Chola Kings in Sangam Age

The Chola kingdom is referred to in the Sangam literature as Chonadu, Kaveri Nadu, Kaveri Soozh Nadu, Neer Nadu, and Punal Nadu. These names indicate the rich water resources of the Chola country. The river Kaveri has flown through the Chola kingdom and made its soil fertile. The capital of the Sangam Cholas was Uraiyur. Their second capital was Kaveripoompattinam. It was also the chief port of the Sangam Cholas. Their symbol was tiger. The Sangam literature also mentions a number of Chola kings. They had surnames like Kill, Valavan, Senni and Cholan. The kingdom of the Sangam Cholas comprises the present Tanjore and Tiruchirappalli districts.

The most popular among the Sangam Cholas was Karikalan. Both the Sangam works, Pattinappalai and Porunaruatruppadi give information about Karikalan. Even in his young age, he proved his extraordinary ability of settling the disputes in his kingdom. He was also a great warrior. He defeated the Chera and Pandya kings at Venni. In another battle Karikalan defeated a confederacy of nine princes. He extended his kingdom beyond Kanchipuram in the North.

Karikalan had also become popular for the development activities in his kingdom. He had encouraged the growth oil agriculture as well as commerce. He had built the dam called Kallanai across the river Kaveri to tame that river and the water was used for irrigation. Karikalan had also fortified the port-city Kaverippumpattinam or Puhar and made it as his capital. It flourished as a great emporium of trade. Merchants from foreign countries visited Puhar. Karikalan was generous towards Tamil poets and patronized them. Porunarnatruppadi gives details about his munificence.

A long line of Chola monarchs succeeded Karikalan and, Nalamkilli, Killivalavan and Kopperumcholan were the most, famous among them. Kochenganan was the last in the line of th Sangem Cholas.

Cholas of Sangam Period

Who are Cholas?

The Tamils who ruled the banks of River Kaveri were of Cholas ancestry.  The availability of plenty and the rich food in their empire, gave the name Chola to them as per Tamil Etymology.

The names Killi Valalvan, Chembiyan and Chenni Denoted Cholas.  They belonged to peasantry, fertile land and the valiant chieftains. Some would say the name Chembiyan meant that they were successors of Sibi.

Prehistoric Cholas

The information on pre historic period came from Puranic mixed historical sources.  Silapathikaram and Manimekalai recorded the names of the kings such as Kanthan, Kakanthan and Sembiam.  The King who savered the dove from the suffering and the King who removed the suffering of the cow and its calf who mentioned (Manu and Sibi without referring to their names) in Silambu.

Chola Kings of Kadai Sangam Period

Karikal Valavan (325 – 250 BC)

In Agam and Puram Poets like Mamoolanar, Nakkeerar, Paranar, Vennikuyathiyar and Kazhathalaiyar and poet Mudathama Kanniyar in Porunaratrupadai and poet Uruthiran Kannanar in Pattinapalai wrote poems on Karikal Valavan.

It is said that there were two or three kings in the name of Karikal Valavan.  But K.K. Pillai opined that there was only one king in this name.  The Poets wrote the actions of a King attributing to his successor and the naming of the kings with their forefathers resulted in this confusion on the number of kings with the same name.

Many poets of Sangam wrote poems on him.  According to one lyric the king mentioned in Agam and Puram poems and the king mentioned in Atrupadai belonged to a later period and there were two kings.  There is one more view that the kings referred to in Agam and Puram and Pattinapalai were three different kings.  The later period works like Silambu, Kalingathuparani and Moovarulla said that there was only one king in that name, Karikalan.  As the poet Mammallans pertained to 400BC, he should have been connected to earlier period.

He ascended the throne at an early age.  He built the banks of River Kauveri.  In the copper plates and the inscriptions the Telugu Cholas claimed to be his successors.

The last stanza of Prounnatrupadai describes the great escape of Karikalan with burnt leg, from the burning prison on account of the conspiracy of the enemies in the royal family.

His other names were Karikal Peruvalathan and Thirumavalavan.  His escape from the prison was well documented in the anthology Pattinapalai (220 – 227) and Porunatrupadai (131-138).  His maternal uncle helped him in his escape (Pazhamozhi Seyyul – 239).  Having overcome the confusion created by his enemies within at the young age and become the King, he defeated the combined opposition from Pandiyan, Cheran and 11 Velirs at Paranthalai. Out of the defeated Velirs in the battle of Venni, 9 Velirs attacked him at Vahaiparanthalai and faced defeat. (Agam 125)

Pattinapaalai further described the defeat of Oliyar and Aravaalar and his hands.  On his march to north he reached the Himalayas and engraved the Tiger emblem before his return.  Silambu describes his return journey through the countries Vajram, Maghad and Avanthi and their gift presented to him. 

Mr.  Ragava Iyangar noted that the place the Tiger emblem engraved was in the Himalayan Range between Sikkim and Bhutan.  In these areas even today the mountain range is called Chola Range and Chola Pass.  Karikalan won Eelam and brought prisoners to build the Grand Anaicut.  – Maha Vamsam and Deepa Vamsam.

The Copper plates of Thiruvalangadu and Ray country’s Telugu Chola recorded the Grand Anaicut built by Karikalan.

Peruvirar Killi

He had a title “Verphradakai Peruvirar Killi”.  Poets Paranar and Kazhathalayar wrote Poems (Puram 62,63, 368) Mourning the deaths of the king Cheran Imayvaramban, Kudako Neduncheralathan and Peruvir Killi at Thiruporpuram war.


Poet Oonpothi Pasungudaiyar wrote poems on him and he had a title “Serupazhi Erintha Elanjetchenni”. Cheraman Pammulur Erintha Cholan Neithalanganal Elanjchetsenni is his another title with his name. (Puram 203). He might have won Chera’s Pamulur.

The Poem Purananooru (10) Calls his “Neithalanganal Nediyoi” and his vapital was Pujar.  But Elanjetchenni’s Capital might have been Woraiyur.

Perunthirumavalavan (200 – 180BC)

He had friendship with Pandiyan Velliambalathu Thunjiya Peruvazhuthi.  The poet Kaveripoompattinathu Karikannanar blessed their friendship and co-existence.  For unknown reasons and reasons and irritated the delay in giving gifts by the king, he poet Chonattu Erichaloor Maadalan Madurai Kumaranar wrote about the greatness of poets instead of the king.

Killivalavan (200 -180BC)

Dr. G. U. Pope considered that this King was the same Kurappalli Thunjiya Killivalavan.  18 poets wrote poems on him.  Poet Alathur Kizhar (Puram 36) advised him not to go on war with a coward when he besieged Karuvaoor King’s fort.  The fort was closed and never opened, the king remaining inside.  The Chola removed the siege on the advice of the poet.  Karuvaur King felt ashamed and faced defeat and Napasaliayar (Puram 39) wrote that Cholan won the war.

Poet nakkeeran (Agam 205, 346) wrote about his victories against Kosar King of Tulu country and Pandiya’s Chieftain Pazhaiyan Maran.  Poet Kovur Kizhar protected the greatness and virtue of Chola besides the lives of the children of Malayaman Thirumudikhari from death.

Nalangilli (180 – 160BC)

Poet(Puram 72) eulogize him as a king waging war against northern countries and a king who could gift Vanji and Madurai too to Viraliyars, the women artists.

The strength of his forces are amply described in Puram – 225. On account of a dispute over Woraiyur he went on war with his cousin Nedungilli who ruled Aavoor.  Nalangilli took over Woraiyur after winning Nedungilli who kept himself inside the fort locking the doors of the fort.  He died Elavanthigai (Puram 61).  Nobody knew who killed Kaariyatru Thunjiya Nedungilli.  But K.A. Neelaganta Sastri said it was Nalangilli who killed him.

Koprunj Cholan (160-130BC)

The poet king wrote 4 poems in Kurunthogai and 3 in Purananooru.  His poems and the poems on him did not reveal his political history but spoke about the greatness of the culture and civilization.  When his children wanted the share in ruling the Kingdom and confronted him, he also started preparing for the war in the interest of his people. On heeding the advice of Pulatrur Eyitriyanar (Puram 213), the Chola King abandoned the war to avoid the history that he fought against his own kins.

Further to avoid the history that his sons fought him he decided to die by facing the customary North.  (Fasting into death).  In the poem Puranaanooru (215) the poet King wrote that even though his friend Pisiranthaiyar whom he never met earlier did not come when he was a king he was sure that he would come during the time of distress.

Hence he made a request to reserve a place for him by his side to join him in his death.  As per his wish Pisiranthaiyar came from Pandiya country to join his friend and the King in death.  The friendship between the King and his friend was so strong even without seeing each other, Pisiranthaiyar was prepared to spare his life for a friend.

The poet king Koperunchozhan in the poem Kurunthogai (129) wrote on the greatness of friendship. Parimel Azhagar said “like Koperunchozan and Pisiranthaiyar if the feelings merge that would result in the friendship sharing their lives for each other in death as well”.

Rajasooyam Vetta Perunarkilli (160-130BC)

He performed the “Rajasooyam”, usually performed by an emperor who defeated other kings without challenge.  With the help of valiant forces of four types he won many a battle (Puram 16, 377). Joining Thervan Malayan, he won Chera King Mantharaj Cheral Erumborai because of differences.  He was a friend of Kanaper Eyil Kadantha Ukkira Peruvazhuthi.

Senganan (100-30 BC)

He won Cheran Kanayakhalirumporai at the battle of Thiruporpuram and imprisoned him in Kuduvayilkottam prison. The insult of delay in giving water to Cheran resulted in his death.  The efforts of Poigaiyar to get the release of Chera king is described in his poem “Kalavazhi Naarpathu” in praise of the Chola king. Vikrama Cholan Ula praised the Chola King.

Cholan Senganan with the assistance of Perumbutsenai, the lieutenant of Chieftain Pazhaiyan fought a war with Cheran Nannan.  Kaniyan, Otrai, Athi, Gangan and Katti were at the side of Cheran.  He fought ferociously and won the war in the battle of Kazhumalam after he had lost his chieftain Pazhaiyan. (Agam 44).

Thirumangai Azhwar tells us of his victory over the king Vilanthaival. Periya Thirumozhi tells the construction of 70 Siva temples by Kochenganan.

Appar wrote about his previous birth as a spider.  The stories on him were found in the copper plates of Thiruvaalangaadu, Kalingathupuram, Vikrama Sozha Tulaa, Thiruthondar Anthaadhi and Periyaparanar. The spider with the help of its web protected the God of Thiruvanayakoil from the falling dry leaves etc., an elephant which worshipped the God destroyed the web. The spider entered the trunk of the elephant upon which both died.  The same spider was born as Sanganaan in its next birth – Periyapuranam.

He might belong to 4th or 5th century BC as the saint poet Thirumangai Azhwar wrote on him. But K.A.N. Sastri said the Sangam period Sarganaan was different from that of Senganaan referred to by Azhwar.

Cholas of Sangam Decline Period

Valavan Killi (70 – 120AD)

He was the son of Manakilli and brother of Narsonai.  Nine members of his cousins opposed his ascendancy to royalty.  His brother-in-law Cheran Senguttuvan defeated them at narivayil and made Killi the King.  During his reign Manimekalai went Jawa (Indonesia) to preach Buddhism.

At that time she built a Buddha Vihar with the help of the sculptors from Chola Kingdom at Porpatham (Perumbatham) and even today it exists.  Manimekalai described his as Killivalavan, Thodukazhar Killi, Nedumudi Killi, Maavan Killi, Vadiverkilli and Velverkilli.  Accirdubg to some of the King referred to by Silambu and Manikekalai was different from each other.

His wife was from the clan of Marali born in Pana Royalty by name Seerthi.  Her son was Uthayakumaran.  His younger brotherElankilli defeated the Chera and Pandiya at Kariyar.

The story of his love marriage with Peelivalai and their son’s death by drowning in the sea, besides the tragic end of Kaveripoompattinam submerging into the sea are told by Manimekalai.

Other Chola Kings

The literary sources were found on Chola Kings like Elavanthigai Palli Thunjiya Nalangilli, Setsemai, Uruvapahren, Elainjet Senai, Thithan, Medithalai Koperunarkilli and Nallaruthiran.  The king poet Sezhan nalluruthinar wrote Mullai padal found in the Book Kalithogai.