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Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Rajakesari Arulmozhivarman – the prince who took the Cholas to glory as Rajaraja Chola I

In this series on Rajakesari Arulmozhivarman, following up on earlier History series on Hindu Chakravartins Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj and Maharajadhiraja Samudragupta, we shall journey through the life of one of the most celebrated Chola rulers. Despite being a ruler par excellence Arulmozhivarman, who is best known as Rajaraja (I) Chola, and his achievements hardly find a place in textbooks outside Tamil Nadu.

How much of his history is taught without distortions in Tamil Nadu is anyone’s guess. Be that as it may, our aim is to tell untold stories of Hindu dynasties which would puncture Marxist historians’ propaganda (and in this case that of Periyarists’ as well).

KA Nilakanta Sastri places the history of Cholas into four divisions: 1) Sangam literature Age 2) time period between the close of the Sangam Age and rise of the Vijayalaya line 3) Vijayalaya line which rose into prominence in the ninth century CE and finally 4) Chalukya-Chola line of Kulottunga I and his successors (reigning period roughly 11th to mid-13th century).

In general, Cholas have left sufficient authentic historical records for the benefit of future generations and historians. Although, many have been destroyed due to the ‘mindless renovation’ of temples where these records were generally inscribed, the material at hand allows us to reconstruct their history with a great amount of authenticity.

It is from these inscriptions that we learn that the Cholas belonged to the solar dynasty (Suryavanshis) and more often than not the monarchs followed the practice of not just choosing their successors but initiating them into the administrative affairs of the kingdom during their own lifetime as well. We are going to confine ourselves to the illustrious Rajaraja I who belongs to the Vijayalaya line and reigned from circa 985-1014 CE.


Karikala Chola was the most prominent Chola monarch of the Sangam Age. In the transitional period after the decline of Cholas of the Sangam Age to the rise of Vijayalaya, Pallavas and Pandyas established their dominance. The accession of Vijayalaya in the second quarter of the ninth century brought the Cholas into prominence once again. A new and great epoch in the history of Cholas and Tamil land and people was about to be written that would take the glory of the dynasty and Vedic Dharma across the seas to southeast Asian countries.

Suffice here to say that like most dynasties on the decline princes of the Chola dynasty sought vassalship with other powerful ones during the transitional period. Vijayalaya was serving as a vassal of the then Pallava king on whose behalf he participated in the battle of Sri Purambiyam along with his son Aditya I. He captured Thanjavur in this battle and having tasted success went on to shake off vassalship and establish his own reign leading to the rise of imperial Cholas.

At the time of the Sri Purambiyam battle, the Cholas were in possession of a small principality that included Thanjavur and Uraiyur as vassals of the Pallava kings. However, in the next twenty-five years, they had become a formidable power thanks exclusively to the efforts of Aditya I a remarkable warrior and an able diplomat who expanded on the foothold established by his father Vijayalaya.

Aditya I was followed by his son Parantaka I whose reign lasted for about forty-five years. Parantaka followed up on his father’s victories by expanding the kingdom and bringing about the end of Pandyan independence. Towards the end of his rule, the Rashtrakutas under Krishna III invaded the Chola Empire. In the battle that ensued Parantaka’s eldest son Rajaditya lost his life.

The tragedy took a heavy toll on Parantaka himself who did not survive long after the occurrence. The next few decades were a period of gloom for the Cholas characterized by numerous tragedies till Arulmozhivarman ascended the throne around 985 CE.

Rajakesari Arulmozhivarman
Order of succession of the Vijayalaya line of Cholas

Accession of Rajakesari Rajaraja I

The period between the death of Parantaka I (953 CE) and the accession of Rajaraja I (985 CE) is the most difficult and confusing period in Chola history. The pieces of evidence with regard to the scheme of succession have been variously interpreted by different scholars making it even more confusing to settle on a single interpretation.

As per the evidence provided by the Tiruvalangadu plates and the Leyden grant, the order of succession after the death of Rajaditya was as follows – Gandaraditya, Arinjaya, Parantaka (II) Sundara Chola, Aditya II and Madhurantaka Uttama Chola who was the uncle and immediate predecessor of Rajaraja I.

Without getting into other details it would be enough to state that Rajaraja’s father Parantaka (II) Sundara Chola was the next significant ruler of this dynasty. Rajaraja’s elder brother Aditya II was chosen as heir apparent by Sundara Chola. As a prince, Aditya II assisted his father in administration as well as warfare as was the custom among Cholas. Unfortunately, he became a victim of political murder and predeceased Sundara Chola.

The Tiruvalangadu plates indirectly suggest that after Aditya II’s death Sundara was forced by Uttama Chola to select him (Uttama) as heir apparent instead of Sundara’s younger son Rajaraja. Although historians do not rule out the role of Uttama Chola in instigating the murder the Tiruvalangadu plates appear to purposely omit it.

Whatever be the reason, Madhurantaka Uttama Chola succeeded Sundara and ruled till 985 CE when Rajakesari Arulmozhivarman ascended the throne after a long period of apprenticeship as a Yuvaraja.

Born in the Tamil month of Aipassi (Hindu month – Asvin, English month: mid-October to mid-November) Arulmozhivarman was the second son and third child of Parantaka II Sundara Chola and Vanavan Mahadevi.

His accession to the throne marked the transformation of Yuvaraja Arulmozhivarman to Rajakesari Rajaraja I and ushered in a period of grandeur and glory for the Chola dynasty. In many respects, he was the greatest of all great Cholas of the Vijayalaya line who laid the foundation upon which his son and successor Rajendra I took the dynasty and empire to its zenith.

We shall look at the achievements of Rajaraja the great in the subsequent parts of this series.


  1. The Cholas – KA Nilakanta Sastri (Source)

(Featured Image Source:

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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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