Chola Dynasty – Overview, Prominent Rulers, Architectural Wonders, Social Status, Religious Practices

An Overview Of The Chola Dynasty

As the aboriginal natives of the south, the Cholas came into prominence after the weakening of the Pallava dynasty. Evidence proves that the Chola Dynasty, which was established during the Third Century BCE, outlived the Mauryan Empire and is one among the longest reigning dynasties in and around the world. The dynasty, which chiefly controlled the southern part of India, expanded to the islands of Maldives to the Godavari river in Andhra Pradesh. The Chola empire also captured several regions of Sri Lanka and pillaged kingdoms of the Malay Archipelago. 

The Chola dynasty was at its pinnacle from the 10th century till the 12th century. The primordial Sangam literature recounts the early Cholas, but no mention has been made about their origins or the clan as such. Indication of the early Chola dynasty is evident in the edicts of Ashoka (272-232 BCE) and is also mentioned in the Periplus Maris Erythraei (c.40 CE- c. 60 CE) and even makes an appearance in Claudius Ptolemy’s ‘Geography’(c. 150 CE). 

The Chola dynasty governed for over 1500 years, leaving their own distinctive legacy. The 

Chola empire was centralised, having predominantly three divisions with the King being the overall head – 

  • Central Government
  • Provincial Government and;
  • Local Government

This type of administration made governance easy, wherein each entity was able to handle the governance of the region at different levels. 

Prominent Rulers Among The Chola Dynasty

The reign of the Chola dynasty has been divided into four stages for easier understanding of history, namely –

  1. The Early Cholas
  2. Interregnum
  3. The Medieval Cholas and finally,
  4. The Chalukya Cholas

Although Sangam literature has accounts of the earliest recorded Cholas from the rulers to the poets of the court in the Common Era, these cannot be taken into consideration since there are many missing links to the parts of the Chola history that the scholars are yet to find. Not much is documented during the transition period of the Chola dynasty after the Pandyas and Pallavas took over for around three centuries. During this interim stage, because the Cholas still had their reputation, they were employed into duty by the Pallavas and the Pandyas. It was only after King Vijayalaya captured Thanjavur after a falling out between the Pandyas and the Pallavas that the rest of the regal Chola dynasty was again dominant. 

It was during this period that the Cholas were at their pinnacle, aiming to annex places outside their territory going as far as Sri Lanka under the leadership of the greats like Rajaraja Chola I and Rajendra Chola I. These years also saw extreme discord and strife between the Chalukyas and the Cholas which was later amended after their lineage entered into a marriage alliance, together. During the era of the Chalukya Cholas, even though the empire had very capable rulers like Kulothunga Chola I, Vikrama Chola and the successors, the empire was falling apart mainly due to the uprising of the Sinhalas in Sri Lanka and to the revival of the Hoysala powers. Towards the end of the 12th century, however, the Cholas were under threat from their own vassals and the other empires, leading to their gradual decline. 

Here is a list of the documented rulers of the Chola Dynasty

Rulers of the Medieval Chola Dynasty

Names of the Rulers of the Chola DynastyPeriod of Reign
Vijayalaya Cholac.848 – c. 871 CE 
Aditya Ic. 871 – c.907 CE
Parantaka Chola Ic.907 – c.950 CE
Gandaraaditya c. 950 – c.957 CE
Sundara Chola c. 957 – c.970 CE
Uttama Cholac.970 –  c.985 CE
Rajaraja Chola Ic.985 –  c.1014 CE
Rajendra Chola I (Gangaikonda)c.1012 – c.1044 CE
Rajadhiraja Chola Ic.1018 – c.1054 CE
Rajendra Chola IIc.1051 – c.1063 CE
Virarajendra Cholac.1063 – c.1070 CE
Athirajendra Chola c.1067 – c.1070 CE

Rulers of the Chalukya Chola Dynasty

Names of the Rulers of the Chalukya Chola DynastyPeriod of Reign
Kulothunga Chola Ic.1070 – c.1120 CE
Vikrama Chola c.1118 – c.1135 CE
Kulothunga Chola IIc.1133 – c.1150 CE
Rajaraja Chola IIc.1146 – c.1163 CE
Rajadhiraja IIc.1163 – c.1178 CE
Kulothunga Chola IIIc.1178 – c.1218 CE
Rajaraja Chola IIIc.1216 – c.1256 CE
Rajendra Chola IIIc.1246 – c.1279 CE

Known Architectural Wonders Of The Chola Dynasty

During the reign of the Chola dynasty, the empire managed to reach its pinnacle with its Dravidian style of architecture. The Kaliasanathar Temple in Kanchi and Brihadishvara Temple, which was one among the few largest temples during its era in Tanjore and is now part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, was built for Shiva by Rajaraja I to portray his ardent devotion. 

A common element seen in almost every Dravidian architecture is the use of Mandap. A mandap often operated as an auditorium for ceremonies or as an audience hall. Gopurams were another important aspect in these temples, which were made for the priests and the devotees to worship their gods, while the statues of the gods would be kept in an inner sanctum. 

Bronze craftsmanship, under the reign of Queen Sembiyan Mahadevi, escalated to greater heights mainly because of the intricate detailing in the lost wax technique. One of the finest examples of the era’s craftsmanship is the Nataraja (representation of Shiva as the divine cosmic dancer), an epochal figure concerning religion. 

Social Status During The Reign Of The Chola Dynasty

The differential treatment of the higher castes like the Kshatriyas and the Brahmins against the lower castes had by then become a common occurrence. Brahmins and Kshatriyas were given preference in every aspect, including education and religious matters. 

The status of women during the Chola dynasty, however, did not get any better. The practise of Sati was still prevalent, and it was taboo if the woman did not jump unto the pyre. Society would shun her completely, with no thought for her future, even if she was from a royal family. It was during this period that the concept and practice of having devadasi girls in temples surfaced. 

Religious Practices During Chola Dynasty

Under the Cholas, Hinduism and Shaivism flourished. The Cholas were ardent followers of Lord Shiva, which also explains most of their temples being dedicated to Shiva. They were tolerant of other sects of Hinduism and Buddhism. From the Chola dynasty, King Rajaraja Chola even patronised Buddhists and built a monastery for them, namely, the Chudamani Vihara. But the Chalukya Cholas were a different matter. There were instances where vaishnavities were heavily persecuted because of their faith. Another incident documents the removal of the statue of Vishnu by King Kulongthunga Chola II, who was known to be a religious zealot, from the temple of Shiva in Chidambaram, which led to an uproar. 


The reign of the Chola Dynasty saw expeditious improvements in military advancements as well as in the standard of living. The once Golden era which the Cholas experienced under the reign of Rajaraja I could not be relinquished thereafter but, their culture and civilisation exist for us to understand and learn from history. 


Who founded the Chola Dynasty?

Vijayalaya Chola founded the Chola Dynasty, which was later on, made an empire by Rajaraja Chola I by expanding their territories.

Who was the last remaining King of the Chola Empire?

Rajendra Chola III was the last King under the Chola Dynasty.

Who ruled before the Chola dynasty?

The Pandya’s ruled the region until the late 15th century till the Cholas took over.

Where was the initial Chola territory located in India?

Before their expansion into Sri Lanka and Andhra Pradesh, Cholas were originally inhabitants of Tamil Nadu from the Southern part of India.


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