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Aryan Period in Kerala History

The Sangam Age was followed by a long dark night in Chera history; Chera history of the sixth, seventh, and eighth centuries is buried in obscurity except for a few glimpses from the records of the South Indian powers like the Chalukyas, Pallavas, Pandyas, Kalabhras. and Rashtrakutas who claim that they destroyed Chera power.  There is every reason to believe their testimonies because the Cheras ceased to exist as a political power east of the Western Ghats.  They had to leave their home in the plains and flee across the Ghats to a new home in the jungles of Kerala.  Naturally, it took the Cheras some 200 years to clear the forests, fight the wild animals. and build new homes -- first with the abundant wood available on the new land--and later sturdier homes with granite and laterite.  It was during their long wandering and nomadic life in the jungles of the Western Ghats that they left many of their megaliths behind to honor their dead ancestors and deceased heroes.  The fact that no valuables are found in these burial sites indicates that they did not have many valuables with them, for they were poor, despoiled wanderers.

My claim that the Keralites came from the eastern plains has linguistic support in the plain fact that Malayalam is very closely related to Tamil, an early form of which both Keralites and Tamilians once spoke, and especially in the expressions that "the sun rises kizhakku" (east, literally "from below") and "sets meekku" (west, literally "above the hills"); only people who lived east of the western Ghats could use such expressions, as Bishop Caldwell had pointed out.

It was only after the arrival of the Cheras on the West Coast in the seventh and eighth centuries that Cranganore and Quilon became major trade centers.  It is very likely that foreign trade centers shifted from the East Coast to the west Coast.  This way all the claims of early historians about the importance of the West-Coast ports can be supported and substantiated-The West Coast of Kerala became important and prosperous only in the eighth century; there is no substantial evidence at all to support the claim for an earlier civilization south of Ezhimala and north of Ay.

The major impetus for the rise of a new civilization among the Cheras on the West Coast came with the arrival of the Aryan Brahmin missionaries.

The Aryanisation process, of course, started earlier and was well underway during the domination of the western Chalukyas who were Vaishnavites and the Rashtrakutas who were Saivites.  As mentioned earlier, six outstanding Brahmin scholars arrived with a batch of new immigrant Brahmin families and humiliated Buddhists in debates in the eighth century and established the supremacy of the Hindu religion.  They opened a seminary for the teaching of the Vedas and the Vedanta.  Sankaracharya in the ninth century became the great champion of Orthodox Hinduism not only in Kerala but in the whole of India.  The spread of the Bhakti-cult in the ninth century under the patronage of Kulasekhara Alwar, alias Cheraman Perumal Nayanar, further advanced the cause of Hinduism among the masses.

1.  The predominance of Brahminism in Kerala society was like the domin-ance of the Catholic Church in Europe in the Middle Ages.  The priests established themselves  first as the highest and privileged class of society.  The Brahmins, like the Catholic clergy, controlled the political and social institutions by being advisers and ministers to kings, the cultural activities by initiating and directing them, the information system by establishing and maintaining all education-al institutions, and the masses by the oracle of religion and the magical power of the sacraments.  As historian Sreedhara Menon puts it, "the caste system was foisted on a casteless society by the Aryan immigrants who worked with extraordinary missionary zeal in spreading the Aryan ideology based on the primacy of Chaturvarnya .... The princely and merchant classes ... were made to believe that they constituted two superior castes, the former the ruling caste (Kshatriyas) and the latter the trading caste (Vaisyas)" (A Survey of Kerala History, pp. 94-95).

2.  The Brahmins also succeeded to some extent in changing the dietary habits of the people.  Beef and liquor became taboo for all people who professed Hinduism.  Many Keralites, however, decided that they could eat meat (even beef) and drink alcohol according to their ancient Munda traditions and yet be Hindus, as it is the custom even today.

3.  The members of the Sudra Caste were denied educational and other civil rights.  The social status of a person came to be determined by the prestige of or lack of the prestige of his occupation. Physical labor was given a low status while Brahmin" priesthood and military service were given high status.

4.  Female education was neglected and child-marriage encouraged. widowhood became a curse.

5.  The Brahmin priests persecuted Buddhists and Jainists and destroyed Buddhist Viharas and images.

6.  The Brahmin priests established many Hindu temples in honor of Vishnu and Shiva, but they also incorporated non-Aryan gods and goddesses into the Hindu pantheon.  The national hero Ayyan Thirvatikal of Venad of the ninth century who had already been deified by the Keralites was redeified as Hariharasutan, the son of Vishnu-Mohini and Shiva, by the Brahmin theologians; Ayyappan, thus, became accept-able to both the Saivites and the Vaishnavites.

 

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