Monday, July 11, 2011



1-The rule of the Cholas forms an important part in the history of South India. Chola rule saw remarkable progress in almost all spheres of life such as polity, culture and economy. During the 9th century, the Cholas gained control and overthrew the Pallavas. They primarily ruled in the south of India from the 9th to 13th Century. The Indian Chola Empire conquered not just the south of India but also extended their empire over the sea and ruled parts of the Maldives and Sri Lanka. The founder of the kingdom of Cholas was known by the name of Vijayalaya who conquered the kingdom of Tanjore during mid 8th century. The Chola dynasty is an important landmark in the history of India.

2-By the end of the 9th century, the Cholas firmly established their empire and exercised control over the south of India. This was during the reign of Rajaraja and his son Rajendra l. They were very ambitious rulers and defeated the Pandya and the Cheras of the south and captured their kingdoms. They had trade relations with west Asia, China and Southeast Asia that aided in enormous development of cities during the 11th century. Architecture and art was at its peak during the reign of the Cholas. The local administration system of the Cholas was amazing and reminds us of the modern day Pahchayati raj.

Territorial Expansion

3-The Cholas had ruled as chieftains in Tamilnadu since the first century A.D.towards the middle of the 9th century, Vijayalaya (846-871) conquered Tanjore and declared himself the ruler of an independent state. Even more important was Parantaka I (907-955) who conquered the land of the Pandyas but suffered defeat at the hands of a Rashtrakuta King.Chola power became solidly established in the reign of Rajaraja I (985-1014) and his son and successor

4-Rajindra I (1014-1044).

Rajaraja‘s policy of annexation was influenced by the consideration of trade. He began by attacking the alliance between Kerala, Ceylon and the Pandayas in order to break their monopoly of western trade. The Pandyas had already been subjugated. The Arab traders were well settled on the west coast and enjoyed the support of the Cheras.To eliminate Arab competition in trade particularly in South-east Asia he tried to bring Malabar under his control.

5-He later led a naval expedition against the Maldive islands which had assumed importance in the Arab trade. The Cholas although unable to strike directly at the Arab trade caused havoc in Ceylon with a devastating campaign when the existing capital Anuradhapura was destroyed and the Cholas moved the capital to Pollonnarua.The conflict over the rich province Vengi resumed between the Cholas and the later Chalukyas.

6-The annexationist ambitions of Rajendra I turned northwards as far as Ganges Valley. He marched up to the east coast of India through Orissa and up the river Ganga.There he threatened the Pala king ruling in Bengal before returning to the south. Even more daring was Rajendra’s overseas campaign against the kingdom of Shri Vijaya on order to protect Indian commercial interests in south-east Asia and southern China. The campaign was successful and for a while Indian ships and goods passed without interference through Shri Vijaya territory. This permitted a steady improvement in the commerce of south India and better communications with the Chinese to whom Kulottunga (1070-1118) sent an embassy of 72 merchants in 1077.

7-The successors of Rajendra I turned their attention to conflicts within the peninsula and the struggle with the later Chalukayas for the province of Vengi was revived. The old enemies of the far south the Pandyas, Kerala and Ceylon remained at war.

8-The Chola Kingdom had exhausted its resources and was on the decline in the 13th century when it succumbed to an attack by the Hoysalas from the west and the Pandyas from the south. The new kingdoms were to last till the Turkish sultans overthrew the existing dynasties in the Deccan in the 14th century.

Chola Government

9-The Chola kings ruled their kingdom with the help of a council of ministers and of officers who were in charge of various branches of administration. Local self-govt was a remarkable feature of Chola administration. The village was the basic unit of administration. Chola officials participated more as advisors and observers. The villages had a village assembly or council known as the Ur or Sabha. Villagers who owned land or belonged to the upper castes were chosen by lot to the councils.

10-The council was often divided into a number of small committees and each committee would look after an aspect of the village administration. The revenue of the Chola kingdom came from two sources-taxes on land and taxes on trade. Land tax was generally assessed at one –third of the produce. The actual collection of revenue was done by the village assembly. The intermediary or sometimes a govt officer collected the taxes and passed on the govt’ share. Often a part of revenue was assigned to a temple.

Chola Trade

11-Commerce flourished under the Cholas. Trade was carried on with West Asia and China and South-east Asia. Trade with China reached unprecedented volume during these centuries. Foreign trade provided an additional incentive to an already developing local market.

12-Controlled by merchant guilds the high volume of trade led to the rapid growth of towns from the 11th century onwards. There was also a marked increase in the number of Chola coins that were minted as compared to those of earlier dynasties in this region.

Social and cultural life

13-There were many developments in the culture and society during the Chola Empire. The main center for cultural and social gatherings was the temple. The temple was an institution in itself. The temple courtyard functioned as a school where students were taught the ancient Vedas and Holy Scriptures. The temples were built in the form of citadels where people could feel safe during an attack or aggression. The society was divided into Brahmins and non-Brahmins. This was the time when Bhakti cult emerged and Lord Shiva was worshipped as a symbol of Fertility. Language developed immensely and many languages like Tamil, Kannada and Telugu were developed from Sanskrit.

14-The society was divided into Brahmans and non-Brahmans. Among the non-Brahmans there is as compared to north India, little mention of Kshatriyas and Vaishyas but the Shudras are prominent.

15-The temple was the cultural and social centre. The village and towns all had temples where people used to gather not only for worship but also to discuss various things of common interest. The courtyard of the temple was often used as a school.

16-During this period several regional languages branched off from Sanskrit throughout the peninsula. Marathi evolved from the local Prakrit, while Tamil, Telugu and Kannada stemmed from a Dravidian root but had a vocabulary which owed much to Sanskrit. The first writing in these languages was largely adaptations from Sanskrit works. Saints also composed hymns in popular languages.

17-Tamil literature of this period shows great liveliness and vigor as in Kamban’s version of the Ramayan or the works of the court poets Kuttan,Pugalendi,Jayangondour and Kallaadanar.

18-A number of popular religious movements flourished in the Tamil area. Some of them were continuing the teaching of the Alvars and Nayanars.Others like the Lingayats in the 12 century preached devotion to a theistic God and actively attacked religious hypocrisy. They questioned the authority of the Vedas and the theory of re-birth. Shiva was worshipped in the form of a lingam or phallic emblem.

19-In the 11th century, Ramanuja disagreed with Shankara’s theory that knowledge was the primary means of salvation. He insisted on pure devotion, giving oneself up entirely to God. He also pleaded for the throwing open of temples to Shudras but without much success.

Art and Architecture

20-Architecture developed rapidly under the Chola Empire. The temples that were constructed were magnificent to look at. A famous one is the Brihadiswara temple at Tanjore. They formed the cult of Dravidian style of temple architecture. These splendid temples can be still seen at Tanjore and are a living testimony to the intricate style of architecture of the craftsmen of Chola dynasty. Another famous form of art was the bronze figurines that were crafted during this time. The craftsmen used to beautifully decorate the statues with garlands and jewelry while carving the statue itself. Famous examples of bronze statues are the Nataraja and Lord Shiva as Ardhanarishwara.

13-Under the Cholas the Dravida style of temple architecture exclusive to the south, attained its most magnificent form. The main feature of this style was the building of between five to seven storeys above the chief deity room. A large elaborately carved pillared hall with flat roof was placed in front of the Sanctum. This mandap acted as an audience hall and a place for various other ceremonies. Sometimes a passage was added around the sanctum for devotees to walk around it where images of many other Gods were placed. The entire structure was enclosed by high walls with very lofty gateways called gopurams. The Brihadiswara temple at Tanjore built by Rajendra I is an example of the Dravida style. Another is the Gangaikonda Cholapuram temple.

14-Temple building activity continued even after the fall of the Cholas. The Hoysalesvara temple at Halebid is the most magnificent example of the Chalukyan style. The temple contained finely sculptured panels which show a busy panorama of life. The ground plan was not rectangular but was star shaped or polygonal within which was accommodated the temple built on a raised platform. The giant statue of Gomteswar at Shravana Belagola is a fine example of the
15-standards attained in sculpture in this period.Chola craftsmen excelled in making bronze figurines. The Nataraja, the dancing figure of Shiva is considered a masterpiece...

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