Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Karikalan: The Colossus who ruled till Himalayas


In this time of Bahubali fever, I would like to brief up on an emperor who was a colossus of his age. The battling techniques and life styles that were shown in movies like Aayirathil Oruvan (2010), Lion of the Desert and Bahubali, are not just fiction or fantasy but actually the ones that were in practice for a long time in the empires here in down South. I penned this feature for The New Indian Express in July 2016. I just want to post this to make a record of the great emperor of all time and to remind the history we have crossed.

Karikalan - The Himalayan Conqueror

There have lived dictators, rulers, statesmen, emperors and kings in various parts of the world in different points in the chronological timeline of history. But, only a very few among them have existed beyond their lifetime in forms of inscriptions, literary works, statues and even as deities of worship in all the places wherever they have stepped into and have ruled. For this, the developmental initiatives and the administrative decisions they had made play a vital role for them to mark their name permanently in the pages of history.

However, due to the lack of direct evidences and migration of the knowledge about them from one generation to their future generation had been acting an obstacle in many cases, where their existence had always faded out from the minds of people. One such great emperor of all time from the sub continent who had conquered the most part of it was Karikala Cholan, who ruled with Woraiyur as capital and is the most told Tamil emperor by the historians, linguists and Tamil nationalists till today. In this package of articles, I have tried to bring up some of the facts that could relate Karikalan from works of several historians, literary works and words of mouth and have figured out several hypotheses and facts behind him.

There Were Two Kings With Same Name Karikalan:

'Karikala Cholan', the name itself has a lot of background history in several versions which are being quoted by historians from various Sangam literature works and other early literary works that were written during and after his reign. The most important fact among all is that, Karikalan was never a single king but there were two different kings with that name in the chronological order of Chola dynasty. It is said that Karikalan I and Karikalan II should have lived in a gap of two or three generations said one of the renowned historians Sivarasa Pillai in his works.

He had mentioned that, Paranar, one of the Sangam poets had recorded in his poetry about a Karikalan who had lived a couple of generations before his age. S Murugesan, a Professor of Tamil literature from a private college in Trichy, he said, "Paranar and Kabilar were of same age but, they actually did not belong to any of the Karikalan's age. The fact is that there are works mentioned by Sivarasa Pillai in his research where both Karikalan have fought in two different battles defeating Peruncheralathan in one and the other was a big battle that occurred between him and other two great dynasties, the Cheras and Pandyas in which the 11 Velir(local self government rulers) in Cholas too participated in the side of Cheras and Pandyas".

Similarly, M Rajamanikkanar, in one of his research books titled, 'Sozhar Varalaaru'(History of Cholas), he had mentioned that, "It was Karikalan I who had fought the battle in Venni Vaayil against Cheras and Pandyas and later it was Karikalan II was the one to conquer till the Himalayan mountain range". Further he had also mentioned that, Karikalan I belonged to Senni tradition and had Azhunthur as his capital city, while, Karikalan II belonged to Killi tradition and had Woraiyur as his capital.

Name Reason: 

The name reason of Karikalan has some peculiar background as it was given to him after his courageous skills to control elephants with just stressing with fingers of leg say some linguists(Kari means elephant, Kaal means legs). There is an another speculation that, he was so brave that he could easily face an elephant in a one-to-one battle(Kalan here means god of death).

Battles Fought By Karikalan I and II

Among the battles fought by both of them, the most known battle was the one he had fought at Venni Vaayil mentioned by a poet Venni Kuyathiyaar, in which he had to face Cheras, Pandyas and 11 Velirs of Chola Dynasty who had turned against him on the conspiracy of his uncle who tried to acquire the throne of Cholas. However, it is said that, with the assistance of his Commander Thithiyan and another skilled warrior from the North named Kosar, the first Karikalan had defeated his huge opponents in that battle in which it is also said that he had harmed Chera king Peruncheralathan with his bow and arrow which pierced his chest and reach his back which caused injury, says Kazhaathalaiyar in his works. Due to this out of embarrassment Peruncheralathan opted for Vadakiruthal(fast unto death), which the kings of that time did on every insulting war defeats.

While, the later Karikalan who belonged to Killi tradition belonged to first century BC as mentioned in Rajamanikanar's work was actually called Tirumavalavan or Karikarperuvalathaan. About him, a lot of evidences could be found in the great epic of Tamil of all time, 'Silappathikaram' and several other Sangam age literature namely, Perunaraatrupadai, Pattinapaalai, Kalingathu Parani and some poems in Ettuthokai works.

Rajamanikanar says that, Karikalan II had a fame across the sub-continent. A small dynasty that was ruling Chittoor, Nellore and Pothappi in present Andhra Pradesh till 14th century AD a Telugu origin dynasty had mentioned in their inscriptions that they belong to the tradition of Karikalan. Similarly, many small range kingdoms of Kannada origin too had claimed in their inscriptions that they belong to Karikalan tradition. This was due to his extraordinary battling skills with which he had conquered till Himalayas and a portion of present Sri Lanka(Eezhanaadu) including many Vaduga small range and large dynasties on his way to Himalayas.

Karikalan, Statesman of All Time

Apart from their battle skills, both history and literature have recorded more of their administrative and infrastructural initiatives and the way both Karikalan have paid respect and support to Tamil and its literature.

Among all their works, it is the Kallanai, the oldest functioning dam of the world that was built in Second century BC by Karikalan across river Cauvery. Located at about 25 kilometers away from his captial city Woraiyur, which is at present a part of Tiruchy city, Kallanai is believed to be the first dam of the world to be bulit across a large river in plain lands.

There are a lot of speculations on the technology behind this dam that was constructed when an aggressive perennial river(yes, Cauvery was perennial once) was flowing. Raman Sthapathy, an architect in the tradition of a family that had built many olden temples said, "Usually the walls of a temple that stands for about 20 to 30 feet high are built with just a little of lime to hold. But, the actually technology is what that we see in Lego toys that kids of these days use to play with. The levels of stones in the walls of a temple will also be connected in a similar fashion which might also be the same technology in construction of Kallanai (Dam of stone)".

There are also some methods that are still in the state of hypothesis in which it is said that, stones will be tied and balanced from two sides of the river's bank with heavy elephants and would be placed on the surface of the river by deep water swimmers and architects.

From this Kallanai three other rivers apart from Cauvery source out namely Kollidam, which splits near Upper Anicut at Mukkombu, Venniyar(Which is said to have cut after he had won the battle at Venni Vaayil) towards east and Kallanai Canal that source out towards south. All the distributaries of Cauvery been split up for irrigation in the delta districts from Kallanai which is said to be the greatest gift given by Karikalan to his people. Similarly, he had also instructed all the local self rulers of Chola kingdom to build raised up stone walls along the banks of Cauvery in order to resist water from entering into the villages. For this, he had offered shares to all local rulers to invest for construction of bank walls.

Karikalan had also offered a lot for Tamil literature and linguists. The main among them was the 16 lakh gold coins he gave to the Tamil poet Uruthiankannanar for writing the big piece of literature, 'Pattinapaalai'. There is a story by word of mouth in which it is said that Karikalan had offered a stone cave with pillars for a Tamil poet in his reign and it is also said that this cave is located in the west of present Woraiyur which just a portion of ancient Woraiyur. However, due to stone quarry works held in the recent years, the cave would have been lost in it say historians. There is a small temple near this quarry in which the main deity is Kaaru Kaatha Kaali Amman, which is said to be the ancestral deity of Cholas, says Raasa Ragunathan a resident of Woraiyur.

World After Karikalan Era

Despite many of the lost identities of Karikalan, there are still a lot left behind that are reminding his name in the minds of people in different forms.

During the British Raj, the actual dam built by Karikalan (the Grand Anicut) was raised to a height of 0.69 meters in 1804 by the then military engineer, Captain Caldwell and Major Sim who planned to control the excess water entering to Kollidam river, one of the distributaries of Cauvery to do more irrigation and avoid formation of silt on the surface of Kollidam. Later, Sir Arthur Cotton, constructed a replica of Kallanai along the Kollidam as Lower Anicut. Similarly, he had also built another dam as Upper Anicut in Mukkombu, where the delta of Cauvery originates.

Later, Arthur Cotton had mentioned in one of his speeches that Karikalan's Kallanai structure would be a pioneer in dam construction and can be used to construct dams across the world. Karikalan has his name in many such forms across the world during his era and even after his time.

Later the State Government under the direction of Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa in 2014 had built and inaugurated a memorial for Karikalan near Kallanai. The memorial situated on the right bank of the Kollidam river in Grand Anicut is spread over 380 square meters. It houses a bronze statue of the king seated on an elephant, all built for `2.1 crore. Similarly, a park has also been built near dam with lots of greenery and play arena for kids by the Public Works Department.

- Santhosh Mathevan,
Chennai, May 2, 2017.

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