Early Medieval India 750-1200 cont


Last Updated : 27-03-2023 13:40:20
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A closer look–The Cholas

From Uraiyur to Thanjavur : How did the Cholas rise to power?

A minor chiefly family known as the Muttaraiyar held power in the Kaveri delta. They were subordinate to the Pallava kings of Kanchipuram. Vijayalaya, who belonged to the ancient chiefly family of the Cholas from Uraiyur, captured the delta from the Muttaraiyar in the middle of the ninth century. He built the town of Thanjavur and a temple for goddess Nishumbhasudini there.

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The successors of Vijayalaya conquered neighbouring regions and the kingdom grew in size and power. The Pandyan and the Pallava territories to the south and north were made part of this kingdom.

Rajaraja I, considered the most powerful Chola ruler, became king in 985 and expanded control over most of these areas. He also reorganised the administration of the empire.

Rajaraja’s son Rajendra I continued his policies and even raided the Ganga valley, Sri Lanka and countries of Southeast Asia, developing a navy for these expeditions.

Splendid temples and bronze sculpture

The big temples of Thanjavur and Gangaikonda- cholapuram, built by Rajaraja and Rajendra, are architectural and sculptural marvels. Chola temples often became the nuclei of settlements which grew around them. These were centres of craft production. Temples were also endowed with land by rulers as well as by others. The produce of this land went to maintain all the specialists who worked at the temple and very often lived near it – priests, garland makers, cooks, sweepers, musicians, dancers, etc. In other words, temples were not only places of worship; they were the hub of economic, social and cultural life as well.

Amongst the crafts associated with temples, the making of bronze images was the most distinctive. Chola bronze images are considered amongst the finest in the world. While most images were of deities, sometimes images were made of devotees as well.

Agriculture and irrigation

Many of the achievements of the Cholas were made possible through new developments in agriculture. The river Kaveri branches off into several small channels before emptying into the Bay of Bengal. These channels overflow frequently, depositing fertile soil on their banks. Water from the channels also provides the necessary moisture for agriculture, particularly the cultivation of rice. Although agriculture had developed earlier in other parts of Tamil Nadu, it was only from the fifth or sixth century that this area was opened up for large-scale cultivation. Forests had to be cleared in some regions; land had to be levelled in other areas. In the delta region embankments had to be built to prevent flooding and canals had to be constructed to carry water to the fields. In many areas two crops were grown in a year.

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A ninth century sluice- gate in Tamil Nadu. It regulated the outflow of water from a tank into the channels that irrigated the fields.

In many cases it was necessary to water crops artificially. A variety of methods were used for irrigation. In some areas wells were dug. In other places huge tanks were constructed to collect rainwater. Remember that irrigation works require planning – organising labour and resources, maintaining these works and deciding on how water is to be shared. Most of the new rulers, as well as people living in villages, took an active interest in these activities.

The administration of the empire : How was the administration organised?

Settlements of peasants, known as ur, became prosperous with the spread of irrigation agriculture. Groups of such villages formed larger units called nadu. The village council and the nadu had several administrative functions including dispensing justice and collecting taxes. Rich peasants of the Vellala caste exercised considerable control over the affairs of the nadu under the supervision of the central Chola government.

The Chola kings gave some rich landowners titles like muvendavelan (a velan or peasant serving three kings), araiyar (chief), etc. as markers of respect, and entrusted them with important offices of the state at the centre. We have seen that Brahmanas often received land grants or brahmadeya. As a result, a large number of Brahmana settlements emerged in the Kaveri valley as in other parts of south India. Each brahmadeya was looked after by an assembly or sabha of prominent Brahmana landholders. These assemblies worked very efficiently. Their decisions were recorded in detail in inscriptions, often on the stone walls of temples.

Associations of traders known as nagarams also occasionally performed administrative functions in towns. Inscriptions from Uttaramerur in Chingleput district, Tamil Nadu, provide details of the way in which the sabha was organised. The sabha had separate committees to look after irrigation works, gardens, temples, etc. Names of those eligible to be members of these committees were written on small tickets of palm leaf and kept in an earthenware pot, from which a young boy was asked to pick the tickets, one by one for each committee.

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