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The Cholas – Origin, Sources & Territory


  • The Cholas belonged to one of the three mighty dynasties that ruled the Tamizh country in the early historical period.
  • Described as the Muvendhar in the Sangam literature, they were known for the valour and for their patronage of the Tamil language.
  • Many songs were composed in high praise of their glories.
  • However, after the Sangam period until about the ninth century CE, there are no records about them.
  • Changes that overtook Tamizhagam in the intervening period brought about a major transformation of the region and enabled the emergence of big, long-lasting monarchical states.
  • The Cholas were one among them.
  • The river valleys facilitated the expansion of agriculture leading to the emergence of powerful kingdoms.
  • The agricultural boom resulted in the production of surplus food grains.
  • But this surplus in production resulted in unequal distribution of wealth.
  • Society gradually became highly differentiated unlike in the earlier period.
  • Institutions and ideas from the north of India, such as the temple and the religion it represented, emerged as a new force.
  • The Bhakti movement led by the Nayanmars and Azhwars popularised the ideology and the faith they represented.
  • Similarly, political ideas and institutions that originated in the northern India soon found their way to the south as well.
  • The cumulative result of all the new developments was the formation of a state, which in this case was a monarchy presided over by the descendants of the old Chola lineage.
  • After the eclipse of the Chola kingdom, Pandyas, who began their rule in the Vaigai river basin at Madurai, wielded tremendous power during the 14th century.
  • Like the Cholas, the Pandyas also realised substantial revenue from agriculture as well as from trade.
  • Trade expansion overseas continued in the Pandya rule.
  • Tirunelveli region, which was part of the Pandyan kingdom, exported grain, cotton, cotton cloth and bullocks to the Malabar coast and had trade contacts with West and Southeast Asia.
  • Pandya kings produced a cultural heritage by synthesising the religious, cultural and political elements, and it differed totally with the assumed homogeneity of classical age of Guptas.


Origin of the Dynasty

  • Records available to us after the Sangam Age show that the Cholas remained as subordinates to the Pallavas in the Kaveri region.
  • The re-emergence of Cholas began with Vijayalaya (850–871 CE) conquering the Kaveri delta from Muttaraiyar.
  • He built the city of Thanjavur and established the Chola kingdom in 850.
  • Historians, therefore, refer to them as the Later Cholas or Imperial Cholas.
  • In the copper plate documents of his successors that are available, the Cholas trace their ancestry to the Karikala, the most well-known of the Cholas of the Sangam age.
  • In their genealogy an eponymous king ‘Chola’ is mentioned as the progenitor.
  • The names of Killi, Kochenganan and Karikalan are mentioned as members of the line in these copper plates.
  • Vijayalaya’s illustrious successors starting from Parantaka I (907–955) to Kulothunga III (1163–1216) brought glory and fame to the Cholas.
  • Parantaka Chola set the tone for expansion of the territory and broadened the base of its governance, and Rajaraja I (985–1014), the builder of the most beautiful Brihadishvara temple at Thanjavur, and his son Rajendra I (1014–1044),whose naval operation extended as far as Sri Vijaya, consolidated the advances made by their predecessors and went on to establish Chola hegemony in peninsular India.


  • More than 10,000 inscriptions engraved on copper and stone form the primary sources for the study of Chola history.
  • The inscriptions mainly record the endowments and donations to temples made by rulers and other individuals.
  • Land transactions and taxes (both collections and exemptions) form an important part of their content.
  • Later-day inscriptions make a mention of the differentiation in society, giving an account of the castes and sub-castes and thus providing us information on the social structure.
  • Besides stone inscriptions, copper plates contain the royal orders.
  • They also contain details of genealogy, wars, conquests, administrative divisions, local governance, land rights and various taxes levied.
  • Literature also flourished under the Cholas.
  • The important religious works in Tamil include codification of the Saivite and Vaishnavite canons.
  • The quasihistorical literary works Kalingattupparani and Kulotungancholan Pillai Tamizh were composed during their reign.
  • Muvarula, and Kamba Ramayanam, the great epic, belong to this period.
  • Neminatam, Viracholiyam and Nannul are noted grammatical works.
  • Pandikkovai and Takkayagapparani are other important literary works composed during this period.


  • Traditionally, the area under the Chola dynasty in the Tamizh country is known as Chonadu or Cholanadu.
  • Their core kingdom was concentrated in the Kaveri-fed delta called Cholamandalam.
  • This term came to be corrupted as “Coromandel” in the European languages, which often referred to the entire eastern coast of South India.
  • The Chola kingdom expanded through military conquests to include present-day Pudukkottai – Ramanathapuram districts and the Kongu country of the present-day western Tamil Nadu.
  • By the 11th century, through invasions, Cholas extended their territory to Tondainadu or the northern portion of the Tamizh country, Pandinadu or the southern portions of the Tamizh country, Gangaivadi or portions of southern Karnataka and Malaimandalam, the Kerala territory.
  • The Cholas ventured overseas conquering the north-eastern parts of Sri Lanka, bringing it under their control and they called it Mummudi-Cholamandalam.

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