Have you heard of the Chola King Ponniyil Selven? Read to know more about the Chola Dynasty.
Mani Ratnam’s new film PS-I aka Ponniyil Selven-I is making headlines in the film industry.
It’s a mass big budget film which says the story of Chola king Ponniyil Selven.
Who, however, is Ponniyil Selven?
What are his contributions?
Why is he famous?
Read to know more about the Chola dynasty and Ponniyil Selven.
The Chola Dynasty
The Chola dynasty is one of the longest ruling dynasties of South India, and it existed from 300 BC until the late 13th century AD, though the territorial limits kept varying from time to time.
The Chola Dynasty time period of around 1500 years is divided into Early Cholas, Medieval Cholas (Imperial Cholas), and Later Cholas.
Not much authentic information is available about the Early Chola Kingdom.
The earliest datable references to this Tamil dynasty are in inscriptions from the 3rd century BCE left by Ashoka, of the Maurya Empire.
Karikala Chola is recognised as the greatest of the Early Cholas. He ruled in southern India during the Sangam period.
After the decline of the Sangam period, the Cholas became feudatories in Uraiyur. They became prominent in the ninth century and established an empire comprising the major portion of South India.
The founder of the Imperial Chola line was Vijayalaya Chola. He captured Tanjore from Muttaraiyars in 815 A.D. and built a temple for Durga.
His son Aditya Chola put an end to the Pallava kingdom by defeating Aparajita and annexing Tondaimandalam. Chola Country or Cholamandalam was the area bound by the Pennar on the North, the Vellaru River on the South, the Bay of Bengal on the East and Coorg on the West.
Parantaka I was one of the important imperial Chola rulers. He defeated the Pandyas and the ruler of Ceylon. In the famous battle of Takkolam Rashtrakutas defeated him. Parantaka I was a great builder of temples. He provided the golden roof of the Vimana of Nataraja Temple at Chidambaram.
The two famous Uttiramerur inscriptions give a detailed account of the village administration under the Cholas that belong to his reign.
Their capital was Tanjore. They also extended their sway in Sri Lanka and the Malay Peninsula. Therefore, they are called the Imperial Cholas. Thousands of inscriptions found in the temples provide detailed information regarding the administration, society, economy and culture of the Chola period.
It was under Rajaraja I and his son Rajendra I that the Chola power reached its highest point of glory.
Rajaraja I aka Ponniyil Selvon (985 – 1014 A.D)
Rajaraja I is also known by the name Ponniyil Selvon.
His military conquests were:
- The defeat of the Chera ruler Bhaskararavivarman in the naval battle of Kandalursalai and the destruction of the Chera navy.
- The defeat of the Pandya ruler, Amarabhujanga and the establishment of Chola authority in the Pandya country.
- The conquest of Gangavadi, Tadigaipadi and Nolambapadi located in the Mysore region.
- The invasion of Sri Lanka was entrusted to his son Rajendra I. As the Sri Lankan king Mahinda V fled away from his country, the Cholas annexed northern Sri Lanka. The capital was shifted from Anuradhapura to Polanaruva where a Shiva temple was built
- The Chola victory over the growing power of the Western Chalukyas of Kalyani. Satyasraya was defeated and Rajaraja I captured the Raichur Doab, Banavasi and other places. Hence the Chola power extended up to the river Tungabhadra.
- The restoration of the Vengi throne to its rulers Saktivarman and Vimaladitya by defeating the Telugu Chodas. Rajaraja gave his daughter Kundavai in marriage to Vimaladitya.
- Rajaraja’s last military achievement was a naval expedition against the Maldive Islands which were conquered.
After Rajaraja I
Through these conquests, the extent of the Chola empire under Rajaraja I included the Pandya, Chera and Tondaimandalam regions of Tamil Nadu and the Gangavadi, Nolambapadi and the Telugu Choda territories in the Deccan and the northern part of Ceylon and the Maldive Islands beyond India.
Rajaraja assumed a number of titles like Mummidi Chola, Jayankonda and Sivapadasekara. He was a devout follower of Saivism. Rajaraja completed the construction of the famous Rajarajeswara temple or Brihadeeswara temple at Tanjore in 1010 A.D. And also helped in the construction of a Buddhist monastery at Nagapattinam.
Rajendra I (1012-1044 A.D)
Rajendra demonstrated his military ability by participating in his father’s campaigns. He continued his father’s policy of aggressive conquests and expansion. His important wars were:
- Mahinda V, the king of Sri Lanka attempted to recover from the Cholas in the northern part of Ceylon. Rajendra defeated him and seized southern Sri Lanka. Thus the whole of Sri Lanka was made part of the Chola Empire.
- He reasserted the Chola authority over the Chera and Pandya countries.
- He defeated Jayasimha II, the Western Chalukya king and the river Tungabadhra was recognised as the boundary between the Cholas and Chalukyas.
- His most famous military enterprise was his expedition to north India. The Chola army crossed the Ganges by defeating a number of rulers on their way. Rajendra defeated Mahipala I of Bengal. To commemorate this successful north-Indian campaign Rajendra founded the city of Gangaikondacholapuram and constructed the famous Rajesvaram temple in that city. He also excavated a large irrigation tank called Cholagangam on the western side of the city.
- Another famous venture of Rajendra was his naval expedition to Kadaram or Sri Vijaya. It is difficult to pinpoint the real object of the expedition. Whatever its objects were, the naval expedition was a complete success. A number of places were occupied by Chola forces. But it was only temporary and no permanent annexation of these places was contemplated. He assumed the title Kadaramkondan.
- Rajendra I had put down all rebellions and kept his empire intact.
After Rajendra I
At the death of Rajendra I the extent of the Chola Empire was at its peak. The river Tungabadhra was the northern boundary. The Pandya, Kerala and Mysore regions and also Sri Lanka formed part of the empire. He gave his daughter Ammangadevi to the Vengi Chalukya prince and further continued the matrimonial alliance initiated by his father.
Rajendra I assumed a number of titles, the most famous being Mudikondan, Gangaikondan, Kadaram Kondan and Pandita Cholan. Like his father, he was also a devout Saiva and built a temple for that god at the new capital Gangaikondacholapuram. He made liberal endowments to this temple and to the Lord Nataraja temple at Chidambaram. He was also tolerant of the Vaishnava and Buddhist sects.
After Rajendra I, the greatness of the Chola power was preserved by rulers like Kulottunga I and Kulottunga III. Kulottunga I was the grandson of Rajendra I through his daughter Ammangadevi. He succeeded the Chola throne and thus united the Vengi kingdom with the Chola Empire. During his reign Sri Lanka became independent. Subsequently, Vengi and the Mysore region were captured by the western Chalukyas. Kulottunga I sent a large embassy of 72 merchants to China and maintained cordial relations with the kingdom of Sri Vijaya.
Under Kulottunga III the central authority became weak. The rise of the feudatories like the Kadavarayas and the emergence of the Pandya power as a challenge to Chola supremacy contributed to the ultimate downfall of the Chola Empire. Rajendra III was the last Chola king who was defeated by Jatavarman Sundarapandya II. The Chola country was absorbed into the Pandya Empire.
Around the 7th century, a Chola kingdom flourished in present-day Andhra Pradesh. These Telugu Cholas traced their descent to the early Sangam Cholas. However, it is not known if they had any relation to the early Cholas.
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.
The Chinese pilgrim Xuanzang, who spent several months in Kanchipuram during 639–640 writes about the “kingdom of Culi-ya”, an apparent reference to these Telugu Cholas.
Salient features of the Chola Administration:
Central Government of Chola:
The Cholas had an excellent system of administration. The emperor or king was at the top of the administration. The extent and resources of the Chola Empire increased the power and prestige of the monarchy.
The big capital cities like Tanjore and Gangaikondacholapuram, the large royal courts and extensive grants to the temples reveal the authority of the king. They undertook royal tours to increase the efficiency of the administration.
There was elaborate administrative machinery comprising various officials called perundanam and sirudanam. The balance between central control and local independence was maintained and non-interference in local government was sacrosanct
The land revenue department was well organized. It was called puravuvarithinaikkalam. All lands were carefully surveyed and classified for assessment of revenue.
The residential portion of the village was called ur-nattam. These and other lands such as the lands belonging to temples were exempted from tax.
Besides land revenue, there were tolls and customs on goods taken from one place to another, various kinds of professional taxes, dues levied on ceremonial occasions like marriages and judicial fines.
During the hard times, there was a remission of taxes and Kulottunga I became famous by abolishing tolls and earned the title – Sungam Tavirtta Cholan.
The main items of government expenditure were the king and his court, army and navy, roads, irrigation tanks and canals.
Military Administration of Chola:
The Cholas maintained a regular standing army consisting of elephants, cavalry, infantry and navy. About seventy regiments were mentioned in the inscriptions.
The royal troops were called Kaikkolaperumpadai. Within this, there was a personal troop to defend the king known as Velaikkarar. Attention was given to the training of the army and military cantonments called kadagams existed.
The Cholas paid special attention to their navy. The naval achievements of the Tamils reached their climax under the Cholas. They controlled the Malabar and Coromandal coasts. In fact, the Bay of Bengal became a Chola lake for some time.
The Chola king’s retinue included the padimagalir — women bodyguards who protected and attended to the king. A verse describes a king’s skin as covered with “handsome scars” (from battle) “that have grown together as if he were a tree with its bark stripped for use in curing.”
Provincial Administration of Chola:
The Chola Empire was divided into Mandalams and each Mandalam was into Valanadus and Nadus. In each Nadu there were a number of autonomous villages.
The royal princes or officers were in charge of Mandalams. The valanadu was under periyanattar and nadu under nattar. The town was known as Nagaram and it was under the administration of a council called Nagarattar.
The system of village autonomy with sabhas and their committees developed through the ages and reached its culmination during the Chola rule.
Two inscriptions belonging to the period of Parantaka I found at Uttiramerur provide details of the formation and functions of village councils. That village was divided into thirty wards and each was to nominate its members to the village council.
The qualifications to become a ward member were:
a. Ownership of at least one-fourth veli of the land.
b. own residence.
c. Above thirty years and below seventy years of age.
d. Knowledge of Vedas.
However, certain norms of disqualification were also mentioned in the inscriptions. They were:
a. Those who had been members of the committees for the past three years.
b. Those who had failed to submit accounts as committee members.
c. Those who had committed sins.
d. Those who had stolen the property of others.
Of the persons duly nominated, one was to be chosen for each ward by kudavolai system for a year. The names of eligible persons were written on palm leaves and put into a pot. A young boy or girl would take out thirty names each for one ward.
They were divided into six variyams such as samvatsaravariyam, erivariyam, thotta variyam, pancha variyam,pon variyam and puravuvari variyam to take up six different functions of the village administration.
The committee members were called Variyapperumakkal. They usually met in the temple or under a tree and passed resolutions. The number of committees and ward members varied from village to village.
The caste system was widely prevalent during the Chola period. Brahmins and Kshatriyas enjoyed special privileges. The inscriptions of the later period of the Chola rule mentioned two major divisions among the castes – Valangai and Idangai castes. However, there was cooperation among various castes and sub-castes in social and religious life.
The position of women did not improve. The practice of ‘sati’ was prevalent among the royal families. The devadasi system or dancing girls attached to temples emerged during this period.
Both Saivism and Vaishnavism continued to flourish during the Chola period. A number of temples were built with the patronage of Chola kings and queens. The temples remained centres of economic activity during this period. Mathas had a great influence during this period.
Both agriculture and industry flourished. Reclamation of forest lands and the construction and maintenance of irrigation tanks led to agricultural prosperity. The weaving industry, particularly the silk-weaving at Kanchi flourished.
The metal works developed owing to the great demand for images for temples and utensils. Commerce and trade were brisk with trunk roads or peruvazhis and merchant guilds. Gold, silver and copper coins were issued in plenty in various denominations.
Commercial contacts between the Chola Empire and China, Sumatra, Java and Arabia were extensively prevalent. Arabian horses were imported in large numbers to strengthen the cavalry.
The ‘daughters of god,’ the Devanar Makkal or temple women, had their names inscribed in temples for donations received in their names, and inscriptions suggest that Chola women had at least some control over the resources of their households. Women were witnesses and signatories for land grants to temples, as well as land transactions.
Property, when owned by the woman, could not be spent by her husband without her permission, temple inscriptions refer to cases where husbands were fined and asked to repay the wife for having sold her property without her knowledge.
Education and Literature:
Education was also given importance. Besides the temples and mathas as educational centres, several educational institutions also flourished.
The inscription at Ennayiram, Thirumukkudal and Thirubhuvanai provide details of the colleges that existed in these places. Apart from the Vedas and Epics, subjects like mathematics and medicine were taught in these institutions.
The endowment of lands was made to run these institutions. The development of Tamil literature reached its peak during the Chola period. Sivakasintamani written by Thiruthakkadevar and Kundalakesi belonged to the 10th century.
The Ramayana composed by Kamban and the Periyapuranam or Tiruttondarpuranam by Sekkilar is the two masterpieces of this age. Jayankondar’s Kalingattupparani describes the Kalinga war fought by Kulotunga I.
The Moovarula written by Ottakuthar depicts the life of three Chola kings. The Nalavenba was written by Pugalendi. The works on Tamil grammar like Kalladam by Kalladanar, Yapperungalam by Amirthasagarar, a Jain, Nannul by Pavanandhi and Virasoliyam by Buddhamitra were the products of the Chola age.
Art and Architecture:
The Dravidian style of art and architecture reached its perfection under the Cholas. They built enormous temples. The chief feature of the Chola temple is the vimana.
The early Chola temples were found at Narthamalai and Kodumbalur in Pudukottai district and at Srinivasanallur in Tiruchirappalli district. The Big Temple at Tanjore built by Rajaraja I is a masterpiece of South Indian art and architecture. It consists of the vimana, ardhamandapa, mahamandapa and a large pavilion in the front known as the Nandimandapa.
Another notable contribution made by the Cholas to temple architecture is the Siva temple at Gangaikondacholapuram built by Rajendra I. The Airavathesvara temple at Darasuram in Tanjore District and the Kampaharesvara temple at Tribhuvanam are examples of later Chola temples.
The Cholas also made rich contributions to the art of sculpture. The walls of the Chola temples such as the Tanjore and Gangaikondacholapuram temples contain numerous icons of large size with fine execution.
The bronzes of the Chola period are world-famous. The bronze statues of Nataraja or dancing Siva are masterpieces.
The Chola paintings were found on the walls of Narthamalai and Tanjore temples.
Summary of Chola Dynasty Time Period
|TIME PERIOD||KING||MAJOR EVENTS||INSCRIPTION/ BOOKS|
|Early Cholas: 300BC-200 AD||Karikala Chola
|Ruled in southern India during the Sangam period
He is recognised as the greatest of the Early Cholas.
He built the world’s earliest water-regulator structure in stone at Kallanai (Grand Anicut)on River Cauvery
In the Battle of Venni, he defeated both Pandyan and Cheran
Melapadu plates of Punyakumara
|Vijayalaya Chola re-established the Chola Dynasty
Captured Tanjavur from Mutharaiyars ( a feudal lord of Pandya ).
He also renovated Thanjavur and built the Solesvara temple at Padukottai.
The majority of his kingdom was located in the Lower Kaveri Delta area
|The Thiruvalangadu copperplates
Title of Parakesarivarman.
|At the Battle of Sripurambiyam, he defeated Pandya
Aditya Chola I attacked the Pallavas and killed Aparajita- the end of the Pallava Dynasty
Friendly relations between the Cheras
Great Shiva devotee who built a number of Shiva Temples on the banks of river Cauvery.
The Conquest of Tondai Mandalam gave him the title Tondainadu pavina Rajakesarivarman
|Parantaka Chola 907-955||He attacked the Pandyas and captured Madura, and assumed the title Madurain-Konda
This victory earned him the title of Maduraiyum Elamum Konda Parakesarivarman (The conqueror of Madura and Ceylon
He was a great militarist who had made extensive conquests
He laid out the rules for the conduct of the village assemblies in an inscription.
He assumed many titles: Viranarayana, Virakirti, Vira-Chola, Vikrama-Chola
|Rajaditya Chola 949-950||Defeated in the Battle of Takkolam to the combined force of Western Gangas Banas and Vaidumbas led by Rashtrakuda KIng Krishna III||Atakur Inscription|
|Uttama Chola 970–985||He was religiously tolerant.
Although a Saivaite (worshipper of Siva), He also donated to temples dedicated to Vishnu, especially the Ullagaladar temple.
Two sculptures of Uttama Chola (Madhuranthaka Devar) and his mother can be found in the Southern wall of the inner Prakara of the Konnerirajapuram (aka Thirunallam) temple near Kumbakonam.
|The symbol of a seated tiger with two fish beside it and bears the line This is the matchless edict of the King who taught justice to all the Kings in his realm|
|Raja Raja Chola I 985-1014
|During his reign, the Cholas expanded beyond South India with their domains stretching from Srilanka in the south to Kalinga in the north.
The birth name of Rajaraja Chola-I was Arulmozhi Varman
Also known as Rājakesarī,
Coins had on the obverse the figure of the standing king and on the reverse the seated goddess.
|He is known as Tirumurai Kanda Cholan meaning one who saved the Tirumurai
Rajaraja assumed the title Mummudi Chola” a title used by Tamil kings who ruled the three kingdoms of Cholas, Pandyas and Cheras
|Rajendra Chola I 985-1014||Rajendra’s conquests included the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives, and he successfully invaded the territories of Srivijaya in Malaysia, Southern Thailand and Indonesia in South East Asia.
He defeated Jayasimha II, the Western Chalukya king & Tungabadhra was recognised as the boundary between the Cholas and Chalukyas.
His most famous military enterprise was his expedition to north India. The Chola army crossed the Ganges by defeating a number of rulers on their way. Rajendra defeated Mahipala I of Bengal.Victory over the Chalukyas, Kalinga, Gangas and Palas etc. led him to assume the title “Gangaikonda”. To commemorate this successful north-Indian campaign Rajendra founded the city of Gangaikondacholapuram
|The whole of Sri Lanka (Iramandalam) was conquered by Rajendra Chola-I in a naval expedition|
|Rajadhiraja Chola 1044-1052||Performed Ashwamedha Yajna.
He was killed in the Battle of Koppam near Mysore while fighting with the Chalukyas
|He was killed on the back of the elephant and this is why he came to be known as Yanai-Mel-thunjina Devar (The king who died on the elephant).|
Article written by: Aseem Muhammed