Chola Dynasty UPSC: History, Rulers and Administration During the Empire

By Shivank Goel|Updated : November 27th, 2022

The Chola Dynasty was one of the dynasties with the longest reigns in the southern parts of India. During the first two centuries CE, the Cholas were one of the three dominant families in Tamil-speaking South India. The Chola family arrived in the middle of the ninth century, taking control of the area and creating an empire that would span more than 400 years. Based in the fertile Kaveri River delta in the present-day Indian state of Tamil Nadu, the Chola Dynasty, at its highest point in the eleventh century, governed most of South India and Sri Lanka, and the Maldives Islands. 

This segment of the timeline witnesses the inception of a new culture and the flourishing of art like never before. The temples and literature of this time stand as a testimony to this delightful period of history. The topic is extremely relevant for the upcoming UPSC Exam.

Table of Content

Chola Dynasty: History

The Cholas' supremacy began in the 9th century when they conquered the Pallavas to come into power. This rule extended for over five long centuries until the 13th century. 

  • In the early periods of the Chola rule, the beginning of the Sangam literature was seen. Kintamani was one of the well-known rulers of this era.
  • The medieval period was the era of outright power and growth for the Cholas. This was the time of kings like Aditya I and Parantaka I.
  • From that point, Rajaraj Chola and Rajendra Chola extended the kingdom into the Tamil region.
  • Later, Kulothunga Chola acquired Kalinga to establish a solid rule. This glory lasted until the appearance of the Pandyas in the early 13th century.

Chola Dynasty Rulers

Below are some of the most famous rulers of the Chola Empire:

  • Vijayalaya: Vijayalaya founded the Chola Empire. He acquired the Tanjore kingdom in the 8th century and headed the rise of the mighty Chola dynasty by conquering the Pallavas. Tanjore was made the first capital of the renowned Chola Empire.
  • Aditya I: Aditya, I was the successor of Vijayalaya to become the empire's ruler. He conquered king Aparajita, and his empire gained enormous power under his reign. He defeated the Pandya Kings and the Vadumbas and formed control over the Pallavas' influence in the region.
  • Rajendra Chola: Rajendra Chola was the successor of the mighty Rajaraja Chola. He was the one who first ventured to the banks of the Ganges. Gangaikondacholapuram was declared his empire capital, where he was honoured with the 'Gangaikonda.' This era is mentioned as the Golden Age of the Cholas. After his rule, the kingdom saw an extensive downfall.

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Culture and Temples During the Chola Empire

The temples were the primary venues for all religious and social gatherings. The area around this location was transformed into a community school where children were educated about the Holy Scriptures and the ancient Vedas.

  • The societal structure of the period was split between Brahmins and Non-Brahmins. Many Goddesses and Gods were revered, with Shiva serving as the faithful's main source of fortitude.
  • The primary deity at Sri Venkateshwara Temple has significant connections to the significance of the Chola Dynasty. The Srirangam temple is undoubtedly the pinnacle of this time. After being immersed in water for many years, it was later returned to its former splendour.
  • Along the Kaveri River's banks, numerous Shiva temples have been constructed. Among all the temples in India at the time, the Thanjavur temple is still the tallest and largest.
  • Even now, the Tanjore Brihadeeswara temple is adorned with murals in natural colours that are a visual pleasure. Many of these locations have been designated as World Heritage Sites by UNESCO. These include the Airavatesvara, Gangaikondacholisvaram, and Brihadisvara temples.
  • During the Chola Empire, the arts and sculpture reached their highest levels ever. Bronze statues of goddesses and gods like Lakshmi, Vishnu, and Shiva are shining reminders of this time.
  • Another significant high point of this time was literature. Religious literature began to take shape during this time, and Jain and Buddhist writings received recognition. Even today, literary historians adore the well-known Nalayira Divya Prabandham, a collection of 4000 Tamil poetry from this era.

As a result, the Chola Dynasty left a significant legacy. Their rule stands for grand buildings, superb artwork, and a golden age of literature.

Chola Administration

The king presided over the government and is referred to in Chola inscriptions as Ko, Perumal Adigal (the great one), and Ko-Konmai Kondan (king of kings). The Chola inscriptions portray the monarch as a great warrior, conqueror, great patron of the arts, slayer of ills, kind and protective with a charming demeanour. To improve the effectiveness of the government, the monarch performed royal travels.

  • The administrative structure was greater than the Cheras, Pandyas, and Pallavas. However, it experienced a downturn after Kulottunga I's passing, and local chieftains' influence grew.
  • Eight Mandalams (provinces) made up the Rashtriyam/Rajyam (imperial), and every Mandalam used to have a governor/viceroy (generally a prince). Under Nattar, these provinces were further split into Valanadus or Kottams, and within each Valanadus were Nadus (districts). The Nadus was a collection of numerous independent villages. The guilds and Shrenis were also involved in the management.
  • The Chola kingdom had two different sorts of villages at the local level. People from many castes lived in one form of a village, and the organisation in charge of this sort of village was known as the "ur." The second sort of village was an "agrahara" type, where most of the land was free of rent and was occupied by Brahmins. 
  • The 'Sabha' or 'Mahasabha', a meeting of the adult men in brahmana villages, served as the assembly for this form of agrahara village. These communities had a great deal of independence. Details on how these committees were chosen are provided in the Uttarameruru inscription that Prantaka Chola released.
  • The Cholas conducted thorough land surveys and revenue settlements for tax assessment reasons. Rajaraja I, Kulotunga I, and Kulotunga III designated individuals to conduct a land survey to classify and value the property for taxation purposes. The land revenue division was referred to as puravuvari-tinaikkalam.
  • Several land measurement units were utilised, including kuli, ma, veli, Patti, and padagam. The tax rates were set depending on the soil's fertility and the owner's status. In addition to land taxes, additional sources of income included tolls and customs on commodities moved between locations, several types of professional taxes, fees for ceremonial events like weddings, and judicial fines.
  • The gathering of the merchants, known as Nagaram, was tailored to various trades and skilled groups. For instance, the Satsuma Parishatta Nagaram and Saliya Nagaram were connected to the textile industry, as were the Shankarappadi Nagaram, providers of ghee and oil. The Ayyavole (the five hundred) were strong and significant guilds in the Aihole, Karnataka, and Manigramam. These guilds grew in strength and then gained independence.
  • The Cholas kept a sizable force of infantry, cavalry, and elephants, known as the "three limbs of the army." All of the king's bodyguards allegedly set themselves on fire in the funeral pyre of the dead king, according to the Venetian explorer Marco Polo.

Religion and Society During the Chola Dynasty

The Chola kings were devout Saivas. For the Cholas, Shiva was the most important deity, and he had two manifestations. Lingodhbhava, the most recognisable manifestation of Siva, was the Nataraja idol's human form. Saiva Siddhanta, a highly developed philosophical philosophy, was established at this time.

Sanskritization, or the lower-class imitation of upper-class heritage, dates back to the Chola era. The Chola kingdom was characterised by a pervasive caste system, divided into "Idangai" and "Vadangai" in the Chola Dynasty.

Between the Shaivites and the Vaishnavites, violent conflicts broke out. Sati practice evolved into a religious practice, and the "Devadasi" system, a new social ill, became prevalent.

Chola Dynasty: Latest News

Six bronze idols from the Chola Dynasty that were looted from the Nareeswara Sivan temple in Tamil Nadu in the 1960s and are now on display in several museums in the United States have been located thanks to efforts by the Tamil Nadu Idol Wing CID.

  • With the pictures held by the Indo-French Institute, Pondicherry, which had chronicled nine bronze sculptures in 1956, the idols were recently successfully traced to the US. Seven of them were taken fifty years ago.
  • Images of ancient Nataraja, Panchaloha idols of Tripuranthakam, Thirupurasundari, Dakshinamurthy, Saint Sundarar, and his wife Paravai Natchiyaar, long with Veenadhara, were made available by the institute.

Chola Dynasty UPSC

The Chola Dynasty was an early south Indian empire that ruled from the 8th-12th century AD. The topic of the Cholas is frequently asked in UPSC Prelims Questions Papers and the UPSC Mains. To study the topic in-depth, one can refer to the Indian History Notes.

Chola Dynasty UPSC Questions

Question: Which of the following was the capital of the Chola dynasty?

  1. Madurai
  2. Karur
  3. Uraiyaur
  4. Kaveripattnam

Answer: Option C

Question: Which among the following was the royal emblem of the Chola Empire? 

  1. Bow
  2. Tiger
  3. Carp
  4. Fish

Answer: Option B

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Chola Dynasty FAQs

  • The founder of the Chola Dynasty was Vijayalaya. Tanjore was taken by him in 850 AD. There, he built a temple dedicated to the goddess Nishumbhasudini (Durga).

  • The Chola dynasty was one of the longest-reigning dynasties in history and was a Tamil thalassocracy empire 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.

  • The Chola dynasty is said to have its origins in 300 BCE. However, their traces can only be dated back to the 9th century. They ruled for more than 1500 years, making them one of the longest-ruling families in human history. To learn more about the topic, download the Chola Dynasty UPSC Notes from here.

  • The Chola Dynasty was supplanted by the Pandyan and Pallava dynasties in the sixth century. Up until Vijayalaya's ascension in the second part of the ninth century, little is known about what happened to the Cholas during the three centuries that followed.

  • The Cholas' primary residence was Thanjavur (Tanjore). The Chola Empire was founded by Vijayalaya. Within the eighth century, he overthrew the Pallavas, seized control of the Tanjore kingdom, and paved the way for the foundation of the powerful Chola Dynasty.

  • The last ruler of the Chola dynasty is said to be Rajendra Chola III. He lived in obscurity in Gangaikonda Cholapuram until 1279, beyond which point no inscriptions of the Cholas have been discovered. However, there are no confirmed stories that he was killed in the conflict.

  • Temples were the nuclei of settlements during this period. They were the centres of craft production and also controlled the financial aspects related to them. Hence they were not only religious centres but also the hub of economic, social and cultural life as well.

  • The Chola dynasty was overthrown by Malik Kafur. Alauddin Khalji's legendary slave-general Malik Kafur served in the Delhi Sultanate. He was taken prisoner by Alauddin's General Nusrat Khan during the conquest of Gujarat in 1299, and he gained notoriety in the 1300s.

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