Raja Raja Cholan I: An emperor, A legend, A hero

Of the many kings and emperors who ruled South India, the name of Raja Raja Chola stands out. He is famous not just for his extraordinary valour but also his just policies and administrative abilities. Cholas were one of the well known dynasties south of the Vindhyas along with Pandyas, Cheras and Pallavas. He not only extended the boundaries of his empire but was the pioneer of naval campaigns. Much like Chhatrapati Shivaji, who ruled several centuries after Raja Raja, he recognized the importance of navy and launched naval campaigns. The architectural marvel called ‘Brihadeeswara Temple’ in Thanjavur, a world heritage monument, was commissioned by him and built during his reign. It bears witness to the superior architectural skill of artisans of those days.

In many ways Raja Raja laid the foundation upon which the medieval Chola kings, particularly his son Rajendra I, built their massive empire. When the foundation is strong the building is bound to be strong as well. The same goes for any empire. Just like the fruits of a tree are enjoyed by the future generations of the one who sowed it; the fruits of Raja Raja’s efforts were enjoyed by several of his successors. He was born to Parantaka Sundara Chola and Vanavan Maha Devi in the Tamil month of Aipassi (Hindu month – Asvin, English month: mid-October to mid-November). He succeeded his uncle Uttama Chola to the throne and ushered the golden age of Cholas in the real sense of the term.

He spearheaded military campaigns that helped him to establish his reigns from Sri Lanka and Maldives in the south to Kalinga in the north. It was upon this that Rajendra I Chola built and expanded the glory of the Cholas into South-East Asia. Raja Raja’s prowess was equally impressive off the battlefield if not more. He was far-sighted and brought in several reforms including agricultural reforms. He had a land survey and assessment conducted in the year 1000 CE on the basis of which the kingdom was divided into several units known as ‘valanadus’. He also strengthened local self-governing bodies while making them accountable at the same time. He ensured that the village bodies had autonomy to conduct the day to day affairs but were subject to auditing which made sure that they were carrying out their duties diligently. Raja Raja was an emperor of fine tastes and hence it doesn’t come as a surprise that he encouraged arts and architecture. Under his rule poets thrived and restoration of several literary works was undertaken.

When we talk of Raja Raja, it is impossible to leave out ‘Brihadeeswara Temple’ from the discussions. This architectural marvel, a UNESCO World Heritage site, was constructed in the year 1010 CE and completed 1000 years in 2010. This event was commemorated through coins and stamps and cultural events organised by the state government. Though a devout Shaivite, Raja Raja was known for his tolerance towards other sects and faiths. With the help of Nambi Andar Nambi, he had the hymns of Thevaram restored which earned him the title of ‘Tirumurai Kanda Cholan’. He also assumed the title ‘Mummudi Cholan’ being one of the Tamil kings who ruled the three kingdoms of Cholas, Pandyas and Cheras. His conquests took him as far as Sri Lanka and his policies along with his exceptional bravery earned him a permanent place in the hearts and history of Tamil people and land.

His is a life story that needs to be taught across the country to inspire the younger generation. Besides being a great warrior, he was also religiously inclined. His contribution towards temple constructions and restoration of religious hymns shows is to be appreciated. His journey from Arulmozhivarman to Raja Raja Cholan I is a stuff of legends. Such great kings come by rarely and hence need to be brought into the limelight.