South India Under The Cholas

Item Code: NAF025
Publisher: Oxford University Press, New Delhi
Author: Y. Subbarayalu
Language: English
Edition: 2012
ISBN: 9780198077350
Pages: 293
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 9.0 inch x 6.0 inch
Weight 430 gm
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Book Description
About the Book

The Cholas dominated the south Indian political scene from the ninth to the thirteenth centuries. This book is an authoritative and comprehensive study of Chola State, society, and economy.

South India under the Cholas explores the state society interactions in early medieval south India. It presents an in depth analysis of Tamil epigraphy. Using inscriptional evidence from India and South east Asia, it analyses the socio-economic milieu, merchant guilds, and other sociological aspects.

Subbarayalu discusses the revenue system, property rights, relations between landowners, cultivators, and slaves and the structure and character of the Chola state. He scrutinizes on detail the evolution of organizations like Urar, Nattar, and Periyanattar, social classes like the left and right hand divisions, and the merchant militia. For the first time an attempt is made here to quantify the revenue of a pre-Mughal Indian state.

Based on a wealth of primary sources examined over a period of thirty years, this book will be indispensable to scholars researches, and students of south Indian and early medieval history.


About the Author

Y. Subbarayalu is Researcher and Head, Department of Ideology, French Institute of Pondicharry. He is the former General President of the Epigraphical Society of India and the Andhra Preadesh History Congress held at Kuppam in 2011.



In the study of pre-modern Chinese history, the twenty five official annals compiled customarily by each succeeding dynasty for the preceding dynasty, starting from the Han period, provide us with a tremendous amount of information on the state administration and society. In the case of India, which lacks such compiled histories for most of the Hindu dynasties, only inscriptions engraved on stone and copper-plates afford us the most reliable information for reconstructing their history. This is particularly so for south India, where there remain quite a large number of inscriptions from the past inscribed on the walls of stone temples, many more than that remaining in the north. For studying ancient and medieval south Indian history, therefore, knowledge of inscriptions is indispensable, and Professor K.A. Nilakanta Sastri and other pioneers of south Indian historical studies were naturally good epigraphists themselves.

From the more than 100,000 Chola inscriptions, which compose the largest number coming from a single dynasty, we can learn even the details of socio-economic matters, for example, the landholdings in villages or taxes imposed on villagers, even though the main purpose of inscriptions is to record some charity administered to the temple. However, as stated in the first essay of this book, the reading of these inscriptions is not easy at all, as each of them reflects the situation peculiar to the place and time and as they are written mostly in a colloquial language with many spelling and grammatical peculiarities and errors, in addition to the natural damage frequently occurring to the stone, which blurs the text and meaning of the inscription.

Accordingly, it requires tremendous effort and practice to read these inscriptions for historical studies. Some historians these days therefore, tend to depend on the gist of inscriptions given in the Annual Report on Indian Epigraphy, published by the Archeological Survey of India, without reading the original text of inscriptions. Of course, the information obtainable from the Annual Report is useful and we can make many studies depending on them. However, to become a real specialist in ancient/medieval south Indian history, we have to be epigraphists ourselves too. Professor Y. Subbarayalu, who has gone through a large number of the inscriptions of the Chola dynasty as well as many other South Indian dynastic, including the unpublished ones, can be said, therefore, to be a scholar who is really qualified for the study of ancient and medieval south Indian states and society.

In section I of this book, the author explains what the inscriptions are how to study them by showing examples of his own studies, and in section II he puts new interpretations on various important issues of the Chola administration and society through his careful analysis of inscriptional data he also employs the statistical method, which has been effectively applied to studies by scholars since the 1970s, but I wish to assert here that the reading of the inscriptional texts is a prerequisite in epigraphically and historical studies, as the essays in this book show. Whatever picture on would depict of the Chola or some other state and society in relation to one’s own theoretical understanding, he/she has to depend on sincere and thorough examination of inscriptions for that study. I believe this book will be instructive in this regard to prospective students of south Indian history.



The essays included in this volume address some themes relating to the socio economic and political formation in south India, during the Chola period, conventionally taken to form the latter half of early medieval period. As they were published over three decades, some revision has been made to update the knowledge. Having one of the few richest epigraphically collections, the Chola period had been naturally a great attraction to students of south Indian history. Several scholars, bothepigraphical sources for their contributions to Indian historiography since 1880s. By late 1930s, a strong empirical foundation had been laid for south Indian history, not to speak of the Chola history. The culmination was reached in the monumental work of Nilakanta Sastri. Some of the studies during the next two decades were just extensions of those earlier works, while some tried to tread on new grounds, like focusing on religious and history and on local history.

There happened literally a historiographical break from late 1960s onward, when scholars, particularly from abroad, equipped with current social and anthropological theories and models started to evince interest in south Indian history of medieval as well as modern periods. Naturally, much new work was produced in reviewing and re-interpreting earlier works on theoretical grounds. In some cases the interpretations took some extreme positions so as to forget or ignore the empirical basis. The new ideas, however, took some time to sink in the academia of old south Indian universities, unlike in some premier universities in the north, in Karela and elsewhere, for two reasons: one, the lingering presence of strong traditional scholarship, the last great practitioner in Madras University being T.V. Mahalingam, who initiated me in serious research work; two the poor theoretical component in the regular curricula of history courses. Hence, students like me were not much distracted by the presence of Professor Burton Stein in Chennai during1967-8, though his persuasive scholarship was admired by all. At the same time, a few long personal discussions with Burton Stein made me feel that there remained lots of basic work to be carried on scientifically in the epigraphically fields, either to support or to controvert Stein’s new ideas. This feelings was further nurtured and strengthened by my long academic associations and collaboration, since early 1970s, with professor Noboru Karashima, who, though not averse to theory, had been giving primary importance to comprehensive empirical studies in the Chola and Vijaynagar periods, applying quantitative methods in the analysis of inscriptional data. The present essays are the result of the combination of this academic background and my long and abiding interest in Tamil inscriptions. I have tried through these essays to seek a better understanding of some of the basic problems in the Chola Period historiography in the light of cumulative understanding and appreciation of the epigraphical evidence in the proper perspective. And I hope this work will encourage the younger generation of scholars to follow up the leads suggest in the younger generation of scholars to follow up the leads suggested in the essays to get better clarification of the problems, particularly by more comparative studies, which could not be given adequate attention in these essays due to time constraints.

Being heavily dependent on Epigraphical data, I owe a great debt of gratitude to the community of Epigraphists, past and present, of the Archaeological, who extended all possible help to study the texts of unpublished inscriptions through the years since my students days. In making this collection I must acknowledge the benefit of friendly advice from Professor R. Champakalakshmi and Rajan Gurukkal. I also wish to record my grateful thanks to Professor Noboru Karashima for checking the draft and suggesting some revision and for writing a nice Foreword. My colleague G. Muthu Sankar, a GIS specialist in the French Institute of Pondicherry, quite willingly helped me in the preparation of maps. I wish to express my hearty thanks to the Oxford University Press for undertaking this publication.



This volume includes some of my essays published during the last thirty years, pertaining to society, economy, and the state during the time of the Cholas, one of the few major dynasties hat dominated the south Indian political scene from the ninth to thirteenth centuries. The present introduction aims at explaining the proper historiographical context of the themes of the different essays so as to minimize their somewhat disparate nature and present an integrated picture. The essays are arranged under two sections, the first relating to general aspects of epigraphy as a historical discipline and the second to some specific themes. The emphasis in the first section is on Tamil epigraphy which offers one of the few richest collections of inscriptions on the medieval world. Being temple-based documents of charities, the inscriptions are generally stereotyped and have some obvious biases. In spite of these peculiarities, time and space-series analysis of those inscriptions yield rich information relating to contemporary polity, society, and other such issues.

The first essay is a general introduction to the history of Tamil epigraphy, its potentialities, and he methodology of handle it properly. The next essay takes up a detailed analysis of a set of a three inscriptions of about the fifth century CE which may be considered as yet the earliest documents in peninsular India relating to the emergence of a new agrarian order, different from the preceding one, which again becomes prominent during the ninth to thirteenth centuries. These inscriptions are useful not only for its information on the land relations, but also for the hints relating to the northern impact on the local culture, particularly in the field of religion. The third essay focuses on a merchant-guild inscription of 1088 CE from Sumatra, Indonesia. This inscription, though brief, provides a fund of information to understand the overseas activities of the south Indian merchants. Taken together with a few other Tamil inscriptions in Sumatra, it may be asserted that this island, which was known as ‘Svarnadvipa’ and which was also the central part of the Sri Vijayan Maritime state, was a major destination for the south Indian merchants in view of its rich gold resources and camphor.

Place and personal names form an integral part of all inscriptions and a systematic contextual analysis of the personal names is found to tell a lot about the society of the times. The elite of the society can be easily recognized by their titles attached to their names. The fourth essay takes up two case studies of personal names along with the associated titles to show this point. Of course, to understand the full implication of the titles, other related information should also be considered together. That is, the concordance approach would be the right approach in such studies. This as well as the next essay, which takes up reinterpretation of certain terms, would stress the usefulness of concordances of names and technical terms in inscription. In the interpretation of the inscriptional terminology, contextual meaning is more important that the lexical meaning. In fact, lexicons do not provide any help in several cases as the terms social and culture changes. For instance, the term kudumbu which is used in the sense of cultivator in the fifth century inscriptions studied in the second essay, gets the sense of grouping of cultivable lands in the ninth century and after, and perhaps in the sense of sharing or distribution of irrigation water too. In several cases the exercise of getting to the real import of a term would be very tantalizing due to limited number contexts available to check.




  List of Illustrations vii
  List of Tables and Appendices ix
  Foreword xi
  Preface xiii
  Achnowledgements xv
  List of Abbreviations xvii
  Note on Transliteration xviii
  Introduction 1
  Section I: Epigraphy and History  
1 Tamil Epigraphy: Past and Present 15
2 The social and economic Milieu of the Pulangurichi Inscriptions 27
3 The Merchant Guild Inscription at Barus in Sumatra 38
4 Sociological aspects of the personal names and titles 48
5 Interpreting Inscriptional Terminology 59
  Section II: State and Society  
6 Land under Chola rule: Measuement, classification and Assessmemt 77
7 An overview of the Chola revenue system 92
8 Quantifying land revenue of the chola state 100
9 Sale Deeds and Property Rights 116
10 Urar, Nattar, and Periyanattar 124
11 Alunganam and Mulaparusbai: Two early village bodies 138
12 Landholders, cultivators, and slaves 146
13 Social changes and the Right and left hand division 167
14 Anjuvannam: A maritime trade guild of medieval times 176
15 Erivira Pattinam, Warriors, and the state 188
16 The Chola State 207
17 Characterizing the Chola state 248
  Index 261

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