Who was Raja Raja Chola, the king whose religious identity has stoked a controversy?


A fresh controversy erupted after national award-winning filmmaker Vetrimaaran questioned the portrayal of Raja Raja Chola as a Hindu king.

His comments came in the wake of the release of Mani Ratnam’s movie Ponniyin Selvan: 1, which is based on Kalki Krishnamurthy’s historical fiction novel on the Chola empire.

As per ThePrint, speaking at an event, the Asuran director said, “Our identities are being taken from us, such as dressing Thiruvalluvar’s image in saffron or depicting Rajaraja Chola as a Hindu king. It has been happening constantly. This will happen in cinema, too. In cinema too, many identities are already being taken away. We must save these identities.”

He also implied that Cholas were Shaivites, and Hinduism did not exist during that time, reports Deccan Herald.

His remarks snowballed and soon created a row with actor-politician Kamal Haasan and several Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders joining the debate.

What have Kamal Haasan and other politicians said on the row? Who was Raja Raja Chola, the king whose religious identity is at the centre of the storm? Let’s decode the topic.

ALSO READ: The legacy of the 1950s Tamil novel ‘Ponniyin Selvan’ on which Mani Ratnam’s epic is based

‘No Hindu religion during Chola period’

Vikram actor Kamal Haasan backed director Vetrimaaran’s remarks, saying there was no ‘Hindu religion’ during Raja Raja Chola’s period.

“There was no name called ‘Hindu religion’ during Raja Raja Chola’s period. There was Vainavam, Saivam and Samanam, and it was the British who coined the term Hindu since they didn’t know how to refer to it collectively. It is similar to how they changed Thuthukudi into Tuticorin,” he was quoted as saying by NDTV.

BJP leaders object

Dismissing Vetrimaaran’s claim, BJP leader H Raja claimed that Raja Raja Chola was indeed a Hindu king.

“I am not well versed with history like Vetrimaaran, but let him point out two churches and mosques built by Raja Raja Chola. He called himself Sivapadha Sekaran. Wasn’t he a Hindu then?” he asked.

Raja Raja Chola in Ponniyin Selvan: 1

Hitting out at the director, Telangana Governor and former Tamil Nadu BJP president Tamilisai Soundararajan said there was an attempt to hide the “identity of Hindu cultural icons”.

Further, she said the idea of worship is “ingrained in Tamils and Saivam and Vainavam are both identities of Hindus”.

“Hindu is a cultural identity and you cannot interpret it the way you want. Tamils are religious by nature. Saivam and Vainavam are identities of Hindu religions and there is no second opinion on that,” the Telangana governor was quoted as saying by Deccan Herald.

Researcher reacts

Chennai-based researcher on cultural history S Jayakumar, who worked on Ponniyin Selvan: 1, told ThePrint that “whether we like it or not, Rajaraja Chola was a Hindu.”

“He [Rajaraja Chola] might have not used the word. It may not be used in the context as we use it today but by practice, by belief, by the temples they patronised, they were Hindus, there is no denying that,” the researcher added.

Who was Raja Raja Chola?

The ‘king of the kings’, Raja Raja Chola, ruled southern India from 985 CE -1014 CE.

Born as Rajakesari Arulmozhi Varman to Paramtaka II (also known as Sundara Cholan) and Vanavan Madevi, Raja Raja Chola ascended the throne in 985 CE.

The Chola empire was spread from present-day Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and areas of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.

Possessing a strong army, the ‘able’ administrator expanded his empire by conquering Kerala (the Chera country).

The might of his navy was witnessed when the force captured the Maldives and northern Sri Lanka.

Raja Raja Chola also battled Chalukyas in the north and the Pandyas in the south.

The colossal Brihadeeswarar temple (Peruvudaiyar Kovil) in Tamil Nadu’s Thanjavur, dedicated to Lord Shiva, was built by Raja Raja Chola.

Brihadeeswarar Temple

The architectural masterpiece is also known as RajaRajeswara temple and Peruvudayar temple.

The construction of grand temples was “ramped up in an unprecedented way” by the Cholas, historian Anirudh Kanisetti told Indian Express.

“Raja Raja Cholan was more cosmopolitan in outlook and secular too. He had raised temples for Lord Shiva, Ganesh and Vishnu during his reign and liberally granted funds to those who sought for the construction of Jain or Buddhist temples,” P Venkatesan, former director of Epigraphy, Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), told PTI.

During his reign, Raja Raja launched a project of a land survey, where he reorganised his empire into units known as valanadus, as per Economic Times.

He acquired other regions including Gangapadi, Nulambapadi, Tadigaipadi,(present-day Karnataka), as per the Grand Cholan website.

According to the website, Raja Raja Chola was the first Tamil king to keep an official record of all the prominent events of his rule and his achievements.

He was the first to bag the title of ‘Mummudi Chola Deva‘ (for donning three crowns of Chola, Chera and Pandya), notes the website.

With inputs from agencies

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Who was Raja Raja Chola, the king whose religious identity has stoked a controversy?
Who was Raja Raja Chola, the king whose religious identity has stoked a controversy?
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