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Kerala is the ideal place for re-tracing Aryanisation of Tamilakam. Here Aryanisation took place during the later period of the 9th century A.D. This may be linked to the mysterious disapperance of Cheraman Perumal the Great (789-825 A.D.) and the pre-ponderance of Adhi Sankara (788-830 A.D.) over the Indian polity. In this context, a reading of the puranic exposition, KERALORPATHI (or) Keralolpathi) is essential to understand the socio-politico change that engulfed the Tamil Chera Empire and converting it into a ‘Malayam Kerala’.

parasuramaThe earlier part of the ‘Parasurama Story’ of “destroying 26 Kshatriya Kings, donating those countries to the Brahmans, throwing his axe into the Arabian Sea and re-claiming land between Gokarnam and Kannyakumari” are well known to the readers. However, the later part is most important which reveals the whole plot to vanquish the Great Tamil Empire of Cheras. 

The land thus reclaimed is even now known in common parlance as Parasurama-kshetram or the land of Parasurama. It is said in the Purana that Parasurama desired the Trimurtis and the Devas to give a fitting name to his new land.

God Siva called it ‘Kerala- in honour of the marriage of the Sea-king’s daughter to Keralan, son of Jayanta. Vishnu gave him his Sudarsanam (Discus) and Siva his Vrisbahham (Bull) and these were consecrated at Srim-ulastanam in Trichur. Then Vishnu crowned him king and commanded him to found 24,000 temples and govern the land according to the Dharma-Sastras.

It is also known as Karma-bhumi or the land of good deeds, meaning that a man’s salvation depends entirely upon good actions, as opposed to the other coast, which is called Punnyabhumi, where mere birth goes a great way towards redemption from sin. The reclaimed land is the tract of country now covered by Canara, Malabar, Cochin and Travancore.

The new land was not fit for habitation; the settling down had not been completed. The quaking did not cease, so the Purana says; hence Parasurama sprinkled gold dust and buried coins and thus formed a treasure-trove which stopped the quaking of the land. He prepared a great yagam (sacrifice) at Varkala for the same purpose. Thereafter Parasurama brought colonies of Brahmins from the north, from the banks of the Krishna,’ the Godaveri, the Narmada, the Kaveri and from Madura, Mysore, the Maharashtra and from many other places and peopled Keralam. The Brahmin colonists so brought belonged to eight gotrams families. The Arya Brahmins formerly set out from Ahikshetram came to reside in the Kshetram of Samanta-Panchakam called also Kuru-kshetra, from which they were brought by Parasurama and settled in Keralam.

Parasurama then went to Paradesa (foreign country), where he met a Kshatriya whom be persuaded to go with him to Kerala, and with his aid brought and established eighteen Samanta families there.Then he brought a representative of each profession, viz:—Carpenter, Blacksmith, Oilmonger, Goldsmith, Barber, Stone-mason, Washerman & c. Separate houses were built for them and rules for their conduct were framed.

Parasurama introduced several changes inthe customs of his Brahmin colonists to prevent them from going back to their native country, which they did from time to time and thus greatly retarded the progress of Parasurama’s repeated attempts at colonisation of his new land. Some of the changes were :—

(1) That the males should give up their back tuft of hair and adopt the front tuft now so universal in Malabar;

(2) That the boy’s Samavartanam should be celebrated at the age of sixteen, when he gives up the austerities of a bachelor’s life.This is for the followers of the Rig-Veda.‘Those who fellow the Yagur- Veda celebrate the Samavartanam at the age of 12;

(3) That in the reciting of the Veda, a nodding of the head is a necessary accompaniment, so abhorrent to the Vedic scholars of the old country. They also reprobate the swaram or intonation adopted by the Nambudiri Brahmins in the recitation of the Veda;

(4) That even married males need not wear more than one Brahminical holy thread or Yagnyopavitam while on the other coast the double thread is an invariable symbol of the married man;

(5) That the eldest son alone need marry;

(6) That one Brahmin alone is sufficient to be fed at a Sraddham, while two is the invariable number on the other coast;

(7) That a sweetmeat locally known as Vatsan be given to the fed Brahmins after Sraddha meal. This of course will be quite abhorrent to the feelings of the other coast people where the-fed Brahmins are expected to eat nothing for the next twenty-four hours;

(8) That females when they get out of their houses should be protected from profane gaze by a big cajan umbrella and accompanied by a Sudra maid-servant

(9) That females need not adorn themselves with jewels considered so indispensable on the other coast;

(10) That women need not wear more than a single cloth tied round their loins. This is generally nine cubits long.—one end of which is passed between the legs and fixed in the waist behind, while the other end is wrapped round. This covers but a small portion of the body below the waist, while on the other coast women wear a single cloth, of course, about sixteen or eighteen cubits long, which is tied round in such a way as to cover from ankle to the neck and sometimes up to the back part of the head.

A short petticoat (ravika) is used there in addition, to cover the breasts; no such apparel is known on this coast.

(11) And that no Brahmin woman should take a second husband.

But the land newly reclaimed from the sea was a most inhospitable region to live in, being already occupied by fearful Nagas, a race of hilltribes who drove the Brahmins back to their own lands. Parasurama persevered again and again bringing hosts of Brahmins more from every part of India to settle in and colonise his new land ; the Nagas were propitiated under his orders by a portion of the land being given to them and thus his own Brahmin colonists and the Nagas lived side by side without molesting each other. And by way of conciliation and concession to the old settlers (Nagas) who were serpentworshippers, Parasurama ordered his own colonists to adopt their form of worship, and thus serpent-worship on this coast early received Parasurama’s sanction. These Nagas became the (Kiriathu) Nayars of later Malabar claiming superiority in rank and status over the rest of the Malayali Sudras of the west coast.

The land was parcelled out into sixty-four villages and given to the Brahmin colonists with flower and water to be enjoyed as a Brahmakshetram.This giving with water and flower is of the nature of an out and out free gift and is called the Raja-amsam. Parasurama also brought other Sudras, to whom he assigned the duty of cultivating the land and otherwise serving the Brahmin colonists. These Sudras were in addition to the Nayars, the early settlers, who had been conciliated and won over as servants and tenants as shown above. He also brought cattle and other animals for agricultural purposes The Brahmins thus became the lords paramount of the new colony. It may be truly said of these Brahmin colonists of Parasurama that though they had not the law and were a law unto themselves, they were so good by nature that they did the things contained in the law.

Owing allegiance to no one except to themselves and paying no taxes which would be indicative of the value of protection by a ruling power, they became the sovereign-jenmies of Keralam. But it soon transpired that the Brahmins were not able to rule the land properly.

Parasurama after consecrating the temple at Srivardhanapuram brought a prince from the East Coast named Bhanuvikrama, a Somavamsa- Kshatriya, and crowned him King of Kerala at Srivardhanapuram, presenting him at the same time with his own sword. One of his brothers, Udaya Varma, was at the same time crowned at Gokarnam to rule over Chera.

According to the Keralolpatti, the land of Parasurama was very early divided into four separate Districts or Khandoms as they were called, viz., Tulu Khandom, from Gokarnam to Perumpuzha river. Kupa Khandom, from Perumpuzha to Kottah river. Kerala Khandom, from Putupattanam to Kannetti including the southern half of the Kurumbranad Taluq, Cochin and North Travancore, and Mushika Khandom, extending from Kannetti to Cape Comorin.

Some time later, Aditya Varma, Bhanuvikrama’s nephew, was crowned King again by Parasurama who presented him with a sword as bright as the sun. After peopling the land and finding kings to rule it, Parasurama inaugurated the military system, founded temples and shrines, laid down the acharams or rules of conduct to his new colonists and instituted schools of medicine. He instituted the Mahamakham, Hiranyagarbham and Tulapurushadanam ceremonies and founded several more temples and shrines and places of pilgrimage.

The origin of Hiranyagarbham ceremony is thus stated:— A relative of Udaya Varma, King of Kola (Kolathunad or South Canara) became a convert to Islam and went to Mecca where he died. As one of the females of the Kola family happened to perform the funeral rites of the convert, the Brahmins excommunicated the family of Udaya Varma, whereupon Parasurama in consultation with sage Narada advised him to perform the Hiranyagarbham as an expiatory ceremony. The ceremony was performed and Udaya Varma and his family were readmitted into caste. The ceremony has ever since been performed by all the kings of Kerala. It is said that Parasurama himself performed the Hiranyagarbham and Tulapurushadanam ceremonies before he celebrated the Mahamakham. At this ceremony it is said the first seat was given to Kulasekhara Perumal (King of Travancore), and the second seat to Udaya Varma.

The Keralolpatti then describes how certain of the Brahmins, namely those of the Bharadwaja gotram, received the Sastra-biksha (alms of weapons) with the consent of all and having stretched out their hands accepted the weapons from Parasurama; how fencing schools with tutelary deities were established ; how the Goddess Durga was set to guard the sea-shore on the west and the God Sastha the Ghauts on the east, and also how all the sixty-four gramams having been ordered to adopt the law of succession through the females (Marumakkattayam), only one village (Payyannur) in the extreme north of Keralam obeyed.

He afterwards established 108 fields (paradegrounds) of 42 feet square each, called Kalaris for purposes of drill and training in arms, and in each of these he placed an image of the gods who preside over arms and war and then lamps were lit and pujas ordained.After the departure of Parasurama, the Brahmins became the virtual rulers of the land.

They divided the land into a number of Desams (Cantons) and in each they erected a Kshetram, consecrated it and placed an image in them and performed puja with lamps and with the prescribed rituals. They also established Adima (bondage) and Kudima (husbandry), protected Adiyar (slaves) and Kudiyar (husbandmen) and appointed Tara and Taravattukar. They then established the privileges of their respective stations and continued the custom of Kanam and Jenmam and erected houses for the Brahmins.

They tried different systems of Government. An Oligarchy was tried first. Four villages namely:—Peryanur. Perunchallur. Parappur, and Chengannur were selected to represent the sixtyfour villages and they were given authority to act in place of the whole.

The Keralolpatti thus describes the political organisation of this oligarchy:- “In this manner when sixty-four Gramams and twenty-one Desams were established, the sixty-four Gramams assembled and ordained or fixed that a Raksha Purusha should be elected once in three years in order to punish and protect.

“There were also appointed Nal-Kulakams or four courts or assemblies at Panniur, Paravur, Chenganiur and Parumchellur. While the armed Brahmins were ruling the land, it is said disputes arose and injustice ensued. So the Brahmins assembled and appointed a ‘Protector’ from each of the four villages selected, to hold office for three years and assign to each Protector one-sixth of all the land for the support of himself and his staff.

This institution too did not work well and the people were oppressed by the Protectors, who sought to make the most of their opportunities during their short terms of office. So the Brahmins assembled at Tirunavoyy, resolved to appoint a king and empowered the four selected villages to choose a ‘King’. Their first choice fell on “ Keya Perumal “ of Keyapuram in the country east of the Ghauts. He was brought to Keralam and installed as the first of the ‘Perumals’ in the year of Kali Era, Bhuman bhupoyum prapya, corresponding to A.D.216. The dates in Keralolpatti and other old books are sometimes given in some such phrases generally appropriate in meaning and easy catchwords to be remembered, and which accurately represent in letters the number of the years or days of the Yuga referred to. The Hindu chronologist will read the phrase Bhuman bhupoyam prapya thus :—4/Bhu 5/man 4/bhu 1/po 1/yam 2/pra 1/pya, which figure when read from the right to the left gives 1,211,454 days, or divided by 365 days per year, 3,317 years of the Kali Era. Today is 5006 Kali Era. Hence according to the chronogram, the installation of the first Perumal was in A.D. 216.

It was arranged that he should rule for twelve years. The Brahmins also made an agreement with the king thus appointed, to take an oath to the following effect:-— “Do that which is beyond our power to do and protect; when complaints happen to arise, we will settle them among ourselves; you are not to question us on that point. For formality’s sake you may ask why we deal with affairs ourselves after making you a king.”

At this day even when complaints arise, the king says :— “Why do you deal with them ? Why did you not make your complaint to me ?” This is on account of the original oath. They also assigned lands to the king and poured water and granted that land, which is called Viruthi and was the Royal demesne; some estates they granted to him and some to the Brahmins themselves and some as benefices of temples to be enjoyed in Keralam.

After the Keya Perumal who ruled only eight years and four months, came the Chola and Pandya Perumals. Then comes in a tradition of the king Bhutaraya Pandy Perumal, between whom and the Brahmins there arose a bitter enmity. He was supposed to be guarded by two spirits and the Brahmins not being able to compass his destruction, one of them, it is said, assassinated him by first winning over the services of the guardian spirits. From the Brahmin thus polluted by murder the Nambidi easte arose.

Although ‘Keralolpatti’ appears to be of mythological presentation, it has direct links with Aryanisation of the Chera Empire and rendering the present geographical limits of the present Kerala State, excepting the territory of Venadu or the erstwhile Travancore country into a ‘Brahman Colony. Historically, “a large number of Brahmin Community migrated into Kerala from Kolhapur and other neighbouring areas in the 8th Century A.D... there were instances for taking upto arms and carving out small principalities... In the subsequent centuries they fabricated a myth according to which Parasurama hurled his axe into the sea... and Kerala emerged as virgin Land”. (Page. 7, A History of Malayalam Languge & Literature by Krishnan Chaitanya.) Based on the authority of “Keralolpatti”, Nambudri Brahmans could exercise control over the land and people as well as the Rajas. As the ownership of the land rested with the Brahmans, the Rajas were not empowered to offer grants as persisted elsewhere in India, where ownership of the land vested with the state and the kings donated them to the Brahmans and Temples.

This situation in Kerala may look strange, but true. T.K. Velupillai avers that donating land to Nambudri Brahmans, by Parasurama, as stated in “Keralolpatti” story is the beginning of ‘private ownership’ of land in Kerala. He further says that the monopoly over land by Nambudri Brahmans was once upheld by the Madras High Court (then exercising jurisdiction over Malabar area). (Travancore State Manual by T.K.Velupillai, Vol.1, Page.127)

It is noteworthy to find the revelations by Dr.Kesavan Veluthat of ‘University of Delhi’ that similar stories linked to Parasurama are prevalent in Gujarath, Maharashtra and Konkan area also (Page - 136/137-The Early Medieval in South India, Oxford University Press, 2009). He says ‘that a Legand migrated from the North to the South along the coast, which is indication that a moving chain of group migration. The Brahmanical groups wanted to remember this as a important item in relation to their past, as the control they had in large areas of land received considerable sanction from this memory’.

(Image courtesy: Science of Hinduism)

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