Monthly Archives: June 2014

Rajendra Chola (1014-1044 A.D.), the Undefeatable Warrior.

Rajaraja Chola was followed by his illustrious son Rajendra Chola in 1014 A.D. He raised the Chola Empire to the position of being the most extensive and most respected Hindu state of his time. A distinguished warrior like his father, Rajendra appears to have been the co-ruler with Rajaraja during the last three years of the latter’s rule.

Reassertion over the Pandya/Chera kingdoms

During the change of rule from Rajaraja to Rajendra, probably some of the hostile subordinate powers like the Pandyas and the Cheras made an attempt to throw off the yoke of Chola control. To reassert the Chola authority, Rajendra marched through the Pandya and Kerala countries and appointed one of his sons as the viceroy with Madura being the headquarters of the new viceroyalty. Later when there was rebellion in these kingdoms, he sent yuvaraja Rajadhiraja who either put to death several princes of the two royal families or forced them to seek refuge in flight.

Conquest of Ceylon

In 1018 Rajendra invaded Ceylon and completed the conquest of the island begun by his father. Mahinda V was taken prisoner and transported to the Chola country where he died twelve years later. Thereafter his son Kassapa became the centre of Sinhalese resistance against the Tamil power and after a war of six months in which a great number of Tamils were killed by the Sinhalese forces, he made himself the king of southern half of the island, Rohana, and ruled as Vikramabahu I for twelve years from 1029.

Intervention in Vengi

In Vengi, Vimaladitya who had succeeded his brother Shakivarman I in 1011, died in 1018. There was a contest for the throne by his sons, Vijayaditya VII and Rajaraja Narendra, born to Vimaladitya’s Chola queen Kundavai. The Chalukyan ruler Jayasimha II saw this as an opportunity to reestablish the Chalukyan influence at Vengi and supported the claims of Vijayaditya VII. In the pursuit of this plan Jayasimha crossed the Tungabhadra and occupied Bellary and possibly even a part of Gangavadi. In Vengi, Vijayaditya captured Vijayavada and made it impossible for his rival Rajaraja Narendra to celebrate his coronation. To help his nephew, Rajendra sent two forces simultaneously, one marching into the Raichur doab and the other into Vengi for the relief of Rajaraja Narendra. In the west Jayasimha was defeated in a battle at Maski and river Tungabhadra was tacitly recognized as the boundary between the two kingdoms. In Vengi the Chola forces defeated Vijayaditya in several battles and took possession of the country on behalf of Rajaraja Narendra. Then the Chola army marched against the kingdom of Kalinga, Telinga and Odda and defeated them. These three kingdoms ethnically as well as geographically were united against the interests of the Cholas and had actively supported the claims of Vijayaditya. Still proceeding further north the Chola army inflicted a defeat on Mahipala I, the Pala ruler of Bengal. The Chola army brought the sacred water of the Ganga to consecrate the capital built in memory of this expedition, Gangaikondacholapuram. Rajendra then established his nephew Rajaraja Narendra on the throne of Vengi and married his daughter Ammangadevi to him. Later with the help of the Chalukyan ruler Someshvara I, Vijayaditya renewed his struggle for the Vengi throne and Rajendra sent his son Rajadhiraja to the assistance of this nephew Rajaraja Narendra.  

Oversea expedition

Rajendra sent a large naval expedition against the kingdom of Sri Vijaya. Sri Vijaya was the powerful maritime state which ruled the Malayan peninsula, Sumatra, Java and the neighbouring islands and controlled the sea routes from India to China. The relations between Sri Vijaya and the Chola Empire had been quite friendly in the time of Rajaraja and in the early years of Rajendra’s reign. Whether Rajendra’s war against Sri Vijaya (1025) was rendered necessary by an attempt on Sri Vijaya’s part to obstruct the Chola intercourse with China or was simply the result of Rajendra’s desire to win glory by extending his digvijaya to the countries across the sea, we cannot say. Though Rajendra did not establish any permanent occupation on Kadaram and Srivijaya and these defeated kingdoms soon recovered the loss, it had great repercussions in international politics. Even the far-off Kambujdesa became afraid and sought an assurance of safety from Rajendra by sending him his own chariot as a present. To commemorate his victory against the kingdom of Srivijaya, Rajendra constructed the ‘liquid pillar of victory’ (jalamaya jayastambha), a tank known as Cholagangam which contained the waters of the Ganges.


The Chola rulers were called Chakravartigal. The capital of the kingdom was Tanjavur. Kanchi and Gangakondacholapuram were subsidiary capitals. The Chola kingdom was divided into provinces called mandalam. Mandalas were divided into valanadus and the latter into kurrams or kuttams.The lowest unit of administration was village. The Chola records mention the existence of two types of villages, Ur and the Brahmadeya villages. Ur had its own local assembly also called Ur and consisted of all members of the villages exclusive of the untouchables. The Brahmadeya villages were inhabited by learned Brahmanas and had assemblies called Mahasabha.

The Cholas had set up an organized judicial system. There are references to dharmasana in several inscriptions, probably signifying the king’s court of justice. Learned Brahmins known as dharmasana-bhattas assisted the court. The village assemblies exercised large powers in matters of local interests which they settled with the help of small committees of nyayavattar. The Chinese writer, Chou-Ju-Kua recording about the Chola system of justice in the 13th century mentions flogging or giving blows to the culprit with a stick after tying him to a wooden frame, for minor offences. Heinous crimes were punished with decapitation or being trampled to death by an elephant.

The Chola military had a strength of 1,50,000 men and an elephant corps of 60,000. They imported costly Arabian horses for their cavalry. The army personnel were trained in cantonments called kadagam or padaividu. They possessed an excellent navy as evident from their expedition to Ceylon, Maldives and Kadaram in Malaysia. They controlled the Coromandel and Malabar coasts and dominated the Bay of Bengal.

Contribution to Art and Culture

Rajendra Chola was an ardent follower of Shiva. At Gangakondaicholapuram he built the Brihadisvara temple in 1030 A.D. This is similar to the Brihadeshwara temple at Tanjore and occupies a rectangular space of about 340×110 feet. The tower over the sanctum has eight tiers and is about 186 feet in height. The sanctum has a huge Shiva linga of solid granite. The mantapa of this temple measuring 175×95 feet has 150 pillars. Like the Brihadeshwara temple at Tanjore the outside walls of this temple also has elaborately carved sculptures. Around the temple there are large tanks known as Tottikolam and Tirthakolam and a big water reservoir known as Ponneri. Probably in these tanks the sacred waters of the Ganges which Rajendra had caused to be brought from east India was poured. The Dravidian temple architecture attained its culmination and supreme expressions under the rule of Rajaraja Chola and Rajendra Chola. Hence James Fergusson aptly remarked that the Chola artists conceived like giants and finished like jewelers. The art of casting metal images in copper and bronze reached great heights during the Chola rule. The famous bronze image of dancing Nataraja shows the high level of creative urge, vigour and skill of the Chola sculptors.

He instituted a number of grants and donations to religious establishments and appointed superintendents to supervise the affairs connected with temples, particularly those built by the state. Rajendra Chola invited a large number of Shaiva scholars from the banks of the Ganges and established them in several parts of the Chola country to make Shaivism popular and particularly to bring about a fusion of various Shaiva sects. Inscriptions refer to the grants made by Rajendra for the maintenance of mantra-reciting Brahmanas, hymn singers, dancers and dramatists, who amused the gods and devotees, particularly during festivities.

During Rajendra’s rule public utility works like roads were built and to provide irrigation facilities a very large reservoir near Gangaikondacholapuram was constructed. He also made grants to charitable and educational institutions and made arrangements to provide free medical aid to the sufferers. He sent two trade missions to China, the first in 1033 A.D. and the second in 1077A.D. Rajendra Chola had titles like Gangaikonda Chola, Virarajendra, Mudigonda Chola and Pandita Chola. He was followed by his son Rajadhiraja I.

Rajaraja Chola (985-1014 A.D.) the Empire builder

The Cholas were one of the oldest ruling dynasties in South India. Along with the Pandyas and Cheras their name are referred in the Ashokan Rock Edicts dated 3rd century B.C. After a gap of several centuries the Chola power was once again revived in 850 A.D. by Vijayala who began his rule from Tanjore. He was followed by successive rulers like Aditya I, Parantaka I, Gandaraditya and Parantaka II Sundara Chola. The real greatness of the Chola Empire begins with the accession of the son of Parantaka II Sundara Chola, Arumolivarman who crowned himself as Rajaraja in 985 A.D.

Defeat of the Triumvirate powers

Rajaraja began his conquests by attacking the confederation of the rulers of the Pandya, Chera and Ceylon. His earliest military achievement was against the Cheras from whom he captured Kandalur Salai and Udagai. He also conquered Kollam or Quilon on the Malabar Coast. He undertook two campaigns against the Pandyas of Madhura and defeated their king Amarabhujanga. Rajaraja then undertook a naval expedition against Mahinda V, the king of Ceylon. The capital of Ceylon, Anuradhapura was sacked and Polonnaruva was made the new capital of the Chola colony. Later he also annexed the island of Maldives.

The Chola-Chalukyan feud

Rajaraja Chola invaded Karnataka in 992 A.D. and had annexed places like Gangavadi, Nolambavadi and Tadigaipadi. This incident led to a prolonged warfare between these two dynasties as some of the rulers of the above mentioned places were the vassals of the Chalukyas. Another reason for this dynastic feud was due to the Chola domination over the kingdom of Vengi. The Eastern Chalukyan kingdom of Vengi was founded by Kubja Vishnuvardhana, brother of the famous Badami Chalukyan ruler Pulakeshin II. When the Rashtrakutas established their rule in Karnataka, the rulers of Vengi accepted their suzerainty and also entered into matrimonial alliance with them. Hence since its establishment Vengi was under the influence of Karnataka rulers. But things changed when the ruler of Vengi, Dhanarnava was slain in a battle in 973 A.D. by the Telugu Choda chief, Jata Choda Bhima who ruled Vengi from 973 to 1000 A.D. He invaded Tondaimandalam, the area under Rajaraja Chola rule as the latter had given shelter to the children of Dhanarnava; Shaktivarman I and Vimaladitya. (Rajaraja had also given his daughter Kundavi in marriage to Vimaladitya). Rajaraja defeated Bhima, took him as a prisoner and appointed Shaktivarman I to the Vengi throne under his tutelage. The Chalukyas could not tolerate Vengi coming under the influence of the Cholas and in 1006 A.D., Sathyashraya, the Chalukyan ruler invaded Vengi. Rajaraja sent his son Rajendra who made a counter-attack on the Chalukyan territories and captured Banavasi, parts of Raichur Doab and sacked Manyakheta, the capital of the Chalukyas. Sathyashraya was thus compelled to withdraw his forces from Vengi and only with difficulty succeeded in freeing his country of the Chola army which retired behind the Tungabhadra with much booty.  

As an Administrator

Rajaraja was an eminent administrator and organized the internal administration on a sound basis. Local administrative units like villages had wide powers including that of levying and remitting taxes and creating as well as supporting endowments and discharging other responsibilities in their areas for the welfare of the people. Rajaraja carried out a regular revenue survey in about 1002 A.D. and another survey was made later. By this the entire land was measured and the revenue assessment was fixed on the basis of the quality and nature of the soil. Rajaraja performed the Tulabhara ceremony in which he was weighed against gold, pearls and other precious materials. His chief queen Lokamahadevi performed the Hiranyagarbha ceremony (passing one’s body through a golden cow). His name and fame had spread far and wide and he was known to the kings of the Far East as well as of China. In 1015 he sent a trade mission to China.

A devoted Shaiva

The Chola monarchs were staunch Shaivas and had rajagurus as their initiators and advisers. Two Shaiva scholars, Isana Siva and Sarva Siva were the spiritual guides of Rajaraja as well as his son Rajendra. Rajaraja built a magnificent temple dedicated to Shiva at Tanjore known as Brihadeshvara or Rajarajesvara temple at an enormous expense. The construction of this temple began in 1003 A.D. and was completed in 1010 A.D. The temple occupies a quadrangle space measuring 500×250 feet. The shikara of this temple with 13 tiers is about 200 feet in height and is crowned by a massive dome 25 feet in height and weighing 80 tons. In the garbhagudi is a colossal Linga more than 10 feet in height. The inner wall of the pradakshinapatha was profusely painted. This temple building is covered from the base to the top with sculptures and decorating mouldings. Rajaraja is credited for creating endowments for the maintenance of persons reciting the tiruppadiyam. Tiruppadiyam were devotional songs composed by the Nayanmars, the Shaiva saints of Tamilnadu and was sung before the deity. The worship of the images of muvar mudalis, i.e. the Nayanmars were also introduced during his reign. For his devotion to God Shiva he was called Sivapadasekhara. Though a devout Shaiva he was tolerant towards all the religions. Rajaraja gave valuable gifts to the Chidambaram temple in Tamilnadu, made an endowment to a Vishnu temple at Tadimalingi near Talakad in Karnataka and renovated the Kolaramma temple in Kolar also in Karnataka. He gave permission to the king of Srivijaya, Sri Maravijayattungavarman to erect the Chudamani vihara at Nagapatanam.

Rajaraja Chola had titles like Cholendrasimha, Jananatha, Cholamartanda, Nigarilisola, Pandyakutasani, Keralantaka, etc. He had fifteen queens of whom his successor Rajendra was born to one Vanavan Mahadevi, also known as Tribhurana Mahadevi. A relatively small state during his accession, Rajaraja extended the Chola kingdom into a well-knit empire; efficiently organized and possessed of a powerful standing army and navy. He was the first Chola monarch to establish an extensive empire which bordered on Quilon and Coorg in the west, Ceylon in the south and Orissa in the north. He rightly deserved to be called Rajaraja the Great.