Growing interest in the history of peninsular India has sparked a series of excellent books of value to the specialist and lay reader alike. Kamini Dandapani disavows being either a historian or a writer by profession, but her Rajajraja Chola, King of Kings does long-delayed justice to a ruler who is among the greats of the world and to a dynasty that for several hundred years was the shining light of India with a legacy that stretches to this day.
The story of the early Cholas which begins a thousand years before Rajaraja, at around the dawn of the first millennium, is brought to us through the beautiful poetry of the Sangam era. From Sangam poems we get glimpses of landscapes, rulers and events, and vignettes of everyday life in the land of ‘red earth and pouring rain’, the bounteously endowed Kaveri delta. Karikala, the greatest of the early Cholas, is immortalized in the poems, and though it is difficult to separate poetic imagination from fact, the Grand Annicut that he constructed to tame the Kaveri presents visible evidence today of the engineering prowess that existed two thousand years ago; and the charms of his splendid capital, the port city of Kaveripattinam, are substantiated in Greco-Roman historical records.