Canberra, 24 October 2013
The fall of the Satavahana dynasty after over four centuries of rule—sometimes glorious and at others indifferent—led to the division of the empire, breaking the political unity of the Deccan that had lasted unbroken for over five centuries since the time of the Mauryas. Lesser dynasties carved out kingdoms, leaving only the general area that falls within the current State of Madhya Pradesh under the rule of the weak Satavahana descendants. The Abhiras came to power in the North-West of the erstwhile Satavahana Empire and thereafter moved down to the lower Krishna valley up to Nagarjunakonda by around 3 century A.D. The Chutus ruled the southern part of western Deccan; the Ikshvakus took over Andhradesha and the Pallavas of the south eastern part of the peninsula rose to power again.
The Abhiras were essentially foreigners who served as the generals and commanders of the Shaka army till about 2nd century A.D. The Puranas state that 10 Abhira kings ruled after the Satavahanas for a period of 65 years. While this statement does not give the extent or boundaries of the kingdom, it can be surmised that they did not rule the old Satavahana Empire in its entirety, but only a small part of it. There is only scanty information available regarding the Abhiras, provided by two inscriptions. The first is at Nasik, as yet undated, but considered to be made by King Madhariputa and mentions the name of Isvarasena, the Abhira, who was the son of Sivadatta. Isvarasena was most probably the founder of the dynasty, although no other information is readily available, either to corroborate or contradict this claim. The inscription, very similar to the older Satavahana inscriptions, is believed to have been made around 248 (or 249) A.D. This year is also considered as the origination of the Kalachuri era, which in later times came to be referred to as the Chedi era. The second inscription, found at Nagarjunakonda is tentatively dated as inscribed in 279 A.D. It claims to have been done in the 13 year of the reign of Abhira Vasushena. The dating of this inscription is in conflict with the earlier one and in the absence of any other information, it is not possible to confirm or deny the probable dates of either. Other than for this ill-defined information, there is very little known about the Abhiras and they vanish from the Indian scene after this short intervention.  
The Chutus also suffers from the same issue as the Abhiras, again there is very limited information about this dynasty that ruled in Maharashtra and Kuntala. There are various opinions regarding the origins of the Chutus—varying from the assertion that they were one obscure branch of the Satavahanas to their being of Naga origin. Chutu coins have been found in North Kanara and the Chitaldurgh district of Mysore and there are some inscriptions considered to be made by the Chutu kings in Kanheri, Banavasi and Malavalli. Once again, it is impossible to measure the extent of their kingdom or know the length of their rule with any accuracy. It is also impossible to distinguish the founder of the dynasty or the most prominent ruler. Based on available information it is probably correct to assume that they were supplanted by the Kadambas. In the larger scheme of Indian history, the Chutus perhaps rate a minor footnote, mainly because of the lack of information and the short time that they played a small part on the stage.
The Ikshavakus ruled the Krishna-Guntur region and was known in the Puranas as the Sriparvatias, ‘the rulers of Sriparvata’. They have also been referred to as ‘Andhrabhritias’ meaning the servants of Andhra. From this nomenclature it is obvious that they were originally feudatory chieftains of the Satavahana dynasty. They were known by the title Mahatalavara, and became independent with the decline of Satavahana power and control. Although only four Ikshavaku kings have been identified by name, it has been calculated that seven kings ruled the kingdom for a total period of 57 years. The founder, who broke away from subservience to the Satavahana Empire, was Vasisthiputa Siri Chantamula who is alleged to have carried out both the Aswamedha and Vajapaya sacrifices. He was succeeded by his son, Virapurisadata, to the throne in 275 A.D. Virapurisadata’s queen was a Shaka princess from Ujjain and his daughter was married to a Chutu prince. This is indicative of the diplomatic overtures that the king embarked upon, as well as the high status that he commanded amongst the neighbouring kingdoms. The period of Virapurisadatta’s reign, along with the rule of his son, is considered the golden period of Buddhism in the region. The kingdom was prosperous and at peace during this period, which is corroborated by the reports of the ladies of the royal and noble families being independently active in the practice of religion. It is alleged that one aunt of the king had a stupa built in Nagarjunakonda.
Virapurisadatta was followed on the throne by his son Ehula Chantamula who continued the royal patronage of Buddhism. He completed the construction of Devi-vihara comprising of a great stupa and two apsidal temples. There is also archaeological evidence of a Sinhala-vihara, a convent either built by Sinhala monks, or more probably built by the king to house the Ceylonese Buddhist monks who frequented the country. There was also a Chaitya-ghara, a house which accommodated religious fraternities from Tambapani (Ceylon); again built by the king rather than by the monks. This intimate relationship with the Ceylonese Buddhist monks is interesting in that it appears to be a sort of reverse process of proselytising that was going on—the spread of Buddhism having come full circle. The fundamental fact is that there was intimate connection between the kingdom and the Buddhist religious movement. Some sources claim that there was a short interregnum of Abhira rule, 275 to 280 A.D., during Ehula Chantamula’s reign, but considering the absence of any definitive information and the dichotomy of the dates, this vignette must be considered more an added story than actual fact. Ehula was succeeded by his son Rudrapurushadatta who ruled for 11 years. The names of the kings who followed is lost in antiquity. The Ikshavakus declined in power after a short period and like so many other minor dynasties in Indian history, vanished into seeming oblivion within the smoke and confusion of the period.
The points of interest in the brief Ikshavaku rule is that there was support for the arts and the kingdom was settled and peaceful. Sculptures that have been unearthed show a distinctive Greek influence in their appearance. The Satavahana traditions seem to have been continued, both in the social life of the people as well as in the state administration with even some of the official titles being retained. This period also saw the initial use of patronymics to identify nobles and kings, a convention that was to take root at a later stage. The provinces within the kingdom were called ‘rashtras’ and the kings adopted the more grandiose title of ‘Maharaja’ as opposed to the more prosaic ‘Raja’ in order to be seen by the people as a more impressive and important monarch.
The Ikshavakus were replaced by kings of the Brihatphalaya gotra of whom only one, Jayavarman, is known by name. The accession of these kings to power was the beginning of the revival of Brahminical influence in the Peninsula. They initiated a series of Brahmadeyas—gifts and grants to Brahmins—that became an institutionalised practice in later times. This period can also be considered the start of the decline of Buddhist and Jain influence, commencing in the Deccan and gradually spreading to the northern parts of the sub-continent. From around this time, 3rd century A.D., both Buddhism and Jainism never recovered the exalted status of the most important religion with unqualified royal patronage that they enjoyed in India as a whole till then. They were buffeted by religions and faiths that practiced more vigorous and aggressive policies and gradually were sidelined, never again becoming mainstream religious movements in India.
The Pallava kingdom was located to the south-east of the Satavahana Empire with its capital at Kanchipuram. There is speculation that they were Pahlavas of foreign origin, a hypothesis based on the fact that the crown offered to one of the earlier kings in the dynasty was similar to the elephant-scalp shaped one that was favoured by the Indo-Greek king Demetrius. However, this is a far-fetched theory without any verifiable basis. There is also a school of thought that they were the original inhabitants of Thondai Nadu and the descendants of the ancient ruler of the land Ilantirayan. The Sangam work, Perumbanarruppatai,traces the line of Ilantirayan to the Ikshavaku dynasty and later commentators have identified him as the illegitimate child of a Chola king and a Naga princess. Some historians are of the opinion that very broadly the Pallavas were a dynasty of north Indian origin who moved south, married local princesses and went on to adapt and adopt local customs and traditions, in a similar manner to the Chutus and the Kadambas. There is also a hypothesis that the Pallavas were originally not a Tamil power, but a Telugu power, substantiated by the name of Trilochana Pallava who was killed in battle by a Chalukya king near Mudivemu, in Cuddapah district. The information available even today is still inadequate to categorically fix the origins of the Pallavas and there is no consensus among historians about the beginning of the dynasty.
Adapting Local Customs
There is a long history of external dynasties moving south and then adapting local customs. Satakarni of the Chutu dynasty, who ruled Banavasi, is reported to have worshipped at the shrine of the God of Malavalli. Similarly the Kadamba king who followed, did the same. Later, the Kadambas declared their devotion to Svami Mahasena (God Subramanya), who according to Tamil traditions is thought to dwell in the Kadamba tree, and thereafter the dynasty also declared their devotion to the tree.
Similarly the dynastic name—Pallava—is the Prakrit-Sanskrit rendering of the word ‘tondai’, which is the name of the land, its ruler as well as a local creeper. It is possible that they were the original inhabitants of Thondai Nadu, ‘the land of the tondais’.    


The Origins of the Pallava Dynasty – Stories
The Sangam period classic, Manimekhalai, traces the origins of the Pallavas in a story of a liaison between a Chola king Killivalan and a daughter, named Pilivalai, of the Naga king of Manipallava, out of which union a prince was born. The prince was lost in a ship wreck and subsequently found with a twig (pallava) of ‘Tondai’ around his ankle. Hence the name Tondai-man and Pallava dynasty.
Another version claims that ‘Pallava’ was born off the union of Aswathama, a Brahmin, and a Naga princess. This version is supposed to be supported by the sixth verse of the Bahur plates that states, ‘From Aswathama was born the king named Pallava’.
At a later stage in the rule of the dynasty, the Pallavas themselves claimed descend from Brahma and Aswathama. The Velurpalayam plates (obviously written at a much later date, around 850 A.D.) credits the Naga princess story of the creation of the Pallava lineage while also preserving the divine connection. It states, ‘… from him [Aswatahama] 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 Chuta Pallava] Virakurcha, 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.’   
The history of the Pallavas and their lineage can be gathered from the Velurpalayam plates and Vayalur inscriptions, considered to have originated in 9th century A.D. The Pallava rule can be classified into two: the earlier phase, when the rulers were not based in Kanchipuram and the later phase when their rule was closely associated with Kanchipuram, which had become the capital. The earliest name of a Pallava king that is available is that of Virakurcha who is legendarily famed for having seized the royal insignia and then married the daughter of a Naga king. It is possible that this story alludes to the defeat of the Chutus by the Pallavas. Virakurcha’s rule is followed by a period of confusion regarding the names as well as chronology and dates of accession of a line of kings. Virakurcha’s son Skandasishya is reported to have conquered the lands of King Satyasena, but this is not corroborated by any other source or evidence. Skandasishya’s son Kumaravishnu is celebrated as a victor in battle and is the king attributed with the capture of Kanchipuram. There is a conflict in the information regarding the capture of this city, with a later King Skandavarman also being credited with the capture of the same city. Once again there are no other details of the battles or from whom the city was captured available for analysis and to fix the chronology. 
Even though not as detailed as one would want them to be, the history of the Pallavas can be authenticated in a much better manner than that of other dynasties of the period from three copper plate grants, also called charters, written in Prakrit that has been dated to the first half of 4th century A.D. The narrative in the first charter start with Skandavarman—the first king to be named in the plates but definitely not the first king of the dynasty, since he was titled Yuvaraja (heir apparent) although his father’s name is not given. The other two plates describe events after he was crowned as king. None of the charters provide the name of Skandavarman’s father, and leads to the speculation that Skandavarman may have usurped the throne, or been adopted by a king without offspring. His father (or adoptive father, the king) was probably Simhavarman, a king named in Prakriti stone inscriptions that have been discovered recently in Guntur.
According to the copper plate grants, Skandavarman belonged to the Bhradwaja gotra; performed the Agnishtoma, Vajapeya and Aswamedha sacrifices; and assumed the title of ‘Supreme King of Kings Devoted to Dharma’. His kingdom extended up to the River Krishna in the north and touched the Arabian Sea in the west, although how the empire was built, expanded and consolidated is unclear. Skandavarman was succeeded by his son Buddhavarman and then by another son Buddhyankura, who was born to another queen, Charudevi. Whether this was because of the death of Buddhavarman through natural causes or the result of a succession struggle on Skandavarman’s demise cannot be ascertained.
During this early Pallava period, princes other than the Yuvaraja was also active in the administration of the kingdom, which was divided into different territories for ease of control. The copper plates give some details of official titles given to the subsidiary administrators. Other than for the names of his two sons who came to the throne, there is a complete blank after Skandavarman’s death in terms of information regarding the Pallava rule. The only glimmer of light that shines through this opaqueness is the report of Samudragupta’s invasion of the Peninsula, during the period of the later Pallavas to be analysed in later parts of this narrative.   
© [Sanu Kainikara] [2013]
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About Sanu Kainikara

Sainik School Kazhakuttam (Kerala), National Defence Academy 39/A, 108 Pilot's Course IAF, fighter pilot, QFI, FCL, psc, HACC, Voluntary Retirement as Wing Commander. Canberra-based Political and Defence Analyst specialising in military strategy, national security, and international politics. PhD in International Politics from University of Adelaide Executive Masters in Public Adminsitration (ANZSOG) Adjunct Professor, University of New South Wales, Distinguished Fellow Institute For Regional Security (IFRS) Distinguished Fellow Centre for Air Power Studies (CAPS)

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