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Post Gupta Period in South India – Imperial Cholas

Early medieval India witnessed economic crisis, social conflict and political disintegration, testifying to the process of urban decay. The process was caused by a combination of interconnected and concurrent processes: issue of a large number of land grants to religious and secular(for servives) officials, paucity of metallic currency as a medium exchange, ruralization of economy leading to the rise of villages as self-sufficient economic units where production was carried out for local consumption, and decline of inter-regional and foreign trade.

The rise of landed intermediaries entail to the enserfment of the peasantry due to high tax burden, increasing obligations to perform forced labour and created subinfeudation.

Several inscriptions amply bear out that lands, villages, towns and shops were given away not just to temples and monasteries but also to officials, who were military and administrative. Such grants entailed the transfer of the state’s right to collect taxes from merchants, peasants and artisans to the grantees.

This, in effect, meant the delegation of the responsibility for civic administration to the grantees. Further, these beneficiaries of grants could also compel artisans to produce articles not favoured by the latter. Eventually, these grants tended to restrict the economic operations of a town and gradually feudalize it. By transferring the control over the merchants and artisans operating in the donated lands from state to the beneficiaries, these grants struck a blow to mercantile activities, as the merchants started getting involved in the management of the donated land. Their involvement in the management of lands granted to temples and monastries was bound to reduce their trading activities.

The decline of cities in India during this period has been linked to the decline of long-distance trade with the Eastern Roman Empire and Central Asia. The division of the Roman Empire into western and eastern halves by the beginning of the 4th century CE and its subsequent collapse reduced the long-distance trade carried out through the ports of peninsular India.

The Indo-Byzantine trade, mostly in silk, also received a setback in the middle of the 6th century CE, as Byzantium learnt the art of rearing silkworms on mulberry leaves. Thus, two emerging phenomena of urban decay were evident. Firstly, the decline of trade and the paucity of metallic currency suggest the rarity of exchange at the commercial level. Secondly, there was a decline of major urban centres and towns in the Gupta and post-Gupta periods. The Indian feudalism model puts forward the thesis that urban centres lost their identity as areas of exchange and craft production and became centres of religious prominence.

Imperial Cholas

 Parakesari’ Vijayalaya Chola was the first Chola of medieval period. The early Cholas were very powerful. However, they lost their power and became princes. Even, Vijayalaya Chola was just a prince under the control of the Pallava empire. He came to power in 850 AD or 846 AD. Uraiyur or Palaiyaru was his capital city.

During his period, the Pallavas had to keep fighting with the Pandyas and the Chalukyas. The Pallava king Nandivarman III won Pandian Varagunan and Chola in the battle of Tellaru. Either Vijayalaya Chola or his predecessor would have helped the Pandya king in this war.

According to a few scholars, he had already won Tanjore from Mutharaiyar in 846 AD.

Sundara Chola

 Sundara Chola was the son of Parantaka Chola I. He became the prince in the year of 956 AD. He became the king after Arinjaya Chola, in the year of 957 AD. He ruled the country till 973 AD. He had the title of “Rajakesari”, and his full name was Parantaka II Sundara Chola.

During the battle against Veera Pandian, Sundara Chola got help from Poori Vikrama Kesari from Kodumbalur and Parthivendravarman. Even though the battle against the Pandyas was won by Sundara Chola, it doesn’t appear that he had completely controlled the Pandyan kingdom during his period. However, it appears that he was successful to reclaim some of his regions in the north from the Rashtrakutas.

Sundara Chola supported literature during his period. A poetic book named ‘Veera Chozhiyam’ was written to praise him during his period. His brave son Aditya II Parakesari Karikalan was killed under mysterious circumstances. It appears that he was broken down after his son’s death and was not successful in punishing those who were responsible for the murder.

There is a theory that Aditya was killed by Uttama Chola, the cousin of Sundara Chola and son of Gandaraditya Chola. To avoid revolt or due to mutual acceptance by Rajaraja Chola, the popular son of Sundara Chola, Uttama Chola was made as the successor of the Chola throne in 970 AD.

Rajendra Chola

 Rajendra Chola I was one of the greatest emperors of the Chola dynasty. He expanded the Chola Empire from where his father Rajaraja Chola had left.

Rajendra Chola I was born on the occasion of the South Indian festival of Thiruvathira in the Tamil month of Margalzhi Thingal, to Raja Raja Chola I and his queen, Vaanathi or Thiripuvana Madeviyar. He was declared the crown prince by his father in 1012, though he started assisting him in his conquests from 1002 and led campaigns against the Western Chalukyas, Vengi and Kalinga.

Apart from reaching northwards to the Ganges and overseas to Maldives and Sri Lanka, he also invaded the Southeast Asian territories of Srivijaya, Indonesia and southern Thailand. He continued to maintain and improve commercial relations with China, started off by his father.

He assumed the title ‘Gangaikonda Chola’ (The Chola who took the Ganges) after defeating the Gangas, Chalukyas, Cheras, Palas, Pandyas, Kalinga and other rulers.

He established a new capital, Gangaikonda Cholapuram, where he constructed a Shiva temple, resembling the Brihadeeswara Temple built by his father Rajaraja Chola at the previous capital Thanjavur.

He built a vast empire and a strong military and naval force. His rule came to be known as the ‘Golden Age of Cholas’. He was succeeded by his son Rajadhiraja Chola, who was then followed by his other two sons – Rajendra Chola II and Virarajendra Chola

Rajendra Chola II reigned as the Chola king, succeeding his elder brother Rajadhiraja Chola in the 11th century. He is best remembered for his role in the battle of Koppam along with his elder brother where he dramatically turned the tables on the Chalukyan King Someshvara I, after the death of his brother in 1052. During his early reign an expedition was led to Sri Lanka, in the course of which the Sri Lanka army was routed and their king Vijayabahu I of Polonnaruwa was driven to take refuge in a mountain-fortress.

He maintained the Chola Empire well as the distribution of his records show that the Chola Empire did not suffer any loss of territory during his reign.

The Cholas were first defeated by the Pandyas in 1217, and later they were somehow restored back to power. After the first defeat, the Chola Dynasty faced a continuous decline till 1279, which marked the end of Chola dynasty. The last king of the dynasty was Rajendra Chola III who was defeated by the Pandya King Kulasekara Pandyan I.

Chola-Chalukya wars

The Chola-Chalukya wars were no doubt a bloody conflict and resulted in destruction of cities and the killing of people, but the impact in the demographics or the economy was negligible. The boundaries of the two empires remained the same during the course of the conflict and even economic growth did not get hampered.

There were two reasons for this self-destructive rivalry—first, the Cholas were wary of the swiftly increasing power of the Chalukyas, especially since the Badami Chalukyas had time and again defeated the fledgling Chola kingdom in its early days and not permitted the dynasty to flourish; and second, because the fertile river valley in the doab region of the rivers Krishna and Godavari was ruled by the Chalukyas of Vengi, who were at least nominally affiliated to their cousins, the Western Chalukyas.

The combination of the Chola king Raja Raja I and the crown prince Rajendra Chola was formidable and deadly. Throughout the Western Chalukyas’ rule, Vengi remained contested territory between them and the Cholas, with no conclusive victory being attained by either party. Satyasraya’s son Jayasimha II was more capable and ambitious than his father. On becoming king he immediately subdued the Paramaras of Gujarat, who had become restive during the initial Chalukya-Chola war and the subsequent Chalukya defeat.

Vikramanka ruled for 50 years which is considered the most successful years in the full span of the of the later Chalukya rule. The period is at times referred to as the ‘Chalukya Vikrama Era’. Vikramanka followed his military victory in the civil war by defeating the Cholas in the Battle of Vengi in 1093, and then again in 1118. After these victories he retained a large tract of Chola land for many years under his direct rule and although hostilities continued in a general manner, this annexation of land had the effect of reducing the Chola power in a gradual manner.

Vikramanka’s death in 1126 was the beginning of the end of the Chalukyas of Kalyani. The kingdom had been weakened by the continual hostilities with the Cholas, who were also by now at the end of their power and prestige. The Chalukya Empire descended into chaos.

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