Not many details are available about the pre-Christian era history of the Chera, Keralaputra and Satyaputra.
The first historical evidence about Kerala is found in the inscriptions of Asoka who cited four kingdoms viz. Choda (Chola), Pada, (Pandya), Ketala Puto (Keralaputra), Satiya Puto (Satyaputra) in the south of his empire. Keralaputra and Satyaputra is mentioned in the Rock Edict II and Girnar Inscription.However, it referred to which territory and which dynasty was mostly unknown. The historians have identified it with the portions of the Malaya Mountains of the Western Ghats and certain lowlands around those areas. Satyaputra are mentioned in the Puranas and Tamil Literature as well. In the Asoka’s edicts, they find their place with Cholas, Pandyas and Keralaputra.
This means that Satyaputra had rose to prominent power by the time of Asoka. However, after that, there are not many details available about this dynasty.
The word “Kerala” is of Prakrat origin and is not available in Sangam texts. The etymological identity of Kerala and Chera link them but it was not certain that whether the present Kerala was the Chera Kingdom.
However, Pandyas, Cheras and the Cholas were mentioned in surviving Tamil Literature (comprising of Chilappatikaram, Tirukkural etc), complementing their mention in the existing Sanskrit Literature viz. Puranas, Vedas, Ramayana and the Mahabharata. Few historians now believe that ancient Chera Kingdom included the today’s Kerala but separated in 389 AD and the Chera Realm was restricted to Tamilnadu (around Coimbatore) and southern parts of Karnataka.
Insignia of Cheras: Bow and Arrow
The Chera Kings adopted the “Bow and arrow” as a crest or cognizance of their dynasty. They released a few coins, which were characterized by a bow device engraved on them. Though the authentic list of the Rajas of Travancore and that of Cochin is from beginning of 13th century & 15th century onwards, yet the Chera Dynasty is considered to be the two dynasties that ruled in two different eras. The First Chera dynasty ruled from 300 BC to 300 AD in the Sangam Era and another dynasty from the 9th century AD onwards. The only source of knowledge of the first Chera dynasty is Sangam Text. Cheras ruled in North Travancore, Cochin and Southern Malabar. Capital of the early Cheras was Vanchi Muthur in Kizhanthur-Kandallur and Karur Vanchi and the later Cheras was Mhodayapuram, Kulashekarapuram.
First Cheras: Uthiyan Cheralathan
First recorded King of the Cheras is Uthiyan Cheralathan, who ruled anytime between 1st to 3rd century AD. He fought numerous battles and in one such battle with Cholas, he was defeated and due to humiliation, he committed suicide that was a common practice those days. The second king of the Chera Dynasty was Imayavaramban Nedum Cheralatan , who died in a battle with Chola Kings. The next important ruler was Senguttuvan, who is hero of a famous Tamil Epic Silapathikaram. Senguttuvan is best known for sending the first embassy to China from South India. His capital was Karur. The navy of Senguvattan was the best navy in the world.
Second Cheras (Later Cheras)
Kulashekhara Alwar, a Tamil King in 800 AD, founded the second Chera Dynasty. He had united the parts of the Modern Kerala and ruled from his capital Mahodayapuram that is today’s Kodungallur. Kulashekhara wrote Perumal thirumozhi, one of the most celebrated devotional works of the Tamil Bhakti cult. He renounced the crown to become a Vashnavite saint and lived in Srirangam.
After Kulashekhara Alwar, all kings are insignificant and some of them became saints. The last Chera King was Rama Varma Kulashekhara who ruled from 1090 to 1102 AD. His contemporary Chola ruler was Kulothunga Chola-I with whom he fought a war. His life is shrouded in mystery as after this war, he is supposed to have left India and embraced Islam. This ended the Chera dynasty and the rulers were confined to the area around Travancore.