Parantaka Chola I – The Forgotten Hero of South India

Paranthaka Chola

One of my biggest fantasies is owning a time machine. One can play God and change the course of our history. However I would just like to be an observer and go back in time to observe the mighty kings of my land. Though my heroes are Rajendra Cholan and Raja Raja Cholan, I would rather go back to 907 CE, when Paranthaka Chola I (முதலாம் பராந்தக சோழன்) became the ruler of the Chola Kingdom (907–955). He was the successor of Aditya Chola I, and ruled the Chola kingdom for forty-eight long years. The Chola Kingdom in those 48 years witnessed everything; great military conquests, immense prosperity, a boom in spirituality, administration of the highest order, loyalty, supreme sacrifice, defeat, gloom and revival.

The Cholas are known for their administrative reforms, however it was Paranthaka who accelerated those reforms and made Chola Kingdom one of the most well administered kingdoms of the world at that point of time.

Victory Over Pandyas:

The year was 910 CE, a huge army led by Paranthaka Chola attacked Madurai. The result was inevitable even before the battle begun, Maravarman Rajasimha II, the Pandya king had no chance against the young and intelligent Paranthaka Chola.  The Pandya king lost the battle and vacated the capital, he then requested help from the Srilankan King Kassapa. Kassapa sent a huge army under his number one commander to help the Pandya king.

In Vellur, Paranthaka took on the combined armies of the Pandya and the Srilanka king. In one of the historically significant battles in the South India, Paranthaka defeated the combined armies and the Pandya king Rajasimha along with the Srilankan army fled to SriLanka.  Paranthaka marched in to the Pandya palace to obtain the Pandyan crown and the insignia. However, Rajasimha took the crown and insignia with him to Sri Lanka. After few years, leaving his wealth with Kassapa (the Sri Lankan king), he moved to the Chera kingdom as a refugee(his mother was a chera princess).

A dejected Paranthaka, then spent the next few years on integrating the entire Pandya kingdom and all the small feudal lords of South Tamil Nadu in to the Chola kingdom.

The Expansion of Chola Kingdom:

Shortly after defeating the Pandyas, he defeated the Banas. Banas then ruled Kanchipuram and adjoining northern areas. History doesn’t see this as a significant win, however that victory was extremely significant, because it increased the trade and commerce of the Chola kingdom, that area was also the head quarters of learning and art. Above all it gave a fitting reply to the Rastrakutas who supported Banas. Paranthaka made his ally, Gunga king Prithvipati II, the overlord of the Bana country. He also crushed other smaller kingdoms like Vaidumbas and Sitpuli (The sourthern Andra Region).

Kalki, in his book Parthiban Kanavu describes how the dream of Parthiban was brought to life by Vijayalayan. However, Vijayalayan was just the seed, the dream was passed on to Aditya Chola I, who started the expansion of the Kingdom, and then to Paranthaka Chola I, who accomplished the dreams of his great grand father Parthiban. At the height of his conquests, regions from Nellore in Andhra Pradesh to Northern Sri Lanka were under the Chola king. Most inscriptions during the 10th century describes him as a great militarist who commanded a sea of army.

The Unfinished Story:

Despite all his military conquests and prosperity of the nation, he was an unsatisfied man. The missing Pandya crown and the insignia were a blot in his accomplishments. Three decades after winning the Pandyas, he marched his army in to Sri Lanka to acquire the insignia and the crown. The Sri Lankan kingdom was inherited by Udaya IV, and he was not willing to face Paranthaka and his army in the battle field. So, he took the crown and the jewels and fled to Rohana hills and hid himself in one of the caves. Despite subjugating the Sri Lankans, Paranthaka had to return empty handed this time too. Tamil literature and Mahavamsa records these incidents.

After these exploits, Paranthaka I took the title of Maduraiyum Elamum Konda Parakesarivarman (மதுரையும் ஈழமும் கொண்ட பரகேசரிவர்மன் ) – The king who conquered Madurai and Sri Lanka.

It took three generations and nearly 100 years to accomplish the dreams of Parthiban. Likewise, it took nearly another century to accomplish the dreams of Paranthaka I. In the year 1017 a Chola tiger marched a humongous army in to Sri Lanka and subjugated the entire country for the first time. The Chola tiger did not stop with that, he ravaged the entire treasury acquired the hidden Pandya crown and the insignia, still unsatisfied he captured the crowns of the Sri Lanka’s king and queen and took everything along with him to the Chola kingdom.

That chola tiger went on to become one of the greatest kings of India and the world; his name was Rajendra Chola.  The following verses describes this beautifully

“பொருகடல் ஈழத்து அரசர்தம் முடியும்
ஆங்கவர் தேவியர் ஓங்கு எழில் முடியும்
முன்னவர் பக்கம் தென்னவர் வைத்த
சுந்தர முடியும் இந்திரன் ஆரமும்
தென்திரை ஈழ மண்டலம் முழுவதும்….”

Paranthaka’s Administration:

Back to Paranthaka. The internal administration of his country was a matter of great importance for Paranthaka. There was not a single famine or drought during his entire rule. Several copper plate inscriptions detail how agriculture flourished and the farmers were prosperous because of numerous canals that he cut across all over the country. He built numerous temples, most of the villages of his country had a temple and he contributed the spoils of war to all these temples, making them spiritual and economic hubs. A village with a temple always had the ability to overcome natural calamities, economic hardships and droughts. He reformed the way the village assemblies were conducted. The reforms were primary of  better administration of local self-Government.

He was also the one who covered the Chidambaram Shiva temple with a golden roof – தில்லையாம்பலதுக்கு பொன் கூரை வேய்ந்த தேவன், meaning the one who constructed the golden roof for the Chidambaram Siva Temple.

Paranthaka Chola 2

Paranthaka Chola also regulated the procedure of Judicial appointment. Last year an inscription was found at Tiruninravur dating back to 930 CE. The inscription explains about how the great village assembly (mahasabha) met during the 27th year (930 CE) of Paranthaka Chola I and passed a resolution prescribing qualifications for judges. The judges to be elected should pass an exam, and have at heart the village’s welfare, they should be proficient in Dharma Sastra, they should not have served in any village administrative committee five years before their election and once their tenure of five years is completed, they cannot be a judge for another five years. The judges should give accounts of the fines they collected when they demit office. “The judges were fined heavily — they had to pay a heavy amount in gold to the village assembly if they gave wrong rulings.”

Administrative reforms were much ahead of its times. The hard fact is Raja Rajan and Rajendran inherited a well oiled machine, which made it easy for them to focus on external conquests.

The Defeat and the Gloom:

Paranthaka’s period coincided with the astronomical rise of Rastrakutas. Paranthaka Chola ruled for 48 years, and in those 48 years he witnessed 6 Rashtrakuta kings. To completely understand and appreciate Paranthaka Chola, one should understand how these two kingdoms evolved over a period of 100 years. The following is the timeline of Rastrakuta empire during Paranthaka Chola’s period.

Krishna II (878 – 914)
Indra III (914 -929)
Amoghavarsha II (929 – 930)
Govinda IV (930 – 936)
Amoghavarsha III (936 – 939)
Krishna III (939 – 967)

One of Krishna II’s daughters married Aditya Chola (father of Paranthaka). They had a child named Kannaradeva, however when Aditya Chola died, Paranthaka took over the reigns and Kannaradeva was sidelined. Seeing the fate of his grandson, Krishna II, became furious and allied with Banas and Vaidumbas and attacked the Chola kingdom. Paranthaka took the help of the Gunga king Prithvipati II. In a great battle faught at Tiruvallam (North Arcot), the Rastrakutas and Banas were decimated. Banas lost their territory and Paranthaka made Prithvipati II the over lord of that territory.

That humiliation lingered in the minds of Rasthrakutas. After the death of Krishna II, the kingdom was inherited by Indra III, a great warrior, but his sudden demise led to a confusion with the empire being inherited by three kings within a span of 10 years. Indra III was succeeded by his son Amoghavarsha II. However Govinda IV, the ambitious brother of Amoghavarsha usurped the throne. Govinda IV also happened to be the son-in-law of Paranthaka. He was incompetent and all the feudal lords of the kingdom came together and bestowed the kingdom to Amoghavarsha III (half brother of Indra). Govinda IV fled to the Chola kingdom, and Paranthaka, despite knowing the dangers of giving refugee to Govinda took him in to his kingdom.

Amoghavarsha III was a peaceful king, but his son Krishna III was looking for revenge. Krishna III was made as the the yuvaraja. Prithvipathi II the chola feudatory of Gunga and a loyal friend of Paranthaka passed away, and Krishna III used this opportunity and attacked the Gunga kingdom and made his brother-in-law the king of Gunga kingdom.  To wipe off the old humiliations and to punish the Cholas for sheltering Govinda, Krishna III and Butuga (the new king of Gunga), invaded the Chola kingdom with a huge army. Paranthaka had stationed one of his battalions under his son Rajaditya. After a valiant battle the Chola army was defeated, Paranthaka’s son Rajaditya died in the battle. Close to half of the northern region of the Chola empire was captured. Krishna III had his revenge, he made his commander the ruler of that region. However, Krishna III was reckless in his wars and in awarding fiefdoms. The empire crumbled within 15 years after his death because of his rule. He harbored enmity with all the surrounding kingdoms without subjugating them completely. The great Rashtrakuta empire was wiped off, and precisely at the same point in history the Chola empire churned and produced one of the greatest gems among Indian kings, rightly named Raja Rajan.

Even after that defeat, Paranthaka continued focusing on strengthening the administration over the next 6 years. He died in 955. Paranthaka, would have been the most popular Chola king if not for that single defeat. We would be celebrating his life too, along with Raja Raja and Rajendra. Who knows, had he won that war his son Rajaditya would have been the king and history would have taken a different course and we wouldn’t have seen Raja Rajan and Rajendran.


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  • Nilakanta Sastri, K. A. (1955). A History of South India, OUP, New Delhi.
  • Nilakanta Sastri, K. A. (1955), A History of South India – From Prehistoric Times to the Fall of Vijayanagar.
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  • Majumdar, R.C. (1966) [1966]. The Struggle for Empire.