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History of South India:The Ancient Period

 

The ancient history of peninsular (south) India revolves around the fortunes of three outstanding and extensive kingdoms: that of the Pandyas, south of Kaveri river with its capital at Madurai; the Cheras centred around Kerala, and the Cholas on the Coromandel (western) coast. However there were several other dynasties that co-existed with these prominent ones, though they were unable to reach the same acme of power and glory.

Pandyas

South Map
Were a prominent dynasty in Southern India. Their kingdom, founded in the 6th century BC was spread over the modern districts of Madurai and Tinnevelly. Their original capital was at Kolkoi (on the Thambraparny river in Tinnevelly) and later at Madurai. The Ashokan edicts of 3rd century BC mention this dynasty. The Kongu Ratta inscription of early 5th century AD bear description of the conflict between the Pandyas and the Kongu Rattas. Very little is known about Pandyas before the 7thcentury AD.Around 940 AD, K ing Rajaraja of the Chola dynasty reduced the Pandyas to the condition of tributary dependence. This situation continued for the next two centuries There is historical evidence that the Pandyas had trade as well as maritime relations with countries like Egypt, Rome, China and Malaysia.


Satavahanas

The Meenakshi Temple,specimen of Pandyan Art



Variously known as the Andhras, Andhrabhrityas and Satakarnis, this dynasty ruled large portions of Central and South India spanning modern day Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Chattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh. The Satavahanas started out as feudatories to the Mauryan Empire of northern India, and declared independence soon after the death of Ashoka (232 BC). They were the first native Indian rulers to issue their own coins with portraits of their rulers, a practice probably borrowed from the Indo-Greek kings who occupied the northwestern parts of the country. The Satavahana kings also made significant contributions to Buddhist art and architecture. The great stupas in the Krishna river valley were built by them, the most famous among them being the stupa at Amaravati in Andhra Pradesh. The Satavahana rulers used Prakrit as their official language. The glory of the Satavahanas began to decline by the 3rd century AD and they were supplanted by a number of not so well-known dynasties.

Cheras

Amaravati Stupa
The earliest reference to the modern state of Kerala is to be found on a rock inscription ascribed to Ashoka the Great. It was then an independent kingdom ruled by various kings belonging to the powerful Chera dynasty (a.k.a Keralaputras) approximately between 900 BC and 198 AD. Infact theirs was the first known powerful dynasty in the region. The Cheras ruled over the area extending from Alleppy to Calicut, in the present day Kerala state with their capital at Vanchi (identified with either Karur or Kochi of modern times).During the reign of the Cheras, trade continued to bring prosperity to Kerala, as spices, ivory, timber and gems were exported to the countries of the Middle East and to southern Europe.


A gold coin of the Chera period
Chalukyas
This dynasty rose to power in the Deccan from the 5th to the 8th century AD and again from the 10th to the 12th century AD. They ruled over the area between the Vindhyachal mountains and the river Krishna. The Chalukyas were the arch enemies of the Pallavas, another famous dynasty of the south. A prominent ruler of the Chalukya dynasty was Pulakesin I. He founded the city of Vatapi (modern Badami in Bijapur district of Karnataka) and made it his capital. He is said to have performed Ashwamedha Yagna (horse sacrifice) to attain supremacy as a ruler. The kingdom was further extended by his sons Kirtivarman and Mangalesa who waged many wars against the Mauryan rulers of the neighbouring Konkan region.

The best known specimens of Chalukyan art are the Virupaksha temple, (built by Queen Lokamahadevi in 740 AD to commemorate her husband's victory over the Pallavas), and the Mallikarjuna temple both at Pattadakal, Karnataka.



The Virupaksha temple, Pattadakal
Pulakesin II, son of Kirtivarman was the greatest ruler of the Chalukya dynasty, who ruled for almost 34 years. During his long reign, he consolidated his powers in Maharashtra and conquered parts of the Deccan stretching from the banks of the Narmada to the region beyond the Kaveri. His greatest achievement was his victory in the defensive war against Harshavardhan (A north Indian emperor with his capital at Kannauj) in the year 620 AD. In 641 AD, the Chinese pilgrim Hiuen Tsang, visited the kingdom and paid glowing tributes to the king for his efficient and just rule.

Pulakesin II was defeated and killed by the Pallava king Narasimhavarman in 642 AD. His capital Vatapi was completely destroyed. Pulakesin was succeeded by his son Vikramaditya who was also a noble and just ruler. He renewed the struggle against his enemies and managed to restore the former glory of his dynasty to a certain extent. The Chalukyas were ousted by a chieftain Dantidurga, who laid the foundation of Rashtrakuta dynasty.


statue of Narasimhavarman
Chalukyas of Kalyani
This empire was founded by descendants of the Badami Chalukya clan. With its centre at Kalyani, Karnataka it flourished between 973-1195 AD. The domains of the Kalyani Chalukyas extended from the Kaveri basin in the south to Gujarat in the north. The empire reached its peak under Vikramaditya VI. The Kalyani Chalukyas promoted the Gadag style of architecture, the magnificent ruins of which still stand in the Dharwad and Haveri districts of Karnataka.

Pallavas
The Pallavas with their capital at Kanchipuram (in the modern state of Tamil Nadu) were a hereditary Hindu dynasty. They ruled between the 4th-9th century AD. Under the Pallavas, their vast kingdom (comprising major parts of modern Tamilnadu) was exposed to increased influence of Sanskrit and the culture associated with it. During this period the cults of Shavaism and Vaishnavism became deeply embedded in the Tamilian culture. Mahendravarman was the most prominent Pallava king who is remembered as the main source of inspiration behind the immortal, exquisite sculpture of the shore temples (shaped like chariots or rathas) at Mahabalipuram, which was once a major, flourishing port. The gorgeous temples at Kanchipuram also testify to the architectural excellence prevalent at that time. Hieun Tsang, who had visited the city of Kanchipuram and stayed there for a while, recorded that it was also a flourishing centre of higher education.


Shore Temple at Mahabalipuram

Narasimhavarman, the son of Mahendravarman, ascended the throne in 630 AD. He defeated his arch rival king Pulakesin II in the year 632 AD and burned down the Chalukyan capital Vatapi.

Kadambas
The earliest rulers of Karnataka, the Kadambas (325-540 AD) ruled over a major part of the state in addition to parts of Goa and Maharashtra.The Talagunda inscription of 450 AD states that Mayursharma, the founder of the dynasty, was given the name because of the profusion of sacred Kadamba trees which grew around his dwellings
.


The town of Vatapi
Mayursharma had been born a Brahmin, who after completion of Vedic studies went to Ghatikasthana in Kanchipuram for higher studies. Driven by circumstances, he became Mayuravarma, a Kshatriya, having mastered warfare tactics and the use of weaponry. He built up an army and trained them in guerilla warfare. He defeated several chieftains and even compelled the Pallavas to acknowledge his supremacy. His kingdom comprised the hilly region, western coast and Chitradurga district of Karnataka, with its capital at Banavasi (north Kanara district).


Kanchipuram Temple
The Kadamba kingdom reached its zenith under Kakustha (405-430 AD), who was a great builder. His prominence can be gauged from the fact that Skandagupta (scion of the famous Gupta dyansty) married one of his daughters. King Madhava of the Ganga dynasty married another of his daughters. Such matrimonial alliances helped to foster strong diplomatic ties and friendship with other kingdoms in the vicinity. Subsequently the rule of Ravivarman (485-519 AD) of the same dynasty, proved to be fairly long-lasting. He extended his kingdom up to the river Godavari in the north, Pennar river to south and Kolar in the east. The other kings of this dynasty proved to be weak; hence their rule had no great significance.

 

Hiuen Tsang, the Chinese traveler-monk who also visited Banavasi (a.k.a Konkanapura) recorded that the place was dotted with numerous monasteries, pertaining to both Hinayana and Mahayana sects of Buddhism, where thousands of monks and priests resided. Evidently Buddhism was greatly patronized or was the official religion.

 

Gangas
This dynasty ruled what are now the present districts of Kolar, Bangalore, Mysore, Mandya and Tumkur in Karnataka, between the 3rd-10th century A.D. They were Jains by faith. The world famous monolithic statue of Gommateshwara (a.ka. Bahubali) located in Shravanabelagola was erected during the Ganga rule by their commander in chief Chavundaraya. Historical evidence indicates that the Ganga kingdom extended northwards upto Orissa. Interestingly, the building of the famous Jagannath temple at Puri (modern Orissa) is ascribed to Chodaganga Deva, a Ganga ruler.

Rashtrakutas
The origin of the Rashtrakutas is mired in ambiguity. Some records trace its descent to the lineage of Yadu (the clan to which Lord Krishna apparently belonged). A few epigraphs claim that their early ancestor was Satyaki of the Yadava clan.



Jagannath temple
,Puri

Acclaimed by some historians as the largest Indian Empire, the Rashtrakuta clan ruled from Manyaketha in the Gulbarga region of modern Karnataka from 735-982 AD and reached its peak under Amoghavarsha I, often hailed as "Ashoka of South India". The Rashtrakutas came to power after the decline of the Badami Chalukyas and were involved in a three-cornered tussle with the Prathiharas of Gujarat and Palas of Bengal for political control over the Indo-Gangetic plains. The Rashtrakutas have found immortality in the pages of Indian history, through their marvellous rock cut temples of Ellora, in modern day Maharashtra. To them also goes the credit for the promotion and development of the Kannada language and literature.

Cholas


Ellora Caves,Maharashtra

The Tamil kingdom that enjoyed the most uninterrupted prosperity was that of the Cholas. As in case of all other polities in ancient India, the wealth of the Cholas was based upon a thriving agriculture, with two monsoons annually facilitating large scale cultivation of rice, barley and millet. Moreover, excavations at Arikamedu, (near modern Pondicherry) reveal that the Cholas had a flourishing trade with the Roman Empire from the1st century, to the beginning of the 2nd century BC.

By the middle of the 4th century AD, the Chola kingdom was largely eclipsed by the Pallavas who shot into limelight and reigned supreme in the southern part of India for a considerable period of time. However, in the 9th century the Cholas re-emerged as a major political power. The Chola kingdom reached its zenith during the10th and the 11th centuries AD.



A coin of the Chola period

The Chola kingdom with its capital at Chidambaram was one of the most impressive and well-administered political entities in the region. There was high level of prosperity as indicated by the surviving bronze figurines and statuettes, which rank among the finest specimens of Indian art and sculpture. The exquisitely beautiful temples, centred around Tanjore (Thanjavur) are also the crowning glory of the Chola art and architecture.

The most famous rulers of the Chola dynasty were Rajaraja I (985-1014) who extended the boundaries of his territory to include virtually the entire southern India, Sri Lanka, Lakshadweep and Maldives; and his son Rajendra (1014-42) who defeated the Pala rulers of Bengal and dispatched a naval expedition against the Srivijaya empire that flourished in Sumatra and the Malaya peninsula, which had caused some hindrance to the Chola kingdom’s trade activities with China, that were carried out through the straits of Malacca.


Rajaraja I

During the 12th century the powers of the Cholas steadily declined, and although a series of protracted wars with the Chalukyas ended in victory for the Cholas, their strength was sapped in the long struggle. Part of the Chola kingdom passed into the hands of the Hoysalas, who had formerly been the vassals of the Chalukyas. In 1257, the Pandyas invaded the Chola territories and the next two decades witnessed the death and destruction of theChola dynasty,

Hoysalas
The members of this clan established their own empire in what is now the state of Karnataka and ruled between 1040-1342. The most famous Hoysala rulers were


Chidambaram
Vishnuvardhana, Ballala II and Ballala III. Jainism as a major religious faith flourished during the Hoysala period. However, Ramanuja the founder of Vaishnavism, came to the Hoysala kingdom to propagate his religion. The Hoysalas greatly patronised both Kannada and Sanskrit literature. They were also great builders and won great esteem as builders of numerous magnificent temples, the ruins of which are still to be found at Belur (the erstwhile capital of the Hoysalas),Halebidu and Somanathapura in present-day Karnataka.

Kakatiyas
The Kakatiyas rose to prominence during the 12th and the 13th centuries. As the Chalukyas declined in power, the Kakatiya clan who were their feudatories began to wield considerable power. Early in the 12th century, the Kakatiyas declared independence and began expanding their kingdom. By the end of the century, their kingdom stretched between the Godavari and the Krishna rivers. The empire reached its zenith under Ganapati who was its most outstanding ruler. At the peak of its glory the empire included most of the territory of modern day Andhra Pradesh and parts of Orissa, Maharashtra, Chattisgarh and Karnataka. Ganapati was succeeded by his daughter Rudramamba who was thefirst queen known to have ever ruled in southern India. The Kakatiya dynasty was probably the longest lived Telugu kingdom in history. By the early 14th century, the Kakatiya empire attracted the attention of the Delhi Sultanate under Allauddin Khilji. It paid tribute to Delhi for a few years, but was eventually conquered by the forces of Muhammad bin Tughlaq in 1323.

A Nataraja
sculpture of
the Chola period
The Kakatiya period is termed as the brightest period of Andhra history. The entire area was under the kings who spoke Telugu and encouraged development of the language. Telugu. They established law and order throughout their territory and the numerous forts built by them played a dominant role in the defence of the realm.

Though Saivism continued to be the religion of the masses, the intellectuals favoured revival of Vedic rituals. They sought to reconcile the Vaishnavites and the Saivites through the worship of Harihara. (Hari=Vishnu, Har =shiva). The Kakatiya rulers greatly patronized the arts and literature. This dynasty was at its best in religious art. The Kakatiya temples, dedicated mostly to Siva, depict a fine blending of both north Indian and south Indian styles. The most important of these temples are those at Palampeta, Hanamkonda and the incomplete one within the Warangal fort.









Temple inside Warangal Fort

 
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