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Early history (from 250 BCE 1000 CE)

The Cholas

The sequence of names for the early Cholas, up to Vijayalaya is not well documented. The current names in the family tree chart are placed in a possible sequence, for which there is no clear corroborative evidence. The named Chola kings did exist, and were named either in temple records, sangam literature, stone inscriptions or other means from which the current record is compiled. One difficulty in dating these kings is that records do not follow the western calendar. The Tamil calendar is cyclical, not linear. It does not divide the year into the same number of days or months as the western calendar. Another difficulty is that kings, or 'Rajahs', often appointed 'Yuvarajahs' who were associated with them in kingship. These Yuvarajahs had sovereign power, but could be overruled by the Rajah. They were similar to regents, but also assumed the role of 'Crown Prince' or heir apparent. It was perfectly possible for a Chola king to terminate his kingship and withdraw from society. It is therefore difficult to place the actual date of the death of a Chola king accurately.

One of the first Cholas of the early period to be documented is known in India as Manu Needi Chola. There is a possibility that in Sri Lanka, this king is the same as the one referred to in Sinhala literature as Elara (or Ellalan). In 250 BCE, Elara led an army from the Chola country and conquered Sri Lanka. He was known to be a good ruler, earning the sobriquet 'the Just'. Elara's is reputed to have been a strong adherent to the Laws of Manu. The Sinhala Prince Gamini (who later became King Duttugamini) defeated Elara in battle and killed him in 161 BCE.

After Elara, the next named Tamil ruler was Pulahatha, who conquered Lanka between 103-100 BCE. He was defeated in battle and killed. Pulahatha is not identified as a Chola king in Sinhala literature, however it is inconceivable that he could have invaded Lanka and subdued its populace without an army at his call, and equally inconceivable that such an army would be permitted to assemble, train, equip and operate out of Chola territory without their consent - even if only tacitly.

The appendix to Britto's translation of the Yalpana Vaipava Malai describes Ramadeva Chola as being a 'son' of Manu Needi Chola, whom we have already identified with Elara. It is not clear whether Ramadeva is Elara's son or some other direct descendant. Britto cites the Kalveddu of Trincomalee as his authority.

At some point after Ramadeva Chola, Kulakkodda Chola reigned. We know almost nothing about this king, other than his name.

Muchukunda Chola is reputed to have established seven temples in the vicinity of Tiruvarur, each with shrines dedicated to the god Thiagarajah (Somaskanda). Each of these shrines is known to be of great antiquity and to have been established early in the sangam period (between 200 BCE and 1000 CE).

Kochenkam Chola is reputed to have built the Jambukeswara temple during the sangam period, but this temple has undergone substantial growth in construction over the last two millennia, and no reliable record exists of its specific date of founding.

Perunarkilli Chola went to war against Nedunjeraladan Chera. Both were killed. Nedunjeraladan is described in sangam literature as having attacked the Yavana ships and held the Yavana traders to ransom. Yavana is the Tamil word for Greek, and hence we can see that this was during the period before Rome dominated trade with India (i.e. before 200 CE). Nedunjeraladan's son Senguttuvan is mentioned in the context of Gajabahu of Lanka. Depending on which Gajabahu this is (Gajabahu I reigned in the first quarter of the second century CE and Gajabahu II reigned in the last quarter of the second century CE) we can place Perunarkili Chola in the same time period.

Ilanjetcenni is attributed by Kalki in the Poyin Selvan as being the father of Karikala. This is not coroborated.

Karikala Peruvalathaan is perhaps the most famous of the early Cholas. He invaded and conquered Lanka in the second century CE and built the Grand Anicut Canal on the Cauvery River.

Nalangili is said to be the son of Karikalan.

Nedumudikilli: we know almost nothing about this king, other than his name and his association with Nalangili and Karikala.

Kallanai is another name for the Cauvery River, and might not be the name of a king. There are references to 'Kallanai Chola', which may simply indicate that this region was under Chola sovereignty, rather than being the name of a king.

Kudagu is a region of southern India (Coorg), and references to 'Kudagu Chola' might refer to this region under Chola sovereignty rather than being the name of a king.

Musugundan: we know almost nothing about this king, other than his name.

Thiru Vikrama is named in the Sri Ranganathar temple in Tiruchchirappalli as being an ancestor of Killivallavan.

Killi is named in the Sri Ranganathar temple in Tiruchchirappalli as being an ancestor of Killivallavan.

Thiru Mangai is named in the Sri Ranganathar temple in Tiruchchirappalli as being an ancestor of Killivallavan.

Kulasekaran is named in the Sri Ranganathar temple in Tiruchchirappalli as being an ancestor of Killivallavan.

Rajamahendra is named in the Sri Ranganathar temple in Tiruchchirappalli as being an ancestor of Killivallavan.

Dharmavarma is another ancestor of Killivallavan, possibly his father.

Killivallavan Chola built Sri Ranganathar temple in Tiruchchirappalli, the only temple in south India with seven inner circles (each named after an ancestor). The South Tower, which is 236 feet tall, was the highest tower in ancient Asia.

Kogeenganan: almost nothing is known of this king, other than his name.

Kopperucholan almost nothing is known of this king, other than his name.

Veradevan Chola lists Lanka as one of his possessions.

The first of the 'Later Cholas' or the 'Tanjore Cholas' is Vijayalaya, who captured Tanjore from the Pallavas in 850 CE. Vijayalaya Cholan, who was king from 846-871 CE, established Tanjore as the capital of the dynasty. His son Aditya I conquered the Pallavas and annexed the Kongu country. His son Parantakan I, who ruled from 907-953 CE, expanded the Chola kingdom through victories over the Banas, the Gangas, the Pandyas and the King of Lanka. His son Prince Rajadityan was killed at Takkolam in about 948 CE by the Rashtrakuta king, Krishnaraja III, who invaded Chola lands and captured Tondainadu.

After Rajaditya, who died before Parantakan, five kings ruled. Little is known about them beyond their relationship to each other. They were Gandaraditya, Arinjaya, Parantakan II, Aditya Karikala (also known as Aditya II) and Madurantaka. Aditya Karikala II re-conquered Tondainadu. On either Aditya's or Parantakan II's death, the succession was disputed. The population appears to have supported Arunmolivarman, but he deferred to his paternal uncle, Madurantak Uttama Cholan. Arunmolivarman was made his heir, and took the throne as Rajarajan in 985 CE.

 
 
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