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The ancient Chera kingdom was situated in the present day Kerala. Perumakkodhaiyar (Perum-ma-kothayar) was born in the costal city Thiruvanychaikkalam, the capital of the kingdom called Kodunkolur. He grew up in the Shaivaite traditions, serving the Lord of Thiruvanychaikkalam. When the king of the land Chenkor poraiyan left the throne, the ministers to the royal throne decided Perumakkodhaiyar is the right person to the throne. With the blessings of the Lord Shiva he became the Emperor of the state and was crowned. He got the boons of the power to know the thoughts of anybody or anything anywhere and hence he is called kazarirrarivar.
Perumakkodhaiyar conducted a royal procession in commemoration of ascending the throne, in the company of the Chozha and Pandy Kings. A Washer man, whose body was covered with lime, chanced to come in front of the royal procession. Nayanar mistook him to be an ash smeared Shiva devotee and got down from the elephant to salute with folded hands. The washer man was shocked and said, "I, your slave, am a washer man" to which the great King replied, "I, the slave, Chera, your slave" and asked the washer man to go ahead with an undisturbed mind.
In Madurai the capital of Pandya kingdom was a musician by name Baththiranar, a devotee of Lord Shiva, whom Shiva wanted to reward by removing his poverty. Shiva wrote a poem addressing the Chera king and gave it to the musician asking him to collect wealth from the Chera king. (This poem is the first one in the eleventh Thirumurai - Alavayudaiyar thirumukappachuram). Accordingly, Baththiranar went to Cheraman perumal and gave the letter of God, in all salutations to the emperor. The blessed king who received a poem addressed to him by the Lord Himself, danced in ecstasy.
The King offered the whole Kingdom itself to the devotee, but the devotee who was interested in singing the Lord Somasundhareshwara accepted only the things he required and pleaded the king to take back the kingdom and the royal belongings. This is narrated in Thiruvilaiyadal puranam.
Cheraman was contemporary of Sundaramoorthy nayanar and met him at Tiruvarur. At Tiruvarur Cheraman composed the famous ‘Tiru Mummanikovai’ on Lord Thiagaraja. Then they went to Vedaranyam. There Cheraman sang his ‘Tiru Anthati’ on the Lord. After visiting many shrines on the way they came to Madurai. The Pandya king welcomed them. The Chola prince who was staying with the Pandyan king also welcomed them. In their company the great saints visited many shrines. Taking leave of the kings, Cheraman and Sundarar returned to Tiruvarur. From there, at the request of Cheraman, Sundarar accompanied him to Kodunkolur. There Cheraman took Sundarar on an elephant and went round the city in procession.
When Sundarar returned to Tiruvarur, he had instructed Cheraman to rule the country justly and wisely. Cheraman, obeying the saint’s commands, continued the golden rule, maintaining good relationship with the Choza and Pandiya emperors of the Tamiz land.
Cheraman Perumal was the last of Chera Kings. After him the kingdom was annexed by Kalabhras.
Some more about Cheraman Perumal
There are legends regarding Cheraman Perumal later accepting Islam and migrating to Arabia.
A group of Arabs set to visit the present day Sri Lanka where it was believed to have the footsteps of Prophet Adam. On the way, they landed at Kerala.
Cheraman Perumal, who was the king of Kodungallur, sent his men to investigate the matter. Sheikh Sahirudhin Ibn Baqiudhin Al Madani, one among the Arab team, replied, “We are Arabs, We are Muslims. We have landed here while on the way to Ceylon”. The king, who’d earlier heard of Islam, became interest to hear directly from the inhabitants of Medina - the center of Islam. Sahirudhin replied positively to all the questions. The king was overjoyed to learn more about the new faith and adopted it.
Ahmed Zainudhin Makhdum has mentioned this in his masterpiece - Thuhfathul Mujahideen. Another historic text, Keralolpathi, reports that Perumal left for the pilgrimage at Makkah. Anyway the king kept his change in faith a secret and asked the travelers also to do so. He presented many gifts to the travelers and while seeing them off, telling he would be joining them on their way back to Arabia
The King spent weeks in seclusion. In midst of his quiet life, he set out for the journey along with the Arab travelers. On the way, they stopped by Koylandi and from there to Dharmapatnam where they halted for 3 days. Then they set out to Shehr Muqalla. On reaching there, they set for the Hajj pilgrimage and thereafter started back for Malabar. He aspired to spread the message of Islam, but on the way he fell sick and breathed his last. His companions continued the journey for Malabar with the letter written by the King just before his death.
Perumathura is a tiny village situated 29 kilometers north of Trivandrum in Kerala State in South India. It is surrounded by the Kadinamkulam Kayal (Kadinamkulam lake) in the east, Arabian Sea in the west, 'Muthala Pozhi' in the north and by 'Puthencurichy' in the west.
The history of Perumathura dates back from the period of the Legendary King Cheraman Perumal who ruled South India during the 8th century A.D. The name Perumathura (meaning residence of Perumal) was derived from the Late King's name. It is believed that Cheraman Peruamal embraced Islam during his stay at Perumathura. The mainland Perumathura and it's surrounding islands - Kottaramthuruthu, Cheramanthuruthu and Madanvila are all related in one way or another to Cheraman Perumal.
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From the History:
The Cheras were rulers whose Kingdom comprised the Western and South-Western parts of the Tamil country. The southern extension of the Western Ghats was not a barrier to the communication system and they collected and traded in spices, pepper, ivory, sandal and other commodities of the hinterland. In historical times some of their capitals were the port of Tondi and the inland town of Karuvur of Vanji.
The meaning of the word "Chera" is not clear. The "Cerobothra' of the Periplus, and Asoka's "Keralaputra" refer to them. Though Megasthenes who mentions the Pandyas does not refer to the Cheras, it is possible that the Cheras flourished as independent rulers even in the fourth century B.C.E. The earliest reference to them is in the Asokan edicts. It has been suggested that they were the oldest among the three crowned monarchs in Tamilaham in view of the common expression "Chera, Chola, Pandya" As the Pandyas has assumed lunar ancestry, the Cholas assumed Solar ancestry the Cheras claimed descent from the Fire-God.
We have among others the "Cheral" and the "Irumporai", families ruling at the same time and along with the "Kodais". Udiyan Cheral, Imayavaramban Neduncheral Adan, Senguttuvan belong to the first group; Cheraman Kanaikkal Irumporai, Anduvan Cheral Irumporai, Perumcheral Irumporai and Illancheral Irumporai belong to the second group; and Cheran Kokkadai Marban Kottambalattut Tunjiya Makkodai belong to a third group, and their territory comprised the Kongunadu and the modern Dharmapuri district. The Adigamans of Tagadur and the northern Velir along with the Avis (like Vel Avik Koman, Vai Avikkopperumpehan etc.) were their feudatories. Succession to the Chera throne, determined in the usual patrilineal way with reference to primogeniture, has generated an unending controversy, even in the identification of Vanji.
Chera history could go back to earlier than the third century C.E., but the earliest Sangam reference we have to a Chera rule is in the second verse of the Purananuru. He is Perum Chorru Udiyan Cheral Adan, about whom the incredible story of his feeding the two armies of the Mahabharata battle is told.
This could be a misunderstanding of that verse, which may relate to the Chera's blessing to the Aimperunkulu who victoriously fought the Satavahanas, perhaps in the pre-Kalabhra days. So we could assign the second century B.C. to this king. There is another Udihyan Cheral mentioned in the Padirrupattu who was the father of Imayavaramban, but he must be distinguished from Perum Chorru Cheral.
the Padirruppattu along with Purananuru gives us most of the information on the Sangam Cheras. In the extant eight decades of the anthology, we get to know about eight Chera rulers:
Imaya Varamban Nedun Cheral Andan who reigned for 58 years
Palyanai Selkelu Kuttuvan who ruled for 25 years
Kalangaikkanni Narmudi Cheral who ruled for 25 years
Kadal Pirakkottiya Senguttuvan who ruled for 55 years
Adu Kotpattu Cheral Adan who ruled for 38 Years
Selvakkadungo Vali Adan who ruled for 25 Years
Perum Cheral Irumporai who ruled for 17 years
Ilan Cheral Irumporai who ruled for 16 Years
Of these, the first one was the father of the fourth, who is the hero of Vanji kandam in Silappadikaram. This father and son were noted for successful sojourns to the Himalayas and defeat of the pirates on the Arabian Sea. The seventh was the victor in the battle of Tagadur. This family patronized poets to an incredible degree and in an unprecedented manner. Kapilar and Paranar were among the beneficiaries. The grateful poets praised their patrons in verse.
The Chera rulers married among the Velir also, as can be seen in Selvakkadungo's marriage with Vel Avikkoman Paduman Devi and Peruncheral Irumporai's marriage with Venmal Anduvan Sellai.
The Cheras of the Sangam Age temporarily went off the stage of Tamil history when the country came under Kalabhra rule. The Tamil Navalar Charitai speaks of Chera submission to the kalabhras. But even when the Kalabhra domination had lifted, there was no great Chera revival comparable to the Pandyan revival with Vijayalaya. Their later history was one of subordinate, provincial leadership under the suzerainty of the Pandyas or the Cholas. The Chola conquest of the Chera country was completed when Rajaraja I destroyed the Kandalur Salai naval forces.
The last phase of their rule as independent monarchs was that of the Cheraman Perumal's in the early 9th century. He was a Shaivaite and said to be a contemporary of Sundaramurthy Nayanar. One cannot be sure of the legend of his conversion to Islam. With his passing away the Chera epoch came to an end, the Kollam era (C.E. 825) commenced. It is in this period that the Jewish merchant community was settled in Kollam and Sri Sankaracharya spread his philosophical ideas of Adwaitha sidhantha.
The Later history of the Western coast sharply deviates from Tamil history. Malayalam developed as a separate language and the land began looking westwards rather than eastwards. The Jews, Arabs and Christians settled on that coast and a composite population developed a culture less orthodox and oriental than the Tamil country to the east of the ghats. But the ruling families in Kerala were perhaps descendants of the early Cheras.
Article by Dr. N. Subramanian
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