Rajendra Chola I was one of the greatest emperors of the Chola dynasty. He expanded the Chola Empire from where his father Rajaraja Chola had left. Apart from reaching northwards to River Ganges and moving overseas to Maldives and Sri Lanka, he also invaded the Southeast Asian territories of Srivijaya in Malaysia, Indonesia and southern Thailand. He continued to maintain and improve commercial relations with China, started off by his father. He assumed the title ‘Gangaikonda Chola’ (The Chola who took the Ganges) after defeating the Gangas, Chalukyas, Cheras, Palas, Pandyas, Kalinga and other rulers. Besides, he was also known by various other titles, such as Mudigonda Chola, Virarajendra, and Pandita Chola, apart from inheriting the title of ‘Mummudi Chola’ (The Chola with three crowns) from his father. He established a new capital Gangaikonda Cholapuram, where he constructed a Shiva temple, resembling the Brihadeeswara Temple built by his father Rajaraja Chola at the previous capital Thanjavur. He built a vast empire and a strong military and naval force. His rule came to be known as the ‘Golden Age of Cholas’. He was succeeded by his son Rajadhiraja Chola, who was then followed by his other two sons – Rajendra Chola II and Virarajendra Chola
Childhood & Early Life
Rajendra Chola I was born on the occasion of South Indian festival of Thiruvathira in the Tamil month of Margalzhi Thingal, to Raja Raja Chola I and his queen, Vaanathi or Thiripuvana Madeviyar.
He was declared the crown prince by his father in 1012, though he started assisting him in his conquests from 1002 and led campaigns against the Western Chalukyas, Vengi and Kalinga.
Accession & Reign
In 1014, he officially ascended the throne and four years later in 1018, he made his eldest son, Rajadhiraja Chola I, as the yuvaraja (co-regent).
His early expeditions on behalf of his father included conquest of Rashtrakuta country and areas surrounding northwestern Karnataka, Pandharpur, and southern Maharashtra till Kolhapur.
His control over Ceylon was challenged by Sinhala king Mahinda’s son Kassapa, following which a war was fought between the two, with the Cholas turning victorious and resuming power till the reign of Kulothunga Chola III.
In 1018, he raided the territories of the Pandyas and Cheras and seized precious stones. Since his father had previously conquered these territories, it is unclear whether Rajendra added any further territories or not.
He defeated the forces of Vijayaditya, who was installed as the Vengi king by the Western Chalukyas after forcing Rajaraja Narendra into exile, and helped Rajaraja in regaining his throne.
After suppressing the Western and the Eastern Chalukyas, he moved northwards through Kalinga to River Ganges and reached the Pala kingdom of Bengal, where he defeated Mahipala and acquired elephants, women and treasure.
His other conquests included battles against Dharmapala, the ruler of the Kamboja Pala Dynasty in Dandabhukti, Govindachandra of the Chandra Dynasty in present-Bangladesh, and Bastar in modern-Chhattisgarh.
The territories of the Ganges country were initially included in the empire, but were later made subordinates with annual tributes. While the northern kingdoms enjoyed autonomy, the Tamilian territories were under absolute Chola power.
He took upon the title ‘Gangaikonda Chola’ post his victories over the Palas, Chalukyas, Kalinga, Gangas, Pandyas, Cheras, etc. and moved his capital from Thanjavur to Gangaikondacholapuram, where he built a Shiva temple.
He carried out successful invasion expeditions to Tambralinga kingdom in southern Thailand and Langkasuka kingdom in Malaysia, following which he supported Tamil merchants trading in Southeast Asia.
The Cholas were believed to have maintained good relations with the Chinese kingdoms, with the earliest mission sent from Chola king Rajaraja to the Song Dynasty in 1015, with subsequent visits in 1033 and 1077.
The extensive trade between the Cholas and Chinese could have triggered disputes from Srivijaya kingdom, with the Cholas, as it was situated in-between the trade routes.
A second expedition to Sri Lanka in 1041 included wars against Vikramabahu, Jagaitpala, Sinhalese, and the expelled Pandyas, all of whom were defeated, allowing Rajendra to bring the Ceylonese territory under the Chola Empire.
Till the end of his reign, he was constantly at campaigns and conflicts to protect his huge empire from invasions and hold it together. Eventually, he let his sons suppress revolts caused by the Pandyas and Cheras and in Sri Lanka.
He led the famous campaign against the Western Chalukyas and succeeded in invading Kollipakkai or modern-Kulpak in the north of Hyderabad.
While his father was successful in capturing the northern part of Sri Lanka, he went ahead in annexing the entire island in 1017, defeating the Sinhala king, Mahinda V and imprisoning him in the Chola Country, where he died in captivity.
He fought the Western Chalukya king, Jayasimha II, in the Battle of Maski, in 1021, who attempted to control the Eastern Chalukyas of Vengi by supporting Vijayaditya VII and sending his nephew, Rajaraja Narendra, into exile.
In 1025, he invaded Sangrama Vijayatungavarman’s Srivijaya kingdom, imprisoning him and capturing its capital Kadaram, Pannai (present-Sumatra), Kedah (present-Malaysia) and Malaiyur (Malayan peninsula).
He got a large artificial lake, measuring 16 miles long and 3 miles wide, constructed at his capital Gangaikondacholapuram, which is, till date, one of the largest manmade lakes in India.
Being a devout and religious ruler, he got most of the brick-structured temples in his empire converted into stone shrines.
Personal Life & Legacy
He was believed to have had several queens, some of them being Mukkokilan, Arindhavan Madevi, Tribuvana or Vananan Mahadeviar, Panchavan Mahadevi, and Viramadevi, who committed sati upon his death in 1044.
He was succeeded by three of his sons – Rajadhiraja Chola, Rajendra Chola II and Virarajendra Chola.
He had two daughters – Pranaar Arul Mozhi Nangai and Ammanga Devi, who was married to Eastern Chalukya king Rajaraja Narendra and bore the first Chalukya Chola emperor, Kulothunga Chola I.