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Old September 9th, 2015, 12:39 PM   #1

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Lack of powerful kingdoms based in Kerala?

I have studied South Indian history extensively, but even after examining dozens of books, I have never across any kingdom based in Kerala that had a big impact on regions outside of Kerala (like the Chalukya empires of Karnataka or the Vijayanagara empire), or conducted military campaigns in faraway regions (as the Rashtrakutas and Cholas did). Even regional dynasties like the Kakatiyas and the Hoysalas seem to have had far more impressive military feats than any Kerala-based dynasty. The Kakatiyas under Prola sacked Chakrakuta in Bastar (Chhattisgarh), Rudramma defeated the Seunas of Devagiri and took Bidar, while Prataparudra led campaigns into the Tungabhadra basin of northern Karnataka and plains of Tamil Nadu; likewise, the Hoysalas were based in Karantaka, but managed to subjugate much of the Kaveri river valley in Tamil Nadu. Why wasn't any kingdom based in Kerala able to achieve similar feats with regards to neighboring regions?
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Old September 11th, 2015, 10:53 AM   #2
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And I also am surprised that Cheras despite having existed for 1000s of years have very little to talk about. Did the hilly regions play any role in their relative lack of interest in conquests?
On another note, which are the other Kingdoms of Kerala worth mentioning. Are Cheras Malayalam speaking or Tamil speaking rulers?
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Old September 12th, 2015, 05:51 AM   #3
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as I had previously explained in another thread one major factor was geographic.I am linking this to that post it covers other issues but also looks at Cheras.

Another reason for this difference (though this alone cannot be the only reason) is the geographical territories of these kingdoms. Cheras could not sustain themselves beyond their traditional territories since they were restricted a bit by the western ghats, nilgiri hills etc. Urbanization was better on the eastern side of Tamil lands. Plus a lot of their lands were in southern Karnataka, North-central Kerala and maybe some fringe parts of Western Tamil Nadu (Kongu nadu) and fractional fringe parts of Andhra in the borders. These were all mixed peoples. Most of the times there were other powers also like Ay, Venadu etc. The Cheras hence found it harder to project power.

Pandyas were in a slightly better situation being down south ensuring that fewer enemies could reach them. However, the problem they faced was Madurai their capital was far too down south for them to project power in the northern side of Tamil peninsula. They had better hold over Sri Lankan North than they did over Northern Tamil areas. The Pallavas who in my view must be second to the Cholas among Tamil kingdoms were in the borders of Tamil and Telegu country. So while they could project power easily on both sides they could also be sandwiched between two strong powers. The Cholas however benefited because from Tiruchi--Tanjore area they could keep an eye on the entire Tamil Azagham and also had the benefit of the Kaveri delta which remained one of the most productive areas of South India with continuous supply of food from the countryside. Hence, geographically Cholas were placed in the best area.

What surprises me however is that out of the four main regions of Tamil Nadu namely Central Kaveri delta, Northern Pallavan area around Kanchi, Southern Pandyan area around Madurai and the fourth Kongu (Western Tamil Nadu); it was Western Tamil Nadu that never produced a native Tamil kingdom. Considering that Gounders who might possibly for all practical purposes the highest caste in TN(not in varna terms but in social and political prestige) their area never produced a kingdom capable of projecting power. Climatically Kongu regions are the coolest areas of Tamil Nadu and today it is the textile hub. While some Gounders like to call the Western Gangas as a native Kongu dynasty I have my doubts about it and the kingdom certainly never was anywhere in the league of the BIG 4 even at its best.
There were a lot of chieftains and the Keralite states were highly decentralized. The fact they were not premier powers at any time in South India also ensured that they remained away from competitive sweepstakes allowing them a more continued period of rule. They did not see outright declines like Chola, Pallava, Pandya, Hoysala etc. Hell even Khiljis did not bother to go to Venadu despite going right down to Madurai.

Kerala was making enough money from sea trade with Oman, Yemen, Arabia etc. It was trading even with European powers. It did not require same degree of expansionism.

I also feel that with a limited population cluster (despite high density) and the fractious casteist society it was going to be hard for them to maintain large armies or fund military conquests. Despite it never being very strong it was one of the few regions which saw the least time under foreign rule (especially if you take Muslim era rule in other places). Which seems like such a huge irony.

I however wonder if the Zamorins who had some naval prowess could have taken part in some naval expedition maybe to Yemen. But cant fathom how well they would have done but they could have tried something similar to Portuguese.
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Old September 12th, 2015, 06:04 AM   #4
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Originally Posted by kamald View Post
And I also am surprised that Cheras despite having existed for 1000s of years have very little to talk about. Did the hilly regions play any role in their relative lack of interest in conquests?
On another note, which are the other Kingdoms of Kerala worth mentioning. Are Cheras Malayalam speaking or Tamil speaking rulers?
Well Kerala was a part of Tamil Azagham and was a Tamil speaking area especially during Sangam age and Early Cheras were Tamil.Note however that Western Tamil Nadu (Gounder area) and Kerala did speak a more Sanskritized Tamil dialect and influence of Namboodiris could be a reason. By around 10th century or 11th century I believe the Sanskritization would have led to some movement towards a new language. The earliest written Malayalam work comes from 13th century AD. The Cheras were full fledged Tamils so was Ay. The last later Chera king Rama Varma Kulashekhara was the former of Cochin kingdom.

As the Sanskritization continued and the arrival of Abrahamic faiths had seeped in; the dialect changed to form a new language. It was a seamless process with no political motives. Note that even today Western Tamil Nadu bordering Kerala has quite a lot of Sanskritization (highest after Brahmin Tamils is possibly Gounders of the area). Surprisingly like Kerala Western Tamil Nadu too could not produce a strong native kingdom despite having the most conducive climate in the Tamil peninsula.

Despite not having a strong Muslim/Christian dynasty the area has just 56% Hindus today. Though somewhere in the 18th century Hindus were still as high as 80% (I read this somewhere but cant find the source so take it for what it is not sure about it though). However after the Travancore Temple Entry Proclamation the population over the last 80 to 90 yrs has been more through birth rates than conversions. The highly caste based nature of society could be a reason and the trade with Europe/Arab world could be another. Further Tipu massacre, Marad massacre, formation of Malappuram by Nambodaripad and the Mopillah riots all impacted demographics in someway. But its sad to see that the Hindu rulers did not see what all this tolerance to conversion could impact their land in the long run.

These are a few things I can think of its an interesting topic indeed.

Last edited by greatstreetwarrior; September 12th, 2015 at 06:08 AM.
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Old September 12th, 2015, 09:23 PM   #5
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err does travancore count and how about cochin. As an economic historian southern india was the manufacturing hub of the world. the rajas of the south were very wealthy and geared towards an economy based on trade and commerce not war. Consequently the need to expand far and wide never rose since they had what they wanted and business and trade was better for them than war. thus they wre powerful kingdoms but mroe in the vein of merchant republics like venice or the dutch kingdom
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Old September 13th, 2015, 03:51 AM   #6
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We know very little about the Cheras compared to what we know about Pandyas,Cholas etc.Speaking of medieval times,many medieval texts mentions that Chera rule extended from Gokarna to the southern tip(which was originally the realm of Ay rulers). Chera territories were further divided into various local regions ruled by chieftains known as Samantas,so the Cheraman Perumal(i.e Chera king) would have had tough time managing these Samanta states.After the fall of Chera rule during 8-10th century,these Samantas emerged as independent feudal rulers or Naduvazhis who ruled small feudal states known as Nadus.Most prominent of these Nadus were Kolathunadu(north Malabar), Calicut(Malabar proper),Cochin(central Kerala) and Venad(later Travancore) in the southern part.Due to the lack of central authority,these Nadus frequently waged wars against each other to gain supremacy.So they probably didn't cared about expanding their kingdom beyond the Keralan realm.

Last edited by Vajra; September 13th, 2015 at 03:55 AM.
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Old September 13th, 2015, 05:17 AM   #7
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I would say geography has a lot to do with it. Most of Kerala Kingdoms were coastal based. Penetration into the heavily forested eastern mountainous hinder lands came rather lately. All its rivers, one every 10 miles or so, flowed east to west dividing the land than uniting it, and creating a major impediment to easy travel and commerce.
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