Canberra, 18 March 2014


The Imperial Guptas did not rule the entire sub-continent, their empire being fundamentally confined to the north of the Vindhya Mountain ranges. Although Samudra Gupta had gone as far south as the northern reaches of the Chera kingdom of Kerala in a triumphant conquering march, the effect of his conquests was minimal, especially since he did not impose any permanent vassalage on the defeated kings. Instead, he collected tribute and was content to reinstate the original kings to rule their kingdoms within a vague and peripheral ‘Mandala’ system of informal friendship. Therefore, it is not surprising that during the reign of the Guptas, a number of other dynasties also flourished in the western, central and southern parts of the sub-continent. It is also interesting to note that although the Gupta reign is even today considered the defining golden age of Indian history, in actuality they ruled only about one-third of the sub-continent and the rest of the country was under the control of a number of other smaller dynasties. [In most historic analysis sufficient emphasis is not placed on these other contemporary kingdoms, although each dynasty left an indelible impression on the broad canvas of medieval Indian history.]


The Pallavas ruled their kingdom from their capital in Kanchipuram on the eastern Coromondel coast. There is postulation that they were originally foreign Pahlavas from Iran, a theory probably based on the similarity of the dynastic name to the Iranian term. However, it is more likely that they were a North Indian dynasty who moved south, voluntarily or under duress from invading tribes, and gradually adopted local customs and traditions. The word Pallava is a Prakrit-Sanskrit rendering of the local word ‘tondai’, which was the name of the land, its rulers, and also that of a local creeper.

The first authenticated king of the dynasty is Skandavarman who belonged to the Bharadwaja gotra and is referred to as Yuvaraja, or heir apparent, in the oldest inscription that has been found. This obviously means that his father was the ruling king at that time! This king was probably Simhavarman whose name is fleetingly mentioned in a Prakrit stone inscription that has been found in Guntur district. There are three charters, dated to early 4th century, that provide some information regarding Simhavarman’s rule. He was succeeded by his son and proclaimed Yuvaraja, Budhavarman and subsequently by his grandson Budhyankura who was Budhavarman’s son through his queen Charudevi.

The 9th Century Velurpalayam Plate

This plate is presumed to have been created during Nandivarman’s reign and recounts some events and facts presumed to have occurred during the reigns of different kings of the dynasty. It states that Virakurcha, a famed early Pallava king captured the insignia and the daughter of the Naga king, a statement believed to be alluding to the Pallava conquest of the Chutus. His son, Skandashishya is reported to have captured the ‘ghatika’ of the Brahmins. Further, Skandashishya’s son Kumaravishnu is stated to have captured the town of Kanchi, although it does not mention from whom or when!

The Pallavas were followers of the ritualistic Brahminical religion and gave copious gifts of lands to propitiate the gods and the Brahmins in order to secure their support for victory in battle and prosperity for the kingdom. At the end of Budhyankura’s reign, there follows a period of darkness in the information flow regarding the Pallavas, with almost no material having been unearthed so far. The only mention of the Pallava kingdom during this period is one snippet in Samudra Gupta’s pillar that mentions them.

The next load of information comes from a dozen copper plates that form part of another charter. They are all written in Sanskrit, and it must be mentioned here that some of them have not been authenticated yet. Therefore, the information gathered from them may not be completely accurate. Even so it is possible to reconstruct a rough chronology of the early Pallava reign from the plates. This chronology is corroborated by a Jain manuscript, Lokavibhaga, a work on cosmology which was finished on 25 August 458, which is reported to be the 22nd year of Simhavarman’s rule. The date is also corroborated by the Ganga charter that in turn provides the entire calculation a believable authenticity. From these sources, a reasonably correct genealogy of the early Pallavas can be constructed.

The charters from which their genealogy has been derived are only records the grants that the kings made. There is almost a complete lack of any other sources that provide the political history of the Pallavas between the approximate period 350 and 500. Therefore, it can only be deduced that the opponent of Samudra Gupta, Vishnugopa may have been a brother of Kumaravishnu I; that Yuvamaharaja Vishnugopavarman did not live long enough to be crowned king; and that the reign of Simhavarman II must have been very prosperous, taking into account the large number of grants that he issued. However, the charters do not provide any lead to gauge either the events that led to his death, whether or not his death was extraordinary, or what transpired in the kingdom after his death. There is a possibility that the Pallava effort at expanding their kingdom to the south may have brought them into conflict with other, already established Tamil powers in the sub-continent. This could explain the non-availability of dates, derived only through the charters, of the rule of some of the names that crop up. The description of Buddhavarman as the ‘submarine fire to the ocean of Chola army’ in one of the charters is indicative of Pallava-Tamil power conflict that could have been an intermittent but regular event.

The Pallava administration was a further improvement on an already sophisticated administrative process being followed by most of the contemporary southern kingdoms. The Pallava king was called ‘Bhattaraka’ and the heir apparent was titled ‘Yuvamaharaja’, a term equivalent of the Crown Prince. The administration was carried out by district officers holding different titles, which obviously denoted differences in their roles and responsibilities. However, no source is able to provide even a cursory explanation of the actual functioning of the administrative system of the Pallavas. While indications are there of a robust and efficient administration in place, the roles and responsibilities of officials—both at the level of the king’s court and at the lower rungs of the system—remain a mystery. Since the Pallavas waged many successful campaigns, it can be reasonably assumed that they also had a robust military organisation.

There is a strong possibility that the Pallavas resorted to conscripted labour for specific projects. The manufacture of salt and sugar was the monopoly of the king and trade rules were enforced by the king’s officers on tour. These officers were maintained by the villages in which they overnighted, a system that was bound to bring in and increase corruption at different levels of the bureaucracy over a period of time. Gift of lands to Brahmins were common place and each individual Brahmin was permitted to receive 18 such grants during his lifetime without having to pay any taxes for the gift. Reading between the lines, the corollary is that there must have been taxes levied on a regular basis for the transfer of land titles even if they were gifted. This tax must have been a major source of revenue for the Royal Exchequer. The system of land taxes and the exemptions granted were most probably the continuation of the Satavahana tradition, suitably modified and adapted to suit Pallava needs and customs.

There is reference to a political revolution orchestrated by an obscure clan called Kalabhras that is supposed to have overthrown most of the southern dynasties. It is certain that they also attacked the Pallavas, but the result or the outcome of this invasion is difficult to determine in the absence of any authentic information source. The next stage of Pallava history starts after a gap with the subjugation of the Kalabhras at the end of 6th century by Simhavishnu, considered to be the son of a Simhavarman. The later Pallavas are covered in a subsequent chapter.


Copper plates that detail grants of land provide information that seven kings, their names ending in varman, ruled Kalinga between 375 and 500 following Samudra Gupta’s triumphant southern march. The dynasty was called Matharakula and the towns within their kingdom has been identified as Pishtapura, Simhapura, and Vardhamanapura. The kings were called ‘Kalingadhipati’, meaning the overlord of Kalinga, and Paramamahesvara, meaning the almighty god. This period also marks the transition from the Satavahana dating system to the system that was followed in the later periods. Of note, is also the fact that all Matharakula writings and inscriptions were in Sanskrit. Around 500, the dynasty was succeeded in north Kalinga by the Gangas and south Kalinga was annexed by the king of Vengi.


The Salankayanas were named for the gotra that they belonged to and ruled the kingdom of Vengi, today called Pedavengi near Ellore, between 350 and 430. Although their rule lasted less than a century, they have been mentioned in a number of sources and details of their rule are available. The earliest known member of this somewhat obscure dynasty is Devavarman whose father was an independent king with the title of Bhattaraka. This is confirmed by an inscription that provide this information but is dated only by month and lunar day, a practice followed by later dynasties also. Since the year is not mentioned, the chronology of dynastic succession cannot be determined from such inscriptions, but they provide a wealth of information on matters that do not need dating as such. The Salankayanas is sure to have risen to power at the expense of the Brihatpalayanas and possibly that of the Pallavas also, in terms of territorial annexation.

Devavarman was also the king who is reported to have opposed Samudra Gupta. The next known king is Hastivarman although his relation to Devavarman cannot be determined. Since the Eastern Deccan was divided into fairly small kingdoms and principalities at this time, the effect and influence of Samudra Gupta’s invasion and southern march was temporary at best. The temporary nature of the Gupta influence was also because of their practice of reinstating defeated kings back to their thrones in return for acceptance of an informal and nominal overlordship of the Guptas.

Minor Kingdoms of the Deccan

At the time of Samudra Gupta’s invasion, the eastern Deccan was divided into a number of minor kingdoms. The more prominent amongst them were—Kosala, comprising of the modern districts of Bilaspur, Raipur, Sambalpur, and parts of Ganjam; Kurala, the lands around lake Colair; Ganjam district itself divided into two independent but small kingdoms with capitals in Kottura and Erandapalla; two kingdoms in the Godavari district ruled from Pishtapura and Avamukta; Devarashtra in the Vishakhapatnam district; and two other kingdoms with Palakka and Kusthalapura as capitals.

The political status of most of these kingdoms and their relationship with each other is impossible to understand or determine, other than for the conclusion that it must have been fairly easy for the invading Gupta forces to defeat each one of them piecemeal and conclude individual treaties and alliances.

Hastivarman was succeeded by his son Nandivarman I in 375. At this stage the Salankayana kingdom straddled the Krishna River. However, it is recorded that the southern part of the kingdom was subsequently captured by the Pallavas and annexed to their kingdom and called Vengirashtra. There follows a list of Salankayana kings: Nandivarman I was succeeded by his son Hastivarman II, followed by his son Skandavarman, then Chandavarman the second son of Nandivarman I and then his son Nandivarman II who is the last known king of the dynasty. The Salankayanas also adopted the bull crest similar to the Pallavas although no evidence of any close relationship between the two dynasties has so far emerged. However, the influence of the more powerful southern neighbour is evident in the administrative system and procedures that were followed. The Salankayana kings and their people worshipped Vishnu and Shiva, although the tutelary deity of the dynasty was the Sun god. The Salankayana charters bear a strong resemblance to the early inscriptions found in the Hindu colonies of Indo-China and Malaya. This could be interpreted to mean that the Salankayana kingdom played an important and prominent role in the Indian colonisation of the Far East.


The Salankayanas were followed by the Vishnukundins as rulers of Vengi, ruling the kingdom from 440 to 625. Their family deity was ‘Sriparvataswami’, the Lord of Sriparvata. The patriarch was Madhavavarman I, who is reported as having performed the aswamedha sacrifice and was married to a Vakataka princess. This marital alliance is confirmed by his son Vikramendravarman I being referred to in a number of inscriptions as belonging to the family of both the Vishnukundins and the Vakatakas. However, there is much debate regarding the genealogy of the Vishnukundins.

Indra-Bhattaraka was a successful warlord who captured land from Indravarman of the Gangas and also defeated his own kinsman Madhavavarman who was the king of a collateral line of Vishnukundins ruling in Trikuta. He expanded the Vishnukundin dynastic holdings considerably. His grandson Govindavarman assumed the title of ‘Vikramasraya’, meaning the ‘refuge of valour’. Govindavarman’s son, Madhavavarman II is considered the greatest king of the dynasty, assuming the title of ‘Janasraya’ or ‘refuge of the people’ and performing the hiranyagarbha religious ceremony. His hostilities with the Gangas led him to cross the Godavari River and conquer the eastern lands. The Vishnukundins were still ruling in Vengi when the Chalukya ruler, Pulakesin II attacked and conquered the kingdom in the early 7th century.


In early 6th century, a kingdom sprang up in a small piece of land now in parts of what is the modern Guntur and Tenali districts, wedged between the Vishnukundins in the north and the powerful Pallavas in the south. The kingdom was established by Kandara who is considered the founder of the Ananda dynasty. He had his daughter married to a Pallava prince and had the temerity to battle the Vishnukundins on the banks of the River Krishna. He is also supposed to have won the title of Lord of Trikutaparvata, possibly a reference to his victory against the collateral line of the Vishnukundins. The other known kings of the dynasty are Damodarvarman and Attivarman. There is also an unknown king who left a stone inscription at Chezarla, dated to the end of 6th century, which mentions the capital of the Anandas as Kandarapura, presumably built by the founder of the dynasty. The Anandas were Shaivite kings but from some records it seems possible that Damodarvarman was a practising Buddhist. In any case, it is certain that the Anandas were impartial from a religious point of view and patronised all forms of worship and sects.


The Puranas state that the founder of the Vakataka dynasty was a little known Brahmin called Vindhyasakti who established a kingdom with its capital at Purika in Berar around 250-270. In Ajanta Cave No XVI, an inscription describes him as the ‘banner of the Vakataka family’ who belonged to the Vishnuvridha gotra. However, no regal titles are affixed to his name, which confirms his own obscure origin as well as the fact that there was no predecessor who could have founded the dynasty. The Vakatakas have an important place in the politics and culture of India during the 4th and 5th century. They had diplomatic relationships and matrimonial alliances as equals with the Guptas, Kadambas, and the Vishnukundins, which in turn again testifies to the prominence that they enjoyed in the contemporary politico-economic environment. There are two views regarding their origins: one, that they came from a small village in Bagat in Bundelkhand, and two, that they are of Andhra origin, coming from the Deccan in mid-3rd century to Berar. There are no early Vakataka coins found north of the Vindhya Ranges and although in their later years they captured lands to the north, there are no early inscriptions that testify to their having been in the north. Therefore, it has to be presumed that the theory of their Deccan origin would be correct. In either case, it is certain that they benefitted from the exhaustion of the Saka chieftains because of their long-drawn conflict with the Satavahanas.

The first mention of the dynastic name is a fragment on a pillar in Amaravati that records a gift of land to a ‘grahapati’, meaning head of a household or a clan, who could most probably be the progenitor of Vindhyasakti, the ‘banner of the Vakatakas’. Puranas provide information regarding the rise of the dynasty as a power to be reckoned with towards the end of the 3rd century and also testify to the expansion of their power to the north of the Vindhya Mountains as far as Vidisha. Pravarasena I, son of Vindhyasakti carried out extensive territorial expansion in all directions. In fact he is the only king of the dynasty to have claimed the title of Samrat, meaning Emperor or Universal Ruler. He called himself Haritiputra and being the follower of the ritualistic Vedic religion, the precursor early Hinduism, patronised Brahmins on a massive scale. In keeping with the prevalent trend, he also performed several sacrifices and made other religious offerings to celebrate his victories.

During the reign of Pravarasena I, the Vakataka kingdom engulfed almost the entire Deccan Plateau and a large part of the stretch of land to the north of the Vindhya Ranges. The kingdom ranged from Andhra in the south to Bundelkhand in the north. Pravarasena I is believed to have conquered Kolhapur, Satara, and Sholapur districts and also to have annexed the kingdom of Purika from king Sisuka. Although not the first king of the dynasty, Pravarasena I could be considered the real founder of the Vakataka kingdom.

Pravarasena I had four sons, each of whom he had set up as viceroys to rule newly captured lands. His son, and probably heir apparent, Gautamiputra was married to the daughter of King Bhavanaga of the powerful Bharashiva family ruling the kingdom of Padmavati in Central India. However, Gautamiputra predeceased his father and was succeeded by his son Rudrasena I to the viceregal position. On Pravarasena I’s death the kingdom was divided into four parts, two of which are known and two unknown. Rudrasena I succeeded his grandfather as king and overcame two of his uncles–ruling the two unknown kingdoms—with the help of his maternal grandfather, king Bharashiva. However, Pravrasena’s second son Sarvasena continued to rule his viceroyalty as an independent kingdom, setting up a collateral Vakataka line that ruled southern Berar and North West part of Hyderabad with their capital at Vatsagulma, the present day Basim.

The Primary Vakataka Branch

Rudrasena I established his capital at Nandivardhana, 30 kilometres from Nagpur near the Ramtek hills. During his rule the kingdom was not particularly affected by the imperial and influential Gupta Empire to the north, gradually climbing to the zenith of their power. Rudrasena I was succeeded to the throne by Prithvisena I who assisted the house of Sarvasena, the collateral Vakataka line, in their conquest of Kuntala in southern Maharashtra. His son Rudrasena II married Prabhavati Gupta, the daughter of Chandra Gupta II, the Vikramaditya. This alliance has often been depicted as a Vakataka initiative made to gain prestige. However, in truth it was the other way around—the Guptas sought the alliance to strengthen their power against the invading Sakas. In any case, Rudrasena II died after a five-year rule, leaving two minor sons behind. Prabhavati Gupta assumed the position of Regent, which was not opposed by the other branch of the Vakatakas ruling from Basim, presumably because of the direct Gupta connection of the Regent. The elder son, Divakarasena died after 13 years and Prabhavati Gupta continued her regency until 410, when her younger son Damodarasena was crowned king as Pravarasena II. Prabhavati was obviously assisted by her father in ruling the state and the Vakataka kingdom was administered almost in the same fashion as the Gupta Empire. The period of her regency is normally referred to as the Vakataka-Gupta age.

Pravarasena II was a man of peace, inclined more towards the pursuit of literature and the arts rather than to the more kingly activities of soldiering, wars, conquests, and territorial annexations. He was also an ardent Vishnu worshipper and composed a Prakrit poem called ‘Setubandha’ that describes the most famous exploits of Lord Rama, an incarnation of Vishnu. The poem is reported to have been revised (edited?) by the famous Kalidasa, residing at that time in his grandfather’s Gupta court. Pravarasena II founded a new capital at Pravarapura and moved to it during the second half of his reign, thereafter building a temple to Lord Rama in his new capital. 17 copper plate inscriptions pertaining to Pravarasena II have been discovered, making him the most recorded ruler in ancient India after Asoka the Maurya.

Pravarasena II’s son and Crown Prince, Narendrasena was married to the daughter of Kakusthavarman, the Kadamba king and ruled for 20 years. In the beginning of his reign, the Vakataka kingdom was attacked by the Nala king Bhavadattavarman, ruling in Bastar. The attack was almost successful but Narendrasena managed to rally his forces and was able to defeat the invaders and re-establish his rule. In this effort, his granduncle Kumara Gupta, the ruling king of the Gupta dynasty could not provide any assistance since his own empire was under direct threat of invasion by the White Huns. In an indirect manner, this is again an indication of the high status that the Vakatakas commanded. Although Narendrasena managed to retain the cohesion of his kingdom, it came at a heavy price. His son Prithvisena II is the last known king of the main line of the dynasty and his rule was marred by repeated invasions by the Nalas and the Traikutakas of South Gujarat. There was definitely a loss of power and control starting from the last part of Narendrasena’s rule, culminating in the primary branch of the dynasty coming to an end after the rule of his son.

Collateral Branch of Basim

Sarvasena, the second son of Pravarasena I, founded the collateral branch of the dynasty. He assumed the title of ‘Dharmamaharaja’. He is considered to be the author of Harivijaya in Prakrit that detailed the story of Krishna bringing the Parijat tree from heaven to earth. The work has been lost in antiquity but survive in the form of numerous references to it in other contemporary works. His son Vindhyasena, also called Vindhyasakti II, succeeded to the throne and with the help of Prithvisena I of the main branch of the dynasty conquered southern Maharashtra. Vindhyasena is well known from the Washim (Basim?) plates that records the grant of a village in Nadikata, present day Nanded, during the 37th year of his reign. The plate is written in both Prakrit and Sanskrit, attesting to the gradual Sanskritisation of the Peninsula.

The next king was Pravarasena II who ruled for 15 years and is reported to have been a just, powerful, and liberal ruler. He left a minor son, eight years old, on the throne. In yet another vagary of Indian history, the name of this king—who ruled for 45 years in peace and prosperity—is unknown. [It seems that only kings who conquer, or are defeated, bringing untold misery and tribulations to their people are recorded for posterity in inscriptions and plates. The more peaceful kings who are successful in looking after the welfare of their subjects seem to go unsung and unheralded into the vast unknown territory of Indian history. A pity.] This unknown, but certainly a ‘great’ king, was succeeded by his son Devasena who was a complete pleasure seeker and not interested in ruling the kingdom. The actual administration of the kingdom was done by an able minister called Hastibhoja who was assisted by other equally capable ministers.

Devasena was followed by his son Harisena who was the most powerful king to emerge from either side of the dynastic line. In fact, he succeeded Prithvisena II of the main line, once again consolidating the Vakataka Empire under one ruler, creating the largest extent of the dynasty’s control. [Would this reunification make the Basim branch the ‘main’ dynasty, since thereafter they have outlived the so-called main branch? I think it does!] The Ajanta caves record the list of Harisena’s conquests and annexations that furthered the extent of the empire. He is stated to have forcefully added Gujarat, Malwa, Southern Kosala and the Kuntala provinces to the Vakataka kingdom. At this stage, the Vakataka kingdom—almost an Empire—would have been larger than the territorial holding of the Imperial Guptas. As is usually the case with powerful and conquering Indian kings, Harisena was also a great patron of the arts and architecture. It was during his reign that a large number of the Ajanta caves were built. Harisena was ably assisted in his rule by his minister Varahadeva, the son of Hastibhoja. There were two more unnamed kings who followed who are thought to have ruled for a combined period of approximately 30 more years. At the end of this period the dynasty came to an end. There is no clear and authenticated account of how the demise of the once powerful Vakataka dynasty took place. It is possible that they were probably defeated by the Kalachuris of Mahismati and their kingdom annexed. This unpretentious end to the Vakataka Empire, with no clear indication of their decline of any nature—moral, ethical, economic, or military—and its disappearance, once again leaves a question mark of the canvas of Indian history.

The End of the Vakataka Dynasty – A Literary Version

Dasakukaracharita was written by Dandin about 125 years after the demise of the Vakataka dynasty and gives a somewhat believable version of what could have taken place. The work states that Harisena’s son, no name is available even in this work, was an accomplished and intelligent person but was an addicted pleasure-seeker, much like his grandfather. He neglected the study of ‘Dandaniti’ or Politcal Science. Since the kingdom was at that time experiencing the height of its prosperity and power, the people also followed the example of the king and was dissolute in the pursuance of pleasure.

Noticing the visible decline in moral attitudes and the accompanying dilution of the power of the kingdom, the king of neighbouring Ashmaka send the son of his minister to the Vakataka court. This person managed to inveigle himself into the king’s favour and encouraged the king to continue his debauchery to an even greater extent. The country continued to become further disorganised and at an opportune moment the king of Ashmaka attacked the Vakataka kingdom. The Vakataka king was killed in battle (through treacherous means, if the story is to be believed) on the banks of the Wardha River, bringing to an inglorious end, a great dynasty.

Between 515 and 550, the Vakataka Empire was conquered piecemeal by other kingdoms—Chhattisgarh was conquered by the Somavansis; southern Mahrashtra by the Kadambas; northern Maharashtra by the Kalachuris; and Malwa by Yasodharman. Around 550, the Chalukyas of Badami completed the annihilation and the Vkatakas disappear from history.

“Among the many great productions that have taken place over the years at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London, perhaps the most enchanting one for connoisseurs of Indian arts must have been the Ajanta Ballet of 1923. Performed by two of the twentieth century’s greatest dancers, Anna Pavlova and Uday Shankar, the choreography [by Uday Shankar] of this ballet was based on the dance gestures of the fresco figures and images of the Ajanta caves of Maharashtra. The ballet was, in a sense, a culmination of a hundred years of the art world’s fascination with the caves and their contents, since they were ‘rediscovered’ by a hunting party of British soldiers in 1819.”

Burjor Avari, India: The Ancient Past, p. 173

The Vakataka dynasty were not merely vassals or even a bridgehead for the Imperial Guptas—they were an illustrious dynasty on their own right by any measure. It is just that the glory attributed to the Guptas obscured the achievement of this great dynasty who ruled a large and prosperous kingdom with distinction for over two centuries. They were instrumental in expelling the foreign invaders from the Indian sub-continent and re-establishing the imperial Indian traditions that had been gradually dissipated from the time of the Kushan invasion. It could be argued, with clear logic, that the Vakatakas contributed directly to enhancing the power of the ‘Hindu’ society and Sanskrit culture, much more than did the greatly admired Guptas. It is to be noted that the core territorial holding of the Vakatakas was never attacked or conquered by the Guptas but the two kingdoms coexisted with each other in a state of mutually accepted equality, often forming alliances through marriages. Considering the imperious nature of the Gupta rulers, this is definitive proof of the power that the Vakatakas wielded throughout their reign.


The Kadambas were a Brahmin family belonging to the Manavya gotra devoted to the study of the Vedas. In mid-4th century, Mayurasarman who may have been a senior person in the family, went to Kanchipuram the capital of the Pallavas to engage in further study of the Vedas. A quarrel with a Pallava army officer forced to him take up arms against the ruling dynasty. At this juncture, Pallava power was in decline because of the earlier invasion of Samudra Gupta and therefore Mayurasarman was able to successfully overpower the frontier officials of the Pallavas and entrench himself in the forests around Sriparvata. Subsequently he became powerful enough to levy tribute from Pallava subordinates at the periphery of the Pallava kingdom. He also continued to fight Pallava armies intermittently, but regularly, for a number of years without suffering any major setbacks. In time, the Pallavas recognised his sovereignty over the territories that lay between the Western Sea and Prehara, which was probably the Tungabhadra River.

The conquest of Kuntala by the Vakatakas, led by the Basim line, was opposed by Kangavarman son of Mayurasarman although he was unsuccessful in holding back the attack. By this time the Kadambas had established Vaijayanti, present day Banavasi, as their capital and Palasika, today known as Halsi, as the second town of their kingdom. Kasustavarman and his son Santivarman—whose relationship with the earlier Kadambas is unclear—are reported to have been rulers of stature, competence, and fame. However, another Pallava invasion of the kingdom forced the Kadambas to bifurcate their kingdom, with the younger brother, Krishnavarman being made the ruler of the southern part. In the event, the Pallavas killed Krishnavarman in battle and placed his young son on the throne as a vassal ruler. The succeeding Kadamba kings are reported to have continued to battle the Pallavas for independence but none were successful.

Ravivarman, a ruler who came to power probably around 450-475 is reported to have driven out Chandadanda the ‘Lord of Kanchi’. This is probably a reference to the Kadambas throwing out the Pallava ‘regent’ in residence who would have been a prince of the regime and not the Pallava king. Ravivarman restored the original unity of the Kadamba kingdom by killing Vishnuvarman, who was then ruling the other half of the kingdom. He was succeeded to the throne by Harivarman who was essentially a man of peace. During turbulent times, such as what the Kadambas were facing, men of peace normally do not make powerful kings. Harivarman very soon lost the whole of his northern kingdom to other more predatory dynasties—predominantly to Pulakesin I who was embarking on establishing Chalukya power in early to mid-500s.

The Kadambas suffered from the same character flaw as a number of Indian dynasties before, and also to come after, of internal dissent and in-fighting that prevented them from ever becoming a strong and united entity. The younger branch in the south was constantly at odds with the main Kadamba branch. The main branch was defeated by Krishnavarman II who invaded and captured Vaijayanti, the capital and ended Harivarman’s—the peaceful king—reign. However, this victory was short-lived since he himself was defeated and his kingdom annexed by the Chalukya Kirtivarman, son of Pulakesin I. The Kadambas vanish from the firmament of Indian history at this stage.


The Gangas ruled the southern part of Mysore territory, wedged between the Kadamba holdings in the west and the Pallava kingdom in the east, and called Gangavadi. Their early history is obscure and mostly culled from folklore and legend with no substantiating evidence with even some of the copper plates that refer to them having been proved spurious. The first established and confirmed Ganga ruler was Konganivarman who is supposed to have come to the throne around 400. He belonged to the Kanvayana gotra and was of the Jahnaveya kula, or family. Konganivarman’s independent status is confirmed by his adopting the title of Dharmamahadhiraja and it is also confirmed that the Gangas ruled from their capital at Kuvala, today’s Kolar.

Konganivarman was followed by Madhava I in 425. Madhava I was a clever politician and continued to keep external influences and interference at bay for a considerable period of time. It is possible that the next king Ayyavarman came to power around 450 after a succession struggle with his brother Krishnvarman during which Ayyavarman was helped by the Pallavas. He moved the capital to Talakad and there is a distinct possibility that the succession dispute was settled by bifurcating the kingdom between the brothers. The Pallavas however, continued to be influential in both parts of the kingdom. It is also apparent that from this time onwards the independent status of the Gangas is questionable and they became feudatories of one or the other of the greater kingdoms of South India and continued to be so throughout their dynastic reign. Further, their reign was fairly short lived—just about a century—that too as vassals of the powerful Pallavas. By the early 500s the Gangas fade from Indian history.


The six or seven decades that followed the definitive fall of the mighty Guptas, till early 7th century, the history of North India is confused, with conflicting information that cannot be corroborated creating a sense of uncertainty. There are very few authentic records to illuminate an all-prevailing the darkness. From available sources it can be observed that a number of petty kingdoms vied with each other for domination and territorial expansion. In the core area of North India four main kingdoms could be discerned—Guptas, Maukharis, Pushybhutis, and Maitrakas. The Guptas of Magadha in this context were not the remnants of the imperial Guptas, but a minor offshoot line bearing the same name. The Maukharis ruled the region around Kanauj in western Uttar Pradesh and gradually ousted the Guptas from Magadha, forcing them to move on to Malwa. The Pushyabhutis ruled the area around Thanesar, north of Delhi, and had marital alliance with the Maukharis. On the death of the contemporary Maukhari king without an heir, the nobles asked Harsha, the reigning Pushyabhuti king to merge the kingdoms and rule from Kanauj. [The story of Harsha will be covered separately in a later post.]

The Maitrakas claimed Iranian origin and ruled the area now called Saurashtra in Gujarat. The most powerful ruler of the dynasty was Shiladitya I who developed the capital Valabhi into a great centre of learning. He also expanded Maitraka influence into Malwa and Rajasthan, and for a brief period also ruled some parts of these territories. In the later part of his reign the Maitrakas suffered defeat at the hands of Harsha and the Chalukyas. However, Shiladitya I managed to revive the fortunes of his kingdom and continued a prosperous rule. The Maitrakas survived the longest of the four major kingdoms of the north and finally succumbed to Arab attacks only in mid-8th century. They cease to exist as a recognisable dynasty from 780 when king Shiladitya VI was killed in battle with the Arabs who then razed the capital, burning all its priceless books and educational establishments. At the periphery of the four major kingdoms a number of minor principalities existed in different states of independence and/or servitude to the more powerful kingdoms. They were continually fighting each other, seizing and losing territory in violent spasms to improve their status and importance. This process was particularly visible in Assam and Bengal, areas that were gradually coming into mainstream Indian reckoning during this period.


While the Guptas were ruling in North India, a number powerful and not so powerful dynasties held sway in the Deccan and the Southern Peninsula. [This is a facet that is given short shrift when a broader narrative of Indian history is being undertaken. However, the dynasties that ruled different parts of Peninsular India for over four centuries, up to the second half of the 6th century, influenced the history of the country in indelible ways that can only be ignored at the peril of misunderstanding the expansive sweep of Indian history.] The unfortunate part is that the information available regarding these kingdoms and their rulers is neither detailed nor complete. In fact, at times it is difficult to even corroborate the scanty information that is available or to authenticate an event, a king’s activity, the details of a battle, or the general state of affairs of the kingdom.

By the 6th century however, it is certain that no one paramount power—to which the lesser known kingdoms paid tribute or were feudatories—existed. The major states of North Indian had by then suffered the ravages of the White Huns and other equally ferocious and at times uncouth tribes and their power was ebbing. In the South, internecine warfare and the opportunistic interventions in each other’s affairs did not permit any one dynasty or kingdom, perhaps with the exception of the Pallavas, to assume a central position during this period. The obvious conclusion is that the period was one of turmoil and uncertainty. Sources that are available at times purely lists the names of the kings who are supposed to have belonged to the same dynasty and then moves on to state something else without leaving even a shred of further information regarding their rule or even the geographic limits of their kingdoms. Needless to say, there are no record of events—wars, famine, succession struggles, administrative initiatives—that makes for the understanding of the period. Further, there is no thread of continuity that can be discerned to connect the narrative, even when the available information is analysed in depth. Therefore, the influences the southern dynasties produced cannot be projected forward with any assurance of credibility. The postulated influence of the dynasties of this turbulent period have to be treated as learned hypothesis, at best. This ambiguity seems to be the only constant in the ancient and medieval history of India.

© [Sanu Kainikara] [2014]
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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 Defence Analyst specialising in air power and national security. 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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