Sanskrit sources of Kerala history

by Suma Parappattoli | 2010 | 88,327 words

This study deals with the history of Kerala based on ancient Sanskrit sources, such as the Keralamahatmyam. The modern state known as Keralam or Kerala is situated on the Malabar Coast of India. The first chapter of this study discusses the historical details from the inscriptions. The second chapter deals with the historical points from the Mahatm...

This book contains Sanskrit text which you should never take for granted as transcription mistakes are always possible. Always confer with the final source and/or manuscript.

Sukasandesa[1] is the first and foremost among the Sandesakavyas of Kerala in Sanskirti literature. Mahakavi Lakshmidasa in the author of this Kavya. He is supposed to have been a Namputiri Brahmin of Kerala. He lived in the house Karinnampatti at Kanayanur taluk in Cochin[2] during the 14th C. AD[3]. This is a unique poem in several respects. This kavya has 164 verses, 14 in Parvabhaga and 90 in Uttarabhaga.

The theme is the message sent by the lover through a parrot to his counterpart. The messenger is to go from Ramesvaram in the South where the separated lover so journs, upto Trkkanamatilakam referred to as Gunaka, which is situated near the modern crangannore in north Kerala.

Places, temples, mountains, rivers etc.

The route covers various places of cultural and historical interest like cape comorin, Sucindram, Trivandrum, Quilon, Tiruvalla, Kaduthuruthi etc. In this Kavya after the description of the city called Manalur in Tamilnadu and the mountain Sahya, the poet direct the messenger to enter into Kerala through a nirjhara or a waterfall which is identified with a cascade called ‘Olakka Aruvi’ in the ‘Asambhu’ Sub-range of the Sahya mountain. The great temples in these localities are mentioned along with their characteristic features. Rivers like Phulla and Curni are referred to on the way.

Sukasandesa refers to Kollam as the capital city of the Kupaka kings, situated on the seashore endowed with all riches. This gem among the cities appears as it placed there by the sea, brought from its in most depths became of the fear of being churned on again. The description of the marchantile city of Kollam shows that it was very prosperous and a well developed city in those days[12]. The poem contains a vivid description of Trivandrum in as many as sixteen verses[4], but no historical date are available from them.

Historical details

The Sukasandesha refers to Sabaras or mountain races who are found all along the range of the Sahya ghats having a particular name at each place such as Todas, Vedas, Mannans, Kanis etc. The women of these mountain races were necklaces of seeds of Gunja as described in the present context in the Sukasandesa

The legendary account of Brahmin ascendancy of Kerala is referred to in the Sukasandesa. According to this Parasurama founded Keralam and divided the land into sixty four Brahmin villages and prescribed for the land on oligarchical form of Government in which all these villages were represented. While describing the capital city of Mahodayapuram, it refers to the residence of the Brahmins by whose consent the kings were consecrated and who exercised virtual control over the 64 gramas of Kerala[5]. Along with those who were proficient in Sastras, some Brahmins specialised in the use of military weapons.

The countries ruled over by the Ksatriyas and the names of some important kings occur in many Sandesakavyas. The king of Mahodayapuram is described in Sanskrit as the emperor under whom rarious feudal chieffains were ruling different parts of the land[6]. S.K. mention pulindas (hunters) in the Sahya range who kill groups of animals by guile[7].

Kaimukku Ordeal

This kavya also refers to the famous ‘Kaimukku’ ordeal[8] (ordeal of boiling ghee). It was introduced by the Nambutiri Brahmins who migrated to the country. A popular method employed for detecting criminals was by ordeal. In S.K. there is allusion to the Kaimukku ordeal at Sucindram temple. The most important historical mention found in the poem is that of the Sucindram pratyaya or the ordeal of boiled ghee that was in the Sucindram temple. This is perhaps the earliest mention, literary or otherwise, of the Sucindra pratyaya Kaimukku, literally means dipping the hand, was a peculiar method of testing the innocence of a suspected offender. The usage yasminnadyāpi ca in the verse indicates that the ordeal was extent at the time of composition of the poem[9].

The statement in the Sukasandesha[10] that the great Brahmins of Mahodayapuram, by whose blessings the king became the lord of a kingdom, is an allusion to the Ariyittuvazhcha ceremony. It is a ceremony connected with the coronation of a Kerala Cheiftain. Brahmins like Azhvancheri Tamprakal enjoyed the privilege of conducting this ceremony as a hereditary right.

The dancing girls attached to the temples were known as devadasis. As the name suggests, they were dedicated to the service of the duties. This system was as old as the ancient Dravidian civilization Delineation of the charms of Devadasis and their historionic talents is obtained in the Sandesakavyas. Sanskrit is full of references and descriptions of the girls of the dancing community. The heroine herself was a well known dancer of Trkkanamatilakam. At Trkkanamatilakam dance performances were held in the theatre of big temples. Devadasis retired from active service and instructed the newly recruited dancing girls in the science of sex[11].

While describing the Brahmin village at Trippunitura the author refers to a learned scholar by name Subrahmanya. He is identified with a member of the Puliyannur Brahmin family which was famous for Tantra. In the same context the poet refers to a scholar named Bana who was an opponent of Subrahmanya.[12].

Footnotes and references:

[1]:

Ed. Dr. N.P. Unni 1985 with Malayalam translation by Madam Paramesvaran Nambutiri and commentary by Puliyannur S. Rama Iyyer, Kottayam, 1968—Journal of Royal Asiatic Society, London 1884, Ananthanarayana Sastri -Mangalodaya 113 M.E.

[2]:

Kerala Sahitya Caritram, Ullur I -P 142, Keraleya Samskrita Sahitya Caritram I -P 271—V.V. Sarma -Laksmidasa kavih, Kerala University -XXII, No. 4, P 85

[3]:

lokatrayāmakhilatanubhṛllocanaikāvalambe
kolambe'smin kvacana bhavataḥ ko'pi mābhūd vilambaḥ
alpīyassāyāmapi paricitāvanyadeśādiśāyi
nyāścaryāṇāmahamahamikāyā kasya karṣenna cetaḥ ||

[4]:

Sukasandesa I -40 -45

[5]:

vācā yeṣāṃ bhavati nṛpatirvallabho rājyalakṣmyā
grāmān ṣaṣṭiṃ catura iva ye grāhyaceṣṭā nayanti |
śastre śāstre'pi ca bhṛgunibhaiḥ śaśvadudbhāsate yā
vipraindraistairvipulamaṭhavaryāvalīṣu sthalīṣu ||
(I-69)

[6]:

uttīrṇastāmudacidayitāmuttareṇa kramethā
rājatpattidvipahayarathānīkinīṃ rājadhānīm |
rājñāmājñāniyamitanṛṇāmānanairbhūridhāmnāṃ
rājā rājetyavanivalaye gīyate yanniketaḥ ||
(I-68)

[7]:

tatra dvaite laghurapi sakhe varjanīyāḥ kadadhvā
ruddhopāntacchalita nihataprāṇivṛndaiḥ pulindaiḥ |
vakraḥ svecchāvaśagamana! te hastavāmo'stu panthāḥ
paśya tyajyaḥ khalu paṭudhiyā pākṣikopyantarāyaḥ ||
(I-28)

[8]:

śuddhisthanaṃ kila bhagavatastacchucīndraṃ mahendrasyāsevethāḥ prathitamavanau mandiraṃ candramauleḥ |
yasminnadyāpi ca sadasatoḥ karmaṇoḥ sūkṣmayorapyālakṣyante bhuvi tanubhṛtāmātmahaste phalāni ||
(I-37)

[9]:

For details about the Sucindrapratyayam vide Dr. K.K. Pillai -The Sucindram temple, Madras, 1953, Pp 299 -325 and K. Mahesvaran Nair -Kerala caritrattile cila maulika rekhakal, Tvm 1974 P.P. 50-52

[10]:

Sukasandesa I -6

[11]:

prāptavyaṃ te prakṛtisubhagaṃ preyasaḥ śailaputryāḥ
krīḍāgāraṃ guṇapuramiti khyātamāśāmukheṣu |
citraṃ raṅge vinihitapadāścittaraṅgeṣu yūnāṃ
nṛtyantyāvirlalitamabalā yatra sandhyotsaveṣu ||
(I-15)
tatrodasya stabakamukhataḥ svedabindūn marandān
gānāsaktāḥ svayamanugamayyābhirāmālirāmāḥ
āśrāntena śvasanaguruṇāmoditā coditānāṃ
lāsyakrīḍāmanubhava latālasikābālikānām ||
(I-33)

[12]:

For more details see—
(a) A survey on the system of messenger poems in Kerala—Dr. K. Chandrasekharan Nair -1988 -Pp 15 -25
(b) Some Sandesakavyas and their bearing on Kerala History E. Esvaran Nambutiri Journal of Kerala Studies -Vol. V -1978 -Pp 43 -51
(c) Historical and cultural gleenings from Sandesakavyas of Kerala—M.T. Muralidharan -Uty of Kerala -1994 (PhD Thesis)

Let's grow together!

I humbly request your help to keep doing what I do best: provide the world with unbiased sources, definitions and images. Your donation direclty influences the quality and quantity of knowledge, wisdom and spiritual insight the world is exposed to.

Let's make the world a better place together!

Like what you read? Consider supporting this website: