The Rise of Cholas

Learning Goal:

In the Kaveri delta a minor chiefly family known as the Muttariyar held power. They were subordinate to the Pallava kings of Kanchipuram. The control of the Cholas from Uraiyur to Thanjavur was done by Vijayalaya who belonged to the ancient family of the Cholas from Uraiyur. In the mid-ninth century he captured the delta from the Muttaraiyar and built the town of Thanjavur and also a temple of Goddess Nishumbhasudini there.

The Rise of the Cholas

The kingdom grew in size and power with the conquest of neighbouring areas by the successors of Vijayalaya. The Pandyans and Pallava territories to the south and north became part of the Chola kingdom.

Rajaraja I: He was considered the most powerful Chola ruler. He became king in 985 and expanded control over most of the areas mentioned above. He reorganized the administration of the empire, and his son Rajendra I continued his policies and even raided the Ganga Valley, Sri Lanka and countries of south-east Asia; developing a navy for these expeditions.


The architectural and sculptural marvels of the period include the big temples of Thanjavur and Gangaikondacholapuram, built by Rajaraja and Rajendra. Settlements grew around the temples of the Chola period and hence these became the nuclei of settlements. The temples were endowed with land by rulers as well as by others. The specialists who worked at the temple and often lived near it included priests, garland makers, cooks, sweepers, musicians, dancers, etc. The produce of the land went for their sustenance. Besides being places of worship; temples were the hub of social, cultural and economic life as well.


The most distinctive amongst the crafts associated with the temple was the making of the bronze images. The bronze images of the Chola period are considered among the finest in the world. Though most images were of deities, some images of devotees were also made.


New developments in agriculture made many of the achievements of the Cholas possible. The river Kaveri (which was a part of the regions controlled by the Cholas) branches off into several small channels before entering the Bay of Bengal. The overflowing of the channels deposits fertile soil on their banks and also the water from them provides moisture needed for agriculture, particularly for rice crop. Only in the fifth and sixth century large scale agriculture was started in Tamil Nadu. For this purpose forests were cleared in some regions and land was levelled in some areas.

Flooding in the delta region was prevented by building embankments and canals were constructed for carrying water to the fields. Two crops were grown annually in many areas.


A variety of methods of irrigation were used in areas where crops had to be watered artificially. These included digging of wells and construction of huge tanks to collect rainwater.

Most of the new rulers and village people took active interest in the irrigation activity which included careful planning-organising of labour and resources, maintenance of the works as well as deciding on water-sharing.


With the spread of irrigated agriculture, settlements of peasants called ur became prosperous. Groups of such villages formed larger units called nadu. The village council and the nadu performed many administrative functions which included dispensing justice and collecting taxes.

Considerable control over the affairs of the nadu was exercised by the rich peasants of the Vellala caste. However they were under the supervision of the central Chola government. Some rich landowners were given the following titles by the Chola kings:

There titles were a mark of respect. The rich landowners were entrusted with important offices at the centre and the state.

Types of Land

The Chola inscriptions mentioned various types of land as follows:

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