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Rajaraja I

Rajaraja I
Mummudi Cholan[3]
Rajaraja Statue.jpg
Modern statue of Rajaraja Cholan in Thanjavur
Reignc. 985 – c. 1014
PredecessorUttama Chola
SuccessorRajendra Chola I
BornArunmoḷi Varman
c. 947
Died1014 (aged 66–67)
DynastyChola Dynasty
FatherSundara Chola

Rajaraja I, born Arulmoḷi Varman[3][4] (also transliterated as Arulmozhi Varman[5]), 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. Rajaraja also launched several naval campaigns on the ports of Malabar Coast (Kerala), Maldives and Sri Lanka.[8][9]

Rajaraja built the Brihadisvara Temple or Peruvudaiyar Kovil 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 CE which led to the reorganisation of the country into individual units known as valanadus.[12][13] Rajaraja died in 1014 CE and was succeeded by his son Rajendra Chola I.

Early life

Brihadisvara Temple inscription reading "Rajaraja"

According to the Thiruvalangadu copper-plate inscription, Rajaraja's original name was Arulmoḷi (also transliterated as Arulmozhi) Varman, literally "blessed tongued".[3][5] He was born around 947 CE in the Aipassi month, on the day of Sadhayam star.[14] He was a son of the Chola king Parantaka II (alias Sundara) and queen Vanavan Mahadevi.[15] He had an elder brother - Aditya II,[4] and an elder sister - Kundavai.[16]

Rajaraja's ascension ended a period of rival claims to the throne, following the death of his grandfather Parantaka I. After Parantaka I, his son Gandaraditya ascended the throne. When Gandaraditya died, his son Uttama was a minor, so the throne passed on to Parantaka I's younger son Arinjaya. Arinjaya died soon, and was succeeded by his son Parantaka II. It was decided that the throne would pass on to Uttama after Parantaka II: this decision was most probably that of Parantaka II, although the Thiruvalangadu inscription of Rajaraja's son Rajendra I claims that it was made by Rajaraja.[4]

Rajaraja's elder brother died before him, and after the death of Uttama, Rajaraja ascended the throne in June–July 985.[4] Known as Arumoḷi Varman until this point, he adopted the name Rajaraja, which literally means "King among Kings".[17] He also called himself Shivapada Shekhara (IAST: Śivapada Śekhara), literally, "the one who places his crown at the feet of Shiva".[18]

Chola empire during the reign of Rajaraja I

Military conquests

Rajaraja inherited a kingdom whose boundaries were limited to the traditional Chola territory centred around Thanjavur-Tiruchirappalli region.[3] At the time of his ascension, the Chola kingdom was relatively small, and was still recovering from the Rashtrakuta invasions in the preceding years. Rajaraja turned it into an efficiently-administered empire which possessed a powerful army and a strong navy. During his reign, the northern kingdom of Vengi became a Chola protectorate, and the Chola influence on the eastern coast extended as far as Kalinga in the north.[4]

A number of regiments are mentioned in the Thanjavur inscriptions.[19][20] 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.[19]

Against Cheras and Pandyas

The first known Chola raids in Malai Nadu, the mountainous region of Kerala, can be dated as early as 998 CE.[9] The earliest of Rajaraja's campaign appears to have been an invasion of the Chera kingdom: the inscriptions issued during his fourth regnal year (989 CE) call him "the one who destroyed ships at Kandalur-Salai" (Kandalur-Salaik-kalamarutta).[21] Kandalur (or Kanthalur) is identified with present-day Valiasala in Kerala;[22] the Salai (or "shala", a centre of learning) there apparently specialized in military training.[23] The Salai originally belonged to the Ay vassals of the Pandya king, but was under the influence of the Chera kings of Kodungallur during Rajaraja's time. The engagement seemed to be an effort of the Chola navy or a combined effort of the navy and the army.[9] A Tamil language prashasti (eulogy) inscription on a 999 CE hero stone, discovered in 2009 at Chengam, mentions that Rajaraja beheaded the Malai Alargal, the Chera warriors of Kandalur-Salai. It also states that Rajaraja split into two a royal Chera naval vessel, destroyed several boats, and built a mandapa at Kandalur Salai.[22] Historian K. A. Nilakanta Sastri theorizes that the contemporary Chera ruler was Bhaskara Ravi Varman Tiruvadi.[21]

The Chola army also attacked Vilinda (or Vilinam; present-day Vizhinjam), a maritime fortress and port near Kandalur Salai.[24] After Rajaraja's death, in c. 1018 CE, the Chera kingdom eventually became a tributary to the Cholas.[9]

A 1005 CE inscription of Rajaraja states that he destroyed the Pandya capital Madurai; conquered the "haughty kings" of Kollam, Kolla-desham, and Kodungallur in present-day Kerala; and that the "kings of the sea" waited on him. The 1014 CE Thanjavur inscriptions credit him with victories over the Chera and the Pandya rulers in the mountainous region on the western coast (malai-nadu).[25]

After defeating the Pandyas, Rajaraja adopted the title Pandya-Kulashani ("thunderbolt to the race of the Pandyas"), and the Pandya country came to be known as "Rajaraja-mandalam" or "Rajaraja-Pandinadu" after him.[25] While describing the Rajaraja's campaign against the Pandyas, the Thiruvalangadu inscription of Rajendra I states that he defeated Amarabhujanga. Several scholars theorize that Amarabhujanga was the name of a Pandya king, but it is possible that he was a general of the Pandya king: Kongu Desa Rajakkal, a chronicle of the Kongu Nadu region, suggests that this general later shifted his allegiance to Rajaraja, and performed the Chola king's kanakabhisheka ceremony.[26]

After consolidating his rule in the south, Rajaraja assumed the title Mummudi Chola ("the Chola who wears three crowns"), a reference to his control over the three Tamil kingdoms of the Cholas, the Pandyas, and the Cheras.[3]

Conquest of Sri Lanka

In 993, Rajaraja invaded Sri Lanka, which is called Ila-mandalam in the Chola records.[21] This invasion most probably happened during the reign of Mahinda V of Anuradhapura, who according to the Chulavamsa chronicle, had fled to Rohana (Ruhuna) in south-eastern Sri Lanka because of a military uprising.[27] The Chola army sacked Anuradhapura, and captured the northern half of Sri Lanka. The Cholas established a provincial capital at the military outpost of Polonnaruwa, naming it Jananatha Mangalam after a title of Rajaraja.[27] The Chola official Tali Kumaran erected a Shiva temple called Rajarajeshvara ("Lord of Rajaraja") in the town of Mahatittha (modern Mantota), which was renamed Rajaraja-pura.[27]

Comparing Rajaraja's campaign to the invasion of Lanka by the legendary hero Rama, the Thiruvalangadu inscription states:[3]

Rama built with the aid of monkeys, a causeway across the sea, and then with great difficulties defeated the king of Lanka by means of sharp edged arrows. But Rama was excelled by this King whose powerful army crossed the ocean by ships and burnt up the King of Lanka.

Thiruvalangadu copper plates[3]

In 1017, Rajaraja's son Rajendra I completed the Chola conquest of Sri Lanka.[28] The Cholas controlled Sri Lanka until 1070, when Vijayabahu I defeated and expelled them.[29]

Chalukyan conflict

In 998 CE, Rajaraja captured the regions of Gangapadi, Nolambapadi and Tadigaipadi (present day Karnataka).[30] Raja Chola extinguished the Nolambas, who were the feudatories of Ganga while conquering and annexing Nolambapadi.[31] The conquered provinces were originally feudatories of the Rashtrakutas.[32][33] In 973 CE, the Rashtrakutas were defeated by the Western Chalukyas leading to direct conflict with Cholas.[34] An inscription of Irivabedanga Satyashraya from Dharwar describes him as a vassal of the Western Chalukyas and acknowledges the Chola onslaught.[35] 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.[36] 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.[37][38]

By 1004 AD, the Gangavadi province was conquered by Rajaraja.[39] The Changalvas who ruled over the western part of the Gangavadi province and the Kongalvas who ruled over Kodagu were turned into vassals.[40] The Chola general Panchavan Maraya who defeated the Changalvas in the battle of Ponnasoge and distinguished himself in this affair was rewarded with Arkalgud Yelusuvira-7000 territory and the title Kshatriyasikhamani.[41] The Kongalvas, for the heroism of Manya, were rewarded with the estate of Malambi (Coorg) and the title Kshatriyasikhamani.[40] 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.[42] A similar inscription in Channapatna also describes Rajaraja defeating the Hoysalas.[43] Vengi kingdom was ruled by Jata Choda Bhima of the Eastern Chalukyas dynasty.[34] Jata Choda Bhima was defeated by Rajaraja and Saktivarman was placed on the throne of Vengi as a viceroy of the Chola Dynasty.[34][44] After the withdrawal of the Chola army, Bhima captured Kanchi in 1001 CE. Rajaraja expelled and killed the Andhra king called Bhima before re-establishing Saktivarman I on the throne of Vengi again.[45] Rajaraja 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 Rajaraja would rule the Eastern Chalukya kingdom in the future.[44]

Statue of Rajaraja, Tamil Nadu, 20th century

Kalinga conquest

The invasion of the kingdom of Kalinga occurred after the conquest of Vengi.[46]

Burning of Udagai and Conquest of Malainaadu

Sometime before 1008 A.D, Rajaraja sacked the fortress of Udagai in the Western Ghats and conquered Kudamalai nadu.[47] The word Kudagumalai-nadu is substituted in place of Kudamalai-nadu in some of his inscriptions found in Karnataka and this region has been identified with the kingdom of Coorg.[48] The Tamil literary works Kalingathupparani and Kulottungacholan Ula composed after his time and during the reign of Kulottunga I mention the storming of Udagai by Rajaraja Chola.[49] He is said to have decapitated eighteen princes and set fire to the fortress of Udagai in retaliation to the insult meted out to his envoy.[50][51][52]

Naval expedition

One of the last conquests of Rajaraja was the naval conquest of the islands of Maldives ("the Old Islands of the Sea Numbering 1200").[53][54][page needed] 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 Ocean.[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 Rajaraja 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]

Personal life

Rajaraja had at least four queens including Thiripuvāna Mādēviyār, Ulaga Madeviyar and Panchavan Madeviyar[57][58][59] and at least three daughters. He had a son Rajendra with Thiripuvāna Mādēviyār.[60][61][62] 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.[59] Rajaraja died in 1014 CE in the Tamil month of Maka and was succeeded by Rajendra Chola I.[63]


Mural depicting Rajaraja and his guru Karuvuruvar found in the Brihadisvara temple, Tamil Nadu, 11th century.[64][65][66]

Before the reign of Rajaraja I, parts of the Chola territory were ruled by hereditary lords and princes who were in a loose alliance with the Chola rulers.[67] Rajaraja initiated a project of land survey and assessment in 1000 CE which led to the reorganization of the empire into units known as valanadus.[12][13] From the reign of Rajaraja I until the reign of Vikrama Chola in 1133 CE, the hereditary lords and local princes were either replaced or turned into dependent officials.[67] This led to the king exercising a closer control over the different parts of the empire.[67] 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.[68][69][70] To promote trade, he sent the first Chola mission to China.[71]

His elder sister Kundavai assisted him in administration and management of temples.[72]


Rajendra Chola I was made a co-regent during the last years of Rajaraja'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 Rajaraja figures in many of his inscriptions.[73] The other names of officials found in the inscriptions are the Bana prince Narasimhavarman, a general Senapathi Krishnan Raman, the Samanta chief Vallavaraiyan Vandiyadevan, the revenue official Irayiravan Pallavarayan and Kuruvan Ulagalandan, who organised the country-wide land surveys.[74]

Religious policy

Rajaraja 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.[75]


The Hindu caste system was prevalent and each caste lived in its own neighborhood called cheri, for example Kammanacheri (artisans), Paraicheri, Teendacheri (untouchables), etc. The Thanjavur inscriptions mention a number of villages where Paraicheri and Teendacheri were located. In all these instances, it is found that these colonies, i.e., the Paraicheris and Teendacheris were exempted from paying tax (land).[76] In another epigraph, since Paraicheri is mentioned separately and in addition to Teendacheri, it is believed that the untouchables were different from the Paraiyas.[77] The Paraiyar settlements were near agricultural lands and irrigation channels. In Chola epigraphs, the Paraiyars are called ulaparaiyars, that is Paraiyars who were engaged in cultivation. An inscription of Rajaraja mentions that ulaparaiyars occupied kilacheri and melaparaicheri in Venkondi village.[78] According to M. Arokiaswami, the Kammalar (Vishwakarma) were given a more privileged status during the reign of Rajaraja as they played an active role in the construction of temples.[79]

Arts and architecture

Rajaraja embarked on a mission to recover the hymns after hearing short excerpts of Thevaram in his court.[80] He sought the help of Nambi Andar Nambi.[81] 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.[82][81] 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.[82][83] Rajaraja thus became to be known as Tirumurai Kanda Cholan meaning one who saved the Tirumurai. 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.[83] 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.[84] 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.[84]

Brihadisvara Temple

Brihadisvara Temple built by Rajaraja I, a UNESCO World Heritage Site

In 1010 CE, Rajaraja built the Brihadisvara Temple in Thanjavur dedicated to Lord Shiva. The temple and the capital acted as a center of both religious and economic activity.[85] It is also known as Periya Kovil, RajaRajeswara Temple and Rajarajeswaram.[86][87] It is one of the largest temples in India and is an example of Dravidian architecture during the Chola period.[88] The temple turned 1000 years old in 2010.[89] 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.[90]

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.[91] 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.[92]


Before the reign of Rajaraja 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 Rajaraja 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.[93] The coins spread over a great part of South India and were also copied by the kings of Sri Lanka.[94]


A typical lithic inscription of the Chola period

Due to Rajaraja'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:[95]

[97][failed verification]

ஸ்வஸ்திஸ்ரீ் திருமகள் போல பெருநில
பெருநிலச் செல்வியுந் தனக்கேயுரிமை
கேயுரிமை பூண்டமை மனக்கொளக்
காந்தளூர்ச் சாலைக் களமறூத்தருளி வேங்கை
உடையார் ஸ்ரீராஜராஜ தேவர்
Excerpts of Rajaraja's inscription from Brihadisvara 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.[100]

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.[101]

In popular culture

  • Rajaraja Cholan, a 1973 Tamil film starring Sivaji Ganesan[102]
  • Ponniyin Selvan by Kalki revolves around the life of Rajaraja, the mysteries surrounding the assassination of Aditya Karikalan and the subsequent accession of Uttama to the Chola throne[103]
  • Nandipurathu Nayagi by Vembu Vikiraman revolves around the ascension of Uttama Chola to the throne and Rajaraja's naval expedition
  • Rajaraja Cholan by Kathal Ramanathan
  • Udaiyar by Balakumaran
  • Kandalur Vasantha Kumaran Kathai by Sujatha which deal with the situations leading Rajaraja 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.[104]
  • Kaviri Mainthan, a 2007 novel by Anusha Venkatesh

See also


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External links

Preceded by
Uttama Chola
Rajaraja I
Succeeded by
Rajendra Chola I