Pallava dynasty

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Pallava Empire

3rd century CE–9th century CE

Pallava territories during Narasimhavarman I c. 645 CE. This includes the Chalukya territories occupied by the Pallavas.
Capital Kanchipuram
Languages Tamil, Prakrit
Religion Hinduism
Government Monarchy
 -  275–300 CE Simhavarman I
 -  882–897 CE Aparajitavarman
Historical era Ancient-Middle Ages
 -  Established 3rd century CE
 -  Disestablished 9th century CE
Today part of  India
 Sri Lanka[1]

The Pallava dynasty existed between the 3rd and 9th centuries CE, ruling a portion of what is today southern India. They gained prominence after the eclipse of the Satavahana dynasty, whom the Pallavas served as feudatories.[2][3] A number of legends are associated with their origin.


Kailasanathar Temple, Kanchipuram, Tamil Nadu,India
Inner court or the circumambulatory passage with 58 subshrines.Kailasanathar Temple, Kanchipuram, Tamil Nadu,India.
Typical design of pillar with multi-directional mythical lions.Kailasanathar Temple, Kanchipuram, Tamil Nadu,India.
Temple view.Kailasanathar Temple, Kanchipuram, Tamil Nadu,India.

The earliest Tamil literature which throws light on a region associated with the Pallavas is Ahananuru which identifies two Tiriyans — the elder Tiriyan in Gudur, Nellore district, with a kingdom extending to Tirupati or Thiruvengadam; and the younger Tiraiyan whose capital was Kanchipuram. The Sangam work, Perumbanarruppatai, traces the line of the younger Tiriyan (also known as Ilam Tiriyan) to the Solar dynasty of Ikshvakus; later Tamil commentators identify him as the illegitimate child of a Chola king and a Naga princess.[4]

K. A. Nilakanta Sastri postulated that Pallavas were descendants of a North Indian dynasty of Indian origin who moved southwards, adopted local traditions to their own use, and named themselves as Tondaiyar after the land called Tondai.[5][6] K. P. Jayaswal also proposed a North Indian origin, putting forward the theory that the Pallavas were a branch of the Vakatakas.[5]

There are several communities in the Kalahasti and Thirupathi area which were compensated to Andhra during state partition which belongs to Tondaiman clan, who are Tamils. P. T. Srinivasa Iyengar states 'Tondaiyar' means the "tribe whose symbol was the Tondai creeper". Tondai or Coccinia indica is commonly known as Kōvai in Tamil in modern times, but the name Doṇḍe is the ordinary name for the plant in Telugu.[7]

The Proceedings of the First Annual Conference of South Indian History Congress also notes: The word Tondai means a creeper and the term Pallava conveys a similar meaning.[5] Since the Pallavas ruled in the territory extending from Bellary to Bezwada, it led to the theory that they were a northern dynasty who contracted marriages with princesses of the Andhra Dynasty and so inherited a portion of southern Andhra Pradesh.[8]

A Sangam Period classic, Manimekhalai, attributes the origin of the first Pallava King from a liaison between the daughter of a Naga king of Manipallava named Pilli Valai (Pilivalai) with a Chola king, Killivalavan, out of which union was born a prince, who was lost in ship wreck and found with a twig (pallava) of Cephallandra indica (Tondai) around his ankle and hence named Tondai-man. Another version states "Pallava" was born from the union of the Brahmin Asvathama with a Naga Princess also supposedly supported in the sixth verse of the Bahur plates which states "From Asvathama was born the king named Pallava".[8] The Pallavas themselves claimed to descend from Brahma and Asvathama.[9]

Though Manimekhalai posits Ilam Tiriyan as a Chola, not a Pallava, the Velurpalaiyam Plates dated to 852 CE, do not mention the Cholas. Instead they credit the Naga liaison episode, and creation of the Pallava line, to a different Pallava king named Virakurcha, while preserving its legitimizing significance:[10]

...from him (Aśvatthāman) in order (came) Pallava, the lord of the whole earth, whose fame was bewildering. Thence, came into existence the race of Pallavas... [including the son of Chūtapallava] Vīrakūrcha, of celebrated name, who simultaneously with (the hand of) the daughter of the chief of serpents grasped also the complete insignia of royalty and became famous.

Historically, early relations between Nagas and Pallavas became well-established before the myth of Pallava's birth to Ashwatthama took root.[11] A praśasti (literally "praise"), composed in 753 CE on the dynastic eulogy in the Kasakadi (Kasakudi) plates, by the Pallava Trivikrama, traces the Pallava lineage from creation through a series of mythic progenitors, and then praises the dynasty in terms of two similes hinged together by triple use of the word avatara ("descent"), as below:[10]

From [them] descended the powerful, spotless Pallava dynasty [vaṁśāvatāra], which resembled a partial incarnation [aṃśāvatāra] of Visnu, as it displayed unbroken courage in conquering the circle of the world...and which resembled the descent of the Ganges [gaṅgāvatāra] as it purified the whole world.

Historian K. R. Subramanian says the Pallavas were originally a Telugu power rather than a Tamil one. Telugu sources know of a Trilochana Pallava as the earliest Telugu king and they are confirmed by later inscriptions.[12] The first Chalukya king is said to have been met, repulsed and killed by the same Trilochana near Mudivemu (Cuddappah district). A Buddhist story describes Kala the Nagaraja, resembling the Pallava Kalabhartar as a king of the region near Krishna district. The Pallava Bogga may be identified with the kingdom of Kala in Andhra which had close and early maritime and cultural relations with Ceylon.[11]

The earliest inscriptions of the Pallavas were found in the districts of Bellary, Guntur and Nellore and all the inscriptions of the dynasty till the rise of Simhavishnu were found in the latter two of those.[11]

Control of Regions between different Tamil Kings[edit]

The Pallavas captured Kanchi from the Cholas as recorded in the Velurpalaiyam Plates, around the reign of the fifth king of the Pallava line Kumaravishnu I. Thereafter Kanchi figures in inscriptions as the capital of the Pallavas. The Cholas drove the Pallavas away from Kanchi in the mid-4th century CE, in the reign of Vishugopa, the tenth king of the Pallava line. The Pallavas re-captured Kanchi in the mid-6th century, possibly in the reign of Simhavishnu, the fourteenth king of the Pallava line, whom the Kasakudi plates state as "the lion of the earth". Thereafter the Pallavas held on to Kanchi till the 9th century CE, till the reign of their last king, Vijaya-Nripatungavarman.[13]

Other conquests and expansions[edit]

The Pallavas were in conflict with major kingdoms at various periods of time. A contest for political supremacy existed between the early Pallavas and the Kadambas. Numerous Kadamba inscriptions provide details of Pallava-Kadamba hostlities.[14] The Pallavas also contracted matrimonial relationships with Kadambas. According to the Velurpalaiyam Plates the mother of the Pallava king Nandivarman was a Kadamba princess named Aggalanimmati. The Velurpalaiyam Plates also state that Nandivarman had to fight for his father's throne.[citation needed]

During the reign of Vishnugopavarman II (approx. 500-525 CE), political convulsion engulfed the Pallavas due to the Kalabhra invasion of the Tamil country. Towards the close of the 6th century, the Pallava Simhavishnu stuck a blow against the Kalabhras. The Pandyas followed suit. Thereafter the Tamil country was divided between the Pallavas in the north with Kanchipuram as their capital, and Pandyas in the south with Madurai as their capital.[15]


The royal custom of using a series of descriptive honorific titles, birudas, was particularly prevalent among the Pallavas. The birudas of Mahendravarman I are in Sanskrit, Tamil and Telugu. The Telugu birudas show Mahendravarman's involvement with the Andhra region continued to be strong at the time he was creating his cave-temples in the Tamil region. The suffix "Malla" was used by the Pallava rulers.[16] Mahendravarman I used the biruda, Satrumalla, "a warrior who overthrows his enemies", and his grandson Paramesvara I was called Ekamalla "the sole warrior or wrestler". Pallava kings, presumably exalted ones, were known by the title Mahamalla ("great wrestler").[10]

Languages used[edit]

All the early Pallava royal inscriptions are either in Sanskrit or in Prakrit language, considered the official languages of the dynasty while the official script was Pallava grantha. Similarly, inscriptions found in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka State are in Prakrit and not in Telugu or Kannada.[17] The phenomenon of using Sanskrit and Prakrit as official languages in which rulers left their inscriptions and epigraphies continued till the 6th century CE. It would have been in the interest of the ruling elite to protect their privileges by perpetuating their hegemony of Prakrit in order to exclude the common people from sharing power (Mahadevan 1995a: 173-188). The Pallavas in their Tamil country also adopted the same method. They used Sanskrit language and Pallava grantha scripts in their official orders.

Writing system[edit]

Under the Pallava dynasty, a unique form of Southern Brahmi script developed. Around the 6th century CE, it was exported eastwards and influenced the genesis of almost all Southeast Asian scripts.

Main article: Pallava alphabet

Language of the Pallavas: It appears that the language of the Pallavas was known as Pahalvi or Pehalvi. The biography OF Lord Buddha was written in this language during the reign of the Pallavas (sixth or seventh century A.D). Initially the book is reported to have been translated to Arabic and the Syrian language. Still later the book had been translated into Georgian, Greek. Hebrew, Ethiopian, Armenian, and Latin. There have been adaptations of the story of the book in German during 1220. Ref: Hindu America,P.246 by Sri Chamanlal, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan,Bombay,1960.

Pallava Chronology[edit]

Early Pallavas[edit]

The earliest documentation on the Pallavas is the three copper-plate grants, now referred to as the Mayidavolu, Hirahadagalli and the British Museum plates (Durga Prasad, 1988) belonging to Skandavarman I and written in Prakrit.[18] Skandavarman appears to have been the first great ruler of the early Pallavas, though there are references to other early Pallavas who were probably predecessors of Skandavarman.[19] Skandavarman extended his dominions from the Krishna in the north to the Pennar in the south and to the Bellary district in the West. He performed the Aswamedha and other Vedic sacrifices and bore the title of 'Supreme King of Kings devoted to dharma'.[18]

In the reign of Simhavarman IV, who ascended the throne in 436 CE, the territories lost to the Vishnukundins in the north up to the mouth of the Krishna were recovered.[citation needed] The early Pallava history from this period onwards is furnished by a dozen or so copper-plate grants in Sanskrit. They are all dated in the regnal years of the kings.[20]

The following chronology is gathered from these three charters:[20]

Later Pallavas[edit]

The rock-cut temples at Mamallapuram constructed during the reign of Narasimhavarman I
Elephant carved out of a single-stone

The incursion of the Kalabhras and the confusion in the Tamil country was broken by the Pandya Kadungon and the Pallava Simhavishnu.[21] Mahendravarman I re-established the Pallava Kingdom after defeating the Kalabhras.[citation needed] Some of the most ornate monuments at Mamallapuram, were constructed under the rule of King Mahendravarman I. The Pallava kingdom began to gain both in territory and influence and were a regional power by the end of the 6th century, defeating kings of Ceylon and mainland Tamilakkam.[22][citation needed]

Narasimhavarman I and Paramesvaravarman I were the kings who stand out with glorious achievements in both military and architectural spheres. Narasimhavarman II built the Shore Temple.

List of later Pallavas:[citation needed]

The genealogy of Pallavas mentioned in the Māmallapuram Praśasti is as follows:[10]

  • Vishnu
  • Brahma
  • Unknown / undecipherable
  • Unknown / undecipherable
  • Bharadvaja
  • Drona
  • Ashvatthaman
  • Pallava
  • Unknown / undecipherable
  • Unknown / undecipherable
  • Simhavarman I (c. 275 CE)
  • Unknown / undecipherable
  • Unknown / undecipherable
  • Simhavarman IV (436 CE — c. 460 CE)
  • Unknown / undecipherable
  • Unknown / undecipherable
  • Skandashishya
  • Unknown / undecipherable
  • Unknown / undecipherable
  • Simhavisnu (c. 550-585 CE)
  • Mahendravarman I (c. 571-630 CE)
  • Maha-malla Narasimhavarman I (630-668 CE)
  • Unknown / undecipherable
  • Paramesvaravarman I (669-690 CE)
  • Rajasimha Narasimhavaram II (690-728 CE)
  • Unknown / undecipherable
  • Pallavamalla Nandivarman II (731-796 CE)
  • Unknown / undecipherable
  • Nandivarman III (846-69)

According to the available inscriptions of the Pallavas, historian S. Krishnaswami Aiyangar proposes the Pallavas could be divided into four separate families or dynasties; some of whose connections are known and some unknown.[23] Aiyangar states

We have a certain number of charters in Prakrit of which three are important ones. Then follows a dynasty which issued their charters in Sanskrit; following this came the family of the great Pallavas beginning with Simha Vishnu; this was followed by a dynasty of the usurper Nandi Varman, another great Pallava. We are overlooking for the present the dynasty of the Ganga-Pallavas postulated by the Epigraphists. The earliest of these Pallava charters is the one known as the Mayidavolu 1 (Guntur district) copper-plates.

Based on a combination of dynastic plates and grants from the period, Aiyangar proposed their rule thus:

Early Pallavas[edit]

  • Bappa - Virakurcha — married a Naga of Mavilanga (Kanchi) - The Great Founder of a Pallava lineage
  • Simha Varman I (275–300 or 315–345)
  • Skanda Varman I (345–355) (Shivaskandavarman)

Middle Pallavas[edit]

  • Visnugopa (340–355) (Yuvamaharaja Vishnugopa)
  • Kumaravisnu I (355–370)
  • Skanda Varman II (370–385)
  • Vira Varman (385–400)
  • Skanda Varman III (400–435)
  • Simha Varman II (435–460)
  • Skanda Varman IV (460–480)
  • Nandi Varman I (480–500)
  • Kumaravisnu II (c. 500–510)
  • Buddha Varman (c. 510–520)
  • Kumaravisnu III (c. 520–530)
  • Simha Varman III (c. 530–537)

Later Pallavas[edit]


Karunakara Tondaiman[edit]

Karunakara Tondaiman alias Karunakara Pallavaraiyan alias Karunakaran was the Pallavan king, the prime minister and the undaunted general of Ko Rajakesarivarman Abaya Kulottunga Chola.[24][25] He had sacked Lanka and Kalinga to show his loyalty to his king.[26][27] He is the much celebrated, larger than life hero of Jayamkondar's poem and war-song Kalinkkattuparani.[28][29] After the period of Kulottunga Chola I, he continued to serve as the prime minister of the former's son Vikrama Chola as well.[30]

Tondaiman was born as a Pallavan prince and became the prime minister and a vassal of Kulottunga Chola I. Jayamkondar stated him as a Pallava king.[31] He is married to one Alagiyamanavalini Mangai Ālvār. Another notable member of his family is his brother, Pallavaraiyan who also accompanies him to Kalinga. His brother is the flag bearer and it is he who hoists the flag at the pillar of victory in Kalinga.[32] The Kalingathuparani very briefly touches on his birth and in Silayelupathu bravery of him and his Vanniyar community was praised throughout the literature work by Poet Kambar in Silaiyezhupathu.[33]


Kadava (Tamil: காடவர், Kaadavar) was the name of a Tamil ruling dynasty who ruled parts of the Tamil country during the thirteenth and the fourteenth century CE. Kadavas were related to the Pallava dynasty and ruled from Kudalur near Cuddalore in Tamil Nadu. The title Kadava is found among the several titles assumed by Mahendravarman I, Narasimhavarman I and Narasimhavarman II. The Kadava name with Tondaiyar and Kaduvetti, is found in Tamil literature to refer to the Pallavas. The relationship of the Kadavas to the main Pallava dynasty is documented in an inscription in Kanchipuram. The kings of the collateral line of the Pallavas who were descended from Bhimavarman, the brother of Simhavishnu, are called the Kadavas. The Pallava king Nandivarman (Pallavamalla) is praised as 'one who was born to raise the prestige of the Kadava family'. The title Kaduvetti is also used in some inscriptions to denote the Pallavas.,[34][35]

The renowned scholar Noboru Karashima noted with epigraphic evidence that Kadavas are Vanniyar by caste. Noboru Karashima says" We have three more inscriptions of Kulottungachola Kadavarayan, which are found in Viriddhachalam (SII, vii-150: SA, 1148), Srimushnam (ARE, 1916-232: 1152), and Tirunarunkondai (SITI-74:SA, 1156). In the first two he is described as a Palli” (Vanniyar).[36] Noboru Karashima mentions other names of Kadava chiefs as Kachchiyarayan, Cholakon, Nilagangaraiyan which are still used by Vanniyars in Cuddalore district. Noboru Karashima says "From the above it is clear that the Kadava chiefs, who were Pallis (Vanniyars) by jati and had estabilished their power in Gadilam River area”[37]

Other relationships[edit]

Pallava royal lineages were established in the old kingdom of Kedah of the Malay Peninsula under Rudravarman I, Chenla under Bhavavarman I, Champa under Bhadravarman I and the Kaundinya-Gunavarman line of the Funan in Cambodia, eventually their rule growing to form the Khmer Empire.[citation needed] These dynasties' unique Dravidian architectural style was introduced to build Angor Wat while Tamil cultural norms[citation needed] spread across the continent, their surviving epigraphic inscriptions recording domestic societal life and their pivotal role in Asian trade routes.[38]


Pallavas were followers of Hinduism and made gifts of land to gods and Brahmins. In line with the prevalent customs, some of the rulers performed the Aswamedha and other Vedic sacrifices.[20] They were, however, tolerant of other faiths. The Chinese monk Xuanzang who visited Kanchipuram during the reign of Narasimhavarman I reported that there were 100 Buddhist monasteries, and 80 temples in Kanchipuram.[39]

Mahendravarman I was initially a patron of the Jain faith. He later converted to Hinduism under the influence of the Saiva saint Appar with the revival of Hinduism during the Bhakti movement in South India.[citation needed]

Pallava architecture[edit]

The Shore Temple at Mahabalipuram built by Narasimhavarman II

The Pallavas were instrumental in the transition from rock-cut architecture to stone temples. The earliest examples of Pallava constructions are rock-cut temples dating from 610–690 CE and structural temples between 690–900 CE. A number of rock-cut cave temples bear the inscription of the Pallava king, Mahendravarman I and his successors.[40]

The greatest accomplishments of the Pallava architecture are the rock-cut temples at Mahabalipuram. There are excavated pillared halls and monolithic shrines known as rathas in Mahabalipuram. Early temples were mostly dedicated to Shiva. The Kailasanatha temple in Kanchipuram and the Shore Temple built by Narasimhavarman II, rock cut temple in Mahendravadi by Mahendravarman are fine examples of the Pallava style temples.[41] The temple of Nalanda Gedige in Kandy, Sri Lanka is another. The famous Tondeswaram temple of Tenavarai and the ancient Koneswaram temple of Trincomalee were patronized and structurally developed by the Pallavas in the 7th century.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ancient Jaffna: Being a Research Into the History of Jaffna from Very Early Times to the Portuguese Period, C. Rasanayagam, p.241, Asian Educational Services 1926
  2. ^ The journal of the Numismatic Society of India, Volume 51, p.109
  3. ^ Alī Jāvīd and Tabassum Javeed. (2008). World heritage monuments and related edifices in India, p.107 [1]
  4. ^ Subramanian, K. R. (1989) [1932]. Buddhist remains in Andhra and the history of Andhra between 224 & 610 A.D. p. 72. 
  5. ^ a b c South Indian History Congress. (February 15–17). Proceedings of the First Annual Conference 1. The Congress and The Madurai Kamaraj University Co-op Printing Press, 1980.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  6. ^ A.Krishnaswami. Topics in South Indian history: from early times upto 1565 A.D. Krishnaswami, 1975. pp. 89–90. 
  7. ^ P. T. Srinivasa Iyengar (1929). History of the Tamils: from the earliest times to 600 A.D. Asian Educational Services. p. 401. ISBN 9788120601451. 
  8. ^ a b Ordhendra Coomar Gangoly. The art of the Pallavas, Volume 2 of Indian Sculpture Series. G. Wittenborn, 1957. p. 2. 
  9. ^ Jaiswal, Suvira (2000). Caste: origin, function, and dimensions of change. Manohar Publishers. p. 115. ISBN 9788173043345. 
  10. ^ a b c d Rabe, Michael D (1997). "The Māmallapuram Praśasti: A Panegyric in Figures". Artibus Asiae 57 (3/4): 189–241. JSTOR 3249929. (subscription required (help)). 
  11. ^ a b c KR Subramanian. (1989). Buddhist remains in Āndhra and the history of Āndhra between 224 & 610 A.D, p.71
  12. ^ KR Subramanian. (1989). Buddhist remains in Āndhra and the history of Āndhra between 224 & 610 A.D, p.71: The Pallavas were first a Telugu and not a Tamil power. Telugu traditions know a certain Trilochana Pallava as the earliest Telugu King and they are confirmed by later inscriptions. [2]
  13. ^ Rev. H Heras, SJ (1931) Pallava Genealogy: An attempt to unify the Pallava Pedigrees of the Inscriptions, Indian Historical Research Institute
  14. ^ KR Subramanian. (1989). Buddhist remains in Āndhra and the history of Āndhra between 224 & 610 A.D, p.106-109
  15. ^ Sen, Sailendra Nath (1999). Ancient Indian History And Civilization. New Age International. p. 445. ISBN 9788122411980. 
  16. ^ Marilyn Hirsh (1987) Mahendravarman I Pallava: Artist and Patron of Māmallapuram, Artibus Asiae, Vol. 48, Number 1/2 (1987), pp. 109-130
  17. ^ Rajan K. (Jan-Feb 2008). Situating the Beginning of Early Historic Times in Tamil Nadu: Some Issues and Reflections, Social Scientist, Vol. 36, Number 1/2, pp. 40-78
  18. ^ a b Nilakanta Sastri, A History of South India, p.91
  19. ^ Nilakanta Sastri, A History of South India, p.91–92
  20. ^ a b c Nilakanta Sastri, A History of South India, p.92
  21. ^ Kulke and Rothermund, p.120
  22. ^ Kulke and Rothermund, p111
  23. ^ S.Krishnaswami Aiyangar. Some Contributions Of South India To Indian Culture. Early History of the Pallavas
  24. ^ The Imperial and asiatic quarterly review and oriental and colonial record, p. 328.
  25. ^ History of the Eastern Chalukyas of Vengi, 610-1210 A.D., p. 446.
  26. ^ C.Sivaratnam: The Tamils in early Ceylon, p. 116
  27. ^ History of the Eastern Chalukyas of Vengi, 610-1210 A.D., p. 455.
  28. ^ History of medieval Andhradesa, p. 25
  29. ^ History of the Eastern Chalukyas of Vengi, 610-1210 A.D.
  30. ^ The Cholas: mathematics reconstructs the chronology, p. 171
  31. ^
  32. ^ Kallidaikurichi Aiyah Nilakanta Sastri: The Cōḷas, p. 334.
  33. ^ Silaiyelupathu (in Tamil) Retrieved 2012-07-17.
  34. ^ South Indian Inscriptions Vol 12, Pallava Inscriptions
  35. ^ Template:Cite book=Studies in Indian history
  36. ^ Srimushnam (S.A.): 6th year, No. 232 of 1916
  37. ^ Karashima, Noboru (2009). South Indian Society in Transition: Ancient to Medieval. New Delhi: OXFORD. pp. 139, 140. ISBN 978-0-19-806312-4.
  38. ^ International Tamil Language Foundation (2000). The Handbook of Tamil Culture and Heritage. Chicago: International Tamil Language Foundation. p. 877. 
  39. ^ Kulke and Rothermund, pp121–122
  40. ^ Nilakanta Sastri, pp412–413
  41. ^ Nilakanta Sastri, p139


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External links[edit]