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Senguttuvan Chera, identified with Vel Kelu Kuttuvan, the Imayavaramban, and the Kadal Pirakottiya, (c. 2nd century CE as per Gajabahu-Senguttuvan synchronism) was the most renowned ruler of the Chera dynasty in ancient south India.[2][3] It is assumed that the Kuttuvan ruled for 55 years with Vanchi as his headquarters. He was known as one of the greatest warrior-rulers of the early historic south India (c. 1st - 4th century CE) and was also a well known patron of commerce, arts, and literature.[4][3]

Kadal Pirakottiya
Chera ruler
PredecessorNedum Cheralathan[1]
SpouseIllango Venmal
FatherNedum Cheralathan
MotherUraiyur Chola Nalchonai

Vel Kelu Kuttuvan is celebrated by poet Paranar in the 5th decade of Pathitrupathu, the fourth book in the Ettuthokai anthology.[5][6] Senguttuvan is famous for the traditions surrounding Kannagi, the principal female character of the Tamil epic poem Silappatikaram.[7][8] A method, known as Gajabahu-Chenguttuvan synchronism, is used by some historians to date Senguttuvan Chera.[9]

Life and careerEdit

Vel Kelu Kuttuvan is often identified with the legendary "Chenguttuvan Chera", the most illustrious ruler of the Cheras of early historic south India. Poet Paranar praised the Kuttuvan for his naval powers -

"Kuttuvan not finding an enemy worthy to fight with became angry, with martial might besieged the sea and with magnificent spear drove back the sea whose wave rose high".

His naval strength might have led to the often used title Kadal Pirakottiya, which roughly translates as "One who Controls the Sea".[6] Paranar also praised Kuttuvan's military prowess -

"Kuttuvan of the gold garland, whose army destroyed the beauty of many lands, till the noise rose loud of the drums used in numerous battles with the monarchs of the country between Kumari (Cape Comorin) on the south and Himalayas, the mountain that rises high as the northern boundary."[5]

Kuttuvan was the son of the Chera ruler Nedum Cheralathan and Nalchonai of the Cholas of Uraiyur.[5] The military success story began with the intervention in the Chola succession crisis after the death of Kariakala Chola. The dispute was between Nedunkilli and nine other princes, where the Chera ruler took side with his brother-in-law Nedunkilli.[5] The rivals of Nedunkili were defeated in the battle of Nerivayil, south of Uraiyur.[10] Nedunkili ascended the Chola throne at Uraiyur.[10] Later Kuttuvan successfully attacked the headquarters of Pandya commander Palayan Maran in Muhoor, who ill-treated the chieftain Arukai.[10][11]

Constant land and naval battles took place against the allied Kadamba-"Yavana" forces. Kuttuvan was able to defeat them in the battle of Idumbil, Valayur. He attacked the "fort" of Kodukur in Kongu Nadu where the Kadambas took shelter, but their army was overpowered. Later the Kadambas (helped by the Yavanas) attacked Kuttuvan by sea, but the Chera ruler destroyed their fleet.[5]

Dating Senguttuvan CheraEdit

Silappatikaram (Tamil: "The Jeweled Anklet") tells the story of virtuous Kannagi who has lost her husband Kovalan to the Pandya court at Madurai. Enraged Kannagi cursed the city of Madurai, which went up in flames. She later shifted to the city of Vanchi in the Chera kingdom, where she died.[10] As per Silappatikaram, author Ilango Adigal was the younger brother of king Senguttuvan. An astrologer at the court of king Nedum Cheralathan predicted, that Ilango would become the next ruler, which angered Senguttuvan. In respect to Senguttuvan's ambitions Ilango chose to renounce his claims to the throne and live a life of an ascetic.[5] Ilango shifted to Kunavayilkottam, where he wrote epic Silappatikaram.[5]

Chera king Senguttuvan's wife Illango Venmal was moved by Kannagi's tragic story and wanted her to be worshipped as a goddess of chastity. Senguttuvan agreed and asked his court at Vanchi for advice, which suggested to carve out a stone block from the Himalayas for the virakkallu. The king then ordered the march to the Himalayas by the royal sword and umbrella pointing northwards.[10]

Senguttuvan first moved to the Nilgiris mountains of Odisha by sea, where he was welcomed by Sanjcharya, a general of Magadha.[10] Sanjcharya informed Senguttuvan, that he was sent by Nuruvar Kannar to inquire about the needs of the Chera king for the campaign to the Himalayas. Senguttuvan responded, that he needed ships to travel through the River Ganges. With Sanjcharya's ships the army sailed to Magadha, where they were received by the Magadha king.[10] The expedition ended at Uttarai, where the Arya princes led by Kanaka, Vijaya and allied princes Uttara, Vichitra, Rudra, Bhairava, Chitra Singha, Dhanuttara and Sveta encountered the forces of Senguttuvan with a huge army. After a long battle, the Arya alliance was defeated. Kanaka and Vijaya were caught and brought back to Magadha, where Senguttuvan honoured the warriors of the battle. Two-and-half months after his departure Senguttuvan victoriously returned to Vanchi, where the temple for Kannagi (Pattini) was consecrated with the virakkallu from the Himalayas.[10][12]

A method, known as Gajabahu-Chenguttuvan synchronism, is used by some historians to date Senguttuvan Chera.[9] Despite its dependency on numerous conjectures, the method is considered as the sheet anchor for the purpose of dating the events in the Sangam literature.[13][14][15] As per Silappatikaram, a certain king called Gajabahu, often identified with Gajabahu, king of Sri Lanka (2nd century AD), was present at the Pattini festival at Vanchi.[16][17] In this context, Senguttuvan can be dated to either the first or last quarter of the 2nd century AD.[18]

The Bhagavathy Temple, in Kodungallur, Kerala, is claimed to be the Kannagi temple thus consecrated.[19]


  1. ^ Menon, A. Sreedhara (1987). Kerala History and its Makers.
  2. ^ "Classical Indo-Roman Trade". Economic and Political Weekly. 48 (26–27). 5 June 2015.
  3. ^ a b Noburu Karashmia (ed.), A Concise History of South India: Issues and Interpretations. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2014
  4. ^ A Survey of Kerala History by A Sreedhara Menon
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Menon, A Sreedhara. Kerala History and its Makers.
  6. ^ a b Nair, K. K. (2012). By Sweat and Sword: Trade, Diplomacy and War in Kerala Through the Ages.
  7. ^ "India – Britannica Online Encyclopedia". Retrieved 29 August 2012.
  8. ^ Narayanan, M. G. S. (2013). Perumāḷs of Kerala: Brahmin Oligarchy and Ritual Monarchy : Political and Social Conditions of Kerala Under the Cēra Perumāḷs of Makōtai (c. AD 800 - AD 1124). ISBN 9788188765072.
  9. ^ a b V., Kanakasabhai (1997). The Tamils Eighteen Hundred Years Ago. Asian Educational Services. ISBN 81-206-0150-5.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h Kanakasabhai, V. (1989). The Tamils Eighteen Hundred Years Ago.
  11. ^ "India – Britannica Online Encyclopedia". Retrieved 29 August 2012.
  12. ^ "Silappathikaram | Tamil epic poem by Adikal". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 16 November 2018.
  13. ^ Zvelebil 1973, pp. 37–39: The opinion that the Gajabahu Synchronism is an expression of genuine historical tradition is accepted by most scholars today
  14. ^ Pillai, Vaiyapuri (1956). History of Tamil Language and Literature; Beginning to 1000 AD. Madras, India: New Century Book House. p. 22. We may be reasonably certain that chronological conclusion reached above is historically sound
  15. ^ Zvelebil 1973, p. 38.
  16. ^ Menon 2007, p. 70.
  17. ^ Menon 1967.
  18. ^ "India – Britannica Online Encyclopedia". Retrieved 29 August 2012.
  19. ^ Shulman, David (2016). Tamil.