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Wednesday, May 31, 2023

The military campaigns of Rajaraja I Chola

In the first part of our series on Rajaraja I Chola we had explained his lineage and accession in detail. The accession of Rajaraja I marked the beginning of the grand Chola Age which took the dynasty to the pinnacle of glory.

As per the Tiruvalangadu plates Rajaraja I began his digvijaya (victorious military campaign) with the conquest of the southern direction. The Pandya, Kerala, and Simhala were in an alliance against the Cholas since the times of Rajaraja’s forefathers. This alliance was in effect at the time of Rajaraja I as well and hence Rajaraja’s southern campaign was directed both the Cheras and the Pandyas.

Rajaraja I Chola’s Southern Campaigns

Pandya king Amarabhujanga was defeated and his kingdom was absorbed into the Chola one. The Chera contemporary of Rajaraja I was Bhaskara Ravi Varman Tiruvadi. He defeated both the Cheras and Pandyas to assume the title “Mummudi Chola Deva” meaning “the lord who adorns three crowns (that of Chola, Chera, and Pandyas)”. KAN Sastri is inclined to believe that this title means the thrice powerful Chola.

Although Rajaraja I bears this title from his 4th regnal year, his conquest of both the kingdoms wasn’t complete until his 8th regnal year when Rajaraja’s inscriptions appear in Kerala and Pandya kingdoms. The conquest of both these kingdoms was completed through a series of military expeditions one of which was led by none other than his son and successor Yuvaraja (crown prince) Rajendra I Chola.

Conquest of Simhala (Sri Lanka) by Rajaraja I Chola

Having completed the conquest and assimilation of Chera and Pandya kingdoms into the Chola fold, Rajaraja turned his attention towards the third of the triumvirate Simhala. The Izham (northern part of Sri Lanka) finds place from the first Meykkirtti (panegyric introduction) beginning with the phrase ‘Tirumagal’.

The Tiruvalangadu plates contain the following picturesque account of the invasion of Ceylon (Source: KAN Sastri)

“Rama built with the aid of the monkeys, a causeway across the seas, 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”.

As per the details available Mahinda V, who ascended the throne in 981 CE, was the ruler of Sri Lanka when Rajaraja I undertook the naval expedition to invade the island. Rajaraja was successful in driving Mahinda V into the forests and crowing himself the ruler of most of Northern Sri Lanka which became the province of Mummudi Chola Mandalam.

Rajaraja, having successfully driven away Mahinda V to take refuge in the inaccessible hill country in the southern part of the island called Rohana, set up his capital at Polonnaruwa. He renamed the city Jananatha-Mangalam and constructed a stone temple dedicated to Bhagwan Shiva (Shiv Devale) signaling Chola occupation of Ceylon.

Rajaraja I Chola
Shiv Devale #2 (Pic Source: Art and Archaeology)

Conquest of Kongu Mandalam by Rajaraja I Chola

Rajaraja made Nolumbapadi, Gangapadi, and Tadigaipadi in present-day Karnataka (Mysore region to be precise) part of the Chola kingdom. This campaign was partly successful because the Cholas had retained control over Kongu Nadu (country) from where launching the military offensive was easier. Nolambas and Gangas were the rulers of this region.

At the time of Rajaraja’s conquest, Nolambas had already lost their independence and become vassals of Gangas. Nolumbapadi included Tumkur, Citaldurg, large parts of Bangalore, Kolar, Bellary district, and parts of Salem and North Arcot as well. The Nolambas ruled here and continued to be feudatories of Rajaraja after siding, either overtly or covertly, with the Cholas against the Gangas.

This campaign was mainly directed at the Gangas and the invasion began with the Chola army crossing the river Kaveri from Kongu Nadu and capturing Tadigaipadi. The stupendous success of this conquest made the Cholas overlords of this region for more than a century.

A political revolution worth mentioning here that helped Rajaraja the great is the restoration of ancient Chalukyas in 973 CE replacing the Rashtrakutas by Taila II Ahavamalla. The Gangas and Nolambas lost a chief ally in Rashtrakutas and there was nothing to bind them to the relatively new Western Chalukyas. Make no mistake Rajaraja was himself a military genius but political developments made his conquest that much easier.

Rajaraja I Chola launches offensive against the Western Chalukyas

Satyasraya ascended the Chalukya throne a few years after 992 CE when Rajaraja embarked on a conquest of the Western Chalukya kingdom. Rajaraja’s inscriptions state that he was successful in the battle against Satyasraya in which he captured some of the latter’s treasures which were used for enriching the grand Thanjavur Brihadeeswara Temple.

The Western Chalukyas were facing a military offensive from the Paramaras of Malwa in the north at the same time when Rajaraja launched his campaign from the south. It is obvious that Satyasraya would have found it difficult to fight against two powerful enemies attacking them from opposite directions. Rattapadi of the Western Chalukyas was annexed to the Chola Empire. KAN Sastri mentions that Satyasraya was able to recapture Rattapadi after some time.

Rajaraja I Chola and Eastern Chalukyas

Eastern Chalukyas who had been ruling Vengi for about three centuries in Vengi had become an old and decrepit race and their kingdom had become a victim of disputed succession and anarchy when Rajaraja came to the throne.

The relation between Western and Eastern Chalukyas is a topic for another day but suffice here to state that Rajaraja took a direct interest in the affairs of Vengi and brought the Eastern Chalukyas into close connection with the Cholas by entering into a matrimonial alliance. Prince Vimaladitya of Vengi married Rajaraja’s daughter and younger sister of Rajendra I Chola Kunthavai which infused fresh blood into the Eastern Chalukya line and gave the dying dynasty a lease of life that made them last for another century.

Rajaraja I Chola conquers Maldives

The final conquest of Rajaraja, mentioned in his inscriptions dated to the 29th regnal year talks about the capture of “old islands of the sea that are twelve thousand in number”. Scholars have identified this with the island of Maldives. Unfortunately, no details of this conquest are available. However, this conquest is a testimony of the highly efficient navy organized by Rajaraja the great that was effectively leveraged by his son and successor Rajendra I Chola during his conquest of South-East Asia in the years to come.

Rajaraja I Chola
The extent of the Chola Empire under the reign of Rajaraja I Chola (Pic Source: Wikiwand.com)

The military genius of Rajaraja was equally matched by his intellect and administrative capabilities which we shall see in the subsequent parts of this series.


  1. The Cholas – KA Nilakanta Sastri (Source)
  2. Rajaraja the great: A garland of tributes – compiled by Selvi T Poongothai & Dr. KD Thirunavukkarasu (Source)

(Featured Image Source: SwarajyaMag)

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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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