Social condition underwent a drastic change during the reign of the Cholas. Caste system became so rigid that there were social differences between the communities. Society was based on caste.
However, it is viewed by some scholars that there was cooperation among the various castes and sub-castes in social and religious life.
There were castes in the society. Varnashrama Dharma was observed. The Brahmins continued to enjoy influence privilege and dominance in the society.
They lived in Agraharams and Chaturvedi mangalam which was exclusively Brahmin villages. They were provided with tax-free lands. They were learned and had knowledge in Vedas, Upanishads and Puranas. They even held high position such as ‘Rajagur’ in the Government.
They narrated the Ramayana and the Mahabharatha to the public at the Mandapas. People donated lands as Irayili –Vedhavirudhi, Pattaviruthi and Puranaviruthi. The inscriptions confirm this. The Chetties, the business people was an important section in the society.
There were other communities like Vellalas, Idayars, kaikolars, Rathakaras, Paraiyas etc.
Valangai and Idangai
There were two classes existed in the society namely Idengai and Valangai. Each had 98 castes. Valangai class consisted of rich and those who enjoyed privilege of the government. Idangai consisted of workers and had no privileges of the government as that of Valangai. They paid taxes – land tax, house tax etc. Both Valangai and Idangai had separate temples to worship.Prof. K.A.N.Sastri says: “The ninety eight sub-sects of the Idangai are again mentioned in a later inscription from Aduturai, which records the hardships to which these sub-sects were exposed at the hands of the Vanniya tenants and the Brahmana and Vellala landlards, backed by government officials.”
Nilakanda Sastri says: “The origin of this division is unknown. Legend ascribes it to the design of Karikala Chola and also, with more plausibility, to a famous occasion when the two section of the population laid their disputes before a Chola king, one party standing on the right hand side of the monarch, the other taking a position on the left. Several regiments of the army were counted as of the Valangai in the reign of Rajaraja I. During the rule of Kulotunga I a clash between the Right and Left hand castes resulted in the burning of the village (Rajamahendra Chaturvedi mangalam). Idangai people worshipped the Goddess Parvathi and Kali and Valangai people worshipped Lord Siva and Tirumal.”
Positiion of women
Women were respected and enjoyed a privileged position in the society. They had property rights. The Inscription refers to women of upper classes owning property in their own property in their own right and disposing of it as they chose. They were engaged in the small works. It cannot be said that their position was much improved.
Social freedom and prestige belonged to accomplished dancing girls of the higher grade who became famous by their philanthropic works. There were learned women.Devadasis were provided grants and donations which protected them economically. There are references that some were married and led their life. Members of royal family namely Sembian Mahadevi, Vanavanmadevi and Kundavai were religious and patronized for temple building.
Monogamy was common in the society. Polygamy was found among the rich and the kings. Marriages were held only in day time.
Dowry was not a customary or compulsory. But it was given to the bridegrooms either in the form of land or house or cash. It was known as Sridhanam or Seethanam.
Social organization was based on blood relations, professions, religious belief and environment.
Sati is mentioned in the inscriptions. Since they are few it is understood that it can hardly be regarded as a common practice in the Tamil countryunder the Cholas.
There were women who lived after their husbands. Sembian Madevi was an example and she did a remarkable service for religion. Some women conducted festivals in the Siva temple on behalf of their husbands who died.
Slavery was found in the society. Many kinds of slaves existed records mention in stances of free men becoming slaves in order to escape starvation . Some women dedicated to the temples.
Generally slavery in Tamil Nadu was not like the slave system that prevailed in the Western countries. The slaves in Tamilnadu were treated better than the slaves in the west.
Food and Dress
Rice was mainly used millet, grains, pulses, gingili, green grams were used. Curd rice, milk rice and Tamarind rice were the diet of the people. Ghee was used. The Jain saints took rice and roots and Banana. The Tamils wore simple dresses and they were made of cotton and silk.
Men used two garments- A dhoti and a turban. Women used upper and lower garments. Upper dress was known as Kachchai. Women folded the saree and inserted the frills on the left side of the hip. Tailoring was known to them.
Mirror was used. Cosmetics were used by them. People used umbrella. They wore variety of flowers and put kumkum on the forehead. The ornaments used by women were bangles, necklaces, armlets, waist belt and anklets.
The pastime activities of the people during the period of Cholas were cock-fighting, horse race, elephant race, hunting, wrestling, dance, music and drama.
People had blind beliefs and superstitions. They believed is ghosts. They believed in ghosts. They believed Morgosa leaves would drive ghosts. They predicted on hearing the sounds raised by the birds.
Agriculture and Industry
Agriculture was the pivot of economy. It was the major occupation of the people. The independent peasant proprietor was then, as now, the backbone of social life. More lands were brought into cultivation as the result of the efforts taken by the Chola ruler. Sathyanatha Iyer says that the proper utilization of the water of the Kaveri was supplemented by the construction of great tanks like the Vairamegha tatka at Uttaramerur. Canals were dug from the rivers for the purpose of irrigation providing tanks. The rivers and the tanks which were utilized during the time of Canals are as follows:
The Mudikondan River
The Vira chola North River
The Madhurantaka North River
The Vikraman River
Kandaradhitha Big tank
Madurantaka Big tank
Sundara Chola Big tank
All these tanks were constructed by the Chola rulers.
Most of the people engaged in agriculture. Land was possessed by individuals and communities. There were peasant proprietorship and other forms of land tenure. The poor agricultural coolly depended only on agriculture. Land was given freely or donated by the ruler to the Brahmins – Ehabhoga villages, and Devadanam land (Land given to temple). The cattle used for cultivation was also taken care of. Thus, every attempt was made for cultivation of more land by the rulers.
There was the steady progress of reclamation of forest and waste lands that was being brought under the plough.
Tax was collected from people. Purav later known as Irai or Kadamai was a land tax. Tax free lands were known as Iraiyili. Kinds of taxes imposed by the Government were as follows:
Kudimai (Tax collected from those who cultivated lands)
Ankadipattam (Tax on those who used water from tank)
Nilanirpattam (Tax on those who used water from tank)
Ilamputchi (Toddy Drapers).
Tax evaders were punished. Land tax and other taxes were collected by Village Sabhas. The taxes so collected were deposited into the Government treasury.
Weights and Measures
For the purpose of selling and buying things, many kinds of weights and measures were used during the Chola period.
Grains were measured – pidi, alakku, ulakku, uri.
Cubic measures were: Ma, Kuruni, manjadi and Kalanju.
Linear measures were viral, jan and mulam.
Internal Trade and Foreign Trade
Weavers engaged in weaving and they produced cloths. Blacksmiths produced iron articles while goldsmiths made golden and silver ornaments. Internal trade and external trade were flourishing. There were guilds (chamber of commerce) which protected the interest of the merchants.
Nilakandasastri says: “The metal industries and the jewelers’ art had reached a high state of perfection.” Since the inscriptions refer to limited occupations we do not have much information about occupations of the people. There were salt pans at K Janyakumari, Variyur and Ayturai and they were the more important centres of salt manufacture.
Regarding the transportation, there were roads maintained by the local authorities. The better class of roads was ‘Peru Vali. These trunk roads connected distant parts of the country. Some of those were Andhra road, (Vadugapperuvali), road to Kongu (Kongupperuvali) there were merchants’ guilds.
The nanadesis then were a powerful autonomous corporation of merchants whose activities apparently took little or no account of political boundaries.
The Chola country had brisk foreign trade. Ships from China and Arabia came to the Cholamandalam ports. The Cholas had trading contact with China, Indo-China, Ceylon, Sumadra and Java. The goods which were exported from Chola country were pearls, Ivory, cardamom, pepper, perfumes, cotton textiles and coral.Horses were imported to India from the Arabs. Those who purchased horses in India and sold to the native people were called kudirai Chetties. Nilakanda sastri says: “The extensive trade described by Marco polo and Wassaf in the beginning of the fourteenth century could not have sprung up suddenly, and its beginnings must be traced to Chola times if not to an earlier period.”
The articles namely pearls, cardamom, pepper, sandal, cosmetics were exported to foreign countries. The Chola country had maritime contact with China, South East Asian countries and Arabia and Persia.
Barter system was also in practice. Traders were also called Nagarathar and Manikiramattar. Bonds were used for getting loans.
Various coins which were made of gold, silver and copper were in use. Tiger and Fish symbols were inscribed on the coins.
Kalanju, Manjadi and Kachchanam were in use. Pon was the name of coin and kasu was a copper coin.
The Chola period was not lagged behind in the field Tamil literature. The country produced a good number of great scholars during the period of Cholas. The notable scholars of this period were Kambar, Sekkilar, Meykandar, Puhalendi, Pattinathar and Ottakkuttar. Prof K.A.N.Sastri says: “In literature as in most other spheres the age of the Imperial Cholas constitutes the most creative epoch of South Indian history.” The literary works of the period can be classified as:
The devotional hymns of Sambandar,Appar and Sundarar were compiled by Nambi during the time of Rajaraja I into seven Tirumarai (Divine literature). The first three thirumarai were that of Sambnandar the next three were that of Appar and the seventh was that of Sundarar. They were i.e all these seven tirumarais called Tevaram.
Thiruvasakam written by Manickkavasagar was eighth Tirumarai. The ninth tirumarai consists of the hymns of nine saints. Tirumular’s Tirumantiram was as tenth Tirumarai.
The Eleventh Tirumarai consists of the hymns of many poets. Periapuranam written by Sekkilar was the Twelfth Tirumarai. This work deals with the biographies of 63 Nayanmars(Saiva Saints). This epic was written in the 12th century A.D. and Sekkilar was a Chola minister.
The Periapuranam has influenced the lives and thoughts of the Tamil Saiva population. Nilakanda sastri says that in every way it is a composition that worthily commemorates the great age of the Imperial Cholas and their sustained devotion to Saivism.
The Kalladum was composed by Kalladanar. He refers to the miracles wrought by Siva on account of Manikkavasagar, Idaikadar and others. It is believed that it belonged to 10th century A.D.
The hymns of twelve Alwars were compiled by Nathamuni into Nalayira Tivya Prabandham. Early three Alwars namely Pei, Poykai and Pudam belonged to the pre-Pallava period. The hymns of Andal Tiruppavai spread in South East Asia.
Ramanuja the great Vaishnavite scholar and expounder of Visistatvaidam wrote commentaries on the Vedas. Kambar wrote the Ramayana which is a masterpiece in Tamil literature. It was composed in the twelfth century A.D.
The Jivaga Chintamani, the epic was written by Thiruttakka Thevar. It is the Jain work. Apart from religious matter it describes nature and it contains excellent similes and ethics. The Valayapathi is the Jain work.
The Neelakesi, is the Jain work and its author is not known. It contains ethics and emphasizes ahimsha(non-violence). It contains 894 verses. Another Jain work is Udayanakumara Kaviyam which contains 367 poems. Other Jain works are Yashodha Kavyam and Meru Manthara Puranam.
The Kundalakesi, the Buddhist work was written by Nathakuthanar. It describes the life of the Buddha and criticizes other religions. Only 19 poems of the Kundalakesi are available. The Chulamani written by Tholamoli Thevar is a Buddhist work and it contains 2331 verses.
Iraiyanar Kalaviyal and Nambi Ahapporul was treatise on Akam. Purapporul Venbamalai was a treatise on Puram. Yapperunkalam and Yapperunkkalakarikai were treatises on prosody. Thandialankaram dealt with poetics.
Ilampuranar wrote a commentary on Tolkappiyam.Adiyarkku Nallar wrote a commentary on Silappathikaram gives valuable information. The Virasoliyam of Budhamitra and Nannul by Pavanandhi are books on Grammar.
The Kalingathu Parani, written by Jeyam kondar, describes the war which took place in North of Kalinga, and the exploits of Kulotunga. It is the masterpiece describing the events in detail.
Nilakanda sastri says, “The survival of the Kalingattupparani in its entirely is perhaps due to its supreme merit; for there are several instances in the history of Indian literatures of one good book killing many inferior ones. Jayam kondar had many imitators but no rival among the poets of later times.” Perungadai is the work of Konguvelir.
The style of the author is very direct and the poem takes a high rank among the literary works of the Tamil world. The Moovarulawas composed by Ottakkuththar, the court poet of Vikrama Chola, Kulottunga II and Rajaraja II.Kulothunkan Pillai Tamil, Nalavenba,Athichoodi,Konrai Vendhan and Nalvali were other literary works which contain moral lessons.