It is difficult to construct the most ancient history of kingdoms of South India, even though the South was more ancient than the North.
It is an irony of history that the archaeological remaining as were found at the Indus Valley Sites in Northern India were not available in South India, even though the builders of the Indus Civilizations are supposed to have been the Dravidian themselves.
In the Indian Landmass, south India was separated from Northern India because of the existence the Vindhaya Mountain Range.
Though the Tamil language was the most ancient among south Indian languages, and Tamil literature was very rich, yet, this vast literature did not provide much of historical information like the Buddhist and Jaina literature in the north. As such, it is difficult for the historians to gather evidences or references to construct the history of the South Indian kingdoms.
In fact, the origin of some of the southern kingdoms remain shrouded in mystery. Among the ancient dynasties which ruled over the vast areas of southern India, the dynasties of the Chalukyas the Pallavas and the Cholas were the most famous. A brief account of these kingdoms are given below.
With the fall of the Gupta Empire, the political unity of Northern Indi a broke down. Side by side, the North-Western India became a playground of the foreign invaders resulting in constant unrest and lawlessness. It was during that time of turmoil in the North in the post-Gupta era, to the south of the Vindhaya Mountain ranges in the Deccan, a remarkable movement of cultural synthesis between the Dravidians and the Aryans was seen to be going on in full swing.
Over the ages since the days of the great Epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata, the process of the unification of religious beliefs and social systems was gradually taking place between the North and the South. By the time of the Gupta imperial hegemony and during the post-Gupta age, both halves of the Indian subcontinent were seen merged into one Indian mainstream of life and culture. From the political point of view, while North India and particularly North-Western India most of the time remained exposed to foreign invasions right from the very ancient times, there was no such threats to the lands beyond the Vindhyas.
That is to say, South India did not suffer from foreign invasions in ancient times. Of course, when Northern India remained politically united under powerful royal dynasties, the foreigners did not dare to invade their empires. But, the vast united empires in ancient times could not survive for long times because of enormous distances between the imperial capital and the provincial headquarters of those empires.
As a result, the empires used to disintegrate, leading to the rise of small kingdoms in different regions. The same was the situation in South India, too. At times, powerful empires rose in the Deccan, but, at other times, smaller kingdoms, were seen at different regions of South India.
Whether in the North or in the South, the rise and fall of powerful kingdoms as well as the existence of several smaller kingdoms were the usual phenomenon of India’s political history. During the age of the imperial Guptas when the great conqueror Samudragupta led his armies to the South, a large number of small kings submitted to his authority and acknowledged him as their Suzerain Lord.
Though Samudragupta defeated and humbled those southern kings, he did not annex their territories to the Gupta Empire. Instead, he left them to rule over their kingdoms and remained satisfied that they regarded him as the paramount Lord of the land. Such a gesture in political history is rather rare, but it speaks of the statesmanship of Samudragupta. He realised as a practical ruler that it was not easy to keep the distant lands of the Deccan under the direct administration of the Guptas.
Towards the closing years of the 5th century A.D., when the Gupta Empire collapsed in Northern India, political disunity and confusion became the order of the day. But, the rise of the Pushyabhuti Dynasty in Thaneswar was once again an attempt to unite Northern India under one political power. By the close of the 6th century A.D., King Prabhakar Vardhan of that dynasty styled himself as ‘Maharajadhiraja’ and ruled over a large kingdom.
His son Harshavardhan extended his territories far and wide and ruled over an empire extending from the Himalayas in the north to the river Narmada in the south. That illustrious monarch was able to unite almost the whole of the Uttarapatha, and gave to the country a glorious epoch of ancient history. Harsha Siladitya was indeed a King of immense virtues, as also remarkable as a great and benevolent administrator.