|Successor||Kulothunga Chola I|
Athirajendra Chola (1070 CE) reigned for a very short period of few months as the Chola king succeeding his father Virarajendra Chola. His reign was marked by civil unrest, possibly religious in nature, in which he was killed. The Chalukya Chola prince Rajiga succeeded him as Kulothunga Chola I.
Chola and Eastern Chalukya Unity
As a result of several intermarriages over a period of time when Rajaraja Chola gave his daughter Kundavai in marriage to Eastern Chalukya Vimaladitya, The Chola clan and the Vengi branch of the Chalukyan dynasty had become very close and the Vengi kings had become plainly Cholas at heart.
Vengi Dynastic Struggles
Cholas were also involved in the dynastic struggles of the Vengi throne, intermittently fighting on the sides of their favourite prince against a rival. These rivals were more often than not supported by the Western Chalukyas. Therefore the Eastern Chalukyan kingdom had been a venue for a proxy war between the Cholas and the Western Chalukyas for generations.
Virarajendra Chola interfered in the Vengi succession disputes after the Vengi king Rajaraja Narendra, who was closely related to the Chola clan through his mother Kundavai, a daughter of Rajaraja Chola, died in 1061 CE. The Vengi throne went to Saktivarman II in a palace coup. The Cholas wanted the Chola influence re-established in Vengi. Saktivarman II was killed, but Vijayaditya, Saktivarman’s father assumed the throne and repulsed the Chola attempts at unseating him. Vijayaditya however accepted to serving as a Chola vassal.
Although this attempt at gaining total control over Vengi was unsuccessful, Virarajendra found another Chalukya ally in Vikramaditya by marrying his daughter to him.
While these intrigues were going on, the son of Rajaraja Narendra, prince Rajendra Chalukya (the future Kulothunga Chola I) sought to become the Vengi king and felt Vijayaditya had usurped the throne that was rightfully his. The Cholas probably helped him in his efforts. Thwarted in his attempts by his uncle Vijayaditya, Rajendra Chalukya carved himself a small dominion near Baster District in Chhattisgarh state and bided his time. An opportunity arose with the demise of Virarajendra and Rajendra Chalukya acted swiftly to capture the Chola throne.
The Chalukya author Bilhana gives a version of the background to Athirajendra’s troubles in his Vikramankadeva Charita. Soon after marrying his daughter to Chalukya Vikramaditya VI, Virarajendra Chola died. On hearing news of trouble and revolt in the Chola country following the emperor’s death, Vikramaditya, immediately marched to Kanchipuram to quell troubles there. Then he went to Gangaikonda Cholapuram, ‘destroyed the forces of the enemy and installed the prince (Athirajendra) on the throne’. After spending a month in the Chola capital, Vikramaditya VI apparently satisfied that peace was restored, returned to his country.
Within a few days of his return, news about the death of Athirajendra in a fresh outbreak of rebellion reached him. The news also told him that Rajendra Chalukya had captured the Chola throne and assumed the title of Kulothunga Chola I. Vikramaditya immediately marched against Kulothunga. Somesvara II, the Western Chalukya king also joined him.
With the death of Athirajendra Chola, the Chola dynasty of Vijayalaya Chola came to an end.
There are questions that remain unanswered regarding Kulothunga’s role in Athirajendra’s death. Who was responsible for the troubles in Kanchipuram soon after Athirajendra’s ascension, that made Vikramaditya’s involvement necessary? Who were the ‘wicked people’ of Kanchipuram and Gangaikonda Cholapuram whom Vikramaditya had to suppress before Athirajendra could feel secure in his throne? What was the nature of the rebellion a few days after Athirajendra’s return from the Chola country?
We have no direct answers to these questions from either inscriptions or literary sources. In fact we don't have that many inscriptions of Atirajendra. However the fact remains that Vikramaditya VI marched against Kulothunga and successfully ousted him after the latter assume the Chola throne. Combined with this is the total absence of any mention of Athirajendra’s reign in Kalingathupparani, a poetic work in praise of Kulothunga Chola, furnishes some grounds for the inference that Kulothunga’s ambition and intrigues brought about these occurrences.
Attempts have also been made to connect these internal disturbances in the Chola kingdom with the story of the persecution suffered by Ramanuja in the hands of the Cholas. It is possible to come to an assumption, based on early biographical works on Ramanuja, that the Chola monarch who subjected Ramanuja and his followers to persecution was Athirajendra or his father Virarajendra. However, according to K. A. N. Sastri in his comprehensive history of the Cholas, other contemporary works on Ramanuja do not lend credence to this chronology of events that let to the demise of Athirajendra.
Ramanuja was the contemporary of Kulothunga II. It is Kulothunga II who banished Ramanuja from Tamil country and the latter had to seek refuge in Melkote, Karnataka. Hence even bringing Ramunaja into Athirajendra's death would cause more confusion. Till Kulothunga II, all the Chola kings and emperors supported all the religions equally although they were staunch Saivaites.
Kulothunga Chola I
- Nilakanta Sastri, K. A. (1935). The CōĻas, University of Madras, Madras (Reprinted 1984).
- Nilakanta Sastri, K. A. (1955). A History of South India, OUP, New Delhi (Reprinted 2002).