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Rajaraja Chola - The Unsung Indian King

Updated on January 9, 2015
Statue of Rajaraja Chola
Statue of Rajaraja Chola

Rajaraja Chola was the most famous and valiant Tamil emperor who ruled from 985CE to 1014CE. He was the most dominant ruler of his time. Many parts of the Indian Territory as well as some overseas countries were under his region. In fact he was the first king in history to build up a naval army. Many rulers who have marked their names in history were great rulers or they may have conquered the world under their feet. But the dimensions of such rulers are limited. But when it comes to Rajaraja, unlike other great rulers he was a multi dimensioned king. He was a brave fighter, a great architect, a great statesman, a sharp politician and also an able administrator. The Brahadeeshwara temple in Thanjavur is a significant example for his architectural taste.

statue of Rajaraja in a horse
statue of Rajaraja in a horse

Early life

Rajaraja Chola also called as Arunmozhivarman was born on 947CE in a place called Tirukovilur as the second son of Parantaka II alias Sundara Chola and Vanavan Mahadevi of Velir Malayaman dynasty. Aditya Karikala and Kunthavai were his siblings. It was evident from ancient inscriptions that Rajaraja had nearly 15 consorts. When his elder brother Aditya Karikala who was also the crowned prince also the heir-apparent for the throne was killed in 969CE in a mysterious way, political instability occurred in the Chola dynasty. Even though the officials and the peoples of Chola kingdom insisted him to take charge, young Rajaraja quietly turned down this offer and made his uncle Madhurantaka Uthama Chola as the king in order to avoid further problems. This showed his generosity. After 15 years when Madhurantaka Uthama Chola died he became the undisputed emperor of the Chola dynasty.

Golden period of Cholas

It was after Rajaraja came to power the Chola dynasty reached it’s at most glory.

Revenge and Attack on Kandhalur Salai

At the second year of Rajaraja ascended the throne the culprits who were responsible for the death of his brother Aditya Karikala were found. Rajaraja seized all the wealth and properties of those culprits and their families and asked them to leave the Chola territory with immediate effect as punishment. This was evident from the Udayarkudi temple inscriptions. This inscription also points out the names of culprits Ravidhasan, Soman Sambavan and few others.

The attack on Kandhalur Salai in Chera territory was the first major military attack carried out by Rajaraja Chola. It was said that the Chera King Baskara Ravivarma I arrested and ill treated an envoy of Rajaraja Chola. Rajaraja got upset on the immoral activity of Chera king. This made Rajaraja to invade the Chera territory and in the process the Chola army destroyed a fleet in the port of Kandhalur. Inscriptions that were found around Thanjavur describe these events.

After that Rajaraja Chola led major attack on the Pandya King Amarabhujanga and defeated him and hence got the title “Mummudi Cholan” means the Chola King who wears the crown of Chera Chola and Pandya.

Rajaraja invaded Sri Lanka in 993 AD. According to the inscriptions the Chola army crossed the ocean by ships and destroyed the Lanka kingdom. Mahinda V was the king of Sinhalas during that time. The city of Polonnaruwa was made the capital of Cholas and it was renamed as Jananathamangalam. He also built a Temple of Lord Shiva in Polonnaruwa. He wanted to bring the entire island of Srilanka under the control of Chola Empire.

Rajaraja carried out his invasion towards the north and northeast. Before his 14th year 998 to 999CE he captured Gangapadi (Gangawadi) and Nurambapadi (Nolambawadi), which formed part of the present Karnataka State. Thus the whole of Ganga region comes under the Cholas which they ruled for a century. Subsequently he conquered Vengi and Kalinga. His empire included the whole of South India up to the River Tungabhadra, the Maldives, and some parts of Ceylon. Rajaraja appointed his son Rajendra Chola as the commander of the army for the invasion of north and northwest.

His titles like Mummudi Chola; Cholamarthanda; Jayangonda; Pandyakulasani; Singlantaka reflect his achievements.

Chola territory under Rajaraja
Chola territory under Rajaraja

Architectural taste

The big temple of Thanjavur fondly called as Brahadeeshwara temple or Peruvudayar temple is a classical example for his passion towards architecture. This temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva. The construction of the temple is said to have been completed on the 25th year of his reign. It has been regarded as a landmark in the evolution of building art in south India and its vimana as a touchstone of Indian architecture as a whole. This is the only temple where the builder himself has left behind a very large number of inscriptions on the temple's construction, its various parts, the daily rituals to be performed, the details of the offerings such as jewellery, flowers and textiles, the special worship to be performed, the particular days on which they should be performed, the monthly and annual festivals, and so on.”

Rajaraja Chola even appointed an astronomer called ‘Perunkani' for announcing the dates, based on the planetary movements, for celebrating the temple's festivals. The inscription also shows the list of gifts he, his sister Kunthavai, his queens and others gave to the temple. Rajaraja Chola gifted gold vessels to the temple, and their weight, shape and casting were mentioned in the lithic records. Even a small spoon of ghee finds a mention. The inscriptions throw light on the temple's revenue from various sources, the mode of payment and the meticulous accounting procedures.

Big Temple turned 1000 years old in 2010.The temple is now recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

View of Brahadeeshwara Temple
View of Brahadeeshwara Temple
Inscriptions in Tanjore big temple
Inscriptions in Tanjore big temple
Coins of Rajaraja
Coins of Rajaraja


Rajaraja integrated his Empire into a tight administrative grid under royal control, and at the same time strengthened local self-government. He conducted a land survey in 1000 CE to effectively marshal the resources of his Empire. The kudavolai system of election was employed in the selection of local bodies. Rajaraja Chola focused much for the life of his people. He was always the people’s ruler. He did whatever for the welfare of his people. He digged many number of thousands of ponds and rivers for irrigation purpose.

Rajaraja Chola was the first king in south Indian history to record all his military achievements in inscriptions. He not only focused on just recording his achievements but maintained and preserved those records. Only by these records today we were able to know about the past glories. Rajaraja Chola was also instrumental in retaining past historical information and the records of his predecessors. An inscription found at Tirumalavadi says that Rajaraja Chola ordered the inscriptions from central shrine in the Vaidyanatha Temple should be recorded in a book and re-inscribed after it was being rebuilt.

Rajaraja Chola was the follower of Lord Shiva. He built many temples for Lord Shiva. Rajaraja also built temples for Lord Vishnu and also many Buddhist viharas.

Rajaraja Chola had a great love and affection towards his sister Kunthavai. She was married to Vallavarayan Vanthiyadevan, a prince of Bana Clan.

Rajaraja Chola is a person who is admired by Tamils. He has been the topic for many Tamil dramas and novels. The most significant of them was the novel “Ponniyin Selvan” written by legendary writer Kalki Krishnamoorthy.

Temple Entrance
Temple Entrance


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    • profile image


      2 years ago

      What about the RajaRaja's overseas achivements in south East Asia?

      Otherwise a neat narration.

    • profile image


      2 years ago

      From where these much details came to know


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