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Dewan Peishcar, Travancore kingdom
6. History - Section B — Early History - Part I (up to 1100 A.D)


Early Dravidian merchants

The Earliest Traders (B.C 1000-300) The Phoenicians

Early Greek Accounts (300 B.C. — 150 A.D.)

South India and Rome (30 B. C.—540 A.D.)

The Early Missionaries (345 A.D – 825 A.D.) Trade with China

The Early Mohamedans Territorial Extent

Neighbouring Kingdoms

Political organisation in Malabar

The People Sankaracharya


“History, which is, indeed, little more than the register of the crimes, follies and misfortunes of mankind.”



Part I (up to 1100 A.D)

It has already been shown that Travancore is a very ancient kingdom. Its early history as narrated in this section comprises a period of about twenty centuries; but owing to meagreness of material this period is passed under a rapid review leaving it to the future historian to compile fuller account as the researches into Epigraphy and other sources make possible.

From early times India carried on an extensive foreign trade and the Malabar coast from Gokarnam to Cape Comorin, with its rivers and its land communications by the lagoons which run parallel to the coastline, was a convenient destination for the small vessels which crossed from le Arabian or African shore in search of the pepper, the spices and the ivory to be obtained here. At this early period Indian merchants sailed — Arabia and China and it is said that Hindu colonies were planted in Africa and Arabia and that a powerful Hindu empire arose in Java in the Spice Islands. Mr. Kennedy is of opinion that the men who thus sailed from India were the Dravidians of the south and were not the Aryan immigrants from the north.

The Earliest Traders (B.C 1000—300)

The Phoenicians visited the coast of Malabar about 1000 B. C, in search of ivory, sandalwood and spices. They were the first intermediaries between the East and the West. Even before 1000 B.C, they were the sole masters of the Mediterranean and had founded colonies on the Atlantic coast and in Britain. The Jews on the east coast of the Mediterranean early noticed the enormous profits made by their neighbours (the Phoenicians) and wished to emulate their successes. For this purpose, commercial treaties were entered into between Hiram, king of Tyre, and Kings David and Solomon. About 1000 B.C, Solomon, King of Israel, fitted out a commercial fleet manned by the Phoenicians to Tarshish and Ophir. Dr. Burnell thinks that the last mentioned place (Ophir) should be somewhere in Malabar or Travancore. This is most probably the sea-coast village of Puvar in the Neyyattinkara Taluq, now the seat of a large Mahomedan population, partly a fishing but mostly a trading one. Some of the articles carried by Solomon’s ships from Malabar were peacocks, sandal-wood, gold, ivory and apes. The Phoenicians had the monopoly of the eastern trade from these early times until the destruction of Tyre by Alexander in B.C. 332. Their ships sailed from Malabar with Indian articles to a port in the southern part of the Red Sea whence they were conveyed by land to Philoculara, the port on the Mediterranean nearest to the Red Sea. From this place goods were re-shipped to Tyre and then distributed to the Phoenician trading centres.” The port which they frequented on the Malabar coast was probably Cranganore.*

NOTEs: * Mr. K Padmanabhan Tampi's lecture on 'Early Accounts of Travancore and Malabar'

“There is abundant reason to suppose that the early Hindoos were not altogether disinclined to a seafaring life and that the aversion they now evince is only a later development fostered by the influence of Brahminism. Judging from the traces of colonies in Arabia and elsewhere and especially in the island of Socottra at the mouth of the Gulf of Aden, we are constrained to conclude that the Hindoos had at an early period of their existence sailed out of India and formed settlements at distant places. The Malayalees themselves seemed to have formed colonies in Arabia, and Strabo (about A.D. 20) mentions an hereditary caste division in Arabia Felix, as well as a community of property and women in the several families quite similar to those of the Nairs of Malabar.” *

NOTEs: * Mr. K.P Padmanabha Menon's paper in the Madras Review on 'Malabar as known to the Ancients'

In the time of Herodotus (484 — 413 B.C.), the trade with India was in the hands of the Egyptians and the Phoenicians. About 500 B.C., Scylax, a Greek sent by Darius, had voyaged home by sea from the mouth of the Indus.

Early Greek Accounts (300 B.C. — 150 A.D.) Megasthenes (306 — 289 BC.), the Greek ambassador of the Greeko-Bactrian kingdom at the court of Chandragupta, writes in his description of Ancient India, “Next follow the Narœ enclosed by the loftiest of the Indian mountains, Capitalia............ . The poorer king of the Charmœ has but 60 elephants, and his force is otherwise insignificant.” According to Wigram, Megasthenes’ Narœ refers to the Nayars of Malabar, Capitalia is the Camel’s Hump which is 6,000 feet in height and a conspicuous landmark for mariners and Charmœ is the kingdom of Chera. Megasthenes also alludes to the fact that the southern people were ruled by queens, probably the female sovereigns of Attungal, by which name the Ranis of Travancore are still known.

Eratosthenes who lived about 276 B. C. is the first foreign writer who mentions Cape Comorin. He thought India lay east to west.

The second and thirteenth edicts of the Emperor Priyadarsin or Asoka (257 B.C) contain special references to the king of Chera or Kerala. “In all the subjugated territories of King Priyadarsi the beloved of the Gods, and also in the bordering countries (Pratyanta) as Chola, Palaya Satyaputra, Keralaputra*, Tambapani, it is proclaimed.......”. It is quite clear from this that Kerala existed as an independent kingdom at the time of the edicts (257 B. C). The special mention of the country by name probably indicates also its importance.

NOTE by VED: *It is seen mentioned in Malabar Manual by William Logan, that the actual transliteration of the word Keralaputra is Ketalaputra, as seen written in the rock edict.

“It was not till about 120 B.C. that an attempt was made to go from Egypt to India. A Hindu, said to have been wrecked in the Red Sea, volunteered to take a ship to India. The ship was fitted out and in it sailed Eudoxus of Cyzicus. The voyage was successful; the ship brought back a valuable cargo, but it was appropriated by the King (Ptolemy Euergets II). The same fate befell a second expedition sent out by Cleopatra. Strabo wrote of Eudoxus’ attempt to reach India as something altogether new and exceptional.”*

NOTEs: The Malabar Manual Vol 1, Page 249

NOTE by VED: The problem with relying on William Logan’s Malabar Manual is that, that book does not seem to have been fully written by Logan. It contain the interests and versions of events of the many native-officials who worked under Logan. It can be very easily seen that they have all written into the book. Interested readers can check my Commentary on Malabar Manual.

In 47 A.D. a new route to India was discovered.

The Periplus says, “Hippalos was the pilot who first by observing the bearings of the ports and the configuration of the sea, discovered the course across the ocean, whence as at the season when our Etesians are blowing, a periodical wind from the ocean likewise blows on the Indian sea, the wind which is the south-west is, it seems, called in those seas Hippalos”.

According to Dr. Robertson, “this route to India was held to be a discovery of such importance that, in order to perpetuate the memory cf the inventor, the name of Hippalos was given to the wind which enabled him to perform the voyage”.

We have in Pliny (23-79 A.D) a very accurate description of the route to India, of the country of Malabar and its main articles of trade. The Greek ships anchored at either Musiris (Pliny calls it ‘primum emporium indicæ’) or Nelkanda, the former of which has been identified by Dr. Bumell to be Cranganore and the other is believed to refer to some port near Quilon, probably Neendakara. The ruler of the country was ‘Calabothras’ The things which fetched the highest prices in Rome were spices, pearls, diamonds and silks — the first three were exported from the east coast (Madura and Tinnevelly), while silk was brought down in country ships from China. The prices paid were fabulous; the silks were sold for their weight in gold.

Pliny says: —

“To those bound for India, it is most convenient to depart from Okelis (now Galla or Cella), a small bay within the straits of Babelmandeb. They sail thence with the wind Hippalos in forty days to the first emporium of India, Muziris (Kodungalur), which is not a desirable place to arrive at on account of pirates infesting the neighbourhood who hold a place called Nitrias, which is not supplied with merchandise. Besides, the station for ships is at a great distance from the shore and cargoes have both to be landed and shipped by means of little boats. There reigned there, when I wrote this, Calobothras. Another port belonging to the nation is the more convenient Neacyndon — which is called Becare. There reigned Pandion in an inland town, far distant from the emporium, called Madura the region, however, from which they convey pepper to Becare in boats formed from single logs in Cottanara (Kottarakara)”.

Pliny estimated that India took 55,000,000 sesterces (4,86,979 £.) annually and the goods purchased for that sum brought a hundred times that amount when sold in Europe.

The Periplus of Arrian was probably written in the first century A.D. The author was an Alexandrian Greek and a contemporary of Pliny. He made several voyages to Malabar. His description of the Malabar ports runs as follows —

“Then follow Naoura and Tundis, the first marts of Limurike, and after these, Musiris and Nilkanda the seats of Government. To the kingdom under the sway of Keprobotras Tundis is subject, a village of great note near the sea. Musiris which pertains to the same realm, is a city at the height of prosperity, frequented as it is by ships from Arike and Greek ships from Egypt. It lies near a river at a distance from Tundis of 500 stadia,* whether this is measured from river to river, or by the length of the sea-voyage, and it is 20 stadia distant from the mouth of its own river. The distance of Nilkanda from Musiris is also nearly 500 stadia, whether measured from river to river, or by the sea-voyage, but it belongs to a different kingdom. ... .”

NOTEs: * A stadium is equal to 582 English feet

He also refers to the Varkala hills and gives a fine description of Gape Comorin, he says: —

“After Bakare occurs the mountain called Pyrrhos (or the Red) towards the south, near another district of the country called Paralia* (where there are pearl fisheries which belong to King Pandion), and a city of the name Kolkhoi. In this district the first place met with is called Balita, which has a good harbour and a village on its shore. Next to this is another place called Komar, where is the Cape of the same name and a haven. Those who wish to consecrate the closing part of their lives to religion come hither and bathe and engage themselves to celibacy. This is also done by women, since it is related that the goddess once on a time resided at the place and bathed. From Komarei towards the south the country extends as far as Kolkhoi, where the fishing for pearls is carried on. Condemned criminals are employed in this service. King Pandion is the owner of the fishery. To Kolkhoi succeeds another coast lying along a gulf having a district in the interior bearing the name of Argalon. In this single place are obtained the pearls collected near the island of Epiodores.”**

NOTEs: * The king of Travancore was called in the old days Paralisan 'the lord of Parali'. Parali is still the name of a river in South Travancore

** Me. Crindle's Periplus Maris Erythraei. Page 139

Ptolemy’s geography (139 A.D) mentions the following places in Limurike. “Brahmagara, Kalaikanei’s, Musiris, Podoperonra, Lemne, Karoura, Hakarei and two rivers, namely, the Pseudostomos and the Baris.’’

Inland cities mentioned by him are — “To the west of the Pseudostomos, Naroulla Kamba, Poloura. Between the two rivers — Pasage, Mastonover, Courellour, Karoura, (the royal seat of Kerobothras), Areambour, Bidderis, Pantiopolis, Adarima, Koreo. South of Nilkanda lies the country of the Aivi.” The cities named in this region (Aivi) are “Ealngkour (a mart), Kottara (a metropolis), Bamala, Komaria (a cape and town) and Morunda.”

Dr. Caldwell thinks that ‘Limurike’ represents the Tamil-Malayalam country and that ‘Karoura’ is the modern town of Karur on the Amaravati in the Coimbatore District. The Peutingerian Tables (third century A.D) called the country ‘Damurike’ The chief ports of importance in the first century A.D., were ‘Naura’ (the present Onore), ‘Tundis’ (Kadalundi near Beypore), ‘Musiris’ (Kodungalur), and ‘Nilkanda’ (Neendakara near Quilon).

“The description given by Pliny, Arrian, and Ptolemy of Limurike or the Tamil Malayalam country, enables us to gauge approximately the extent of the sway of Cœlobothras or Keprobothras. From Pliny it is difficult to gather its northern limit, but after making mention of the important port of Musiris he goes southwards and names Neacyndon, which, according to him, belonged to Pandion. In this the Periplus agrees with him. Ptolemy calls the place Meikynda and places it in the country of Aioi identified by Caldwell with South Travancore. Ptolemy and the author of the Periplus are at one in making Tundis the most northern port in Limurike. The Periplus gives its distance at 700 stadia or nearly 12 degrees of latitude if we reckon 600 stadia to the degree. The location of Tundis somewhere near Calicut (11° 15' N. Lat.) has been completely justified by the satisfactory identification of Musiris with Cranganore instead of with Mangalore as previously accepted.”*

NOTEs: * Mr. K. P Padmanabha Menon in the Madras Review

South India and Rome (30 BC— 540 AD.). The next event of importance in the history of the west coast is the intercourse between South India and Rome, the mistress of the ancient world. It is highly probable that Indian goods were even in very early times taken to Rome by the early carriers, the Egyptians and the Greeks. But after the conquest of Egypt by the Romans, especially after Egypt was made a Roman Province by Emperor Augustus, the commercial activity with the East reached its zenith. The Egyptian Greeks were no longer the intermediaries, but Rome came into direct contact with India. The embassy of Augustus in 20 B. C, to the Pandyan king who ruled over Tinnevelly, Madura and Travancore, was probably only one of a series.

‘’And about this same time (24 AD), the first Hindu embassy from King Porus, or as others say, from the king of Pandya, proceeded to Europe and followed the Roman Emperor Augustus to Spain. It was on this occasion that an ascetic (probably a Jain) who accompanied the expedition voluntarily, sacrificed himself at Athens on a funeral pyre.”*

NOTEs: * The Malabar Manual, Vol 1, Page 249

According to the Peutingerian Tables (3rd century A.D.), there was at one time (no date specified) a temple of Augustus at Kodungalur with a garrison of two cohorts and 1,200 men. This evidently indicates that the relation between Rome and South India was no longer merely of a commercial nature. There is reason to believe that there was also a Roman colony at Madura. The finds of Roman coins in the various parts of South India, afford valuable evidence of long-standing commercial relations and large monetary dealings between Rome and South India.

Potfuls of Roman coins and medals have been discovered at Vellore, Pollachi, Chavadipalayam, Vellalur, Coimbatore, Madura, Karur, Ootacamond, Cottayam in North Malabar, Kilabur near Tellichery, Kaliam putur, Avanasi, and Trevor near Cannanore. They range from the time of Augustus to that of Zeno — from B. C. 27 to A.D. 491, and are found only within certain specified limits — Coimbatore, Mysore, Tondainad, South Malabar and Cochin. Coimbatore has the largest share but Malabar ranks next. “The gold coins found at Cottayam were so numerous that six coolies could scarcely carry them and those found at Trevor numbered 300 large gold coins. “We also find that the coins discovered in Coimbatore and Malabar are earlier in date than those found at other places. The coins were all buried in the earth. The perforations in most of them clearly show that they had been used as ornaments. These establish the long standing commercial relations between Rome and South India.

The Pandyan kings, as well as the rulers of Malabar, seem to have sent more than one embassy to Rome. The one to Augustus is noticed by Strabo, and subsequently to him in the Chronographia of Georgius Syncelles (800 A.D.) who says under the head of the 185th Olympiad, “Pandion, king of the Indians, sends an embassy to Augustus desiring to become his friend and ally”. This embassy, says Florius, was four years on the road. Dr. Oppert speaks of Indian envoys with precious presents being sent to Augustus, Claudius, Antonius Pius and Julianus, and even so late as the reign of Justinian (540 A.D.), one was despatched to Constantinople. “The Roman coins found in Madura are supposed by Mr. Sewell to point to something more than mere commercial relations. The company of Romans that lived in Madura possessed, according to Mr. Tracy, the right of minting coins which indicates some political power.” The temple of Augustus and the Roman garrison at Cranganore no doubt point to the same conclusion. Kodungalur must have once been a Roman colony.

“About B. C. 14, Drusus the younger brother of Tiberius had command of an army in Gaul, and in order to secure more fully the allegiance of the northern tribes who, after a fashion, acknowledged the sway of Augustus, hit upon the device of building a temple for the worship of the image of the Emperor. May we not conjecture, with some show of reason, that it was for a similar purpose that the Romans set up a temple of Augustus at Kodungalore?. But in the dearth of historical data it would be idle to speculate; as yet we have no evidence of any Roman conquests in South India on the western Coast”.*

NOTEs: * Mr.Padmanabha Menon's 'Malabar as known to the Ancients'

The Early Missionaries, (AD 345— AD 825) The next event concerning Kerala is dated 345 A.D. Thomas Cana (Kona Thoma), merchant and missionary, visited the Malabar Coast in that year. He brought to Cranganore a colony of four hundred Christians from Bagdad, Nineveh and Jerusalem. He found a Cheraman Perumal ruling in the kingdom on whose death the country was divided among his descendants. A manuscript volume in the British Museum dated 1604 A.D, gives information about Thomas Cana from a grant made to him by a Cheraman Perumal which is quoted here in a subsequent chapter (Religion).

In 522 A.D., Cosmos Indicopleustes visited the Malabar Coast. His writings are of great historical value to us, for he is the first traveller who mentions the Syrian Christians. He wrote, “In the island of Taprobane (Ceylon) there is a church of Christians, and clerks and faithful. Likewise at Male where the pepper grows; and in the town of Kalliana there is also a bishop consecrated in Persia’.

The Nestorian Patriarch Jesujabus who died in 660 A.D., makes special mention of Quilon in his letter to the Simon, Metropolitan of Persia. “India which extends from the coast of the kingdom of Persia to Colon, a distance of more than 1,200 Parasangs,* deprived of a regular ministry, but Persia itself is left in darkness”.

NOTEs: * A Persian measure of length, containing 30 stadia, equal to 3¾ miles.

In 744 A.D. (the date fixed by Dr. Burnell), King Vira Raghava made a grant to Iravi Korttan, a Christian of Cranganore, making over to him the territory of Manigramam and giving him the rank of merchant.

The copper plate which is in old Tamil character with some Grantha characters intermixed, is preserved m the Kottayam Seminary, The accuracy of the date 744 A.D., is very doubtful.*

NOTEs: * Mr. Venkayya assigns the grant to the 14th century A.D on palæographical grounds.- Indian Antiquary Vol IV Page 293. Dr. Keilhorn accepts Venkayya's conclusion and fixes the date of the grant to the 15th March 1320 A.D. - Ind. Ant. Vol VI Page 83

In 822 A.D., two Nestorian Persian Bishops, Mar Sapor and Mar Peroz settled in Quilon with a large following.

Two years later (824 A.D.), the Malabar Era began, was called after Quilon, which was undoubtedly the premier city of Malabar (including Travancore and Cochin). Shungoonny Menon says that the era was founded by Koda Marthanda Varma, King of the South. Mr. Logan seems to think that the era was founded in commemoration of the independence of the chiefs of Malabar from the sway of the Perumal or of the religious revolution created by Sri Sankaracharya. Professor Sundaram Pillai surmises that the era may be merely an adaptation of the Saptarsha or Sastra Samvatsara era of the north. The era begins on the first Chingam or the middle of August for the southern portion of Malabar and on the first Kanni or the middle of September for the northern portion.

“In the same year King Sthanu Ravi Gupta anxious to secure the pecuniary assistance from the Christian merchants in his efforts to repel an invasion of Malabar by the Rahakas, granted the copper plate known as the second charter. In this, the King gave permission to Mar Sapor to transfer to the Tarasa church and community at Quilon, a piece of land near the city with the hereditament usual at the time of several families of low caste slaves attached to the soil.”+

NOTEs: * The Syrian Church in India - Milne Rae.

Trade with China

The trade with China, which had very much decreased in the previous centuries, revived with great vigour in the eighth century. According to the records of the Tang Dynasty (618 A.D. to 913 A.D.), Quilon was their chief settlement and they gave it the name of ‘Mahlai’. Several were the embassies sent by the Malabar Kings to the Celestial Emperor. The King of Quilon and the neighbouring districts is referred to in these records as Benati or Venad, the name by which Travancore is designated even to day. This Chinese trade decreased again about 900 A.D., and was not revived till the 13th century.

The Early Mahomedans

It was probably in the beginning of the 8th century that the Moslems of Arabia superseded the Greeks in their trade with the west coast of India. Their first arrival is closely mixed up with the tradition of Cheraman Perumal and his conversion. This last of the sovereigns of Keralam, so goes the story, was converted to Islam by the Mahomedan missionaries who visited his coast, and embarked with them to Arabia to see the Prophet in person. On reaching his destination, he was so struck with the grandeur of the faith and the enthusiasm of the believers that he immediately despatched missionaries to his coast with letters of introduction to the chiefs; one of them sent on his death-bed from Zapher, was Malik Ben Habeck, who travelled from Cranganore to Quilon. He built a mosque at the latter place, settled as a preacher and undertook several preaching expeditions in the neighbourhood.

Merchant Soleyman of Siraf in Persia, who visited Malabar in the middle of the 9th century, found Quilon to be the only port in India touched by the huge Chinese ships on their way from Canton to the Persian Gulf. At Quilon they paid a heavy port duty of 1,000 denarii* and it was the chief port of call between China and Western India.

NOTEs: * Denarius is a Roman silver coin equal to 92/5d.

Another Mahomedan traveller of the period describes it as the first port which vessels touch from Muscat at a month’s sail from that port. The Mahomedans probably settled in small numbers on the coast for trading purposes, but it does not appear that their religion made any progress. The traveller referred to above has left on record: — “I know not that there is any one of either nation (Chinese and Indian) that has embraced Mahomedanism or speaks Arabic.”

The Mahomedans first settled in Malabar in the 9th century A.D. We have an interesting, though brief, account of the origin and growth of this community in the early chapters Tahafit-ul-mujahideen—an historical work by Sheik Zeenuddin, a Malabar Mahomedan, who lived in the court of Sultan Adilshah of Bijapur.

In the Meadows of Gold and Mines of Gems written about 950 A.D. by El Masudi, Arab traveller and merchant, we have an account of Malabar and a detailed narrative of a successful invasion of Travancore by the Hindu Emperor of Java.

Al Biruni (A.D. 970-1039) is probably the first to call the country Malabar. His account of the coast runs thus—

“Beyond Guzerat are Konkan and Tana; beyond them the country of Malibar, which from the boundary of Karoba to Kulam (Quilon), is 300 Parasangs in length. The whole country produces the pan, in consequence of which Indians find it easy to live there, for they are ready to spend their whole wealth on that leaf. There is much coined gold and silver there, which is not exported to any other place. Part of the territory is inland and part on the sea-shore.

They speak a mixed language, like the men of Khabhalik in the direction of Rum, whom they resemble in many respects. The people are all Samanis (Buddhists) and worship idols. Of the cities on the shore the first is Sindabur, then Faknar (Barkur in South Canara), then the country of Manjarur, (Mangalore), then the country of Hili, then the country of Sadarsa, then Jangli, then Kulam.

The men of all these countries are Samanis. After these comes the country of Sawalak* which comprises 125,000 cities and villages. After that comes Malwala* which means 1,893,000 in number. About forty years ago the king of Malwala died, and between his son and the minister a contest arose and after several battles they ended with dividing the country between them. The consequence is that their enemies obtained a footing and are always making their incursions from different parts of Hind, and carrying off goods and viands, sugar, wine, cotton cloths, captives and great booty. But through the great wealth of that country no serious injury is done.”

NOTEs: * Probably Laccadive and Maladive islands.

Territorial Extent. The account given above is what the foreign travellers and traders knew of the Malabar Coast and its people generally. An attempt may next be made to describe briefly the social and political condition of South India before the 11th century of the Christian era. The following stanza ascribed to the famous Tamil poet Kambar who is said to have flourished, in the 9th century A.D., gives the boundaries of Chera or Kerala thus —

which translated means,

“To the north lies the place (or fane) Pulney, to the east Chengodu (Shencottah); the western limit is Kolikudu (Calicut), and the southern the sea. Say these are the boundaries of Chera, 80 Katams (leagues) from north to south.”

There are two other readings of the stanza and these are thus translated by Mr. Logan.

One version:

1. To the North, the place Palani — hail ! to the East, the South Kasi,

2. The West point Koli-kudu will become. The sea-shore of

3. The margin that will make the south. An 80 Katams (leagues)

4. The Cheranad boundary; speaking, say thou.

Another version:

“On the north Palani, to the East the great town (Perur) on the south the sea. On the West the great mountain, from East to West 40 Katams (leagues), from South to North 40 Katams (leagues) making together 80 Katams.

There is a difficulty about this last stanza. Pulney is the northern boundary. Perur, near Coimbatore, lies north of Pulney and cannot be the eastern boundary. It is probable Perur lies somewhere near Shencottah or Tenkasi. Again, the western boundary is the great mountain. The other two stanzas make it the sea.

Neighbouring Kingdoms

We have already seen that Megasthenes and the Edicts of Asoka refer to three kingdoms in the south: Chera or Kerala, Chola and Pandya. It must not be supposed that all these were independent kingdoms at all times; sometimes Pandya held supremacy over the other two and sometimes Chola. We see the Chola king invading Ceylon in the 3rd century B.C, 2nd century B. C, and again in the 2nd century A.D. In the 6th century A.D., the Pallavas of Kanchi rose from small dimensions and, before two centuries elapsed, were masters of the whole of South India. In the 6th century, the western Chalukyans rose to power. In the beginning of the 7th century, one of the kings of this dynasty, Pulakesin II, “caused the great prosperity of the Cholas, and the Keralas, and the Pandyas, but became a very sun to (melt) the hoar frost which was the army of the Pallavas”.

On the death of Pulakesin II, the Southern Powers combined to overthrow the western Chalukyans. This was successful for a time, for the sons of Pulakesin were yet children. “But retribution speedily came, for it is recorded of Vinayaditya that during the lifetime of his father Vikramaditya I (circa 670-680. A.D) and by his command, he arrested the exalted power of the Pallavas, whose kingdom consisted of three component dominions”. There is little room for doubt that the last phrase refers to the Chola, Pandya and Kerala rulers, who, in another grant of Vinayaditya’s, are specifically referred to as the “proud summits of three mountains which he rent open (like Indra) with the thunderbolt which was his prowess”.

Vikramaditya II of the same dynasty (732-747 A.D.) is said to have “withered up Pandya, Chola, Kerala, Vallabha and other kings”.

The Rattas or Rashtrakutas superseded the Chalukyans about 750 A.D., and the lien on Kerala for tribute must have passed on to the conquerors of Chalukyans. Govinda III (about 800 A.D). is said to have conquered Kerala. According to the Malayalam tradition the Rashtrakuttas were driven back.

The extent of these kingdoms is not known. But it may be roughly stated thus. The Pallavas ruled over Chingleput, North and South Arcot; the Cholas over Tanjore and Trichinopoly; the Kongus over Coimbatore and Salem; the Pandyas over Madura and Tinnevelly; the western Chalukyans over the Karnataka and South Mysore; and the Rashtrakutas over North Mysore.

The Nannul and its original Tolkapyam refer to the following twelve ‘Nadus’ as the places where old Tamil was spoken.

1. South Pandy, 2. Kuttanad, 3. Kudanad, 4. Karkanad, 5. Venad, 6. Pulinad, 7. Panrinad, 8. Aruvanad, 9. the country north of that, 10. Sitanad (or the cold country), 11. Malanad, 12. Punnad. These were not all independent kingdoms; they were probably chieftainships under the main kingdoms already referred to.

Mr. Logan says that about this period (1,000 A.D),

“The Cochin Rajas seem to have been the principal power in central Kerala, and it is in accordance with this that in the Kollam year 93 (A.D 917-918) an expedition (probably of Kongus or Gangas) from Maisur was driven back when attempting an invasion of Kerala via the Palaghat gap. Local tradition assigns this as the date on which the Cochin Rajas acquired the small district of Chittur still held by them and lying to the east of Palaghat in the very centre of the gap”.*

NOTEs: * The Malabar Manual, Vol 1. Page 179

By the 11th century A.D, the Pallavas had sunk to the position of mere feudatories of the Cholas who now became the great suzerain power of South India. The Malanad (Hill country, West Coast, or Malabar) was more than once invaded by the Cholas at this time, and they doubtless drew tribute from one or more Malayali chiefs. These invasions, however, do not seem to have left any permanent traces on the country or to have given rise to any political changes among the ruling families.

The Chola supremacy in South India continued throughout the 12th century A.D; it attained its widest bounds probably in the reign of Kulottunga Chola (from about 1064 to 1113 AD.) and in 1170 A.D., Madura, the Pandyan capital city, had become incorporated in the Chola dominions.

Political Organisation in Malabar

Below the suzerain power of Malabar were a number of chieftains or princes (Udayavar, literally owners) of Nads (countries), including among them the well-known families of Venad (Travancore), Eranad (Zamorin), Vallavand, and Nedum-puraiyanad (Palghat).

The Nad was the territorial organisation of the ruling Nayars. It was divided into a number of Desams or villages. The Tara was a Nayar organisation and was not conterminous with the Desam or the village. One Desam may have more than one Tarawad and sometimes a Tara included two or more villages. The Nayar inhabitants of a Tara formed a tribal Government, as it were, under the patriarchal rule of their Karanavar. These Karanavars formed the ‘Six Hundred’ who were the supervisors (Kanakkar) and protectors of the Nad. Their duty according to the Keralolpatti was “to prevent the rights from being curtailed or suffered to fall into disuse”. They were in short the custodians of ancient rights and customs; they chastised the chieftains’ ministers when they committed unwarrantable acts, and were the ‘Parliament’ of the land.

Each village and Nad had its hereditary chief who was subject to the king of the country. He paid a certain sum of money annually to the king in addition to the men and provisions. In his own little dominion he was absolute. This was the case in the northern parts of Malabar as then known. No vestiges of it are to be now found as a political organisation in any part of Travancore except the Tarawad and the rule of the Karanavans, which prevailed universally throughout the coast.

Mr. Logan in his Malabar Manual makes mention of three deeds, one granted by Bhaskara Ravi Varma in 700 A.D, another by Viraraghava Chakravarti in 774 A.D.and the third by Sthanu Ravi Gupta in 824 A.D., and draws from them certain inferences regarding the political organisation of Kerala. Prof. Kielhorn and Mr. Venkayya consider that the Kottayam plate of Viraraghava belongs to 1320 A.D., and not to 774 A.D. There is also reason to suppose that these grants are spurious. For, at least in one case, the Portuguese version of the grant does not in the least agree with the Sanskrit version of the same. Until the dates of these grants are ascertained with any certainty, it would be idle to speculate upon their contents or on the names of the sovereigns mentioned in them.

We do not know what the divisions of Kerala were at this period. Mr. Ellis considered that Malabar was divided into chieftainships (Udayavar) about 389 A.D. Nor are we in a position to state anything definitely as to the sovereigns who ruled over Venad till the beginning of the 12th century A.D. From an inscription in the Temple of Mahavishnu at Parthivapuram, it would appear that between the years 149 M.E and 106 M.E. (974-981 A.D.), there ruled over Venad two kings — Kodai Aditya Varma and Virakerala Varma, but more definite information is awaited from the archaeological researches in progress.

The People

Custom was the law of the land. Agriculture was the chief occupation. Trade was in the hands of foreigners. The inhabitants were Brahmins, Nayars and the lower castes. The Jews and the Christians occupied probably only selected spots on the coast. Mr. Logan is of opinion that the Vedic Brahmins must have arrived in Malabar in the early part of the 8th century A.D., and not earlier and that they must have come by the coast from the Tulu country. But the arguments on which his conclusions are based will not bear any critical scrutiny. As has been shown in the section on Ancient History, there is convincing evidence that South India and Malabar had become Brahminised at a very early date.

The language spoken by the people at this period was probably Tamil. Dr. Caldwell holds that Malayalam is a recent language derived from Tamil. Dr. Gundert thinks that Malayalam and Tamil had a common source. But from the Stanzas from Nannul and Tolkapyam quoted above, it is clear that a large part of this country was Kodun Tamilnad (the tract of country where corrupt Tamil was spoken). Probably it was from this period that Sanskrit words began to be largely incorporated into the native tongue.


After Parasurama, the founder of Keralam, no name is more intimately connected with the religious and social history of the people on this coast, than that of the great Brahmin savant and reformer, Sri Sankaracharya. To the historian of Travancore, Sankara’s life is important for, (1) he was a native of Travancore, (2) his name is so closely associated with the reform of society, (3) he overthrew Buddhism and (4) he popularised Saivite and Smarta forms of worship throughout India. His life and teachings which have shed lustre throughout the Indian continent will be referred to, in detail, later on.

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