The Chola Empire, Part I – Bharat Ek Khoj

Bharat Ek Khoj—The Discovery of India A Production of Doordarshan, the Government of India’s Public Service Broadcaster Episode 22: The Chola Empire, Part I

With Om Puri as Raja Raja Chola, Devendra Malhotra as Ishanashiva, Sunila Pradhan as Mahadevi Lalit Tiwari as Architect, Shantanu Chaparia as Tirumala, Mahendra Raghuvanshi as Kirukadikilan, Preeta Mathur as Umadevi, Murari Sharma as Singer, and Vijay Chibbar and Mohan Kant as the Traders. Playback by S.R. Venkatesh, Rajan Easwaran, Sharad Jambhekar, jolly Mukherjee, Hemant Kulkarni, V. Saraswathi, and T. Raghu.

Nehru observes that in South India, after a lapse of 1000 years after the Mauryan empire collapsed, there were great states like the Chalukya Empire in the west followed by the Rashtrakutas. Further south were the Pallavas who were mainly responsible for the colonising expeditions from India in the eastern seas. Later came the Chola Empire that spread right across the peninsula and conquered Sri Lanka and Southern Burma. King Mahendra Varman of the Pallava dynasty adopted the Vedic religion and promoted religious consciousness by building temples and settling Brahmins with gifts of land. Trade and commerce flourished with more than 500 businessmen allowed to form a guild. Of the Chola dynasty Raja Raja Chola was contemporaneous with the Turk invasions in the north but was buffered by the Rashtrakutas. The Chola dynasty continued their sway over the eastern seas and their ships carried merchandise to distant countries.

The story of building the mighty Brihadisvara temple is presented, albeit based on scant historical information. Raja Raja Chola has ruled in Tamil Nadu for sixteen years, yet the mystery of the murder of his uncle and predecessor, Uttam Chola, has not been solved. Blame is laid on his cousin Sundara Chola, who has taken refuge in the neighbourhood kingdom of Chera. The king, after his death, confiscates his family property within the Tamil territory. Throughout all this, ‘Rajmata’, the arch aunt-queen, strongly suspects Raja Raja to be guilty of uncle’s murder and usurping the throne. To get rid of this suspicion the king offers to build a temple to commemorate Uttam Chola at a site of Rajmata’s choice.

An unexpected gift arrives from the far-away king of the Shailendra dynasty of Kamboj (Cambodia), with a model of a temple that commemorates the king himself. The idea germinates in Raja Raja’s mind: why not build a temple, unparalleled in history, which would carry his own name? A secret plan is hatched away from the knowledge of ‘Rajmata’ to employ the best of architects and sculptors and even to bring in the finest of singers and dancers for performing in the temple. He would also build a flourishing city of Tanjavur all around the temple. The project is pressed on, regardless of all opposition, including an incipient rebellion.