Chola invasion of Srivijaya

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Chola invasion of Srivijaya
Part of South-East Asia campaign of Rajendra Chola I
Date 1025
Location Palembang (Sumatra) and Kedah (Malay Peninsula), Srivijaya
Result Chola victory
Chola Empire Srivijaya
Commanders and leaders
Rajendra Chola Sangrama Vijayatunggavarman

In 1025, Rajendra Chola, the Chola king from Coromandel in South India, launched naval raids on ports of Srivijaya in maritime Southeast Asia,[1] and conquered Kadaram (modern Kedah) from Srivijaya and occupied it for some time. Rajendra overseas expedition against Srivijaya was a unique event in India's history and its otherwise peaceful relations with the states of Southeast Asia. Several places in Malaysia and Indonesia were invaded by Rajendra Chola I of the Chola dynasty.[2][3] The Chola invasion furthered the expansion of Tamil merchant associations such as the Manigramam, Ayyavole and Ainnurruvar into Southeast Asia.[4][5][6][7]


Throughout most of their shared history, ancient India and Indonesia enjoyed friendly and peaceful relations, therefore this Indian invasion is a unique event in Asian history. In 9th and 10th centuries, Srivijaya maintained close relations with the Pala Empire in Bengal, and an 860 Nalanda inscription records that Maharaja Balaputra of Srivijaya dedicated a monastery at the Nalanda university in Pala territory. The relation between Srivijaya and the Chola dynasty of southern India was friendly during the reign of Raja Raja Chola I. In 1006 CE a Srivijayan Maharaja from Sailendra dynasty — king Maravijayattungavarman — constructed the Chudamani Vihara in the port town of Nagapattinam.[8] However during the reign of Rajendra Chola I the relations deteriorate as the Chola Dynasty started to attack Srivijayan cities.[9]

The Cholas are known to have benefitted from both piracy and foreign trade. Sometimes Chola seafaring led to outright plunder and conquest as far as Southeast Asia.[10] While Srivijaya that controlled two major naval choke points; Malacca and Sunda Strait; at that time was a major trading empire that possess formidable naval forces. Malacca strait's northwest opening was controlled from Kedah on Peninsula side and from Pannai on the Sumatran side, while Malayu (Jambi) and Palembang controlled its southeast opening and also Sunda strait. They practiced naval trade monopoly that forced any trade vessels that passed through their waters to call on their ports or otherwise being plundered.

The reasons of this naval expedition are still a moot point as the source are silent about its exact causes. Nilakanta Sastri suggests that the attack was probably caused by Srivijayan attempt to throw obstacles in the way of the Chola trade with the East (especially China), or more probably, a simple desire on the part of Rajendra to extend his digvijaya to the countries across the sea so well known to his subject at home, and therefore add luster to his crown.[11]

Another theory suggests that the reasons of the invasion was probably motivated by geopolitics and diplomatic relations. It seems that the Khmer king Suryavarman I of the Khmer Empire (today modern Cambodia) requested aid from the Chola Emperor Rajendra Chola I of the Chola dynasty against Tambralinga kingdom (today Southern Thailand Malay Peninsula).[12] After learning of Suryavarman's alliance with Rajendra Chola, the Tambralinga kingdom requested aid from the Srivijaya king Sangrama Vijayatungavarman.[12][13] This eventually led to the Chola Empire coming into conflict with the Srivijaya Empire. This alliance was somewhat also has religious nuance, since both Chola and Khmer empire are Hindu Shivaist, while Tambralinga and Srivijaya are Mahayana Buddhist.


A Siamese painting depicting the Chola raid on Kedah.

It seems that the Chola raid against Srivijaya was a swift and silence campaign that left Srivijaya unprepared. To sail from India to Indonesian Archipelago, normally vessels from India sailed eastward across Bay of Bengal and calls for port of Lamuri in Aceh or Kedah in Malay peninsula before entering Strait of Malacca. It seems that Chola armada sailed directly to Sumatran west coast. The port of Barus in west coast of North Sumatra at that time seems already belongs within Tamil trading guilds, and served as port to replenish fresh water and logistics after crossing the Indian Ocean. The Chola armada then continued to sail along Sumatra's west coast southward and sailed into Strait of Sunda.[1] Unaware of the danger upon their capital, Srivijayan navy placed watchful eyes upon Kedah and surrounding areas on northwest opening of Malacca strait, completely unaware that the Chola invasion was coming from Sunda Strait in the south, with Palembang sit just right in the corner.

The first Srivijayan city being raided was the capital of Srivijaya empire itself, Palembang. Srivijayans were shocked by this unexpected sudden attack as the Chola armada sacked their city and plundered the Kadatuan royal palace and Srivijayan monasteries. This disaster left the Southern Sumatra in chaos, confusion and desolation. Srivijayan mandala were unable to provides proper defences. An inscription of King Rajendra states that he captured King Sangramavijayottunggavarman, of Srivijaya, took a large heap of treasures including the Vidhyadara Torana, the jewelled 'war gate' of Srivijaya adorned with great splendour.[11]

After plundering the royal palace of Palembang and taking the Srivijayan Maharaja and royal family as hostages, the Chola armada loaded with fabulous Srivijayan treasures, moved on to their next target. They launched successive attacks on other Srivijayan ports; Malayu, Tumasik, Pannai and the port of Kadaram (Kedah). This time Chola facing fierce resistance as the walled city of Kedah is rather hard to conquer, also as they learn the fate of Palembang. Yet despite courageous resistance the port of Kedah fell. The Chola invasion seems not interested on installing control or administration over defeated cities. Like locust they moved fast and plundered the next port, as Srivijayan cities fallen one after another. The Chola armada seems to took advantage of Southeast Asian monsoon for moving from one port to another swiftly. The tactics of fast moving unexpected attack was probably the secret of Chola success, since it did not allows Srivijayan mandala to prepare the defences, reorganize themselves, provide assistances or to retaliate.[1]

There is nothing to indicate that this military expedition was followed by a direct Chola military occupation, and it is likely that the Cholas followed their custom by returning their armies to Tanjore with their plunder. This quick successive ruthless strikes without occupation were probably the main reason for Chola's success, for they were able to keep moving fast, attacks new targets without warning and with full force before the news of the invasion spread throughout Malay coastal cities. Taken by surprise, the Malay rulers had no opportunity to built any form of resistance.[14]

The war ended with a victory for the Chola and major losses for the Srivijaya Empire.[12][13] Rajendra Chola I dealt a crushing blow to Srivijaya maritime might and monopoly.[15] The highest rewards of the campaign were the treasures of Kedah and Palembang.[16]


With the Maharaja Sangrama Vijayottunggavarman imprisoned and most of its cities destroyed, the leaderless Srivijaya mandala entered a period of chaos and confusion. This calamity also marked the end of Sailendra dynasty rule upon Srivijaya, since later on, other family within Srivijayan mandala would ascends to claim the throne. According to the 15th-century Malay annals Sejarah Melayu Rajendra Chola I, after the successful naval raid in 1025, seems to have married Onang Kiu the daughter of the defeated king.[17][18]

This invasion has forced Srivijaya to made peace with its old enemy, Javanese kingdom of Kahuripan (successor of Medang Kingdom). The peace deal was probably brokered by the exiled daughter of Srivijayan Maharaja Sangrama Vijayottunggavarman, who managed to escape the destruction of Palembang.[14] After the invasion, a fleeing Srivijayan princess came to the court of King Airlangga in East Java to seek refuge. She then became the queen consort of Airlangga named Dharmaprasadottungadevi. In 1035 Airlangga constructed a Buddhist monastery named Srivijayasrama dedicated for his queen consort.

Despite the devastation, Srivijaya mandala still survive as the Chola invasion was ultimately unsuccessful to install direct administration over Srivijaya, since the invasion was short and only meant to plunder. However, this invasion gravely weakened the Srivijayan hegemony and enabled the formation of regional kingdoms like Kahuripan and its successor, Kediri in Java, based on intensive agriculture rather than coastal and long-distance trade. Srivijaya was humbled by this attack but not destroyed, the resilience of Srivijaya mandala still proven by the ascends of other royal members within Srivijaya mandala to step into power. After a while, a new Maharaja named Sri Deva according to Chinese source, were enthroned and the trading activity resumed. He sent an embassy to the court of China in 1028 CE.[14]

Although the invasion were not followed by direct Chola occupation and the region appeared unchanged politically, there were huge consequences commercially as the Tamil traders began to encroached Srivijayan realm traditionally controlled by Malay traders. Tamil guilds influences and presences increased on the Malay Peninsula and north coast of Sumatra.[14]

Two main source of Srivijaya power was wealth and prestige, accumulated through trade and diplomacy, however after the Chola invasion there was not much left of them. This led to the decline of Srivijayan prestige, as vassal states — the member of Srivijayan mandala — began to see the weaknesses of this form of alliance. The first that went overboard was Kedah that revolted in 1060 CE against central Srivijayan court in Palembang.

At this time a generation has passed since the Chola invasion. Despite the growing presence of Tamil guild in the region, the new dynasty that ruled Srivijaya sees no reason to continue hostilities with the Cholas, and the relations were more or less neutral. Chola nobles were accepted in Srivijaya court, and according to Chinese source, in 1067 CE the Srivijayan ambassador named Divakara or Devakala who was sent to Imperial Court of China, was actually a Chola Prince, the nephew of Rajendra Chola. Apparently he become one of the highest minister in Srivijaya, he later returned to India and enthroned in 1070 CE as King Rajendra Devakulotungga.

To answer Kedah rebellion, Srivijaya however, asked Chola instead to recover the rebellious Kedah to Srivijaya. In 1068 CE Virarajendra Chola the king of the Chola dynasty launch naval raid to help Srivijaya to recover Kadaram (Kedah).[19] Virarajendra reinstated the Kadaram king under the request of Srivijayan Maharaja who had asked his help.[19] With Chola help, Kedah returned graciously into Srivijayan mandala. This event of history however, confused Chinese sources enough that they mistook Chola was the vassal of Srivijaya.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d Munoz, Paul Michel (2006). Early Kingdoms of the Indonesian Archipelago and the Malay Peninsula. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet. ISBN 981-4155-67-5. 
  2. ^ Nagapattinam to Suvarnadwipa: Reflections on the Chola Naval Expeditions to Southeast Asia by Hermann Kulke,K Kesavapany,Vijay Sakhuja p.170
  3. ^ Trade and Trade Routes in Ancient India by Moti Chandra p.214
  4. ^ Buddhism, Diplomacy, and Trade: The Realignment of Sino-Indian Relations 600-1400 by Tansen Sen p.159
  5. ^ Power and Plenty: Trade, War, and the World Economy in the Second Millennium by Ronald Findlay,Kevin H. O'Rourke p.69
  6. ^ Wink, André, Al-Hind: The Making of the Indo-Islamic World, Vol. I, Early Medieval India and the Expansion of Islam: 7th-11th centuries, p.325, ISBN 978-0391041738
  7. ^ Ancient Indian History and Civilization by Sailendra Nath Sen p.564
  8. ^ Sastri, pp 219–220
  9. ^ Power and Plenty: Trade, War, and the World Economy in the Second Millennium by Ronald Findlay,Kevin H. O'Rourke p.67
  10. ^ Craig A. Lockard (27 December 2006). Societies, Networks, and Transitions: A Global History. Cengage Learning. p. 367. Retrieved 23 April 2012. 
  11. ^ a b Hermann Kulke, K. Kesavapany, Vijay Sakhuja (2009). Nagapattinam to Suvarnadwipa: Reflections on Chola Naval Expeditions to Southeast Asia. Institute of Southeast Asian, 2009. p. 1. Retrieved 23 April 2012. 
  12. ^ a b c Kenneth R. Hall (October 1975), "Khmer Commercial Development and Foreign Contacts under Sūryavarman I", Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 18 (3), pp. 318-336, Brill Publishers
  13. ^ a b R. C. Majumdar (1961), "The Overseas Expeditions of King Rājendra Cola", Artibus Asiae 24 (3/4), pp. 338-342, Artibus Asiae Publishers
  14. ^ a b c d Munoz, Paul Michel (2006). Early Kingdoms of the Indonesian Archipelago and the Malay Peninsula. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet. p. 163. ISBN 981-4155-67-5. 
  15. ^ Southeast Asia: Past and Present by D.R. SarDesai p.43
  16. ^ Early kingdoms of the Indonesian archipelago and the Malay Peninsula by Paul Michel Munoz p.161
  17. ^ Buddhism, Diplomacy, and Trade: The Realignment of Sino-Indian Relations by Tansen Sen p.226
  18. ^ Nagapattinam to Suvarnadwipa: Reflections on the Chola Naval Expeditions to by Hermann Kulke,K Kesavapany,Vijay Sakhuja p.71
  19. ^ a b Nagapattinam to Suvarnadwipa: Reflections on the Chola Naval Expeditions by Hermann Kulke,K Kesavapany,Vijay Sakhuja p.305