Indian History Part 32 Chalukyas of Badami Section V: DECLINE AND FALL

Singapore, 14 October 2014 

Vinayaditya came to power after the death of his father, the great Vikramaditya I, and ruled an empire that was at peace with its neighbours. The focus of his rule was on building the kingdom back to its glory and to bring back the prosperity that was an acknowledged part of the Chalukya Empire. He appointed his son Vikramaditya II as the heir apparent in 710, an event mentioned in the Satara Plate. He was called ‘priya putrah’, meaning ‘dear son’, in most of the plates produced during his father’s reign.

Vikramaditya II

Vikramaditya II is mentioned in a number of plates even before he became king and it is certain that he deputed for his father on many occasions in different parts of the Empire. It can be concluded that he was actively involved in the administration and security issues of the kingdom even before assuming power. He also led the Chalukya army in an invasion against the Pallavas during the latter part of his father’s reign. Vikramaditya II was politically very astute and forged alliances with a number of lesser dynasties, gradually drawing them into the Chalukya network of feudatories. He married two sister-princesses of the Haihaya dynasty. The elder sister was the Chief Queen and went on to be the administrator of the Kuruttakunte region during Vikramaditya’s reign, while the younger sister was the mother of his son Kirtivarman II who succeeded to the throne.

Vikramaditya also had a brother called Bhima from whom the later Chalukyas of Kalyani claim descent. However, the Badami records while acknowledging the brother, is non-committal regarding the veracity of the claim to his being the founder of the Chalukya branch. The dynastic records give Vikramaditya all the traditional titles and also two that are unique him. He is referred to as ‘Vallabha Durjaya’ meaning ‘the unrepulsable lord’ and also as ‘Kanchiyan Kodu’, which means ‘the captor of Kanchi’ and is presumably the Chalukya scribes’ answer to the Pallava Narasimhavarman’s title of ‘Vatapi konda’. Surprisingly Vinayaditya, his father has not been given any great titles in the dynastic records. This lack of imperial titles is perhaps the first indication of the onset of a gradual decline in Chalukya political influence, although it may not have been apparent at that time.

Vikramaditya II – Sources of Information

There are 18 confirmed inscriptions made during Vikramaditya II’s reign. The prominent ones are:

1st year of rule – Plate discovered in Tilpaluru in Cuddapah district of Andhra Pradesh.

2nd year – dated Sunday, 24 January 734 – registers gift of land to a Pandit (ordained priest) of the Devguna sect.

8th year – dated 21 December 741 – Plate issued in Ratnagiry district; mentions the attendance of the Rashtrakuta Prince Govindaraja, son of Sivaraja, thereby confirming the feudatory status of the Rashtrakutas at that time.

Undated Viragal (hero-stone) – located in the Hire-Madhure village in the Chitradurga district that commemorates the death of hero Dasiamman in the battle that captured Kanchi.

Engraving on back wall of temple – an engraving on the back wall of a prominent pillar in front of the Mandapa of the famous Rajasimhesvara temple of Kanchipuram that confirms the capture of Kanchi by Vikramaditya II.

Five other undated inscriptions – mention the Queen consort, Lokamahadevi; reports the grant of lands for the construction and upkeep of a temple named Lokesvara, probably named in honour of the Queen; details of the temple construction at the Queen’s behest; mention of Vikramaditya II as thrice conqueror of Kanchi.

There are also other fragmented inscriptions, as yet undated, from Dharwar district.

Vikramaditya II was crown prince for 23 years before assuming the throne in 733. During this long ‘apprenticeship’ he had proven himself time and again as a competent military commander and also distinguished himself in battle against the Pallavas. He was already accepted as an accomplished and efficient administrator. Since the kingdom was in a relatively peaceful state and had reclaimed its earlier prosperity, it was inevitable that Vikramaditya revived the traditional antagonism against the Pallavas.

Chalukya-Pallava Hostilities

That hostilities with the Pallavas were initiated by Vikramaditya is confirmed by the records of his son Kirtivarman after becoming king, as well as by the Queen’s Plate that proclaims his victory over Kanchi three times. Almost immediately on coming to power, Vikramaditya marched into Pallava territory. It is certain that he took upon himself the responsibility to avenge the earlier defeat of the dynasty at the hands of the Pallavas and to reduce and uproot the power of the traditional enemies of the Chalukyas. The fact that he had been victorious in some battles against them while he was the crown prince, although the overall war itself was inconclusive, could have also influenced this decision to invade the Pallava territories.

In this instance, Vikramaditya defeated the Pallava prince Nandipotivarman who opposed him and claimed enormous tribute from him. However, he did not ransack the capital, instead visiting temples and giving gifts to the Brahmins in a show of largess. It is at this stage that he made the victory-inscription at the Rajasimhesvara temple, which was fully made of stone unlike most of the temples of the time.

The Story of Avenging an Insult

When the Pallava King Narasimhavarman overran and sacked Badami in the 13th year of his rule, he had an inscription done on the wall of the Mallikarjuna temple in the town celebrating his victory. This inscription had thereafter been a source of constant irritation to the Chalukyas since it diminished their power, prestige and pride. This was one of the major reasons for Vikramaditya adopting a resolute aggressive stance against the Pallavas from the time of his becoming the crown prince. After capturing Kanchi, Vikramaditya had the opportunity to repay this insult in kind. He confiscated the entire wealth and property of the Rajasimhesvara temple in Kanchi and then in a display of magnanimity, returned it all to the Gods. However, he engraved the fact of the defeat of the Pallavas and recorded his capture of their capital on the back of the main pillar in the Mandapa in the temple. The balance sheet between the two dynasties had been equalised. Unlike the Pallavas, he did not sack the capital but left the city as he found it.

This victory over the Pallavas took place sometime around 735-40, during the rule of the Pallava king Nandivarman II, who was defeated. Although there are some mention in the Chalukya records that he continued a limited Southern expedition, the details are scanty. It is possible that he fought successful battles against the Cholas, Pandyas, Keralas and Kalabhras, opposing him either as a combine or individually. However, these victories were not accompanied by any annexation of territory and can at best be considered the establishment of transitory authority. This was obviously more a show of force and a warning to the Southern powers not to unite against the Chalukyas or support the Pallavas. Chalukya records state that he set up a ‘Jayastambha’, a column of victory, on the sea shore, although there are no details available. It can be presumed that this was a temporary structure that did not last long. It is certain that Vikramaditya did not linger long on the Southern expedition and after the victory over the Southern powers he returned to his capital. Records show that on the return journey he built a temple in Nellore district.

The transitory nature of the victories can be assumed from the fact that as soon as Vikramaditya reached his capital, the Pallavas became restive and started to raid the peripheral territories of the Chalukya Empire. [This situation also indirectly indicates the waning power of the Chalukyas, since the Pallava raids took place almost immediately after the departure of the Chalukya king from what has been claimed as a victorious campaign in their records.] The Chalukyas were forced to send another expedition under the command of the crown prince who again defeated the Pallava King Nandivarman II. This was obviously the third victorious expedition recorded in the Chalukya chronicles as having taken place during Vikramaditya’s reign, although it could not have anything more than a concerted reprisal raid.

The First Arab Invasion

Around 737-38, the North-Western extremity of the Chalukya Empire was threatened by Arab intrusions. This was the first Arab invasion into Peninsular India and the beginning of what was to become a regular and continuous interference in the affairs of the Deccan kingdoms. An authentic Plate provides the details of this invasion—the Tajik (Arab) Army plundered the Saindhavas (Sind region), Kachchhela (Kutchch) and Sourashtra (Kathiawad); they were met in battle by Pulakesiraja, the son of Dharasraya Jaisimha and a Chalukya scion, who defeated the Arabs after a bitterly fought battle. In appreciation of this feat, Pulakesiraja was honoured by Vikramaditya by bestowing a number of titles on him. The Arabs retired after this defeat.

The records of the Badami Chalukyas do not mention this intrusion, presumably because the event was not considered important enough to be recorded. It passed for a minor episode of unrest in the periphery of the kingdom. Two facts can be distilled from this attitude. First, that unrest in the far reaches of the Empire had by now become common enough not to warrant a mention in the family chronicles. The acceptance of such events as inevitable leads one to believe that the political influence of the Chalukyas was becoming tenuous in parts of the kingdom far away from the centre of power. Second, although this invasion by a potent foreign force was an event of significance to the entire Peninsula, it was seen more as a predatory raid for plunder conducted by a minor Arab chieftain. The dynasty failed to understand the greater significance of the raid—that it was the harbinger of events that would forever change the history of the sub-continent; that it was only the first of a series of raids that would ultimately bring the glorious dynasties of the Peninsular Deccan to their knees.

Two facts stand out regarding Vikramaditya II’s reign. One, that the Chalukyas returned to their bellicose ways of dealing with their neighbours while also carefully cultivating the network of feudatories, which indicate a return to a broader level of self-confidence. Two, that the extremities of the Empire, which was vast by any account, had started to become restive, a result of the waning political power and influence of the central administration. It is a historic irony that indications of such decline first gets noticed by the feudatories functioning away from the capital and the central emperor becomes aware of his own diminished status almost too late. Invariably, remedial measures instituted by the king will be a case of too little too late, the loss of power would by then be far too advanced to counter effectively. This phase can be considered the last stage in the life cycle of an established dynasty. The illustrious Chalukyas of Badami were now entering this stage, almost without their knowledge and definitely not being acknowledged by them.

Kirtivarman II

Kirtivarman was the son of the sister of the chief Queen Lokamahadevi, both belonging to the Haihaya lineage. He was declared ‘Yuvaraja’, Crown Prince, during his father’s lifetime and gained valuable administrative as well as military experience under the king’s tutelage. He succeeded Vikramaditya II to the throne without any challenge or struggle. Dynastic records refer to him being the bearer of all the traditional titles given to Chalukya kings. In addition there are some with the added term ‘arasa’, meaning king in Kannada, mentioned in the records. [It is obvious that by this time the Badami Chalukyas had gradually accepted being considered ‘Kannada’ kings in a localised manner rather than as kings of the entire Peninsular Deccan as had been the case earlier.] The records confirm that he was the son of Vikramaditya, although does not mention if he was the eldest.

There is some discrepancy regarding the date of Kirtivarman’s accession to the throne. The last known record of Vikramaditya as king is dated 742 and therefore it can be surmised that Kirtivarman came to the throne in or around 745, but definitely not later than 746. Dynastic records, individual plates, and other inscriptions provide detailed information regarding his rule. These indicate that the king was in perpetual motion around his borders, in order to show his presence and deal with minor intransiences of feudatories. The dynastic records also detail military victories against his opponents, although most of them are minor in nature. There are plates that commemorate the building and consecration of temples, which also provide an insight into the Hindu Saivite leanings of the dynasty; and plates that detail the grant of land for the construction and further maintenance of Jain temples and ‘alms-houses’. A number of slab inscriptions provide confirmation of the feudatory status of the Banas. The Chalukya chronicles provide detailed account of the battlefield prowess and military capabilities of Kirtivarman.

Military Activities

As the crown prince he had already distinguished himself as a capable military commander defeating the Pallava king Nandivarman II in battle and capturing the besieged fort. However, as king his political acumen was somewhat lacking, certainly less than his illustrious father, as demonstrated by the following episode. The Pandya king Maravarman Rajasimha had joined with Vikramaditya II in the fight against the Pallavas and had become a valued Chalukya ally. However, the Pandya kingdom included some parts of the Kongu country which was contiguous to and impinged on Ganga territory. Inevitably border disputes broke out between the two and in the ensuing conflict Kirtivarman sided with the Gangas who were traditional feudatories and long term allies of the Chalukyas. [Hindsight—it would probably have been better for Kirtivarman as the overlord of both the feuding kingdoms to be the arbitrator than join with one side, even though the Gangas were long-standing and extremely loyal feudatories. Then as now, politics and diplomacy needs to be conducted pragmatically with the national interest kept as the priority, as opposed to being idealistic.]

The Pandya king crossed the River Kaveri and defeated the combined Ganga-Chalukya armies in the Battle of Venbai and captured Malakongam in Tanjore district. A peace was concluded thereafter which was sealed by the marriage of a Ganga princess to the Pandyan prince, around 748. During this battle, Kirtivarman was not physically present but represented by part of his army and it is certain that he was not directly involved in either the actual battle or the planning of the campaign. He had merely lend a part of his army to the Gangas. This is confirmed by the fact that the battle did not have any impact on the superior position held by Kirtivarman and the Chalukya kingdom per se was not attacked nor did it lose territory. The impact was however more subtle and was not really perceived by Kirtivarman. It demonstrated to the feudatories, who were watching with interest that being allied to the Chalukyas was not an assurance of safety and that the Chalukya monarch, even though loyal, could not be relied upon to provide absolute and fool-proof protection. This was one more indication of the decreasing political influence of the Chalukyas—a gradual and imperceptible decline in the power and status of the once glorious dynasty.

The Rise of the Rashtrakutas

The Rashtrakutas were long term feudatories of the Badami Chalukyas, a fact confirmed by numerous records and other authentic information that is available. They ruled primarily in the Satara-Ratnagiri region and a minor branch was also established in the Vidharbha region.  During most of his reign, Vikramaditya II was preoccupied with the Chalukya-Pallava hostilities and therefore Chalukya power was concentrated in the south of the Empire. This provided an opportunity for the more adventurous and inherently ambitious Rashtrakuta feudatory in the north to imperceptibly enhance their power and influence, while still proclaiming allegiance to the Chalukyas. They also embarked, surreptitiously, on a quest for increased independence in their rule.

The Rashtrakutas of Berar headed by Indra I (715-735) was a feudatory of the Chalukyas of Lata. There is a legend of Indra abducting a Chalukya princess and marrying her, but this is an unlikely story since the Badami Chalukyas were at that time very powerful and would not have let such an insult go unpunished. It is more likely that the episode was one of an agreed matrimonial alliance between the Lata Chalukyas and a powerful feudatory after some minor clash or misunderstanding. However, this marriage is a clear indication of the rising power of the Rashtrakutas as a politically significant and influential entity in the region. Irrespective of the real turn of events, Indra I married the Chalukya princess Bhavanaga and they had a son, Dantidurga. The rise of Rashtrakuta power is associated with Dantidurga coming to the throne. He is considered to have founded the imperial Rashtrakuta dynasty of Malakhed.

Dantidurga was politically astute and used his being a close blood relative of the Chalukyas to improve his status as a ruler amongst his peers. He accompanied Vikramaditya II in his campaign against the Pallavas and other Southern kingdoms and distinguished himself as an efficient military commander. Perhaps because he personally witnessed the pomp and power of the Badami Chalukyas and also understood that Vikramaditya II was a powerful ruler, he did not attempt to usurp power during Vikramaditya’s reign. The Rashtrakutas under Dantidurga remained content to be a Chalukya feudatory, albeit with special status that was willingly granted.

Dantidurga bided his time and when the Chalukya-Ganga army suffered a defeat at the hands of the Pandyan king and Kirtivarman was forced to concentrate almost completely on the southern campaigns, he overthrew the yoke of Chalukya overlordship, which in any case had become only a mask by then. During the period when he was nominally still a feudatory, Dantidurga had built up the Rashtrakuta strength through concerted and successful campaigns in Central India. He now controlled the entire region around the Rivers Mahi, Mahanadi, and Narmada. At the same time Chalukya power was visibly waning, visible especially in the Lata branch. The Arabs had started to make inroads into the territorial holdings of the Lata Chalukyas by this time. Dantidurga was able to humble the Lata Chalukyas without much effort and also conquered the Gurjara territory, thereby becoming a direct threat to the overall Chalukya power in the Deccan.

Kirtivarman, already jolted in the South by the defeat of his armies by the Pandyan King, had no option but to attempt to re-establish full control over the Empire that now seemed to be slipping away at the peripheries. This was an absolute necessity since even the slightest reverses in battle is almost always accompanied by perceived loss of status that has broader repercussions in the political sphere. He now faced adversaries in both the North and South and decided to consolidate his forces before initiating any action to confront them. After a brief pause to gather and strengthen his forces he decided to tackle the Rashtrakutas. In the meanwhile, Dantidurga had extended his control to Malava and parts of Sindh. A bitter clash was inevitable.

Dantidurga by this time exercised total control over the Maharashtra and Gujarat region and had also adopted an aggressive policy towards the Chalukyas of Lata who had been almost subsumed by the Rashtrakuta power. Kirtivarman, the king of the predominant branch of the Chalukyas, was obliged to avenge the subjugation of the Lata branch and reassert Chalukya power and glory. There was no way out for the Chalukyas if they were to remain the overlords of the vast Empire and the large number of feudatories owing loyalty to them. Battle erupted in 750-51. Kirtivarman was defeated and lost heavily in terms of wealth and territory, being compelled to cede all holdings in north Maharashtra and the whole of Gujarat. Although these territories had been under Rashtrakuta control before the battle, the defeat made their possession legitimate.

Not surprisingly the Chalukya records gloss over this defeat, which was perhaps the most grievous of all defeats in the long history of the dynasty. However, other records—the Samangarh and Ellora Plates—clearly mention the Chalukya defeat and the eclipse of their power; stating that the mighty Karnataka army, conquerors of the South and so far undefeated, was routed by the powerful forces of Dantidurga. Kirtivarman, continued to rule the Karnataka part of his once great Empire from Badami, although he had suffered two consecutive defeats in battle and ceded territory in both the South and North of his kingdom. Dantidurga died in 756, and considering the time appropriate Kirtivarman attacked the Rashtrakutas in an attempt to regain the ceded territories. However, Dantidurga had been succeeded by his uncle Krishna I who was an equally capable ruler and military commander. In the ensuing battle, Kirtivarman was defeated and killed. This is confirmed by both Chalukya and Rashtrakuta chronicles. The Chalukya records gives the information in allusions by mentioning that the Chalukya ‘Rajyasri’ disappeared in the conflict.

Although the other major Chalukya feudatories—Sendrakas, Banas, Alupas, and Gangas—remained loyal till the death of Kirtivarman, his death in battle in 757 marks the end of the line for the Chalukyas of Badami. No successor to Kirtivarman has been identified. Kirtivarman passes into the ranks of defeated monarchs who are not lauded or recognised as having been particularly effective in their rule, although he had inherited a kingdom already in a death spiral for a variety of reasons.

The Reasons for the Chalukya Downfall

It is a universal rule that all great dynasties rise to power through the perseverance of ambitious founders; are consolidated by extremely resilient successors; and stay in a state of splendour and magnificence for a reasonable period of time. This zenith of power in inevitably followed by the gradual onset of decline and decay through mismanagement by less capable kings who are either poor or indifferent administrators combined with dynastic hubris gradually built-up through arrogance, and then invariably falling on its own sword. The reasons are almost always flawed policy decisions that are taken based on overarching ambition of autocratic rulers who fail to match the actual capacity of their kingdoms to the task at hand and overextends the spread of their power—military, political and economic. The Chalukyas of Badami also followed the same path.

The reasons for the decline and eclipse of Chalukya power in the Deccan can be clubbed under six generic heads—extensive Empire, decline in the capability of successive rulers, unprofitable military expeditions and external invasions, dilution of strength through the expansion of collateral branches, and the gradual but unchecked rise of other regional powers.

Extensive Empire

From the height of Pulakesin II’s reign till the end of empire, the Chalukya kingdom encompassed a very large stretch of territory that encompassed the region from the Rivers Narmada and Mahi in the north to the lands bordering the Pallava kingdom in the south and stretching across the Peninsula touching oceans in both the west and the east. Such a vast empire is difficult to administer from one central point, in this case Badami, considering the difficulties in communications. In the earlier period of their rule the Chalukyas attempted to set up subordinate centres of administration but this initiative met with only very limited success and seems to have been discontinued. In the later years, the kings kept a tight control over the administration and did not permit any decentralisation. The result was that even at the height of their glory, the periphery of the Chalukya Empire was not well governed, which permitted certain amount of unrest to percolate.

The peripheral turmoil made it necessary result for the kings to be in a perpetual state of motion, doing the rounds of the borders of the Empire or engaged in conflict with the more powerful neighbours. The combination of a totally centralised administration, constant turbulence in the border regions, and the regular conflicts with powerful adversary dynasties made it necessary for the Chalukyas to create and cultivate loyal feudatories who could be relied to put down minor rebellions in the periphery of the Empire. However, such arrangements could never become long-term solutions to controlling a vast Empire, since feudatories would always be on the look-out for opportunities to improve their position vis-à-vis the central dynasty. In volatile times the loyalty of the feudatories could itself become contentious, although the Chalukyas were blessed with feudatory dynasties that remained loyal to them till the very end. On the other hand, their demise also came about at the hands of an ambitious feudatory, which sort of evens the score for the loyal ones.

Decline in the Capability of Rulers

Analysis of the rise and fall of any significant dynasty will show that the founder and his immediate successors were extremely capable, ambitious and often ruthless rulers full of energy, capable of facing even life-threating hardships with equanimity. As the dynasty gets established, the succeeding generations tend to be brought up in ever greater luxury and tend to lose the cutting edge thinking that is so essential to keeping a large kingdom together and expanding it. Some even tend to become ‘soft’ and become completely engrossed in the pursuit of art, culture and other ‘royal’ pleasures to the detriment of the kingdom’s administration and security. Invariably it is seen that in such circumstances a more capable and crafty subordinate usurps power with alacrity. In the governance of a kingdom, ruthlessness to ensure that national interests are always given the highest priority is a gift that the ultimate leader, the king, must possess. [Even in contemporary democracies a lack of focus and the steadfast pursuit of national interests in the leader bodes ill for the nation.] In traditional monarchies it can be noticed that with the passage of time and the establishment of the dynasty as a powerful entity, the ruthlessness required to deal with adverse situations declines, and strategic forethought, critical to the security and progress of the kingdom, diminishes with each succeeding generation. The result is the inevitable fall of the dynasty.

In the case of the Badami Chalukyas, Kirtivarman’s discomfiture at the hands of the Pandyan king provided a window of opportunity for the ambitious Dantidurga to declare independence. Kirtivarman being far away in the South of his kingdom and already reeling under a defeat could not initiate any action promptly to put down the upstart who had overthrown the control of the Lata collateral branch of the dynasty. This inaction permitted Dantidurga to generate further power and was the death knell of the dynasty. It is also noticeable that towards the end of his reign Kirtivarman had become lethargic and indecisive, lacked initiative and was slow in formulating policies for keeping the kingdom together. There was no attempt at directly confronting the security challenges facing the kingdom. It is true that he tried to win back lost territories at the death of Dantidurga, but the effort must have been uncoordinated for him to have been defeated and killed in the attempt.

Military Expeditions

Military expeditions, then as now, are a drain on the treasure and lives of a kingdom. The olden tradition of the victor demanding and receiving tribute, one that has been sort of stopped in recent times, was a pragmatic attempt at dealing with the challenge of ensuring that the national exchequer was always replenished after the expenditures of a war. Similarly defeated armies used to be selectively incorporated into the victorious ones to make up for the depletion of numbers through casualties. However, there is a limit to the amount the tributes can top up the depletion of treasure, especially when military expeditions are regular and unproductive occurrences. Such expeditions are resource-intensive and constant wars are sources of drain on the exchequer of even the most powerful of nations. [In the contemporary scenario the war-weariness of the United States, both because of the casualties being inflicted on the military forces as well as the financial strain that more than 14 years of war has brought on the nation, is a clear example of this concept.]

The Southern campaigns of the Chalukyas, while initially considered necessary to contain the rise of the Pallavas, were all equally unproductive. It is true that the Pallava capital was captured a number of times, but the fact that the Chalukyas did not even attempt once to annex the kingdom is proof of their acceptance that such a move would have been unsustainable and counter-productive. Historically the territories of the Pallavas and the nations further south have always been difficult to dominate. No northern power was ever able to maintain a long-term hold on this region and have always contended with temporary control after victory in a battle or war and then the establishment of a tenuous overlordship of the region at best. Therefore, the expeditions against the Pallavas were inevitable loss-making initiatives, almost always draining the Chalukya Empire of resources.

Two factors, generated by the Chalukya obsession with the Pallavas and their Southern campaigns, impacted the long-term stability of the Chalukya Empire. First, the later kings were brash in invading territory further south beyond the Pallava kingdom, endangering their own lines of communications while attempting untenable conquests. This cost more in terms resources than the tributes or even the status that these transitory victories brought to the Empire in a holistic calculation. By the time of Kirtivarman’s reign the cost of mounting the southern campaigns was unbearable, although he persisted with them. Second, the preoccupation with the Southern Peninsula and the smaller but fiercely independent dynasties that ruled the area created a situation wherein the tertiary branches were relied upon to maintain the peace in the greater Chalukya Empire. Unfortunately they were not as competent rulers as the core branch and the rebellion that finally finished the Badami Chalukyas originated in the area controlled by the Lata Chalukyas.

The other factor of note is the Arab invasion that has been brushed aside as an inconsequential raid of no import in the Chalukya chronicles. A strategically astute king would have immediately realised the vulnerability of the borders and outlying districts of his kingdom. Further, history would have indicated to him that the main threat to the integrity of the Empire would come from the north rather than from the Southern kingdoms. The Arabs invaded from the north-west while the king was preoccupied with the pet Chalukya antagonism with the Pallavas and was busy trying to control other troublesome feudatories. Although the Arabs were defeated in this instance, the raid weakened the core dynasty, mainly in terms of the political influence and military power that they were able to wield at will. In an indirect way, the Arab invasion paved the way for the Rashtrakuta rebellion—they had observed the difficulty the Badami Chalukyas had in facing the Arab invasion and understood that the Empire was weak at the core.

Expansion of the Collateral Branches   

In the latter half of the Badami Chalukya rule, two collateral branches of the dynasty emerged to rule independently from Vengi in the east and Kalyani in the west. The dynastic records mention the establishment of these semi-independent dynasties in passing , although in one instance even mention the development as being done with the tacit approval of the then ruling king of Badami. However, when viewed within the convolutions of medieval Indian politics and the functioning of the greater dynasties, it is almost certain that these branches could not have come into being without some sort of civil strife, even though they belonged to the same family. Breakaway groups always diminish the power of the core from which they branch out and some amount of animosity between the two will always remain in these circumstances.

In the case of the Chalukyas, Pulakesin II emerging victorious in the civil war but not yet fully confident of his hold on power had to pacify the Vengi branch through granting autonomy and ceding further territory to them. It is also seen that this collateral branch kept carefully out of the conflict when the Pallava king defeated the same Pulakesin and overran Badami in their victorious march against the core dynasty. The Chalukyas of Vengi did not offer any assistance in this hour of need of the primary family. Similarly it was the incompetence of the Lata branch that permitted the rise to power of the Rashtrakutas that ultimately culminated in the demise of the Chalukyas as a whole. [Indian history is replete with such incidents, where assistance is withheld by the closest associates and family when a particular king or ruler is threatened by external forces. In extremis, these branches are seen to even ally themselves with the external aggressor for short-term gains for themselves. This has been the bane of Indian political process for generations.] Permitting the sub-branches to assume autonomy and greater power than they were able to wield to good effect proved to be a short-sighted and wrong policy for the Badami Chalukyas in the long-term. It only contributed to the gradual erosion of political influence of the core family and weakened what was effectively a centralised system of administration.

Rise of Regional Powers

By the 8th century powerful rulers had started to establish themselves in North India—Lalitaditya of Kashmir, Yasovarman in North India and the Rajput families like the Paramaras in the north-west. All of them were vying for political influence and brought about increasing pressure to the northern parts of the Chalukya holdings. The South was unanimously opposed to the Chalukya hegemony and did not miss any opportunity to challenge their overlordship, even though several Chalukya expeditions had brought about devastation in an unprecedented scale to the region. The Southern kingdoms had been defeated repeatedly and had to pay tribute to the Chalukyas, but managed to keep up the pressure on the larger kingdom. The Cholas, Pandyas and Cheras normally joined forces to present a united front in opposition to Chalukya invasions. Over a period of time the Chalukya Empire started to be hemmed in by the pressures from both the north and the south. At the same time the capacity of the kingdom to deal with this twin-threat was continually eroding.

Over time the balance of power shifted against the Chalukyas, gradually but definitely. Two hundred years of autocratic rule had lulled the Chalukyas into a sense of false security aided by complacency brought about through a blind belief in their own power. During the reign of the last monarch, Kirtivarman, the Chalukyas lacked the strength to even push back the Southern confederacy, which itself was transient in nature and clubbed together only to oppose the Chalukyas. This should have rung warning bells in a politically clever king, which Kirtivarman unfortunately for the Chalukyas was not. Events overtook a somewhat tired dynasty—as is always the case in history.


By the middle of the 8th century, the Badami Chalukyas were without doubt a declining power. Their final fall was not a revolutionary event but the evolutionary culmination of a number of events and long time in the making. The factors enumerated above are the major ones that influenced their decay and fall in differing degrees and strength of influence. The Rashtrakuta rebellion under Dantidurga by itself was not a cataclysmic event that spelled doom, but the catalyst that brought the once illustrious dynasty to an unseemly end—the grand finale in a succession of events that went unnoticed or were ignored as unimportant at the time of their occurrence.

© [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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