Chola Dynasty

The Cholas came to power after the decline of the Pallavas. They are a Tamil dynasty that ruled the whole of South India from the 9th to 13th century. The Chola rulers not only conquered South India but also but also extended their empire to Sri Lanka and the Maldives. Vijayalaya took advantage of the tension between the Pallava and Panday Dynasties. He occupied Thanjavur and made it is capital, thus establishing the Chola Dynasty.

The Cholas were followers of Hinduism. There are many temples dedicated to Lord Shiva which indicates that they were followers of Shivism. Though the Chola kings build the largest Shiva temple, they also constructed temples of Lord Vishnu too.

Administration of Chola Empire

The administration of the Chola dynasty was hereditary monarchical. The King was the supreme commander of the administration. All executive, legislative and military powers were controlled by the king. The king was assisted by a council of ministers and other high officials. In order to have an efficient working government, the Chola kingdom was divided into numerous provinces called Mandalams. These are further divided into valanadu (divisions) and nadus (districts) each consisting of a group of villages called kurrams. The villages were an entity by themselves and carry out village administration.

Local self-government was an important feature of the Chola kingdom. The village administration enjoyed great level of autonomy in their functioning.  This was the most unique feature of the time. The assemblies were called the Ur, Sabha or the Mahasabha and Nagaram. The Urs were gatherings of local residents consisting of all tax-paying villagers. This gathering was opened for all male members of the community. The executive body of the Urs were called “Abunganam” or “Ganam” or “Miyalunganam”. The Sabha was restricted to the Brahman assembly. This had complex machinery and functions through committees called viriyams. The nagaram were found commonly in trade centers as they were an assembly of merchants.

Military strength of the Chola Empire

The Cholas possessed a large army consisting of soldiers, cavalry, archers, and elephants. They had a very powerful and well-organised military force. They were one of the earliest kingdoms to have a navy. The naval reached to its heights under the Cholas. They took under them the Malabar and Coromandal coasts. The Bay of Bengal for sometime became a Chola lake. The Chola army was divided into seventy regiments.  They had 60,000 elephants and 1,50,000 trained army and navy soldiers. The royal troops were known as Kaikkolaperumpadai, while the troops to defend the king were called Velaikkarar. The kings bodyguards were sworn to defend the king with their lives and were often ready to burn themselves in the funeral pyre of the dead king.

South-East Asian Expedition

The naval attack of the Chola Empire on the Srivijaya kingdom marked the expansion of the Cholas in South East Asia. The Chola king and Srivijaya king Mara Vijayatungavarman had a cordial relationship. Sangrama Vijayatunggavarman later succeeded Mara Vijayatungavarman. Meanwhile, the Khmer kingdom (present-day Cambodia) was under Suryavarman I. When Suryavarman I declared war against the Tambraling kingdom (present-day Malay Peninsula), he asked support from Rajendra Chola. The Tambraling’s meanwhile requested help from king Sangrama who lend his support. This finally brought the Chola’s and the Srivijaya kingdom against each other. The Chola king Rajendra I sent his naval fleet in 1025 CE and defeated Pannai (present-day Pane), Malaiyur (present-day Malay Peninsula), Kadaram (Kedah), Tambralinga, Talaittakkolam, Nakkavaram and Mapappalam. The victory of Chola’s and the Khmer kingdom brought an end and fall of the Srivijaya kingdom. Rajendra Chola could extend his empire in modern day Malaysia, Thailand, Andaman and Nicobar Islands and Cambodia.

Art and Architecture

Art and architecture reached its peak during the Chola reign. The Cholas developed the Dravidian feature of temple architecture. They were inspired by the pallavan architectural designs of lofty temples and bronze and stone sculptures. Numerous buildings in Dravidian design were built during this period. The Shiva temple built by Rajaraja at Thanjore/Thanjavur is the largest and tallest temple built by the Cholas. It shows the greatness of south Indian architecture. Another famous evidence of Chola architecture is the temple at Gangaikondacholapuram built by Rajendra I. Other famous examples of Chola architecture and sculpture are the Nageswara temple at Kumbakonam, Koranganatha temple at Srinivasanallur and Muvarkoil temple of Kodumbalur. The bronze images were another major achievement of the Cholas. The bronze statue of Natraja is one of the famous specimens of Chola art. The bronze image of Arthanareeswara is another such example.

The portraits displayed on the walls of Koranganatha and Nageswarasamy temples contribute to Cholas portrait making. While the paintings depicted in Kailasanathar and Vishnu temples shows the proficiency of the Chola painters.

Chola Temples at UNESCO World Heritage Site

The Great Living Chola Temples in Tamil Nadu, India, built by the Chola kings are designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. These temples date back to early 11th and 12th century. The Great Living Chola Temples includes three temples, the Brihadesvara Temple at Thanjavur, the Brihadisvara Temple at Gangaikonda Cholapuram and the Airavastesvara Temple at Darasuram.

King Rajaraja I built the Brihadesvara Temple and the Brihadisvara Temple, while Raja Raja II built the Airavastesvara Temple. All three temples are dedicated to Lord Shiva.

Downfall of the Cholas

With the rise of the Pandyan Empire, the Cholas began to decline. Their last able ruler was Rajadhiraj Chola. By the middle of the 13th century, the Chola Empire was completed defeated by the Pandayas.

External links:

ImportantIndia – Chola Empire (Chola Dynasty)

GlobalSecurity – Imperial Chola – 815-1280 ↵

Maps of India – Chola Dynasty

Ancient Origins – The Extensive and Sometimes Mythical History of the Chola Empire

New World Encyclopedia – Chola Dynasty

Last Updated: April 04, 2019


Chola Dynasty

  1. ______ founded the Chola kingdom.
    a) Krishna
    b) Rajendra
    c) Vijayalaya
    d) Mahendra
  2. _______ was the capital of Cholas
    a) Ellora
    b) Thanjavur (formerly Tanjore)
    c) Ceylon
    d) Kanchi
  3. _______ was the official language of the Chola administration.
    a) Malayalam
    b) Telegu
    c) Kannada
    d) Tamil
  4. Who was the last ruler of the Chola dynasty?
    a) Rajaraja
    b) Rajenda I
    c) Rajendra III
    d) Vijayalaya
  5. For which God is the Vrihadeshwar temple in Tanjore dedicated to?
    a) Brahma
    b) Indra
    c) Shiva
    d) Vishnu

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