The principal interest in the political history of peninsular India from the sixth to the eighth century centres around the long struggle for supremacy between the Pallavas of Kanchi and the Chalukyas of Badami.
The Pandyas, who were in control of Madurai and Tirunelveli districts of Tamil Nadu, joined this conflict as a poor third.
Although both the Pallavas and the Chalukyas championed Brahmanism, performed Vedic sacrifices, and made grants to the brahmanas, the two quarrelled with each other over plunder, prestige, and territorial resources. Both tried to establish supremacy over the land lying between the Krishna and the Tungabhadra. This doab was again the bone of contention in late medieval times between the Vijayanagar and the Bahmani kingdoms.
Time and again, the Pallava princes tried to cross the Tungabhadra, which formed the natural historic boundary between many a kingdom of the Deccan and the deep south. The struggle continued over a long period with varying fortunes. The first important event in this long conflict took place during the reign of Pulakeshin II (ad 609-42), the most famous Chalukya king. He is known to us from the eulogy written on him by the court poet Ravikirti in the Aihole inscription. This inscription is an example of the poetic excellence achieved in Sanskrit, and despite its exaggeration is a valuable source for the life of Pulakeshin.
He subjugated the Kadamba capital at Banavasi and compelled the Gangas of Mysore to acknowledge his suzerainty. He also defeated Harsha’s army on the Narmada and checked his advance towards the Deccan. In his conflict with the Pallavas, he almost reached the Pallava capital, but the Pallavas purchased peace by ceding their northern provinces to Pulakeshin II.
Around ad 610 Pulakeshin II also conquered the entire area between the Krishna and the Godavari, which came to be known as the province of Vengi. Here, a branch of the main dynasty was set up and is known as the eastern Chalukyas of Vengi. However, Pulakeshin’s second invasion of Pallava territory ended in failure. The Pallava king Narasimhavarman (AD 630-68) occupied the Chalukya capital at Vatapi in about ad 642, when Pulakesin II was probably killed in a battle against the Pallavas. Narasimhavarman assumed the title of Vatapikonda or the conqueror of Vatapi. He is also said to have defeated the Cholas, the Cheras, the Pandyas, and the Kalabhras.
Towards the end of the seventh century, there was a lull in this conflict, which was again resumed in the first half of the eighth century. The Chalukya king Vikramaditya II (AD 733—45) is said to have overrun Kanchi three times. In ad 740 he completely routed the Pallavas. His victory ended the Pallava supremacy in the far south although the ruling house continued for over a century thereafter. However, the Chalukyas were unable for long to enjoy the fruits of their victory over the Pallavas because their own hegemony was brought to an end in ad 757 by the Rashtrakutas.
Besides the performance of Vedic sacrifices, the worship of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva, especially of the last two, was becoming popular. From the seventh century onwards, the Alvar saints, who were great devotees of Vishnu, popularized the worship of this god. The Nayanars rendered a similar service to the cult of Shiva. From the seventh century onwards, the cult of bhakti began to dominate the religious life of south Indians, and the Alvars and Nayanars played a great part in propagating it.
The Pallava kings constructed a number of stone temples in the seventh abd eighth centuries for housing these gods. The most famous of them are the seven ratha temples at Mahabalipuram, at a distance of 65 km from Chennai. These were built in the seventh century by Narasimhavarman, who founded the port city of Mahabalipuram or Mamallapuram.
This city is also famous for the Shore Temple, which was a structural construction erected independently and not hewn out of rock. In addition, the Pallavas constructed several such structural temples at their capital Kanchi. A very good example was the Kailashanath temple built in the eighth century. The Chalukyas of Badami erected numerous temples at Aihole, which has as many as seventy, from about ad 610.
The work was continued in the adjacent towns of Badami and Pattadakal. Pattadakal has ten temples built in the seventh and eighth centuries, the most celebrated of which are the Papanatha icmple (c. AD 680) and the Virupaksha temple (c. AD740). The first of llie.se, although 30 m long, has a low and stunted tower in the northern style; the second was constructed in purely southern style. The latter is about 40 m in length and has a very high square and storeyed tower (shikbara). The temple walls are adorned with beautiful pieces of sculpture, representing scenes from the Ramayana.
We have no clear idea of how these early temples were maintained. Alter the eighth century, land grants to temples became a common practice in south India, and usually they were recorded on the walls of the temples. Most temples were managed by the brahmanas.
By early medieval times, such temples came to own three-fifths of the arable land, and became centres of religious rituals and caste-based ideology in south India. However, the earlier temples seem to have been constructed and maintained out of the taxes directly collected by the king from the common people.
Some temples in Karnataka under the Chalukyas were erected by Jaina traders. The common people worshipped their village gods by offering them paddy and toddy, but those who could afford it might have made rich offerings to acquire status and satisfy their religious cravings.
Demands on the Peasantry:
To conduct wars, to cultivate art and literature, to promote religion, and to maintain the administrative staff, enormous resources were needed. These were apparently provided by the peasantry. The nature of burdens imposed on the agrarian communities was more or less the same in the Vakataka and the Pallava kingdoms although the former was in Vidarbha and Maharashtra, and the latter in southern Andhra and northern Tamil Nadu.
In addition to land tax, which was a part of the produce, the king could demand donations of cereals and gold, and could bore certain trees such as the palmyra to obtain salt and substances derived from plants such as sugar and liquor. Of course, all the natural resources beneath the earth in the villages belonged to him. In addition, he demanded flowers and milk, wood and grass, and could compel the villagers to carry loads free of charge. The king was also entitled to forced labour or vishti.
When royal officials visited the villages either to collect taxes or to punish criminals, and also when the army was on the march, the rural communities had to fulfill several obligations. They had to supply bullocks for carts and provide beds, charcoal, ovens, cooking pots, and attendants. This whole list of imposts indicates that the state made heavy demands on the labour and produce of the peasantry. Most of these are covered by the eighteen types of immunities granted to the brahmanas from the fourth century ad onwards. Later, more and more demands were made on the peasantry.
Land Grants and Rural Expansion:
These numerous demands made by the king on the agrarian population presuppose a capacity to pay on the part of the peasantry. Collection could not have been possible without an increase in agricultural production. In this period we witness the formation of new states in the trans-Vindhyan regions. Each state had a number of feudatory chiefdoms, which were small states within a large state.
Each of them, large or small, paramount or feudatory, needed its own administrative machinery, and a substantial number of priestly and other functionaries. Every state, therefore, required resources that could be obtained from its rural base. Therefore, the states could not multiply without the proliferation of rural communities or an increase in the agricultural production of the existing villages.
It seems that in tribal areas, the brahmanas were granted land, and the tribal peasantry learnt the value of preserving cattle and better methods of cultivation from them. The peasants also learnt from the brahmanas the new calendar that helped agriculture. Certain areas suffered from a dearth of labour power.
In order to sustain the economy of such areas, it was also found necessary to make over some sharecroppers and weavers to the brahmanas, as is known from an early Pallava grant. Therefore, the large number of grants made to the brahmanas played an important role in spreading new methods of cultivation and increasing the size of the rural communities.
This period saw three types of villages in south India: ur, sabha, and nagaram. The Ur was the usual type of village inhabited by peasant castes, who perhaps held their land in common; it was the responsibility of the village headman to collect and pay taxes on their behalf.
These villages were mainly found in southern Tamil Nadu. The sabha type of village consisted of brahmadeya villages or those granted to the brahmanas, and of agrahara villages. The brahmana owners enjoyed individual rights in the land but carried on their activities collectively.
The nagaram type of village consisted of a village settled and dominated by combinations of traders and merchants. This possibly happened because trade declined and merchants moved to villages. In the Chalukya areas, rural affairs were managed by village elders t ailed mahajana. On the whole, the period c. AD 300—750 provide good evidence of agricultural expansion, rural organization, and more productive use of land.
Social Structure and Brahmanization:
We can present a rough outline of the social structure that developed in this period. Society was dominated by princes and priests. The princes claimed the status of brahmanas or kshatriyas, though many of them were local clan chiefs promoted to the second Varna through benefactions made to the priests.
The priests invented respectable family trees for these chiefs and traced their descent from age-old solar and lunar dynasties. This process enabled the new rulers to acquire acceptability in the eyes of the people. The priests were mainly brahmanas, though the Jaina and Buddhist monks may also be placed in this category.
In this phase, priests through land grants gained in influence and authority. Many south Indian rulers claimed to be brahmanas, which shows that the kshatriyas were not as important in the south as in the north. The same seems to have been the case with the vaishyas. Though the Varna system was introduced in south India, in practice its operation was different from that in Aryavarta or the main part of north India.
However, like the north, below the princes and priests came the peasantry, which was divided into numerous peasant castes. Possibly most of them were called shudras in the brahmanical system. If the peasant and artisan castes failed to produce and render services and payments, it was considered a departure from the established dharma or norm.
Such a situation was described as the age of Kali. It was the duty of the king to put an end to such a state of affairs and restore peace and order which worked in favour of chiefs and priests. The title dharma-maharaja was, therefore, adopted by the Vakataka, Pallava, Kadamba, and Western Ganga kings. The real founder of the Pallava power, Simhavarman, is credited with coming to the rescue of dharma when it was beset with the evils typical of the Kaliyuga. This apparently refers to his suppression of the Kalabhra, peasants who upset the existing social order.