The Tamil Chola dynasty ruled in southern India and is regarded as one of the longest-ruling dynasties ever. The earliest datable references to it are in 3rd century B.C. Ashoka inscriptions. The dynasty ruled over territories of various sizes until the A.D. 13th century. The base of the Cholas (Colas) was the fertile valley of the Kaveri River, but they governed a significantly larger area at the height of their power from the late 9th century to the early 13th century. During the period 1010–1153, the Chola territories stretched from present-day Sri Lanka the Maldives islands in the south to the Godavari River in Andhra Pradesh in the north The legacy left by Cholas includes Tamil literature and the great living Chola Temples. They pioneered a centralised form of government and established a disciplined bureaucracy. The Chola school of art spread to Southeast Asia and influenced the architecture and art there. [Source: Wikipedia]

According to to UNESCO: ““The great Cholas established a powerful monarchy in the A.D. 9th century at Thanjavur and in its surroundings. They enjoyed a long, eventful rule lasting for four and a half centuries with great achievements in all fields of royal endeavour such as military conquest, efficient administration, cultural assimilation and promotion of art.

While most of India’s empires have been primarily land-based powers, the Chola Empire is unique in that it was a naval empire. The historian John Keay noted “the idea that the sea could be political, a strategic commodity in its own right dominated by a state rather than by commercial competition, was a relatively new concept for Indians.” The Cholas were based in Tamil Nadu and had been around as a minor state from the second century B.C.E. However, their imperial period began in the 10th century C.E, when they dominated all of South India. [Source: Akhilesh Pillalamarri, The National Interest, May 8, 2015]

“Due to geographic and topographic reasons, the projection of military power out of South Asia has always been difficult, leading to relatively little conquest of territories outside this region by South Asian states. However, South Asia’s position on the sea is an exception to this rule, and a great naval power can use the region as a base to dominate the Indian Ocean. The Cholas knew this, as did the British later. The Cholas were famous for their maritime expeditions that gave them control over the Maldives, Sri Lanka, and the Malaysian-Indonesian archipelago by 1025 C.E. Large portions of northern India and Southeast Asia’s coasts were tributary. After a period of decline, the Chola were overthrow by a vassal in 1279 C.E.

“After the defeat of a Hindu coalition by Muhammad of Ghor in 1192 C.E., Islamic rule began over much of northern India. At least two Muslim empires worth the name of great powers existed during this period: the Delhi Sultanate (1206-1526) and the Mughal Empire (1526-1858). Other prominent empires during this era include Vijayanagara in South India (1336-1646) and the Maratha Empire throughout most of South Asia (1674-1818). After 1757, the British Raj eventually came to dominate South Asia afterwards by defeating local rulers, the Mughals, Marathas, and Sikhs and ruled until 1947.”

Chola Dynasty

The name Chola (Cola) has sometimes been taken to mean ‘hoverer’ from the Tamil root ‘cul’ (to hover), whereas others connect it with Sanskrit ‘cora’ (thief) or Tamil ‘colam’ (millet), or with the word ‘Kola’, which “in the early days designated the dark-coloured pre-Aryan population of Southern India in general.” Whatever the value of these suggestions regarding the origin of the name, there is hardly any doubt that, like the Pandyas and the Ccras, the Cholas were indigenous to the South, although in later literature and inscriptions they are ascribed a mythical descent from the Sun. [Source: “History of Ancient India” by Rama Shankar Tripathi, Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Benares Hindu University, 1942]

The traditional Cola-mandalam or the kingdom of the Cholas lay north and south between the two rivers, Pennar and Vellaru (Vellar), and roughly comprised the modern districts of Tanjore and Trichinopoly in the Madras area and a portion of the Pudukottai State. These limits considerably varied as the power of the Cholas developed or declined in the course of dynastic conflicts. Among the capitals, we know of Uragapura (Uiaiyur, near Tticliinopoly), Tanjuvur (Tanjore), and Gangaikonda Cholapuram; and their most important port was Kaveripaddanam (Puhar), situated at the mouth of the northern branch of the Kaveri River, from where the Cholas carried on a brisk trade with the outside world.

In 985, Maharajah Rajaraja the Great (who name roughly translates to King Kingking the Great) became the leader of the Chola kingdom of southern India. He built a huge stone temple dedicated to Shiva not so much out of piety but as means of unifying support against the Muslims and taking a stake in the trading empires in Southeast Asia, the Indian Ocean and China.

The Chola dynasty had been around several centuries before it became a major player in India. It was mainly a regional power in southern India and didn’t have much influence over India as a whole until later. Battles between the Chola kings and their rivals from Chera and the Pandyan kingdom are described in the poems and epic ballads of the “Sangam” anthologies, the earliest surviving Tamil literature. The Chola Dynasty produced beautiful carved Indian goddesses from granite and bronze. See Art.

The Cholas are among the earliest of South Indian royal houses. The artifacts of the period found in South India, the Mahabharata and Ashokan inscriptions mention it. It is known that Karikala was a Chola ruler who reigned in the A.D. 2nd century. During Karikala's reign, the capital city was moved to Kaveripattanam from Uraiyur. Nedumudikilli seems to have been the successor of Karikala, whose capital town was set to fire by the sea pirates. The frequent attacks of Pallavas, Cheras and Pandyas decreased Chola’s power. Cholas’s glory began when Pallavas power declined. [Source: Glorious India]

The Chola emperors were worshippers of Shiva, but they were by no means intolerant of other faiths then prevailing. Indeed, Rajaraja I, an ardent Saiva himself, built and endowed temples of Vishnu, and made gifts to the Buddhist Vihdra at Negapatam. The Jains also appear to have pursued their persuasion in peace and harmony. There are few references (except in the poems of the Sangam period) to the performance of Vcdic sacrifices by Chola kings. Indeed, the solitary allusion to the Asvawedba occurs in the records of Rajadhiraja. Perhaps greater stress was then laid on Dana (gift) than on Yajnas or sacrifices. Hindus were given largess, and temples were richly endowed.

Early History of the Cholas

The Cholas, as rulers, are known to have existed from remote antiquity. They have been mentioned by the grammarian, Katyayana (circa 4th century B.C.), and in the Mahdbharata. According to II and XIII Rock Edicts of Ashoka, which are the earliest historical documents to refer to the Codas, they were a friendly power in the South beyond the pale of Mauryan suzerainty. Next, the Mahavatnsa throws some light on the relations between Cholarattha and Ceylon, for we learn that about the middle of the second century B.C. a Chola named Elara conquered the island and ruled there for a fairly long period. [Source: “History of Ancient India” by Rama Shankar Tripathi, Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Benares Hindu University, 1942]

The Periplus (circa 81 A.D.) and the Geography of Ptolemy (circa middle of the second century A.D.) further give us some information regarding the Chola country and its inland towns and ports. Then the Sangam literature, assigned with a good deal of plausibility to “the first few centuries of the Christian Era,” testifies to the rude of several Chola princes, some of whom appear to be mere legendary models of charity and justice. Others, however, may probably be historical figures, although any attempt to settle their chronology and order of succession is baffling in the extreme. One of them was Karikala, who is s said to have expanded the Chola kingdom greatly both in territory and in influence. His most notable achievement was defeating of the Pandya and the Cera kings and a number of minor chieftains, allied with them, in the battle of Venni near Tanjore.

About the third or fourth century A.D. the Cholas suffered an eclipse owing to the rise of the Pallavas and the aggressions of the Pandvas and the Ceras. The Cholas continued to exist, but for the next few centuries they \yere of no consequence, boding low before almost every blast. Towards the close of the fourth decade of the seventh century A.D. we are told by Xuanzang that “the country of Chu-h-ye (Culya or Chola) is about 2400 or 2500 li in circuit, and the capital is about 50 li round. It is deserted and wild, a succession of marshes and jungle. The population is very small, and troops and brigands go through the country openly. The climate is hot; tlje manners of the people dissolute and cruel. The disposition of men is naturally fierce; they arc attached to heret ical teaching. The Sanghardmas are mined and dirty as well as the priests. There are some tens of Deva temples, and many Nirgrantha heretics.”

The country, thus described by the Chinese pilgrim, corresponds, according to Dr. Vincent Smith, with “a portion of the Ceded districts, and more specially with the Cuddapah district.” Whether one agrees with this identification or not, it is doubtless noteworthy that Xuanzang maintains silence regarding its ruler. Presumably, this was because the Chola chief then wielded little power, and was perhaps only a feudatory of the Pallava sovereign. The fortunes of the Cholas were indeed now completely enveloped in darkness. But when the Pallava monarchy declined about the middle of the ninth century A.D. the sun of Chola glory once again shone on the political horizon of the South.

Rise of the Cholan Empire

According to PBS: In ancient times “the Cholas held the east coast of modern Tamil Nadu and the Cauvery delta region. They eventually gained supremacy over other southern tribes in the area, the Pandyas of Madurai and the Pallavas of Kanchi. The empire's earliest king Karikala (r. about 100 CE) is celebrated in Tamil literature, but the empire reached its height under Rajaraja (r. 985–1014 CE), who conquered Kerala, northern Sri Lanka, and in 1014 A.D. acquired the Maldive Islands. [Source: PBS, The Story of India,]

“To commemorate his rule and the god Shiva, Rajaraja built a magnificent temple, Rajarajeshvara or Brihadeesvarar Temple at Tanjore, which was completed in 1009 CE. The temple, the tallest building in India at the time, includes inscriptions describing Rajaraja's victories and was a massive ceremonial space, with a central shrine measuring 216 feet high. Fresco murals that depict military conquests, the royal family, Rajaraja, and Shiva decorate the temple. Villages in the empire and from as far away as Sri Lanka sent tributes that would be redistributed and used in support of the vast retinue of dancers, servants, singers, carpenters, goldsmiths, and others living in the temple's court.

“Rajaraja's son, Rajendra I (r. 1014–1044 CE), would continue to increase Cholan power by defeating rivals in southern India and expanding Cholan territory north. In 1023 CE, Rajendra sent his army north toward the Ganges River and defeated the Bengal kingdom of the Pala ruler. A few years later he sent overseas expeditions to the Malay Peninsula, occupying parts of Java, perhaps to protect a sea route to China. Rivalries with other southern tribes would lead to the dynasty's fall when in 1257 CE, the Pandyas defeated the Cholas. The dynasty ended in 1279 A.D. with the last Chola ruler, Rajendra IV (r. 1246–1279 CE).

Early Imperial Chola Dynasty Rulers

The greatness of the Cholas was revived by the dynasty founded by Vijayalaya. Around A.D. 850, Vijayalaya founded the Imperial Chola dynasty probably by starting off as a vassal of the Pallava king. With the conflict between Pallavas and Pandyas, Vijayalaya occupied Tanjore and made it his capital. The exact relation of Vijayalayato the earlier Cholas is unfortunately unknown. He began his rule in the neighborhood of Uraiyur, probably as a vassal of the Pallava king. It is believed that Vijayalaya captured Tanjavur or Tanjore from the Muttaraiyar chiefs, who were partisans of the Pandya monarch, Varagunavarman. [Source: “History of Ancient India” by Rama Shankar Tripathi, Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Benares Hindu University, 1942]

Vijayalaya was succeeded by his able son, Aditya I about A.D. 875. Aditya I. Aditya I defeated Pallava king Aparajita and also Parantaka Viranarayana, the Kongu ruler. Aditya Iconsiderably enhanced the power and prestige of the family, for he overthrew the Pallava Aparajitavarman and brought Tondamandalarh under his sway about 890 A.D. Aditya I is also represented to have conquered Kongudesa and taken Talkad in the Western Garigas. Aditya I was a votary of Siva, in whose honour he built several temples. [Source: “History of Ancient India” by Rama Shankar Tripathi, Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Benares Hindu University, 1942]

Aditya I was soon succeeded by his son Parantaka I, who ruled between 907 to 955. Cholas power reached supremacy under his reign. He annexed territory of of the Pandya King and soon conquered the Vadumbas. He swept away all traces of Pallavas power, but received a set back at the hands of Rashtrakutas. When Parantaka I, ascended the throne, the Chola realm comprised almost the entire eastern country from Kalahasti and Madras in the north to the Kaveri in the south, and during his long reign he extended it still further. First, he annexed the territories of the Pandya king, Rujasirhha, who had to flee for safety to Ceylon; and to commemorate this exploit Parantaka I adopted the title of “Maduraikonda.” The Chola conqueror then turned his arms towards Ceylon, but the raid proved abortive. He next “uprooted two Bana kings and conquered the Vaidumbas.” Parantaka I finally swept away all traces of Pallava power, and pushed his authority up to Nellore in the north.

This rapid expansion of the Chola kingdom, however, did not bring him peace. In the last decade of his reign, disruptive tendencies manifested themselves, and he was involved in a terrible conflict with Krisna III Raspakuta. Although some late Chola inscriptions credit Parantaka I with having repulsed his mighty rival, a consideration of the available evidence would show that Krisna III won a decided victory over the Chola forces wfith the help of the Ganga prince, Butuga II. Indeed, it appears that the Rasttakufa invader seized lvancl and Tanjore, and assumed the proud epithet of “Tanjaiyunkonda.” Rajaditya, the eldest son of Parantaka I, was killed in the battle of Takkolath (North Arcot district) in 949 A.D. and Krisna III is alleged to have marched triumphantly even up to Rameswaram. Whether the latter claim is true or not, there is hardly any doubt that the Cholas received a disastrous blow, and that they took some time to recover from it. Paranraka I performed several charitable sacrifices; and lacing a devout Saiva, like his father, he gave impetus to the erecting of religious edifices, and himself covered the Siva temple of Cidambaram with gold.

With the death of Parantaka I in 953 A.D. the history of the Cholas for the next three decades is much confused. Scholars differ in their opinions considerably regarding the interpretation of facts, but it seems that after him ruled his two sons, Gandaraditya and Arinjaya, and that the latter was followed by his son, Sundara Chola, who w^s in turn succeeded by Adilya II Karikala and UttamaChola. They were weaklings, and except for the usual family intrigues and wars with neighbours, their reigns are not relieved by any important event.

Rajaraja I (c. 985-1014)

The most powerful ruler of the Chola kingdom was Rajaraja the Great. (ruled from 985 - 1014). His army conquered Venginadu, Gangapadi, Tadigaipadi, Nolambavadi, Kudamalai-nadu, Kollam, Kalingam, and Ilamandalam of the Singalas. His first triumph was achieved early in his reign by destroying the Navy of Cheras at Trivendrum. He annexed the north part of Ceylon to his kingdom and sacked Anuradhapuram. Polonnaruva was made his capital of the Chola province of Ceylon. Political divisions of the Western Ganga's Gangavadi, Tadigaivadi and Nolambavadi were conquered in 991 and it remained under them for the next century. Union of Eastern and Western Chalukyas was stopped by helping Eastern Chalukya ruler . Towards the end of the reign, the Cholas was attacked by the Western Chalukyas, but Raja-raja Chola won the war.

According to PBS: “Rajaraja ruled the Cholan Empire in India's southern region from 985 to 1015 A.D. and, along with his son Rajendra, is credited with securing the kingdom's dominance from the 10th to the 13th centuries CE. The emperor successfully defeated his main rivals, the Pandyas and the Cheras tribes, in South India, acquiring Kerala in the process. Rajaraja's strength derived from a strong administration, large army, and a unique naval force, which he used to extend his empire to northern Sri Lanka and the Maldive Islands, in 1014 CE. These victorious invasions secured a steady flow of tribute into his kingdom and contributed to the most enduring monuments of the Cholan dynasty, the great royal temples like those at Tanjore. [Source: PBS, The Story of India,]

Rajaraja I, who was known by a variety of titles such as MummadiColadcva, Jayangonda, Co]a-martanda, was Sundara Chola’s son and is heralded as presiding over.the most glorious epoch of the Cholas. He inherited a disorganised and an attenuated kingdom, but by his ability, organizational skills and military prowess he soon built it up again. One of the earliest exploits of Rajaraja I was the subjugation of the Ceras, whose fleet he destroyed at Kandalur. Then he took Madura and captured the Pandya king, Amarabhujahga. Rajaraja I also conquered Kollam and the fortress of Udagai in the Western Ghats and Malai-Nadu, identified with Coorg. At this time, the affairs of Ceylon had fallen into confusion and he invaded the island and annexed its northern part, which became a Chola province under the name, MurhmadiCola-Mandalarh. Next, he subdued Gangavadi and NolambapadI, constituting the bulk of Mysore. The ever-expanding power and influence of Rajaraja I could not be a matter of indifference to his Western Calukya contemporary, and so a trial of strength between the two was inevitable.

The Western Calukya leader Satyasraya (997-1008) faced off against Rajaraja I, who is alleged to have captured Rattapadi and devastated Calukya territory. Satyasraya was probably stunned by the terrific Chola onslaught, but he did hot take long to recover and hurl back the Chola advance. Rajaraja I then overran the Pastern Calukya country of Vengl. Saktivarman (r. 999-101 1) tried to stem the rising tide of Chola aggression. We are further told that the conquests of Rajaraja I included Kalinga and “ the old islands of the sea numbering 12,000”, which have been generally identified with the Laccadives and the Maldives. This, if true, doubtless speaks highly of the effectiveness of the Chola navy. Thus, Rajaraja I made himself master of almost the whole of the present Madras Presidency, Coorg, parts of Mysore and Ceylon, and other islands. These were indeed remarkable achievements, and place Rajaraja I among the foremost warriors and empire-builders of ancient India. Rajataja’s worshipped Shiva but his Saivism was by no means intolerant of other creeds. He endowed and built some temples of Vishnu too.

Rajaraja I’s claim to fame rests also on the beautiful Siva temple which he constructed at Tanjore. It is called Rajarajeswara after his name, and is specially noted for its huge proportions, simple design, elegant sculptures, and fine decorative motifs. On the walls of the temple is engraved an account of Rajaraja’s exploits, and but for this fortunate circumstance we should not have known all the details of his career. According to PBS: “To commemorate his rule and personal god, Shiva, Rajaraja built the magnificent Rajarajeshvara or Brihadishvara temple at Tanjore, which was completed about 1010 CE. The tallest building in India at the time, the temple includes inscriptions describing Rajaraja's victories and was a massive ceremonial space, with a central shrine that was 216 feet high. Fresco murals that depict military conquests, the royal family, Rajaraja, and Shiva decorate the temple. Methodical records of donations made to the temple provide extensive information about the temple and the empire. Rajaraja's son Rajendra succeeded him in 1014/15 A.D. and continued to expand the empire north and east, even sending a naval expedition to occupy coastal regions in Java and the straits of Malacca.

Rajendra I (c. 1014-44)

Rajendra I founded his new capital at Gangaikonda Cholapuram. He set up Vaishnava centre and the Vedic college for teaching Vedas. He had a friendly relationship with the China emperor, and had a peaceful reign of 32 years. He extended the territory inherited from his father, and subdued the power of Pandyas and Keralas. He performed Asvamedha sacrifice too. He was very successful in the beginning but later on he lost his life in the famous battle of Koppam on the Tungabhadra.

Rajendra I (Gangaikonda) was the worthy son of Rajaraja I. He shared power with Rajaraja I during the closing years of his reign. Indeed, the regal years of Rajendra I are counted from 1012 A.D. when he was formally declared Yuvaraja. lie proved a chip of the old block, and by his military valour and administrative talents he raised the Chola empire to the pinnacle of glory. Already in the time of his father, Rajendra I had won renown as a warrior by his successful attacks on Iditurainadu (Rai chur district), Banavnsi (north Kanara), Kollippakkai (Kulpalt), and Mannaikkadakkam (perhaps Manyakheta or Malkhed). He had thus carried his arms across the Turigabhadra right into the heart of the Calukya territory. A few years after coming to the throne, probably about 1017 A.D. he annexed the whole of Ceylon, its northern part having been previously conquered by Rajaraja I. [Source: “History of Ancient India” by Rama Shankar Tripathi, Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Benares Hindu University, 1942]

The following year he re-asserted the Chola supremacy over the kings of Kerala and the Pandya country, and appointed his son, Jatavarman Sundara, Viceroy of these territories with the title, Chola-Pandya. Further, Rajendra I maintained his hold on the “many ancient islands” (probably the Laccadives and Maldives), which had been conquered earlier by his father Rajaraja I. Rajendra I also came into conflict with the Western Calukya monarch, Jayasirhha II jagadekamalla (c. 101642). The Calukya records represent the latter as having got the better of his Chola adversary, but the Tamil prasasti, on the other hand, avers that Jayasirhha II “turned his back at Musangi (or Muyangi) and hid himself.” Whatever may have been the final issue, this much seems certain that Jayasirhha II continued to be master of the country up to the Turigabhadra. Next, Rajendra I directed his arms towards the North, and his armies marched triumphantly as far as the Ganges and the dominions of Mahlpala, the Gauda sovereign.

We are told in the Tirumalai (near Polur, North Arcot district) inscription that Rajendra I subjugated Odcla-Visaya (Orissa); Kosalainadu (Southern Kosala); Dharmapala of Tandabutti (Danda-bhukti, probably the districts of Balasore and a portion of Midnaporc); Ranasura of Takkana-ladarii (South Radha); Govindacandra of Vangaladcsa (Eastern Bengal); Mahipala, the Pala ruler (r. 992-1040); Uttira-ladam (North Radha). As this northern incursion is mentioned in the Tirumalai inscription dated in the 13th year of Rajendra I’s reign and has been omitted in the Merpadi inscription of the 9th year, one may reasonably suppose that it took place some time between 1021 and 1025 A.D. It was doubtless an audacious campaign, and to commemorate it he adopted the title of Gangai-konda. But the invasion did not yield any permanent results except that some minor Karnata chieftains settled in Western Bengal, and Rajendra I imported into his kingdom a number of Saivas f rom the banks of the Ganges.

The Chola monarch’s achievements were not limited to land only; he possessed a powerful fleet, which gained successes across the Bay of Bengal. It is said that he vanquished Sarhgramavijayottungavarman, and conquered Kataha or Kadaram. Presumably, the expedition was undertaken not merely to satisfy Rajendra I’s ambitions, but to further commercial intercourse between the Malay peninsula and South India.

Rajendra I founded a new capital called after him Garigai-konda-Colapuram, identified with modern Gangakundapuram. It boasted of a magnificent palace and a temple adorned with exquisite granite sculptures, but unfortunately these edifices and works of art have altogether perished owing to the pitiless operations of botli man and nature. In the vicinity of the new city, Rajendra I also excavated an immense artificial tank, which was filled with water by channels from the Kolerun and Vellar rivers. It is said that the lake and the embankments were destroyed by a hostile force, and its bed is now a thick forest.

After Rajendra I

Rajadhiraja I (r. 1044-52) was Rajendra I's son, Rajadhiraja I. He took the throne in 1044 but had been associated with his father’s administration since 1018 and had distinguished himself in warfare as well. When he came to the throne, Rajadhiraja I had to face many troubles, but all opposition was soon laid low. He subdued the Pandya and Kerala kings, who were in league with the rulers of Lanka (Ceylon) named Vikkamabahu, Vikkamapandu, Vira-Salamegha, Sri-Vallabha-Madanaraja. He also fought with the Western Calukya monarch, Somesvara I Ahavamalla (c. 1042-68). At first, fortune appears’ to have favoured the Chola sovereign, but eventually in the famous battle of Koppam he lost his life in May, 1052 A.D. ’

Rajadhiraja II (c. 1052-63) took the throne after his younger brother Rajadhiraja I was killed and indeed was proclaimed king on the battlefield itself. During his time, the war between the Cholas and the Calukyas continued, and both sides, as usual, claim victory for themselves. Indeed, the Chola inscriptions state that Rajendra II pressed on to Kolhapur (Kollapuram) and planted a Jayastariibha there; while Bilhana, author of the V'ikramdnkadevacaritu, represents Somesvara I to have stormed even Kanchi, then an important Chola centre. In the face of these conflicting accounts, what seems to be the truth is that none of the contending parties could decidedly succeed against the other. One thing, however, is clear that Rajendra II maintained the Chola empire intact.

Vira-Rajendra (c. 1063-70): was the elder brother of Rajendra II. He succeeded his brother to reign for the next seven years. He met the invasion of Chalukya King and defeated the Chalukya ruler. He reconquered Vengi and foiled the efforts of Vijayabahu of Ceylon who was trying to drive the Cholas out of Ceylon. When Someswara II succeeded the Chalukyas throne, Rajendra made some incursions but later on built a friendly ties by giving his daughter to Vikramaditya. Soon after the death of Vira Rajendra in 1070, there was a contest for the throne and Adhi-Rajendra, the heir apparent took the throne. He had a short uneventful reign, Vijayabahu assumed independence in Ceylon.

Kulottunga I (c. 1070-1122)

Rajendra II succeeded Adhirajendra under the title Kulottunga Chola. In about 1073, Kalachuri King Yasahkarana invaded Vengi but did not gain anything. Pandyas and Chera's attack were put down by Kulottunga. The southern Kalinga revolt were put down too. In about 1118, the Viceroy of Vengi - the Vikramaditya VI took control of Vengi from Chola and thus succeeded in separating the Cholas from the Eastern Chalukyas. Gangavadi and Nolambavadi were lost to Hoysala's Vishnuvardhana.

Adhirajendra probably did not leave any issue to succeed him. Accordingly, the crown devolved to Rajendra II, whose claim to it was based on close matrimonial relations between his house and that of the Cholas. For Vimaladitya of Vengi (c. 1011-18) had married a daughter of Rajaraja I Chola, named Kumdava (Kundavvai), and their son Rajaraja Visnuvardhana had won Rajendra I Chola’s daughter, Ammangadevi, as his spouse. But of this union was born Rajendra II Calukya, called afterwards Kulottunga I, who had himself obtained the hand of Madhurantaki, daughter of Rajendradeva II Chola. It would thus appear that Kulottunga I had more of Chola than Calukya blood; and although there are no grounds to believe that he was adopted into the Chola family, the failure of the main line as well as the confusion that prevailed about the time of Adhirajendra’s death certainly helped him to make good his claim to the Chola crown. [Source: “History of Ancient India” by Rama Shankar Tripathi, Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Benares Hindu University, 1942]

Presumably, Kulottunga I first settled accounts with his uncle, Vijayaditya VII, and then assumed power in the Chola country on the 9th of Juno, 1070 A.D. Thus, Kulottunga I united the two kingdoms of the Eastern Calukyas of Vengi and the Cholas of Tanjavur (Tanjore). The Western Calukya prince, Vikramaditya, tried to undo this amalgamation, perhaps at the instigation of Somesvara II Bhuvanaikamalia, who himself wanted to put his gifted younger brother out of the way somehow, but the attempt miscarried. Having secured his position and restored order in the Chola realm, Kulottunga I appointed his son Rajaraja-Murhmadi-Coda to govern Vengi. Kulottunga I next brought to book the recalcitrant Pandya and Kerala chieftains and other feudatories in the south. He is also said to have successfully measured strength with his Paramara contemporary of Malwa, and Kalinga fell a prey to his arms twice. Kulottunga I himself led the first expedition. Kulottunga I introduced certain reforms to the internal administration of the kingdom. Of these the most important was that he got the land re -surveyed for taxation and revenue purposes. The reign of Kulottunga I was further marked by religious and literary activity. Himself a devout Saiva by faith, he is recorded to have made a grant to the Buddhist shrines at Negapatam. But he was not favourably disposed towards the great Vaisyava teacher, Ramanuja, who was, therefore, compelled to leave Snrangam,

End of the Chola Empire

Vikrama Chola (1120 - 1135), the son of Kulottunga I, restored Chola power by reconquering Vengi and by taking control of part of Gangavadi. His reign was somewhat peaceful to his subjects though there were floods and famines in the South Arcot. The Hoysala expansion took control of Chola power slowly and subsequently. The last rulers of Chola—namely Kulottunga II, Rajaraja II, and Rajadhiraja III—could not stop the Hoysalas annexation of Chola Kingdom. Cholas hold on Pandyan kingdom had already weakened. In about 1243, the Pallava chief declared independence. The Kakatiyas and Hoysalas partitioned among themselves the territory of the Chola empire and Chola empire ceased to exist for ever.

Vikrama Cholaand his immediate successors, Kulottuhga II (c. 1133-47), Rajaraja II (c. 1147-62), and Rajadhiraja II (c. 1162-78 ), were all weaklings, under whom the power of the Cholas rapidly declined. The Hoysalas of Dvarasamudra now emerged as a considerable factor in the politics of the South, and the rulers of Ceylon, Kerala, and the Pandya kingdom boldly attempted to shake off their (Chola) allegiance. Indeed, the Chola authority had fallen so low that the Ceiylonese king even ventured to interfere in Pandyan affairs on behalf of one of the claimants to its throne, although eventually Rfijadhiraja II was ‘able to overcome all opposition and settle the succession ip favour of his protege. The next monarch, Kulottuhga III (c. 1178-1216), had also to face an internal turmoil in the Pandya realm, and we learn that he marched in triumph to Madura, and hurled back the advancing tide of the Ceylonese incursions in the peninsula. But despite these minor successes, the day of Chola ascendancy was soon drawing to a close.. In the reign of Kulottuhga Ill’s son and successor, Rajaraja III ('c. 1216-52), Tanjore itself was sacked by Maravarman Sundara Pandya I (c. 1216-38), and the former was reduced to such dire straits that he had to appeal to Vira Ballala II or Narasimha II Hoysala (acc. 1215) to come to his succour and rescue him from captivity. [Source: “History of Ancient India” by Rama Shankar Tripathi, Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Benares Hindu University, 1942]

About this time, another chieftain named Kopperunjinga, belonging to the Pallava stock, rose into prominence at Sendamangalam (South Arcot district), and he, too, is said to have taken Rajaraja III prisoner. The Hoysala prince again intervened, and after defeating Kopperunjinga set Rajaraja III free. Thus, the fortunes of the Cholas were already tottering, and when there ensued a civil strife between' Rajaraja II and Rajendra III in 1246 A.D. the Hoysnlas of Dvarasamudra, the Kakatiyas of Warangal under the energetic rule of Ganapati (c. 1199-1261), and the Pandyas of Madura freely aggrandised themselves at the cost of the decadent Chola monarchy. Indeed, it was in the time of Rajendra III, who first ruled jointly with his rival Rajaraja III from 1246 A.D. to 1252, and afterwards independently until 1267 A.D. that tlii final blow to the hegemony of the Cholas was given by Jatavarman Sundara Pandya (c, 1251-72). He claims to have overrun a large part of their territory, and seized Kanei. Rajendra III was unable to ‘arrest the rot, and by 1267 A.D. owing to internal troubles and the rise of the Pandyas and other feudutory powers, the empire suffered complete disintegration, and the Cholas sank into obscurity.

Government of the Cholas

The King and his Officers: The inscriptions of the Cholas prove that their system of administration was highly organised and efficient. The emperor was the pivot on which turned the whole machinery of the state. He discharged his onerous duties and responsibilities with the advice and help of ministers and other high officers. His verbal orders (tiruvdkya-krlvi) were drafted by the Royal or Private Secretary. It is believed that in the days of Rajaraja I and his son the Chief Secretary (Olaindyakam) and another functionary, (Terundaram) had to confirm the royal orders before they were communicated to the parties concerned by the despatch-clerk (Vidaijddhi kart). Finally, the local governors scrutinised the orders before they were registered and sent to the Department of Archives for preservation. [Source: “History of Ancient India” by Rama Shankar Tripathi, Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Benares Hindu University, 1942]

Territorial Divisions: The kingdom (rajyam or r a stratii) was divided into a number of provinces (wandalam), the most important of which were under the charge of Viceroys. Generally, the viceroyalties were conferred on princes of the blood or on scions of noble families. Some of the provinces t were formed of such principalities as had been annexed by the Chola Imperialists. Besides, there were the territories of the vassal princes, who paid tribute and rendered service to the suzerain in times of need. The provinces were subdivided into divisions (kottams or vetlanadu), and the other units of administration in the descending scale were the districts (nddus), unions or groups of villages (kurrams) and the village (gram am).

Land-Survey: The government carried out land-survey operations periodically. They were correct to the lowest fraction, and a record of holdings was maintained. In the earlier period, rods of 16 anel 18 spans were used for purposes of survey but subsequently the foot-print of Kulottunga I became the unit of linear measure.

Sources of Revenue (Ayam): The state derived its income mainly from land revenue, which normally amounted to one-sixth of the gross produce. Variations, if any, from.this rate depended upon the quality of land and water facilities. Sometimes remissions were granted in case of floods or famine. The royal dues were collected by fhe ' village assemblies, and were paid cither in cash or -in kind or in both. The unit of grain then was a kalam (about three maunds), and the current coin was the gold Kasu. An inscription enumerates numerous imposts such as those on looms (tari irai), ojj.-mills (iekkerai), trade (settirai), goldsmiths ('tattdrpdttam), animals, tanks, water-courses (Olukkunlr pattern), salt-tax (uppayam), tolls (vali ay am), weights (ulaivari), bazaars (augddipdtam), besides other exactions, whose connotation is not at all clear. It would thus appear that the government tapped almost every conceivable source of revenue to fill its coffers (talam).

Expenditures: The chief items of expenditure were the royal household, maintenance of the civil and military administration, planning and laying-out of cities (e.g., Gangaikondacolapurarn), construction of temples, roads, irrigation channels, and other works of public utility.

Army and Navy: The Chola emperors had at their command highly trained land ‘forces and an effective fleet, which respectively made possible the brilliant victories of Raj a raj a I and Rajendra I against the neighbouring powers and their overseas conquest in the Indian ocean and the Malay peninsula. The Chola army was divided -into sections according to the arms used and to whether they were mounted or not. Thus, there were “the r chosen body of archers (villigal),” footsolclicrs of the bodyguard (yalperra kaikkolar), “infantry of the right-hand (velaikkarar of the valangai '),” “chosen horsemen” (' kudiraiccevafar), elephant corps (anaiydtkal, kunjiramallar), etc. The army was garrisoned in different localities in cantonments called kadagams, where discipline was enforced and military training given. Some Senapatis were Hindus, known as Brahmadhiraja.

Chola Assemblies

There is ample evidence to show that these divisions had their own popular assemblies during the period of Chola ascendancy. First, we hear of the assembly of the people of a whole mandalam in connection with the remission of certain taxes on land under its jurisdiction. Next, inscriptions refer to the Ndtar, assembly of the people of a Hilda (district), and N agar attar, i.e., “assembly of the mercantile groups which went, by the generic name Nagaram.” These two terms perhaps corresponded to the Jampada and Paura respectively. Unfortunately, however, the details of their constitution and working are unknown. [Source: “History of Ancient India” by Rama Shankar Tripathi, Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Benares Hindu University, 1942]

Besides, local administration was greatly facilitated by the existence of guilds or srenis, pfigas, and such other autonomous corporate organisations in which persons following the same ertift or calling banded themselves together. Turning to the assemblies of villages, some had what were called Or. “They were mere congregations of local residents to discuss matters without any formal rules or procedure. Then there was the Sabhd or Mahdsabhd — an assembly‘of Brahman villages (Brabmadevas) — about which our information is copious indeed. It would appear from documents, particularly from those found at Uttaramerur (about 50 miles S.W. of Madras), that these village assemblies, subject to tlie supervision and general control of Imperial officers designated Adhikdrins, enjoyed almost full powers in the management of rural affairs. They were the proprietors of village lands, both tilled and un tilled. Since agriculture was their chief concern, they acquired lands by fresh clearings and afforded all protection to the cultivator front molestation. They gathered taxes, and resumed lands in case of non-payment. But unnecessary strictness in the collection of the customary dues was avoided.

Often the assembly alienated or sold land for religious purposes without reference to the central government or its local representative. Further, it received deposits in cash or gifts of land to administer them as charitable trusts. The Sabhd seems to have acted also as a sort of guardian of the village morals. It was invested with some authority to mete out justice and award suitable punishments to offenders. Through mathas the assembly probably made provision for the education of village children both in Sanskrit and Tamil. The number of the members of the Sabhd cannot be precisely ascertained; presumably, it depended upon the importance of the area of the village. The meetings of the assembly were held in a temple, or a public hall, or under "an umbrageous tamarind or some other tree." To look after various affairs of common interest, the Sabhd had smaller committees. Thus, we learn of. committees for general management (pane a vara variyam), tanks (eri vdriyam), gardens, fields, temples, charities, justice, gold (port variyam), etc. For election to these bodies elaborate rules were devised. Each village was divided into wards (kudtwibas), and the eligibility or otherwise of a person for membership was determined on a consideration of certain qualifications or disqualifications based on one’s age, learning, character, mode of living, relations, social status, etc. A member was elected for one year only. The method of election was simple; lots of all candidates were first thrown and thoroughly mixed up in a pot, from which they were drawn, one by one, by a boy. The successful names were then announced to the people by the priestarbitrator. If any member of a committee was ever adjudged guilty of an offence, he was at once removed from office. Everybody was expected to be above board, and so to conduct himself as to be an example to others. Accounts were kept with meticulous care, and they were regularly checked by accountants. Any kind of tampering, embezzlement, or defalcation was severely dealt with.

Cholas as Builders

Irrigation Works: Like the Pallavas, the Cholas undertook vast irrigational projects. Apart from sinking Wells and excavating tanks, they threw mighty stone dams across the Kaveri 1 and other rivers, and cut out channels to distribute water over large tracts of land. One of the most remarkable achievements belongs to the time of Rajendra I. He dug near his new capital, Gangaikondacolapurarh, an artificial lake, which was filled with water from the Kolerun and Vellar rivers. Its embankments were sixteen miles in length, and it was provided with stone sluices and channels. One can im'agine what untold benefits this reservoir must have conferred on the poor peasant.[Source: “History of Ancient India” by Rama Shankar Tripathi, Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Benares Hindu University, 1942]

“The Grand Anicut Dam, or Kallanai, was first built in the second century A.D. where the Cavery River divides at Srirangam Island in south Indian state of Tamil Nadu. The Chola king Karikala, who developed building projects and vast irrigation systems during his reign, commissioned the structure in the first or second century. Kallanai, built of earth and stone, is 1,079 feet long and 66 feet wide and one of the oldest irrigation systems in use today. Kallanai diverts the Cavery, a river sacred to Hindus, into six canals that irrigate thousands of acres and form a rich delta in the Tamil Nadu region.

Roads: The Cholas also constructed “grand trunk roads”, which served as arteries of commerce and communication. Their existence must have indeed greatly facilitated the rapid movements, of the Chola forces during military expeditions. Troops were stationed at regular intervals along important roads, and public ferries were provided across rivers.

Cities The Cholas built cities and beautified them with magnificent palaces and temples. The latter were in those days the centres of village or city life. It was there that the people found spiritual solace, and listened to the soHiTtn' recitations of the sacred texts. Further, they served as schools for the study of the Vedas, Puranas; Epics, Dharmasastras, astronomy, grammar, and other sciences. There kings and nobles performed religious ceremonies, and gave largess to the destitute and the neegly. On festivals and joyous occasions dramas were also staged in temples and people amused themselves with dancing and singing.

Chola Sculpture

The golden age of Indian sculpture was during the Chola Dynasty (10th to 13th century). Works from this period included beautiful carved granite Indian goddesses and multi-armed bronze gods. The Chola rulers came to power at a time during the Hindu Restoration, when Hinduism was reasserting itself after a long period when Buddhism and Jainism were strong. Part of the revival was the production of images of Hindu deities. During the early years of the Chola dynasty granite was the favored material but it was heavy and difficult to transport. Bronze then became the material of choice because it could be be crafted into smaller, lighter objects and metal was one of the five elements of nature.

According to PBS: “The Cholas formed south India's first major empire. Under Chola rule, between the 9th and the 13th centuries CE, the arts—poetry, dance, art, and temple building—flourished. But the Cholan artistic legacy is most evident in the bronze sculptures that were perfected during this time and continue to be made even today. Cholan bronzes were typically of deities, royalty and the politically powerful people of the day—all in a distinctive Cholan style, classically representative of the human form, and perfectly proportioned. The sculptures are recognizable by the way the bodies are posed. They are always graceful, elegant and sensuous—particularly if a sculpture is that of a couple, such as Shiva and Parvati. The bronzes also depict the "mudras" or gestures derived from classical dance. Cholan master sculptors created their works with the cire perdure, or lost wax process, which is still in use today.

Favored images were the gods Shiva, his consort Parvati, Durga, Ganesha and Lord Rama. Describing a late 10th century bronze Shiva statue called “Lord Crowned with the Moon,”Souren Melikian wrote in International Herald Tribune: it “has a smile of ineffable contentment on its closed lips. It invites and at the same time defies scrutiny.” A Vishnu bronze he wrote, stands “with one arm steadying his club while another peacefully salutes and the other two arms hold up symbols. Here, the deity, smiles with irrepressible glee.” On a Durga made in 970 he wrote it “must have been inspired by a young woman in her teens. She stares with a soft almost timid expression at odds with the character of a goddess that tramples demons. Yet the longer you look at the masterpiece, the more you suspect something in eludes the profane.” [Source: Souren Melikian wrote in International Herald Tribune, February 22, 2003]

Great Living Chola Temples

The chief features of Chola temples arc their massive vitnanas or towers and spacious courtyards. In later Dravidian structures, however, the central towers are dwarfed by richly carved gopuraws or gateways, which dominate the landscape for miles around. In the great temple of Siva, called llajarajesvara after the name of its builder Rajaraja I, at Tanjore, the vitnana or tower is about 190 feet high, rising like a pyramid upon a base of 82 feet square in thirteen successive storeys. It is crowned by a single block of granite, 25 feet high and about 80 tons in weight. What infinite labour and engineering ski'll it must have required to be placed in position ! Another elegant, if less imposing, edifice at Tanjore of about the 10th or nth century A.D. is in honour of the god Subrahmanya. Similarly, Rajaraja Ts valorous son and successor, Rajendra I, erected a splendid temple at his new capital, Gangai-kondaColapuram (Trichinopoly district). Its immense proportions, huge linga of solid granite, and delicate carvings, are specially striking. The Cojas encouraged plastic art, and the metal and stone images cast in their time are exquisitely executed and display a wonderful vigour, dignity, and grace. It may be added that some Chola temples at Tanjore and Kajabasti contain beautiful portrait images of royal personages, like those of Rajaraja I and His djueen LokamahadevI, and of Rajendra I and his queen Colamahadevi. [Source: “History of Ancient India” by Rama Shankar Tripathi, Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Benares Hindu University, 1942]

According to to UNESCO: “The Great Living Chola Temples were built by kings of the Chola Empire, which stretched over all of south India and the neighbouring islands. The site includes three great 11th- and 12th-century Temples: the Brihadisvara Temple at Thanjavur, the Brihadisvara Temple at Gangaikondacholisvaram and the Airavatesvara Temple at Darasuram. The Temple of Gangaikondacholisvaram, built by Rajendra I, was completed in 1035. Its 53-m vimana (sanctum tower) has recessed corners and a graceful upward curving movement, contrasting with the straight and severe tower at Thanjavur. The Airavatesvara temple complex, built by Rajaraja II, at Darasuram features a 24-m vimana and a stone image of Shiva. The temples testify to the brilliant achievements of the Chola in architecture, sculpture, painting and bronze casting. All three temples, the Brihadisvara at Thanjavur, the Brihadisvara at Gangaikondacholapuram and Airavatesvara at Darasuram, are living temples. The tradition of temple worship and rituals established and practised over a thousand years ago, based on still older Agamic texts, continues daily, weekly and annually, as an inseparable part of life of the people. [Source: UNESCO World Heritage Site website \^/]

These three temple complexes therefore form a unique group, demonstrating a progressive development of high Chola architecture and art at its best and at the same time encapsulating a very distinctive period of Chola history and Tamil culture. The Brihadisvara temple at Gangaikondacholapuram in the Perambalur district was built for Siva by Rajendra I (1012-1044 CE). The temple has sculptures of exceptional quality. The bronzes of Bhogasakti and Subrahmanya are masterpieces of Chola metal icons. The Saurapitha (Solar altar), the lotus altar with eight deities, is considered auspicious.\^/

“The Brihadisvara temple at Tanjavur marks the greatest achievement of the Chola architects. Known in the inscriptions as Dakshina Meru, the construction of this temple was inaugurated by the Chola King, Rajaraja I (985-1012 CE) possibly in the 19th regal year (1003-1004 CE) and consecrated by his own hands in the 25th regal year (1009-1010 CE). A massive colonnaded prakara with sub-shrines dedicated to the ashatadikpalas and a main entrance with gopura (known as Rajarajantiruvasal) encompasses the massive temple. The sanctum itself occupies the centre of the rear half of the rectangular court. The vimana soars to a height of 59.82meters over the ground. This grand elevation is punctuated by a high upapitha, adhisthana with bold mouldings; the ground tier (prastara) is divided into two levels, carrying images of Siva. Over this rises the 13 talas and is surmounted by an octagonal sikhara. There is a circumambulatory path all around the sanctum housing a massive linga. The temple walls are embellished with expansive and exquisite mural paintings. Eighty-one of the one hundred and eight karanas, posed in Baharatanatya,are carved on the walls of second bhumi around the garbhagriha. There is a shrine dedicated to Amman dating to c.13th century. Outside the temple enclosure are the fort walls of the Sivaganga Little Fort surrounded by a moat, and the Sivaganga Tank, constructed by the Nayaks of Tanjore of the 16th century who succeeded the imperial Cholas. The fort walls enclose and protect the temple complex within and form part of the protected area by the Archaeological Survey of India. \^/

“The Airavatesvara temple at Tanjavur was built by the Chola king Rajaraja II (1143-1173 CE.): it is much smaller in size as compared to the Brihadisvara temple at Tanjavur and Gangaikondacholapuram. It differs from themin itshighly ornate execution. The temple consists of a sanctum without a circumambulatory path and axial mandapas. The front mandapa known in the inscriptions as Rajagambhiran tirumandapam, is unique as it was conceptualized as a chariot with wheels. The pillars of this mandapa are highly ornate. The elevation of all the units is elegant with sculptures dominating the architecture. A number of sculptures from this temple are the masterpieces of Chola art. The labelled miniature friezes extolling the events that happened to the 63 nayanmars (Saiva saints) are noteworthy and reflect the deep roots of Saivism in this region. The construction of a separate temple for Devi, slightly later than the main temple, indicates the emergence of the Amman shrine as an essential component of the South Indian temple complex.” \^/

Mahamastak Abhishek Festival First Celebrated

The Jain’s first Mahamastak Abhishek Festival was celebrated in 981 under the Cholas According to PBS: “Taking place every 12 years, this Jain festival celebrates the life of saint Bahubali. Millions of devotees travel to Shravana Belagola in the Indian state of Karnataka, in South India, for the ritual anointing of a 57 foot statue of Bahubali, also known as Gomateshwara. The gigantic statue of the nude saint was carved out of a single piece of granite from the hill, known as Vindhyagiri or Indragiri, where it's located. [Source: PBS, The Story of India,]

“The festival has been regularly observed since 981 CE, when the statue was completed, and involves the anointing of the colossal figure with a multitude of substances beginning with sanctified water from 1,008 small metal vessels. Then it is showered with a series of other libations, such as milk, sugarcane juice, pastes of saffron and sandalwood, as well as powders of coconut, turmeric, saffron, and vermilion. These are followed by offerings of gold, silver, precious stones, petals, and coins, culminating with a cascade of flowers.

“Priests and select devotees ascend 700 stairs to reach the top of the statue in order to conduct the ceremony, while masses of pilgrims watch from the foot of the colossus and are drenched by the materials being showered on the figure. Jains revere Bahubali, who, according to legend, renounced his kingdom after winning a battle with his brother Bharata because he was disillusioned by the desire for power that set him against a family member. Bahubali decided to seek spiritual enlightenment and stood meditating for so long that vines began to grow on his legs and spread to his arms, which is how he is represented in the statue at Shravana Belagola.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Ministry of Tourism, Government of India, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated September 2020

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