There is only one Raja – and that’s Raja Raja, but is this he?

There are few persona who can create such an sense of awe among history lovers, and in that select brand there are fewer still who inspire a sense of belonging amongst his followers a thousand year hence. The supreme among this select band is our very own Raja Raja Cholar – A King, who continues to live on in his mighty creations and in the hearts of his followers. Its a dream for us, to be able to envision him in flesh and blood, even though Kalki, in his immortal work Ponniyin Selvan strung together such a beautiful garland of words to go with Artist Maniam’s sketches, the quest to find an accurate and authentic version of his portrait or sculpture lingers on. There have been many claimants, for the Karuvur Thevar and Raja Raja Cholar painting in the big temple fresco, to the current hot topic of the Bronze in the Sarabai Museum. While in the pursuit of such, i chanced on an interesting research paper: The Problem of Portraiture in South India, Circa 970-1000 A.D.,Author(s): Padma Kaimal

There was a small reference to an inscribed miniature sculpture but the title got me all excited – for it reads.( well this is not the actual inscription in the temple but a simple Meikeerthi of him)

Inscribed portraits of Rajaraja Chola and his chief queen Lokamahadevi. South wall of the mahamandapa, Sivayoganatha temple, Tiruvisalur.

This led to a frantic search for a good photograph of the said sculpture and a further search for the connected inscription.

On the Sivayoganatha temple at Tiruvisalur, an inscription below two relief figures identifies them as representations of Rajaraja and his queen Lokamahadevi, and notes that the king and queen performed rituals at this temple, and that the queen endowed it with 458 kasu of gold.”

Thanks to our contributor Sri Lakshmi Narayanan of Kumbakonam, ( he has an excellent collection of dilapidated temples desperately needing attention at , who immediately undertook the trip and got us the sculpture photograph.

I know you are already jumping, but first a word of caution.Tiruvisalur has an ancient temple which goes back to the days of Aditya I. The reference to inscribed portraits is unclear, the inscription, albeit a very interesting one, talks of a very interesting ritual – the Hiranyagarba ceremony – where one passes through the womb of a golden cow, to stop the process of rebirth and be one with God from this birth, was performed by Raja Raja here at Tiruvisalur. ( thanks to note from Arvind – a copy of this inscription is also found in the temple in Thiruvaalanchuli ). Its also important to note here that this is in his last year of reign -ie 29th Year of reign ( 1014 CE).

Lets take a look at the actual inscription.

No.42 (Page No 20)

(A. R. No. 42 of. 1907)

Tiruvisalur, Kumbhakonam Taluk, Tanjavur District

Sivayoganatha temple— on the same wall

Rajaraja I : year 29 : 1013-14 A.D.

A slight deviation is found in the historical introduction in that it adds the “Twelve Thousand Islands” to the usual list of the king’s conquests. The reference is evidently to the Maldives which are said to have been known by that name in ancient tradition, and which the king should have conquered late in his reign. (Prof. K.A.N. Sastri’s The Colas’. Vol. I, p.220).

The inscription registers an agreement given by the mahasabha of vemgarrur alias Solamattanda-chaturvedimangalam a Brahmadeya in Manni-nadu, to the temple of Tiruvisalur-Mahadeva. A sum of 458 kasu was endowment to the temple and deposited with the assembly by queen Dantisaktivitankiyar alias lokamahadeviyar on the occasion of the performance of tulabhara by the king and of hiranyagarbha by herself in the temple. As interest on this amount they undertook to measure out annually 229 kalam of paddy at the rate of 1 tuni and 1 padakku on every kasu per year, and with this paddy the ur-variyam and kudumbu committees of the year were to meet the daily requirements of akkaradalai offering to the god, of which the details are given as follows:

Items required Equivalent in paddy

Rice – 2 nali … … One kurini and 2 nali

Tupparuppu(dol)—1 nali … …. 5 nali

Cow’s milk – 4 nali …. ….. ….. 1 padakku

Ghee –1 ulakku … …. ….. 1 kuruni

Sugar – 12 ½ palam … …. …. 1 kuruni and 2 nali

Plantain fruits –20 (?) …. …. ….. 6 nali

Arecanut … 10}

Betel leaves … 40} …. ….. …. 2 nali and 1 nali

Earthen pot …. …., …. 1 nali, 1 uri and 2 ¾ sevidu

Firewood …. …. ….. 1 nali
Remuneration to person preparing the offering … 1 nali

Now for the sculpture

Let us study the characters in more detail

The temple per say doesn’t have many sculptures or panels. This is maybe one of the three that are there apart from the main deities. So we can take it that they are no ordinary souls – usually a portrait sculpture is reserved for someone who has done major donation for the temple. So its evidently a royal couple of some importance. The man is definitely not young, but the lady appears a bit younger but no way a teenager, but is depicted with a radiant face, standing there ( most royal portraits show other Kings in a seated position), both are shown praying in total devotion. The man is depicted slightly short stature by normal iconographic measures, slightly rounder. He wears his hair with a top knot but not head gear, his ears are long and again with no ornaments. He wears a Kilt like dress. Is he a King – we cannot spot any special ornaments like the Veerakkazhal ( anklet on either feet – the royal anklet). The Lady does wear a necklace, some light jewelery on her head and elaborate clothing, but is also matching her Lord in her humble prayers. Why show an important donor, who wears no ornamentation, while his wife is wearing. The point to note here is in his closing years Raja Raja took the name Siva Padha Sekhara ( shining at the resplendent feet of shiva) and hence is considered to have lived almost a saintly life. So is the man the Great King in his final years as Siva Padha Sekhara ?

The object of worship however is very simple.

A simple Shiva Linga, which is adorned with a garland of flowers, a conch is also placed before the Linga in front of the worshipers to maybe indicate that they have just performed an abhisekam using the conch and are standing.

So, if we are to tag this Portrait sculpture to the cited inscription, and the circumstantial iconographical evidences, it does show a strong cause to believe that this is indeed He and his Pattamahishi.

A note for history lovers and lovers of historic fiction – Rajendra’s mother was different from this queen. She was Vanavanmadevi ( or Vanathi for ponniyin selvan enthusiasts ) as we have inscriptions which state ” vanavanmadevi tiruvayir uditha rajendra” – meaning rajendra born from vanavanmadevi. The Queen who took the throne along with Raja Raja was Danti Sakthi Vitanki or Lokamadevi.

Now, i leave it for the experts to take this forward.

29 thoughts on “There is only one Raja – and that’s Raja Raja, but is this he?

  1. For the first time I am seeing this inscribed sculpture and I was not aware that such a thing was in existence, thanks a lot for taking this out to the attention of art lovers. The next step would be to compare this with bronze and other so called sculptures of Raja Raja, though it would be not an easy task however might be interesting, what do you say?

  2. Two things Vijay:

    The inscription mentioned in the year that is last part of RRC life. He might have asked / ordered the sculptor to do exactly how he looked like. As he had already been initiated into Dheeksha, there were no necessary to show him as a crowned Emperor. May be, in later years Kulottunga-2 (?!) also followed this in CDM Temple.

    2. This particular matter would have gone into the scholars thought already. There are plenty of scholars who breath on RRC. How they have kept quiet so far.

    But these type of sculptures have so far not come out to outsiders. We have to bring more such from every places.

  3. மிகவும் அருமை. உண்மை தான், நாம் அனைவரும் நம் மனங்கவர்ந்த மாமன்னர் ராஜராஜசோழர் எப்படியிருப்பார் என்பதை அறிய மிக ஆவலாக உள்ளோம்

  4. very good work it is not new to find kig&queen shown worshipping THE LORD to whom they made some kaanikkai in koneri raja puram temple completely renovated by sebianmaaadevi i h nmeee ofhusbbn kandirathiya both r shwn worshppinnng the king is much mooore sparsely dressed so also the queen who is wearing less jewells suited to the occasion no harm in taking him as RRC till we find more eidence good work

  5. We can see Raja raja (The supreme emperor of south India) in two places and in both the places he is so humble!!! Hail Raja raja. (hasnt he posed like a warrior anywhere)?

  6. THE great king with simple thiruvaalankadu(near AAduthurai) Siva padakesari (wearing siva’s sandle in head)is with beard and moustache like saint.He is kulothunan 2 i think.

  7. thanks for the awesome post vijay…
    i remember hearing in our south indian architecture class that from 1012 – 1014 that Rajendra and Raja Raja ruled together. Could be one more reason for his simple attire?

    • hi rhoda, co ruling doesn’t necessarily mean that. but its interesting to know that Rajendra appointed his son Rajadhiraja as co regent pretty early into his rule 1018 ( co ruled till 1044) – maybe he didnt want his son to wait in the wings for as long as he did !!


  8. Excellent detective work. in Tanjore this weekend and will try and look this up, how far away from kumbakonam is it?

    Vijay, what does SRB say about this temple in his books?

  9. posting a wonderful comment for Ms. Pankaja as we had a few exchanges on this:

    By the way, about this possible portrait sculpture of Rajaraja Chola, Raja taught me that when a lingam is depicted decorated with a wreath in the way seen in the sculpture of the donor-couple it is specifically a mala of vilva leaves, not a flower mala. This is also often seen in the sphinx-purushamriga reliefs. And a question, is there a clear connection between the inscription you mention and this relief of the donor couple? Where is this relief situated on the shrine? And who constructed this particular shrine? It is clearly an early Chola shrine. I also can’t make out from the photos (I have also checked the other photos in the Picasa album of your friend) where and how is it inserted in the wall? If it is original with the rest of the construction it is more likely to be the donor who build this particular shrine, or the part of the shrine where this relief is found, don’t you think? If this is known (I will also check our own references about this) it may very well be a Chola king, possibly Rajaraja. Anyway it is definitely a portrait sculpture of a donor, most likely (from the stone color etc) contemporeneous with the construction. The other small relief probably represents a human also, maybe? Do you know anything about the sthala purana of this temple?

  10. can you email a clear photograph of the inscription No.42 (Page No 20) (A. R. No. 42 of. 1907) i have tried the link but its dead. I am interested in the conquest of twelve thousand island, which many scholars agree as maldives..

  11. hi editor !, do you know to read tamil – the ref is முந்நீர் பழந்தீவு பன்னீரா யிரமும்.

    you can see most of the main Meikeerthi’s – prasithi’s here. RRC’s is in pg 36 of the pdf file.

    a short version would be as under

    ஸ்வஸ்தி ஸ்ரீ

    திருமகள் போலப் பெருநிலச் செல்வியும்

    தனக்கே (தநக்கே) உரிமை பூண்டமை மனக்கொளக்
    காந்தளூர்ச் சாலை கலமறுத் தருளி
    வேங்கை (வெங்கை) நாடும் கங்க பாடியும்
    நுளம்ப பாடியும் தடிகை பாடியும்
    குடமலை நாடும் கொல்லமும் கலிங்கமும்
    முரட்டொழில் சிங்களை ஈழமண்டலமும்
    இரட்ட பாடி ஏழரை இலக்கமும்
    முந்நீர் பழந்தீவு பன்னீரா யிரமும்
    திண்திறல் வென்றித் தண்டாற் கொண்ட தன்
    எழில்வளர் ஊழியுள் எல்லா யாண்டும் தொழுதகை விளங்கும் யாண்டே
    செழியரைத் தேசுகொள் ஸ்ரீ கோவி ராஜ கேசரி வன்ம ரான ஸ்ரீ இராசராச தேவர்க்கு யாண்டு

    • ஜெகதீஸ்வரன், நமது கலைச்செல்வங்களை அனைவர் பார்வைக்கும் எடுத்துச் செல்வதே எங்கள் நோக்கம். இரு மொழி அதற்க்கு பெரும் உதவி. விஜய்

  12. Dear VJ. I just have a doubt and kindly clarify me about the sculpture you have mentioned in Tiruvisalur temple. The no. of inscriptions obtained from Tiruvisalur is 94 starting from the period of Varaguna. The no. of Chola kings in this temple’s inscriptions are 12, Pandia 1 and Krishnadevaraya the last. How do you identify the figure is RRC. Kindly clarify, please. Dont mistake me for raising question and requesting clarification.

    • Dear Vishwaksenan Sir,

      Firstly it is not my identification, but those of the scholars mentioned in the post. Secondly, the inscriptional reference is to show that there was definitely a large ceremony performed by the Emperor and hence he would have been closely associated with the functioning of the temple. The aspects of the portrait sculpture can also be compared to those identified with his depiction in the Big temple Fresco Paintings – in particular the scan ornaments and hair style


  13. அரிய தகவல்கள், நன்றி

    திருவிசாலூர் தவறு;
    திருவிச நல்லூர், திருவிசலூர் –

    தேவாரப் பாடல் உள்ளதா தெரியவில்லை;
    ஷாஹாஜி ராஜபுரம் என்ற பெயரும் முன்பு இதற்கு உண்டு


  14. Dear VJ could you give your E-Mail addres ssent to my E-mail address given herein to send you two photos received from Mr P.L. Raja of Brownringpet closer to Kolar in Karnataka which is claimed to be that of Rajendra Cholan. found in a chola temple of that region This is for your study & comments

  15. Dear VJ – Do your have photos of Rajendra Cholan ?? and Cholamadevi Bronze Icons said to be seen at Kalahasti temple with inscriptions on them. If so could you very kindly send scanned images of same to my E-Mail address
    [email protected] Thanka
    Further “your view” that the Chola Painting on Thanjavur Rajarajeswarem temple and not that of Karuvur Thevar & that of Rajaraja is food for thought. Could it be that of Rajaraja and Rajendra or that of Esana Siva Pandithar Guru of Rajendra Chola together with Rajendra Chola – Your very kind views to my E-Mail please – Virarajendra

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