Early medieval period-Medieval Kerala-Kerala History
Early medieval period
Political changes in Kerala
Tharisapalli plates granted to Saint Thomas Christians testify that merchant guilds and trade corporations played a very significant role in the economy and social life during the Kulasekhara period.
Much of history of the region from the 6th to the 8th century is obscure.
From the Kodungallur line of the Cheras rose the Kulasekhara dynasty, which was established by Kulasekhara Varman.
At its zenith these Later Cheras ruled over a territory comprising the whole of modern Kerala and a smaller part of modern Tamil Nadu. During the early part of Kulasekhara period, the southern region from Nagercoil to Thiruvananthapuram was ruled by Ay kings, who lost their power in the 10th century and thus the region became a part of the Cheras.
Kerala witnessed a flourishing period of art, literature, trade and the Bhakti movement of Hinduism.
A Keralite identity, distinct from the Tamils, became linguistically separate during this period.
For the local administration, the empire was divided into provinces under the rule of local Chieftains known as Naduvazhis, with each province comprising a number of Desams under the control of chieftains, called as Desavazhis.
The era witnessed also a shift in political power, evidenced by a gradual increase of Namboothiri Brahmin settlements, who established the caste hierarchy in Kerala by assigning different groups separate positions.
As a result, many temples were constructed across Kerala, which according to M. T. Narayanan “became cornerstones of the socio-economic society”.
The inhibitions, caused by a series of Chera-Chola wars in the 11th century, resulted in the decline of foreign trade in Kerala ports. Buddhism and Jainism disappeared from the land. The Kulasekhara dynasty was finally subjugated in 1102 by the combined attack of the Pandyas and Cholas.
However, in the 14th century, Ravi Varma Kulashekhara (1299-1314) of the southern Venad kingdom was able to establish a short-lived supremacy over southern India.
After his death, in the absence of a strong central power, the state was fractured into about thirty small warring principalities under local Chieftains; most powerful of them were the kingdom of Samuthiri in the north, Venad in the south and Kochi in the middle.
Rise of Advaita
Adi Shankara (CE 789), one of the greatest Indian philosophers, is believed to be born in Kaladi in Kerala and consolidated the doctrine of Advaita vedānta.
Shankara traveled across the Indian subcontinent to propagate his philosophy through discourses and debates with other thinkers.
He is reputed to have founded four mathas (“monasteries”), which helped in the historical development, revival and spread of Advaita Vedanta.
Adi Shankara is believed to be the organiser of the Dashanami monastic order and the founder of the Shanmatatradition of worship.
His works in Sanskrit concern themselves with establishing the doctrine of Advaita (nondualism).
He also established the importance of monastic life as sanctioned in the Upanishads and Brahma Sutra, in a time when the Mimamsa school established strict ritualism and ridiculed monasticism.
Shankara represented his works as elaborating on ideas found in the Upanishads, and he wrote copious commentaries on the Vedic canon (Brahma Sutra, principal upanishads and Bhagavad Gita) in support of his thesis.
The main opponent in his work is the Mimamsa school of thought, though he also offers arguments against the views of some other schools like Samkhya and certain schools of Buddhism.
His activities in Kerala were little and no evidence of his influence is noticed in the literature or other things in his lifetime in Kerala.
Centuries later after his period he became famous in Kerala as usual during the medieval period stories or myths was propagated that he was born into a Brahmin family and other related stories ere formulated.
Not even that mimicking the four ashrams he formed so Brahmin families even formed four ashrams in Kerala with ridiculous names and again created stories related to it.
But no such markings or ashrams were formed in the Kaladi which was propagated as his birthplace.
Even though Sankara was against all caste systems, in later years his name was used extensively by the Brahmins of Kerala for establishing caste system in Kerala.
Kingdom of Venad
Venad was a kingdom in the southwest tip of Kerala, which acted as a buffer between Cheras and Pandyas.
Until the end of the 11th century, it was a small principality in the Ay Kingdom.
The Ays were the earliest ruling dynasty in southern Kerala, who, at their zenith, ruled over a region from Nagercoil in the south to Thiruvananthapuram in the north.
Their capital was at Kollam.
A series of attacks by the Pandyas between the 7th and 8th centuries caused the decline of Ays although the dynasty remained powerful until the beginning of the 10th century.
When Ay power diminished, Venad became the southernmost principality of the Second Chera Kingdom Invasion of Cholas into Venad caused the destruction of Kollam in 1096.
However, the Chera capital, Mahodayapuram, fell in the subsequent attack, which compelled the Chera king, Rama varma Kulasekara, to shift his capital to Kollam.
Thus, Rama Varma Kulasekara, the last emperor of the Chera dynasty, is probably the founder of the Venad royal house, and the title of Chera kings, Kulasekara, was thenceforth adopted by the rulers of Venad. The end of the Second Chera dynasty in the 12th century marks the independence of the Venad.
The Venadu King then also was known as Venadu Mooppil Nayar.
In the second half of the 12th century, two branches of the Ay Dynasty:
Thrippappur and Chirava, merged into the Venad family and established the tradition of designating the ruler of Venad as Chirava Moopan and the heir-apparent as Thrippappur Moopan.
While Chrirava Moopan had his residence at Kollam, the Thrippappur Moopan resided at his palace in Thrippappur, 9 miles (14 km) north of Thiruvananthapuram, and was vested with the authority over the temples of Venad kingdom, especially the Sri Padmanabhaswamy temple.
The most powerful kingdom of Kerala during the colonial period, Travancore, was developed through the expansion of Venad by Mahahrajah Marthanda Varma, a member of the Thrippappur branch of the Ay Dynasty who ascended to the throne in the 18th century.
Kingdom of Kozhikode
Historical records regarding the origin of the Samoothiri of Kozhikode is obscure. However, its generally agreed that the Samoothiri were originally the Nairs chieftains of Eralnadu region of the Later Chera Kingdom and were known as the Eradis.
Eralnadu province was situated in the northern parts of present-day Malappuram district and was landlocked by the Valluvanad and Polanadu in the west.
Legends such as The Origin of Kerala tell the establishment of a local ruling family at Nediyiruppu, near present-day Kondotty by two young brothers belonging to the Eradi clan.
The brothers, Manikkan and Vikraman were the most trusted generals in the army of the Cheras.
M.G.S. Narayanan, a Kerala-based historian, in his book, Calicut: The City of Truth states that the Eradi was a favourite of the last Later Chera king and granted him, as a mark of favor, a small tract of land on the sea-coast in addition to his hereditary possessions (Eralnadu province).
Eradis subsequently moved their capital to the coastal marshy lands and established the kingdom of Kozhikode
They later assumed the title of Samudrāthiri (“one who has the sea for his border”) and continued to rule from Kozhikode.
Samoothiri allied with Muslim Arab and Chinese merchants and used most of the wealth from Kozhikode to develop his military power.
They became the most powerful king in the Malayalam speaking regions during the Middle Ages.
In the 14th century, Kozhikode conquered large parts of central Kerala, which was under the control of the king of Kingdom of Kochi.
He was forced to shift his capital (c. CE 1405) further south. In the 15th century, Kochi was reduced in to a vassal state of Kozhikode.