Chola Dynasty

Chola Dynasty

Infobox Former Country
native_name = சோழர் குலம்
conventional_long_name = Chola Empire
common_name = Chola Empire
continent = Asia
region = South-East Asia
country =
era = Middle Ages
status =
event_start =
year_start = 300s BC
date_start =
event1 = Rise of the medieval Cholas
date_event1 = 848
event_end =
year_end = 1279
date_end =
p1 =
flag_p1 =
s1 = Pandyas
flag_s1 =
s2 = Hoysala
flag_s2 =

flag_type =

image_map_caption = Chola's empire and influence at the height of its power (c. 1050)
capital = Early Cholas: Poompuhar, Urayur,
Medieval Cholas: Pazhaiyaarai, Thanjavur
Gangaikonda Cholapuram
common_languages = Tamil
religion = Hinduism
government_type = Monarchy
leader1 = Vijayalaya Chola
year_leader1 = 848-871
leader2 = Rajendra Chola III
year_leader2 = 1246-1279
title_leader = King
legislature =

The Chola Dynasty ( _ta. சோழர் குலம், IPA2|'ʧoːɻə) was a Tamil dynasty that ruled primarily in southern India until the 13th century. The dynasty originated in the fertile valley of the Kaveri River. Karikala Chola was the most famous among the early Chola kings, while Rajaraja Chola, Rajendra Chola I and Kulothunga Chola I were notable emperors of the medieval Cholas.

The Cholas were at the height of their power continuously from the later half of the 9th century till the beginning of the 13th centuries.Nilakanta Sastri, "A History of South India", p 5] Under Rajaraja Chola I and his son Rajendra Chola I, the dynasty became a military, economic and cultural power in Asia.Keay, p 215] During the period 1010–1200 CE, the Chola territories stretched from the islands of the Maldives in the South to as far North as the banks of the Godavari River in Andhra Pradesh.Majumdar, p 407] Rajaraja Chola conquered peninsular South India, annexed parts of Sri Lanka and occupied the islands of the Maldives. Rajendra Chola sent a victorious expedition to North India that touched the river Ganga and defeated the Pala ruler of Pataliputra, Mahipala. He also successfully raided kingdoms of the Malay Archipelago.The kadaram campaign is first mentioned in Rajendra's inscriptions dating from his 14th year. The name of the Srivijaya king was Sangrama Vijayatungavarman. Nilakanta Sastri, "The CōĻas", pp 211–220] Meyer, p 73]

The power of the Cholas declined around the 12th century with the rise of the Pandyas and the Hoysala, eventually coming to an end towards the end of the 13th century.

The Cholas left a lasting legacy. Their patronage of Tamil literature and their zeal in building temples have resulted in some great works of Tamil literature and architecture. The Chola kings were avid builders and envisioned the temples in their kingdoms not only as places of worship but also as centres of economic activity.Vasudevan, pp 20–22] [Keay, pp 217–218] They pioneered a centralised form of government and established a disciplined bureaucracy.


There is very little information available regarding the origin of the Chola Dynasty. The antiquity of this dynasty is evident from the mentions in ancient Tamil literature and in inscriptions. Later medieval Cholas also claimed a long and ancient lineage to their dynasty. Mentions in the early Sangam literature (c. 150 CE)The age of Sangam is established through the correlation between the evidence on foreign trade found in the poems and the writings by ancient Greek and Romans such as "Periplus". Nilakanta Sastri, "A History of South India", p 106] indicate that the earliest kings of the dynasty antedated 100 CE. Parimelalagar, the annotator of the Tamil classic Tirukkural, mentions that this could be the name of an ancient clan. The most commonly held view is that this is, like Cheras and Pandyas, the name of the ruling family or clan of immemorial antiquity.Tirukkural poem 955. The annotator Parimelazhagar writes "The charity of people with ancient lineage (such as the Cholas, the Pandyas and the Cheras) are forever generous in spite of their reduced means".] [Other names in common use for the Cholas are "Killi" (கிள்ளி), "Valavan" (வளவன்) and "Sembiyan" (சேம்பியன்). "Killi" perhaps comes from the Tamil "kil" (கிள்) meaning dig or cleave and conveys the idea of a digger or a worker of the land. This word often forms an integral part of early Chola names like Nedunkilli, Nalankilli and so on, but almost drops out of use in later times. "Valavan" is most probably connected with 'valam' (வளம்) – fertility and means owner or ruler of a fertile country. "Sembiyan" is generally taken to mean a descendant of Shibi – a legendary hero whose self-sacrifice in saving a dove from the pursuit of a falcon figures among the early Chola legends and forms the subject matter of the Sibi Jataka among the Jataka stories of Buddhism. Nilakanta Sastri, "The CōĻas", pp 19–20]

On the history of the early Cholas there is very little authentic written evidence available. Historians during the past 150 years have gleaned a lot of knowledge on the subject from a variety of sources such as ancient Tamil Sangam literature, oral traditions, religious texts, temple and copperplate inscriptions. The main source for the available information of the early Cholas is the early Tamil literature of the Sangam Period.The period covered by the Sangam poetry is likely to extend not longer than five or six generations - Nilakanta Sastri, "The CōĻas", p 3] There are also brief notices on the Chola country and its towns, ports and commerce furnished by the "Periplus of the Erythraean Sea" ("Periplus Maris Erythraei").The "Periplus" refers to the region of the eastern seaboard of South India as "Damirica " - [ "The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea"] (Ancient History source book).] "Periplus" is a work by an anonymous Alexandrian merchant, written in the time of Domitian (81–96) and contains very little information of the Chola country. [Nilakanta Sastri, "A History of South India", p 23] Writing half a century later, the geographer Ptolemy gives more detail about the Chola country, its port and its inland cities.Ptolemy mentions the town of Kaveripattinam (under the form "Khaberis") - "Proceedings, American Philosophical Society" (1978), vol. 122, No. 6, p 414] "Mahavamsa", a Buddhist text, recounts a number of conflicts between the inhabitants of Ceylon and the Tamil immigrants.Mahavamsa eText - ] Cholas are mentioned in the Pillars of Ashoka (inscribed 273 BCE–232 BCE) inscriptions, where they are mentioned among the kingdoms which, though not subject to Ashoka, were on friendly terms with him.The Asokan inscriptions speak of the Cholas in plural, implying that, in his time, there were more than one Chola - Nilakanta Sastri, "The CōĻas", p 20 ] [The Edicts of Ashoka, issued around 250 BCE by the Mauryan emperor Ashoka, mention the Cholas as recipients of his Buddhist prozelitism: "The conquest by Dharma has been won here, on the borders, and even six hundred yojanas (5,400–9,600 km) away, where the Greek king Antiochos rules, beyond there where the four kings named Ptolemy, Antigonos, Magas and Alexander rule, likewise in the south among the "Cholas", the Pandyas, and as far as Tamraparni (Sri Lanka)". S. Dhammika, " [ The Edicts of King Asoka: An English Rendering] "] [Smith, p viii]

Etymology of "Chola"

The word "Chola" is derived from the Tamil word "Sora" or "Chora". [Tripathi, p 456] Numerous inscriptions confirm that the name of the Dynasty was "Chora" or "Sora" but pronounced as "Chola." [Archaeological News A. L. Frothingham, Jr. The American Journal of Archaeology and of the History of the Fine Arts, Vol. 4, No. 1 (Mar., 1888), pp. 69–125] The shift from 'r' to 'l' has also been validated and "Sora" or "Chora" in Tamil becomes "Chola" in Sanskrit and "Chola" or "Choda" in Telugu. [ "The name Coromandel is used for the east coast of India from Cape Comorin to Nellore, or from point Calimere to the mouth of Krishna. The word is a corrupt form of "Choramandala" or the "Realm of Chora", which is the Tamil form of the title of the "Chola" dynasty". - Gupta AN, p 182]


The history of the Cholas falls into four periods: the early Cholas of the Sangam literature, the interregnum between the fall of the Sangam Cholas and the rise of the medieval Cholas under Vijayalaya (c. 848), the dynasty of Vijayalaya, and finally the Chalukya Chola dynasty of Kulothunga Chola I from the third quarter of the eleventh century.The direct line of Cholas of the Vijayalaya dynasty came to an end with the death of Virarajendra Chola and the assassination of his son Athirajendra Chola. Kulothunga Chola I, a distant relation to the main Chola line through marriage, ascended the throne in 1070. Nilakanta Sastri, "A History of South India", pp 170–172]

Early Cholas

The earliest Chola kings for whom there is tangible evidence are mentioned in the Sangam literature. Scholars generally agree that this literature belongs to the first few centuries of the common era. The internal chronology of this literature is still far from settled, and at present a connected account of the history of the period cannot be derived. The Sangam literature records the names of the kings and the princes, and of the poets who extolled them. Despite a rich literature that depicts the life and work of these people, these cannot be worked into connected history. [Nilakanta Sastri, "A History of South India", pp 19–20, pp 104–106]

The Sangam literature also records legends about mythical Chola kings. [Nilakanta Sastri, "A History of South India", pp 104–116] The Cholas were looked upon as descended from the sun.Manimekalai (poem 00-10)] These myths speak of the Chola king Kantaman, a supposed contemporary of the sage Agastya, whose devotion brought the river Kaveri into existence. [Nilakanta Sastri, "A History of South India", p 67] Manimekalai (poem 22-030)]

Two names stand out prominently from among those Chola kings known to have existed, who feature in Sangam literature: Karikala Chola [Majumdar, p 137] Kulke and Rothermund, p 104] Tripathi, p 458] and Kocengannan.Nilakanta Sastri, "A History of South India", p 116] There is no sure means of settling the order of succession, of fixing their relations with one another and with many other princelings of about the same period. [Nilakanta Sastri, "A History of South India", pp 105–106] The only evidence for the approximate period of these early kings is the Sangam Literature and the synchronization with the history of Sri Lanka as given in the Mahavamsa. Gajabahu I who is said to be the contemporary of the Chera Senguttuvan is determined to belong to the 2nd century. This leads us to date the poems mentioning Senguttuvan and his contemporaries to belong to this period.] Urayur (now in/part-of Thiruchirapalli) was their oldest capital. Kaveripattinam also served as an early Chola capital. [Nilakanta Sastri, "A History of South India", p 113] The "Mahavamsa" mentions that an ethnic Tamil adventurer, a Chola prince known as Elara, invaded the island around 235 BCE. [cite web|title=Beginnings of tamil rule in ceylon|author=Gnanaprakasar, Nallur Swami|url=||accessdate=2006-12-05]


There is not much information about the transition period of around three centuries from the end of the Sangam age (c. 300) to that in which the Pandyas and Pallavas dominate the Tamil country. [Nilakanta Sastri, "A History of South India", p 130] An obscure dynasty, the Kalabhras, invaded the Tamil country, displaced the existing kingdoms and ruled for around three centuries. [Nilakanta Sastri, "A History of South India", pp 130, 135, 137] [Majumdar, "Ancient India". p 139] Thapar, p 268] They were displaced by the Pallavas and the Pandyas in the 6th century. [Nilakanta Sastri, "A History of South India", p 135] Little is known of the fate of the Cholas during the succeeding three centuries until the accession of Vijayalaya in the second quarter of the ninth century.Nilakanta Sastri, "A History of South India", pp 130, 133. Quote:"The Cholas disappeared from the Tamil land almost completely in this debacle, though a branch of them can be traced towards the close of the period in Rayalaseema - the Telugu-Chodas, whose kingdom is mentioned by Yuan Chwang in the seventh century A.D]

Epigraphy and literature provide a few faint glimpses of the transformations that came over this ancient line of kings during this long interval. What is certain is that when the power of the Cholas fell to its lowest ebb and that of the Pandyas and Pallavas rose to the north and south of them,Nilakanta Sastri, "The CōĻas", p 102] this dynasty was compelled to seek refuge and patronage under their more successful rivals.Kulke and Rothermund, p 115] Pandya Kadungon and Pallava Simhavishnu overthrew the Kalabhras. Acchchutakalaba is likely the last Kalabhra king - Nilakanta Sastri, "The CōĻas", p 102] The Cholas continued to rule over a diminished territory in the neighbourhood of Uraiyur, but only in a minor capacity. In spite of their reduced powers, the Pandayas and Pallavas accepted Chola princesses in marriage, possibly out of regard for their reputation."Periyapuranam", a Saiva religious work of 12th century tells us of the Pandya king Nindrasirnedumaran, who had for his queen a Chola princess. Chopra "et al", p 95] Numerous inscriptions of Pallavas, Pandyas and Chalukya of this period mention conquering 'the Chola country'.Copperplate grants of the Pallava Buddhavarman(late 4th century) mention that the king as the 'underwater fire that destroyed the ocean of the Chola army'. - Nilakanta Sastri, "The CōĻas", pp 104–105] [Simhavishnu (575–600) is also stated to have seized the Chola country. Mahendravarman I was called the 'crown of the Chola country' in his inscriptions. The Chalukya Pulakesin II in his inscriptions in Aihole states that he defeated the Pallavas and brought relief to the Cholas. - Nilakanta Sastri, "The CōĻas", p 105] Despite this loss in influence and power, it is unlikely that the Cholas lost total grip of the territory around Uraiyur, their old capital, as Vijayalaya, when he rose to prominence hailed from this geographical area.Chopra "et al", p 95] Tripathi, p459]

Around the 7th century, a Chola kingdom flourished in present-day Andhra Pradesh. These Telugu Cholas (or Chodas) traced their descent to the early Sangam Cholas. However, it is not known if they had any relation to the early Cholas. [Nilakanta Sastri, "A History of South India", p 4. Quote:"it is not known what relation, if any, the Telugu-Chodas of the Renadu country in the Ceded District, bore to their namesakes of the Tamil land, though they claimed descent from Karikala, the most celebrated of the early Chola monarchs of the Sangam age"] It is possible that a branch of the Tamil Cholas migrated north during the time of the Pallavas to establish a kingdom of their own, away from the dominating influences of the Pandyas and Pallavas.KAN Sastri postulates that there was a live connection between the early Cholas and the Renandu Cholas of the Andhra country. The northward migration probably took place during the Pallava domination of Simhavishnu. Sastri also categorically rejects the claims that these were the descendants of Karikala Chola - Nilakanta Sastri, "The CōĻas", p 107] The Chinese pilgrim Xuanzang, who spent several months in Kanchipuram during 639–640 writes about the 'kingdom of Culi-ya', in an apparent reference to the Telugu Chodas.Nilakanta Sastri, "The CōĻas", p 102] [Tripathi, pp 458–459]

Medieval Cholas

While there is little reliable information on the Cholas during the period between the early Cholas and Vijayalaya dynasties, there is an abundance of materials from diverse sources on the Vijayalaya and the Chalukya Chola dynasties. A large number of stone inscriptions by the Cholas themselves and by their rival kings, Pandyas and Chalukyas, and copper-plate grants, have been instrumental in constructing the history of Cholas of that period.The Chola inscriptions followed the practice of prefacing the intended text with a historical recounting, in a poetic and ornate style of Tamil, of the main achievements of the reign and the descent of the king and of his ancestors - "South Indian Inscriptions", Vol 2] [Chopra "et al", p 102] Around 850, Vijayalaya rose from obscurity to take an opportunity arising out of a conflict between Pandyas and Pallavas,The opportunity for Vijayalaya arose during the battle of Sripurambayam between the Pallava ally Ganga Pritvipati and the Pandya Varaguna. Nilakanta Sastri, "A History of South India", p 158] captured Thanjavur and eventually established the imperial line of the medieval Cholas.Vijayalaya invaded Thanjavur and defeated the Muttarayar king, feudatory of the Pandyas. Nilakanta Sastri, "A History of South India", p 158] [Kulke and Rothermund, pp 122–123] The Chola dynasty was at the peak of its influence and power during the medieval period. Through their leadership and vision, kings such as Rajaraja Chola I and Rajendra Chola I extended the Chola kingdom beyond the traditional limits of a Tamil kingdom. At its peak, the Chola Empire stretched from the island of Sri Lanka in the south to the Godavari basin in the north.Rajendra Chola I completed the conquest of the island of Sri Lanka and captured the Sinhala king Mahinda V prisoner. Nilakanta Sastri, "The Colas" pp 194–210] The kingdoms along the east coast of India up to the river Ganges acknowledged Chola suzerainty. Chola navies invaded and conquered Srivijaya in the Malayan archipelago. The report on the conquest of Srivijaya however might be an exaggeration.] [Stuart Munro-Hay, "Nakhon Sri Thammarat - The Archaeology, History and Legends of a Southern Thai Town", p 18, ISBN 9747534738]

Throughout this period, the Cholas were constantly troubled by the ever-resilient Sinhalas, who attempted to overthrow the Chola occupation of Lanka, [Chopra "et al", p 107] [Chopra "et al", p 109] Pandya princes who tried to win independence for their traditional territories, and by the growing ambitions of the Chalukyas in the western Deccan. [Chopra "et al", pp 107–109] This period saw constant warfare between the Cholas and these antagonists. A balance of power existed between the Chalukyas and the Cholas, and there was a tacit acceptance of the Tungabhadra River as the boundary between the two empires.Nilakanta Sastri, "A History of South India", p 6] However, the bone of contention between these two powers was the growing Chola influence in the Vengi kingdom.Nilakanta Sastri, "A History of South India", p 158]

Chalukya Cholas

Marital and political alliances between the Eastern Chalukyas began during the reign of Rajaraja following his invasion of Vengi. [Keay, p 216] Rajaraja Chola's daughter married Chalukya prince Vimaladitya. [Majumdar, p 405] Rajendra Chola's daughter was also married to an eastern Chalukya prince Rajaraja Narendra.Chopra "et al", p 120]

Virarajendra Chola's son Athirajendra Chola was assassinated in a civil disturbance in 1070, and Kulothunga Chola I, the son of Rajaraja Narendra, ascended the Chola throne starting the Chalukya Chola dynasty. [Majumdar, p 372]

The Chalukya Chola dynasty saw capable rulers in Kulothunga Chola I and Vikrama Chola; however, the decline of the Chola power practically started during this period.Tripathi, p 471] The Cholas lost control of the island of Lanka and were driven out by the revival of Sinhala power. Around 1118, they lost control of Vengi to the Western Chalukya king Vikramaditya VI and Gangavadi (southern Mysore districts) to the growing power of Hoysala Vishnuvardhana, a Chalukya feudatory. In the Pandya territories, the lack of a controlling central administration prompted a number of claimants to the Pandya throne to cause a civil war in which the Sinhalas and the Cholas were involved by proxy. [Details of the Pandyan civil war and the role played by the Cholas and Sinhalas, are present in the "Mahavamsa" as well as the Pallavarayanpettai Inscriptions. "South Indian Inscriptions", Vol. 12] Chopra "et al", pp 128–129]

The Cholas, under Rajaraja Chola III and later, his son Rajendra Chola III, experienced continuous trouble. One feudatory, the Kadava chieftain Kopperunchinga I, even held Rajaraja Chola III as hostage for sometime. [Nilakanta Sastri, "A History of South India", p 194] Tripathi, p 472] At the close of the 12th century, the growing influence of the Hoysalas replaced the declining Chalukyas as the main player in the north.Majumdar, p 410] The local feudatories were also becoming sufficiently confident to challenge the central Chola authority. The Cholas were exposed to assaults from within and without. The Pandyas in the south had risen to the rank of a great power. The Hoysalas in the west threatened the existence of the Chola empire.Nilakanta Sastri, "A History of South India", p 195] Rajendra tried to survive by aligning with the two powers in turn. At the close of Rajendra’s reign, the Pandyan empire was at the height of prosperity and had taken the place of the Chola empire in the eyes of the foreign observers. [Tripathi, p 485] The last recorded date of Rajendra III is 1279. There is no evidence that Rajendra was followed immediately by another Chola prince. [Nilakanta Sastri, "A History of South India", p 197] Chopra "et al", p 130] The Chola empire was completely overshadowed by the Pandyan empire and sank into obscurity by the end of the 13th century.

Government and society

Chola country

According to Tamil tradition, the old Chola country comprised the region that includes the modern-day Tiruchirapalli District and the Thanjavur District in Tamil Nadu. The river Kaveri and its tributaries dominate this landscape of generally flat country that gradually slopes towards the sea, unbroken by major hills or valleys. The river Kaveri, also known as "Ponni" (golden) river, had a special place in the culture of Cholas. The annual floods in the Kaveri marked an occasion for celebration, "Adiperukku", in which the whole nation took part.

Kaverippattinam on the coast near the Kaveri delta was a major port town.Tripathi, p 457] Ptolemy knew of this and the other port town of Nagappattinam as the most important centres of Cholas. These two towns became hubs of trade and commerce and attracted many religious faiths, including Buddhism.The Buddhist work "Milinda Panha" dated to the early Christian era, mentions Kolapttna among the best-known sea ports on the Chola coast. Nilakanta Sastri, "The CōĻas", p 23] Roman ships found their way into these ports. Roman coins dating from the early centuries of the common era have been found near the Kaveri delta.Nagaswamy, [ "Tamil Coins - a study"] ] [Nilakanta Sastri, "A History of South India", p 107]

The other major towns were Thanjavur, Uraiyur and Kudanthai, now known as Kumbakonam. After Rajendra Chola moved his capital to Gangaikonda Cholapuram, Thanjavur lost its importance. [Chopra "et al", p 106] The later Chola kings moved around their capitals frequently and made cities such as Chidambaram, Madurai and Kanchipuram their regional capitals.

Nature of government

(1336–1614)] when a serious attempt was made to face and solve the problems of public administration. The Cholas' system of government was monarchical, as in the Sangam age. [Kulke and Rothermund, p 104] However, there was little in common between the local chiefdoms of the earlier time and the imperial-like states of Rajaraja Chola and his successors. [Stein, p 26]

Between 980, and c. 1150, the Chola Empire comprised the entire south Indian peninsula, extending east to west from coast to coast, and bounded to the north by an irregular line along the Tungabhadra river and the Vengi frontier. Although Vengi had a separate political existence, it was closely connected to the Chola Empire and, for all practical purposes, the Chola dominion extended up to the banks of the Godavari river.Nilakanta Sastri, "The CōĻas", p 448 ]

Thanjavur, and later, Gangaikonda Cholapuram were the imperial capitals. However both Kanchipuram and Madurai were considered to be regional capitals, in which occasional courts were held. The king was the supreme commander and a benevolent dictator. [There were no legislature or controls on the executive. The king ruled by edicts, which generally followed "dharma" a culturally mediated concept of 'fair and proper' practice. Nilakanta Sastri, "The CōĻas", pp 451, 460–461] His administrative role consisted of issuing oral commands to responsible officers when representations were made to him. For example, Rajaraja is mentioned in the Layden copperplate grant to have issued an oral order for a gift to a Buddhist vihara at Nagapattinam, and his orders were written out by a clerk - Nilakanta Sastri, "The CōĻas", p 461] A powerful bureaucracy assisted the king in the tasks of administration and in executing his orders. Due to the lack of a legislature or a legislative system in the modern sense, the fairness of king’s orders dependent on the goodness of the man and in his belief in "Dharma"—a sense of fairness and justice.

The Chola kings built temples and endowed them with great wealth. [Keay, p 218] The temples acted not only as places of worship but also as centres of economic activity, benefiting their entire community.Some of the output of villages throughout the kingdom was given to temples that reinvested some of the wealth accumulated as loans to the settlements. The temple served as a centre for redistribution of wealth and contributed towards the integrity of the kingdom. - Keay, pp 217–218]

Local government

Every village was a self-governing unit.Tripathi, pp 474–475] A number of villages constituted a larger entity known as a "Kurram", "Nadu" or "Kottram", depending on the area. [Stein, p 20] Nilakanta Sastri, "A History of South India", p 185] [Stein, p 20] A number of "Kurrams" constituted a "valanadu". [Nilakanta Sastri, "A History of South India", p 150] These structures underwent constant change and refinement throughout the Chola period.Nilakanta Sastri, "The CōĻas", p 465 ]

Justice was mostly a local matter in the Chola Empire; minor disputes were settled at the village level. Punishment for minor crimes were in the form of fines or a direction for the offender to donate to some charitable endowment. Even crimes such as manslaughter or murder were punished with fines. Crimes of the state, such as treason, were heard and decided by the king himself; the typical punishment in these cases was either execution or the confiscation of property.Nilakanta Sastri, "The CōĻas", p 477]

Foreign trade

The Cholas excelled in foreign trade and maritime activity, extending their influence overseas to China and Southeast Asia. [Kulke and Rothermund, pp 116–117] Towards the end of the 9th century, southern India had developed extensive maritime and commercial activity. [Kulke and Rothermund, p 12] Kulke and Rothermund, p 118] The Cholas, being in possession of parts of both the west and the east coasts of peninsular India, were at the forefront of these ventures. [Kulke and Rothermund, p 124] [Tripathi, p 465] [Tripathi, p 477] The Tang dynasty of China, the Srivijaya empire in the Malayan archipelago under the Sailendras, and the Abbasid Kalifat at Bagdad were the main trading partners.Nilakanta Sastri, "The CōĻas", p 604]

Chinese Song Dynasty reports record that an embassy from "Chulian" (Chola) reached the Chinese court in the year 1077,Keay, p 223] Kulke and Rothermund, p 117] [See Thapar, p xv] and that the king of the Chulien at the time was called "Ti-hua-kia-lo".Nilakanta Sastri, "The CōĻas", p 316 ] It is possible that these syllables denote "Deva Kulo [tunga] " (Kulothunga Chola I). This embassy was a trading venture and was highly profitable to the visitors, who returned with '81,800 strings of copper coins in exchange for articles of tributes, including glass articles, and spices'. [The Tamil merchants took glassware, camphor, sandalwood, rhinoceros horns, ivory, rose water, asafoetida, spices such as pepper, cloves, etc. Nilakanta Sastri, "A History of South India", p 173]

A fragmentary Tamil inscription found in Sumatra cites the name of a merchant guild "Nanadesa Tisaiyayirattu Ainnutruvar" (literally, "the five hundred from the four countries and the thousand directions"), a famous merchant guild in the Chola country. The inscription is dated 1088, indicating that there was an active overseas trade during the Chola period.

Chola society

There is little information on the size and the density of the population during the Chola reign. [Nilakanta Sastri, "A History of South India", p 284] The stability in the core Chola region enabled the people to lead a productive and contented life. There is only one recorded instance of civil disturbance during the entire period of Chola reign.—during the short reign of Virarajendra Chola, which possibly had some sectarian roots.] However, there were reports of widespread famine caused by natural calamities. [Chopra "et al", p 125] [Chopra "et al", p 129]

The quality of the inscriptions of the regime indicates a presence of high level of literacy and education in the society. The text in these inscriptions was written by court poets and engraved by talented artisans. Education in the contemporary sense was not considered important; there is circumstantial evidence to suggest that some village councils organised schools to teach the basics of reading and writing to children, [Scharfe, p 180] although there is no evidence of systematic educational system for the masses. [17th century Italian traveler Pietro Della Valle (1623) has given a vivid account of the village schools in South India. These accounts reflect the system of primary education in existence until the morder times in Tamil Nadu] Vocational education was through hereditary training in which the father passed on his skills to his sons. Tamil was the medium of education for the masses; Sanskrit education was restricted to the Brahmins. Religious monasteries ("matha" or "gatika") were centres of learning, which were supported by the government.Rajendra Chola I endowed a large college in which more than 280 students learnt from 14 teachers - Nilakanta Sastri, "A History of South India", p 293] The students studied a number of subjects in these colleges, including philosophy ("anvikshiki"), Vedas ("trayi" – the threefold Vedas of Rigveda, Yajurveda and Samaveda. The fourth Atharvaveda was considered a non-religious text.), economics ("vartta"), government ("dandaniti"), grammar, prosody, etymology, astronomy, logic ("tarka"), medicine ("ayurveda"), politics ("arthasastra") and music. - Nilakanta Sastri, "A History of South India", p 292] [Scharfe, pp 172–173]

Cultural contributions

Under the Cholas, the Tamil country reached new heights of excellence in art, religion and literature. [Mitter, p 2] In all of these spheres, the Chola period marked the culmination of movements that had begun in an earlier age under the Pallavas.Nilakanta Sastri, "A History of South India", p 418] [Keay, p 174] Monumental architecture in the form of majestic temples and sculpture in stone and bronze reached a finesse never before achieved in India.It was, however, in bronze sculptures that the Chola craftsmen excelled, producing images rivalling the best anywhere. Thapar, p 403]

The Chola conquest of Kadaram (Kedah) and Srivijaya, and their continued commercial contacts with the Chinese Empire, enabled them to influence the local cultures.Kulke and Rothermund, p 159] Many of the surviving examples of the Hindu cultural influence found today throughout the Southeast Asia owe much to the legacy of the Cholas.The great temple complex at Prambanan in Indonesia exhibit a number of similarities with the South Indian architecture. Nilakanta Sastri, "The CōĻas", p 709 ] [Kulke and Rothermund, pp 159–160]


The Cholas continued the temple-building traditions of the Pallava dynasty and contributed significantly to the Dravidian temple design.Tripathi, p 479] Aditya I built a number of Siva temples along the banks of the river Kaveri. These temples were not on a large scale until the end of the 10th century. [Harle, p 295] [Mitter, p 57]

Temple building received great impetus from the conquests and the genius of Rajaraja Chola and his son Rajendra Chola I. [Vasudevan, pp 21–24] The maturity and grandeur to which the Chola architecture had evolved found expression in the two temples of Thanjavur and Gangaikondacholapuram. The magnificent Siva temple of Thanjavur, completed around 1009, is a fitting memorial to the material achievements of the time of Rajaraja. The largest and tallest of all Indian temples of its time, it is at the apex of South Indian architecture.Nilakanta Sastri, "A History of South India", p 421] [Keay, p 216]

The temple of Gangaikondacholisvaram at Gangaikondacholapuram, the creation of Rajendra Chola, was intended to excel its predecessor.Nilakanta Sastri, "A History of South India", p423] [Keay, p221] Completed around 1030, only two decades after the temple at Thanjavur and in the same style, the greater elaboration in its appearance attests the more affluent state of the Chola Empire under Rajendra.Nagasamy R, "Gangaikondacholapuram"]

The Brihadisvara Temple at Thanjavur, the temple of Gangaikondacholisvaram at Gangaikondacholapuram and the Airavatesvara Temple at Darasuram were declared as World Heritage Sites by the UNESCO, and are referred to as the Great living Chola temples. [cite web| url= |title=Great Living Chola Temples |publisher=UNESCO| accessdate=2008-06-03]

The Chola period is also remarkable for its sculptures and bronzes. [Chopra "et al", p 186] [Mitter, p 163] [Thapar, pp 309–310] Among the existing specimens in museums around the world and in the temples of South India may be seen many fine figures of Siva in various forms, such as Vishnu and his consort Lakshmi, and the Saivaite saints. Though conforming generally to the iconographic conventions established by long tradition, the sculptors worked with great freedom in the 11th and the 12th centuries to achieve a classic grace and grandeur. The best example of this can be seen in the form of Nataraja the Divine Dancer.Wolpert, p174] [By common consent, the finest Cola masterpieces are the bronze images of Siva Nataraja. Mitter, p 59]


The age of the Imperial Cholas (850–1200) was the golden age of Tamil culture, marked by the importance of literature. Chola inscriptions cite many works, the majority of which have been lost., including "Rajarajesvara Natakam"- a work on drama, "Viranukkaviyam" by one Virasola Anukkar, and "Kannivana Puranam", a work of popular nature. Nilakanta Sastri, "The CōĻas", pp 663–664]

The revival of Hinduism from its nadir during the Kalabhras spurred the construction of numerous temples and these in turn generated Saiva and Vaishnava devotional literature. [Nilakanta Sastri, "A History of South India", p 333] Jain and Buddhist authors flourished as well, although in fewer numbers than in previous centuries. [Nilakanta Sastri, "A History of South India", p 339] "Jivaka-chintamani" by Tirutakkatevar and "Sulamani" by Tolamoli are among notable by non-Hindu authors. [Chopra "et al", p 188] [Nilakanta Sastri, "A History of South India", pp 339–340] "Encylopaedia of Indian literature, vol. 2", p 1195] The art of Tirutakkatevar is marked by all the qualities of great poetry. [Chopra "et al", p 196] It is considered as the model for Kamban for his masterpiece "Ramavataram".Nilakanta Sastri, "A History of South India", p 340]

Kamban flourished during the reign of Kulothunga Chola III.Nilakanta Sastri, "The CōĻas", p 672] His "Ramavatharam" (also referred to as "Kambaramayanam") is a great epic in Tamil literature, and although the author states that he followed Valmiki's "Ramayana", it is generally accepted that his work is not a simple translation or adaptation of the Sanskrit epic: Kamban imports into his narration the colour and landscape of his own time; his description of Kosala is an idealised account of the features of the Chola country. [Nilakanta Sastri, "A History of South India", pp 341–342] Chopra "et al", p 116]

Jayamkondar’s masterpiece "Kalingattuparani" is an example of narrative poetry that draws a clear boundary between history and fictitious conventions. This describes the events during Kulothunga Chola I’s war in Kalinga and depicts not only the pomp and circumstance of war, but the gruesome details of the field.Nilakanta Sastri, "A History of South India", p 20] [Nilakanta Sastri, "A History of South India", pp 340–341] The famous Tamil poet Ottakuttan was a contemporary of Kulothunga Chola I and served at the courts of three of Kulothunga's successors. [Majumdar, p 8] Ottakuttan wrote "Kulothunga Cholan Ula", a poem extolling the virtues of the Chola king. ["Encylopaedia of Indian literature, vol. 1", p 307]

The impulse to produce devotional religious literature continued into the Chola period and the arrangement of the Saiva canon into 11 books was the work of Nambi Andar Nambi, who lived close to the end of 10th century. [Nilakanta Sastri, "A History of South India", pp 342–343] Chopra "et al", p 115] However, relatively few Vaishnavite works were composed during the later Chola period, possibly because of the apparent animosity towards the Vaishnavites by the Chalukya Chola monarchs.Nilakanta Sastri, "The CōĻas", p 681]


In general, Cholas were the adherents of Hinduism. Throughout their history, they were not swayed by the rise of Buddhism and Jainism as were the kings of the Pallava and Pandya dynasties. Even the early Cholas followed a version of the classical Hindu faith. There is evidence in "Purananuru" for Karikala Chola’s faith in the Vedic Hinduism in the Tamil country."Purananuru" (poem 224) movingly expresses his faith and the grief caused by his passing away.] Kocengannan, another early Chola, was celebrated in both Sangam literature and in the Saiva canon as a saint.

Later Cholas were also staunch Saivites, [Vasudevan, p 22] although there was a sense of toleration towards other sects and religions.Tripathi, p 480] Parantaka I and Sundara Chola endowed and built temples for both Siva and Vishnu. [Vasudevan, p 102] Rajaraja Chola I patronised Buddhists, and provided for the construction of the Chudamani Vihara (a Buddhist monastery) in Nagapattinam at the request of the Srivijaya Sailendra king.The name of the Sailendra king was Sri Chulamanivarman and the Vihara was named 'Chudamani vihara' in his honour. Nilakanta Sastri, "The CōĻas", p 214] [Keay, pp 222–223] [Majumdar, p 406] "South Indian Inscriptions", Vol 3]

During the period of Chalukya Cholas, there were assumed to be instances of intolerance towards Vaishnavites, [Stein, p 134] especially towards Ramanuja, the acharya of the Vaishnavites. [Vasudevan, p 104] Kulothunga Chola II, a staunch Saivite, is said to have removed a statue of Vishnu from the Siva temple at Chidambaram, though this is only a probability [Nilakanta Sastri, "A History of South India", p 176] There is an inscription from 1160 that the custodians of Siva temples who had social intercourses with Vaishnavites would forfeit their property. Nilakanta Sastri, "The CōĻas", p 645] [Chopra "et al", p 126]

In popular culture

The history of the Chola dynasty has inspired many Tamil authors to produce literary and artistic creations during the last several decades. [Das, p 108] These works of popular literature have helped continue the memory of the great Cholas in the minds of the Tamil people. The most important work of this genre is the popular "Ponniyin Selvan" (The son of "Ponni"), a historical novel in Tamil written by Kalki Krishnamurthy. [cite web|title=Versatile writer and patriot|author=|url=|publisher=The Hindu|accessdate=2008-05-29] Written in five volumes, this narrates the story of Rajaraja Chola.Das, p 109] "Ponniyin Selvan" deals with the events leading up to the ascension of Uttama Chola on the Chola throne. Kalki had cleverly utilised the confusion in the succession to the Chola throne after the demise of Sundara Chola. [Das, pp 108–109] This book was serialised in the Tamil periodical Kalki during the mid 1950s. [cite web|title=English translation of Ponniyin Selvan|author=|url=|publisher=The Hindu|accessdate=2008-05-29] The serialisation lasted for nearly five years and every week its publication was awaited with great interest. [cite web|title=Lines that Speak|author=|url=|publisher=The Hindu|accessdate=2008-05-29]

Kalki perhaps laid the foundations for this novel in his earlier historical romance "Parthiban Kanavu", which deals with the fortunes of an imaginary Chola prince Vikraman who was supposed to have lived as a feudatory of the Pallava king Narasimhavarman I during the 7th century. The period of the story lies within the interregnum during which the Cholas were in eclipse before Vijayalaya Chola revived their fortune. "Parthiban Kanavu" was also serialised in the Kalki weekly during the early 1950s.

Sandilyan, another popular Tamil novelist, wrote "Kadal Pura" in the 1960s. It was serialised in the Tamil weekly Kumudam. "Kadal Pura" is set during the period when Kulothunga Chola I was in exile from the Vengi kingdom, after he was denied the throne that was rightfully his. "Kadal Pura" speculates the whereabouts of Kulothunga during this period. Sandilyan's earlier work "Yavana Rani" written in the early 1960s is based on the life of Karikala Chola. ["Encylopaedia of Indian literature, vol. 1", pp 631–632] More recently, Balakumaran wrote the opus "Udaiyar" based on the event surrounding Rajaraja Chola's construction of the Brihadisvara Temple in Thanjavur. [cite web|title=Book review of Udaiyar|author=|url=|publisher=The Hindu|accessdate=2008-05-30]

There were stage productions based on the life of Rajaraja Chola during the 1950s and in 1973, Shivaji Ganesan acted in a screen adaptation of this play titled "Rajaraja Cholan". The Cholas are featured in the History of the World board game, produced by Avalon Hill.

ee also

*History of Tamil Nadu
*Tamil and Sanskrit inscriptions in Malaysia



*cite book |first= P.N|last= Chopra|authorlink= | coauthors= Ravindran, T.K; Subrahmanian, N|title= History of South India ; Ancient, Medieval and Modern| origyear=2003| year=2003| publisher= S. Chand & Company Ltd| location=New Delhi| id= ISBN 81-219-0153-7
*cite book |first= Sisir Kumar|last= Das|authorlink= | coauthors= |title= History of Indian Literature (1911–1956) : Struggle for Freedom - Triumph and Tragedy|origyear=1995|year=1995|publisher= Sahitya Akademi|location=New Delhi|id= ISBN 81-7201-798-7
*cite web|author=|title= South Indian Inscriptions|url=|publisher=What Is India Publishers (P) Ltd|work=Archaeological Survey of India|accessdate=2008-05-30
*cite book |first = Stanley A|last=Wolpert |title=India |publisher=University of California Press |location=Berkeley |year=1999 |pages= |id= ISBN 0-520-22172-9 |oclc= |doi= |accessdate=

External links

* [ UNESCO World Heritage sites - Chola temples]
* [ Art of Cholas]
* [ Chola coins]
* [ Chola coins of Sri Lanka]

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Chola dynasty — Chola redirects here. For other uses, see Chola (disambiguation). Chola Empire சோழ நாடு 300s BC–1279 …   Wikipedia

  • Chola dynasty — ▪ India Chola also spelled  Cola        South Indian Tamil rulers of unknown antiquity, antedating the early Shangam poems (c. 200 CE). The dynasty originated in the rich Kaveri (Cauvery) River (Kaveri River) valley. Uraiyur (now… …   Universalium

  • Chola Navy — Depiction of the siege of Kedah, the battle between Beemasenan s Chola naval infantry and the defenders of Kedah fort. Founded 3rd century CE Country …   Wikipedia

  • Chola (disambiguation) — Chola may be: Chola Dynasty, Tamil dynasty which reigned in Southern India until the 13th century AD The Grand Chola, hotel in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India Chola, Sikkim, village in India Chola incident which occurred there between the Indian and… …   Wikipedia

  • Chola Nadu — (சோழநாடு) Cauvery Delta, Cholamandalam Rice Bowl of Tamil Nadu   region   …   Wikipedia

  • Chola government — List of Chola kings Early Cholas Elara Chola  ·   235 BC – 161 BC Ilamcetcenni  ·   Karikala Chola Nedunkilli  · &# …   Wikipedia

  • Chola art — List of Chola kings Early Cholas Elara Chola  ·   235 BC – 161 BC Ilamcetcenni  ·   Karikala Chola Nedunkilli  ·  …   Wikipedia

  • Chola military — List of Chola kings Early Cholas Elara Chola  ·   235 BC – 161 BC Ilamcetcenni  ·   Karikala Chola Nedunkilli  · &# …   Wikipedia

  • Chola literature — List of Chola kings Early Cholas Elara Chola  ·   235 BC – 161 BC Ilamcetcenni  ·   Karikala Chola Nedunkilli  · &# …   Wikipedia

  • Chola occupation of Sri Lanka (993–1077) — The period of Chola occupation of Sri Lanka began in 993 when Raja Raja Chola sent a large Chola army which conquered northern Sri Lanka and added it to the Chola Empire. The rest of Sri Lanka was annexed by Rajendra I in 1017 18. There were… …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”