Read this article to learn about the Pallavas of Kanchi and the Cholas of south Indian kingdoms.
The Pallavas of Kanchi:
There is difference of opinion among historians about the origin of the Pallavas.
We have come across Pallavaraj Vishnugopa among the kings of South India whom Samudragupta had conquered but allowed them to retain their kingdoms accepting Samudragupta as their overlord.
But nothing is known after Vishnugopa till we reach the end of the sixth century A.D. when Singhabahu or Singhavishnu occupied the Pallava throne and gave a continuity to the Pallava rule. Singhabahu conquered the Chola kingdom as well as many other kingdoms of the south. He even extended his dominions to Ceylon. Kanchi was the capital of the Pallava kingdom.
After Singhabahu, his son Mahendravarma I occupied the Pallava throne. He was engaged in a life and death struggle with the Chalukyas of Vatapi. Pulakesin II was the Chalukya king of Vatapi at that time. In 609 or 610 Pulakesin defeated Mahendravarma I and occupied Vengi from him. Pulakesin had appointed his younger brother ruler of Vengi. This was the faint beginning of the East- Chalukya kingdom of Vengi.
Mahendravarma I was a great patron of sculpture and architecture. During his reign Trichinpalli, Chingelput, northern and southern Aracot were studded with rock-cut temples of extraordinary beauty. These are still extant and force the admiration of visitors. Mahendravarma had constructed a city called Mahendrabadhi and a large aquaduct called Mahendrabapi. He was originally a Jaina but later on became a Saiva.
Next king was Mahendravarma’s son Narasinghavarma. He also waged relentless war with the Chalukyas. He succeeded temporarily in defeating the Chalukyas of Vatapi and in occupying their capital at Vatapi. Under Narasinghavarma Pallava domination was established all over South India. Narasinghavarma took the assistance of the king of Ceylon in defeating the Chalukyas.
As a reward for this assistance Narasinghavarma helped the king of Ceylon to become independent of the Chalukyas. During the reign of Narasinghavarma Hiuen T-Sang visited the kingdom of the Pallavas and from his account it is known that the city of Kanchi spread over five to six square miles. The land of the Pallava kingdom was very fertile and there was abundance of agricultural crops, flowers, fruits, etc.
The capital city had numerous Hindu, Buddhist and Jaina temples. Large number of Buddhist monks used to live in Buddhist monasteries. King himself was a great patron of sculpture and architecture. It was during his reign that the seven Rathas after the names of the heroes of Mahabharata, such as Judhisthir ratha, Draupadi ratha, Bhima ratha etc. were cut from huge stones at Mahavalipuram.
After Narasinghavarma his son Mahendra II and after him Parameswara II became king at Kanchi. The Pallava King Narasinghavarma II was a great patron of architecture. It was during his reign that the Kailashnath Temple of Kanchi, the temples on the sea coast of Mahavalipuram were built. During his reign Chalukya King Vikramaditya II occupied the Pallava capital Kanchi. Later on with the defeat of the Pallavas at the hands of the Cholas the Pallava Power came to an end and the Pallavas were reduced to small feudatories. The last of the Pallava kings was Aparajitavarma.
In political and cultural fields the Pallavas of Kanchi constituted an important chapter in the history of India. In the southern part of the Pennar and the Tungabhadra they were the first to build up a strong power. Their authority had spread for a time even over Ceylon. In sculpture and architecture the Pallavas rule constituted a landmark in Indian history.
The excellence that the sculpture and architectural arts had attained in South India can very well be understood from a look at the remains of the temples of the Pallavas. During the Kushana period the indegenous art that had flourished at Mathura and Amaravati continued to develop without any break and reached its peak and flowering under the Pallavas. Some of the excellent specimens of the Pallava art can be seen at Kanchi and Mahavalipuram.
Of course the earliest Pallava specimens of art have not survived but what we find at Kanchi and Mahavalipuram are those of the later Pallava times. The Pallava artists made their temples out of large rocks yet their sense of proportion and jewellers’ precision with which they performed their task are astonishing. All this bears eloquent testimony to the extraordinarily high standard reached by the Pallava artists.
The Tripurantakeswar and Airabateswar temples of Kanchi, Mukteswar and Kailashnath temples at Mahavalipuram are the best specimens of the arts of sculpture and architecture of the Pallavas. The style and execution of the work force our admiration. The images sculptured on the walls of the temples are excellent specimens both from the points of view of proportion and anatomy.
Draupadi ratha, Arjuna ratha, Bhimaratha, Dharmaraj ratha etc. are rathas i.e. chariots cut-out of massive rocks were stupendous sculptural feats which had been mastered by the Pallava artists. These rathas were based on the tales of the Mahabharata. Many of the temples at Java were built after the fashion of the rathas at Mahabalipuram. The Pallava sculpture and architecture have occupied a position of distinction in the history of Indian art.
The Pallava kings were patrons of Sanskrit language and literature. Kanchi, the capital of the Pallavas, was a centre of Sanskrit studies. Poet Bharavi, the author of Kiratarjuniyam, was the court poet of Pallava King Singhabahu or Singhavishnu. Sanskrit scholar Dandin was the greatest litterateur of that period. Pallava King Mahendravarma was himself a great man of letters.
Religion of the Pallavas:
The Pallava kings were Brahmanical Hindus. King Singhabahu or Singhavishnu was perhaps a worshipper of Vishnu. Mahendravarma I, the Pallava king, was originally a Jaina but he came under the influence of a Saivite saint Appar and was converted into Saivism. He caused the construction of temples for Vishnu and Brahmma.
Towards the end of his reign he became intolerant of Jainism and ordered the demolition of Jaina monasteries. But generally speaking it cannot be said that the Pallava kings were intolerant of other religions. The attitude of Mahendravarma towards the Jainas was something unusual of the Pallava kings.
Hiuen T-Sang noticed about ten thousand Buddhist monks and numerous Buddhist monasteries and Viharas of the Mahayana sect within the Pallava .dominion. He also mentioned the existence of a large number of Jainas within the Pallava dominion. Thus it may be safely concluded that although the Pallava kings were Brahmmanical Hindus they were not intolerant of other religions.
In the inscription of Maurya Emperor Asoka the Cholas of the far south had been described as an independent people. From the writings of the ancient Greek, Roman and Tamil writers there are references to the maritime activities of the Cholas. But there is no detailed information about the political history of the Cholas.
Karikal was the first historical king of the Cholas. It is said that he had once conquered Ceylon and brought a few thousand labourers from there to his own country. With the help of these labourers he constructed a bund in the river Kaveri and built a new capital named Kaveripaddinam.
From the contemporary literature it is learnt that in the 3rd century A.D. the Chola Power became very weak taking advantage of which the Pallavas occupied the Chola dominions. But in the eighth century A.D. the Chola recovered their territories when the Pallavas were defeated at the hands of the Chalukyas and also their former territories.
Vijalalaya was the Chola king who made the Chola Power independent during the middle of the ninth century and his son Aditya completed the ouster of the Pallavas and set up the Chola kingdom in fullest sovereignty. It was from the time of his son Parantaka I that systematic history of the Chola dynasty can be found (907).
Parantaka I was an intrepid soldier and a great military strategist. He invaded the Pandya kingdom and occupied its capital Madura. He also invaded Ceylon. It was Parantaka I, who was the founder of the Power and greatness of the house of the Cholas. He was succeeded by a few weak kings during whose reign there was disorder in the Chola kingdom. At last with the accession of Raja- raja in 985 peaces and order returned to the Chola kingdom.
Rajaraja was the greatest king of the Chola dynasty. With him began the history of peace and prosperity of the Chola kingdom. During his long reign Rajaraja conquered many territories and made himself the unquestioned master of the Deccan. He defeated the Chera and Pandya kingdoms and occupied Vengi by defeating the East-Chalukyas.
With the help of his powerful navy Rajaraja conquered Ceylon and the Malaya. His kingdom spread from present Madras Presidency to Coorg, Quilon, Pandya kingdom, Ceylon, Malabar coasts.
Rajaraja was not great as a conqueror alone; he was equally great as patron of literature, art and architecture. The famous Siva temple at Tanjore was built under his patronage. On the walls of that temple the accounts of Rajaraja’s wars have been inscribed. The temple bears testimony to Rajaraja’s greatness both at war and peace. He was really a great king and the appellation Rajaraja the Great has been well deserved by him.
Rajaraja was a devotee of Siva but he was tolerant to other religions. He made a liberal gift to the Burmese Buddhist temple at Negapattam.
Rajaraja was succeeded by his son Rajendracholadeva. As a prince he assisted his father in administration of the country and on accession to the throne he adopted the policy of his father of imperial expansion. He sent his invincible navy to the Bay of Bengal and succeeded in occupying Pegu, Andaman, and Nicobar etc. for some time.
He defeated the Pala King Mahipal I of Bengal and in commemoration of this victory adopted the title ‘Gogaikonda’. He also established a new capital of the name of Gogaikondacholapuram and decorated this city by constructing a number of beautiful buildings. He excavated a large lake in the middle of the city.
On the death of Rajendracholadeva, his son Rajadhiraj ascended the throne. The major part of his reign was consumed in putting down internal rebellion and wars with Pandya kingdom and Ceylon. In his attempt to invade the Chalukya territory he was killed at the hands of the Chalukya king.
Rajadhiraj was succeeded by Adhirajendra. He was as incapable as high-handed as a ruler. The subjects were so dissatisfied at his rule that he had to lose his life at the hands of an assassin. During the rule of Adhirajendra the great Vaishnava philosopher Ramanuj lived at Srirangam within Chola kingdom.
Ramanuja did not receive fair treatment at the hands of Adhirajendra who was a Saiva and the policy of persecution that he followed towards the Vaishnavas led Ramanuj to leave Srirangam and take refuge in Mysore. The Chola kings after Adhirajendra were weak and worthless, taking advantage of which Malik Kafur occupied Chola kingdom and thereby brought about the end of the Cholas.
The Chola administration was as efficient as integrated. From the inscription of Parantaka I the details about the Chola administration can be found. The basis of administration was the village. A large village or a group of villages formed Kurram. Every village had arrangement for self-government. A village assembly of the nature of village-panchayat was in charge of the administration of the village.
There were officers who looked after the activities of the village assembly. The village assembly had control over all lands belonging to the village. The members of the village assembly would constitute themselves into small committees each in charge of the ponds, gardens, judicial system of the village. Every village assembly had a treasury of its own.
A few large villages or kurrams would constitute a district, i.e., Nadu, and a few Nadus would form a Division or Kottam. A few Divisions or Kuttams would constitute a Province. There were six provinces in the country which was called Cholamandalam.
One-sixth of the produce of the soil was realised as revenue. This apart other taxes had also to be paid. But the total realisation by the state as land revenue, taxes etc. did not exceed more than 4/15th of the income of a person. Land revenue could be paid either by money or by produce of the soil. The currency of the time was gold Kasu.
The Chola kings developed a powerful navy for the purpose of developing a maritime empire and sea-borne trade. For the purpose of irrigation a few massive irrigation plans were executed. For the purposes of excavating irrigation canal, public thoroughfares forced labour was used. Royal roads were always kept in good trim.
The Chola art essentially means Chola sculpture and architecture. The Cholas had practically no contribution to the field of painting. In sculpture and architecture the Chola attained the highest water-mark of excellence. The Chola sculpture and architecture were free from any foreign influence and may be regarded as copy and continuation of the Pallava sculpture and architecture.
Most of the Chola kings were patrons of sculpture and architecture. The best specimen of the Chola art of the time is the Rajrajeswar (Siva) temple of Tanjore. This temple was made under the orders of Rajrajeswar. This beautiful temple has fourteen tiers in its top and each tier has been cut-out of a big stone in a circular fashion. On the walls of the temples of Gogaikondacholapuram beautiful images have been sculptured.
The main characteristic of the Chola art is its massiveness. The Chola artists have chiselled out beautiful temples from large rocks and executed their work with jeweller’s precision. Fergusson, an English historian, aptly remarked that the Chola artists planned like giants and finished like jewellers.
Nothing is known of the ancient history of the Pandya kingdom. When Hiuen T-Sang visited the Deccan the Pandya country was under the Pallavas. Of course Hiuen T-Sang did not visit the Pandya country. The Pandya King Sundar Pandya was originally a Jaina, later on he adopted Saivism and is said to have followed a policy of persecution of the Jainas.
Later on the Pandya kings were constantly at war with Pallavas, Cholas and Ceylon. In the eleventh and the twelfth centuries the Pandyas were compelled to owe allegiance to the Cholas. It was in the thirteenth century that the Pandya kingdom acquired independence and became one of the important powers of the Deccan.
In the same century Marco Polo visited Pandya country twice—once in 1288 and again in 1292. In his account Kayal, the capital of the Pandya kingdom, was a prosperous port and a beautiful city. With the fall of the Tamil Power at the hands of Malik Kafur in 1310, the Pandya kingdom also came to an end.
Nothing is practically known of the Chera kingdom. In Asoka’s inscription there is reference to Keralaputra, i.e. Chera kingdom which was then an independent country. But later on it was annexed to Chola kingdom.
Maritime Activities of the Tamil Kingdoms:
From the remotest time of history India had commercial and cultural relations with the outside world. During the Gupta Age as also during the post-Gupta period this contact remained undisturbed. But the commercial and cultural relations became more fruitful through the South Indian countries.
In the Periplus written in the middle of the first century A.D. the names of the ports of South India have been given. From the South Indian ports of Muziris, the present Cranganore, Kayal, Korkai and from the northern Indian ports, a sea-borne trade with the Western countries was carried on.
In the Greek and Roman accounts there are references to the commercial relations of the Tamil countries of Chera, Chola and Pandya countries with the East and the West. Later on more than one Chola king conquered Ceylon. Karikal the first Chola king had conquered Ceylon and brought a few thousand labourers from there whom he engaged in constructing a bund in the Kaveri river and in building a new capital called Kaveripaddinam.
Rajaraja the Great, the Chola king also conquered Ceylon, obviously because it had become independent in the meantime, Laccadives and Maldives and built up a maritime empire. He had a large navy which he used for both military and commercial purposes. Rajendracholadeva conquered Pegu from Burma as also Andaman and Nicobar islands.
His merchant marine used to constantly carry on sea-borne trade with Burma, Malayan archipelago etc. Kaveripadinam was the greatest port of the Chola kingdom. The best port of the Pandya kingdom was Karikal. Merchants of South India would start with their merchandise for Alexandria, Syria, etc. across the Arabian Sea.
The Indian merchandise used to be sent from Alexandria, Syria etc. to the western countries. Later on the Arab merchants began to take direct part in the Indian trade and would come to the South Indian ports for purchase of merchandise, particularly spices.
South India had commercial and cultural relations with the South- East Asian countries like Sumatra, Java, Malay, Borneo etc. From these places Indian merchant’s ships used to reach China, Japan etc. That South India had commercial relations with China is proved from the extensive number of Roman coins that have been discovered in South India. In the first century B.C. an emissary was sent from the Pandya country to Emperor Augustus of Rome. Evidence of seven other similar embassies has been found.
It goes without saying that in the wake of commerce cultural influence also spread to the South-East Asian countries with which southern India had a brisk commercial relation. In the matter of colonisation of countries in South-East Asia South Indian countries took the lead.
Between the second and the fifth century A.D. Indian colonies were set up in Malay, Cambodia, Annam, Sumatra, Java, Bali, Borneo and even in Philippine islands. In this region the Saivism from South India had spread. Side by side with Saivism Buddhism also had spread in this region. Hindu manners and customs, influence of Sanskrit language had also spread in this region.
Chola king Rajaraja the Great had paid a huge amount of money to the Burmese Buddhist temple at Negapattam. From this it was proved beyond doubt that a large number of Burmese used to live in that place. The Pallava and Chola sculpture and architectural style had been imitated at Java, Sumatra and other Indian colonies in South-East Asia. In the temples of these places the South Indian architectural style can be noticed even today.
The South Indian countries held sway over Indian Ocean and Bay of Bengal for a long time. Later on when the Portuguese merchants had seized these areas from the Indian hands the South Indian commercial and maritime supremacy came to an end.