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Medieval History / Early Medieval Era

Chola Dynasty and its History

The Chola dynasty ruled the southern part of India till 13th century and it is considered one among the longest ruling dynasties in the world history. Chola history date back to 3rd century BCE as the dynasty was mentioned multiple times throughout the Tamil history. Chola administration is considered one of the best administration in which the villages were given complete autonomy. Thanjavur was the capital of Chola dynasty. Initially, medieval Cholas were feudatories to Pallava dynasty and later they ruled on their own.

Important Chola Dynasty Rulers

We call the medieval Cholas as Imperial Cholas in order to distinguish them from other Early Cholas. Some of the important Chola dynasty rulers of the medieval period are

  • Vijayalaya Chola - He was the founder of Chola dynasty. Vijayalaya Chola was ruling from Thanjavur as a feudatory of Pallavas.

  • Aditya Chola - He ended the Pallava kingdom and made an independent Chola kingdom.

  • Parantaka I - He took the title Maduraiyum Elamum Konda Parakesarivarman (or Madurai Konda). Parantaka I issued two Uttaramerur inscriptions, which talk about village administration.

  • Raja Raja Chola or Rajaraja I -

    • The original name of Raja Raja Chola is Arulmozhi Varman. He had a title of Mummudi Chola Deva.

    • The naval power of Chola kingdom was very much powerful. 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 Mummudi Cholamandalam.

    • He also conquered Maldives and Lakshadweep.

  • Rajendra Chola I -

    • Rajendra Chola I was the son of Raja Raja Chola. He was the Chola king who invaded Bengal and overcame the king of Pala dynasty. Rajendra Chola, who assumed the title of Gangaikonda Chola because of this victory, built the city of Gangaikonda Cholapuram in his name.

    • He invaded Indonesia and defeated the king of Indonesia and took the title Kadaram Konda. Kadaram (modern Kedah in Malaysia) was the capital of Indonesia at that time.

    • 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 reign, 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 - Rajendra Chola III was the last Chola king. Chola empire came to an end by 1280 AD.

Chola Administration

  • The Chola empire was divided into different provinces. The provinces during Chola reign were called Mandalams, which were divided into Valanadus (Districts). Valanadus were further divided into Nadus (sub-districts), which were finally divided into Gramas.

  • Chola administration is considered the best because of Chola village administration. Complete autonomy was given to the villages. According to Uthiramerur inscriptions, every village had Assemblies. Village assemblies in Chola kingdom 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).

  • The second Uthiramerur inscription of Imperial Cholas talks about the qualification and disqualification for the 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.

Chola Literature

  • The most important scholar Kambar, who wrote Tamil Ramayana (translated version), lived in the 12th C in the court of Kulothunga III,

  • Sekkizhar wrote Periya Puranam on Shaivism

  • Jayamkondar wrote Kalingattuparani (Victory of Chola over Odisha, Kulothunga I's victory)

  • Pugalendi wrote the book, Nalavenba

List of Chola Temples

  • The temples that were built during Chola period, are in Dravidian style.

  • Some of the important Chola temples are listed below

    • Brihadeshwara or Rajarajesvaram or Peruvudaiyar temple at Thanjavur. Brihadeshwara temple 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.

    • Brihadisvara 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 the Pallava temple architecture.

  • Sculpture - Nataraja Bronze statue of Cholas, which has 4 hands, is the best sculpture. It was excavated in many countries in Southeast Asia. They have built stone Natarajas also.

Chola Society and Economy

  • 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.

  • 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.