Thursday, 7 January 2016

The Meaning of Chola

Picture Credit Nara 

Among the various empires of South India, it is perhaps the Cholas who were the most popular. The Cholas were known since the days of Ramayana. Together with the Pandyas and Cheras, they are part of the oldest dynasties which formed the trinity in the Tamil land.

According to inscriptions, Chola was also written as Sora or Chora. The plural form being Sorar or Chorar. In Telugu, R is replaced with D, hence they are known as Choda.

Indian History, 26th edition by V.K Agnihotri (Chief Editor)

There was a branch of Cholas in Andhra. This is a result of intermarriage between the Cholas and the feudal families in Guntur which happened during the time of Karikala Chola. So that family remained there as Telugu Chodas. There are many references to them in Andhra.

The Mauryan emperor Ashoka mentioned the Cholas as Choda in his rock edicts. The Greek writer, Ptolemy called them Sorai in his book about India. Sorai is a corruption of Sorar.

The word Chola has no meaning in Tamil but the word Chora has its meaning.

Research proves that the Cholas were famous for their plundering activities.
Tamil dictionary shows that Chorar (Tirudar) or Choram (Kalavu) are old Tamil words used to describe stealing and plundering. Source: A manual Dictionary of the Tamil language; publ. by the Jaffna-book society

The 7th song from Purananuru written in the 1st century BC shows that the Chola warfare includes plundering.

புறநானூறு பாடல் 7

களிறு கடைஇயதாள் 
கழலுரீஇய திருந்தடிக் 
கணைபொருது கவிவண்கையாற் 
கண்ணொளிர்வரூஉங் கவின்சாபத்து 
மாமறுத்த மலர்மார்பின் 5 

தோல்பெயரிய வெறுழ்முன்பின் 
எல்லையு மிரவு மெண்ணாய் பகைவர் 
ஊர்சுடு விளக்கத் தழுவிளிக் கம்பலைக் 
கொள்ளை மேவலை யாகலின் நல்ல 
இல்லவா குபவா லியல்தேர் வளவ 10 

தண்புனல் பரந்த பூசன் மண்மறுத்து 
மீனிற் செறுக்கும் யாணர்ப் 
பயன்றிகழ் வைப்பிற்பிற ரகன்றலை நாடே


by George L. III Hart

Pressing him with your legs, you manage an elephant. 
Your fine ankles seem smooth, the leg rings worn flat. 
Your bow is so beautiful that it dazzles the eyes 
as it rests in your hand curved to draw and release 
your arrows in battle. Your chest is so broad the goddess Sri forsakes 
all others for it! You have the strength to drive back elephants! And whether 
it is night or day matters nothing to your desire 
for plunder and the sound of weeping, as your enemies scream 
for their kin in the light of their blazing cities! O Valavan 
riding your elegant chariot! In the countries of your enemies, nothing 
of value remains throughout the vast spaces where there were cities always 
shining with such fresh wealth they disdained earth 
and used fish to block holes in dams where the cool water poured through, roaring!

The act of stealing, raiding, plunder and ransack are known as Choram, Tiruttu, Kollai and Kalavu in Tamil language. Those who are involved in such acts are known as Tirudar, Kalavar, Kallar and Chorar. Although Tiruttu is commonly used today, it carries a different meaning as today Tiruttu is only confined to theft. 

In ancient times, plundering acts were hereditary and used in military campaigns. This was also popularly used by the Vikings of Europe and the Bugis of Southeast Asia. In Southeast Asia, it was the Bugis Lanuns (pirates) who later became feudal lords and formed the local navy. The British Naval force started off as pirates and they were even sanctioned by their queen to raid Spanish ships. Such things also happened in other parts of the world.

In Tamil Nadu, the Cholas were well known for such activity. It is in their name. According to the Mahabaratha (ref 5.22 and 8.12), Arjuna converted the people of South India to be a portion of his own army. It is also mentioned that the Cholas fought on his side as allies. 

The Chola-Chorar-Kallar connection can be further established if we refer to Peria Azhwar's 4th song in the Nalayiram Divya Prabandham. He wrote this around 785 AD. According to this song, Arjuna had a Kallar batallion known as Kallapadai and this batallion was helped by Krishna in the Mahabaratha war.

Old Tamil books referring to the kings as Soran and not Cholan. Source: Catalogue of the Tamil Books in the Library of the British Musuem edited by L. D. Barnett, G. U. Pope
Inscription referring to Chola king as Sri Kalla Cholan 
Even in the Malay Annals known as Sulalatus Salatin, there is a mention of Raja Suran conquering the Malay peninsular. Again, we see a a corruption of the Tamil word Soran written as Suran which means Chola. Until today, the Malays remember the Cholas as plunderers who destroyed the Srivijaya empire.

Considering the evidence, it is no doubt that the word Chola comes from the word Chorar (Sorar) and it is also known as Kalavar, Kalvar or Kallar. They are known in such way because of their plundering activity. 

- Comments


  1. Great research and testimonials. Great community researcher susan bayly says the same as periyaallvar puram, kallars are well known warriors in tamilnad.

  2. Great research and testimonials. Great community researcher susan bayly says the same as periyaallvar puram, kallars are well known warriors in tamilnad.