Canberra, 02 September 2014

Mangalesa, the regent turned king, refused to hand over power to Pulakesin II on his reaching the age to be crowned king. Therefore it was inevitable that he would leave the court of Badami. With the help of loyal friends he gathered power and an army outside the capital and then at an opportune moment revolted against his uncle. In the Civil War that ensued, Mangalesa was defeated and killed. It is certain that Pulakesin was formally crowned as the king almost immediately, although there is some debate regarding the date of Mangalesa’s defeat and Pulakesin’s ascension to the throne. Later evidence permits fixing the actual date of the coronation as having taken place between January and July in 610.

The Civil War shook the foundations of the young kingdom and brought out the disgruntled elements and Mangalesa’s supporters within the kingdom against the young king. Further, the kingdom was surrounded by hostile adversaries, which was a normal state of diplomatic relations in medieval times when ambitious and opportunistic rulers abounded. Pulakesin devoted the next 20 years of his reign to a career of aggressive military annexation, initially to save his fledgling kingdom and later to enhance its stature. [There is no better proof that an aggressive policy is the best form of defence than the demonstrated rise of Pulakesin II and the consolidation and subsequent growth of his once fractured kingdom.]

Sources of Information

Pulakesin’s rule has been chronicled in a large number of sources. There are the charters that mark an eventful career; the undated records and temple inscriptions; and the information that can be gleaned from the records of both allies and adversaries.

List of Charters

For ease of understanding, the Charters can be listed chronologically in order of the regnal year of Pulakesin in which they were issued.

1st Year – Yekkeri Rock Inscription, where the language is similar to earlier  Gupta inscriptions.

3rd Year – Hyderabad Copper Plates dated to 612 that fixes Pulakesin’s coronation date as 610.

5th Year – Kandalgoan Copper Plate that celebrates the grant of Pirigipa Village in Revatidvipa (Goa) by the king. (Since the writings are irregular in the Plate, some doubts have been expressed regarding its authenticity.)

8th Year The Maruthuru Grant which records the occupation of Pishtapura

8th Year – The Satara Grant of Vishnuvardhana (Pulakesin’s brother) who had earlier been declared the Yuvaraja, or Crown Prince, and appointed Governor.

There is a gap of 12 years from the Satara Grant to the next charter/inscription. Since Pulakesin had so far been prolific in recording the significant events of his rule til then, this is a surprising development. [It is reasonable to believe that some records are yet to be discovered of have been irretrievably lost.]

20th Year – Inscription in Lohner (Nasik district) that has been reliably dated to 630. This inscription takes the form of an order to the ‘Rajyasamata(s)’ or administrative officers of the realm to register the king’s gift of Goviyanaka Village to the Brahman Dama Dikshita.

21st Year – The Kopparam Plates record the gift of another village to a Brahman belonging to Karmarashtra.

24th Year – The Aihole Prasasti (referred earlier). This record written in praise of the king is reliably dated to 634 and as having been written by Ravikirtti the court poet. 634 was the year in which the newly built temple to Jinendra was consecrated. It provides a believable chronological order and also details of the military exploits of Pulakesin and his ancestors.

Undated Records. The Tummayanuru Grant, as yet undated correctly, it provides one of the earliest references to Pulakesin as ‘Parameswara’. There are also a number of Plates discovered at Chiplun and Nerur, some of which may be spurious, that mostly refer to the grant of lands to individual citizens. There are undated stone inscriptions at Badami and Hirebidri in Dharwar that according to the content belong to the time of Pulakesin’s reign. The temple inscription at Peddvadaguru Isvara Temple mentions Pulakesin’s subjugation of Ranvikrama, most probably a Bana king, although there is no date mentioned in the text.

Other Records. Pulakesin’s military exploits are also mentioned in the records of the Chalukyas of Kalyani, written at a later date. However, since they were a sub-branch of the Badami Chalukyas, it can be presumed that some of the claims were embellished and therefore some amount of doubt regarding the authenticity of all the claims exists. However, the Pallavas of Kanchi, traditional adversaries of the Chalukyas also mention details of Pulakesin’s rule and military victories. These clearly corroborate the details provided in the Chalukya chronicles, thereby increasing their veracity and by extrapolation making it possible to consider even non-corroborated information as correct. [The extreme truthfulness of the Aihole Prasasti is surprising since it was obviously written by an ardent admirer and beneficiary of Pulakesin and considering that exaggeration of the achievements of the patron king had by this time been raised to the status of an exalted art.] The third source is the chronicles of the Chinese pilgrim-traveller Hieun Tsang who provides graphic descriptions of the famous Pulakesin-Harshvardhana battle as well as detailed information regarding the general state of affairs in the Chalukya kingdom during the time of his visit.

The Victorious Military March

The first rulers who rebelled at the discomfiture of the Chalukyas brought about by the Civil War were Appayika and Govinda, rulers of the country north of the River Bhima. At this early stage of his reign, the young Pulakesin displayed admirable statesmanship and adopted a combination of diplomacy and military skill to defeat the imminent threat. He created dissention between the two, who were presumably allies, and alienated them from each other by winning over Govinda by bestowing favours on him. Appayika was defeated in battle and subsequently Govinda was overthrown. [The effective use of the concept of ‘divide and rule’ was well understood by medieval Indian kings.] Other than for the fact that they came from across River Bhima, the Aihole Prasasti neither provides any information regarding the identity of these rulers nor are there any details of their territories. However, their names indicate Rashtrakuta lineage. Considering the hereditary animosity and regular clashes between the two dynasties, it can be presumed that these two minor kings decided to take advantage of the chaos of the aftermath of the Civil War in order to reclaim lost territory and declare independence. This situation can be considered the most probable since the Aihole Prasasti provides proof that the Rashtrakutas were indeed in control of the area before the Chalukyas rose to power in the south and subsequently overcame them.

The Defeat of the Kadambas of Banavasi

The Kadambas had been defeated and made into a feudatory by Pulakesin’s father but they seem to have rebelled and declared independence in the wake of the Civil War. In the event, they refused to accept Chalukya overlordship after Mangalesa’s death in the Civil War. The Kadambas were a group of families, interlinked and related, with the primarily family based around Banavasi. None of them were independently strong enough or capable of opposing even the diminished Chalukya power. However, it is likely that they felt that their combined strength would be sufficient to withstand the Chalukya onslaught, when Pulakesin besieged Banavasi to enforce his will.

The Kadambas put up a very strong resistance for they knew that this was the fight for the very survival of the family. However, Pulakesin was more than a match for them as a military commander and comprehensively defeated them, leaving the Kadambas no option but to surrender. Pulakesin now displayed the strategic side of his character. He deposed the Kadamba ruler, probably Bhojivarman, and annexed the kingdom. He further divided their territorial holdings and parcelled them out to his faithful allies thereby conclusively exterminating Kadamba power for ever. By doing so he ensured that there would not be any chance of a future rebellion by the families once again coming together, eliminating opposition permanently. The Aihole Prasasti describes the devastated Banavasi as having been a prosperous city with strong defensive fortifications.

The Alupas

The exact identity of the Alupas and their status as rulers is still debated. It is likely that they were at some time in the past allies of the Kadambas, especially during the latter’s more powerful days. There is also uncertainty regarding the borders of their kingdom with one opinion stating that they were the same as the Alukas who ruled Guntur in Andhra. This is not a correct assumption since the geographical factors in terms of their conquest and those of the Alukas do not align. It is more probable that they were ruling the South Kanara district of Karnataka with their capital at Humcha in Shimoga. The Alupas had already been defeated by Kirtivarman I, although it is highly probable that they were not fully subdued. This is evidenced by the fact that Mangalesa also had to subdue them militarily during his rule. Therefore, when the Civil War broke out and the Kadambas openly rebelled, the Alupas decided to hedge their bet and they stayed neutral in order to see which way the wind would blow when Pulakesin laid siege to Banavasi.

On the Kadambas being defeated they decided not to confront the victorious Chalukya king and reverted to acknowledging his overlordship, thereby avoiding conflict and almost certain defeat. Pulakesin was happy with the reassertion of Chalukya control over the Alupas and their acceptance of his sovereignty. He showed his appreciation by granting the Alupas control of the major portion of the divided Kadamba territory, thereby making them trusted feudatories.  

The Gangas of Talakkad

Some sources state that the Gangas were defeated by Kirtivarman I, which should be considered a bit of an exaggeration and hyperbole. That the Gangas were not completely defeated is established by the fact that King Durvinita of the Gangas had a particularly long rule and he was the contemporary of Kirtivarman I, Mangalesa and also Pulakesin II. It is possible that Kirtivarman did indeed invade the Ganga kingdom at some stage during his military conquests, but was content to let the king continue on his throne—a situation that indicates a less than optimum outcome for the Chalukyas in this contest. The Gangas were supporters of the Kadambas, being matrimonially allied to them over generations. During the Civil War in Badami it is certain that the Gangas also entertained visions of gaining independence, but the definitive defeat and destruction of the Kadambas put paid to that ambition. The Gangas were quick to acknowledge Chalukya supremacy and in order to cement the relations, King Durvinita gave his daughter in marriage to Pulakesin.

The matrimonial alliance was done with political considerations and was an astute strategic move on the part of the Ganga king. The Gangas were age-old adversaries of the Pallavas and were in a perpetual state of conflict with them. The Pallavas had conquered part of Ganga territory, annexing the district of Kongunadu to their kingdom. Obviously the Gangas wanted to retrieve the area and found the alliance with Pulakesin advantageous in their constant squabbles with the stronger Pallavas. From the Chalukyan viewpoint, the acceptance of their sovereignty by the Gangas assured their supremacy of western Deccan.

The Mauryas of Konkana

The Mauryas had also been defeated by Kirtivarman I and were vassal kings during both his and Mangalesa’s reign. Like a number of other smaller entities, they also decided to rebel against the young Chalukya king immediately after, or more probably during, the Civil War. [There is one conclusion that can be drawn from almost all their vassals rebelling against Chalukya control at the first sign of a Civil War. Although the Chalukya kingdom had apparently been stabilised by the strong rule of Kirtivarman and Mangalesa, it appears that their control over defeated territories and lesser kingdoms were at best tenuous and not as binding as it is made out to be in later chronicles of the dynasty.] The Mauryas could also have been ruling Goa and the major portion of the Konkan coast at some time since a number of Mauryan records have been recovered from Goa in the recent past.

Pulakesin took the fight to the enemy as was his wont and besieged the Maurya capital of Puri situated on the West Coast. [Puri is identified as situated on the Island of Elephanta or as Rajapuri near Janjira in Kolaba district. It is also assessed that the same city became the capital of the Silaharas of Konkan in the 9th century.] The Chalukyan navy stormed Puri and overran it with relative ease and the kingdom was annexed to the expanding Chalukyan Empire. The Mauryas disappear from the political scene of the Deccan and South India after this defeat and it can be reliably presumed that Pulakesin was not lenient with the defeated dynasty. During Pulakesin’s military march he repeatedly demonstrates the ability to forgive and embrace lesser kings who accepted his overlordship without resistance even if they had attempted rebellion and chased the shadow of independence. On the other hand he shows an absolute ruthless streak against the dynasties that took up arms to fight the Chalukyan army. The shadow of a matured understanding of diplomacy and the understanding of the need to cultivate allies and vassals can be seen in every decision that he made in the aftermath of a victory.

The Latas, Malavas and the Gurjaras

The Latas ruled the territory situated south of the River Kim with Navasarika, modern day Navasari in Gujarat, as their capital. They were part of the Kalachuri domain of Buddhiraja before he was defeated by Mangalesa. Pulakesin recaptured the territory by force and installed a Chalukya scion, Vijayavarmaraja, as the viceroy. Evidence from the Kaira plates confirm this viceroy as continuing to rule the area even in 643.

The situation in Malava was more complex than the straightforward conquest of the Lata territory. Hieun Tsang refers to the Malava territory as Mo-la-po and states that they were an independent dynasty, dominated by the Maitraka king Siladitya I. The conjecture is that although Siladitya was an independent king in his own right, he accepted the suzerainty of the ruler on Vallabhi because of the threat posed to his kingdom by the expansionist policies of Harshavardhana of Kanauj. It is even possible that the Vardhana kingdom had engaged in some raids into the Malava territory. In Harshacharita, Bana mentions the Malava king as one of the enemies of Prabhakaravardhana, along with the Latas and the Gurjaras. It is highly likely that the Malava king was also a co-conspirator in luring Rajyavardhana, the crown prince of Kanauj, to a trap that resulted in his assassination. Further, they were also definitely involved in killing the Maukhari king Grahavarman who was Harshavardhana’s brother-in-law, an event that in the first place made the Vardhna dynasty attack Malava. The Kanuaj-Malava enmity was of long standing and irrevocable.

There is a view that is expressed that the Malava kings were earlier feudatories of the Chalukyas who also rebelled at an opportune moment and operated independently for some years. However, this is not corroborated and is highly unlikely to have been the situation. It is certain that their territory was in close proximity to the Chalukya borders and fear of the Vardhana strength and their obvious animosity drove the Malava kings to the Chalukya camp.

The Gurjara kingdom was situated between the Rivers Kim and Mahi with the Latas to the south and Malavas to the east. The Gurjara king Dadda II assisted the Maitraka king in his fight against Harshavardhana and submitted to Chalukya overlordship along with the Malavas, although he did not share a geographical border with the Chalukya kingdom. Although there was some confusion in determining whether the Gurjara ruler who submitted to Pulakesin was of the Broach or Mandor branch of the family, combining information from different sources confirm that he was of the Broach branch of the Gurjara clan. The Latas, Malavas and Gurjaras accepted Chalukya overlordship of their own accord and there are no indications of any major military action in this region in the Chalukya chronicles or the local history.

The Clash of the Giants: Pulakesin-Harshavardhana War

The most important event during the Pulakesin’s command of the victorious Chalukya military forces was his defeat of the Kanauj king Harshvardhana. This was the clash of the titans of the era—Harshvardhana the undisputed ruler of the North and Pulakesin the acknowledged lord of the South. The reason for the conflict is unclear and still obscure and shrouded in conjuncture. The two empires did not share a common border, therefore border dispute as a primary cause can be effectively ruled out. The Latas, Malavas and the Gurjaras ruled the buffer states and had accepted Chalukya overlordship. They displayed a shared animosity towards the Vardhana kingdom from the time of Prabhakaravardhana and this could also have been a reason for their acceptance of Chalukya ‘protection’. Considering the long-standing enmity between the three buffer states and the Vardhana dynasty, the Chalukyas providing them with protection could have further irritated the imperial Harsha and added to his ire, making an expedition against the Southern ‘upstart’ a necessity.

By the time of the conflict both the kings were paramount rulers of in their respective areas and both could have nurtured the ambition to test the strength of the other. Essentially this was a test for ultimate supremacy that was waiting to happen. Therefore, the reason for the actual conflict has very little meaning in the larger scheme of things. It is certain that Harsha was resentful of the Southern king’s power and sought to invade his feudatories. It is equally clear that Pulakesin viewed Harsha as the ‘Northern’ enemy, although this epithet is in all probabilities the addition of a later day historian, biased in favour of the Chalukya king.

Even the location where the historic battle took place is a debated issue. Vincent Smith, the renowned historian, states that since Harsha accepted the River Narmada as the dividing line between the two kingdoms at the end of the war, the battle must have been fought on its banks. This cannot be true since Harsha’s empire did not reach the Narmada and he would have had to conquer the Malavas and Gurjaras before reaching its banks. It is certain that such a conquest did not take place. Hieun Tsang testifies to the fact that the three buffer states never submitted to Harsha and confirms their independent status at the time of the conflict. Therefore, the battle would have taken place in some place far to the north of River Narmada and not on its banks. The acceptance of Narmada as the dividing line between the two empires itself is a wrong premise since the three buffer states continued their independent existence even after the battle.

The Date of the Battle

There are opposing views regarding the date of the battle with one opinion that it took place before 615 and the other emphasising that it happened between 630 and 634.

There are two arguments that support the theory of it having taken place before 615. One: the Hyderabad Plate dated to 612 clearly gives the title of ‘Parameswara’ meaning Supreme Lord to Pulakesin. Later Chalukyan records associate this assumption of the title with the defeat of a hostile ruler from the North who had himself won a hundred battles. Since the only great king from the North that Pulakesin fought and defeated was Harsha, it is presumed that the battle took place before the date of the Hyderabad Plate, which is 612. Two: Hieun Tsang reports that Harsha waged incessant war for the first six years after ascending the throne and thereafter ruled without ever having to wield a sword for the next 30 years. It is therefore presumed that Harsha’s last battle was against Pulakesin in 612, since his coronation is confirmed as having been held in 606.

There are a number of arguments that support the 630-634 timeframe, although some of them are based on conjuncture alone. One: the battle is not mentioned in the Lohner Plate of Pulakesin dated to 630 and therefore, the battle could not have taken place before this date. This dating is dubious but some analysts corroborate this date with Hieun Tsang’s ‘30 years of peace’ statement. They point out that Harsha attacked the region of Kongda in late 643, which was exactly 31 years after 612 when the 30-year peace began. Therefore the battle could not have taken place before 642 and definitely not before 630. While the interpretation of the Chinese writing is correct, it is tenuous to base the dating of this important battle on these circumspect calculations. Two: it is mentioned that around 612, Pulakesin would have been busy consolidating his newly acquired kingdom and therefore would not have been able to withstand the might of the mature Vardhana army and their illustrious king. This is pure conjuncture and cannot be taken to be verified fact.

Three: it is claimed that the assumption of the title ‘Parameswara’ was associated with Pulakesin’s defeat and conquest of other contemporary dynasties and kingdoms, which came to be linked to Harsha’s defeat only in the later recounting of the dynastic history. Once again, this is sheer speculation without any evidence to prove its veracity. Four: The Gurjara ruler Dadda II had defended the Maitraka ruler Dhruvabhatta against the incursion of Harshavardhana and the earliest known date for Dadda II is 629. It is therefore surmised that the Pulakesin-Harsha conflict could not have taken place before this date. This too is a tenuous claim since the fact that no earlier date is available for Dadda II does not mean that he was not ruling before 629.

The defeat of Harshavardhana was the single most important achievement of Pulakesin. The records of Adityavarman, the successor to Pulakesin, reaffirms the victory while clearly mentioning Harsha as the defeated king in question. The victory is thereafter mentioned in detail in a large number of Chalukya records. The veracity of the battle and the defeat of Harsha is also attested in the dynastic records of the Rashtrakutas. Considering that the Rashtrakutas were traditional adversaries of the Chalukyas, their records have to be considered as being truthful in their reportage. Harsha’s defeat has proverbial fame in the Chalukya dynastic history with the Kalyani-Lata and Vengi sub-branches also praising the achievement as the most significant event in their history. Therefore, the assumption of the title ‘Parameswara’, which is in itself uncommon, cannot be taken as the egoistic postulation of an inflated personality but the declaration of a victorious king celebrating a specific and important event not only for him but for the entire dynasty.

Considering all the arguments, and their pros and cons, it can be confirmed with assurance that the famous battle took place in the fifth year of Pulakesin’s rule and definitely before 615. Firmly supporting this theory and making it believable is the fact that the Aihole Prasasti, which adheres to a strict chronology in the recounting of events, also places the defeat of Harsha in this timeframe. Pulakesin’s other conquests are recorded as having been achieved in later years.

The Conclusion of the Epic Battle

As stated earlier, Pulakesin had sheltered the traditional enemies of the Vardhanas and Harshavardhana was intent on punishing what he considered an upstart Southern king and making him a vassal. He was unaware of the extremely gallant Chalukya army and its tactically brilliant commander and therefore did not cater for a powerful response. There is no debate or doubt regarding the fact that the conflict was initiated by Harsha. There are various suggestions regarding the manner in which actual battle played out that only contribute to muddying the understanding of this extremely important event and making it somewhat inconspicuous. By raising unanswerable questions and providing contestable information the significance of the event is reduced. This was one of the first battles between equally strong empires of the North and the South and its echo would be heard far into the future.

There is a stanza in a poem written in praise of Harshavardhana that alludes to his ‘conquest’ of the south. From this some historians have drawn stories which claim that Harsha concluded a treaty with Pulakesin to continue his military push further south. This hypothesis has to be discounted for what it is—a fanciful tale concocted on the basis of unverifiable information. It is possible that the name mentioned in this stanza of the poem is that of the Chalukya prince Siladitya of the Lata branch who may have come in contact with Harsha and stood aside instead of fighting. There is also a mention of this contact in the Navasari Plate of indeterminate date.

It is certain that the battle took place far to the north of River Narmada; that Harsha was conclusively defeated; that he concluded an honourable treaty with the Chalukya king and retreated back to his kingdom; and that he never again attempted a southern military foray. Harshavardhana, for all his military prowess never crossed the River Narmada, nor did he even come close to its banks. Further, he did not attempt to invade the buffer kingdoms and steered clear of all contact with the Chalukyas and their feudatories after this defeat. These are the categorical assertions in the Aihole Prasasti and can most certainly be believed.

By around 615, at the successful conclusion of the power struggle with Harsha, Pulakesin controlled the western and northern Deccan all the way to River Narmada and had sovereignty over the Maharashtra region consisting of around 99,000 villages. The region, ‘three’ Maharashtras as they have been named in older texts, are Maharashtra, Karnataka and the Konkan. The Chalukya Empire also encompassed the territory between the Rivers Narmada and Tapti, the modern day district of Betul in Madhya Pradesh. In a short span of time Pulakesin had carved out and consolidated a large empire.

Subjugation of Kosala, Kalinga and the Vishnukundins

Dakhshina Kosala (South Kosala) was traditionally ruled by the Panduvanshi kings and consisted of the districts of Raipur and Bilaspur in Madhya Pradesh and Sambalpur in Orissa. King Mahasivagupta protected his kingdom and his rule by submitting to Pulakesin without putting up a fight and accepting the overlordship of the ‘Supreme Lord’. Kalinga, ruled by the Eastern Gangas also followed suit and accepted Chalukya overlordship. There is scant information regarding the details of how this was achieved, but it is certain that no military manoeuvre was involved in making these two kingdoms Chalukya feudatories.

The situation was different with the Vishnukundins who were the rulers of Andhra and the overlords of Kalinga, wielding great power in the region. Nobody gives up an exalted status willingly and a clash was inevitable. The Vishnukundins ruled Vengi with Pishtapura, modern day Pithapuram, as their capital. Pulakesin stormed and captured Pishtapura in 617-618. The Vishnukundins put up a stiff resistance to the Chalukya invasion through a heroic defence of their kingdom while withdrawing from the capital. The next battle was fought near Lake Kunala (later Kolleru and even later anglicised to Colair) where the water is reported to have turned red with the blood of the slain soldiers. The Vishnukundins lost the battle and their independence with the ruling king Indravarman accepting Chalukya supremacy. This was obviously done to ensure that Pulakesin desisted from appointing a Chalukyan viceroy, as was his normal procedure, immediately at the culmination of the battle. The Chalukyan victory therefore was only conquest, not annexation of territory. However, the reduction of the Vishnukundins to feudatory status had far-reaching and unfortunate repercussions. By now the Chalukya Empire in the east spread from Vishakhapatnam to Southern Nellore.

The Chalukya – Pallava Rivalry

With the conquest of the Vishnukundin kingdom, the buffer between the Chalukyas and the Pallavas, the emerging power in the Peninsula, vanished. Further, until they were conquered by Pulakesin the Vishnukundins had been Pallava allies and therefore, the Pallavas considered this invasion an insult to their power. It was only natural that the powerful Pallavas opposed the assertion of Chalukya power in areas that had so far been considered their sphere of influence. The Aihole Prasasti unequivocally mentions the growing power of the Pallavas and alludes to the mounting rivalry between the two dynasties. This situation initially led to a number of minor clashes and skirmishes between the two kingdoms, although they were uniformly indecisive. However, with mounting tension, major clashes were not far away.

The reason for the Chalukya-Pallava rivalry is often mentioned as being obscure. In reality there is nothing obscure about it. Here was an established empire ruled by an ambitious dynasty, the Chalukyas, which had by now reached maturity and become entrenched over more than four generations aspiring to achieve political supremacy. It was but a natural progression that they would gradually encroach on the turf of an emerging power, the Pallavas. A clash to establish the political hierarchy, a ‘pecking order’, therefore became a circumstantial necessity. This struggle for political supremacy that was initiated by Pulakesin II was not a passing phase since both the contestants were dynastically strong and secure. The conflict went on for generations.

Pulakesin took the initiative to settle the simmering issue and around 618-619 pushed the Pallavas into their capital Kanchipura, subsequently vanquishing the Pallava king Mahendravaraman I. It is clear that the Chalukya intention was subjugation and not annexation or even conquest, since no action was initiated to deprive the adversary of political independence, after the military victory. After the Pallava king was defeated, Pulakesin pushed further south as far as the River Kavery. It is a testimony to the military genius of the Chalukya king that he appreciated the difficulties in securing the long line of communication and logistic supply and adopted a strategy of conciliation with the Southern kingdoms who were located south of the Pallava kingdom, rather than attempting subjugation. The fact that these kingdoms were very prosperous and well-administered may also have influenced this decision to befriend them. This is also a valid example of the Mandala Theory of envelopment being used in practical diplomacy. Pulakesin returned in triumph to his capital Badami and almost immediately the Pallavas regained their lost authority.

Pulakesin II was now the sovereign ruler of an empire that was bounded by three oceans and the Vindhya mountain ranges in the north. [In this rather grandiose statement, the southern boundary of the empire being calculated as the Indian Ocean indicates acceptance of his overlordship by the Southern kingdoms rather than direct rule.] However, this did not dampen the rivalry and struggle for supremacy with the Pallavas that continued unabated.  

Although the Pallava king was defeated, the campaign was inconclusive as demonstrated by the rapidity with which the Pallavas returned to dominate the scene on Pulakesin’s return to his stronghold. A few years later, Narasimhavarman ascended the Pallava throne and was clearly ambitious to regain territory lost during his father’s defeat at the hands of the Chalukya king. At this stage there may have been punitive Pallava raids into Chalukya controlled territories or their feudatories. The provocation was sufficient for Pulakesin to mount another military expedition against the Pallavas. It is definite that the Chalukyas initiated the attack and not the Pallavas since all the clashes took place in Pallava territory. However, this time around the end-results were somewhat different from the first expedition.

Pulakesin could not besiege the capital like the previous campaign and decided to push further south to extend the area of conquest while bypassing Kanchipura. The Pallavas gave battle at Pariyala, Suramara, and Manimangala—all in their own territory—and gradually started to repulse the invaders. This slow reversal of fortunes was the beginning of the final Chalukya defeat. At this stage the Pallavas had managed to create a sort of loose Confederacy with other Southern kingdoms. There came into being an uneasy truce between the two antagonists for a few years with only minimal sparring taking place. This was also the time of the visit of Hieun Tsang who does not report any details of the raging Chalukya-Pallava rivalry.

Once he was certain of the support of the Southern allies, Narasimhavarman initiated a campaign into Chalukya territory. For the first time during his reign Pulakesin was being attacked in his home turf. The Pallavas won a number of battles and advanced on the capital, Badami. The exact date of the final battle cannot be ascertained but it is clear that Pulakesin was killed in this battle and the Pallava general Siruthodar Paranjoti captured Badami. In this campaign the Pallavas were assisted by a prince of Ceylon called Manivarman, confirming the age old connection between the Peninsula and the island nation. This momentous victory is affirmed by the title of ‘Vatapi-Konda’, meaning the Victor of Vatapi, being bestowed on Narasimhavarman in all records following the battle. Further, there is an inscription on the back wall of the famous Mallikarjun Temple at Badami mentioning the Pallava victory and the capture and burning of the capital. This dates to the 13 year of Narasimhavarman’s rule, corresponding to 642-43.

Perhaps because of his ignoble end—military defeat and death—there is no further mention of Pulakesin II in the Chalukyan records. This was a sad end to a brilliant military commander who had raised Chalukyan power to the acme of accomplishment. The kingdom went into the depths of strife and decline immediately after the sacking of its capital. Pulakesin, a king who had spent all his life commanding his army in military expeditions, one who had defeated the mighty Harshvardhana and forced him to return to his own kingdom, who had made the Chalukya Empire the greatest that Peninsular India had so far seen, was laid low and vanished from the chronicles of this illustrious dynasty. Failure is never lauded—a king and a beggar becomes equal in the face of death.

Pulakesin’s Administration

The size of the empire that he created made it difficult to rule it under a direct and centralised administration, a fact that the astute Pulakesin realised fairly early in his conquering, annexing march. He divided the kingdom into administrative zones that were ruled by either trusted family members or loyal feudatories. He even trusted the administration of some minor regions to the defeated ruler of the region, who was restored to power as a feudatory. This system had the advantage of freeing the Emperor to concentrate on the more important task of increasing and perpetuating the Chalukya influence in the Deccan and the Peninsula.

Pulakesin initially appointed his younger brother Vishnuvardhan as the Governor of Velvola, the southern Maratha country and around 631 moved him as the Governor of the newly captured Vengi region. This move was probably done to ensure that he had a trustworthy kinsman ruling the strategically vulnerable area around Vengi. Vishnuvardhan declared independence around 642 after 18 years of governorship in two different parts of the empire. Although there is opinion that he rebelled against his brother, this is patently an incorrect assessment. In all likelihood he declared independence only after his brother was killed in battle since it is reliably learned that Vishnuvardhan held his elder brother in great esteem. Around the same time Vijayavarman, son of Buddhavarman the Governor of Gujarat or Lata territories appointed by Pulakesin earlier, also rebelled and declared independence. This was the beginning of the two sub-branches of the Chalukyas who continued their rule for another four centuries in their respective areas. The Konkan continued to be ruled by the Chalukya’s most loyal feudatory dynasty, the Sendrakas.

Hieun Tsang records that after visiting Kanchipura he reached Mo-ha-la-cha, Maharashtra, one of the earliest references to the region by that name. He writes of the powerful king Pu-la-ke-she who controlled a number of feudatories, was a Kshatriya by birth, and ruled a very prosperous kingdom. He praises the warrior-like qualities of the king and particularly mentions the gallant nature of the Chalukya army.

There is no doubt that Pulakesin was known far and wide and accepted as the Supreme ruler of the Deccan and the South. The Persian historian Tabari (838-923) records the presence of a Chalukyan ambassador in the Persian court, send sometime during the 26 years of Pulakesin’s reign. In his account Pulakesin is referred variously as Pramesha and Pharmis, presumably a Persian variation of the title Parameswara. The return embassy send by King Khusru Perviz II and their reception at the Chalukya court is depicted in Cave No I in the Ajanta caves and could be dated between 600 and 625.


By all accounts Chalukya military power reached its acme during the reign of Pulakesin II, and also reached its first nadir at his death at the hands of the victorious Pallava king Narasimhavarman. Even a cursory analysis of the career of Pulakesin reveals that while he was a great military commander in the field, he did not cater for administrative overstretch in terms of his annexations and the fatigue that must have enveloped his army after decades of continuous campaigning. The indication of his dwindling power and hold on conquered areas should have been noted when the Pallavas almost immediately came back to power on Pulakesin’s withdrawal after the first Southern invasion. History is replete with examples of kings who succumbed to hubris and a belief in their own invincibility, only to find that there was always an adversary who would be better than them. The second attempted conquest of the Pallavas was one hill too many for the Chalukyan army and their illustrious commander to climb.

The most glorious military innings in the history of the Badami Chalukyas came to an equally vainglorious end—military defeat, the death of the king, and the pillage of his capital.


© [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 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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