Karikala Chola

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Karikala Cholan
கரிகால சோழன்
Karikala territories.png
Karikala's Territories c.180 CE
Reign c. 280 BCE[citation needed]
Predecessor Ilamcetcenni
Successor Unknown
Queen Alli Velir princess
Issue Nalankilli
Father Ilamcetcenni
Born Unknown
Died Unknown

Karikala Cholan or Karikala Chozhan (Tamil: கரிகால சோழன்) was one of the great Tamil kings of Early Chola during the Sangam period. He was the son of Ilamcetcenni and ruled around 180 AD[citation needed].

He was also known by the epithets Karikala Peruvalathaan (Tamil: கரிகால பெருவளத்தான்) and Tirumavalavan (Tamil: திருமாவளவன்).


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.

Pattinappaalai, Porunaraatruppadai and a number of individual poems in Akananuru and Purananuru have been the main source for the information that is attributed to Karikala. Mahavidwan R. Raghava Iyengar identifies Thirumavalavan as the hero in the Sangam classic Pattinappalai and Karikalan as the hero in Porunaraatrupadai. According to him, they are two different Chola kings.

Early life[edit]

Karikala was the son of Ilamcetcenni ‘…distinguished for the beauty of his numerous war chariots..’.[1] 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.

Military conquests[edit]

Battle of Venni[edit]

According to Poruna-raatr-uppadai, Karikala Chola fought a great battle at Venni now KOVILVENNI near Thanjavur in which both Pandya and Chera suffered crushing defeat.[2] 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.[3] 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.[4] 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.[5]

Other wars and conquests[edit]

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.[5]

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…'

further conquests[edit]

Northern conquests[edit]

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.They say that the king commenced his aswamedha sacrifice and subdued a total of 66 kingdoms all over the world and extended and empire upto lokaloka mountains.

It is noted here that all ancient records support chola, chera,pandya,pallava military involvement in many parts of subcontinent and also other parts of the world. A chera king by name velukezh kootuvan around 6th century B.C.E had occupied the land of yavanas(greeks and romans) and his story is available in sangam, epics.

Raising the banks of Kaveri[edit]

Later Chola kings referred to Karikala Chola as a great ancestor, and attributed him with the building of dikes along the banks of the Kaveri.[2][4][6][7]

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.

Grand Anicut[edit]

The Grand Anicut also known as the [ta:கல்லணை] Kallanai, was built by the Chola king[8] and is considered one of the oldest water-diversion or water-regulator structures in the world, which is still in use.[9][10]

Kallanai / Grand Anicut built by Karikala Cholan, on the River Kaveri, near Tiruchirappalli.

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).

Recently the Delta farmers of Tamil Nadu demanded the Tamil Nadu government honour the great Chola king Karikalan, who built the Kallanai.[11]

Pattinappaalai describes Karikala as an able and just king.The king also displayed glorious munificence by rewarding the author of pattinapalai namely katiyalur rudrankannanar with 16 crore pieces of pure red gold called jambunatham which according to the ancient literature is available only in the kingdom of lord Indra. 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.



Karikala chola attained salvation at the feet of Lord siva while worshipping at ancient thillai sthanam temple at a distance of 2km from tiruvayaru. The ancient sangam script tamil inscriptions on the walls of the temple refer to this incident. The same has also found mention in the sthala puranam or place history of tiruvaiyaru and thillai sthanam.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Purananuru – 266
  2. ^ a b See Majumdar, p 137
  3. ^ See Tripathi, p 458
  4. ^ a b See Kulke and Rothermund, p 104
  5. ^ a b See Nilakanta Sastri, A History of South India, p112-113
  6. ^ History of ancient India, page 478: ..raising the banks of the Kaveri by Parakesari Karikala Chola
  7. ^ Proceedings of the Indian History Congress, Volume 39, page 156
  8. ^ 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. 
  9. ^ "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. 
  10. ^ Cauvery River - Britannica Online Encyclopedia
  11. ^ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ElM552Hg9BM


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