BEWARE!!! this is a long post! 🙂
A few weeks ago, my family and I went, on part of our vacation, to Thanjavur, which used to be the capital of Tamilnadu in 1790. In Thanjavur, we visited the ‘Big Temple’ (which was truly big) and we also went to a couple of other places, like the monument of Thiyagarajar (the famous Carnatic composer (one of the great trinity) near Thanjavur. The ‘Big Temple’ in Thanjavur was built by the highly famed king called Raja Raja Chola. There is so much history about the Chola Dynasty, especially during the reign of Raja Raja Chola, because when that king built the great ‘Big Temple’ he also carved into the floors, walls and pillars the story of his entire reign as king, every small thing he did, and every thing he had ever accomplished as a king. Those carvings are a huge source of what we know in history today. In short, it is unbelievably interesting to see this temple! There are also paintings on the sides of the temple, highlighting Indian myths and stories.
Lets start off with just a bit of history first:
The Cholas are one of the earliest and most ancient among the South Indian royal houses. The Chola Kingdom is so ancient, that there have even been references made in the Mahabharata and even in Ashokan inscriptions (old!). It is known that Karikala was the Chola ruler who reigned in the 2nd century AD. During Karikala’s reign, the capital city was moved from a place called Uraiyur to Kaveripattanam. Nedumudikilli seems to have been the successor of Karikala. The frequent attacks of the Pallavas, Cheras and Pandyas declined the Chola power but in the 8th century AD, the Chola’s glory began to glow while the Pallavas power weakened.
At around 850 AD, a man called Vijayalaya founded the Chola dynasty, probably by starting off as a servant or vassal to the Pallava king. With the conflict between Pallavas and Pandyas, Vijayalaya occupied Tanjore (Thanjavur) and made it his capital. He was succeeded later by his son Aditya-I. Aditya-I defeated the Pallava king Aparajita during his reign and also Parantaka Viranarayana, the Kongu ruler.
Aditya-I was then soon succeeded by his son Parantaka-I and ruled between the years of 907 to 955 AD. The Chola’s power had reached supremacy under his reign. He seized the land of the Pandya King and soon conquered the Vadumbas. He swept away all the traces of Pallavas power, but then received a set back at the hands of Rashtrakutas ().
One of the most powerful rulers of the Chola kingdom was Raja Raja Chola- the Great. He ruled from 985 – 1014 AD. His army conquered Venginadu, Gangapadi, Tadigaipadi, Nolambavadi, Kudamalai-nadu, Kollam, Kalingam, and Ilamandalam of the Singalas! His first triumph was achieved early in his reign by destroying the Navy of Cheras at Trivendrum. He invaded the North part of Ceylon and added it to his kingdom, then destroyed Anuradhapura. Under his rule, Polonnaruva was made the capital of the Chola province of Ceylon. Political divisions of the Western Ganga’s Gangapadi, Tadigaipadi and Nolambavadi were conquered in 991 AD and remained under them for the next century. The union of Eastern and Western Chalukyas was stopped by helping the Eastern Chalukya ruler. Towards the end of the reign, the Cholas were attacked by the Western Chalukyas, but Raja-raja Chola won the war. Another achievement of Raja Raja Chola’s is building the great ‘Big Temple’ in Thanjavur, but more on that later.
Later on, Rajendra-I founded his new capital at Gangaikonda Cholapuram. He set up Vaishnava center and the Vedic college (for teaching the Vedas). He had a friendly relationship with the China emperor, and had a peaceful reign of 32 years. He extended the territory inherited from his father, and subdued the power of the Pandyas and Kerala. He performed the Asvamedha sacrifice too (). Though he was very successful at the beginning, he later lost his life in the famous battle of Koppam on the Tungabhadra. The next ruler Rajendra-II (1052-1064 AD) just managed to maintain the Chola Empire though he had to struggle with the troubling Chalukyas.
Vira Rajendra (1064 – 1070 AD) was the elder brother of Rajendra-II. Vira succeeded his younger brother’s reign for 7 following years. He met the invasion of the Chalukya King and defeated the Chalukya ruler. He re-conquered Vengi and foiled the efforts of Vijayabahu of Ceylon who was trying to drive the Cholas out of the place. When Someswara-II succeeded the Chalukyas throne, Rajendra later on built friendly ties by giving his daughter to Vikramaditya. Soon after the death of Vira Rajendra in 1070 AD, there was a contest for the throne and Adhi-Rajendra, the apparent heir, took it. He had a short uneventful reign, but Vijayabahu assumed independence in Ceylon.
At around 1073, the Kalachuri King Yasahkarana invaded Vengi but did not gain anything. The Pandyas and Chera’s attack were put down by Kulottunga. The southern Kalingam revolt was put down too. In about 1118 AD, Vikramaditya VI took control of Vengi from the Cholas and thus succeeded in separating the Cholas from the Eastern Chalukyas. Gangapadi and Nolambavadi were lost to Hoysala’s Vishnuvardhana.
Vikrama Chola was the next successor, as the son of Kulottunga-I restored the Chola power by reconquering Vengi and by taking control of part of Gangapadi. His reign was somewhat peaceful to his subjects though there were floods and famines in the Southern Arcot. The Hoysala’s expansion took control of Chola power slowly and subsequently. The last rulers (Kulottunga – II, Rajaraja – II, and Rajadhiraja – III) could not stop the Hoysala’s capture of the Chola Kingdom. In about 1243, the Pallava chief declared independence. The Kakatiyas and Hoysalas partitioned among themselves the territory of the Chola Empire and Chola Empire ceased to exist for ever.
There’s still a lot more history on Thanjavur, but I decided not to bore all of the people reading this who believe they’ve got enough of it at school. I find the history of Thanjavur really interesting though!
A special thing about Thanjavur now is the ‘Big Temple’ we visited there a few weeks ago. A little more history for you, on the Big Temple built by Raja Raja Chola- the Great.
Rajaraja’s great reign is remembered by the outstanding Shiva temple in Thanjavur, sometimes called Raajarajeswaram (but to most people, the ‘Big Temple’), which is one of the finest monuments of this period of South Indian history. The temple is significant for both its huge size and for its simplicity of design.
When Raja Raja Chola went on a battle to the Maldives he returned home with a great plan of constructing the great Thanjavur big temple. He probably thought, after returning from the battle, that he wanted to record all of his accomplishments (in a way as great as building a temple). The temple is actually one for Lord Shiva, but his story carvings are all over the place, so it’s a theory to think about. The temple is for Lord Shiva because Raja Raja Chola was actually one of the biggest devotees to Shiva.
The construction of the temple is said to have been completed on the 275th day of the 25th year of Raja Raja’s reign. After its celebration, the great temple and the capital had close business relations with the rest of the country and acted as a center of both religious and economic activity. Year after year villages from all over the country had to supply men and material for the temple maintenance!
This temple is one of India’s most prized architectural sites. The temple stands amidst stimulated walls that were probably added in the 16th century. The ‘Vimana’ – or the temple tower – is 216 ft. (66 m) high and is among the tallest of its kind in the world. The Kalash or ‘Chikharam’ (the rounded structure on the top) of the temple is not really carved out of a single stone as widely believed. There is a big statue of Nandi (sacred bull), carved out of a single rock, at the entrance measuring about 16 feet long and 13 feet high! We saw it and took pictures with it (fortunately cameras are allowed inside the temple walls!). The entire temple structure is made completely out of hard granite stones.
Did you know, also, that the temple was built in a way so that the shadow never falls on the ground, but only on itself? It’s really cool. If you don’t believe me then go ahead and sit by the Big Temple all day and wait for a shadow to appear on the ground, though you’re wasting your time and it is definitely not going to come.
Now pictures of our trip to Thanjavur! 🙂