Pallava Dynasty | Pallava Kings | Pallavas of Kanchi


The Pallavas founded their capital at Kanchipuram. Kanchipuram is popularly called “Kanchi”.

Origin of Pallavas

The decay of the Satavahana Empire facilitated the emergence of a number of new kingdoms on its ruins. Among them the Kings of Pallava Dynasty were the most noted, who occupied the south-eastern part of the Satavahana Empire and founded their capital at Kanchipura, popularly called “Kanchi”.

The Pallava Kings did not patronage Tamil language and in their early administrative system they followed the Satavahana style instead of the Tamil style.

These evidences strongly supported the theory that the Pallavas were non-Tamil in their origin. But scholars are not unanimous in this regard. They put number of theories about their origin. B.L. Rice called the Pallavas as foreigners, belonging to the Pallava or Parthian race. But this theory had not been accepted by all. Prof. Dubrevil told that Pallava minister of Rudradamana, Subisakha was the ancestor of the Pallavas of Kanchi. But this theory has not been accepted either. On the other hand, Prof. M.C. Rasanayagam asserted that the Pallavas were the offspring of a Chola prince and a Naga Princess of Manipallavam. Thus Pallava is the name of a dynasty not a tribe or class.

Dr. K Aiyanger gave us a third theory where he called the Pallavas as feudatories of the Satavahanas. Prof. Rawlinson and other scholars have stressed on the indigenous southern origin of the Pallava Dynasty. But Prof. K.P. Jayaswall has marked them as a branch of the Brahmin dynasty of the Vaktakas of Northern India. Though there is some substance in this theory nothing definitely can be said about their origin.

King Simhavishnu of Pallava Dynasty

Whatever might be their origin this much we came to know for certain that the dynasty began when Raja Simhavishnu ascended the throne sometime in or about 575 A.D. But that was the period when the attack from a semi-barbarian anti-Brahminical people, called Kalabhras had shattered the peaceful life of the Tamil country. Simhavishnu put an end to that political confusion of the Tamil land and conquered Cholamandalam and also defeated the Ceylon and Tamil countries. Thus his sovereignty extended from Krishna to the Kaveri. As he was the patron of the great poet Bharavi, he possibly took the first step to convert the place to a great centre of Pallava art.

Raja Mahendravarman I of Pallava Dynasty

Simhavishnu’s successor, Raja Mahendravarman I was a versatile genius having proficiency in both the art of war and art of peace. It was in his reign the Chalukya Pallava rivalry began and lasted for nearly a century which had great impact on the South Indian Political History. Pulakesin took away the northern province of Vengi from the Pallavas though the later could save the Capital Kanchi from the aggressive Chalukya king. It is not for his political career but for the Pallava architectural activities that King Mahendravarman should be remembered. He excavated many rock-cut temples at Trichinopoly, Chinglepet, North Arcot and South Arcot districts. Mahendravarman I also built the famous city of Mahendravati and a great water reservoir near it. Raja Mahendravarman himself being a poet and a musician wrote the famous Mattavilas Prahasana, a farce in Sanskrit. Mahendravarman was also the author of a number of treaties on music. He also patronised paintings. Though a Jaina in his first life he became a Saiva in his later days. King Mahendravarman I had great passion for high sounding titles and hence we found him using titles like Gunabhara, Vichitrachitta etc. which sysmbolised his greatness and versatile genius.

Narasimhavarman I – The Greatest Pallava King

But the greatest of all Pallava kings was Narasimhavarman I who succeeded his father Mahendravarman in 630 A.D. Under him the power of Pallava Dynasty, reached its zenith and hence he assumed the title Mahamalla. He inflicted a crushing defeat on Pulakesin II, the Chalukya king, and captured the latter’s capital Vatapi where after assumed the title Vatapikonda or conqueror of Vatapi. Through this win the Pallavas established their supremacy over Deccan as far as the Mysore country. Narasimhavarman I made a series of conquests against the Cholas, Cheras, Kalabhras and the Pandyas. Prof. N.K. Sastri told us that Narasimhavarman even sent two naval expeditions to Ceylon to enthrone his protege Manavarman. But at the same time Narasimhavarman was a great builder. Narasimhavarman decorated Mahamallapuram, the chief port of the empire, with monolith temples called Rathas. Several rock cut temples of Trichinapalli were also his achievement.

But during the reign his grandson Parameswara Varman I, the Chalukya Pallava hereditary struggle relapsed. Chalukya Pulakesin II’s son Vikramaditya I at first conquered Kanchi and pushed the Pallavas southwards up to Trichinopoly. But Parameswaravarman ultimately defeated Vikramaditya I and drove him away towards his own country. A devoted Saiva, Parameswaravarman added to the edifice of Mahavalipuram.

King Narasimhavarman II of Pallava Empire

The next king Narasimhavarman II reigned peacefully and during the period the famous Kailashnath temple of Kanchi was constructed along with the shore temple of Mahavalipuram. Narasimhavarman IIexchanged embassy with China and so far we know, Dandin the famous Sanskrit scholar lived in his court. During the reign of his son, Parameswaravarman II once again occupied Kanchi but that too for a shorter period. The next king Nandivarman II had to face a stormy period in his reign. His accession on the throne was not unchallenged. He had a pitched battle with the Pandyas, his southern neighbour who were ultimately defeated. The Pandyas aggression encouraged the hereditary enemy of the Pallavas, the Chalukyas to attack and capture Kanchi. But the conqueror Chalukya Vikramaditya II showed his “civility and culture by preventing plunder of the city and restoring to the temples the wealth that belonged to them.” But in the second expedition led by Kirtivarman the Chalukya, the Pallavas were fobbed of their gold, wealth and elephants. The Rashtrakuta king Dandidurga also defeated Nandivarman. The only military success that the later achieved was against the Ganga rulers of Orissa and annexed some parts of their territory. Nandivarman was a pious Vaishnava. The famous Muktesvara temple was built by him. But as a military general he exhibited very poor performance.

The Decline of Pallava

From his successors the decay of the Pallava authority began. Aggression from the Pandyas in the South and that of the Rashtrakutas in the North had eclipsed their glory. The Pallava king Nripatunaga made a last attempt to oust the enemies of the Pallava Empire with assistance from the feudatory powers like Cholas and Gangas. It was successful. The Pandyas were totally defeated. But that exhibited the internal weakness of the Pallavas and energized Aditya Chola a feudatory of the Pallavas to make a coup and seize the authority of Tondamandalam from the Pallavas. Thus the Pallava rule in Tondamandalam came to an end. This is so far the achievements of the Pallavas in the history of India are concerned.