The Malavas or Malwas were an ancient Indian tribe. Modern scholars identify them with the Malloi who were settled in the Punjab region at the time of Alexander's invasion in the 4th century BCE. Later, the Malavas migrated southwards to present-day Rajasthan, and ultimately to Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat. Their power gradually declined as a result of defeats against the Western Satraps (2nd century CE), the Gupta emperor Samudragupta (4th century), and the Chalukya emperor Pulakeshin II (7th century).
Before Common Era
The Malavas are mentioned in several ancient Indian texts, including the Mahabharata and Mahabhashya. According to the Mahabharata, the hundred sons of the Madra king Ashvapati, the father of Savitri were known as the Malavas, after the name of their mother, Malavi. Although Malavas are not actually mentioned by Panini, but his sutra V.3.117 mentions a number of tribes aa the ayudhajivi samghas (those who live by the profession of arms) and the Kashika includes the names of the Malavas and the Kshudrakas in this group of tribes. The Malavas are actually mentioned in the Mahabhashya (IV.1.68) of Patanjali.
The location of the original homeland of the Malavas is not certain, but modern scholars generally connect them with the "Malli" or "Malloi" mentioned in the ancient Greek accounts, which describe Alexander's war against them. At the time of Alexander's invasion in the 4th century BCE, the Malloi lived in present-day Punjab region, in the area to the north of the confluence of the Ravi and the Chenab rivers.
Later, the Malavas (or at least a large population of them) migrated to present-day Rajasthan, possibly as a result of the Indo-Greek occupation of Punjab. They were probably headquartered at Malavanagara (present-day Nagar Fort), where several thousands of their coins have been discovered. These coins bear the legend Malavanam jayah ("victory of the Malavas"), and have been dated between 250 BCE and 250 CE. Several inscriptions dated in the Malava era have been found in various parts of Rajasthan, which suggests that the Malava influence extended to a wider part of Rajasthan.
Conflict against the Western Satraps
Around 120 CE, the Malavas are mentioned as besieging the king of the Uttamabhadras to the south, but the Uttamabhadras were finally rescued by the Western Satraps, and the Malvas were crushed. The account appears in an inscription at the Nashik Caves, made by the Nahapana's viceroy Ushavadata:
...And by order of the lord I went to release the chief of the Uttamabhadras, who had been besieged for the rainy season by the Malayas, and those Malayas fled at the mere roar (of my approaching) as it were, and were all made prisoners of the Uttamabhadra warriors.
Conflict with the Guptas
In the 4th century CE, during the reign of the Gupta emperor Samudragupta, the Malavas most probably lived in Rajasthan and western Malwa. The Allahabad Pillar inscription of Samudragupta names the Malavas among the tribes subjugated by him. The Aulikaras who ruled in the Malwa region may have been a Malava clan, and may have been responsible the name "Malwa" being applied to the region.
Xuanzang (also 7th century) locates Malava (transcribed as "Mo-la-p'o") in present-day Gujarat, describing Kheta (Kheda) and Anandapura (Vadnagar) as parts of the Malava country. Xuanzang suggests that this Malava country was a part of the Maitraka kingdom. Like Banabhatta, he describes Ujjayini ("Wu-she-yen-na") as a distinct territory, but unlike Banabhatta, he locates Malava to the west of Ujjayini. The 7th century Aihole inscription of the Chalukya king Pulakeshin II, who defeated the Malavas, also locates them in present-day Gujarat. The 9th century Rashtrakuta records state that their emperor Govinda III stationed governor Kakka in the Lata country (southern Gujarat) to check the advance of the Gurjara-Pratiharas into Malava.
Present-day Madhya Pradesh
Although the region that ultimately came to be known as Malwa included the Ujjain, the post-Gupta records distinguish between the territory of the Malavas and the region around Ujjain. Banabhatta's Kadambari (7th century) describes Vidisha in present-day eastern Malwa as the capital of the Malavas, and Ujjayini (Ujjain) in present-day western Malwa as the capital of the distinct Avanti kingdom. This Malava king was defeated by the Pushyabhuti king Rajavardhana around 605 CE, as attested by Banabhatta's Harshacharita as well as the Pushyabhuti inscrpitions. The distinction between these Malava and Ujjain regions is also found in the writings of the 9th century Muslim historian Al-Baladhuri, who states that Junayd, the Arab governor of Sindh, raided Uzain (Ujjain) and al-Malibah (Malava) around 725 CE.
From 10th century onward, historical records use the term "Malavas" to refer to the Paramaras, who ruled the present-day Malwa region. It is likely that the Paramaras were not descended from the ancient Malavas, but came to be called "Malavas" after they started ruling the Malwa region named after the ancient Malavas. In the Yadava-prakasha's Vijayanti (c. 11th century), Avanti (the area around Ujjain) and Malava are stated to be identical. Thus, it appears that the present-day definition of Malwa became popular in the later half of the 10th century.
The era, which later became known as the Vikrama Samvat is associated with the Malavas. Initially it was mentioned as the Krita era and then as the Malava era. Most probably this era was mentioned as the Vikrama era for the first time in the Dholpur stone inscription of Chahamana ruler Chandamahasena in 898 CE.
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