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Project Report
Pallavas of Kanchi
(Legal History)

Submitted to: Submitted by:

Dr. Priya Darshini Raju Patel
(Faculty: Legal History) Roll No: 1960
Course: B.A.LLB


The present project on the Pallavas of kanchi has been able to get its final shape
with the support and help of people from various quarters. My sincere thanks go to
all the members without whom the study could not have come to its present state. I
am proud to acknowledge gratitude to the individuals during my study and without
whom the study may not be completed. I have taken this opportunity to thank those
who genuinely helped me.
With immense pleasure, I express my deepest sense of gratitude to Dr.Priya
Darshini., Faculty for legal History, Chanakya National Law University for
helping me in my project. I am also thankful to the whole Chanakya National Law
University family that provided me all the material I required for the project. Not
to forget thanking to my parents without the co-operation of which completion of
this project would not had been possible.

I have made every effort to acknowledge credits, but I apologies in advance for any
omission that may have inadvertently taken place.
Last but not least I would like to thank Almighty whose blessing helped me to
complete the project.

Raju Patel

Roll no- 1960

1st Semester B.A.LLB

Method of Research:

The researcher has adopted a purely doctrinal method of research. The researcher
has made extensive use of the library at the Chanakya National Law University and
also the internet sources.

Aims and Objectives:

1. The aim of the project is to present an overview of the dynasty “Pallavas of

Kanchi” through different books and writings.

Scope and Limitation

The scope of the project extends to study of ‘Pallavas of kanchi’. I tried to explain
the present day position of laws in this context while discussing the various
provisions of law regarding the same. The project is based on doctrinal method of
research as field work on this topic is quite impossible. I have mainly used the
textbooks relating to the subject. Moreover, internet is used to obtain web articles
and write ups. Due to lack of expertise and time constraints, I had to use secondary
sources to do the research work which is the limitation of this project.


I have divided the project into various chapters each dealing with different aspects
of the topic. In the initial chapters, I have discussed elaborately, the origin of
Pallavas of Kanchi. Further, I have the analysis of their reign.

Sources of Data:

The following secondary sources of data have been used in the project-

1. Books

2. Writings

3. Internet

Method of Writing:

The method of writing followed in this project is descriptive.

Mode of Citation:

Uniform mode of citation has been followed hinting at the Harvard Law School‘s
Bluebook for this project.


1. a) Research methodology
b) Aims and Objectives
c) Sources of Data
d) Method of Writing
e) Mode of citation

2. Chapterisation:









“Look back over the past, with its changing empires that rose and fell, and you can
foresee the future, too”1.

- Marcus Aurelius

The day of small nations has long passed away. The day of Empires has come2.

- Joseph Chamberlain

The name Pallavas has been a problem for scholars, and has received attention
from time to time from several of them, offering explanations of various kinds; the
doubt and the difficulty alike have arisen from the fact that a race of people called
‘Pahlavas’ were known and are referred to as such along with the Sakas and others,
both in the Northwest of India and nearer in the North-western coast of the
Dakhan. We do not meet with the form' Pahlavai’ in connection with the Pallavas
of Kanchi in any record of their time.3 In all the material that has been examined,
there is nothing to indicate either the migration of a people or even of a family that
might have ultimately raised itself into a dynasty from the North-west, so that the
assumption of a connection between the one set of people and the other rests upon
the mere doubtful ground of a possibility, whereas the translation or adaptation of a
Southern word into Sanskrit is very much more than a possibility, as indeed a word
like, Dravida' or 'Dramida' would clearly indicate.4 Pallavas became a major power
during the reign of Mahendravarman I (571 – 630 CE) and Narasimhavarman
I (630 – 668 CE) and dominated the Telugu and northern parts of the Tamil region
for about 600 years until the end of the 9th century. Throughout their reign they
the Age of Bhiiravi and Danqin, Q.J.M.S., vol: xii,
Periya-Tirumoli, ii, 9.

were in constant conflict with both Chalukyas of Badami in the north and the
Tamil kingdoms of Chola and Pandyas in the south and were finally defeated by
the Chola kings in the 9th century CE.The distinction that Rajasekhara makes
between the Southern Pallava and the North-western Pahlava seems in the
circumstances to be a crucial indication that in the estimation of scholarly folk of
the ninth and tenth centuries, The Pallavas seem nevertheless to have been foreign
to the locality as far as our evidence takes us at present. The rulers of Kanchi had
continued to be known as Tondamans - all through historical times. The people of
the locality were similarly known as Tondaiyar, the region occupied by the people
consequently, TondamaI. The final victory achieved by Varaguna II at
Sripurambyam near Kuinbakonam gave a crushing blow, it not the death blows, to
the Pallava power, in which one section of the Gangas, the Gangas who held
authority in the Bana country, assisted the Pallavas. But the Pallavas still continued
in a comparatively precarious position. Each issuing inscriptions, almost on his
own authority simultaneously, when, the power of the ChoIas, newly come into
existence under Vijayalaya, advanced northwards under his successor Aditya, and
put an end to the crumbling empire of the Pallavas and annexed the whole of their
territory to their own dominions, thus introducing a new over lordship, which was
symbolized by the name Jayamkondacholamandalam given to the Pallava territory
which till then was known Tondmandalam. Pallavas are most noted for their
patronage of architecture, the finest example being the Shore Temple, a UNESCO
World Heritage Site in Mahabalipuram. The Pallavas, who left behind magnificent
sculptures and temples, established the foundations of medieval South Indian
architecture. They developed the Pallava script from which Grantha ultimately
descended. The Pallava script gave rise to several other southeast Asian scripts.
Chinese traveller Xuanzang visited Kanchipuram during Pallava rule and extolled
their benign rule.The existence therefore of several Pallava prince’s marks nothing
more than a mere stage in the dismemberment of the kingdom or empire, and need
not be regarded as the establishment of a separate dynasty of rulers distinct from
the one who held rule from Kanchi.5


The age of the Pallavas in South India may be taken to extend roughly from the
third century A.D to the end of the ninth. Many facts connected with their origin
and early history is, in the existing state of historical research, uncertain. Their
chronology is yet in the process of construction, and the genealogical order of
succession. In spite of the comparative abundance of copper-plate characters,
cannot be regarded as having been finally settled. The question of their origin has
baffled investigators, European and Indian alike.


The theory that held the field until recently, almost undisputed, is known as the
Persian or Parthian origin of the Pallavas, and was adopted by the late Vincent
Smith in the first edition of his Early History of India.6 According to the late
Mr. Venkayya, who developed this theory elaborately: -
‘The Pallavas . . . may, until their origin is satisfactorily established by
indisputable evidence, be supposed to be identical with the Pahlavas, Palhavas, and
the Pahnavas of the Puranas. This identification is based on etymological grounds
and supported by the fact that the Pallavas formed a distinct element in the
population of Western India early in the second century. Their movement from
Western India to the East coast is not only possible but rendered likely by known
Ind. Ant, vol. lii, pp. 75-80.
E.H.(1904), p. 348.

historical facts.’7
This theory, however fascinating to the Imagination, rests altogether on the
superficial verbal resemblance of the words Pahlava and Pallava.8 There is no
evidence whatever, as Mr. Venkayya himself admits, that the Pahlavas of the west
coast moved into the east anytime during the second century A.D. At any rate there
is no reference or reminiscence whatever in the large numbers of Pallava copper-
plate inscriptions of any such migration. Mr. Venkayya presumes that it was the
war of the Western Satrap Rudradaman, A.D. 150, with the Andhra king
Gautamiputra-Satakarol and his successor, that probably brought about in some
manner, now unknown, the eastward movement of the Pahlavas in his service. It is
indeed true that the minister of Rudradaman is called Suvisaka and described in the
junagadh inscription as a Pahlava. But no evidence of a positive character is
available to connect him or his decedents with the Pallava kings of Southern India.
For one thing this Pahlava minister of Rudradaman was not a ruling king. He is not
moreover mentioned in any of the ancestral genealogical lists of the Pallava kings.

In the second edition of his Early History of India-Vincent Smith gave up this
theory of Pahlava origin which he had adopted in the earlier edition of Early
History of India, with the remarks that it is more likely that the Pallavas were a
tribe, clan, or a caste which was formed in the northern part of the Madras
Presidency, possibly in the Vengi country.9 Mr. Venkayya’s objection against this
view of indigenous origin of Pallavas is the apparent improbability of two tribes,
the Pahlava in Western India and Pallava in the delta of the Godavari, bearing the
same name. Some of his other arguments against the indigenous origin of the
A.S.R., 1906-7, p. 221.
It is to be noted however that in Sanskrit orthography Pahlava with a h can never be confounded with the word
Pallava. In the PUranas, as well as in Persian and even in Prakrit. The two 'words appear to indicate two distinct
V. A.. Smith, E.ll;:l. (1908 ed.) , .. p. 423

Pallavas are ingenious and may be stated here. One is that the Pallavas never refer
to themselves in their records as belonging either to lunar or solar race like other
dynasties of South India such as Cholas, Pandayas, Chalukyas, etc. Another is that
none of the kings mentioned in the Puranas are to be found in the Pallava
genealogy such as Manu, Sibi, Ikshvaku, etc. All these facts according to him,
raise a presumption that the Pallavas of Southern India were not an indigenous
tribe in the sense that the Cholas, the Pandyas and the Cheras were.10

One important piece of evidence among others11 which strongly militates against
this theory of the foreign origin is that furnished by the poet Rajasekhara, the great
critic, in his account of geographical division of people of his times.

This is brought out in fell relief by Dr. S. Krishnaswami Aiyangar in his

disinsertion on the Pallavas, wherein discussing the origin of the Pallavas he
observes as follows: -
Rajasekhara on the Pallavas. - ‘The words “Pahlava” and Pallava” are
philologically one, but we have good authority for taking it that the two terms refer
historically to different peoples, thereby illustrating that the partion that separates
philology from history is not always very thin. The poet Rajasekhara lived in the
courts of Gujarat sovereigns Mahendrapala and Mahipala about the end of the
ninth and the commencement of the tenth centuries A.D. just the period when the
Pallavas were passing out of existence as the dominant South India power. He is
the author of a geographical work named Bhuvanakosa to which he actually refers
for further information in Ch. xvii of his Kavyamimamsa. In his work he makes
division of India into five, and allots to each division, the people, towns and rivers

A.S.R., 1906-7, p. 219
Cf. C. V. Vaidya's views, Mediceval Hindu India, vol. i. p. ,380.

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that belonged to it. In that section he allots the Pallavas the Southern Division, or
Dakshinapatha, lying beyond Mahishmati, while the Pahlavas he allots to the
division Uttarapatha lying beyond Prithudaka.12 This last name the “great water”
probably stands for the Indus, and the people Pahlava are found associated with the
Huns, Kambhoja, and bahlika, etc. In the estimation, therefore, of Rajasekhara who
seems a much travelled man, and has really much interesting information to give of
different parts of India in respect at any rate of the cultivation of Sanskrit learning,
the Pahlavas and the Pallavas were distinct people, one of them belonging to the
south and the other to the frontier on the other side of the Indus. Rajasekhara, no
doubt is a fate authority, but undoubtedly gives expression to the prevailing
opinion of his time in regard to these two peoples.13
From all this the conclusion is drawn that “The identity of names leads us to think
that the ancient kings of kanchi belonged to the same family as the minister of
Rudradaman. He lived in A.D. 150 and we know pallava kings of kanchi reigning
about A.D 225.

.This has been since satisfactoIily identified with Pehoa in the Panipet District, and this is in complete a,ccon;1
with tbe details given in Raijaliekhara.-Ed.
J. 1. H., vol. ii. pp. 25-26.

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All the early Pallava royal inscriptions are either in Sanskrit or in Prakrit language,
considered the official languages of the dynasty while the official scripts were
Pallava script and later Grantha. Similarly, inscriptions found in Andhra Pradesh
and Karnataka State are in Sanskrit and Prakrit.14 The phenomenon of using Prakrit
as official languages in which rulers left their inscriptions and epigraphies
continued till the 6th century. It would have been in the interest of the ruling elite
to protect their privileges by perpetuating their hegemony of Prakrit in order to
exclude the common people from sharing power15. The Pallavas in their Tamil
country used Tamil and Sanskrit in their inscriptions.

Tamil came to be the main language used by the Pallavas in their inscriptions,
though a few records continued to be in Sanskrit. This language was first adopted
by Mahendravarman I himself in a few records of his; but from the time of
Paramesvaravarman I, the practice came into vogue of inscribing a part of the
record in Sanskrit and the rest in Tamil. Almost all the copper plate records, viz.,
Kasakudi, Tandantottam, Pattattalmangalm, Udayendiram and Velurpalaiyam are
composed both in Sanskrit and Tamil.

Under the Pallava dynasty, a unique form of Grantha script, a descendant of

Pallava script which is a type of Brahmic script, was used. Around the 6th
century,it was exported eastwards and influenced the genesis of almost all
Southeast Asian scripts.16

Rajan K. (Jan-Feb 2008). Situating the Beginning of Early Historic Times in Tamil Nadu: Some Issues and
Reflections, Social Scientist, Vol. 36, Number 1/2, pp. 40-78

(Mahadevan 1995:173–188).
Marilyn Hirsh (1987) Mahendravarman I Pallava: Artist and Patron of Māmallapuram, Artibus Asiae, Vol. 48,

Number 1/2 (1987), pp. 109-130

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Theoretically, the king was the sole source of authority. The Pallavas maintained
that as they were the descendants of Brahma, the kingship was of divine origin and
was hereditary. We find the election of a king when there was no direct heir to the
throne, as happened in the case of Nandivarman Pallava Malla.

Generally, kings assumed high-sounding titles like Maharajadhiraja ,

Dharmartiaharajadhiraja and more unusual Agnistoma-Vajapeya-Aswamedhayaji. All

these titles indicate the impact of the Aryan culture and the process of assimilation
that took place during that period.17 As we are aware, the performance of Vedic
sacrifice does not have any special significance as in the days of later Vedic age;
but during this period these performances appear to have had special political
connotation as they served to legitimize the right to rule independently of the
Pallava overlords. Owing to the change in religious milieu, we find a change in the
ideal of kingship and performance of the Vedic sacrifices by kings disappear.18

A number of ministers who appear to have gained more powers during the later
Pallava rule assisted the king. These ministers also bore semi-royal titles and at
times, they were appointed from among the subordinate allies or feudatories. These
kings followed the practice of appointing a Yuvaraja or crown prince and
generally, he played an active role in the administration or in wars as we come to
know from the epigraphs of the period. Besides the ministers and the Yuvaraja, we

Tyagi, Anil Kumar (2016). "Political History of Southern India (500-750AD)". In Roma Chatterjee. Ancient India.
New Delhi: Publications Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India. pp. 118–124.

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come across a number of officials of various ranks who performed many duties on
behalf of the king.19

For administrative convenience, the kingdom was divided into a hierarchy of

administrative units. The provincial administration was entrusted to a hierarchy of
offices. In the Pallava kingdom, the Nadu the equivalent of the modern district
emerged as the main unit of administration. Below the Nadu, we have villages. In
the villages, the basic assembly was entrusted with matters relating to the village,
like endowments, irrigational activities, cultivable land, and punishments of crime,
census records and all other necessary activities. The Sabha that was a formal
institution worked very closely with the Ur, an informal gathering of the entire
inhabitants of the village.

The village headman acted as both the leader of the village and mediator with the
government and was the link between the village assembly and the royal
administration. As the king was regarded as the owner of the land, he had the right
to make revenue grants to his officers, religious establishments, or get the land
cultivated by small farmers and big property owners.

The predominant practice of this time was entrusting collection of land revenue
right to big landlords. There existed both crown lands and private lands. Crown
lands were rented out to tenants at will. Grants of lands were given to officers in
lieu of salaries. We do not come across the practice of supplying troops or giving
revenue to the state as was in the regular feudal structure.

Ancient Jaffna: Being a Research Into the History of Jaffna from Very Early Times to the Portuguese Period,
C. Rasanayagam, p.241

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As such, there is a controversy regarding the nature of relationship between the
sovereign and minor rulers and chieftains or important royal dignitaries. There is
one view that it was the ritual status of the appointed king that made minor
chieftains or royal dignitaries obey him. Some others consider the minor rulers as
feudatories but as we do not find feudal relation between the two, this view is

It is suggested that it would be better to designate them as subordinate allies

instead of feudatories or ascribing ritual status to powerful rulers. A striking
feature of the Pallava polity was the importance attached to innumerable local
groups based on caste, craft, profession or religious faith.20

We come across associations of artisans; association of merchants, of ascetics, of

temple priests each with its own samayadharma or code of conduct. In Pallava
polity, we notice three important territorial assemblies: Ur, Sabha and Nagaram.
Generally, the Ur was a non-Brahmanical assembly while the Nagara was an
assembly of mercantile groups. All these local assemblies or bodies used to meet
regularly every year while the day-to-day tasks were taken care of by a small
executive body.

Every group had its autonomy in accordance with its own constitution based on
custom and usage and solved the problems of members at the local level itself In
matters of common interest affecting the lives of more than one group, decisions
were arrived at after mutual consultations. By giving powers or accepting the
decisions of the local autonomous corporate groups to resolve their problems at
local level, the burden of the government was lessened largely and this strategy

Burton Stein (1980). Peasant state and society in medieval South India. Oxford University Press. pp. 63–64

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adopted by the Pallavas minimized the opposition of the people towards the

Though the Pallava rulers did not involve themselves at the local level, they seem
to have strengthened their base by creating more and more Brahmadeya or
Agrahara or Devadana villages. Interestingly, these Brahmana settlements were
created throughout the core area of the kingdom, which depended on rice
cultivation for its prosperity, and sustainability. In due course, the Sabha or
Mahasabha of the Brahmin settlements evolved into a system of governance
through committees.

This is known as Variyam or committee system, which became a hallmark of

self-government in the Brahman settlements. The Sabha through its Variyam
system supervised the maintenance of roads and tanks, management of charitable
donations, regulation of irrigational rights and temple affairs. Consequently, the
Brahmadeya and Agrahara villages became predominant during the Pallava period.

The people knew rice, coconut, palm plantations, palmyra and areca palm,
orchards of mangoes and plantains. Many of the villages depended on tank
irrigation and this land was known as Eripatti or tank. Besides tanks, they knew
well-irrigation. Fitting of sluices regulated water flow through canals.

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Two types of taxes were collected:

(i) Land revenue at the rate of one-sixth to one-tenth of produce value from each
cultivator was collected and paid to the state21 and

(ii) A tax collected and utilized for local needs.

They also collected taxes on draught cattle toddy tappers, marriage parties and
professions. The amount of tax levied on these was not known. Romila Thapar
thinks that as there were no large areas under cultivation, the land revenue income
of the Pallavas was small. There is a view that during this period the state did not
receive substantial amount of income from trade and commerce.

Much of the royal revenue was spent on maintaining the army. The Pallavas appear
to have depended on the standing army rather than on troops supplied by the subor-
dinate allies.

The army consisted of infantry and cavalry alone. Chariots and elephants were
almost absent. The Pallavas appear to have classified their officers as civil and
military. They also developed navy and built dockyards at Mahabalipuram and
Nagapattanam and developed maritime trade with South-East Asia, in particular

with Kamboja, Cambodia, Champa (Annam), and Srivijaya, the southern Malay
Peninsula and Sumatra seems to have flourished in the period.


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The social structure of the Pallava period witnessed the growing impact of the
Aryan culture. Because of this impact, a pre-eminent position was assigned to the
Brahmins both in status and in grant of lands. Further, Aryanization was evident in
the sphere of education.

During the Pallava period, the Brahmins superseded the Jains and the Buddhists in
formulating policies. Though the Jain and the Buddhist centres of education
continued to exist, they lost the royal patronage. Ghatikas, the educational
institutions catering to the needs of resurgent Sanantana Dharma were pervading.
Every temple in general had a Ghatika attached to it.

Though in the beginning, any twice-born was admitted into these Ghatikas,
gradually they became the centres of Brahmanical students. The Ghatikas in due
course became important centres of political activity supporting the cause of
monarchy as a political institution. In those days, the University of Kanchi was the
most well-known educational institution comparable to the Nalanda University.

However, by the 8th century, the Matha, a combination of a rest house, a feeding
centre and a seminary began to play a crucial role in the spread of education of a
particular sect. Sanskrit continued to be the court language and the language of
literature, Bharavi’s Kiratatjuniya and Dandin’s Dasakumaracharita, two
outstanding standard Sanskrit works were produced in the South. On the other
hand, the prominent Bhakti saints of this period popularized Tamil through their
hymns and songs composed and sung in praise of the popular deities, Siva and

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Tamil devotionalism that became very popular in the 6th and 7th centuries can be
known from the Tamil songs and works of the Nayanar and the Alwar saints. Of the
Saivite saints, the most popular was Appar, who converted king Mahendravarman to
Saivism from Jaina faith. Another feature to be noticed is that the majority of these
saints came from lower castes of artisans and cultivators.

The Bhakti movement led to the popularization of musical instruments like the
flute, and the dance form of Bharatanatyam at temples. During the Pallava period,
we notice some prosperous temples maintaining a group of dancers. The
devotionalism in turn led to the construction of temples on a large scale, which
reflected the Pallava style of art and architecture.

The temple architecture of the Pallavas is divided into rock-cut and structural. The
rock-cut temples are further divided into excavated pillared halls and monolithic
shrines known as Rathas. Romila Thapar states, “Pallava temples were usually free
standing buildings, but the tradition set by the Buddhists for cave temples still

The Brahmans and the Buddhists vied with each other in cutting shrines and
temples into the Deccan hills, where, by this time, worship at these shrines may
have been open to anyone, the rivalry between the two religions not being
particularly felt by ordinary people. The most impressive of these cave temples are
the Buddhist shrines at Ajanta and the Buddhist and Hindu temples at Ellora. Even
the Jains joined in and excavated a few temples at the latter site.

Mahendravarman I started the building of the rock-cut temples in South India. He

built Mahabalipuram or Mamallapuram, an immortal centre of artistic excellence by


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making it ‘the birth place of South Indian architecture and sculpture’. The
excavated shrines initiated by Mahendravarman are simple pillared halls cut into the
back or sides of walls.

An interesting feature of the cave temples built by Mahendravarman I are the

presence of inscriptions giving details about them. For example, the cave temple at
Madagapattu in South Arcot district refers to his construction of a temple dedicated
to Vishnu, Siva and Brahma without using brick, mortar, timber or metal. He built
a five-celled cave temple with an elaborate plan at Pallavaram near Madras. Four
more cave temples were built at Mamamundur in North Arcot district.

He also built another temple for Siva at Siyamangalam, known as Avanibhanjana

Pallaveswaram. The upper rock-cut temple at Tiruchiraplli is considered by far the
best of his cave temples. Here in this temple, we notice the first representation of
Gangadhara. Here we have direct evidence about his conversion to Saivism in the
shape of an inscription treating Jainism as an alien faith.

A portrait of an individual worshipping Siva in this temple is identified as that of

Mahendravarman himself He cut rock temples for Siva and for Vishnu. We find
two Vishnu temples built by him in the North Arcot at Mahendravadi and
Sivagaram known as Mahendra Vishnugriha and Ranganadha temple respectively.
The Ekambareswara temple at Kanchi has a pillar mentioning his titles. As a Jain,
prior to his conversion to Saivism, he built a cave temple at Sittanvassal.

It is said that a few sculptures found in the Gunadharmeswara temple belonged to

his times. His subordinate Kandesina constructed a cave temple at Vallam, near

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Tirukkalakkunram. Post-Mahendravarman art and architectural pieces are found at

Before the advent of the Pallavas, Tamil literature essentially reflected Saivite
ideas. It was the greatest happening of the Pallava region that Vaishnavism was
made popular in the Tamil literature. The ‘Nalayira Divya Prabandham’ the greatest
Vaishnavite literature of South India - Tamilnad wherein are reflected the Vedic
and the Brahmanical ideas of the Sanskrit literature which is called ’Uravia Veda
Sajiigaram’ was a contemporary work with reference to the Pallava royalty too. It

may look as a paradox that a book purely on the Indo-Aryan thought should be
called “Dravidian”. It only shows the deep penetration of the Indo-Aryan thought
into the life of the common folk who were not Brahmins. Thus the common man of
the soil of South-India- Tamilnad who was first brought up in the Paganism of the
Early Sangam classes, then in Sivism, was, under the Pallavas influenced by the
Vaishnavite cult too. This transformation can be traced in ‘Nambi’. ‘Namb iV is a
Dravidian word signifying a Vaishnavite Bhaktjiia too.

It can also be pointed out that the father of Indian Vaishnavism viz: NammSivar was
not a Brahmin but a Commoner - Dravidian and a contemporary of the Pallavas.
The present cult divisions of the Tamil Society owe their place to the Pallava rule.
The only exception was the cult of ‘Somaskanda’ that has been conspicuous, as it
should be, during the period of transition and transformation, with its indigenous

Nilakanta Sastri, A History of South India, p.92

Mys. Archl. Rep. for 1909-10, p. 45.

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The Pallavas of Kanchi became the central power geographically, politically and
culturally. They developed for the first time architecture and sculpture in the hard
rock, in this area. The Chalukyas and the Rashtrakutas continued the pre-existing
tradition of rock-cut art.

The Pallava art stood distinct in contemporary styles in material and technique.
The Pallava sculptures are scattered in various places in Tamilnadu, (Madras state)
viz., Mandagapattu, Trichinapalli, Siyamangalam, Singavaram, Mamallapuram,
Kanchipuram, Kaveripakam, Tiruttani etc. Most of these places are in South and
North Arcot districts. But most interesting places of sculptural importance are
Mamallapuram and Kanchipuram where the Pallava artists deliberately and
significantly carved the figures by singular concentration and inspiration.
Especially Mamallapuram is a source of perennial inspiration to the artists and a
place of pilgrimage to the art lovers. The rich patronage and encouragement of the
cultured kings as well as revival of Saivism and Vaishnavism created an
atmosphere where art could thrive. The inspirational surge would have swept over
the artists like a tidal wave and their process of creation would have been an
intense delight. The result is highly remarkable. Not only were the unknown
selfless artists perfect in transmitting their inspiration into effective expression
with mastery of technique, but they were well versed in the language and had a
keen sense of observation also. The Mamallapuram sculptor reveals the man’s
attempts to unveil the secrets of the spirit with the chisel and he left behind his
discoveries ingrained in rock that is born in his soul which is an out flowering of

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the eternal rhythm.25

This sea port city is variously called Mamallapuram, Mahabalipuram, seven

pagodas etc. It is said that the mythical legend of Balichakravarti took place here,
hence this place is called Mahabalipuram. Another name Mamallapuram or
Mahamallapuram is mentioned in the Avanti Sundarikatha of Dandi. Probably this
place is famous for great fighters which is the meaning of the word. Mamalla is the
currupted form of Mahamalla.

Another version says that this city was constructed by the great warrior
Narasimhavarman I with the title Mamalla and hence it was named, Mamallapuram.

But it is proved by the Avanti Sundari katha written by Dandi during the reign of
Simhavishnu that this port city is pre-Narasimhavarman I but it acquired fame
during his reign by his indomitable and creditable performances. Now both names
i.e., Mamallapuram and Mahabalipuram are in practice. The phrase ‘seven
pagodas’ was probably used by the foreigners who came by the sea. According to
some people the shore temple is one of the seven, the remaining six are under sea
level but no one has seen them. Others say that the five Rathas plus the monolithic
lion and elephant constitute the seven pagodas. Anyway it is a somewhat vague
term. 26

Kulke and Rothermund, p111

Nilakanta Sastri, pp412–413

23 | P a g e
There is a cluster of prominant
buildings. Probably these
buildings were seen as a
landmark from off shore and
that is perhaps how the phrase
originated during the days of the
early European navigators; this
place now is generally called Mahabalipuram. A number of sculptures were
executed in relief on the Rathas, in the caves and Mandapas and also’ on the open
boulders. All the figures are in situ. Nearly thirty or thirty-five figures are on
Dharmaraja Ratha and Arjuna Ratha and others are in caves and the Mandapas,
i.e., Mahishasuramardini cave, Adivaraha cave, Trimurti cave, Krishna Mandapa
and the shore temple exhibit a number of beautiful figures. Kanchipuram had been
the capital city of the Pallavas throughout their hegemony, situated forty miles
from Madras in South Arcot-district and is one of the holy places of India. It has
always been a great seat of leaning. This is a meeting place of various religious

The Vedic professors lived side by side with Jain and Buddhist priests. It is praised
by Kalidasa as Nagareshu Kanchi.’ The great position was attained by the Kanchi
under the orthodox rule of the Pallavas and mainly through Saivism which they
propagated and favoured. The later Pallavas since Rajasimha started to embellish
their capital city by a number of temples. Rajasimha constructed the Kailasanath
temple, according to the inscriptions inscribed on the walls of the temple. It is the
repository of the Saiva iconography. The walls of the main temple and the prakara
also are filled with reliefs showing Siva and his forms. Another important edifice
24 | P a g e
is the Vaikuntha Perumal temple which is dedicated to Vishnu whose sponsorship is
attributed to Nandivarman Pallavamalla. This is a three storied building showing a
further advanced step in the temple architecture. On the walls of the Garbhagriha
certain Vaishnava legends are illustrated as, the: boar incarnation. Narasimha,
Samudramanthan, the distribution of Nectar by Vishnu in the guise: of Mohini, etc.
In the cloisterry some important episodes of the Pallava geneological history viz.,
the coronations of the various kings, the death of Mahendravarman III, the
coronation of Nandivarman, the war with Chalukyas etc., are inscribed. Dance
scenes, wrestling matches, etc. are also illustrated.27

Dvarapala figures, the Gangavatarana scene in TrichunapalIi, Durga in

Singavaram. Certain later Pallava figures of the Aparajita period, are available
from Kaveripakkam and Tiruttani where Brahma, Vishnu, Surya. and Saptamatrika
Nilakanta Sastri, p139

25 | P a g e
group are sculptured.

Most of these scholars have taken much interest to allot the Pallava monuments
among the rulers of the Pallava dynasty mainly based on the epigraphical grounds,
i.e., the titles which the rulers adopted like Atiranachanda, Atyantakama etc,
adopted equally by Paramesvaravarman, Rajasimha etc.

He stresses the similarity between the great base relief and the Isurumiya reliefs at
Anurathapura and identifies it as Brahma Kapal in the Himalayas. However, he is
not sure about the Telegu origin. He expressed his doubt about attributing the
Undavalli caves to Vishnukundins. O.C. Gangooly and Goswamy attribute most of
Mahabalipuram works to Narasimhavarman I Mamalla and there is a possibility
that Mahendravarman and Simhavishnu may have had a hand in it. They identify
the portraits in the Varaha cave temple as those of Simhavishnu and
Mahendravarman I and the great bas relief as the descent of the Ganges.
Very few books are available on the art of the later Pallavas i.e., the works at
Kanchipuram. C. Minakshi took pains to identify the figures graved in the cloister
of Vaikuntha Perumal temple.

The originator of Pallava art is Mahendravarman I. This is the first phase of pllava
art dating from 610 A.D. to 630 A.D. The second phase which attains maturity
falls in Narasimhavarman I’s period since 630 to 700 A.D. During this period three
kings ruled Narsimhavarman, Paramesvaravarman I and Mahendravarman II.
Paramesvaravarman I also lowed the same style and he brought about completion in

some of the unfinished works of his predecessors while he caused to be executed

26 | P a g e
the Ramanuja Mandapa and Ganesh Ratha.28

The third phase started with Rajasimha from 700 and lasted upto 790 A.D. that is
the reign Nandivarman. Rajasimha’s son Mahendravarman III who died before
winning the throne and probably ruled along with his father, constructed the
Mahendravarmesvara temple. Then came Nandivarman the next important king. He

ruled for a long time but his rule was full of wars and internal unrest. Nevertheless,
he paid attention towards art and built the Vaikuntha Perumal temple. Rajasimha
changed the traditional rock-cut technique and initiated a new structural style in
architecture and sculpture. This period is famous for its enormous output of
sculpture on the panels of the temples but it lost the virility and lyrical qualities of
the previous phase. The decline sculptural quality which started in this period
reached its final stage in the Aparajitavarman period. This is the last stage of the
Pallava sculpture when it was gradually overwhelmed by the chola traditions at the
end of the eighth century and lost its own identity.

The Pallava sculpture started from Mandagapattu Lakshitayatana cave temple where
mahendravarman anounced that he had constructed without mortar. He had taken

the idea of ring out of rock boulders from Undavalli the Vishnukundin caves. His
carvings are scattered in various places including Mahabalipuram. The Pallava
sculptural style was started and developed him. 29

However very few examples were sculptured during this period. The Gangadhara
panel Lalitankura cave temple from Trichirapalli, the Durga from Singavaram and
rdhendra Coomar Gangoly. The art of the Pallavas, Volume 2 of Indian Sculpture Series. G. Wittenborn, 1957.
p. 2.

Origin and Early History of the Paltavas, p. 43

27 | P a g e
the portraits of mahavishnu and Mahendravarman are remarkable instances of the
period. Started from lakshitayatana cave temple the style progressed from cave to
cave. Till the style reached ‘kuranganilmuttam the figures became slim and so that
some of the dvarapala figures resembled Padmapani Bodhisatva of Ajanta in its
articulation, and gesture. This style reached maturity Trichirapalli which became a
proto-type for Narasimhavarman’s large compositions. The mahendravarman’s
style is simple, vigorous and ingenious. The delineation of the figure is natural
realistic. They derived simplicity of Vishnukundin sculpture and also some of
other motifs the horns of the dvarapalas and the standing position etc. In the
Avanibhajana cave temple figures are carved on the pillars like in the Undavalli
cave where certain figures appear on the pillars. Some of the architectural
decorations like the Makara Torana on the niche and lotus blossoms on the pillars
derived from Amaravati and the pillars, brackets and the Kudus on the facade were
derived from Mughalrajapuram caves. In the Narasimhavarman period the Vengi
idioms are closely followed. The articulation of the figure, female as well as the
male that is, their elongated limbs, their thin legs and the hands, the tapering
thighs, the narrow waist etc. show progenity in style with carvings at Amaravati
and Nagarjunakonda. 30

Then comes Rajasimha, who started structural style in architecture and the figures
extended over several courses of masonary, plastered to hide the joints and then
were painted. This plastering is very inapt, because it was applied indiscriminately
so that the original modelling is replaced by a flat and thick coat of mortar.
Possibly several layers of plaster were applied in later times and therefore it is hard
to judge the effects of the original plaster. Anyway, application of plaster on the

15.1.1., vol. ii, part v, p. 502.

28 | P a g e
carved stone shows the decline of the Pallava sculptural glory.31

After Rajasimha, confusion and unrest prevailed in the Pallava dominions.

Mahendravarman III died as the heir apparent. Next came Paramesvaravarman who

died without any issue having barely ruled for three years. A collateral branch
succeeded him but soon anarchy prevailed. Nandivarman among the later Pallavas
had a long rule; He completed the Vaikuntha Perumal temple. Architecturally it is
the final stage of the Pallava style but sculpturally it is not so important. The
sculptural panels in the cloisters are devoted to illustrate the Pallava geneological
table and historical events connected with them. Incarnations of Vishnu are shown
on the walls of the main temple but at present they are all white-washed and are
not clear.

Once again after Nandivarman confusion and anarchy prevailed. Internal unrest
was created by the dynastic wars. Powerful neighbours took advantage of the
internal disturbances. Aparajita had to face all these troubles. In spite of all this he
tried to revive the past glory. He constructed a few temples; the Virattanesvara at
Tiruttani shows his best attempts to regenerate the Pallava sculptural style, which
at that stage was much influenced by the western Chalukya, eastern Chalukya, and
Rashtrakuta styles. This style shows approximity with the Chola tradition with
which it finally merged along with the Pallava dominions. They further enclosed
the temple by a structure, probably a hall, of which now only six crude stone pillars
exist, obstructing the unhindered view of the otherwise intact facade. On either
side of this structural hall, in front of the temple, a staircase was hewn into the
rock, perhaps with the idea to create access to its roof.
See Venkayya, Ep. lttd., vol. iii, p. 276

29 | P a g e

Having dealt with the historical and cultural geography and ethnography of the
records of the Pallavas, it would be better to state some general observations. The
first and foremost is that the Pallava Times was a period of transition and
transformation. The transition was from the traditional literary and Sangam era to
the historical inscriptional and Brahmanical era and the transformation was from
the Dravidian Paganism and Pantheon to the Neti Aryan pantheism. Let us
summarise how the transition and transformation can be accounted for.32

The transition and transformation are more conspicuous in the field of ethnography
than in that of geography. Dealing with the significance of personal names after
gods and goddesses we find only one god dominant Dravidian in its origin but later
absorbed in the Neo- Aryan pantheon. It is ‘Muruga’ called in the Indo-Aryan
usage. ‘Skanda’, ‘Kumara' or ‘Subrahmanya’, "tradition takes that ’Muruga’ is the
Tamil God and he is not only indigenous and Dravidian in his origin but, even to-
day, the most popular God of indigenous Tamilnad.

Historically, the Pallavas are known for their equal patronage of both Saivism and
Vaishnavism and it is replected in their records as in the temples they had
constructed. Thus, the Pallavas had patronised in the award of their grants, both
Saivite and Vaishnavite Brahmins. The Pallava toleration of the rival faiths like
Buddhism, Jainism and that indigenous culture which refused to be absorbed in the
dev Aryan culture is also reflected in the names like Buddha Varman the name of a
Pallava king I Vajranandin a Jain saint.

This period of five centuries is a story of conflicts among the three powers for the
Q.'J.M.S., vol. xiii, p. 572.

30 | P a g e
extension of their influences and empires. Such conflicts, however, were no
obstacle to the growth of art, religion and culture in these areas. The many sided
religious revival checked the growth of Jainism and Buddhism and resulted in a
volume of soul stirring devotional literature and advanced philosophical
speculation. In fact, the contending parties seem to have vied with one another in
their architectural and artistic creations and definite and crystallized styles of
architecture and sculpture in their respective areas

31 | P a g e


Krishnaswami Aiyangar : Ancient India

:The Beginning of south Indian History
:Some contributions of south india to indian culture
: Origin and early history of pallavas of kanchi

R.S SHARMA : India’s ancient past

ROMILLA THAPAR : History of Early India : from the origins to AD 1300


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