Chola Dynasty: The story behind Ponniyin Selvan

12 Sep 2022  Read 6688 Views

India, archaeologically has been considered an acreage of great empires, diverse cultures, and different civilizations. While Maurya, Gupta, and Mughals are renowned, many empires are still unknown to us.  When the North Indian polity was engaged in a threefold conflict in the ninth century, Palas, Pratiharas, and Rashtrakutas fought for control over Kannauj, with no clear victor. The Cholas prevailed in similar conflicts that also took place under the Pallava, Pandya, and Chola dynasties.

By extending their power, the Cholas controlled not only South India but also the Southeast region. We'll learn in more detail how the Cholas leveraged their navel superiority to expand from the Kaveri delta into the Indian Ocean region and eventually become the Imperial Cholas.

Origin of the Chola Empire

Around 300 BC, the Kaveri Delta region saw the beginning of the Chola civilization. However, because the Chola were limited to the Kaveri delta, historians did not classify the Chola as an empire. The history of the imperial Cholas, as opposed to the "early Cholas," begins in 850 A.D. Vijayalaya, a Pallava feudatory and the founder of the Imperial Cholas (848–891 AD), was born within this society.

Kaveri Deltas were divided between Pallavas of Kanchi and Pandya of Madurai in the sixth and seventh centuries. The Pallavas ruled the entire Telugu-speaking region, while the Pandyas ruled Madurai and Kerala. These Pallavas were led by Narsimhavarman (630–668 AD), who defeated Pulakeshin II (610-642 AD). Vijayalaya used the struggle between the Pallavas and the Pandyas in the South Indian region to his advantage and took Thanjavur from the Pandyas to establish it as his capital. Later, the Pallava dynasty was eliminated by the son of Vijayalaya, who also strengthened the Chola Empire.

Image: The territories acquired by Chola Dynasty

Consolidation of Empire in India 

In 925 AD, Praantak-I defeated Rashtrakuta ruler Krishna-II and expanded territories towards the northern part of the empire. The most powerful kings of the Chola empire i.e RajRaja Chola-I (985-1014 AD) and Rajendra Chola-II(1012-1044 AD) get the credit for expanding and consolidating the Chola Empire. Because of them, the rule of the Chola empire was expanded to Sri Lanka, the Maldives, the west Lakshadweep, and east Malaya peninsular. Rajendra Chola-I succeeded RajRaja-I, whose biggest achievement in India was the campaign for the Ganges basin and victory over Odisha and Pala rulers. He was then known as “Gangaikonda Cholam”. To mark this victory, “Gangaikonda Chola Puram” named capita, was constructed in Tamil Nadu. The city remained the capital of Imperial Cholas for the next 250 years.

Foreign Conquests

Cholas were referred to as imperial because of their power over other imperial nations like the UK. It also exercised extensive control over other countries and used the inexhaustible financial resources it got from those places for its own prosperity, a practice known as pseudo-colonialism.

The Sri Lankan campaign of Praantak-I, which RajRaja-I completed, was the first Chola conquest of any foreign region. RajRaja's rule saw a moderate expansion of the Chola kingdom. Rajendra launched a military assault on the Srivijaya Empire in South East Asia. He decided to solely exert indirect control over the foreign country.

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 The question in this situation is why Rajendra launched Srivijaya's risky campaign if he didn't want direct control over them. The answer lies in the connection between local and global politics and the economy. The struggle between the Angkor Dynasty and the Srivijaya Empire was the catalyst. The King of Chola fought Srivijaya to help Angkor, an ally of the Cholas. An argument was made to support the campaign, arguing that Tamil guild politics regarding the maritime silk trade were to blame. In the trade between the Abbasid Caliphate and the Tang dynasty via the maritime silk route, south Indian ports and Malay ports played a significant role as transitional locations to refuel the ships. Tamil guilds held the monopoly for this trade and controlled Malay Ports. As shipbuilding technology advanced, better ships were created that could travel long distances without breaking. After a while, the ships started making only stops at ports in Malaysia, which caused Tamil guilds to suffer financial losses.

Additionally, the Srivijaya Empire discriminated against Tamil guilds established in Malaya, undermining their financial standing. Because of their influence in politics, Rajendra allegedly attacked Srivijaya. Rajendra achieved a significant win in the south thanks to his unrivaled naval dominance. In 1972, an Indian Naval Training Academy was named after Rajendra to honor his naval prowess. After Rajendra explored several minor countries, the Srivijaya empire fell apart. These nations acknowledged Chola's rule and granted permission for military installations. Rajendra's successful trip to Southeast Asia improved Tamil Guilds' standing. As a result, Chola ruled over the maritime Silk Route.

Chola administration

The Cholas possessed a fully functional secretariat. Additionally, they used palm leaves as a record-keeping medium for many types of reports. The Chola empire was split up into nine provinces, and the governors of these nine provinces were likewise permitted to retain regular troops. The nine provinces were:

  1. Cholamandalam 

  2. Jayakondacholaman 

  3. Kongumandalam 

  4. Pandyamandalam 

  5. Gangapadi 

  6. Tadigaipadi

  7. Nulambapadi

  8. Marayapad

  9. Mummudichola 

Nadu districts were used to divide provinces. The autonomous "Nattar" Assembly oversaw Nadu. Although the Chola empire was mostly centralized, it possessed a distinctive, independent Local Administration structure. RajRaja-I deserves all the praise. Chola village administration was carried out by independent organizations known as "Ur" and "Sabha." Sabha assemblies were only for Agrahara villages, a kind of villages that the King granted to the Brahmins, as opposed to 'Ur' assemblies, which were for villages of all castes. The Chola Empire was distinguished by its strong naval force. According to Marco Polo, the king's bodyguards used to make the ultimate sacrifice during the king's funeral pyre.


One of the longest-reigning dynasties in history was the Chola Dynasty, a Tamil thalassocratic state in southern India. The oldest datable allusions to the Chola come from inscriptions that date to Ashoka's rule over the Maurya Empire in the third century BCE. In the Tamil nation, the Chola Empire left behind a significant legacy. It witnessed magnificent artistic creations, including a particularly elegant bronze sculpture and architectural marvels like the Thanjavur Temple. Tamil literature and poetry also experienced a golden period during this time. These cultural traits were also incorporated into Southeast Asian art and literature, impacting religious works from Cambodia to Java. 

About the Author: Gurpreet Kaur Dutta | 16 Post(s)

A legal content writer who pursued BBA-LL.B.(H) from Amity University Chhattisgarh. She has a keen interest in corporate and IPR sectors. 

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