The Cholas had an excellent system of administration. The emperor or king was at the top of the administration. The extent and resources of the Chola Empire increased the power and prestige of monarchy. The big capital cities like Tanjore and Gangaikondacholapuram, the large royal courts and extensive grants to the temples reveal the authority of the king. They undertook royal tours to increase the efficiency of the administration. There was elaborate administrative machinery comprising various officials called perundanam and sirudanam.
The land revenue department was well organized. It was called as puravuvarithinaikkalam. All lands were carefully surveyed and classified for assessment of revenue. The residential portion of the village was called ur nattam. These and other lands such as the lands belonging to temples were exempted from tax. Besides land revenue, there were tolls and customs on goods taken from one place to another, various kinds of professional taxes, dues levied on ceremonial occasions like marriages and judicial fines. During the hard times, there were remission of taxes and Kulottunga I became famous by abolishing tolls and earned the title - Sungam Tavirtta Cholan. The main items of government expenditure were the king and his court, army and navy, roads, irrigation tanks and canals.
The Cholas maintained a regular standing army consisting of elephants, cavalry, infantry and navy. About seventy regiments were mentioned in the inscriptions. The royal troops were called Kaikkolaperumpadai. Within this there was a personal troop to defend the king known as Velaikkarar. Attention was given to the training of the army and military cantonments called kadagams existed. The Cholas paid special attention to their navy. The naval achievements of the Tamils reached its climax under the Cholas. They controlled the Malabar and Coromandal coasts. In fact, the Bay of Bengal became a Chola lake for sometime.
The Chola Empire was divided into mandalams and each mandalam into valanadus and nadus. In each nadu there were a number of autonomous villages. The royal princes or officers were in charge of mandalams. The valanadu was under periyanattar and nadu under nattar. The town was known as nagaram and it was under the administration of a council called nagarattar.
The system of village autonomy with sabhas and their committees developed through the ages and reached its culmination during the Chola rule. Two inscriptions belonging to the period of Parantaka I found at Uttiramerur provide details of the formation and functions of village councils. That village was divided into thirty wards and each was to nominate its members to the village council. The qualifications to become a ward member were:
Ownership of at least one fourth veli of land.
Above thirty years and below seventy years of age.
Knowledge of Vedas.
However, certain norms of disqualification were also mentioned in the inscriptions. They were:
Those who had been members of the committees for the past three years.
Those who had failed to submit accounts as committee members.
Those who had committed sins.
Those who had stolen the property of others.
From the persons duly nominated, one was to be chosen for each ward by kudavolai system for a year. The names of eligible persons were written on palm-leaves and put into a pot. A young boy or girl would take out thirty names each for one ward. They were divided into six variyams such as samvatsaravariyam, erivariyam, thotta variyam, pancha variyam, pon variyam and puravuvari variyam to take up six different functions of the village administration. The committee members were called variyapperumakkal. They usually met in the temple or under a tree and passed resolutions. The number of committees and ward members varied from village to village.
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