The Cheras ruled over the western part of the Tamil country which is largely mountainous and so were called Vanavar, Malaiyar etc. They ruled from two capitals..
(1) Inland viz., Vanji (the same as Karuvur or Karur in the Trichinopoly district now and on the banks of the Kaviri as well as a smaller river Vani or Amaravati) and
(2) Tondi on the west coast. The more important rulers, however, ruled from Vanji. They were overlords of a number of chieftains of whom Adigaiman of Tagadur was significant. These chieftains belong to the group of families generically entitled the Velir, a word which is to be distinguished from the Velalar meaning the peasants.
A number of Velir particularly five were at the bidding of the Chera and fought his battles especially against the northern foes. A more or less satisfactory account of the history of the Cheras reigning from Vanji and of the relations between the rulers and their chieftains is got from a Sangam anthology of laudatory verses called the Padirruppattu.
This originally consisted of ten decades of verses. But now we have only eight decades and there is a controversy as to whether the missing tens are the first and the last, or the first and the seventh, the latter opinion being held by Marr. The text of this anthology is not as helpful to the historian as the colophons, beginning in verse and ending in prose. There is a view that these colophons were composed later by others and subjoined to the tens but though this may be true the authenticity of the colophons need not be doubted.
The other major source of information in regard to the Cheras is the famous anthology, the Purananuru. The known history of the Cheras begins with an encounter between a Chera king Perum Sorru Udiyan Cheral Adan and the Satavahanas.
It was during the reign of this king that the Satavahana Satakarni II invaded the northern marches of Tamilaham and was defeated and thrown back by the five Velirs who were the generals of the Chera army. This will place Perum Sorru Udiyan Cheral Adan in the middle of the second century BC. A rather enigmatic (but fairly clear to an observant reader) reference to this event, i.e., of the struggle between the five Velir generals of the Chera and Satakarni II is found in verse 2 of the Purananuru which mentions the Tamil forces by the number five and the Satavahanas by the number hundred.
This has naturally been mistaken by historians so far for the Pandavas and the Kauravas of the Mahabharata. The reference in the Purananuru verse, and the sheer impossibility of reconciling the Chera and the Mahabharata chronologies would compel us to accept the above mentioned version of the struggle between the Velirs and the Satavahanas in the second century BC.
From the Hathigumpha inscription of Kharavela we learn that a confederacy of Tamil forces was formed evidently for the purpose of resisting northern aggression, 113 years before Kharavela. That was perhaps the first successful Chera attempt to stem northern inroads into Tamilaham. After the Perum Sorru Udiyan Cheral Adan episode the next light in Chera history is provided by the decades of the Padirruppattu.
Udiyan Cheral, a Chera king of Vanji, of whose immediate ancestry we know nothing, begot an illustrious son by name Nedum Cheral Adan by a Velir wife, Veliyan Venmal Nallini. This shows that the Chera rulers freely married among the Velirs. Nedum Cheral Adan assumed or was given the title Imayavaramban.
This title was supposed to mean ‘he whose fame is as high as the Himalayan peaks’ or ‘he whose territories have the Himalayan range as their boundary’. These traditional meanings really seem to have been erroneous rationalization by later commentators. Some other princes of the Chera family had the title Vanavaramban, which is supposed to mean ‘he whose fame is as high as the sky’.
On closer scrutiny it will appear that these titles are only ‘Imayavar Anban’ and ‘Vanavar Anban’ both meaning ‘beloved of the gods’, which was a Tamil equivalent of ‘Devanampriya’, the particular title of Asoka in his edicts; as his independent southern neighbours were impressed by Asoka they took his title as theirs. This was a practice in ancient times among admirers and subordinates, for example Devanampriya Tissa of Ceylon.
Imayavaramban established the reputation of Tamilaham by inscribing the bow emblem of the Cheras on the Himalayan rock front; he defeated the Aryans, captured the Yavanas (perhaps Roman or Arab pirates) in battles, poured oil on their heads, locked their hands behind their backs and took them to his capital.
He obtained valuable jewelled ornaments and diamonds as ransom for their release and distributed the war booty among his followers. This victorious Chera fought a great battle with the Chola king Verpahradakkai Peru Virar Killi. In this battle both the armies perished leaving the two kings alone on the field.
The kings then decided to fight it out in a personal combat and doing so they killed each other, so that there was none to claim victory in that field of battle. The toll was fully completed when the widows of the two great kings committed ritual suicide in the battlefield d with their husbands. This Chera is said to have reigned for 58 years.
Nedum Cheral Adan had married Narsonai a Chola princess who bore two sons, Kadal Pirakkottiya Sanguttuvan and Ilango Adigal. The younger, it is said became ascetic when an astrologer imprudently predicted that the younger son would become sovereign. This he did to avoid disappointment for his elder brother. This ascetic later became the author of the ‘Silappadikaram’ in which he immortalized his royal brother.
Udiyan Cheral, father of Imayavaramban, had another son, Palyanai Selkalu Kuttuvan He succeeded his elder brother on the throne, brought the Umbarkkadu (elephant for under his rule, stormed the fort Ahappa, worshipped the Goddess on the hill Ayirai, and following the example of his Purohit, Nedum Baratayanar, he renounced the world and retired into the forest.
This king reigned for 25 years. In fact if we are to believe that the order of the decades in the Padirruppattu indicates also the order of Chera succession Imayavaramban was succeeded by Palyanai Selkelu Kuttuvan arid the latter was succeed by Kalangaikkanni Narmudi Cheral another son of Imayavaramban born to Devi, daughter of Paduman. Senguttuvan came to the throne only after Narmudi Cheral had reigned for 25 years.
This would mean that Senguttuvan came to the Chera throne fifty years after his father died. If he was 20-year-old then he must have been 125 years of age when he died. This will be very nearly impossibility.
So it is safer to assume that Palyanai Selke Kuttuvan and Narmudi Cheral ruled over different parts of the Chera country concurren”‘ and that Senguttuvan succeeded his father straightaway. This makes one thing clear that the order in which the decades appear in the Padirruppattu does not indicate the order of Chera succession to the throne.
Imayavaramban begot two other sons by another queen named Devi, the second daughter of one Paduman also known as Vel Avikkoman. These sons were, Kalangaikkanni Narmudi Cheral and Adukotpattu Cheral Adan. Of these the former conquerred the Puli land, defeated Nannan a chronic enemy of his in the battle of Kadambil Perum Vayil and cut his tutelary tree.
This Cheral was so called because on the occasion of his coronation he could secure neither the garland nor the crown appropriate to the occasion. So he had to improvise a garland and a crown of inferior material. He reigned for 28 years.
Senguttuvan, the son of Imayavaramban was probably the most illustrious of the early I Cheras. He defeated the Aryans in North India and befriended the Satavahanas; Yajnasri Satakarni was his contemporary. He destroyed the warriors who defended the forest of Idumbil, conquered Kodugur, destroyed the tutelary tree of Palaiyan and defeated nine! Princes of the Chola family in the battle of Vayilpuram (Nerivayil).
He drove back and destroyed on the sea the pirates known as the Kadambas. This earned for him the title ‘Kadalpirakkottiya’. Senguttuvan married a Valir princess called Ilango Venmal. The story narrated in the Silappadikaram and confirmed by the colophon to the fifth decade of the pattu mentions Senguttuvan’s adventurous journey to the Himalayas to secure a stone for making an icon of Kannagi, the Lady of Chastity.
Some historians consider the account of this incident spurious and of much later origin. But there seems to be very little improbable about the king undertaking an adventurous journey for the purpose of securing a bit of sacred stone from the Himalayas for making an icon of a favoured deity. Any incidental detail which may be incredible may well be discarded without offending the main story. The Silappadikaram gives a detailed account of the exploits of this king.
According to that epic Senguttuvan consecrated a temple for Kannagi and the prince of Malva and Gajabahu I of Ceylon were present on the occasion. It is this mention which enables us to assign Senguttuvan to the third quarter of the second century AD.
This Senguttuvan had a son by name Kuttuvan Cheral. It is said that he presented him to the poet Paranar as a gift. This perhaps only means that the prince was placed as a disciple of Paranar for education. Senguttuvan ruled for 55 years.
Adukotpattu Cheral Adan a younger brother of Kalangaikkanni ruled perhaps another part of the Chera country and for 38 years. This king recovered some mountain goats stealthily removed by certain tribes of Dandakaranya, brought them to Tondi (which perhaps shows that he was ruling from Tondi and not Vanji), endowed a town in Kudanadu to the Brahmins, assumed the title Vanavaramban, conquered the Malavars and reigned benevolently.
We saw that Imayavaramban married into the family of one Paduman a Velir chief. He had another daughter also called Devi who was given in marriage to Selvakkadungo Vali Adan, a Chera prince of the Irumporai family. This Selvakkadungo founded many towns, performed Vedic sacrifices and was a devotee of Mayon; he endowed the village of Ohandur to that God and he was as learned as his Purohit.
He was the son of Anduvan Cheral Irumporai who was a deadly enemy of the Chola Perunarkilli. Selvakkadungo died at Sikkarpalli having reigned for 25 years. This king had a son Perum Cheral Irumporai who also married into the Velir family. He became famous as Tagadur Erinda Perum Cheral Irumporai because he defeated Adigaiman (chieftain of Tagadur); he defeated also the Chola and Pandya monarchs on the Kolli hills.
The Tagadur battle and the connected events are mentioned in an epic Tagadur Yattirai of which only a few verses remain. His son Ilam Cheral Irumporai who succeeded him after his father had reigned for seventeen years, conquered the Pandya and Chola monarchs again. He defeated the ruler of Vichchi (a hill) and captured five fortresses.
He conquered, also at Vanji, Kopperum Cholan and Ilam Palaiyan Maran (probably a Pandya). He introduced Vedic worship of village gods in Vanji. His munificence was unparalleled. He ruled for 16 years.
A certain Tamil Brahmin inscription which speaks of the genealogy of a certain Irumporai family and mentions their succession is as follows: Adan Sel Irumporai, Perumkadungo, and Ilamkadungo; this seems to somewhat corroborate the Padirruppattu genealogy which is Selvakkadungon, Perumcheral Irumporai, and Ilamcheral Irumporai.
There were other rulers also of the Irumporai family like Yanaikkatsey Mantaran, Cheral Irumporai and Kanaikkal Irumporai. The former fought a battle with the famous Talaiyalanganattu Neduncheliyan and was taken prisoner. He escaped from his prison and safely returned home to resume royal powers.
His death was accurately predicted by the appearance of a comet, a fact mentioned by the poet Kudalur Kilar. He fought the Chola Perunarkilli. But his fame lasts because he patronized Kapilar, the great poet and caused the anthology called the Aingurunuru to be made by Kudalur Kilar.
Kanaikkal Irumporai is immortalized in a small poem Kelavali Narpadu of forty verses by Poygaiyar. This poem describes how this Irumporai fought with Cholan Senganan. He was taken prisoner and thrown into jail where he was ill-treated by the warders who denied him even water to drink. The mortified prince on the point of taking his own life, was saved by the poet Poyagaiyar who interceded on his behalf with the Chola king.
There were a number of petty chieftains who held minor power in the Chera territories. They were the Velirs already referred to. Of them Ay Andiran, Adigaiman Neduman Anji, Vaiyavikkopperum Pehan, Ori, Nannan and Nalli were the more important.
A group of people called the Kosar who lived in the northern parts of the Chera country and who may be inentified with the Satiyaputras (of Asokan edicts) were competitors with the Cheras to power in the Kongu country. The Kadambas were a piratical tribe who often clashed with Chera might but were held in check by it.
We shall now consider the history of the Sangam Cholas. The Cholas gave themselvi solar origin perhaps because the Pandyas had already derived themselves from the 1 God. Their origins as given in later literary works and the prefaces in some inscriptions a mythical. They connected themselves with Sibi and Manu of the Sanskrit Puranas. A (called Manu Niti Kanda Cholan is said to have ordered the execution in like manner c son who accidentally rode his chariot over a calf. He ruled from Tiru Arur and was she speaking Arura (Alura).
It is possible to identify him with Elara mentioned by t Mahavamsa and of whom a similar story is told. Historically speaking the first Chola r to be mentioned by our sources is Uruvappahrer Ilam Set Senni. His capital was Uraiyi and he married among the Velirs. His kingdom did not include the Tondaimandalam.1 son Karikalan whose youth was spent in adventures succeeded him at the age of five. 1 was called Karikalan (he of the charred leg) because once while he was passing throuj fire (caused by his enemies) his leg was caught in the flames and charred.
He was t greatest among the early Cholas and the later Cholas prided themselves in his being thud ancestor. He created an alternative capital for the Chola kingdom in Puhar also ca Kavirippumpattinam at the mouth of the river Kaviri. He ruled from there. He also ma in the Velir family. He was a just ruler and a valiant warrior. At Venni 15 miles east oil Tanjore he fought two battles from both of which he emerged completely victorious.
In the first battle he defeated the Chera king Perumcheraladan and in the second his victory madf him overlord of practically the entire Tamil country. In another battle at Vagaipparand he defeated nine princes. He had a powerful navy which he used to conquer Ceylon. He I brought from there a number of prisoners of war who were used as labour for building a I durable embankment for the river Kaviri.
He cleared the forests in the north and brought the Tondaimandalam- under Chola rule; he is credited with some extraordinary exploits I like conquering the whole of India up to the Himalayas. This perhaps was later day! Exaggeration. He was praised in elegant verse in the Pattinappalai; the poet is said to have received one an a half million gold coins therefore. Karikalan was also called Urumavalavai He was a senior contemporary of Udiyan Cheral, father of Imayavaramban.
He had two sons, Manakkilli and Peruvirarkirlli. The former ruled from Uraiyur. His son was Nendunkilli whose son Perunarkilli performed the imperial sacrifice. Peruvirarkilli had’ three sons, Killivalavan, Nalankilli and Mavalattan. When Karikalan passed away the country was steeped in chaos and witnessed domestic dissensions in the Chola family.’ Cholas who ruled from Uraiyur, i.e., Manakkilli and his successors those who ruled from Puhar, i.e., Killivalavan and his successors became deadly enemies of each other.
This was most marked in the case of Nedumkilli and Nalamkilli. In the battle of Kariyaru they fought I to the finish. Nedumkilli was killed in battle. The successor of Nedumkilli, i.e., Perunark belonged to the early part of the third century AD; the Malaiyamans of Kovalur, feudatoryl of the Cholas who were expected to stand by them were loyal and treacherous by turns and the Chola royalty became weak.
Among the other and lesser Chola rulers of the Sangam age we hear of one Tittan Who ruled from Uraiyur. His son was one Perunarkilli. Between father and son there was bitter hostility as a result of which the son was banished to Tondaimandalam. Another ruler Kopperum Chola also ruling from Uraiyur quarreled with his sons and engaged in battles against them.
His career is noted for the proverbial friendship that existed between him and the poet Pisir Andaiyar of the Pandyan country. This king was once defeated by the Chera Ilam Cheral Irumporai. Senganan was one of the last of the Chola rulers whose victory over the Chera Kanaikkal Irumporai has already been described.
This Senganan has been assigned to the 6th century AD. by some scholars on the basis of certain untenable assumptions. Among the feudatories of the Cholas the Malaiyaman of Kovalur, the chiefs of Oymanadu and the Tondaiman of Kanchi were the more important.