rights." by Bhaskara Ravi Varman I.

The inscription from the Sasanam outlining the grant of rights to Joseph Rabban

No doubt the grant was a token of the high sense of religions toleration granted in the Kulasekhara kingdom. However, Jewish Copper Plate may also be deemed as a diplomatic move to win the Jew population over to the Kulasekhara side, in view of the implending Chola aggression under Raja Raja Chola I.

Under the Cholas

In 1003 AD, to a temple in the Ay kingdom at Tirunandikkarai Raja Raja Chola I donated grants and ordered in the month of Iyppasi (October/November) a festival to be celebrated ending on the day of Chataya star (his birth star), on which day the image of the deity at the temple of Tirunandiikkarai was to be bathed in the river and a perpetual lamp called Rajarajan to be lit every day.

The Chola-Chera war paved the way for enormous increase in the power of Namboothiri Brahmins in the socio-economic life of the kingdom

In a battle against the Kulasekharas sometime before 1008 AD (sometimes considered as in 1014 AD), Raja Raja Chola I captured Udagai in the western hill country (Kongunad). Kalingattuparani, a war poem written during the reign of Kulothunga Chola I hints at a slight on the Chola ambassador to the Kulasekhara court as the reason for this sacking of Udagai. The Chola king sent an ambassador to Bhaskara Ravi Varman II, the co-regent of the king Bhaskara Ravi Varman I in Udagai, requesting him to submit to Chola suzerainty and to pay tributes. But, the Chola ambassador was humiliated by Bhaskara Ravi Varman II and was put into prison at Udagai, which enraged the Chola king and he sent a large expedition to Udagai. The Chola army destroyed and the city was captured Kongunad from the Cheras. Raja Raja Chola I's son Rajendra Chola I was the Chola general leading the army in this battle.[11] A place named Udagai is mentioned in connection with the conquest of the Pandyas. The Kalingattuparani refers to the storming of Udagai in the verse, which alludes to the reign of Raja Raja Chola I. The Kulottungasoranula also mentions the burning of Udagai. Udagai may be an important stronghold in the Pandya country, which the Chola king captured. The Tamil poem Vikkiramacholanula mentions the conquest of Malainadu and the killing of 18 princes in retaliation of the insult offered to an envoy.[12]

Chera kingdom under the Cholas

The Chola forces further marched to the present day Northern and Central Kerala (Kudamalainadu) and defeated Bhaskara Ravi Varman I, and captured Mahodayapuram. Now, Bhaskara Ravi Varman I accepted the Chola suzerainty and continued to rule from Mahodayapuram paying tributes. This brought all the territories of Chera country ruled by the other chieftans too to accept the Chola supremacy. Cholas moved further into the south of the Kulasekhara kingdom, Venad territory (Kolladesam) and captured Venad along with its capital Kollam, which were at this time ruled by a chieftain called Govardhana Marthandan appointed by the Kulasekhara king. The Kulasekhara dynasty went into a temporary decline after this defeats, although the remnants of the Kulasekhara continued to cause trouble for their Chola overlords. By the end of Bhaskara Ravi Varman I's vassal reign the whole of south Travancore to the south of Kuzhithura came under the Chola domination. Raja also seized Pandya Amara Bhujanga and captured the port of Vizhinjam (and Kandalur Salai) over which there were repeated struggles between the Kulasekharas and the Cholas.

In 1019 AD, During the period of Rajendra Chola I, Bhaskara Ravi Varman I made some agitations of freedom from the Cholas. Soon, Rajendra Chola I a war expedition under the leadership of his second son Manukulakesari to Kudamalainadu. Manukulakesari killed the Kulasekhara king, captured Mahodayapuram and secured a diadem and an island called Santhimathivu belonging to Cheras in Arabic sea. This was the final route of the Kulasekharas. On the death of Bhaskara Ravi Varman I, Bhaskara Ravi Varman II unofficially ascended the throne, but ruled only for a short while (1019-21 CE). With the end of the Chera civil war, Rajendra Chola I assumed a new title as Mudikonda Cholan and gave the title "Cholakeralan" to his second son Manukulakesari and appointed him as the Chola viceroy to rule the captured Kudamalainadu.

Cheras under Pandya dominion

However with the necessaity of Manukulakesari having to lead a war expedition with Eastern Chalukyas, he was recalled back from Chera country in the year 1021 AD, appointing the Chera prince Vira Kerala (1021-28 CE), son of Baskara Ravi Varman, to rule on accepting the Chola suzerainty. Rajendra Chola I married Panchavanmathevi, daughter of the Chera king Paluvettariyar. But, within seven years, Vira Kerala, allied with the Venad rulers rebelled against the Cholas under Rajadhiraja Chola. Soon, the Chola king sent forces to Mahodayapuram and defeated Vira Kerala and was put to death by his royal elephant Atthivaranam. The Chola aggressions continued and with the death of Vira Kerala in 1028 AD, the Kulasekhara power eclipsed. Rajadhiraja Chola now appointed Raja Simha (1028-43 CE), the son of Vira Kerala, as a vassal and had friendly relations with the Cholas for some time. However with fluctuating fortunes, the Kulasekharas continued under Raja Simha (1028-43 CE). His reign is known for his Mannarkoil inscription, which acknowledged the supremacy of the Cholas. Madeviyar Adicchi was Vira Kerala's queen. In the meantime, Venad rulers continued their unsuccessful rebellions.

Govardhana Marthanda, the new ruler of Venad, started rebellions assisted by Ramakuta Muvar. Ramakuta Muvar was the ruler Koovaham in present day Kerala. Rajadhiraja Chola easily defeated the rebels in Venad, and both Govardhana Marthanda and Ramakuta Muvar escaped to forest hideouts, and the Chola army the military academy and arms centre that became active again at Kanthalur Salai and attacked and defeated Vizhinjam which revived its efforts under Ay kings to become independent, and was renamed as Rajendracholapattanam. So, finally Venad ruler accepted the Chola domination, and continued as a vassal paying tributes.

However, by the time of Bhaskara Ravi Varman III (1043-1082 CE) Kerala was totally liberated from the Chola yoke. In 1063 AD, Virarajendra Chola became the Chola ruler. Making the most of it, Cheras and Venad rulers started rebellions, so the new king sent an expedition to Venad and killed Jananathan, the younger brother of Venad ruler. Venad ruler himself fled from the kingdom. Later with the agitation also from Bhaskara Ravi Varman III necessiated Virarajendra Chola to go on a renewed war expedition, with a large elephant cavalry, towards the important cities of the Cheras like Mahodayapuram and Udagai. Bhaskara Ravi Varman III in fear escaped with his family to safety. Virarajendra Chola successfully returned back with much tributes, elephants and maids.

In 1070 AD, the first of the Later Cholas, Kulothunga Chola I ascended to the thrown of an empire in crisis and civil war. Taking opportunity of the political turmoil in the Chola kingdom, the rulers of Ay kingdom, Venad and Mahodayapuram (Kudamalainadu, present day Malabar) rebelled against the capital. Within 11 years of his coronation, in 1081 AD, Kulothunga Chola I waged war with the Cheras. He re-captured Kanthalur Salai, Vizhinjam, and the entire Ay kingdom to the Cape Comorin. Soon, Bhaskara Ravi Varman III agreed the domination. But, this time the Chola ruler stationed his forces (nilappada) at Kottar in south Kerala under Commander Arayan Madhuranthakan or Chola Keralarachan. Then the Chola forces moved further north to Mahodayapuram and faced with the Nair suicidal squads of Bhaskara Ravi Varman III. But, the superior Chola forces successfully defeated the Cheras, and killed Bhaskara Ravi Varman III in 1082 AD. Ravi Rama Varma (1082-90 CE) followed Bhaskara Ravi Varman III with his acceptance to pay tribute to Cholas.

As a result of continuous wars with the Cholas, the Salais and temples were progressively neglected. Centres of education were converted to Kalaries for imparting military training. Even Nair suicide squads were set up to meet the challenge.

Rama Varma Kulashekhara

Rama Varma Kulashekhara (1090–1102) was the last of the Kulasekhara kings based on Mahodayapuram. He ascended the throne during a period of severe crisis. The powerful Chola ruler Kulothunga Chola I had occupied Nanjanad and south Kerala and was proceeding towards Kollam, the capital of the Venad rulers (one of the Rama Varma Kulashekhara's former vassal) in 1090s and by 1095 CE, Kulothunga Chola had destroyed Kollam[10] and towards the end of these wars the Cholas conquered as far as central Kerala.[10]

The capital city of Mahodayapuram (present Kodungallur) and surrounding places were devastated, looted ad burned down[10] in the long war and Rama Varma Kulashekhara, without even a palace of his own, is known to have stayed at alternative frugal accommodations.

As soon as the war with the Western Chalukya king Vikramaditya VI ended, Kulothunga Chola I turned all his energy to the suppression of the revolts in the Pandya and the Kulasekhara territories. The record at the innermost prakaram(closed precincts of a temple) of ancient Chidambaram Temple says that King Kulothungan vanquished the extremely dense army of Cheras and Pandyas and also burnt down the Korkai (Tirunelveli) fort, the same way as son of Pandu (Arjuna) burnt Khandava forest.

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

Towards the end of the war Rama Varma Kulashekhara shifted the capital from ruined Mahodayapuram to Kollam and led a large army to stem the Cholas in the south. King Rama Varma Kulashekhara resolved to beat back the Cholas and rallied all his forces. A large body of Kulasekhara army was consisted of Nair suicide squads (Chavers) provided by various subordinate kings, a technique to which the Chola armies were not familiar. In the last decades of the 11th century, when the power of the Chola kingdom had weakened, that the Perumal of Mahodayapuram asserted his sovereignty.[2] Kulothunga Chola I was defeated and withdrew towards Kottar. The cholapuram records (around 1100 CE) that record the achievements of Kulothunga Chola I refer to this. The Cholas could not regain their influence beyond Nanjanad after this defeat.

Kulothunga Chola I did not take any serious attempt to regain the lost territories of the Cheras. It appears this was the ending point of War of Hundred Years between the Cholas and the Cheras. But this did not last long. The reign of the last Perumal, Ramakula Sekhara Perumal, was disturbed by internecine quarrels which led to his abdication and possible conversion.[2]

The later life of Rama Varma Kulashekhara as the Kulasekhara king of Venad is shrouded in mystery. The local legends tell of the mysterious disappearance and conversion to Islam of Rama Varma Kulashekhara which, however, is neither corroborated by any contemporary record nor was mentioned by any of the several Arab and European travellers who visited Kerala including during that period. This event has been referred to as the partition of Kerala.

But, the Cheraman Juma Masjid at Kodungallur, purportedly built or modified on the instruction of the Rama Varma Kulashekhara exhibits the style of middle Chola architecture and a team of historians who studied its foundation safely placed it in the 12th century.[13] However, the end of Rama Varma Kulashekhara signaled the end of the dynasty from the ruins of which arose the state of Venad.

South India after the fall of the Kulasekharas

List of Kulasekhara kings (Cheraman Perumals)[14]

  1. Kulashekhara Varman (800–820 AD)
  2. Rajashekhara Varman (820–844 AD)
  3. Sthanu Ravi Varman (844–885 AD)
  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. Ravi Rama Varma (1082–1090 AD)
  13. Rama Varma Kulashekhara (1090–1102 AD)

Copper plates (Cheppeds)

From Cheraman Parambu, Kodungallur

Kulasekhara rulers gave a number of Copper Plates Grants to particular communities in their multicultural society. Like the Jewish Copper Plate to Jews and Vazhapalli plates the Kulasekhara rulers gave three Copper plate to the indigenous Christians called Nasranis. They gave the Nasranis various rights and privileges which were written on copper plates[15] Five sheets of them are now in the custody of St. Thomas Christians. That include,

  1. Tharissa palli Deed I (Tharisapalli plates): Perumal Sthanu Ravi Gupta (844-885) gave a deed in 849 AD, to Isodatta Virai for Tharissa Palli (church) at Curakkeni Kollam. According to historians, this is the first deed in Kerala that gives the exact date.
  2. Tharissa palli Deed II: Continuation of the above, given after 849 AD.
  3. Iravi Corttan Deed: In the year 1225 AD. Sri Vira Raghava Chakravarti, gave a deed to Iravi Corttan (Eravi Karthan) of Mahadevarpattanam in 774. Two Brahmin families are witness to this deed showing that Brahmins were in Kerala by the 8th century.

The languages used are old Tamil letters with some Grantha letters intermingled, Pahlavi, Kufic and Hebrew.

These plates detail privileges awarded to the community by the then rulers. These influenced the development of the social structure in Kerala and privileges, rules for the communities. These are considered as one of the most important legal documents in the history of Kerala.[16]


Map of Kerala just after the fall of the Later Chera kingdom

The provinces were called Nads. They were Venad, Odanad, Nanthuzhinad, Munjunad, Vempolinad, Kizhumalainad, Kalkarainad, Nedumpurayurnad, Valluvanad, Eralnad, Polanad, Kurumbranad, Kolathunad and Puraikizhanad. In these, Kolathunad, Venad, Perumpadappu and Eralnad were more powerful than the others. The northernmost province of Kolathunad called Ezhimalai kingdom was almost independent and was brought under Kulasekhara sovereignty by force towards the end of the 9th century. Venad, the southernmost district, was carved out of the ancient territory of the Ay Kingdom. A new harbour city, named Kollam, was established here in AD 825. In the course of time, it became the second capital of the Kulasekharas.[3]

In Konganpada attacks (at the end of the 9th century or in the first years of 10th century) between Kongu king and Nedumpurayoor (Palakkad Raja) nairs. Kongu army,led by the Chola King Aditya I or Parantaka Chola I, was defeated by combined armies of Nedumpurayoor, Valluvanad, Ernad and Perumpadappu. In honour the valluvanad Raja received Kurissi Vilayan Chathanur and Kaithala villages from Nedumpurayoor. This event is even now celebrated as a historical event in Chittur taluk where the fight took place.


The Kulasekhara period falls into two phases. The 9th and 10th centuries constituted a better ages in history. The eleventh which followed was a period of stagnation and decline by the Chola attacks.

The king called Cheraman Perumal was the head of the administration at the capital city Mahodayapuram protected by fortresses. Cheraman Perumals inherited throne by a patrilineal system.Tharisapalli plates issued by King Iyyanadikal Thiruvadikal in 849 AD mentions Theeyamalzhwar(Police officers) Channathalai(Administrative officers) Vellalas and Ezhavas but never mentioned Nairs or Namboothiris[17]. The claim that sovereignty was constrained by the pre-existing power of the Brahmin settlements and the hereditary Nair chieftains has no basis as they are not Tamils but of Tulunadus Bunt (community).The Various subcastes of Bunt (community) such as Nayara Menava Kuruba and Samantha estabilished Matriarchal dynasties in Kerala only after 1310 when Malik Kafur invaded Kerala. The first ever mention of Nairs is at Thrikodithanam mentions a Chennan Nair who was a Drummer migrated from Tulunadu[18]. Each Nadu or province had its own hereditary or nominated governor.The Kulasekhara kingdom was a Tamil kingdom ruled by various Tamil tribes such as Villavar, Malayar,Vanavaretc[19]. So, the administration of the provinces were invested on powerful Nair feudatory chiefs, who were controlled by Koyiladhikarikal and the local assemblies called Munnuttuvar, Anhuttuvar etc. Each nadu in turn was divided into desams governed by Desavazhis, who were controlled by Kuttams, popular bodies. The lowest unit was the kara which was governed by a panchayat. The executive officers were called Adhikaris, the Commander-in-chief was called Patanayakan, the 2nd in command was called Kizh-patanayakan, the Treasury Officer was the Bhandaramkappan. Elaborate arrangements were made for the management of temples. The general control of the administration of temples was invested in the Koyiladhikarikal. A committee called Sablia was charged with the responsibility of the administration of each temple, though for day-to-day work, the committee appointed a secretary called Potuval. Law and order was maintained and a penal code was comprehensive. Common forms of punishment were fines and imprisonment. A variety of taxes, such as Patavaram (land tax), Talaikanam (professional tax), Polippon (sales tax), Kundanazhi (tax on toddy), and Mulaivila (tax on women labours) were levied from the people. The Kulasekharas had a well equipped Tamil army of Villavars with Nair army and esp. naval forces.

Descendants and legacy

In the absence of a central power, the divisions of the Later Chera kingdom soon emerged as principalities under separate Namboothiri Brahman or Nair feudal chieftains. Most of these Nair matriarchal city state rulers claim their descent from the Kulasekharas. The dynasty of Venad (hence Travancore) is generally regarded by some as their direct descendants since the last king of the Kulasekharas was the first king of an independent Venad. But from them, Kolathiri, Samoothiri, and Kulasekhara Venattadi emerged successful. The Saamoothiris were the only rulers who were capable of and came close to establishing a pan-Kerala state since the disintegration of the Kulasekharas.

In popular culture

The progressive psychedelic band Kula Shaker take their name from this Dynasty,[citation needed] borrowing the name in a modified version from Kulasekhara das, the first initiated European disciple of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. Kulasekhara das released his own music CD in 2008 on iTunes under the name 'Kula'.


  1. ^ (Ancient name, Chully ref: Akam. 149)
  2. ^ a b c d e f g "Focus on a PhD thesis that threw new light on Perumals". The Hindu (Chennai, India). 2011-04-24. http://www.hindu.com/2011/04/24/stories/2011042462100800.htm. 
  3. ^ a b c Early History - History of Kerala - Kerala - States and Union Territories - Know India: National Portal of India
  4. ^ "South Indian Inscriptions Volume 13". Archaeological Survey of India. http://www.whatisindia.com/inscriptions/south_indian_inscriptions/volume_13/introduction_1.html. Retrieved 2008-11-09. 
  5. ^ Sreedhara Menon, A. A Survey of Kerala History.(Mal).Page 54.
  6. ^ George Gheverghese Joseph (2009). A Passage to Infinity. New Delhi: SAGE Publicatins Pvt. Ltd.. pp. 13. ISBN 978-81-321-0168-0. 
  7. ^ Virendra Nath Sharma (1995). Sawai Jai Singh and His Astronomy. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers. ISBN 81-208-1256-x. 
  8. ^ J.B. harley and David Woodward, ed (1992). The history of cartography : Volume 2 Book 1 : Cartography in the traditional Islamic and South Asian societies. University of Chicago Press. pp. 360. ISBN 0-226-31635-1. 
  9. ^ a b Ancient Indian History and Civilization By Sailendra Nath Sen
  10. ^ a b c d c-radhakrishnan.info/
  11. ^ KAN Sastri, The Colas
  12. ^ KAN Sastri The Colas
  13. ^ Narayanan M.G.S., Calicut:The City of Truth. p.58- 59, Calicut University Press(2006)
  14. ^ Prof. P.N.Elamkulam Kunjam Pillai (1952) Studies in Kerala History, Kottayam.
  15. ^ Syrian Christians of Kerala- SG Pothen- page 32-33 ( 1970)
  16. ^ NSC Network (2007),The Plates and the Privileges of Syrian Christians Brown L (1956)- The Indian Christians of St. Thomas-Pages 74.75, 85 to 90, Mundanadan (1970),SG Pothen (1970)
  17. ^ Tharisapalli plates
  18. ^ Mural Paintings & Stone Inscriptions
  19. ^ Perumal Thirumozhi by Kulasekhara Azhwar
  • Vanniyar Puranam inscriptions at Sri Vaitheeswaran temple,Tamil Nadu
  • Tamil Samudaya Varalaru- Chozhar Kaalam Thoguthi 4-World Tamil Institute-Chennai.(History of Tamil Society-Chola Period Part 4-World Tamil Institute,Madras,Chennai)
  • A.R.No 137 of 1900 and A.R.232 of 1916- Archeology Reports
  • Ariyalur varalaaru-Anrum Inrum -By Pulavar Kumaraswamy(History of Ariyalur-Yesterday and Today by Poet Kumaraswamy)
  • Sambuvarayar Varalaru -by Mr.Ko. Thangavelu & Mr.L.Thygarajan (History of Sambuvarayars )Those who lived in the territory of Melakadambur
  • Parrur Vilandai Kachirayar Varalrum Kalvettum-by Prof.L.Thyagarajan (History and Stone inscriptions of Kachirayas of Parur Vilandai-Tamil Nadu)

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