Chola literature, written in Tamil, is the literature created before
5000 years and it was proved by world archaeological facts. It is one
of the oldest language in the world. The age of the imperial Cholas
was the most creative epoch of the history of South India and was the
Golden Age of Tamil culture.
With the revival of Chola power in the middle of the 9th century, the
avenues for the literature and art broadened. For the first time in
history, an imperial state encompassed the entire South India bringing
with it the safety and security to the people and provided the
opportunity for the people to experience cultures beyond their own.
Tamil became a language of the people.
The literature during this period may be classified into religious,
secular and political.
1 Religious literature
2 Secular literature
3 Political literature
4 Lost works
During the imperial Chola period the Prabhanda became the dominant
form of poetry. The religious canons of Saiva and
Vaishnava sects were
beginning to be systematically collected and categorised. The Cholas
built numerous temples, mainly for their favourite god Shiva, and
these were celebrated in numerous hymns.
Nambi Andar Nambi, who was a contemporary of Rajaraja Chola I,
collected and arranged the books on Saivism into eleven books called
Tirumurais. One of these include a short poem by Gandaraditya, who was
a Chola king during the early tenth century. The hagiology of Saivism
was standardised in
Periyapuranam (also known as Tiruttondar Puranam)
by Sekkilar, who lived during the reign of
Kulothunga Chola II
Kulothunga Chola II (1133
– 1150 CE). Sekkilar opus became the twelfth book in the Saiva
Religious books on the
Vaishnava sect were mostly composed in Sanskrit
during this period. The great
Ramanuja lived during
this period. Perhaps due to the animosity of the later Cholas towards
the Vaishavites, there was no much literary activity in Tamil from
One of the best known Tamil works of this period is the Ramavatharam
by Kamban who flourished during the reign of Kulottunga III.
Ramavatharam is the greatest epic in Tamil Literature, and although
the author states that he followed Valmiki, his work is not a mere
translation or even an adaptation of the
Sanskrit epic. Kamban imports
into his narration the colour and landscape of his own time. His
description of Kosala is an idealised account of the features of the
Of the books on the
Buddhist and the
Jain faiths, the most noteworthy
Jivaka-chintamani by the
Jain ascetic Thirutakkadevar composed
in the tenth century. This is the story of Jivaka, who was equally
distinguished in war and peace, and tells the story of his youth
during which he indulges in excesses and at his prime realises the
hollowness of his existence and renounces everything to become a Jain
There were a number of books written on Tamil grammar. Yapperungalam
and Yapperungalakkarigai were two works on prosody by the
Amirtasagara. Buddamitra wrote Virasoliyam, another work on Tamil
grammar, during the reign of Virarajendra Chola. Virasoliyam attempts
to find synthesis between
Sanskrit and Tamil grammar. Other
grammatical works of this period are Nannul by Pavanandi, Vaccanandi
Malai by Neminatha, and the annotations on Purananuru, Purapporun
Venbamalai by Aiyanaridanar.
Of the works of a political nature, we find the poetic works on
various Chola kings. Jayamkondar wrote Kalingattupparani, a
semi-historical account on the two invasion of Kalinga by Kulothunga
Chola I. Jayamkondar was a poet-laureate in the Chola court and his
work is a fine example of the balance between fact and fiction the
poets had to tread. Ottakuttan, a close contemporary of Kambar, wrote
three Ulas on Vikrama Chola,
Kulothunga Chola II
Kulothunga Chola II and Rajaraja Chola II
Chola inscription mention the names of some of the literature which
are currently not available to us. They were once considered worthy of
public recognition, as the authors of these inscriptions assumed the
readers would know them by the mere mention of their names. Of these
are two works on Rajaraja Chola I, Rajararajesvara natakam and
Rajararaja Vijayam. The former of this was a play and was enacted at
Brihadisvara Temple in Thanjavur. From the context in the
inscriptions we learn that this was not a play on the life of the
great king, but on the building of the temple.
There was a book on
Kulothunga Chola I
Kulothunga Chola I called Kulothunga Chola
Charitai by Thirunarayana Bhatta. A certain Kamalalaya Bhatta wrote
Kannivana Puranam and Pum Puliyur Natakam, works of a popular nature.
The poet was awarded some tax free gifts for his works.
It is indeed a tragedy that we are unable to trace these lost works.
This is true of most of the extant literature in India, which have
been preserved more by chance and accident than by deliberate act of
Nilakanta Sastri, K.A. (1935). The CōĻas, University of Madras,
Madras (Reprinted 1984).
Nilakanta Sastri, K.A. (1955). A History of South India, OUP, New