Democracy @ India during Chola period

Although, this cannot be compared to the present day democracy, i am just want to share this interesting news about ourselves.

This is the official version of History, recorded through inscriptions. This happened during Chola period, (i thing Raja Raja Cholan), where they went as far as indonesia and ruled.

This is about a village called Uthiramerur, located near chennai. The inscriptions at Uthiramerur gives us some detail over the eligibility to contest the elections. In tamil, its popularly called “Kudavolai”, since the election box is a “Kudam” (dont know english translation :( )
Eligibility criteria for Candidates:
– He should own at least Kaal Veli land (Kaal means Quarter and Veli is the unit measured for lands those days)
– He should live on his own land (means own house)
– Should be over 35 years of age and below 75
– Should have mastered in Vedhas and basic studies
– Shouldn’t have possessed the same position in the past 3 years

– He, who hasn’t shown his income to Government during his tenure
– If one has been proved corrupt during his tenure, he, his family
members and even his blood relatives cannot contest elections for next 7 generations
– He, who hasn’t paid taxes
– Who has extra marital affairs with married women
– Murderers, Liars, Drunkards
– Who swindled other’s money in the past
– He who eats the uneatable by humans

It also says that the tenure is only of 360 days (1 year, those days), after which he will have to voluntarily withdraw from the capacity. If he is found guilty during the tenure, he will be removed by force (by the king).

A 10th Century record also reveals how the fines imposed on the wrong doers of the village were administered. Those who were fined for wrong deeds were called “Dhushtargal” (means criminals). The fines were imposed on them by the village assembly and the sitting elected members.

The assembly also decides that the said fines imposed should be collected from the “Dhushtargal” and settled by the village administrators through the assembly, within the same financial year, failing which the assembly would
interfere and get the matter settled.

Delayed payment of penalties also had late fees attached to them. These all happened 1000 years back?
The important point to note is that all proceedings are held in public, and before the whole villagers. Since the villagers know each other, and the office bearer residing in the same village, anything going wrong is immediately brought before the council. (panchayat)..

(We could have heard this famous tamil dialog “Panchayata kootra.”)

It also clearly states that, even the elected members of village assembly cannot escape fines or punishment, using their powers. They will be dealt severely if found guilty.

(personally, during my childhood, i have seen people expressing opinion on panchayat leader.. and this opinion is what those leaders fear of. because, it means, a bad name to their family too, who reside among the same people… But in the last few years, the situation got worse due to the mentality “what will happen if i do this wrong”…)

In some areas of tamilnadu, predominantly south, the village head is Naattamai. (again the famous tamil dialog “naataama…. theerpa maathi sollu :) )

Probably, we have seen most of such things in cinema, and hence may not know the importance of such an administration.

So, what does the people do, when a village head, consolidates the power. The scholars, will take this issue to the king, and the king would dispatch an army to dislodge the village head.

Unlike today’s circumstances, the king dont have any voting compulsions to give second thought.. On those days, the people showed unquestionable loyalty to kings, and the kings realised his duty to protect his citizens. So, whenever any wrongs happen in any part of his kingdom, the scholars & affected ones at that place, bring the news to the king, who would take prompt action.

As an exemption, there are few kings, who remain casual in his duties, or failed in his duties. In such case, either the enemy rajyam, will capture his territory, or the people’s copoperation will be lost by the king, which bring him to confusion.

More over, any king who failed in his duty, has to lose all his goodwill and respect, not only among his subjects, but among other kings, whom he has to share dias in many occasions. (like suyamvaram, & other events).

I have lot to write on our polity and social structure, in detail. Probably, i will be able to in the near future.

Is there anything that we can learn from this simple history of ours? Please share me your views, and also if any related news that you know.

[Note: One of the few english books that i read is “Wisdom of Crowds”. It was a compilation of research, on american people’s behaviour and characteristics, and how they as a crowd, provided, solutions smarter than the expert.

I wonder, why no one does any such research on our own society and people. Infact, while reading that book, i just compared with our people’s behaviour.. i have some really interesting things to share.. let me try in future doing some posts on that]


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26 Responses to Democracy @ India during Chola period

  1. Saravanan says:

    Dear Mr. Senthiraja,

    Wonderful note.

    Nice to see the subject with a different perspective.

    Thanks & Warm wishes,

  2. Pingback: How about this model election code? at Blogbharti

  3. Karthik P.K says:

    Senthil ..That was interesting can you provide me the source …will like to look into it for further reading :)

  4. Priya Raju says:

    Senthil – Good post. Rajaraja Chola was an enlightened king & we should all be proud of him.

  5. senthil says:

    Thanks priya.. i went to Uthiramerur and saw the mandapam in which the election is supposed to be held.. That village is full of dilipated temples which is now impoverished..

    Karthick.. i do not have any references now.. i remember reading it in my school books.. and since i saw this in the blog i mentioned, i posted this…

    Priya.. The history of Cholas were one of the core historic subjects of malaysia, singapore and indonesia.. the cholas were called as “Imperialistic Cholas” :)

  6. lokaksheman says:

    Good post as usual, Senthil.

    A friend of mine always criticizes democracy ( demo-crazy ) saying that it is a solution invented by the West and is only fit for their countries. Our country has our unique structure ( and our set of unique problems). The democracy practiced by other countries cannot be applied to India. We have to practice democracy in our own way.
    He goes on to give analogies of companies run by multiple co CEOs.More often than not the CEO’s would get into a power struggle and such companies do not perform well. Democracy ( especially a coallition government) is like having multiple heads. 2 heads think in 2 different ways and synergy is never achieved.

    Now I’m looking at your post…Democracy practiced by us is heavily dependend on the existence of a good king , a king who idolises Rama not Aurangazeb.

    In todays world , the Prime Minister is the equivalent of a King. So for current day democracy , society to thrive we need to have a strong PM. ( Unfortunately the one we have is a ‘lothi payal’ , albeit erudite economist)

    We need to have a strong leader at the Centre.( Thats what Kumble was like, down under. The series should have been 1-1 , if not 2-1 in India’s favour ). Its a shame that we do not have many names to propose. Almost all are equally corrupt.

    Which makes me think why is it that India does not have good politicians?.I read an article once by Thomas Friedman in nytimes that Americans got a bad leader like Bush because they deserve only Bush. Same way , Indians got bad leaders because we deserve only Manmohan and Sonia and other listless BJP leaders.

    How could we improve so that we deserve / get better leaders and thus better society , better justice , peace , prosperity etc?. I dont know. (Writing comments on someone’s blog , I’m sure, is not what one should do)

    Atleast we can cast our votes.
    To be honest , I’m 29 and I have never casted my vote ever in india ( excuses are that they delayed my voters id card and that I’m always out of India…they are JUST LAME excuses..I am ashamed.)

    Another thing, Senthil.
    How many ppl read you blog?.
    Is there a way for you to fugure out the number of NRIs and RI who subscribe to your blog?.

  7. lokaksheman says:

    Sorry guys..I wrote my mind out and now I feel that I got carried away.
    Senthil , if you feel that I digressed , feel free to remove my comment
    Keep up the good work

  8. Priya Raju says:

    Senthil – Interesting point about what Malaysians think about the Cholas. It was Rajendra Chola who went to the Far East & conquered, not Rajaraja Chola.

    I guess anyone who conquers another country is an imperialist – and that was the “done” thing in those days.

  9. senthil says:

    Thanks priya.. I think, there is lot of meanings for imperialism.. the following link is useful..

    There is some striking difference (my findings) b/w European invasion and the invasion by our kings.. i will try to do in another post..

  10. senthil says:

    lokaksheman.. your friend is right in some terms.. the main difference b/w western kings and our kings are that our kings are bound by dharma, a concept which does not exist there.
    That’s why we have history (or purana), where kannagi could bring down the pandya king, or nakeerar could even counter the god, or a manu needhi cholan can offer his own son for providing justice to a cow..

    Unlike western polities, indian polity is highly distributed, where the needs of the people are taken over by themselves headed by a local chief. There is no concept of nationhood, rather, we had only dynasties. The common people at the local level remained unaffected, and did not care who ruled, as long as they did good for them..

    The facts that we have seen in films like “Chinna Gounder, Naattamai” etc, may be exaggerated, but those are true to its original terms..

  11. pilgrim says:

    Hi Senthil.
    Very interesting article. I am happy to be an indian. Many great leaders came from INDIA. I am a south african. My great great garandfather came from India to SA as indentured labourers. Today we are blessed and are happy to be also part of this land in Africa. I am in pursuit of my roots in India but all my research seem fruitless. I think it is because of my surname ~ SEEKOLA. My family are mostly telegu speaking people. Early this year I stumbled on the CHOLA dynasty of the circa 10th century and I inclined to think that my family here in South Africa (Now in access of 300 people) have some links to the CHOLA generation. I dont know? Plse reply email:

    • Hi ,

      I will strongly say that telugu people have very strong connections with Chola root… during the days of pandyan dominance chozhas fled to telugu regions were they were called by slightly different name… If you want evidence for this in tanjore temple and gangai konda cholapura temple u can see both tamil and telugu inscriptions.. but the relevence with both the language are evidently seen… I also want to add that during pallava’s dominance the chola rule was 99% uprooted in tamilnadu other than trichy kingdom…. from early 2nd centrury till 10th century til the emergence of Raja raja I (He is the grandfather of Raja raja II who build the tanjore big temple)

  12. senthil says:


    Its nice that you are tracing your roots.. If you have any details of the village or the remnants of information from your ancestors, the roots can be traced back..

    wishing you the good luck..

  13. pilgrim says:

    Thanks for replying. he only info I have thus far is an electoral list that I found on the net which alluded to some SEEKOLA people in the Niligiri District of Andhra Pradesh. And a mentioned of a school: Kookkalthorai Government High School which was used as a polling station.
    Do you any ideas on how I can perhaps make some links/communication with these ppl or perhaps some strategy that will help get connected to these ppl?

  14. senthil says:


    Since i am from tamilnadu, i dont have much idea about AP.. i request you to contact the indian high commission there..

    meanwhile, i will forward your queries to my andhra friends..

  15. Cool site, love the info.

  16. y.sailendra says:

    Dear Senthil,
    your comments about village democracy were informative and enlightening.Please keep up the good work.

  17. minicircuits says:

    This might be the greatest read I have read

  18. Swami says:

    senthil, you mentioned about “imperialist chola”. you also mentioned that cholas had DHARMA and so then conqured other places and they are different from the current imperialisitic west.

    how are they different? cholas think their dharma is supreme and they go to other lands and establishes thir temples (siva temple in indonasia or somewhere). Westerners coming and establishing churches in india. what is the difference? Cholas thought dharma is right. Christians think “Christ is the only path. follow him” is right. How are they different. When cholas established temples there, it inherently means that the civilization there was infused with the dharmic views. similarty west establishes their civilizaiton on indians and so our current day indian civilization which is in transit between the old and the so called new. how are these different as well. Everyone thinks their beieif system and practisies are the right ones and go about changing others. isnt it the same thing that has happened in chola period as well in the south east?

    though i am against conversions, just because you mentioned the term “imperialist chola” i am raising these questions.

    • senthil says:


      There are many fundamental faults in your understanding..

      1. First define imperialism, and then find whether this definition applies to chola?

      2. Is dharma same as religion? Or else, define dharma (or say chola dharma).. then we can find if its supreme or not.

      3. Name any single temple in entire south east asia, which was built by chola?

      4. Is there any proof or historic evidence, that cholas engaged in conversion? Did cholas had any concept of believers/infidel?

      5. What was the religion/culture before chola’s influence? are they present now?

      Building church is NOT same as building temple.. you need to understand the philosophy and concept of temples..

      Temple is the centre of indian political administration.. The temple is the place where god resides.. and that place is chosen based on agama.. and the city is constructed with temple as reference.. so temple is a civilizational unit.. whereas CHUCH is just a congregating medium.. its NOT the place where GOD resides..

      • Swami says:

        1. First define imperialism, and then find whether this definition applies to chola?

        Wiki definition is “creation and/or maintenance of an unequal economic, cultural, and territorial relationships, usually between states and often in the form of an empire, based on domination and subordination.”
        i dont think that chola’s would have done these and thats why i asked the question why they still call them as “imperialist cholas”.

        3. Name any single temple in entire south east asia, which was built by chola?

        well . guess they are not cholas exactly. but what about the empire in combodia and what about the siva temple present there? not sure whether combodia was having an existing culture which got destroyed bcos of this or not… if you have any information please share.

        i agree with you on other points…. but still i wonder why they are being called as “imperialist” bcos its generaly seen as a derogatory word.

  19. senthil says:

    /** i agree with you on other points…. but still i wonder why they are being called as “imperialist” bcos its generaly seen as a derogatory word.

    Who exactly is calling cholas as imperialists? and why should we accept their version? Challenge it..
    Even in the wikipedia article on Imperialism, they clearly stated that this definition applied only after 16th or 17th century, after europe started colonising the world..

    /** well . guess they are not cholas exactly. but what about the empire in combodia and what about the siva temple present there?
    When the empire in cambodia built temples themselves, then how can we equate it with missionaries building churches in india? The fact is that even before dominance of cholas, the indian culture was prevalent there..

    The bharatheeya mind is being confused and corrupted by equating us with the europeans, to establish a notion that you are NOT better than us..

  20. it was not Raja raja chola.. it was paranthaga chola’s dynasty and it was followed by their all sucessive chola kings.. but the inscription is deciphered with the name paranthaga cjola… one great and unsung king of chola dynasty…

  21. Thats some informative read..

  22. Suresh says:

    7am arivu- nice movie, not sure how factual some of its research is, and not sure with some sub national identity politics, but good concept all the same..
    THought Sankar did a better job in Indian though, on the use of martial arts.

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