History of India

Chera Dynasty
Chera Dynasty ©HistoryMaps
102 BCE Jan 1

Chera Dynasty

Karur, Tamil Nadu, India

The Chera dynasty was one of the principal lineages in and before the Sangam period history of the state of Kerala and the Kongu Nadu region of Western Tamil Nadu in southern India. Together with the Cholas of Uraiyur (Tiruchirappalli) and the Pandyas of Madurai, the early Cheras were known as one of the three major powers (muventar) of ancient Tamilakam in the early centuries of the Common Era.

The Chera country was geographically well placed to profit from maritime trade via the extensive Indian Ocean networks. Exchange of spices, especially black pepper, with Middle Eastern and Graeco-Roman merchants are attested in several sources. The Cheras of the early historical period (c. second century BCE - c. third century CE) are known to have had their original centre at Vanchi and Karur in Kongu Nadu and harbours at Muchiri (Muziris) and Thondi (Tyndis) on the Indian Ocean coast (Kerala). They governed the area of Malabar Coast between Alappuzha in the south to Kasaragod in the north. This also included the Palakkad Gap, Coimbatore, Dharapuram, Salem, and Kolli Hills. The region around Coimbatore was ruled by the Cheras during the Sangam period between c. 1st and the 4th centuries CE and it served as the eastern entrance to the Palakkad Gap, the principal trade route between the Malabar Coast and Tamil Nadu. However the southern region of the present-day Kerala state (The coastal belt between Thiruvananthapuram and southern Alappuzha) was under Ay dynasty, who was more related to the Pandya dynasty of Madurai.

The early historic pre-Pallava Tamil polities are often described as a "kinship-based redistributive economies" largely shaped by "pastoral-cum-agrarian subsistence" and "predatory politics". Old Tamil Brahmi cave label inscriptions, describe Ilam Kadungo, son of Perum Kadungo, and the grandson of Ko Athan Cheral of the Irumporai clan. Inscribed portrait coins with Brahmi legends give a number of Chera names, with the Chera symbols of the bow and the arrow depicted in the reverse. The anthologies of early Tamil texts are a major source of information about the early Cheras. Chenguttuvan, or the Good Chera, is famous for the traditions surrounding Kannaki, the principal female character of the Tamil epic poem Chilapathikaram. After the end of the early historical period, around the 3rd-5th century CE, there seems to be a period where the Cheras' power declined considerably.

Cheras of the Kongu country are known to have controlled western Tamil Nadu with empire in central Kerala in early medieval period. Present-day central Kerala probably Kongu Chera kingdom detached around 8th-9th century CE to form the Chera Perumal kingdom and Kongu chera kingdom(c. 9th- 12th century CE). The exact nature of the relationships between the various branches of Chera rulers is somewhat unclear.The Nambutiris asked for a regent of the Chera king from Punthura and were granted the prime minister hailing from Punthura. Hence the Zamorin holds the title 'Punthurakkon' (King from Punthura).After this, the present Kerala parts and Kongunadu became autonomous. Some of the major dynasties of medieval south India - Chalukya, Pallava, Pandya, Rashtrakuta, and Chola - seems to have conquered the Kongu Chera country. Kongu Cheras appear to have been absorbed into the Pandya political system by 10th/11th century CE. Even after the dissolution of the Perumal kingdom, royal inscriptions and temple grants, especially from outside Kerala proper, continued to refer the country and the people as the "Cheras or Keralas".

The rulers of Venad (the Venad Cheras or the "Kulasekharas"), based out of the port of Kollam in south Kerala, claimed their ancestry from the Perumals. Cheranad was also the name of an erstwhile province in the kingdom of Zamorin of Calicut, which had included parts of present-day Tirurangadi and Tirur Taluks of Malappuram district in it. Later it became a Taluk of Malabar District, when Malabar came under the British Raj. The headquarters of Cheranad Taluk was the town of Tirurangadi. Later the Taluk was merged with Eranad Taluk. In the modern period the rulers of Cochin and Travancore (in Kerala) also claimed the title "Chera".

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Last Updated: : Mon Jan 08 2024