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Pallavas of Kanchi

The Ikshvakus of the Krishna – Guntur region were supplanted by the Pallavas. The term Pallava means creeper, and is a Sanskrit version of the Tamil word tondai, which also carries the same meaning.

The Pallavas were possibly a local tribe who established their authority in the Tondainadu or the land of creepers.

The earliest records of the Pallavas are inscriptions in Prakrit followed by inscriptions in Sanskrit and subsequently in both Sanskrit and Tamil. The Prakrit inscriptions were made when the Pallavas were still a local dynasty ruling at Kanchipuram (200 – 575 A.D.).

The latter inscriptions had carried by what historians have called the Imperial Pallavas (570-800 A.D.) when the dynasty controlled Tamilnadu and became the first Tamil dynasty of real consequence.

Amongst the later group of Pallava rulers, Simha Vishnu’s (575-600 A.D.) career was long and eventful. He waged war against the Cholas, the Pandyas and their allies. He put an end to the Kalabhra interregnum in Tondaimandalam (Kanchi region) and extended his kingdom southward upto the Kaveri delta.

He was also known as Avanisimha. A sculptural representation of this war-like king, attended by his two queens is found in bas-relief in the northern niche of a cave temple, known as the Adivaraha Mandapa at Mahabalipuram. His son and successor, Mahendravarman II (600-630 A.D.) was the msot remarkable of the Pallavas monarch. A ardent Jaina in his earlier life, he was later persuaded by one Appar, a Saiva saint, to worship Siva.

He was the contemporary of Harshavardhana and was also a drama­tist, musician and poet of same standing. He was the author of a play, Mattaritasa-Prahasana (The Delight of the Drunkards) and was also associated with the so-called ‘musical inscription’ at Pudukkottai.

His various birudas such as Mattavilasas, Gunabhara, Vichitra – chitta, Lattankura and the like, seem to allude to those accomplishments. He introduced the cave style of architecture. Mahendravarman-I suffered severe defeats at the hands of Chalukya Pulakesin – II. The territory of Vengi was lost to Pulakesin who sent his brother, Vishnuvardhana, there to start the line of the Eastern Chalukyas of Vengi.

Narasimhavarman I, surnamed Mahamalla (630-660 A.D.), the son and successor of Mahendravarma I is considered the greatest of the Pallava rulers. He is credited with repelling the second invasion of Pulakesin II, killing him and capturing the Chalukyan capital Vatapi and won thereby the title of Vatapikonda (conqueror of Vatapi). It was possibly in his struggle with Pulakesin II that he received aid from the Simhalese Prince Mana-Vamma whom he afterwards assisted in securing the crown of Ceylon. Hiuen Tsang visited Kanchi about the year 642 A.D. during the reign of Narasimhavarman I.

He was an ardent lover of art and consecrated cave-temples at different places such as Trichinopoly and Pudukkotai. His name is, however, best known in connection with the so-called Rathas of Mahabaiipuram. The original name of the place, Mahamallapura commemorates its royal founder, Mahamalla, i.e., Narasimhavarman I.

Mahendravarman II (668-670 A. D.) ruled for a very short period, since he was killed by Vikramaditya I the Chalukya king. The Pallava power began to dwindle during the reign of Narasimhavarman’s grand­son Parameshwaravarman I (670-680 A.D.). He lost his capital (Kanchi) to the Chalukya prince Vikramadity I, but seems to have recovered it soon. The reign of his son and successor Narasimhavarman II (680-720 A.D.) is marked by peace and prosperity. He is also known as Rajasimha. Besides the well known Kailasanatha temple at Kanchi, he built the Shore temple at Mahamallapura. He is also said to have sent embassies to China, and maritime trade flourished during his reign.

Parameshwaravarman II (728-731 A.D.), the next king faced the combined attack of Chalukyas and the Gangas in which he was killed. As there being no direct heir to the throne, the council of ministers appointed a member of the collateral branch of the family (descendent of Bhimavarman, a younger brother of Simhavishnu) who reigned as Nandivarman II (731-795 A.D.)

The Chalukya king, Vikramaditya II again invaded and captured the Pallava capital during his reign but withdrew from Kanchi without destroying it. He constructured the Vaikuntaperumal temple at Kanchi. Somehow, the Pallava’s rule continued upto the ninth century A.D. However their authority during the ninth century was no longer that of a major power. The last of the Pallavas, Aparajita was defeated by defeated by Aditya Chola I by the early tenth century A.D.

Contribution of the Pallavas

Pallava Art and Architecture

It was a great age of temple building. The Pallavas introduced the art of excavating temples from the rock. In fact, the Dravidian style of temple architecture began with the Pallava rule. It was a gradual evolution starting from the cave temples to monolithic rathas and culminated in structural temples. The development of temple architecture under the Pallavas can be seen in four stages.

Mahendravarman I introduced the rock-cut temples. This style of Pallava temples are seen at places like Mandagappattu, Mahendravadi, Mamandur, Dalavanur, Tiruchirappalli, Vallam, Siyamangalam and Tirukalukkunram

The second stage of Pallava architecture is represented by the monolithic rathas and Mandapas found at Mamallapuram. Narasimhavarman I took the credit for these wonderful architectural monuments. The five rathas, popularly called as the Panchapanadava rathas, signifies five different styles of templearchitecture. The mandapas contain beautiful sculptures on its walls.

The most popular of these mandapas are Mahishasuramardhini Mandapa, Tirumurthi Mandapam and Varaha Madapam.

In the next stage, Rajasimha introduced the structural temples. These temples were built by using the soft sand rocks. The Kailasanatha temple at Kanchi and the Shore temple at Mamallapuram remain the finest examples of the early structural temples of the Pallavas. The Kailasanatha temple at Kanchi is the greatest architectural master piece of the Pallava art.

The last stage of the Pallava art is also represented by structural temples built by the later Pallavas. The Vaikundaperumal temple, Muktheeswara temple and Matagenswara temples at Kanchipuram belong to this stage of architecture.

 Literature and Religion

Sanskrit was the official language of the Pallavas and Kanchi, the Pallava capital, was a great centre of Sanskrit learning.

Both Bharavi and Dandin, the authors of Kiratarjuniyam and Dasakumarcharitam respectively, lived in the Pallava court. Dandin was also the author of the text “Avanti Sundari Kathasara”.

The Pallavas were orthodox Brahmanical Hindus and their patronage was responsible for the great reformation of the medieval ages. Most of the Pallava kings were devotees of Siva, the exceptions being Simhavishnu and Nandivarman who were worshippers of Vishnu.

Education and Literature

The Pallavas were great patrons of learning. Their capital Kanchi was an ancient centre of learning. The Ghatika at Kanchi was popular and it attracted students from all parts of India and abroad.

The founder of the Kadamba dynasty, Mayurasarman studied the Vedas at Kanchi. Dinganaga, a Buddhist writer came to study at Kanchi. Dharmapala, who later became the Head of the Nalanada University, belonged to Kanchi. Bharavi, the great Sanskrit scholar lived in the time of Simhavishnu. Dandin, another Sanskrit writer, adorned the court of Narasimhavarman II.

Mahendravaraman I composed the Sanskrit play Mattavilasaprahasanam. Tamil literature had also developed. The Nayanmars and Alwars composed religious hymns in Tamil. The Devaram composed by the Nayanmars and the Nalayradivyaprabandam composed by the Alwars represent the religious literature of the Pallava period.

Perundevanar was patronized by Nandivarman II and he translated the Mahabharata as Bharathavenba in Tamil. Nandikkalambagam was another important work but the name of the author of this work is not known. Music and dance also developed during this period.

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