Puranic encyclopaedia

by Vettam Mani | 1975 | 609,556 words | ISBN-10: 0842608222

This page describes the Story of Kerala included the Puranic encyclopaedia by Vettam Mani that was translated into English in 1975. The Puranas have for centuries profoundly influenced Indian life and Culture and are defined by their characteristic features (panca-lakshana, literally, ‘the five characteristics of a Purana’).

Story of Kerala

General information

A small country lying in the south-west corner of India. From the Purāṇas it could be understood that this country lying to the south of Gokarṇa upto Cape Comorin and to the west of Western Ghats had a very ancient history and civilization of its own.

Origin of Kerala.

There are two statements, slightly different from each other, in the Purāṇas, about the origin of Kerala.

(1) For performing the funeral ceremony of the sons of Sagara whose ashes were lying in Pātāla (Nether world), Bhagīratha performed penance and brought the heavenly river Gaṅgā to the earth. (See under Gaṅgā). The river fell in North India and flowed in torrents to the sea and the surrounding regions were submerged in water. Among the places submerged, there was the important holy place and Bath of Gokarṇa also, lying on the west coast of India. Those hermits who lived in the vicinity of the temple at Gokarṇa, escaped from the flood and went to Mahendragiri and informed Paraśurāma of the calamity of the flood. Paraśurāma went with them to the sea-shore. Varuṇa did not make his appearance. The angry Paraśurāma stood in deep meditation for a little while. The weapons came to his hands. Varuṇa was filled with fear and he instantly appeared before Paraśurāma, who asked him to release the land swallowed by the sea. Varuṇa agreed. Paraśurāma sent his bow and arrow back to the sky. Then he took a winnowing basket (Śūrpa) and threw it at the sea. The sea retreated from the place up to the spot where the winnowing basket fell, and the portion of land including Gokarṇa which had been swallowed by sea was recovered. This land is called Kerala, which is known by the name 'Śūrpāraka' also. (Brahmāṇḍa Purāṇa, Chapters 98 and 99).

(2) Paraśurāma went round the world eighteen times and killed all the Kṣatriya Kings. After that he performed the sacrifice of Aśvamedha (horse sacrifice). In the sacrifice he gave all the lands as alms to Brahmins. Kaśyapa received all the lands for the Brahmins. After that he requested Paraśurāma to vacate the land. Accordingly Paraśurāma created new land by shooting an arrow at the sea, for his own use. "At the words of Kaśyapa, he made the sea retreat by shooting an arrow, thereby creating dry land." This land was Kerala. (Mahābhārata Droṇa Parva, Chapter 70).

Kerala and Pātāla (Nether world).

The ancient sages of the Purāṇas have grouped the worlds into three, the Svarga (heaven), Bhūmi (the earth) and the Pātāla (the nether world). The three worlds taken as a whole were divided into fourteen worlds. It does not appear that this grouping was merely imaginary. A keen observation of the Purāṇas would lead one to infer that the Himālayan plateau was considered as Devaloka-Svarga (heaven), the planes between the Himālaya and the Vindhya as Bhūloka (the earth) and the regions to the south of the Vindhya as Pātāla (the nether world), by the ancient people of India. The seven worlds of Pātāla such as Atala, Vitala, Sutala, Talātala, Mahātala, Rasātala and Pātāla might have been seven countries in this region. The following description which occurs in Devī Bhāgavata, Skandha 8, would substantiate this inference.

"Pātāla is below the earth. This Pātāla is a group of seven worlds one below the other, with names, Atala, Vitala, Sutala, Talātala, Rasātala and Mahātala. In all those worlds, there are several beautiful cities and houses, palaces and castles, parks, gardens, open temples and halls, natural arbours etc. made by Maya. There live the Asuras, the Dānavas (a class of Asuras-demons) the nāgas (serpents) and others, with their families, with happiness and comfort. Chirping birds, pigeons, parrots, docile parrots etc. always play there with their inseparable mates. Trees bearing sweet fruits, plants covered with fragrant flowers, arbours with creepers growing thick, beautiful houses floored with white marble, and so many other things giving pleasure and comfort are seen there in plenty. In these things the Pātāla surpasses heaven. Daityas, Dānavas and the Nāgas (the Asuras and the serpents) are the dwellers of these worlds. They lead a happy and pleasant life with their families enjoying all sorts of comfort and luxury." Pātāla, one of the seven divisions of the world is described as follows:

"This is the region of the Nāgas (the serpents). At the root-place of this region there is a particular place having an area of thirty thousand yojanas. Viṣṇu Kalā who has the attribute of 'tāmasa' (darkness) lives there under the name 'Ananta'. The real Ananta or Ādiśeṣa is the radiant embodiment of this Kalā. The daughters of the Nāga Kings are of fair complexion and very beautiful, with clean body. They use perfumeries such as sandalwood, aloewood, saffron, etc."

In this description, the words Daityas, Nāgas, Ananta, Sandalwood, aloewood etc. and the mention of natural beauty should be paid particular attention to. From the Rāmāyaṇa we can understand that the Āryas referred to the Drāviḍas as Asuras, Rākṣasas (Giants) etc. History says that the Nāgas were the early inhabitants of Kerala. The ancient word 'Ananta' denotes Trivandrum (Tiru-Ananta-puram). The temple of Śrī Padmanābha at Trivandrum answers to this description. The perfumeries such as sandalwood, aloewood (cidar) etc. are the wealth of Kerala. On the whole the description of Pātāla fits well with that of Kerala. So it is not wrong to {??}fer that the description of Pātāla in the Purāṇas is entirely about Kerala in all its aspects.

The Primitiveness of Kerala.

From the portions of Purāṇas given below it could be ascertained that Kerala had an independence of its own from the very ancient days.

(1) Among the Kings who attended the Svayaṃvara (marriage) of Śaśikalā, the daughter of the King of Kāśī, such as, the King of Kuru, King of Mādra, King of Sindhu, King of Pāñcāla, Kings of Karṇāṭaka, Cola and Vidarbha, there was the King of Kerala also. (Devī Bhāgavata, Skandha 3).

(2) When describing the various places in the Southern part of Bhārata, names such as Dramiḍa, Kerala, Mūṣika, Karṇāṭaka etc. occur in the Mahābhārata. So it is to be understood that when Vyāsa wrote Bhārata, there was the kingdom of Kerala and that it was separate from the country of Drāviḍa. (Mahābhārata Bhīṣma Parva, Chapter 9).

(3) "Kārtavīryārjuna took his majestic seat in the midst of Cola, Kerala, Pāṇḍya and other Kings of the countries under the sea, who were standing round him to pay homage to him." (Brahmāṇḍa Purāṇa, Chapter 54).

(4) It is mentioned in Agni Purāṇa, Chapter 277, that a King named Gāndhāra was born in the dynasty of Turvasu the brother of Yadu, and that from Gāndhāra were born the powerful families of the Gāndhāras the Keralas, the Colas, the Pāṇḍyas and the Kolas.

(5) In Mahābhārata, Ādi Parva, Chapter 175, it is mentioned that the people of Kerala were considered as barbarians by the North Indians.

(6) In Bhāgavata, Skandha 10, it is mentioned that the Kings of Cola, Pāṇḍya and Kerala, from South India, had reached the capital city of Vidarbha to take part in the Svayaṃvara (marriage) of Rukmiṇī.

(7) Mention is made in Mahābhārata, Vana Parva, Chapter 254, Stanza 15, that in his conquest of the countries, Karṇa had conquered Kerala also.

(8) It is mentioned in Mahābhārata, Sabhā Parva, Chapter 31, that Sahadeva, one of the Pāṇḍavas, conquered the Keralas and the Kerakas. It may be noted that the Kerakas are different from Keralas.

(9) Vālmīki mentions the countries which could be seen by the monkeys who were sent to the South by Sugrīva to search for Sītā.

"nadīṃ godāvarīṃ caiva sarvamevānupaśyata / tathaivāndhrān ca pauṇḍrān ca colān pāṇḍyān ca keralān. //"

"You could see the river Godāvarī and beyond it the countries of Āndhra, Pauṇḍra, Cola, Pāṇḍya and Kerala."

This is a proof of the primitiveness of Kerala. (10) The King of Kerala had given Yudhiṣṭhira, as presents, sandalwood, pearls. Lapis Lazuli etc. (Mahābhārata Dākṣiṇātyapāṭha, Sabhā Parva, Chapter 51). In several other Purāṇas also, mention about Kerala occurs.

The ancient administration of Kerala.

Parimelazhakar, a Saṅga poet who was a great expounder of "Tirukkural", has stated that from the beginning of the world the three kingdoms, Cera, Cola and Pāṇḍya had existed. Though there is a bit of exaggeration in this statement, there are enough proofs to say that a long time before the birth of Christ, Kerala was under a systematic rule. In 'Tolkāppiyam' the first grammatical work in Tamil mention is made about the administration of Kerala. Megasthenes, a traveller of 4th century B.C. has stated about the rule of Kerala:

There were five councils called the Pañcamahāsabhās (the five great councils) to help the Cera Kings. It is stated that these councils were formed by the King Utiyan Cera of the Tṛkkaṇā fort. Besides these five councils there was an advisory Committee, of which, the priest of the King, the Chief Minister, Chief of the spies and the Chief Revenue officer (Kāviṭi) were members. For convenience of administration the country was divided into tarakkūṭṭas (groups of houses—villages) and and Nāṭṭukkūṭṭas (Districts—group of villages). Taras (villages) were ruled by four elders (Kāraṇavas). Four villages formed a Nālpāḍu (group) of four. Four Nālpādus formed a Kazhaka (a division of the country with a chief temple within it) and four Kazhakas formed a Peruṃkazhaka (greater Kazhaka). Peruṃkazhaka was also known as Tṛkkala. The assembly hall of tṛkkūṭṭa is called Koṭṭil. This hall was erected generally beside the temple. The chief officer of the temple was the chairman of the tṛkkūṭṭa (assembly of the people). When a tṛkkūṭṭa is assembled, sixtyfour elders of the "taras", the "accas" (officers) of Kazhakas, the sixtyfour Taṇḍāns and sixteen Nālpādies had to be present. The Nālpādies were the chiefs of four taras. The accas, who were the Presidents, had to come clad in variegated silk, with waist-band of long cloth and wearing a small sword (Churikā). Till recently the Kazhakas of Aṇḍallūr, Rāmpallya, Kurvantaṭṭa, Turutti etc., and so many Nālpādus and taras and the elders thereof had been retaining and enjoying titles and distinctions of rank.

The Namboothiris (Brahmins) entered Kerala before the beginning of the Malayāla Era. With that, changes took place in the administration of Kerala. Certain edicts help us to ascertain the changes that took place in the administration. The edict of Vāzhappally of the 9th century by Rājaśekhara is an important one in this connection. This emperor of the Ceras who is considered to be a contemporary of Śrī Śaṅkarācārya had the title beginning with "Rājādhirāja Parameśvara Bhaṭṭāraka". (T.A.S. Vol. II, P. 8-14). The subject dealt with in the edict is the 'daily worship and settlement', in the temple of Tiruvoṭṭiyūr. It is stated in this edict that the people of Vāzhappally and the representatives of 18 Nādus or divisions had met in the temple and taken certain decisions.

The next one is the Kottayam Copper edicts known as the 'Tarisa Church Edicts.' This is a document granting the Tarisa Church in Quilon, the adjoining lands and some other institutions. This edict was granted by Ayyanaṭi tiruvaṭikal the ruler of the Nāṭu (division), for the Cera emperor. It is mentioned as "including the Temple Officer Vijayarākatevar", which means that Vijayarāka had been present on the occasion of granting the edict, as the representative of Emperor Sthāṇuravi. The Nāḍuvāzhis (local chiefs or rulers of division) were not empowered to take decision in very important matters. Titles, rights distinctions of rank etc. were granted by a council of Chief minister, Officers, Punnattalappati and Polakkūṭippati (two high officials). Vijayarākatevar, the Koil adhikāri, was the representative of the emperor at Mahodayapura. The supervising officials of temples were generally called the 'Koil adhikāri'. Normally-the younger brothers of the Kings were appointed in this rank. These temple-officers were helped in their duties by the Division-rulers, people of the locality and the inferior officers in the temple. When the empire of Kulaśekhara declined, the family of Perumpaḍappu got this position of 'Koil adhikāri'. So the title 'Koil adhikāri' is added to the names of the princes of Cochin.

Another one is the Mampally Edicts. This is a deed of granting some lands free to the temple of Airūr, in the name of Ādiccan Umayamma of Tṛkkalayapuram, by Veṇāṭṭu Śrī Vallabhankota in M.E. 149. Even such an unimportant thing as the granting of free lands, had to be effected with the permission of Cera kings and their councils. (T.A.S. Vol IV, Page 9).

From these edicts it is clear that the administration of the temples was carried out by representatives elected by people. For each village temple there was an administrative council. These councils were controlled by Nāduvāzhis and Deśavāzhis (Divisional and Sub Divisional rulers who had Nair infantry (big or small as the case may be) at their disposal. The administrative assembly met either in the open hall at the main gate of the temple or on the stage for performances. The rights and authorities were in the hands of the general assembly of the people called Nāṭṭukkūṭṭa and the council of the temple officials. When the Namboothiris became powerful they became members of the council. With this change the Kings and Koil adhikāris became puppets in the hands of the Namboothiris. In the Rāmeśvaram edict of M.E. 278 it is mentioned that King Rāmavarma Kulaśekhara was punished with retribution for his 'hatred' of the Āryas. Finally the Nambūthiris (Malayāla Brahmins) became the landlords of the country.

The people af ancient Kerala.

It is assumed that the ancient inhabitants of Kerala were Drāviḍas. But some historians have mentioned about the 'Proto Dravidians and the Pre Dravidians. The hill tribes such as Kāṇikkārs, Mutuvas, Mala Veṭas, Pulayas, Kuravas, Nāyāṭis, Malayarayas, Malayaṭis, Malappaṇḍāras, Malayūrālis, Mutuvans Pullāṭis etc. are said to have belonged to this group. They worshipped several things such as stone, banyan tree, elenji tree, Asclapia tree, Nīm tree Terminatia Bellarica, Borassus flabelliformis, cassia fistula, Ghosts, thunder, rain, the sun etc. They worshipped good ghosts for welfare, and bad ghosts to avoid misfortunes. They had images of Māṭa, Cātta, Cāvu, Maruta, Pettucāvu, Arukula, Preta, Vazhipiṇakki, Āyiramilli, Parakkuṭṭi, Kāttujāti, Malavāzhi, Māriṇi, Nāyāṭṭu Pe Maṅkāṭṭamma, Muniyappa, Veṭṭakkāran and so on. They worshipped in small bushes, open grounds or houses. They knew black magic such as cursing, giving poison in meals etc. These uncivilized people were very particular about cleanliness on the occasions of delivery, menstruātion, death etc. They pleased bad ghosts by offering liquor, flesh and blood, and good ghosts with milk, ghee, honey etc. They buried dead bodies with a little raw rice meant for food at the time of entering the other world. They had collective worship. They sang songs at the time of worship using some primitive musical instruments. For each village there were elders who were priests and rulers. They erected stone huts in the burial place and buried the dead inside these in graves. These graves were called 'Pāṇḍukuzhy'. The Ūrālis, continue the custom of posting two stones at either end of the grave. The custom of burial prevailed more than cremation.

Nair, Nambūtiri, Īzhava, Christians, Muslims and such other castes came to Kerala from other places later.

Ibn Batuta and Kerala.

Ibn Batuta who was born in the town of Ṭānjīr in Morocco in Africa in A.D. 1304 had travelled all over the Eastern countries then known. He had started from his house on a Haj Pilgrimage at the age of 22. He returned home only after 29 years, having travelled all over the known countries. He has written a book in Arabic about his travels of 29 years. One third of this thick volume is devoted for descriptions of his travels in India alone. Its name is 'Tuh Phattunannār'. He passed over the Hindu Kush in A.D. 1333 and entered India. In the midst of his travels throughout the length and breadth of India, he came to Kerala also. He says as follows about Kerala in his book:—"Malabar is the country of Pepper. This country’s length from Gokarṇa to Quilon is two months' journey. All the roads in this country are rendered cool and shady by asclapia trees. On the roads at intervals of half an hour there are inns. Near the inn there will be a well and a person to give water. The non-Muslims are given water in pots. But water is poured into the hands of Muslims. Rice is served in plantain leaf and sauces are also served in the same leaf. Uncultivated and uninhabited land is not to be seen. Each house is situated in the centre of a cultivated area. The people of this country do not use animals to carry goods. Travelling is on foot Only Kings use horses. There is a conveyance called mañcal (Palanquin). Slaves are used as Palanquin bearers. I have seen roads which could be used so fearlessly, only in Kerala and, no where else in the world. Capital punishment is given to one who steals even a coconut. The people of this country respect Muslims.

There are twelve kings in Malabar. None of them are Muslims. Many of them are powerful having an army of more than fifty-thousand soldiers. But there are no quarrels or clashes among them. The powerful do not have the desire to subjugate the less powerful. The inheritants of these kings are not sons, but nephews (sons of sisters). Besides the people of Kerala I have seen only the Muslims of the country of Salam on the banks of the Niger in Africa who have adopted the system of inheritance in the female line."

Ibn Batuta has given some minor descriptions about the towns of Maṅgalāpuram, Ezhumala, Kaṇṇūr Calicut, Pāliyam, Crāṅganūr and Quilon.

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