How the Chola Flag left a Mark in Lanka

by MT Saju, 'Times of India,' March 2, 2016

The journey in search of trans-oceanic art traditions reveals how the Chola rule in Sri Lanka made an indelible mark on the island nation’s history and brought about changes in the socio-economic and cultural spheres.Two Chola temples, namely Siva Devalayas, in Polonnaruva are the important Chola monuments in the island nation, according to S Kannan, professor of history, Annamalai University’s Madurai Study Centre. The growing political authority of the Cholas over Sri Lanka, he said, facilitated the Chola-sponsored trade and temple-building activities to prosper considerably , leading to the migration of several cultural traits from Chola mainland to Lanka. “The ruined and disappeared Chola temples in various parts of Sri Lanka and the bronze at Polonnaruva stand testimony to this,“ he said.

By the end of 10th century AD, the northern part of ancient Sri Lanka was invaded and conquered by the Chola king Rajaraja I and subsequently his son and successor Rajendra I consolidated Chola rule in Sri Lanka. According to Kannan, Rajendra I appointed one of his sons, who styled himself as Chola Lankesvara, as the viceroy of Sri Lanka and the Cholas penetrated into the southern part of Lanka too.The Chola inscriptions found at different places testify to the fact that the dynasty’s suprem acy over this region lasted for nearly 80 years until it was finally liberated by the Ceylonese king Vijayabahu I at the time of the Chola monarch Kulottunga I.The two Siva temples at Polonnaruva reveal the transoceanic migration of the Chola architectural stylistic traits to ancient Sri Lanka, said Kannan. “While the Siva Devalaya no.2 dated to 10th century AD, reflects the second phase of Chola art, the Siva Devalaya no.1 assigned to 12th century AD, displays the stylistic features of the third phase of the Chola art. The plan, basement, wall, superstructure and ornamental motifs of these two temples exhibit the characteristics of the contemporary small or medium-sized temples in the Chola heartland,“ he said.Chola bronzes in Sri Lanka also indicate the migration of art forms and ideas. “A close observation of bronzes helps us conclude that in the initial stages of Chola occupation, the bronzes were cast by the local sculptors as these images express many native stylistic elements. But in the later part of Chola period , the bronzes were either made in Chola heartland and brought to Lanka or made by the local artisans on the Chola models given to them,“ said Kannan, who was speaking on “Trans-oceanic art traditions: Chola temples and bronzes in Sri Lanka“ at the 9th national conference on marine archaeology of Indian Ocean countries held recently at the Tamil University , Thanjavur.

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