(Emblem – Bow)
The Cheras – An Introduction
The Cheras also known as the Kerelaputras was one of the 3 prominent dynasties that ruled South India. The other 2 being – The Cholas and The Pandyas. By comparison to their contemporaries, The Cheras also had a history marked by many ups and downs. In all they ruled right from 2nd century B.C. till about 12th Century A.D. with many disappearances and reappearances. It is equally important to note that, politically The Cheras were not a that strong force to reckon with, as compared to their other 2 counterparts namely Pandyas and Cholas. Generally speaking the Chera dynasty after 300 A.D. was never a formidable force of South India. The dynasty basically lingered around till the 12 century A.D. with all its ups and downs.
Some Facts About The Cheras
The earliest reference to the Chera (Keralaputra) kingdom cards in the Ashokan inscriptions. It compromised the modern districts of Malabar, Cochin and Northern Travancore. Its Capital was Vanji. The greatest Chera king was Senguttuvan, the red or good Chera. He is credited with having invaded the north and crossed the river Ganga.
- The Chera country occupied the portion of both Kerala and Tamil Nadu.
- The capital of Cheras was Vanji and their important seaports were Tondi and Musiri.
- They had the Palmyra flowers as their garland.
- The insignia of Cheras is the “bow and arrow”.
- The Pugalur inscription of the 1st century AD has reference to three generations of Chera rulers.
- The important ruler of Cheras was Senguttuvan who belonged to 2nd century A.D.
- His military achievements have been chronicled in epic Silapathikaram, with details about his expedition to the Himalayas where he defeated many north Indian rulers.
- Senguttuvan introduced the Pattini cult or the worship of Kannagi as the ideal wife in Tamil Nadu.
- He was the first to send embassy to China from South India.
- It main ports were Muzris and Tondi.
- The Romans set up two regiment at Muzris ( identical with Cranganore) in Chera country. The also built a temple of Augustus at Muzris.
- One of the earliest and better known among Chera rulers was Udiyangeral. It is said that he fed both the armies of Kurukshetra war and so earned the title Udiyangeral.
- The greatest of Chera King however was Senguttuvan of Red Chera. It is said that he invaded north and even crossed the Ganga. This appears to be an exaggeration.
- The Chera Country was conquered many times by the Pandyas , Cholas, Pallavas, and Rashtrakutas.
Society And Culture Of The Cheras
- The Chera population mostly followed the Dravidian Religion until they came in contact with Buddhism, Jainism and Brahminism in the 4th century A.D.
- Religious practices comprised of sacrifices to gods, the most pre-eminent being ‘Murugan’
- The Cheras also worshiped a war goddess ‘Kottava’ who was offered meat and toddy. Goddess Kottava was later assimilated into the present day goddess ‘Durga’.
- Since 8th century onward The Chera society got Aryanized with the first wave of migrations of Brahmins.
- Jew and Christian populations also lived in the Chera country.
- A markedly different aspect of The Cheras was the high status accorded to women.
- Early Tamil texts indicate the existence of social stratification. The word ‘Kudi’ which denotes caste finds repeated mention in those texts.
- Economic lives of The Cheras was predominantly pastoral and agrarian.
- Nevertheless they exported spices to the Roman Empire through sea route. The Romans were referred to as the Yavanas in the Sangam texts.
- The Romans exchanged vast amounts of gold for spices. The extent was so much that serious questions were raised by the intelligentia of the Roman empire for the drain of gold bullion.
- Wootz steel was also exported to the Roman Empire. The famous Damascus Blades were made of wootz steel.
- Recent archaeological discoveries from Karur have yielded large quantities copper coins with Chera kings inscribed on one side.
- Square punched marked coins made of copper and silver have also been discovered from Amravati riverbed and Pattanum in central Kerela.
- The Silver punch marked coins were imitations of Mauryan coins with a Chera Bow and Arrow symbol on the reverse.
- Other discoveries include a coin with a portrait and the Brahmi legend “Mak-kotai” above it and another one with a portrait and the legend ‘Kuttuvan Kottai’ above it.
Sources Of Information:
- Sangam Literature: Puttapattu, Purananuru, Etukottai.
- Ashoka’s Pali Rock Edicts: Cheras are mentioned as Kedalaputo (Sanskrit – Kerelaputras)
- Graeco-Roman Accounts: Pliny the Elder, Claudius Ptolemy.
- Brief references of the Cheras can also be found in the works of Katyayana, Panini, Patanjali and Kautilya.
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