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A history of the Chola empire or Chola-mandalam 
Based on the catalogue The Sensuous and the Sacred
. Order the book from Amazon.com.
Article added on September 3, 2003
  
During the reign of the Chola kings between the 9th and the 13th centuries of the common era, the Chola dynasty was the dominant cultural, artistic, religious and political force in the south of India. The Chola empire or Chola-mandalam at times included territories as far-flung as parts of the island of Sri Lanka and the modern state of Karnataka.
 
The Chola rule was the golden age of Tamil-speaking south India. Music and dance, poetry and drama, arts, sculpture and painting, jewelry-making and architecture, philosophy and religious thought reached new heights, with the temple as the center of all activity.
 
At the beginning of the Chola period, brick was abandoned in favor of stone as the medium for temple construction. The Chola queen Sembiyan Mahadevi had an extraordinary sense of historical awareness. She collected some twenty-six inscribed stones from an earlier brick temple dedicated to Shiva and ordered that the old inscriptions be reinscribed, marked as "copies", on the walls of the newly built stone temple.
 
Tamil Sangam literature dating from the 1st and 2nd centuries of the common era speaks of three ruling families in India: the Cholas, the Pandyas and the Cheras. Thereafter, the Cholas disappear to re-emerge as a significant ruling power only around the year 850, when Vijayalaya Chola captured the town of Tanjavur and established a new line of Chola monarchs.
 
The Tamil-speaking region of south India was divided into several broad geographical-cum-cultural zones, known as nadus. Tondai-nadu, the Madras region, became the stronghold ot the Pallava rulers from the 6th to the 9th centuries. The basin of the Kaveri River became the Chola heartland, known as Chola-nadu. Pandi-nadu was the center for the Pandya monarchs, with its capital at Madurai. Kongu-nadu, in and around Coimbatore, was at times in the hand of the Cheras of Kerala along the western Malabar Coast and at times controlled by the rulers of the Tamil region. At the height of Chola power, between 1000 and 1100, the Chola empire encompassed all these regions.

Although the early Chola monarchs had captured parts of Tondai-nadu, Kongu-nadu and Pandi-nadu, the empire had shrunk to the area around the Kaveri Delta in the year 985, when the 7th Chola monarch, Rajaraja, born Arulmolivarman, assumed the throne.
 
Rajaraja immediately embarked on a campaign of territorial expansion and captured Pallava and Pandya territory. He successfully fought the Chera rulers of Kerala and extended his rule over parts of modern Karnataka. He captured the island of Sri Lanka as a province of the Chola empire; it remained under direct Chola rule for 75 years. Rajaraja built temples in his own name in all these areas. He conquered the Maldive Islands in the Indian Ocean and sent missions to the Indonesian Shrivijaya empire. He encouraged the Shailendra monarch of Java to build a Buddhist monastery a the Chola port of Nagapattinam.
 
Rajaraja's son Rajendra (r. 1012-1044) further consolidated Chola power. He created a Chola viceroyalty in Madurai, appointing his son as the first Chola-Pandya viceregal prince. Rajendra next attacked the Western Chalukyas and their allies. In a series of campaigns he marched as north as to the river Ganga (Ganges). He brought back some of its sacred water in golden pots, emptied these into into a tank named Chola-ganga and adopted the title of Gangai-konda (Capturer of the Ganges). However, he did not assume control over the Ganges region. The relationship with Shrivijaya deteriated to the point that Rajendra sent a naval expedition against the kingdom in order to enforce acknowledgement of Chola suzerainty. He sent two diplomatic missions to China.
 
In 1070, after three of Rajendra's sons and one grandson had succeeded him, a new line of Chalukya-Cholas was established when the Eastern Chalukya prince Rajendra II (r. 1070-1125) ascended the throne. His mother and grandmother were Chola princesses. Rajendra II assumed the title of Kulottunga (Star of the Dynasty). During his reign, Sri Lanka gained independence from the Chola rule. However, trade flourished with Southeast Asia. Another Chola embassy was sent to China, together with 72 merchants. Trade with Shrivijaya was active too. The reign of Rajendra II was one of peace and prosperity.
 
His immediate successors were able leaders. The Chola empire held together well until the end of the reign of Kulottunga III in 1216. However, it was not as extensive as in the days of Rajaraja I and Rajendra I.
 
When the Pandya monarchs to the south increased in strength and a group of feudatory chieftains aggressively pursued power in the 13th century, the Chola empire shrank to the region around Tanjavur. The Chola dynasty came to an end in 1279 when Rajaraja III died and the Chola territory was easily absorbed into Pandya rule.


 

The Sensuous and the Sacred: Chola Bronzes from South India by Vidya Dehejia and various contributors. Exhibition organized by the American Federation of Arts and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution (Dallas Museum of Art April 4 - June 15, 2003; The Cleveland Museum of Art, July 6 - September 14, 2003). Order the book from Amazon.com. The catalogue contribution by Vidya Dehejia is the source for this article. Check also our article on the subject of Chola bronzes.


 
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