Period in Kerala History
Sangam Age was followed by a long dark night in Chera history;
Chera history of the sixth, seventh, and eighth centuries is buried
in obscurity except for a few glimpses from the records of the
South Indian powers like the Chalukyas, Pallavas, Pandyas, Kalabhras.
and Rashtrakutas who claim that they destroyed Chera power.
There is every reason to believe their testimonies because the
Cheras ceased to exist as a political power east of the Western
Ghats. They had to leave their home in the plains and flee
across the Ghats to a new home in the jungles of Kerala.
Naturally, it took the Cheras some 200 years to clear the forests,
fight the wild animals. and build new homes -- first with the
abundant wood available on the new land--and later sturdier homes
with granite and laterite. It was during their long wandering
and nomadic life in the jungles of the Western Ghats that they
left many of their megaliths behind to honor their dead ancestors
and deceased heroes. The fact that no valuables are found
in these burial sites indicates that they did not have many valuables
with them, for they were poor, despoiled wanderers.
claim that the Keralites came from the eastern plains has linguistic
support in the plain fact that Malayalam is very closely related
to Tamil, an early form of which both Keralites and Tamilians
once spoke, and especially in the expressions that "the sun rises
kizhakku" (east, literally "from below") and "sets meekku"
(west, literally "above the hills"); only people who lived east
of the western Ghats could use such expressions, as Bishop Caldwell
had pointed out.
was only after the arrival of the Cheras on the West Coast in
the seventh and eighth centuries that Cranganore and Quilon became
major trade centers. It is very likely that foreign trade
centers shifted from the East Coast to the west Coast. This
way all the claims of early historians about the importance of
the West-Coast ports can be supported and substantiated-The West
Coast of Kerala became important and prosperous only in the eighth
century; there is no substantial evidence at all to support the
claim for an earlier civilization south of Ezhimala and north
major impetus for the rise of a new civilization among the Cheras
on the West Coast came with the arrival of the Aryan Brahmin missionaries.
Aryanisation process, of course, started earlier and was well
underway during the domination of the western Chalukyas who were
Vaishnavites and the Rashtrakutas who were Saivites. As
mentioned earlier, six outstanding Brahmin scholars arrived with
a batch of new immigrant Brahmin families and humiliated Buddhists
in debates in the eighth century and established the supremacy
of the Hindu religion. They opened a seminary for the teaching
of the Vedas and the Vedanta. Sankaracharya in the ninth
century became the great champion of Orthodox Hinduism not only
in Kerala but in the whole of India. The spread of the Bhakti-cult
in the ninth century under the patronage of Kulasekhara Alwar,
alias Cheraman Perumal Nayanar, further advanced the cause of
Hinduism among the masses.
The predominance of Brahminism in Kerala society was like the
domin-ance of the Catholic Church in Europe in the Middle Ages.
The priests established themselves first as the highest
and privileged class of society. The Brahmins, like the
Catholic clergy, controlled the political and social institutions
by being advisers and ministers to kings, the cultural activities
by initiating and directing them, the information system by establishing
and maintaining all education-al institutions, and the masses
by the oracle of religion and the magical power of the sacraments.
As historian Sreedhara Menon puts it, "the caste system was foisted
on a casteless society by the Aryan immigrants who worked with
extraordinary missionary zeal in spreading the Aryan ideology
based on the primacy of Chaturvarnya .... The princely and merchant
classes ... were made to believe that they constituted two superior
castes, the former the ruling caste (Kshatriyas) and the latter
the trading caste (Vaisyas)" (A Survey of Kerala History,
The Brahmins also succeeded to some extent in changing the dietary
habits of the people. Beef and liquor became taboo for all
people who professed Hinduism. Many Keralites, however,
decided that they could eat meat (even beef) and drink alcohol
according to their ancient Munda traditions and yet be Hindus,
as it is the custom even today.
The members of the Sudra Caste were denied educational and other
civil rights. The social status of a person came to be determined
by the prestige of or lack of the prestige of his occupation.
Physical labor was given a low status while Brahmin" priesthood
and military service were given high status.
Female education was neglected and child-marriage encouraged.
widowhood became a curse.
The Brahmin priests persecuted Buddhists and Jainists and destroyed
Buddhist Viharas and images.
The Brahmin priests established many Hindu temples in honor of
Vishnu and Shiva, but they also incorporated non-Aryan gods and
goddesses into the Hindu pantheon. The national hero Ayyan
Thirvatikal of Venad of the ninth century who had already been
deified by the Keralites was redeified as Hariharasutan, the son
of Vishnu-Mohini and Shiva, by the Brahmin theologians; Ayyappan,
thus, became accept-able to both the Saivites and the Vaishnavites.