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India between 750-1200 AD – Major dynasties

The Medieval period is an important period in the history of India, because of the developments in the fields of arts, languages, culture and religion. The period witnessed the impact of other religions on Indian culture. This period is also referred to as the Postclassical Era.

The Medieval period lasted from the 8th to the 18th century CE with the early Medieval period from the 8th to the 13th century, and the late medieval period from the 13th to the 18th century.

The early Medieval period witnessed wars amongst the regional kingdoms from North and South India, whereas the late medieval period saw a number of invasions by the Mughals, Afghans and the Turks.

By the end of the fifteenth century, European traders started doing trade with India and around the mid-eighteenth century, they became a political force in India marking the end of the Medieval period.

About 20 kingdoms succeeded in extending their sovereignty beyond a single megaregion.  Two thirds of these were ruled by Hindu dynasties, but the most durable of these imperial states was the Muslim Mughal Empire, from about the middle of Akbar’s reign, around l580, to the reign of Muhammad Shah in 1730.

Dominance in more than one region by almost all of these states was usually the accomplishment of a single ruler, a great conquering warrior like Pulakesin II of the seventh century Chalukyan kingdom or the mid-tenth century Krisna II of the Rashtrakutas, both of the Deccan.

There were numerous smaller kingdoms, the scale of whose authority was far more limited, but whose duration could nevertheless be considerable.  From inscriptions and literary sources we get information on over 40 royal dynasties who endured for a period in the megaregions.

The chronicles of temples, royal genealogical texts, and oral traditions tell of wealthy kings and local chiefs who attempted to achieve royal status.

The existence of so many rulers tells us that the early medieval period witnessed the emergence of new state forms, compared to the late Vedic and classical periods.  There is, however, little agreement among historians about the character of these states and their form.

Major dynasties

The Pallavas

The Pallavas ruled in southern India, incorporating the modern regions of Andhra Pradesh, northern Tamil Nadu, and parts of southern Karnataka. Later on, they conquered vast areas of the sub-continent, expanding across much of it into what is now Afghanistan during the reigns of Dharmapala and Devapala.

The origins of the Pallavas have always been an issue of speculation. There have been claims that they were the former governors of the Satvahanas, while some claim they descend from the Cholas. In truth, they probably benefited from the collapse of both powers and emerged following their fall. There is also one theory which states that ‘Pallava’ is an adulteration of the word ‘Pahlava’ for the Parthians of Central Asia and Iran. In Sanskrit the word ‘Pallava’ actually means a ‘twig’ and their Tamil lineage is, by and large, accepted by all.

The Pallava rule can be categorised as early Pallava rule, up to around AD 550 and the arrival on the scene of Simhavishnu, their great king; and ‘Later Pallava Rule’, from Simhavishnu onwards.

The Pallavas gained prominence after the decline of the Satvahanas and the Cholas, as they gained a foothold in the territories of both former powers.

Later Pallavas

King Simhavishnu reigned around AD 550 (a reign of thirty-plus years), beginning the Pallava revival that defeated the Kalabhras. He recreated a strong Pallava kingdom by subduing many kings in the south (such as the Cheras, Cholas, the now-subdued Kalabhras, and the Pandyas). His kingdom extended beyond Kanchi, to as far as the River Kaveri).

Through his naval expeditions he subdued Malaya (Indo-China) and Sri Lanka.

Simhavishnu patronised literature and poetry. He was said to be a patron of the great Sanskrit poet, Bharavi, and was a Vaishnavite Hindu by religion.

Later, Mahendravarman warded off an attack on Kanchipuram by the Chalukya king Pulakeshi II, though he had to cede areas of Vengi Province to the Chalukyas.

Pulakeshi II of the Badami Chalukyas conquered the eastern Deccan, taking territory corresponding to the coastal districts of the Vishnukundina kingdom, as well as territory from the Pallavas. He appointed his brother, Kubja Vishnuvardhana, as the viceroy whilst also conquering the Cheras and Cholas in the south.

The kingdoms of the south, the Cheras, Cholas and Pallavas, subsequently teamed up to form a coalition to defeat the Chalukyas, but that attempt ended in defeat.

Narsimhavarman I defeated the Chalukyas under Pulakeshi II and wrests back the territories lost by his father. He also attacked and plundered Vatapi (Badami), the capital of the Chalukyas, killing Pulakeshi II in the process.

He later subdued the Cholas and the Cheras, and was said to help the Ceylonese prince, Manavamma, in gaining his kingdom.

During the reign of Mahendravarman II, King Manavarma of Ceylon was deposed and driven into exile, going to the Pallava court. Mahendravarman was later killed in a collective attack by the Chalukyas, the Gangas and the Pandyas.

As soon as he gained the throne, Parameshvaravarman continued fighting the Chalukyas under the leadership of Vikramaditay I. He captured Kanchi and advances south to the River Kaveri. In 674 he fights the Battle of Peruvalanallur, near Trichinopoly, and is victorious despite facing a huge coalition.

Parameshvaravarman occupied the Chalukyan territories from which he withdraws only after the Chalukyan rulers agree to pay a yearly tribute and accept Pallava overlordship, but not before the occupation army annihilates several Chalukyan princes, nobles and citizens. This victory enables the Pallavas to assert their hegemony over the subcontinent.

At his accession, Narsimhavarman was the ruler of the most powerful military force in the subcontinent. Rajasimha was a great militarist, exchanged ambassadors with China, and offered certain rulers assistance in their war against the Arabs. His reign was comparatively free from any political disturbance, so great progress was made in the direction of temple building.

The reign of Parameshvaravarman II signaled the turn of the tide in Pallava fortunes. Kanchi was invaded by the Chalukyas and Parameshvaravarman had to surrender and accept humiliating conditions. He attacked the Chalukyas but was defeated and killed, dying without an heir.

A war of succession was avoided as military leaders (dandanayakas), scholars, and representatives of the merchant class and the peasantry formed an entourage and undertake ‘a long journey’ to reach the kingdom of Kambujadesa(modern Cambodia and Vietnam).

They were ruled by a certain Kadavesa Hari Varma, who was a sixth generation descendant of Bhimavarman, brother of the great Simhavishnu. Of his sons, only the youngest, Nandivarman, accepted his request to return to the Deccan to govern the Pallava kingdom as successor to the deceased Parameshvaravarman. During the absence of a ruler in the Deccan, the Pallava’s regional enemies had mobilised as if they were about to invade but, as the Pallavas waited and watched, nothing occurred.

The awaited Chalukya invasion took place later, with Vikramaditya II occupying Kanchi. The Pallavas soon recovered, having to fight the Cholas, Pandyas and Gangas in quick succession (with the Cheras as allies at least against the Pandyas).

During the reign of Dantivarman, the kingdom was in noticeable decline. The Pandyas and the Rashtrakutas defeated the Pallavas under his command. His successor, Nandivarman III, tried to regain the lost glory of the Pallavas but was also defeated by the Pandyas, who became the new enemy to be feared by the weakening Pallavas.

Nandivarman was a powerful monarch who tried to reverse the Pallava decline. He made an alliance with the Rashtrakutas and the Gangas, and defeated the Pandyas at Thellar, near Kanchi. He then pursued the retreating Pandyan army. The Pandyan ruler, Srimara Srivallabha, however, recovered most of his territories and even defeated the Pallavas at Kumbakonam.

Upon Nandivarman’s death, differences arose between Nripatunga and his step-brother, Aparajita, probably owing to the latter’s ambition to rule the kingdom in his own right. Both sides looked for allies and for the time being, it was Nripatunga who ruled the kingdom. Nripatunga managed to turn the tables on the Pandyas and inflicted a defeat on them under their king, Srimara Srivallabha, as one last salve to Pallava pride.

Aparajita tried to revive the the fortunes of the Pallavas by defeating the Pandyas again, with the help of the Cholas who were his vassals, but in 891 the Chola king, Aditya, broke the yoke of his Pallava overlords and completely defeated them. This allowed the Cholas to established their own supremacy in southern India.

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