The Tanjore Cholas (9th -13th Century CE), known as the Cholas of the Viajayala Clan, are one of the most popular rulers in the history of South India. Their legacy and times are best known to us through the enormous amount of lithic records from the walls of numerous stone temples and the copper charters, which are perhaps the most in number by any other kingdoms in medieval history of our country. 

Whenever one speaks of the Cholas the names that come out are Rajaraja Chola, Karikala Chola, Rajendra Chola, Kulottunga Chola. Beyond these names, not many kings of this lineage are remembered. The historians of the 20th century worked meticulously to construct the history of the Cholas with the help of inscriptions and the copper plates. Thanks to the painstaking efforts of the epigraphists of the previous century who deciphered thousands of inscriptions which enabled the historians to write the historical accounts. 

The Cholas, whose history was unknown to many till about the 1900s, were written in detail by historians such as K A Nilakanta Sastri, one of the most renowned historians of our country. The challenging aspect constructing the lineage of the Cholas is with the names of the kings mentioned in the Sangam poetry. These vast literary sources, dated between 3rd century BC and 3rd century CE, which speak about 21 kings as the Cholas, do not enable us to construct their lineage chronologically. The chronicles of Ptolemy, Megasthenis and the most well known Mahavamsam from the island of Lanka speak about the Cholas, their ports, cities etc. But, these are scanty and do not give us a solid base to construct the authentic history of the Cholas. 

The historians generally divide the lineage of the Cholas into three, Early, Middle & Later Cholas. The Cholas mentioned in Sangam poems & post Sangam poems are known as the early Cholas. The Cholas of the Vijayalaya line beginning from the middle of the 9th century are known as the middle or medieval Cholas, the line of kings commencing from Kulottunga I, is considered to be the lineage of later Cholas. The reason being is that after Athirajendra, there was no male heir to ascend the throne and it was Kulottunga I, who was the son of Eastern Chalukya Kind Raja Narendra and the Chola princess Ammanga Devi, daughter of Rajendra Chola I. The lineage of later Cholas begins with Kulottunga I and ends with Rajendra Chola III. 

From Vijayalaya to Rajendra Chola III, the history of both middle and later Cholas can be constructed chronologically and we have many sources of information to do so. The following names are mentioned in the Pathupattu, Ettuthokai anthologies said to have been written between 3rd century BC and 3rd century CE.

S No. Names
1 Perunarkilli 
2 Nalankilli 
3 Ilancet Cenni 
4 Thirukkilli 
5 Karikal Peruvalaththan
6 Perun Thirumavalavan
7 Killivalavan
8 Kopperuncholan
9 KoChenganan
10 Seruppazhi Erintha Ilancet Cenni
11 Thiththan
12 Thulaipukka Periyon 
13 Thoongeyil Erindhon
14 Nalankilli 
15 Nalluruthiran 
16 Nedunkilli 
17 Neithalankanal Ilancet Cenni
18 Korvai Kopperunarkilli
19 Maavalaththan
20 Mudiththalai Kopperunarkilli
21 Verpharadakkai Perunarkilli 

M.Rajamanikkanar, a renowned historian, in his work on the History of the Cholas attempts to give some chronological order with the help of the literary sources available. The post Sangam era which is between 4th to 6th Century CE, is known as the epic era in Tamil literature. Silappathikaram, Manimekalai are the two greatest epics from this period that mention the Cholas.We have lithic records of the Cholas from the times of Vijayalaya, the founder of the medieval Cholas. The other written records are the copper plate charters available to us from the times of Parantaka I. The copper plates are mostly land grants given by the king and they provide detailed information about the lineage of the king. From these copper plates we learn the long lineage of the Cholas, both mythical, as well as historical. There are few names mentioned in the Sangam poetry that find their place in these copper plate inscriptions. 

Studying the copper plate inscriptions are fascinating indeed as we find claims of divine origins of kings. Like many ancient kingdoms across the world, the Cholas of Tanjore also claim themselves to have a divine origin. While the historical lineage of the Cholas are deciphered through the numerous stone inscriptions and copper plates, not much attention is paid to the Puranic lineage mentioned in the same copper plates inscriptions. 

The Cholas identify themselves to be the descendants of the Sun and they belong to the Surya Kula. (on the other hand, their rivals, the Pandyas of Madurai claim to be the Chandra Kula, meaning that they are descendents of the Moon).

The Cholas and their history have been a matter of interest for many in recent times, thanks to writer Kalki’s Ponniyin Selvan. It can easily be said that the Tamil society is more aware about the Cholas than the other Tamil kings such as Pandyas, Cheras and Pallavas. The names usually we hear are, Karikala Chola, Rajaraja Chola, Rajendra Chola & Kulottunga. (the architectural marvels created during the reign of the Cholas could be the reason for their popularity). 

When it comes to the study of the lineage of the Cholas, scholars divide them into three broad categories – Early, Medieval and Later Cholas. As the Vijayalaya clan is concerned, we are able to construct the lineage with great accuracy owing to the lithic records and as well as the copper plates. As mentioned earlier, this line till King Athirajendra, it was the direct descendant of Vijayalaya, after the demise of Athi Rajendra, Kulottunga I, son of Eastern Chalukya King Rajaraja Narendra and Queen Ammanga Devi, who was the daughter of Rajendra Chola I, became the king. This line of kings from Kulottunga I till Rajendra III, are known as the Chalukya Cholas or the later Cholas. 

The Cholas of the Vijayalaya Line

S No Names
1 Vijayalaya 
2 Aditya 
3 Parantaka 
4 Gandaraditya 
5 Arinjaya Chola 
6 Sundara Chola (aka) Parantaka II 
7 Uttama Chola 
8 Rajaraja I 
9 Rajendra I
10 Rajadhiraja I 
11 Rajendra II 
12 Raja Mahendran 
13 Vira Rajendra
14 Athi Rajendra 

 

The Cholas of the Chalukya Line

Kulottunga Chola I was born to the   Chalukya King Rajaraja Narendra and Ammanga Devi, daughter of Rajendra I.

S No. Names
1 Kulottunga Chola  I 
2 Vikrama Chola 
3 Kulottunga Chola II 
4 Rajaraja Chola II 
5 Rajadhiraja Chola II 
6 Kulottunga Chola III
7 Rajaraja Chola III
8 Rajendra Chola III 

These historic names feature in thousands of inscriptions, most of the names also found in a handful of copper plate inscriptions. Apart from these, we have a long list of mythological Kings whose names are found in Puranas, claimed by the historical kings as their ancestors.

We can classify the list of names mentioned in these copper plates into four categories. 

– The Divine names – Gods, Devas, Rishis

– Puranic Names 

– Names of Kings from Tamil Sangam corpus 

– Historical names

As mentioned above, the lineage begins with Lord Vishnu, from whom was born Lord Brahma, to Rishi Marici, to Rishi Kasyapa. Lord Surya is the son of Rishi Kasyapa. After Surya, the copper plates mention Manu, from whom the line of Puranic lineage begins. The Thiruvalangadu copper plates of Rajendra Chola has the most number of Puranic Kings. The 35 names mentioned in this list, many are from the various Puranas. Interestingly, there are a few names such as Aryama, Analaprathapa mentioned in the copper plates whose names are not mentioned in any Puranas. From the 21 names mentioned in the Sangam corpus, only a handful of names are found in the copper plates. While Karikalan from the Sangam era is mentioned in all the copper plates, Kochengannan, a great devotee of Lord Shiva who is also one among the 63 Nayanmars, is mentioned in most of the copper plates. Kings Kokilli, Chenni are mentioned in a few plates. We also find names such as Parakesari, Rajakesari which became the titles that were used alternatively by the Chola kings. Eg: Rajaraja I was Rajakesari and his son Rajendra I was Parakesari. The claim of divine origin is common in many south east asian countries. The Cholas were no exception. With the last emperor Rajendra III, the Chola line of Tanjore, comes to an end. We have no historical records of the descendants after Rajendra III.

Sources 

The Cholas, K A Nilaknata Sastri – University of Madras 

Chozhar Seppedugal (Tamil) – V.Mahadevan, Tamil University, Tanjore 

Chozhar Varalaaru (Tamil) – Ma.Rasamanikkanar