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Saturday, June 10, 2023

Administrative mechanism of Rajaraja I Chola

In Part 1 & Part 2 of this series on Rajaraja I Chola we have learned how Yuvaraja (crown prince) Rajakesari Arulmozhivarman of the Vijayalaya line ascended the throne as a successor to his uncle Uttama Chola and expanded the boundaries of the Chola kingdom through his numerous military campaigns.

Rajaraja was as able an administrator as he was a military genius. The Chola administrative system was perfected by Rajaraja and this was apparent in the functioning of every department. The elaborate, strong, and centralized bureaucracy along with hierarchical yet democratic local administration is one of the distinguishing features of Rajaraja’s administrative machinery.

Administrative units under Rajaraja

Rajaraja divided his empire into Mandalams (Provinces) which were administered by governors. At times, princes of the royal family were appointed as governors. The Mandalams were further divided into Valanadus (Divisions), Nadus also known as Kottams or Korrams (Districts), Puram (town), Nagaram (city), and finally Urs or Oorus (Villages).

The village was the basic unit of administration which was variously known as Ur (Ooru) gramam or agaram and Nallur (agricultural village). There are other names given to these local units on the basis of either their location or the profession of their inhabitants.

The most common type of villages was those that were occupied by people of all castes and contributing land revenue to the royal treasury. Agrahara or Brahmadeya villages were tax-free villages granted to Brahmins.

Villages that were donated to Devis and Devtas were known as Devadana villages. Revenues earned from these villages were handed over completely to the temples which became the centers of life under the Cholas. Devadana villages gained currency under the Chola monarchs in general and imperial Cholas, especially Rajaraja, in particular.

Other types of villages were Palliccandam (Jain or Buddhist settlement), Kanimurruuttu (settlement of Astronomers), Vettaiperu (hunters’ colonies), and Salaipuram (lands gifted for charity purposes like schools, Dharamshalas, etc).

Rajaraja’s administrative mechanism

There were two centres of administration; one was the royal secretariat functioning from the capital Thanjavur and the other was the local administration situated in the respective regional centres as well as villages.

Rajaraja created strong and centralized bureaucratic machinery to look into the daily administration of the empire. A strict hierarchy was maintained in the bureaucracy and tenure of an official depended on the pleasure of the monarch. Higher ranked officers were known as Perundanam and Sirundanam were lower officials.

Besides ensuring a strict balance between central control and local independence, great importance was placed on non-interference in local administrative affairs from the central bureaucracy.

It was the duty of royal scribe called “Thirumandira Olai” who accompanied the ruler to record oral instructions issued to responsible officers on the basis of representations made to him. The king’s orders were considered divine and recorded as “Thiruvaymoli molintarulina”.

These orders are first written down in palm leaves and then inscribed on copper plates which are sent to the respective villages for implementation. Along with the instructions issued by the king, it was also important to record when and where the king uttered the order.

For example in the case of the Anaimangalam grant of Rajaraja, the grant records that the king issued the order on the 92nd day of his 22nd regnal year when he was seated in the outer palace called Rajasrayan at Thanjavur to an assembly of cultivators, Brahmadeya villages, devadanas, villages of Buddhists and Jains, astronomers villages and hunter settlements.

Once the order was committed to writing, three high officials verified the correctness of the draft. During Rajaraja’s reign, the royal scribe was Amudan Tirttakaran.

Administrative officers of Rajaraja’s administration

Caste had no role in the Chola administration and all castes served in the same capacity which can be seen from the high officers verifying the draft of the Anaimangalam grant. There was neither caste distinction nor a hierarchy among the senior-most officers.

Tirumandira Olai Nayakam (Chief Superintendent of documents) was the Brahmin Krishnan Raman with the title Mummudi Brahmamarayan, and the other two high officials were the chieftain Irayiravan Pallavaraiyan who assumed the title of Mummudi Chola Bojan and Vellalan Muvendavelan Madurantaka Uttama Cholan.

Revenue officers played a very important role in the Chola administrative setup. Rajaraja undertook an extensive survey of the land and assessment of the empire to determine the land revenue and other taxes.

The department of land revenue was known as Puravu-varitinaik-katam which was efficiently organized. During Rajaraja’s reign, one-third of the gross produce was fixed as the land revenue (kadamai or kudimai) which was collected either in cash or kind. Kalanju was the currency prevalent in the Chola kingdom. Land tax and local levies were taken by the village assembly.

Although the land tax was the single largest source of income taxes were also levied on professionals, saltpans, mines, forest produce, etc. Cattle-rearing was a significant subsidiary occupation. The unpaid labour system was also prevalent. The rulers built a network of royal roads that helped both in the trade as well as for facilitating the movement of the army.

Trade with foreign countries constituted an important feature of the Cholas mercantile activities. There were gigantic trade guilds that traded with Java and Sumatra. South Bharat exported textiles, spices, drugs, jewels, ivory, horn, ebony, and camphor to China. Trade brought considerable prestige and affluence to the Cholas.

One of the most significant contributions of Rajaraja was that he introduced a system of audit bureau so as to control and ensure the efficient functioning of village assemblies (Sabhas and Urs), Municipal Councils (Nagarams) and the Councils of Nadus.

The assemblies and councils were quasi-public corporations that submitted their records and accounts for audits to the officers of the royal secretariat without any curb on their autonomy.

We shall take a look at the local (village and town/city) and temple administrations in the next part of this series.


  1. The Cholas – KAN Sastri (Source)
  2. Rajaraja the great – a garland of tributes (Source)
  3. Tamil Nadu The land of Vedas – Dr. R Nagaswamy

(Featured Image Source: Wikipedia)

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A opinionated girl-next-door with an attitude. I'm certainly not afraid to call myself 'a proud Hindu' and am positively politically incorrect. A Bharatiya at heart who loves reading, music, sports and nature. Travelling and writing are my passions.


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