Saturday, July 27, 2013

    One of the oldest and grandest of the shrines erected in Southern India for the worship of the Linga is the great temple at Tanjore. It is a fine specimen of Dravidian architecture, remarkable alike for the chaste simplicity of its style, and the stately plan on which it has been constructed. The spacious courtyard of the temple measures about 500 feet in length and 200 feet in breath; and the central tower which rises like a pyramid of graceful proportions, surmounted by a beautiful cupola, is almost 200 feet high. In front of the porch is a gigantic image of a bull, carved out of a single block of stone 16 feet high and 7 feet across.1 [1
Mr. Fergusson's Indian and Eastern Architecture pp. 343-5] Although it was actually built about nine centuries ago, it appears to this day, as new and perfect as if it had been completed hardly nine years ago. Neither in the great tower, nor in the massive gateways and turrets which line the quadrangle surrounding it, is there a single stone broken or out of its place. So carefully has it been attended to by the royal dynasties who successively ruled at Tanjore, that the alternate seasons of rain and sunshine for nine hundred years have left little or no trace of their destructive effects on the building, and it bids fair to remain intact for many centuries to come, as a permanent monument of the piety and prowess of its founder Rajaraja Chola, alias Ko-raja-kesari-varmman.
    A record of the name and achievements of the founder and of the many donations to the temple made by him and by different members of his family is found in the inscriptions, which are engraved on the base of the central tower, and on many of the pillars and walls of the outer buildings. The inscriptions, most of which were engraved during the reign of Raja-raja-deva, are still perfectly legible. Very few native scholars are however able to read them, as the Tamil characters of that age are somewhat different from the characters of modern Tamil; and consequently, most of the Tamil pandits have no idea whatever of the mine of information, antiquarian and historical, that lies concealed in these archaic inscriptions. 2 They commence as follows with a Sanskrit verse: - (Sanskrit) Health and wealth! This (is) the record of the grant of Raja-raja-kesari varmman, which is honored by the rows of diadems of all princes. [2
Those who take an interest in the history of Southern India but are unable to read the original inscriptions on the temples, may study with advantage the text and translation of the inscriptions, which have been edited with great care and ability by Dr. Hultzsch, the Government Epigraphist. See South Indian inscriptions. Vol. II.] (Tamil) on the twentieth day of the twenty sixth year! (of the reign) of Ko-raja-kesari-varmman alias Sri Raja-raja-Deva who to make it known (in all) that the goddess of the great earth had, like the goddess of wealth, become his consort – quelled the rebellion at Kandalur Salai, and by his valiant and victorious army, conquered Vengai Nadu, Gangai-padi, Tadikai-padi, Nulamba-padi the western Malai Nadu, Kollam Kalingam, and applauded by the eight directions, (i.e., all surrounding nations) Ila-mandalam, and the seven and a half lakhs of Irattappadi; who deprived the Pandyas of their splendor and has so distinguished himself that he is worthy of worship everywhere, (he) the Udaiyar Sr-Raja-raja-deva, while seated in the eastern bath-room in the place of Iru-mudi-Chola having bestowed (the usual) gifts, was pleased to command "Let all the gifts made by us, the gifts made by our elder sister, the donors to the Lord of the sacred stone temple erected by us at Tanjavur in the Tanjavur Kurram in the Pandya-kulasini-vala-nadu, be engraved on stone on the sacred central tower."
    It is to this laudable desire on the part of the Chola king to leave a permanent record of the donations to temples that we owe much of the information we now possess of the Chola history for at last three centuries from the time of Raja-raja; for his successors on the Chola throne followed his example, and the grants made during their reign between the tenth and the thirteenth centuries of the Christian era, were engraved on the stone walls of most of the ancient temples in Tamilakam. These lithic records are dated in the regal years of the king, the leaning events of his reign or his martial exploits are also briefly described. It appears from these inscriptions that the Saka era, which was current in the Telugu and Canarese countries was not then in use in the Tamil land. The exact year of accession of Rajaraja Chola could not therefore be determined until the discovery of a Canarese inscription of his reign in the Mysore Province in which, both the Saka year and the year of the king's reign were given. From the Canarese inscription it has been ascertained that Raja-raja's reign commenced in the year 284-85 A.D. (3) [3
Mr. Rice's Epigraphia Karnataka No. 140. Kanarese inscription at Balmuri.] Calculating from this year, it follows that the King's order, directing that a record of his gifts be engraved on the temple, was issued in the year 1010-11 A. D. shortly before which the construction of the temple appears to have been completed.
    Of the ancestors of Rajaraja very little is known from the inscriptions on temples. We learn however from the copper plates which contain the grant of the village of Animangalam to the Buddhist Vihara at Negapatam, (4) [4
Archeological Survey of Southern India, Vol. IV. P. 216] that he was the son of Parantaka II, and great grandson of Parantaka I or Vira Narayana, who defeated the Pandya and Sinhalese armies, and built the Kanaka-Sabha (Golden Hall) at Chidambaram. In describing the genealogy of the Cholas, the Kalingattu-Parani mentions him after the Chola King who vanquished the Pandya and Sinhalese forms, and states that he captured Udakai in the Uthia (or Chera) kingdom. 5 [5
Kalingattup-parani. Canto viii, verse 24.] The Vikrama-Cholan Ula similarly alludes to him, after the Chola who built the Kanaka-Sabha and praises him for having cut off the heads of eighteen princes and conquered Malai-Nadu, in retaliation for the insult offered to his envoy. 6 [6
Vikrama-Cholan-Ula. See Indian Antiquary Vol. xxii, p. 142.] He is referred to in the Kulottunga Cholan Ula and Raja raja Cholan Ula
7 [7
These poems have not yet been published in print.] also as the king who destroyed Udakai. It is evident therefore that Rajaraja commenced his career of conquests by chastising the princes at Udakai, in the Chera kingdom, who had insulted his envoy.
    Up to the 9th year of his reign, he is mentioned in the inscriptions simply as Rajarajakesari-varmman, and none of his conquests are alluded to. During this period that is, from 984 to 993. A. D., he appears to have been consolidating his power as the Chola Kingdom has just then thrown off the yoke of the Rushtrakutas, the last king of which line had been defeated by the Western Chalukya Tailappa. In inscriptions dated from the 10th to the 12th year of his reign, the epithet, "who quelled the rebellion at Kandalur-Salai" is prefixed to his name. Subsequent inscriptions beginning with the words "Tirumakal polap peru nilach chelviyum" are not only in Tanjore, but also in many of the ancient temples in other places. They furnish a complete list of the conquests made by the King up to the date of each inscription, and clearly show the gradual expansion of the Chola dominions during his eventful reign. When he came to the throne he inherited only the Chola and Konga kingdoms. The former comprised very nearly the modern Tanjore and Trichinopoly Districts, and the latter the Coimbatore District. His elder sister Kuntavai having married the Pallava King Vandyadeva, who was most probably a weak prince, and entirely subservient to Rajaraja, the latter's authority extended over the territories of the Pallava king also, that is, the whole of the country now known as the Chingleput, North Arcot and South Arcot Districts. In the 10th year of his reign, he put down the rebellion at Salai. Before the end of the 14th year, he conquered Vengai-Nadu (the Nellore, Krishna and Godavari Districts) Gangai-padi, Nulamba-padi, Tadikai-padi (the Mysore Provinces) and Kudamalai-Nadu (Coorg), and defeated the Cheliyas (Pandyas). Within the next four years his armies over-ran Kollam (Malabar) and Kalingam (the Vizagapatam and Ganjam Districts), and invaded Lanka (Ceylon). In the 21st year Satyasraya II, the Western Chalukya King was defeated by him, and Irattapadi, or a portion of it at least (the Cuddpah, Kurnool, Bellary and Anantapur Districts) was annexed to his dominions and before the 29th year, the 12,000 islands in the sea (the Lakshadweep and Maldives) were brought under his sway. When he died in the 29th or 30th year of his reign, his empire included almost the whole of the country now known as the Madras Presidency, the Province of Coorg and Mysore, and the Northern portion of Ceylon.
    In all the inscriptions in which his conquests are detailed, due praise is given to the valor and efficiency of his army, which appears to have been so well equipped and organized that it never met with any reverse in all its campaigns. Separate regiments of body-guards, foot soldiers and archers are named in the inscriptions as follow:-
    Royal Body Guards of the Keralantaka Gate.
    Royal Body Guards of the Inner Gate.
    Keralantaka's Chosen Troops.
    Jananatha's Chosen Troops.
    Singalantaka's Chosen Troops.
    Pandit Chola's chosen Archers. *
[* Dr. Hultzsch's South Indian Inscriptions Vol. II. p. 98 and ff.]
If Rajaraja was great in War, he was not the less so in peace; for he had the genius to organize Government in an eminent degree, and most of the kingdoms conquered by him remained integral parts of the Chola Empire during the reign of many of his successors. Under his string rule, the conquered countries, as well as the Chola Kingdom, appear to have enjoyed perfect peace and security of property. Judging from the minute measurement of rent-free and rent-paying lands, as recorded in the inscriptions at Tanjore, there is every reason to believe that the lands under cultivation throughout his Empire were carefully surveyed and assessed during his sovereignty. A complete account of the number of weavers, goldsmith, blacksmiths and other artisans appears to have been also maintained and professional taxes levied accordingly. He embellished his capital city Tanjore by the erection of various buildings, and the grand temple which bears his name. His ceaseless activity and zealous work for the public good left such a deep impression on the minds of his tributary princes and chiefs, that they were not slow to follow his example and vied with each other in promoting the welfare of the empire. His wonderful tact and ability as the founder of an Empire were most visible in the spirit of unity which he infused into his subjects, although they were divided by the languages they spoke and the religions they professed. The achievements of his army no doubt compelled the union of many races; but unless the King had constantly kept it in his view, to conciliate the conquered races by granting them their due share in civil and military employment, he could not have long succeeded in holding them together as the subjects of one Empire.
Whatever he undertook to do, he did thoroughly, and to the best of his ability. This trait of his character is best shown by the endowments he made to the Rajarajeswara temple. No one who reads the long list of villages and lands, of images and utensils of gold and of costly jewels presented to the temple, which is inscribed on its walls can fail to admire the solicitude of the King to provide for every want of the temple on a most lavish scale. Superb diadems and earrings and rubies, priceless necklaces of lustrous pearls and bright coral beads, bracelets, arm rings, girdles, anklets and toe-rings, all of gold, set with precious stones and various other ornaments, too numerous to mention in detail were supplied to adorn the idols. Likewise, dished, cups, plates, bowls, pitchers, salvers, kettles, water-pots, fly-whisks and betel-leaf boxes, wrought in pure gold were furnished for the daily service. Even the trumpets and parasols were made of gold; and although every kind of ornament and utensil, made of the most costly materials had been supplied, the pious king was not satisfied until he had showered at the feet of the god flowers made of gold! A complete staff of servants and officials was appointed for the temple, such as goldsmiths, carpenters, musicians, dancing girls, astrologers, accountants and treasurers; and lands were granted for their maintenance. Sheep, cows and buffaloes were given to supply milk and ghee, grants of money were made for the purchase of articles required for the daily service and whole villages were assigned to furnish annually the rice required for the sacred offerings.
Rajaraja appears to have had several wives, the names of five of whom are mentioned in the inscriptions. Lokamahadevi was the chief queen and the names of the others are Soramahadevi, Trailokyamahadevi, Panchavanmahadevi and Abimanavalli. The first four were apparently princesses by birth, as the title Mahadevi is attached to their names. Panchavanmahadevi was most probably the daughter of a Pandyan prince, Panchavan being a hereditary name of the Pandyas. Of his children, only two are alluded to in inscriptions, his son Rajendra Chola, who succeeded him on the throne, and a daughter Kuntavai who married Vimaladitya the Eastern Chalukya King.
Many curious facts may be noted from the inscriptions regarding the habits and customs, the political and social condition, and the religious beliefs and ceremonies of the Tamil people in the early part of the eleventh century but, as it will be out of place to dwell on them at any length in this article, I shall briefly state some of the salient facts which may interest the general reader.
Education was at a very low ebb at this period as may be seen from the many incorrect expressions used in the inscriptions. No literary work which can be confidently assigned to Rajaraja's reign has been quoted in later works, or handed down to posterity. There is a blank in Tamil literature, from about A. D. 950 to 1050, which should, I think, be attributed to the conquest of the Chola kingdom, by the Rashtrakutas, during the time of the immediate predecessors of Rajaraja. Chola accountants had not however lost their knowledge of the exact measurement of land or the valuation of revenue. The system of fractional notation in ma, kani and mundri or fractions 1/20 1/80 and 1/320 peculiar to Southern India, was in vogue; the unit of land measurement being a veli which is equal to about 5 English acres.
The property in land vested in the village assembly and all unclaimed land within the limits of each village belonged to them, and could be appropriated by them to any special use. The village assembly was responsible to the king for the total amount of tax due from the village, which was paid in kind or in coin. Farmers who failed to pay the land tax forfeited their holdings, and the village assembly then sold the defaulter's farms to others who applied for them. Building sites, burial grounds, and all lands belonging to temples and convents were exempt from tax.
Among the camp servants or followers, the Right Hand servants are specially mentioned in inscriptions and it is evident from that the distinction of Right Hand and Left Hand castes existed among the Tamils as early as the reign of Rajaraja Chola. Washermen, toddy-drawers, Kammalar (blacksmiths, gold-smiths and carpenters) and Pariahs (drummers) resided in hamlets outside the town; and it was considered a pollution for others to touch any individual of the above mentioned castes. 9 [9
Dr. Hultzsch's South Indian Inscriptions Vol. II. p. 43 and ff.] All higher castes resided in towns. It appears therefore that the Tamils did not follow the Aryan system of caste for, according to that system, Kammalar that is blacksmiths, carpenters and goldsmiths would have been treated as Vaisyas, and not as a low caste whom the Higher castes could not touch without pollution. Brahmins learned in the four Vedas received grants of land from pious kings, and resided on the lands allotted to them. Whole villages were sometimes granted to Vedic Brahmins, and were henceforth known as Chatur-veda-mangalam. They were distinguished by the donor's name as follows:-
Gandara-ditya Chatur-veda-mangalam.
Tanantha Chatur-veda-mangalam.
Arunchikai Chatur-veda-mangalam.
Parantaka Chatur-veda-mangalam.
Kuntavai Chatur-veda-mangalam.

Rajaraja Chola professed the Saiva religion and temples dedicated to Shiva were fare more numerous in the Tamil land than those of Vishnu, but the masses appear to have continued the worship of their primitive Dravidian deities and every village had its temple of Pidari and Ayyanar, who were doubtless the prototypes of Parvati and Siva. There were also scattered communities who still adhered to Buddhism or Jainism. A famous Buddhist shrine at Naga-paddinam (Negapatam) still attracted pilgrims from distant lands. Jain monasteries and convents were also in existence, thought the number of Jain monks and nuns does not appear to have been considerable. The court religion being Saivism, it was, of course, in evidence everywhere. Rajaraja appears to have favored the sect of Saivas, who adopted the Linga as the emblem of Siva. His immediate predecessors had been worshippers of the Linga, and one of them Kumara Kulottunga Chola is praised as Fangamaraja Kulottunga. 10 [10
Oddakkoottar's Kulottunga-chola-kovai. Stanzas, 2, 253, 19, 40, 239, 328, 343, 365.] Rajaraja was a devout Saiva, and although he assumed many titles, such as Arumoli (one whose words are precious) Rajasraya (the Asylum of Kings), Jayankonda-Chola (the Chola conqueror) and Mummudi-Chola (the Chola who wore three crowns, i.e., those of the Chera, Chola and Pandya), none was more appropriate or more truly expressive of his high purpose and sincere piety than the epithet Sivapada Sekhara (He whose crown is the feet of Siva).
(Adapted from the Madras review of February 1902).

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