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A brief introduction to the Later Cholas or the Thanjavur Cholas
Rajaraja Cholan (Chozhan) the Great, the builder of Brihadeeswara Temple, occupies the foremost place in the history of the later Cholas. Vijayalaya Cholan (AD 846-871) was the founder of the later Chola dynasty, having conquered the country from a vassal chief of the pallavas.
He established Thanjavur as the capital. His son and successor Aditya I conquered the pallavas and the Kongu country. Under his son Parantakan I (AD 907-953), the cholas acquired a dominion which foreshadowed the greater empire Rajarajan and Kulotungan. Parantakan I won victories over the Banas, the Gangas, the Pandyas and the King of Ceylon. These facts and the extent of his conquests are known from his inscriptions. Towards the end of his reign, or before his death , the Rashtrakutas under Krishnaraja III invaded the Tamil Country, killed the Chola Prince Rajadityan at Takkolam (near Arakonam) in AD 947-948, and seized Tondainadu, confining the of the Cholas to their ancestral dominion comprising the Thanjavur and Trichy districts.
Though the names of the next five kings after Rajaditya are known, there is little is on record regarding their life history. They were Gandaraditya, Arinjaya, Parantakan II, Aditya Karikala or Aditya II and Madurantaka. Aditya Karikala II appears to have re-conquered Tondainadu a few years later. On Aditya's death, or on the death of Parantakan II, whichever was the later, the succession was probably disputed. The subject besought, Arunmolivarman (Rajarajan) to become the King, but he did not want the throne as long as his paternal uncle Madurantak Uttama Cholan was fond of the crown. Eventually, Arunmolivarman was appointed heir-apparent. Rajarajan became the king in 985 AD. His reign was the starting point of a period of high prosperity.
The original title of Arunmozhivarman (Rajaraja Cholan) was Rajakesari Varman or Mummudi-Sola-Deva. He was the second son of the Parantaka Cholan II alias Sundara Cholan and Vanavan Mahadevi. Rajarajan had an elder sister, Kundavaiyar and an elder brother, Aditya Karikalan. Only one son and three daughters of the King are known namely; Rajendra Cholan I, Kundavai, who married the Eastern Chalukya King Vimaladitya, Mahadevadigal and another whose name is not traceable. Rajarajan had a number of queens. Lokamahadevi was probably the chief queen, who built the shrine of Sri Lokamahadesvarar, called Uttara Kailas in the Sri Panchanadisvara temple at Thiruvaiyaru.
Rajarajan inherited Chola and Kongu kingdoms and the Kanchi region, when he came to throne; the first comprising Thanjavur and Trichy regions, the second the Coimbatore region, the third country comprising of South & North Arcots and Chengalput regions.
Rajarajan began his career by the conquest of the Chera country. He defeated Chera King Bhaskara Ravivarman, whose fleet he destroyed in the port of Kandalur. He also seized Pandya Amara Bhujanga and captured the port of Vilinam. He also annexed northern Ceylon, building a number of stone temple in the Ceylonese capital Polonnaruva, of which one Shiva temple now stands.
It was at about the 14th year of his reign (AD 998-999) that most of his triumphs were achieved. He conquered the Gangas of Mysore (capital at Talakad), the country of Nolambas (Bellary and Eastern Mysore), Tadigaipadi (the district of Mysore), vengi (southern part of Northern Circars), Coorg (kudamalainadu) and the Pandyas. The last were the natural enemies of Cholas. Having already overcome the Chera, Rajarajan assumed the title "Mummudi Cholan". The Western and the Eastern Chalukyas of the Deccan were conquered next. A few years later the Eastern Chalukya prince Vimaladitya married the eldest daughter of Rajarajan and became the King of Vengi, which was still under Cholas. His son and grandson also married daughters of Chola kings, and it was the second of these rulers, the great Kulotunga I, who in later years, claimed the Chola Kingdom as his mother heritage and established a new dynasty at Thanjavur .
The Chalukyas remained stubborn enemies of the Cholas. During the next three years, Rajarajan subdued Quilon and the northern kingdom of Kalinga, through his son Rajendra Cholan. Chola also simultaneously directed his arms against Ceylon. Rajarajan moved the capital from Anuradhapura to Polonnaruva and built here in memory of his mother Vanavan Mahadevi the Siva Devalaya for Vanavan Mahadevi Isvaramudaiyar. With Rajarajan, Shaivaism spread over the whole of Ceylon.
Rajarajan having thus realised his cherished military glories, in or about 1003 AD has sheathed his sword, and turned his thoughts towards a life of peace. It was about this time, that the Chidambaram temple authorities bestowed on him the title of "Sri Rajarajan" and "Sivapadasekara".
Rajarajan constructed at his capital Thanjavur the great Brihadeswara Temple. The temple is a stupendous monument. The king was ardent devotee of Lord Siva and was highly tolerant in matters of religion. Everybody received equal favour at his hands. he also granted large endowments to the Cudamani Vihara in Nagapattinam built by Sailendra king, Sri Mara Vijayatunga Varman.
As a worshiper of Sri Thyagaraja at Thiruvarur, the king heard that remained of the Thevaram hymns of Saint Sundarar, Thirunavukkarasar and Jnanasambandar. Concerned about the loss of the priceless Shiva devotional treasures, he sought the help of Adi-Saiva Nambiandar-Nambi of Thirunaraiyar and discovered the collection of the Thevaram in a back room of the Sri Nataraja's sanctum at the Chidambaram temple. At the instance of the king, Nambiandar-Nambi compiled them and Rajaraja arranged to have them sung in the Shiva shrines.