Rajendra Chola’s Naval  Expedition to Southeast Asia

Introduction. Under Rajendra Chola (1012-1047) South India experienced a period of imperial expansionism. After his father Rajaraja had already conquered the whole of South India, Sri Lanka and the Maledives, Rajendra subdued the eastern coast of up to Bengal in 1022/23 and launched a naval expedition to Southeast Asia in 1025 conquering the maritime power Srivijaya (present-day Palembang) and its harbour cities on Sumatra and the Malay Peninsula. The possible reasons of this unique Indian naval expedition are still disputed, especially since Srivijaya had sent several friendly missions to the Cholas. Whereas previously it was interpreted either as a kind of maritime Digvijaya (world conquest) or as “politics of plunder” of the Cholas, more recent research emphasizes the economic causes of an increasing competition for the control of the lucrative China trade of the Cholas as the newly emerging South Indian maritime power and   Srivijaya with its hitherto uncontested control of the Straits of Malacca. Details of the “Chola raid of Srivijaya” are known nearly exclusively from the quoted Tanjore inscription of Rajendra of the year 1030/31. It mentions besides Srivijaya and Kadaram (Kedah, Srivjaya’s second capital on the Malay Peninsula) three raided harbours on Sumatra (marked in the text by S), five at the west and east coasts of the Malay Peninsula (MP), one (perhaps) in Central Vietnam (V), one in Burma (B),  and the Nicobar Islands.

(see also AHOI, ch.3, section The Resurgence of the Chola Dynasty)

(quoted from K.A.Nilakants Sastri, The Colas, Madras 1955, pp. 212-213)

[Rajendra Chola] having despatched many ships in the midst of the rolling sea and having caught Sangrāma- vijayottunga-varman, the King of Kadaram [Kedah, Malay Peninsula], together with the elephants in his glorious army, (took) the large heap of treasures, which (that king) had rightfully accumulated; (captured) with noise the (arch called) Vidhyādhara-torana at the ‘war-gate’ of his extensive city; Śrī Vijāya [Palembang] with the ‘jewelled wicket-gate’ adorned with great splendour and the ‘gate of large jewels’; Pannai [east cost of Sumatra] with water in the bathing ghats; the ancient Malaiyur [Jambi, Sumatra] with the strong mountain for its rampart; Māyuridingam [Malay Peninsula] surrounded by the deep sea as by a moat; Ilangāśoka [Langkasuka, Malay Peninsula] undaunted in fierce battles; Māpappālam [near Pegu, Burma] having abundant water as defence; Mevilimbangam [near Ligor, south Thailand] having fine walls as defence; Valaippanduru [perhaps Panduranga, central Vietnam] having Vilappanduru(?); Talaittakkolam [at the Isthmus of Kra, southern Thailand) praised by great men (versed in) the sciences; Mādamālingam [Lamuri, north Sumatra]; Ilāmurideśam [Tambralingam, east coast of Malay Peninsula], whose fierce strength rose in war; Mānakkavāram [Nicobar Islands] in whose extensive flower gardens honey was collected; and Kadāram of fierce strength which was protected by the deep sea.



k. a. nilakanta sastri, m.a.,

Emeritus Professor of Indian History and Archaeology, University of Madras.

Professor of Indology, University of Mysore.

With over 100 illustrations and one in colour.



dra.84 Rājēndra sent a powerful Cōḷa army under the Brahman general Rājarāja Brahma Mahārāja and two other officers Uttama Cōḷa Milāḍuḍaiyān and Uttama Cōḷa-Cōḷakōn; in the hotly contested battle of Kalidiṇḍi in the neighbourhood, of Vēngī all the three Cōḷa commanders laid down their lives, and later Rājarāja built memorial temples dedicated to each of them. But the mission of the Cōḷa army seems to have been successfully accomplished, and we see Rājarāja established on his throne about a.d. 1035.85 But this was by no means the end of Rājarāja’s troubles. Towards the end of Rājēndra’s reign, about 1042, a new ruler, Someśvara I, of Kalyāṇi renewed the aggression, and Rājarāja once again appealed to his Cōḷa uncle and father-in-law; Rājēndra, too old to undertake the task himself, sent his son Rājādhirāja I to deal with the new situation of Vēngī; and once more there was a Cōḷa-Cāḷukya war on two fronts. But before we turn to the details of this struggle with Someśvara, other events must receive attention.

The Kaḍāram campaign,

Rājēndra’s overseas expedition against Kaḍāram is mentioned for the first time in his inscriptions of the fourteenth year.86 While the Tiruvālangāḍu plates dismiss this achievement in a half verse which, merely records that the king conquered Kaṭāha with his powerful troops that had crossed the ocean,87 the Tamil praśasti gives a detailed narrative of the expedition and its course in the following words:88

‘(Who) having despatched many ships in the midst of the rolling sea and having caught Sangrāma-vijayōttunga-varman, the king of Kaḍāram, together with the elephants in his glorious army,89 (took) the large heap of treasures, which (that king) had rightfully accumulated; (captured) with noise the (arch called) Vidyādhara-tōraṇa at the “war-gate” of his extensive city;90 Śrī Vijaya91 with the “jewelled wicket-gate”92 adorned with great splendour and the “gate of large jewels”; Paṇṇai with water in its bathing ghats; the ancient Malaiyūr with the strong mountain for its rampart;93 Māyiruḍingam, surrounded by the deep sea (as) by a moat; Ilangāśōka (i.e., Lankāśōka) undaunted (in) fierce battles; Māpappāḷam having abundant (deep) water as defence; Mēviḷimbangam having fine walls as defence; Vaḷaippandūru having Viḷappandūru (?)94; Talaittakkōlam praised by great men
(versed in) the sciences; Mādamālingam, firm in great and fierce battles; Ilāmuridesam, whose fierce strength rose in war;95 Mānakkavāram, in whose extensive flower gardens honey was collecting;96 and Kaḍāram, of fierce strength, which was protected by the deep sea.’97

Progress in its elucidation.

No clearer measure can be required of the progress made in our knowledge of South Indian history than the difference between what was known of this expedition before and what we make of it now. The text of Rājēndra’s inscription was recovered and published in 189198 by Hultzsch. The larger Leyden grant had been known already for some years, and Hultzsch recognised at once in Sangrāma-vijayōttunga-varman of Rājēndra’s inscription, a successor of Māra-vijayōttunga-varman of Kaṭāha or Kaḍāram of the Leyden grant. But his search for this place extended no further than the southern districts of the Madras Presidency, and strangely enough, as it now appears, he overlooked the facts that Rājēndra’s expedition was a naval war and that the Pāṇḍya country had been conquered and subjected to the Cōḷa sway several years before the date of this expedition; and he identified Kaḍāram with the ‘headquarters of a talluqa of the Rāmnād zamindari in the Madura district.’99 Even as late as 1903, though a great advance had been made by him from his original position, Hultzsch was still far from the mark when he said:100 ‘Of the numerous places which are mentioned in connection with this expedition, Mr. Venkayya has identified two, viz., Nakkavāram and Pappāḷam. The former is the Tamil name of the Nicobar islands,101 and according to the Mahāvamsa (lxxvi, 63) Papphāla was a port in Ramañña, i.e, the Talaing country of Burma. Hence Kaḍāram will have to be looked for in farther India.’ For some years thereafter, Rājēndra’s expedition was held to have been directed against the kingdom of Pegu, and the archaeologists of Burma even announced their discovery of two octagonal granite pillars near Pegu, which were identified by them ‘with the Jayastambha or pillars of victory set up by Rājēndra Cōḷa who overran Pegu in a.d. 1025–27.’102 It was only in 1918 that Coedès brought together in his cogent and lucid paper Le Royaume de Śrī Vijaya103 evidence accumulated along various lines by several years of study on the part of many scholars, discussed fully the identification of the places men-

(quoted from K.A.Nilakants Sastri,The Colas, Madras 1955, pp. 212–213)


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