Indian History Part 33 THE OTHER CHALUKYAS

28 November 2014

Towards the later part of the Badami Chalukyas’ magnificent rule of the Peninsula and adjoining areas to the north-west, two sibling dynasties came into being. Contextually they could be considered break away groups although both these dynasties ruled, at least in the beginning of their rules, at the pleasure of the core dynasty. In essence they were feudatories with special privileges accorded to them because of their direct relationship to the Badami rulers. The two dynasties that enjoyed this special status were the Eastern Chalukyas of Vengi and the Western Chalukyas who ruled out of Kalyani.

Eastern Chalukyas of Vengi

The Eastern branch, also called the Vengi Chalukyas, was the earlier offshoot of the Badami dynasty and ruled their kingdom for almost five centuries. They were responsible for consolidating the eastern fringes of the core Badami kingdom into a cohesive whole and with the strengthening of their rule became the efflorescence of the Telugu culture, language, literature and poetry. On the other hand since their kingdom encompassed the strategically important Vengi region—from which they derive their name—they were also the underlying cause for many confrontations, conflicts and wars between the Badami Chalukyas and the Pallavas, and later the Cholas. Both these Southern kingdoms felt it necessary to wrest control of the Vengi region from the Chalukyas to function as a buffer state and thereby enhance their security.

The dynasty began with Pulakesin II, the famous Badami Emperor, defeating the Vishnukundins in 616. At this stage the Vishnukundins were ruling Eastern Deccan and associated coastal districts. Since the territory was spread far away from the centre of Badami power and considering the strategic location of the area vis-à-vis the Pallava kingdom, Pulakesin II appointed his brother Kubja Vishnuvardhana as the viceroy. On the death of Pulakesin II in battle and the chaos of the succession struggle that enveloped Badami, Vishnuvardhana saw an opportunity to establish an independent dynasty. [This move is in consonance with the fundamental attitude of the time when every ruler, small and big, entertained visions of establishing a dynasty that would then go on to become a glorious one in likeness to the Guptas and the Badami Chalukyas. Therefore, there is nothing untrustworthy or disloyal in this part of Vishnuvardhana’s behaviour. However, when the Pallavas attacked the Badami kingdom and sacked his brother’s capital, Vishnuvardhana opted to stay neutral without assisting his brother although he was still only a viceroy of his brother. In the case of a Badami victory in this battle, Vishnuvardhana would have felt the full wrath of his brother for this act of complete disloyalty.]

Vishnuvardhana was followed on the throne by Jayasimha I who ruled as an independent king from 641to 673. He was followed by a number of kings, some efficient, some forgettable and a majority of indifferent rulers.

The Succession of the Chalukyas of Vengi

624 – 641       Kubja Vishnuvardhana I

641 – 673       Jayasimha I

673 – 682       Vishnuvardhana II

682 – 706       Mangey Yuvaraja

706 – 848       Period of unrest and internecine feuds (Kings during the period included Jayasimha II 706-718; Vishnuvardhana III 719-755; Vijayaditya I 755-772; Vishnuvardhana IV 772-808; Vijayaditya II 808-847)

848 – 892       Vijayaditya III (along with his two brothers Vikramaditya I and Yudha Malla I)

892 – 921       Chalukya Bhima

921 – 973       number of kings ending with Danarnava (970-973) killed in battle

973 – 999       Telugu king Jata Choda Bhima

999 – 1011     Saktivarman I

1011 – 1018   Vimaladitya

1018 – 1061   Raja Raja I Narendra Vishnuvardhana VIII

1061 – 1072   Two kings of limited stature (Saktivarman II, Vijayaditya VI)

1072               End of Chalukya reign; Vengi thereafter ruled by Chola kings

While the first four kings of the dynasty managed to consolidate their power and gradually enforce their independence, the period 706 to 848 was characterised by general unrest, family feuds and a succession of weak rulers. During this period the Rashtrakutas had ousted the main branch of the family in Badami and on the pretext of some territorial dispute with the Vengi Chalukyas, invaded Vengi and overran the country in more than one occasion. Till 848 there was no Vengi ruler powerful enough or ambitious enough to reclaim the independence that had been established by their stronger ancestors. These kings accepted the feudatory status of the kingdom and languished as a peripheral minor province of the Rashtrakutas. The Rashtrakuta king Amoghavarsha improved the status of the Vengi to that of an ally and on his death, the then Chalukya king of Vengi Vijayaditya III, was confident enough to declare independence.

Vijayaditya ruled the kingdom with the able assistance of his two brothers—Vikramaditya I and Yudha Malla I—and managed to again consolidate a kingdom that had fallen into disrepair. He died in 892 and was succeeded to the throne by his brother’s son, Chalukya Bhima who laid the foundation for true independence of the kingdom by repulsing a Rashtrakuta attack early in his reign. This defeat made sure that the Rashtrakutas did not attempt another invasion during his rule. Bhima died in 921 and there was a brief succession struggle, which the Rashtrakutas took advantage of to intervene and once again establish their superiority. However, the Vengi Chalukyas managed to maintain a semblance of independence.

The Venulavada Chalukyas

During the period of confrontation, reconciliation and interference by the Rashtrakutas into the affairs of Vengi, a minor Chalukya family managed to win the favour of the Rashtrakutas and were permitted to rule a small area around Venulavada. (Venulavada is the current Karimnagar and the area of this small kingdom now forms part of Nizamabad district.) This family was clearly subordinate to the Rashtrakutas and ruled at their pleasure in a semi-independent state and were loyal supporters of their overlords. It is conceivable that they sided with the Rashtrakutas in the constant battles that they fought against the Vengi Chalukyas. Given these circumstances it is not surprising that the Venulavada Chalukya rule came to an end almost immediately after the Rashtrakutas were overthrown. A notable fact about this minor and obscure Chalukya family is that they traced their descent from the Sun (Suryvanshi clan) as opposed to all other Chalukya dynasties who were avowedly descended from the Moon (Chandravanshi clan).

The year 973 was a turning point in the fortunes of the Eastern Chalukya dynasty. Towards the end of 52 years of uncertainty and instability perpetuated by a succession of weak and indecisive kings, unfortunately ill-equipped to handle the complex issues of governing a strategically important but small kingdom, king Danarnava who had been on the throne for a mere three years was killed in battle by the Telugu Choda king Jata Choda Bhima who went on to rule the region for the next 27 years. The importance of this defeat of the Chalukyas stems from the events that followed. On their father being killed in battle, Danarnava’s two sons escaped to the adjacent Chola country and was given refuge by the Chola king, the illustrious Raja Raja II. There are two versions of events that unfolded thereafter.

The first version is that Choda Bhima invaded Tondaimandalam which was Chola territory, and in the ensuing battle he was killed. The Chola king then placed Saktivarman I, the elder son of Danarnava on the throne, crowning him king of Vengi in 1000. The second version is that in the pretext of protecting Saktivarman’s claim to the throne, Raja Raja II invaded Vengi and defeated and killed Choda Bhima, who had become a troublesome neighbour for the grand Chola. He thereafter crowned Saktivarman as the king of Vengi. Irrespective of the actual details of the event and who was the invader, the fact remains that Choda Bhima was defeated and killed by the Chola army and Saktivarman I, the scion of the Chalukyas, regained the throne. The result of being given your throne and inheritance back by a powerful neighbour is always the same. The Eastern Chalukyas thereafter became subservient to the Cholas.

The other unfortunate consequence of the Chola interference into Chalukya affairs was that the Western Chalukyas, by now a powerful entity in their own right, took exception to the growing power and influence of the Cholas and in an effort to curb the spread of Chola political influence supported a rival claimant to the throne of Vengi. There followed almost 20 years of struggle for supremacy between the Kalyani or Western Chalukyas and the Cholas with Vengi forced to play the role of the cockpit for the battles that ensued. In the repeated encounters, the Cholas were normally more successful and they finally managed to drive the Kalyani Chalukyas out of the area. This left the Vengi kingdom completely subordinate to the Cholas. There was by this intermingling of the Eastern Chalukya dynasty and the imperial Cholas through matrimonial alliances and an Eastern Chalukya prince Rajendra occupied the Chola throne as Kulattunga I in 1070. Similarly in 1072, the Vengi throne was occupied by Vijayaditya, a cousin of Raja Raja Chola. This date can be considered the end of the Eastern Chalukya dynasty of Vengi since the kingdom was thereafter ruled by secondary Chola kings and princes. For some more years after this final collapse, few minor dynasties who recognised and accepted Chola supremacy continued to battle each other for control of an ever decreasing spread of territory and then vanished into oblivion. The Eastern Chalukyas of Vengi provide a classic example of the whimpering death of a dynasty.


The Chalukyas of Vengi were of Kannada origin but gradually became champions of the Telugu culture that predominated their territory through patronising it and initiating concerted attempts to enhance its status. By around 900 the official records and inscriptions were being maintained in Telugu and successive kings had commissioned major literary works in the language. In keeping with the traditions established by the primary branch in Badami, the kings were religiously tolerant, although Hinduism was definitely resurgent and in ascendancy with a proportional waning of Buddhist influence. Jainism was followed by a small minority segment who were largely left to their own devices and permitted to continue their worship unhindered by any official sanctions or interference. The Vengi Chalukyas also inherited the temple-building culture from their greater cousins, although the strength of the kingdom did not permit any grandiose building efforts. Minor temples of the dynasty still remain as testimony to the spirit of the idea. As an epitaph—the Eastern Chalukyas were a brief episode in the broad spread of Indian history, or even the history of South India, there importance being only within the archives of Andhra history upon which they left an indelible mark.

The Western Chalukyas of Kalyani

Information regarding the Western Chalukyas of Kalyani comes from two primary sources, Kannada inscriptions and contemporary literary documents, some of which also corroborate the inscriptions. Two literary works that provide details of the Western Chalukyas are, the treatise Gada Yudha dated to 982 and the book Vikramankadeva Charita written in Sanskrit by an author named Bilhana from Kashmir, around 1120.

The Western Chalukyas originated in 973, when Kakka II the last Rashtrakuta king was overthrown by Taila (also known as Tailapa II) who belonged to the old Chalukya stock. Before taking this step Taila was a feudatory of the Rashtrakutas, governing a small territory from the stronghold of Tardavadi in Bijapore district. He went on to found the dynasty that is today known as the Chalukyas of Kalyani, which ruled the region for a little over two centuries. In comparison to the seven-century rule of the primary Badami family, this timeframe is small, but not insignificant. It is also noteworthy that in an indirect manner, Taila’s victory also avenged the defeat of the earlier Chalukyas and the usurpation of power by the Rashtrakutas.

Taila ruled for 24 years and during this time recovered all the territories once held by the Badami Chalukyas, except for the Gujarat region. In Gujarat Taila was engaged in a continual war with Munja Pawar, or Paramara according to some sources, who was the king of Dhara. In six consecutive encounters Munja was victorious, each time forcing the Chalukyas to withdraw to their strongholds across the River Godavari, which was the traditional border between the two kingdoms. However, in the seventh encounter, the Chalukyas invaded Dhara, defeated the Paramaras and captured king Munja. It is said that he was kept as a captive with all courtesies due to a king till the time he attempted to escape and was recaptured. Thereafter he was treated cruelly, at times worse than normal prisoners, and subsequently tortured and beheaded in 995. [This shows a particular mindset in the ruling class of the time, which prohibited ill-treating an adversary who had fought valiantly but lost the battle/campaign/war. However, they did not have any qualms of morality and did not show even an iota of kindness to a ‘prisoner’ who attempted to misuse the privileges that were accorded to him because of his status. This is a recurring behaviour pattern that can be noticed in the treatment of royal prisoners even in battles between distinctly small kingdoms.] By the time of his death in 997, Taila had moved his capital to Manyakheta and his kingdom covered the entire region between the Narmada and the Tungabhadra rivers.

The Fatal Rivalry with the Cholas

Taila was succeeded by his son Satyasraya who was not a competent ruler and was unable to defend the kingdom against an attack by Raja Raja Chola who not only overran the kingdom but permitted the Chola army to loot and pillage the capital in the wake of his victory. Even though the Chalukyas were able to regain their kingship because the Cholas retired after the conquest without trying to annex the kingdom, this was the beginning of an intense competition between the two dynasties that weakened both over a period of time and only finished with the demise of both almost simultaneously.

There were two reasons for this self-destructive rivalry—first, the Cholas were wary of the swiftly increasing power of the Chalukyas, especially since the Badami Chalukyas had time and again defeated the fledgling Chola kingdom in its early days and not permitted the dynasty to flourish; and second, because the fertile river valley in the doab region of the rivers Krishna and Godavari was ruled by the Chalukyas of Vengi, who were at least nominally affiliated to their cousins, the Western Chalukyas. However, the role of the Vengi Chalukyas in this competition for the control of their strategically important land is less than clear. Although they were related to the Western branch, it seems that the Vengi Chalukyas attempted to maintain a neutral stance for most of the conflict period. By the time the rivalry reached its zenith, the Vengi Chalukyas were already in matrimonial alliance with the Cholas. Their loyalty to the Western Chalukyas is therefore questionable, at best they would have maintained a strained neutrality.

The combination of the Chola king Raja Raja I and the crown prince Rajendra Chola was formidable and deadly. Throughout the Western Chalukyas’ rule, Vengi remained contested territory between them and the Cholas, with no conclusive victory being attained by either party. Satyasraya’s son Jayasimha II was more capable and ambitious than his father. On becoming king he immediately subdued the Paramaras of Gujarat, who had become restive during the initial Chalukya-Chola war and the subsequent Chalukya defeat. However, he made no attempt to interfere in Vengi or to stabilise the simmering rivalry with the Cholas. Jayasimha’s son Somesvara I moved the capital of the kingdom the Kalyani in 1042, from which city they took their name in future references.

Somesvara I was even more adventurous than his father and in 1052 he took the fight to a slightly enfeebled Chola kingdom. In the Battle of Koppam on the banks of River Tungabhadra, the Chalukya army conclusively defeated the Cholas, killing their king Rajadhiraja. Somesvara then went on to storm Kanchi in the South and defeated the valiant king Karna of the Chedi dynasty. Thereafter he turned to the Malwa region and laid siege to Dhara, capturing it soon after. In 1068, Somesvara committed ritual suicide by drowning himself in the River Tungabhadra since he was suffering from an incurable disease. Ritual suicide was permitted within the philosophy of Hinduism under certain conditions and there are records of a number of kings having taken recourse to this action in the face of disease and incapacitation to continue ruling the kingdom effectively. Somesvara I was a king whose rule was marked by war and conquest, both in the north and the south of the kingdom. He was never defeated in battle during his lifetime and controlled all the territories that was annexed to the Chalukya Empire.

Somesvara II came to the throne only to face a succession challenge from his younger brother that developed into a full-fledged civil war. The younger brother was Vikramaditya VI, also known as Vikramanka, who was the Governor of Gangavadi in South Deccan at the time of his father’s death. He was ambitious and a capable warrior. However, the impetus to challenge the succession must have been greatly enhanced by the fact that he was married to the daughter of the Chola king Vijayendra Chola.

The Struggle for Empire

In 1070, while the Chalukya succession struggle was only starting to intensify, the Chola king who was Vikramanka’s father-in-law died. He did not waste any time in invading the Chola kingdom and installing his brother-in-law, Adhirajendra, on the throne. This action created enmity with Kulothunga Chola I who was then ruling Vengi and had aspirations to attaining the main throne of the Chola kingdom. After this precipitous action, Vikramanka won over the loyalty of three major Chalukya feudatories—the Hoysalas, Seuna, and Kadambas.

After this episode the battle lines were clearly drawn with Somesvara II being assisted by Kulothunga Chola and a breakaway branch of the Kadambas from Goa. In the civil war that took place in 1076, Vikramanka was victorious and proclaimed himself the Chalukya Emperor.

The Glory of Vikramanka

Vikramanka ruled for 50 years which is considered the most successful years in the full span of the of the later Chalukya rule. The period is at times referred to as the ‘Chalukya Vikrama Era’. Vikramanka followed his military victory in the civil war by defeating the Cholas in the Battle of Vengi in 1093, and then again in 1118. After these victories he retained a large tract of Chola land for many years under his direct rule and although hostilities continued in a general manner, this annexation of land had the effect of reducing the Chola power in a gradual manner. At the height of his power, Vikramanka ruled a kingdom that stretched from the River Kavery in the south to the Narmada River in the north. The empire was sufficiently vast enough for him to assume the exalted title of Tribhuvanamalla, meaning Lord of the three worlds.

Vikramanka was acclaimed for his military leadership and personal valour as well as for his deliberate religious tolerance. He was also a great patron of fine arts and literature. The celebrated jurist Vijnanesvara who was the author of the renowned book Mitakshara and also the chief authority on Hindu law resided in the Chalukya court during Vikramanka’s reign. Although a just and capable ruler, Vikramanka also suffered from an exaggerated sense of his own power and importance, perhaps the only weakness of character that could be attributed to him. In a display of Royal hubris, he tried to establish a new era starting with the date of his coronation in 1076. However, it did not take hold and even the title of the era has been erased from memory. Vikramanka was the principle character of the famous book Vikramankadeva Charita, which is essentially his glorified biography.

Death Throes of an Empire

Vikramanka’s death in 1126 was the beginning of the end of the Chalukyas of Kalyani. The kingdom had been weakened by the continual hostilities with the Cholas, who were also by now at the end of their power and prestige. The Chalukya Empire descended into chaos. There was a steady decrease in the territorial holdings with the peripheral feudatories being the first to successfully break away from the rigid and centralised Chalukya control. Other powerful feudatories followed suit, expanding their own holdings and moving to establish their own autonomy. Autonomy over their own territory, however small the holding, is the perennial quest of all ruling families. From around 1150 to 1200 the feudatories were at war with each other and the Chalukya rulers were powerless to intervene to restore order and stability. Subsequently the more powerful of the feudatories rebelled directly against Chalukya power itself. By this time Vengi had already been ceded to the Cholas.

The declining fortunes of the Kalyani Chalukyas was reinforced by the capture and subsequent release of the Chalukya king Tailapa III (Taila III) by Kakatiya Prola around 1149. This was a body blow to the prestige of the Chalukyas. Within a few years after this the Hoysala king Narasimha I defeated and killed Taila III, sometime between 1156 and 1162. However, he could not take over the Chalukya kingdom because of opposition from the Kalchuris. In the ensuring struggle the Kalachuris under Bijjala II was victorious. He captured Kalyani from the control of the Hoysalas and ruled till 1183. The defeated and much diminished Chalukyas moved their capital to Annigeri in Dharwar district and continued to rule a fraction of the territory that had once formed part of the great Chalukya Empire.

The Kalachuris

The Kalachuris were originally from Central India who migrated to the Southern Deccan at an indeterminate time, becoming trustworthy commanders and then provincial governors of the Chalukya kings. They traditionally governed Karhad and Tandavadi provinces (overlapping in Karnataka and Maharashtra) from their stronghold, Mangalavada. The Chalukyas conferred the title ‘Mahamandaleswar’ on them.

In 1157, presumably at the death of Taila III and the ensuing Hoysala attempt at domination, Bijjala II declared independence and took over the Chalukya kingdom, forcing the Hoysalas out. Bijjala is credited with creating a religious revolution by reviving the cult of Shiva and founding a new sect—the Vira Saivas or Lingayats. The members of the Lingayat sub-sect, that still exists today, worship Shiva in the phallic form, reject the authority of the Vedas, do not believe in the concept of rebirth, object to the ritual of child marriage, approve of widow remarriage, and collectively have an in-born aversion of Brahmins. These attributes made the Lingayat movement attractive to the trading class who joined it, moving over from Buddhism and Jainism. This was the beginning of an inexorable decline in the popularity of Buddhism in the Deccan, a deterioration from which the religion never truly recovered.

Bijjala’s successors were weak and could not hold their own against the combined might of the Seuna dynasty and the Hoysalas in the power struggle that followed his death. At this stage the Chalukya Somesvara IV made a valiant but vian attempt to reclaim the kingdom. He was defeated by the Seuna rulers and obliged to go into exile in 1189. With this defeat the curtain came down on the once glorious Chalukya Empire. The Seunas and the Hoysalas continued to feud for control over the Krishna region for many more years with no decisive results. The fall of the Chalukyas coincide with the decline of the Cholas, both of which contributed to the descent of chaos in Peninsular India. This was the age of the disintegration of empires across the entire sub-continent.

© [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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