RSS Feed

The Cheraman sword

Posted by Maddy Labels: ,

As one reads books on Malabar history, especially focusing on Calicut and the Zamorin lineage, one come across mentions of a sword that was gifted to the Puntura brothers Manavedan and Manavikraman, by the erstwhile ruler Cheraman Peruymal with a violent blessing.



The picture of the sword and its sheath is attached as well as the inscription on the sheath – which stated ‘Ningal chattum konnum atakki kolka’ - loosely translated as 'die, kill and annex (seize)'. It obviously makes that piece of weaponry very symbolic and important, if it still exists. Let’s take a look at the sword, its implications, importance and present whereabouts. It was after all a symbolic sword that provided the Zamorin’s of the yesteryears the legal right to do what they did and the license to annex and conquer vast portions of Malabar and assert their claims to them.

Recently at the Calicut Heritage forum meeting, Advocate Suresh questioned – How could that blessing sound right? Can you die and still continue the conquest? Well, that was an interesting question indeed.

While some historian’s have stated that the original itself was handed over by the Perumal in a broken condition, other historians state that it was a proper sword until the Dutch attack of the Zamorin’s rest house in Tiruvanchikulam - Kodungallur in 1670, which they set fire to, in dastardly fashion.

The sword itself has been called ‘Udaval’ and Otimaval (Otinjaval?) by historians. The former means ‘A curved sword carried with the body along the waist’ whereas the latter means a broken sword. The present Zamorin mentioned in a discussion with the author that it was indeed in one piece, and had been remade from the broken part, after having been destroyed in a fire during a war with the Dutch. He also mentioned that the sword is now kept in the Tali temple and taken out only for ceremonious occasions.

The destruction of the sword

The time of the Zamorin 1668-71, who was the Thamburan assisted by the Portuguese Pacheo – The story is set during the time the Nayars had been defeated and the Dutch had destroyed the round fort erected their bastion in Tiruvanchikulam in 1669.

KV Krishna Iyer describes the event thus- In the following year, the Zamorin though sickly, was persuaded by the Eralpad to go to Cranganore to encourage the Nayars. The Dutch surprised the Zamorin camp on March 27th. By an inexplicable oversight, the Eralpad had allowed the bulk of the Nairs to go to the Cherpu for the Ashvathi festrival. The Dutch broke into the temple, smashed the idols, killed the priest and set fire to the house. In the confusion of the night, the nairs forgot to remove the Cheraman sword and it was burnt to cinders. The Zamorin retired to Papinivattom and the Eralpad recaptured the bastion.


Historian NM Nampoothiri opines as follows -When the Zamorin was a ruling chief, all public activities were suspended for fourteen days after the previous Zamorin’s death, and resumed only after the Ariyittu valcha, which immediately followed by Tiruvantali. The last ritualistic procedure conducted in this period is the Tirubali. The coronation function starts after Tirubali. The Zamorins proceeds to his private chapel to worship the Goddess and the Cheraman Sword. The original sword was reduced into splinters in AD. 1670, at Cranganore, where the Zamorins were camping, in the course of a surprise attack by the Dutch. The document, which describes this incident, has now been rediscovered.


Herman Gundert - Explains the dastardly night attack on March 23rd, 1670 when the Zamorin lost his wife and his son was injured while they came to attend the Bharani festival (see the difference between the Iyer & Gundert explanations). It was also the day when the original Perumal sword was destroyed. He also mentions in his Keralolpathi version thus - The traditions proudly recounted that they got only a broken sword (from the Perumal), to confuse the issue

In the Duarte Barbosa book by ML Dames, JA Thorne gives an account of the Val Puja done during the Ariyittuvazcha. He explains that the sword is worshipped daily by the Zamorin, and that the sword is lain at the feet of the Bhagavati when he dies. Until a new Zamorin is appointed, the priest does the daily chores of worship to the sword. The val puja is again carried out by the new Zamorin on his first day’. M A Thorne, who annotated the Longworth Dames version of Barbos;as book states that he had seen the sword, and that it is a quasi sacred relic to the Zamorin. It was brought out in a salvar decked with ‘jamanthi’ flowers. By the late 19th century it had already rusted to pieces, according to him.

J Heniger in his book (Pg 35) Hendrik Adriaan van Reede tot Drakenstein (1636-1691) and Hortus Malabaricus ... confirms the event stating that the Zamorin’s wife was mortally wounded and son shot in the leg that fateful night. The rains came soon after and van Rheede retreated to their base in Ceylon. Ironically, it was Henrich van Rheede’s first success as commander, marching in with 900 soldiers sent to him by Van Goens, but it was a cheap method adopted i.e. setting fire to a private house occupied by women & children, at night, well against the norms of war in those days.

However most other history books missed van Rheede’s presence in 1670, while many of them do account for his formal arrival to Cochin in 1676. J Heninger’s has to be right here, so it was indeed the revered van Rheede who was instrumental in destruction of the treasured Cheraman Sword. Nevertheless, many historians have since then mentioned that the rusted blade of the sword was covered with a protective covering of copper.


Picture below shows the present Zamorin PKS Raja holding the remains of the famous sword.

During the Mamankham too, the sword was used symbolically, as quoted below from Nayars of Malabar- F Fawcett

It was on this spot, on a smooth plateau of hard laterite rock, raised some 3oto4o feet above the plain, that the Zamorin used several times in the course of the festival to take his stand with the sword of Cheraman Perumal, the last emperor, in his hand.

" The sword is and has been for centuries, slowly rusting away in its scabbard, but it is not alone on it that the Zamorin depends for his safety, for the plain below him is covered with the 30,000 Nayars of Ernad, the 10,000 of Polanad and numberless petty dependent chieftains, each counting his fighting men by the hundred or the thousand or by thousands. Away on the right across the river are the camps of the second prince of the Zamorin's family and of the dependent Punnattur Raja ; the third, fourth, fifth, and sixth princes' camps too are close at hand in the left front behind the temple, and behind the terrace itself is the Zamorin's camp.

The Ullanat family website provides this interesting - According to the ancient history of Kerala narrated in the poetic work called “Keralam” by Kunhikuttan Thampuran, Cheraman Perumal, the last Chera king of Kerala, relinquished his kingdom and divided the land amongst the various smaller chieftains and gave them independence. This event is said to have given rise to various new kingdoms being formed within Kerala. The Zamorin (Samuthiri) who was absent during this event of partition later met Cheraman Perumal. Cheraman Perumal gave his last four possessions to the Samuthiri namely

1) his sword, which was bent inward,
2) a broken conch,
3) the last remaining portion of land (which was to evolve later as the city called Kozhikode)

and

4) his faithful servant - the Ullanat Panicker (who was known as the Palliyara Panicker of Cheraman Perumal). Perumal gave Samuthiri permission to conquer and keep all the land he could by his might.

The site also has a picture of a bent sword, and the Cherman sword could very well have looked like that in old times. The Malayalam poetry extract testifies to the above.

Another interesting observation turns up at the Ponmileri house website This sword, apparently had an inauspicious story attached to it, or auspicious depending on which religion analyses the story. Naveen posts a short account of Ponmileri Koroth House in North Malabar.

At the time of the famous Cheraman Perumal, a member of this family was serving them as a faithful karyasthan. One day when Cheruman Perumal was out for a walk, he forgot to take his sword, which was kept in his bedchamber. The young Nayar gentlemen when he entered the bedroom found that the wife of the Perumal occupied it. He asked this lady for the sword, and she, who was enamored of him, requested him to satisfy her longings. As he was very faithful to his lord he stoutly refused her request, whereupon she became angry made wounds on her person herself and began to raise a hue and cry. Cheruman Perumal on finding that his karyasthan had not returned even after a long time, returned to his house when he was told by his wife that this karyasthan had approached her with evil requests and that when he refused to comply with his desires he had made wounds on her person. Perumal on finding the marks on her body was satisfied with the story and without taking the trouble of knowing the truth of the affair sentenced this Nayar to death by the sword. As his head was being severed from the body by the sword a voice was heard to exclaim "the Perumal who easily believes a women's story go to Mecca and be a Mohemmadan" (Penncholu ketta perumaale makkathu poyi thopiyitto). The family of this Nayar was thereafter known as the family of Vaduvilla Nayar(Nayar without stain), which by corruption became Paduvillan Nayar.

The Cherman Perumal’s story which follows is covered in the blog

And that my friends, is the known history of the sword that started the reign of the Zamorin’s of Calicut and the involvement of Van Rheede who gave us the famed Hortus malabaricus with it.



Pic - Extracted from Logan's Malabar Manual

6 comments:

  1. P.N. Subramanian

    Very interesting. Can you dig out some more authetic information about this Cheraman Perumal. He is a crucial link for many things.

  1. Maddy

    Thanks PNS..

    this article done earlier covers the Perumal to some degree.

    http://historicalleys.blogspot.com/2008/12/perumal-and-pickle.html

  1. Shahid

    Good One..i am not an historian,but i am very much interested in reading history,,,if i get time to peak in iwill be readin all your posts here,,, :) following u now..tc

  1. Cheranadu

    Cheraman Perumal was a Tamil ruler from Chera dynasty. Samuthiri was not a Tamil but more related to Karnatakas Bunts of Tulunadu.It is a false story created to authenticate the Samuthiri rule.How can Cheraman Perumal a Tamil ruler give his sword to Samuthiri who closely resembles a Bunt of Tulunadu who were his arch enemies?.Did the sword have any Tamil Vatteluttu inscriptions ? Did Samuthiri ever talk Tamil? Samuthiris used Tulu Script to write Malaylam not Tamil. Samuthiris appears in Kerala history after the attack of Malik Kafur around 1310 AD ie two hundred years after the end of last Chera ruler in 1102 AD.Matriarchy existed in the enemy territories of Chera kingdom ie Tulunadu since fourth century AD.One of the subgroups of Bunt community of Karnataka is Samantha Kshatriya who are the ancestors of
    Samuthiris and Kolathiris .Other Bunt surnames such as Nayara Menava and Kuruba.It is obvious that the Bunts of Karnataka moved to Kerala after the attack of Malik Kafur and when the Delhi sulthanate was ruling Kerala to establish principalities who had Bunt customs in the fourteenth century. Keralolpathi tries to project Cheraman Perumal as a Matriarchal Bunt from Tulunadu.In his Tamil work Perumal Thirumozhi, the first king of Later Chera dynasty Kulasekhara Alwar testifies himself as a Tamil not a Bunt. Keralolpathi calls all the the Tulunadu and Karnataka rulers as Cheraman Perumals.History The Imperial Tamil Chera rulers never practiced Matriarchy, Polyandry or Naga Worship and were well dressed. The Bunt rulers after 1310 practiced Matriarchy,Polyandry and Naga worship which Chera rulers never practiced.
    Cheraman Perumal talked Tamil,followed Patrilineal inheritence,wrote in Vatteluttu , Tamil and among the Tripartitite Tamil Kingdoms.Chera rulers survived atleast 1500 yrs starting from 400 BC. The Tamil Sangam literature such as Pathitupathu and Silappatikaram portay the Chera way of life in the early years of Christianity.
    The Chera kings were pestered by the northern invaders from Tulunadu such as Kadambas and other Karnataka empires such as Rashtrakutas and Chalukyas constantly. The Nagas brought by the Kadamba king by Mayuravarma from Ahichatra in Uttarpradesh in the fourth cenury AD were the enemies of Chera kings. Tamil Chera king such as Neduncheralathan successfully repulsed and defeated the Kadamba kings in the fourth century AD.Though some Tulu people worked as musicicians and priests during the later Chera kingdom between 800 AD - 1102 AD none of the Chera inscriptions supports the idea that Tulu people were controlling Kerala.
    However after the decline of of Chera Kings in 1102 AD the Bunts started moving towards south and after the invasion of Malik Kafur and when the Delhi sulthanate was ruling south India between 1328 and 1335 Bunts created Matriarchal dynasties throughout Kerala. The Naga kingdoms of Kerala were primitive compared to the sophisticated Chera kingdom.
    It is possible that the Cheraman sword was given by the Cherman Perumal to one of his Tamil relatives. Samuthiri just found it somewhere.

  1. PONDHEEPANKAR

    Cheraman Perumal is one of the 63 Saivite Nayanmars and a contemporary of Sundaramoorthy Nayanar. He goes to Kailasam with Sundarar entrusting his kingdom of Chera desam (undivided CBE & Salem dts.) to the head Velir chieftain Velappa Nayinar of the Konga Vellala caste. This is traditional Tamil story.

    Also read some interesting things:

  1. PONDHEEPANKAR

    Read from paragraph 2
    http://archive.org/stream/castestribesofso05thuriala#page/156/mode/2up

    &

    last para
    http://archive.org/stream/castestribesofso05thuriala#page/228/mode/2up


    Kerala ulpathi? Kerala Mahatmyam? or Kerala Vakshakramam??