Karikala Chola who built Kallanai a contemporary of Adi Shankara - I
by Jayasree Saranathan on 16 Nov 2023 16 Comments

The quest for establishing the date of Adi Shankara brings up an interesting information that a Chola king by name ‘Rajasena’ helped Adi Shankara in setting up three temples and in re-modelling Kanchipuram into two parts – as Shiva Kanchi and Vishnu Kanchi. Even today these names exist with an additional identity as Big Kanchi for Shiva Kanchi and Small Kanchi for Vishnu Kanchi. Shiva temples are concentrated in Shiva Kanchi while Vishnu Kanchi is dominated by Vishnu temples, but the king’s name ending with ‘Sena’ is not heard of in the Chola genealogy.


The life history of Adi Shankara given in a text named, ‘Shankara Vijaya Vilasa’ talks about the service of this Chola king in developing these towns and temples at the behest of Adi Shankara from verses 6 to 61 in chapter 25. Rajasena as the name of a Chola king doesn’t appear in any Tamil sources but this name appears with a variation in the Bhashya (commentary) to Chandogya Upanishad by Adi Shankara where he refers to ‘Rajavarman’ – a king who brings rewards equal to kingship. Rajasena being his contemporary, it makes us wonder whether Adi Shankara mentioned Rajasena as Rajavarman.


Checking the authenticity of this text, this book is indeed the lesser known among the many hagiographies of Adi Shankara. Only four manuscripts of this book were found in different parts of Bharat. The earliest to appear in print was published by Vavillu Ramasami Sastri in 1876 at Madras. All the four manuscripts were compared and found to have less variations. The text is in the form of a narration of Adi Shankara’s life history by one CidVilasa Yati (who learned it from his Guru) to his disciple, Vijnanakanda. It is not possible to find out the date of this composition, but scholars are of the opinion that it follows Brihat Shankara Vijaya by Citsukha, the first disciple of Adi Shankara. There are however others who deny the very existence of Citsukha!


This text cannot be ignored because it talks about six kings from different parts of Bharat as contemporaneous to Adi Shankara of whom the Chola King at Kanchi appears traceable with Kanchi having more than 2000 years of history, recorded in literature (Tamil Sangam texts) and inscriptions. The other kings were Bhadrasena of Rudrakhya  Nagar near Prayag, Virasena near the bank of Thungabhadra and Shringeri Mutt, Bhojasingh of Cidambar, Ratnasingh of Badari and Ramaraja of Anantasayana.


The information pertaining to Rajasena, the Chola king, is related to developing Kanchi on the advice of Adi Shankara. Though I could get the exact date of Adi Shankara’s birth based on the Panchanga features given by many hagiographies, I wanted to find out the identity of this Chola king independently so that it would become a cross reference in support of the date of Adi Shankara which I will be sharing in another article.


About Rajasena in the text


The text says that Adi Shankara came to Kanchi from Shringeri after giving consent for setting up a Mutt in Shringeri. On coming to Kanchi, he worshipped Ekambranatha, Kamakshi and Varadaraja. This shows that temples for these deities existed during his time.


Sometime during his stay, the Chola king, Rajasena came to meet him. Adi Shankara told him to develop Kanchi by making it two-told with Shiva and Vishnu, instead of the threefold division of Shiva, Shakti and Vishnu. Taking his advice, the king modelled the city as Shiva Kanchi and Vishnu Kanchi and built temples for Ekambranatha, Kamakshi and Varadaraja. The building of these temples by Rajasena implies that these deities worshipped by Adi Shankara when he came to Kanchi were not housed in proper temples. Only Rajasena constructed these temples.


It is also written that when Adi Shankara came, Kamakshi Devi was in Ugra form. She was residing in a bila (hole / cave) and often tormented the people. Adi Shankara pacified her by establishing a Sri Yantra. Adi Shankara asked the Chola king to make a golden image of Goddess Kamakshi and install it in front of the hole. He also got the king to build a mutt for him. The King was asked by Sureshwara, a disciple of Adi Shankara, to make a Sarvajna-pitha, (throne of omniscience) made of gold and decorated with precious stones and adorned with steps. The king obliged and made the throne on which Adi Shankara ascended.


With only these details about this Chola king, we must find out who he was.


Rajasena was pre-Pallava


In the opinion of many, Adi Shankara lived in the 7th or 8th century CE. The three main temples of Kanchi (Ekambranatha, Kamakshi and Varadaraja) were already well-developed by those centuries. Kanchi was under the control of the Pallava-s until the 9th century when Aditya-I, son of Vijayalaya, defeated the Pallava-s. Placing Rajasena and Adi Shankara at or after the 9th century in post-Vijayalaya period is not appropriate, because Kanchi was well developed by then. 


The only other time the Chola-s were in control of Kanchi was sometime before the 3rd century CE. As per Pallava chronicles given in Velurpalayam plates, Kumaravishnu captured Kanchi from the Chola-s. (Verse 8)


Earlier, his father, Skandasishya snatched the Ghatika of Kanchi from Satyasena! (verse 7) The name Satyasena in the inscription shows that having ‘Sena’ as suffix was not uncommon among the Chola kings. A search for the Chola suffixes shows that their names in Tamil mostly ended with Killi and Senni as well. But ‘sena’ being a Sanskrit word, it could have been in use in the Sanskrit names of the Chola kings. Most Chola kings had a titular name in Sanskrit while they also had a Tamil name by which they were commonly known. For example, Rajaraja was the titular name in Sanskrit for Arulmozhivarman in Tamil.


Among the Chola suffixes, Senni sounds closer to Sena. As per Sendhan Divakara Nighantu (Tamil Thesaurus, Verse 14) the following are the titles of the Chola kings. The list begins with Senni.

“Senni, Valavan, Killi, Sembiyan, Ponni-thuraivan, Pulikkodi-puravalan, Arththarkon, Nerirai, Abhayan, Neri verpan, Kozhi vendhan, Suriyan, Punal Nadan, Kochozhan peyare”


Senni seems to be a variation of Senani, the Sanskrit word for Chief or Commander of the army. Senani might have become Sena in the Sanskrit title and Senni in the Tamil title. Karikala was known as ‘Senni Karikala’ in Kulottunga Cholan Ula penned by Ottakuththar.


There is a likelihood that his Sanskrit title could have had Sena as suffix. In fact, no one knows the original name of Karikala Chola. The name Karikala was not his original name as revealed by Tiruvalangadu plates which state that he was Kala for Kali. Therefore, he was Karikala or Kalikala. Senni Karikala was his titular name. Karikala’s father was also a Senni – Uruva pahrer Ilamset Senni. He was the younger brother of one Set Senni who was also addressed as Nalam Killi who ruled from Pumpukar as per Purananuru verse 225. So, Senni looks like a variation of Sena. With this title seen in early Chola names, there is scope to say that Rajasena was a pre-Common Era king of the Chola kingdom who had a hold over Kanchi too.


Golden walled Kanchi


Even as early as 78 CE when the Salivahana Saka started, the Chola-s were in control of Kanchi, for, we read about Ilam Killi ruling Kanchi when Manimekalai went over there. Perum Killi was ruling from Uraiyur during Kannagi’s period, as per Silappadhikaram.


We also read in Manimekalai that Kanchi was a walled city with the walls plated with gold and the city itself known as golden. In the 28th chapter of Manimekalai, Masatthuvan, the father of Kovalan, was found to be telling his granddaughter, Manimekalai, that Kanchi had golden walls. (line 156) Once again it is said in the same chapter, ‘golden city’ (line 168) and ‘the ancient walled city with golden flag’ (line 170). The city was a ‘popular ancient city’ (line 237).


The city already well-made with golden walls in the 1st century CE (as per Manimekalai) is proof of its development in the pre-Common Era. There is epigraphic evidence on who made it golden! It was Karikala Chola!


The 42nd verse of the Tiruvalangadu copper plates states,

“In this (king’s) family was born he, the leader of all the lords of the earth, the foremost of the great on account of his virtues, the king who renovated (the town of) Kanchi with gold, who had established his glorious fame by constructing embankments of the Kaveri and whom (people) called Kalikala because (he) was (the god of) death to the elephants (kari) (of his enemies) as also to the Kali (-age).”


The exact verse in Sanskrit stating that Karikala modernized Kanchi with gold is as follows:

“Kanchim yashva navicakara kanakais: sobhudamushyan vaye”


There is no way to claim that someone before Karikala could have made the changes in Kanchi because only one king appears in the genealogy before Karikala in Kali Yuga, and he was Perunar Killi. Tiruvalangadu inscriptions offer unique information on Yuga-s in minor scale which can be called Dharma Yuga. It says that after the end of Dvapara Yuga, Perunar Killi ruled the Chola domains, followed by Karikala. This doesn’t mean that there were not many kings before Karikala. There is evidence of several Killi-s during and before Karikala in the Sangam text of Purananuru, but only Karikala and Perunar Killi seemed to have stood out as exceptions, when compared with others.


The reference to the end of Dvapara Yuga before Perunar Killi shows that they referred to the ushering in of the Kali Dharma Yuga with the beginning of the Nanda dynasty as told in Srimad Bhagavatam (12-2-32). The year was 575 BCE, calculated on the basis of the Kali year of 2526 given in a similar verse in Brihat Samhita (13-3). Following the beginning of Kali Dharma Yuga in 575 BCE Perunar Killi, Karikala and Kocchenganan were mentioned in the Tiruvalangadu inscription before Vijayalaya.


The Laden plates recognize Karikala as one of the earliest kings coming after the much olden Vyaghraketu (verse11) thereby making him a notable early king. This inscription doesn’t mention Perunar Killi.


The Anbil Plates of Sundara Chola also place Karikala after the first Chola who lent his name to the dynasty, thereby according Karikala an important place in the lineage of the early period. The Anbil Plates specifically state that it was a family of “kings beginning with Senni, Killi and (kings) likewise beginning with Karikala.”


The Anbil Plates further mention the names of the descendants of Karikala as Kocchenganan, Nallatikkon, Valabha and Srikantha coming before Vijayalaya. None of them was linked with Kanchi, except Karikala. Karikala seems to be the only Chola King to have made the golden wall around the city that is mentioned in Manimekalai of the latter part of the 1st century CE.


Karikala Chola is associated with building the wall around Kanchi in Sekkilar’s Periya Puranam. Verse 85 of Tirukkuripputh thondar Puranam states that Karikala Chola who engraved his tiger emblem on the Himalayas was a king of the Kali yuga who created mountain-like walls around the city of Kanchi for a circumference of 4 Khadam (yojana) and brought people to settle there. It also says that he was asked to do this by a ‘hunter’ who went before him! The reference to a hunter leading the way and showing the spot was common in olden days when a king was on an expedition or moving through forested areas. A group of people used to visit the route taken by the king to clear the path. In this case, a hunter who was familiar with the region helped the royal team to identify habitable regions of Kanchi.


The initial demarcation of the city of Kanchi was done by Karikala Chola by building a wall around Kanchi, as per the verse of Periya Puranam. Further re-modelling with gold was done on the advice of Adi Shankara. The specific title of Senni to Karikala raises a doubt on whether he was Rajasena of Adi Shankara period. 


(To be continued…) 

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