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Kulothunga Chola reigned from 1070 until 1120 C.E. over the vast Chola Empire. His accession marked the beginning of the Later Chalukya era, a culmination of the decades of close alliances based on marriages between the Chola and the Eastern Chalukya dynasty based in Vengi.

He ascended the Chola throne at a time when the Chola Empire was under mortal danger from internal as well as external troubles. Kulothunga established himself on the Chola throne soon overcoming the threats to the Chola Empire and had a long reign characterised by unparalleled success and prosperity. He avoided unnecessary wars and earned the true admiration of his subjects. His successes resulted in the wellbeing of the empire for the next 100 years.

Cholas and the Eastern Chalukyas

Chalukyas of Kalyani or the Western Chalukyas were the great rivals of the Cholas during the medieval times. The spread of the Chola Empire on the west was entrenched deep in to the Kannada country on the eastern banks of river Tungabhadramarker, not far from the Konkan coast and this was acknowledged by their adversaries, the Western Chalukyas.

Chola-Chalukya wars

The Cholas and the Western Chalukyas tried to fight many wars with the Chola emperors like Raja Raja Chola I and Rajendra Chola I but their Kings like Tailapa ended up being chased and being confined to Rodda , Satyashraya was banished to Kogali, Jayasimha was chased to Kadambalige and Someshwara I lost many a times to Rajadhiraja and Rajendra-II, losing not less than five times to Virarajendra Chola. On each occasion, the wars ended with theCholas chasing their Chalukya rivals out of the battlefield, occupying their capital, capturing their generals, levying tribute on the Chalukyas from time to time. The overlordship of the Cholas over the Western Chalukyas, right from the times of Raja Raja Chola I continued even under King Rajadhiraja Chola I who was the son of Rajendra Chola I, when Rajadhiraja occupied and held in coronation in the Chalukyan capital of Kalyanapura itself. The Chola-Chalukya wars witnessed recurrent battles for the latter's completion of the conquest of Chalukyan homeland (the Kunthala region in the Balaghat Range). Rajadhiraja Chola lost his life while leading yet another expedition to the Chalukya country, in the battle of Koppam with Chalukya Someshvara I in 1054 C.E. Rajendra Chola II crowned himself Chola emperor on the battlefield, then led the Cholas to victory against the Chalukyan army. Later, the successor of Rajendra Chola II, Virarajendra Chola repeated this success with him registering five more victories over the hapless Someshvara Ahavamalla, seizing his horses and elephants, capturing his wife, beheading and mutiliating his generals and ultimately chasing him through the forests of the Western Ghats and drowning him in the Arabian Sea. Throughout their existence, the wars of Cholas with the Western Chalukyas were always fought either on Chalukyan territory or neutral territories like Vengi. Chalukyas were reduced to making failed raids into the Chola country and ended up being chased and ragged countless number of times by the Chola warriors.

Kulothunga I kept up this illustrious legacy and he initially made himself famous in the wars between the Cholas and Western Chalukyas by being an able soldier under the tutelage of the illustrious Rajendra Chola, his sons Rajadhiraja I, Rajendra-II and finally under Virarajendra Chola. In fact, for playing a major role in repulsing the Western Chalukyas under Someshvara I, whose son Vikramaditya VI and Someshvara II were leading the Chalukyas, Kulothunga I earned the title 'Viruduraja Bhayankara' meaning the 'reason for the frightening of Viruduraja (Vikramaditya VI), the Chalukyan prince. For most of his rule, he succeeded in keeping up the successes of the Cholas over the Chalukyas. There was only the temporary loss of Vengi in 1118 to Vikramaditya VI when Kulothunga I was unwell and recalled his third son Vikrama Chola, a favourite of his, for appointing him as heir to the Chola throne. When Vikrama Chola left for Gangaikonda Cholapuram from Vengi, of which part he was the ruler under Kulothunga I, the Chalukyan armies invaded Vengi, taking advantage of the Cholas being busy with the coronation preparations of Vikrama Chola and for about 4 years, Vengi passed to the Chalukyas. However, Vikrama Chola, after succeeding father Kulothunga I, swiftly consolidated his position and he too was benefitted because by 1125-26 Chalukya Vikramaditya VI himself was old, ailing and close to death. The Chalukyan king's actions in intervening in the affairs of his other feudatories like Hoysalas, Kalachuris, Nolambas had caused considerable animosity and enormous resentment among them and once Vikramaditya VI died in 1126 the Hoysalas who had already become an independent state in the areas in and around modern Mysore, the Kalachuris who controlled central and western Kannada country, immediately declared their independence. By 1140-43, the Chalukyan capital Kalyanpura was occupied for close to four decades. The weak and thoroughly incompetent successors of Vikramaditya VI stood no chance before stronger enemies like the Cholas, Kakatiyas, Kalachuris and the Hoysalas, who were to divide the Chalukyan kingdom among themselves by 1175. The Chalukyas remained confined to the south-west Kannada country and existed only in name for the next 15 years, becoming extinct themselves by 1189.

Kulothunga's early life

There is no truth in the assertion and interpretation with regards to kulothunga's relation with the chalukyans. The throne name "Rajakesarivarman" has to come to those who belong to chola lineage only because this is the name of an virtuous ancient king in that line. Besides all the cholas like Rajamahendra, rajadhiraja and virarajendra had legitimate heirs to succeed. As is apparent through inscriptions of all Chola kings, especially those from Kulothunga I to the last King Rajendra III never used the title or epithet 'Chalukya' or 'Salukki' (Tamil for Chalukya) as their names. Rather all Chola kings used the title 'Chola or Cholan' with their names in their edicts and inscriptions. It is very clear that Kulothunga I was an able fighter in the Chola wars and fought gallantly by the side of kings like Rajendra Chola, his successors, Rajadhiraja, Rajendra II and Virarajendra Chola. For his deeds he had been entrusted with the task of governing those parts of the Chola kingdom like north-west Telugu country and the Bastar districts of erstwhile Madhya Pradesh (modern Chhattisgarh). Kulothunga I also had very friendly relations with the Gahadval Kings of central India who were very artistic builders of temples and had Lord Surya as their tutelary deity. Later, inspired by his visits to the Gahadvala kingdom, whose kings joined Chola expeditions to Kalinga even during the time of Rajendra Chola, Kulothunga I would build several temples dedicated to the Sun God, especially the Suryanar Temples at Pudukkottai and Nagapattinam .

Controversial accession

Virarajendra Chola died in 1070 C.E. and Athirajendra Chola became the Chola king. Soon after the coronation trouble erupted in the Chola kingdom.

Military campaigns

Kulothunga spent the first few years of his reign fighting the war and rebellion that had sprung up in the various parts of the empire. Apart from the residues of the rebellion that caused Athirajendra's death, there was trouble in Lanka where the southern provinces had declared independence.

Kulothunga also had to deal with the Chalukya Vikramaditya who never reconciled Kulothunga's accessiont to the Chola throne.

Kulothunga devoted the first few years of his reign to deal with these troubles and made preparations for war.

War with Vikramaditya VI

The first enemy to be dealt with was the Western Chalukya Vikramaditya VI, who now found that Kulothunga stood in the way of his ambitions to unite his kingdom with the Vengi kingdom. With Kulothunga's accession to the Chola throne, the two kingdoms had become more closely united than evern before. Vikramaditya therefore led an expedition against Kulothunga in 1075 C.E.

The war began with Vikramaditya's incursion into the Chola territories and encountered the Chola army at Kolarmarker. Vikramaditya was pursued by the Chola forces up to the banks of Tungabhadra and there was heavy fighting and Vikramaditya's armies were repulsed.

Kulothunga appealed to Somesvara II, the Western Chalukya king for help. There was no love lost between Somesvara and his younger brother Vikramaditya as Vikramaditya had made Somesvara part with the southern half of his kingdom. Somesvara agreed to assist Kulothunga and attacked Vikramaditya's rear.

Vikramaditya then concentrated all his efforts in saving his kingdom and attacked the forces of Somesvara and defeated them. Somesvara was imprisoned and Vikramaditya made himself the Western Chalukyan emperor. However, it appears that the combined forces of both Somesvara II and Kulothunga had made sufficient inroads and on seeing the retreat Vikramaditya VI, they declared victory. The cunning Vikramaditya VI seemed to wait for Kulothunga to go back to Chola country and at the first opportunity, he waged a separate war and defeated Somesvara II, imprisoned him and became unified northern and southern parts of the Chalukya Kingdom.

Ilam (Lankan) wars

While the wars with Vikramaditya were ongoing, Vijayabahu, the Sinhala leader proclaimed himself ruler of the entire island. In 1070 C.E. he attacked the Chola forces from his enclave in the Rohana district and defeated them. Vijayabahu then occupied the territories close to Anuradhapuramarker. Kulothunga sent reinforcements and there was a bloody fighting near Anuradhapura and repulsed Vijayabahu.

The tirukkalukunram and tirunidur inscriptions of kulothunga say that he dispatched many expeditions to lanka. In one case some of the lankan emissaries actually sent to help of Chola enemies in deccan were intercepted, captured, insulted , disfigured and sent back dressed in women's clothes. This was in retaliation to the attacks of the Lankan king on a ship carrying Indian merchants and looting their property. The Lankans also looted the produce of the farmers from mainland Tamil Nadu further provoking the Chola monarch.

This apart the inscriptions like the Tiruvalangadu grant of Rajadhiraja II and Kulothunga III, who claimed to have occupied Madurai, Ilam, Karur and Kalinga (after which he built the famous Kampahareswara temple in commemoration), testify well to Chola involvement in lanka.

The Polannaruwa inscription of Vijayabahu is of much later date and does not first of all make any mention of any war or its out comes. It simply says that Vijayabahu fought many chieftains before consecrating the temple of Buddha's tooth relic in Polannaruwa. It neither mentions the names of the chiefs whom he fought with nor the outcomes. However, this alone cannot be taken as an evidence for the Lankan ruler not having fought cholas. But since we have the grants of Tiruvalangadu which appears not to have been a forgery, we may safely conclude that the chola involvement in the region continued till very late in their rule. In fact, the inscriptions of Kulothunga I till the end of his rule around 1124 still call him 'Madurantaka and Ilamkondaan' meaning lord of Madurai and Ilangai (Sri Lanka).

Pandyan conflicts

At the close of his wars with Vikramaditya VI, Kulothunga turned his attention to the south. The Pandya country never reconciled to the Chola overlordship and its rulers were a source of constant trouble for the Chola emperors. Pandya made use of the troubles in the Chola country during the controversial accession of Kulothunga and tried to reassert their independence.

Kulothunga could not take this situation lightly as the loss of the Pandya territories meant a serious threat to the existence of the Chola kingdom itself. As soon the Chalukyan war ended, Kulothunga turned all his energy to the suppression of the revolts in the Pandya and the Kerala territories.

The record at the innermost prakaram of ancient Chidambaram temple says that “King kulothungan vanquished the extremely dense army of cheras and pandyas and also burnt down the korkai(tirunelveli) fort, the same way as son of pandu(arjuna) burnt khandava forest . “ The inscription also informs us of the war in Karnataka and kulothunga’s subsequent placing of victory pillar in sahyadri hills.

Kulothunga’s inscription at the sriranganathaswamy temple in srirangam say that “ King neriyan (kulothunga I), had been happy to appropriate from the vanquished pandyas, the magnificent pearl fisheries at tiruananthapuram(tivandrum) and also occupy militarily the potiyil hills where the great seer agastya was blessed with the knowledge of language of tamil by lord sivan.”. These records illustrate that during kulothunga’s time the cholas had crushed the rebellions of pandyans and were in complete control of south. The smaller leyden grant of kulothunga as well as his suchidram(in kanyakumari dt.) temple inscription testify to this.

Kalinga Wars

The inscriptions Kulothunga contain descriptions of two Kalinga wars. From the brief nature of the description regarding the first war, we may conclude that this perhaps occurred during Kulothunga's youth. The second and later invasion happened after the fortieth regnal year of Kulothunga and was the subject of the celebrated Kalingathupparani by the poet Jayangondar.

The first Kalinga war seems to have been brought about by Kalinga aggression against Vengi. The war resulted in the annexation of the southern part of Kalinga to the Chola kingdom.

The second invasion took place about 1110 C.E. and is described in detail in the inscriptions of Kulothunga. Kalingathupparani describes the reason for was as a response to the default of Kalinga in its payment of annual tributes to Kulothunga. It is ironic to note that the Kalinga king was Anantavarman Chodaganga, a grandson of Virarajendra Chola by his daughter Rajasundari. Dynastic connections did not stop political ambition on the part of Kulothunga.

The real cause of the war is obscure. The reason cited by the literary work of Kalingathupparani may be taken as a literary setting for an epic poem. There was no permanent political results of this invasion. There is no evidence to suggest that Chola territories included the northern Kalinga.

Overseas contacts

Kulothunga sent an embassy to Chinamarker in 1077 C.E. This 'embassy' was a trading venture and seems to have ended profitably for the Cholas. The Cholas returned with over 81,000 strings of copper cash and many more valuables.

There is also evidence to suggest that Kulothunga in his youth (1063 C.E.)was in Srivijaya restoring order and maintaining Chola influence in that area. While there is little evidence of the political power of the Cholas having extended to the Malay Archipelago, trade relations and cultural contacts established during the reigns of Rajaraja Chola and Rajendra Chola I seem to had been actively maintained by Kulothunga and his successors. It seemed that even during these times, the Cholas would successfully pursue diplomacy with the far-east by having trade relations and cultural contacts. But it appears that at least two Chola commanders had their battalions stationed at Srivijaya and Kamboja.

Kulothunga also maintained friendly relations with the Khmer kingdom of Kampucheamarker (Kambhoja). The Khmer king sent a peculiar stone to the emperor in c. 1114 C.E.

According to Burmese accounts, Kyanzittha, the ruler of Pagan (Burmamarker) met with the Chola royal family by sending an ambassador to the Chola emperor.

Vengi administration

While Kulothunga was busy in Lanka, the Vengi kingdom was raided by Yakshakanaradeva, the ruler of Tripuramarker. However this was merely a raid in search of booty rather than an invasion for territorial gains. Vijayaditya, the Vengi king soon repulsed these intruders. Kulothunga left the administration of Vengi with Vijayaditya. After Vijayaditya died, Kulotunga took over the administration of Vengi under direct Chola rule and appointed his son Rajaraja Mummudi Chola viceroy of the province in 1076 C.E. He however did not enjoy the rigours of the viceroyalty and relinquished his position the next year. His younger brother, Vira Choda, was then chosen as Viceroy until 1084 C.E.

Vira Choda was succeeded by another son of Kulothunga Rajaraja Chodaganga ruled between 1084 and 1089 as the Vengi Vieceroy. He was then succeeded by Vikrama Chola as the Viceroy.

Extent of the Empire

The Chola kingdom was at its greatest extent under Kulothunga in his forty-fifth regnal year. Except for the loose hold over Lanka, the rest of the empire remained intact. The boundary between the Cholas and the Western Chalukyas was as always the Tungabhadra river. The hold over Vengi was quite firm and Kalinga was under the Chola rule (for the conquest of which and the levying of tribute over Alipurdoar areas of Bengal, Kulothunga I claims in his inscriptions to have built two temples dedicated to Sun god, namely the Suryanaar Koils of Nagapattinam and Pudukkottai - the Cholas claimed in all their inscriptions to have descended from the Solar race i.e. from the Sun).

Reduction of the Empire

Chola territories at the end of Kulothunga Chila I's reign (c.
1120 C.E.

Towards the end his reign, Kulottunga lost the province of Gangavadi to Hoysala Vishnuvardhana who attacked this major Chola province (c. 1116 C.E.) in Kannada country from the times of and defeated the Chola Viceroy Adigaiman, the controller of Kongu and Kannada country there.

Kulothunga also lost much of his territories in Vengi. The northern half of the Vengi kingdom if not the whole of it seems to have slipped from his hands and gone to the Western Chalukyan empire under Vikramaditya VI. Encouraged by the successes of Hoysala, Vikaramaditya invaded Vengi in 1118 C.E. The aging Kulotunga summoned the Viceroy of Vengi Vikrama Chola and installed him as heir apparent to the Chola throne. Lacking any meaningful leadership in Vengi, it soon fell to Vikramaditya and remained in his hands until his death in 1126 C.E. However, overall for the Cholas the loss of Vengi was a purely temporary one for they would regain Vengi under Vikrama Chola with him routing the Chalukyas in 1124-25 and Vengi would remain in the Chola-fold till rule of Kulothunga-III (1176-1218).

As regards Gangavadi, Kannada records themselves speak of the Hoysalas under Vishnuvardhana suffering losses after his conquest of Gangavadi and Nolambavadi in Kannada country, which brought him into direct conflict both with the Cholas as well as the Western Chalukyas under Vikramaditya VI, who was the overlord of the Hoysalas, and of the subsequent loss of southern and eastern parts of Gangavadi coming back to the Cholas, who further embellished the Narasimha and Vishnu temples at Melkote and further expanded the Siva temple at Talakkad. Around 1129-30 Kulothunga-I's able successor Vikrama Chola would also re-conquer Kalinga along with Vengi, eastern and southern parts of Gangavadi from the Hoysalas and re-establish links with Kadaram, Kataha, Srivijaya etc. for trading purposes.

Therefore, towards the end iof Kulothunga's reign the extent of the empire became marginally reduceed than it was during his accession.

Family and personal life

Kulothunga married Madurantakai, the daughter of Rajendra Chola I long before he ascended the Chola throne. Madurantaki had seven sons, of which Vikrama Chola, the successor of Kulothunga was perhaps fourth. She seems to have died sometime before the thirtieth year of Kulothunga (1110 C.E.) Another queen Thyagavalli took the place of the chief queen. Kalingathupparani mentions her and Elisai Vallabhi (also known as Elulagudayal) . It also states that Thyagavalli enjoyed equal authority with the king. One of his queens was the daughter of the King of Ilangai namely Vikramabahu, whom he married with 1088 and with that arrangement Kulothunga I heralded peaceful relations between the Cholas and the Ilam country. This was a political move that also negated any influence the traditional allies of the Lankan kings, the Pandiyans would have tried to exert on Vikramabahu. Following this marriage Lanka was allowed to be ruled with more freedom than under previous Chola kings, thus giving it a semblance of independent existence.

Other queens mentioned in inscriptions are Trilokya Mahadevi, Kadavan Mahadevi, a pallava princess, Kampamadevi and Adittan Adakuttiyar.Besides his seven sons through Madurantaki, Kulothungan also had a daughter Suttamalli who married into the royal house of Lanka, and Pillayar Amanangai Alvar.


Kulothunga's long reign was for the best part characterised by unparalleled success. However his kingdom was confined to the Tamil country at the end of his reign, which was indeed a setback, but because of capable leaders following him right up to Kulothunga-III (1176-1218), the fortunes of the Chola imperial power revived in no time with Vikrama Chola regaining Vengi, eastern Gangavadi and Kalinga and thus restoring the size of the empire to almost what it was at the time of Raja Raja I's accession. In fact, after almost a hundred years after Kulothunga I, Kulothunga-III would record victories over Kalinga, crush the Chera kings and Pandiyans of Madurai and re-establish the Cholas as a force to reckon with even in times of dwindling fortunes. In comparison by 1180 AD their rivals the Western Chalukyas were to receive inept rulers after Vikramaditya VI with the result that they rapidly hurtled towards extinction between 1130-1170 AD and finally not remaining in existence by 1189 AD due to the rise of the Kakatiyas, Kalucharis, Kadambas and their one-time feudatories the Hoysalas.

Religious attitude

Kulothunga's relations with the northern kingdoms of Gahadaval resulted in his increased emphasis on Sun worship. Kulothunga built the Suryanar Koil - Temple of the sun near Pudukkottaimarker. He also built several halls in temples for chanting services of ramayana and mahabharatha.




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