The Chola dynasty was the most civilized and one of the longest ruling dynasties in the history of southern India. The Chola Empire is better known as Cholamandalam. It is often believed that the Chola dynasty was founded by Karikala. The Cholas left an ever lasting impression in South India, their zeal of building temples and patronage of Tamil literature resulted in great enhancement of Tamil architecture and literature. If you need to know more (and you should know!) about the towering dynasty of India’s past, scroll down.
The origin of the Cholas dynasty is marked in ancient Tamil literature and in inscriptions. It is believed that the Cholas is the name of the ruling family or clan of ancient antiquity. There are many names in history that are commonly used for the Cholaas, such as Killi, Valavan and Sembiyan. The earliest references to Choladynasty come from the inscriptions from the 3rd century BC left by king of the Maurya Empire – Ashoka.
The Sangam literature that belongs to the second or first few centuries of the common era, records the names of the earliest Chola kings and the princes. Names like king Kantaman, Karikala Chola, Kocengannanand prince Elaraare some prominent names from early Chola dynasty. The Chola king Kantaman, a supposed contemporary of the sage Agastya is known for brining river Kaveri into existence with his devotion. According to the Mahavamsa, a historical poem written in the Pali language, Chola prince known as Elara, invaded the island around 235 BCE.
During the medieval period, the Chola dynasty was at the peak of its power and succeeded in expanding their territory and influence. In 885 Aditya I, the second Chola King defeated the Pandyas of Madurai and conquered large parts of the Kannada country. With his leadership and vision Parantaka I occupied Sri Lanka, while Sundara Chola, also known as Parantaka Chola II, regained territories from the Rashtrakutas and extended the Chola kingdom up to Bhatkal in Kannada country. Rajaraja Chola I and Rajendra Chola II are known to expand the Chola Empire beyond the traditional limits of a Tamil kingdom.
In the later Chola dynasty names like Kulothunga Chola I, his son Vikrama Chola, other successors like Rajaraja Chola II, Rajadhiraja Chola II and the great Kulothunga Chola III, who conquered Kalinga, Ilam and Kataha are prevalent. The emperors between 1215 and 1218 weren’t as strong as those between 850–1215 therefore theyexperienced continuous trouble. In 1279, the Pandyas (who had risen to becomevery powerful in the south) ultimately banished the Hoysalas from Malanadu, who were allies of the Cholas, leading to the departure of the Cholas.
With their leadership, vision and power, the Chola dynasty succeeded in occupying region that includes the modern-day Tiruchirapalli District, Tiruvarur District, Nagapattinam District, Ariyalur District, Perambalur district, Pudukkottai district, PichavaramTaluk, Vridhachalam Taluk in Cuddalore District and the Thanjavur District in Tamil Nadu and Karaikal District in Karaikal.
During the Chola dynasty, for the first time the entire South India was brought under a single government. The Cholas’ system of government was monarchical, wherein the entire kingdom was divided into several provinces called Mandalams, were governed by the governors. Mandalams were divided into divisions called Kottams, which were further divided into district called Nadus. The Nadus were divided into Tehsil, which used to comprise of a group of villages. The provinces were governed by the governors. The king was the central authority, who run the entire kingdom taking help from his ministers and other officers. During the Chola era, there was provision for a local government, wherein every village was a self-governing unit.
The Chola period was an excellent time for Tamil country in terms of art, religion and literature. Taking the temple-building tradition a step further, the Cholas built many Siva temples using the Dravidian temple design along the banks of the river Kaveri. Built in 1009, during the time of King Rajaraja, the beautiful Siva temple of Thanjavur is the largest and tallest of all Indian temples of its time. The Great living Chola temples that have been proclaimed as World Heritage Sites by the UNESCO are Brihadisvara Temple, the temple of Gangaikondacholisvaram and the Airavatesvara Temple at Darasuram. The Cholas sculpted many bronze figures of Lord Shiva, Lord Vishnu and Goddess Lakshmi. The Cholas period was a golden time for literature. During this era, not only did the Saiva and Vaishnava devotional literature flourish, but also Jain and Buddhist authors got the opportunity to display their talent.