The brutal battle at Thakkolam and the story of Tiruvottiyur ascetic

In the battle fought in 949 CE, the emerging Cholas were defeated by the Rashtrakutas. Chola prince Rajaditya was killed. A stone inscription narrates the story of the Chola warrior who became an ascetic to atone for his failure to take part in the battle

March 16, 2023 10:34 pm | Updated March 17, 2023 01:06 pm IST

The inscription at the Thiyagarajaswamy temple at Tiruvottiyur.

The inscription at the Thiyagarajaswamy temple at Tiruvottiyur. | Photo Credit: B. JOTHI RAMALINGAM

In the history of brutal wars and invasions, there have always been colourful sideshows. The battle of Thakkolam in 949 CE was one such instance. This battle saw the emerging Cholas get defeated resoundingly by the Rashtrakutas and the killing of Chola prince Rajaditya. It temporarily put paid to their hopes of becoming an imperial power.

A stone inscription at the Thiyagarajaswamy temple at Tiruvottiyur in Chennai narrates the story of the Chola warrior, Vallabha alias Vellangumaran, who became an ascetic to atone for his failure to participate in the battle at Thakkolam, a few kilometres away from Arakkonam. Whether he was in fact a betrayer remains a subject of debate.

Eminent historian K.A. Nilakanta Sastri, the author of ‘ The Cholas’, says in his book that the inscription of the time of Rastrakuta king Krishna III, or Kannaradeva, “deserves to be noticed in some detail as an interesting and authentic instance of the kind of motives that sent people into a life of ascetic renunciation”.

Epigraphist A. Padmavathy, who worked with the Tamil Nadu Department of Archaeology, says it is a bilingual inscription. “The first 12 lines are written in Sanskrit in Grantha script. From the 13th line, it is written in Tamil script. It belongs to the 20th regnal year of Krishna III, which is equivalent to 959 CE,” she explains. The inscription is part of volume XXVII of Epigraphia Indica, the official publication of the Archaeological Survey of India from 1882 to 1977.

An interesting aspect of the story is that the warrior who became an ascetic was a chieftain from Kerala who had migrated to the Chola country following the marriage between a Kerala princess and Parantaka Chola I, who was the father of Rajaditya. The Kerala princess was the mother of Arinjaya.

Friendly ties

According to Sastri, the marriage between the Kerala princess and Parantaka I not only gave proof of the friendly political relations between the Cholas and the Kerala rulers but also led to a large influx of Malayalis into the Chola country in search of service under the king and his sons.

Vallabha alias Vellangumaran was the Kerala general who became an ascetic and one of the Chaturanana Panditas of Tiruvottiyur Mutt. Chaturanana was a title. Ms. Padmavathy says it is possible to reconstruct the full civil name of Chaturanana Pandita from a close interpretation of the first verse.

Though he was closely associated with Rajaditya as his samanta and affectionate friend, Vallabha could not participate in the battle. “The reasons are not clear why he could not be near his friend Rajaditya, who was killed by an arrow,” says Ms. Padmavathy. There was a conjecture that Vallabha betrayed his master and friend, but Sastri rejected it as baseless.

Vallabha, obviously, was going through agonising moments “as his life was not in keeping with his birth and connections, and became indifferent to the things of the world”.

Sastri, quoting the inscriptions, says Vallabha bathed in the Ganges and turned ascetic at Tiruvottiyur, obtaining his vratas from Niranjana Guru and becoming a Mahavratin, Chaturanana by name, and head of the local mutt.

After the Thakkolam war, Krishna III assumed the title, ‘ Katchiyum Thanjaiyam Konda Sree Kannara Deva’ (Kannara Deva who took Kancheepuram and Thanjavur). Rajaditya, the Chola prince who died in the war, was celebrated as ‘ Yanaimel Thunjiya Devar’ (The king who died on the back of an elephant) in the Chola inscriptions at Kumbakonam and Thirunageswaram.

It was Ganga prince Butuga, an ally of the Rashtrakutas, who struck Rajaditya with an arrow and killed him. Krishna III rewarded him with the districts of Banavase and Belvola.

Attempts at revival

Sastri, quoting the Thiruvalangadu plates, said there was much hard fighting and the Chola army lost the battle mainly on account of a well-aimed arrow of Butuga having fatally wounded Rajaditya. Attempts were made during the reign of Gandaraditya, the second son of Parantaka I, to revive the power of the Cholas. After him, Arinjaya, the third son of Parantaka I, continued the efforts. But he died in a battle in Arrur, possibly the present-day Tiruvarur. Only the reign of Sundara Chola marked the recovery of the Cholas from the disasters of the Rashtrakuta invasion and became an imperial power during the rule of RajarajaI, his son.

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