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.

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