Mani Ratnam’s latest release Ponniyin Selvan:1 or PS1, a period drama loosely based on the power dynamics of the Chola kingdom of Tamil Nadu has kindled a newfound interest in the era. Lead actor Vikram has also widely spoken about the social setup, architectural marvels, and the position of women in one of the longest-ruling dynasties in world history at various promotional events for the film.
The script for Ponniyan Selvan is based on writer Kalki Krishnamurthi’s take on the Chola empire that used to appear as a weekly column in the 1950s and gained much fandom in the south. If you are planning to watch the period drama on the big screen, here’s an outline of the Cholas as evident from the account of various historians.
The era of the Cholas
The Chola’s kingdom covered modern-day Tamil Nadu and parts of Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. The times (around 9 to the 12th Century) saw much political upheaval from the Rashtrakutas of Deccan taking away the throne from the Cholas and constant battles with the Chalukyas.
The Chola dynasty was founded by king Vijaylaya who went on to rule a major part of southern India for a long time, although Tamil history experts, like Noboru Karashima and Y Subbarayalu, disagree.
Society under the Cholas
The naval power of the Chola dynasty allowed it to go far beyond its borders, such as conquering Indonesia and Malaysia. According to historian Satish Chandra, the Bay of Bengal was transformed into a Chola lake for a brief period.
According to Anirudh Kanisetti, a historian, the strong relationship between the Cholas and merchant groups allowed them to undertake numerous naval expeditions, the Indian Express reported.
War for succession was natural, and it occurred following the defeat of the Cholas by the Rashtrakutas. According to Kanisetti, there was a period of churn, but also a lot of cultural sophistication.
The sophistication of the Cholas’ records was reflected in the inscriptions that they kept on the walls of their temples, as well as on copper plates and other objects which is why so much is known about the Cholas.
The book ‘Interpreting Medieval India’ by Vipul Singh attributes the construction of the grand trunk road and public ferries to the era, although even those who had close ties to the court had to hire their own guards due to the dangerous conditions of the roads. This was done by the village councils and magnates.
Architecture of the Chola period
The Brihadeeswara temple of Thanjavur, which was constructed by the Cholas, was regarded as the largest building in India during that period. In addition, various sculptures and artworks were also made by the kings and queens of the Cholas. The Kailasanatha temple, which was built by the Rashtrakutas in Maharashtra, was the largest structure of its kind during this period.
Social structure and political conquests of the Cholas
Chola empire with its achievements as well as failings ushered a new period in India royal history. The role of women in royal circles has been brought to the fore. However, it is not to imply that the same was true for men and women in the general circle. According to Kanisetti however, the royal women’s proximity to male power was regarded more highly than that of other women.
There have been comparisons between the Cholas and other Indian dynasties, such as the Mughals, and it is said that they expanded territories more peacefully than other dynasties. But according to Kanisetti, the claims are untrue. He said that the inscriptions at the Brihadeswara temple show that the king offered to his God the bounty that he had acquired through his conquests. Other accounts also give a detailed account of how the empire was established.
According to Chandra, in his book, ‘The History of Medieval Era’ the Cholas plundered and destroyed various cities in the Chalukyan region, including the ancient capital of Sri Lanka, Anuradhapura. He referred to these as “blots” in the history of the Cholas.
Ponniyin Selvan: I starring Karthi, Vikram, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Trisha, Jayam Ravi among others, has passed the Rs 300 crore mark at the worldwide box office. The second part is due for release in 2023.