The circumstances under which Uttama ascended the Chola throne is surrounded by controversy and mystery. Uttama was the son of Gandaraditya and his queen Sembiyan Mahadeviyar. At the time of Gandarditya’s death Uttama must have been a very young child. Due to his immaturity, his rights to the Chola throne were probably set aside and Gandaraditya’s younger brother Arinjaya was crowned king.
Arinjaya ruled for a very short time – possibly for less than a year and on his death, his son Parantaka II (Sundara Chola) succeeded him. By the time Maduranthaka (cornoration name was Uttama Chola) was old enough to claim the crown, Sundara Chola had two sons – Aditya Karikalan and Arulmozhivarman.
c.969 C.E. Aditya II was assassinated under mysterious circumstances. Sundara Chola, heartbroken due to this personal tragedy, appointed Maduranthaka Chola as the heir apparent. Some believe that Maduranthaka wanted to be the ruler but there is no evidence to prove this assertion. Others believe that Madhuranthaka had a hand in Aditya Karikala's assassination-- again there is no evidence to support this claim. What is clear from the Thiruvalangadu plates is that there was question on ascension and Arulmozhivarman chose to step aside for Madhuranthaka. Some say that Arulmozhivarman (the future Rajaraja Chola I) chose to do this to avoid civil war but again there is no evidence to support this claim. For, according to the Tiruvalangadu plates, after the death of Aditya II Karikala, the people wanted Arulmozhivarman - Aditya II Karikala's brother to be their king, but that noble prince refused to accept the offer saying that so long as his uncle Uttama-Chola wanted to be or was the king, he would step aside. This is different from saying as long as his uncle desired the throne, he would step aside.
We learn from an inscription dated during Rajaraja’s time that some the properties of some persons were confiscated as they had been convicted for treason. It is also shown that these persons were involved in the conspiracy to kill Aditya II. We can safely gather that although Aditya II was killed in 969 C.E., no action had been taken by Uttama during his reign to bring justice to the perpetrators. K.A.N. Sastry in his authoritative Colas says that based on an inscription at the temple at Udayarkudi, circumstantial evidence pointed to Uttama’s culpability in the assassination.
However, later research indicates that Sastry may be wrong in this claim, and possibly interpreted the Tamil inscriptions incorrectly. It seems reasonable to conclude that if there was any evidence against Uttama Chola, Rajaraja's son Rajendra would not have assumed the coronation name of Madhurathaka II.
There is every indication Uttama was religious and upstanding. An ardent Shiva devotee (as seen by inscriptions in Konnerirajapurama aka Thirunallam or in Kanchipuram), it was Uttama, under the guidance of his mother, who codified the temple patterns, epigraphy, art, sculpture, and the keeping of administrative records.
There are indications he upgraded the army, not just in troop levels but also in quality and organization. It is known through inscriptions that, at least from Uttama Chola's time, warriors were provided with waistcoats of armour.
An important general during his reign was Paluvettaraiyar Maravan Kandanar, who also served under Sundara Chola. His son Kumaran Maravan also served Uttama Chola.
Yet another chief Ambalavan Paluvurnakkan (also know as Vikramasola-Maharajan of Kuvalalam) features during Uttama Chola's rule and continues into Rajaraja I's reign.
As with most ancient Indian kings, Uttama Chola was religiously tolerant. Although a Saivaite (worshipper of Siva), he also donated to temples dedicated for Vishnu especially to the Ullagaladar temple. He also granted large degrees of autonomy to his districts. He brought in best talent from other kingdoms. Kachipeedu (mordern Kanchipuram) is also mentioned as one of his prominent cities. He is known to have contributed money, cattle, sheep to temples in modern Kumbakonam, Thirunallam (modern Konnerirajapuram), Thiruvallarai, Thirupatturai, Thirunedugalam, Thiruvisalur, Thirunaraiyur, Thiruvalangadu, Thirukkodika, etc.
Uttama Chola's mother pioneered the process of kalpani-- converting brick, mortar, and wooden structures into granite and there is inscriptional evidence to show that he actively funded his mother in this work. She survived this king and lived on for another 16 years into the reign of Rajaraja I.
Two sculptures of Uttama Chola (Madhuranthaka Devar) and his mother can be found in the Southern wall of the inner Prakara of the Konnerirajapuram (aka Thirunallam) temple near Kumbakonam. The inscription under the sculpture identifying Sembiyan Mahadevi identifies her and the Archealogical Survey of India interprets the bearded man behind her as Gandaraditya Chola.