Rajarajan: The Emperor of the Three Worlds – Sadhu Rangarajan

RangarajanSri Brihadeeswara Temple, a thousand-year old temple popularly known as Tanjavur Peria Kovil or the Big Temple of Tanjore in Tamilnadu built by the great Chozha Emperor, Rajaraja, will be holding its Millennium Celebrations from September 22 to 26, 2010.  The Government will organize a five-day cultural festival involving thousands of artists to mark the millennium celebrations. A confluence of thousand folk artists from 75 troupes in Thanjavur will participate in cultural events to be held in the evenings from September 22 to 24 in venues on Big Temple premises, Rajarajan Manimandapam, Tholkappiar Sathukkam, Old TNHB quarters and Karandhai. The Tamil University of Tanjore will also hold a seminar on Rajaraja and the construction of the temple on the occasion of the Millennium Celebrations.

The construction of the temple was begun in 1003 A.D., and completed in 1009 A.D., during the reign of the renowned emperor Rajaraja. The unique archaeological marvel of the temple is that the Vimana of Brihadeeswara is 216 feet tall and the structure is in single stone dragged to the top through a temporary slope path from a long distance.

Raja Raja Chola IThe Great Chozhas

“Rama built, with the aid of the monkeys, a causeway across the sea and then slew with great difficulty the king of Lanka by means of sharp-edged arrows. But Rama was excelled by this (king) whose powerful army crossed the ocean by ships and burnt up the King of Lanka”, proclaims the Tiruvalangadu plates, presenting a picturesque account of the invasion of Ceylon by Rajarajan, the greatest monarch of Southern India. At a time when Northern India was divided into weak and warring states, some of which were subjected to the ravages of Islamic invasions, there arose in the South, a mighty and powerful empire which brought the whole of Southern India, from Tungabhadra to Ceylon, under the ‘Tiger banner’ of the Chozha dynasty, and the great emperor who achieved this feat was Rajarajan, whose men-of-war, carrying the ‘Tiger-flag’ on their masts, sailed on the three waters. It is the good fortune of historians that this glorious emperor conceived the idea of prefixing to his inscriptions, a set historical introduction or prashasti, recounting in an ornate and poetic style of Tamil, the main achievements of his reign, and this practice was kept up by his successors.

The origin of the Chozhas is unknown. Parimelazhagar, the learned commentator of Tirukkural, considers the name as one of immemorial antiquity and renown. The earliest Chozha kings of whom we have tangible evidence are those mentioned in Sangam literature. Karikalan and Kochengannan are the two outstanding rulers among them. Uraiyur was the capital of Chozhas during the Sangam age and Kaveripoompattinam or Puhar was a renowned sea-port and one of the few great cities of the time. The history of the Chozhas from the Sangam age to the accession of Vijayalaya in the second quarter of the ninth century is shrouded in darkness.

Glorious Accession

Vijayalaya, whose reign begins shortly before 850 A.D., is the founder of the dynasty in which Rajarajan was born. Vijayalaya, who was probably a vassal of the Pallavas, captured Thanjavur from Muttaraiyar chiefs, who were partisans of the Pandyas. Vijayalaya’s son Aditya I over threw the Pallava Aparajitavarman and brought Tondaimandalam under his sway in 890 A.D. Aditya was succeeded by Parantaka I, who was in turn followed by his two sons, Gandaraditya and Arinjaya. Sundara Chozha, son of Arinjaya, who succeeded to the throne, chose his known son Aditya II as the heir apparent. But Aditya fell as a victim to a conspiracy hatched by Uttama Chozha, son of Gandaraditya, who now forced Sundara Chozha to choose him as heir apparent. Though the people wanted Sundara Chozha’s younger son, Arumoli, the future Rajarajan, to succeed to the throne, Rajarajan was too good to accept the throne while his uncle wanted it. He chose to remain a yuvaraja till the end of Uttama Chozha’s reign which lasted for sixteen years.

Raja Kesari Arumolivarman, as he was known in the early years of his reign, came to the throne on some day in the month following 25th June, 985 A.D. He was the son of Sundara Chozha by Vanavan Mahadevi, and his star was Satabhishaj. With his accession to the throne began the glorious epoch of the Chozhas, and the thirty years of his reign constituted the formative period of a powerful and prosperous empire. The affection he lavished on his sister Kundavai, after whom he named one of his daughters, and the privileged position accorded to his grand-aunt, Sembian Mahadevi, the mother of Uttama Chozha, indicate that he was great and good man as well as a far-sighted ruler. His nobility and magnanimity stands out in remarkable contrast to the selfishness and mean-mindedness of his uncle, Uttama Chozha.

Chola Empire MapCareer of Conquests

Soon after his accession to the throne, Rajarajan started a brilliant career of conquests and expansion of his kingdom. His immediate rivals in the south were the Cheras, Pandyas and Sinhalas, who were allied against the Chozhas. In the first lap of his southern expedition, Rajarajan overran the Chera Kingdom by defeating the Chera King, Bhaskara Ravi Varman Tiruvadi, in a war fought at Kandalur Salai, a coastal town of the Chera country. He then defeated his Pandya rival, Amarabhujangan, who was an ally of the Chera and annexed the Pandya territories. Mention about Rajarajan’s conquest of Madurai, Vizhinjam, Kollam, Kolla-desam and Kodungolur in different prashastis make it clear that he had sent more than one expedition against his adversaries, the Pandya and the Chera. Rajarajan also led an expedition against Udagai, a fortress in the Western Ghats in the region of Malai-nadu or Kuda-malai-nadu. He also established the Chatayam festival in the Chera country.

Rajarajan now turned his attention to Ceylon. The naval expedition against ‘Eezham’ (Ceylon) must have taken place during the reign of Mahinda V who came to the throne in 981 A.D. and was still ruling Ceylon at the time when Rajarajan’s son and successor, Rajendran invaded the island. On account of a military revolution which led to the ascendancy of Kerala and Kannata mercenaries in a large part of his kingdom, Mahinda has to take refuge in the inaccessible hill country in the south-east of Ceylon, called Rohana. Rajarajan, finding this as a right opportunity, invaded Ceylon and made himself the master of Northern Ceylon, which became a province (mandalam) under the name Mummudi-chozha-mandalam. One permanent result of the Chozha invasion was that Anuradhapura, the capital of Ceylon for over 1000 years, was finally destroyed by the armies of Rajarajan.

Polonnaruwa Royal PalaceChozha Capital of Ceylon

Polonnaruva , formerly a military out-post of the ancient capital, now became the capital under the Chozhas. It was renamed Jagannatha-Mangalam, after another title assumed by Rajarajan about the middle of his reign. Rajarajan signalized the Chozha occupation of Ceylon by the construction of a stone temple to Siva in Polonnaruva. This beautiful little Siva temple, constructed of granite and limestone which stands within the walled confines of the old city of Polonnaruva. Is among the few Hindu monuments of Ceylon, which are still in a good state of preservation; and “its architectural form seems at once to class it with the Hindu fanes of South India erected from the tenth to the twelfth centuries, of which the great temple of Tanjore is the finest and most elaborate exponent.” Rajarajan’s inscriptions have been found in Ceylon. An officer form the Chozha country by name Tali Kumaran built another temple called Rajarajeswara at Mahatitha (Mantota) which was also named Rajarajapura, and richly endowed the new temple.

After subjugating the southern kingdoms, Rajarajan turned his attention to the North-West. He conquered Gangapadi, Nolumbapadi and Tadigaipadi all of them in the Mysore country. But he could not advance far immediately, as the Western Chalukyas disputed this Chozha advance and Tailapa II gained a victory over the advancing Chozhas by defeating them. Within a few years after 992 A.D., Tailapa II died and was succeeded by Satyashraya on the Chalukya throne.

Intervention in Vengi

Satyashraya continued the aggressive policy of his father, his chief enemy being the rising Chozha power under Rajarajan who was establishing a stronghold on the eastern Deccan by active intervention in the affairs of the Vengi Kingdom. In Vengi, the King Danarnava was slain in a battle by the Telugu-Chozha chief, Jata-Chozha Bhima, probably a grandson of Chalukya Bhima II. Danarnava’s sons, Shaktivarman and Vimaladityan, sought refuge under Rajarajan. Bhima invaded Tondaimandalam and started a war against Rajarajan. But he was defeated in the war and taken prisoner. Rajarajan restored the Vengi Kingdom to Shaktivarman. He also gave his daughter, Kundavai, in marriage to Vimaladitya, brother of Shaktivarman. By the part he played in restoring order and putting an end to the long-drawn civil strife in that kingdom, Rajarajan was well justified in claiming to have conquered Vengi. However the political relation in which Vengi stood to the Chozha Empire under Rajarajan is best described as that of a protectorate.

Subjugation of Western Chalukyas

Unable to brook this extension of Chozha power into the Eastern Deccan, Shaktivarman invaded Vengi in 1006 A.D., his general Bayalanambi reducing the forts of Dhanyakataka and Yanamadala to ashes, and established himself in Chebrolu in the Guntur District. Acting on the; principle that attack is the best form of defence, Rajarajan ordered his son Rajendran to invade Western Chalukya Kingdom at the head of a strong army. Rajendran marched up to Donur in Bijapur district, captured Banavasi and a good part of the Raichur doab, and sacked Manyakheta, the Chalukya capital. At the same time another section of the army operating from Vengi, advanced on Kollipakkai (Kulpak) and captured its fortress. Shaktivarman was thus compelled to withdraw his forces from Vengi and only with difficulty he succeeded in freeing his country of the Chozha army, which retired behind the Tungabhadra with much booty, part of which went to the enrichment of the Tanjore temple.

Rajarajan later included in his conquests, Kalinga, whose King was enemy of the Eastern Chalukya Vimaladitya, who was Rajarajan’s son-in-law and successor of Shaktivarman. The last of the conquests, mentioned only in the latest inscriptions of Rajarajan, is that of the ‘old islands of the sea numbering 12,000’ — the Maldives. This naval conquest is sufficient indication that the navy which Rajendran used so effectively some years later, had been organized under his great father who stands in many ways in the same relation to  Rajendran as Philip of Macedon to Alexander the Great.

In the closing years of his reign Rajarajan associated his son Rajendran with himself in the official administration. The formal recognition of Rajendran as heir apparent took place some time between the 27th March and 7th July 1012 A.D. Rajendran must have been twenty-five years of age at that time.

Thanjavur templeConstruction of Rajarajeswaram

The magnificent Shiva temple, Rajarajeswara at Tanjore, Completed in 1010 A.D., fittingly commemorates the glory of Rajarajan’s reign which came to an end with his death in 1014 A.D. It is the finest monument of a splendid period of South Indian history and the most beautiful specimen of Tamil architecture at its best. The temple is remarkable alike for its stupendous proportions and for the simplicity of its design.

The Vimana of this temple, which rises over the sanctum of a height of nearly 200 feet on a square base of about a hundred feet, dominates the whole structure. The boldly molded Nandi, the simple and tasteful bas-reliefs and decorative motifs on the Vimana and the balustrades, the graceful sculptures in the niches on the sides of the Vimana and the fine chiseling which marks the entire work, including the lettering of the numerous inscriptions, are not equalled by anything known in South Indian architecture. Considerable engineering and architectural skill can be discerned in the construction of the temple, particularly in the work of transporting the huge blocks of granite over distances and in raising them to position. On the walls of the temple is engraved an account of Rajarajan’s exploits.

Service to the Sculptor

There is an interesting and popular story about the deep personal interest that the king evinced in the construction of the temple. It is said that one day, when the chief sthapati or the sculptor was deeply absorbed in chiseling the huge Nandi, Rajarajan went and stood by his side. The sthapati, thinking that it was his boy attendant standing by his side ordered him to prepare a pan (betel leaf with areca nut and lime). The King coolly accepted the order, folded a couple of betel leaves and handed it over to the sthapati who received it without seeing the hands that supplied them. Chewing the pan in his mouth, the sthapati started uttering words of praise, eulogizing the King who planned this unique monument. Later he asked his attendant to bring the spittoon near him. The King silently obeyed. When the sthapati raised his head after spitting the chewed betel leaves, he found to his utter surprises and shock, the Great emperor standing in front of him. He fell prostrate at the feet of the King with tears rolling down his cheeks and apologizing to the emperor, in a voice choked with emotion. The King, with a smiling face, lifted him up and consoled him by telling that it was a rare privilege for him to serve the great sthapati whose hands chiseled the sculptures of the magnificent temple.

Rajaraja & his guru Karuvurar A Generous Monarch

Rajarajan was not merely a great conqueror, but also a very able administrator. During his reign village assemblies and quasi-public corporations enjoyed complete autonomy, though their functioning was effectively supervised by the government. His powerful army and navy marked out Rajarajan as the greatest among the empire-builders of Southern India. Though he was a worshipper of Siva, he was tolerant of other religions. He made it a point to give clear expression to his general attitude to religion by including in the decorative motifs of the great Siva temple of Tanjore, themes form Vaishnavism and even Buddhism. He endowed and built some temples of Vishnu too. Besides, it is said that he granted a village to the Buddhist Vihara at Negapatam, constructed by Sri Mara Vijayottungavarman, the Sailendra King of Sri Vijaya and Kataha beyond the sea in the Malay Peninsula. Rajarajan had a number of wives, but only a few children. Though Loka-Mahadevi appears to have occupied the most important position among his queens, the mother of Rajendran, the heir apparent to the throne, was Tribhuvana Mahadevi. A happy and peaceful family life, free from political intrigues and conspiracies, contributed to the successful career of Rajarajan as a great conqueror and emperor.

Patron of Letters

Rajarajan was not merely a patron of art and architecture, but also of literature. Nambi Andar Nambi, the author who arranged the Shaiva Canon substantially in the form in which we now find it, was a contemporary of Rajarajan. He compiled in an abbreviated form, the stories of 63 Nayanmars, under the name Tiruttondattogai. Rajarajan himself was the subject of two works, a drama entitled Rajarajesvara-natakam which was to be enacted in the Tanjore temple during festivals, and a Kavya entitled Rajarajavijayam to be read in the temple of Tiruppundurutti. While the former was a dramatic representation of the construction of the great temple at Tanjore, the latter was a quasi-historical poem treating of Rajarajan’s reign.

Mission to China

During the close of his reign, Rajarajan sent a mission to China to take advantage to the opportunities extended by the Sung Government to foreign traders. The annuals of the Sung Dynasty record that the first mission to China from  Chu-lieu (Chozha) reached the country in A.D.1015 and state that the king of their country was Lo-ts’a-lo-ts’a (Rajaraja). The second mission was sent by his son Shi-lo-lo-cha yin-to-lo-chu-lo (Sri Raja Indra Chozha) in 1033 A.D. and a third by Kulottunga in 1077 A.D.

Kaveri RiverImmortal Fame

If names are the music of history, Rajarajan greatly indulged his taste for this music. He also sought to make these names current coin by attaching them to new foundations or substituting them for old ones. Among his many titles, one is the “Emperor of the Three Worlds” which indicates the vast sway of the Chozha Empire. Like Samudragupta he handed over to his illustrious successor, Rajendran, a great and grand empire which the later expanded further into the greatest Hindu Empire of his time. As long as the sky-scraping tower of the Brihadeeswara temple of Tanjore links heaven and earth, and the holy Kaveri, “the river which brings to the earth, in the guise of water, the nectar obtained by the gods after churning the ocean of milk” flows through the land of the Tamils, the name and fame of Rajarajan will remain engraved in golden letters in the annuals of Indian History.

» From Saga of Adventure—Kings and Emperors of Bharatavarsha by Sadhu Prof. V. Rangarajan

This is the first of five Rajaraja videos (above). Go to Youtube for the other four.

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  1. Sadhu V Rangarajan shares a deep insight into ancient Vedic spirituality visiting South Afirca in a mission of Unity in Consciousness 2011.


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