The trailer of Ponniyin Selvan, Mani Ratnam’s magnum opus, has just been released and it has created a huge sensation for the Chola dynasty of the 9th century. Ponniyin Selvan stars Jayam Ravi as the lead Chola warrior accompanied by Vikram, Aishwarya Rai Bacchan, Karthi, and Trisha. The trailer unfolds a thousand-year-old story in a grand yet epic transfusion of history and cinematography. The history of Cholas, the world’s longest-ruling and greatest empires has remained a matter of active research for years, yet people only remembered them in the ruins of the past. The largely forgotten, remarkable civilization, which was among the world’s longest-ruling kingdoms, is finally brought back to life by Mani Ratnam. But what exactly the Chola dynasty was?
“The Cholas are coming…”
The Cholas formed one of three Tamil-speaking ruling families of south India in the initial years of the 2nd century CE. Within a few years, the family dominated the region and soon build an empire that would eventually last for more than 400 years. Situated on the banks of the Kaveri River delta in the state of Tamil Nadu, the Chola Dynasty at its height in the 11th century ruled much of south India. As per mentioned in the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, Cholas was a feudal clan that went on to achieve unmatched heights and militaristic supremacy. Their rule also expanded to Sri Lanka and present-day Maldives Islands while their diplomatic ties reached far beyond Burma and China.
Under the trailblazing and formidable warriors of Cholas, art and literature flourished. With expanded military power and cunning politicians, the burden of direct rule was heavily cut to half as new agreements and partnerships with several leading kingdoms, the Chola Empire became unstoppable. But despite tales of gruesome wars and brutal family disputes, the Chola family marked a new generation of literal and architectural advancement in the region. For example, King Rajendra who ruled between 1012-44 declared dominance over the Ganda and filed pots with its water and catering into the Chola temple tank. These measures made their rule both aristocratic as well as divine.
The Cholas influenced literary, artistic, architectural, and culinary skills in Tamil Nadu which is very evident in their cultural practices. Under Rajaraja I followed by 4 more generations, the dynasty grew into a military, economic and cultural powerhouse. They took over most of the trade routes and high seas of South Asia. The Chola fleet represented the zenith of ancient Indian maritime capacity. It was the Cholas who build the magnificent Brihadeeswara Temple in Thanjavur, which was built using just hammers and chisels is a testament to their lasting legacy. Similarly. Airavatesvara Temple at Darasuram proves that the kingdom saw some of the best artisans of the 10th century.
Their political system was so strong inside the temple that they provided hospitals, schools, and employment opportunities to the public. Many Chola temple tanks had advanced rainwater harvesting systems which again proves the craftsmanship of the empire. In fact, the kingdom reached the zenith of bronze casting by creating some of the most spectacular pieces of history including the famous dancing figure of Nataraja. The kingdom also introduced the Kanjeevaram silk sarees when Rajaraja I invited Saurashtra weavers to reside in the area.
Not just did the empire have an advanced architectural feat, but the kingdom was also packed with women empowerment. The Cholas had a group of women bodyguards or warriors known as padimagalir. The group accompanies the kings on war fields to guard them. The warrior women are still celebrated for their great valor as they never thought twice before risking their lives for the king. Each of these women was trained to harness strong weapons from a very young age and was also trained to carry out secret missions. In all sense, padimagalir is the real-life version of Valkyrie of Norse Mythology.
At the beginning of the 13th century, after almost 400 years of rule, the kingdom declined with the rise of the Pandyan Dynasty which ultimately dethroned the last Chola king Rajendra Chola III. India’s medieval history is glorified by the remarkable chapter of the Cholas and their massive cultural spurt.