Early Chola Temples
Among the Early Chola kings, Parantaka I was the greatest conqueror. The Kanyakumari Inscription of ‘a later Chola king, Vira Rajendra, says of him: “He was the abode of the Goddess of Valour (Vira-Sri). He destroyed the Pandya king together with his whole army, took all his wealth, and burnt his capital Madurai, for which achievement he received the title of Madurantaka. This king, who was as bright as Arjuna, conquered in battle the hitherto unconquered king Krishnaraja II and thereby augmented his own glory; in recognition of this feat, he was entitled Vira Chola. Parantaka, respected by all kings, caused his armies to cross the sea and defeat the king of Simhala (Ceylon) who was waiting on the shore to give him battle, and thereby received the true surname of Simhalantaka. Who would stand comparison with this king, the abode of all good qualities? Who can describe the traits of this monarch, who conquered his enemies in battle and who was the sole abode of Prowess? The destroyer of his enemies, Parantaka brought into existence superior villages of great wealth like narayanam just as Brahma created Svarga, and caused them to be enjoyed by learned brahmans.”
Rajasimha II, the last ruler of the First Pandyan Empire was finally defeated and forced to seek asylum first in Ceylon and then in Kerala. The fact that Parantaka I penetrated into the southernmost parts of the Pandya country is attested by the Suchindram inscription of the 34th year of a Parakesari (which should be ascribed to h im and not to Vijayalaya as was done by Hultzsch). However, his claim of the conquest of Ilam (Ceylon) must be taken as merely an empty boast, though he did carry the war into Ceylon.
In the north, the region of Tondaimandalam was conquered. After the days of Nandivarman III, three Pallava rulers: Nrpatunga (41 years, a. d. 855-896), Kampavarman (32 years, a. d. 878-910) and Apara-jita (18 years, a. d. 879-897) were in possession of different parts of Tondaimandalam. The Karandai Tamil Sangam copper-plates, of the 8th year of Rajendra I (Epi. Rep. Section A, 1949-50, nos. 57 and 58, pp. 3-5), mention that Parantaka I vanquished a Pallava king and appropriated his kingdom (rashtrani), wealth (vasuni) and vehicles (vahananin). According to the scheme of chronology adopted by us, it is likely that it was Kampavarman, and not Nrpatunga, who was overthrown by Parantaka I. The Vaidumbas and the Banas were also subjugated. With the decline of the Pallava power following the battle of Sri-Purambi-yam, the Bana chiefs, Mavali Banaraya alias Vijaya-ditya Prabhu and his son Vikramaditya, seem to have resumed independence till they were overthrown by Parantaka I between a. d. 898 and 910. Their shortlived independence is proved by the existence of their inscriptions dated 820, 827 and 832 in the Saka era instead of the regnal year of their overlord. The defeated Bana chiefs would appear to have sought the help of the Rashtrakuta king Krishna II (a. d. 879-912).
It was after his victory (about a.d. 911-12) over the Banas and the Rashtrakuta king Krishna II at Vellala (Tiruvallam) that Parantaka I seems to have assumed the title of Vira Chola which is mentioned both in his 9th year inscription at Sholingur (9 of 1896: E. I., IV, p.221) and in the Kanyakumari Inscription of“Vira Rajendra. Following this victory, Parantaka I bestowed the Bana country and also the titles of Sem-biyan Mahabali Vanarayan and Banadhirja on his Western Ganga ally, Prithvipati II alias Hastimalla. This should have happened before the 6th year of Parantaka I since these titles find mention in an inscription of that year at Pullamangai (559 of 1921: E. I., XXVI, no. 10). For the greater part of the reign of Parantaka I, the Chola empire extended from Nellore in the north to Kanyakumari (Cape Comorin) in the south. Towards the latter part of his reign, however, there suddenly appeared a formidable foe, the Rashtrakuta King Krishna III (a. d. 940-968). He avenged the earlier Rashtrakuta disaster of Krishna II at the hands of Parantaka I by conquering the northern part of the Chola empire and ruling it for about a quarter of a century. His latest inscription of his 28th regnal year is found at Tirunamanallur.
As is usual in prasastis, the Anbil plates (of Sundara Chola) also describe the qualities of Parantaka I in glowing terms: “In him, valour had its goal, skill was incarnate, courage had a (steady) hold, goodness found a protector, the earth had a good king and poetic art a proper seat, skill in the fine arts found a common shelter, and his fame caused astonishment in all quarters.”
Parantaka I was a staunch devotee of Nataraja of Chidambaram. The Tiruvalangadu copper-plates describe him as a “bee at the lotus-feet of Purantaka (Siva)” and add that he built for Purari, the Lord of the silver mountain (of Kailasa), a golden house called the Dabhra-sabha. Thus Chidambaram became Hema-sabha, Hiranya-sabha, Kanaka-sabha or ambalam, and Parantaka acquired thetilteof Pon veinda Perumal: ‘one who covered with gold’ (the roof of the Dabhra or Chit-sabha of Chidambaram). From this time on, Nataraja (or Adavallan, to give Him His picturesque Tamil name) became the kula-nayakam (family deity) of the Cholas.
During the glorious reign of Parantaka I, the arts of peace received as much attention as deeds of war; in particular, old brick temples were rebuilt of stone and enriched, and new ones in stone came to be constructed.
Notes on Parantaka I:
Parantaka I waged two wars against the Pandyas; the first before the 3rd regnal year when he assumed the title of Madirai konda. Another took place at Velur before his 12th year after which he assumed the title of Maduraiyum Ilamum konda. Then Parantaka I was making active preparations for a third war with the Pandyas and also planned the invasion of Ceylon for the capture of the insignia of the Pandyan king. But his hopes were shattered by the attack on the northern border of the Chola empire by the Rashtrakutas. There seem to have occurred however a few encounters between them. This is reflected in an inscription at Vedaranyam. On a pillar in front of Thyagaraja shrine within the temple of Tirumaraikkadu (Vedaranyam), there is an unusual inscription of this ruler. It is partly in verse, and the king is described as Kop-Parantaka who destroyed the fortifications of the city of Madurai (madil-madurai-sidaittii) instead of the usual title of Madirai-Konda-Kop Parakesari, The regnal year is expressed as en-nangil (eight by four=32). It mentions an encounter between the armies of the Cholas and of the Ceylonese King (Singalar-Kon). The victorious Chola General Gunavan of Idaiyur is said to have halted here on his return from the battlefield and made a gift of a lamp to the Lord of Tirumaraikkadu, meant perhaps as an act of thanksgiving to God (SII XVII, no. 501; AR no. 468-A of 1904).
There is another inscription in this temple of more than common interest depicting the general spirit of religious toleration that prevailed during the period of Parantaka I. An inscription of his 20th regnal year mentions the existence here of a temple for Vishnu (Sri Koyil Vishnukkal) to the north of the main Siva temple of Tirumaraikkadu Mahadevar. It further mentions that one Vaikhanasa Sulapani Bhattasali made a gift of 90 sheep for a perpetual lamp to this Vaish-navite deity, and that this grant was engraved on a pillar of the mandapa in front of the Siva temple of Vedaranyesvarar (SII, XVII, no. 481, AR no. 450 of 1904).
We may add that the same spirit of toleration was in existence at Chidambaram, where the Vaishnavite shrine of Govindaraja was built on the southern side close to the Kanakasabha of Nataraja. The Vaishnavite saints Tirumangai and Kulasekhara Alvars sing in their hymns that the worship of the Vaishnavite deity was in the hands of the Saivite priests of Tilled Muvayiravar. Religious intolerance was a feature of a later age.