Emperor Raja Raja Chola
The region of present-day Tamil Nadu was governed by several powerful rulers over the centuries with many wars having been fought here for supremacy. Out of these, Raja Raja Chola I is documented to have been one of the greatest Tamil monarchs in India during that era. He laid the foundation for the great Chola Kingdom into becoming a powerful empire and reigned from 985-1014 CE.
He began a trend for conquering neighboring kingdoms right after his accession to the throne and waged war against a series of kingdoms including that of the Pandyas, Chalukyas and Cheras. He didn’t stop there, but proceeded further south and invaded Ceylon (Sri Lanka) in 993 CE and ruled the island nation for another century. He is also believed to have made further naval conquests of the ‘old islands’ (most likely the Maldives). In less than a decade, he had become the absolute ruler of South India. Raja Raja Chola expanded his territory further north and north-east too, capturing Kalinga (Orissa), Gangapadi, Nolambapadi, Vengi and Tadigaipadi. He also defeated the western Chalukyas, hence his vast kingdom ranged from Kalinga in the north-east and Ceylon in the extreme south.
He was also known as ‘Rajaraja the Great’ and aside from being a great warrior, he was also a great patron of arts and religion too. He was a well-organized political genius and permitted autonomy to his princes and lords. He divided his vast kingdom into districts and carried out land surveys to create a standardized system of revenue collection. In this way, he not only gave autonomy to the districts but also maintained a smooth administrative system.
Aside from wars and conquests, Raja Raja is also remembered for building the famous Brihadesswarar temple at Tanjore (Thanjavur), one of the finest architectural monuments in Tamil Nadu. It’s also known as the ‘Big Temple’ and renowned for its delicate sculpture workmanship. The granite sculpture on the huge tower (216 feet high), and on the base represent one of the finest examples of Chola art. This famous temple became a millennium-old in 2010. Though Raja Raja followed Shaivism, he was known to be tolerant of other creeds too. Aside from the Big Temple, he is believed to have built several Vishnu temples also.
For those who want to see a part of this history, getting to Thanjavur is easy as it’s well-connected with good highways and railways. The nearest airport is in neighboring Trichy. You could stay over at the classic Sangam hotel while here and be treated to authentic Thanjavur hospitality!