Kulothunga Chola III - Military Campaigns and Political Acumen - Campaigns Against The Pandyan Kingdom (1182 CE, 1188–89 and 1205 CE)

Campaigns Against The Pandyan Kingdom (1182 CE, 1188–89 and 1205 CE)

Pandya affairs first claimed the attention of Kulothunga Chola III. The civil war in the Pandya country had not yet settled when he came to the throne, and the Chola forces were still involved in active fighting there. Kulothunga Chola III succeeded for the best part of his reign to continue the Chola hegemony on the Pandya kingdom. Parakramabahu of Sri Lanka, known as Ilangai in Tamil, renewed his efforts against the Cholas and even persuaded Pandya Emperor Vira Pandya to make common cause with him. Vikrama Pandya sought the help of Kulothunga Chola III against Vira Pandya, which lead to an invasion of the Pandyan kingdom by Kulothunga Chola III. The battle resulted in the defeat of the Pandya and Sinhala forces, Vira Pandya was driven into exile, and Vikrama Pandya was installed on the throne of Madurai. This campaign ended before 1182. From his exile, with the aid of his allies, Vira Pandya made another effort to retrieve his fortune, but the attempt was stopped by Kulothunga Chola III on the battlefield of Nettur. Thence, Vira Pandya fled to Ceylon'. This was Kulothunga Chola III's first campaign in the Pandyan kingdom and he met with unprecedented success. The success in this war culminated in there being "no further fighting as both the ruler of Venad and Vira Pandya made up their minds to submit to Kulothunga Chola III and offered their obeisance to the open durbar (court) at Madurai, where Chola emperor performed a "Virabhishekam" and anointment of war heroes, who contributed to the Chola victory against the Pandyas and their allies from Sinhala and Venad kingdoms."

Between 1185–1186, Kulothunga Chola III undertook a second campaign against the Pandya King Vira Pandya following a rebellion by him and non-payment of tribute to his Chola overlord. This time, however, Pandya King Vira Pandya did not get the usual support from the Sinhala and Venad kingdoms. Kulothunga Chola III also seems to have grown from strength to strength, for in his first ten years, in addition to his feuds against his traditional enemies the Pandya and Sinhala kingdoms, he was able to reign on his traditional feudatories, who had taken advantage of the relatively weaker authority of Kulothunga Chola III's predecessors Rajaraja Chola II and Rajadhiraja Chola II and had started to assert their independence.

But even after attaining success while vanquishing the combined armies of his enemies, Kulothunga Chola III showed remarkable poise and dexterity in his conduct and treatment of the defeated adversaries. After being caught with his allies on the battlefield after trying to overthrow the Cholas from his exile, 'Vira Pandya was treated better than he had a right to expect. His life was spared and he was allowed some land and other wealth suited to his new station'. Possibly, Kulothunga Chola III also had a hand in the identification and enthronement of the next Pandya monarch Vikrama Pandya after his victory over Vira Pandya.

A few years after Kulothunga Chola III's campaigns in Kongu country to quell Hoysala incursions and restoration of Chola power in the area, the Pandya ruler Jatavarman Kulasekhara Pandyan, who 'succeeded Vikrama Pandyan in 1190 to the throne in Madurai, provoked Kulothunga Chola III by his insubordination. About 1205, Kulothunga Chola III led a third expedition into the Pandya country, sacked the capital and demolished the coronation hall of the Pandya'. The act of demolishing the Coronation Hall of a vanquished enemy is interpreted by historians as either being a conduct indicative of the weakness of his own position, or recognition by the Cholas of the steadily increasing power from 1150 CE of the Pandyas, who in any case never reconciled themselves to Chola suzerainty or domination, but were for the most part powerless in changing their subordinate position. The last quarter of the period 1150–1225 CE, in which Chola kings Rajaraja Chola II, Rajadhiraja Chola II and Kulothunga Chola III were prominent figures marks some high-points in terms of preservation and extension of traditional Chola territories between 1150–1200 CE, while the last part marks the emergence as the paramount imperial power of the Pandyas, culminating in their becoming the most powerful empire in the region between Deccan in the north, Kalinga in the east, the Konkan and Mysore plateau on the west and south west, and Kanniyakumari and Eelam or Ceylon in the south and south east respectively. The rise of the Pandyas between 1215–1230 CE contrasted directly with the decline of the Cholas which started during the last part of Kulothunga Chola III's reign, mainly between 1214–1217 CE.

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