Home Variety Culture and History The Hindu history and heritage of Kerala: The land of the Chera kingdom associated with Lord Parashurama

The Hindu history and heritage of Kerala: The land of the Chera kingdom associated with Lord Parashurama

Cows were sacred animals in Kerala as long as Dharmic Hindu kings ruled the lands. The sudden surge in beef consumption in Kerala is a recent phenomenon post-independence, with the abolishment of the monarchies and the honour codes they helped establish.

Kerala, in its present-day form, is claimed to be a shining example of multi-religious hotpot, where all the religions and communities claim to have a larger influence on the region’s history than their actual historical presence allowed. Here’s a critical look at the various myths that float around pretending to be real history.

Kerala: The land of the Cheras

Kerala as the land of Chera kingdom existed as early as 5-4th centuries BCE during the early Tamil Sangam age. The Chera dynasty finds mention in Mauryan Ashokan edicts (3rd century BCE) and also in the Hindu epics Ramayana and Mahabharata. It was the prominent ruling power of Kerala then. The Chera dynasty appears in Ashokan edicts as Ketalaputo or Keralaputra in Sanskrit. Greco-Roman sources of that era called Cheras as Kerobothra and Kelebothra. This means apart from the Tamil title ‘Cheraman’, the Chera kings also had Keralaputra as their Sanskritic title. The capital of Sangam age Chera kings was at modern Karur region in Tamil Nadu.

Contrary to the claims of Leftists, Dravidianists, and Christian missionaries, Chera kings were staunch followers of Vedic culture. Sangam age text named Pathitrupathu poem 21 (a work praising Sangam age Chera kings) explicitly mentions that the Chera kings performed Vedic Yajnas by offering oblations into the sacred fire. An epilogue from Pathitrupathu also narrates about how a Chera king washed the Idol of Goddess Kannagi (from the epic Silappathikaram) in holy waters of Ganga in the North implying that the people of Kerala back then viewed the waters of Ganga as sacred, just like the modern Hindus.

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After the 4th century CE, the Sangam age came to an end and the situation of the Cheras and the other chieftains of Kerala after the 4th century till around 8th century remains unknown. During this era, many other kingdoms like Kadambas, Chalukyas, Kalabhras etc might have invaded Kerala and claimed supremacy over the Cheras and the other chieftains of Kerala.

The Cheras re-appear in Kerala history around 8th-9th centuries CE. This time, their rule was based at Mahodayapuram or present-day Kodungallur region in central Kerala. These second Chera kings were also known as Perumals. The kings of the second Chera kingdom included Kulashekhara Azhavar, one of the 12 Azhvars or Vaishnava saints and Cheraman Perumal Nayanar or Rajashekhara Varma who was one of  63 Nayanmars or Shaivite saints. During this period the Chera kingdom under the central rule of Perumals was divided into various regional states known as nadus. Hindu temples played a great role in the culture of Kerala during the era of Chera Perumals. The great sage Adi Shankara Bhagavatpada also lived during the period of Perumals.

The myth of St. Thomas

There is a myth floating around that St Thomas, one of the disciples of Jesus Christ, visited ancient Sangam age Chera kingdom and managed to convert people, especially the Brahmins, into Christianity. But Sangam age inscriptions or literature doesn’t contain any such reference for the presence of Christians during such an early period in Kerala. In all likelihood, it is a myth propagated in the later period by Syrian Christians who came to Kerala after Sangam age to legitimize their ‘nativeness’.

The myth of the Muslim Chera king

Like the Christian myth of St Thomas. there is also a myth surrounding the conversion of Last Chera Perumal into Islam and that he met the Islamic prophet Muhammad in Arabia after going on a pilgrimage there. Further, the myth goes that one of world’s oldest mosque was built in Chera capital at Kodungallur on the order of converted Perumal. In reality, the second Chera kingdom ruled by the Chera Perumals was established only during 8-9th centuries CE and the last Perumal reigned during 11-12th centuries CE, which is centuries after the time of Muhammad, making this too absurd a claim to even seek evidence. 

The seeds of modern Kerala

The rule of the Chera Perumals declined around 11-12th centuries CE. The Cheras during this time fought battles with invading Chola forces. After the 12th century CE, Kerala was divided into various small kingdoms or Natturajyangal. Kolathu Nadu, Kozhikode or Calicut, Cochin and Venad (later Travancore) were the 4 most prominent kingdoms during post Perumal period. Most of the rulers and nobles of these small kingdoms were drawn from Nambuthiri Brahmin and Nair community.

During this era of Nambuthiri and Nair leadership, the culture and political condition of Kerala went on a rapid change. This period witnessed an unstable, chaotic political condition and also saw the rise of rigid social systems. Although this period is viewed by many as a ‘dark age’ in Kerala history, it was certainly not the case since literature, art forms, temples, mathematics, astronomy, external trade etc flourished during this period. The modern culture of Kerala as we know it can also be traced to this era.

A language entwined with the Hindu tradition

Malayalam as a distinct language from Tamil as we know it today also evolved during this period. Malayalam authors like Ezhuthachan, Cherussery, Poonthanam, Kunjan Nambiyar, Unnayi Variyar, Kottayathu Thampuran, Venmani Nambuthiris, Pandalam Kerala Varma, Raja Raja Varma, Kottarathil Shankunni, Kunjikuttan Thampuran, Valiya Koil Thampuran, Ramapurattu Variyar, Ravi Varman Thampi etc made the bulk of contribution to the growth of mainstream Malayalam. These authors were all devout Hindus living in post Perumal era kingdoms. Also, the earliest known works in Malayalam, Thirunizhalmala and Ramacharitam, are about Aranumala Shri Krishna and Shri Rama, making Malayalam a ‘Hindu’ language developed through works of Hindu authors.

The invasions

The most powerful kings of Kerala after the period of Chera Perumals (after 12th century CE) were the Samuthiris or Zamorins of Calicut. Zamorins eventually became the Rakshapurushas or supreme overlords of Kerala. The Zamorins were able to thwart the efforts of Portuguese to colonize Malabar by defeating them in Chaliyam battle. However, the supremacy of Zamorins ended during the 18th century when Hyder Ali of Mysore invaded Malabar with the help of treacherous local Muslims of Malabar & Raja of Palghat (he paid the price for it since his kingdom too was later annexed by the Muslims). The Zamorin of that time committed suicide without submitting to Hyder, after burning the entire palace. He had sent his family members to the safety of southern Travancore. In meantime, Travancore was unified as a strong kingdom by the 18th century King Anizham Thirunal Marthanda Varma, who along with his Nair forces had defeated the Dutch at the battle of Colachel.

Read: The recurring myth of breast tax doesn’t seem to die down, this time propagated by ‘Scroll’

After Hyder, his son Tipu also invaded Malabar and thousands of Hindus were killed and temples destroyed during his jihad against the infidels. Many Hindus also fled to southern parts like Travancore to seek asylum from the jihad of Tipu. However, Tipu and his forces suffered a horrible defeat at the hands of the Nairs in Travancore during the battle of Nedumkotta. Tipu broke his leg and ran away, while the Nairs were able to recover his sword and ring from the battleground. He, however, came back a second time. But this time the region was flooded due to the opening of a dam in Travancore region by a Nair soldier named Kunjikutty Pillai. Tipu had to abandon his plan to invade Travancore because many of his soldiers along with armoury were washed away in the floods. Soon after this retreat, Tipu was killed by the British during the battle at Mysore. Malabar was annexed into British Raj while Cochin and Travancore remained as princely states until they both (unified as Thiru-Kochi) joined India during 1956 to form the modern state of Kerala.

As a whole, the land of Kerala was ruled by Dharmic Hindu kings throughout since its recorded history from early Sangam age. Kerala has no other ancient heritage other than the Hindu heritage.

Modern myths about Kerala Hindus

One of the stereotypes about Kerala Hindus is that beef is a normal part of their cuisine. Historically this was not the case in Hindu kingdoms of Kerala. In the old days, warriors of Kerala who were mostly from the Nair community, once trained in Kalaris, the schools of martial arts, took an oath to protect Brahmins and cows, as part of service to the king. This is recorded by Duarte Barbosa, a 16th-century Portuguese writer:

“The King then asks him if he will maintain the customs and rules of the other Nayres (Nairs), and he and his kinsmen respond ‘ Yes.’ Then the King commands him to gird on his right side a sword with a red sheath, and when it is girt on he causes him to approach near to himself and la, his right hand on his head, saying therewith certain words which none may hear, seemingly a prayer, and then embraces him saying ‘ Paje Gubrantarca, that is to say ‘ Protect cows and Bramenes (Brahmins)”

(The Book of Duarte Barbosa: An Account of the Countries bordering on the Indian Ocean, Volume 2)

A similar oath was made by the most powerful Nair kings of Kerala, the Samuthiris or Zamorins of Calicut before their royal coronation

 “At Yagneswaram he is met by Vemaneheri Namputiri, a descendant of Melattur Agnihotri. The Eralped (Zamorin) gives him an ola (text), promising to protect Brahmins, temples and cows.”

(The Zamorins of Calicut by K.V. Krishna Ayyar)

16-17th-century French traveller Pyrard de Laval also writes about reverence to cows given by people of Kerala.

” I must not forget to mention, in passing, and as the opportunity arises, the great honour rendered by these people to cows, however low-bred, filthy, and all covered with dirt and dung they may be. They are allowed to enter the king’s palace, and whithersoever their way leads, without anyone disputing their passage; even the king himself, and all the greatest lords, give place to them with the utmost respect and reverence, and the same with bulls and oxen.”

(The Voyage of Francois Pyrard of Laval, Volume 1)

Aithihyamala, a Malayalam work which is a compilation of various historical legends and folklore of Kerala by 19th-century author Kottarathil Shankunni, also mentions how the famous King of Cochin, Rama Varma Shaktan Thampuran, sentenced the culprit, a Moplah Muslim to death for killing a cow on the auspicious day of Shivaratri. In fact, the kingdom of Cochin itself was named after cows, as Gau-Shree Rajya.

What changed

Cows were sacred animals in Kerala as long as Dharmic Hindu kings ruled the lands. The sudden surge in beef consumption in Kerala is a recent phenomenon post-independence, with the abolishment of the monarchies and the honour codes they helped establish. Many traditional Hindus in Kerala abstain from beef even today and they are not any ‘lesser Hindus’. Those who do are sworn Leftists who do not identify as Hindu while propounding their political ideology but take on the Hindu identity only to legitimise beef as Hindu cuisine. What with the Dharmic code against cow slaughter gone with the Hindu kings’ political power, it’s a free run for the Abrahamic-Left conglomerate to paint their own canvas of fake history and folklore.

As stated in the beginning, Kerala is the land of Chera kingdom associated with Lord Parashurama, which produced Saint-Kings like Kulashekhara Azhvar, Cheraman Perumal Nayanar, Sages like Adi Shankaracharya, Intellectuals like Melpathur Narayana Bhattathiri, Sangamagrama Madhava, Nilakantha Somayaji etc and great Hindu warriors & rulers  like Vaikom Padmanabha Pillai, Raja Keshavadas, Kunjikutty Pillai, Kottayam Kerala Varma, Pazhassi Raja, Shaktan Thampuran, Marthanda Varma etc. No matter what the leftists and secularists claim, Kerala’s heritage is purely Hindu and no one can deny this fact.

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