Important Business Lessons To Learn From The Chola Empire

Become Habitually Successful


Chola empire

There have been many great empires throughout Indian history. But perhaps the most powerful and overlooked was the Chola empire, also known as ‘Cholamandalam’. Believed to be founded by the Tamil Chola king Karikola, the Chola dynasty created a lasting impression in shaping literature, architecture and art in southern India. Their style of governance, focus on centralized administration and patronage of Tamil art and literature made them one of the most advanced and longest ruling dynasties in the region. Many lessons – both on micro and macro level – can be learnt from the Chola dynasty. For businesses and entrepreneurs, these lessons are invaluable in helping them devise important strategies for success and be at the top of the game. Let’s take a look at what made the Cholas one of the greatest empire in Indian history.

The Magnificence of the Chola Empire

In Tamil Nadu, around 80 kilometers away from Thanjavur, is located the town of Gangaikonda Cholapuram. Today, it is known mainly for a grand Siva temple, which together with other Chola temples forms a UNESCO World Heritage monument. However, during the Chola dynasty, this small town, which literally means ‘The town of the Chola who acquired the Ganga’ served as the capital of a vast empire.


The Chola empire is reported to have started in the 3rd century BCE (as per an inscription left by Mauryan king Ashoka) and continued its reign till the 13th century CE, giving them a historical span of 1,600 years. Does this interest you? If not, then here is some perspective – you live closer in time to the last Chola empire Rajendra Chola III than he did to the first Chola king!

The reign of the Chola dynasty can be divided into three phases:

  • Early Cholas (3rd century BC – 2nd century AD)
  • Medieval Cholas (848 AD – 1070 AD)
  • Later Cholas (1070 AD

At the peak of their power, they ruled over (directly and indirectly) 3.5 million square kilometers. If you wonder what that means, it would make the Chola empire the 7th largest country in the world today. Their sphere of influence spread from Maldives in the west to all the way to Java in the east! Imagine that.         

Success Factors and Lessons

The Cholas achieved tremendous success in all fields (liberal arts, governance, military expeditions etc) throughout their reign. In today’s modern world, business leaders and entrepreneurs can learn a lot from the governing style of the Chola kings. Let’s have a look at the success factors that contributed towards the long, flourishing rein of the Cholas and the business lessons one can learn from them:

Art, Religion, Literature and Culture   

Chola art

During the Chola period, there was immense focus on the liberal arts as well as religion. It was a golden period for Saiva and Vaishnava authors and artists who worked on devotional literature, and Jain and Buddhist authors and artisans were also encouraged to showcase their talent. Many Siva temples were built along the banks of river Kaveri using the Dravidian temple design and the grandiose of the towering Thanjavur and Brihadeshwara temples is testament to this fact.

Lesson #1

Creativity is of paramount importance for the success of any organization. Unless there are no new, unique and creative ideas that you can implement, you will keep thinking in a narrow spectrum. But for this, the organization should foster an environment that welcomes new ideas and encourages people to think out of the box, like the Cholas did with their authors and artists. If this were not the case, then we would have today witnessed the grandeur of the Thajavur or Brihadeshwara temples!

The Only Indian Dynasty To Build a Naval Force

Chola navy

Throughout Indian history, most rulers have built a considerable army to fend off attacks and expand their dominion over other regions. However, only the Chola were able to establish a formidable naval force with nearly 1,300 + ships that were used for both maritime activity and naval expeditions. This allowed them to excel in foreign trade and develop commercial trading partnerships with the Tang dynasty in China, the Abbasid Caliphate in Baghdad, and the Srivijaya empire under the Sailendras.

Lesson #2

Diversification is a very important concept in the world of business. Whether it comes to your company, your finances or even your interests, you need to diversify and look for more options to excel in. With Naval power, the Cholas did not just stay restricted to southern India, but expanded their reach to as far as Indonesia. In the same way, if you want to become more financially successful, you should diversify your portfolio. To move up the corporate ladder, you should learn skills beyond your domain. Gain more technical skills and become more adept at improving your soft skills.

Highly Efficient and Planned Administration

Chola governance

For an empire to rule over a long period of time, it needs to have a solid government in place. A government where the entire administration is planned to the last detail, so that there is no confusion about delegating responsibilities. The Chola empire had 3 major administrative units:

  • Central government
  • Provincial government
  • Local government

The Chola king, who gained the throne through a royal lineage (the eldest son, known as Yuvaraja)  headed the administration. He was assisted by a council of ministers where the higher officials were called Peruntaram and lower ones Siruntaram.

The empire was divided into nine provinces, called mandalams. Each province was led by a viceroy who directly reported to the king. The provinces were further divided into Kottams or Valanadus, which was sub-divided into nadu, which in turn were further divided into villages called Urs.

Through this system of governance, the Cholas were able to effectively administer their roles for betterment of public life on both macro and micro level.

Lesson #3

The corporate world of today follows a hierarchy system of C-suite (CEOs, CFOs, CTOs etc) reminiscent of the Chola empire. For a company to function smoothly, there needs to be different department specializing in their own fields, and each should be headed by their own leaders. For example, HR, Finance, Sales, IT, Marketing etc need to function effectively in their own and duly report to the vertical heads, who in turn will report to the CEO. The entire apparatus is highly planned and extremely functional, and a major factor contributing to the success of the organization!

There have been many a great empire throughout history from which we can derive business lessons and learn about success and failure just by doing some basic reading. However, in real-life, we need more than just mere historical lessons to succeed. We need examples and situations rooted in reality and problem-solving techniques to overcome them. Get the best business and entrepreneurship training with Pep Talk’s intensive business courses!


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