Imperial Cholas


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Prelims: History of India and the Indian National Movement

Mains: Indian Culture - Salient aspects of Art Forms, Literature and Architecture from ancient to modern times

Emergence of Imperial Cholas

The Cholas belonged to one of the three mighty dynasties that ruled the Tamil country in the early Sangam period. Described as the Muvendhar in the Sangam literature, they were known for their valour and patronage of the Tamil language.

  • They became prominent in the ninth century and established an empire comprising a significant portion of South India. 
  • They also extended their sway in Sri Lanka and the Malay Peninsula. Therefore, they are called the Imperial Cholas. 

         Map: Chola Empire



Chola - Rulers and their Contributions

Chola - Rulers and their Contributions

Period: 850 – 1279 AD

Capital: Tanjore (Thanjavur)

  • Cholas remained subordinate to the Pallavas in the Kaveri region after the Sangam period.
  • They re-emerged with Vijayalaya (850–871 CE), conquering the Kaveri delta from Muttaraiyar.
  • Sources: Inscriptions engraved on copper and stone form the primary sources for studying Chola history.

Vijayalaya (847 – 871 AD)

  • Founder of Chola Empire: He captured Tanjore from Muttaraiyars in 815 A.D. and built a temple of Durga.
    • He built the city of Thanjavur and established the Chola kingdom of the imperial line in 850.
  • Sources: Kanyakumari inscription mentions the renovation of the city of Tanjore by Vijayala.

Aditya (871 – 907 AD)

  • Military conquests: He ended the Pallava kingdom by defeating Aparajita and annexing Tondaimandalam.
  • He maintained cordial relations with Cheras. 

Parantaka Ⅰ (907 – 955 AD)

  • Title and Sources: He assumed the “Madurain-konda” after capturing Pandya capital Madurai. 
    • Uthiramerur inscriptions belong to his reign, which gives a detailed account of the village administration under the Cholas.
  • Military conflicts: 
    • Battle of Vellore: He defeated the Pandya ruler Rajasimha II and the Kassapa V of Ceylon in the Battle of Vellore.
    • Battle of Vallala: He defeated Rashtrakuta ruler Krishna II in Deccan in the Battle of Vallala.
    • Battle of Takkolam: He was defeated by Rashtrakutas in 1948, and his eldest son Rajaditya was killed in the battle. 
  • He maintained friendly relations with Cheras (Perumals) and married Chera's princess. 

Period of rapid ascension (955 - 987 AD):

  • From the death of Parantaka I to the ascension of Rajaraja I, this period of thirty years was marked by the rapid ascension to the Chola throne.
  • Rulers after Parantaka I:  
    • Gandaraditya Chola (955 – 956 AD): Second son of Parantaka 
    • Arinjaya Chola (957- 958 AD): Younger brother of Gandaraditya
    • Parantaka II Chola (958 – 973 AD): He was son of Arijinya. He defeated the Pandyas and Ceylon and then recaptured the Tondaimandalam from Rashtrakutas.
    • Uttama Chola (973  – 985 AD): He was the son of Gandaraditya, who ascended the throne after the assassination of Aditya II (son of Parantaka II).

Rajaraja I (985 – 1014 AD)

  • Succession: Rajaraja I is the most celebrated of the Chola kings. He was the son of Parantaka II and ascended the Chola throne in 985 AD.
  • Religion: He was a devout follower of Saivism but tolerant towards other faiths. 
  • Titles: Kandalur salai kalamarutta, Jayankonda, Sivapadasekara, Mummudi-Chola (the Chola king who wears three crowns - the Chera, Chola and Pandya), Pandya Kulashani (Thunderbolt to the Race of the Pandyas). 
  • His military conquests were: 
    • Against Cheras: He defeated the Chera ruler Bhaskararavivarman in the naval battle of Kandalursalai in 994 AD. 
    • Against Pandyas: He defeated the Pandya ruler, Amarabhujanga and established the Chola authority in the Pandya country. 
    • Against Ganga: He conquered the Gangavadi, Tadigaipadi and Nolambapadi in the Mysore region. 
    • Western Chalukya wars: He defeated Chalukya ruler Satyasraya and captured the Raichur Doab, Banavasi and other places. 
    • The invasion of Sri Lanka: He annexed northern Sri Lanka from Sri Lankan king Mahinda V. The capital was shifted from Anuradhapura to Polanaruva where a Shiva temple was built 
    • War against Telugu Chodas: He restored the Vengi throne to its rulers Saktivarman and Vimaladitya by defeating the Telugu Chodas. Rajaraja gave his daughter Kundavai in marriage to Vimaladitya.
    • Naval conquests: Rajaraja’s last military achievement was a naval expedition against the Maldive Islands which were conquered. 

Rajendra I (1012-1044 A.D.)

  • Succession: Rajendra I was the co-regent during the reign of Rajaraja I. He ascended to the throne in 1012 AD.
  • Religion: He was a devout follower of Siva. But he was also tolerant towards the Vaishnava and Buddhist sects.
  • Matrimonial relations: He gave his daughter Ammangadevi to the Vengi Chalukya prince and further continued the matrimonial alliance initiated by Rajaraja I.
  • Policy of aggression: He continued his father’s policy of aggressive conquests and expansion. 
  • Titles: Mudikondan, Gangaikondan, Kadaram Kondan and Pandita Cholan
  • His important conquests were: 
    • Conquest of Sri Lanka: Rajendra defeated Ceylon king Mahinda V and seized southern Sri Lanka. Thus the whole of Sri Lanka was made part of the Chola Empire. 
    • Against Western Chalukyas: He defeated Jayasimha II, the Western Chalukya king and the river Tungabadhra was recognised as the boundary between the Cholas and Chalukyas. 
    • Vengi expedition: He restored the throne of Vengi to King Rajaraja Narendra by defeating Vijayaditya.
    • Expedition to North India: Rajendra defeated Mahipala I of Bengal. 
    • Naval expedition: Rajendra’s naval expedition to Kadaram or SriVijaya kingdom of Sangrama Vijayatungavarman. He assumed the title Kadaramkondan after its success. 
  • Contribution to architecture: To commemorate this successful north-Indian campaign Rajendra founded the city of Gangaikondacholapuram and constructed the famous Rajesvaram temple in that city. 
    • He also excavated a large irrigation tank called Cholagangam on the western side of the city. 

Rajadhiraja  (1044 – 1052 AD)

  • Succession: Rajadhiraja was the son of Rajendra I and ascended to the throne in 1044.
  • Titles: Jayamkonda Solan (The Victorious Cholan), Kalyanapuramkonda, Vijaya Rajendra Cholan.
  • War against Chalukyas: He lost his life at the battle of Koppam against the western Chalukyan King Someshwar. 
    • He was known as Yanai-mel-thunjina Devar (the king who died on an elephant).

Rajendra II (1052 - 1063 AD)

  • Succession: He was the younger brother of Rajadhiraja and ascended the throne after the death of Rajadhiraja in the battle of Koppam in 1052. He led the Battle of Koppam afterwards.  
  • Military achievements: 
    • He defeated the western Chalukyan king Someshwar in the Battle of Kundal-Sangamam in 1062.
    • He undertook expeditions to the Kalinga Kingdom (Kalinga King Vira Salamegha) and Sri Lanka (Vijayabahu I).
  • Contribution to architecture:
    • Ulagalantha Perumal Temple (Tamilnadu) and Veetrirundha Perumal Temple were expanded during his reign. The new shrine from fine black granite was constructed in Ulagalantha Perumal Temple.
    • Rajendra granted the town of Ulakkaiyur gold to build the Agastheeswar Temple, which was dedicated to Shiva.

Virarajendra Chola (1063 - 1067 AD)

Military conquests: 

  • He occupied Vengi after defeating Someshwar I and Vikramaditya VI (son of Someshwara I) of Western Chalukyas. 
    • He defeated Someshwar II (son of Someshwara I).
  • He led expeditions against Sri Lanka (King Vijaybahu) and Kadaram (on behalf of a king).

Kulottunga I (1070 - 1122 AD)

  • Succession: Kulottunga I was the grandson of Rajendra I through his daughter Ammangadevi. He succeeded the Chola throne after the Athirajendra Chola.
  • Military achievements: He united the Vengi kingdom with the Chola Empire. 
    • He defeated Kalinga king Anantavarman Chodaganga.
  • Contemporaries: Kamban and Jayakonda were the scholars in his court.
  • Foreign relations: Kulottunga I sent a large embassy of 72 merchants to China and maintained cordial relations with the kingdom of Sri Vijaya.

Later rulers

  • Rulers after Kulothunga I were weak and could not maintain the Chola empire. 
  • Rajendra III was the last Chola king who Pandya King Jatavarman Sundarapandya II defeated. 





Central Government

  • Hereditary monarchial power: The emperor or king was at the head of the administration. The council of ministers assisted him. 
    • Perundanam and sirudanam: They were the administrative machinery comprising various officials.
    • Cholas appointed Brahmins as spiritual preceptors or rajagurus. 
  • Chola kings followed the practice of adding the suffix deva to the name of the crowned kings at the time of the coronation.
  • They provided extensive grants to the temples to reveal the king's authority. 

Provincial Administration

  • Feudatory system: Chola ruler followed the system of feudatories 
  • Division of the Chola Empire: Empire into mandalams (under royal princes or officers) →  mandalam into valanadus  (under periyanattar)→ valanadus into nadus (under nattar). 
    • In each nadu there were a number of autonomous villages. 
  • Town: The town was known as nagaram, and it was under the administration of a council called nagarattar.
    • Naattukanakku and nattuviyavan: They were the functionaries for recording the proceedings of the Nattar.

Village Assemblies 

  • Village autonomy: The system of village autonomy with sabhas and their committees developed through the ages and reached its culmination during the Chola rule.
  • Sources: Uttarmerur inscription provides details of the formation and functions of village councils. 
    • Ur: It was a general assembly of the village
    • Urar: They were the landholders in the village entrusted with the upkeep of temples and maintenance of the tanks.
    • Agraharams: It was the gathering of adult men in Brahmin villages. 
  • Village council: Each village was divided into thirty wards, and each was to nominate its members to the village council. 
    • The qualifications to become a ward member were: 
      • Ownership of at least one-fourth veli of the land. 
      • own residence. 
      • Above thirty years and below seventy years of age. 
      • Knowledge of Vedas. 
    • However, certain norms of disqualification were also mentioned in the inscriptions. They were: 
      • Had been members of the commitee for the past three years. 
      • failed to submit accounts as committee members. 
      • Committed sins
      • stolen the property of others. 
    • Kudavolai system was the system of nominating the persons for each ward for a year. 
    • Division of wards into six variyams: samvatsaravariyam, erivariyam, thotta variyam, pancha variyam, pon variyam and puravuvari variyam. 
    • Variyapperumakkal: They were the committee members who usually met in the temple or under a tree and passed resolutions. 

Military Administration

  • Military composition: 
    • Cavalry: kudirai sevagar 
    • Elephant corps: anaiyatka
    • Bowmen: villaligal
    • Sword-bearers: valilar
    • Spearmen: konduvar
  • Other terms related to military administration
    • Nilaipadai: Military outposts in the conquered territory. 
    • Nayagam: The captain of a regiment, and later he assumed the title of padaimudali
    • Senapati and dandanayagam: The commanderin- chief.
    • Kaikkolaperumdai: Royal troops.
    • Velaikkarar: A personal troop to defend the king. 
    • Kadagams and padaividu: Army and military cantonments. 







  • Expansion of agriculture: It was the period of the expansion of agriculture that led to the production of food grain surplus. 
    • Valangai: Group of agricultural castes.
    • Kudi neekki: The local peasants


  • Revenue collection: They undertook extensive land surveys and revenue settlements. Cholas did the collection of land tax out of the agrarian surplus for its revenue.
    • The tax rates were fixed depending on the soil's fertility and the landholder's status.
  • Exemption: Temples and Brahmins were exempted from paying taxes.
  • Various taxes: Irai, kanikadan, iraikattina-kanikadan and kadami. 
    • Kudimai: A tax paid by the cultivating tenants to the government and the landlords, the bearers of honorific titles such as udaiyan, araiyan and kilavar. 
    • Opati: It was levied and collected by the king and local chiefs. 
    • Iraikattina-nellu: tax paid in kind.
  • Related terms: 
    • Puravuvari-tinaikkalam: Department of land revenue (chief - puravuvari-tinaikkalanayagam).
    • Naduvagaiseykira: The surveyors of the land, who were from the landholding communities. 
    • Units of the land measurement: kuli, ma, veli, patti, padagam, etc. 
    • kalam: Unit for collecting paddy as a tax (28 kg).


  • Measures: Cholas undertook measures to improve the irrigation system that was in practice. 
    • They practiced the turn system for distributing the water. 
  • Vativaykkal: 
    • It was a criss-cross channel, a traditional way of harnessing rainwater in the Kavery delta. 
    • Vati is a drainage channel (in the north-south direction), and a vaykkal is a supply channel (in the east-west direction). 
      • Uttamacholavaykkal, Panca-vanamadevi-vaykkal and Ganavathy-vaykkal: Canals named after kings, queens and gods. 
      • Ur-vaykkal: Canal owned jointly by the landowners. 
      • Nattu-vaykkal: Nadu level canals. 
  • Irrigation tanks: Cholavaridhi, Kaliyaneri, Vairamegatataka and Rajendra Cholaperiyaeri. 
    • Ainutruvapperari was an irrigation tank constructed by Valanciyar, a group of traders in Pudukottai.

Water Management

  • Water rights: They had a system of assigning different kinds of water rights. 
    • Land transactions in the form of donations and endowments were also accompanied by water rights
  • Practice of free labour: The practice of free labour for the periodic and seasonal maintenance of the irrigation tanks was prevalent.
    • Vetti and Amanji: Forms of free labour related to public works at the village level.
  • Related terms: 
    • Nirkkiintavaru: It relates to the allotment of water.
    • Kumizh and talaivay: Channels and gateways for releasing the water. 
    • Talaivayar, Talaivay-chanrar and Eri-araiyarkal: They were the groups responsible for releasing the water through the head channel and sluice from the rivers or tanks.
    • Kulattar: They are a group of people in charge of kulam. 
    • Ernakulam: Commonly owned village tank (our tank).
    • Eriayam: A tax collected by village assemblies, which was utilised for repairing irrigation tanks. 

Artisanal activities

  • Development of weaving industry: The weaving industry, particularly the silk weaving at Kanchi, flourished. 
    • Idangai: Artisanal and trading caste groupings.
  • The metal works developed owing to the great demand for images for temples and utensils. 


  • Increased trade: Increased production in agriculture and artisanal activities led to the growth in trade. 
  • Terms related to traders:
    • Garveras and Gaudas/ Gavundas: Trading castes.
    • Anjuvannattar: They were maritime traders comprising West Asians, including Jews, Christians and Muslims, who settled along the port towns of the West coast. 
    • Manigramattar: They were traders in the hinterland and settled in interior towns like Kodumbalur, Uraiyur, Kovilpatti, Piranmalai and others. 
      • Ainutruvar, disai-ayirattu-ainutruvar and valanciyar: Common banner for Anjuvannattar and Manigramattar after both merged. 
  • Maritime trade centres: Munai-santai (Pudukkottai), Mylapore and Tiruvotriyur (Chennai), Nagapattinam, Vishakapattinam and Krishnapattinam (south Nellore).
    • Peruvazhis: Trunk roads.  
  • Items of export: Sandalwood, ebony, condiments, precious gems, pepper, oil, paddy, grains and salt. 
  • Items of import: Camphor, copper, tin, mercury, etc. 



Society and Religion


  • Social structure: 
    • Prevalence of Varnashrama system: Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaisyas and Sutras. 
      • Valangai and Idangai castes were two major divisions among the castes. 
    • Landholding was the prime determinant of social status and hierarchy.
    • Hierarchy according to landownership: Brahmadeya-kilavars > landholders of vellanvagai villages > Ulukudi 
    • Brahmadeya-kilavars: They were the Brahmin landholders at the top brahmadeya settlements with tax exemption, displacing the local peasants. 
    • Ulukudi: They were the tenants who could not own land but had to cultivate the lands of Brahmins and holders of vellanvagai villages. 
      • Melvaram: significant share in harvest retained by landholders and kizh varam: lower share of harvest retained by Ulukudi. 
    • Labourers (paniceymakkal) and slaves (adimaigal) stayed at the bottom of the social hierarchy. 
  • Women: There was no improvement in the position of women. 
    • The practice of ‘sati’ was prevalent among the royal families. 
    • The devadasi system, or dancing girls attached to temples, emerged during this period.



  • Ardent followers of Shaivism: The iconic form of Siva was Lingodhbhava, and the Nataraja idol was the human form.
  • Flourishment of Saivism and Vaishnavism: Many popular saints called Nayannars and Alvars, who were devotees of Shaivism and Vaishnavism, respectively, flourished during this period. 
  • Parantaka I and Uttama Chola (907–970) made provisions and gifted the lands to promote religion.




Previous Year Questions (PYQs)



Q) Discuss the main contributions of the Gupta period and the Chola period to Indian heritage and culture. (2022) 




Q) In the context of the history of India, consider the following pairs:

Term: Description

  1. Eripatti Land: Revenue from which was set apart for the maintenance of the village tank
  2. Taniyurs: Villages donated to a single Brahmin or a group of Brahmins
  3. Ghatikas: Colleges generally attached to the temples

Which of the pairs given above is/are correctly matched?

  1.  1 and 2
  2.  3 only
  3.  2 and 3
  4.  1 and 3



Q) Consider the following events in the history of India:

  1.  Rise of Pratiharas under King Bhoja
  2.  Establishment of Pallava power under Mahendravarman – I 
  3.  Establishment of Chola power by Parantaka – I 
  4.  Pala dynasty founded by Gopala

What is the correct chronological order of the above events, starting from the earliest time?

  1. 2 - 1 - 4 - 3
  2. 3 - 1 - 4 - 2
  3. 2 - 4 - 1 - 3
  4. 3 - 4 - 1 - 2

 Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)


Q) Who built the Chozagangam Lake now known as Ponneri Lake? 

Rajendra Chola I built Chozagangam Lake, now known as Ponneri Lake, an artificial lake. It is one of the largest ancient man-made lakes in India.


Q) Which Chola ruler was known by the name “Kodandarama”?

According to the Kanyakumari inscription, Aditya I was known by the surname Kodandarama.