The Chera Coins
Kongu Chera Coins
Kongu Chera Coins
The coinage of the Cheras has not received the attention it deserves. An attempt is made here to outline its features.
Aristotle mentions a place called Keras, identified with the Chera country.(1) The Taitriya Aranyaka refers to "Cherapada". This is taken to refer to the Chera country by P. T. Srinivasa Iyangar.(2) B. Keith also refers to it as the Chera country.(3) It is not unlikely that the Chera country was known well enough in the time of Taitriya Aranyaka to be referred to in it.
The Periplus mentions Kerala as "Cerobothra" while Pliny, the Roman historian of the first century, calls it Caelobothras. In contemporary Tamil country, it is invariably referred to as the Chera country(4) So it is evident that the original name of the people and country was Chera as mentioned in Tamil literature and all the foreign notices. K. A. Nilakanta Sastri places Krala in South Malabar extending upto Central Travancore. He holds that it also included the district styled Mushika, Strabo"s "Mausikanos".(5) Asoka refers to Kelalaputo (also read as Ketalaputo) in his Girnar inscription.(6) The ending putra in Kelalaputo etc., denotes the children of the soil."(7)
It is necessary to understand the words Kelalaputo and Satiyaputo occurring in Asoka"s inscription. In early Tamil literature the Cheras are referred to as Cheralas and Cheramans. The word Kerala does not occur in Sangam works. This is a Prakrit tradition. However the Kalsi inscription of Asoka gives the name as Kelaputo standing for Cheraman.(8) The suffix Puto (Skt. Putra) was assumed by some dynasties of the South like the Satavahanas who assumed such titles as vasitti putra, and Gautami putra. The interesting silver coin of "Vasishti putra Satakai" bears the Prakrit legend Vasitti putasa Siri Satakanisa on the observe. On the reverse the legend is given in Tamil as Vacitti makan Tiru Catakani.(9) The point of interest here is the word makan appearing as an equivalent of the wordputa found on the obverse. The word makan is often shortened as man in Tamil, Perumakan often occurring as Peruman. So his Cheerala Puta of the Asoka rcord stands for Cheraman. Satiyaputa has been rightly identified with Atiya. The word Satiyaputa stands for Atiyaman. A point worthy of note at this stage is Asoka"s reference to these two rulers with the appendix puto, while he does not include the term for either the Chola or the Pandya. In doing so Asoka has preserved to us the early Tamil tradition. In early Sangam works, most of the Cheras are called Cheramans and Atiyas, Atiyaman. This term man was not appended to either Chola or Pandya. So it is evident that the usage Cheraman and Atiyaman quite popular in Tamilnadu, was known even in the imperial court of Asoka. That would show that by the time ofAsoka, in the 3rd century B.C., the Tamil country had well organised states, administered by rulers of eminence and that they were in active contact with Pataliputra. In fact Asoka says that his emissaries went to these courts.
The earliest Chera king referred to in Tamil literature seems to be Udiyan Cheral, who is placed in 17 A.D. by Sesha Iyer(10) and 130 A.D. by K.A. Nilakanta Sastri.(11) Sastri mainly relies on the Gajabahu synchronism, while Sesha Iyer mainly on the date of burning of Madurai by Kannaki as referred to in the Silappadhikaram.
Sesha Iyer"s date is arbitrary while Sastri"s view needs reevaluation in the light of recent studies of Tamil cave inscriptions, Quite a considerable number of inscriptions have been found in recent times hrowing valuable light on the evolution of the script which also has to be considered in determining the age. The most important is the Pugalur (Aranattarmalai) inscription.(12) This refers to three generations of Chera rulers Adam Cheral Irrumporai, his son Perumkadungo, and his son Ilamkadungo. The charter was issued when Perum Kadungo was the ruling monarch and Ilam Kadungo was appointed crown prince. On grounds of paleography, the inscription is assigned to the first-second century A.D. It would be more appropriate the ascribe it to the first century A.D. It is not unlikely that the Cheras of the Sangam classics ruled during the first two centuries of the Christian era. One point of interest is the reference to a gold merchant of Karur in the pugalur epigraph.(13) It shows there were flourishing mercantile communities including traders in gold, in the capital of the Cheras. Another point is that Karur is hardly 12 km. from Pugalur. Besides this Chera epigraph, the recent excavations at Karur by the Tamilnadu State Department of Archaeology has yielded inscribed pot-sherds with Brahmi inscriptions. Further Roman Amphora pieces and rouletted ware have been found. The find of Kaeoline ware and Russet coated ware in excavations attest to the active contact of this capital with the Romans. Already Karur has yielded several hundred Roman coins. This would almost clinch he vexed question of the capital of the Cheras. Karur (which was also known as Vanci) in Trichy district was the capital of the Cheras of the Sangam age.
The suggestion that Udiyan Cheral was the founder of the dynasty(14) cannot be accepted. If he came to the throne at the beginning of the Sangam age, there ought to have ruled many Chera rulers atleast from the reign of Asoka till the reign of udiyan for nearly 250 years. The question would arise who was the Chera ruling at the time of Asoka. The other possibility is that some of the Cheras mentioned in Sangam literature should have lived in the centuries before Christ. This needs further study. A list of outstanding Cheras and their achievements is given below for a proper appreciation of their economy and coinage.
The earliest Chera to be known by name is Udiyan Cheraladan who had the title "Perum Chorru Udiyan". He was ruling a prosperous land and wealth, yielded by the deep sea and also the treasures brought in vessels by rich foreign merchants. He is said to have fed the armies of the Kauravas and the Pandavas in the Mahabharata war. He was a great patron of Vedic sacrifices and was served by faithful ministers. His royal kitchen is said to have been at Kulumur identified with Kulukur in North Travancore.(15) He had the title Vanavaramban and was a great patron of poets. His queen was Nallini, the daughter of Veliyan Venman. He is said to have ruled from the east to the west coast and is praised for his elephant corps and cavalry.
NEDUM CHERAL ADAN
Udiyan Cheral"s son was Nedum Cheral Adan, who had the title Imayavaramban. He conquered seven kings and ruled a vast territory which is said to have extended from Kanyakumari to the Himalayas. He conquered the gold producing Konganam of Nannan. This conquest is praised by many pots. He is also credited with imprinting the Chera emblem on the Himalayas. The vanquishedYavanas brought tribute from their slips, which included golden images, rubies and other nidhis. He conquered Mantai or Marandai; captured and imprisoned the Yavanas; tied their hands at the back and poured ghee over their head. Rich donations of jewels to temples and 500 villages in Umbarkadu were gifted by him.(16)
PALYANAI SELKELU KUTTUVAN
Imayavaramban"s brother was Playanai Selkelu Kuttuvan the Lord of Puli Nadu, and Ayirai malai (identified with Aiyirai Malai in Central Travancore by Sesha Iyer).(17) He conquered Kongarnadu; followed the path of Brahmins, assisted Palai Gautaman to perform ten Yagas. He adored the Gods and received guests by offering them sacrificial feeding. He is called the leader of Malavas (Kolli and Paccur area). Nedum Paradayar was his Minister. He conquered Ahappa and Umbarkadu. His rule extended from the east to the west coast. He strengthened his elephant corps and adored Durga at Ayirai.
Narmudi Cheral wore a special crown made of gold (in the form of Kalamkay) and won the title Kalamkaykanni Narmudicceral. He was a son of Imayavaramban Nedum Cheral. He won a decisive victory over Anji of Tagadur and Nannan of Pulinadu. (Sesha Iyer identifies Tagadur with a place in Karnataka, though he does not locate it exactly).(18) He was a great Vaishnavite. The temple of Vishnu where he worshiped is identified with Thiru Anantapuram. Veliyam a village of him is described.(19) Narumudic Cheral gifted 40 lakhs gold coins to the poet Kappiyanar.
Senguttuvan, the greatest of the Chera rulers was a son of Imaya Varamban, through Manakkilli, a Chola princess. He conquered Viyalur of Nannan Velman, crossed the river and captured Kodukur, and defeated Palaiyan. Nine Chola princess fought against his brother-in-law Killi. They were defeated by Senguttuvan. Senguttuvan waged a successful war against Kongar, won a decisive battle against the Yavanas on the sea and got the title Kadal Pirakkottiya.(20) The ships of the Yavanas called in large numbers, at the port of Musiri and in exchange for gold took back cargoes of pepper and other products.(21) He received a request from Satakani for assistance and went on a northern expedition. He ruled for fifty five years. He is celebrated for erecting a temple to Kannaki. A great patron of letters and dance, he gifted the revenue from Umbarkadu, to the poet Paranar.
Another son of Imaya Varamban and brother of Narmudic Cheral was Adukopattuc Cheraladan. Valuable commodities brought into his port were stored in godowns. He invited people from other areas and bestowed presents on them. His kingdom extend beyond the port of Naravu, identified with "Naoura" of the Periplus or the "Nitra" of Pliny, identified with Mangalore. Karikala"s opponent Chraman Perum Cheral Adan is identified with this ruler by Sesha Iyer.(22) He rewarded a poetess, Naccellaiyar, with gold. After rule of 38 years he was defeated at Venni and died.
A son of Antuvan, Selvakkadungo Valiadan was sung about by Kapilar. He held, Brahmins in great respect. At the conclusion of a yaga, he dedicated the village Okantur to Vishnu his tutelary deity. He gifted 100,000 gold coins to Kapilar and all the land one could see from the top of a hill. He was an idol of the poets. Mantaram Poraiyan Kadungo, Pasumput Poraiyan and Perumput Poraiyan are probably identical with him. He ruled for 25 years and died at Chikkarpalli.
Perumcheral Irumporai was a son of Selvakkadungo, through Paduman devi, a daughter of Velavi Koman. He defeated the Atiyaman chief at Nirkur situated at Kolli Kurram; captured Tagadur and Nocci and defeated the two rulers. He gifted his entire throne, palace and 900,000 Kanam, to Arisil Kilar. But the poet gave back the kingdom and was happy to serve as a minister. Also called Kodai Marba, he ruled for seventeen years.
Ilam Cheral Irumporai was a son of Kuttuvan Irumporai through Cellai, daughter, of Maiyur Kilan Venmal Antuvan. He defeated the two kings, Vicci, Ilam Palaiyan Maran of Vittai, Perumchola the ruler of Potti; "captured Vanci-mutur and five forts; had Maiyur Kilan as his minister, brought the great Bhuta from Vanci, (of the catukka), gifted 32,000 Kanam, gifted lands and villages. His land abounded in sandal wood and ahil. He was the lord of Tondi, Kongar Nadu, Kuttuvar Nadu and Puli Nadu, and ruled for sixteen years.
PALAI PADIYA PERUMKADUNGO
Sesha Iyer holds that Perumkadungo came in the main line.(23) He was a ruler of Vanci and a friend of the Pandya. He is said to have been posterior to Senguttvan was an eminent poet and is probably identical with Perumkadungo of the Pugalur record.(24)
The ports were even more numerous on the west coast than on the east and in closer contact with the traders of Roman empire. Musiri was perhaps the leading emporium in the Purananuru, speaks of the sale of fish for paddy, of bags of pepper, and of the transport of a variety of merchandise in small boats from the large ships to the shore. Bandar and Kodumanam were other ports with a wealth of sea-borne imports. Bandar was noted for its pearls and Kodumanam for rare jewels. Mention is made of the abundance of quarterzite precious stones in the hills of the Chera country and we find allusions to artisans skilled in the repair and refitting of ships".(25) Pliny in his Natural History states that "Musiris was the first emporium of India;(26) He adds "The station for ships is at a distance from the shore and cargoes have to be landed and shipped by means of little boats. There reigned there, when I wrote this, Coelobothros". The Periplus says, "Musiri a city at the height of prosperity was two miles distance from he mouth of the river on which it is situated and was the seat of the Government of the Kingdom under the sway of Kaprobothras.(27)
It is evident from the above that the Cheras were the most powerful rulers among the Sangam monarchs and controlled a vast territory from Karur in Tiruchirapalli district to Musiris in the west coast which covered a part of southern Karnataka and Konkan. They were in contact with the Satavahans. Among the Tamil kings, the Cheras are mentioned most frequently in connection with the Yavanas, either subduing them on the sea or encouraging their trade. Besides agriculture the fact that trade flourished in their land gets repeated mention. Though barter like fish for paddy, is mentioned there was considerable exchange of gold and currency, proved by archaeological evidence and literature. Gold merchants from Karur mentioned in the Pugalur epigraph of the Cheras attest the important trade in this precious metal. The Romans brought vast amounts of gold. The Cheras frequently seized the gold producing Konkan. The Cheras of the Sangam age must have issued a currency.
The coinage of the Cheras may be studied under three groups, (a) the punch marked coins found in Tamilnadu, (b) The Roman coins found in large numbers and (c) the local issues.
PUNCH MARKED COINS
About the punch marked coins of Kerala, Parameshwara Lal Gupta states "Except two hoards the finds of coins are not properly recorded anywhere, nor are they kept secure to enable one to study them". One of the hoards consists of 184 coins of silver punch marked coins found in Kottayam distsrict and the other from Iyyal village, Cochin district. The latter includes 12 gold Roman coins, 71 Roman dinarius and 34 silver punch marked coins. The date of the deposit may be placed convincingly around 100 A.D."(28)
Mr. Gupta"s analysis shows that Roman coins were in circulation along with the punch marked coins and (b) by 100 A.D. the Roman coins have found their way to Tamil country.
The archaeological evidence from Arikkamedu, should be considered as Wheeler places the Roman settlement at Arikkamedu at 25 B.C. or to the beginning of the Christian era, the phase of Arretine being circa 50 A.D.(29) "Since Muziri was the port of inflow of Roman coins into India, it is reasonable to expect may finds of Roman coins in this state. But curiously enough we have hardly any knowledge of the find of Roman coins in this state. Besides Iyyal, the only other hoard noticed so far is Kottayam".(30) The find of gold and silver Roman coins along with the silver punch marked coin in the hoard suggests that the Roman coins were not only imported but that the people of the country accepted them as current coins. Roman coins were of the same weight as punch marked coins.
It would therefore be reasonable to infer that the commercial potentialities of the Tamil country had reached an attractive stage even in the first century B.C. to attract Roman trade. It is also seen that most of the items sought by the Romans were the products of the Chera country. The Chera country should have had a developed economy for such a trade. So the date 2nd century A.D. assigned by K.A. Nilakanta Sastri seems to me too late and I am inclined to place it in Ist century B.C. to Ist century A.D. That the punch marked coins were in circulation in the Chera country is attested. In the literature of the period we get references to the following currency-Ka, Pon, Kanam and Kasu. What these mean can at best only be conjectured. In the Sangan age gold, silver, copper and probably lead were well known. The Chera king Narmudi-cheral gifted 40,00,000 pon to the poet Kappiyan. Adu kotpattuc Cheraladan gifted nine Ka gold and 100,000 Kanam to the poetess Naccellai. The amount of nine Ka gold was given for ornament.(31) Selvakkadungo gifted 100,000 Kanam to Kapilar; Arisil Kilr got 900,000 Kanam from Perumcheral Irumporai-and Perum Kunrur Kilar got 32,000 Kanam from Ilam Cheral..
The third group of coins to be studied is the local issues of the Cheras. So far no coin has been identified as their issue. Judging from the volume of trade, mentioned under Cheras, it is unlikely that the Cheras did not issue any coin of their own. In this connection a particular group of coins found in large numbers in Tamilnadu but ascribed to the Pandyas deserves re-examination.
A large number of copper coins are square in shape, carrying on the observe well exequted figures of elephants, standing either with or without riders. The elephant is topped by a number of auspicious emblems, like Chakra, Srivatsa Kalasa, Chaitya etc. On the reverse is a triangular symbol topped by a semi circular arch. All most all writers on South Indian numismatics have taken these coins as Pandya issues.(32) The main reason seems to be the triangular symbol on the reverse, taken to be a conventional fish, as suggested by Codrington.(33) This was doubted by others who took it to represent the plan of the city of Madurai, with the river Vaigai.(34) The symbol is certainly not a fish. This is evident from the fact that there is a semi circular arch above the diagram. Secondly it cannot be considered the plan of Madurai. Fortunately we have a description in ancient literature of the lay out of Madurai. A verse in the Paripadal(35) tells us that the city was in the form of a fully blossomed lotus flower, the royal palace occupaying the centre. The triangular diagram on the reverse of the coin, does not conform to this description. Thirdly though the diagram appears on the reverse, it is clear that it is not the principal device on the coin. The main motif is the elephant on the obverse.
The elephant symbol occurs on the punch marked coins and also on some of the Satavahana coins. But in the issues found in Tamil nadu, it should be associated with the dynasty which used it as its emblem. It has been mentioned earlier, that it was the Cheras, who are frequently referred to as the owners of large groups of elephants. One of the Cheras assumed the title "Chera of several elephants". It is an indisputable fact that the elephant was closely associated with the Chera dynasty. Even in the mediaeval period, the coins of indisputably Chera origin, showing the bow and palmyra tree device, portray the elephant.
So the square coins with the elephant device must be considered the issues of the Cheras of the Sangam age. That the Cheras were the most dominant rules of the Sangam age has been mentioned earlier. Among the early coins of the Tamil country, the square coins with elephant, are found in greater numbers. This confirms our presumption.
A word must be said about the so called Buddhist symbols on these coins. That symbols which include Chaitya, Cakra, Srivatsa, Kalasa etc. are auspicious symbols of the pre-Buddhist age is well known though they are frequently met within the Buddhist context as well. All they seek to represent seems to be prosperity and plenty.
It is interesting that in the Sangam works the Chera kings are said to ascend the neck of the elephants.(36) In the coins under discussion where riders are shown, the principal rider is shown on the neck of the elephant. In some of he coins, Brahmi legends are said to occur I had no access so far to such a coin.
A few other coins, also square in shape but carrying a bull or fish(37) are also ascribed to the Pandyas. But these are issues of other dynasties. This will be discussed in he sequel.
VILVELI THE GREAT CHERA
There is an interesting work in Tamil called Pandikkovai,(38) sung in praise of a Pandya ruler, Arikesari Parankusa Maravarman. This ruler is obviously Arikesari, the son of Pandya Sendan.(39) His inscription recently found in Madurai, shows that he was a great conqueror and that he ruled for fifty years. (650-700 A.D.) He is mentioned in a number of copper plate charters of the Pandyas, where his exploits are mentioned. His principal opponent was a Chera whom he defeated in a number of battles. Pandikkovai, and the copper plates mention a number of places where he defeated the Chera. It is specific about these battlefields. From this we can surmise the extent of the Chera power. It is evident that he was the most outstanding Chera king of the early period. His capital was Vanci-the modern Karur. From Karur in Tiruchy district his empire extended to the west coast, and all the south-west coast including the whole of modern and the whole of south Pandya country from Kanyakumari to Tirunelveli.
The Pandya"s first battle with the Chera was at Arrukudi. This place might possibly be identified with Arrangudi in Ramnad district. Among the battlefields mentioned often are Sevur and Ten Pulandai. In both these places, the opponent of the Pandya was the Chera. These two places have not been identified yet. It is possible that Sevur is identical with Sevur in Ramnad district where many historic battles where fought, the most famous being the battle between Aditya Chola II and Vira Pandya in the 10th century A.D. This place is near Arrukkudi. The other place Ten Pulandai, is probably Pulankurichi, a village adjacent to Sevur, where a historic inscription has been found. These identifications should be taken as tentative, in which case Arrangudi, Sevur and Pulandai being nearby places, should be taken to represent the same battle which seems to have been continuously fought between the Chera and the Pandya.
The presence of Sevur near Ponnamaravati need not surprise us. The rulers of the Kodumbalur region were called Konattar, and that they were ruling the Kongu country is also known. In the recently discovered inscription of Pulankuruchi, Konganadu is mentioned(40) with Pandinadu. Among the opponents of Pandya Arikesari, referred to in the Pandikkovai, is a Vennattan. The inscription from Pulankurichi, refers to a Vennattan. So in all likelihood, the Chera fought with Pandya Arikesari at Sevur which seems to have occupied a strategic position through the centuries. It would show that the Chera power was felt upto Sevur in Ramand district.
Pandikkovai credits the Pandya with victories over Musirri and the Konganadu. Whether the Pandya"s claim of victory over the Kongu country and through the Palghat gap reached Musiris in the west coast is doubtful. But the Chera was not to be easily subdued. From the south, he seems to have captured the entire south Pandi nadu, upto Thirunelveli. So the Pandya has to fight in the south and one of the fiercest battle was at Nelveli (a modern Thirunelveli) where the Pandya emerged victorious. The fight continued. The places where he defeated the Chera, specifically mentioned are, Kadayal (identical with Kadaiyam) Kottaru (modern Nagarkoil) Kanyakumari, and Vilinjam. This account of Pandikkovai, is corroborated by the copper plate charters. The Velvikkudi grants of Nedunjadaiyan and both the Sinnamnur grants make specific references to Arikesari"s severe fight with the Chera. Unfortunately who this powerful Chera was we do not know. It is possible he was called "Vilveli" as mentioned in the Velvikkudi grant.(41) Though the Pandya claims victory, the extent of the Chera kingdom was something stupendous He was ruling the Kongu country, the entire south west coast (Travancore state) and the whole of the South Pandinadu, from Kanyakumari to Thirunelveli. Properly speaking he should be termed the first imperial Chera king known to history. This Chera is undoubtedly the founder of the imperial Chera dynasty. He should have ruled between 650-700 A.D. The Pallaval contemporaries at that period were Narasimha I, Mahendra II and Paramesvara I. Interestingly Narasimha-I also states that he conquered Kerala several times. According to the Kuram grant, Narasimha I defeated the Chola, Kerala, Kalabhra and Pandya several times.(42) That the Cheras were in the Karur region, near in the Kaveri delta is attested by another source. "Pulikesin II, driving the Pallava behind the forts of Kanchi, reached as far south as the Kaveri river, and there caused prosperity to the Chola, Kerala and Pandya", says his Aihole inscription.(43) This also leaves no doubt that the Keralas had their seat of power near the Kaveri in Karur. The references in the epigraphs to the Pallavas, Chalukyas, and Pandyas show that the Chera still ruled from near the Kaveri (with Karur - Vanci as the capital) though they had brought the entire Travancore State under their sway in the 7th century A.D.
In the 8th century A.D., the Chera is seen vascillating between Karur in Tiruchy district and Trivandrum on the west coast. The copper plates of the Pallavas give us a glimpse about their field of action. In the reign of Pandya Parantaka Nedumjadaiyan, the Chera is still in the Karur region as a close ally of the Pallava. Nedumjadaiyan defeated the Atiya, at first, at Ayiraveli Aiyilur, and pursued him to Pugalur and vanquished him. The Pallava and Kerala came to help the Atiya, but were also defeated. The Pandya further defeated the western Kongu ruler, according to the Srivaramangalam plates." That this war between Kerala and Pallava on the one hand and the Pandya on the other, took place at Karur is indicated by Dalavaypuram plates which specifically say Parantaka defeated the Kadava (Pallava)(45) at Karur. But the Vaishnava saint Thirunmangai Alvar, states that the Pallava won a victory over the Pandya at Karur.(46). This would indicate that the Karur battle was indecisive.
But a point of interest here is that the region around Vilinjam, seems to have slipped out of the hand of the Chera and was controlled by the Ay Vel chief. Pandya Parantaka states in his Srivaramangalam plates, that he defeated the Vel chief at Vilinjam.(47) (This chief was probably an ancestor of Karunan who came to the throne in the 9th century). Within a short period, the Chera reganed again the Vilinjam area. Pandya Parantaka"s son, Sri Mara Srivallabha, claims to have killed the Chera in a battle at Vilinjam.(48)
So in the middle of the 9th Century the Cheras was vascillataing between Karur and Vilinjam. Around 850 to 900 the Vilinjam region was under the control of the Ay chiefs Karunan Tadakkan and Aviyalantadakkan.
KULASEKHARA AND CHERAMAN PERUMAL
Before we come to the great age of the Kulasekharas, we have to discuss two eminent Chera rulers. One is the Saivite Saint Cheraman Perumal and the other is the Vaishnavite Saint Kulasekhara. The date of these two Chera rules is far from settled but in all likelihood they lived in the 8th century A.D. Pandit. M. Raghava Iyangar holds the view that these two rulers were successive monarchs and considers that Cheraman succeeded Kulasekhara.(49)
Kulasekhara became one of the celebrated Alvars and his poems came to be called the Perumal Thirumoli. He was a great devotee of Rama. In his poems he calls himself, Kongar Koman (the ruler of Kongu) with his capital at Kollingar, identified with a village at the foot of Kolli hills in the Kongu country. M. Raghava Iyangar goes to the extent of identifying Kollinagar with Karur in Trichy district (the identification seems to us doubtful) and suggests that with Karur as his Capital, he ruled up to the west coast, including Kondungolur.
The "Divya suri carita," of Garudavahana Pandita,(50) the earliest work to give a biographical sketch of the Alwars, specifically mentions that Kulasekhara was ruling in the west coast, near Kozikkodu. A point of interest is that Kulasekhara mentions in his own work that he was the Lord of Kolli, Kudal, koli and Kongu. Koli is another name for the city of Uraiyur, the capital of the Cholas. In he 8th century A.D., there was no Chola worth the name and Uraiyur ws changing hands frequently between the Pandyas and the Pallavas. We have seen that the Cheras were still vascillating between Karur near Trichy and Kodungolur in the west during that period. It is possible that Kulasekhara was holding (Uraiyur) Koli, probably as an ally or subordinate of the Pallavas. But his claim to have ruled over Kudal i.e. Madurai, must be considered more rhetorical than real. It is not unlikely that his capital was situated at the west coast though he had the Kongu under his control and finally settled in Srirangam (near Koli, the capital of the Cholas) renouncing the kingdom. H. sarkar seems to accept the suggestion that this Kulasekhara was the founder of the second Chera dynasty.(51)
The other Chera ruler is Cheraman Perumal, a contemporary of the Saivite Saint Sunddaramurti. Sekkilar, the author of Periya Puranam clearly locates his capital at Thiruvanjaikkalam in the coast(52) and that his power seems to have confined to the west coast only with even the Kongu country falling outside his domains. Cheraman seems to have lived on friendly terms with the other South Indian rulers and traveled through the Pallava, Chola and Pandya cuntries. He is identified with Rajasekhara, the successor of Kulasekhara.(53) We are not sure whether this identification could be sustained. The probability of Cheraman Perumal, being a ruler of an earlier period, as a contemporary of Pallava Rajasimha is not ruled out.
However the study shows that the Chera power was active in the "Kongu-Karur" region and that their currency should have been very much in circulation in the territory. The point of interest is the currency that was prevalent in the Chera country in the 7th and 8th century A.D. No coin that could be attributed to the Cheras of this age has been identified. Rajasekhara, who ascended the throne in circa, 820 A.D. stipulated a fine of one hundred "dinaras" on those who hindered the Sribali ceremony.(54) Commenting on this, H. Sarkar holds that it is an anachronism to consider the "dinara" as Roman. He suggests that it must have been the Arab gold currency(55). He also suggests that the word dirammam appearing in some Tamil inscriptions should be considered a corruption of dinara.(56) Dirammam is a Tamil form of Drachma. Mr. Chattopadhyaya has shown that the currency named "Dinara" was in circulation even in 4th century A.D. at Nagarjunakonda, much earlier to the Arab currency.(57) In all likelihood the Dinara of Rajasekhara"s epigraph should be taken to refer to Roman currency. However it is difficult to say whether it was a gold coin or silver coin, for the word dinarai seems to have been used to denote coins of both the metals.(58)
A coin of the Chera that has attracted great discussion is the silver coin bearing the legend "Vira Kerala".(59) Recently a hoard of this coin was found in Chingleput district. Quite a number of them seems to have been found but only a few could be recovered. I have examined these coins closely. On one side there is the legend Sri Virakeralasya and a figure resembling what has been identified as crocodile. The figure is clearly not a crocodile, but only a floral design. The reverse has also a Nagari legend and has been rightly read as "Srri Gandarankusasya" by N. Lakshminarayana Rao.(60) The coin has been discussed by both Chattopadhyaya and Vidya Prakash in recent times.(61) Lakshminarayana Rao assigns it to Vira kerala who ascended the throne around 1127 A.D. Chattopadhyaya leaves the question of identity open. The find off a hoard of this coin in Chingleput district in Northern part of Tamilnadu, would show that this currency was widely used throughout Tamilnadu. The coin is found in abundance in the collection of private coin collectors though the exact provenance of their occurrence, is not certain but is sufficient to show, that the currency had great circulation.
About the identity of the rulers who issued this coin, all scholas have held hat the earliest Vira Kerala who figures in epigraph, occurs in the reign of Rajadhi Raja Chola I in 1046 A.D.(62) But recently an inscription copied by the Tamilnadu State Archaeology Department of Cholavandan, near Madurai refers to a Virakerala in an inscription of Rajaraja I.
In the Kongu region, there were a succession of rulers with the name Vira Kerala. Some of them also bore the name Kandan. It has been shown recently that they were the Kalabhras of the epigraphs.(63) Their inscriptions are found in the Kongu country. The name Gandarankusasya occurring on the reverse may be taken to refer to one such Kanda, who ruled in the 10th century.
The word need not be taken to mean "goad to the heroes". It may be taken to mean "Gandara who was an ankusa". Such an expression is plausible. We have to titles Vama, and Vamankusa for the same ruler at Mamallapuram.(64) The absence of any dynastic emblem might also suggest that the coin was issued by a Kongu Chera ruler, who belonged to the Kalabhra dynasty.
It must be admitted that not much coins have come to light which could be attributed to the mediaeval Cheras.
LATER CHERA COINS
The coins of the Later Cheras could now be identified with an amount of certainty. Quite a number of these coins were included in the list of Pandyan coins by earlier writers. I have shown that these were issued by the later Cheras.(65) But before these coins are taken up for discussion, the coins generally attributed to the Cheras may be examined.
Sri. Vidya Prakash, discusses the Chera coins under three categories (1) The coins of Virakerala (2) The gold and copper coinst found in Kongu desa, bearing on the obverse an elephant and on the reverse a scroll work and (3) the copper coins of uniform variety with minor deviations, carrying on the one side a device identified with a "vase on a stand" and on the obverse "elephant-bow-sword" device.(66)
The coin of Virakerala has already been discussed. The second variety with elephant on the obverse and a scroll on the reverse were the issues of the Gangas of Talakkadu will be discussed in the sequence. But the third variety is found in large numbers and judging from their size and shape, they certainly seems to be late mediaeval coins. The obverse remains constant in the series. Illustrating these coins Elliot Writers;
"Nos. 121-127. The seven following characteristic copper coins are difficult to describe. They all have on the reverse the same symbol which may be compared to an altar of drum shaped object. The obverse has generally a bow and one or more five pointed posts or standards, in one instance together with an elephant, in others weapon like a sacrifical bill or axe".(67) Regarding this design, Vidya Prakash has the following observation;
"The reverse design has got several variations. Bow is invariably present in all the cases. The other symbol which is also present in all the varieties is, according to our observations a sword super-imposed by a cross. The pointed end is some-times below and sometimes above. Krishna"s identification of this symbol as a burning lamp does not appear to be corrected. Between the bow and the sword the symbols vary".(68)
The uniform symbol on all these coins is what seems to be an altar, flanked by lamp on stand. Over the altar are seen circular pellet like objects, probably representing coins or the globular Kalanju. Whether this has any reference to some Vedic sacrifice, symbolic of Hiranya garbha or Bahusuvarna sacrifice, is difficult to say at present.
But the symbol on the other side can be more satisfactorily explained. That the bow is the dynastic emblem of the Cheras is well known. The elephant is equally associated with the Cheras has also been explained earlier. The other symbol described as five pointed post by Elliot and "a sword with a superimposed cross" by Vidya Prakash,(69) is in fact a representation of palmyra tree. In early Tamil literature the palmyra is distinctly associated with the Cheras. The Chera used to wear palmyra flower as his emblem. So it is clear that the emblem under discussion is a palmyra tree. In some instances Vidya Prakash seems to have photographed the coins upside down (as in case of pl. vii-II) and what is described as a daggar with point down, words, is infact a lamp on stand found on most of South Indian coins.
The Huzur Plates refer to Kalanju which is used both in the sense of weight and gold currency. That it is weight when it refers to nine Kalanju of tamrind. But it is coin when it refers to the endowment of 18 Kalanju of gold as raksha bhogam. While referring to this gold, it states Sudum Uraiyum Varuvadu i.e. probably refring to its standad tested both by heating and rubbing. It is also clear from this record that out of the 18 Kalanju of gold, the Melsanti priest got 15 kanam and the kilsanti (attendent priest) 15 kanam, the rest 15 kalanju, being used for other services. This makes it clear that 30 kanam, equaled three kalanju, each kalanju being equal to 10 kanam.(70) Incidentally it is also learnt that kanam was also used in the sense of a weight - ten kanam sandal and ten kanam - Ahil etc.(71) The same charter also refers to ten kanams of gold 2 ½ kanam etc. which shows that kanams were in the denomination of 1, 2 ½, 5 and 10. A point of interest is that if one failed to measure for a day the stipulated quantity, he should pay double the measures. For two days default, the fine remained the same but for the third day, a fine of ten kanam was imposed. For more than three days upto 18 days, he should pay three kalanju as fine. For 18 days and more the fine was a high as six kalanju.(72)
A general study of the coinage of Kerala, shows that from 9th to 11th Century A.D., the main currency was gold kalanju and gold kanam. The occurrence of the currency dinar in an incription of Rajasekhara, is a stray instance, showing that those who had the gold dinara could use them also as a currency but the local currency was kalanju and kanam.
In the reign of the ruler, Indu Kodai, 961 A.D., kanam was in use 2 ½ kanam being prescribed as a fine for a day"s default.(73) Five years later in the same reign of Indu Kodai, an endowment of ten kalanju was gifted for worship.(74) An inscription of the same Century A.D., thirty six kalanju of gold as equal to old coin (Palam kasu). It shows that the currency kasu was in circulatin earlier and was in all probability a gold coin. What this Palam kasu, meant, we know nothing.
Another inscription of the 10th Century, dated in the reign of Kerala Kesari Perumal, refers to the payment of wages to various servants as follows.
10 kanam daily to Perumudiyan. 10 kanam daily to the worshipping priest. 10 kanam daily to the person bringing fire wood 10 kanam daily to the Cook. 5 kanam each to those husking paddy, cleaning the dining place and cleaning the vessels. A defaulter was expected to pay a fine of 12 kalanju of Pon.(75)
Another inscription, dated around 1000 A.D., in the reign of Bhaskara Ravivarman, refers to 120 kalanju of gold inclusive of Palam kasu (old kasu) which yielded an interest of 10%(76)
However a 11th Century inscription, refers to the endowment of ten kalanju of gold for one perpetual lamp, and a gift of 33 Ilakkasu, in the hands of the Village assembly of Mincirai.(77) Probably 33 Ilakkasu was equal to 10 kalanju. However it is clear that kalanju, kanam, kasu and Ilakkasu were in circulation in 10th-11th century A.D. What however one does not find mention is the currency Accu, or Panam in this period.
Most of the Chola records, found in South Travancore, particularly after the conquest of the region by Raja Raja I, in 11th century, refers to the transactions either in terms of lands or sheep or cows, and rarely in terms of currency and whether currency is referred to it is either in terms of Kalanju or Kasu.
The terms kalanju and kanam slowly disappear from records of later age, though they seem to have continued upto the 13th century A.D. An interestsing epigraph of 13th century relates to certain stipulation and social conduct. It states that a Sudra should be fined 12 kanam if he aims an arrow at a Brahmin, six kalanju if a Sudra abuses another Sudra, and if a Sudra murders another Sudra 12 kalanju gold should be imposed". On a comparative study of Dharma sastra, the editor states "According to some authorities, a kanam is equal to 3 kalanju and according to some epigraphs, it appears that it is of lesser weight than kalanju".(78) It is worthy of note that according to Kautilya that if the persons abused happen to be of superior rank the amount of fine should be doubled and if of lower rank should be halved(79) In both the instances the editors equation of kalanju with kanam seems to be wrong. If the Dharmasastra or Artha Sastra rules are applied, kalanju in this record would be equal to one kanam. But we have seen earlier, that one kalanju equaled to 10 kanams from 9th to 11th century A.D. It is not known whether the value of kalanju depreciated in 13th century or the term kalanju and kanams were used as synonyms.
From the records of the 12th century A.D., we find the word accu being prominently mentioned. The Mitranandapuram records of 12th century refers to 30 Anai Accu (elephant coin). It refers to 600 Parai of paddy which yielded an annual interest of 60 Parai, amounting to 10%, interest. Similarly 30 Anai Accus were endowed yielding 72 Parai paddy. If we calculate at the rate of 10% interest, one Accu fetched 24 Parai of paddy. The Minchiraimattam plates of 13th century A.D., refers to a gift of several Accus by various individuals. An inscription from Sivagairi, refers to a Brahmin lady, endowing three Salakai and 10 Accu.(80) The editor takes I as three Salaka and ten accu.
The term accu is evidently a reference to a dye-struck coin. The term Anai Accu clearly shows that the coin bore on it a figure of elephant. Bu it is not clear whether this accu was a gold coin or copper coin. We have some gold coins with the figure of an elephant on one side and a scroll device on the reverse. But this coin we consider to be an issue of the Gangas of Talakkadu.
Among the copper coins we may distinguish two types of coins bearing the figure of elephant. One type has an elephant on the obverse and a Tamil legend "Kulasekhara" over two fish and a cendu. Illustrated as coin no. 49a. by T. Desikachari, it has been included among the Pandya coins. But in view of the fact elephant occupies the whole of obverse side and the word Kulasekhara is placed over the Pandyan symbol, it seems to us that the coin was an issue of a Chera who conquered the Pandya country. It seems to us that this was an issue of Ravivarman Kulasekhara who overran the Pandya and other countries upto Madras in the beginning of 14th century A.D.
The other coin baring elephant is the one which bears "Bow-Elephant-Palmyra tree", on one side, found in large numbers and assigned to the Kongu Cheras. It is not known to which of these coins the term Anai Accu of the inscription refers. But judging from the records it seems that the value of the Accu was very high and that it should have been a gold coin. We have shown that endowments of 30 accus, 10 accus and even 3 accus, recorded in inscriptions suggest their denominational value to be high. If so the point of interest is whether the Cheras of the Northern Travancore, allowed the Ganga coins to circulate in their region and probably also minted themselves such coins. In this case we may take the term Anai Accu as referring to the gold coin with elephant on one side and scroll work on the reverse.
Some inscriptions refer to Salaka and Accu. Inscription No. 60 from Sivagiri, refers to three Salaka and ten accu. Another inscription refers to three Salaka and three accu. In some epigraphs, a currency called Palam Salaka is also refered to.
That out surmise, accu stands for "gold coin in confirmed by an inscription from Suchindram in Kanyakumari district. Dated in Kollam year 420 (1225 A.D.) it records the endowments of ten accu for burning one perpetual lamp and the accu is mentioned as Puduppon Accu i.e. new gold accu. Around 1224 A.D., ten accus were deposited for one perpetual lamp. It indicates between 1225 and 1245, a new gold accu has been issued. The ruler of Venad, during this period was Ravi Kerala Varma (1215-1240).(81) This ruler took great interest in the welfare of the common people and directed attention to strengthen the economy by a realistic policy of remitting taxes in case of failure of crops.(82) It is likely this ruler issued the new gold coin called Puduppon Accu mentioned in inscription. We have mentioned that the Anai Accu, used in Kerala, was probably adopted from the Kongu country around 1100 A.D. A certain Vira Rajendra Chola was the most powerful ruler of the Kongu country between 1207 and 1252. He styled himself the ruler of both the Konggus and his rule extended to a part of Trichy and Madurai districts. He had a long and effective rule and we find the name of the currency Anai Accu is his records. So the Anai Accu in the South Kerala record were in all probability the Kongu coins which have gained currency through North Kerala Kingdom of Mahodayapuram.
From about the beginning of 12th century, the South Kerala was under Venad rulers who asserted their independence. They styled themselves as "Ciraivay Mutta Thiruvadi", etc. A number of illustrious rulers like Kodai Kerala Varma, Udaya Martanda Varma,Vira Rama Kerala Varma,Ravi Kerala Varma, and others had useful rule. But the greatest of the family was Ravivarman Kulasekhara (1299-1314). He married a daughter of the Pandya ruler Maravarman Kulasekhara, and remained a feudatory of the Pandya till his death in 1310. At the death of the Pandya Maravarman Kulasekhara, he staked his claim to the Pandya throne and started issuing records as an independent sovereign. This period witnessed the incursion of Malikkaffur and resulted in confusion. Ravivarman Kulasekhara was a master politician. He quickly overran the southern country and brought the entire south, from Kanyakumari to Madras, under his banner. His inscription is found in Puntamalli, a suburb of Madras and all over Tamilnadu. "In his role as the conqueror, Ravi Varman shoot across the political horizon of South India, like a fashing meteor".(83) His contribution to literature and religion are well remembered. Brisk trade and commercial activity and contact with outside worlds like China are well known.
It is in this connection, a few coins of the period deserve to be studied. Three or four types of coins, bearing the name Kulasekhara assignable to 13-14th centuries A. D. on paleographical grounds, are known. (I) They are.
A coin with a standing King on the obverse and the Tamil legend "Kulasekhara" over two fish and a sceptre in the reverse. It is listed as No. 49, under the Pandya coins by Sir. T. Desikachari. Listed as No. 71 by T. Desikachari, it has the standing King on the obverse and the Tamil legend Kulasekhara, beneath an umbrella and chouris. Listed as 49a by T. Desikachari. Obverse elephant passant to the left with emblems or characters above which cannot be deciphered. Reverse. Above two fishes separated by a sceptre is the Tamil legend Kulasekhara. Standing figure on the obverse and seated figure on the reverse with the Tamil legend "Kula" beneath the arm.
The third coin mentioned above, seems to us a coin of Ravivarman Kulasekhara. The first two coins were probably issued by Maravarman Kulasekhara pandya under whom Ravivarman remained a feudatory first. These coins were under circulation, when Ravivarman Kulasekhara, conquered the Pandya country and became an absolute monarch. Probably to commemorate this conquest he issued the coin with his crest elephant on the obverse and the name Kulasekhara over the Pandya crest. The importance given to elephant would justify our assumptions.
I have assigned a few other coins, (hitherto listed under Pandya coins) to the Chera rulers of South Kerala. These coins bear names like Kaliyugaraman, Bhutalaviram, Cherakularaman and Bhaskara. These range from 14th to 17th century A.D.
CHANGE IN CURRENCY
Before we discuss these coins, a great change in the currency system seems to have taken place which it is necessary to understand. The kalanju has almost disappeared and the accu which replaced it slowly begin to lose its popularity and we find the term "Panam appearing prominently from the end of 13th century A.D. and in 14-16th century it seems to have become too popular. This has to be studied in the overall context of South Indian currency. However in Kerala, it is the dominant currency mentioned in records.
LATER CHERA COINS
Now the identification of some of the later Chera coins an be taken up. T. Desikachari, has illustrated coins with the name Kaliyugaraman and Bhutalaviran. In the coin bearing the name Kaliyugaraman in Tamil characters of about 15th century A.D. are found two foot impressions over what seems to be a bow. The feet are topped by a parasol and a chank. This coin has been included under the list of Pandya coins. Similarly there is another coin bearing the name "Cherakularaman" on one side and a standing figure on the other. Commenting on these coins, Desikachari remarks;
"Kaliyugaraman and Cherakularaman point possibly to the same facts as those recorded in the Srirangam inscriptions or to a second invasion of Ceylon by the allies of the Pandyas and Cheras. But a Maravarman Thirunelveli Perumal Vira Pandya has inscriptions of his in the Ramnad and Thirunelveli districts and the lithic record in later districts mentions coins known as Kaliyugaraman. The coins bearing the legend have therefore to be attributed to one of the later Pandyas who probably ruled in the 15th century."(84)
That the Pandyan crest was fish is well known. In the 12th to 14th century, Pandya records and coins, two fish and a sceptre are found a their crest. Bu in the coins under discussion no fish is found. The Kaliyugaraman coin bears two foot impression called Vishnu Pada. Further these coins have been mostly found in Thirunelveli, Kanyakumari and south Kerala.
In the year 1487 A.D., 400 Kaliyugaraman Panam were deposited in the treasury of Puravaseri in Kanyakumari district. In the same region, in a village called Parakkai, 400 anradu Valangum Nenmeli Kaliyugaraman Panam" were gifted for burning a perpetual lamp in the year 1509 A.D. Another record from the same village, dated in 1689 refers to the same Kaliyugaraman Panam. This coin has remained a valid ender from 1487 to 1689 for over 200 years. Obviously this coin in circulation in the extreme south of India, was an issue of the Chera rulers of Venad. The Travancore and rulers were called Thiruvadis, (Sripada) and their country itself was called "Thiruvadi Rajya". They were great devotees of Lord Anantapadmanabha. So the presense of foot prints, called Vishnu Pada, were their symbols and there could be no doubt that these coins with the Vishny Pada, and the name Kaliyugaraman were the issues of Chera rulers. Since it appears in the 15th century records, it should have been issued in the 15th century. Who this Chera, Kaliyugaraman was needs further study.
In this connection, Elliot has left an interesting note on a coin of Kerala. "They as well as the Rasi, have long given place to more modern currency. The oldest form of which is the "Kali" properly called "Kali Yugen Rajen Panam" and it is known that the name or money of the "Kali Yuga" at one time current over the whole of Kerala. Of these there are two varieties bearing a slight resemblance to the Rasi. One of these is said to have been issued by the Kolathanadraja". This view is repeated by Sreedhara Menon in his survey of Kerala history.(85) Kali or Kaliyugara"en Panam, which is mentioned as late as 1689 refers to this coin. As it was in circulation for over two hundred years, its name has survived till the days of Elliot.
The coins bearing the legend "Chera Kularaman" similarly should be considered an issue of Chera kings and not Pandya as held by other scholars.
There are two types of Butlavira coins illustrated by T. Desikachari as No. 30, 31, The coin No. 30 has a standing figure in regal robes, and on the reverse seated figure with Tamil legend to its left Butala and two fishes below.
The presence of fish, the Pandyan crest would indicate it is clearly a Pandya coin. But the other coin similar to the above except the fish crest, but bearing the name "Butalavira" might have been issued by the Chera rulers of South Kerala, who invariably assumed the title Butalavira. An inscription dated 1532, from Vadaseri in Kanyakumari district, refers to the ruler as "Jayatunganattu Sankaranarayana, Venrumankonda Butalavira Srivira Udayamartandavarman, Thiruppappurr Mutta Thiruvadi. Another ruler Ravivarman, of the same family, ruling in 1536 A.D. is also given the title "Butalavira". It is not unlikely that following the footsteps of the Pandyas, the Chera rulers of 15th & 16th century also issued the coins and No. 31 of Desikachari may be considered an issue of the Cheras.
The coin No. 27 of Desikachari also listed under Pandyas, clearly reads as "Baskara.
The legend is not found in the list of Pandyas but is found for many Kerala rulers particularly in the 11th century A.D. However the Paleography of the script seems to be around 14-15th century and cannot be assigned to 11th century. The identification of the king who issued the coin must remain open for the present.