Democratic Temple Administration By Cholas

I have written about the Democratic process  followed by the Chola Kings to elect ,members for administering villages.

Though a Monarchy Tamil Kings of ancient times followed the principles of democracy by having elected representatives t run day to day administration of the country.

The Minster were appointed by the king.

Tanjore Big Temple.image.jpg
Thanjavur Big Temple

This council  looked after the executive aspects, including  security , finance and foreign affairs.

To advise this group, a Committee was in place.

It was called Enperaayam, that is a council of Eight, who were learned men nominated y the King.

This council also served as a sort of sounding board and at time a an Appellate Court in dispensing with Justice..

The Village formed the core of administration.,

Village council was democratically elected  ballot.

Please read my article on this.

Each village had a member assigned with a specific task, like digging Canals(Karai Velalar, a  sub caste of Velalar, velalar means one who manages water resources), maintaining the Tank bund,Local finance man(Grama Dhanadhikari).

This micro management was  replicated at  the center at the capital , with corresponding officers for the functions.

For the management of temples, the Village had three committees.

1. Committee consisting of Brahmins.

2.Velalars and others.


Decisions about the temple management were taken either by a group or all the groups in consultation with the others.

There were three officials for the running of the temple administration.

1.Sree Karyam, general administration with special responsibility to Finance.

2.Devakanmigal.for ensuring the pooja details and festivals are conducted properly.

3.Maakeswaras for carrying out all the other works.

These officials formed a part of the administrative group mentioned at the beginning of the article.

The meetings of the councils were conducted in Temple premises or the Theatre for performing Arts.

These details are available in Epigraph of Tamil Nadu temples.

The people of the village also participated in the meetings.

Epigraph at Thiruvidaimaruthur Temple, near Kumbakonam, details this process.

Dates on which these meeting were held are also found in the epigraph.

There is no definite evidence of the existence of a council to ministers or of other officers connected to the central government, though the names of individual ministers are found in the inscriptions. A powerful bureaucracy assisted the king in the tasks of administration and in executing his orders. Due to the lack of a legislature or a legislative system in the modern sense, the fairness of king’s orders dependent on the goodness of the man and in his belief in Dharma – sense of fairness and justice. The ancient society did not expect anything more than general security from the government. Even matters of disputes went to the officers of the court only as the last


The Chola bureaucracy did not differ much from its contemporaries. However, what distinguished it was its highly organised nature. A careful balance between central control and local independence was maintained and non-interference in local government was sacrosanct.

There was a definite hierarchy of the bureaucracy and the tenure of the officials simply dependent on the ‘Crown’s pleasure’. The officials held various titles such as Marayan and Adigarigal . Seniority between the same cadre was indicated by qualifying title such as Perundanam and Sirutanam.

One of the important such officers were the Revenue officials responsible for the receipts and expenditures of the government.

Administrative divisions

Every village was a self-governing unit. A number of such villages constituted a Korram (கொற்றம்) or nadu (நாடு) or Kottam (கோட்டம்) in different parts of the country. Taniyur (தனியூர்) was a large village big enough to be a Kurram by itself. A number of Kurrams constituted a Valanadu (வளநாடு). Several Valanadus made up one Mandalam, a province. At the height of the Chola empire there were eight or nine of these provinces including Sri Lanka.These divisions and names underwent constant changes throughout the Chola period.

An inscription of the eighth century CE at Uttaramerur temple describes the constitution of the local council, eligibility and disqualifications for the candidates, the method selection, their duties and delimits their power. It appears that the administration of a common village Ur(ஊர்) or Oor was different from that of a village given to Brahmins.


The activities of the officials of the bureaucracy were under constant audit and scrutiny. We have an example of such reports in an inscription from the reign of Uttama Cholawhich gives us the details of the remissness and neglect of some officials in the delay of recording a particular grant. As a result a dispute arose between contending parties as to who should benefit from the grant. The officials involved were punished.

As the head of the civil administration, the king himself occasionally toured the country and carried out inquests into the local administration.

Revenue administration

An extensive resurvey was done around 1089 CE by the Chola king Kulottunga, recording the extents of lands and their assessment, boundaries of villages and the common rights inside the village, including the communal pastures.

Revenue officials were responsible for the tax collection. The Chola government was very mindful of the need for the fair and accurate collection of tax to run the state machinery. The revenue records were not manuals of extortion, but a carefully maintained records of land rights, based on complete enquiried and accurate surveys, and were kept up-to-date by regular surveys.

The duties of revenue officials included many other spheres of responsibilities. They also regulated receipts and expenditures of temples. They were also seen to purchase land on behalf of village assemblies. They attested and certified important documents drawn up by local government agencies such as village councils. They were also shown to act as magistrates.

Besides the tax collected by the central government, several local bodies enjoyed the privilege of collecting tolls and other imposts.


Justice was mostly a local matter in the Chola Empire, where minor disputes were settled at the village level. The punishments for minor crimes were in the form of fines or a direction for the offender to donate to some charitable endowment. Even crimes such as manslaughter or murder were punished by fines. Crimes of the state such as treason were heard and decided by the king himself and the typical punishment in such cases was either execution or confiscation of property. The people had to agree to the king in these situations, no matter what.

Village assemblies exercised large powers in deciding local disputes. Small committees called Nyayattar heard matters that did not come under the jurisdiction of the voluntary village committees. The punishments in most cases were in the form of donations to the temples or other endowments. The convicted person would remit their fines at a place called Darmaasana. There is not much information available on the judicial procedures or court records.

There was no distinction between civil and criminal offences. Sometimes civil disputes were allowed to drag on until time offered the solution. Crimes such as theft, adultery and forgery were considered serious offences. In most cases the punishment was in the order of the offender having to maintain a perpetual lamp at a temple. Even murder was punished with a fine. In one instance a man had stabbed an army commander. Rajendra Chola II ordered the culprit to endow 96 sheep for a lamp at a neighbouring temple.

Capital punishment was uncommon even in the cases of first-degree murder. Only one solitary instance of capital punishment is found in all the records available so far.

Reference and citations.


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