Virarajendra Chola (r.1063–1070 CE) is considered to be one of the most underrated Chola kings, mainly because a major part of his life was spent as a subordinate of his two elder brothers Rajadhiraja Chola I and Rajendra Chola II, who along with Virarajendra Chola himself were the illustrious sons of their Chakravarti(Emperor) father, Rajendra Chola I. While certainly it was not a practice among the Chola kings to nominate the eldest son, but the most capable (in administration of their domains as well as proving their mettle on the battlefield) as the heir to the throne. During his early reign he granted the maintenance of a school to study the Vedas, Sastras and Grammar and a hostel was provided for the students. A hospital named Virasolan was also provided by him for the sick people. The famous grammatical work in Tamil, Virasoliyam was written by Buddhamitra during his reign.
Virarajendra’s reign falls in a period of the medieval Cholas, when it was both trying to expand its boundaries and preserve its existing territories, but had appeared to stutter in its attempts because of the death, in his prime, of the eldest brother and king Rajadhiraja-I and the short rule of Virarajendra's elder brother Rajendra-II. In total, the three brothers ruled for 16-20 years altogether by succeeding one another. This rapid succession was seen as a golden opportunity by the traditional enemies and subordinates of the Cholas, viz. the Singhalas (Ceylon), Western Chalukya Empire, Pandyas and even the Chera Perumals, with each adversary either trying to become free or declaring a war on the Cholas. Ultimately, however, Virarajendra proved to be a very capable and brave ruler, who was kind and protective to his subjects, reimposed authority on Chola dominions and was particularly ruthless to the old nemeses of the Cholas, both the Chalukyas and the Pandyas. Viewed overall, especially in the context of the fact that his own rule lasted for less than 10 years, yet, as borne out by his various inscriptions in Karur, Virarajendra's was a lasting legacy in that in the short time he ruled, he overwhelmed everyone of his adversaries, and succeeded not only in preserving Chola territories, but also made overseas concquests in far-off lands like Indonesia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Nicobar, Sakkarakottam (around Bastar district, Chhattisgarh - this was also a place governed by the next major Chola monarch, Kulothunga-I or Rajendra Chalukya, son of Eastern Chalukya King Rajaraja Narendra and thus grandson of Rajendra Chola I through his daughter Ammangadevi.
He was posted as the Chola viceroy of Sri Lanka by his elder brother Rajadhiraja Chola during the early part of the latter's reign. Next, during the reign of his other elder brother Rajendra Chola II, he served as the Lord of Uraiyur.
Virarajedndra fought many battles against the Western Chalukya Empire, the main catalyst for these conflicts being the Chola interest in the Vengi Chalukyas. He fought the Western Chalukyas near Visaiyavadai (modern Vijayawada) and routed the Western Chalukyas on the banks of the river Krishna and re-asserted Chola authority over the domains of the Eastern Chalukyas[*]. He also invaded Singhala Nadu (Ceylon) and ruthlessly crushed attempts of the Singhala kings to free their kingdom from Chola control[*].
During the early period of his reign, Virarajendra fought and killed the king of Pottapi, and king of the Kerala (Chera Perumal) country. He also had to suppress a rebellion in the Pandya territories by the Pandya princes[*]. While these battles were progressing, the Western Chalukya Someshvara I invaded the Chola country, who probably was fooled into thinking that with a new king at helm, the Chola country was there for his taking and he thought he could overcome his earlier humiliation at the hands of Virarajendra's predecessor, Rajendra-II. First, Someshvara-I sent his son Vikkalan (Vikramaditya VI) for plundering Gangaikonda Cholapuram, the capital of Virarajendra. Virarajendra was returning after subduing the Pandyas, the Sinhalas and the Chera Perumal kings and making them tribute paying subordinates[*]. He immediately undertook the task of safeguarding the Chola capital and routed Vikramaditya VI from the Chola capital. Next he chased the Chalukya princes Vikramaditya (Vikkalan) and Singhanan at Gangapadi. He completely overwhelmed the Chalukya army led by both princes and sons of Someshvara-I and proceeded to the Chalukyan capital. There he routed for the first time Someshvara-I who fled the battlefield. The third war fought by Virarajendra against the Chalukyas was when Someshvara-I sent his son Vikramaditya VI to occupy Vengi on the presumption that due to the death of his old nemesis Rajendra-II, Vengi could be made subordinate to Western Chalukya rule. Virarajendra's armies routed the Western Chalukyas at Vengi, after which they surrounded Kalyanpura, the Chalukyan capital and burnt the fortress at Kampili taking precious wealth, the Chief queen of Someshvara-I, eliminated his generals and trusted feudatories and took away his horses and prized elephants.
Virarajendra successfully quelled the rebellions at Ceylon, Madurai and the Chera Perumal Kingdom, Potappi and converted the Western Chalukyas (at the seven and a half lakshas of Rattapadi) into tribute paying subordinates[*].
Virarajendra’s reign is marked by the numerous inscriptions detailing his various victories with the Western Chalukyas. Virarajendra was involved in the battles against the Western Chalukyas even before he became king. Under the command of the then heir to the throne Rajamahendra, Virarajendra fought the Chalukya forces in the battle of Mudakaru. During Virarajendra’s reign, Someshvara, the loser of this battle sought to wipe the disgrace of his defeat at Madukaru and called for battle with the Cholas. On each of the confrontations with the Cholas, Someshvara-I not only disgracefully ran away from the battlefields, but also allowed many of his generals or Mahasamantas and Dandanayakas to become sitting ducks at the hands of the Chola kings. In his inscriptions at Karur and Tindivanam, Virarajendra claims proudly that Someshvara-I's sons Vikramaditya-VI (called Vikkalan) and Jayasimha-III (called Singhanan) fled the battlefield with dishevelled hair.[**] Virarajendra further claimed that he defeated Someshvara-I's armies not less than five times. These battles took place at Kudalasangamam, Gangaikondacholapuram, Karur, Kampili and Vengi. On each occasion, the generals of Someshvara-I like Chamundaraja were beheaded, Maduvana, Vikramaditya VI fled the battlefield with 'disshevelled hair', Jayasimha-III, Annala and finally Ahavamalla Someshvara-I too fled the battle shaming themselves permanently. In another war, it was the time of Someshvara-I's second son, Someshvara-II to be expelled from Kannada country itself. Each time Someshvara-I tried to wipe out the previous disgrace, he was repeatedly routed in war and shamed even more with him losing not just his kingdom but even his wives, treasures, horses, elephants etc. ending up in possession of the Chola King[++]. Each time Someshvara-I lost, he had to sue for peace and became a tribute paying subordinate of Virarajendra. Someshvara-I took one final chance and called Virarajendra for battle.
Someshvara I wrote the Chola king assigning a site in a place called Kudal Sangamam for the battle, ironically near the site of the previous battle in which the Chalukya forces were so utterly defeated. Receiving this message, Virarajendra immediately set out for the battle and camped near Kandai for the Chalukyan army to arrive. The exact date set for the battle, according to Virarajendra’s inscription found at Manimangalam, was Monday, 10 September 1067 C.E.[*][++]
The Chola army awaited the expected battle for more than a month; the Chalukya king never met the appointment. The Chola army then devastated the surrounding countryside, erected a pillar of victory on the banks of the Tungabhadra River[*][++].
There is no verifiable and known reason for Someshvara’s inability to face the Cholas at Kudala Sangama. There was a running succession feud between his first son and chosen heir, Someshvara-II and Vikramaditya-VI. Apparently, Vikramaditya-VI did not want to fight for his father. In fact as per the inscription of Virarajendra at Perumber, after the expulsion of Someshvara-II from Kannada country, it seems that the greedy Vikramaditya-VI fell at the feet of Virarajendra and 'handed' him the entire 'seven and a half lakshas' of Rattapadi (Chalukyan Kingdom, ostensibly, he resented Someshvara-II being the heir to Someshvara-I and not himself). Virarajendra immediately nominated Vikramaditya-VI as the heir to the Chalukya throne and also gave his daughter in marriage to him on extracting the promise that his daughter's son will succeed Vikramaditya-VI as the next Chalukya King.[++]
Surely, the above developments would have discouraged the already disgraced Someshvara-I even further. Whatever may be the reason, Someshvara and he committed suicide by drowning himself in March 1068 C.E. But Virarajendra's records say that the Salukki hid himself in the western sea, which indicates the probability of Someshvara-I having been drowned in the Arabian sea while running away from the Cholan army. This was in sharp contrast to Virarajendra's predecessor Rajadhiraja who lost his life in the battlefield while fighting the enemy.
From Kudal Sangamam, the Chola army proceeded to Vengi to re-establish their control on the Eastern Chalukyan Kingdom. The raiders from Western Chalukya (some sources say that Someshvara-I had sent his son Vikramaditya VI (Vikkalan) and a senior trusted General to capture Vengi and install a puppet ruler subordinate to Someshvara-I. In a battle on the banks of the Krishna River, near Visaiyavadai or modern Vijayawada ++, Virarajendra crushed the Western Chalukya army led by Jananatha. Virarajendra then proceeded to conquer the entire Eastern Chalukya kingdom, defeated and re-captured Kalinga whose king had been in alliance with the Western Chalukyas. Virarajendra installed Vijayaditya, the Eastern Chalukya prince on the Vengi throne.
Vijayabahu, the Sinhala king, who had been ruling a tiny southern portion of the island around the Rohana district, sought to extend his power and expel the Chola occupier. Mahavamsa records that Virarajendra sent the Chola army stationed in the island to attack the Rohana district. Vijayabahu then sent for help from the king of Burma who sent ships and soldiers to assist Vijayabahu. With this help Vijayabahu succeeded in creating revolt in the northern provinces of Lanka. Although the Chola forces in the island and reinforcements sent from the mainland could control these revolts, Vijayabahu continued to create revolts and disturbances within the Chola occupied areas of the island for the next few years.
Virarajendra's records from his seventh year mention that he conquered Kadaram on behalf of a king who had come to ask for help and protection and handed it over to him. The possible date for this occurrence is 1068 C.E. There is not any more information to be gleaned from this inscription. In 1045 Airlangga, who ruled Srivijaya, divided the Kahuripan kingdom into two, Janggala (Malang) and Kediri and abdicated in favour of his two sons to live the life of an ascetic. During Virajrajendra's invasion in 1068, one of these sons might have ruled in Kedah. As yet we have no knowledge of the Srivijaya king who asked for help and the details of this naval campaign. The Cholas continued a series of raids and conquests throughout what is now Indonesia and Malaysia for the next 20 years. This first re-affirmed the hold of the Chola kingdom on the far east, it also enabled freeing of any barriers put by some kingdoms in the Java-Malaya peninsula on traders from Chola territories including from their subordinate divisions in Sri Lanka. While Srivijaya, Kediri, Champa etc. became independent later on, both during the time of Virarajendra till almost the last days of the Chola kingdom, at least till 1215 CE, trade relations between Tamizhagam and the Far East continued unhindered.
At the death of Someshvara I, his son Someshvara II came to the Chalukyan throne in April 1068 CE. Soon after a dispute broke out between him and his younger brother Vikramaditya and a civil war ensued in the Western Chalukya country. Vikramaditya VI fled to the Chola court of Virarajendra Chola and pleaded help from Virarajendra to be nominated heir to the Chalukya throne instead of Someshvara-II. Virarajendra relented on the defeated prince and made him heir to the Chaukya throne and arranged for payment of tributes by Vikramaditya-VI. Virarajendra Chola thus took pity and aligned himself with Vikramaditya, giving his daughter in marriage to him.
He was a younger brother of Rajadhiraja Chola and Rajendra Chola II and regularly figures in many of their inscriptions. From the inscription of one of his successors viz., Kulothunga Chola I, in the Brihadeeswarar temple in Thanjavur dated in the 15th year of his reign, we know that the name of Virarajendra's queen was Arumolinangai. Virarajendra Chola's daughter Rajasundari married an Eastern Ganga Dynasty prince, and her son Anantavarman Chodaganga Deva became the progenitor of the Eastern Ganga dynasty.
Isvaran singamani alias Tondaiman Solapperiyaraiyan was an officer of the king. He figures as early as the sixth year of the king's reign in an inscription at Tindivanam. He made a donation of twelve cows to the temple of Tiruttondisvara.
From an inscription of his from Tirunamanallur dated in the fourth year of his reign, we understand that Virarajendra Chola held the titles Sakalabhuvanasraya, Srimedinivallabha, Maharajadhiraja Cholakula-Sundara, Pandyakulantaka, Ahavamallakula-Kala, Ahavamallanai-mummadi-ven-kanda Rajasraya, Vira-Chola, Karikala Chola, The Glory of the Solar race, Sri-Virarajendradeva, Rajakesarivarma Perumanadigal (similar to the Nolamba Pallava titles of Permanadi from Kannada country) and Konerinmaikondan. Tirunamanallur was also called as Tirunavlur or Rajadittapuram, named after his great predecessor Rajaditya Chola. The very indication of Virarajendra mobilizing his armies for war made his adversaries especially the Salukkis, tremble with fear and every time they tried to confront him, be the Salukkis, Pandiyas or other adversaries of the Vengi territories, they met with nothing but defeat when they marched against him.
Virarajendra Chola died in early 1070 CE after a short but extremely victorious rule. He probably was not very younger to his elder brother Rajendra II or Rajadhiraja Chola and was probably into his middle years when he ascended the throne. In fact, his can be termed (like that of Rajendra-I) as a completely victorious life in that he initially helped his father Rajendra Chola-I, then brothers Rajadhiraja-I and Rajendra-II in both administration and war. Later, upon taking over as King, he himself had a highly successful reign in terms of both internal administration and military conquests. In a way his achievements are comparable to those of Rajendra Chola-I, who expanded his empire inherited from the great Raja Raja Chola-I. Virarajendra was succeeded by his son and heir apparent Athirajendra Chola.
The Thanjavur inscription of his successor Kulottunga I gives the name of Virarajendra's queen as Arumoli Nangai. He also had an elder brother called Alavandan on whom he conferred the title 'Rajaraja' or Rajadhiraja.Early in his reign Virarajendra appointed his son Madurantaka as viceroy of Tondaimandalam with the title of Cholendra. According to historian Sethuraman, this Madurantakan was the son of Rajadhiraja Chola I Another son Gangaikondachola was made viceroy of the Pandya territories. We have no clear information as to which of these two sons was Athirajendra. Like his elder brother Rajadhiraja, Virarajendra also referred to his father as the one who took Purvadesam, Gangai and Kadaram. The most stand out aspect of his rule is the fact that he is known to be the one who issued an excessively large number of grants and edicts . The king was a devotee at the feet of lord at Thillai(Sivan) at Chidambaram, to whom he presented a necklace consisting of rubies of high quality. However, like all his predecessors, he also patronized and cared for temples of all faiths including those of Lord Vishnu.
The inscriptions of Virarajendra begin with the introduction, Viramey-tunaiyagavum and he bore the title Rajakesari. An inscription of the king from a temple in Chingleput district gives his natal star as Aslesha. Another inscription from the Tiruttaleesvara temple in Tirupattur, Ramnad district mentions the king's father, as the conqueror of Purvadesam, Ganges and Kidaram.