Middle Chola Temples

by S. R. Balasubrahmanyam | 1975 | 141,178 words

This volume of Chola Temples covers Rajaraja I to Kulottunga I in the timeframe A.D. 985-1070. The Cholas of Southern India left a remarkable stamp in the history of Indian architecture and sculpture. Besides that, the Chola dynasty was a successful ruling dynasty even conquering overseas regions....

Rajaraja I was succeeded by his only son Rajendra I, born of his queen Vanavan Mahadevi “in the month of Margali under the natal star of Tiruvadirai”. The Tiruvalangadu Plates of the sixth year of Rajendra I mention his early conquests (vide Appendix). For two years, Rajendra had been associated, as with his father’s administration (a.d. 1012-1014) and in turn, in a.d. 1018, he associated his eldest son, Rajadhiraja I, as co-regent and their joint rule lasted 26 years (a.d. 1018-44). He had played a vital role in the wars fought by his father; the earliest of them were against the Cheras and the Pandyas, followed by the campaign against Sri Lanka, after conquering which he took possession of the crown of Sundara Pandya and ‘the necklace of Indra’ deposited in the Sri Lanka capital by Rajasimha, the last of the Pandyan rulers of the First Empire, after his defeat at the hands of Parantaka I and his flight to the Chera country. In this effort he was successful where his predecessor Parantaka I had failed. Even in his father’s days soon after the conquest of Madurai, Rajendra I was made the Viceroy of the Pandyan region, and given the designation of “Chola-Pandya”. This institution of appointing the heir-apparent as the viceroy of the newly-conquered territory was responsible for the stability of the empire which Rajaraja had so sedulously built up. A standing army was also stationed at strategic points of the empire, like Kottaru, Brahmadesam etc. to strengthen the Government and enable it to maintain effective control over the far flung empire. A great palace was also built at Madurai for the residence of the Chola Pandya viceroy. This system, introduced by Raja-raja I with such great advantage, was continued till the accession of Kulottunga I, and its discontinuance thereafter led to the loosening of central control over the outlying provinces of the empire. Rajendra, as heir-apparent, was next engaged in a war with the Western Chalukyas under Satyasraya; he invaded the region called Rattapadi (modern Karnataka region falling within the Krishna-Godavari doab) and a pitched battle was fought at Hottur in Saka 929 (about a.d. 1007), described as the bloodiest battle ever fought in that region. The Chola Viceroy is said to have visited great destruction on the army, men, women and children of the country; after this victory, he came to be described as “Nurmudi Chola Rajendra Vidyadhara, son of Rajaraja Nittavinoda”; the whole of the Western Chalukya kingdom, extending to the Tungabhadra region, came into the Chola dominion as a result of this victory. He next turned his attention to the Vengi and Kalinga territories, penetrating as far north as the modern Ganjam district and setting up two pillars of victory on the Mahendragiri mountains commemorating his victory over one Vimaladitya, who may be taken to be a Kuluta chief[1] and not the Vengi ruler of the same name (ARE 396 and 397 of 1896). We are not sure whether this war was related to the question of the rulership of the Eastern Chalukyan kingdom of Vengi. What we do know is that Vimaladitya, son of Vishnuvardhana, of the Eastern Chalukyas spent a few years at the royal court at Tanjavur and that Rajaraja I’s daughter, Kundavai was given in marriage to him; this alliance established cordial relations between the two kingdoms, culminating in the accession, later on, of Kulottunga I as emperor of both the realms.

After his accession to the throne, Rajendra in his own right planned a digvijaya as far as the Ganga; his prasasti gives a full account of this expedition including details of the rulers and kingdoms subjugated by him; this account is corroborated by contemporary records from the conquered lands, establishing the trustworthiness of the prasasti. The areas conquered were: Chakarak-kottam (in Bastar district of Madhya Pradesh), Masuni Desam, Madurai Mandalam, Namanik-konam, Panchapalli, Adinagara in Odradesa (Orissa) under the rulership of Indra-ratha, Southern Kosala, Dandabhukti ruled by Dhanapala, Southern Lata under Rana-sura, Vangala (Bengal) under Govinda Chandra, Uttar a Lata under Mahipala, and the Pala ruler of Bengal, described in the prasasti as the land of unceasing rainfall (tangaada saaral vangaala desam). After this great digviiaya, Rajendra I, who had deputed the Chola General on this expedition, received the victorious army on the banks of the Godavari and brought it to his new capital now called Gangaikonda-Cholapuram.

The conquered rulers were made to bring water from the Ganga in pots to the capital, which were emptied into a new lake built there by Rajendra and described by the Tiru-valangadu Plates as the Chola-gangam and as a “pillar of victory in the form of water”:

colagaṃgamiti khyātyā prathitannijamaṇḍale |
gaṃgā jalamayandevaḥ jayasthambhaṃ vyadhatta sa ||

After the Ganga expedition, Rajendra I conceived of an even greater one, this time beyond the seas. The Chola Navy built up by Rajaraja I had already proved its mettle during his days at Kandalur Salai and in the conquest of the 12,000 islands off the west coast of India. It was further strengthened in Rajendra’s days and a naval expedition was undertaken against the powerful Sailendras of Sri Vijaya in the Indonesian archipelago; from the prasasti portion of an inscription of the fourteenth regnal year (a.d. 1026), we obtain many details of the cities and kingdoms taken during this expedition. His warships are said to have “plunged into the mid-rolling sea” (“alai kadal naduvul pala kalam selut”) and taken the city of Sri Vijaya (modern Palenbang) in the Sumatra island, Pannai (“bathing ghat”) identified with Panei on the east coast of Sumatra, Malaiyur (“mountain principality”) in the southern end of the Malay peninsula, Mayuridingam (“deep sea”) identified with Ji Lo Ting mentioned by Chau Ju Kua in the region of Jaiya towards the centre of the Malay peninsula, Ilangasokam identified with Ling-ya-seu-kia of Chau Ju Kua’s dependencies, south of Kedah in the Malay peninsula, Mapappalam in the region of the isthmus of Kra, Mevilimbangam, Valaippanduru, Talai-Takkolam which is probably the same as the Takola of Milinda Panha and the Takkola of Ptolemy (Takupa is in the south of the isthmus of Kra or slightly higher up on the west coast of the Malay peninsula), Ma-Damalingam, identifiable with Tan-ma-ling on the east coast of the Malay peninsula in Pahang District, Ilamuri Desam, a country in the northern part of the island of Sumatra (Lamuri of the Arab geographer and Lambri of Marco Polo), Ma-Nakkavaram identifiable with the Nicobar Islands, and finally Kadaram, referred to as Kataha in Sanskrit literature and as Kadaram or Kidaram in the Kalingattupparani and in the Leyden Grant (Tamil part).

While the trans-oceanic conquests were completed well before the end of the second decade of his rule, his other conquests continued well into the latter half of his reign. There was a revolt in the Pandyan region by three Pandyan Chiefs; in the 26th year of the reign, his eldest son and Crown Prince Raja-dhiraja I suppressed the revolt; one of the Chiefs, Manabha-rana, was beheaded; the head of another, Vira Keralan, was trampled upon by an elephant, and Sundara Pandya, the third Chief, was driven out of the country.[2] The king of Ve-nadu was killed. Rajadhiraja I invaded also the Chera country and killed the Chera Chief Ramakudam of Elimali (Mt. d’Eli); he again destroyed the Chera fleet at Kandalur Salai and also subdued the king of the Kupakas (near Ve-nadu) in modern South Kerala.

A rebellion by the Ceylonese king aided by the king of Kannakuchchi (Kanyakubja or Kanauj) was ruthlessly put down, and both the rebel kings were beheaded.

There was fresh trouble for the Chola throne from the Western Chalukyas. They had earlier invaded Vengi at the time of Jayasimha II and were defeated at the battle of Musangi in a.d. 1021. About a.d. 1022, Rajaraja Narendra of the Eastern Chalukyas became king of Vengi and ruled over it for nearly forty one years; the Chola princess Ammangadevi, daughter of Rajendra I, was married to that ruler. In about a.d. 1031, there was an invasion of Vengi by the Western Chalukyas and a bloody battle was fought at Kalidindi, with the Cholas fighting on the side of Vengi; it is recorded that three famous Chola Generals fought and fell in this battle, and the grateful ruler of Vengi erected three memorial temples in their honour. With the accession to the Western Chalukya throne of Trailokyamalla Ahavamalla Somesvara I in a.d. 1042, another attempt was made on Vengi, and in the battle of Dannada (Dhanyakataka), his army under the joint command of his two sons, Vikramaditya and Vijayaditya, was defeated by the Chola army, who later burnt and destroyed the city of Kollip-pakkai (modern Kulpak).

At the zenith of his power, Rajendra I’s empire extended, as graphically described in an inscription at Tirumalavadi, from Gangai in the north to Ilangai (Sri Lanka) in the south, and from Mahodai (modern Cranganore) in the west to Kada-ram (Kedah) in the Malay peninsula in the east.

In a.d. 1015 and a.d. 1033, two Chola embassies were sent to China to establish friendly, diplomatic and commercial ties with that country. The king of Kamboja (Cambodia), Surya-varaman I (a.d. 1000 - 1050), sent a war-chariot as a gesture of goodwill to Rajendra I.

Rajendra I’s queens were: Tribhuvana Mahadevi alias Vanavan Mahadevi, the Chief Queen; Mukkok-kilan-adigal; Panchavan Mahadevi; and Vira Mahadevi.

He had two daughters, Arulmoli Nangaiyar alias Tiru Ma-devadigal, who is mentioned in connection with the presentation of a decorative umbrella studded with pearls to the deity at Tirumalavadi; and Ammangadevi, who was given in marriage to Rajaraja Narendra of the Eastern Chalukyas and who became the mother of the future Kulottunga I.

Rajendra I assumed a number of titles, the leading ones among them being Gangaikonda Cholan, Madhurantakan, Vikrama Cholan, Mudikonda Cholan, Pandita Cholan, and Vira Rajendran.

Rajendra I was the builder of the new capital at Gangai-konda-Cholapuram which remained as such till the end of the Chola empire. However, there were secondary capitals at Palai-yarai, Chidambaram and Kanchi.

Like his father, he was also a great temple builder. The most important of them is the one at his capital, called Gangaikonda-Cholisvaram. Another temple, also of the same name, was built at Kulambandal in the present day North Arcot district. The ancient Adipurisvara temple at Tiruvorriyur was rebuilt of stone in his days. Another magnificent temple built in his time is the Vachisvara temple at Tiruppasur, in Chingleput district. The “Siva Devale No. 2” at Polannaruva in Sri Lanka was perhaps built during his viceroyalty there. Another important temple of his time is the Rajendrasola vinnagaram, now called Gopalasvamin temple, at Mannarkoyil in Tirunelveli district, built by his Chera feudatory, Rajasimha. It was also during his life time, that a great residential Sanskrit College was established at Ennayiram.

Rajendra I seems to have died in his thirty-second regnal year, corresponding to the 26th regnal year of Rajadhiraja I (a.d. 1044), who had a long joint rule of 26 years with his father. There is an inscription at Brahmadesam, North Arcot district, dated in the 26th year and 120th day of Rajadhiraja I, where it is stated that the local Assembly met under a tamarind tree and sold land for a water-shed for “quenching the thirst” of the king Sri Udaiyar Rajendra Choladeva and his queen Vira Mahadeviyar who is said to have “entered the supreme feet of Brahma in the very same tomb in which the body of Rajendra Choladeva was interred.” This gift was made by Senapati Madhurantakan alias Parakesari Velar, the brother of the queen. Thus we learn that the illustrious Rajendra, the conqueror of Gangai and Kadaram, died at Brahmadesam in a.d. 1044 and his queen Vira Mahadevi committed sati and the gift for a water-shed was in honour, and for the spiritual propitiation, of the illustrious royal couple.

We are not vouched how Rajendra I died. The mortal remains of many of his ancestors lie buried in this region; Aditya I died at Tondaiman-Arrur; Rajaditya, son of Parantaka I, fell at Takkolam fighting the Rashtrakutas. Arinjaya died at Melpadi. The son of Rajendra I, Rajadhiraja I, himself, was destined later on to die a heroic death on the elephant’s back in the battle of Koppam (anai-mer-runj—“one who died on the back of an elephant”). We do not know if Rajendra I died of any natural cause, a sudden mortal disease, or as an aftermath of mortal wounds received in a frontier war. In the Varadaraja Perumal temple at Tribhuvani (in the Union Territory of Pondicherry), there is a record which gives rise to the speculation about the manner of his death; it is of the thirtieth regnal year of his son Rajadhiraja I and refers to a charity named Rajendrasolan Uttamagram instituted to secure the health of Rajendra I. The charity got executed four years after the death of Rajendra I. And it was a great charity indeed, providing for the recitation of Tiruvaymoli and for the maintenance of a Vedic college including a hostel for the pupils (ARE 176 of 1919).

Whatever be that, he was of a heroic mould and his death marked the eclipse of a glorious character. The Gangaikonda-cholisvaram and the Adipurisvara temple at Tiruvorriyur are no doubt noble memorials to this hero; but such a hallowed spot as Brahmadesam deserves to be marked with a suitable memorial, for there lie the ashes of the great Chola who conquered Gangai and Kadaram and his heroic queen Vira Mahadevi who committed sati.

A personality of rare accomplishments and unequalled and many-sided achievements, Rajaraja I was the inspirer of grand ideas and dreams, and Rajendra I gave them fulfilment and completion. Both of them are not only the greatest of South Indian rulers, but rank among the noblest sons of India, nay, even of the world.

Editing Thucydides, John H.Finlay Jr. says:

“Athens is new, Sparta the established power; Athens’ strength is naval, Sparta’s military. Naval power reflects a commercial economy; military power an agricultural economy. The former encourages enterprise and initiative; the latter tenacity and tradition. Hence one rests on democratic freedom; the other on oligarchic discipline.”

It will be no exaggeration to state that the Chola empire under Rajaraja I and his son Rajendra I blends and reflects the spirit, discipline and virtues of both Athens and Sparta.

Footnotes and references:


Cf. History of the Eastern Chalukyas of Vengi by B. Venkatakrishna Rao.


See the Sivakasi Plates (TenPandya Coppet Plates), Tamil History Academy, Madras, pp.177-206, relating to the period of Rajendra I; also SII, V, 520 (ARE 221 of 1894): prasasti of Rajadhiraja I.

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