|Karikala's Territories c.180 CE|
|Reign||c. 180 CE|
|Queen||Unknown Velir princess|
|Part of a series on|
|History of Tamil Nadu|
The story of Karikala is mixed with legend and anecdotal information gleaned from Sangam literature. No authentic records of Karikala's reign has been found so far. The only sources available are the numerous mentions in Sangam poetry. The period covered by the extant literature of the Sangam is unfortunately not easy to determine with any measure of certainty.
Karikala was the son of Ilamcetcenni ‘…distinguished for the beauty of his numerous war chariots..’. The name Karikalan has been held to mean 'the man with the charred leg' and perpetuates the memory of a fire accident in the early years of his life. Some scholars also hold the view kari and kalan are Tamil words meaning "slayer of elephants". Porunar-aatrup-padai describes the back-formed origin legend of this incident as follows:
- The king of Urayur Ilancetcenni married a Velir princess from Azhundur and she became pregnant and gave birth to Karikala. Ilamcetcenni died soon after. Due to his young age, Karikala's right to the throne was overlooked and there was political turmoil in the country. Karikala was exiled. When normality returned, the Chola ministers sent a state elephant to look for the prince. The elephant found the prince hiding in Karuvur. His political opponents arrested and imprisoned him. The prison was set on fire that night. Karikala escaped the fire and, with the help of his uncle Irum-pitar-thalaiyan, defeated his enemies. Karikala’s leg was scorched in the fire and from thence Karikala became his name.
Pattinap-paalai, written in praise of Karikala also describes this incident, but without mention of the fable of the burnt limb:
- Like the Tiger cub with its sharp claws and its curved stripes growing (strong) within the cage, his strength came to maturity (like wood in grain) while he was in the bondage of his enemies. As the large trunked elephant pulls down the banks of the pit, and joins its mate, even so after deep and careful consideration, he drew his sword, effected his escape by overpowering the strong guard and attained his glorious heritage in due course.
Battle of Venni
According to Poruna-raatr-uppadai, Karikala Chola fought a great battle at Venni near Thanjavur in which both Pandya and Chera suffered crushing defeat. Although we know very little about the circumstances leading to this battle, there can be no doubt that it marked the turning point in Karikala’s career, for in this battle he broke the back of the powerful confederacy formed against him. Besides the two crowned kings of the Pandya and Chera countries, eleven minor chieftains took their side in the campaign and shared defeat at the hands of Karikala. The Chera king, who was wounded on his back in the battle, committed suicide by starvation.
Venni was the watershed in the career of Karikala which established him firmly on his throne and secured for him some sort of hegemony among the three crowned monarchs. Venni which is also known as Vennipparandalai and now it is known as Kovilvenni. Kovilvenni is situated between Ammapettai(Tanjore) and Needamangalam.
Other wars and conquests
After the battle of Venni, Karikala had other opportunities to exercise his arms. He defeated the confederacy of nine minor chieftains in the battle of Vakaipparandalai. Paranar, a contemporary of Karikala, in his poem from Agananuru mentions this incident without giving any information on the cause of the conflict.
According to legends Karikalan was one of the few Tamil kings who won the whole Ceylon (Lanka). His kallanai was built after his conquer over Singalese kingdom. It was said that he did not want to use the Tamil workers to be used for moving hard stones from mountains to the river bed, instead he used the Singalese war prisoners to move the heavy stones to the river bed.
Pattinappaalai also describes the destruction caused by Karikala’s armies in the territories of his enemies and adds that as the result of these conflicts, the 'Northerners and Westerners were depressed… and his flushed look of anger caused the Pandya’s strength gave way…'
However, there is no evidence to show that Karikala’s conquests extended beyond the land of the Kaveri. the main war land in karikala cholan is in Sri Lanka venni the last battle field and return back to sea to vakaipparadalai.
Since ancient times Karikala became the subject of many myths which in modern times have often been accepted as serious history. Cila-ppati-karam (c. sixth century C.E.) which attributes northern campaigns and conquests to all the three monarchs of the Tamil country, gives a glorious account of the northern expeditions of Karikala, which took him as far north as the Himalayas and gained for him the alliance and subjugation of the kings of Vajra, Magadha and Avanti countries. The sthalapuranam of tiruvaiyaru near tanjore relates that as the king returned after conquering northern India, near tiruvaiyaru his chariot wheel sank into the mud when it was being dug out 7 idols belonging to lord dakshinamurthy(lord siva), lord vishnu, saptha matrikas were discovered. A voice from sky dictated the king to install them in panchanadeswara(siva) temple in tiruvayaru and perform kumbabishekam which the king personally participated and completed. There are also epigraphs that relate to this incident.
Raising the banks of Kaveri
The raising of the banks of the river Kaveri by Karikala are also mentioned by the Melapadu plates of Punyakumara:karuna - saroruha vihita - vilochana – pallava – trilochana pramukha kilapritvisvara karita kaveri tira
- (He who caused the banks of the Kaveri to be constructed by all the subordinate kings led by the Pallava Trinetra whose third eye was blinded by his lotus foot.)
This has been made the basis of conclusions of the highest importance to the chronology of Early South Indian history.
The Grand Anicut also known as the [ta:கல்லணை] Kallanai, was built by the Chola king and is considered one of the oldest water-diversion or water-regulator structures in the world, which is still in use.
The Kallanai is a massive dam of unhewn stone, 329 metres (1,080 ft) long and 20 metres (60 ft) wide, across the main stream of the Kaveri.
The purpose of the dam was to divert the waters of the Kaveri across the fertile Delta region for irrigation via canals. The dam is still in excellent repair, and supplied a model to later engineers, including the Sir Arthur Cotton's 19th-century dam across the Kollidam, the major tributary of the Kaveri.
The area irrigated by the ancient irrigation network is about 1,000,000 acres (4,000 square kilometres).
Pattinappaalai describes Karikala as an able and just king. It gives a vivid idea of the state of industry and commerce under Karikala who promoted agriculture and added to the prosperity of his country by reclamation and settlement of forest land. He also built the Grand Anaicut, one of the oldest dams in the world and also a number of irrigation canals and tanks.
We know next to nothing regarding Karikala’s personal life. Naccinarkiniyar, the annotator of Tolkappiyam, states that Karikala married a Velir girl from Nangur. He most certainly had more than one queen. There is evidence in Purananuru for Karikala’s faith in Saivism in the Tamil country. Purananuru (poem 224) movingly expresses his faith and the grief caused by his passing away:
- He who stormed his enemies' forts undauntedly, who feasted his minstrels and their families and treated them to endless draughts of toddy, who in the assembly of 'Samayakuravas' noted for their knowledge of Dharma and purity of life, guided by priests learned in their duties and attended by his noble and virtuous queen, performed the vedic sacrifice in which the tall sacrificial post stood on a bird-like platform, within the sacrificial court surrounded by a high wall with round bastions, he, the great and wise king alas, is no more! Poor indeed is this world, which has lost him. Like the branches of the vengi tree, which stands bare, when their bright foliage has been stripped down by shepherds eager to feed their cattle in the fierce summer, are his fair queens, who have cast off their jewels.
Karikala chola also is famous for being learned in vedas and agamas and patronizing scholars. He famously was blessed with a visionof lord sivan's dancing posture and consecrated the temple at perur near coimbatore.The work pattinapalai composed by katiyalur rudrankannanar that describes poompuhar and its ancient glory is a masterpiece. The emperor is known to have tithed out 16 crore pieces of gold to the author of this work. Karikala is also known to have had extensive trade and military contacts all over the world, with his embassies visiting and living in Rome and further western world.Sangam epics credit of having brought riches from all 7 continents of the world.
Karikala chola attained salvation at the feet of lord sivan in thillai sthanam 1.5 km from Tiruvaiyaru. This event is noted both in sthalapuranam of tiruthillai sthanam and also in the sangam age epigraphs gotten from the temple. The puranas narrate that the emperor was blessed with a vision of lord there and was eventually blessed with mukthi.
- Purananuru – 266
- See Majumdar, p 137
- See Tripathi, p 458
- See Kulke and Rothermund, p 104
- See Nilakanta Sastri, A History of South India, p112-113
- History of ancient India, page 478: ..raising the banks of the Kaveri by Parakesari Karikala Chola
- Proceedings of the Indian History Congress, Volume 39, page 156
- Singh, Vijay P.; Ram Narayan Yadava (2003). Water Resources System Operation: Proceedings of the International Conference on Water and Environment. Allied Publishers. p. 508. ISBN 81-7764-548-X.
- "This is the oldest stone water-diversion or water-regulator structure in the world". Archived from the original on 2007-02-06. Retrieved 2007-05-27.
- Cauvery River - Britannica Online Encyclopedia
- Hermann, Kulke; Rothermund D (2001) . A History of India. Routledge. ISBN 0-415-32920-5.
- Majumdar, R.C (1987). Ancient India. India: Motilal Banarsidass Publications. ISBN 81-208-0436-8.
- Mudaliar, A.S (1984) . Abithana Chintamani. New Delhi: Asian Educational Services.
- Nilakanta Sastri, K.A (1984) . The CōĻas. Madras: University of Madras.
- Nilakanta Sastri, K.A (2002) . A History of South India. New Delhi: OUP.
- Tripathi, Rama Sankar (1967). History of Ancient India. India: Motilal Banarsidass Publications. ISBN 81-208-0018-4.
- Iyengar, P. T. Srinivasa (1929). History of the Tamils from the Earliest Times to the Present Day.