Indian History Part 32 Chalukyas of Badami Section III THE GLORY OF VIKRAMADITYA I

Canberra 12 September 2014

Pulakesin’s death in battle and the sacking of their capital Badami by the Pallavas were devastating blows to the Chalukya entity. After the defeat, the Chalukyas went into a self-imposed inward looking period and there is scant information of the events that transpired in the ensuing 13 years or so. The period between 643 and 655 is a dark period in the history of this illustrious dynasty, which went into temporary eclipse during this time. Even so it was not that this period was one of anarchy with no king on the throne, but that there is only inconclusive dynastic records that provide rather confusing and incomplete information.

There is obvious confusion regarding the succession after the defeat, even amongst scholars with a number of theories still being discussed. There is a mention of one Nedamari who is supposed to have succeeded Pulakesin, which is not a verifiable fact and has to be discounted. There is also speculation that on the kingdom falling to the Pallavas, Pulakesin’s sons controlled different areas of the kingdom for some time without a central sovereign king ruling from Badami. This theory remains speculative and there is no evidence to support it even tangentially as a possibility.

Recent evidence gleaned from the Karnul and Nelakunda Grants state without ambiguity that on Pulakesin’s death in unfortunate circumstances, his ‘dear son’ Adityavarman succeeded to the throne. The supporters of the Nedamari-school of succession argue that Adityavarman was Nedamari’s son and therefore Pulakesin’s grandson. There are no corroborative evidence that can be produced to support this inference it can be discounted as speculative hypothesis. It is certain that Adityavarman succeeded his father Pulakesin and ruled as the sovereign king of the Chalukyas, albeit for a very limited period of time. He came to power when the Chalukya Empire was passing through its darkest days and was at the nadir of its power. He reigned for barely two years during which time he gallantly attempted to regain lost territories and it is highly probable that he lost his life in this attempt, fighting to regain lost glory in some obscure battlefield.

Adityavarman’s son Abhinavaditya then succeeded to the throne but ruled for a period even less than his father’s reign. He too is presumed to have fallen in battle. From these two kings’ deaths in battle it can be surmised that the Chalukya kingdom was in turmoil and the kings were constantly battling to put down rebellions as well as minor incursions into their territory by external elements. The kingdom was obviously in the throes of confusion, perhaps even bordering on anarchy, during the first five years immediately following Pulakesin’s defeat at the hand of the Pallavas.

The next information that can be conclusively accepted are the ones from the Nerur and Kochare Grants, which also provide a slightly different, but authenticated, storyline. Both the Grants mentioned were issued by Queen Vijaybhattarika, also referred as Vijaymahadevi, and mentions Chandraditya as the king. Chandraditya was the younger brother of Adityavarman and must have come to the throne of the death of Abhinavaditya. Considering that only five years had lapsed since the death of Pulakesin, it is highly likely that Abhinavaditya died childless and may have not even been married. Although the Grants mention Chandraditya as the king, his actual status is unclear and it can be believed that his name is mentioned in the Grants purely to introduce and legitimise the rule of the Queen, whose regnal year is the one mentioned to date them. It can be surmised that Chandraditya died very early in his rule and the Queen had taken on the role of the Regent on behalf of a minor son. At this juncture Vikramaditya I, the younger brother of both Adityavarman and Chandraditya, became the commander-in-chief of the disarrayed Chalukya army and gradually developed into a strong centre of power in the kingdom.

In the Chalukya records and Grants the initial mention of Vikramaditya does not give him any titles and he is referred to merely as the eldest remaining male member of the royal family. All the Grants of the time provide the titles for Chandraditya and the chief Queen, confirming the fact that Chandraditya was the sovereign ruler for a brief period after the death of his nephew, followed by the regency of his Queen. It is calculated that Chandraditya must have died around 649 and that the Queen’s regency could have carried on for a maximum of another five years. During these five years Vikramaditya, as the Supreme Commander of the Chalukyan army claimed a number of military victories, which have been recorded in the subsequent dynastic annals as having been achieved before he was crowned king.

It was inevitable that Vikramaditya eventually became the most powerful person in the kingdom and the de-facto ruler. He not only controlled the powerful army, but had personal military prowess and strategic vision. It is uncertain whether the minor son of Chandraditya died of natural or other causes, but at the death of the prince, Vikramaditya captured the throne and installed himself as the king. The Chalukyas were once again ascendant.

The history of the period between Pulakesin’s defeat and death and of Vikramaditya assuming power is not clearly enumerated in Chalukya dynastic chronicles. However it is certain that at least two of Pulakesin’s sons ruled in the interim period for short periods of time. It was common practice in medieval times to gloss over the less savoury periods and episodes of a dynasty and completely omit to mention even the names of kings who were not considered successful. Adityavarman and his son suffered such a fate, even though their mediocre achievements were not for want of trying. Although Grants that have been discovered are conclusively dated as belonging to that period, the information they provide are insufficient to confirm the sequence of rule for the 13 years after Pulakesin’s death with any assured authority.

Gaps in the Grants

Grants provide the genealogy of the donor king, and not necessarily the names of who actually ruled before him/her. They also do not mention names of brothers or sisters, but only of the father. Essentially the Grants doubled as records that extolled the virtue of the donor and proclaimed his generosity to the world, hopefully in perpetuity. This was normal practice and not exceptional to the Chalukyas. Essentially the Grants do not provide a chronological list of all the kings of a dynasty but only mention the donor kings antecedents.

The four Grants that have been confirmed as belonging to the 13-year period are insufficient to ascertain the succession process with any certainty. However, there is no doubt that the Chalukyas were not dethroned as such and there is definitive continuity in their rule, even though kings changed in rather short order. Therefore, it can be surmised that the Pallava victory was obviously not a full-fledged conquest, but one designed to reduce the Chalukya military might. Sacking of the capital and the associated pillage was normal for the time and cannot be considered an extraordinary occurrence at the end of a victorious battle in which the enemy king himself was slain. It is highly probable that at the end of the war, the Chalukyas were forced to pay tribute, which could have become a heavy burden for an already weakened State.


Doubts linger regarding Vikramaditya’s generational position in the dynasty, with a later book by Ranna titled Gadayudha, completed on Friday 27 October 982, claiming that he was Adityavarman’s second son. The authentic Chalukya records are however very clear that Vikramaditya was the son of Pulakesin the vanquisher of Harshvardhana and that he came to power in 655, 12 years after the death of his father. It is also clarified that he was the Supreme Commander of the Chalukya military forces during the regency of Queen Vijayabhattarika. The records mention that during this period he defeated numerous kings and restored the glory of his ancestors, which had been somewhat dragged through the mud earlier. His claim to the throne was at least partially established through his military victories and based on his brilliant record as a successful military commander. Immediately on coming to the throne he removed both the Regent Queen and the minor prince from the political scene. [Harsh as this action might seem in today’s ‘politically correct’ approach to governance, this was a pragmatic step taken to ensure that a subsidiary centre of power that could later develop into the core of a rebellion was nipped in the bud.]

Sources of Information

Vikramaditya left behind a large number of inscriptions that provide an insight into the titles that he inherited and also new ones that he claimed for himself. There is also mention of his religious nature, although the inscriptions of his sons are the ones that provide a clear indication of his devotion God Shiva. There are 18 major epigraphs that provide information regarding the reign of Vikramaditya and indicate his many-sided personality.

Major Epigraphs

2nd and 3rd years of rule – found in Karnool district; indicates control of the area as early as 657

5th and 6th year – refers to the feudatory Sendraka Devasakti

Honnur Plates – dated 670 and 674; records the successful expedition against the Pallavas and the Cholas; chronicles the Chalukya incursion to the south into Trichinapolly district; Plate of 674 also registers it as 20th year of rule

Undated Plates – gives details of events during his reign; mentions participation of loyal kinsmen in the administration of the State

Nellore Viragal (hero-stone) – found in the Darsi Taluk of Nellore district; refers to the war with the Pallavas in which the hero Annavaya died

Military Conquests

The first military expedition that Vikramaditya undertook on assuming power was to effect the conquest of the ‘Avanipatitritaya’—the three kings who had eclipsed the Chalukya power. These were the three contiguous Southern kingdoms who had united against the Chalukyas and formed a Confederacy under the lead of the Pallavas. The phrase is prominent in its repeated usage even in the records of successor kings in the Chalukya dynasty. However, the identity of the three kings who joined the Pallavas is mired in debate and differing opinions, making any assertion controversial.

Two Opinions

There are two prominent opinions regarding the identity of the three kings that are worth mentioning in detail. The first opinion is that they refer to the three Pallava kings—Narasimhavarman, Mahendravarman II and Paramesvaravarman—mentioned in an undated Hyderabad Grant. However, this opinion is purely conjectural and there is no evidence that supports the claim that all these three kings were defeated by the Chalukyas. Further, the confusion in the information provided in the Plates of the 3rd, 16th and 20th years of Vikramaditya’s rule makes it difficult to consider this claim seriously. There is also a recurring theme that suggests that the three Pallava kings were each ruling independent parts of a divided kingdom independently but simultaneously. Even this claim is untenable because the three kings were sovereign rulers of the Pallava kingdom on their own with the second and third being the son and grandson of Narasimhavarman. There is no indication that they ruled separate entities simultaneously.

The second opinion of some merit is the theory that the three kings mentioned were ruling three parts of a divided Chalukya Empire, a concept derived from the word ‘antarita’. The three kings were supposed to be Adityavarman, Chandraditya and Narasimhavarman. The first two were Vikramaditya’s elder brothers and even if they were ruling a divided kingdom would not have been classified as ‘enemies’. In fact it is highly probable that Vikramaditya assisted both his brothers in their fight against the Pallava domination, especially since both the brothers died, or were killed, before the full restoration of Chalukya honour and glory. It must also be noted that Vikramaditya has never been reported as being overly ambitious, nor is there indication of a succession struggle through the 13 odd years of confusion following Pulakesin’s death. In fact it is possible that the minor prince on whose behalf Chandraditya’s Queen acted as the regent may have died of natural causes, thus paving the way for Vikramaditya to become king.

The most possible explanation of the identity of the three kings lies in combining the term avanipatitritaya which means ‘the conquest of the three kings’ credited to Vikramaditya in a number of inscriptions and plates with the description of ‘vijita chera chola pandya kramagata rajyatraya’ (victor of the battle against chera, chola, pandya kingdoms) also credited to him. The plates also mention the complete destruction of the triad. This corroborates the record of his victory over the three kings who allied with the Pallavas to defeat Pulakesin II and also occupied some parts of Chalukya territory. The three kings therefore are certainly the Chola, Chera (Kerala) and Pandyan rulers, allies of the Pallavas. In this struggle, Vikramaditya was assisted by the Ganga king Durvinita, who was also his maternal grandfather. It is significant that the Gangas had common borders with the Cholas and the Pandyas and the expeditions could have been mounted from their bases.

The Chalukya-Pallava Conflict – Scene II

The war against the Pallavas was the most important and significant event in Vikramaditya’s rule. The conflict was long drawn with several interconnected phases and took place from the early part of his reign, continuing almost to the end with intermittent interludes of relatively lesser hostile military activity. The conflict started with Vikramaditya marching against the traditional enemies, the Pallavas, and besieging their capital Kanchipura immediately after he had consolidated his rule in the core Chalukya territory. The Honnur Plate dated 671 mentions the king camping at Malliyurgrama near Kanchipura, which obviously indicates that he had captured territory close to the Pallava capital. Several other plates discovered at Gadval, Savnur, Hyderabad and Kurtakoti provide details of Chalukya victories over the Pallavas. They also confirm that he did indeed fight against three Pallava kings—Narasimhavarman in the initial stages; his son Mahendravarman around 668-70; and against Paramesvaravarman between 670 and 675.

The major battles were fought against Paramesvaravarman. By this stage in the on-going conflict Vikramaditya had weaned the Pandyan ruler, Arikesari Parankusa Maravarman I, away from the Pallavas and had secured his alliance. The Chalukya king made a deep thrust into the territory held by the traditional allies of the Pallavas and according to the Gadval Plate encamped at Uragapura, present day Uraiyura, in Chola country near Trichinapolly. Here he was joined by his ally, the Pandyan king. He subsequently raided the Chera kingdom, successfully isolating the Pallavas from their deep southern support base. This was celebrated in the Chalukya chronicles as the occupation of ‘trairajya’—the Pandya, Chola, and Chera territories.

In 674, the Chalukyas advanced towards Kanchipura and encircled the city. Paramesvaravarman fled southwards with Vikramaditya pursuing him to the banks of the River Kavery—the defeat and killing of his father had been effectively avenged, at least in Vikramaditya’s mind. Paramesvaravarman however managed to recoup and gather a force sufficiently large for him to consider giving battle to the Chalukya-Ganga army at Vilande. Unfortunately for him he was defeated by the Ganga king Bhuvikrama, although this was only one episode in the larger conflict. In this defeat, Paramesvaravarman lost a valued crown jewel, a necklace that contained the gem ‘Ugrodaya’. This Pallava defeat is mentioned in the Ganga records and also indicate the complete and steadfast loyalty of the Gangas to the Chalukya dynasty. The Gangas supported the Chalukyas throughout the long conflict.

The Pallavas were not daunted by this defeat and send a diversionary force to counter-attack the Chalukya homeland. The Pallavas also faced the invading forces at the Battle of Peruvalanallur, in the Lalgudi Taluk of Trichinapolly in Chola country, and were victorious. This victory, minor in the grand scheme of things, is perhaps the reason for the Pallava records showing a slightly different version of events and declaring Paramesvaravarman the victor in the overall conflict, which is patently incorrect. It also emphasises the Battle of Peruvalanallur, giving it far more prominence than it deserves. The expeditionary Pallava force encountered the Chalukya home defence and fought few indecisive battles against Vinayaditya before withdrawing into their own territory.

Here the precise administrative arrangements that Vikramaditya had put in place before embarking on his expedition must be mentioned, since it was instrumental in pushing the Pallavas back. He had made his son Vinayaditya and grandson Vijayaditya responsible for the administration and protection of the home province, essentially to keep the peace of the realm while he was away on military expeditions. This was a shrewd move since the Chalukya kingdom was only just recovering from insipient chaos when he set out on his expedition to extract revenge for his father’s earlier defeat. Vikramaditya was also a pragmatist who understood the need to co-opt his brothers and near relatives into the ruling clique in order to avoid any palace coups while he was away from the centre of power. Therefore, he appointed his younger brother Dharasraya Jayasimha as the governor of the Nasik and Gujarat regions of the Chalukya Empire. Perhaps as a surety to ensure the father’s good behaviour, he took along with him Jayasimha’s son Sryasraya Siladita as a military commander for the duration of the expedition against the Pallavas. That Siladitya proved to be an exceptional military commander and a steadfast support to his uncle is another matter.

Vikramaditya besieged the Pallava capital once again from the Chola territory. Although the outcome of the battles were indecisive, the Pallavas suffered severe setbacks before Vikramaditya returned to his own kingdom, in triumph. The initiative for the long-drawn conflict was taken by Vikramaditya and barring the minor Pallava expedition into Chalukya territory, the entire conflict played out in the territories of the Pallavas and their allies. It is obvious that Pallavas were almost constantly on the defensive. The actual sequence of events and the chronology of the battles are somewhat hazy, but it is certain that by the end of the conflict when Vikramaditya retired to his own kingdom, Pallava power was completely crippled. Later records celebrate Vikramaditya as the ‘Victor of Kanchipura’ and it is not an exaggeration to state that he had retrieved the political fortunes of the Chalukyas.

As is usual in history, there are some conflicting information that surface, especially when it comes to suggesting the defeat or victory of well-known dynasties. There is a poem written in the 12th century that suggest the attack and subjugation of Vatapi while Vikramaditya was campaigning in the South. This cannot be true and the poem must be referring to the earlier sacking of Vatapi by Narasimhavarman. There is a personal record of the Vaishnava saint Tirumangai Alvar that mentions the defeat of a ‘northern’ king and the Pandyan ruler by the Nagur warriors. The Nagur warriors were the elite troops of the Pallava army and the episode is an obvious reference to a minor battlefield reversal or set-back suffered by the Chalukya-Pandya combine. However, it also indicates the beginning the Pallava-Pandya rivalry that was to last for a long time.


Vikramaditya ruled for 27 years, inheriting a kingdom that was badly mauled and in declining fortunes and building it up, by sheer will of character and personal ability, into a cohesive and strong empire. It can be seen in history that it is not every dynasty that produces a saviour at the right time able to reverse its fortunes in times of trouble. The Chalukyas were lucky to have Vikramaditya, the third son, to step into the breach and become a gallant and capable ruler. He was not only a great military commander but also a visionary administrator who evoked the loyalty of the general population. It is a sign of his maturity that he did not take up the matter of the Vengi branch of the Chlaukyas declaring independence and permitted Vishnuvardhana’s son, who was his cousin, to continue to rule the region as a sub-branch of the parent family. He must have determined that it was better to have this strategically crucial region ruled by a close relative of the family who was also beholden to his father rather than open one more front in the on-going conflict with the Pallavas. In any case he had his hands full recreating the lost glory of the primary branch of the family.

Of this there is no doubt—he restored Chalukya glory and laid the foundation for what was to follow as long years of peace and prosperity for the Empire. In doing so he fought three successive Pallava kings and even though some of the battles were inconclusive, there is no denying the fact that almost all the battles were fought in Pallava territory. This is a clear indication of the dominant strength of the Chalukya army and the acumen of its commander. At the end of his reign the Chalukya kingdom once again extended to the River Narmada in the north and encompassed the entire Western coastal region of the Konkan. The Chalukyas now ruled over Maharashtra and Karnataka, controlling areas up to Trichinapolly in the south—a vast empire by any calculation.

© [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 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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