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7/30/2019 Chola Navy 1/21 Chola Navy From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia Chola Navy Depiction of the siege of Kedah, the battle between Beemasenan's Chola naval infantry and the defenders of Kedah fort. Founded 3rd century CE Country Chola EmpireAllegiance Chola DynastyBranch  Naval Type  Naval Force Size 600-1000 Ships in the peak period. Part of Chola militaryEngagements  War of Pandya Succession (1172)  War of Pandya succession (1167)  Kalinga Campaighn (1081-83)

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Chola Navy From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Chola Navy

Depiction of the siege of  Kedah, the battle between Beemasenan's Chola

naval infantry and the defenders of Kedah fort.

Founded 3rd century CE

Country Chola Empire 

Allegiance Chola Dynasty 

Branch  Naval 

Type  Naval Force 

Size 600-1000 Ships in the peak period.

Part of  Chola military 

Engagements  War of  Pandya Succession (1172)

  War of  Pandya succession (1167)

  Kalinga Campaighn (1081-83)

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  The second expedition of  Sri


  The first expedition of  Sri


  Anexation of  Kamboja (?-996)

  The invasion of Ceylon/Sri

Lanka.(977 - )

  Skirmishes with Pallava Navy (903-



Chakravarthy (Supreme commander)



  Amarabujangan (12th century)

  Beemaseenan - The famous admiral

of the Siege of the Keadh (late 11th


  Karunaakaran - Admiral/general (late

12th century)

The Chola Navy (Tamil:  ; Cōḻar kadatpadai) comprised the naval forces of the Chola

Empire along with several other naval-arms of the country. The Chola  navy played a vital role in the

expansion of the Chola Empire, including the conquest of theCeylon islands and Sri Vijaya (present day

Indonesia), the spread of  Hinduism, Dravidian architecture and Dravidian culture to south east Asia and in

curbing the piracy in Southeast Asia in the 900[clarification needed ]


The navy grew both in size and status during the Medieval Cholas reign. The Chola Admirals commanded

much respect and prestige in the society. The navy commanders also acted as diplomats in some

instances. From 900 to 1100, the navy had grown from a small backwater entity to that of a potent power 

projection and diplomatic symbol in all of Asia, but was gradually reduced in significance when the Cholas

fought land battles for subjugating the Chalukyas of Andhra-Kannada area in South India.[1]




1 History 

o  1.1 Early activity 

o  1.2 Ancient navy 

o  1.3 Medieval navy 

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  1.3.1 Interregnum 

o  1.4 Imperial navy with blue-water capabilities 

2 Trade, commerce and diplomacy 

o  2.1 Piracy in Southeast Asia 

o  2.2 Cooperation with the Chinese 

3 Organization and administration 

o  3.1 Administration 

  3.1.1 Notes 

o  3.2 Rank structure 

o  3.3 Other naval arms 

  3.3.1 Customs and excise 

  3.3.2 Coast guard 

  3.3.3 Privateers 

4 Vessels and weapons 

5 Campaigns 

o  5.1 Recruitment and service 

o  5.2 Ports and fleets 

6 Political, cultural and economic impact 

7 Popular culture 

8 Timeline of events 

9 Gallery 

10 See also 

11 References 

12 External links 


The Persians are famed for their archers, the Turks for their horsemen, and India for its armies. - An Arab


This proverb could be still true if not for the periods of  Chola Empire whose actions heralded India's Naval

domination of the sub-continent and beyond. Historians divide the Chola Reign into three distinct phases.

The first era is the period of  Early Cholas .The second phase is of  Vijalaya Cholas and the final phase in

the empire was the Chalukya Chola period.

The Cholas were at the height of their  power  continuously from the later half of the 9th century until the

beginning of the 13th centuries.[1]

Under  Rajaraja Chola I and his son Rajendra Chola I, the dynasty

became a military, economic and cultural power in  Asia.[2][3]

 During the period 1010 –1200, the Chola

territories stretched from the islands of the Maldives in the south to as far north as the banks of 

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the Godavari River  in  Andhra Pradesh.[4]

 Rajaraja Chola conquered peninsular  South India, annexed parts

of  Sri Lanka and occupied the islands of the Maldives.[3]

 Rajendra Chola sent a victorious expedition to

North India that touched the river  Ganges and defeated the Pala ruler of  Pataliputra, Mahipala. He also

successfully raided kingdoms of the Malay Archipelago.[5][6]


[edit]Early activity

The earliest Chola kings of whom there is tangible evidence are mentioned in the  Sangam literature. 

Scholars now generally agree that this literature belongs to the first few centuries of thecommon era.[7]


Sangam literature is full of names of the kings and the princes, and of the poets who extolled them. Despite

a rich literature that depicts the life and work of these people, these cannot be worked into connected


[edit]Ancient navy

The earliest record of Chola Naval activity by an external source is dated around the 1st century, the

Roman report of  Kaveripoompattinam(presently known as Poombuhar ) as Haverpoum and a description

of how the Trade vessels were escorted by the King's fleet to the estuary as it was a natural harbor in the

mouth of the river  Kaveri.[8]


Little archeological evidence exists of the maritime activities of this era, except some excavated wooden

plaques depicting naval engagements in the vicinity of the old city (See Poompuhar  for more details).

However, much insight into the naval activities of the Cholas has been gathered from Periplus of the

Erythrean Sea. In this work, the unknown merchant describes the activity of escort-ships assigned to themerchant vessels with valuable cargo. These early naval ships had some sort of a rudimentary flame-

thrower and or a catapult type weapon.[9]


Colandia, the great ships which was used by Early Cholas. By this they sailed to pacific islands from

Kaveripatnam(as center).[10]

 At that time, Pattinathu Pillai is the chief of the Chola's Navy.[11]


[edit]Medieval navy

The model of a Chola Era Ship's hull, built by the  ASI, based on a wreck 19 miles off the coast of Poombuhar, displayed

in a Museum in Tirunelveli 

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Main article: Chola dynasty  

Little is known about the transition period of around three centuries from the end of the Sangam age (c.

300) up to the time when the Pandyas and Pallavas dominated the Tamil country (c. 600). An obscure

dynasty, the Kalabhras, invaded the Tamil country, displaced the existing kingdoms and ruled for around

three centuries. They were displaced by the Pallavas and the Pandyas in the 6th century.

This period from the 3rd century until 7th century is a blind spot in the maritime tradition of the Cholas. But,

it can be safely assumed from the contemporary activities of the Pandyas and Pallavas. Little is known of 

the fate of the Cholas during the succeeding three centuries until the accession of Vijayalaya in the second

quarter of the 9th century. In the Interregnum, the Cholas were probably reduced toVassals of  Pallavas, 

though at times they switched sides and allied with Pandyas and tried to dispose their overlords. But, there

is no concrete line of kings or court recordings.

However, even during this time the Cholas had maintained a small but potent Naval force based inland in

the Kaveri river. During this time they dominated the inland trade in the Kaveri basin and Musuri is their 

major inland port. Dry-docks built during this period exist to this day .[12]


[edit]Imperial navy with blue-water capabilities

Chola's empire and influence at the height of its power (c. 1050) during the reign of Rajendra Chola I. 

This phase of the history is the most well documented one, partly due the survival of the edicts and

inscriptions from the time along with reliable foreign narratives. This has enabled historians to interpolate

various accounts and come up with a clear account of Chola Naval activities of the time.

The Imperial Chola navy took its shape in the aftermath of the resurgence of Chola power, with the rise

of  Vijalaya dynasty. During the Pallavas rule, the Cholas took control of not only the territories, but the

cultural and socio-economic mantle. Thus, the Medieval Cholas inherited the will to dominate trade and

control seas from the Pallavas.

The evolution of combat ships and naval-architecture elsewhere played an important part in the

development of the Pallava Navy. There were serious effort in the period of the Pallava king Simavishnu to

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control the piracy in South East Asia and to establish a Tamil friendly regime in the Malay peninsula.

However, this effort was accomplished only three centuries later by the new Naval power of the Cholas.

The three decades of conflict with the Sinhala King Mahinda V came to a swift end, after  Raja Raja Chola

I's (985-1014) ascent to the throne and his decisive use of the naval flotilla to subdue the Sinhalese.

This period also marked the departure in thinking from the age-old traditions. Rajaraja commissioned

various foreigners (Prominently, the Arabs and Chinese) in the naval building program.[13]

 These effort were

continued and the benefits were reaped by his successor, Rajendra Chola I. Rajendra led a successful

expedition against the Sri Vijaya kingdom (present day Indonesia) and subdued Sailendra. Though there

were friendly exchanges between the Sri Vijaya empire and the Chola Empire in preceding times (including

the construction of  chudamani Pagoda in Nagapattinam), the raid seems to have been motivated by the

commercial interests rather than any political motives.

[edit]Trade, commerce and diplomacy

 A Chinese flame thrower of the 9th century, Designs like this were incorporated into the Chola Navy

The Cholas excelled in foreign trade and maritime activity, extending their influence overseas to China and

Southeast Asia.[14]

  A fragmentary Tamil inscription found in Sumatra cites the name of a merchant

guild Nanadesa Tisaiyayirattu Ainnutruvar (literally, "the five hundred from the four countries and the

thousand directions"), a famous merchant guild in the Chola country.[15]

 The inscription is dated 1088,

indicating that there was an active overseas trade during the Chola period.[16]


Towards the end of the 9th century, southern India had developed extensive maritime and commercial

activity, especially with the Chinese and  Arabs.[15][17]

 The Cholas, being in possession of parts of both the

west and the east coasts of peninsular India, were at the forefront of these ventures.[18][19][20]

 The Tang

dynastyof China, the Srivijaya empire in the Malayan archipelago under the Sailendras, and

the  Abbasid Kalifat at Baghdad were the main trading partners.[21]


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The trade with the Chinese was a very lucrative enterprise, and Trade guilds needed the king's approval

and the license from the customs force/department to embark on overseas voyages for trade.[22]


normal trade voyage of those day involved three legs of journey, starting with the Indian goods (mainly

spices, cotton and gems) being shipped to China and in the return leg the Chinese goods (silk,

incense,iron) were brought back to Chola ports. After some materials were utilized for local consumption,

the remaining cargo along with Indian cargo was shipped to the   Arabs. Traditionally, this involved transfer 

of material/cargo to many ships before the ultimate destination was reached.

[edit]Piracy in Southeast Asia

The Strategic position of  Sri Vijaya and Khamboj (modern day Cambodia) as a midpoint in the trade route

between Chinese and Arabian ports was crucial. Up to 5th century, the Arabs traded with Chinese directly

using Sri Vijaya as a port of call and replenishment hub. Realizing their potential, the Sri Vijaya empire

began to encourage the sea piracy surrounding the area.


 The benefits were twofold, the loot from piracywas a good bounty and it ensured their sovereignty and cooperation from all the trading parties.

[23] Piracy

also grew stronger due to a conflict of succession in Sri Vijaya, when two princes fought for the throne and

in turn, relied on the loot from the sea-piracy for their civil war .[23]


The pirate menace grew to unprecedented levels. Sea trade with China was virtually impossible without the

loss of 1/3 of the convoy for every voyage. Even escorted convoys came under attacks, which was a new

factor. Repeated diplomatic missions urged the Sri Vijaya empire to curb the piracy, with little effect. With

the rise in piracy, and in the absence of Chinese commodity, the Arabs, on whom the Cholas were

dependent of horses for their  cavalry corps, began to demand high prices for their trade. This led to a slew

of reduction in the Chola army.[24]

 The Chinese were equally infuriated by the piracy menace, as they too

were losing revenue.

The culmination of three century's combined naval traditions of  Pallavas and Cholas led to the most known

accomplishment of the Chola Navy (or any Indian power for that matter).,[25]

 Namely the 1st expedition of 

the Chola navy into the Malay peninsula.

In one particular note, the Cholas went as far as to conquer the Kamboja and gave it to the Sri Vijaya kings

(as per their request) to ensure cooperation in the curbing piracy.[citation needed ]


[edit]Cooperation with the Chinese

Chinese Song Dynasty reports record that an embassy from Chulian (Chola) reached the Chinese court in

the year 1077,[16][26][27]

 and that the king of the Chulien at the time was called Ti-hua-kia-lo.[28]

 It is possible

that these syllables denote "Deva Kulo[tunga]" (Kulothunga Chola I). This embassy was a trading venture

and was highly profitable to the visitors, who returned with '81,800 strings of copper coins in exchange for 

articles of tributes, including glass articles, and spices'.[29]


The close diplomatics tie between the Song dynasty of  China and the Medieval Cholas facilitated many

technological innovations to travel both ways. The more interesting ones to have reached Chinese shores


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  The famous Chola ship-designs employing independent water tight compartments in the  hull of a ship.

  The mariner's compass

  The continuously shooting Flamethrowers for naval warfare.[30]


[edit]Organization and administration

Trade Routes of Southeast Asia around the Srivi jaya Empire and Kediri around the 12th and early 13th century.

The Ancient Chola navy was based on trade vessel designs with little more than boarding implements,

though this changed throughout the history. The later day navy was a specialized force with specially built

ships for each type of combat.

The Imperial Navy of the Medieval Cholas was composed of a multitude of forces in its command. In

addition to the regular navy (Kappal-Padai), there were many auxiliary forces that could be used in naval

combat. The Chola Navy was an autonomous service unlike many of its contemporaries.

The Army depended on the Naval-fleets for transportation and logistics. The navy also had a core

of  marines. Even saboteurs, who were trained pearl-fishermen were used, to dive and disable enemy

vessels by destroying or damaging the rudder .[30]


The Chola Navy could undertake any of the following combat and non-combat missions,

  Peacetime patrol and interdiction of piracy.

  Escort trade conveys.

  Escort friendly vessels.

  Naval battle close to home ports and at high-seas.

  Establish a beachhead and or reinforce the army in times of need.

  Denial of passage for allies of the state's enemies.

  Sabotage of enemy vessels

This multi-dimensional force enabled the Cholas to achieve the Military, Political and cultural

hegemony over their vast dominion.

[edit]AdministrationThe king/emperor was the supreme commander  of all the military forces including the navy.

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The navy is organized mostly on role based squadrons & divisions, containing various types of ships

assigned for a specific role and home-ported in an associated base/port. This procedure became

necessary, especially after the conquest of Ceylon. Normally, a Ganam (Fleet-Squadron) would (the

largest individual unit)be commanded by a Ganathipathy (not to be confused with the elephant headed

god Ganapathy).

There were numerous sub-units of operational reasons and organizational reasons or otherwise. Some are

presented below,

Unit Name CommanderModern-day




Kanni -


ial purpose


Senior Kalapathy,

 Normally Kalapathy is the

rank of a commanding

officer of a Ship (akin to


 Not more

than five

ships of any


' Kanni In Tamilmeans trap.


tactical formation,it was used to lure

enemy combatants

to a particular area.

Where larger 

 bodies (usually, a

Thalam or 2) ships

will ambush the


During a

strategicdeployment, the

formation would

 be used many

times before

engaging in the

main combat todecimate the

enemy fleet.

Also had a

very badreputation

for losses,since high

numbers of 

ships were

lost in this

role if the

friendliesarrival was

delayed in




Jalathalam o



- A



Jalathalathipathy - The

lord of Thalam 

The smallest self-

sustained unit in

naval formation,

consisted 5 main

 battle vessels, 3

Auxiliaries and 2Logistics and 1 or 2


A Thalam could beused for 


 patrol or 


 Normally, 2-

3 Thalam operate

d in a vicinity on

scouting or 

search & destroy

missions. while

can search a wide

area, can reach to

each other's aid

in short duration.

A fully


Chola Thalam is said to

have been

able to

withstand an

attack by

more than

twice its

size. This is

attributed to

the superior 

range of 

missileweapons in



Mandalam -

A semi-


formation.Mostly used

Mandalathipathy - The

lord of  Mandalam 



to Task force or Battle

Composed of 40-50

Ships of various


(Mandalam inTamil and various

They can used as

an individual

combat unit,

especiallyduring pincer or b


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groups  Indian languages is

the word of 48)


neck maneuverin

g in high-seas.

Ganam - A



Ganathipathy - Literally,

Athipathy (lord) of 

the Ganam, equivalent to

modern-day rear-admiral



Composed of 100-

150 Ships of various roles.

(Ganam in Tamil

means volume and t 


A ganam comprisesthree Mandalams.

A self-reliant

unit of the force,

only lesser than

the Fleet. Had



logistics and




this would be the



of the


Ani  Anipathy - lord of an Ani Taskforceor   b

attle group 

Composed of 

3 Ganams (Fleet-division) minimum.


consisting of 300-

500 ships.

Mainly an

Expedition order 

than normal

formation. But,

during long

deployments,they were

deployed (only 2

instances of 

an Ani being

deployed in a

combat have been




 Normally headed by a

 prince/confidante of theKing, title depends on the

sea where the fleet is based.

For example, The eastern

fleet would be named


athipathy or  Nayagan or  Thevan/r, depending on the



they functioned

much like modern

Fleets. There were

two to four fleets in

the Chola navyduring various

times. The

 principle fleet was

 based in the east.

Later on a second

fleet was based onCeylon/Sri Lanka.

During and after 

the Rajendra I,

three or four fleets


The rise

of  Chera naval

 power gave more

than a little lossin revenue,

 prompting the

Cholas to station

a Fleet

 permanently in

the Malabar andto engage


navies to support

the Chola

strategic design.


‡1. Kanni May mean any of the following in Tamil, the application on the meaning is in context of the

usage. Virgin/Unmarried Girl, First timer, the Eastern corner/direction. A trap is also called as 'kanni'

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2. Thalam being both the name of a tactical formation of the army and navy. Thalapathy meaning the lord

of a Thalam, roughly a division, and the rank is comparable to a modern-day colonel.

[edit]Rank structure

The Chola navy used a hybrid rank structure. There were dedicated naval ranks as well as army-derived


 The Chola Navy used both naval ranks and army-style ranks. While some of the modern-day

convention of ranks did apply, for example, the army captain is equal to a lieutenant in the navy and a navy

captain is equal to a colonel in the army; others were totally different. So a small comparison is provided for 


  The supreme commander :Chakravarthy - The emperor 

  The commander-in chief of navy :Jalathipathhi - roughly, the admiral of the navy.

  The commander of the fleet : Pirivu+ Athipathy or Devar/n or Nayagan - The equivalent of an


  The commander of the fleet-squadron : Ganathipathy - roughly the equivalent of a rear-admiral

  The commander of a group : Mandalathipathy#(refer below) - the equivalent of a vice-admiral

  The commander of the ship : Kalapathy -The equivalent of a captain in modern navies.

  The officer in-charge of arms in a ship : Kaapu - Roughly the executive officer and weapons officer 

rolled into one.

  The officer in-charge of the oarsmen/masts : Seevai - roughly the equivalent of the master chief and

engineering officer.

  The officer in-charge of boarding party (marines) : Eeitimaar - major or captain in marines.

[edit]Other naval arms

The auxiliary forces of the Chola Navy In addition to the standing navy of the state, there were other 

services which had a naval arm of its own. Notable among them are the  customs department, militia and

the state monopoly of  pearl fisheries. In addition to the state services, a small but formidable forces were

maintained by various trade-guilds, these guilds are highly regulated and acted as mercenaries and

reinforcements in times of need.[34]


[edit]Customs and excise

The Customs force, called Sungu (SUNGA ILLAKA) was highly organized and unlike anything in the

ancient world. It was under the command of a Director-general like position called Thalai-Thirvai. Thalai -

Head, Thirvai - duty (customs). It was highly evolved and had various departments[35]

 Some are

Department Duties Assets

Thirvai(Customs duty &


This unit employed some of the

 brilliant merchants of the time andmost were professional economists.

They normally had boarding officers,

 boarding crafts and some sea vessels;

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They deduced and fixed the

 percentage of the Customs duty of a

commodity for a particular season.

(trade-voyages were influenced by

ocean currents and hence the pricechanged accordingly)

as most of their duty was inland.

Aaivu(Inspection &enforcement) 

This unit was the Action arm of the

trade law, they inspected ships for 

contraband, illegal goods, wrong

declaring of tonnage, small crimes

control and the protection of the

Harbors under Chola dominion.

These units employed some of the fast

assault and boarding vessels of the

time and in more than one reported

occasion, the navy had sought its help

in intercepting rogue vessels.† 

Ottru(intelligence corps) 

They were the intelligence corps of 

the territorial waters of the Chola

dominion. They normally tailed

foreign vessels, performed path-

finding for larger forces or conveysand gave periodic updates for the

kings and the trade-guilds of the

happenings in the sea.

They operated highly capable vessels

which are noted for stealth and speed,

rather than brute force and weapons

 platforms. Most of the ships they

operated were  privateers and contained

no national markings. We have some

understandings of their crafts, whichseemed to have been equipped with

concealable catapults

and napalm throwers

(not trebuchets like the ones employed

 by the naval ships.)

Kallarani( piratesquad)

Technically, they weren't employed by either the sovereign or the state.But rather, they

are  pirates themselves who have

received the Royal Pardon on the

 pledge of their support of the Chola

Empire. They had been used in more

than a few instances to deal with theArab piracy in the western water.

They have also been used as Coast


These mercenaries operated anything

that they could capture and composed

of multi-national-ethnic corps. Notable

among them are the Arabian Amirs, 

who were highly respected upon their 

oath of allegiance and their fervor incombat.

Karaipirivu(Coastal defense) 

They performed duties akin to the

modern coast-guard, search & rescue

and costal patrols. But mainly they

were land-based and scattered along

the long coast-line to provide a

seaward defense.

they operated substantially smaller 

crafts and occasionally

even catamarans . Nevertheless, they

were feared by petty crooks andcoastal thieves.

[edit]Coast guard

In the later years of the 1100[clarification needed ]

, the navy was constantly battling in many fronts to protect Chola

commercial, religious and political interests. So the home ports were literally, undefended. This led to a

change in the of outlook Chola naval strategy, the sturdier and larger vessels were repeatedly called to

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reinforce the high-sea flotilla, leading to the development of a specialized auxiliary force of fast and heavily

armed light ships in large numbers. The erstwhile Karaipirivu was the natural choice for this expansion

and in time they became an autonomous force vested with the duties of protecting the Chola territorial

waters, home ports, patrol of newly captured ports and coastal cities.


The state's dependence on overseas trade for much valued foreign exchange created the powerful Trade-

guilds, some of which grew more powerful than the regional governors .[36]

  And in the increasingly

competitive field of international trade, the state faced with difficulties to reinforce and or rescue stranded

Merchant ships in high seas, in a timely manner. This led to the establishment of  privateer  navies. Like its

European counterparts, they had no National markings and employed multi-national crews.

But, they were employed by the Trade-guilds rather than the Empire, giving the Traders an edge in the

seas. Normally, they performed path-finding, escort and protection duties. but, in more than a few

occasions, these forces had been summoned to serve the Empire's interests.

Notable Trade guilds which employed a privateer navy were,

  Nanadesa Tisaiyayirattu Ainnutruvar - literally, "the five hundred from the four countries and the

thousand directions"

  Maalainattu Thiribuvana Vaanibar kzhulumam - The merchants from the high-country in three

worlds (meaning the 3 domiciles of Chinese, Indian and Arabian empires)

  Maadathu valaingair (or valainzhr)vaanibar Kzhu - The pearl exporters form the Kanchipuram 

[edit]Vessels and weapons

 A Song Dynasty  junk ship, 13th century; Chinese ships of the Song period featured hullswith watertight compartments. 

Some of these vessels are believed to have been employed by the Chola Navy too.[37] 

Even before the accounts of the 1st century BCE, there were written accounts of shipbuilding and war-craft

at sea. Professor R.C. Majumdar says that there existed a comprehensive book of naval-architecture in

India dating back to 2nd century BCE, if not earlier.

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During the reign of Raja Raja and his son, there were a complex classification of class of vessels and its

utility. Some of the survived classes' name and utility are below.[38]


  Dharani - The equivalent of modern-day destroyers designed to take combat to high-seas.

  Loola - The equivalent of modern day corvettes; designed to perform light combat and escort duties.

  Vajra - The equivalent of a frigate maybe, a fast attack craft lightly armored.

  Thirisadai - Probably the battle cruisers or battleships of the day, they are reported to be armored

heavily and could engage more than 2 targets in combat, and relied on its built rather than speed to

survive and attack.[39]


Though all ships of the time employed a small Marine force (for boarding enemy vessels), this class of ship

seems to have had a separate cabins and training area for them.[40]

 This ship also is said to be able to

engage in asymmetrical warfare.


The primary weapons platform with extensive endurance (up to 3

months), they normally engaged in groups and avoided one on one


 Probably equivalent to

modern day Destroyers. 

LolaThey were lightly armored, fast attack vessels. Normally performed

escort duties. They could not perform frontal assaults.

Equivalent to modern


VajaraThey were highly capable fast attack crafts, typically used to

reinforce/rescue a stranded fleet.

 Probably equivalent to

modern day Frigates. 


The heaviest class known, they had extensive war-fighting

capabilities and endurance, with a dedicated marine force of around400 Marines to board enemy vessels. They are reported to be able

to engage three vessels of  Dharani class, hence the

name Thirisadai, which means, three braids. (Braid was also the

time's name for oil-fire.)

This class can beattributed/compared to

modern Battle

cruisers or Battleships. 

This is the Anchor of an Unknown LOLA class Chola ship, excavated by the Indian Navy diversoff the coast of 


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 Apart from class definitions, there are names of  Royal Yachts and their architecture. Some of which are,

   Akramandham - A royal Yacht with the Royal quarters in the stern.

  Neelamandham - A royal Yacht with extensive facilities for conducting courts and accommodation for 


  Sarpammugam - these were smaller yachts used in the Rivers (with ornamental snake heads)

In addition to these, we find many names of Ship classes in Purananuru and its application in both inland

waters and open oceans. Some of them are,

  Yanthiram - Hybrid ship employing bot sails and oars or probably Paddle wheels of some type

(as Yanthiram is literally translated to mechanical wheel)

  Kalam - Large vessels with 3 masts which can travel in any direction irrespective of winds.

  Punai - medium sized vessels that can be used to coastal shipping as well as inland.

  Patri - Large barge type vessel used to ferrying trade goods.

  Oodam - Small boat with large oars.

   Ambi - Medium sized boat with a single mast and oars.

  Toni - small boat used in rocky terrain.


In the tenure spanning the 700 years of its documented existence, the Chola Navy was involved in

confrontations for probably 500 years.[41]

 There were frequent skirmishes and many pitched battles. Not to

mention long campaigns and expeditions. The 5th centuries of conflict between

the Pandyas and Cholas for the control of the peninsula gave rise to many legends and folktales. Not to

mention the heroes in both sides. The notable campaigns are below[42][43][44]


  War of  Pandya Succession (1172)

  War of  Pandya succession (1167)

  The destruction of the Bali fleet (1148)

  Sea battle of the Kalinga Campaighn (1081-1083)

  The second expedition of  Sri Vijaya (1031-1034)

  The first expedition of  Sri Vijaya (1027-1029)

  The Annexation of  Kedah (1024-1025)

   Annexation of the Kamboja (?-996)

  The invasion of Ceylon/Sri Lanka.(977-?)

  Skirmishes with Pallava Navy (903-8)

[edit]Recruitment and service

The chola emperors gave a free hand to the admirals in recruiting and training of sailors, engineers,

oarsmen and marines. There were no complicated tests and evaluation process. Any citizen or even

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non citizen could sign up for the naval service. But, one did not end up in the work of his choice.

Preference were given to ex-servicemen, their sons and noblemen. But, this attitude changed in later 

days. And many class of soldiers / sailors distinguished themselves, irrespective of rank and class.

[edit]Ports and fleetsthe most ancient of ports used by Cholas was  Poompuhar . Later on, they used many more ports and

even built some new ones. Some of the famous ports are:









In addition to these sea ports there were many inland ports and dry dock connected by

Rivers Kaveri and Thamarabarani which served commercial fleets and in times of war, to facilitate

mass production, ships were built inland and ferried through the rivers to the Ocean.


  Worayur or Urayur 

The fleets were normally named after the dead monarchs and god's name. The most distinguished

ones were granted Royal prefixes like Theiva-sovereign's name-fleet name. During the reign

of Rajaraja Chola I and Rajendra Chola I, there were 5 fleets, each catering to particular needs. The

main fleet was home ported in Nagapatinam. The other fleets were home ported in Kadalur and a

small fleet was also based in Kanchipuram.

In addition to the main fleets of war ships, there were two fleets of  logistics and transport ships to serve

the needs of the army; involved in a bloody war in Ceylon and later in southeast Asia.

In the later years these numbers increased drastically and a several fleets were created anew. During

the late 11th century, there were a total of nine battle fleets, based in various dominians across the

vast expanses of the Chola empire ranging from the present day Aceh, Ankorwat to the southern

reaches of Ceylon/Sri Lanka.

[edit]Political, cultural and economic impact

The Grand vision and imperial energy of the Father and son duo Raja Raja Chola I and Rajendra

Chola I is undoubtedly the underlying reason for expansion and prosperity. But, this was accomplished

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by the tireless efforts and pains of the navy. In essence, Raja Raja was the first person in the sub-

continent to realize the power projection capabilities of a powerful navy. He and his successors

initiated a massive naval buildup and continued supporting it,and they used it more than just wars.

The Chola navy was a potent Diplomatic symbol,It was the carrier of Chola might and prestige. Itspread the Dravidian culture, the literary and architectural grandeur. For the sake of comparison, it was

 just the equivalent of the " Gunboat diplomacy " of the modern day Great powers and super powers. 

There is evidence to show that the king of Kambujadesa (modern Cambodia) sent an ornamental

chariot to the Chola Emperor, probably to appease him so that his strategic attention does not extend

further than the Malay peninsula.

[edit]Popular culture

From the Sangam age poems to commemorate the victory of the sovereign of the day to theimmortalized Kalinga Campaign of the Kulothunga Chola I in the Kalingattuparani. Parani is a special

type of literary work, which; according to the traditions and rules of linguistics of  Tamizh can only be

composed on a king/general whose forces have killed a thousand elephants in combat.

In modern times, more than a few Romance has been inspired by the Chola Navy, and mostly in Tamil

Language and literature.

   Yavana rani : A historical novel by Sandilyian surrounding the events of the Karikala's

 Ascendence to throne.

  Ponniyin selvan : The crowning glory of the Rajaraja is idolized in this Novel surrounding the

assassination of his brother and crown prince Aditha Karikalan. More than a passing note is given

of the navy and its organization in this Magnum opus by Kalki. Krishnamoorthy.

  Kadal pura : Another historical novel by sandilyan surrounding the foundation of the Chalukya

Chola dynasty in India and the Song Dynasty in china. Sandilyan gives more than a passing

evidence to prove that the song-emperor and Kulothunga chola were friends. By far, this work

gives the most intricate details of the navies of the day and naval warfare. In this work he

describes the various weapons and tactics employed by the Cholas and Chinese navies and their 

combined efforts to overthrow the Sri Vijaya dynasty.

  Kanni Maadam : A historical novel by Sandilyan in the time of Rajathiraja Chola. The work

describes the Pandyas' civil war .It elaborates the war by proxy, between the sinhalese and

cholas. The pallavas are all but gone, they are in the service of both Cholas and pandyas. It

features some of the most detailed tactical maneuvering in battlefield. It also highlights the

importance of the Naval power and logistics in an overseas campaign.

[edit]Timeline of events

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The major events which had direct impact in the development of the Chola Naval capability are listed

here, which is in no case comprehensive. But, some of the events had deep impact nevertheless.

Archeological evidence: The dated excavations,

  3000 BCE - Dugboats were found in Arikamedu, what is now in Puducherry.[citation needed ]


  2400 BCE - Highly functional port is in operation in Lothal of what is now Gujarat.[citation needed ]


  700 BCE - The first mention of the word Yavana in pottery around korkai.(meaning Greeks or 


  300 BCE - A load-stone compass with Chinese inscriptions is found off the coast of 

Kaaveripoompatnam.[citation needed ]


  100 BCE - A settlement of  Tamil/Pakrit speaking merchants founded in Rome.[citation needed ]


  Late 1st century BCE - Roman glass was found in southern coastal regions of  Tamilnadu.[citation

needed ] 

Literary references and recordings 

  356-321 BCE: The Periplus of Niarchus, an officer of Alexander the Great, describes the Persian

coast. Niarchus commissioned thirty oared galleys to transport the troops of Alexander the Great

from northwest India back to Mesopotamia, via the Persian Gulf and the Tigris, an established

commercial route.[45]


  334-323 BCE: Eratosthenes, the librarian at Alexandria, drew a map which includes Sri Lanka and

the mouth of the Ganges. Which states the exchange of traffic and commodity in the regions.[46]


  207-190 BCE: In a puranaanuru song, there is an advice for enterprising soldiers, which when

translated literally comes to "He should ride the horse like the Phalavas, Muster the elephant like

cherals, and must organize the defense of a fort like the Yavanas, this brings to light the

existence of Roman settlements.

  1st century BCE : When Vennikkuyithiar mentions about Karikala, he mentions several class of 

inland vessels by Name some are Kalam, Punai & Patri.



 An early silver coin of Uttama Chola found in Sri Lanka showing the Tiger emblem of the Cholas[47][48]


[edit]See also

  Chola dynasty 

  Chola Military 

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  Dravidian Architecture 


1. ^ a  b  K.A. Nilakanta Sastri,  A History of South India, p 175

2. ^ Kulke and Rothermund, p 115

3. ^ a  b  Keay, p 215

4. ^ Majumdar, p 407

5. ^ The kadaram campaign is first mentioned in Rajendra's inscriptions dating from his 14th year.

The name of the Srivijaya king was Sangrama Vijayatungavarman. K.A. Nilakanta Sastri,The

CōĻas, pp 211 –220

6. ^ Meyer, p 73

7. ^ "History of India by Literary Sources" , Prof. E.S. Narayana Pillai, Cochin University

8. ^ "South India Handbook" , Robert Bradnock, pp 142.

9. ^ "The Commerce and Navigation of the Ancients in the Indian Ocean" , William Vincent, Page


10. ^ "periplus mentions 3 ports in tamil country of which kaveripatnam as center, as the places from

which great ships which calls colondia sailed to pacific islands" - K.M.Panikkar in "geographical

factors in indian history", page-81.

11. ^ 'Mayillai.Seeni. VenkataSwamy',      (TAMIL

BOOK), page-149

12. ^ The  Archaeological Survey of India's report on Ancient ports, 1996, Pages 76-79

13. ^ "India and China- Oceanic, Educational and technological cooperation" , Journal of Indian Ocean

Studies 10:2 (August 2002), Pages 165-171

14. ^ Kulke and Rothermund, pp 116 –117

15. ^ a  b  Kulke and Rothermund, p 118

16. ^ a  b  Kulke and Rothermund, p 117

17. ^ Kulke and Rothermund, p 12

18. ^ Kulke and Rothermund, p 124

19. ^ Tripathi, p 465

20. ^ Tripathi, p 477

21. ^ K.A. Nilakanta Sastri, The CōĻas, p 604

22. ^ "Antiquities of India: An Account of the History and Culture of Ancient Hindustan" , Lionel D.

Barnett, Page 216.

23. ^ a  b  c  Prakash Nanda,ISBN 81 7062 297 2, Pages:56-57. Rediscovering Asia: Evolution of India's

Look-East Policy . 

24. ^ The Military History of south Asia, By Col. Peter Stanford, 1932.

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25. ^ Military Leadership in India: Vedic Period to Indo-Pak Wars By Rajendra Nath, ISBN 81-7095-

018-X, Pages: 112-119

26. ^ Keay, p 223

27. ^ See Thapar, p xv

28. ^ K.A. Nilakanta Sastri, The CōĻas, p 316

29. ^ The Tamil merchants took glassware, camphor , sandalwood, rhinoceros horns, ivory, rose

water, asafoetida, spices such as pepper , cloves, etc. K.A. Nilakanta Sastri,  A History of South

India, p 173

30. ^ a  b  istorical ilitary eritage of the amils y Ca. . Cuppiramaiyan   a.a.

irunāvukkaracu International Institute of amil Studies 

31. ^ "Indian Ocean Strategies Through the Ages, with Rare and Antique Maps" , Moti Lal Bhargava,

Reliance publication house, ISBN 81-85047-57-X 

32. ^ "The Encyclopedia of Military History from 3500 B.C. to the Present", Page 1470-73 by Richard

Ernest Dupuy, Trevor Nevitt Dupuy -1986,

33. ^ The history of the navies of India, BY William Shaf 1996, Pages-45-47

34. ^ The Corporate Life in ancient India, By Prof RC Majumdar, Ramesh Chandra. 1920, Madras

University Press, Available online at 

35. ^ Maritime trade and state development in early Southeast Asia, Kenneth Hallp.34, citing

Pattinapalai, a Sangam poem of the 1st century, quoted in K.V. Subrahmanya Aiyer, 'Largest

provincial organisations in ancient India', Quarterly Journal of the Mythic Society 65, 1 (1954-55):


36. ^ The Corporate Life in ancient India, By Prof RC Majumdar, Ramesh Chandra. 1920, Madras

University Press,

37. ^ Southeast Asia, Past and Present By D. R. Sardesai, Page 47

38. ^ The History and Culture of the Indian People, By Prof R.C. Majumdar Pages, 642-646

39. ^ The History shipbuilding in the sub-continent , By Prof R C Majumdar, Pages, 521-523, 604-616

40. ^  A History of South-east Asia - Page 55 by Daniel George Edward Hall - Asia, Southeastern

Publishers, 1955, Pages 465-472, 701-706

41. ^ The Politics of Plunder: The Cholas in Eleventh-Century Ceylon,George W. Spencer,The Journal

of Asian Studies, Vol. 35, No. 3 (May, 1976), pp. 405-419, Summary available online



42. ^ "An atlas and survey of south Asian History" , By M E Sharpe, 1995, Published by Lynne

Rienner, Pages 22-28

43. ^ The geo-Politics of Asia,By Michael D. Swaine & Ashley J. Tellis, Published by Konark

publishers for the center for policy research, New Delhi,Page 217-219

44. ^ D The Chola Maritime Activities in Early Historical Setting, By: Dr. K.V. Hariharan

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45. ^ 

46. ^ 

47. ^ K.A. Nilakanta Sastri,  A History of South India, p 18.

48. ^ Chopra et al., p 31

[edit]External links (Indian subcontinent section)