apart, the first set of people who left their footprints
on the soil of Kerala can be identified at present only
with reference to their burial practices. Though records
are lacking, a reasonable assumption is that they spoke
an archaic form of Tamil. They constructed strange burial
monuments in granite, literate and pottery, most of which
are strikingly similar to the megalithic monuments of West
Europe and Asia.
monuments are, however, younger than their counterparts
in the rest of Asia. Historians have postulated a time bracket
between 10th century BC and 5th century AD for these people.
It is clear from the grave relics, including iron tridents
and daggers, that the megalithic builders had long emerged
out of the stone age into the iron age without passing through
a bronze age. In fact, there is very little evidence of
the old and the new stone ages in Kerala.
is quite possible that the Mauryan invaders who reached
the Mysore borders in their conquest southwards, encountered
the megalith making tribes who lived in hill forts and controlled
the surrounding countryside. Fortunately, a whole corpus
of ancient Tamil literature known to scholars by the name
of Sangham literature, has been preserved.
is believed that during the period of Asoka the Great, the
southern most tribes were just emerging from the tribal
status of civilization. Contacts with the more advanced
Mauryan world could have accelerated the pace of political
and social movement among the Cheras and the minor chieftains
the Cheras had their capital at Vanchi in the interior,
they had the famous harbour towns of Tyndis and Muziris
on the Arabian Sea coast for trade. The Cheras ruled over
the central portion of the present day Kerala. They seemed
to have attracted a good deal of Roman trade. There are
vivid descriptions in Sangham literature of Yavana ships
coming to Muziris, laden with gold and waiting for pepper,
the black gold of the Romans, at some distance from the
shore. The hoards of Roman gold coins unearthed from Kottayam
and Eyyal in Kerala authenticity to such statements. There
were a number of other minor chieftains who flourished in
different parts of Kerala.
sage Agastya is the father of Tamil grammar and literature
and the entire social world of Kerala, as part of Tamilakam
(Tamil land) is reflected in the rich collection of secular
poems which form the characteristic legacy of the Sangham
with the Mauryan empire gave the first impulse for the transformation
of tribal policy into civilized polity. The stimulus of
overseas trade provided by the Roman empire in the first
three centuries of the Christian era triggered off the next
phase of development in Tamilakam.
geographical advantages, i.e., the abundance of pepper and
other spices, the navigability of the rivers connecting
the high mountains with the seas and the discovery of favourable
trade winds which carried sailing ships directly from the
Arabian coast to Kerala in less than forty days, combined
to produce a veritable boom in Kerala's foreign trade. The
harbours of Naura near Kannur, Tyndis near Quilandy, Muziris
near Kodungallor and Bacare near Alappuzha owed their existence
primarily to the Roman trade. Roman contact with Kerala
might have given rise to small colonies of Jews and Syrian
Christians in the chief harbour towns of Kerala. The Jews
of Kochi believe that their ancestors came to the west coast
of India as refugees following the destruction of Jerusalem
in the first century AD The Syrian Christians claim to be
the descendants of the converts of St. Thomas, one of the
Apostle of Jesus Christ. Arab contacts are also very ancient
and Islam came to Kerala as far back as the 9th century
fourth and fifth centuries witnessed the decline and fall
of the western Roman empire. A shriveling of the Roman sea
trade followed, leading in its turn, to a decline of the
harbour towns like Tyndis and Muziris. Further, political
incursions from the north into Tamilakam took place. The
traditions of Namboodiris (Kerala Brahmins) recorded in
the Keralolpatti chronicle refer to Mayurvarman, the Kadamba
king, as their patron during the period the after Parasurama.
A Kadamba record of the 5th century at the Edakkal cave
in Wayanad bears testimony to the Kadamba presence in Kerala.
last phase of the Sangham age coincided with a silent revolution
that was brewing within the social system in Kerala. By
about the 8th century, a chain of thirty two Brahmin settlements
had come up, which eventually paved the way for the social,
cultural and political separation of Kerala from the Tamil
country, in due course. These colonies were capable of producing
a great philosopher, Sankaracharya.
Sankara was born in the village of Kaladi in central Kerala.
He was an intellectual giant of the 9th century, who saved
the Hindu orthodoxy through the synthesis of cults and who
can well be ranked with St. Thomas of Acquinas in clarity
of thought and understanding. He was a product of the post
Sangham, new Aryan settlements of Kerala, who were far removed
from the cradle - land of the Indo - Gangetic civilization.
whole of Kerala came to be covered by a network of temple
centered Brahmin settlements. Under their control, these
settlements had a large extend of land, number of tenants
and the entailing privileges. With more advanced techniques
of cultivation, sociopolitical organization and a strong
sense of solidarity, the Brahmins gradually formed the elite
of the society. They succeeded in raising a feudal fighting
class and ordered the caste system with numerous graduations
of upper, intermediate and lower classes. In due course,
the consolidation of these settlements and the establishments
of their ascendancy gradually led to the evolution of a
new Malayalee language and a new Malayalee culture, the
separate identity of Kerala was in the making.
ninth century raised the curtain of a new epoch in Kerala
history. The ancient capital of Vanchi fell into the hands
of the Pandyas. The vanquished rulers founded a new capital
near the old harbour city of Muciri (Muziri), now known
as Kodungalloor. The new capital was called Makotai or Mahodayapura
and was built around the great Siva temple of Tiruvanchikulam.
No trace of the palace at Makotai remains today. The author
of the Kokasandesa found it in ruins even in the 16th century.
He saw in the ruins yet another example of the fickle nature
of the goddess of prosperity.
revival of the Chera kingdom was actually a byproduct of
the Aryan Brahmin settlements and assumption of the socio-political
dominance they had established. The Perumal was the Lord
of Mahodayapura and the overlord of Kerala (Keraladhinatha).
But his sovereignty was constrained by the preexisting power
of the Brahmin settlements and the hereditary chieftains.
Each Nadu or District had its own hereditary or nominated
governor. Thus the great feudatories were the hereditary
governors of Kolathunad, Purakizhanad, Kurumpanad, Eranad,
Valluvanad, Kizhamalanad, Vempalanad and Venad.The northernmost
district of Kolathunad was almost independent and was brought
under Chera sovereignty by force towards the end of the
9th century. Venad, the southernmost district, was carved
out of the ancient territory of the Vels. A new harbour
city, named Kollam, was established here in AD 825. In the
course of time, it became the second capital of the Cheras
of Makotai. Kollam gradually gained in trade and prosperity
under the leadership of Mar Sapir Iso, the Syrian Christian
merchant prince. The founding of Kollam city marked the
beginning of an era, which came into use all over Kerala
and parts of the Pandyan kingdom and even in Ceylon by astronomers
and officials, who tagged it on to the Saptarishi era. The
Kollam era came to be known as the Malayalam era.
beginning of the 12th century marked a period of
troubled times for Kerala. The attack by the combined
forces of the Cholas and the Pandyas
and internal conflicts in the Chera kingdom made
Rama Kulasekhara the Perumal, decided to leave the
country in the company of some Arab Muslims. He
is believed to have been converted into Islam and
have died at a place called Sapher in Arabia. This
event has been referred to as the partition of Kerala.
In the absence of a central power, the divisions
of the Chera kingdom soon emerged as principalities
under separate chieftains. These were crucial events
which shaped the destinies of Kerala, for many centuries
to come. In this period, Kerala was chiefly a land
of agricultural villages. Society had a feudal complexion
with a graded hierarchy, hereditary occupations
and well-defined duties and responsibilities for
each class of people. Proprietorship of land was
closely related to political power and administration.
peculiarity of the social system in Kerala which
comes to notice in the epigraphic and literary records
of this age is the matrilineal form of inheritance.
In spite of the predominantly agrarian character
of society, trade and commerce flourished. Hill
products from the Western Ghats carried down, by
the many rivers, to the natural harbours on the
Arabian Sea secured an expanding market in West
Asia and Europe. A number of Jewish and Christian
traders exploited this situation with the help of
the monsoon. The native chieftains overlooked the
differences in faith and race and extended them
religious tolerance as well as social equality.
These merchants were not inclined to or capable
of disturbing established order. In fact, Syrian
Christian and Jewish leaders like Mar Sapir Iso
and Joseph Rabban came to the rescue of Chera kings
in times of war and thereby earned their gratitude
in full measure.