|c. 8/9th century CE/12th century CE–1729|
• Formation of Venad
|c. 8/9th century CE/12th century CE|
• Dissolution of the Kodungullur Chera Kingdom
|c. 1124 CE|
• Raids of Ravi Varma Kulasekhara
|c. 1312–1316 CE|
• Formation of Travancore
|Part of a series on the|
|History of Kerala|
Venad (Malayalam/Tamil: Vēṇāṭu) was a medieval kingdom lying between the Western Ghat mountains and the Arabian Sea on the south-western tip of India with its headquarters at the port of Kollam/Quilon. It was one of the major principalities of Kerala, along with kingdoms of Kannur (Kolathunadu), Kozhikode and Kochi (Perumpadappu) in medieval and early modern period.
Rulers of Venad trace their ancestry to the Ay Vel chieftains of the early historic south India (c. 1st – 4th century CE). Venad – ruled by hereditary "Venad Adikal" – appears as an autonomous chiefdom in the kingdom of the Chera Perumals (formerly Kulasekharas) of Kodungallur from around 8th – 9th century CE. It came to occupy a position of pre-eminent importance in the structuring of the Kodungallur Chera kingdom. The country was intermittently and partially subject to the Pandya kingdom and the Chola empire among others in the medieval period.
Venad outlasted the Kodungallur Chera kingdom, gradually developed as an independent principality, known as the Chera kingdom, and grew later into modern Travancore (18th century CE). Ravi Varma Kulasekhara, most ambitious ruler of Venad, carried out a successful military expedition to Pandya and Chola lands in the early 14th century CE.
The rulers of Venad, known in the medieval period as Venad Cheras or the Kulasekharas, claimed their ancestry from the Kodungallur Cheras. Venad ruler Vira Udaya Marthanda Varma (1516–1535) acknowledged the supremacy of the Vijayanagara rulers. Minor battles with Vijayanagara forces in the subsequent period are also recorded. In the 17th century, the rulers of Venad paid an annual tribute to the Nayaks of Madurai. English East India Company established a factory at Vizhinjam in 1664 and a fort was built at Ajengo in 1695. The medieval feudal relations and political authority were dismantled Marthanda Varma (1729–1758), often credited as "the Maker of Travancore".
The name Venad is believed to be derived from Vēḷ+nāṭu meaning the territory of the Vel chieftains. The earliest preserved Tamil compositions - datable to c. 1st – 4th century CE – attests presence of hill chiefs such as the "Vels" in southern Kerala.
Medieval Ay kings claimed that they belonged to the Yadava or Vrishni lineage and this claim was advanced by the rulers of Venad and Travancore. As early as the 10th century, the powerful chiefs of Venad used the surname suffix "Varma", denoting the Kshatriya status of the ruling line.
Venad had a kind of chiefly rule with principles of succession, indicated by the term kuru, that is, the rights of the chief and the order of succession within the chief's household. Rulers of the extended Venad royal family lived at different locations in the kingdom. Migrations and setting up new palaces continued into the early modern period. Political authority of a complex nature was followed by the Kerala joint families. Trippappur, Desinganad, Chiravay and Elayadam branches of the family were called "swaroopams". The swaroopams were further divided into matrilineal descent groups (the thavazhis).
Sources refer to the ruler of Venad as controlling parts of Trivandrum district, Kollam and presumably parts of Alleppey and Kottayam districts (and Kanyakumari district in later times). The autonomous chiefdom ("nadu") of Venad came to occupy pre-eminent importance in the structuring of the Kodungallur Chera kingdom. The rulers of Venad owed their importance to exchange of spices and other products with the Middle Eastern and Chinese merchants. Venetian adventurer Marco Polo claimed to have visited Venad capital Kollam, a major centre of commerce and trade with East and West Asia. European colonisers arrived at Kollam the late fifteenth century, primarily in pursuit of the Indian spices and textiles.
It would appear that the whole region of medieval Venad was part of the Ay country in early historic south India (c. 1st – 4th century CE). Persons belonging to the Ay clan were the hill chiefs of the "Vel country". Towards the close of the early historic period the Pandya supremacy might have extended to the Ay territory. It is likely that the Ays gained their independence from the Pandyas during the so-called Kalabhra period.
In the middle of the 8th century CE, the Pandya sacked port Vizhinjam, and took possession the Ay country. This foray brought the Chera kings of Kodungallur (Makotai) into the conflict and a prolonged Pandya-Ay/Chera struggle followed. It is a possibility that the region was or came under over-lordship of the Cheras by early 9th century CE. By the middle of the 9th century CE, as a result of the encroachment of the Pandyas and Cheras, the old Ay kingdom was partitioned into two portions. Venad with its base at Kollam became one of the autonomous chiefdoms of the Kodungallur Chera kingodom while the Ay country, or what was left of it, came under the influence of the Pandyas.
A new calendar was known as the "Kollam Era", was established in 825 CE at port Kollam. The exact events that lead to the foundation of the era is still matter of scholarly debate. According to historian Noburu Karashima, it commemorated the foundation of Kollam harbour city after the "liberation" of Venad (from the Pandya rule, and hence beginning of Chera influence).
The Kollam Syrian plates (c. 849 CE and c. 883 CE) of Venad chieftain Ayyan Adikal, does mention the then Chera king Sthanu Ravi. The chief was providing land and other provisions to the Christian merchant Mar Sapir Iso at the port of Kollam. The rulers of Venad, known as "Venad Adikal", owed their importance to exchange of spices and other products with the Middle Eastern and Chinese merchants. Panankavil Palace, whose location remains a mystery, was a royal residence in Kollam. The chiefs of Venad were determined on extending their sway into the Ay territory. The chiefs, owning allegiance to the Cheras, might have captured the whole region down to Kottar (Kanyakumari) by 10th century CE.
The region to the south of present-day Trivandrum – former Ay country – came under the control of the Cholas of Tanjore during 11th century CE. The Cholas raided ports such as Kodungallur in the early decades of the century, but never tried to annex the proper Chera country. They seem to be satisfied with the submission of the king at Kodungallur. There is a possibility that the Venad chieftains tried to recapture the old Ay country after the raids by Raja Raja I. Chola ruler Rajadhiraja (1019–1044, 1044–1054 CE) claims to have "confined the undaunted king of Venadu [back] to the Chera country [from the former Ay country]". Kodungallur ruler Rama Kulasekhara, a contemporary of Chola Kulothunga (1070 -1120 CE), is seen organising the defence against the Cholas at Kollam in early 12th century CE.
The prosecution of the Pandya-Chola wars necessitated long residence of Chera king of Kodungallur Rama Kulasekhara at Kollam. There is a tradition that Vira Kerala, a ruler of Kollam in early 12th century, was a son of the last Chera king.
After the dissolution of the Kodungallur Chera kingdom (c. 12th century), Venad survived, and emerged as a powerful principality in southern India, as result of the wars of conquest and well as the Indian Ocean spice trade. Venad, now known as the kingdom of the Cheras or the Kulasekharas, was intermittently subject to the Pandyas during this period. Possibly with the decline of Chola power after Kulothunga, Venad Cheras gradually extended their control over the present Kanyakumari district. In the early 14th century, "Sangramadhira" Ravi Varma carried out military raids to northern edges of south India (1312–1316). His inscriptions can be found as north as Poonamallee, a suburb of Chennai.
In Venad royal family, like most of other royal houses in Kerala, law of succession followed was based on matrilineal inheritance. The eldest son of the sister of the ruling king, not his own son, had the legal right to ascend the throne after the death of the king.
Aditya Varma (1376–83) seems to have resisted some "Muslim invaders" on the borders of Venad. His successor Chera Udaya Marthanda Varma (1383–1444) is credited for the extent of the rule of Venad into interior Tirunelveli region. Vira Udaya Marthanda Varma (1516–1535) acknowledged the supremacy of the Vijayanagara rulers. Minor battles with Vijayanagara forces in the subsequent period are also recorded.
Well into the modern period, Venad remained one of the chief monarchies of Kerala, along with Kingdoms of Kannur (Kolathunadu), Kozhikode (Zamorin) and Kochi (Perumpadappu). Padmanabhaswamy Temple in Trivandrum was the major temple in the region. In the 17th century, the rulers of Venad paid an annual tribute to the Nayaks of Madurai. By this time, the old state of Venad was divided into several autonomous collateral branches such as Trippappoor, Elayadathu, (Kottarakara), Desinganad (Kallada, Kollam), and Peraka Thavazhi (Nedumangad).
During the "regency" of Umayamma (1677–1864), southern Venad was famously overrun by a Muslim adventurer. English East India Company established a factory at Vizhinjam in 1664 and a fort was built at Ajengo in 1695. Around 150 Company men from the Anjengo Factory, proceeding for an audience with the queen-mother, were lynched by a mob in "the Attingal Outbreak" of 1721. Ravi Varma, ruling from 1721 to 1729, entered into formal agreements with the Company and the Nayaks of Madurai. The primary objective of the submission was to strengthen the position of the king against the regional nobles (such as "the Ettuvittil Pillamar") and other "hostile elements" in Venad.
Marthanda Varma (1729–1758), of the Trippappoor, is often hailed by historians as "the Maker of Travancore". Marthanda Varma – at the end of whose rule Travancore was one of the first modern states of south India – is usually credited with the following "achievements".