WAS CHOLA KINGDOM A CENTRALISED EMPIRE?

After the decline of the Gupta Empire, the main kingdoms vying for control over southern India were the Pallavas, Pandayas and the Cholas. The Cholas after years of bitter struggle emerged as the dominant force and set up a southern empire. Their rivals however would continue to be a source of trouble and the years in power are characterized by one of almost eternal conflict. The Chola dynasty began in 950, with Parantaka I coming to power and establishing their presence. During his reign the Cholas made some substantial gains as well as sustained some crushing defeats. During the next thirty years following his death there was further erosion of the Chola power. However soon luck began favouring them, and whilst the other southern powers were locked in conflict the Cholas once again recovered and in fact extended their empire, making them the dominant force of south India This was achieved by the Chola king Rajaraja I. He would be succeeded by his son Rajendra, and their reign stabilized and extended the empire. The Chola dynasty would remain a powerful kingdom until 1100 AD when the decline of their empire, would pave the way for Mughal expansion into south India. The Chola dynasty was one of the most popular dynasties of South India which ruled over Tamil Nadu and parts of Karnataka with Tanjore as its capital. Chola history can be reconstructed in considerable detail because of the vast number of length inscriptions issued not only by the royal family but also by temple authorities, village councils and trade guilds. Ashoka’s Rock Edicts II and XII are the earliest historical documents in which the Cholas find mention. The Karikala Cholas, who ruled in the 2nd century AD, were amongst the earliest Chola rulers. After them, the Chola dynasty remained in a state of political dormancy for centuries before re-emerging in its full splendour 850 under Vijayalaya. He captured Tanjore, exploiting the strife ridden PandyaPallava relationship to the fullest. He built a temple at Tanjore to commemorate his accession. The primary historical sources for the Chola period are vast numbers of inscriptions engraved on the stone walls of temple structures recording donations of land, money, agrarian produce, and animals to fund temple rituals for the benefit of their donors.

Sastri has presented the picture of a highly centralised empire in the Chola state equipped with an efficient bureaucracy and sustained by a comprehensive revenue system and a strong navy. The glory of the polity was identified in the cultural expressions such as the arts, architecture and literature of the period patronised by rulers. Minakshi Appadorai and T.V. Mahalingam later on followed his line of argument. Burton Stein is of the view that the peasant society of the Cholas, which was presented as a cohesively structured one, the primary bonds being those of kingship and marriage, was in effect an extremely stratified society, vertically divided into numerous segments. These segments created a highly pyramidal which fostered a series of relationships between the entre and the peripheries. Each of these segments had a specialised administrative staff. It also and a plethora of centres, and all the features of a dual sovereignty consisting of political as well as ritual sovereignty. Noburu Karashima and Kesavan Veluthat have attempted an alternative model for understanding the nature of the Chola state. They have attempted a systematic application of the idea of feudalism to the socio-economic formation in the early medieval period in south India and have called it a ‘Feudal State’. James Heitzman and Y. Subbarayalu have preferred to call the Chola state an ‘Early State’. According to this model, the Chola state was a centralised sociopolitical organisation, in a complex stratified and extremely unequal society, which consisted of the rulers and the ruled. The relations between them are characterised by the political dominance of the former and tributary obligations of the latter, legitimized by a common ideology of which reciprocity was the basic principle.

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