The Pallava dynasty was an influential empire that ruled the Deccan. Pallava means a creeper in Sanskrit and a spruce in Tamil. Historians have come up with different theories regarding the origins of the Pallava dynasty. Their administration and military abilities were great and they equally engaged in different forms of art, culture, literature, dance, music etc. In this article, we will talk about the contributions of the Pallava dynasty to ancient India and also know about the different rulers and how the empire collapsed with the end of the 9th century.
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Origin of Pallava Dynasty
The origins of the Pallava dynasty remains disputed to this day. The time period of the Pallavas are from early 4th century to late 9th century. Here are some of the theories put forward by historians regarding their origins:
- Pallavas are considered originally a branch of the Parthian or Iranian people who travelled all the way to southern India.
- They are considered to have indigenous origins and is generally regarded to be a medley of different tribes.
- There are some historians who are of the opinion that the Pallavas were originally Nagas and they migrated and settled down at Tondaimandalam region in Madras.
- The dynasty is also considered to have originated from an offspring of a Chola king Killi and a Naga princess Pilivalai that belonged to Manipallavam (modern-day Sri Lanka).
- Ilandiraiyan, a Chola prince is traditionally regarded as the founder of the Pallava dynasty.
- The Pallava dynasty were initially subordinates or feudatories to the Satavahanas in the Deccan. They moved from Andhra Pradesh to Kanchi (modern-day Kanchipuram) in Tamil Nadu where they established themselves as rulers. It is generally considered that with the decline of the Satavahanas, the Pallavas gained prominence.
- It is believed that the early Pallavas ruled during the 4th century A.D.
Territorial expanse of the Pallava Dynasty
- The capital of the Pallava dynasty was Kanchipuram (modern-day Tamil Nadu).
- The territorial expanse of the Pallavas stretched from northern Andhra Pradesh to river Kaveri in southern India.
- The territorial dominance of the Pallavas halted the land quests of the Cholas.
- After defeating the Chalukyas in a battle, Pallava king Narasimhavarman annexed Vatapi, also known as Badami.
Rulers of the Pallava dynasty
The Pallavas ruled from 275 CE to 897 CE. They remained in constant conflict with the Badami Chalukyas in the north and the Cholas and Pandyas in the south. The Chinese traveller Xuanzang has written several accounts of the benign rule of the Pallavas.
Sivaskanda Varman was the most powerful of all rulers of the Pallava dynasty. He started ruling in the 4th century A.D. He performed various Vedic rituals like Ashwamedha and other sacrifices.
Simhavarman ruled from 575 A.D to 600 A.D. He is considered to be the founder of the Pallava dynasty.
He was a worshipper of Lord Vishnu and was even hailed as Avanishimha, meaning lion of the earth.
Simhavishnu is considered as the first ruler in the line of kings of the Pallava dynasty. He laid the groundwork for the “Age of the Imperial Pallavas”.
Simhavishnu defeated other dynasties that ruled the Deccan like the Cholas, the Pandyas and the Cheras.
The influential poet, Bharavi visited Simhavarman while he ruled.
Mahendravarman I was Simhavishnu’s son who acceded the throne after him in 600 A.D. He was conferred with several titles like Mattavilasa, Gundabhara, Chitrakarapuli, Lalitankura and Vichitrachitta.
Mahendravarman was talented in different fields. He has great military and artistic skills. He was a soldier, a statesman, and also a religious reformer, poet, architect and musician.
During his reign, the Pallavas were engaged in a long-running war with the Chalukyas.
Mahendravarman was defeated by the Chalukya king, Pulakesin II in the battle of Pullalur that took place near Kanchi.
Pulakesin had heard about the grandeur of the Pallava kingdom and decided to invade it. He gave up the Northern provinces to Pulakesin II when the latter advanced towards his capital. Mahendravarman died in 630 A.D.
Narasimhavarman suceeded his father, Mahendravarman to the throne in 630 A.D.
He was one of the greatest kings of the Pallava dynasty and was known as Mahamalla or Mamalla (“great wrestler”). This might be a reason why Mahabalipuram is also known as Mamallapuram. He was a well-built man and a great intellectual. His court poet was Dandin who composed his works in Sanskrit.
He continued the warfare which his father had left behind. Narasimhavarman engaged in three battles with the Chalukya king, Pulakesin II. In the final battle at Manimangalam near Kachi (642 CE), he successfully defeated Pulakesin II.
With Pulakesin’s death in 668 A.D, he assumed the title of Vatapikonda meaning the “conqueror of Vatapi”.
Flag of the Pallava Dynasty
The flag of the Pallava dynasty consisted of either lion or the bull and was changeable. The colors used were saffron or yellow. Narasimhavarman II used the lion emblem whereas Nandivarman II used the bill emblem.
Society during Palava’s reign
- During Simhavishnu’s reign, there were two devotional sects, Alvars and Nayanars. Brahmanical institutions were formed and the kingship was based on the chakravarti (universal kingship) model.
- The ranked relationships were based on ritual purity as stated in the Shastras.
- The Varna system existed during the Pallava administration. The Brahmins and the Kshatriyas dominated the lower castes. Lands were gifted to important priests.
Language and Literature during Pallava Rule
- The Pallava dynasty developed the Pallava script from which the Grantha script came into being. These scripts were the foundation to all other Southeast Asian scripts.
- The Pallavas interacted in Prakrit, Sanskrit and Tamil languages. One can find its evidence from the copper plate records, inscriptions etc.
- The Pallava dynasty promoted education, particularly literature. Kachi was an ancient centre of learning. Ghatika of Kachi was a great source of learning that attracted pupils from worldwide.
- Mahendravarman I wrote MATTAVILASA-PRAHASANA (“The Delight of the Drunkards) in 620 CE that denigrates Buddhism. It is a farce composed in Sanskrit.
Religion during the Pallava Reign
- The Pallavas were followers of Buddhism, Jainism and were of Brahminical (related to Brahmins) faith. They were religiously tolerant.
- They gave land as gifts to Brahmins and Gods.
- Lord Shiva and Vishnu was worshipped. Kanchipuram was an important pilgrim centre for the Pallavas.
- The Chinese monk Xuanzang mentioned that there were 80 Hindu temples and 100 Buddhist monasteries in the capital (Kanchipuram) of the Pallava dynasty.
Art And Architecture of Pallava Dynasty
- The art and architecture of the Pallava dynasty was refined and bore religious significance. The dynasty laid the foundations of medieval South Indian architecture.
- The architecture during Pallava’s reign progressed gradually from cave temples, monolithic Rathas to structural temples. These architectural style can rightly be called the forefathers of the Dravidian style of architecture that flourished during the Chola reign.
- One can also find traces of Pallava art in the beautiful sculptures of the Mandapas.
- The sculptures depicting the “Descent of Ganges” or the “Penance of Arjuna” are masterpieces in Indian classical art.
- Shore Temple is one of the marvellous Hindu creations of the Pallava kings for which they are remembered. Other temples were carved from granite monoliths. Such temples are found in Mahabalipuram and known as Rathas.
- Rock-cut temples can be found in Mamallapuram, Mahendravadi and other such places.
- Other famous temples include Nalanda Gedige, Koneswaram and Tondeswaram.
- The Kailashnath temple at Ellora proved to be a paragon of Pallava architecture.
- The Varaha cave at Mamallapuram was built by the Pallava dynasty in 7th century. The Shore Temple along with the cave are collectively declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984. It was a flourishing port during those times.
Culture of the Pallava Empire
- The Pallava dynasty were also interested in different forms of art. Music, dance and painting flourished during their reign. The paintings in the Sittannavasal caves belong to the Pallava period.
- One can find evidences of dancing in paintings and sculptures. It was performed both in courts and temples. Depictions of Shiva in Tandav dance have been found in the Pallava history.
- The prince and princess of the Pallava dynasty engaged themselves in paintings. The evidences of Pallava paintings can be found in the cave temples. These paintings were made from vegetable color and the main colors found are red, yellow, green and black.
- Music was used to praise deities as well as rulers. The songs composed speaks plenty of their talents and skills.
Decline of the Pallava dynasty
- The Pallava dominion started declining with the temporary annexing of Kanchi by Vikramaditya II.
- The empire was attacked by the Pandyas, the western Ganges and the Rashtrakutas.
- In order to save the Pallava Empire from collapsing, Nandivarman offered his daughter in marriage to Dantidurga who was the founder of the Rashtrakuta dynasty.
- The other emperors of the Pallava Empire was Dantivarman, Nandivarman III and Nripatunga. These three kings ruled the dynasty from 795 CE to 846 CE, 846 CE to 869 CE and 869 CE to 899 CE respectively.
- The last king of the Pallava dynasty was Aparajitavarman who ruled during 903 CE. He was defeated by the Chola king, Aditya I who took control of the Kanchi region. This led to the end of the Pallava rule in India with the end of 9th century.
We can very well find out that the Pallava dynasty saw some important developments in every aspect. Although the origins are a little murky, historians have been able to find ample information about the Pallava’s way of living. From all the facts that we gather, we can conclude that the Pallavas were competent enough to challenge other rulers of the Deccan. Although their dynasty disappeared, we can still see them through the archaeological evidences that they have left behind. Their architecture continues to be unparalleled in ancient Indian history.
Have you seen any of the paintings or architectural marvel of the Pallava dynasty? What intrigues you most about the Pallavas? Share with us in the comment section below.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Who is the founder of Pallava Dynasty?
Simhavishnu is generally regarded as the founder of the Pallava dynasty.
Who defeated Pallava Dynasty?
Chola king, Aditya I defeated Pallava Dynasty.
Who was the greatest king of Pallava Dynasty?
Narasimhavarman and Mahendravarman were the greatest kings of the Pallava dynasty.
Who was the last emperor of the Pallava Dynasty?
The last emperor of the Pallava dynasty was Aparajitavarman.