Rajendra Cola I was a great king who ruled from 1012 to 1044 CE. He presided over the expansive Cola dynasty in Southern India inheriting the kingdom from his father, Rajaraja I. The Cholas had ruled kingdoms of varying sizes in South India from approximately 850 CE (Srivastava 1). However, by 980 CE the Cola dynasty had been in a steady decline for a few decades until Rajaraja I, Rajendra’s father, became king from 985 to 1014 CE (Srivastava 11). Thus, Rajendra was perfectly placed in history to become a great king, as he watched his father return the dynasty to its former glory and learned what was needed from a king to continue expanding his territory.
When discussing Rajendra the logical starting point is then Rajaraja, as much of Rajendra’s success as a king and leader should be attributed to Rajaraja. This is true for many reasons, the most prominent being Rajendra had inherited a kingdom that had already been rescued from oblivion by Rajaraja. Thus, Rajendra’s success was not solely his own. Once Rajaraja was firmly in place as a prominent king he began mentoring Rajendra in warfare and governance. This tutelage continued into the first two years of Rajendra’s rule, as Rajendra and Rajaraja co-ruled until Rajaraja’s death in 1014 CE (Srivastava 24).
There is no known date of birth for Rajendra; his early life is also a bit of a mystery, however his mother is said to be Vanavan Mahadevi, one of Rajaraja’s wives (Srivastava 15). It seems one only starts to see Rajendra’s name appearing once he had been named the crowned prince. It is also known that Rajendra had four wives: Vunavan-Mahadeviyar, Mukkokkilan, Pancavon-Mahadeviyar and Vira-Mahadevi, however the dates of the marriages are also unknown (Srivastava 15).
Before Rajendra became king, his father Rajaraja introduced him to the many responsibilities of ruling. One such example was how Rajaraja insisted that Rajendra participate as an acting member of the government, as Srivastava stated, “Under his [Rajaraja’s] direct supervision and by holding different positions in the government, both civil as well as military, Rajendra got excellent opportunities to shape his personality as the crown-prince” (Srivastava 23). Rajaraja also ensured that Rajendra understood the art of war, by having Rajendra fight in his army (Srivastava 16). Rajaraja’s foresight to include his son, early on, in the day to day managing of the kingdom was an excellent decision. It appears that Rajendra agreed as he utilized the same tutelage with his eldest son, Rajadhiraja, who was the next crown-prince (Srivastava 51). As a matter of fact, Rajendra made use of this technique when it came to the numerous princes, as Professor K.A.N. Sastri is quoted in Srivastava’s book, “By finding suitable occupation for the energies of restless princes of the royal family, he doubtless allayed their discontent, diminished the chances of palace intrigues and revolutions, and at the same time brought new strength to the administration of an over-grown empire which was called upon to face many difficult problems, domestic and foreign” (Srivastava 65). Thus, Rajendra successfully employed the same deterrent his father, Rajaraja, had taught him.
Rajendra presided over a government system that was quite unique for the time period, in some aspects it seemed almost democratic. Rajendra held those he presided over with great respect. In many instances he wished to know public opinion regarding a proposed law that may affect his people and on occasions he was also known to get the approval of the majority of his people before passing laws (Srivastava 74). Rajendra was also dedicated to his people, using government money to build roads and improve irrigation (Srivastava 73). Although, there was one aspect of the government that was quite traditional: members of the government were chosen from high society. However, if a government official wanted to move up in rank the ultimate factor in the decision was the ability of the individual to do the job correctly (Srivastava 66). Given that Rajendra was interested in the opinions of the public and that members of the government were judged on merit, the government appeared to be quite steady. It was probably due to this stability and prosperity that allowed Rajendra to wage wars without worrying about monetary issues.
Rajendra was known as a fierce warrior and king and a brilliant war strategist (Spencer 1976:416). Along with his father, Rajaraja, Rajendra radically altered how raids were accomplished. What was once done in a haphazard manner was transformed by Rajendra and Rajaraja into much more productive, long term invasions (Spencer 1976:409). Once their army had invaded an enemy territory they were to start building camps that acted as a home base, from where they could continue raiding the surrounding area (Spencer 1976:409). A large aspect of Rajendra’s army was an extremely powerful navy which was passed down to him by Rajaraja (Srivastava 42, 68). As Rajendra’s army collected more and more enemy territories, stories started to circulate about how fierce the army was; this caused a few kings in neighbouring areas to send gifts to Rajendra in the hope that a friendship could be formed to ensure their own kingdom’s survival (Srivastava 48). As the distance between the capital city and the outlying communities grew Rajendra had to ensure that he remained in control; this was partially accomplished through the building of temples.
By building temples in outlying areas where Rajendra’s influence may not have been overly prominent he was placing himself in the forefront of the minds of his people. As Kaimal states, “Temple building declared publicly the king’s ability to protect and donate to the deity, it created a lasting visual symbol of the king’s sacred authority,” (Kaimal 1996:55). Another reason for placing temples in the outlying areas was to incorporate any non Cola traditions into Cola traditions, which changed the locals associations with the king (Kaimal 1996:62). Most of these temples also had a specific location where the names of donors would be placed. To ensure that the general public recognized that the the king was a main contributor their names were always placed in a prominent location (Spencer 1969:51).
The Colas were well known as Saivas, worshippers of Siva, because of this most of their temples are dedicated to Siva (Lippe 44). The preferred depiction of Siva installed in most of these temples was the image of Siva as Lord of the Dance, or Siva Nataraja (Lippe 62). This particular depiction of Siva represents the dance that Siva does to destroy the universe. Siva is depicted dancing on the dwarf of ignorance, while a ring of fire encircles him. He usually has four arms in this depiction, one of which is usually holding a drum while another is holding a flame. The goddess Ganga is also shown trapped in Siva’s hair (Kaimal 1999:393). There are many temples with this type of iconography, one such example is the temple that Rajendra built in 1030 CE at Gangaikondacholapuram (Lippe 35). However, Rajendra’s temple is largely abandoned. As it could not compete with the temple his father built in Tanjore.
When it came to temple construction it appears that Rajendra did not take his father’s lead. The temple that Rajaraja built in Tanjore is still in use today due to Rajaraja’s clever use of his subjects. Rajaraja ensured that people all over his dynasty were a part of the temple itself. He conscripted a selection of his subjects who were already working other temples around his territories to work at his temple in Tanjore. This gave many people who lived far from the temple a way to associate themselves with the temple itself, through their neighbours or relatives who were now working in the great temple at Tanjore (Geeta 23). When Rajendra’s temple was finally built instead of using the same technique that his father had used to ensure that the public felt connected to the temple he simply had some of the current workers from his father’s temple moved to his own temple. Which did not have the same effect.
Given all that Rajendra Cola I managed to accomplish during his reign as one of the most prolific kings of Southern India it is easy to understand why Srivastava said, “During his regime the goddess of the Earth, the goddess of Victory in battle and the matchless goddess of Fame became his great queens” (Srivastava 100). Yet, with all that Rajendra is said to have accomplished, almost single handedly the way some of his history is described, it is also understandable why Srivastava said, “Notwithstanding the exaggerations, he is to be reckoned as one of the greatest rulers of India” (Srivastava 101).
References and Further Recommended Reading
Kaimal, Padma (1996) “Early Cola Kings and ‘Early Cola Temples’: Art and the Evolution of Kingship.” Artibus Asiae, Vol. 56 (no. 1/2), 33-66
Kaimal, Padma (1999) “Shiva Nataraja: Shifting Meanings of an Icon.” The Art Bulletin, Vol.81 (no.3 September), 390-419
Lippe, Aschwin (1971) “Divine Images in Stone and Bronze: South India, Chola Dynasty (c. 850-1280).” Metropolitan Museum Journal, Vol. 4, 29-79
Majumdar, R. C. (1961) “The Overseas Expeditions of King Rajendra Cola.” Artibus Asiae, Vol. 24 (no. 3/4), 338-342
Spencer, George W. (1969) “Religious Networks and Royal Influence in Eleventh Century South India.” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, Vol. 12 (January), 42- 56
Spencer, George W. (1976) “The Politics of Plunder: The Cholas in Eleventh-Century Ceylon.” The Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 35 (May), 405-419
Srivastava, Balram (1973) Rajendra Chola. India: Thomson Press Limited.
Stein, Burton (1977) “Circulation and the Historical Geography of Tamil Country.” The Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 37 (November), 7-26
Vasudevan, Geeta (2003) The royal temple of Rajaraja : an instrument of imperial Cola power. New Delhi: Abhinav Publications.
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Article written by: Krysti Bouttell-Bonnar (April 2013) who is solely responsible for its content.