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The Chola Adminstration

Chola Adminstration


  • Historians have debated the nature of the Chola state.
  • Clearly, it was presided over by a hereditary monarchy.
  • The king is presented in glowing terms in the literature and inscriptions of the period.
  • Venerated on par with god.
  • The kings were invariably addressed as peruman or perumagan (big man), ulagudaiyaperumal (the lord of the world) and ulagudaiyanayanar (the lord of the world).
  • Later, they adopted the titles such as Chakkaravarti (emperor) and Tiribhuvana Chakkaravarti (emperor of three worlds).
  • At the time of coronation, it was a practice to add the suffix deva to the name of the crowned kings.
  • The kings drew legitimacy by claiming that they were a comrade of god (thambiran thozhar).
  • Chola rulers appointed as spiritual preceptors Brahmins or rajagurus (the kingdom’s guide).
  • Rajaraja I and Rajendra I mention the names of rajagurus and Sarva-sivas in their inscriptions.
  • Patronising Brahmins was seen to enhance their prestige and legitimacy.
  • Chola kings therefore granted huge estates of land to Brahmins as brahmadeyams and chturvedimangalams (pronounced chaturvedi-mangalam).


  • As mentioned earlier, the territories of the Chola state had been expanding steadily even from the time of Vijayalaya.
  • At the time of conquest, these areas were under the control of minor chiefs described by historians as “feudatories”.
  • Rajaraja I integrated these territories and appointed “viceroys” in these regions: Chola-Pandya in Pandinadu, CholaLankeswara in Sri Lanka, which was renamed as Mummudi-cholamandalam, and Chola-Ganga in the Gangavadi region of southern Karnataka.
  • In other less prominent regions, the territories of chiefs such as the Irukkuvels, Ilangovels or Mazhavas or Banas were made part of the Chola state and their chiefs were inducted into the state system as its functionaries.


  • Cholas maintained a well-organised army.
  • The army consisted of three conventional divisions: infantry, cavalry (kudirai sevagar) and the elephant corps (anaiyatkal).
  • There were also bowmen (villaligal), sword-bearers (valilar) and spearmen (konduvar).
  • Two type of ranks in the army are also mentioned: the upper and the lower (perundanam and cirudanam).
  • According to a Chinese geographer of the 13th century, the Chola army owned “sixty thousand war elephants that, when fighting, carried on their backs houses, and these houses are full of soldiers who shoot arrows at long range, and fight with spears at close quarters”.
  • The overseas exploits of the Cholas are well known and it led historians to refer to their navy “with numberless ships”.
  • Generally, soldiers enjoyed padaipparru (military holding) rights.
  • Cantonments, which were established in the capital city, were known as padaividu.
  • Military outposts in the conquered territory were called nilaipadai.
  • The captain of a regiment was known as nayagam and later he assumed the title of padaimudali.
  • The commander-in-chief was senapati and dandanayagam.

Local Organisation

  • Various locality groups functioned actively in the Chola period.
  • These were bodies such as Urar, Sabhaiyar, Nagarattar and Nattar.
  • They were relatively autonomous organisations of the respective groups.
  • They are considered the building blocks using which the edifice of the Chola state was built.


  • With the expansion of agriculture, numerous peasant settlements came up in the countryside.
  • They were known as ur.
  • The urar, who were landholders in the village, acted as spokesmen in the ur.
  • The urar were entrusted with the upkeep of temples, maintenance of the tanks and managing the water stored in them.
  • They also discharged administrative functions of the state such as collection of revenue, maintenance of law and order, and obeying the king’s orders.


  • If the ur was a settlement of land holders, largely consisting of peasants of vellanvagai, the brahmadeya was a Brahmin settlement.
  • The Sabha looked after the affairs of the settlement, including those of the temples at the core of brahmadeya and its assets.
  • It was also responsible for maintaining irrigation tanks attached to the temple lands.
  • Like the ur, the Sabha also functioned as the agents of the state in carrying out administrative, fiscal and judicial functions.


  • Nagaram was a settlement of traders.
  • However, skilled artisans engaged in masonry, ironsmithing, goldsmithing, weaving and pottery also occupied the settlement.
  • It was represented by the Nagarattaar, who regulated their association with temples, which needed their financial assistance.
  • In the reign of Rajaraja I, Mamallapuram was administrated by a body called Maanagaram.
  • Local goods were exchanged in nagarams.
  • These goods included silk, porcelain, camphor, cloves, sandalwood and cardamom according to Chinese accounts.
  • In order to promote trade, inland and sea way, Kulotunga revoked the collection of toll fee (sungam).
  • Hence he was conferred the title ‘Sungam Thavirtha Chozhan’.


  • Nadu was a grouping of several urs, excluding brahmadeyas formed around irrigation sources such as canals and tanks.
  • Nattar (literally those belonging to the nadu) were the assembly of landholders of vellanvagai villages (urs) in nadu.
  • Nattar functioned as pillars of the state structure under the Cholas.
  • They discharged many of the administrative, fiscal and judicial responsibilities of the state.
  • They held hereditary land rights and were responsible for remitting the tax from the respective nadu to the state.
  • Landholders of the nadu held the honorific titles such as asudaiyan (possessor of land), araiyan (leader) and kilavan (headman).
  • There were functionaries such as the naattukanakku and nattuviyavan, recording the proceedings of the Nattar.

Local Elections and Uttaramerur Inscriptions : Two inscriptions (919 and 921) from a Brahmadeya (tax-free land gifted to Brahamans) called Uttaramerur (historically called Uttaramallur Caturvedimangalam) give details of the process of electing members to various committees that administered the affairs of a Brahmin settlement. This village was divided into 30 wards. One member was to be elected from each ward. These members would become members of different committees: public works committee, tank committee, garden committee, famine committee and gold committee. The prescribed qualifications for becoming a ward member were clearly spelt out. A male, above 35 but below 70, having a share of property and a house of his own, with knowledge of Vedas and bhasyas was considered eligible. The names of qualified candidates from each ward were written on the palmleaf slips and put into a pot (kudavolai).The eldest of the assembly engaged a boy to pull out one slip and would read the name of the person selected.

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