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Medieval History / Early Medieval Era

Chola Empire and its Administration


    Initially Cholas were feudatories to Pallava dynasty of Thanjavur and later they ruled on their own. Chola empire administration is considered the best administration. Chola villages were given complete autonomy. Medieval Cholas can be distinguished from the earlier Cholas by calling these Cholas as Imperial Cholas.

    Political History of the Chola Dynasty

    • Vijayalaya Chola - He was a feudatory of Pallavas of Thanjavur.
    • Aditya Chola - He ended the Pallava kingdom and made an independent Chola kingdom.
    • Parantaka I - He took the title Maduraiyum Elamum Konda Parakesarivarman. He issued two inscriptions at Uttaramerur which talk about village administration.
    • Rajaraja I -
      • His original name is Arulmozhi Varman. He had a title named Mummadi Choladeva.
      • Cholas had very powerful navy. 50 percent of Sri Lanka (Northern Sri Lanka) was conquered under his reign. The king of Sri Lanka Mahinda V was defeated. He captured the capital Anuradhapura. After defeating Sri Lanka, the kingdom was called Mummadi Cholamandalam.
      • He also conquered Maldives and Lakshadweep.
    • Rajendra I -
      • He invaded Pala kingdom and overcame the Pala king. Because of this victory, Rajendra I took the title Gangaikonda Chola. He constructed a new city named Gangaikonda Cholapuram.
      • He invaded Indonesia and defeated the king of Indonesia and took the title Kadaram (capital of Indonesia) Konda.
      • Southern Sri Lanka was also conquered and king Mahinda V was brought as prisoner to Thanjavur. Bay of Bengal was being converted into a Chola lake.
    • Kulothunga I -
      • He has taken up agrarian reforms and tax reforms. In 1077 AD, he sent a delegation of 72 members to China to enhance the foreign trade with China.
      • During his period, Cholas were dispelled from Sri Lanka. The Sri Lankan king responsible for this is Vijayabahu I.
      • He was a good friend of Suryavarman II (builder of Angkor Wat temple), the king of Cambodia.
    • Rajendra Chola III - He was the last king of Chola dynasty. Chola dynasty came to an end by 1280 AD.

    Chola Literature

    • Most important scholar Kambar, who lived in 12th C in the court of Kulothunga III, wrote Tamil Ramayana (translated version)
    • Sekkizhar wrote Periya Puranam on Shaivism
    • Jayamkondar wrote Kalingattuparani (Victory of Chola over Odisha, Kulothunga I’s victory)
    • Pugalendi wrote the book, Nalavenba

    Art and Architecture of Chola Dynasty

    • The temples that were built during Chola period, are in Dravidian style.
    • Some of the important temples are
      • Brihadeshwara or Rajarajesvaram or Peruvudaiyar temple at Thanjavur. It was built by king Rajaraja I. It is one of the country's tallest temples. It was built at the beginning of 11th C. Height of the Vimana (Structure over Sanctum Sanctorum) is 216 ft. The structure was built in 13 storeys. It is a World Heritage Center by UNESCO.
      • Brihadeeswara temple at Gangaikondacholapuram. It was built by king Rajendra I. It has 8 storeyed Vimana and it is the second important Chola temple.
      • Koranganatha temple located at Srinivasanallur. It was built by king Parantaka I.
      • Airavatesvara temple at Darasuram (near Kumbakonam). It was built by king Rajaraja II.
      • Kampaheswarar temple located at Tribhuvanam. It was built by Kulothunga III.
    • New features like Gopuram, Mandapa, Multiple Sanctorums, Vimana, etc. were added by Cholas to Pallava Architecture in temple construction.
    • Sculpture - Bronze Nataraja is the best sculpture of Cholas which has 4 hands. It was excavated in many countries in Southeast Asia. They have built stone Natarajas also.

    Administration of Chola Dynasty

    • Chola kingdom was divided into Mandalams (Provinces), which were divided into Valanadus (Districts), which were further divided into Nadus (sub-districts), which were finally divided into Gramas.
    • Chola village administration is regarded as one of the best administration. Complete autonomy was given to the villages. According to Uthiramerur inscriptions, every village had Assemblies, which were given names such as Ur, Sabha, Nagara. Sabha was meant for Agraharas and its members were Brahmins, Ur was meant for General villages and its members were influential landlords. Nagara was meant for mercantile villages and its members were only merchants.
    • Under the supervision of these Assemblies, there were number of village committees known as Variyams. The members, called Variyars, of the committee were elected through Kundavali elections (lottery system).
    • A second inscription talks about the qualification and disqualification for members. According to the inscription, the Variyar must be local, literate, aware of village, must not have criminal background and age group should be in the range of 35 to 70 years.
Extra Information

    Chola Society

    • Chola Society got divided into two rival groups of different castes namely Idangai (Left handed faction) and Valangai (Right handed faction). The Valangai group constituted castes with an agricultural basis while the Idangai group constituted castes of metal workers, weavers, etc. that is those castes which are involved in manufacturing. All the villages were occupied by either of these two groups. Rivalry between these two groups continued for the next 500 to 600 years.

    Chola Economy

    • Guilds, mostly merchant guilds, were present in Chola dynasty. Names of some of the guilds are Nanadesi (Merchant association), Manigramam (Trade association), Ayyavolu (a group of 500 Swamis constituting a board of merchants), etc.