Early History

Cochin was an Indian State on the West Coast of Southern India. In 1341 AD, following a cataclysmal natural event that occurred in the Arabian Sea, a new harbor sprung up and a Malayalam name given to that harbor got abbreviated and became known as the Kochi harbor. The country around the harbor became Cochin Town and the area ruled by the Rajas assumed the name Cochin State . The Cochin Royal Family was previously known as Perumpadappu Swaroopam. Records attributed to Ptolemy in A.D. 126 and Marco Polo in A.D.1290 do not mention Cochin. The first mention was made by Ma Huan, a Chinese traveler in 1399 A.D.

An informative publication was presented in the early 1940’s during the Second World War titled “COCHIN” edited by the war publicity officers V.K.K.Menon and Rama Varma Appan Thampuran.

The early history is so succinctly given that I am documenting it verbatim: -

The history of Cochin as well as of Kerala, of which Cochin is only a part, is shrouded in obscurity till the advent of the Portuguese at the close of the 15th century. A few references in ancient Tamil works, in the Memoirs of foreign travelers and a few inscriptions and copper-plate grants which are still preserved, afford occasional interesting glimpses into the past of the country. But these flotsams of the wreckage of centuries are far from being sufficient to afford any clear idea of the political and social evolution of the country.

That the tract of the country stretching from Gokarna to Cape Comorin and lying between the Ghats and the sea was once under water is now well known and admitted. Whether this formation was the result of continual antagonism between the slit-laden streams rushing down from the hills and the sand-bearing currents of the sea, or whether it was the result of volcanic action is a problem still awaiting answer. But, characteristic of the Indian genius to attribute acts of Nature to the Gods in the Hindu pantheon there is a mythological tradition about the origin of Kerala.

Parasurama is one of the ten Avatars or manifestations of God on earth. Parasurama happened to commit the great sin of slaying many high caste Hindus and in order to expiate the sin, he caused the new land to emerge out of the seas, and, according to tradition, gave it to the Brahmins as gift or Danam. About the earliest settlers on this coast, there can only be the merest conjecture. Primitive burial cairns in which are found bones, stones and other implements, pottery and beads, are to be met with here and there, and the people who made their sepulcher in these cairns may have been the earliest settlers of Kerala. This race subjugated and harassed by the succeeding waves of immigrants or invaders or both seems to have become extinct centuries ago. The next batch of immigrants were in all probability the ancestors of the jungle tribes of the present day. It is far later in the day that the colonization by the Brahmins took place. The Brahmins are the ancestors of the modern Namboodiries of Malabar. It is believed that Thiyyas (Tivans or Dwipans meaning Islanders), the ancestors of the present day Ezhuvas, came over from Ceylon (Sinhala). The introduction of the coconut tree on the west coast is usually credited to these people. Cosmos Indicoplenopes, who wrote in the 6th century, fully describes the coconut tree, and this, therefore, gives us some idea of the period of the immigration.

With regard to political history, as far as is known, Kerala at first formed part of the bigger Kingdom known as Chera, though the details pertaining to the Chera Dynasty and Chera Kingdom are still matters of conjecture. “Vanchi” or “Thiruvanchikulam”, a place near modern Cranganore, is believed to have been the capital of the ancient Kingdom of Chera. Cranganore itself was a famous port during those days known by the name of Musiris or Muchiri. It is described by a contemporary poet as "the thriving town of ‘ Muchiri’ where the beautiful ships of the Yavanas bringing gold come, splashing white foam in the waters of the Periyar which belongs to Kerala and return laden with pepper”. The Phoenicians were the first to visit Kerala for trade purposes and they came by the way of Persian Gulf. Their example was followed by the Jews during the reign of Solomon. After the Jews came the Syrians and the Egyptians. The trade of the Romans with Kerala was on a more extensive scale than that of their predecessors, and was kept up for over two centuries.

The later Kings of Kerala were commonly known by the generic name of Perumal or Cheraman Perumal (the big man of Chera or Kerala). The name of the last of the Perumals figures largely in all the traditions of Kerala. It is believed that he abdicated his throne after dividing his Kingdom amongst his chief nobles and relatives. The Kingdom of Perumpadappu ( later Cochin ) came into existence on the dismemberment of Kerala which seems to have taken place about the 6th century A.D.

According to tradition, the first King of Cochin was the son of a sister of the last of the Perumals, thus giving rise to the Marumakkathayam law of succession that governs the Cochin Ruling Family even now. The name of the first King is believed to have been “Veera Kerala Varma”. Even today, the full official designation of the Raja of Cochin is “Perumpadappu Gangadhara Veera Kerala Thrikkovil Adhikarikal”.

Before we go into authentic history, it may not be out of place to give a short account of the state of the country and its institutions before it was in any way affected by western influence. The Kingdom of Cochin at this time comprised a much larger territory than it does now. It was reduced to its present limits by the conquests of the Zamorin and the Raja of Travancore in the 18th century. The Ruling Family was divided into five Thavazhis or branches and this inevitably led to considerable internal dissentions.

The administration was based on principles resembling those of the feudal system in Europe. The King was the supreme Ruler and the fountain-head of Justice. Local administration was in the hands of hereditary chiefs called “Nadu Vazhies”( Nadu meaning a district and Vazhies meaning chiefs). Minor Chiefs owed allegiance to these “Nadu Vazhies”. Wide administrative powers were exercised by hereditary chiefs. The powers of the King were fettered by rules and conventions based on custom and tradition and also by the Kootam or National Assembly.

There was no taxation as such. The chief sources as the King’s revenue were from the Crown lands and customs. Escheat of lands on demise of his vassals formed an additional source of revenue to the King. A duty of 10 percent on imports and 6 percent on exports was customary. Besides these, inland customs at the rate of one percent ad valorem were levied at various stations. The maintenance of the dignity of the Ruling Family and the conduct of religious ceremonies were the only routine items of expenditure.

The King assisted by his Kariakars ( administrators)and Brahmins administered justice, the laws being based entirely on custom and religion. The punishments were often cruel, but all contemporary accounts agree that crime was rare in those days and people enjoyed security of life and property to a remarkable extent.

The Nayars formed the hereditary militia of the country and their arms consisted of lances, swords, shields and bows and arrows. Warfare was almost like a modern game governed by an elaborate set of rules. Fighting took place only during daytime and night attacks and ambuscades were unknown. The civil population and property were never affected. For instance the laborer in the field could go on with his work unmolested, while a major battle was being fought in close vicinity. The cultivation of rice, pepper and coconut was the chief occupation of people. Roads were not in existence and wheeled traffic was unknown. The rivers and backwaters of the State were the main channels of communication and transport. - 1

(Above narrated verbatim from COCHIN published in 1941-43)

Perumpadappu Swaroopam

When the last Perumal divided his Kingdom, one of the Swaroopams that came into existence was Perumpadappu. The others were Nediyiruppu, Venad and Kolathiri Swaroopams. Perumal's sister married a Namboodiri from the Peimpadappu Mana. ( Home of a Namboodiri is called a Mana). It is widely believed that the considerable wealth of Perumpadappu Mana devolved on to his son after the last Perumpadappu Namboodiri passed away. The matrilineal system of inheritance was the tradition amongst the Perumals and the son of the sister was crowned the first Raja of Perumpadappu Swaroopam. He was Vera Kerala Varma and he had sisters and the families of the sisters became five Thavazhis or branches. These thavazhis were Mutha, Elaya, Palluruthy, Madathingal or Muringur, and Chazhiyur. The earliest mention of these branches of Perumpadappu Royal Family was found in the Dutch records.

The extent of their Swaroopam was considerable approximating to almost 4000 square miles if the adjoining tributary States were included. Each thavazhi had its own crown lands, family seat, retainers and militia of Nayars. Vanneri was the main precinct close to Perumpadappu where each branch seem to have had separate dwellings. The ancient Koipilli thevar Siva temple in Perumpadappu was the Family Deity of the Swaroopam until the Samudiri attacked and displaced the Perumpadappu Swaroopam in the 14th or 15th century. Ever since Vanneri has been lost to the Perumpadappu Swaroopam. Chitrakoodam in Vanneri was the place the Perumpadappu Raja was being traditionally crowned. The right of succession to the kingdom was common to all Thavazhis and the eldest male member amongst the branches reigned as the Raja. There was significant internal dissentions amongst the thavazhis very often. This affected the stability of the Kingdom. Samudiri took advantage of this time and again to consolidate his power. During the wars between Perumpadappu and Samudiri ( who belonged to the Nediyirippu Swaroopam) one or more branches of the Perimpadappu Family sided with Samudiri. If the ruling family chief grew too old or too feeble he relinquished the reins of Government and led the life of a religious recluse.

No clear account of the hurried departure of the Family of the Perumpadappu Swaroopam just prior to Samudiri invasion has been available. It is presumed that they escaped to Pazhayannur via boats from the backwaters alongside the Koipilly Temple. They may have chosen Pazhayannur as a destination because Pazhayannur Bhagavathy ( the diety at Pazhayannur temple) was one of the family deities of Perumpadappu Mana. The family also had a Palace in Thiruvanchikulam as it was close to the Mahodayapuram of the early Perumals. It is assumed that they moved south to Thiruvanchikulam later on. Constant battles with Samudiri drove them even further south to the area that came to be known as Cochin. The Cochin Royal Family always had a religious connection with Koipilly, Pazhayannur and Thiruvanchikulam temples and that is an indication of the path they took from Vanneri to Cochin.