The time period of Karikala Chola - V
by Jayasree Saranathan on 20 Nov 2023 4 Comments

The date of Karikala Chola can be deduced by two means: (1) By the date of the poets who sang about him and (2) The date of the building of Kallanai. This dating is necessary to cross-check the date of Adi Shankara.


The poets of his period were many and fortunately, they appear along with others in different combinations helping us to establish their time. The foremost that I wish to point out is Nakkirar. In the 141st verse of Agananuru, he talks about Karikala Chola in Idaiyaru – his early location before he became the Chief in Pumpukar. Karikala Chola must have been younger than Nakkirar.


Nakkirar was a poet of the 3rd Tamil Sangam where he inaugurated his commentary on Irayanar Agapporul. That Sangam assembly was presided over by the Pandyan king Ugra Peruvazhuthi. It is presumed Perunar Killi, the predecessor of Karikala Chola (in several inscriptions) attended that assembly, going by the 367th verse of Purananuru in which poetess Auvaiyar praised them for coming together. So, Nakkirar, Perunar Killi, Ugra Peruvazhuthi and Auvaiyar were contemporaries with Karikala Chola, who was sung by Nakkirar. 


Auvaiyar was a close friend of Adiyaman Neduman Anji. Adiyaman Nedumaan Anji belonged to Satyaputra-s mentioned in Ashokan edicts. But the specific name Adiyaman Neduman Anji appears in a Brahmi inscription in Jambai which has been dated to the 2nd century BCE (p. 66, “Thamizh Brahmi Kalvettugal”, T.S. Sreedhar, TN Archaeological Dept, 2006). This puts the time of Karikala Chola in the 2nd century BCE or in the later part of the 2nd century BCE, he being younger than Nakkirar, Auvaiyar, Perunar Killi etc.


The time period of building Kallanai


The date we deduced above must match with the date of Kallanai. There is a verse found in olden texts, particularly a text called ‘Chola mandala Shatakam’ referring to a Kali date for the building of the Kallanai. This verse, retrieved from different sources, differs slightly in each source, but all unanimously refer to 990 years. If it is 990 years of Kali Yuga as given in one of the verses, it appears unreasonable.


The verse secured by Pandit L. Olaganatha Pillai, gives the date as 990 Kali Years, which makes it 2111 BCE. There is another verse similar to this, found out by Olaganatha Pillai which gives the year as Saka year 990. The resultant date in both Vikrama Saka and Salivahana Saka gives an unrealistic date in the 10th and 11th century CE. Another gives Kali year 3090, giving the year 11 BCE.


11 BCE is too close to Senguttuvan and Silappadhikaram, which does not go well with nearly five generations between him and Karikala. The poem, retrieved by Somasundara Desikar, centres around 90 while others had 990. So, it appears 990 is the year somewhere in a specific millennium of the Kali Yuga. The first two letters seem to have been corrupted and do not make proper sense in arriving at the exact date. The first two letters might refer to the millennium of the Kali-yuga. Taking up in those lines,


In the first millennium of the Kali Yuga – 3101 – 990 = 2111 BCE

In the second millennium of the Kali Yuga – 3101 – 1990 = 1111 BCE

In the third millennium of the Kali Yuga – 3101 – 2990 = 111 BCE


The last one, 111 BCE matches with the evidence we got from the poets of Karikala’s period. It was the 2nd century BCE, but Karikala was a little younger than all of them. So, 111 BCE is a likely date for the construction of Kallanai. This shows that Adi Shankara lived in the 2nd century BCE.


Derivation of Adi Shankara’s period from Karikala’s time


Adi Shankara’s time which I will be deriving from the Panchanga features given by the Shankara mutts must match with this period of Kallanai if Karikala Chola was Rajasena who carried out the orders of Adi Shankara in building Varadaraja temple, Ekambareswarar temple and Kamakshi temple. What is certain is that Karikala Chola was associated with the development of Ekambareswarar temple as we can see from an image of Karikala in this temple.


Karikala was also remembered by Tirugyana Sambandar in his verse on Ekambareswarar of Kanchi. Found in the second Tirumurai, the verse (1596) states:

Oh! Ye devotees! Have you seen the magnificent cosmic dance of our Lord Ekambaranaathar? It is a beauty at its best played by our Lord at Ekambaram temple in Kachchi city. Our Lord is present in the celestials. He is present in the eyes of those who recite Vedas. He won Karikala by His feet. This Lord has His abode in the most sacred temple Ekambam which lies in the beautiful city of Kachchi.


People not being aware of Karikala’s association with this Lord, translated the line about Karikala as Shiva having kicked off Kala, i.e., Yama by His feet. But the line is more than clear that Karikala surrendered at the feet of Ekambareswarar.


The verse and the consecration of the image of Karikala in the temple of this Lord at Kanchi make a case for Karikala’s association with this temple which was not possible without Adi Shankara ordaining him to build this temple.


There is also a temple at Thiruppasur, near Kanchi, on the way to Tiruvallur where the Sthala Purana says that Karikala Chola was saved by the Lord of Thiruppasur from the snake that was made to hurt Karikala by the Jains. This is mentioned in Tiruththandakam.


If we search deeply, we may get more on Karikala’s association with the temples in and around Kanchi and his devotion to Shiva and other Gods of Sanatan Dharma. The development of this temple also could have been motivated by Adi Shankara. There is a likelihood of him receiving the knowledge of the Supreme from Adi Shankara.


As if to justify the rich knowledge he gained from Adi Shankara, there is a verse in Purananuru (verse 224) sung on his death by the poet, Karunguzhal Adhanar. The poet praises him for the Vedic homa-s he had done and also as one who knows what is in store for him for having done these yajna-s.


From where did Karikala get the knowledge of what was in store for him in doing these Homa-s? What world did he get for following these? Who taught him these views? In other words, who was his mentor? Rajasena alias Karikala received this knowledge from none other than Adi Shankara. We will now focus on establishing the year of birth of Adi Shankara and see how it matches with the period of Karikala Chola. 



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