|Vikramendra Varma II|
|Govinda Varma II|
|Historical era||Classical India|
|Outline of South Asian history|
The Vishnukundina Empire (Telugu: విష్ణుకుండిన సామ్రాజ్యము) was an Indian imperial power controlling the Deccan, Orissa and parts of South India during the 5th and 6th centuries, carving land out from the Vakataka Empire. It played an important role in the history of the Deccan during the 5th and 6th centuries CE.
By 514 CE, the Vakatakas were reduced to the areas of present day Telangana area. The area north of the Godavari, Kalinga, became independent. The area south of the Krishna River fell to the Pallavas. The Vishnukundin reign came to an end with the conquest of the eastern Deccan by the Chalukya, Pulakesi II. Pulakesi appointed his brother Kubja Vishnuvardhana as Viceroy to rule over the conquered lands. Eventually Vishnuvardhana declared his independence and started the Eastern Chalukya dynasty.
Origin of Vishnukundins
Vishnukundina is a Sanskritized name for Vinukonda. Several attempts have been made by scholars to find out the origins of this dynasty, but no definite conclusions have been reached yet. The early rulers of the dynasty migrated to the west in search of employment and under the Vakatakas they might have attained feudatory status.
The Vishnukundin reign might be fixed between the end of the Salankayana and the rise of the Eastern Chalukyan power in 624 AD. Some historians mention Vishnukundins reign was from 420 CE to 624 CE, while some other historian say there reign was from early 5th Century CE to 7th Century CE.
According to the Indra Pala Nagara plates, Indra Varma is considered to be the first ruler of the Vishnukundin dynasty. He might have carved out a small principality for himself probably as a subordinate of the Vakatakas sometime about the last quarter of the fourth century C.E. Not much information is known about the next two kings, Madhav Varma I and his son Govinda Varma. They might have kept intact the inheritance or extended their sway to some extent.
Madhav Varma II
By the middle of the 5th century A.D., the dynasty began its imperial expansion under its most efficient ruler Madhav Varma II who ruled for nearly half a century. The reign of Madhav Varma (c.440 C.E.-c.460 C.E) was a golden age in the history of the Vishnukundins. It was during this period, the small Vishnukundin dynasty rose to imperial heights. A princess of the then powerful ruling family of the Deccan the Vakatakas was given in marriage to Madhav Varma's son, Vikramendra Varma.
This alliance gave them great power and made it easy for them to extend their influence to the east coast and vanquishing the petty chieftains lingering on in that area. Madhav Varma II led his arms against Ananda Gotrikas who were ruling over Guntur, Tenali and Ongole, probably enjoying subordinate position under the Pallavas of Kanchipuram.
After occupying these areas from the Ananda Gotrikas, Madhav Varma II made Amarapura (modern Amaravati) his capital. Keeping in view the constant threat from the Pallavas, he created an out-post to check their activities and appointed his son, Deva Varma and after his death the grandson Madhav Varma III as its Viceroy.
Madhav Varma II next turned his attention against the Vengi kingdom which was under the Salankayanas. The Vengi region was annexed. The Godavari tract became part of the Vishnukundin territory. After these conquests the capital might have been shifted to Bezwada (Vijayawada), a more central location than Amarapura. These extensive conquests entitle him to the title of the lord of Dakshinapatha (southern country). After these various conquests Madhav Varma performed many Asvamedha, Rajasuya and other Vedic sacrifices.
Successors of Madhav Varma II
The fortunes of the Vishnukundins were at a low point during the reign of next ruler Vikramendra Varma I (508–528 C.E.). The next two and half decades also experienced the constant strife and dynastic struggles during the reign of Indra Bhattaraka Varma (528–555 C.E.). Though Indra Bhattaraka could not withstand the hostile Kalinga subordinate, Indra Varma and lost his life in battle. The Vishnukundins lost their Kalinga possessions north of the Godavari.
Vikramendra Varma II
With the accession of Vikramendra Varma II (555–569 C.E), the fortunes of the Vishnukundin family were restored. To have an immediate access to the Kalinga region, he shifted his capital from Bezwada to Lenduluru (modem Denduluru in the West Godavari district). He repulsed the attack of the Pallava ruler Simhavarman. He was successful enough to restore the fortunes of the Vishnukundins in the Kalinga region. His son Govinda Varma II enjoyed a comparatively short period of rule (569–573 C.E.).
Govinda Varma II
The Vishnukundin empire set about again to imperial expansion and cultural prosperity under its able ruler Janssraya Madhav Varma IV (573-621 A.D.). This prudent king spent his early years of rule in consolidating his position in Vengi. The later part of his reign is marked by wars and annexations. In his 37th regnal year, he suppressed the revolt of his subordinate chief the Durjaya Prithvi Maharaja in Guddadivishya (modern Ramachandrapuram in the East Godavari district).
Madhav Varma IV had to face the Chalukyan onslaught in his last years of rule. By about 616 CE, Pulakesin II and his brother Kubja Vishnuvardhana conquered Vengi from the Vishnukundins and the Pithapuram area from their subordinate Durjayas. In 621 C.E. in his 48th regnal year, Madhava crossed the Godavari probably to oust the Chalukyas from his territories. However he lost his life on the battlefield. His son Manchana Bhattaraka also might have been expelled by the Chalukyas. Thus the Vishnukundin rule was brought to a close by 624 A.D.
For administrative convenience, the empire was divided into a number of Rashtras and Vishayas. Inscriptions refer to Palki Rashtra, Karma rashtra, Guddadi Vishaya, etc.
Madhav Varma III appointed members of the royal family as Viceroys for various areas of the kingdom.
The king was the highest court of appeal in the administrator of justice. The Vishnukundin rulers established various kinds of punishments for various crimes. They were known for their impartial judgment and high sense of justice.
Their army consisted of traditional fourfold divisions:
The Hastikosa was the officer-in charge of elephant forces and the Virakosa was the officer-in-charge of land forces. These officers issued even grants on behalf of the kings.
There may have been well-organised administrative machinery for collection of land revenue. Agrahara villages enjoyed tax exemptions. Sixteen types of coins of the Vishnukundin rulers have been found by archaeologists.
All the records of the Vishnukundins and the kings prior to the Madhav Varma II seem to be patrons of Hindusism.
From the time of accession of Madhav Varma II, an aggressive self-assertion of the Vedic Brahmanism occurred. Elaborate Vedic ceremonies like Rajasuya, Purushamedha, Sarvamedha and Aswamedha were undertaken. The celebration of all these sacrifices represents the militant spirit of the brahmanical revival. Some of the rulers referred to themselves as 'Parama Mahesvaras'. The inscriptions refer to their family deity Sri Parvata Swami.
The Vishnukundins were also great patrons of learning. They established colleges for vedic learning. Learned Brahmins were encouraged by gifts of lands and colleges were established for the propagation of Vedic studies. Indra Bhattaraka established many schools for imparting education on Vedic literature. Performance of several elaborate Vedic ceremonies by Madhav Varma is evidence of the faith of the rulers in Brahmanism and popularity of Vedic learning with the people during this period.
Some of the Vishnukundin kings were credited with authorship of several books. Vikramendra Varma I was described as Mahakavi – great poet in a record. Further, an incomplete work on Sanskrit poetics called 'Janasraya Chando Vichiti', was attributed to Madhav Varma IV who bore the title of 'Janasraya'. Sanskrit enjoyed royal patronage. Telugu had not yet grown to the stature of receiving royal patronage.
Art and Architecture
Being great devotees of Siva, the Vishnukundins seem to have been responsible for construction of a number of cave temples dedicated to Siva. The cave structures at Bezwada (Vijayawada), Mogalrajapuram, Undavalli caves and Bhairavakonda were dated to this period. Though some of these cave temples were attributed to the Pallava Mahendra Varman I, the emblems found on the caves and the areas being under the rule of the Vishnukundins during this period clearly show that these were contributions of the Vishnukundins. The big four-storeyed cave at Undavalli and the 8 cave temples in Bhairavakonda in Nellore district show however clear resemblances with the architecture of Pallava Mahendra Varman's period.
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- Durga Prasad, History of the Andhras up to 1565 A. D., P. G. PUBLISHERS, GUNTUR (1988)
- South Indian Inscriptions 
- Nilakanta Sastri, K.A. (1955). A History of South India, OUP, New Delhi (Reprinted 2002).