Raja Raja Chola I was one of the greatest kings in the history of South India. He belonged to the later Cholan Dynasty. He was a great administrator, fierce warrior, a philanthropist and lover of beauty. Before going to know more about this great king let’s know some background about the dynasty and then get back to him through our list of interesting Raja Raja Chola I facts.
Interesting Raja Raja Chola I Facts: 1-8
1. Cholan Dynasty (location of this great kingdom was in Tamil Nadu, India) is the one of the few dynasties which made its mark in the history of India. Cholan or simply Chola Dynasty’s reign is divided into 3 parts viz., Early Cholans, Medieval Cholans and Later Cholans.
2. Sangam literature, one of the main source for verifying Tamilian’s ancient history, mentions that early Cholans existed in the first few centuries of the common era. Kings like Kantaman, Karikala Chola (yes we agree the names are more or less like tongue twisters!), Elaare are famous. King Kantaman is famous and is considered to be a contemporary of Sage Agastya and to bring the Kaveri River down to the earth with his devotion.
3. Medieval Cholans are also called as the Imperial Cholas. This is where the Chola Dynasty reached its zenith and Parantaka Chola I, Parantaka Chola II, Rajendra Chola are few of the popular kings.
4. Raja Raja Chola I also belonged to Medieval Cholans and he was the gem of all the kings. They ruled from 848 CE to 1070 CE.
5. Later Cholans ruled from 1070 CE to 1279 CE. Though at first kings like Kulothonga Chola, Raja Raja Chola II, Vikrama Chola etc. were efficient enough to protect their kingdom but just like any other great dynasty it was nearing its end and with weak rulers the great dynasty ended in 1279 CE.
6. The actual name of the dynasty is Sora or Chora, a Tamil word but not Chola; Chola was a Sanskrit word and it has been in use.
7. The origin of Cholans is a debatable issue even now. Though there are many sources for documenting the great kingdoms but the origin of Cholans cannot be traced back with the help of those sources. There are many assumptions based on some evidences about their origin.
8. Many say that the Cholans are not actually Tamilians but they come from either Chalukyas of Eastern Andhra Pradesh or Telugu Chodas who trace their decent to Ikshvakus – the dynasty of Lord Shri Ram. Ikshvakus trace their decent to Manu and Cholas too trace their decent to Manu. The territories of Telugu Chodas and Cholans were pretty near. Telugu Chodas were allies of Chalukyas.
Interesting Raja Raja Chola I Facts: 9-17
9. Another interesting but hard-to-believe assumption is that the Cholans were a Naga tribe which came either from Bengal (Bengal was called as Pangala during those days) or from north part of the country. The emblem of Cholans is the tiger, an animal which was uncommon to be seen in Tamil Nadu.
10. The usage of Prakrit language instead of Tamil in earlier inscriptions are some of the proofs which connote that Cholans may not be Tamilians but may be either Telugus or of Kannada origin.
11. Raja Raja Chola I was the third child of the King Parantaka Sundara Chola and Vanavan Maha Devi of the Velir Malayaman Dynasty. His real name was Arulmozhi Varman. He was also called as RajaRaja Sivapada Sekhara which translates into the King of Kings who has Lord Siva’s feet as his crown. His adopted name with which he is known – “Raja Raja” – meant King of the Kings.
12. He was a very loving brother. It is said that to avenge his brother Aditya Karikalan’s death, he fought against Chera Kandalur and won. Remember, he didn’t lose a single battle in his lifetime. Now that’s great!
13. His elder brother Aditya Chola was assassinated in 969 CE and then Uttama Chola was declared as the crown prince. Unlike other great kings like Asoka, Ajatasatru etc., he had no jealousy even if he had, he didn’t show it openly.
14. Uttama Chola ruled for 15 years and after his death, Raja Raja Chola I was declared as the king unanimously through a democratic process which was followed by the Cholans.
15. He ascended the throne in the year 985 CE and he was assisted by his sister Kundavai Pirattiyar in administration and management of temples.
16. When Raja Raja Chola I ascended the throne, his father and grandfather had strengthened Cholan Dynasty in South India by then. He made several successful conquests on the neighboring Cheran and Pandyan kingdoms and increased his kingdom’s territories manifold.
17. After conquering the whole of South India, he adopted a title of “Mummadi Chola”. He then concentrated on Sinhalese dynasty which was ruling Ceylon or present day Sri Lanka. The contemporary king was Mahinda V. He defeated Mahinda V and then captured Anuradhapura, the capital city of Sinhalese Dynasty and occupied the northern part of the Ceylon but southern part remained independent. To commemorate his victory in Ceylon he built a Lord Shiva temple there. His son, Rajendra Chola conquered the entire Ceylon.
Interesting Raja Raja Chola I Facts: 18-25
18. He conquered many other kingdoms. Kingdoms of Coorg, Pandyas, Gangas, Nolambas, Tadigaipadi etc., are few to mention. The Eastern Chalukyas maintained matrimonial relationship with the Cholans. He even conquered Quilon. His son Rajendra Chola conquered Kalinga and went beyond the Ganges and adopted the tittle Gangaikonda Chola.
19. He sent naval expeditions to the islands of Maldives. With the naval power, he occupied Ceylon and his son occupied some parts of South-east Asia. He even had a standing army.
20. He changed the face of Cholan administration after he ascended the throne. The princes and landlords who acted independently were turned into local officials. He strengthened local self-government and ordered the officials to conduct land surveys. He sent missions to China to improve trade and economy of the kingdom.
21. He was a patron of arts. After listening to some short excerpts of Thevaram, he asked to retrieve all the scripts of Thevaram with the help of Nambi and divine intervention.
22. He was a Saivaite and he did everything possible to spread Hinduism in Ceylon and other parts which were occupied by him. But he was tolerant towards other religions as well. He built many Vishnu temples and allowed to construct Buddhist Chudamani Vihara. His own second daughter followed Buddhism and he never seemed to oppose her.
23. Though he had 11 consorts, only one conceived and they had 3 kids, two daughters and one son. His eldest daughter was named after his sister Kundavai.
24. He built the great RajaRajeshwara temple or Brihadweshwara temple in Tanjavur which was his capital city. The temple is very famous and is now one of the UNESCO’s world heritage sites.
25. The main deity of the temple is Lord Siva and it was built to show the Cholan power and supremacy. The name Brihadeshwara was given by Marathas but not Cholans. They called the deity as RajaRajeshwara.
Interesting Raja Raja Chola I Facts: 26-34
26. The entire temple is built of granite. They used 1,30,000 tons of granite in making the temple. There are over 100 underground passages in the temple and some of those passages lead directly to the palace of the king. The cap stone of this temple weighs around 80 tons and it is still a mystery that how can people with supposedly so low technology could put such a heavy stone so high! It is said that the cap of the temple is built in such a way that the shadow doesn’t fall on the ground but falls on itself. Yet some scientists say that it is proved wrong.
27. It is speculated that the huge cap was placed by using manpower and elephants or by using Vedic mantras which would levitate the 80-ton stone and keep it above the vimana. The vimana is 200 feet high. What’s most surprising is that the place where this temple is built, there is no granite available in a radius of 100 km. There is a statue of Nandi (the Bull), vehicle of Lord Shiva. It is gigantic and is made from a monolithic granite. Sure the craftsmen were really talented to make a block of granite to a magnificent bull’s statue.
28. The temple was built ages ago but the paintings of this temple will simply mesmerize you. They used natural pigments to make colors and needless to say they used those colors for paintings and that is the reason why even now after a 1000-year period the paintings are still rich and striking.
29. The temple is just not famous for its paintings and gigantic statues. It is noted for its beautiful architecture. 81 of 108 karanas or dancing positions of Bharatanatyam (one of the 8 classical dances of India) are carved and these poses were mentioned in the Natya Shastra written by Rishi Bhagat. The temple was famous for dancing too. Trained dancers used to perform when there was an occasion.
30. After all this, no one knows how he died. His death is still a mystery to historians. Like any other great king he doesn’t have a big mausoleum. The mausoleum that is shown now in no way proves that it is his. It is not in Tanjore but in a remote village named Udayalur in Tamil Nadu.
31. His entire life can be traced out with the help of his inscriptions and that tradition was followed by his son but nothing is written about his death. There is a Lord Siva’s lingam above the grave. There was an inscription related to the king but it didn’t indicate that Udayalur is the real place where he was buried or where he wanted to get buried.
32. Local folks have a different story to say. According to people, the king was killed by a woman who was sent by Mahinda V, Sinhalese ruler of Ceylon. Mahinda V failed to defeat Raja Raja Chola I so he sent a woman who became good friends with the Chola king.
33. When the king was inspecting the progress of the Brihadeshwara Temple from 8th floor she simply pushed him down and he died.
34. That is why they say that the temple was not finished properly. That is why his son, Rajendra Chola shifted his capital city from Tanjore to Gangaikonda Cholapuram. That is why Rajendra Chola seized complete Ceylon under his control and kept Mahinda V as a war prisoner till Mahinda V died.