The Cholas of Tanjavur

Cholas is an ancient dynasty of southern India having roots in Indian mythology. It was in 850 AD, Vijayalaya Chola, a feudatory of Pallava captured Tanjore (or Tanjavur) and brought Chola dynasty to prominence once again. His son Aditya Chola (871-907 AD) squarly defeated Pandyas and Pallawas, two other major power brokers of South India to become sovereign ruler of south India. Raja Raja Chola (985-1014 AD) was the greatest ruler of this dynasty. He first destroyed Chera (the rulers of Kerala, south India) navy at Trivendrum, then captured Madura and subsequently defeated Sinhalese (Shri Lankan) king Mahendra V thus occupying northern Cylon (modern Shri lanka). He further went ahead and conquered Maldive islands. His son Rajendra Chola (1012-1044 AD) was very worthy successor. He expanded his inherited empire by occupying whole of Shri Lanka (1018 AD) and later crowning the glory by inflicting a crushing defeat on Shrivijaya, the King of Indonesia, in 1025 AD. His empire consisted of whole of southern India, Sri Lanka, and parts of the Malay peninsula (modern Malysia) and the Sumatran-based Srivijaya Kindgom (modern Indonesia). His successors managed to retain control over Sri Lanka for another 50 years but eventually lost it. Chola kings ruled for another century without losing any of their mainland territory. Eventually Chola empire disintegrated and former feudatories Banas, Kadavas and Pandyas assumed independence. Rajaraja Chola III (1216-1246 AD) was reduced to the rank of minor king. Later his capital was captured by Pandya King Jatavarman Sundara and Chola dynasty came to an end.

Anonymous coin of Sri lanka
Prototype Used by Raja Raja Chola
990-1017 AD
Gold Kahavanu
Minted in Shri Lanka in 933 AD
Weight: 4.7 gm
Reference: Mitchiner1998:311

Cholas were great patrons of literature, philosophy, art and architecture. Raja Raja I was responsible for construction of magnificent temple at Tanjore. This temple, which is dedicated to Lord Shiva (also called Bruhadishwara) is a masterpiece of architecture. It is built out of the red sandstones with large number of sculptures carved outside and inside involving immense labour and infinite pain. Chola art is characterised by a massive grandeur truly reflected in this massive temple which consists of great `Shikhara' of fourteen stories, crowned by massive dome carved out of a single stone which weigh probably 100 tons!!! It is believed that to install this dome on the temple (which is of 190 feet height), a ramp of 5 miles was constructed. A famous historian Fergusson has written `Chola artists conceived like giants and finished like jewellers'. The picture of this magnificent temple is shown above.

Shown above is the gold coin of Sri lanka which was used as prototype by Raja Raja Chola when he conquored Shri Lanka. King (most likely) is shown sitting and holding conch in one hand. He took the title of `Lankavibhu', the Lord of (Sri) Lanka. This title, which was written in Devnagri script, is seen on the obverse of coin. Chola empire was eventually disintegrated and Nayakas (Chola governor) took control of Tanjavur. In 16th century, brother of Shivaji the great, defeated Nayakas and firmly established the Maratha dynasty of Tanjavur which ruled for next 200 years from Tanjavur.

The Kadambas of Hangal

1075-1094 AD
Gold Pagoda, Punch-marked type
Obverse: Nine puinch-marks
Reverse: Single punch-mark
Weight: 3.5 gms
Ref: ONS manuscript

Kadambas is an ancient dynasty of south India who primarily ruled the region which is present day Goa state and nearby Konkan region (part of modern Maharashtra and Karnataka state). The early rulers of this dynasty established themselves at Vaijayanti or Banavasi in 345 AD and ruled as independent rulers for more than 2 centuries. In 607 AD, Chalukyas of Vatapi sacked Banavasi and Kadamba kingdom was incorporated into expanding Chalukyan empire. In eighth century AD, Chalukyas of Vatapi were overthrown by Rashtrakutas who ruled supreme in south India till 10th century. In 980 AD, descendents of Chalukyas and Kadambas rose against Rashtrakutas and Rashtrakuta empire fell resulting in establishment of second Chalukyan dynasty (called Western Chalukyas). Chatta Deva, a scion of Kadamba family who helped Western Chalukyas in this coup, re-established Kadamba dynasty. He was mostly a feudatory of Western Chalukyas but his successors enjoyed considerable independence and were almost soverign rulers of Goa and Konkan till 14th century AD. The successors of Chatta Deva occupied both Banavasi and Hangal and are known as Kadambas of Hangal. Later Kadambas kept paying nominal allegiance to other major power brokers of Deccan like Yadavas and Hoysalas of Dorasamudra and thus mantained their independence. Four different families of Kadambas ruled in southern India which were Kadamabas of Hangal, Kadambas of Goa, Kadambas of Belur and Kadambas of Banvasi.

Recent research has given an indication that there were two types of gold coins, that were issued by Kadambas.
1. Punch-marked gold coins (an example shown above)
2. Die struck gold coins (an example shown below)

Kadamba coins were one the heaviest and perhaps purest of all medieval Indian gold coinage, which were maintained with remarkable accuracy. Shown above is an excellent example of Kadamba punch-marked gold coin which is issued in name of Chalukya ruler Jaysimha II Jagadekamalla. It is very likely that, Kadambas issued the punch-marked coinage under influence of similar coinage of Jagadekamalla. This coins has nine distinct punches on obverse while one punch on reverse. The punch on reverse was often struck in such a way that it is hardly visible on most coins, thus giving this series appearance of being uniface. The arrangement of symbols punched on this coin consists of a central punch mark representing figure of monkey god, Hanumana, running to right and four retrospectant lions (dynastic emblem of Kadamba family at the cardinal points around the central punch mark. The two prominent punch marks create two Shri alphabets in Telugu-Kanarese script which depicts Laxmi, goddess of wealth. The eighth punch mark creates a triangular motif and the ninth punch mark represents Telugu-Kanerese inscription on these coins, which reads JaGaDa. One specimen of this type of coin have an extra legend, engraved in Telugu-Kanarese script, which read TiVaRa giving us the name of the king as Shantivarma

Unknown ruler
12th Century AD
Gold stater/Pagoda, Die struck type
Obverse: Monkey god Hanumana sitting
Reverse: Scrollwork
Weight: 4.2 gms
Ref: Mitchiner1998:229

Toyimadeva (1065 AD) was ruler of this dynasty who perhaps issued first die struck gold coins. These coins are similar in weight and size to Kadambas of Goa. Compared to Goa Kadambas, coins of Kadambas of Hangal are relatively scarce and never been studied in greater details. Shown above is an excellent gold coin of this dynasty which show monkey god Hanumana, seated within a circle of dots and lined circle. Hanumana is flanked by two chouries and conch. On right hand upper corner is sun while towards left hand upper corner is moon. Below is the legend Nakara in Telugu-Kanarese script. Interestingly, the posture of Hanumana on these coins have striking resembalance to the coins of Raja Raja Chola (Shown above). The legend Nakara represents the city deity of Banakapura, Nakareshwara. The reverse show scrollwork within border of lotus petals and beads, often seen on the contemporay Gangas dynasty.

The Kadambas of Goa

Shivachitta Paramadideva
1147-1187 AD
Gold stater/Pagoda
Obverse: Lion walking, Cyclical date, Visa
Reverse (enlarged): 5 line Legends in Devnagri script
Weight: 4.4 gms
Reference: Mitchiner1998:238

This family mainly ruled in the Goa region and lime Hangal Kadambas, minted one of the finest example of medieval Indian coinage. THe coin shown above is minted by Shivachiita, the ruler of this dynasty. It shows lion walking on obverse. In front of the lion is the cyclical date, Visa. We have not yet deciphered the conversion of cyclical year dating to AD equivalent as yet. The reverse shows the legend written in Devnagri script. The legend reads Sri Saptakotisa Labdhavara Shivachitta Vira Hemadideva-ra Malava-rama-ri. The rulers of this dynasty often took the title, Malava-rama-ri which means rulers/conquerors of Malava (perhaps Malvan region of Konkan).

The Vijaynagar Empire

Foundation of Vijaynagar empire is certainly the most significant event in the history of medieval India. It lasted for 3 centuries and successfully prevented the extension of Muslim sultanetes in south. History of Vijaynagar empire is truly an unbroken era of bloody wars with Bahamani and other Muslim rulers. Two brothers Harihara and Bukka laid the foundation of the Vijaynagar city on the southern bank of Tungabhadra river near Anegundi fortress. A sage Madhav Vidyaranya and his brother Sayana (his commentry on Vedas is famous) were the inspirational source for the foundation of this Hindu empire. Bukka sent an embassy to China in 1374 and after his death was succeded by Harihara II. Harihara II extended this newly founded kingdom by conquoering almost whole of southern India, including Mysore, Kanara, Chingalpet, Trichinopally and Kanchivaram. Harihara II was devotee of Virupaksha (Shiva) but was tolerant to all other religions. He was the first King of Vijaynagar empire who assumed the title of Maharajadhiraj Rajaparmeshwara.

In 1486, Vir Narasimha of Chandragiri, who had rose into promienance, took control of the Vijaynagar empire. This led to the direct rule of the Tuluva dynasty over Vijaynagar empire. His younger son Krishanadev Raya is certainly the greatest ruler of Vijaynagar and one of the most famous kings in the history of India (In my opinion, other 3 would be Ashoka, Vikramaditya and Shivaji). He was gallant warrior and like Vikramaditya, he was always successful in the wars which he waged throughout his reign. He was a fine statesman and treated the defeated enemy with honour. First, in 1511-1512 AD, he captured southern Mysore, Shivasamudram fortress and Raichur. In 1513 AD, he humbled the king of Orissa Gajapati and in 1514 AD he captured Udaigiri. Eventually he captured Vishakapatnam and completely abolished the authority of King of Orissa. His greatest and most celebrated military achievement was crushing defeat of Ismail Adil Shah on 19th March 1520. This ended the muslim dominance in south and made him master of whole of south India.

Krishanadev Raya
1509-1530 AD
Half Gold Pagoda
Obverse: Seated Balakrishna (baby Krishna)
Reverse: Legends in Devnagri script
Weight: 1.7 gm
Reference: Mitchiner1998:641

Shown above is a fine example of his coin. It shows Balakrishna seated on obverse of coins while on reverse his name is written in Nagri script. The coins of Vijaynagar empire were very popular and were used as prototype even after its decline. Most dynasties in south (which include British and other European colonies) issued coins very similar to Vijaynagar coins till the begining of the eighteenth century. Shown below is another fine example of Krishnadev Raya's coin which is unusually large (2 cm in diameter as compared to 1.3 cm of regular kind) showing four armed garuda on reverse. On obverse is his name `Pratapa Krishna Raya' in Devnagari script.

Krishanadev Raya
1509-1530 AD
Copper, five jitals
Obverse: Garuda
Reverse: Legend in Devnagri Script
Weight: 16.48 gm

During his last days, Krishanadev Raya devoted all his attention in organization of his empire and improving the administration. He maintained friendly relationship with Portugese and granted some concessions to governer Albuquerque. Reign of Krishanadev Raya reached to its zenith not only in terms of expanse of the empire, but also in terms of growth and development of literature, music, art and culture. Raya himself was an accomplished poet, musician, scholar and was fluent in Sanskrit, Telugu and Kannada (and perhaps Tamil too!). He wrote a immensely important (both historically and religiously) book Amuktamalyada in Telugu. He patronized many poets which includes Ashtadigajas (eight elephants, the great poets of Telugu) and scholars like Tenalirama. His reign also saw the remarkable development in art and architecture. The famous Hazara temple built during his reign is one of the most perfect example of Hindu Temple architecture. Vithalswami temple is another fine example of the Vijaynagar style of architecture. Krishandev Raya and all other rulers of this empire were pious Hidus and were devoted to Dharma, but they had very liberal outlook for other religions. According to Barbosa, a historian and many contemporary travellers, `the Kings allows such freedom that every man would live without suffering and annoyance, whether he is a Christian, Jew, Moor or Hindu'.

Krishnadev Raya
Copper Jital
Obverse: Dagger and conch
Reverse: Legends in Devnagri script
Weight: 1.3 gm

Shown above is another coin of Krishnadevraya, the reverse of it shows a dagger with chakra on left and Shankh (conch) on right. On obverse is Vrishabha (bull). It is well executed coin with finer details clearly visible.

Achyut Raya succeeded as the ruler of empire but soon lost control to his brother-in-law Tirumala. Eventually, the power was trasferred to prime minister Ram Raya who seized the throne for himself. Finally, three muslim sultanetes of Deccan, Bijapur, Ahmadnagar and Golkonda formed a coalition and met the massive Vijaynagar Army (half a million!) near village Tagdi on 23rd January 1565 AD. In spite of the vast numerical superiority over allied forces, Vijaynagar lost the war. A small group of muslim soldiers separated the elephant of Ram Raya from his army in a swift move. He was at once beheaded by Husain Nizam Shah. The whole army in confusion left the battle ground and 250 years old empire was lost in few hours . What followed was one of the greatest plunder and destruction in the history of India. According to historian, Sewell `After victory, muslims reached capital and for next five month they destroyed and plundered relentlessly. Nothing seemed to escape them. They burned magnificent buildings, pavillions and finally the beautiful Vithalswami temple near the river. With swords, crowbars and axes they smashed exquisite stone sculptures. Never perhaps in history of the world such havoc has been wrought on so splendid city, teeming with a wealthy and industrious population. City was seized, pillages and reduced to ruins, amid scenes of savage massacre and horrors beggaring description'.

The ruins of Vijaynagar city can be seen today near Hampi in Karnataka which realisticly reflects the splendour and opulance during the reigns of Rayas of Vijaynagar.This so called battle of Talikota was one of the decisive battles in the history of India. It destroyed the Hindu supremacy in southern India till rise of Marathas in seventeen century. In spite of the tremendous damage, Vijaynagar did survive but the old grandeur was lost. Coalition muslim forces did not gain much in spite of all out victory. Alliance was soon dissolved and brother of Rama Raya took this opportunity and tried to bring back the old glory to the kingdom. After death of Venkata II in 1614, the kingdom disintegrated and went into total obscurity.

This section is currently under construction. I am putting together more images of coins and lot more interesting information. Come back soon! If you have any comments, please send at

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