In this article, you will learn about:
- Learn about the rise of states in Deccan and South India, specifically the Chalukyas of Badami and the Pallavas of Kanchi.
- Understand the relationships between these states.
- Explore the role of geography in our contemporary political history and
Gain insights into the governance of the people in these states during our times.
Deccan and South India:
The region south of the Vindhya mountains in India is referred to as South India or Deccan. This division dates back to ancient times when the region south of Vindhya was known as the Deccan or Southern region. Over time, Deccan became Dakkan and eventually transformed into Dakshin.
Following this distinction, we will consider Deccan and South India as two distinct regions, with the term ‘Southern India’ being used for both regions, distinguishing them from North India and showcasing areas geographically separated from North India.
In this manner, exploring the history and society of Deccan and Southern India during the Maurya and North Maurya periods, you have noticed that Deccan was part of the Mauryan Empire. The major dynasties in Southern India, namely the Cholas, Pandyas, Cheras, and Satyaputras, were allies and neighbors of the Mauryas. In the early stages of the North Maurya period, small chiefs with titles of the king emerged in Deccan, asserting themselves as “Lords of the Deccan,” as claimed by the Satavahanas. In the South, significant changes were taking place in the principalities, laying the foundation for the future developments in the political systems of these regions.
In this unit, you will delve into the political developments during the Northern Satavahana period (beginning in the 3rd century) to the 8th century in Deccan, witnessing significant changes in the political landscape.
Political Landscape of Deccan Until the Mid-Sixth Century
After the fall of the Satavahanas, the political control of a dynasty over Deccan came to an end. Several states emerged with the successors of the Satavahanas ruling different regions. In Northern Maharashtra, we observe the rise of the Amirs, who initially served as generals in the Shakas’ states and eventually established their kingdom in the mid-third century. Its establishment was credited to Ishvarasena in 248-49 CE, marking the beginning of an era that later became crucial and was known as the Kalachuri Chedi era.
The Vakatakas quickly gained dominance over the Maharashtra plateau. Starting as rulers of small territories in the last quarter of the third century, they rapidly expanded their influence, conquering most parts of Maharashtra and adjoining regions of Madhya Pradesh.
The Vakataka dynasty had two branches ruling in different regions. The main branch governed Eastern Maharashtra (Vidarbha region), while a supporting branch, known as the Vakkaris, ruled in Southern Maharashtra. The most famous ruler of the Vakataka dynasty was Pravarasena I, who led the main branch. The emperor’s title remained exclusive to Pravarasena I among the Vakatakas. He conducted numerous Vedic rituals and made substantial land grants to Brahmins.
The Vakataka people remained peaceful overall, establishing matrimonial and political alliances with powerful neighbors such as the Guptas in the north, Vishnukundi in eastern Deccan, and the Kadambas in the south.
However, by the first half of the sixth century, with the emergence of the Kalachuris and Kadambas establishing their territories, the Vakataka state faced challenges, leading to its decline and vulnerability. By the mid-sixth century, the Chalukyas of Badami had firmly uprooted their dominance over Deccan.
Also Read- Chandragupta Maurya History in English
Northern Karnataka (Uttar Kannada):
In the coastal strip and adjoining areas of Northern Karnataka, the Chutus established a small kingdom. They ruled until the middle of the fourth century when the Kadambas overthrew them. The foundation of this kingdom was laid by the renowned Mayurasarman. Mayurasarman was skilled in warfare, particularly in the battle of Chapa (Chalukya-Chutu War), where he compelled the Pallavas of Kanchi to acknowledge his suzerainty. Following this victory, he performed an Ashvamedha Yajna and transformed from Mayurasarman to Mayuravarman, signifying a shift from a Brahmin to a Kshatriya status.
As the Kadambarajya commenced, a division arose within the family during its early years, leading to the establishment of two capitals, Vaijayanti (Banavasi) and Palsika (Halsi). However, internal conflicts persisted, and the Kadambas faced external threats from powerful neighbors like the Pallavas, Western Ganga, and most significantly, the Chalukyas of Badami. The Chalukyas gradually encroached on their territory, and by 575 CE, they had decisively defeated the Kadambas.
In Northern Deccan, particularly in the Krishna-Godavari Delta region, political unrest was most prominent. After the Satavahanas, the Ikshvakus initially ruled this prosperous region from 225 CE. However, their reign faced disruption due to the Abhiras coming from the West. Although this was a temporary phase, the Ikshvakus returned, maintaining their rule for approximately fifty years.
Subsequently, the region witnessed a division into several territories. Inscriptions on copper plates reveal information about various rulers who belonged to the Bhratphalayana gotra, followed by the Salankayana gotra. The Allahabad Pillar Inscription or Prayagaprashasti suggests the presence of around half a dozen states in the region around 350 CE. Among them, Vengi-Kurla comprised the Vengi (Banavasi) and Pithapuram regions.
Political stability in the Andhra Delta region was restored in the mid-fifth century with the arrival of the Vishnukundins. They shared good relations with the Vakatakas. However, their territorial stability was compromised due to continuous conflicts with the Western Gangas and, most importantly, the threat from the Chalukyas of Badami. The Chalukyas gradually took control of their land, completely subjugating them by 575 CE.
Southern Karnataka: Rise of the Gangas
In the Beginning of the 5th Century
The Ganga or Western Ganga dynasty rose to power in Southern Karnataka during the early 5th century. Distinct from the Eastern Gangas of Odisha, they ruled independently for over six hundred years. This region came to be known as Ganganadu due to its long-lasting influence, characterized by fertile agricultural lands surrounded by hills. The strategic military importance of their stronghold, Nandi Durga, played a crucial role in their sustained rule. They played significant roles in conflicts with the Pallavas and Chalukyas, emerging victorious in many battles.
Political Landscape of South India
End of the Sangam Period in Tamil Nadu and Kerala
By the end of the 3rd century, the Sangam period concluded in Tamil Nadu and Kerala. The early history of this region from the 4th to the 6th century is somewhat unclear. The Pallavas, during this time, played a crucial role, as evidenced by inscriptions found in Kanchi. The Pallava dynasty had connections with the Kanchi region or Tondaimandalam. However, their authority over Kanchi was contested by the mountain tribe called Kalabras.
In the latter part of the Sangam period, the Kalabras extended their dominance over South Karnataka, and it seems that they expanded into the northern regions of the Chalukya kingdom. This period is referred to as the “Kalabra Interregnum.”
Rise of the Chalukyas, Pallavas, and Pandyas
6th Century Onward
From the mid-6th century, three powerful political entities dominated the political landscape of Deccan and South India – the Badami Chalukyas, Pallavas of Kanchi, and the Pandyas.
Under the rule of Pulakeshin I, the Chalukyas established a powerful kingdom with Badami as its stronghold. Pulakeshin I laid the foundation for the kingdom, gradually expanding its territories. His successors extended Chalukya’s rule over the Deccan, defeating the Western Ganga, Latas, Malavas, and Gurjaras. Pulakeshin II further strengthened the Chalukya kingdom by halting the advances of Harsha’s army near the Narmada River.
To consolidate their power, Pulakeshin II removed the Vishnu Kundinays from the Andhra Delta. However, he faced dissatisfaction due to the valuable Krishna-Godavari Delta, which he did not gain control over. Therefore, in 621 CE, he sent his younger brother, Vikramaditya I, to strengthen his victories and claim authority over the Delta. By 631 CE, Vikramaditya I secured his reign, marking the dominance of the Chalukyas in the region.
The rise of the Pallavas began around the 6th century with Simhavishnu. He ended the Kalabra rule in Tondaimandalam (Kanchi region) and expanded his kingdom to the south, reaching the Kaveri Delta. Subsequently, Mahendravarman I incorporated the Krishna River territories. The Pallavas established dominance over neighboring chiefs and kings, becoming a powerful regional state by the mid-7th century. However, their power waned in the mid-8th century, paving the way for the Rashtrakutas.
By the end of the 6th century, the Pandya king Kadungon defeated the Kalabhras, establishing Pandya rule in Tamil Nadu. The Pandyas governed the southern districts of Tamil Nadu, and their central region was the Vaigai River valley. They attempted continuous expansion into the Kaveri Delta and Kerala.
Gangas in Southern Karnataka and Beyond
Apart from these major powers, the Gangas continued to rule over Ganganadu. In addition, smaller states like Nolambas, Banas, Silaharas, and others existed in the Deccan and South India. The geographical challenges posed by major river valleys, deltas, and extensive jungles contributed to regional fragmentation and the emergence of local powers.
The distinctive features of these major river valleys, such as the Raichur Doab (between Tungabhadra and Krishna), Krishna-Godavari Delta, Lower Cauvery Valley, and Vengai Valley, played a significant role in shaping the political landscape. Unlike the vast plains of North India, the Deccan region presented challenges with its rugged terrain and forested areas, fostering the growth of independent regional powers. The ensuing conflicts among Chalukyas, Pallavas, and Pandyas further highlight the complexities of the political scenario in this period.
Conflict Amongst Various Powers
The history of this era is colored by frequent conflicts between the Chalukyas and the Pallavas, as well as between the Pandyas and the Pallavas.
The hostility began with the attack of Pulakeshin II of the Chalukya dynasty, defeating Mahendravarman of the Pallavas, and seizing control of the northern part of the Pallava kingdom. In another campaign, Pulakeshin II defeated the Bana rulers in Rayalaseema and issued a threat to Kanchi once again. However, his successor, Narasimhavarman I, inflicted significant defeats on Pulakeshin II in several battles. Subsequently, Narasimhavarman I launched an offensive against the Chalukyas, leading to their defeat and possibly the demise of Pulakeshin II.
Recovery under Vikramaditya I
Pulakeshin II’s son, Vikramaditya I, managed to stabilize the situation. He challenged the Pallavas, formed alliances with the Pandyas, and launched repeated attacks on the Pallav kingdom. Notably, his successor, Vikramaditya II, is mentioned for thrice defeating Kanchi and looting the city.
Pallavas’ Dominance in Conflicts
While specific details of individual wars and minor skirmishes are not discussed here, it is evident that the Pallavas were consistently the primary target in these conflicts. Not only were they geographically positioned between the Chalukyas and the Pandyas, but their prominence made them the focal point of most struggles. It is noteworthy that the Chalukyas always initiated hostilities against the Pallavas, and the Pallavas were primarily concerned with reclaiming their territory.
Pallava-Paramesvaravarman I Conflict
In another instance, Pallava king Paramesvaravarman I undertook a campaign against the Chalukya capital to divert their attention from the Pallava stronghold. Paramesvaravarman I seized control of the Chalukya capital, maneuvering to escape the Chalukyan forces.
Also Read – Chola Dynasty: History, Wars and Rulers
Regarding the Pandyas, they engaged in repeated battles with the Pallavas for control over the Kaveri Delta. Descriptions from Sangam literature and Haveli Sang attest to the Pandya efforts to combat the Pallavas. The Pandya kingdom’s strategic significance in the Kaveri Delta region seemingly motivated them to confront the Pallavas. By the early 9th century, they successfully established dominance in this region.
This historical account sheds light on the intricate tapestry of conflicts among different powers during this period, providing insights into the diversity of Indian civilization and politics. Understanding these wars contributes to a comprehensive view of Indian history and cultural development.
Role of Small Kingdoms
Small kingdoms and chieftains played a significant role as subordinate allies in the regional conflicts among larger states. Before launching an attack on Narasimhavarman I of the Pallavas, Pulakeshin II had to pacify the Banas, allies of the Pallavas. Similarly, a Pallava general engaged in battle with Sabara king Udayan and the Nishada chieftain Prithvivyaghra, who were possibly supporting the Chalukyas. These allied chieftains not only participated in the loot but also gained new territories in their own states.
While individually observing these small states may not reveal any particular importance, collectively they emerge as formidable political powers in the Deccan and South India. It’s noteworthy that from the fourth to the ninth century, no king could establish complete control over the Deccan and South India. Despite the earnest efforts and significant achievements of several kings and dynasties during these six centuries, the income, status, and political influence of these small kingdoms and chieftains remained notable.
Political Dimensions of Conflicts
One crucial outcome of the Pallava-Chalukya conflict was the rise of Lata or the Chalukyan capital in South Gujarat, following Pulakeshin II’s attack on Narasimhavarman and the subsequent turmoil and political disorder in the Chalukya state after Pulakeshin II’s death. Despite various efforts and strategic considerations, no ruler could establish control over the Deccan and South India during these six centuries, highlighting the significance of these small kingdoms and chieftains in both the economic and political realms.
The political unrest and disorder in the Chalukya state resulted in the rise of Lata as the new capital, a consequence of the efforts of Vikramaditya I and the help of his younger brother Jayasimhavarman. In return, Vikramaditya I rewarded Jayasimhavarman with South Gujarat.
Diplomatic Relations with Other Countries
At this time, an important aspect of South Indian politics was the active interest in Sri Lanka’s affairs. In the struggle against the Cholas, there are accounts of Narasimhavarman I leading campaigns in support of a prince of Lanka named Maravarman. After returning from Badami, Narasimhavarman assisted Maravarman in capturing the throne of Anuradhapura by sending two military campaigns.
The Pallavas also showed deep interest in Sri Lanka, with instances of military actions driven by territorial ambitions. The Pandya kingdom, too, had a significant presence in Sri Lanka, engaging in raids with the intention of seizing territory.
Pallavas and their Influence in Southeast Asia
It appears that the Pallavas took an active interest in the politics of Southeast Asia, potentially influencing the region. Nandivarman II Pallavamalla, in the mid-8th century, may have assumed the Pallava throne after coming from Southeast Asia. There are mentions of his powerful naval expeditions, and a document in Thailand references his accolades at a Vishnu temple and a pond.
However, with the rise of the Cholas, more direct interventions occurred in Southeast Asia, ultimately ending the Pallava dominance in South India.
During this period, the Perumals ruled over Kerala, although detailed political history from this time is scarce. Cheraman Perumal, a renowned ruler of this dynasty, is believed to have followed a unique approach to governance, garnering praise from various religious communities.
The prosperity of Malabar consistently deterred external invasions, and claims of defeating Kerala were made not only by the Pandya but also by Narasimhavarman, several Chalukya rulers, and later by the Rashtrakutas.
Let’s now discuss a summary of the political organization in these states.
High-Ranking Officials in the Royal Court
The administration in these states involved a hierarchical structure. Initially, kings held all powers, with titles like Maharaja, Bhattarak, and Dharmamaharajadhiraja. The early rule followed Vedic ideals, conducting rituals like Ashvamedha, Vajapeya, and Rajasuya Yajnas.
As the socio-religious environment changed, royal rituals lost their importance. Slowly, the concept of kingship evolved, and Vedic rituals ceased.
Administration in the Court
In the court, there were ministers, princes, and other members of the royal family playing crucial roles in governing. Various officials with different duties, known as Ohadas, managed diverse administrative tasks. They collected various taxes, and one key duty was to gather land revenue, often exceeding one-sixth of the produce.
Apart from this, numerous officials handled various tasks, such as those related to cloth production, cattle, and organizing events like weddings. The officials responsible for collecting taxes also dealt with legal matters and resolved disputes and legal conflicts.
In the historical context of India, states were divided into categorized administrative units. In the Deccan region, these units were referred to as subjects related to topics, sustenance, and the nation. The practice of distributing states into groups of ten villages each began in the 8th century in the Deccan. In the Pallava kingdom, the Nāḍu administration emerged as a prominent, permanent unit.
Agriculture and Socio-Economic Importance
During this era, rulers recognized the significance of agriculture, wealth, and power as the primary foundations. Notably, in the Pallava era (and later in the Chola era), the term “Nāḍu” implied cultivable land, distinct from uncultivable land (Kāḍu). Hence, states actively promoted agricultural expansion. For instance, King Prayusarman of the Kadamva dynasty is said to have transformed barren lands into cultivable ones by inviting Brahmins from distant places. Additionally, efforts were made to enhance irrigation, such as constructing canals, ponds, lakes, and large wells.
A distinctive feature of South Indian polity, particularly in the Pallava state, was the importance given to local communal units in various aspects of daily life. These units were organized based on caste, occupation, trade, or religion. Local groups and organizations included associations of weavers, oil merchants, traders like Nandesi, associations of scholars, ascetics, temple priests, etc. Three significant regional institutions were Uru, Sabha, and Nagaram, each serving different purposes related to governance.
Society and Governance
Local governance in South Indian states, especially during the Pallava era, relied heavily on the significance of local communal units in various aspects of daily life. These units, often based on caste or occupation, played a crucial role in problem-solving and decision-making at the local level. Each group operated autonomously, based on its constitution, traditions, and rituals, addressing the issues faced by its members.
Role of Local Units in Administration
The involvement of community-based units in local administration significantly lightened the burden on the government. It not only provided people with a platform to voice their concerns and issues but also made them responsible for resolving problems and alleviating grievances. This decentralized approach contributed to the strength of the state, as the government could not be held solely responsible for these matters.
Pallava Rulers and Local Autonomy
While Pallava rulers may not have directly interfered in the workings of local autonomous communal organizations, they did make efforts to strengthen their foundation. This included inviting Brahmins, creating special Brahmin settlements, and donating land for various purposes. The land grants, either direct (Brahmadana) or in the name of temples (Devadana), were significant during the Pallava era. These practices aimed to enhance the foundation of the Pallava state, particularly in regions with prosperous paddy cultivation, on which Pallava power heavily relied.
Local Administration in Deccan
In the Deccan region, the role of local organizations and assemblies was equally vital. During the Chalukya period, Mahajans in villages and towns actively participated in local administration. A leader called Gamunda or Mukhiya headed these Mahajans in villages. Though they did not enjoy the autonomy seen in South Indian Sabhas, they were under close scrutiny by state officials.
Relations Between Various Rulers
There are debates regarding the relationships between major rulers and their smaller counterparts or allies. Broadly, powerful rulers, especially the Pallavas, considered themselves subordinate to a larger ruler based on religious grounds. Pallava rulers actively participated in major religious festivals, elevating their status to a higher ritualistic level. This elevated status was also acknowledged by smaller rulers and chieftains.
However, historical evidence does not conclusively support the idea that these smaller rulers shifted their allegiance from Pallavas to Chalukyas based on respect or recognition. It remains unclear why these smaller rulers, during periods of political instability, would abandon the honor of acknowledging a higher ritualistic ruler and declare their independence.
Another perspective regards these smaller rulers and chieftains as regional governors of larger powers. However, the term “Samanta” is a technical one used for a specific kind of relationship found in medieval Western Europe. It cannot be definitively applied to the relationships between Pallavas or Chalukyas and smaller rulers and chieftains. Hence, we have used terms like “subordinate allies” to convey the intermediary nature of these relationships.
In this unit, we explored the political situation in the Deccan and South India up to the mid-6th century. Post this period, we observe the emergence of major political powers like the Chalukyas, Pallavas, and Pandyas. While smaller powers existed, their roles were not as crucial. Major powers consistently clashed, and smaller powers often found themselves aligning with or against these major powers during conflicts.
Regarding political organization, the king was the central figure in the administration, with other officials assisting him. The role of local organizations in day-to-day administrative work was a vital feature.