Early Cholas - Social Conditions

Social Conditions

Sangam literature gives an unusually complete and true picture of the social and economic conditions during the early chola period. The culture is best described as an amalgam of the Dravidian and Aryan. The stories of Mahabharata and Ramayana were well known to the Tamil people, shown by the claims of some kings to have fed both the opposing army in the Mahabharata War. The claim that Shibi, who gave his own flesh to save a dove, as a Chola is obviously influenced by northern legends.

The land of the Cholas was fertile and there was ample food. Sangam poems say that in the Chola country watered by the river Kaveri, in a space in which an elephant could lie, one can produce enough grain to feed seven.

Hereditary monarchy was the prevailing form of government. Disputed succession and civil war was not uncommon. The sphere of the state activity was limited. In a society steeped in respect for custom, even the most perverse dictator could not have done much harm.

The Chola monarchs were approachable by subjects and justice was meted out directly by the king in most occasions. This is in marked contrast to the magnificent empires of the later Cholas where the Emperor was kept much away from contact with the lay people. The kings often took the field in person in battles and if the kings was killed or wounded in battle, his army immediately gave up the fight and surrendered.

The trade that flourished between the Chola country and the ancient Roman Empire is given in much detail by Periplus of the Erythraean Sea (c. 75 CE).

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