Direct evidence are not availabe for a study of the early settlers of Kerala. Therefore, scholars rely on materials scattered all over the State in the shape of dolmens, menhirs, cairns, hood-stones, rock caves and others. According to L.A. Krishna lyer, dolmens or burial urns, in which are found bones, implements, pottery and beads, occur in the upland tracts of the country, and the people who found their sepulchers in them may have been the first settlers in Kerala. In Kerala, dolmens are found in the Cardamom Hills and in the Anj an ad Valley. Krishna lyer says: "In Kerala, we do not meet with remnants of the old stone age tools, except one Paleolith found at Kanyako Hill in Malabar.1 He continues that an examination of the paleolithic finds shows that man went in search of quartzite, which is more common in South East India. Therefore, it is necessary to undertake extensive examinations of the seacoasts in South India, particularly in Kerala. Pallavaram (Tamilnadu) is considered as a favourable abode of the paleolithic man, whose tool was hand-axe made of quartzite which is not available in Kerala. Laterite layers probably appeared in Kerala during the. paleolithic period, and it is entirely possible,as indicated by the Varkala finds, that the palaeolithic man was active in Kerala. The life of man was impermanent, precarious and isolated. Towards the end of the paleolithic period, man gave up his nomadic life, and began to live in small groups. Even as early as the upper paleolithic age, families and groups began to develop fishing. These conditions are reflected in the primitive tribes of modern times, like the Malapanadarams.
Even from the upper paleolithic age, Kerala might have been the abode of man, but neglect of research has left us without direct evidence of the earliest men. The paleolithic age was closely followed by the neolithic age in South India, when people carried on the profession of hunting and gathering roots and tubers. According to Dikshitar, the extreme south of India, including Kerala, is not marked with the presence of paleolithic settlements but we find abundant materials to show that the neolithic man made his habitations at Sawyepuram in Tirunelveli district and elsewhere. The Edakal Cave in Wynad is judged to have belonged to the neolithic times. But Kerala is excluded from the paleolithic map of India because quartzite implements of the paleolithic man could not be discovered. According to H.D. Sankalia, the absence of paleoliths in Kerala is "Probably because no search has been made".
Some scholars believe that mesolithic culture flourished in Kerala. The period between the paleolithic and neolithic is called the mesolithic stage of culture. Microliths belonging to this period were collected by K. R. H. Todd at Chevayur near Calicut. Microliths or small stone implements were discovered from other places like Cochin and Wynad.
Neolithic men carried on the profession of hunting for a meal of flesh. They practised fishing on a large scale, and cattle rearing was another occupation. It is known from neolithic sites that the neolithic man was aware of the rudiments of agriculture, but he could not be credited with the knowledge of rice cultivation. He used stone hoes to break the soil and stone ploughs to till the land. The cultivation of any crop on a large scale was not possible. The people continued their old occupation of gathering roots and tubers. Thy were alive to some process of cooking and preparing dishes, as evidenced by the existence of corn crushers and mill-stones. The dress of the neolithic man consisted of loin cloth, skinrobe, leaves, barks of trees, etc. Beads served as ornaments for women. Pottery of poor decoration with rough surface was discovered from neolithic settlements.
Early settlers of Kerala used dolmens or burial urns in which were placed bones, implements, pottery and beads. They were subjugated by succeeding waves of immigrants or invaders. In Kerala, dolmens are found on the Cardamom Hills, and in the Anjanad Valley, on the banks of the Pamba, etc. The dolemen in stone were covered or not covered with earth, and formed crude vertical blocks of stone supporting a cover slab or slabs. The dolmens were used to cover one or more burials usually by inhumation. The menhir is a tall, crude obelisk of varying height, vertically planted on earth."
The custom of burying ashes and bones in pots still prevails among some castes. The Construction of megalithic monuments represents the highest sophistication of the art of the disposal of the dead. Menhirs are found in Travancore and Cochin and old pots and human skeltons have been discovered from the Varkala tunnel. Thus is to be presumed that builders of megaliths settled in places where they found raw materials for their industries.
The megaliths of Kerala are dolmens, menhirs, port-hole cists, Kudakkallus or umbrella stones, Topikallus or cap stones, arid rock-cut caves. Burying the dead bodies by placing weapons, tools, shell ornaments, beads, pots, etc., in the megaliths is called fractional burial by archaeologists. Menhirs discovered from Anappara are locally called Patakallus or Pulachikkallus. Menhirs were also discovered from other places like Komalaparathala. Topikallus and Kudakallus were discovered from the Trichpr region. In differeent parts of Malabar area also megalithic monuments were discovered.
The rock-cut cover of the megalithic order are plenty in Kerala and many of them have been discovered from places like Porkalam, Eyyal, Chovannur, etc. They are different sizes, with some interesting carvings, Swastika, inscriptions, and a few figures and symbols.
According to H.D. Sankalia, the megaliths represent a fairly well established and prosperous social organization. It had no direct connection with the Harappa culture, but urn-burials were common to the two cultures. The megalithic men were settled people and practical agriculturists. They chose rocky grounds for burials and dug irrigation tanks in the alluvial plains. The megalithic culture of Kerala bears close similarity to the megalithic culture of India. According to Sir Mortimer Wheeler, the Iron Age megalithic culture flourished between the 3rd century B.C. and the first century A.D.8 No systematic investigation has so far been made to study the megalithic culture of Kerala. The megalithic monuments discovered give a faint picture of the megalithic people. We do not know anything about their habitation equipment, housing, religion, etc.
Pre-history reminds us that Kerala was part of India from the dawn of history, culturally and geographically. Thus, this land is not a gift of Parasurama to Brahmins who are immigrants belonging to the Nordic race. Chronologically, Chera culture may be the continuation of the megalithic culture. Therefore, Kerala has had an unbroken history till the end of the Sangarn period or the 5th century .AD.
KERALA IN THE SANGAM AGE
The Sangam age which comprised the first five centuries of the Christian Era was the formative epoch of Kerala history. Kerala during this period formed part of the larger unit of Tamilakam. The land was divided into five divisions on the basis of topography, viz., Venad, Kuttanad, Kudanad, Puzhinad and Karkanad. The exact boundaries of these divisions are not known but some broad indications are available from contemporary Tamil works. The present Trivandrum district and portions of the Quilon and Pathanamthitta districts constituted Venad or "the land of the Vels" (Chieftains). The region lying to its north comprised Kuttanad or the "land of lakes". The whole of the present Emakulam, AHeppey, Idukki and Kottayam districts and a portion of the Ouilou district were included in this division. Kudanad or the "Western land" (Le., the land lying to the west of Kongunad) comprised the region to the north of Kuttanad. It included the Trichur, Malappuraxn and Palghat districts and a part of the Kozhikode district. The northernmost division, viz., Puzhinad or the "marshy tract" covered the coastal area of the present Cannanore and Kasargod districts and a part of the Kozhikode district. The mountainous region of Wynad, Guddalore, etc., lying to the east of Puzhinad was called Karkanad or "the impregnable area". It may, however, be noted that the .terms Venad and Karkanad came into vogue only in the post-Sangam period.
Politically, the land of Kerala was ruled in the early Sangam age mainly by three powers, viz., the Ays in the south, the rulers of Ezhimala (Mount Eli) in the north and the Cheras in the region lying in between.
The Ays ruled over an extensive area stretching from Nagercoil in the south to Tiruvalla in the north including the Sahyadri ranges. Ptolemy (2nd century A.D.) refers to the region from the Bans (Pamba) to Cape Coraorin as Aioi, where the chieftains of the Ay clan ruled. They had their capital at Aykudi in the Podiyil Mountain. The Ays had come into prominence even before the Cheras established themselves as the dominant - political power in Kerala. The Sangam works refer to three important Ay kings, viz., Ay Antiran, Titiyan and Atiyan. The Ay kindgom acted in due course as a buffer state between the Pandya and Chera kingdoms.
The coastal tract between Badagara and Mangalore and the mountainous region lying to the east were under the sway of an illustrious line of kings who ruled with their capital at Ezhimala or Mount Eli.
The kingdom of Ezhimala reached the zenith of its glory and power under the great king Nannan who is celebrated in several Tamil poems. Nannan was a great warrior king who ruled his kingdom with an iron hand. He extended his sway over such regions as Wynad and Guddalore and over the northern portions of Coimbatore. His attempts to expand his kingdom brought him into deadly conflict with the Cheras of Vanchi. The victories of Nannan over the Cheras and other neighbouring chieftains are alluded to in the Agananuru, Nattinai and other works. The victorious career of Nannan ended in defeat and disaster. The Chera army under Nannudi Cheral defeated and killed this valiant king in the battle of Vakaiperumturai and brought Puzhinad under Chera imperial control.
Not much is known about the history of the Ezhimala kingdom after Nannan's death. Apart from its political importance, Ezhimala attained fame in the Sangam age also as the home of some of the poets like Paranar and Azhissi.
The Cheras established themselves as an important power in Kerala in the early centuries of the Christian era. Some scholars have expressed the view that there were three independent branches of the Chera imperial line with headquarters at Vanchi, Tondi and Karur respectively, but this view is doubtfull. In the course of their imperial expansion, the members of the Chera royal family set up residence at several places in their far-flung and extensive empire. They followed the collateral system of succession (Kuttuvazhcha) according to which the eldest member of the family, wherever he lived, whether at Vanchi, Karur or Tondi, ascended the throne.
We got a brief outline of the history of the first Chera Empire on the basis of the genealogy of the Chera princes as furnished in the Patittupattu (Ten Decads) of the Sanghom Literature. It may be made clear in this context that not all the princes mentioned in the Patittupauu ascended the throne. Most of them helped the reigning sovereign as heir-apparents or junior princes. In fact, the Chera princes who figure in the Patittupattu belong to three or four generations only.
KULASEKHARAS OF MAHODAYAPURAM c.800-1102 A.D.
The period between the Sanghom Age and of the Kulasekharas of Mahodayapuram is regarded by some scholars as an “age of darkness” in Kerala history. The age of the Kulasekharas of Mahodayapuram is considered as the Golden Age of Kerala history by some historians. According to this version an illustrious line of kings known as the Kulasekharas ruled over Kerala from 800 to 1102 A.D. with their capital at Tiruvanchikulam or Mahodayapurara. The history of the Kulasekhara Empire, otherwise called the Second Chera Empire, was brought to light in recent times as a result of the studies of Prof. Elamkulam Kunjan Pillai. The reconstruction of the history of the Kulasekharas has turned out to be an important contribution, which has helped to fill in a major gap in our knowledge of the early history of Kerala.
ARRIVAL OF VASCO DA GAMA
There were four principal political powers during the period between the Kulasekharas of Mahodayapuram and the arrival of Vasco da Gama. They are Venad, Kolathunad, Cochin, and Calicut. Among these Calicut emerged as the supreme power of, around the half portions of Kerala,when Gama landed on the coast. Apart from this, many minor ruling principalities were also existed in Kerala. They were Elayadathu Swarupam, Desinganadu, Attingal, Marta, Karthikappally, Odanadu, Purakkad, Pantalam, Tekkumkur, Vadakkumkur, Punjar, Karappuram, Anchi Kaimals, Edappalli, Parur, Alangad, Cranganore, Airur, Talappalli, Valluvanad, Palghat, Kollangode, Kavalappara, Vettanad, Parappanad, Kurumbranad, Kadathanad, Kottayam, Kurangoth, Randathara, Ali Rajas of Cannanore, Nileswaram, and Kumbla.
The landing of Gama at Kappad near Calicut in May 1498 marked the beginning of a new epoch in the history of Kerala. Mutual rivalries among the Kerala rulers gave ample opportunities to the Portuguese sailors to build an empire of their own in the Kerala coast. This was the beginning of the foreign dominations in the land. Following the Portuguese the Dutch, the French and the English tried to build an empire of their own in Kerala. In this protracted struggle for empire the English were the final Victors.
RISE OF TRAVANCORE
In the 18th century Travancore produced two illustrious rulers, viz., Marthanda Varma (1729 -1758) and Kartika Tirunal Rama Varma (1758 -1798), popularly called the Dharma Raja. Under their able guidance and leadership, Travancore rose to prominence as a powerful military State. Whereas the former carried out the annexation of several neighboring States and contributed substantially to the expansion of the kingdom, the latter consolidated the conquests and preserved its territorial integrity.
THE MYSOREAN INTERLUDE
The Mysorean invasion which took place in the latter half of the 18th century represents a brief interlude in the long and chequered history of Kerala. It was brought about by the internal compulsions of contemporary Malabar politics as well as by the aggressive designs of Haider Ali and Tipu Sultan, the Muslim rulers of Mysore. The main factor which facilitated the conquest was the lack of unity and co-operation among the rulers of Kerala. The expansionist policies pursued by the Zamorin of Calicut had sparked off a series of conflicts between Calicut and the neighbouring principalities and created political conditions favourable for the Mysorean intervention. The rivalry between the Kolathiri and the AH Raja of Cannanorc was also a factor of considerable importance. While the local powers and chieftains were engaged in internecine warfare, the European powers were carrying on intrigues with them with a view to furthering their trade interests. Haider All saw in the situation a unique opportunity to interfere in Kerala politics and promote his own expansionist aims. Raider's desire to get access to the French settlement of Mahe in order to ensure a steady supply of arms from the west to feed his military machine also prompted him to embark on his Kerala adventure. This led to the rule of the Mysore Sultans in Malabar for around twenty-five years.
THE CHALLENGE TO BRITISH SUPREMACY
The establishment of British supremacy over the different regions of Kerala did not go unchallenged by patriotic elements of the population. In the closing years of the 18th and the early decades of the 19th century there were organised attempts to overthrow British authority and regain the lost independence. The Malabar, Travancore and Cochin areas of modern Kerala played their part in these early struggles for independence. Among these challenges the most important were of Pazhassi Raja of Kottayam(1793-1805) and Veluthampi Dalwa and Paliath Achan of Cochin(1809).The Attingal out break of 1721,and the Kurichiya revolt of 1812 are also important here to mention. The English suppressed all these patriotic movements with an iron hand.