The Chola Dynasty was a Tamil thalassocratic empire of southern India and one of the longest-ruling dynasties in world history. The earliest datable references to the Chola are from inscriptions dated to the 3rd century BCE during the reign of Ashoka of the Maurya Empire. As one of the Three Crowned Kings of Tamilakam, along with the Chera and Pandya, the dynasty continued to govern over varying territories until the 13th century CE. Despite these ancient origins, the rise of the Chola, as the "Chola Empire," only begins with the medieval Cholas in the mid-9th century CE.
The heartland of the Cholas was the fertile valley of the Kaveri River. Still, they ruled a significantly larger area at the height of their power from the later half of the 9th century till the beginning of the 13th century. They unified peninsular India, south of the Tungabhadra, and held as one state for three centuries between 907 and 1215 AD. Under Rajaraja I and his successors Rajendra I, Rajadhiraja I, Rajendra II, Virarajendra, and Kulothunga Chola I, the dynasty became a military, economic and cultural powerhouse in South Asia and South-East Asia. The power and the prestige the Cholas had amoung political powers in South, South-eastern, and eastern Asia at its peak is evident through their expeditions to the Ganges, naval raids on cities of the Srivijaya empire based on the island of Sumatra, and their repeated embassies to China. The Chola fleet represented the zenith of ancient Indian maritime capacity.
During the period of 1010–1153 CE, the Chola territories stretched from the Maldives in the south to the banks of the Godavari River in Andhra Pradesh as the northern limit. Rajaraja Chola conquered peninsular South India, annexed part of the Rajarata kingdom in present-day Sri Lanka, and occupied Maldives islands. His son Rajendra Chola further expanded the Cholar territory by sending a victorious expedition to North India that touched the river Ganges and defeating the Pala ruler of Pataliputra, Mahipala. By 1019, he also completely conquered the Rajarata kingdom of Sri Lanka and annexed it to the Chola empire. In 1025, Rajendra Chola also successfully invaded the cities of Srivijaya empire, based on the island of Sumatra. However, this invasion failed to install direct administration over Srivijaya, as the invasion was short and only meant to plunder the wealth of Srivijaya. However, the Chola influence on Srivijava would last until 1070, when the Cholas began to lose almost all of their overseas territories. The later Cholas (1070–1279) would still rule portions of Southern India. The Chola dynasty went into decline at the beginning of the 13th century with the rise of the Pandyan dynasty, which ultimately caused their downfall.
The Cholas succeeded in building the greatest thalassocratic empire in the history of India, thereby leaving a lasting legacy. They established a centralized form of government and a disciplined bureaucracy. Moreover, their patronage of Tamil literature and their zeal for building temples has resulted in some of the greatest works of Tamil literature and architecture. The Chola kings were avid builders and envisioned the temples in their kingdoms not only as places of worship but also as centers of economic activity. A UNESCO world heritage site, the Brihadisvara temple at Thanjavur, commissioned by the Rajaraja Chola in 1010 CE, is a prime example for Cholar architecture. They were also well known for their patronage to art. The development of the specific sculpturing technique used in the 'Chola bronzes', exquisite bronze sculptures of Hindu deities built in a lost wax process was pioneered in their time. The Chola tradition of art spread and influenced the architecture and art of Southeast Asia.