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Vol. 10, No. 1 Asian Profile February 1982

Sons of the Sun: The Solar Genealogy of a

Chola King

GEORGE W. SPENCER

Associate Professor of History

Northern Illinois University


For traditional Hindu society, the reality of upward social mobility posed an ideological dilemma.’ In any hierarchical society in which ascribed social roles are alleged to be divinely ordained, the fact of social change must be explained and, moreover, accounted for in a manner which sustains, rather than discredits, the static social model. In recent years it has become apparent to historians and anthropologists that in the Hindu social order genealogical fabrication has long been an essential part of this rationalizing process, an activity as relevant to the ritual legitimation of medieval kings as to the social-uplift campaigns of depressed communities in our own time.2

Although genealogical myths naturally ‘differ in detail, their import is consistent: Group X, of apparently modest social origin or even presently degraded ritual status, is in reality descended from prestigious Group Y, and is therefore fully entitled to the high status which it now claims. Thus the rationale for a status claim is expressed in the idiom of kinship, and an edited version of the past is invoked to sustain that claim. Often the claim is coupled with an anecdotal explanation of how the family or caste happened to descend to its present, humble position as the result of an error or “accident” which must now be rectified if the social order is to be set aright. In the case of princely houses which have already managed to rise to a position of power from obscure tribal or peasant origins, a similar explanation may be invoked to demonstrate that the apparently humble origins are misleading, on the grounds that the rulers are in reality descended from gods and heroes. Brahmans commonly have been employed for the purpose of “discovering” such ancestral connections. Invoking ancestral claims serves to reconcile the reality of social change—or at least social aspiration—with a body of traditional social theory which denies the possibility of fundamental change in the social order. In this way, the mythic reconstruction of the social past provides a mechanism by which to legitimize upward social mobility while simultaneously explaining it away by denying that any change in social norms has occurred.

Recently, while analyzing the conquest rhetoric in the stone and copper-plate inscriptions of the eleventh century south Indian king Rajendra Chola I, I was struck by the remarkable richness and complexity of the genealogical materials contained in the prefaces of so many Chola records. The introductory eulogies appropriate materials from a wide variety of literary sources both pan-Indian and regional, including the Epics, Puranas, and ancient Tamil literature, in order to celebrate a royal ancestry of fabulous origin. It also struck me as curious that so little scholarly attention has been devoted to detailed analysis of the content and mythic structure of such materials, for they convey a wealth of information about the world-view of the royal courts whose poets and genealogists generated them. Royal genealogies are rich in mythology, both familiar and obscure; metaphors both exoteric and esoteric; and symbolic oppositions, such as the contrast between heroic and ascetic powers. They embody important values, attitudes, and modes of thought. Above all, they convey an impression of royal style, the princely version of what sociologist Erving Goffman has called the “presentation of self,” the idealized image which each person has of him- or herself and seeks to project to others. The ancestral myths project precisely such an “official” image of the king as the king wished to be perceived, as a descendant of gods, a larger-than-life figure whose actions are endowed with cosmic significance.

In assessing such materials, we must be careful not to impose our modem ideas on them and to assume that their creators inhabited a mental world similar to our own. For modem scholars, the unfolding of history is a process of linear change in which it is possible to determine how and why the present has developed out of past events, and the unspoken rules governing the use of evidence admit only of secular explanations. Such a conceptual system would have been unintelligible to the kings and poets of the Chola age, who took cyclical conceptions of change for granted and for whom there was no clear dividing-line between myth and history, or between divine and human realms. A Chola mythical genealogy was more than a political charter; it was also a codification of reality, a means of expressing the meaning of kingship in action. So even though it may appear to us merely as a cynical fabrication, a royal genealogy was undoubtedly a device for imparting significance to experienced reality. Mere fabrication implies imposture, which in turn conveys the suggestion that the kings and poets held a “realistic” view of kingship which was different from the supposedly contrived and propagandistic view presented in our sources. But it is more plausible to argue that they really apprehended kingship only within the framework of the values and symbols embodied in the code-language of these formulations. Therefore a basic premise of the following discussion is that a mythical genealogy was not merely a statement about the nature of kingship, but was also a means of experiencing it.



The Tiruvalangadu Copper Plate Charter

The following paragraphs are devoted to an analysis of a particularly noteworthy example of such a genealogical record, namely the Tiruvalangadu copper plates of Rajendra Chola I, which were first brought to scholarly attention early in the present century and were published in South Indian Inscriptions in l920.5 The aim is to determine what the genealogical information in this remarkable document will yield for our understanding of conceptions of royal authority and political legitimacy in the eleventh century, and about the political institutions to which these conceptions were relevant.

This ponderous record consists of thirty-one inscribed copper plates strung together on an ornamental copper ring. (See Fig. 1). It is dated in the sixth regnal year of Rajendra, corresponding to about 1018 A.D., although the introductory portion was certainly composed after that date. The record can be divided into two sections, the first of which is about half as long as the second. The first or introductory part consists of ten plates composed in Sanskrit and inscribed in Grantha script. It is a poem of 272 lines, comprising 130 verses, celebrating the illustrious pedigree and personal accomplishments of Rajendra. The longer second part consists of twenty-one plates bearing 524 lines. It is written in the Tamil language and describes, in great detail but more prosaic language, the granting of a village—or rather, its revenues—to a Shiva temple at Tiruvalangadu, in present-day North Arcot district, a community which is also mentioned as a sacred place in the Devaram hymns of the Tamil Shaivite saints. Since we are interested only in the royal genealogy preserved in the introduction, the details of the grant need not concern us. The eulogy includes details of conquests attributed to Rajendra that were not undertaken until the mid-1020s—as we know from other evidence—and therefore must have been composed roughly a decade later than the events described in the Tamil portion, even though both parts mention the sixth year of Rajendra. So it is apparent that this record, or at least its introductory portion, was not inscribed on copper until several years subsequent to the grant which it commemorates. The author of that elegant Sanskrit eulogy, evidently not encumbered with excessive modesty, identifies himself as “the learned poet Narayana, son of Shankara [a devotee of the enemy of [ demon] Mura,” i.e., a worshipper of the god Vishnu. As we shall see, he borrows heavily from the prestigious king-lists preserved in the Vishnu Purana in recounting Rajendra’s ancestry.

Figure 1 — Rajendra’s Genealogy: Negative Facsimile of the First Plate

Before discussing the content and structure of the genealogy contained in Narayana’s eulogy, I should make some preliminary observations. First, these plates do not constitute our sole source for Chola genealogies. Similar pedigrees are contained in other copper plate records— the Anbil, Kanyakumari, and Leyden plates, among others—and these constitute variant versions of the genealogy discussed here. No two of these records are identical, although all share certain common features, beginning with the basic fact that all characterize the Cholas as a Solar, rather than a Lunar, dynasty. The genealogy recorded in one charter may constitute only a kind of digest version of a longer genealogy. The version contained in the Tiruvalangadu record is a particularly elaborate one. Such discrepancies suggest that even though these eulogies emanated from the court and were subject to a degree of official standardization, there was still scope for the poets to indulge in stylistic embellishment to demonstrate their virtuosity, as well as to engage in what might be called “creative appropriation” of information, viz. mythology and king-lists, from other literary sources. Variations also reflected the actual kin connections of the reigning king, since those had some bearing on the treatment accorded his immediate predecessors in his records. As we shall see, Rajendra’s collaterals were given less attention in the king’s eulogy than were his patrilineal ancestors. But discrepancies and con tradictions between one version of the “official” ancestry and another should occasion no surprise, since it is common to all mythological systems that important stories should be told in several different versions. According to Edmund Leach, the redundancy of such mythologies is reassuring to believers, since each alternative version of the story reinforces the basic meaning of all the others.7

The second observation is that the “mythical” genealogy is by no means wholly fictitious. In fact, it exhibits a cogent structure which leads the reader, although not always in steady progression, from the most mythic and celestial figures to the most mundane and historic. The last few generations, consisting of the so-called imperial Cholas descended from king Vijayalaya, are all of unquestionable historicity. No capricious deities intrude here; only the deeds attributed to those illustrious kings exhibit fantastic characteristics, due to the conventional hyperbole in which the poet indulges. The internal logic of this record will become clearer as we proceed.



Rajendra’s Mythical and Quasi-Historic Ancestors

The genealogical details in the Tiruvalangadu record are preceded by three introductory verses which invoke the blessing of the goddess Parvati (v. 1), salute the Sun (v. 2), and express regret at the inadequacy of an alphabet containing only fifty letters to describe the unlimited virtues of the kings of the Solar race (v. 3). This last verse nicely expresses one of many binary oppositions embedded in the eulogy, namely a contrast between that which is limited and im perfect, i.e., a written description, and that which is unlimited and therefore incapable of exhaustive description: the royal virtues.

Then begins the lengthy solar genealogy of the Chola kings. (For its overall structure, see Fig. 2). The first few generations appear to have been appropriated from the genealogy of Ikshvaku as described in the Vishnu Purana, for although the poet Narayana has invented many descriptive details, the names and the order in which they are presented are identical with the puranic version. Thus we learn that the Sun produced Manu, the “first of kings,” through con centration of mind [ thinking, reflection] 8 This is cleverly expressed in a play on words:

The eye of the three worlds was the Sun from whom sprang the sprouts of all families of kings. From the Sun was born by concentration [ Manu, the first of kings, whose name thus corresponded to his origin. (v.4).

Next came Ikshvaku, who was born, according to the version preserved in the Vishnu Pujuna, from the nostril of Manu as he happened to sneeze. But in Rajendra’s genealogy, the poet merely says:

Great Ikshvaku was born as his son in great battles the enemies of gods were greatly afraid of him. (v. 5).

Like the Puranas, the Chola genealogies continually refer to the incessant and never-to-be- resolved conflict between Devas and Asuras, the gods and demons, forces of good and evil. This rivalry is the fundamental dialectic of the mythic universe of the Puranas.




Mythical genealogy, primarily puranic



Mythical genealogy; a potpourri of names, decreasingly puranic

Quasi-historic genealogy, drawn from Tamil myth and tradition

Historic genealogy

Introduction of Sun as progenitor of the families of kings and of Manu as first king (v. 4)

Three kings descended from Manu, in the same sequence as given in the Vishnu Furana (vv. 5-8)

Fourteen more kings to the end of the Krita Age, eight of whom appear in the Vishnu Furana, but in scattered passages and often obscurely (vv. 9.23)

Sixteen kings of the Treta Age, including the eponymous Chola and the personified titles Rajakesarivarman and Parakesarin. Only six of these names appear in the Vishnu Purana (vv. 24-38)



Two kings of the Dvapara Age, one mentioned in the Vishnu Purana (vv. 39-40)


Three kings prior to Vijayalaya: Perunatkilli, Kalikala, and Kochchenganan, none puranic (vv. 41-43)

Ten Chola kings of the imperial line, from Vijayalaya to Rajaraja I, father of Rajendra (vv. 44-84)

RAJENDRA I

Rulers of the Kritayuga, a golden age

Rulers of the Tretayuga, an age of declining virtue

Rulers of the Dvaparayuga, an age of Confusion

Rulers of the Kaliyuga, the present degenerate age



Figure 2— Structure of the Solar Genealogy of Rajendra Chola I, as Described in the Tiruvalangadu Plates

Ikshvaku’s son was Vikukshi, “whose lotus feet were resplendent with the radiance produced by the diadems of many crowds of bowing kings.” (v. 6).

To him was born as son the king named Puranjaya [ a reference to his capture of the city of the Asurasj, whose abundant prowess and heroism were renowned and the expansive white parasol of whose expanding fame, having spread throughout the entire universe, had capacity to spare.(v. 7).

In other words, the king’s white parasol, symbol of royal dominion, was greater than the whole universe!

Up to this point, the poet has borrowed heavily from the Vishnu Purana. But beginning with the next generation cited—that of Kakshivat, who is not even mentioned in that text but is re nowned as a Vedic hymn-singer (rishi)10- the poet becomes more innovative, borrowing names, seemingly at random, from a variety of sources. In short, the poet now proceeds to improvise variations on his grand theme.

After Narayana refers to Kakshivat “whose fame was sung by the celestial singers” (v. 9), Aryyarnan “Whose greatness was preeminently extolled” (v. 10), and Analapratapa “whose generosity was renowned in the world” (v. 11), he devotes a passage to the well-known puranic kings Vena and Prithu, whose personalities epitomize the contrast between impious and pious rule. They too are appropriated to the Chola genealogy:

The fun-moon In swelling the ocean of his (I.e., Analapratapa’sJ family was Vena, the foremost of kings. His son was king Prithu, whose prosperity was great, who was the chief of rulers, and who like heroism incarnate for defeating evil in the world, emerged clad in armor, wearing a diadem of gems and wearing a bow of un paralleled strength with string drawn and arrow set, from Vena’s right arm, which had been churned for that purpose by chiefs of ascetics. (v. 12).

According to the Vishnu Purana, Vena was an evil king who attempted to halt offerings to Vishnu and gifts to Brahmans on the grounds that the king alone is entitled to such honors. The seers begged him to be allowed to resume their worship, but to no avail, so the angry seers fell upon the king with blades of grass and “slew him, who had first been destroyed by his impiety towards God.” But since no society can prosper without a king, they perforce created a new one by rubbing the right arm of Vena, and his son Prithu (“Wide Ranger”) emerged. The new king removed the grievances which his father had inificted on the people and was much praised for his piety.’

The genealogy continues in Narayana’s version:

In this family was born a king, who having killed the enormously strong demon Dhundhu, bore the name Dhundhumara (“Killer of Dhundhu” This king also having become the sole resort of virtues, ruled the entire earth. (v. 14).

According to the Vishnu Furana, Dhundhumara is an appellation of Kuvalashva of the sixth generation after Prithu; but here his name appears immediately after Prithu’s. Next the poet refers to Yuvanashva,’ “who had no second in austerity, fame, truth, and other excellent qualities” (v. 15); and Mandhatri, “master of courage, wisdom, love, prosperity and learn ing.” (v. 16).

Begotten (of Mandhatri) was his son, king Muchukunda, who kept himself awake in the duty of protecting the camp of the army of gods which was assailed by the forces of powerful demons; who was deep in a sleep granted as a boon through the grace of the lord of gods [ indra and whose eyes, opening in anger, im mediately consumed the crafty demon Kalyavana and thus pleased Mukunda [ Vishnu). (v. 17).

The story of Muchukunda’s rude awakening is told in several Puranas. In the Vishnu Purana it appears in the fifth book, amid the exploits of Krishna. The latter lured Kalyavana into a cavern, where Muchukunda, granted a long rest by the gods as reward for his services against the demons, slept.

“Sleep long and soundly,” the gods had said, “and whoever disturbs you shall be instantly burned to ashes by fire emitted by your body.” The Yavana king, mistaking Muchukunda for Krishna, kicked and awakened him, and thereupon was incinerated by Muchukunda’s angry look.’

Next (v. 18) we encounter Valabha, “who offered his enemies as moths to the flame of his arrows” and founded the city of Valabhi. His son was Prithulaksha, “who at the request of crowds of gods and demons set whirling in the ocean the huge mountain Mandara for the purpose of securing nectar” (v. 19)—a reference to the well-known puranic myth of the Chum

mg of the cean The next names are those of Parthivachudamani, “who was a mine of power” (v. 20); Dirghabhahu, “foremost of the virtuous and a jewel of that race” (v. 21), as known as Chandrajit’ (v. 22); and Sankriti, last king of the Krita Age (v. 23).

Listed in the succeeding Treta Age are the kings Panchapa;’ Satyavrata, who conquered the king of Banaras while protecting a horse set loose for the horse-sacrifice (v. 25); Usinara Shivi, who sacrificed his own life for that of a pigeon threatened by a falcon (v. 27); and Marutta, who performed a great sacrifice.

Eventually we encounter the eponymous Chola, really the god Indra incarnate:

People say that Dushyanta was an ornament of the race of this (ruler, i.e., Maruttal. His son was Daushyanti (I.e., born of Dushyanta) Bharata. To him was born a son named Chola after whom the Solar race on this earth became illustrious.

Learned men describe him as the generous lord of gods [ Indra] who incarnated on earth seeing that the glory of his town [ Amaravati, the city of the gods) was humbled by the varied and dazzling riches of the Chola country. (vv. 28-29).

Next we encounter (vv. 30-32) the names Rajakesanvarman (“Lion Among Kings”) and Parake sarin (“Great Lion”), appellations which subsequently were employed in alternation by Chola kings of the Vijayalaya line. This part of Rajendra’s genealogy appears to have been contrived to account for that very practice.

Cholavarman’s son was Rajakesarivarman, who split, asunder with his nails (i.e., knives) the elephants of his enemies and was the cage confining the goddess of prosperity. Rajakesarin’s son was Parakesarin by whose fire-like anger the enemies forces were consumed. Thenceforward these two names indicative of their suzer ainty were alternately borne by the Chola kings in the order of their coronation.

Next are the names of the kings Chitraratha, Chitrasva, and Chitradhanvan, all variations on “bright” (chitra). Of the last-named, the poet informs us:

Heaps of wealth brought by kings from all quarters of the world were poured out in front of him and by him in turn they were scattered instantaneously before supplicants. Having come to know that king Bhagiratha engrossed in penance brought down from heaven the river of gods [ the Ganges], this king, also desirous of fame, brought her (the Ganges) to his dominions under the name Kaverakanyaka [ Kaveri]. (v. 35).

Here, in advance of Rajendra’s own well-known claim to have conquered the Ganges, is another reference to “capturing” the Ganges, but one which is clearly metaphoric: The Kaveri is simply identified with the Ganges. The king’s motive is intriguing. He does not wish to be outdone by the mythical king Bhagiratha, whose ascetic powers brought the river of the gods to earth, so he undertakes a similar deed in his own domain by unspecified means.

In that family was born Suraguru, who was the hereditary abode of the maiden, the Lakshmi of victory. This king having conquered by his glory the god of death in his own territory [ having banished unnatural death from his domain) acquired the name Mrityujit (i.e., “Conqueror of Death”).

In his race was born king Chitraratha, called Vyaghraketu (“Tiger Banner”) from his banner-cloth bearing the figure of a tiger, whose was a store of great heroism and who wore as an ornament on his head the flowers of the dhataki [Grislea tomentosa).(vv. 36-37).

His son Narendrapati became king at the end of the Treta Age. Only two kings are consigned to the succeeding Dvapara Age, namely Vasu, “who was the cause of the destruction of the demons,” and Vishvajit.

As the present age, the Kali Age, begins, we encounter (vv. 4143) quasi-historic kings—so designated here because their names, although almost certainly those of historic monarchs, have acquired an aura of fabulous tradition—of the Tamil Sangam age about whom information is preserved, not in the Puranas, but in early Tamil literature. Of these, Karikala—whom the poet calls Kalikala, a rendering for which he easily contrives a gloss (see below)—and Kochchenganan were particularly celebrated in literary tradition, the former sometimes characterized as the greatest Chola monarch of the Sangam age.

In his [ Vishvajit’s) race was born Perunatkilli, who was the receptacle of all sciences, the abode of the goddess of prosperity, and who was worshipped by the diadems of all the rulers of the earth which were set with rows of precious gems.

In this king’s family was born he, the leader of all the lords of the earth, the foremost of the great on account of his virtues, the king who renovated the city of Kanchi with gold, who had established his glorious fame by constructing embankments along the Kaveri river and whom people called Kalikala because he was (the god of) Death [ to the elephants [ of his enemies as also to the kali [

In the family of that king of extensive glory was born the ruler Kochchenganan, who bore on his arm the earth extending as far as the Lokaloka mountain, whose tremulous eyes were as blue as the petal of the blue lily and the bondage of whose spider-body was cut off by his devotion to Sambhu [ Shiva] the conqueror of the demon Tripura.

Although it is impossible to date these early Tamil kings with any precision, they almost certainly belong to the first two or three centuries A.D. In the next verse of the eulogy, the poet leaps ahead by several centuries to the time of Vijayalaya, alleged founder of the Chola capital at Tanjore, who lived iii the ninth century A.D. From here on the names are all of unquestionable historicity, although the list is not accurate in all details. What this dizzying chronological leap suggests is that the imperial Chola family has been accorded a fabulous ancestry by appropriating all of the generations prior to Vijayalaya from literary sources and thereby suppressing information about that king’s actual origins. In short, his political success generated its own mythical justification, expressed in the idiom of kinship, since he must have come from heroic ancestry.


Kings of the Vijayalaya Line

As we might expect, the attention devoted by the poet to the historic kings from Vijayalaya to Rajendra I, considered as a group, is greater than that devoted to the largely mythical sovereigns already discussed. Only forty verses are required to synopsize the rulers from the Sun to Kochchenganan, a total which is only one verse less than the number devoted to Rajendra alone near the end of the eulogy. But the eleven kings from Vijayalaya through Rajendra are allotted a total of eighty-two verses (vv. 44-124 plus the last verse, 137)25 of which forty- one, precisely half, are devoted to Rajendra and nearly half of the remainder—eighteen out of forty-one verses, or 44%—are devoted to his father, Rajaraja. (See Fig. 3).

King Verses Referring to Him Total Verses

Vijayalaya 44-46 3

Aditya 1 47-49 3

Parantaka I 50-53 4

Rajaditya 54 (half-verse) 1/2

Gandaraditya 54 (half-verse) 1/2

Arindama 55 1

Parantaka II 56-60, 64-65 7

Aditya II 67-68 2

Uttama-Chola 70-71 2

Rajaraja I 61-63*, 69-70*, 72-84 18

Rajendral 85 -137 41


Total: 82 verses. Of this number, Rajendra’s portion accounts for half. His father’s portion accounts for nearly half (44%) of the remainder.

*Verses 61-63 and 69-70 appear in sections of the genealogy ostensibly devoted to the reigns of Rajaraja’s father Parantaka and brother Aditya, respectively.

**Verses 125-136 are devoted to details of the grant.



Figure 3— Apportionment of Verses in the Tiruvalangadu Record to Each of the Imperial Chola Kings

At first glance, the uneven allocation of narrative among the Chola kings following Vijayalaya appears capricious, ranging from half a verse each for Rajaditya and Gandaraditya, both of whom are squeezed into verse 54, to forty-one verses for Rajendra. Yet the apparent capricious ness dissolves when we consider two relevant factors, namely the length of each reign and the relationship of each king to Rajendra, neither of which are specified by the poet and must there fore be determined by analyzing other sources. Without engaging in a lengthy and technical discussion of the problems involved in determining reign-dates and genealogical relationships for the Chola kings of the Vijayalaya line—especially for those whose reigns fall in the confused period of three decades between the death of Parantaka I in 955 A.D. and the accession of Rajaraja I in 985 AD.—I shall rely on K.A. Nilakanta Sastri’s meticulous reconstruction of this portion of the Chola genealogy, as indicated in Figure 4.

Two features of this reconstruction should be noted. First, Nilakanta Sastri’s interpretation of the line of succession to the throne after Vijayalaya, based upon comparative analysis of many lithic and copper plate records, is virtually identical to the sequence of names given in the Tiruvalangadu plates, a correspondence which suggests that a high degree of veracity can be attributed to the sequence of names in this part of our record. Second, although the Tiruva langadu record makes no direct reference to the practice, there appears to have been consider able overlapping of reigns, due to the direct association of heirs-apparent in the rule of their immediate predecessors in some reigns. Furthermore, two of these princes, namely Rajaditya

Asian Profile 91

(1) Vijayalaya


(c. 850-870)

(2) Aditya I



(c. 87 1-907)

(3) Parantaka I



(907-955)

(4)Rajaditya . (5) Gandaraditya (6) Arindama/Arinjaya



(949) (c. 949-957) (c. 956-957)

(9)Madhurantaka (7) Sundara-Chola

Uttama-Chola Parantaka II

(c. 969-985) (c. 956-973

(8) Aditya 11* (10) Rajaraja I



(c. 956-969) (985-1014)

(11) Rajendra I

(1012-1044)

(*DID not live to rule independently)

Prefixed numbers indicate probable order of succession. Dates for rulers between Parantaka I and Rajaraja I are problematic.

Source: K.A. Nilakanta Sastri, The Colas.


Figure 4— Approximate Reconstruction of the Imperial Chola Line to Rajendra I.

and Aditya II, seem to have died before their fathers’ reigns were over, and so never really ruled on their own. 26

The relationships indicated in Figure 4 help to clarify the otherwise puzzling structure of Narayana’s eulogy, for we can see at a glance that the kings of the Vijayalaya line who receive most attention from the poet axe all in the direct line of patrilineal descent from Vijayalaya to Rajendra, namely Parantaka I (Rajendra’s great-great-grandfather), Parantaka II (grandfather), and Rajaraja I (father). Of the kings in Rajendra’s direct line, only his great-grandfather Arindama (or Arinjaya) is given little attention, a single verse, but his reign was so brief that some scholars have doubted that he ever reigned. Collaterals, on the other hand, axe given scant attention by the poet. Thus even the amount of attention devoted to each of the imperial Chola kings of the Vijayalaya line is a direct function of the poet’s primary purpose of glorifying Rajendra, his patrilineal ancestry, and his accomplishments.

A brief synopsis of this historic portion of the Chola genealogy will suffice for our purposes. To Vijayalaya, “whose footstool was battered by the diadems in the rush for precedence of kings desiring to prostrate [ him]” (v. 44), is attributed the capture of the beautiful town of Tanchapura [ Tanjore], which subsequently became the Chola capital. This deed is praised in an extended sexual metaphor in which the whitewash of the town’s mansions is compared to scented cosmetic, and Vijayalaya is said to have captured the town “just as he would seize his own wife who has beautiful eyes, graceful curls, a cloth covering her body, and sandal paste as white as lime, in order to sport with her.” (v. 45). His son Aditya (I) is credited with the conquest of the country ruled by the Pallava king Aparajita (v. 49), while Parantaka (I) is said (vv. 51-52) to have defeated the Pandya king as well as the king of Ceylon.

The next three kings are mentioned in breathless haste, and Rajaditya’s death at the hands of the Rashtrakuta king Krishna II at the battle of Takkolam in 949 AD., a disastrous defeat for the Cholas, is passed over quickly:

[Parantaka’s] son Rajaditya defeated Krishnaraja in battle and went to heaven. His brother named Gandaraditya, whose feet were worshipped by the rows of diadems of the rulers of the earth, became king.

Aiindama, bearing a name which was full of meaning Iviz. “Destroyer of Enemies”], became the best of kings; and dense forests became the abode of kings who fled from his anger. (vv. 54.55).

Of Sundara-Chola Parantaka II, much more is said, but all in rhetorical style: He “received glowing prowess from the sun, profundity from the ocean,” etc. (v. 56). At his death, his devot ed queen Vanavanmahadevi “abandoned her own people and followed him as night the day to heaven,” the sole reference to sati in the entire eulogy. (v. 65). Of Aditya II we are told little save that he “killed the Pandya king in battle.” (v. 67).

One intriguing literary device employed by Narayana is to anticipate the future greatness of Rajendra’s father Rajaraja by devoting some verses to him prior to his accession, that is, in sections of the eulogy devoted to the reigns of Rajaraja’s father Sundara.Chola Parantaka (vv. 61.63), his brother Aditya (v. 69), and his immediate predecessor (FaFaBroSo) Madhurantaka Uttama-Chola (v. 70). In these passages Rajaraja is homologized to Vishnu and is said to have displayed on the Palms of his hands the conch (shankha) and discus (chakra) emblems of Vishnu which were alleged to be auspicious marks of divine kingship. Indeed, the poet insists that Rajaraja’s immediate predecessor Uttama-Chola designated him as heir apparent after “having ascertained by the [ auspicious]marks that [ was the lotus-eyed [ Vishnu] himself.”(v. 70).

When Rajaraja succeeded Uttama-Chola as king, the quarters of the world resounded with the sounds of war-drums, bells, conches, and other instruments. (v. 72). The bulk of the lengthy praise-statement which follows in verses 73-84 is devoted to a recitation of his impres sive conquests, described as a digvijaya or systematic conquest of all the quarters “commencing with the direction of Trisanku [ the southern cross] .“ (v. 76).

The poet finally introduces the main character, namely Rajaraja’s son Madhurantaka— Rajendra—”whose limbs bore all the [ marks of earth.rulers.” (v. 85). Like his father, Rajendra undertook the conquest of the quarters, “intent upon doing meritorious deeds with large quantities of money acquired by [ strength of] his own arm,” (v. 89) and he too began with the conquest of the southern quarter. (v. 90). The remainder of the eulogy

27. For a discussion of Chola military activities in Ceylon, see my article “The Politics of Plunder: The Cholas in Eleventh Century Ceylon,” Journal of Asian Studies; XXXV, No. 3 (May 1976), pp. 405-19.

consists of a very lengthy, hyperbolic description of Rajendra’s conquests, including the alleged conquest of the Ganges. (vv. 109-124). The details of these conquests, and of the village grant which is described thereafter, need not detain us.

Genealogy and the Dilemma of Royal Authority

In recounting Rajendra’s descent from the Sun, the poet has conjoined two different developmental schemes. One consists of a gradient along which a line of royal descent proceeds from the purely celestial or macrocosmic realm through various gods and kings to the terrestrial, microcosmic realm, ending with the here-and-now of Rajendra’s reign. The alleged solar descent of the king implies that he exercises transcendent powers, as closely related to the natural order of the cosmos as the sun is related to the progression of days, seasons, years. The order and prosperity which are supposed to attend his rule are also the order and prosperity of nature. The other developmental process is a simplified version of the well-known four-yuga concept of puranic cosmology, according to which the world is said to pass through a succession of cycles of four ages of increasing degeneration. In this cosmological scheme of cycles within cycles—which Narayana does not invoke as a holistic model, but utilizes selectively— the four ages comprise a mahayuga, a thousand of which constitute a kalpa or “day of Brahma.” Each kalpa also contains fourteen intermediate cycles called Ages of Manu (man vantara), encompassing 71 Great Ages (mahayuga) and lasting about 4,320,000 human years. At the beginning of each manvantara, the world is regenerated and a new Manu appears as progenitor of humans. But in Narayana’s poetic version of this cosmology, no reference is made to a manvantara, and the descent from the current Manu to the present is compressed into a single mahayuga of four ages. The reason for this simplification is apparent: It renders the two processes of change parallel and synchronous, as a single, uniform process of descent from the cosmic/harmonious realm, in which a Manu can be generated by pure thought, to the microcosmic/troubled here-and-now, an age in which kingship serves as an essential bulwark against ever-threatening troubles.

Yet by the time we reach the most recent generations, we perceive a curious paradox. For the logic behind the genealogy implies a primacy of ascriptive criteria: the King rules because he shares certain physical and moral characteristics with his ancestors. But as we trace the sequence of generations, we see that the initial emphasis on tracing a line of descent from the Sun to Rajendra gives way to increasing emphasis on royal achievement, i.e., acts of heroism and piety. Tim dichotomy, I believe, highlights a fundamental dilemma of Hindu kingship. Ascription and ritual installation were vitally important but ultimately insufficient criteria for the ongoing exercise of authoritative power. Putatively divine ancestry enhanced royal prestige, but periodic reaffirmation of royal qualities was a practical necessity.

This dilemma results from the fact that a king had simultaneously to exhibit both transcendent and imminent characteristics. His origins were allegedly divine, his sanctions cosmic ones, yet he had to act in the sordid and unpredictable here-and-now. In structural terms, this contrast might be described as a dichotomy between two different modes of authoritative relationships. First, there is a conception of authority based on the principle of transcendence and a series of “vertical” relationships. Here the emphasis is on the divine qualities of the king and upon tracing a series of genealogical connections which impart these transcendent characteristics to each successive ruler. Second, there is a set of “horizontal” relationships, in which the emphasis is on the practical pursuit of royal conquest, aggrandizement, and accumulation of resources. Here the king engages in a struggle with other monarchs who essentially represent rival authorities on the same level, so to speak, as himself. And since in reality he does not rule over an effectively integrated and centralized state, he seeks to extend his authority laterally in order to amalgamate the segments of his claimed domain into an integrated whole, an ever-elusive goal. For the purposes of both predatory expansion and internal integration, such an emphasis on horizontal augmentation and enlargement of dominion is appropriate.

These two configurations of authoritative relationships, one “vertical” and the other “horizontal,” cannot be entirely separated, of course. Emphasis on the king’s transcendence was an essential instrument in establishing his claim to preeminence within the segmentary polity. In other words, it expressed a centrist point of view within a political system which was in reality highly decentralized. Symbols and concepts of transcendence not only expressed enlarged royal ambitions, but also created a ritual context and a ceremonial idiom within which the king could in actual practice defme and act out his relationships with other elements in his domain and attempt to integrate them into a coherent system.

But the idiom did not fashion such a system, it merely explained it. And here is precisely the crux of the royal dilemma, for it is the very contradiction between theory and reality which gives rise to the dichotomous vision of authority: the theory is one of the transcendent power of the king, i.e., of “vertical” authority, but the reality is one of a constant need to challenge rivals in a “horizontal” mode, i.e., to confront warrior chiefs and rival kings whose actual backgrounds are much like his own. Lacking the resources to create a truly universal dominion, the king must engage in an open-ended struggle to transform rivals into subordinates. The dichotomy is never resolved, for the practical problem which it reflects is insoluble.

This dilemma also accounts for certain features of the Chola genealogy which would otherwise seem puzzling. For example, we see great kings continually repeating the conquests and other grand deeds of their predecessors. Just as the theme of eternal conflict between gods and demons is woven into the genealogy, so too are the themes of royal conquest and universal dominion. Thus we are told that Rajaraja I conquered the quarters and brought them under his sway, so that “he caused abundant joy to all kings that held a bow [ their hands], [ made] his commands shine in the rows of the diadems of all rulers of the earth.” (v. 83). But a few verses later we are informed that his son Rajendra also conquered the quarters, and similar superlatives are invoked.

To the modem reader this seems superfluous, redundant, perhaps even contradictory; but to the poet, it is not. No explanation is offered; none is needed. The redundancy is inherent in the meaning of kingship, just as it is in the meaning of myth. Repetition reaffirms fundamental truths. It also establishes symbolic equivalences between the leaders, institutions, and values of the present, and those of the past. At the same time, it reaffirms the hero-credentials of the king and helps render them credible. In the end, the king’s divine ancestry, initially invoked to explain and justify a king’s exercise of power, must finally be confirmed in turn by kingly actions, and the process of validation goes full circle. Such mutual justifications of myth and power are necessary, for like the dichotomy of transcendence and imminence, they reflect the unending dialectic of royal power and its quest for legitimation.

1. This study constitutes part of a long-term investigation of mythical genealogies and their relationship to political legitimation In south India. Diacritics have been omitted from Indic words and phonetic transcription (e.g., Chola instead of Cola) employed.

2. Burton Stein has even sought to explain the apparent lack of any clearly-defined historiographical tradition in Hindu civilization by reference to the Brahmans’ preference for reconstructing the past in a manner flattering to their royal patrons. See “Early Indian Historiography: A Conspiracy Hypothesis,” Indian Economic and Social History Review; VI, No. 1 (March 1969), pp. 41-59.

3. For a particularly illuminating example, see Surajit Sinha, “State Formation and Rajput Myth in Tribal Central India,” Man in India XLII,No. 1 (1962), pp. 35-80

4. Erving Goffman, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (Garden City: Doubleday Anchor Books,

1959). See especially the discussion of “performances” in the first chapter.

5. Archaeological Survey of India, South Indian Inscriptions, Vol. III, Pt. 3 (Madras: Government Press,

1920), pp. 383-439.

6. For a discussion of the geographical data in that literature, see G.W. Spencer, “The Sacred Geography

of the Tamil Shaivite Hymns,” Numen; XVII (1970), pp. 232-244.

8. As discussed below, the Puranas propound a curious periodization scheme which is divergent from, and difficult to reconcile with, the familiar four-yuga system which is also expounded in those texts. According to this alternative scheme of periodization, each kaipa or “day of Brahma” encompasses fourteen “ages of Manu” (manvantam). The Manus, sons of the Sun, are semi-divine beings whose sons in turn become earthly sovereigns. Thus the lineages of kings in each manvantara are all des cendants of the founding Manu of that period. The fourteen periods of the current kalpa are divided into two groups of seven, those in the first group having occurred in the past—if we include the present manvantara, the seventh, among them—and those in the second group consisting of periods yet to come. The founding Manu of the present period was Valvasvata Manu, and Ikshvaku was the first of his nine sons. Ikshvaku had a hundred sons, including Vikukshl. See Vishnu Purana (VP), 3.1 and 4.2.

9. VP, 4.2.

10. Ri Veda, 1.126.

11. VP, 1.13.

12. It is said that “from winning the people’s affections he derived the title Pa/a. The waters also became solid when he traversed the ocean; the mountains opened a path for him; his banner passed unbroken through the forests; the earth needed no cultivation; and at a thought food was prepared; all cattle were like the cow of plenty; and honey was stored in every flower.” Ibid.

13. Three kings of this name appear in the Vishnu uran one a great-grandson of Prithu and great- grandfather of Kuvalashva alias Dhundhumara, another in the seventh generation following Dhund humara, and the third in the tenth generation. VP, 4.2.

14. As here, so also the Vishnu Furana describes Mandhatri as the son of Yuvanashva, Le., the second of that name. It also recounts the marriage of his fifty daughters to the sage Saubhari. VP, 4.2.

15. VP, 5.8.

16. Or Vallabhlpur, in Kathiawar; an apocryphal attribution.

17. See VP, 1.9. Prithulaksha (“Large-eyed”), however, appears briefly in an entirely different part of that text (4.18), rather than in connection with the churning myth.

18. “Conqueror of the Moon,” perhaps a hint of Solar-Lunar dynastic rivalries.

19. “Protector of the Five,” evidently a reference to the Pandavas of the Ma ha bharata.

20. Mentioned briefly in VP, 4.8.

21. Mentioned as father of Shivi in VP, 4.18.

22. Described in VP as the son of Avikshi and sponsor of a spectacular sacrifice. “Never was there beheld a sacrifice equal to the sacrifice of Marutta.” VP, 4.1.

23. Although Marutta was of the Solar race, Dushyanta and his son Bharata are described in the Vishnu Furana as belonging to the Lunar race in the line of Puru, and Dushyanta is called the son of Anila, rather than of Marutta. VP, 4.19.

24. Described as the son of Jayadratha in VP, 4.19.

25. I have refrained from crediting verses 125-136 to Rajendra on the grounds that they are more con cerned with providing miscellaneous information about the grant than with praising the king.

26. Aditya was murdered, Nilakanta Sastri insists, by his jealous rival Madhurantaka Uttama-Chola, his father’s cousin and his own successor. This lurid scenario, for which the evidence is slender, is out lined in The Colas, 2nd revised ed. (Madras: U. of Madras, 1955), pp. 157-58.

28. See J. Gonda, Ancient Indian Kingship from the Religious Point of View (Lelden: E. 1. Brill, 1969), espec. pp. 6-10.

29. We are now in the seventh manvantara of the current kalpa (cf. note 7 above), as well as the degenerate Kali Age of the current Great Age (mahayuga). The notion that each manvantara contains 71 Great Ages reflects an awkward attempt to reconcile the two cyclic models, since 14 does not divide evenly into 1,000 (1,000/14 = 71.42).



30. For a somewhat different approach to this paradox, see J.C. Heeswrman, “The Conundrum of the King’s Authority,” in J.F. Richards, ed., Kingship and Authority in South Asia (Madison: U. of Wisconsin, South Mian Studies Publication Series No. 3, 1978), pp. 1.27.




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