Raja Raja Chola I

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Raja Raja Chola I
Mummudi Cholan[3]
Rajaraja Statue.jpg
Modern statue of Rajaraja I in Thanjavur
Reignc. 985 – c. 1014 AD
PredecessorUthama Chola
SuccessorRajendra Chola I
BornArulmozhi Varman[4]
September/October 947
Died1014 (aged 66–67)
DynastyChola Dynasty
FatherSundara Chola

Raja Raja Chola I, born as Arulmozhi Varman,[4] was a Chola emperor from present day south India who ruled over the Chola kingdom of medieval Tamil Nadu (parts of southern India), parts of northern India, two thirds of Sri Lankan territory, Maldives and parts of East Asia, between 985 and 1014 CE. During his reign, the Cholas expanded beyond the Kaveri delta[6][7] with their domains stretching from Sri Lanka in the south to Kalinga (modern-day Odisha) in the north. Raja Raja also launched several naval campaigns on the ports of Malabar Coast (Kerala), Maldives and Sri Lanka.[8][9]

Raja Raja built the Peruvudaiyar Koyil in Thanjavur, one of the largest Hindu temples.[10] During his reign, the texts of the Tamil poets Appar, Sambandar and Sundarar were collected and edited into one compilation called Thirumurai.[7][11] He initiated a massive project of land survey and assessment in 1000 AD which led to the reorganisation of the country into individual units known as valanadus.[12][13] Raja Raja Chola died in 1014 AD and was succeeded by his son Rajendra Chola.


Peruvudaiyar Koyil inscription reading "Raja Raja"

Raja Raja was born in 947 AD in Aipassi month on the day of Sadhayam star.[14] He was the third child of Parantaka Sundara Chola and Vanavan Maha Devi of the Velir dynasty and was named Arulmozhi Varman.[15][16] He had an elder brother Aditya Karikalan and an elder sister Kundavai.[17] Aditya Karikalan, the crown prince was assassinated in suspicious circumstances in 969.[18] After the death of Aditya, Sundara Chola announced that Uttama Chola will succeed him to the throne. Arulmozhivarman ascended the throne after the death of Uttama Chola in 985.[18] The Thiruvalangadu copper-plate inscriptions state that Raja Raja was elected through a democratic process followed by the Cholas.[19]

Raja Raja's adopted name Raja Raja literally means "King of Kings". He was also known as Rajaraja Sivapada Sekhara (he who had the feet of Lord Shiva as his crown).[20] His elder sister Kundavai Pirāttiyār assisted Raja Raja in administration and management of temples.[21] Raja Raja had at least four queens including Thiripuvāna Mādēviyār, Ulaga Madeviyar and Panchavan Madeviyar[22][23][24] and at least three daughters. He had a son Rajendra with Thiripuvāna Mādēviyār.[25][26][27] He had his first daughter Kundavai with Ulaga Madeviyar. Kundavai married Chalukya prince Vimaladithan. He had two other daughters named Mathevadigal[citation needed] and Ģangamādevi or Arumozhi Chandramalli.[24] Raja Raja died in 1014 AD in the Tamil month of Maka and was succeeded by Rajendra Chola I.[28]

Chola empire during the reign of Raja Raja I

Military conquests[edit]

Raja Raja created a powerful standing army and a considerable navy. A number of regiments are mentioned in the Thanjavur inscriptions.[29][30] These regiments were divided into elephant troops, cavalry and infantry and each of these regiments had its own autonomy and was free to endow benefactions or build temples.[29]

Early campaigns[edit]

Raja Raja attacked the Brahmin salai at Kandalur (near the port Vizhinjam) in 988 AD. The salai - originally belonged to the Ay vassals of the Pandya king - was under influence of the Chera kings of Kodungallur at the time. The engagement is seems to be an effort of the Chola navy or a combined effort of the navy and the army.[9] The first known Chola raids in Malai Nadu after this isolated incident can be dated as early as 998 AD.[9] The Pandyas, Cheras and the Sinhalas allied against the Cholas.[31][32] Rajaraja defeated Amarabhujanga (either a Pandya or a Kongu-Chera prince) while his general captured the port of Vizhinjam (Kandalur). To commemorate these conquests, Rajaraja assumed the title Mummudi Chola, a title used by Tamil kings who ruled the three kingdoms of Cholas, Pandyas and Cheras.[33][34]

Sometimes after c. 1002 AD, the Cholas forces conducted a campaign in the Chera kingdom. Three years later he defeated the chiefs of Venadu (Kurakkeni Kollam) and Kolathunadu (Panthalayani Kollam) and the Chera king at Kodungallur. In 1008 AD, the Cholas captured the fort of Udagai (Udagai or Kodungallur?[9]) from Cheras and Rajendra Chola I led the Chola army in this battle.[35] The Chera kingdom eventually became a tribute-paying vassal of Tanjore in c. 1018 AD.[9]

Conquest of Sri Lanka[edit]

Mahinda V was the king of Sinhalese. In 991 AD, Mahinda’s army mutinied with help from mercenaries from Kerala with Mahinda seeking refuge in the southern region of Ruhuna. Raja Raja invaded Sri Lanka in 993 AD. The Thiruvalangadu copper-plate inscriptions mention that Raja Raja’s army crossed the ocean by ships and destroyed Anuradhapura, the 1400-year-old capital of Sinhalas. Cholas made the city of Polonnaruwa as the capital and renamed it Jananathamangalam. Rajaraja built a Siva temple in Pollonaruwa to commemorate the victory.[36] Raja Raja captured only the northern part of Sri Lanka while the southern part remained independent. His son Rajendra Chola captured the island in 1017 AD and the Chola reign in Sri Lanka was ended by Vijayabahu I in 1070 AD.[37][38]

Chalukyan conflict[edit]

In 998 AD, Raja Raja captured the regions of Gangapadi, Nolambapadi and Tadigaipadi (present day Karnataka).[39] Raja Chola extinguished the Nolambas, who were the feudatories of Ganga while conquering and annexing Nolambapadi.[40] The conquered provinces were originally feudatories of the Rashtrakutas.[41][42] In 973 AD, the Rashtrakutas were defeated by the Western Chalukyas leading to direct conflict with Cholas.[43] An inscription of Irivabedanga Satyashraya from Dharwar describes him as a vassal of the Western Chalukyas and acknowledges the Chola onslaught.[44] In the same inscription, he accuses Rajendra of having arrived with a force of 955,000 and of having gone on rampage in Donuwara thereby blurring the moralities of war as laid out in the Dharmasastras.[45] Historians like James Heitzman and Wolfgang Schenkluhn conclude that this confrontation displayed the degree of animosity on a personal level between the rulers of the Chola and the Chalukya kingdoms drawing a parallel between the enmity between the Chalukyas of Badami and the Pallavas of Kanchi.[46][47]

There were encounters between the Cholas and the Hoysalas, who were vassals of the Western Chalukyas. An inscription from the Gopalakrishna temple at Narasipur dated to 1006 records that Rajaraja's general Aprameya killed minister Naganna and other generals of the Hoysalas.[48] A similar inscription in Channapatna also describes Raja Raja defeating the Hoysalas.[49] Vengi kingdom was ruled by Jata Choda Bhima of the Eastern Chalukyas dynasty.[43] Jata Choda Bhima was defeated by Raja Raja and Saktivarman was placed on the throne of Vengi as a viceroy of the Chola Dynasty.[43][50] After the withdrawal of the Chola army, Bhima captured Kanchi in 1001 AD. Raja Raja expelled and killed the Andhra king called Bhima before re-establishing Saktivarman I on the throne of Vengi again.[51] Raja Raja gave his daughter Kundavai in marriage to his next viceroy of Vengi Vimaladitya which brought about the union of the Chola Dynasty and the Eastern Chalukya Kingdom and which also ensured that the descendants of Raja Raja Chola would rule the Eastern Chalukya kingdom in the future.[50]

Statue of Rajaraja, Tamil Nadu, 20th century

Kalinga conquest[edit]

The invasion of the kingdom of Kalinga occurred after the conquest of Vengi.[52]

Naval expedition[edit]

One of the last conquests of Raja Raja was the naval conquest of the islands of Maldives ("the Old Islands of the Sea Numbering 1200").[53] [54] The control of the island of Maldives, up to this day, remain strategically crucial for any state with economic interests in the Indian Ocean trade. The naval campaign was also a demonstration of the Chola naval power in the Indian [9]

The Cholas controlled the area around of Bay of Bengal with Nagapattinam as the main port. The Chola Navy also had played a major role in the invasion of Sri Lanka.[55] The success of Raja Raja allowed his son Rajendra Chola to lead the Chola invasion of Srivijaya, carrying out naval raids in South-East Asia and briefly occupying Kadaram.[6][56]


Mural depicting Raja Raja and his guru Karuvuruvar found in the Brihadeesvara temple, Tamil Nadu, 11th century.[57][58][59]

Before the reign of Raja Raja I, parts of the Chola territory were ruled by hereditary lords and princes who were in a loose alliance with the Chola rulers.[60] Raja Raja initiated a project of land survey and assessment in 1000 AD which led to the reorganization of the empire into units known as valanadus.[12][13] From the reign of Raja Raja Chola I until the reign of Vikrama Chola in 1133 AD, the hereditary lords and local princes were either replaced or turned into dependent officials.[60] This led to the king exercising a closer control over the different parts of the empire.[60] Rajaraja strengthened the local self-government and installed a system of audit and control by which the village assemblies and other public bodies were held to account while retaining their autonomy.[61][62][63] To promote trade, he sent the first Chola mission to China.[64]


Rajendra Chola I was made a co-regent during the last years of Raja Raja’s rule. He was the supreme commander of the northern and north-western dominions. During the reign of Raja Chola, there was an expansion of the administrative structure leading to the increase in the number of offices and officials in the Chola records than during earlier periods.[12] Villavan Muvendavelan, one of the top officials of Raja Raja figures in many of his inscriptions.[65] The other names of officials found in the inscriptions are the Bana prince Narasimhavarman, a general Senapathi Krishnan Raman, the Samantha chief Vallavaraiyan Vandiyadevan, the revenue official Irayiravan Pallavarayan and Kuruvan Ulagalandan, who organised the country-wide land surveys.[66]

Religious policy[edit]

Raja Raja was a follower of Shaivism but he was tolerant towards other faiths and had several temples for Vishnu constructed and encouraged the construction of the Buddhist Chudamani Vihara at the request of the Srivijaya king Sri Maravijayatungavarman. Rajaraja dedicated the proceeds of the revenue from the village of Anaimangalam towards the upkeep of this Vihara.[67]

Arts and architecture[edit]

Raja Raja Chola embarked on a mission to recover the hymns after hearing short excerpts of Thevaram in his court.[68] He sought the help of Nambi Andar Nambi.[69] It is believed that by divine intervention Nambi found the presence of scripts, in the form of cadijam leaves half eaten by white ants in a chamber inside the second precinct in Thillai Nataraja Temple, Chidambaram.[70][69] The brahmanas (Dikshitars) in the temple opposed the mission, but Rajaraja intervened by consecrating the images of the saint-poets through the streets of Chidambaram.[70][71] Rajaraja thus became to be known as Tirumurai Kanda Cholan meaning one who saved the Tirumurai.[71] Thus far Shiva temples only had images of god forms, but after the advent of Rajaraja, the images of the Nayanar saints were also placed inside the temple.[71] Nambi arranged the hymns of three saint poets Sambandar, Appar and Sundarar as the first seven books, Manickavasagar's Tirukovayar and Tiruvacakam as the 8th book, the 28 hymns of nine other saints as the 9th book, the Tirumandiram of Tirumular as the 10th book, 40 hymns by 12 other poets as the 10th book, Tirutotanar Tiruvanthathi - the sacred anthathi of the labours of the 63 nayanar saints and added his own hymns as the 11th book.[72] The first seven books were later called as Tevaram, and the whole Saiva canon, to which was added, as the 12th book, Sekkizhar's Periya Puranam (1135) is wholly known as Tirumurai, the holy book. Thus Saiva literature which covers about 600 years of religious, philosophical and literary development.[72]

Peruvudaiyar Temple[edit]

Brihadeswara Temple built by Raja Raja I, a UNESCO World Heritage Site

In 1010 AD, Raja Raja built the Peruvudaiyar Temple in Thanjavur dedicated to Lord Shiva. The temple and the capital acted as a center of both religious and economic activity.[73] It is also known as Periya Kovil, RajaRajeswara Temple and Rajarajeswaram.[74][75] It is one of the largest temples in India and is an example of Dravidian architecture during the Chola period.[76] The temple turned 1000 years old in 2010.[77] The temple is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site known as the "Great Living Chola Temples", with the other two being the Gangaikonda Cholapuram and Airavatesvara temple.[78]

The vimanam (temple tower) is 216 ft (66 m) high and is the tallest in the world. The Kumbam (the apex or the bulbous structure on the top) of the temple is carved out of a single rock and weighs around 80 tons.[79] There is a big statue of Nandi (sacred bull), carved out of a single rock measuring about 16 feet long and 13 feet high at the entrance. The entire temple structure is made out of granite, the nearest sources of which are about 60 km to the west of temple. The temple is one of the most visited tourist attractions in Tamil Nadu.[80]


Before the reign of Raja Raja Chola the Chola coins had on the obverse the tiger emblem and the fish and bow emblems of the Pandya and Chera Dynasties and on the reverse the name of the King. But during the reign of Raja Raja Chola appeared a new type of coins. The new coins had on the obverse the figure of the standing king and on the reverse the seated goddess.[81] The coins spread over a great part of South India and were also copied by the kings of Sri Lanka.[82]


A typical lithic inscription of the Chola period

Due to Raja Raja's desire to record his military achievements, he recorded the important events of his life in stones. An inscription in Tamil from Mulbagal in Karnataka shows his accomplishments as early as the 19th year. An excerpt from such a Meikeerthi, an inscription recording great accomplishments, follows:[83]


ஸ்வஸ்திஸ்ரீ் திருமகள் போல பெருநில
பெருநிலச் செல்வியுந் தனக்கேயுரிமை
கேயுரிமை பூண்டமை மனக்கொளக்
காந்தளூர்ச் சாலைக் களமறூத்தருளி வேங்கை
உடையார் ஸ்ரீராஜராஜ தேவர்
Excerpts of Rajaraja's inscription from Brihadeeswara Temple in Thanjavur (first line in every image)

Rajaraja recorded all the grants made to the Thanjavur temple and his achievements. He also preserved the records of his predecessors. An inscription of his reign found at Tirumalavadi records an order of the king to the effect that the central shrine of the Vaidyanatha temple at the place should be rebuilt and that, before pulling down the walls, the inscriptions engraved on them should be copied in a book. The records were subsequently re-engraved on the walls from the book after the rebuilding was finished.[87]

Another inscription from Gramardhanathesvara temple in South Arcot district dated in the seventh year of the king refers to the fifteenth year of his predecessor that is Uttama Choladeva described therein as the son of Sembiyan-Madeviyar.[88]

In popular culture[edit]

  • Rajaraja Cholan, a 1973 Tamil film starring Sivaji Ganesan[89]
  • Ponniyin Selvan by Kalki revolves around the life of Raja Raja Chola, the mysteries surrounding the assassination of Aditya Karikalan and the subsequent accession of Uttama to the Chola throne[90]
  • Nandipurathu Nayagi by Vembu Vikiraman revolves around the ascension of Uttama Chola to the throne and Raja Raja's naval expedition
  • Rajaraja Cholan by Kathal Ramanathan
  • Udaiyar by Balakumaran
  • Kandalur Vasantha Kumaran Kathai by Sujatha which deal with the situations leading Raja Raja to invade Kandalur
  • Rajakesari and Cherar Kottai by Gokul Seshadri deal with the Kandalur invasion and its after-effects
  • Bharat Ek Khoj, a 1988 historical drama in its episodes 22 and 23 portrays Raj Raja Chola.[91]
  • Kaviri Mainthan, a 2007 novel by Anusha Venkatesh

See also[edit]


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External links[edit]

Preceded by
Uttama Chola
Raja Raja Chola I
Succeeded by
Rajendra Chola I