Chola Empire (Chola Dynasty)
The Cholas: The Cholas were beyond any doubt the original inhabitants of the south. Cholamandalam, or the land of the Cholas, extended along the Coromondal coast from Nellore to Pudukattai. References about them are found in the Mahabharata and in the inscriptions of Asoka. There are two phases of south Indian history when the Cholas held their sway over this region. The first Chola kingdom was dissolved under the aggression of the Pandyas and the Cheras.
It was after the decline of the Pallavas that the Cholas came again to prominence. The founder of the later Chola Empire was Vijayalaya (850-875). He defeated the Pallavas and captured Tanjore which became the capital of the dynasty. His son Aditya defeated the last Pallava king Aparajita and annexed Pallava kingdom.
Rajaraja I (985-1014): Rajaraja I popularly called Rajaraja the Great was one of the greatest rulers of the Chola dynasty. It was during his time that the Chola kingdom became an empire. We can know about his conquest from his Tanjore inscription. One of his greatest achievements was the building of a powerful navy. This navy played a great role in the creation and maintenance of the Chola Empire. Its first success was the destruction of the naval power of the Cheras. Passing from victory to victory he practically became the Lord Paramount of Southern Kingdom. His kingdom included the whole of Tamil Nadu and a part of Karnataka, Kalinga, northern part of Sri Lanka and a large number of islands. These islands are identified with the Laccadives and the Maladives. His naval power made the Bay of Bengal practically a Chola lake. Thus we find that the Chola Empire had an efficient fleet which greatly assisted in making the Empire strong and prosperous. K.M. Panikkar aptly remarks that ‘the only Indian state which had proper appreciation of sea power was the Chola Empire’.
Rajaraja was an efficient administrator and made excellent arrangements for the administration of his vast dominions. He was also a great patron of literature and art. The famous temple of Tanjore built by him is a living monument of his building activities. Rajaraja was undoubtedly the greatest monarch of the Chola dynasty. So the title of ‘Great’ given to him among all the Chola kings is fully justified.
Rajendra I (1014-1044): Rajendra I was the worthy son of a worthy father. Like his father he also followed a career of conquest. We can know about his achievements from his stone inscriptions of Tirumalai and Tiruvalangamadu and Tanjore copper plates.
He not only kept intact the areas conquered by his father but also extended it. He conquered the remaining part of Sri Lanka, Central India and Orissa.
As conqueror his most important achievement was to establish his military supremacy in east India. In A.D. 1023 he invaded Bengal, defeated its king Mahipala I and carried his victorious arms to the banks of the Ganges. This was a great triumph and in celebration of it he personally assumed the title of Gongai-Konda and established a new capital city — Gongai-KondaCholapuram. Rajendra beautified the city with a magnificent palace, a gigantic temple and a vast artificial lake which also helped in the irrigation of a large area.
His naval supremacy enabled him to conquer lower Burma in A.D. 1025-27 and annex the Andaman and Nicobar islands. These naval enterprises in the east were probably intended to promote commercial intercourse between south India on the one hand and Burma and Malay Peninsula on the other. Another great achievement of Rajendra was the invasion of the Sailendra Empire. He did it so that the Sailendra kings could not interfere the trades of the Indian merchants with China and other East Asian countries. He attained success and the Sailendra monarch accepted his suzerainty. The last able ruler of the Chola dynasty was Rajadhiraj Chola. The mighty Chola Empire once again sank into obscurity by the middle of the thirteenth century when the Pandyas defeated the Cholas.