Chola dynasty : History, administration and thier great empire beyond Indian Territories

The Chola dynasty was the most powerful dynasty which India had ever produced which ruled India for over 430 years . The Naval supremacy of Cholas beyond Indian territories was one of the great achievements of the chola dynasty which made them categorically different from other dynasties of India . Powerful conquest of Cholas in SEA ( South East Asia ) was incredibly astounding for the world .

When we talk about other dynasties then we find that Mauryas ruled for around 137 years which is far less than the Chola dynasty’s ruling years . 

Vijayalaya Chola who was once a Pallava feudatory established the beginning of Chola dynasty by capturing Tanjore in 850 CE . Rajaraja I was the person who laid the real foundation of the Chola dynasty which ended up to the longest years of ruling India .

The kings of Chola Kingdom traced their descent from KariKala and belonged to Kashyap gotra. The earlier information on Cholas came from the source of the third Sangam . As per record ,the chola dynasty was first mentioned in Ashokan inscription .

The discovery of the most important Tanjore plates of Rajendra I and Charala plates of Virarajendra give us the essential information regarding the period of Chola dynasty .

Tamil Civilization attained its highest water mark under the empire of Cholas from the tenth to the thirteenth centuries . Profitable trades with the countries of far-east , middle-east and its naval supremacy paved its way to the highest rank of excellency and cardinal virtues .

The other names of the Cholas are Killi ,Valavan and Sembiyan .The crest of the chola dynasty was a tiger .

Below are the great achievements of Chola dynasty :

1 Victory over Cheras, Pandya, Rashtrakutas and other kingdoms.

2. Naval supremacy in India as well as outside India. South East Asian countries were the major one.

3. The great administration in the period of Chola dynasty.

4. Rights given to women

5. The great infrastructures of the cholas

6. Advanced cropping and Irrigation facilities

7. Decentralization of power in the villages and town

8. International trade

9. During cholas period, temples were the great source of knowledge. Multiple subjects were taught there. Temples were managed beautifully by the locals and the Purohitas.

10. Arts and literature

Rajaraja I – The strongest king of the chola dynasty

The illustrious Rajaraja I , was  the most powerful and Famous king of the Chola dynasty under whom  South India achieved Splendid  and marvellous  monarchy  which were highly advanced . 

He was the first person who gave the idea of prefixing to his  inscription set historical introduction recounting in an  ornate and poetic style of Tamil . The main achievements of his Kingdom were always updated in the inscription .  

Rajaraja I initiated a practice which was writing on a stone in set form and in the language in which people can understand .There were mentions of great wars  and events of his reign .  The concept of inscription was so fascinating and advanced  that the successor too went with the flow and did the same thing  Which ultimately helped historians and  archaeologists to furnish a formal record of the transaction of each reign . 

It has always been doubted that the parasasti/ Meikkirti could have been written with poetic fantasy rather than factual basis. Multiple attempts have been tried to disprove the cholas International conquest. 

The great historian R.C. Majumdar wrote about cholas as :

 ” The story of cholas outside India’s victory is not merely an imagination of the court or poets but based on facts which is proved beyond doubt by the detailed references to the vessel States “

Two of the major questions raised for the cholas Supremacy is the concept of overseas expedition and second the most controversial is linked with the naval battles of cholas.  Also the incoming warriors from the ships  to reach the destination place and entered the cities to conquer. 

There were systematic orders on taxation and land revenue ,  the resolution of village assemblies ,  punishment given to a person who is guilty of of theft ,  adultery ,  Murder etc . 

There are also inscriptions on walls where there are records of the public registration office by conserving trustworthy records of sales ,  mortgage and other kinds of  Transfer of Properties right . 

Most of these instructions are written in Tamil . Few of them are written in Sanskrit. This gives a clear idea that the Tamil language at the period of Chola  was a more prominent language  than other languages . 

Rajaraja I had many names . Arulmoli , Nittavinodan , Rajendra simhan , Kshatriya Shikhmani , Uyyakkondan , Pandya kulasni , Keralantakan , Rajasryan , Chola Marttandam are some of his names . 

Rajaraja had many queens ( wives ) but the chief  queen was Loga Mahadevi . Some names of the other queens were Vanavan Mahadevi , Trailokya Mahadevi , Vir Narayani , Prithvi Mahadevi .

List of Chola dynasty rulers

 Name of the Prominent Chola Kings

                     Duration

 Vijayalaya chola

 848 AD - 871 AD

 Aditya I 

 871 AD - 907 AD

 Parantaka Chola I

 907 AD - 950 AD

 Gandaraditya 

 950 AD - 957 AD

 Sundara Chola

 957 AD - 970 AD

 Uttama Chola 

 970 AD - 985 AD 

 Rajaraja Chola I

 985 AD - 1014 AD

 Rajendra Chola I 

 1012 AD - 1044 AD

 Rajadhiraja Chola 

 1018 AD - 1054 AD

 Rajendra Chola II

 1051 AD - 1063 AD

 Virarajendra Chola 

 1063 AD - 1070 AD

 Athirajendra Chola 

 1067 AD - 1070 AD

Chola dynasty Victory

Rajaraja was the prominent name of the Chola dynasty . His first major conquest was over the Cheras ( 978 AD – 1036 AD )  . He then  captured Vilijnam  and the fort of Vdagai . Some of the territories like Sitpuli Nadu and Pakki Nadu  were lost by the Chola Kingdom to rashtrakutas in the battle of  takkolam were brought back to the Chola Empire by Raja Raja I .

He also defeated the great Pandyas king Amarabhujanga . Then ,  Eastern Chalukya named Shaktiverman and  his brother Vimaladitya , were supported by Raja Raja I . To make this tie more concrete , Raja Raja I married his daughter , Kundavai  to Vimaladitya . This means that during the mediaeval age , marriage was a common practice to expand the empire . By this way , they  made it possible to avert  the designs of Western Chalukyas under Satyasraya on the eastern Chalukya Kingdom . 

Western chalukyas overran the land of Rashtrakutas called Irattaipadielarai – Lakshman which was finally taken over by the Chola Empire . The part of Southern and Eastern Karnataka named –  Ganga Padi ,  Tadigaipadi and Nolambapadi  and also north Western districts of Tamilnadu and also some portions of Andhra Pradesh were  conquered by Chola . 

Then ,  invaded Sri Lanka and conquered the kingdom of Kalinga Which was lying between Godavari and the Mahanadi rivers . According to Tiruvalangadu plates , Raja Raja 1 crossed the sea to reach Sri Lanka by ships . 

 The Excellency of Chola could be seen through their naval  Supremacy which had been well established in the Indian Ocean . Cholas  had  Conquered  around 12000 islands off the Western ( Arabian ) sea . 

The circumstantial and correlative evidences like – the literary evidence, international trade, the presence of naval architecture books, imposing of taxes on goods imported through different types of vessels , rivalry among the competing groups etc. proves the overseas expedition of the cholas.

It made it clear that his Empire extended from Sri Lanka in the south to the basin of the Tungabhadra in the north and Mahendragiri  (The Mahendra mountain )  in the northeast . According to a western chalukyas inscription presented at Hottur  muted that the Chola army which fought the Great war under the charge of  Rajendra 1 against  Satya Sraya of the Western Chalukyas , had nine lakhs of soldiers .

Naval supremacy of Chola

According to K. A. Nilakanta Sastri 

1. The conquest of Cholas by crossing the sea with troops and defeating Sri Vijya couldn’t have come up suddenly. They must have in-depth knowledge of Ship building, shipping and ship technology. 

2. The early cholas must have a good share in the maritime trade and activities in the Indian oceans. 

3. The cholas were following its ancient tradition in the attention they gave to developing their power in the sea. 

4. The evidence of Sangam literature and the conquest of Ceylon and Maldives had been a prelude to their Overseas expansion.

5. And Arab merchant Sulaiman who had completed his several voyages between China and Persian Gulf countries says in his accounts of Maldives

” These people of islands built ships and houses and executed all other works with consummate arts ” .

Administration of Chola  dynasty

  • There was a significant rule of collecting revenues and specifically talks about duty on imported goods into their territories .The South Indian inscription comprehensively talks about it.
  • The Levy was imposed on the basis of vessels in which the goods brought in not on the basis of goods imported. 
  • Below are the basis : 
    • 1 . Marakkalam – Ship
    • 2. Patavu – Boat 
    • 3. Kalavam – Raft 
  • The Chola Empire had a highly   bureaucratic system of administration which was completely focused on Central stability and local autonomy .   Raja Raja 1 had a great revenue administration .
  • By the end of the 17th regnal year , he completed a land survey of his Empire .  There was a wide cadre of revenue officers such as accountants ,  ledger keepers , issuer of royal orders and executors of royal decrees at all levels . 
  • In the eulogy of the court poet in the Larger Leyden Grant defines the greatness of the Chola empire and the brief explanation of his kingdom is as follows : 

“ As long as the moon crested deity ( Shiva ) sports with his consort on the kailasha mountain , as long as Vishnu will be in meditative sleep on the serpent couch on the ocean of milk and as long as the sole light of all the world , so long the chola family protect from danger the circle of the whole earth .” 

Social division

The industrial population of the Chola dynasty was majorly divided into right hand and left hand and known as Valangai and Idangai. 

Many of the regiments of Army ascribed themselves from Valangai during Rajaraja l. This division is also mentioned in the inscription of the third year of Rajaraja l from Tiruvisalur. 

There is another inscription found during the reign of kulottung lll which gives the information regarding ldangai. They claimed to have been created from the AgniKunda ( fire-pit) for the protection of the Sacrifice Of Kashyap . They settled in the Chola country during the reign of Arindama

The emperor Arindama created land for the holy brahmins and ldangai accompanied them like an umbrella or a protector. There are literally 98 sub-sects of ldangai which are mentioned in the inscription from Aduturai. 

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Women’s right

Women during the Chola period had the full Liberty in social activities. They had the right to education,the right to own their property and also dispose of it as they chose. 

The Princess had the right to intervene during the public policy making. Though the king married more than one woman, the monogamous family was the normal unit of the social life.

Sati

The references of Sati or self-immolation in the inscriptions are very few, which gives a sense of clarity that it was not a common practice in the Tamil country under the Chola period. During the reign of Parantaka l, Gangamadeviyar, wife of Vira-sola Ilangovelar endowed a lamp before entering into the fire.

 The Chola queen, Vanavan-Mahadevi, wife of Sundar Chola committed Sati during the reign of her celebrated son Rajaraja I. There is no sign of other Chola Queens who self -immolated.

The references of Sati or self-immolation in the inscriptions are very few, which gives a sense of clarity that it was not a common practice in the Tamil country under the Chola period. During the reign of Parantaka l, Gangamadeviyar, wife of Vira-sola Ilangovelar endowed a lamp before entering into the fire.

 The Chola queen, Vanavan-Mahadevi, wife of Sundar Chola committed Sati during the reign of her celebrated son Rajaraja I. There is no sign of other Chola Queens who self -immolated.

Irrigation facilities

An inscription at Tiruvaduturai of a Parakesari Karikala chola talks about raising the banks of the river Kaveri of the methods adopted to turn the natural streams to account. Kaveri River was a great gift for cholas. There is a bulk of evidences on irrigation from the inscription which informs us about the proper maintenance of the tanks.

There are significant examples of the large number of irrigation tanks mentioned in the inscriptions and they are : The chola – Varidhi of Sholingur, the kaliyaneri near Annamalai in Madura, the kallinangaikulam at Solapuram, the vairamegha- tataka of Uttaramerur, the big tank of Bahur and the Rajendra Solap-periya-eri at Punganur.

Major work

  • 1. The villages assemblies had the responsibility to get the silt removed before the raining season starts. 
  • 2. Destined places where natural levels were not favourable for the natural flow of water, the piccotahs and baskets were commonly employed to meet the purpose.

Administration of temples and education

  • The Mulaparudaiyar of different localities  were clearly in direct charge of temples.
  • Above body was controlled by the local Mahasabha ( assembly) . 
  • The priest attached to temples organized themselves into groups with generic names like groups of Saivas were Sivsbrahmanas and those of vaishnavas called Vaikhanasas. 
  • The temples were the centre of all the Institutions of popular culture and amusement.
  • There was recitation of Sacred hymns in Tamil and Sanskrit in daily worship and curriculum of the temples. 
  • Music, dancing and theatrical presentation of popular tales and legends were the parts of the ordinary routine of the temples. Natak-sala was constructed specifically for these purposes. 
  • Schools of Higher Learning like Mimamsa,Vedanta,vyakarana,Bhavisya,taittiriya,vajasaneya and so on were attached to the temples and so were the hospitals.

Administration in villages

  • Villages were divided into Seris, streets or quarter. 
  • People of each seri formed the group for certain purposes. 
  • The charge of Uragam temple was given to the people of two seris of Kanchipuram. 
  • Local assemblies
  1.    Nagaram
  2.    Nadu
  3.    Sabha

 Local assemblies were in direct charge of the supervision of all charitable endowments in the villages. 

  • They took good care to preserve the records of older charities and to see that their terms were carried out by the parties concerned. 
  • Agrarian rights and tenures and irrigation of lands were among the most important concerns of the assemblies.
  • The consent of the Sabha was essential to any alteration in the classification of the lands in the villages. 
  • The village assemblies sometimes stimulated the flow of private charity for the general benefit of the community by giving suitable public recognition to their benefactors. 
  • The Sabha was constituted of Brahmin. They had the highest regards in the society. people who could afford used to offer their land as a gift to the learned brahmins. A new colony of Brahmin wear settled.
  • The Sabha used to hold their meetings in the temples which were called Brahma-sthana.

International trade

  • The Sung government of the 10th century of China invited foreign traders to his country. Rajaraja I and Rajendra were ready to take the advantages of the extended opportunities opened to them.
  • According to ” Lo-tsa-lo-tsa ” of Chinese Chronicles, the Chola Embassy reached China in 1015 A.D. under spending 3 years on the way. 
  • Chau Ju-kua says about the Chola Embassy as follows : ” In former times, they didn’t send tribute to our Court but in the 8 year of the ta-chung and Siang-fu periods (1015 AD) , its sovereign sent a mission with pearls and articles as tribute. “
  • The goods traded were of great values. According to Of Siraf, an Arab writer of the 10th century, says while trading with India. 

” The imports are aloes wood for burning, camphor, bamboos, precious gems, Amber,ivory, ebony, paper, Sandalwood and all kinds of Indian perfumes, condiments, drugs.”

  • According to Jewish traveller, Benjamin, India used to export all sorts of silk, purple cloths, flax ,cotton, wheat ,barley,millets, pulse to Mesopotamia ,Yemen and Persia and so on. 
  • India also exported great qualities of spices. 

Famous Trader 

1. “Nanadesa” was the most celebrated Guild of the chola period. This Guild was called ” Nanadesis “.

2. Two inscriptions found from Munisandai in the Pudukkottah  state of the reigning period of Vijayalaya and Parantaka I, give us the information that this Guild was already well-established.

3. The Tamil inscription from lobee Toewa, in Sumatra also mentions this guild dating 1088 AD. 

4. Some inscriptions from Mysore talk about the origin and Organisation of the guild. It also gives us the details about the articles/goods of Merchandise in which its members carried on trade. 

5. It also gives us the names of the countries with which they traded and the means of the transport employed by them. 

6. They had visited Iran, Malaysia,Kausala, Dhanustra, Kurumba, the cera, Pandya, chola, Magadha, Lala, Nepala, Ekpada, Baruvara, Stri-Rajya, Ghola mukha and many other countries.

7. This clearly gives us the evidence of the active share of the Indian trader in the extensive Over-seas trade of the time.

NOTE : 

 According to 1205 inscription The Merchant communities of Nellore, Narayan Puran, Arkadu, Mayilappur, Tiruvorriyur, Pundamali, Nedumpirai, Damankacceri, Perungalur and Tiruniru co-operated together and successfully acquired a village which they gave to the temple of Tirupp as devdana for constructing an enclosing wall for the temple. 

Expertise in metal working and jewels

The industries of metal working and jewels art had reached to its highest peak during the Chola dynasty.

1. The utensils of Tanjore Temple are recorded in the inscriptions and shockingly, the brozes of Chola period are still surviving which indicates the mastery attained by the braziers by manipulating alloys of metals and casting them into the most signified and magnificent way. 

2. There were specific records maintained for the variety of jewels ,ornaments of gold, precious stones and even the numbers and classes of the stones and pearls mounted on each of these.

3. The Tanjore inscription of Chola dynasty informed us that the jeweller’s art reached its high water-mark under the cholas.

Chola Dynasty temples

 In the period of the Chola dynasty ,the Hindu temple had attained the zenith of its influence on the social life of the people. The great temple of Tanjore was the richest temple of the age. The temple was adorned and gifted with a vast amount of gold and treasure in the form of ornaments, jewels and vessels. 

The Cholas were the great builders of the largest  number of temples in South India. The period of Rajaraja 1 and his successor upto the accession of kulottunga I was the grandest in the history of South India . 

Rajarajeshvaram  Temple  and Gangaikondacholisvaram temple which are articulated in a magnificent way . A rich artistic legacy and Highly advanced technology were  used at the period of Cholas which hasn’t been studied properly . Rajaraja I made this grandeur temple at Tanjavur .

Indian  sculpture  didn’t get that much of attention what they really deserve . Cholas are the greatest Temple builder India has known till date .  They not just built temple in their homeland ( India ) but also in the conquered  teritorries which extended from  Sri Lanka  in the south to the river basin of the Tungabhadra and the Godavari . 

The exact year of beginning of the construction of  Rajarajessvaram temple is not known yet but it has been articulated that sometime in or before the 19th regnal year of the king  it had been started . 

The temple of Rajarajeshvaram was made up of stones which were brought from Hillock called as Mammalai ( thirty miles from Tanjavur ) . The inscriptions on the walls of the temple , Consist of 107 paragraphs .

The temple complex covers an overall area of the size of a rectangle of 240.79 metre square (ms ) east to west and 121.92 ms north to south . The temple consists of srivimana , the ardhamandapa , mahamandapa and Nandi – manadpa . 

The temple faces east . At the entrance gate of the temple , it has been filled up to provide a passage on a level with the floor of the temple . There is a gate called keralantakan tiruvasal which is a massive stone structure. To reach the inner gopuram called Rajarajan tiruvasal , one has to cross this gateway and after that 100 metres westward .  

Arts and literature

During the age of Imperial cholas, literature had touched the most creative epoch of South Indian history. The Devarama, Tiruvasagam, Pandikkovai, Sulamani, the Nandi-kalambakam, Bharatvenba of Perundevanar and 4000 sacred hymns of the Tamil Vaishnava Canon belonged to this period. 

The most illustrious names like Sankara, Kumarila also belong to the same age. The two great works on the Rajarajeshwara-natakam and the Rajaraja-Vijyam were written on the most powerful king of the Chola dynasty, Rajaraja I. 

People working in Literature were awarded by the officers of the treasury of the temples and by the king himself.

The ” Kalingattupparani ” composed by the poet Laureate Jayangondar in the region of Kulottunga I was a great Masterpiece of history and fictitious convention. 

Kuttam was another great name in the field of literature who had composed Nalayirakkovai, Pillaittamil on Kulottunga ll. 

The composition of the Itti-Yelupadu, Eluppelupadu and the Takkayagapparani belonged more to Anthropology than history. 

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