South Indian powers of this name existed already in the time of Emperor Ashoka. He held the kingdoms of this name on his edicts as friendly neighbors. They are also often mentioned in Tamil Sangam literature. Under their king Karikala Chola around 190 AD, they were opposers of the Chera and Pandya kings.
Karikalan was still famous a century later for his military powers. He built a city by the Kaveri river. The ambitious man, yet, had to make concessions to his people, so that they would not escape him.
A mountain tribe (Kalabhra) ousted the Chola and their two neighbors in the year 250. Their exact origin is in the dark but seems to have been Jains or Buddhists.
The power of the Brahmans weakened. At the end of the 6th century, the first Pallava king hit the Kalabhra. They brought the core land of the Chola at the Kaveri under its control. The Chola fell to the status of insignificant local princes.
The Chinese pilgrim monk Hsuan-Tsang said this in 650 about this place. It is a wild country, full of jungle forests and marshes. Its population is few, and robbers dispose of their misery. The climate is hot, and the conduct of the people are frivolous and cruel. The priests are as filthy as their fallen temples.
The Chola's resurgence took place only at the end of the ninth century. When the Pallava power collapsed around 850, Thanjavur (Tanjore) became the capital. Aditya or Athiththa Chola (871-907) struck the last Pallava rulers in a duel on his war elephants.
In spite of this, the Chola kings were not able to build a pre-eminence at the time. Parantaka I (907-955) plundered Madurai and drove the Pandya King to Lanka. He lost the battle of Takkolam in 949 against Krishna III, a Rashtrakuta King. Rajaditya, the son, and co-ruler of the Chola fell in battle. By this defeat, the Chola had to limit themselves to their parent country for several decades.
The great conquerors of this dynasty were Rajaraja I (985-1014) and then his son Rajendra I (1014-44). Rajaraja defeated the Chera and Pandya kings, and also conquered Sri Lanka. Rajendra also undertook extensive warships. First, he conquered the capital of the Chalukya, then moved against the Pala Empire of Bengal (1022/23).
After his victory over the Pala, he had his new capital called Gangaikonda Cholapuram. He inaugurated it with the waters of the Ganges. Rajendra went even further. He led a campaign against Sri Vijaya in 1025 to influence their trade relations. Rajendra also sent two diplomatic missions to China to whom he gave a list of goods.
He had a confrontation with the Turkish-Islamic conqueror Mahmud of Ghazni. Ghazni carried out several major raids in North India almost every year. It is unclear why Rajendra spared Mahmud of Ghazni in his expeditionary policy.
The trade center in northwest India suffers economic descent after the Muslim attacks. The main trading node of India moved to the south. The rapid rise of the Chola needed resources. The shipping routes went through the Red Sea. It was in the course of the emergence of the Egyptian Fatimid. At the time of the Chola period, South Indian traders had a great maritime influence.
When the descendants of Rajendra died, a Chalukya prince, named Kulottunga I (1070-1120). He came into power in Gangaikonda Cholapuram and was a Chola on the maternal side. Under his rule, the Chola Empire experienced another economic and political heyday.
In the middle of the 12th century, Kulottunga II (1133-1150) gave his vassals to the Pandya in Madurai. Rajaraja II (1146-1163) then had seven years of civil war with the Pandya. Sri Lanka intervened under King Parakramabahu (1153-1186).
Until King Kulottunga III (1216) the empire held together in the marriage alliance with the Hoysala. Rajaraja III, Pandya Maravarman and Ravi Varma on the Malabar coast became independent. The Pandya destroyed the capital Thanjavur. Rajaraja III would have lost the throne of the Hoysala had Narasimha II (1220-34) not saved him. Between 1256 and 1279 the empire extinguished under the march of the Pandyas of Madurai.
The flowering of Chola from the 10th to the end of the 12th century was a great time of Tamil South India. Music, dance, poetry, drama as well as architecture, stone and bronze sculptures flourished. The Tamil epic Kamba Ramayanam was written.
The painting, philosophy, and religion reached new heights. The Grand Temples of the Chola is recognized by UNESCO as a World Cultural Heritage. The patronage of the Chola kings was Shiva especially in his form as Nataraja. Several temples in Southeast Asia and Indonesia are witness to the cultural influence of the Chola.