And then Rajendra Chola arrived on the scene. He has been known by such various honorifics as Gangaikonda Chola, Gudigonda Chola, Kadaramgonda Chola and Pandita Chola. His father Rajaraja Chola gave him a solid training since childhood. Apart from him, Rajaraja Chola had a daughter named Kundavadevi who was married to Vinayaditya of the Vengi Chalukyas.
The bond between Telugu and Tamil was further strengthened during Rajendra Chola’s regime. On his part, Rajendra Chola married his daughter Ammangadevi to Kundadevi’s son, Rajaraja Narendra. Rajendra Chola’s son, Rajendra Chola II’s daughter Madhurantaki in turn was married to Rajaraja Narendra’s son Rajendra Deva.
The Cholas maintained matrimonial alliances with the Gangas of Kalinga and the Chalukyas of Vengi. The Chalukya ruler Vikramaditya VI was married to a daughter of the Cholas. In summary, the extensive region of the Dakshinapatha (South India) of those days was truly the land where warriors went on excursions of valour.
The one distinctive quality we notice in the Cholas is their indomitable grit. Of the Moovvendirars (three Indras or royal dynasties), the Cholas displayed this grit the most. They would not rest till they razed the enemy’s kingdom to the ground. In fact, the nature of that period truly demanded this spirit.
If the Sanatana spirit spread to South East Asia and is still alive today, it is due to the efforts of Rajaraja and Rajendra Chola. The special attribute missing in other Hindu dynasties is precisely these intercontinental expeditions that the Cholas undertook. They embarked on a conquest of Java, Sumatra and Sri Lanka. In order to commemorate the trailblazing campaign of success that he launched, reaching all the way up to the banks of Ganga, Rajendra Chola built a new city named Gangaikondacholapuram. He vanquished the Pandyas and the Keralas. Indeed, in the entire Bharata, the Cholas had the best and the most well-equipped naval fleet comprising thousands of warships.
Our history textbooks have completely neglected any mention of India’s naval prowess and overseas trade and commerce. By the beginning of the 11th Century, Bhoja Raja instituted Ship-building as a systematic science. His masterly work, Yuktikalpataru is the prime evidence for this fact. During the same period, no country in Europe had textual information regarding ship-building and the technology related to it.
Akin to the Cholas, ship-building progressed at a rapid pace among the Andhras and the Odhras (Odisha). Likewise, the Gurjaras (Gujaratis) too had attained expertise in ship-building.
Rajendra Chola turned his attention to land reforms. The lineages of Kanakkupillais (or Karanikas or accountants) have maintained impeccable records of the same till the eighteenth century. They calculated the extent of cultivated land and collected taxes based on the same. This system existed as early as 1000 CE.
One major allegation against the Cholas is that they were opponents of the Vaishnavas. But the fact is that there is no solid evidence to back this up. Both Rajaraja Chola and Rajendra Chola built numerous Vishnu temples. They built Buddhist Viharas in Nagapattinam. In Sittalavasal, the hub of the Siddhas, they extended immense cooperation and security to the Jains. It is from this place that the famous Siddha system of medicine originated. The contribution of the Jains to Tamil literature is truly enormous.
Not a single Vishnu temple in Kanchi has been destroyed, a testimony to the assimilative spirit of the Cholas. Dr. B G L Swamy’s painstaking researches show that the Jain poetry of Ilango Adigal in his Silappadhikaram and Manimekhalai belongs to the Chola period. The same period also witnessed numerous Jain associations and institutions. Kanchi was also a major Buddhist centre.
At a personal level, while the Cholas were Shiva devotees, they did not harass the adherents of other sects and schools. There is no reliable evidence to show that they were sectarian fanatics. The oft-quoted incident of Sri Ramanujacharya being persecuted by the Cholas following which he sought refuge under the Hoysalas is nothing but a total fabrication. Equally, the other canard of the Murti of Chidambaram’s Sri Govindaraja being thrown into the sea is a raw lie. Recent research has conclusively exposed these and similar falsehoods.
The Cholas were endowed with a mammoth military force. Sixty thousand elephants. An infantry ten times that number. The Cholas were engaged in constant feuds with the Hoysalas and the Kalyana Chalukyas. They also fought several battles with the Yadavas of Devagiri and the Kalingas.
Rajendra Chola passed through the Kalinga country, reached the banks of Ganga, took her waters back and performed the Abhishekam to the deity at Brihadeeshwara. It is for this reason that he acquired the honorific, Gangaikonda Cholan. On one of his expeditions, he went to Bengal and invited numerous Sadhus of the Shaiva tradition to settle down in Kanchipuram. The nature of his valour can be gauged be the fact that he remained undefeated in any war that he waged. Rajendra Chola was himself the commander-in-chief and the Naval Commander of the highest order. Indeed, when the emperor himself leads the battle from the front, the kind of motivated inspiration that courses through the soldiers is incredible.
Rajendra Chola placed great emphasis on decentralisation of power. While Tanjavur was the capital, Gangaikondacholapuram was the seat of power. Vikramacholapuram (near Kaivara in today’s Chintamani town, Kolar district) was the northern capital. Talakad and Kanchipuram were regional capitals.
His administrative system followed the model of today's Gram Panchyats. For the sake of administrative efficiency, the empire was divided into units of various sizes such as Sabhai, Kuri Sabhai, Perum Sabhai, Nagaram, Variyam, and so on. To carry out administrative tasks, committees were formed and its members were appointed by means of elections. Officers strove to resolve village-related issues locally as much as possible. Punishments were severe. Although there existed gradations of Varna-Jati-Shreni, in the matters of pooling resources and building assets, all groups participated in equal measure and took constructive responsibility.
The life and lifestyle of the citizens of the Chola Empire was superior when compared to that in other empires. Women played a prominent and central role in moneylending and commerce and enjoyed economic independence.
The Cholas were prolific temple-builders. Their temples served as centres of medical science and were the hubs of various aspects related to society and culture.
All of these are the eternal and invaluable contributions made by Rajaraja and Rajendra Chola.