Simhavishnu (Tamil: சிம்மவிஷ்ணு), also known as Avanisimha (Tamil: அவனிசிம்மன்), son of Simhavarman III and one of the Pallava kings of India, was responsible for the revival of the Pallavan dynasty. He was the first Pallava monarch whose domain extended beyond Kanchipuram (Kanchi) in the South. He was portrayed as a great conqueror in Mattavilasa Prahasana (drunken revelry), a drama written by his son Mahendravarman I.
Hero stones of the reigns of Simhavishnu and his father Simhavarman show his highest regnal year to be the thirty-third, and on this basis he ruled for over 33 years. However, there is no exact consensus as to Simhavishnu's period on the throne. Recent epigraphical evidence supports the period of 537–570 CE, whereas older generation historians like T.V. Mahalingam claimed it to be 575–615 CE. KAN Sastri tentatively places Simhavishnu's reign between 555–590 CE.
Expansion of Kingdom
When Simhavishnu ascended the throne, the Pallava dynasty was beginning to reassert its supremacy. His father Simhavarman was an accomplished militarist who according to a grant by Rajasimha Pallava (Narasimhavarman II) in the 8th century AD, had destroyed the town and army of Ranarasika, a Chalukyan king of the Deccan.
The southern peninsula of India was then ruled by five dynasties. The Pallavas, the Cholas and the Pandyas shared the power in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, parts of southern and eastern Karnataka border and Ceylon; the Cheras controlled Kerala and the Chalukyas controlled Karnataka. Simhavishnu, who was known for his gallant martial courage and judicial wisdom from a young age, overthrew the Kalabhras and conquered the region up to Kaveri, where he came into conflict with the Pandyas and Ceylon. He dispatched a naval expedition and occupied Malaya and Sri Lanka and established Kanchipuram as his capital. The presence of the Pallavas, much before further naval expeditions to Indo-China by their illustrious succeeding and contemporary empires such as the Pandiyans and the Cholas, is attested by the existence of specimen of art bearing striking resemblance in countries like Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, as well as scores of inscriptions in those lands in the Grantha script (a script in which both Tamil and Sanskrit can be written) in which the Pallavas were the first to specialize.
Simhavishnu led the revival of the Pallavas, and the period starting with him came to be known as the Greater Pallavas or Later Pallavas dynasty. The great struggle between the Pallavas and the Chalukyas, which would last for more than two centuries, began during the reign of Simhavishnu.
Contribution to Literature
Simhavishnu is known to have been the patron of the Sanskrit poet Bharavi, who wrote of the duel between Siva and Arjuna known as Kirata Arjuneeya, after which Lord Shiva blessed Arjuna with the divine 'Pasupata' missile. The structure of Bharavi's play suggests that it was written for koodiyattam plays for worship in temples during festivals. Kirata Arjuneeya is used as a subject for koodiyattam performances even today.
As with most Indian monarchs, Simhavishnu also accepted his servility to the Almighty. Great endowments were given to temples across the Tamil region. His father Simhavarma also may have entered the Tamil pantheon of Saivite saints who had gained mukti at the feet of the lord.
Periyapuranam mentions a Pallava ruler, Aiyatikal Kaadavarkon, who at Chidambaram composed hymns in praise of the Lord in venpaa metre of Tamil and attained mukti. There is evidence that this could have been Simhavarman, as it is said that he had first gilded the temple with gold after bathing in the temple tank cured him of illness.
In the Udayendiram copper plates of Nandivarman II, Simhavishnu was a devotee of Vishnu. This is a noteworthy point as his son Mahendravarman I was a Jaina who opposed all the Saivaite practices before being converted to Saivism. Simhavishnu's portrait can be seen in the stone engraving at the Adivaraha Mandap, an elegant shrine at Mahabalipuram. The monuments and temples in Mahabalipuram are achievements of the Pallava dynasty, and they still exist in Tamil Nadu. Simhavishnu was succeeded by his son Mahendravarman I.
- KAN Sastri, A History of South India, p135
- David Smith, The Dance of Siva: Religion, Art and Poetry in South India, Cambridge (2004) p.200 ISBN 0-521-52865-8
- Sastri, K A N (2008) . A History of South India (4th Ed ed.). New Delhi, India: Oxford University Press.
- Mahendravarman I Pallava: Artist and Patron of Mamallapuram by Marilyn Hirsh, Artibus Asiae, Vol. 48, No. 1/2. (1987), pp. 113