Who is this Raja Raja Cholan (more precisely, Raja Raja Cholan-I)? Readers who are fans of the popular Tamil novelist Kalki may be familiar with his historical novel "Ponniyin Selvan". That novel is woven around the life of Raja Raja Cholan, also known an Arunmoli. Of course, much of the novel and many of the characters in it are fiction although that fiction is wrapped around historical events. What we present in this section are historical facts taken from such authoritative works as Dr. M. Rajamanickam's "Cholar Varalaru", Nilakanta Sastri's "The Cholas" and T. V. Sadasiva Pandarathar's "History of the Later Cholas".
Raja Rajan reigned between 985 AD and 1014 AD. It can be rightly said that the Second Golden Age of Tamil Nadu started with his reign and continued for another two centuries. (The First Golden Age of Tamil Nadu in known Tamil history was in the days of the Third Tamil Academy (Third Tamil Sangam)). He built one of the most glorious empires of South Asia that peaked during the regin of his son Rajendra Cholan - I and continued for another 200 years or so under his sons, grandsons and great grandsons. He was not only a great warrior king in the tradition of Cheran Senguttuvan, Cholan Karikalan and Pandian Nedunchezhian, he was also an able administrator, a patron of the arts and a devote Saivaite Hindu.
During that period, Sinhala kings from Ilankai (now known as Sri Lanka and Ceylon) had the habit of interfering in Tamil Nadu by allying with one Tamil king against another, usually allying with Cheras or Pandias against the Cholas. (Of course, the blame should rightly be put on those Tamil kings who invited foreign interference and not on the Sinhala kings who made use of the opportunity.) So, after decisively defeating the Cheras and Pandias, Raja Rajan Cholan turned his attention to the Sinhalese King Mahinda-V. He assembled a naval armada and sent it to Sri Lanka. The Chola Navy defeated King Mahinda. After the military victory Raja Rajan built a Hindu temple there in Polonnaruva.
Having defeated the enemy in the south, he moved north. The Chola army under the command of Crown Prince Rajendran marched north, all the way up to what is now Bijapur. The army defeated all who opposed its march north, including the powerful army of Chalukya Emperor Satyasraya who ruled the Deccans.
As noted before, Raja Rajan's legacy is not just wars and conquests. He is remembered today primarily for the construction of the Tanjore Big Temple (Thanjavur Peria Koil). The temple is also called "Rajarajeswaram" after him. This Saivaite Hindu temple is one of the most beautiful and magnificent architectural monuments in South Asia. The magnificent tower and the delicate sculptures are truly a feast for the eyes. Not only Hindus from all over the world, but also tourists from around the world visit this temple.
Though Raja Rajan was a devote Saivaite Hindu, he respected other religions. He built Vishnu temples in Mysore after he conquered the region. He not only permitted Silendra Emperor Srimara Vijayottunga Varman to build the Buddhist shrine Chudamanivihara in Tamil Nadu at Nagapattinam, he also contributed money for its construction.
Many arts - sculpture, painting, drama, dance and music - flourished during his time. He conductedd a survey of his kingdom and is considered a major achievement of that time. He divided the kingdom into a number of administrative units and appointed administrative officers for each unit. Villages were governed by local elders (a type of self-government). According to Dr. M. Rajamanickam, Raja Rajan's administrative structure is comparable to modern administrative structure seen around the world.
Raja Raja Cholan is truly one of the greatest rulers in Tamil history. This is in fact the reason why Hindi politicians who dominate and control the Indian Government refuse permission to install his statue within the outside walls of Thanjai Big Temple that he built.