Poonjar and Pandalam

The last vestiges of the Pandyan dynasty.

By P.K.R.V.Raja ( A member of the Poonjar Royal Family)

List of kings

The following list gives the names of the Pandya kings who were active during the 10th century and the first half of 11th century. It is difficult to give their dates of accession and the duration of their rule. Nevertheless, their presence in the southern country requires recognition. (See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pandyan_Dynasty)List of kings

· Sundara Pandya I

· Vira Pandya I

· Vira Pandya II

· Amarabhujanga Tivrakopa

· Jatavarman Sundara Chola Pandya

· Maravarman Vikrama Chola Pandya

· Maravarman Parakrama Chola Pandya

· Jatavarman Chola Pandya

· Srivallabha Manakulachala (1101–1124)

· Manavikraman Chirayu varman (1124–1132)*

· Maaravaramban Seervallaban (1132–1161)

· Parakrama Pandiyan (1161–1162)

· Kulasekara Pandyan III (1162 ……

· Vira Pandyan III ……… 1175)

· Jatavarman Srivallaban (1175–1180)

· Jatavarman Kulasekaran Devan (1180–1216)

· Maravarman Sundara Pandyan (1216–1238)

· Sundaravaramban Kulasekaran II (1238–1240)

· Maravarman Sundara Pandyan II (1238–1251)

· Jatavarman Sundara Pandyan (1251–1268)

· Maaravaramban Kulasekara Pandyan I (1268–1308)

· Sundara Pandyan IV (1309–1327)

· Vira Pandyan IV (1328–1345)

· * This King’s name doesn’t appear in this list. It is inserted by this author.

In the above lists of Kings of the Pandyan dynasty there are some gaps and overlaps of the periods in which these kings ruled the country. The names of the kings are mostly identical, particularly the names Sundara, Vira, Maravarman, Maravaramban, Kulasekharan, Jatavarman, etc. The chronological order is given only from 1101 onwards. After 1124 up to 1132 A.D. no name is given. It is not possible that no one ruled the country during this period. In the history of Poonjar and Pandalam kingdoms of Kerala it is said that these kingdoms were founded by Pandyan Kings who migrated from Madurai in order to preserve their dynasty from complete obliteration by the Cholas who were incessantly trying to conquer the entire Pandyan Kingdom which was always very rich.

The first migration of Pandyans took place to Malabar when a group of the royal family members of the Pandyan Kingdom migrated to a place called Venkitangu near the Guruvayoor Temple through the Palghat gap of the Western Ghats. They established the Sharkkara Kovilakam by purchasing a small plot of land at this place. This happened in the year 905 A.D. under the leadership of a Pandyan Royal family member Maravarman Rajasimhan. At this time the whole of Kerala was under the rule of one Kothai Ravi Varma who had his capital at Quilon (the Malayalam Era was started by this King.)

The next group of the Pandyan royalty was a group of people under the leadership of Rajasekhara Varman who traveled south to the Thirunelveli district of the Chera Kingdom and then entered the Travancore region of Kerala through the Tenkasi gap of the Western Ghats. This migration could have happened after 1124 A.D. After staying for awhile in the thick forest regions of Konni they sought the help of the Venad King and settled themselves at the place called Pandalam in Central Travancore. With the help of a small army division of the Venad Kingdom they established a small state of their own which came to be known as the Pandalam Kingdom. But in the 18th century when the King of Venad, Marthanda Varma went on a siege and established the kingdom of Travancore the Pandalam Raja decided to acquiesce to the Travancore Kingdom and accept the position of a chieftain under the Travancore King. The Pandalam King transferred all his powers to rule to the Travancore King Karthika Thirunal Rama Varma soon after the attack of Tippu Sultan of Mysore on Travancore.

In the year 1124 Sreevallabha Manikulachela the then ruler died while a severe war was going on between the Cholas and Pandyas. The next heir to the throne was Manavikrama Chirayu Varman. Due to the fierce battle going on at that time the enthroning ceremonies were deferred and the battle went on. At this time all the members of the Pandyan dynasty felt that defeat was imminent and some of them decided to migrate westwards to the Kerala region.

In the mean time the chief of the Army of the Pandyan King shifted his allegiance to the enemy forces and the entire defense set up of the country was in confusion. Mana Vikrama thought that he was going to lose the battle and the whole dynasty of his kingdom will be wiped out. So in order to preserve his dynasty, he decided to move his aboard to the west of his kingdom. He entrusted the Eastern parts of his kingdom to his younger brother Maravaramban Sreevallabhan and crowned him as the King of the Eastern Pandyan country. This happened in 1132 A.D. When Mana Vikrama moved to the West Mandalam, he took with him a large quantity of gold and jewelry. In addition he also took along with him the panchaloha idols of the presiding deities of the Madurai Meenakshi Temple, which were used during the festivals of the temple. Thus King Mana Vikrama came and settled down at Gudalur, a small village in the foothills of the Western Ghats. He established his Kingdom in a small area along the foothills of the Western Ghats extending from Dindugal in the North and Gudalur in the South. The place he chose was completely covered by hills all around in the Kumili gap of the Western Ghats. He looked after his people well and soon became very popular as a good and efficient ruler. However, the people of Gudalur were not very loyal to this King. They gave him plenty of problems. Looting, robbery, quarrels etc. were very common and the King never approved of such behavior among his citizens. Another problem he faced was the lack of good potable water in that area. So, after a few years of his stay at Gudalur the King decided to climb over the Western Ghats in search of a place with good potable water. Thus on a bright sunny day he decided to set out to the Western Ghats of Kerala. The people of Gudalur never expected such a move by the King and they pleaded with him not to abandon them and go away from there. But the King had taken a firm decision and he said it is no longer possible for him to continue staying there. However he told his subjects that he was not abandoning the country and he would do the needful to look after the affairs of the West Mandala of the Pandyan Kingdom. But this never satisfied the subjects. They pleaded with him to continue staying there or else if he was bent upon shifting his residence, to provide them with enough land for them to cultivate and earn their livelihood. This the King agreed to and assigned each family of every community different areas of land for paddy cultivation on condition that they would provide sufficient amount of rice for the use of the King and his entourage and institutions that he may establish in due course of time. All the communities agreed to this and they all got land allotted for cultivation. Thus when the poorest among them the Chakliyas got about one or two acres of land, the Gounders got 10 to 50 acres and the Thevar community members got the maximum measure of 100 to 500 acres. The King had made a Vishnu Temple in this town which is at present known as Azhakar Perumal Kovil which actually resembles Vaikuntam the abode of Lord Vishnu. The temple was completed at that time but not the compound walls. The King told the people that he would come back to complete all the work after he establishes himself elsewhere at a suitable place. All the community members were satisfied and they all decided to accompany the King up to the foothills of the Western Ghats. The Purohits of the temple were also assigned lands amounting to about one hundred acres so that they may have sufficient funds to look after the temple. As the King and his entourage started moving towards the foothills, all bare footed, their feet started getting burns from the hot sand on which they were walking. Seeing this, the Chakliya community immediately provided them all with sandals made out of cattle hides. This community of Chakliyas also promised the King that they would provide him with a new pair of sandals whenever he wanted. After reaching the foothills, all his subjects went back to their villages bidding adieu to the King and his entourage. Members of the Muslim Community and some others like skilled artisans etc. accompanied the King on his adventure to locate a suitable place for a comfortable stay.

Thus they proceeded climbing the hills of the eastern slope of the Western Ghats and entered the Kumili gap. By evening they reached the Mulla Periyar River and crossed it to arrive at an old dilapidated temple of Shiva on its banks.

As dusk was falling and the Sun was setting the King decided to settle down in the temple premises for the night. This place was thickly forested with very large trees and full of wild animals. With the river flowing along with plenty of potable water, the place appealed to the King. But to make a permanent residence there was out of question as it was thickly afforested and populated with wild animals like elephants, tigers, deer, hog, bear and so on. To protect themselves from attacks of these wild animals they collected a lot of firewood and made a campfire for the night. The women folk made some food and they all ate to their fill and were about to settle down for the night. At this time all of a sudden a group of robbers fell upon the king and his entourage with the intention of plundering them of all wealth they carried. Though shocked by this attack, the King and his men fought back bravely to save themselves, offering prayers to Sundareswara their protector God with shouts of “Shiva! Shiva ! Mahadeva ! Sundareswara ! Pahi Mam”and “ Amme! Meenakshi! Thuna Arulka”. The attack by the robbers lasted only for a short while as they were ambushed by a small group of forest dwellers led by a small boy who arrived on the scene riding on an elephant.

After the robbers were driven away, the boy who was riding the elephant alighted and greeted the King and asked him what he was doing there in the forest at such a late hour and the King explained his plight and said that he was on a search for a comfortable place to live. The boy then told the King that this place Vandiperiyar was not a good place to live in as it was infested with wild animals.

Groups of robbers were always on the look out for looting susceptible victims like the King and his entourage. He advised the King not to camp at that spot for the night and to continue his journey towards the west. The boy told the King that the best place for staying comfortably was on the banks of a holy river which flowed from those hills towards the famous Ettumanur Mahadeva temple. He also told him that this temple was in the list of those robbers who attacked him and was planned to be plundered by these robbers within three days. He advised the king to prevent that plan and save the temple from these robbers and then meet the local ruler, the Thekkumkoor Raja who will arrange for a place for them to settle down there. The boy also told the king that he himself was following these robbers in order to destroy them as they were the people who plundered the Sabarimala temple about ten years earlier and killed his grandfather who was the priest of that temple at that time. Knowing that the king was the Pandyan ruler who migrated from Madurai, the boy also asked him for his help to make a siege of Sabarimala temple in order to resurrect that temple and thus take vengeance on these robbers who murdered his grandfather. The King replied that he will establish himself first and then only could assist the boy in his plans to resurrect the temple. Also he advised the boy to go to Madurai and meet the present ruler there at that time, King Sree Vallabha who was his own brother and plan things over for the siege of the temple.

Soon after that the boy offered his elephant and its mahout who was a tall and hefty Ullada tribal man named Mala, to guide the king in the night on his journey through the forest. The boy also presented the King with a spike and stick for controlling the elephant and said that he may keep these as a reminder for that casual meeting between them in that forest. Thus they departed and the King and his entourage reached a place called Nallathanni on the next morning at dawn. The Ullada tribal man left the King’s entourage in the morning itself to join his men in the forest.

From Nallathanni, the King and his entourage travelled westwards and reached near Ettumanur by the next day as dusk was falling. That was the night on which the robbers had planned the attack on Ettumaur Mahadeva temple. The King and his men succeeded in preventing their attack by timely intervention on the group of robbers. The people of Ettumanur were very happy and welcomed the King and his people as the saviours of their temple and took them all to the King of Thekkumkoor who ruled that area at that time. The Thekkumkoor Raja was much impressed by the timely intervention of the Pandyan King and his men and offered him whatever help or assistance they wanted for settling themselves in his territory. The Pandyan King on the other hand offered him sufficient gold in exchange of some land in the territory of Thekkumkoor for himself and his people to settle down there. This was agreed upon by the Thekkukoor Raja and the deal was settled as, that much of land as the elephant of the Pandyan King could cover in a day anywhere in the Thekkumkoor territory will be given to the Pandyan King in exchange of as many gold coins equal to the number of steps made by that elephant to cover that area.

The only river that flowed through Thekkumkoor (Also kown as Venpala Nadu in those days) was the present Meenachil which was named so by the Pandyan people in memory of their presiding deity at their Kingdom of Madurai. The Pandyan King and entourage travelled along this river and finally decided to settle down on the banks of this river. They marked the territory as agreed by the King of Thekkumkoor and paid the price in as much gold coins as the number of steps taken by their elephant. This territory they called Pooniyat (meaning Holy River Bank) and became Poonjar by colloquial usage.

This is the story of how the Pandyan King Mana Vikrama Chirayu Varman established his Kingdom of Poonjar. Later his successors the Poonjar Rajas expanded their territory by purchasing more land from Thekkumkore and the Vadakkumkore (Also known as the Keezhmala Perumal) Kingdoms and established themselves as the ruling Royal family of Poonjar.. The boundaries of their land extended up to more than 50 square miles of land within Kerala and Tamil Nadu with the Western Ghats running through its centre.

When we analyze these two stories of the origin of Pandalam and Poonjar Kingdoms we may conclude that both Rajasekhara Varman and Mana Vikrama Chirayu Varman migrated to the Kerala territory in the fear of their dynasty being obliterated by the Cholas and these migrations happened almost at the same time. Mana Vikraman being the ruling King had access to the treasury and so he took sufficient riches for his survival from the treasury itself. He also took the procession idols of the presiding deities of the Madurai Meenakshi Temple along with him. After settling in Kerala both these Kings started worshipping Sree Dharma Sastha as their savior and benefactor and made temples for this God at their abodes. Both these Kings claimed large areas of land extending from Kerala coast to the interior areas of Tamil Nadu as their territory, with the Western Ghats in the middle of their Kingdoms. They both claim that Lord Ayyappa, the resurrecter of Sabarimala Temple was associated with their family history. While the Pandalam Rajas affirm that Ayyappan was the son of a Pandalam Raja, the Poonjar Rajas believe that Ayyappan directed their ancestor Mana Vikraman Chirayu Varman to go and settle down in Poonjar. At the time when Ayyappan associated with them he was about 12 years old according to what the family stories tell. He was a very handsome and an active boy at that time. He was well versed in the use of various weapons in warfare and was a person who can tame all kinds of wild animals and use them as his vehicle for movement. It was his desire to resurrect the Sabarimala shrine and avenge the killing of his grandfather who was a poojari of the shrine. For this purpose he asked for help from both these Rajas. But they both advised him to approach the Pandyan King Mara Varamban Sri Vallabhan who was ruling at that time from Madurai in Tamil Nadu. Taking their advice, Ayyappan went to Madurai and served for some time the Pandyan King and helped him win the war against the Cholas. He showed his prowess in taming wild animals to the Pandyan King by riding on a wild leopard and milking it in front of the public. These acts of Ayyappan impressed the Tamil population so much that they all believed that Ayyappan was a reincarnation of God and they all enthusiastically agreed to join him in his war for resurrection of the shrine at Sabarimala. After gaining the support of the Pandyan King and his people Ayyappan fixed the date for the siege of the temple on the first dayof the Malayalam month of Makaram and instructed them all to reach Pandithavalam near the shrine on that day. After this, Ayyappan went back to Pandalam and all other places wherever he had organized his camps of followers and gave them all instructions to assemble at Erumeli camp before the siege. Thus a big army of people assembled at Erumeli and started their siege of the holy shrine a couple of days before the first of Makaram. During the siege; they obliterated all the robbers of the holy shrine by the time they reached the Saramkuthi and left all their weapons there. Thus on the first day of Makaram, the resurrection of Sabarimala was completed successfully in the presence of all that assembled there who included the Pandalam Raja, the Pandyan King, the associates and friends of Ayyappan , the tribal Ulladas and Arayans and so on. The presence of men of other religious beliefs, such as Vavar and Veluthachan is also to be mentioned especially on this occasion. After having resurrected the temple Ayyappan gave necessary instructions to all who assembled there and vanished from the scene. This made the people to believe that Ayyappan was a reincarnation of the God Sree Dharma Sastha and they all worshipped him ever since by the name of Ayyappa.

Since then, The Raja of Pandalam took over the responsibility of looking after the shrine. Later be built temples at Pandalam and Perinad in memory of Ayyappan. The Raja of Poonjar heard of all these adventures of Ayyappan and also made temples in his memory at Poonjar and Vandiperiyar where Ayyappa saved him from the robbers.

Thus, blessed by Lord Ayyappa, the reincarnation of Sree Dharma Sastha, the last vestiges of the Pandyan Dynasty, Pandalam and Poonjar still exist.

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Entrance to the Poonjar Palace