Early Cholas

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The Cholas of the pre and post Sangam period (400 BCE – 200 CE) were one of the three main kingdoms of the ancient Tamil country. Their early capitals were Urayur and Kaveripattinam. Along with Pandyas and Cheras, Chola history goes back to the period where the history is covered with the mists of time.


Ancient Tamil Nadu contained three monarchical states, headed by kings called Vendhar and several chieftaincies, headed by the chiefs called by the general denomination Vel or Velir.[1] Still lower at the local level there were clan chiefs called kizhar or mannar.[2] The Tamil area had an independent existence outside the control of these northern empires. The Tamil kings and chiefs were always in conflict with each other mostly over property. The royal courts were mostly places of social gathering rather than places of dispensation of authority; they were centres for distribution of resources.[3]

The names of the three dynasties, Cholas, Pandyas, and Cheras, are mentioned in the Pillars of Ashoka (inscribed 273–232 BCE) inscriptions, among the kingdoms, which though not subject to Ashoka, were on friendly terms with him.[4][5] The king of Kalinga, Kharavela, who ruled around 150 BCE, mentioned in the famous Hathigumpha inscription of the confederacy of the Tamil kingdoms that had existed for over 100 years.[6] Karikala Chola was the most famous early Chola. He is mentioned in a number of poems in the Tamil Sangam literature.[7]

Another source for the available information of the early Cholas is the early Tamil literature of the Sangam Period. There are also brief notices on the Chola country and its towns, ports and commerce furnished by the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea (Periplus Maris Erythraei). Periplus is a work by an anonymous Alexandrian merchant, written in the time of Domitian (81 – 96 CE) and contains precious information of the Chola country. Writing half a century later, the geographer Ptolemy has more to tell us about the Chola country, its port and its inland cities.

Mahavamsa, a Buddhist text, also recounts a number of conflicts between the inhabitants of Ceylon and the Tamil immigrants from Chola Country.

Chronicles such as the Yalpana Vaipava Malai and stone inscriptions like Konesar Kalvettu recount that Kulakkottan, an early Chola king and descendant of Manu Needhi Cholan, was the restorer of the ruined Koneswaram temple and tank at Trincomalee in 438 CE, the Munneswaram temple of the west coast, and as the royal who settled ancient Vanniar (not to confuse with present-day Vanniar or Palli caste .[8][9]

Early Cholas[edit]

The inscriptions of the Medieval Cholas are replete with history about the Early Chola kings. The Cholas were looked upon as descended from the sun. These historic incidents speak of the Chola king Kantaman, supposed contemporary of the sage Agastya, whose devotion brought the river Kavery into existence. There is also the story of the king Manu who sentenced his son to death for having accidentally killed a calf. Mahavamasa portrays King Elara who was defeated by Duttha Gamini (c. 3rd century BCE) as the just king who '..had a bell with a rope attached at the head of his bed, so that all who sought redress might ring it..'. King Sibi who rescued a dove from a hawk by giving his own flesh to the hungry hawk was also part of the early Chola history.

These historic incidents received enormous emphasis in the later Chola period in the long mythical genealogies incorporated into the copper-plate charters of the 10th and 11th centuries. The earliest version of this is found in the Anbil Plates which gives fifteen names before Vijayalaya Cholan including the historical ones of Karikala, Perunarkilli and Kocengannan. The Thiruvalangadu Plate swells this list to forty-four, and the Kanyakumari Plate runs up to fifty-two. There are other lists gathered from literary works such as Kalingathuparani. No two of these lists agree, although some names and details are common to all.

Cholas of the Sangam period[edit]

The early Chola kings of the Sangam period and the life of people contributed much to the cultural wealth of the Tamil country. The Sangam literature is full of legends about the mythical Chola kings.

The dates of accession are approximate interpolation of the Chronological standpoints in Tamil history.[citation needed]

  • Eri Oliyan Vaendhi C. 3020 BCE
  • Maandhuvaazhi C. 2980 BCE
  • El Mei Nannan C. 2945 BCE
  • Keezhai Kinjuvan C. 2995 BCE
  • Vazhisai Nannan C. 2865 BCE
  • Mei Kiyagusi Aerru C. 2820 BCE
  • Aai Kuzhi Agusi Aerru C. 2810 BCE
  • Thizhagan Maandhi C. 2800 BCE
  • Maandhi Vaelan C. 2770 BCE
  • Aai Adumban C. 2725 BCE
  • Aai Nedun jaet chozha thagaiyan C. 2710 BCE
  • El Mei Agguvan a.k.a. Keezh nedu mannan C. 2680 BCE
  • Mudiko Mei Kaalaiyam Thagaiyan C. 2650 BCE
  • Ilangok keezh kaalaiyan thagaiyan a.k.a. Ilangeezh nannan C. 2645 BCE -start of Kadamba lineage by his brother Aai Keezh Nannan
  • Kaalaiyan gudingyan C. 2630 BCE
  • Nedun gaalayan dhagayan C. 2615 BCE
  • Vaengai nedu vael varaiyan C.2614 BCE
  • Vaet kaal kudingyan C. 2600 BCE
  • Maei Ila vael varaiyan C. 2590 BCE
  • Sibi Vendhi C. 2580 BCE
  • Paru nonji chaamazhingyan C. 2535 BCE
  • Vaeqratrtri chembiya chozhan C. 2525 BCE
  • Saamazhi chozhiya vaelaan C. 2515 BCE
  • Uthi ven gaalai thagan C. 2495 BCE
  • Nannan that kaalai thagan C. 2475 BCE
  • Vel vaen mindi C. 2445 BCE
  • Nedun jembiyan C. 2415 BCE
  • Nedu nonji Vendhi C. 2375 BCE
  • Maei Vael paqratrtri C. 2330 BCE
  • Aai Perun thoan nonji C. 2315 BCE
  • Kudiko pungi C. 2275 BCE
  • Perun goep poguvan C. 2250 BCE
  • Koeth thatrtri C. 2195 BCE
  • Vadi sembiyan C. 2160 BCE
  • Aalam poguvan C. 2110 BCE
  • Nedun jembiyan C. 2085 BCE
  • Perum paeyar poguvan C. 2056 BCE
  • Kadun jembiyan C. 2033 BCE
  • Nedun kathan C. 2015 BCE
  • Paru nakkan C. 1960 BCE
  • Vani sembiyan C. 1927 BCE
  • Udha chira mondhuvan C. 1902 BCE
  • Perun kaththan C. 1875 BCE
  • Kadun kandhalan C. 1860 BCE
  • Nakka monjuvan C. 1799 BCE
  • Maarko vael Maandhuvan Aaththikko C. 1786 BCE
  • Musukunthan Vaendhi C. 1753 BCE
  • Peru nakkan Thatrtri C. 1723 BCE
  • Vaer kaththan C. 1703 BCE
  • Ambalaththu Irumundruvan C. 1682 BCE
  • Kaari mondhuvan C. 1640 BCE
  • Vennakkan Thatrtri C. 1615 BCE
  • Maarko chunthuvan C. 1565 BCE
  • Vaer parunthoan mundruvan C. 1520 BCE
  • Udhan kaththan C. 1455 BCE
  • Kaariko sunthuvan C. 1440 BCE
  • Vendri nungunan C. 1396 BCE
  • Mondhuvan Vendhi C. 1376 BCE
  • Kaandhaman C. 1359 BCE
  • Mundruvan Vendhi C. 1337 BCE
  • Kaandhaman C. 1297 BCE
  • Monjuvan Vendhi C. 1276 BCE
  • Ani sembiyan C. 1259 BCE
  • Nungunan Vendhi C. 1245 BCE
  • Maarkop perum Cenni C. 1229 BCE
  • Monjuvan Nanvendhi C. 1180 BCE
  • Kop perunar chenni C. 1170 BCE
  • Monthuvan jembiyan C. 1145 BCE
  • Narchenni C. 1105 BCE
  • Caet chembiyan C. 1095 BCE
  • Nakkar chenni C. 1060 BCE
  • Parun jembiyan C.1045 BCE
  • Venjenni C. 998 BCE
  • Musugunthan C. 989 BCE
  • Maarkop perun jembiyan C. 960 BCE
  • Nedunjenni C.935 BCE
  • Thatchembiyan C. 915 BCE
  • Ambalaththu iruvaer chembiyan C. 895 BCE
  • Kaariko chenni C. 865 BCE
  • Venvaer chenni C. 830 BCE
  • Kaandhaman, C. 788 BCE
  • Kaandhalan C. 721 BCE
  • Caetchenni C. 698 BCE
  • Vani nungunan C. 680 BCE
  • Mudhu sembiyan Vendhi C. 640 BCE
  • Peelan jembiyach chozhiyan C. 615 BCE
  • Maeyan gadungo C. 590 BCE
  • Thiththan C. 570 BCE
  • Perunar killi Porvaiko C. 515 BCE
  • Kadu mundruvan C. 496 BCE
  • Kopperunjozhan C. 495 BCE
  • Narkilli Mudiththalai C. 480 BCE
  • Thevvan go chozhan C. 465 BCE
  • Naran jembiyan C. 455 BCE
  • Nakkam peela valavan C. 440 BCE
  • Iniyan thevvan jenni C. 410 BCE
  • Varcembiyan C. 395BCE
  • Nedun jembiyan C. 386 BCE
  • Nakkan aran jozhan C. 345 BCE
  • Ambalathu irungoch chenni C. 330 BCE
  • Perunar killi C. 316 BCE
  • Kochaet Cenni C. 286 BCE
  • Cerupazhi Erinda Ilanjaetcenni, C. 275 BCE
  • Nedungop perunkilli C. 220 BCE
  • Cenni Ellagan C. 205 BCE
  • Perun gilli C. 165 BCE
  • Kopperun jozhiyav ilanjaetcenni C. 140 BCE
  • Perunar killi Mudiththalai ko C. 120 BCE
  • PerumpootCenni C. 100 BCE
  • Ilam perunjenni C. 100 BCE
  • Perungilli Vendhi aka Karikaalan I C. 70 BCE
  • Nedumudi Killi C. 35 BCE
  • Ilavanthigaipalli Thunjiya Maei Nalangilli Caet Cenni, C. 20 BCE
  • Aai Vaenalangilli C. 15 BCE
  • Uruvapakraer Ilanjaetcenni, C. 10 – 16 CE
  • 16–30 CE Kingdom ruled by a series of Uraiyur chieftains
  • Karikaalan II Peruvalaththaan, C. 31 CE
  • Vaer paqradakkai Perunar killi, C. 99 CE
  • Perun thiru mavalavan, Kuraapalli Thunjiya C. 99 CE
  • Nalangilli C. 111 CE
  • Perunarkilli, Kula mutrtraththu Thunjiya C. 120 CE
  • Perunarkilli, Irasasuya vaetta C. 143 CE
  • Vael kadunkilli C. 192 CE
  • Kochenganaan C. 220 CE
  • Nalluruththiran C. 245 CE

Cholas in Sangam literature[edit]

The earliest Chola kings of whom we have tangible evidence are those mentioned in the Sangam literature, written in the period 200 BCE–300 CE.[10][11] Unfortunately, it has not been possible to piece together an internal chronology of the Sangam works. Due to this, we know of several rulers, but not their chronology. All three kings have been portrayed as fighting the war or involved in feeding both the armies at that legendary war.

Karikala Chola[edit]

Karikala Chola (c. 90 BCE) stands pre-eminent amongst all those mentioned in Pattinappaalai. Karikala's father was Ilamcetcenni, a brave king and a hard fighter. 'Karikala' means 'elephant feller' or 'charred leg', which is assumed to be a reference to an accident by fire which befell the prince early in his life. Pattinappaalai describes this accident and the enterprising way in which the prince escaped and established himself in the Chola throne. Pattinappalai is a long poem on the then Chola capital Kaveripattinam. This work also describes the numerous battles Karikala fought against the other two Tamil kings in one of which the Chera king was disgraced (received a wound on his back) and committed suicide. Karikala thus broke the confederacy that was formed against him and established hegemony over Pandyas and Cheras.

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

In later times Karikala was the subject of many legends found in the Cilappatikaram and in inscriptions and literary works of the 11th and 12th centuries. They attribute to him the conquest of the whole of India up to the Himalayas and the construction of the flood banks, Grand Anicut, of the Kaveri River with the aid of his feudatories. These legends however are conspicuous by their absence in the works of Sangam.

Nalankilli and Nedunkilli[edit]

The poet Kovur Kilar mentions a protracted civil war between two Chola chieftains Nalankilli and Nedunkilli. Nedunkilli shut himself in a fort in Avur, which was being besieged by Mavalattan, Nalankilli's younger brother. The poet chided Nedunkilli to come out and fight like a man instead of causing untold misery to the people of the city.

In another poem, the poet begs both the princes to give up the civil war as whoever wins, the loser will be a Chola.


Kalavali by Poygayar mentions the Chola King Kocengannan and his battle with the Chera king Kanaikkal Irumporai. The Chera was taken prisoner and Poygayar, who was a friend of the Chera, sang a poem praising the Chola King Kochchenganan in 40 stanzas. The Chola king, pleased with the work, released the Chera. Kalavali describes the battle fought at Kalumalam, near the Chera capital. Kocengannan is one of the 63 nayanars.

Kocengannan became the subject of many instances in later times and is portrayed as a pious Siva devotee who built many fine temples for Siva along the banks of the river Kaveri.

Social conditions[edit]

Sangam literature gives an unusually complete and true picture of the social and economic conditions during the early chola period. The culture is best described as an amalgam of the Dravidian and Aryan. The stories of Mahabharata and Ramayana were well known to the Tamil people, shown by the claims of some kings to have fed both the opposing army in the Mahabharata War. The claim that Shibi, who gave his own flesh to save a dove, as a Chola is obviously influenced by northern legends.

The land of the Cholas was fertile and there was ample food. Sangam poems say that in the Chola country watered by the river Kaveri, in a space in which an elephant could lie, one can produce enough grain to feed seven.

Hereditary monarchy was the prevailing form of government. Disputed succession and civil war was not uncommon. The sphere of the state activity was limited. In a society steeped in respect for custom, even the most perverse dictator could not have done much harm.

The Chola monarchs were approachable by subjects and justice was meted out directly by the king in most occasions. This is in marked contrast to the magnificent empires of the later Cholas where the Emperor was kept much away from contact with the lay people. The kings often took the field in person in battles and if the kings was killed or wounded in battle, his army immediately gave up the fight and surrendered.

The trade that flourished between the Chola country and the ancient Roman Empire is given in much detail by Periplus of the Erythraean Sea (c. 75 CE).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ K.A.N. Sashtri, A History of South India, pp 109–112
  2. ^ 'There were three levels of redistribution corresponding to the three categories of chieftains, namely: the Ventar, Velir and Kilar in descending order. Ventar were the chieftains of the three major lineages, viz Cera, Cola and Pandya. Velir were mostly hill chieftains, while Kilar were the headmen of settlements...' —"Perspectives on Kerala History". P.J.Cherian (Ed),. Kerala Council for Historical Research. Archived from the original on 26 August 2006. Retrieved 15 November 2006.
  3. ^ K.A.N. Sastri, A History of South India, p 129
  4. ^ 'Everywhere within Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi's domain, and among the people beyond the borders, the Cholas, the Pandyas, the Satyaputras, the Keralaputras, as far as Tamraparni...' —"Ashoka's second minor rock edict". Colorado State University. Retrieved 15 November 2006.
  5. ^ K.A.N. Sastri, The CōĻas, 1935 p 20
  6. ^ "Hathigumpha Inscription". Epigraphia Indica, Vol. XX (1929–1930). Delhi, 1933, pp 86–89. Missouri Southern State University. Archived from the original on 17 November 2006. Retrieved 15 November 2006.
  7. ^ Pattinappaalai, Porunaraatruppadai and a number of individual poems in Akananuru and Purananuru have been the main source for the information we attribute now to Karikala. See also K.A.N. Sastri, The Colas, 1935
  8. ^ Tamils and the meaning of history. Contemporary South Asia. 3. Routledge. 1994. pp. 3–23. doi:10.1080/09584939408719724.
  9. ^ Schalk, Peter (2002). "Buddhism Among Tamils in Pre-colonial Tamilakam and Ilam: Prologue. The Pre-Pallava and the Pallava period". Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis. Uppsala University. 19-20: 159, 503. The Tamil stone inscription Konesar Kalvettu details King Kulakottan's involvement in the restoration of Koneswaram temple in 438 A.D. (Pillay, K., Pillay, K. (1963). South India and Ceylon);
  10. ^ Kamil Veith Zvelebil, Companion Studies to the History of Tamil Literature, p12
  11. ^ Nilakanta Sastri, A History of South India, p 105


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  • Krishnamurthy, R Non-Roman Ancient Foreign Coins from Karur in India, Garnet Publishers, Chennai
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  • Keay, John (2000). India: A History. New Delhi: Harper Collins Publishers. ISBN 0-00-255717-7.
Preceded by
Chola empire:
Early Cholas
Succeeded by
Medieval Cholas