Why is King Raja Raja Cholan Standing outside the Thanjai Big Temple?

Thanjai Nalankilli

TAMIL TRIBUNE, April 2001 (ID. 2001-04-03); Updated: June 2016
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1. Background

2. A Brief Biography of King Raja Raja Cholan

3. The Reason Why Raja Raja Cholan Statue is Outside Temple Grounds?

4. Where is Tamil in the Gangai Konda Chola Puram Temple?

Reader Feedback and Author's Response

A Note about Names

The three ruling dynasties of old Tamil Nadu are written and pronounced in Tamil as Cheran, Cholan and Pandian (or Cherar, Cholar and Pandiar) but most English writers write them as Chera, Chola and Pandia. We may use it interchangeably. (Cholan is sometimes spelled as Chozhan or Chozhar. Pandian is sometimes spelled as Pandyan, Pandiyan, Pandyar, Pandiyar). Some books and articles refer to King Raja Raja Cholan and King Ranjedra Cholan as Emperor Raja Raja Cholan and Emperor Ranjedra Cholan, respectively.

1. Background

King Raja Raja Cholan built the Thanjai Big Temple (also referred to as Thanjavur Peria Koil, Periya Kovil, Koyil, and Tanjore Big Temple) over a thousand years ago; it took 4 years of construction and was dedicated in1010 AD. Why is his statue not allowed in the temple compound and is standing on a public street further away from the view of the thousands of visitors to the temple? We are not talking about installing the statue inside the temple but within the temple compound or even in the parking area where visitors can see it. There are other structures within the outer wall. In fact, we see a statue of Raja Rajan and his queen Ko-perum-thevi in the Tiruvisalur temple. This statue was there well before there was an Indian Government. But, alas, the Indian Government would not permit the statue of this great Tamil king to be installed in the compound of the temple he built.

Almost three decades ago the Tamil Nadu State government commissioned a statue of the king and intended to place it within the outer walls of the Thanjai Big Temple. The Indian Government told the Tamil Nadu Government that it would not allow the statue inside the temple compound. So the latter placed it in a nearby street. The outcome is, the many thousands of devotees and tourists who visit the temple do not see the statue.

You may wonder why the Tamil Nadu Government has to get Indian Government's permission to install the statue of a Tamil king within the outer walls of a Tamil Temple built by the Tamil king on Tamil soil with Tamil money and labor? Indian Government decided, without any consultation with the Tamil Nadu Government, that it would take over the major temples in Tamil Nadu. Now nothing significant can be done without the consent of tye Indian Government.

2. A Brief Biography of Raja Raja Cholan

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 (Arunmozhi). 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 King 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 Periya Kovil). 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 King 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 conducted 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 South Asian history. In my opinion, this is in fact the reason why the North-Hindi-centered Indian Government refused permission to install his statue within the outside walls of Thanjai Big Temple that he built. Let me elaborate.

3. The Reason Why Raja Raja Cholan Statue is Outside Temple Grounds?

Why does the Indian Government refuse permission to install King Raja Raja Cholan's statue within the outer walls of the Thanjai Big Temple? No one is asking for installation inside the temple. Absolutely not.

Many thousands of Hindu devotees and tourists from around the world visit the Thanjai Big Temple. If Raja Rajan's statue is installed within the temple compound for all to see, they may ask the others and tour guides about him and will come to know of his conquests, his majesty and the glorious days of the Second Golden Age of Tamil Nadu. The North-Hindi controlled Indian Government does not want people to know about this glorious past and the great kings of Tamil Nadu who are second to none. Hindi politicians and elite want people to think that all the glorious past of Indian history is centered on the Hindi heartland of today. They want to hide and put under a blanket all other histories, be it that of Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bengal, Karnataka, Kerala or Tamil Nadu, for example.

Read the history books used at schools under the jurisdiction of the Indian Government (Central Schools and schools accredited under the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE)). You will read in detail about the kings who ruled from what is today the Hindi heartland, for example, Chandra Gupta, Ashoka, Akbar, et al. But you will read very little about the Tamil kings or the Bengali kings or the Assamese kings, etc. The noted educator Dr. Arjun Dev said in 2002 that no political unit of the Deccan and South, except the Rashtrakutas, find a mention in the syllabus of Ancient India for Class XI. Even the Satavahanas, Pallavas, Chalukyas and Cholas do not find a place (The Hindu Newspaper; February 01, 2002 ). 

In the Indian history according to tye North-Hindi-centered Indian government, these lands do not have a glorious history worth mentioning although, in truth, every one of them has a rich past. Refusal to grant permission to install the statue of one of the greatest kings of South Asia is just another attempt to hide the glorious past of the Tamil people.

(NOTE: Thanjai Big Temple is also known as Brihadeeswara Temple and Rajarajeswaram.)

4. Where is Tamil in the Gangai Konda Chola Puram Temple?

Raja Raja Cholan's son Rajendra Cholan became the king of Chola Nadu (Chozha Nadu) after Raja Rajan, and he reigned between 1012 AD and 1044 AD. His military conquests were even larger than his father, of course building on the father's conquests and military. He made Chola empire one of the most powerful empires of South Asia. His conquests included Tamil kingdoms of Chera Nadu and Pandiya Nadu, rest of today's South India, and parts of or all of Bengal, Bihar, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia.

He built the Gangai Konda Chola Puram Temple, also known as Brihadisvara Temple at Gangaikondacholisvaram, is as majestic as the Thanjai Big Temple. It is also an United Nations World Heritage site. Indian Government manages this temple also and the Tamilnadu State Government has no say on the management. Indian government would not allow Tamil signs and messages in the temple grounds.

Messages posted in the Gangai Konda Chola Puram Temple are in Hindi and English only (2015). See Photo H-285 Tamil signs/boards are not allowed in the temple that one of the greatest Tamil kings built. How low has Tamil Nadu sunk from those glory days of the Chola Empire! Will Tamil Nadu ever regain its glory? It is in our hands, and our hands only.


We received an e-mail dated December 31, 2012 from one of our readers, Mr. Thangamani, that the reason for the Indian Government disallowing the Raja Raja Cholan statue was an inscription at the bottom of  the statue that the statue was opened to public by Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Thamizha Vael Doctor Kalaignar Mu. Karunanidhi (தமிழக முதலமைச்சர் மாண்புமிகு தமிழவேள் டாக்டர் கலைஞர் மு. கருணாநிதி). Mr. Thangamani added, "if every Chief Minister inscribed his/her name on statues and bring them inside the temple, what will happen? (Editor's Note: We don't want to install the statue inside the temple, but outside the temple in the temple compound or even in the parking area where visitors could see the statue. It is clearly stated in the article.) We sent this e-mail to the author and the following is author's reply.]

Author's Response

I thank Mr. Thangamani for the information and comments.

It is not uncommon for the person (usually a politician) who opens a bridge or a major building to have his/her name inscribed in a stone plaque. In view of the historical significance of the thousand years old Thanjai Big Temple, may be such an inscription with the name of a politician is not warranted in this case. However this inscription is not the reason widely circulated; the reason given was that Raja Rajan statue should not be placed inside the temple compound because it is a world heritage site; nothing was said of Chief Minister Karunanidhi's name.

If, in fact, the reason was Chief Minister Karunanidhi's name on the inscription, it should have been openly stated at that time and we could have easily remedied the situation by removing the inscription. If Chief Minister Karunanidhi refused to remove his name, some other private organization could have collected the necessary funds and sculpted a statue for placement in the temple compound. In view of the fact that Indian government did not give the inscription as the reason, that could have easily been rectified, we still maintain that Indian government refused the place the Raja Raja Cholan statue in the temple compound because it did not want the large number of non-Tamils visiting the temple know about one of the greatest kings of South Asia who is a Tamil (see Section 3 of the article for more details).

Even now it is not too late. I ask the Indian Government to say that it would allow a Raja Raja Cholan statue in the temple compound where visitors can see it. Most likely the current Tamil Nadu State government would fund such a statue or I am committing myself to collect enough donations to commission a statue befitting King Raja Raja Cholan.

I also want to point out to Mr. Thangamani how the Indian government gives very little space or no space for Tamil kings in history books, What is the reason for that?

Also, why did the Indian Government Tourism Ministry, in 2003, ignore the 133-feet tall statue of the internationally acclaimed ancient Tamil poet Thiruvalluvar in its "sound and light show" with emphasis revolving around "Vivekananda, Sankara and Gandhi" (The Hindu; July 3, 2003). Read more about it in Reference 1. Why is the show revolving around "Vivekananda, Sankara and Gandhi" while backing out Thiruvalluvar? Is it because he is a Tamil?

Post your comments and/or Read other comments (Subject: April 2001)


1. Indian Government Ignores Tamil Poet Thiruvalluvar (by Thanjai Nalankilli), TAMIL TRIBUNE, April 2013 (9 KB) (tn)

Indian Government Tourism Ministry ignores Tamil Poet Thiruvalluvar Statue in Kanyakumari (Tamil Nadu) in its sound and light show. There is a pattern of Indian Government ignoring or "hiding" Tamil history and culture in its projects while highlighting the culture and history of Hindi region.


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