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Rajendra Chola I ( ) was the son of Rajaraja Chola I, the great Chola king of present day southern Indiamarker. He succeeded his father in 1014 C.E. as the Chola emperor. During his reign, he extended the influences of the already vast Chola empire up to the banks of the river Gangesmarker in the north and across the ocean. Rajendra’s territories extended coastal Burmamarker, the Andaman and Nicobar Islandsmarker, Lakshadweepmarker, Maldivesmarker, conquered the kings of Srivijaya (Sumatramarker, Javamarker and Malaya in South East Asia) and Pegumarker islands with his fleet of ships. He defeated Mahipala, the Pala king of Bengalmarker and Biharmarker, and to commemorate his victory he built a new capital called Gangaikonda Cholapurammarker. Tamil Chola armies exacted tribute from Thailandmarker and the Khmer kingdom of Cambodiamarker. Like the predecessors of the Cholas, the Pallavas and the contemporaneous Pandiyans, the Cholas too under Raja Raja I the father of Rajendra and then Rajendra Chola I too undertook several expeditions to occupy territories outside Indian shores. Of these kings, it was Rajendra who made extensive overseas conquests of territories like the Andamans, Lakshadweepa, wide areas Indo China (Thailand, Malaysia, Laos, Indonesia and Modern Vietnam) and indeed, Burma (**). In fact, Rajendra Chola I was the first Indian king to take his armies overseas and make conquests of these territories, even though there is epigraphical evidence of Pallava presence in these very areas, but it is not known that Burma and Indo-China were subordinate to them, as they were under Rajendra and his successors up to Kulothunga I(**). But these were benevolent conquests, as they seem to hve been during the times of the Pallavas, with there being wide cultural inter-changes, and the influence of the Pallavas and Cholas in the architecture in those areas in both Buddhist and Hindu religious centres showing remarkable similarities(**).

He also built a temple for Siva at Gangaikonda Cholapurammarker, similar in design to the Tanjoremarker Brihadisvara temple built by Rajaraja Chola. He assumed titles Parakesari and Yuddhamalla.


Rajaraja Chola I had made the crown prince Rajendra Co Regent in 1012CE. Both Son and Father reigned as equals during the final few years of Rajaraja’s life. Rajendra was at the forefront of some of Rajaraja’s campaigns such as those against Vengi and Kalinga towards the end of his reign. #

Ascension and early reign

Rajendra formally ascended the Chola throne in 1014 CE, two years after his installation as the Co Regent. Early in his reign in 1018 CE he installed his eldest son Rajadhiraja Chola I as yuvaraja (Co-regent). Rajadhiraja continued to rule aside his father for the next 26 years. The son ruled in full regal status as the father. This practice was probably adapted initially to obviate disputed succession.

The system of choosing a successor in the lifetime and associating him in the discharge of administrative duties is an important aspect of Chola administration. The princes who had come of age were appointed in various positions of authority in the different provinces of the empire according to the individual's aptitude and talent. Those who distinguished themselves in these positions were then chosen as heir apparent. In some cases, the eldest son was overlooked in favour of a more talented younger son.

Military conquests

Early campaigns

Rajendra’s inscriptions include the many campaigns he carried on behalf of Rajaraja from c. 1002 C.E. These include the conquest of the Rashtrakuta country and region around the current northwestern Karnatakamarker state, Southern Maharashtra up to Kolhapur and Pandharpur. Rajendra also led campaigns against the Western Chalukya Satyasraya and his successor Jayasimha-II by crossing the river Tungabhadramarker, carried the war into the heart of the Chalukya country and attacked their capital. Both the kings were forced to flee from their capital into the western ghats with the Chola emperor erecting a Siva temple at Bhatkal after completing his victory and levying tribute on the vanquished Chalukya kings (***)

Invasion of Sri Lanka

To complete the task began by his father, (for many reasons RajaRajan I was able to conquer only half of the Sri Lanka in his time) of conquering the island of Srilanka, Rajendra invaded the island in 1018 C.E. As a result of the campaign, Rajendra claimed to have captured the regal jewels of the Pandya kings, which Parantaka I tried in vain to capture. Rajendra also captured the crown of the Sinhala king, his Queen and daughter. This was because they were a part of the sinhalese government. The Sinhala king Mahinda V was taken prisoner and transported to the Chola country" The same way son of pandu(arjuna) brought drupada.". He was held prisoner for over twelve years and died in captivity. However, Mahavamsa records indicates that Chola invasion and conquest of Lanka as a carnage wrought by the pillaging Chola army in the Sinhala country. The Sinhala hero Vijayabahu the Great who vanquished Chols from Sri Lanka made every possible effort to restore what Cholas destroyed. Chola inscriptions speak about the fight between the Cholas and the Sinhalas mainly due to the fact that the traders from Tamil country had been looted, imprisoned and killed for years together, in return for which the Cholas sent their army to invade, occupy and control the island of Sri Lanka(***).

Mahinda’s son Kassapa became the centre of Sihalese resistance against the Tamil Power. The war between the Cholas and the Sinhalese raged. The Cholas prevailed over the Sinhalas and re-established their control which lasted till the time of Kulothunga Chola III.

Remains of a number of Hindu temples damaged by the Sinhalas after the end of Tamil occupation in Sri Lanka have been discovered around the Polonnaruwamarker area attesting to the presence of the Tamil army.

In 1041 C.E. Rajendra had to lead another expedition into Sri Lankamarker to quell the continuing attacks against the Chola army by Vikramabahu. Vikramabahu died soon after and anarchy reigned outside the Chola territories. An assortment of adventurers including Sinhalese, dispossessed Pandya princes and even a certain Jagaitpala from distance Kanauj asserted authority over portions of the island. Chola army fought and defeated them all. Thus, Rajendra Chola was able to fulfill his father's dream to bring the whole Sri Lanka under Chola territory.

Pandyas and Cheras

In 1018, Rajendra made a triumphal march at the head of his army through the Pandya and Cheras (Kerala) countries. Rajendra’s Tiruvalangadu grants claim that he …’took possession of the bright spotless pearls, seeds of the fame of the Pandya kings’ and that ‘…the fearless Madurantaka (Rajendra) crossed the mountains and in a fierce battle brought ruin upon the Chera kings. It is doubtful whether Rajendra added any additional territory to his empire through these campaigns as these have already been conquered by Rajaraja very early in his reign.

Rajendra appointed one of his sons as viceroy with the title Jadavarman Sundara Chola-Pandya with Maduraimarker as the headquarters of the Viceroyalty.

Chalukyas Wars

C. 1021 Rajendra had to turn his attention towards the Western Chalukyas. In 1015 Jayasimha II became the Western Chalukya king. Soon after his ascension, he tried to recover the losses suffered by his predecessor Satyasraya in the hands of the Cholas, who has fled his capital, unable to withstand the Chola onslaught, but had been graciously restored to the throne by Raja Raja I and became a tribute paying subordinate. Initially Jayasimha II was successful as Rajendra was busy with his campaigns against the Pandyas and in Sri Lanka.

Jayasimha also decided to involve himself in the affairs of the Eastern Chalukyas of Vengi. After the demise of the Vengi king Vimaladitya, Jayasimha threw his support behind Vijayaditya VII against the claims of Rajaraja Narendra, another of Vimaladitya’s sons by the Chola princess Kundavai. Rajendra naturally had his affinity towards Rajaraja, his nephew (for Kundavai was Rajendra’s sister). A civil war ensued between Vijayaditya and Rajaraja. However with the help of Rejendra, Rajraja Narendra was soon able to defeat the forces of Vijayaditya.

Rajendra followed the same tactic adopted by his illustrious father of sending two armies, one to Vengi and the other to the Chalukyan capital itself. Rajendra’s forces met Jayasimha in the western front and defeated him in the battle of Maski. Rajendra's forces also crossed swords with the Chalukyas at Kollippakkai near Mannaikadakkam (Manyakheta), the capital of Jayasimha-II. Many of Jayasimha-II's generals, called Mahasamantas and Dandanayakas paid with their lives for the intransigence of their inept king, as described in the Tiruvalangadu plates of Rajendra I. Rajendra routed Jayasimha thoroughly with the result the Chalukya king ran away from his capital and was forced to flee and rule from Etagiri. This war is extensively described in the inscriptions of Rajendra Chola I at the Raja Rajesvara Temple, Thanjavur.

Rajaraja Narendra had his long delayed coronation in Vengi after the return of the triumphant expedition to the Ganges in 1022 C.E. and Rajendra gave his daughter Ammanga in marriage to Rajaraja.

In 1031 C.E., the Western Chalukyas invaded Vengi and drove Rajaraja Narendra into exile and installed Vijayaditya as the Vengi king. Rajaraja once again sought Chola help in regaining his throne. Rajendra Chola deputed his able son Rajadhiraja I as head of the Chola army which invaded the Vengi and in a bloody battle near Kalidandi, pushed back Vijayaditya and his Western Chalukya ally. Rajaraja Narendra regained his throne in 1035 C.E.

Due to his consistent and complete vanquishing of the Chalukyas under Satyashraya and Jayasimha-II along with their feudatories, the Kadambas, Hoysalas, Banas, Vaidumbas and the Gangas etc. and the establishment of control over Kannada country, Rajendra I earned famous titles like Mudikonda Chozhan (The Chola king who caught the Chalukyas by their hair), 'Jayasimha Saraban' (the vanquisher of Jayasimha), Mannaikonda Sozhan (the King who took possession of Mannai(kadakkam) i.e. Chalukyan capital of Manyakheta - called Mannaikadakkam in Chola annals), Irattapadikonda Sozhan (the king who conquered Irattapadi or the land of the Rashtrakutas (later usurped by the Chalukyas), Nirupathivaagaran (the king who subdued Hoysala Nrupathunga and his successors).

A few years before his death, the aging Rajendra Chola also again invaded the Chalukyan capital of Manyakheta due to Chalukya Jayasimha-II and his successor Somesvara I's interference in the Chola territories of Nulambavadi and Gangavadi in Kannada country when they attacked a Chola post and tried to forcibly collect revenues from farmers. A Chola outpost was attacked leading to a resounding reply by the Chola forces first under Rajendra I, following which the command was taken by his able son and co-regent Rajadhiraja Chola (called Vijayarajendra in Tamil inscriptions about this episode). Rajadhiraja promptly attacked Chalukyan positions in Kogali and Kadambalige, after which he invaded the Chalukyan capital of Manyakheta itself, disposing and probably fatally wounding Jayasimha-II and dispossessing him of his queen, and either decapitating or killing several Chalukyan Dandanayakas and Mahasamantas near modern Chitradurga. This was the first full-fledged war between the Cholas and Chalukyas in which Rajadhiraja Chola took the command of the Chola army in which he shone and proved his capabilities to his eager father(***) As a gift to his father, Rajadhiraja or Vijayarajendra brought two Dwarapalakas from Chalukya country which were initially placed at the big temple at Gangaikonda Cholapuram, of which one is still standing at the Sarabeshwarar temple in Tirubhuvanam, which was built by a later Chola king Kulothunga III. The other Dwarapalaka is in the museum of the Big Temple in Tanjore. The above episode in detail has been mentioned in the inscriptions of Rajendra Chola I and his son Rajadhiraja at the Big Temple, Thanjavur(***).

This subjugation of the Chalukyas would intensify conflict between both empires with the Chalukyas to suffer more defeats at the hands of the successors of Rajendra I in the coming years(***). The victories in war with the Chalukyas would enable to Cholas to gain much riches, gold, jewellery, cavalry items like horses, elephants and armaments in addition to vast sums of cash which were ceded by the Chalukya kings as tribute to the Chola emperors, who graciously restored them their empires and re-integrated them with their wives, children etc.(***).

Despite founding the new Chola capital of Gangaikonda Cholapuram, Rajendra I was unfailing in according respect to his predecessor's achievements, especially those of his illustrious father Raja Raja I by placing inscriptions of his achievements only at the Big Temple in Thanjavur and not at Gangaikonda Cholapuram. This practice was kept up by the succeeding Chola kings, with all of them getting coronated at Gangaikonda Cholapuram and the neighbouring ceremonial site of Mudigonda Sozhapuram or Ayirattali but placing inscriptions only at the Big Temple in Thanjavur.

For his conquest of territories in the Ganga-Hooghly belt on the North and Eastern part of India as well as his victories over the adversaries in Indo-China (Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia), Rajendra Chola I earned the famous title of Poorvadesamum, Gangaiyum Kadaramum Konda Ayyan(***).

Expedition to the Ganges

With both the Western and Eastern Chalukya fronts subdued, Rajendra’s armies undertook an extraordinary expedition. C. 1019 CE Rajendra’s forces continued to march through Kalinga to the river Ganges. The Emperor himself advanced up to the river Godavari to protect the rear of the expeditionary force. The Chola army eventually reach the Pala kingdom of Bengal where they met Mahipala and defeated him.

According to the Tiruvalangadu Plates, the campaign lasted less than two years in which many kingdoms of the north felt the might of the Chola army. The inscriptions further claim that Rajendra defeated ‘…the armies of Ranasura and entered the land of Dharmapala and subdued him and thereby he reached the Ganges and caused the water river to be brought by the conquered kings’ back to the Chola country. The new conquests opened up new roots for the Cholas to head for distant lands like Burma by land (through what are now modern Orissa, West Bengal, Assam and Bangladesh). Many inscriptions of chola do refer to the chola control over provinces of north like mathura(vadamadurai), kanyakubja(kannaikucchi or kannauj) and sindhu(sind). This is possible because of chola domination of both the seas on east and west.

It is true that Rajendra's army defeated the kings of Sakkarakottam and Dhandabhukti and Mahipala. These territories were initially added to the kingdom, while later they had the status of tribute paying subordinates and trade partners with the Chola Kingdom, an arrangement that lasted till the times of Kulothunga-III and to a limited extent, of Raja Raja-III too. It was undoubtedly an exhibition of the power and might of the Chola empire to the northern kingdoms. But the benevolent leadership of the Cholas treated them in a benevolent manner and did not permanently annexe them to the Chola dominions, while at the same time acting firmly to nip in the bud any ill-treatment of people from Tamil country.

Overseas conquests

Before the fourteenth year of Rajendra’s reign c. 1025, the Chola Navy crossed the ocean and attacked the Srivijaya kingdom of Sangrama Vijayatungavarman. Kadaram, the capital of the powerful maritime kingdom, was sacked and the king taken captive. Along with Kadaram, Pannai in present day Sumatra and Malaiyur in the Malayan peninsula were attacked. Kedah (now in modern Malaysia) too was occupied.

Sangarama Vijayatungavarman was the son of Mara Vijayatungavarman of the Sailendra dynasty. Srivijaya kingdom was located near Palembangmarker in Sumatra.

There are no records to explain the nature of and the reason for this naval expedition. The Sailendra dynasty had been in good relations with the Chola Empire during the period of Rajaraja Chola I. Rajaraja encouraged Mara Vijayatungavarman to build the Chudamani Vihara at Nagapattinam. Rajendra confirmed this grant in the Anaimangalam grants showing that the relationship with Srivijaya was still continued be friendly. The exact cause of the quarrel that caused the naval war between Cholas and Srivijaya remains unknown.

The Cholas had an active trade relationship with the eastern island. Moreover the Srivijaya kingdom and the South Indian empires were the intermediaries in the trade between Chinamarker and the countries of the Western world. Both the Srivijaya and Cholas had active dialog with the Chinese and sent diplomatic missions to China.

The Chinese records of the Song Dynasty show that first mission to China from Chu-lien (Chola) reached that country in 1015 C.E. and the king of their country was Lo-ts’a-lo-ts’a (Rajaraja). Another embassy from Shi-lo-cha Yin-to-loChu-lo (Sri Raja Indra Chola) reached China in 1033 C.E. and a third in 1077 C.E. during Kulothunga Chola I. The commercial intercourse between Cholas and the Chinese were continuous and extensive.
Silver Kasu coin of Rajendra I
One reason could be a trade dispute stemming from some attempts by Srivijaya to throw some obstacle between the flourishing trade between China and the Cholas. Whatever the actual cause of this expedition, it is difficult to believe that, even if we take all the achievements narrated in Rajendra’s inscriptions are accepted as literally true, the campaign led to any permanent territories rather than a vague acceptance of the Chola suzerainty by Srivijaya. Sangaram Vijayatungavarman was restored to the throne at his agreement to pay periodic tribute to Rajendra.

Tanjavur inscriptions also state that the king of Kambhoja (Kampucheamarker) requesting Rajendra’s help in defeating enemies of his Angkormarker kingdom.

Closing years

Rajendra’s long reign saw almost continuous campaigns and conflicts trying to hold his huge empire together. Rajendra’s sons carried out most of the campaigns during the late period of his reign. The emperor refrained from taking the field personally allowing his sons to win glory and distinction.

Rebellions in the Pandya and Kerala countries called for severe action and Rajadhiraja Chola I suppressed them. He also undertook a campaign in Sri Lanka to quell a rebellion instigated by Kassapa.

Gangaikonda Cholapuram

To commemorate his celebrated military conquests over the Chalukyas, their subordinates and feudatories like the Hoysalas, Nolamba Pallavas, Uchhangi Pandyas etc., the Paramaras or Maharashtra/Gujarat area, Palas of Bengal, Ilam, Madurai and the Cheras as well as his famed northern campaign to the Ganges, Rajendra assumed the title of Gangaikonda Chola and other famous titles like Mudigondasozhan, Irattapadikonda Sozhan among scores of other titles of his and had the Siva Temple Gangaikondacholapuram built and consecrated. Soon after this, the capital was moved from Thanjavur to Gangaikondacholapuram. Rajendra probably founded the city of Gangaikondacholapuram before his 17th year.

Most of the Chola kings who succeeded Rajendra were crowned here. They retained it as their capital, reoriented and trained the efficient Chola army. It is not known whether the capital was moved to the new location for strategic purposes, as the old capital Thanjavur had very strong fortifications.

Rajendra’s legacy

The closing years of Rajendra forms the most splendid period of Cholas. The extent of the empire was the widest and the military and naval prestige was at its highest. The emperor was ably assisted by his sons and other members of his family. The Chola imperialism was a benevolent one attested by the presence of the traditional rulers in the Pandya and Kerala countries and the act of reinstating the Srivijaya king after his defeat.

Personal life and family

Rajendra Chola Raja Raja Chola the Great had many queens. Some of them mentioned in inscriptions are Tribuvana or Vanvavn Mahadeviar, Mukkokila, Panchavan Mahadevi and Viramadevi who committed sati on Rajendra’s death. The siddanta saravali of trilochana sivacharya who was a contemporary of Kulothunga III says that king Rajendran was a good writer and that he did compose hymns in praise of Lord Shiva.(**)

Of his sons, three followed him on the Chola throne in succession. Rajadhiraja Chola, Rajendra Chola II and Virarajendra Chola of whom we do not know the identity of the Madurai viceroy Jatavarman Sundara Chola Pandya.

Historic Novels Featuring Rajendra Chola I

  1. The famed novelist of Tamil Literature, Akilan has penned a novel by name "Vengayin Maindhan". In this novel, Akilan gives insight about the life and achievement of the great Rajendra Chola. This novel had won the Sahitya Academy Award.
  2. Another veteran historical tamil novelist Vembu Vikiraman had penned a novel, "Gangapuri Kavalan". Rajendra Chola is the hero of the novel.


  1. See Sastri, KAN, A History of South India, p165
  2. See Sastri, KAN, A History of South India, p166
  3. Rajendra Chola I describes his victory over Jayasimha as under: "the seven and a half lakshas of Iratta-padi, (which was) strong by nature, (through the conquest of which) immeasurable fame arose,[7] (and which he took from) Jayasimha, who, out of fear (and) full of vengeance, turned his back at Muyangi and hid himself"
  4. South Indian Inscriptions
  5. See Keay, John, p220
  6. See Nilakanta Sastri, K.A. (1935). The CōĻas, pp 209 - 212. Sastri bases his argument on the fact that these regions were not included in the inscriptions of his successors, though successive Chola Kings from Rajaraja I to Kulothunga III have assumed titles as 'Kings who conquered Ilam', reinforcing the fact that off and on, rebellions were being quelled and Chola authority on the island of 'Ilangai' was maintained, despite a later king of Lanka sending an embassy to the Chola adversary Vikramaditya VI of the Chalukya dynasty, subsequent to which another expedition to Ilangai caused the Sinhala king to flee to Rohana hills on the South Coast of that country.
  7. See Schmidt, K, p32
  8. See Rothermund and Kulke, p109


  • Nilakanta Sastri, K.A. (1935). The CōĻas, University of Madras, Madras (Reprinted 1984).
  • Nilakanta Sastri, K.A. (1955). A History of South India, OUP, New Delhi (Reprinted 2002).

  • Nilakanta Sastri, K.A. (1955), A History of South India - From Prehistoric Times to the Fall of Vijayanagar (Reprinted 2003). * Nilakanta Sastri, K.A. (1935)

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