The Cholas, one of the oldest ruling dynasties in the world
“TThe Cholas are coming,” reads the caption of numerous posts sharing the gorgeous teaser for “Ponniyin Selvan,” Mani Ratnam’s magnum opus, based on Tamil writer Kalki Krishnamurthy’s famous historical novel Ponniyin Selvan (The son of Poni).
In the film, the lead role of fierce Chola warrior Ponniyin is played by Jayam Ravi. Vikram stars as Chola Crown Prince Aditya Karikalan, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan stars as Avenging Queen Nandini, Karthi stars as Army Commander Vanthiyathevan, and Trisha stars as Princess Kundavai.
The story takes place over a thousand years ago during the reign of the Chola Empire.
But few know about this remarkable civilization, which was one of the oldest in the world, but which today remains largely forgotten.
He controlled lands that were more than five times the size of Great Britain. And under the wing of its pioneer rulers, art, architecture and literature flourished.
So when did the reign of the first Chola kings begin? No one knows exactly, but the dynasty was well established by the 3rd century BCE, a fact mentioned in one of the Ashokan Pillars. Interestingly, not only did the Cholas survive the reign of the Maurya dynasty of Ashoka, but they continued to be in power until 1279 CE, that is, for over 1,500 years.
The Chola Empire is also mentioned in the Periplus of the Eritrean Sea (a Greco-Roman eyewitness account of ancient voyages in 40 – 60 CE) and in Ptolemy’s Geography. According to historians, the Cholas began their journey as a little-known, albeit privileged, feudal clan settled on the banks of the Kaveri River, and later achieved unparalleled naval and militaristic supremacy that helped them conquer islands at across Southeast Asia.
One thread – Every image of #PonniyinSelvan teasing.
Pure goosebumps! 🥵🥵🥵
— Praveen | பிரவீன் (@ichbinprvn) July 8, 2022
Between the 9th and 13th centuries CE, the Cholas were a force to be reckoned with. Armed with their military prowess and the wealth of their agricultural colonies, they reigned supreme over the trade routes and the high seas of South Asia. It is probably this strategic geopolitical positioning that helped the Chola Empire fuel a spectacular Tamil cultural renaissance, a legacy that still thrives in southern India.
Like the Medici of Italy, Chola rulers frequented all types of literary, artistic, architectural, and culinary skills at the height of their influence.
The name that shines brightest among these kings is Rajaraja I, whose reign marked the Empire’s emergence as a multi-ethnic cultural and commercial colossus.
Rajaraja I extended the northern frontier of the Chola Empire to Kalinga (now Odisha) and successfully intruded into Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), the Maldives and the rich Malabar Coast. It was also Rajaraja I who built the majestic Brihadeeswara temple in the Chola capital of Thanjavur.
Even today, centuries after its founding, it remains resolute, a testament to the advanced craftsmanship of that time.
The other two massive edifices beneath the UNESCO Great Living Chola Temples – the Brihadisvara Temple at Gangaikondacholisvaram (built by Rajendra I) and the Airavatesvara Temple at Darasuram (built by Rajaraja II) – were also carved with just hammers and scissors. It is an amazing testimony to the achievements of the Chola Empire in sculpture, architecture and bronze casting.
According to historian Pradeep Chakravarthy in his book ‘Thanjavur: A Cultural History’, “The Cholas used faith very carefully to rule. Everything you would expect from the government today was provided by the temple for the local community – they provided hospitals, educational facilities, job opportunities, art and culture, and collected donations. taxes.
In fact, many Chola temple reservoirs were rainwater harvesting systems, as revealed by the recent discovery of an 8th century inscription on the Sivaganga reservoir, built by Rajaraja Chola I at Thanjavur. Additionally, these ancient Chola learnings helped an IAS officer in present-day Pondicherry restore 178 water bodies in three months.
The Chola temple towns were also thriving centers for all kinds of craftsmen and craftsmen. The art of bronze casting reached its peak and led to the creation of some of the most spectacular sculptures the world has ever seen. The technique used was the ancient lost wax technique, which ensured that each sculpture was one of a kind.
Interestingly, the famous dance figure of Nataraja fully developed at this time. Auguste Rodin, the legendary French sculptor, is said to have praised the Chola Nataraja sculpture as “a thing divinely reglee” (something divinely decreed).
The origin of the famous Kanjeevaram silk sarees also dates back to the time when Rajaraja I invited weavers from Saurashtra to come and settle in Kanchipuram. In fact, the ancient Chola iconography seen on the walls and pillars of Kanchipuram temples is reflected in the borders of Kanjeevaram silk saris.
Apart from this, the mighty Chola Empire also saw the genesis of the Sangam Age, a golden age of Tamil literature and poetry, which influenced countries as far afield as Cambodia and Java. Reading these poems, stories and inscriptions reveals fascinating insights into life under the Cholas.
Take, for example, the padimagalir – female bodyguards tasked with protecting the king from possible ambushes. Famous for their strength and bravery, these female warriors were trained in combat from an early age to protect Chola royalty. The poem Perumkathai also mentions “intelligent women” acting as peacemakers between warring kingdoms.
So what led to the collapse of this great empire? The answer lies in an old rival, the Pandya dynasty, which had never stopped trying to conquer the Chola country. By 1279, Rajendra III had lost his throne to the Pandyas, marking the end of a truly remarkable reign in Indian history.
“Remembering Cholamandalam – The Cultural Heritage of the Cholas” by Amrita Amesur for Sarmaya, Posted on October 25, 2021
“History of the Chola Empire of India” by Kallie Szczepanski for ThoughtCo, Posted on July 03, 2019
“Harvesting Water, Chola Style” Published August 6, 2003 Courtesy of Hindustan Times
‘Kanjivaram: The Romance of Silk’ by Leora Pezarkar for Live History India, Posted August 20, 2017
“Wonder Women, a millennium ago” by Devi Yashodaran for The Hindu, Posted on August 24, 2017
Edited by Divya Sethu