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Culture causerati forget a 1000yr milestone

Chennai, July 27: Tamil Nadu’s leaders, for all their prickly championing of Tamil culture, let the 1,000th anniversary of the coronation of the greatest Tamil king ever pass without a flutter last week.

It was left to a group of writers, historians, retired archaeologists and academics to honour the memory of Rajendra Chola I, whose empire stretched from Bengal to India’s southern tip, covered the whole of Sri Lanka and extended up to Indonesia.

Missing were local film stars and directors, who rarely pass an opportunity to jump onto the Tamil bandwagon.

A University of Madras professor said the Centre and the Archaeological Survey of India should have led the celebrations.

“Rajendra was India’s first global king, not just because of his conquests but also because he opened trade to foreigners and founded a formidable navy that lorded over the Bay of Bengal,” the professor said. “During his time, the Bay came to be called the Chola Lake.”

Archaeologist K. Sridharan suggested that Rajendra’s large army, estimated to be over one million strong, was the chief reason Mahmud of Ghazni never raided the south during his repeated forays into India.

“Rajendra’s naval fleet was so big and powerful that the kings of the southeast (Asian) nations accepted him as their overlord rather than fight him,” Sridharan said.

“(Southeast Asian king) Suryavarman I, with the help of Rajendra, re-established the Khmer kingdom in Cambodia. His successor Suryavarman II built the Angkor Wat, the world’s largest Hindu temple, with the help of artisans sent by Rajendra.”

Like his father Raja Raja Chola, who built the grand Shiva temple at Thanjavur, Rajendra too built temples and dug lakes, one of which measured 22sqkm.

His greatest architectural feat is the temple at Gangaikondacholapuram, 250km from here, where he had a near-replica of the Thanjavur Big Temple built, but in a smaller version because he wanted his father’s creation to be the biggest of them all. Both temples are Unesco heritage sites.

Rajendra acquired the title Gangaikonda Cholan (the man who brought the Ganga) after he defeated Bengal’s Pala dynasty, built a Shiva temple on the banks of the Ganga, and brought the river’s water to his homeland to be sprinkled on all major temples there.

“He was a great administrator too. He fine-tuned the village administration his father had introduced and formalised it as the panchayat system, which allowed local people to decide issues affecting their livelihood,” said writer Balakumaran, who has just completed a biography of Rajendra.

Rajendra was 54 when he became king in 1014 but he had already commandeered his father’s army to many victories.

What the government failed to do, the people of Thanjavur and Gangaikondacholapuram did on their own. They held a bicycle rally between the two towns and lit a thousand oil lamps at the temple Rajendra built.

“It was a people’s celebration. Rajendra, ultimately, was a people’s king,” one of the organisers said.

“It’s probably for the best that his memory remains unsullied by the presence of the present-day rulers, who cannot look beyond their own families.”

DMK sources were unwilling to comment, passing the buck to the government.

Film director turned political activist Seeman said it was up to the state government to organise such commemorative events.

“We should celebrate our Tamil heroes but, more importantly, we need to address the sufferings of our fellow Tamils in Sri Lanka,” he said.

KING WHO TURNED THE BAY OF BENGAL INTO A ‘LAKE’

Title

  • Rajendra Chola I, a Tamil king

Life

  • Born circa 960; died 1044
  • Had three wives, four sons and one daughter

Ascension

  • Appointed prince and co-regent in 1012 by father Raja Raja Chola
  • Became king in 1014Conquests
  • Defeated the Pandyas, Cheras and Chalukyas in Karnataka and Andhra
  • Brought the whole of Sri Lanka under Chola control
  • Marched through Odisha up to Bengal, where he defeated Mahipala
  • His navy annexed most of Southeast Asia up to Indonesia, giving the Bay of Bengal the moniker “Chola Lake”. Some records suggest his navy touched China’s shores

Achievements

  • The Shiva temple he built at his new capital, Gangaikondacholapuram, is a Unesco heritage site
  • Artisans sent by him helped build the Angkor Wat, the world’s largest Hindu temple, in Cambodia
  • Dug a lake that measured 22sqkm
  • Brought water from the Ganga to be sprinkled on all major temples in his kingdom
  • Formalised a sort of panchayat system