A masterpiece in reprint

July 15, 2013 12:00 am | Updated 05:08 am IST

reprint of Perumals of Kerala , written by M.G.S. Narayanan, historian, which is considered a landmark in historiography of Kerala, will be released in Kozhikode on Tuesday.

M.T. Vasudevan Nair, writer, will hand over the first copy to Basudev Chatterji, Chairman of the Indian Council of Historical Research, at a function at the Alakapuri Auditorium.

The book, based on the Ph.D. dissertation submitted by MGS to the University of Kerala in 1972, was first printed in 1996. Only a few copies were available then.

“A very important work, it is now intended to reach a larger audience. The empirical details and the theoretical framework put forward by MGS remain unchallenged even after four decades,” says Kesavan Veluthat of the Department of History, University of Delhi.

Before MGS arrived on the scene, Elamkulam P.N. Kunjan Pillai had blazed a trail in the historiography of Kerala.

Elamkulam studied exhaustively inscriptions from the ninth century, and claimed they were related to a single dynasty that ruled the whole of present day Kerala, from Mahodayapuram, identified with modern Kodungalloor. He called the dynasty the Second Chera Empire or the Kulashekhara Empire. He saw the janmi form of landlordism, matriliny and the Devadasi dance as products of the post-Kulashekhara age. He challenged the very foundations of the Logan-Padmanabha Menon construction of Kerala history. He attributed the janmi system and matriliny to the hundred years’ war fought between the Cheras and the Cheras, which led to the ultimate decline and fall of the Kulashekhara Empire.

MGS closely examined stone inscriptions travelling across Kerala and the estampages preserved in the office of the Chief Epigraphist of the Union hovernment. He discovered many unpublished, unnoticed inscriptions.

He revisited Elamkulam’s findings about the social and political conditions of Kerala under the Kulashekhara Empire.

“The book shows MGS’s uncompromising commitment to historical method. The range of sources used is amazing. While Elamkulam used barely a hundred inscriptions, MGS used 150,” Prof. Veluthat says.

MGS analyses Mushikavamshakavya in the light of the politics of South India, which saw the Rashtrakutas and the Cholas engaging in a struggle for supremacy. To reconstruct Kerala history, he researched on hymns such as Aadiyula , Tiruvarur Mummanikkovai and Ponvannattantadi and Mukundamala , and the plays of Kulasekharavarman.

MGS challenges the assumptions that the dynasty was founded by an eponymous Kulasekhara and that all rulers of that dynasty carried the title of Kulasekhara. “MGS had taken up the ‘Hundred Organisations’ figuring in the inscriptions. The ‘Hundreds’ are seen in association with the Nattu divisions and their chiefs, while a ‘thousand’ was associated with the Perumal himself,” Prof. Veluthat says.

MGS interpreted the epithet Kanthallur Salai Kalamaruttaruli , associated with Rajaraja I Chola. Scholars have interpreted this as destroying “the ships” and “the feeding hall.” Drawing evidence from the Parthivasekhara puram Copper Plates and a Jain Prakrit work, the Kuvalayamalakaha , MGS argues that Kanthallur Salai was an educational institution of Brahmana students called Cattas who were taught by instructors called Bhattas, where, apart from teaching Vedic lore and other academic subjects, military training was also imparted.

A very important work by MGS, it will reach a larger audience

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