The lost empire explored
  • Interesting article..

    The lost empire explored
    By David Keys

    Deep in the south of India lie the spectacular remains of one of the
    world's most remarkable and most forgotten civilsations. In its
    heyday it was one of the half-dozen greatest powers on Earth. It
    controlled half a million square miles - more than five times the
    size of Britain. And under its wing literacy and the arts flourished.

    Yet today, 1,000 years later, the Chola Empire is remembered only by
    a handful of specialist historians. If it had been European, or had
    given its name to some still-surviving nation, things might be
    different. But despite 400 years of glory, the Chola Empire
    disappeared from history; a sad fate for a civilisation which was
    among the most remarkable produced by the medieval world.

    In some ways, it was the most significant of the dozen or so empires
    which rose and fell during India's long, tumultuous history. It
    lasted some 460 years, longer than any of them. The Chola was also
    the only Asian empire (bar the Japanese) to have indulged, albeit
    briefly, in overseas expansion. It conquered Sri Lanka, the Andaman
    and Nicobar islands and, temporarily, parts of south-east Asia - the
    islands of Sumatra, Java and Bali, and the southern part of the
    Malay peninsula.

    Most of these overseas conquests are shrouded in mystery. All that
    is known is that, in 1025, the Chola emperor Rajendra I dispatched
    an army, presumably on a large fleet, across 2000 miles of ocean to
    conquer the southern half of south-east Asia. The records show that
    he succeeded and received the submission of large numbers of cities.
    Some historians believe that the Cholas then simply sailed back to
    India, but others suspect that Chola power persisted in some form in
    south-east Asia for two or three generations.

    Certainly, the Chola conquest contributed to a long process that had
    already started and which linked southern India and south-east Asia
    together in terms of trade and religion. The Indonesia/Malay region
    was a pivotal point in trade between China and India (and, indeed,
    the West), and both Java and Bali were largely Hindu. Rajendra's
    conquest was perhaps the first military expression of a more general
    connection which had been developing for centuries.

    Closer to home, in Sri Lanka, the Cholas' overseas expansion is
    better documented, both in text, and in stone. Tourists today can
    still explore the great ruined city of Polonnaruva, founded by the
    Cholas as a capital for their newly conquered island territory.

    But the emperor's armies didn't only head southwards. In the early
    11th century, Chola forces marched almost 1000 miles through India
    to the banks of the Ganges. Like the south-east Asian conquest, this
    epic ''long march'' is also shrouded in mystery. Whether the
    emperor's objectives in marching an army
    to the sacred river were political or purely religious is unknown.
    Certainly, the north of India, though temporarily subdued, was not
    incorporated into the empire - although holy Ganges water was
    carried back to a great new capital named in honour of the sacred
    river, and the ruler who had conquered it.

    This capital was called Gangaikondacholapuram - literally ''the City
    to which the Chola emperor brought the Ganges''. At the centre of
    their new metropolis, the Cholas built a magnificent temple and a
    vast three mile-long reservoir symbolically to hold the ''captured''
    waters of the Ganges. Both have survived. Under Chola rule, religion
    and politics grew ever closer together, with the emperor projecting
    himself as the representative, almost a manifestation, of God on
    Earth. Large temples were built, for the first time, as royal
    establishments. The Cholas probably built more temples than any
    other Indian kingdom or empire. Each temple was a masterpiece. Even
    today, the Chola heartland - along the Kaveri River in the state of
    Tamil Nadu - is full of beautiful, delicately carved temples, some
    the size of tiny chapels, others as big as European cathedrals. In
    the very centre of what was the empire, there are still 40 Chola
    temples in an area half the size of greater London. The most
    spectacular structure is the 63m-high pyramid- shaped centralshrine
    in the city of Thanjavur, the Chola capital before

    Chola art and architecture were among the finest in the world.
    Indeed, in cast bronze sculpture and hard-stone sculpture, Chola art
    is unsurpassed. Millions of figures, deftly carved in granite, can
    still be seen on their temples, while in museums, in Thanjavur and
    Madras, visitors can marvel at the artistry and craftsmanship of the
    bronze figurines and statues.

    The Cholas not only nurtured an artistic boom; they also fostered a
    massive expansion in education. Political stability and imperial
    grants - both to the temples which ran education and to the students
    themselves - led to the expansion of local schools and elite
    colleges for higher castes. The education system - which operated
    from a religious perspective but also promoted literacy, mathematics
    and astronomy - was probably, at least in part, responsible for the
    development of a competent imperial administration and broadened
    international horizons. Some estimates suggest that literacy rose to
    around 20 per cent - perhaps the highest in the medieval world.

    An unplanned result of this high level of education was an increase
    in intellectual dissidence. One of the greatest Indian religious
    thinkers - the 11th-century philosopher Ramanuja - was a product of
    the Chola empire, although he was ultimately expelled for his views.
    In many ways, he can be seen as the founder of Hindu monotheism with
    his belief in a
    unitary personal god, the ultimate font of love and compassion.

    In the 12th century there flourished an even more dissident
    religious movement. The Lingayats professed a sort of cynical
    humanism which questioned the very fundamentals of religion - the
    authority of India's holy books, the Vedas (the equivalent of the
    Bible), and reincarnation itself. Socially, they were also radical,
    challenging the taboo on widows re-marrying, and condemning child
    marriages. This dissident movement derived much support from the
    lower castes.

    The empire also increased the importance and institutionalisation of
    local government. Each group of five to 10 villages had an elected
    district council, which in turn had endless sub-committees dealing
    with everything from land rights to irrigation, law and order to
    food storage. Every household in a district had the right to vote -
    and the councils enjoyed considerable power. The Chola emperors
    encouraged their development, probably as a counter-balance to the
  • Very good article... only truth is written. How
    beautiful and regretful the truth is!!

  • Dear SPS
    I will make enquiries and get in touch with him

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