The Dravidian style of art and architecture reached its perfection under the Cholas. They built enormous temples. The chief feature of the Chola temple is the vimana. The early Chola temples were found at Narthamalai and Kodumbalur in Pudukottai district and at Srinivasanallur in Tiruchirappalli district. The Big Temple at Tanjore built by Rajaraja I is a master-piece of South Indian art and architecture. It consists of the vimana, ardhamandapa, mahamandapa and a large pavilion in the front known as the Nandimandapa. Another notable contribution made by the Cholas to temple architecture is the Siva temple at Gangaikondacholapuram built by Rajendra I. The Airavathesvara temple at Darasuram in Tanjore District and the Kampaharesvara temple at Tribhuvanam are examples of later Chola temples.
The Cholas also made rich contributions to the art of sculpture. The walls of the Chola temples such as the Tanjore and Gangaikondacholapuram temples contain numerous icons of large size with fine execution. The bronzes of the Chola period
are world-famous. The bronze statues of Nataraja or dancing Siva are master pieces. The Chola paintings were found on the walls of Narthamalai and Tanjore temples.
The Cholas had an excellent system of administration. The emperor or king was at the top of the administration. The extent and resources of the Chola Empire increased the power and prestige of monarchy. The big capital cities like Tanjore and Gangaikondacholapuram, the large royal courts and extensive grants to the temples reveal the authority of the king. They undertook royal tours to increase the efficiency of the administration. There was elaborate administrative machinery comprising various officials called perundanam and sirudanam.
The land revenue department was well organized. It was called as puravuvarithinaikkalam. All lands were carefully surveyed and classified for assessment of revenue. The residential portion of the village was called ur nattam. These and other lands such as the lands belonging to temples were exempted from tax. 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 fines. During the hard times, there were remission of taxes and Kulottunga I became famous by abolishing tolls and earned the title – Sungam Tavirtta Cholan. The main items of government expenditure were the king and his court, army and navy, roads, irrigation tanks and canals.
The Cholas maintained a regular standing army consisting of elephants, cavalry, infantry and navy. About seventy regiments were mentioned in the inscriptions. The royal troops were called Kaikkolaperumpadai. Within this there was a personal troop to defend the king known as Velaikkarar. Attention was given to the training of the army and military cantonments called kadagams existed. The Cholas paid special attention to their navy. The naval achievements of the Tamils reached its climax under the Cholas. They controlled the Malabar and Coromandal coasts. In fact, the Bay of Bengal became a Chola lake for sometime.
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 mandalams. 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.
The system of village autonomy with sabhas and their committees developed through the ages and reached its culmination during the Chola rule. Two inscriptions belonging to the period of Parantaka I found at Uttiramerur provide details of the formation and functions of village councils. That 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:
a. Ownership of at least one fourth veli of land.
b. Own residence.
c. Above thirty years and below seventy years of age.
d. Knowledge of Vedas.
However, certain norms of disqualification were also mentioned in the inscriptions. They were:
a. Those who had been members of the committees for the past three years.
b. Those who had failed to submit accounts as committee members.
c. Those who had committed sins.
d. Those who had stolen the property of others.
From the persons duly nominated, one was to be chosen for each ward by kudavolai system for a year. The names of eligible persons were written on palm-leaves and put into a pot. A young boy or girl would take out thirty names each for one ward. They were divided into six variyams such as samvatsaravariyam, erivariyam, thotta variyam, pancha variyam, pon variyam and puravuvari variyam to take up six different functions of the village administration. The committee members were called variyapperumakkal. They usually met in the temple or under a tree and passed resolutions. The number of committees and ward members varied from village to village.
Caste system was widely prevalent during the Chola period. Brahmins and Kshatriyas enjoyed special privileges. The inscriptions of the later period of the Chola rule mention about two major divisions among the castes – Valangai and Idangai castes. However, there was cooperation among various castes and sub-castes in social and religious life. The position of women did not improve. The practice of ‘sati’ was prevalent among the royal families. The devadasi system or dancing girls attached to temples emerged during this period.
Both Saivism and Vaishnavism continued to flourish during the Chola period. A number of temples were built with the patronage of Chola kings and queens. The temples remained centres of economic activity during this period. The mathas had great influence during this period. Both agriculture and industry flourished. Reclamation of forest lands and the construction and maintenance of irrigation tanks led to agricultural prosperity. The weaving industry, particularly the silk-weaving at Kanchi flourished. The metal works developed owing to great demand of images for temples and utensils. Commerce and trade were brisk with trunk roads or peruvazhis and merchant guilds. Gold, silver and copper coins were issued in plenty at various denominations. Commercial contacts between the Chola Empire and China, Sumatra, Java and Arabia were extensively prevalent. Arabian horses were imported in large numbers to strengthen the cavalry.
Education was also given importance. Besides the temples and mathas as educational centres, several educational institutions also flourished. The inscription at Ennayiram, Thirumukkudal and Thirubhuvanai provide details of the colleges existed in these places. Apart from the Vedas and Epics, subjects like mathematics and medicine were taught in these institutions. Endowment of lands was made to run these institutions.
The development of Tamil literature reached its peak during the Chola period. Sivakasintamani written by Thiruthakkadevar and Kundalakesi belonged to 10th century. The Ramayana composed by Kamban and the Periyapuranam or Tiruttondarpuranam by Sekkilar are the two master-pieces of this age. Jayankondar’s Kalingattupparani describes the Kalinga war fought by Kulotunga I. The Moovarula written by Ottakuthar depicts the life of three Chola kings. The Nalavenba was written by Pugalendi. The works on Tamil grammar like Kalladam by Kalladanar, Yapperungalam by Amirthasagarar, a Jain, Nannul by Pavanandhi and Virasoliyam by Buddhamitra were the products of the Chola age.
Rajendra had demonstrated his military ability by participating in his father’s campaigns. He continued his father’s policy of aggressive conquests and expansion. His important wars were:
1. Mahinda V, the king of Sri Lanka attempted to recover from the Cholas the northern part of Ceylon. Rajendra defeated him and seized the southern Sri Lanka. Thus the whole of Sri Lanka was made part of the Chola Empire. 2. He reasserted the Chola authority over the Chera and Pandya countries.
3. He defeated Jayasimha II, the Western Chalukya king and the river Tungabadhra was recognised as the boundary between the Cholas and Chalukyas.
4. His most famous military enterprise was his expedition to north India. The Chola army crossed the Ganges by defeating a number of rulers on its way. Rajendra defeated Mahipala I of Bengal. 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.
5. Another famous venture of Rajendra was his naval expedition to Kadaram or Sri Vijaya. It is difficult to pin point the real object of the expedition. Whatever its objects were, the naval expedition was a complete success. A number of places were occupied by Chola forces. But it was only temporary and no permanent annexation of these places was contemplated. He assumed the title Kadaramkondan.
6. Rajendra I had put down all rebellions and kept his empire in tact.
At the death of Rajendra I the extent of the Chola Empire was at its peak. The river Tungabadhra was the northern boundary. The Pandya, Kerala and Mysore regions and also Sri Lanka formed part of the empire. He gave his daughter Ammangadevi to the Vengi Chalukya prince and further continued the matrimonial alliance initiated by his father. Rajendra I assumed a number of titles, the most famous being Mudikondan, Gangaikondan, Kadaram Kondan and Pandita Cholan. Like his father he was also a devout Saiva and built a temple for that god at the new capital Gangaikondacholapuram. He made liberal endowments to this temple and to the Lord Nataraja temple at Chidambaram. He was also tolerant towards the Vaishnava and Buddhist sects.
After Rajendra I, the greatness of the Chola power was preserved by rulers like Kulottunga I and Kulottunga III. Kulottunga I was the grandson of Rajendra I through his daughter Ammangadevi. He succeeded the Chola throne and thus united the Vengi kingdom with the Chola Empire. During his reign Sri Lanka became independent. Subsequently, Vengi and the Mysore region were captured by the western Chalukyas. Kulottunga I sent a large embassy of 72 merchants to China and maintained cordial relations with the kingdom of Sri Vijaya. Under Kulottunga III the central authority became weak. The rise of the feudatories like the Kadavarayas and the emergence of the Pandya power as a challenge to Chola supremacy contributed to the ultimate downfall of the Chola Empire. Rajendra III was the last Chola king who was defeated by Jatavarman Sundarapandya II. The Chola country was absorbed into the Pandya Empire.
After the decline of the Sangam period, the Cholas became feudatories in Uraiyur. They became prominent in the ninth century and established an empire comprising the major portion of South India. Their capital was Tanjore. They also extended their sway in Sri Lanka and the Malay Peninsula. Therefore, they are called as the Imperial Cholas. Thousands of inscriptions found in the temples provide detailed information regarding the administration, society, economy and culture of the Chola period. The founder of the Imperial Chola line was Vijayalaya. He captured Tanjore from Muttaraiyars in 815 A.D. and built a temple for Durga. His son Aditya put an end to the Pallava kingdom by defeating Aparajita and annexed Tondaimandalam. Parantaka I was one of the important early Chola rulers. He defeated the Pandyas and the ruler of Ceylon. But he suffered a defeat at the hands of the Rashtrakutas in the famous battle of Takkolam. Parantaka I was a great builder of temples. He also provided the vimana of the famous temple at Chidambaram with a golden roof. The two famous Uttiramerur inscriptions that give a detailed account of the village administration under the Cholas belong to his reign. After a gap of thirty years, the Cholas regained their supremacy under Rajaraja I.
It was under Rajaraja I and his son Rajendra I that the Chola power reached its highest point of glory. His military conquests were:
1. The defeat of the Chera ruler Bhaskararavivarman in the naval battle of Kandalursalai and the destruction of the Chera navy.
2. The defeat of the Pandya ruler, Amarabhujanga and establishment of Chola authority in the Pandya country.
3. The conquest of Gangavadi, Tadigaipadi and Nolambapadi located in the Mysore region.
4. The invasion of Sri Lanka which was entrusted to his son Rajendra I. As the Sri Lankan king Mahinda V fled away from his country, the Cholas annexed the northern Sri Lanka. The capital was shifted from Anuradhapura to Polanaruva where a Shiva temple was built
5. The Chola victory over the growing power of the Western Chalukyas of Kalyani. Satyasraya was defeated and Rajaraja
I captured the Raichur Doab, Banavasi and other places. Hence the Chola power extended up to the river Tungabadhra.
6. The restoration of Vengi throne to its rulers Saktivarman and Vimaladitya by defeating the Telugu Chodas. Rajaraja gave
his daughter Kundavai in marriage to Vimaladitya.
7. Rajaraja’s last military achievement was a naval expedition against the Maldive Islands which were conquered.
By these conquests, the extent of the Chola empire under Rajaraja I included the Pandya, Chera and the Tondaimandalam
regions of Tamil Nadu and the Gangavadi, Nolambapadi and the Telugu Choda territories in the Deccan and the northern part of Ceylon and the Maldive Islands beyond India. Rajaraja assumed a number of titles like Mummidi Chola, Jayankonda and
Sivapadasekara. 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. He also helped in the construction of a Buddhist monastery at Nagapattinam.
The art and architecture of the Rashtrakutas were found at Ellora and Elephanta. At Ellora, the most remarkable temple is the Kailasa temple. It was excavated during the reign of Krishna I. It is carved out of a massive block of rock 200 feet long, and 100 feet in breadth and height. The temple consists of four parts – the main shrine, the entrance gateway, an intermediate shrine for Nandi and mandapa surrounding the courtyard. The temple stands on a lofty plinth 25 feet high.
The central face of the plinth has imposing figures of elephants and lions giving the impression that the entire structure rests on their back. It has a three-tiered sikhara or tower resembling the sikhara of the Mamallapuram rathas. In the interior of the temple there is a pillared hall which has sixteen square pillars. The Kailasa temple is an architectural marvel with it beautiful sculptures. The sculpture of the Goddess Durga is shown as slaying the Buffalo demon. In another sculpture Ravana was making attempts to lift Mount Kailasa, the abode of Siva. The scenes of Ramayana were also depicted on the walls. The general characteristics of the Kailasa temple are more Dravidian.
Elephanta is an island near Bombay. It was originally called Sripuri. The Portuguese after seeing the large figure of an elephant named it Elephanta. The sculptural art of the Rashtrakutas reached its zenith in this place. There is a close similarity between the sculptures at Ellora and those in Elephanta. They might have been carved by the same craftsmen. At the entrance to the sanctum there are huge figures of dwara-palakas. In the walls of the prakara around the sanctum there are niches containing the images of Shiva in various forms – Nataraja, Gangadhara, Ardhanareesvara and Somaskanda. The most imposing figure of this temple is Trimurthi. The sculpture is six metre high. It is said to represent the three aspects of Shiva as Creator, Preserver and Destroyer.
The Rashtrakutas were of Kannada origin and Kannada language was their mother tongue. Dantidurga was the founder of the Rashtrakuta dynasty. He defeated the Gurjaras and captured Malwa from them. Then he annexed the Chalukya kingdom by defeating Kirtivarman II. Thus, the Rashtrakutas became a paramount power in the Deccan.
His successor Krishna I was also a great conqueror. He defeated the Gangas and the eastern Chalukyas of Vengi. He built the magnificent rock-cut monolithic Kailasa temple at Ellora. The next important king of this dynasty was Govinda III. He achieved victories over north Indian kingdoms.
His successor Amoghavarsha I (815- 880 A.D.) ruled for a long period of 64 years. He had lost control over Malwa and Gangavadi. Yet, his reign was popular for the cultural development. He was a follower of Jainism. Jinasena was his chief preceptor. He was also a patron of letters and he himself wrote the famous Kannada work, Kavirajamarga. He had also built the Rashtrakuta capital, the city of Malkhed or Manyakheda.
Among the successors of Amoghavarsha I, Krishna III (936- 968 A.D.) was famous for his expeditions. He marched against the Cholas and defeated them at Takkolam. He marched further south and captured Tanjore. He went as far as Rameswaram and occupied it for sometime. He built several temples in the conquered territories including the Krishneswara temple at Rameswaram. Throughout his reign he possessed the Tondaimandalam region including the capital Kanchi. After his death, the power of the Rashtrakutas declined.
The Rashtrakuta Empire was divided into several provinces called rashtras under the control of rashtrapatis. They were further divided into vishayas or districts governed by vishayapatis. The next subdivision was bhukti consisting of 50 to 70 villages under the control of bhogapatis. These officers were directly appointed by the central government. The village administration was carried on by the village headmen. However, the village assemblies played a significant role in the village administration.
The Hindu sects of Vaishnavism and Saivism flourished during the period of Rashtrakutas. Yet, they did not affect the progress of Jainism under the patronage of Rashtrakuta kings and officers. Almost one third of the population of the Deccan were Jains. There were some prosperous Buddhist settlements at places like Kanheri, Sholapur and Dharwar. There was harmony among various religions. There was a college at Salatogi, situated in modern Bijapur district. An inscription gives details of this educational centre. It was run by the income from the endowments made by the rich as well as by all the villagers on occasions of functions and festivals. The economy was also in a flourishing condition. There was an active commerce between the Deccan and the Arabs. The Rashtrakuta kings promoted the Arab trade by maintaining friendship with them.
The Rashtrakutas widely patronized the Sanskrit literature. There were many scholars in the Rashtrakuta court. Trivikrama wrote Nalachampu and the Kavirahasya was composed by Halayudha during the reign of Krishna III. The Jain literature flourished under the patronage of the Rashtrakutas. Amogavarsha I, who was a Jain patronized many Jain scholars. His teacher Jinasena composed Parsvabhudaya, a biography of Parsva in verses. Another scholar Gunabhadra wrote the Adipurana, the life stories of various Jain saints. Sakatayana wrote the grammer work called Amogavritti.
The great mathematician of this period, Viracharya was the author of Ganitasaram. The Kannada literature saw its beginning during the period of the Rashtrakutas. Amogavarsha’s Kavirajamarga was the first poetic work in Kannada language. Pampa was the greatest of the Kannada poets. His famous work was Vikramasenavijaya. Ponna was another famous Kannada poet and he wrote Santipurana.
The Chalukyas were great patrons of art. They developed the vesara style in the building of structural temples. However, the vesara style reached its culmination only under the Rashtrakutas and the Hoysalas. The structural temples of the Chalukyas exist at Aihole, Badami and Pattadakal. Cave temple architecture was also famous under the Chalukyas. Their cave temples are found in Ajanta, Ellora and Nasik.
The best specimens of Chalukya paintings can be seen in the Badami cave temple and in the Ajanta caves. The reception given to a Persian embassy by Pulakesin II is depicted in a painting at Ajantha. The Chalukya temples may be divided into two stages. The first stage is represented by the temples at Aihole and Badami. Among the seventy temples found at Aihole, four are important.
Among the temples at Badami, the Muktheeswara temple and the Melagutti Sivalaya are notable for their architectural beauty. A group of four rock-cut temples at Badami are marked by high workmanship. The walls and pillared halls are adorned by beautiful images of gods and human beings.
The second stage is represented by the temples at Pattadakal. There are ten temples here, four in the northern style andthe remaining six in the Dravidian style. The Papanatha temple is the most notable in the northern style. The Sangamesvara temple and the Virupaksha temple are famous for their Dravidian style. The Virupaksha temple is built on the model of the Kailasanatha temple at Kanchipuram. It was built by one of the queens of Vikramaditya II. Sculptors brought from Kanchi were employed in its construction.
Besides the Pallavas, the Western Chalukyas and the Rashtrakutas in the Deccan constitute important political forces. Both these kingdoms had their rivals in the far south, namely the Pallavas and later the Cholas. Their period has also been important in the history of India for their cultural contributions.
The Western Chalukyas ruled over an extensive area in the Deccan for about two centuries after which the Rashtrakutas became powerful. The family of Western Chalukyas had its offshoots like the Eastern Chalukyas of Vengi and the Chalukyas of Kalyani. Pulakesin I was the founder of the Chalukya dynasty. He established a small kingdom with Vatapi or Badami as its capital.
The most important ruler of this dynasty was Pulakesin II. The Aihole inscription issued by him gives the details of his reign. He fought with the Kadambas of Banavasi and the Gangas of Mysore and established his suzerainty. Durvinita, the Ganga ruler accepted his overlordship and even gave his daughter in marriage to Pulakesin II. Another notable achievement of Pulakesin II was the defeat of Harshavardhana on the banks of the river Narmada. He put a check to the ambition of Harsha to conquer the south. In his first expedition against the Pallavas, Pulakesin II emerged victorious. But he suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of Narasimhavarman I near Kanchi. Subsequently, the Chalukya capital Vatapi was captured and destroyed by the Pallavas. The most important event in the reign of Pulakesin II was the visit of Hiuen Tsang to his kingdom.
The successor of Pulakesin II was Vikramaditya. He once again consolidated the Chalukya kingdom and plundered the Pallava capital, Kanchi. Thus he had avenged his father’s defeat and death at the hands of the Pallavas. Kirtivarman II was the last of the rulers of the Chalukyas. He was defeated by Dantidurga, the founder of the Rashtrakuta dynasty.
The Chalukya administration was highly centralized unlike that of the Pallavas and the Cholas. Village autonomy was absent under the Chalukyas. The Chalukyas had a great maritime power. Pulakesin II had 100 ships in his navy. They also had a small standing army.
The Badami Chalukyas were Brahmanical Hindus but they gave respect to other religions. Importance was given to Vedic rites and rituals. The founder of the dynasty Pulakesin I performed the asvamedha sacrifice. A number of temples in honour of Vishnu, Siva and other gods were also built during this period. Hiuen Tsang mentioned about the decline of Buddhism in western Deccan. But Jainism was steadily on the path of progress in this region. Ravikirti, the court poet of Pulakesin II who composed the Aihole inscription was a Jain.
The spread of Indian culture and civilization to the other parts of Asia constitutes an important chapter in the history of India. India had established commercial contacts with other countries from the earliest times. (more…)
It was a great age of temple building. The Pallavas introduced the art of excavating temples from the rock. In fact, the Dravidian style of temple architecture began with the Pallava rule. (more…)