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Ravivarma Kulashekara: The scion of Dharma in God’s own country

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Indologist. Specializes in Southern Indian history. Always open to learn and teach.

The year was 1267 AD. Kerala was just a cluster of decentralised feudal states. Even among the states which claimed to have been the legal successors of the Cheras, the grandeur and glory was severely lacking. The small kingdom of Venad was one of these feudal states .The ruler of Venad throughout this period (1266 – 67 AD) was Kota Marthanda Varman. He was the maternal uncle of Ravivarma. Ravivarman’s mother Umadevi, of the Kūpaka (modern day Attingal) family, was the Rāni of the kingdom. The death of the Venad ruler towards the end of 1267 AD in Quilon(Kollam) signalled the outbreak of a long and disruptive succession struggle in Venad between his sons and nephews.

Ravivarman, the son of Umadevi, was a major contender to throne after the death of his uncle Godavarma. He came out successful in the succession struggle and ascended the throne of Quilon in 1299-1300, at the age of 33 (Saka 1221). For more than a decade, he ruled as a vassal under the Pandya ruler Maravarman Kulashekara. This way he was also able to woo and marry a daughter of the Pandya ruler Maravarman Kulasekhara at the age of thirty-three (1299-1300) When the Pandya king Māravarman Kulaśēkhara was apparently killed some time before May1310, Ravivarman “declared” independence from the Pāndyas.

The succession struggle between princes Sundara and Vira Pandya, sons of Maravarman Kulasekhara, and the confusion created by the Khaljī general Malik Kāfūr’s south Indian expedition (1311) helped Ravivarman in his ambitions. The distracted political conditions in Pāndya kingdom gave him an admirable opportunity to plan raids to territories east of the Western Ghats. He defeated many minor Tamil chieftains on his way to Madurai. He seized Madurai from one of the Pandya successors and coronated himself.

Next, he marched to Kanchipuram, the capital of the other Pandya successor. He defeated everyone that stood in his way. After Kanchipuram was captured, a second, more grand coronation was held, where he declared himself as Emperor of the South and Tribuvana Chakravarthin. 

One unique thing about him was that he was a devout Hindu who didn’t destroy the temples and shrines of the places he conquered. Infact, he contributed to temples in his conquered territories. The Srirangam records emphasise the restoration of the Ranganatha temple at Srirangam after its destruction by the Islamic forces of Malik Kafur. The Narasimha shrine in the Varadarajaswami Temple accommodates four sub-shrines, one among them is dedicated to the “Malayala Nachchiar” as a divine symbol of the Malayali culture and heritage of Venad empire. The devi is consecrated in a separate shrine. Some scholars assume that the devi was installed here as a gift of the Venad-Chera family, represented by Ravivarman, to the god Varadaraja. The reference to “Cherakulavalli Nachchiar” in an epigraph of this temple lends plausibility to this surmise.

The territorial extent of Venad empire under Ravivarma Kulashekara

His territory extended as far as Nellore in Andhra Pradesh. His fame even reached the ears of Kakatiya kings of Andhra. In one of their inscription they acknowledge his strength and address him as “Malayala Tiruvadi Kulashekara”. According to the esteemed historian A.S.Menon, he was also known for destroying garrisons established by the invader Malik Kafur and halting their further expansion into deep South.

Apart from his military brilliance, Ravivarman is also noted for his services in the field of religion, philosophy, arts and traditions. His court attracted scholars and authors such as Samudrabandha – the commentator of the works of Alankarasarvaswa – and Kavi Bushana. The king also claimed to be a talented musician and author. He supposedly wrote the famous Sanskrit drama Pradyumnabhyudayam specifically for the purpose of being staged in the Sri Padmanābha Swāmy temple in Travancore. The Sri Rangam Inscription calls him the Master as well as the Protector of the Three Vedas.

But unfortunately his supremacy in South India was short lived because of his age related illness and the decentralised ruling system of Venad. His northern expansion was halted by Kakatiyas of Warangal and he lost Nellore and surrounding areas. Kanchipuram also slipped out of his hands after Sundara Pandyan made an Alliance with Kakatiya and their Nayak governering officials.

According to A.S.Menon, Ravivarma Kulashekara died in Kollam due to natural age related causes. This brave son of Bhārat will be remembered in the pages of Hindu history for generations to come.

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Indologist. Specializes in Southern Indian history. Always open to learn and teach.
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