At a time when Harshavardhan was trying to unite the North, in the Southern half of India, too, a similar attempt was being made by another royal dynasty.
In 6th Century A.D., there rose to power in the Deccan a dynasty famous as the Chalukya Dynasty. Opinions differ about the origin of this Dynasty.
According to some scholars, the Chalukyas belonged to the race of Kshatriyas and they lived around Ayodhya in the north. But, in course of time, they migrated to the South.
According to some others, the Chalukyas were a branch of the Gurjara race of Rajapurtana. It can be presumed from such theories that the Chalukyas were the original inhabitants of North India and came to the Deccan to settle there permanently. In a subsequent period they assumed a political role after organizing themselves as a military power.
The first two kings of the Chalukya Dynasty were Jaya Singha and Ranaraga. No definite information is available about their rise to power or about the size of their kingdom. But, some historical evidences are available about the third king of the dynasty who was the son of Ranaraga, and who assumed the title of Maharaja.
The name of this King was Pulakesin I. He is regarded as the real founder of the Chalukya Dynasty because of his well-established kingdom over a large portion of the Deccan. He consolidated his power over the territories around modern Bijapur and ruled his kingdom from 535 to 566 A.D. as a successful ruler. The achievements and virtues of this king are described in some of the inscriptions.
The name of the successor of Pulakesin I was Kirtivarma I. He ruled the Chalukya territory from 566 to 597 A.D. and fought several battles to enlarge the size of his domain. It is understood from the inscriptions of his time he conquered the Kingdoms of the Cholas and the Pandyas in the south and led his armies as far as Magadha in the north.
After the death of Kiritivarma I, his brother Mangalesh succeeded to the throne and ruled for 13 years. He annexed some new territories of the Chalukya kingdom including Ratnagiri. But, during the last days of this King, there broke out a struggle for succession to the throne among the rival aspirants of the Chalukya Dynasty.
While the ruling monarch Mangalesh selected his successor and tried to hand over the Kingdom to him, his ambitious nephew Pulakesin put forward his claim to the throne and remained adamant in his demand. Soon after the death of King Mangalesh, the dynastic dispute resulted in a war of succession. Finally, it was Prince Pulakesin who came out victorious from the struggle and occupied the throne, styling himself as King Pulakesin II.
The Rule of Pulakesin II:
Pulakesin II began his rule in the year 620 A.D. and assumed the pompous title of ‘Parameswara-Sri-Prithivi-Ballava-Satya- shraya’. Immediately after coming to the throne he restored peace in his strife-torn dynasty as well as in the country which had suffered much turmoil owing to the unrest and uncertainties. While demonstrating his inherent strength as a King, he also granted pardon to all those who had opposed his succession. Simultaneously, he stregthened the law and order situation throughout his Kingdom.
After attending to his primary duties in respect of peace and stability, he next entered upon a career of conquests and invasions. The chief aim of Pulakesin II was to convert the Chalukya Kingdom into a big southern empire. Like the Gupta Emperor Samudragupta before him who inscribed the details of his military exploits in the famous Prayag Prasasti or Inscription, King Pulakesin II also described his military achievements in his famous Aihole Prasasti or Inscription. The date of the Aihole Stone Inscription falls on 634-35 A.D.
According to the Aihole descriptions, Pulakesin II defeated a race named Kadambas who lived in a region called Banavasi; subjugated the Gangas of South Mysore; defeated the Moriyas of Konkana; and, humbled some other races like the Latas, the Malavas and the Gurjaras. He also conquered the region of Pistapura and appointed his own son as the Governor of that place. In the far south, Pulakesin II attacked the Kingdom of the Pallavas and forced King Mahendra Varma I of that place to submit to his suzerainty.
After subjugating theabove-mentioned territories, Pulakesin II led his army across the river Kaveri and compelled the rulers of Chola, Kerala, and Pandya territories to accept his friendly diplomatic supremacy. The whole of the Deccan, thus, came under the paramount authority of the Chalukya Emperor. By the time when Pulakesin II emerged as the undisputed master of the entire South, Emperor Harshavardhan was seen as the sovereign monarch of the entire North. Having established his supremacy on northern India, Harsha turned his attention towards the land beyond the Vindhyas.
With his huge army of the ‘Five-Indies’., Harshavardhan advanced for his conquest of the South. But, Pulakesin II was no less a powerful monarch to allow the northern invaders to enter into his Empire. With a large army he, therefore, faced Harsha’s army, and both the sides fought a fierce battle. It is supposed from the descriptions of the Aihole Inscription that the battle between the opposing armies was fought somewhere between the Vindhya Mountains and the river Narmada.
In that great battle, Pulakesin II successfully resisted the army of Harsha and did not permit the invaders to advance towards the south. As a result, Harsha gave up his ambition to conquer the Deccan and returned to the north. It is thus proved that the Chalukya ruler was powerful enough to protect his southern empire from the aggressive designs of so powerful a monarch as Harshavardhan. It is believed that the river Narmada was recognised as the frontier line between the empires of the ‘Lord of the North’ Harsha, and the ‘Lord of the South’ Pulakesin II.
Pulakesin II was not only a powerful King from the view point of military successes, but also is regarded as one of the most benevolent administrators of the southern history. The celebrated Chinese Pilgrim Hiuen Tsang who visited India during the reign of Harshavardhan and became intimate to that Emperor, also visited the Chalukya territory in the South when Pulakesin II ruled.
That foreign observer was full of praise for Pulakesin both for his power and for his benevolence. According to his description, “The King (Pulakesin II), in consequence of his possessing his men and elephants, treats his neighbours with contempt. His plans and undertakings are wide-spread, and his beneficent actions are felt over a great distance. His subjects obey him with perfect submission”.
The power of this king was known to outside kings also. It is said that he maintained diplomatic relations with some foreign lands and even exchanged diplomatic missions with his contemporary king of Persia, Khursu II.
The rule of Pulakesin II, however, did not come to a peaceful end. As his reign began with battles, so also it concluded with battles. A believer in both offensive and defensive wars, he did not stop from fighting with other kings because of his lust for power and his ever aggressive character. Though he had fought against the Pallavas during the reign of King Mahendra Varman I, yet he invaded the same Pallava Kingdom once again when his earlier adversary’s son Narasimha Varman I ruled.
This time, however, Pulakesin’s expeditions did not succeed, and he had to return to his capital in shame. Soon thereafter, the Pallava King Narasimha Varman invaded the Chalukya Kingdom and his soldiers surrounded its capital, Badami. In that resistance battle, Pulakesin II lost his life in 642 A.D. Thus that ended the life of a great king who loved to fight battles.
After the death of Pulakesin II, dark days descended on the Chalukya reign. His son and successor Vikramaditya I, after an initial period of political disaster, gradually became able to recover the lost glories of the Chalukyas. During his reign from 655 to 681 A.D., he conquered some territories of the Chola, Pandya and Kerala Kingdoms and merged those areas with the Chalukya Kingdom. After Vikramaditya I, his successors were able to retain their power for some more years. But by 8th century A.D., the Deccan saw the rise of the Rashtrakutas to power. With that there ended the power of the Chalukyas in the South.
Culture under Chalukyas:
Society and Religion:
The people of South India in general were religious. They followed the traditional Hindu ways of life in the society, with a liberal attitude. The Brahimns occupied a highly respectable position. They acted as ministers and advisers to the king as well as priests. Even though casteism within its social and economic implications were universally recognised, yet the spirit of catholicity and the feeling of mutual understanding was prevailing in the society. Chinese traveller, Hiuen Tsang visited India during the reign of Pulakesin II.
He described the social life and manner of the people. People were simple, honest and faithful. They always regarded the morality and truthfulness in public life. The Aihole inscription states that the general attitude of the society was unorthodox towards all communities. The Chalukya rulers patronised all the religions and did not impose restrictions on social and religious practices. This policy of religious toleration helped towards the spread of Buddhism and Jainism. The land grants were given to Buddhist Monks, Jaina Arahatas and the Brahmins. Brahnianism reached its zenith under the Chalukyas.
They performed religious sacrifices such as the Asvamedha, the Vajapeya etc. The sacrificial form of worship was prevailing and the puranic deities rose into prominence. The sacrifical form of worship were sanctioned by Pulakesin I, Kirtivarman, Mangalesha and Pulakesin II. They performed vedic sacrifices themselves and honourd learned Brahmans.
Art and Architecture:
The Chalukys were great patron of art and architecture. The Chalukyan structural architecture is represented by the old brick temples at Tel, and more fully by several shrines at Aihole, Pattakadal and Badami. Aihole represents the best of Chalukyan architecture. There are several temples at Aihol which speak of the Chalukyan love for art and architecture. Among those may be mentioned the famous Ladkhan temple, the Durga temple and Huchchimaltigudi temple.
The Ladkhan temple has a rare characteristics of Chalukyan art. It is very low and flat. The walls consist of stone slabs, set between heavy square pilasters with a bracket capital. The windows are made of stone slabs, and the pillars are decorated with figures of river goddesses such as Ganga, Jamuna and Gomati etc. The famous Virupaksha temple, dedicated to Siva as Lokeshvara by the queen of Vikramaditya II, is a beautiful specimen of Chalukyan architecture. The sculptures of this temple include representations from stories of Ramayana and of lord Siva and the Nagas.
The temple is built of very large, closely jointed blocks of stone and without mortar, as noted Dravidian style. The Vaishnava cave tempel at Badami is the earliest cave temple of Southern India. Elegant sculptural works and paintings were done under the Chalukyas. The Brahmnical caves at Ellora date from the early Chalukyan period. The rock-cut shrines of Ajanta and Ellora are supposed to have been executed in the time of the early Western Chalukyas. The Prasasti of Pulakesin II written by Ravi Kirti gives a decorative description of temple architecture of Chalukyan period.