The Cholas, the Zamorin, and the Perumal’s

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The Chola interregnum 1036-54 – A discussion

One of the popular sources referred to when it comes to the history of the Zamorins of Calicut is the seminal work by KV Krishna Ayyar titled - Zamorins of Calicut (From the earliest times down to AD 1806).  The version available to peruse is the 1938 publication. This was preceded by a concise version - A history of the Zamorins of Calicut Part 1 - (From the earliest times down to A.D. 1498) published in 1929. A latter paper titled – A short sketch of the second dynasty of the Zamorins of Malabar (1742-1774) provided details of the second lineage in the family. In 1965, Ayyar published the limited edition - A history of Kerala and followed it up in 1966 with - A short history of Kerala as well as a short article Calicut under the Zamorins in the Calicut Souvenir 1966. One of the more recent articles is the 1976 – Importance of the Zamorins of Calicut. Over time where he revised some aspects of the original 1938 monograph and made even more revisions in the 60’s and proposed a very interesting hypothesis in the 1976 paper about the Chola presence in Calicut.

As we do most of the time, we try to find the earliest mention of the person or persons who established the Zamorin’s dynasty namely the Nediyirippu Swaroopam. We do know that that it was created in the Eranad, and we also know that the Naduvazhi’s came into being after the disintegration of the Chera empire. The Keralolpatti and a few other sources provide some information of how the Cheraman Perumal gifted a little area Ullanad in Calicut to the two youths who helped him fight an invader, as well as a ceremonial sword and a conch shell.

Let’s start with the 1929 text where Ayyar admits that it was a hasty study - He covers a few of the legends pertaining to the gift of thickets near Calicut and the sword as well as an anklet to the Eradi youths after their success in staving of the attack from the Anagundi Rayar.

He summarizes thus - The whole of Kerala once obeyed the authority of a single ruler styled Cheraman Perurnal. He ruled the seventeen nads that comprised his empire through hereditary governors. As the result of a powerful religious impulse, he resolved to abdicate. Ho had no lawful heir on whom he could lay the burden of state. Before his retirement he provided for the future government of the country by investing the provincial governors with the power and dignity of independent kings over the territories they had formerly ruled under him. The ancestors of the Zamorin were the governors of Ernad, their family seat was Nediyiruppu and the head of the family was known as the Ernad Utayavar. He wa9 a feudatory of the first rank, having no less than 30,000 nayars under his command. He was the son either of the last Perumal or more probably his immediate predecessor by sambandham, His rank and relationship entitled him to a high place in the empire. He also deserved it by his abilitiy. He saved the country by expelling the foreign invader whom the Perumal himself had failed to dislodge. So, when he made him king of Ernad, he also gave him as a mark of his regard his sword of state and a piece of territory along the coast known as Calicut, then overgrown with morass and jungle. (We can also understand that only one of the two youths survived the war and that was Manavikraman). The date of the event is entirely unclear and is presumed to be 342A.D.

Ettan thampuran (my great grandfather) in his Agnivamsacharita (Agnivamsa rajakatha) narrates the story differently – he says - The retiring Perumal gave to Manavikraman, as the reward for his services against the national enemy, the town of Srikandhapuram and the country round it—the present Trikandiyur and Vettetnad. But Manavikraman imediately handed it over to the ancestor of the Vettet family in fulfilment of a promise he had made to him. The Perumal was struck with his vassal's scrupulous regard for the plighted word and in his joy and admiration gave him his sword of state.

According to another version of the Keralolpathi, the Perumal was a lieutenant, not of Krishna Rayar, but of the Chola king, and he established himself permanently in Malabar with the full knowledge and consent of his suzerain. The Chola ascendancy, which resulted from this event, roused the jealousy of the Pandyan king, who invaded Malabar by way of the Anamalais, and secured his conquest by a fort at Taravur. The Perumal assembled a large army at Trikatamathilakam, but with all the courage and strength he could muster, he could not destroy the fort. The Perumal was at his wit’s end. Every day he supplicated his tutelary deity to save him from the calamity. While he was thus invoking divine help to second the efforts of his soldiers, two young men, hailing from Puntura, belonging to the Samanta caste (descended from the Sun), arrived at Tirunavayi on their way from Rameswaram to Benares.

There they fell into conversation with some Brahmins, who were among the trusted ministers of the Perumal, and learnt of the invasion of the Pandyas, the futile attempts of the Perumal to expel the intruders, and of the preparations that were being made for a last effort by sea. No sooner had the Brahmins finished their narrative than the youths, unable to contain themselves, exclaimed: “Send us with the army: we will destroy the fort”. This offer reached the ears of the Perumal, who invited the youths to his palace. Assuring himself of their ability and skill by numerous tests, the Perumal sent them at the head of his 120 captains and 900,000 soldiers……..

At night the Eradis surrounded the fort, the ten thousand taking their station at the northern gate. At last, after a strenuous fighting, which lasted for three days and nights, they expelled the foe, and seized the fort. Elated with the victory of the Samantas, the Perumal summoned the elder to his presence, and seating him in his lap, put on his leg the “anklet of the heroes’’, and installed him as his heir at Calicut. The ten thousand nayars were settled in Polanad, the wealthiest part of his dominions. One division of them was settled at Edakkazhinad, another at Iringadikot, and the most notable among the ten thousand at Calicut itself. The youths then resumed their intercepted pilgrimage and left Chitrakutam for Benares.

In the 1938 book, Ayyar goes with the traditional story and does not focus on the Chola elements. Thus, it was common perception that the Perumal gifted the sword and a portion of Calicut to the youth or youths after they defeated the enemy, and these youths went on to head the Nediyirippu Swaroopam. From the foregoing we see that Eranad already existed as one of the 17 nadus, and since the nadu formation is believed to have come about after the disintegration of the old Chera empire, the second story seems more probable, i.e., the Perumal or overlord was a Chola lieutenant. Its chieftain Eralanadutaiya Manavepala Manaviyan has previously been mentioned as a signatory in important grants.

While all these stories mention that the two bright Samanta youths who later fought the invaders and re-established the Eranad dynasty were iterant souls enroute Benares, other accounts mention them as sons or nephews of the Cheraman Perumal. They all agree that the lads were given a bit of land near Calicut together with the conch, lamp, and the sword, while the Velattiri was given the shield to defend himself. One question remains, why was the land near Calicut of any importance to the lads? They were already nobles from the Eranad, and owners of a huge, landed property and had access to the sea through another Southerly port. Why bother about a bit of land near Calicut? Was it because it was already quite popular and better situated, with calmer waters? Perhaps.

In 1945, Ayyar wrote a paper on the Cherman Perumal where he opined that the Perumal ruled in 726 AD, that the Zamorin was his son through a Nediyirippu princess and the Cochin King his nephew. Perumal was born at the Cera capital of Cranganore in A.D. 742. His mother was the sister of Sengorporiyan, the Cera king, and his father was a Cola prince, who had come to the Cera court to make his fortune. Young Ceraman therefore grew up in the court of his uncle. But very early in his life he moved his residence to the temple of Tiruvanjikkulam to spend his time in serving its Lord. In these activities he found a congenial and sympathetic soul in a lady of the house of Nediviruppu, whom he ultimately married according to the Malabar custom of Sambandham. He had a sister, who married the Perumpatappu Namputiri. On the abdication of Ceraman, years afterwards, his son became the first Zamorin (of Calicut) and his nephew the first ruler (of Cochin) …. To prevent the constant encroachment of Varaguna Pandya, Ceraman joined the Pallavas and the Kongus.  But in A.D. 780 Varaguna defeated his enemies, entered Kerala, established a fortress at Taravur, and returned to Madura, occupying Vilinjam on the way. But his success was only temporary. Manavikraman destroyed Taravur in A.D. 782, and the Venad Adigal recovered Vilinjam in A.D. 792. in A.D. 810, he left Kerala on a grand pilgrimage, after releasing his feudatories from their allegiance to him.

With this background, let us see how the Chera kingdom was decimated by the Chola invaders and how a Chola lieutenant could possibly the Cheramaan Perumal. According to a review of Ayyar’s work by SK Mukopadhyaya -The chief feature of the political history of South India in the first period was the struggle between the Pallavas and the Pandyas and the rise of the Cholas. The Cheras first supported the Pallavas against the Pandyas, and subsequently the Cholas against both. But as soon as the Cholas established their power they turned against the Cheras. This Chola invasion came to an end only with their withdrawal in 1120, the Cheras disappeared, and Kerala broke into a number of petty Kingdoms, each ruled by its own Thampuran. The epoch of the 'Thampurans was perhaps the most brilliant period in the history of Kerala·.

The Cheras were by now headquartered in Makotai – or Muciri in Kodungallur, a dynasty headed by Cheraman Perumal Nayanar (800-844 AD) and this resulted from the Pandyan expansion resulting from attacks from the Kongu side and the Ay country. The Cholas started their expansionist regime but through matrimonial relations, the Cheras aligned with the Cholas, against a common enemy, the Pandya. Together they then took over the overlordship of the Kongu and Ay areas. It is an interesting aspect that the Cheras of Kongu were in a way rivals to the Cheras of Makotai. Later, we see Vellan Kumaran, a Valluvanatu prince who became the commander of the Chola forces under the King Rajaditya. However, in the war which followed Rajaditya lost, and the Chalukyas were on the rise. For some reasons, the relationship between the Cheras and the Cholas worsened and wars broke out between them and continued until the accession of Rajaraja. It was after his arrival that the 100 (988-1089AD) year war phase in Kerala set in, with the first two decades witnessing the attacks on Kantallur Salai followed by complete victory for the Cholas. After the initial wars of Rajaraja, his son RajadhiRaja took over in 1019AD and went onto subjugate the Chera regions. Around 1066, the Cheras shook free and announced their independence. According to MGS, it was in 1122 that the last Cheramaan Perumal abdicated.

The advent of Rajadhiraja 1

Source Nilakanta Sastri, Vol 1, 1935 -  Rebellions in the Pandya and Kerala kingdoms called for severe action, and the extensive campaign undertaken by Rajadhiraja for the suppression of these risings is described in the following terms : “ Among the three allied kings of the South (Though “ tennavar may mean Pandyas it seems possible that here it means only “kings of the South," an alliance between Ceylon (Manabharana) Kerala and Pandya being meant) ……The exact date of this invasion of the Pandya and Kerala countries is unknown. As there are no Pandyan inscriptions of this period, we have only the story as given by the victors and lack the means of checking it from independent sources. Strangely enough, none of the numerous Cola-Pandya inscriptions of the period throws any light on these transactions…..While the strong Villavan (Cera), in his terror (was attacked by pains in the bowels) hid himself in the jungle, (the Cola) put on a fresh (garland of) Vanji flower,  and forthwith destroyed the ships at Kandalur salai on the never-decreasing ocean….In the course of this expedition, on his way from the Pandya country to Kandalur, and most probably as a result of his successful attack on the king of Venad whom he sent to heaven. Rajadhiraja is said to have liberated the king of the Kupakas, a local chieftain of south Travancore, from his bondage apparently to the ruler of Venad.

The death of the Chera King Rajasimha, the rebel

The Chera king or Villavan is assumed to be the last Chera King, named Rajasimha (who was rebelling against the Cholas overlords) and the attack happened circa 1036-1045. Revising his previous inferences, KVK Ayyar in his 1966 Calicut Souvenir article mentions thus. Sometime about A.D. 1036 the last of the Chera, named Rajasimha was defeated with the great slaughter by the Chola Rajadhiraja 1(A.D. 1018-54). On the eve of his fight, he commanded the Eranad feudatory to rally the scattered remnants of his beaten forces, and strike, slay or seize the enemy wherever found, giving his sword of state as sufficient authority. Thus, the Cheramaan sword came into the possession of the Eranad Utayivar whose descendants still keep it as a precious heirloom, worshipping it every day.

The formation of Calicut

In the 1976 paper, Ayyar gives more details as follows.

The Zamorin's ancestors appear for the first time in the Cera emperor Bhaskararavi Varman's grant of A.D. 1000 as Eralanad Utaiyavar (Chief of Eralanad) Manaviyan, whose strength is “Honour and Honour alone". The Zamorin's personal name is invariably Manavikraman or Manavedan (not of any deity or Puranic hero). Rajasimhadeva was the last of the Cera emperors. In 1036 A.D. his army was annihilated at Mullaiyur by the Cola Crown Price Rajadhiraja. The disaster was due to the inability of the Cera king to lead his army person on account of 'pains in his bowels'. The news of the defeat hastened his end. On the eve of his death, he nominated the Eralanad Utaiyavar, who had been attending upon him and who was the only senior nobleman to survive, as his successor and gave him his sword as sufficient authority. Setting aside the Cera prince Rajarajadeva, Rajadhiraja annexed Kerala, appointing Cola generals and officers to hold and govern the newly conquered territory.

To contain and starve the Eralanad Utaiyavar in his own homeland, he (Rajadhiraja) built Kolikkod at the mouth of the Kallayi river to stop his rice imports. Unfortunately, Rajadhiraja died in A.D. 1054 and after his death, the Cola garrisons and officers began to withdraw. As the new generation had grown up during the Cola interregnum (1036-1054) without a Cera Emperor to rally round, they (The Zamorin’s ancestors) assumed the title of Kon or Tiri, meaning king. The Eralanad Utaiyavar however kept the Cera Emperor's Sword with him, and the princes, who did not recognize the authority conferred by the Cheraman Sword, later on began to attribute their defeat and the Zamorin's success to its virtues, rather than to his superior prowess. The Porlatiri or chief of Polanad, who occupied Kolikkod after Rajadhiraja's death, harassed the Zamorin's imports and exports through the Kallayi river. So, the Zamorin drove him out and occupied Kolikkod. To remove its Cola associations, he changed its name to Puntura and assumed the title of Punturakkon sometime before A.D. 1100; nevertheless, Kolikkod continued to remain in popular parlance. Ayyar explains- Kolikkod, traditionally explained fort as small as a hencoop, was historically perhaps a fort built by Colas (from Koli meaning Cola, and Kod fort). It became Kalikut in Arabic and Persian and Calicut in the European records.

By this Ayyar hypothesizes that Rajasimhadeva (Ravi Kotha Rajasimha (1021–1036 CE)) is the Cheraman Perumal of Keralolpathi, since the sword the Zamorin is given is the Cheraman sword.

Now let us take a look at what other history stalwarts have to say

MGS Narayanan – Perumals of Kerala - Looking a MGS’s study, he does not pause at Rajasimha and establishes a continued dynasty, The Chera Kings who came to power following Rajasimha’s death were Rajaraja, Ravi Rama Rajaditya, and Adityan Kotha Ranaditya preceded Ravi Varma Kulashekara. Ravi Varma Kulashakara Perumal and the Cheras took to the sea in 1122, aligning with the Keralolpathi story. While he says that the Eralnadu existed from the time of the last Chera sovereign, the area of Kozhikode may have been gifted to the governor’s younger brother for his military services. The senior Manaveda may have died in battle. Manavikrama later shifted to Kozhikode.

The last Chera according to Ayyar therefore is the 1036 Chera, while according to MGS it is Ramavarma Kulashekara of 1122 (this is the mainstay of his 1972 thesis and the book Perumals of Kerala), ~100 years thereafter.

An additional corroboration for MGS’s conclusion is provided by a medieval manipravalam poem (Kunjan Pillai, Haridas) - "no one can take on Nediyirippu head on, as it was on the ruler of that territory that the last of the Cheramans - Ramavarma, conferred [the gift of land] with libations of water on the sword". This implies that the last Cera ruler (Ceraman) was named Ramavarma. K Sivasankaran Nair - Prachina Keralathinde Charitram (History of Ancient Kerala) in his analysis, howver disagrees with MGS alluding that the subsequent Perumals were Venad rulers, not Mahodaya Perumal’s.

Let us go back and check how KVK explained this in his History of Kerala written in 1965. He is suspicious about the Kulashekara perumal and doubts if he was a Chera. He concludes the Kulashekara Chakravarti was the Venad chief Ramar Tiruvadi. He dismisses the Cheramam Perumal story of the Keralolpatti as a myth and insists that Rajasimha was the last of the Cheras and that this was when the Cheraman sword was given to the Eranad youths. That he continued to hold this view until 1976, is clear from his 1976 paper on the Zamorins. He also makes it clear that there is total agreement by others, that the sword and instructions were given to the Eradi youths of Nediyirippu from the other chiefs, so it is a fact, further proven by the possession of the sword by the Nediyirippu Swaroopam.

One can conclude that the 1976 study of Ayyar and his hypothesis supersedes the earlier myths, but Iyer’s conclusion of RajadhiRaja building Kolikkod is quite tenuous, for he bases it entirely on the following vague paragraph provided by Nilakanta Sastri. I could not quite figure it out. In some of the aforesaid sources, there is a mention that the Eradi youths were from Puntura and it is perceived that the Puntura in this case is the Beypore/Ponnani harbor. However, it also becomes clear that there was a competing and better harbor up north, namely the Kallayi harbor of Kozhikode, which the Zamorin eventually wrested away from the Porlathiri, who was until then the lord of the sea.

While all these stories mention that the two bright Samanta youths who later fought the invaders and established the Zamorin dynasty, were iterant souls enroute Benares, later accounts mention them as sons of the Cheraman Perumal. They all agree that they were given the conch and the sword, while the Velatiri was given the shield to defend himself. A prominent outcome of the Chola - Chera war during the eleventh century was the disintegration of the patrilineal or makkathayam system. Considering that the youths were the sons of the Perumal, the nephew had a greater right, and this resulted in many wars thereafter between the Zamorin and the other aspirants.

From the Kerala Avakasa Kraman, we can note - There is also a tradition that the great Cheraman Perumal had married a woman of the Samanthan caste and had several sons and daughters. His daughters by the legitimate wife were allowed to enter into wedlock with the Brahmans, while those of the Samantha wife formed matrimonial alliances with the then rulers of territories, and the first son by the Samantha woman and his nephews became the Zamorins of Calicut.

Let’s get to the next item - To contain and starve the Eralanad Utaiyavar in his own homeland, he built Kolikkod at the mouth of the Kallayi river to stop his rice imports. Unfortunately, Rajadhiraja died in A.D. 1054 and after his death, the Cola garrisons and officers began to withdraw - This implies that the Eranad Utaiyavar was one of the chiefs fielding Chavers against the Chola kings. But from a previous conclusion regarding the usage Puntura, we know that he had access to Beypore, so the blockade may not have had an impact on rice imports, unless all rice traders were at Calicut.

As the new generation had grown up during the Cola interregnum (1036-1054) without a Cera Emperor to rally round, they assumed title of Kon or Tiri, meaning king…..To remove its Cola associations he changed its name to Puntura and assumed the title of Punturakkon; nevertheless Kolikkod continued to remain in popular parlance -(Quilon Inscription of Cingam 278 M.E., August 1102 A.D. Travancore Archaeological Series, Vol. V, pp. 41) Puntura is generally explained as a corruption of the Tamil Perumturai or great (Perum) harbor (turai) . But it seems better to derive this word from the Arabic Bantar meaning port; for Calicut owes its importance as a port. Zamorin is also called Punturakkon Punturesen. Interestingly MGS in his paper feels Puntura is a place near Vilinjam, and that the title Punturakon was conferred to him by the Chera Perumal due to the bravery exhibited in the Vilinjam battle, but to me it is confusing to say the least!!

The Malabar Gazetteer adds - Ernad formerly comprised the náds of south Parappanád, Rámnád, Chéranád and Ernad, the first named belonging to the Parappanád Rája, a feudatory of the Zamorin. Nediyiruppu in ancient Ernad is by one account the birthplace of the Zamorin's family; and to this day the second Rája is known as the Eralpád Rája, and the family is sometimes called the Erádi or Nediyiruppu dynasty. The nád has belonged to the Zamorin for a very long time, and he is probably the Udayavar of Ernad mentioned in the Jews' and Syrians' deeds, the date of which is certainly not later than the 8th century A.D.

From the above we can see that while MGS Narayanan, following Elamkulam’s line establishes that the last Perumal was Rama Varma Kulashekara Perumal who abdicated in 1102, following which the Zamorins came to power and established it with the Cheramaan Sword, KVK Ayyar as late as 1972 maintained that the Zamorin obtained the sword from the Chera chief Rajasimha in 1036. Ayyar believes that the original fort at Calicut must have been built by the Cholas to starve the Eranad lot and predates the Porlathiri.

I have to continue sleuthing for the additional references which Ayyar may have come across and verified, those which made him obstinately cling to the 1036 dating, after having drifted from his earlier 8th-9th century dating of the Perumal. Until then, let’s stew on these two divergent views, which like many other aspects of Kerala history is confusing, and continue to keep researchers and historians in business.

A document collected and archived in the 15-16th century, at its outset mentions a flood (or tsunami) and the consequent submerging of much of the Kerala/Malayala lands, and the emergence of the new lands in AD 390. It goes on to detail 204 years of Perumal rule following the Kerala raja’s rule ending in 453AD, with each of the 17 rulers ruling the land for 12 years, after which the last Shankara Cheraman Perumal abdicated. This incidentally is not the Calicut version of the Keralolpatti and is still being reviewed by me. Interestingly, if the departure of this last Perumal to Mecca had been around 630 A.D., it would have allowed him to meet the Prophet Mohammed (570-632), as alluded to by some other early writers!

As Mukopadyaya mentioned - Krishna Ayyar has no theory to prove, no model to sustain.  He writes history as he collects information and is ready to revise his opinion in the light of fresh evidence that may be discovered in future. He quotes Hecataeus (550 B.C.) to say that history should be based on verifiable evidence. This gives an insight into the methodology he followed and his attitude to sources…. The only difference between 'history and other sciences is that we cannot test historical laws by contrived experiments'. History, he tells us, is philosophy teaching by examples, the examples being themselves the premises on which laws and their tests are based.


KV Krishna Ayyar books & papers as below

A history of the Zamorins of Calicut Part 1 - (From the earliest times down to AD 1498) pub 1929.

Zamorins of Calicut 1938

Cheraman Perumal a new study – 1945

A history of Kerala 1966

Calicut under the Zamorins - 1966

A short history of Kerala 1966

The importance of the Zamorins of Calicut - Proceedings of the Indian History Congress, 1976,


Perumals of Kerala – MGS Narayanan

Manavikrama alias Punturakkon of Eranad - M.G.S. Narayanan


The emergence of a medieval south Indian kingdom: Calicut under the Zamorins - Haridas v.v.

Pracheena Keralathinde Charitram - K Sivasankaran Nair

Pics - Wikimedia, acknowledged with thanks