Chola Empire



  • More than 10,000 inscriptions engraved on copper and stone form the primary sources for the study of Chola history.
  • The inscriptions mainly record the endowments and donations to temples made by rulers and other individuals. Land transactions and taxes (both collections and exemptions) form an important part of their content
  • Besides stone inscriptions, copper plates contain the royal orders. They also contain details of genealogy, wars, conquests, administrative divisions, local governance, land rights and various taxes levied.
  • Literary sources, as tamil literature flourished during this period. Rise in bhakti saints and compilation of hyms reflect sociocultural features of that period       Muvarula, and Kamba Ramayanam, the great epic, belong to this period
  • Uttarameruru Inscription issued by Pranthaka Chola gives details of election to local self governance bodies.

Political history:

  • Records available to us after the Sangam Age show that the Cholas remained as subordinates to the Pallavas in the Kaveri region. The re-emergence of Cholas began with Vijayalaya (850–871 CE) conquering the Kaveri delta from Muttaraiyar. He built the city of Thanjavur and established the Chola kingdom in 850.
  • V ijayalaya’s illustrious successors starting from Parantaka I (907–955) to Kulothunga III (1163–1216) brought glory and fame to the Cholas. Parantaka Chola set the tone for expansion of the territory and broadened the base of its governance  .
  • Parantaka Chola suffered a defeat at the hands of the Rashtrakutas in the famous battle of Takkolam .

Rajaraja I (985 – 1014 A.D.)

  • Rajaraja I is the most celebrated of the Chola kings. He engaged in naval expeditions and emerged victorious in the West Coast, Sri Lanka and conquered the Maldives in the Indian Ocean.
  • The military victory of Raja Raja I over Sri Lanka led to its northern and eastern portions coming under the direct control of the Chola authority. He named noethern part of Sri lanka as mummidigonda cholamandalam.
  • He defeated Cheras in the battle of Kandanur salai.
  • He was also successful in expedition of western and Eastern chalukyas. He installed Shaktiverma on Vengi Throne.
  • He constructed dam across kaveri river.
  • He was a devout follower of Saivism. He completed the construction of the famous Rajarajeswara temple or Brihadeeswara temple at Tanjore in 1010 A.D.
  • His titles: Mummidi Chola, Jayankonda and Sivapadasekara.
  • He abdicted his throne for his son Rajendra chola 1.

Rajendra I (1012-1044 A.D.)

    • Rajendra I conducted the most striking military exploit afer his accession in 1023 by his expedition to northern India.
    • He defeated Mahipala 1 of Bengal.
    • To commemorate this successful north-Indian campaign Rajendra founded the city of Gangaikondacholapuram and constructed the famous Rajesvaram temple in that city.
    • Another famous venture of Rajendra was his naval expedition to Kadaram or Sri Vijaya(Indonesia).He got the title Kadaramgonda. He called Bay of Bengal as Cholamandalam.
    • He annexed total Cylon(Sri lanka).
    • He established many educational institutes in his empire, for this he got the title Pandita chola.
  • After the death of Rajendra 1 , his three successors were also killed in short time.

Kulathunga Chola 1, grandson of Rajendra chola preserved the legacy of Imperial Cholas.

    • He aboilished many taxes and got the title sungam tavirtta.
    • He sent trade embassys to China
    • He united the Vengi kingdom with the Chola Empire.
    • He was contemporary to Ramanujacharya.

Rajendra III was the last Chola king who was defeated by Jatavarman Sundarapandya II

  • On the ruins of Chola empire Pandya and Hoysala kingdom came into existence.


  • King: The emperor or king was at the top of the administration. All authority rested in his hands. He often went on tours in order to keep better touch with the administration .
  • Chola rulers appointed Brahmins as spiritual preceptors or rajagurus (the kingdom’s guide). Rajaraja I and Rajendra I mention the names of rajagurus and Sarva-sivas in their inscriptions.
  • Chola kings granted huge estates of land to Brahmins as brahmadeyams and caturvedimangalams.
  • Provinces: The Chola Empire was divided into mandalams and each
    mandalam into valanadus and nadus.
  • In each nadu there were a number of autonomous villages.
  • The royal princes or officers were in charge of mandalam.
  • The valanadu was under periyanattar and nadu under nattar. The town was known as nagaram and it was under the administration of a council called nagarattar.
  • Military administration: The Cholas maintained a large army consisting of infantry, cavalry and elephants which were called the three limbs of the army. The venetian traveler Marco Polo says that all the bodyguards of the king burnt themselves in the funeral pyre of the dead king.
  • Revenue administration: For the purposes of assessing tax, the Cholas undertook extensive land surveys and revenue settlements. Rajaraja I (1001), Kulotunga I (1086) and Kulotunga III (1226) appointed people for land survey so that the land could be
    classified and assessed for the purposes of taxation.
  • department of land revenue is known as puravuvari-tinaikkalam.
  • Various units of the land measurement are kuli,ma, veli, patti, padagam, etc.
  • The tax rates were fixed depending on the fertility of the soil and the status of the
  • Besides land revenue, there were tolls and customs on goods taken from one place to another, various kinds of professional taxes, dues levied on ceremonial occasions like marriages and judicial fine
  • Local Administration:There were two types of villages at the local in the Chola empire. One type of village consisted of people from different caste and the assembly which ran this type of village was called ‘ur’. The second type of village was ‘agrahara’ types of village which were settled by Brahmins in which most of the land was rent-free.
  • The assembly of this agrahara type of village was a gathering of the adult men in brahmana villages called ‘Sabha’ or ‘mahasabha’. These villages enjoyed a large measure of autonomy.
  • The affairs of the village were managed by an executive committees to which educated person owning property were elected by drawing lots or by rotation.
  • Uttarameruru inscription issued by Prantaka Chola gives details of election to these committees.


  • Chola rulers were ardent Saivite. Shiva was the preeminent god for the Cholas and he was represented in two forms. The iconic form of Siva was Lingodhbhava, and the Nataraja idol was the human form.
  • A highly evolved philosophical system called Saiva Siddhanta was founded
    during this period.
  • Kulathunga Chola was ardent shaivite. He persecuted vaishnavites. Bhakti saint Ramnujacharya left Srirangam and settled in Melkote,Karntaka.


  • Aryanisation was consolidated.
  • Sanskritisation process was started from Chola times( Imitation of upper class tradition by lower class is called sanskritisation).
  • Caste system was widely prevalent during the Chola period.
  • Chola society witnessed a division of caste into “Idangai” and “Vadangai”.
  • Serious clashes were started between shaivites and vaishnavites.
  • Practice of sati became sacred
  • A new social evil Devadasi system came into practice.


  • Tamil and Sanskrit language flourished during Chola period. Tamil literatue witnessed golden age.
  • Few Tamil literary works are:
    • Kamban Ramayan by Kamban (Tamil Ramayan)
    • Periyapuranam or Tiruttondarpuranam by Sekkilar
    • Kalladam by Kalladanar
    • Nalavenba was written by Pugalendi etc.
  • Kesava swami composed Sanskrit work nannaranava samkshevam.


  • Chola art saw culmination of dravida temple art resulting in most sophisticated buildings
  • Cholas followed the architectural style of the Pallavas deducting essential features of Pallavas such as lion motifs, for tigers, adding greater refinement etc. and were mostly involved in the construction of temples (Dravidian Style)
  • They used material of stone instead of bricks due to its greater durability. Neatly detailed frescos including birds, dancing figurines and other pictorial stories from Puranas. Some temples have potraits of the Kings and queens themselves.
  • The temples had a Garbhaghriha(Deity room); Vimana(Brihadeshwara Temple); Shikhara(Stone weighing 90 tonne); Mandap. Metal Art(Nataraja at Chidamabaram Temple) Lofty Gates
  • Dvarpalas at the entrance of the mandap became a unique feature
  • Temples were covered with exquisite well composed sculptures and frescoes
  • Ganas are the most memorable figures were built during the chola period
  • Yazhi a recurring pattern of the sclupted mythical animals were also a unique features
  • Examples include Brihadeswara , Vijayalaya temples
  • Presence of water tank is the unique feature of chola architecture.

Brihadeswara temple:

The Grand Temple of Tanjavur, known as Rajarajisvaram and Brihadishvarar Temple, stands as an outstanding example of Chola architecture, painting, sculpture and iconography.

  • Built by RajaRaja Chola
  • It has shadowless vimana
  • The sanctum with a vimana of 190 feet is capped with a stone weighing 80 tons
  • The fgures of Lakshmi, Vishnu, Ardhanarisvara and Bikshadana, a mendicant form of Siva, on the outer walls of the sanctum are some unique features.
    The fresco paintings and the miniature sculptures of the scenes from puranas and epics in the temple walls reveal the religious ideology of the Chola rulers.

Gangaikonda Cholapuram: In commemoration of his victory in North India, Rajendra I built GangaikondChozhapuram on the model of Brihadisvarar temple

Darasuram Temple : Darasuram Temple,built by Rajaraja II(1146–1172), is another testimony of Chola architecture.

Chola bronze sculptures:

  • The cire-perdu or ‘lost-wax’ process for casting was learnt as long ago as the Indus Valley Culture.
  • Along with it was discovered the process of making alloy of metals by mixing copper, zinc and tin which is called bronze.
  • The bronze casting technique and making of bronze images of traditional icons reached a high stage of development in South India during the medieval period.
  • Chola bronzes are the most sought-after collectors’ items by art lovers all over the world.
  • The well-known dancing figure of Shiva as Nataraja was evolved and fully developed during the Chola Period and since then many variations of this complex bronze image have been modelled.
  • A wide range of Shiva iconography was evolved in the Thanjavur (Tanjore) region of Tamil Nadu. The ninth century kalyanasundara murti is highly remarkable for the manner in which Panigrahana (ceremony of marriage) is represented by two separate statuettes.
  • Shiva with his extended right hand accepts Parvati’s (the bride’s) right hand, who is depicted with a bashful expression and taking a step forward.
  • The union of Shiva and Parvati is very ingeniously represented in the Ardhanarisvara Murti (in fig) in a single image.
  • Beautiful independent figurines of Parvati have also been modelled, standing in graceful tribhanga posture.