Kulothunga Chola-I

Kulothunga Chola
முதலாம் குலோத்துங்க சோழன்

Chola Territories c. 1070 CE
Reign 1070–1120 CE
Predecessor Athirajendra Chola
Successor Vikrama Chola
Queen Madurantaki
Elisai Vallabhi
Rajaraja Mummudi Chola
Rajaraja Chodaganga
Vikrama Chola
four other sons
Father Sembiyan
Born Unknown
Died 1122 CE
List of Chola kings
Early Cholas
Ellalan  ·  Ilamcetcenni 
Karikalan  ·  Nedunkilli 
Killivalavan  ·   Kopperuncholan
Kocengannan  ·   Perunarkilli
Interregnum (c.200–848)
Medieval Cholas
Vijayalaya Chola 848–891(?)
Aditya Chola I 891–907
Parantaka Chola I 907–950
Gandaraditya Chola 950–957
Arinjaya Chola 956–957
Sundara Chola 957–970
Uttama Chola 970–985
Rajaraja Chola I 985–1014
Rajendra Chola I 1012–1044
Rajadhiraja Chola 1018–1054
Rajendra Chola II 1051–1063
Virarajendra Chola 1063–1070
Athirajendra Chola 1067–1070
Later Cholas
Kulothunga Chola I 1070–1120
Vikrama Chola 1118–1135
Kulothunga Chola II 1133–1150
Rajaraja Chola II 1146–1173
Rajadhiraja Chola II 1166–1178
Kulothunga Chola III 1178–1218
Rajaraja Chola III 1216–1256
Rajendra Chola III 1246–1279
Chola society
Chola government
Chola military  ·   Chola Navy
Chola art  ·   Chola literature
Solesvara Temples
Poompuhar  ·   Uraiyur
Gangaikonda Cholapuram
Tiruvarur   ·   Telugu Cholas

Kō Rājakēsarivarman Abhaya Kulōttunga Chōla was one of the greatest kings of the Chola Empire. He was one of the sovereigns who bore the title Kulottunga, literally meaning the exalter of his race.

Early life

There is a lot of confusion that has risen due to some rather casual propositions put forth by writers with regards to the identity of this great king. Several ancient documents and fragmented inscriptions available from places like tirugokarnam, pudukkottai, pennagadam in cuddalore, tirumaanikkuzhi in cuddalore etc. give some information on events that took place during the crowning of emperor. For example the following passage from a Tamil work of the period written at tiruppadiripuliyur(cuddalore) has it as:

Paridhi kulam thannil uthitthu para samaya irulakattriya, tiru pparaman aadum perambalamum gopuramum aalayamum ponveyndhu, unmai sruthi yudan saiva neri thazhaitthu ongi, tiruneerru chozhan enru, kurumani maamudi punaintha kulothunga chola valavarul kuritthu vaazhvom

"We are pleased to collaborate with Sri Kulothunga Chola who stemmed from the race of sun(paridhi kulam) in the line of illustrious emperor valava of yore. Sri kulothunga deva chola destroyed the darkness caused by surge of false faiths(para samayam) and upheld the reality and truth of vedic saivism. May that tiruneerru chozhan(Kulothunga Chola I ),who annointed with gold the temple and tower at thillai(Chidambaram) live long!"

A Tamil work written in praise of Karunakara Thondaiman, the commander of the forces in the successful expedition to Kalingam(Orissa) and the north has once again referred to the king Kulothungan as belonging to paridhi kulam(solar race).

In the epic Periyapuranam once again a reference is made by the author to identity of Anapayan or Kulothungan I by referring to him as “illustrious one of race of sibis.”.

The emperor was crowned as per traditional rules at thillai going by three epigraphs available . The fact that those that undertook the same since times immemorial, the temple priests at Chidambaram conducted the same only to the cholas is further evidenced from the following para in periyapuranam

'Mallal nyaalam parakkinraar mani maa mavuli punaivatharkku Thillai vaazh anthanar thammai venda avarum sembiyar tham thollai Needum kula sirandhor kkanri mudi soottom enru nalkaaraki cheralathan than malai naatanaya nannuvaar'

“Inorder that he who conquered the world(kootruvar) may not be bereft of a royal crown he requested the crowning services of the ancient three thousand servitor priests at Chidambaram(thillai). Thereupon the priests refused the same saying that they are entitled to perform the ceremony only to the most deserving of the ancient clan of sembiyars(cholas). Having said this , they quit their dwelling to reach the hill country(kerala) of the ancient tamil chera king.”.

In addition to these we see that most of the available documents of kulothunga chola I start with the introduction in Sanskrit as Ethad kulothunga cholasya Rajakesarivarmanah. The name Rajakesari denotes a very ancient king of solar race to which the cholas belong to.

It would be favourable to say that there is no doubt about the solar cholan identity of kulothunga and also that it would have been impossible for any one with suspicious and or contestable identity to be anointed and continue as a king.

It is under these circumstances, he moved into the 'Political vacuum created by the death of Adhirajendra' and established himself on the Chola throne as Kulothunga Chola I. Once again it would be good enough to note that during the cameo of crisis in a powerful empire, it would be impossible for anyone with contestable credentials to don the mantle of the head especially when several of the virtuous and worthy (like for example pallava chiefs) are in the fray. It is also possible that kulothungan stemmed from King Raja mahendra chola who was in charge of northern chola borders and who is praised for displaying unparalled devotion by presenting a gemset golden image of sriranganatha to the temple at srirangam. Incidentally, the same ruler is eulogized in many inscriptions as the one who upheld law and dispensed justice " Three to four times as good as ancient manu".

Kulothunga I participated in a few wars 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).


He was not a co-regent and bore the title Rajakesari throughout his reign. He ascended the Chola throne at a time when the Chola Empire was in a state of anarchy. It must be asserted that he was not a foreigner and that there was no kind of invasion. He was family. Kulothunga established himself on the Chola throne soon overcoming the threats to the Chola Empire and had a reign characterised by unparalleled success and prosperity. His successes resulted in the wellbeing of the empire for the next 100 years.

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.

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 CE and is described in detail in the inscriptions of Kulothunga. Kalingathupparani describes the reason for war as a response to the default of Kalinga in its payment of annual tributes to 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.

War with Chalukya Vikramaditya VI

The Western Chalukyas involve in many wars with the Chola emperors like Raja Raja Chola I and Rajendra Chola I but their Kings like Tailapa ended up being defeated at Annigeri, Satyashraya was defeated at Kogali, Jayasimha was defeated in Kadambalige and Someshwara I was suffer defeats many a time at the hands of Rajadhiraja and Rajendra-II, and also defeated no less than five times to Virarajendra Chola. On each occasion, the wars ended with the Cholas chasing their Chalukyas rivals out of the battlefield, occupying their capital, capturing their generals, levying tribute on the Chalukyas from time to time.

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 benefited because by 1125-26 Chalukya Vikramaditya VI himself was old, ailing and close to death.

Accordingly, 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 ever before. Vikramaditya therefore led an expedition against Kulothunga in 1075 CE.

The war began with Vikramaditya's incursion into the Chola territories and encountered the Chola army at Kolar. Vikramaditya was engage the war with a mighty Chola forces up to the banks of Tungabhadra and there was heavy fighting and the Chola armies were victorious.

Somesvara II appealed to Kulothunga Chola for the help to regain the Chalukya Kingdom from his brother Vikramaditya and Kulothunga agreed to assist Somesvara and attacked Vikramaditya's rear.

Vikramaditya then concentrated all his efforts in saving his kingdom from the combined forces of Somesvara and Kulothunga. And the combined forces of both Somesvara II and Kulothunga Chola had made sufficient inroads and defeated Vikramaditya VI and the victorious Somesvara regain the Chalukyan throne.However, it appears that Vikramaditya VI seemed to wait for Kulothunga Chola to go back to the Chola country and at the first opportunity , he waged a separate war and defeated Somesvara II, imprisoned him and became the king of Chalukya Kingdom.But there was no love lost between Somesvara and his younger brother Vikramaditya as Vikramaditya had made Somesvara the ruler of the southern half of his kingdom.

Eelam (Lankan) wars

While the wars with Vikramaditya were ongoing, Vijayabahu, the Sinhala leader proclaimed himself ruler of the entire island. In 1070 CE he attacked the Chola forces from his enclave in the Rohana district and defeated them. Vijayabahu then occupied the territories close to Anuradhapura. 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(closed precincts of a temple) of ancient Chidambaram temple in sragdhara metre in Sanskrit says that:

pandyaan dandena jitva prachura saramuchaha pancha panchanana sreehi punye sahyadri srunge tribhuvana vijaya stambam ambothi theere dagdhva korggara durggam trunamiva sayata, khandavam paandu soonuhu pishtva tath keralanam balam athibalam kulothunga chola chakrehe sakra pratatapaha tribhivana vijaya sthambam ambodhipaare, kshumbyat kshmapaalaya chakram savidham akaroth

which translates to “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 says that “ King Neriyan (Kulothunga I), had been happy to appropriate from the vanquished Pandyas, the magnificent pearl fisheries at Tiruananthapuram(Trivandrum) and also militarily occupy 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 the south. The smaller leyden grant of Kulothunga as well as his Suchindram temple(in Kanyakumari Dist.) inscription testify this.


While Kulothunga was busy in Lanka, the Vengi kingdom was raided by Yakshakanaradeva, the ruler of Tripura. 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 CE. 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 CE. 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.

Overseas contacts

Kulothunga sent an embassy to China in 1077 CE. 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. The Khmer king Suryavarman II sent a mission to the Chola dynasty and presented a precious stone to Kulothunga Chola I in 1114 CE.[1]

There is also evidence to suggest that Kulothunga in his youth (1063 CE) 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 Kampuchea (Kambhoja). The Khmer king sent a peculiar stone to the emperor in c. 1114 CE.

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

Extent of the Empire

The Chola kingdom remained formidable 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.

Some writers say that towards the end his reign, Kulottunga lost the province of Gangavadi to Hoysala Vishnuvardhana who attacked this major Chola province (c. 1116 CE) in Kannada country from the times of and defeated the Chola Viceroy Adigaiman, the controller of Kongu and Kannada country there, but this proposition seems to stand on very fragile ground considering the massive power of chola empire during the period and its domination of Asia during Kulothunga's time. The disintegration of empire seem to have begun only after the rule of Kulothunga Chola III (1178–1216 CE), who was once again praised as a very powerful ruler and the same occurred not due to the excellence or power of the enemies but due to vicissitudes of time only. Even as this happened the later Pallava kingdoms of Kopperunjingan who was a devotee "at the feet of lord at thillai", were able to deliver death knell to the horde of enemies.

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 CE. 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 CE. 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.

Personal life

Kulothunga married Madurantaki, the daughter of Rajendra Chola of the Solar race and had by her seven sons, of which Vikrama Chola, the successor of Kulothunga was perhaps fourth. This fact is re-iterated at several places the most notable being in one of his son's plates. She seems to have died sometime before the thirtieth year of Kulothunga (1110 CE). 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. Solakulavalliyār, another queen of his is also mentioned in inscriptions. 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.

Religious attitude

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, Kulothunga I would build several temples dedicated to the Sun God, especially the Suryanar Temples at Pudukkottai and Nagapattinam. He built a sculptural beautiful temple Karakkoilat Melakadambur in 1113 AD in his 43rd thrown period, rarely made miniature sculptures all around the karbagraha is a finest memorable of the king. It's said to be karakkoil in Devara and the only temple named as it was like a chariot shaped one.

In Kulothunga Chozhapuram, a village named after him, we have streets prised equivalent to Madurai (square shape), hence it is called as Siru madurai. In the period of Kulothunga Chola made two important temples, the first one Lord Siva "Sokkanathar" temple. Another one Lord Vinava Perumal temple. From the very beginning of his reign sometimes as early as the second year, we can see that he devoted his time to renovating temples and appointing committees even in the remote parts of the empire such as Kuvalala Nadu, a district of Vijaiya Rajendra Mandalam and other places.

Preceded by
Athirajendra Chola
1070–1120 CE
Succeeded by
Vikrama Chola


Further reading and external links

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