By the early 7th century, synchronising with the Harsha’s reign in the north, the far south had come under the control of the Pallava kings of Kanchipuram. Pallava sovereignty included the domains of the Cholas and the Pandyas. The latter were then emerging as ruling dynasties in their respective river valley regions. Much of the central and eastern Deccan was under the Chalukyas of Badami (Vatapi), who were then pushed away by the Rashtrakutas. The medieval period in India was marked by thee mergence of regional centres of power. There was no single imperial power like Mauryas or Guptas who exercised control over the greater part of India in this period.

The Pallavas

The Pallava kings ruled around the prosperous agrarian settlement and important trade centre of Kanchipuram on the southeast coast of India. Kanchipuram was well known to Chinese and Roman merchants. From the flourishing trade centre of Kanchipuram, the later Pallavas extended their sovereignty over all the Tamil-speaking regions during the 7th and 8th centuries. The central part of their kingdom, however, was Thondaimandalam, a large political region comprising northern parts of Tamil Nadu and the adjoining Andhra districts.



Mandagapattu Cave, Aihole Inscription of Pulakesin II

Copper Plates

Kasakudi Plates


Mattavilasa Prahasana, Avanthi Sundarakatha, Kalingathu Parani, Periya Puranam, Nandi Kalambagam

Foreign Notice

Accounts of Chinese traveller Hiuen Tsang

 Pallava Genealogy (Prominent Kings)

There were early Pallava rulers who were feudatories of Satavahanas. Simhavishnu, son of Simhavarman II (around 550 AD (CE), created a strong Pallava kingdom after destroying the Kalabhras. He defeated many kings in the south including the Cholas and the Pandyas. His able son was Mahendravarman I. He was succeeded by his son Narasimhavarman I. The other prominent Pallava rulers were Narasimhavarman II or Rajasimha and Nandivarman II. The last Pallava ruler was Aparajita.

Mahendravarman (c.600–630AD (CE)) contributed to the greatness of the Pallava kingdom. Mahendravarman I was a follower of Jainism in the early part of his rule. He was converted to Saivism by the Saivite saint Appar (Tirunavukkarasar). He was a great patron of art and architecture. He is known for introducing a new style to Dravidian architecture, which is referred to as ‘Mahendra style’. Mahendravarman also wrote plays, including (c.620) MattavilasaPrahasana. (The Delight of the Drunkards) in Sanskrit, which denigrates Buddhism.

Mahendravarman’s reign involved constant battles with the Western Chalukya kingdom of Badami under Pulakesin II. Pulakesin seems to have defeated Mahendravarman in one of the battles and taken over a large part of his territory (Vengi) in the north. His son Narasimavarma I (c. 630–668) avenged the defeat by capturing Vatapi, the capital of Chalukyas. He set Vatapi on fire, killing Pulakesin in the process.

Narasimhavarman II (c. 695–722), also known as Rajasimha, was a great military strategist. He exchanged ambassadors with China. His reign was comparatively free from any political disturbance. Therefore, he could concentrate on temple-building activities. During his reign, the famous Kailasanatha temple at Kanchipuram was built.

Pallava’s Contribution to Architecture

Pallava period is known for architectural splendour. The Shore Temple and various other temples carved from granite monoliths and the Varaha cave (7th century) at Mamallapuram, are illustrious examples of Pallava architecture. In 1984, Mamallapuram was added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

 Pallava architecture can be classified as

  1. Rock-Cut temples – Mahendravarman style
  2. Monolithic Rathas and Sculptural Mandapas – Mamallan style
  3. Structural Temples – Rajasimhan style and Nandivarman style

Mahendra Style

The best example of MahendraVarma style monuments are cave temples at Mandagapattu, Mahendravadi, Mamandur, Dalavanur, Tiruchirapalli, Vallam, Tirukazhukkundram and Siyamangalam.

Mamalla Style

The five rathas (chariots), popularly called Panchapandavar rathas, signify five different style of temple architecture. Each ratha has been carved out of a single rock. So they are called monolithic. The popular mandapams (pillared pavilions) they built are Mahishasuramardhini mandapam, Thirumoorthi mandapam and Varaha mandapam.

The most important among the Mamalla style of architecture is the open art gallery. Several miniature sculptures such as the figure of lice-picking monkey, elephants of huge size and the figure of the ascetic cat have been sculpted beautifully on the wall of a huge rock. The fall of the River Ganga from the head of Lord Siva and the Arjuna’s penance are notable among them. The Great Penance panel is considered to be the world’s largest open-air bas relief.

Rajasimha Style

Narasimhavarma II, also known as Rajasimha, constructed structural temples using stone blocks.The best example for the structural temple is Kailasanatha temple at Kanchipuram. This temple was built by using sand stones. Kailasanatha temple is called Rajasimheswaram.

 Nandivarma Style

The last stage of the Pallava architecture is also represented by structural temples built by the later Pallavas. The best example is Vaikunda Perumal temple at Kanchipuram.

Society and Culture

The Pallavas supported Jainism, Buddhism and the Vedic faith. They were great patrons of music, painting and literature. Some of the Pallava kings patronised the Azhwars and Nayanmars. These exponents of Bhakti Cult preached a new form of Vaishnavism and Saivism. Among the Saivites were Appar and Manikkavasakar. Among the Vaishnavites were Nammazhvar and Andal.

The Bhakti movement aimed at preaching a popular faith, in which prayers in Tamil were preferred to those in Sanskrit. Women were encouraged to participate in the religious congregations. The Tamil devotional cult was competitive with Buddhism and Jainism. Therefore the latter suffered a gradual decline in most parts of Tamil country.

Education and Literature

  • Gatika (monastery or centre of learning) at Kanchi was popular during the Pallava times and it attracted students from all parts of India and abroad.Vatsyaya who wrote Nyaya Bhashya was a teacher at Kanchi (Gatika).
  • The treatise on Dakshin Chitram (Paintings of South India) was compiled during the reign of Mahendravarma I.
  • The great Sanskrit scholar, Dandin, lived in the court of Narasimhavarma I. Dandin composed Dashakumara Charita.
  • Bharavi, the great Sanskrit scholar, lived in the time of Simhavishnu.
  • Bharavi wrote Kiratarjuniya, an epic in verses.
  • Tamil literature had also flourished during the Pallava rule.
  • Thevaram composed by Nayanmars and Nalayradivyaprabantham composed by Azhwars, which are still chanted by devout people. Perundevanar, who was patronized by Nandivarman II, translated the Mahabharata into Tamil as Bharathavenba.

Pallava Art

The Pallava kings had also patronised fine arts. The music inscriptions in Kudumianmalai and Thirumayam temples show Pallavas’ interest in music. The famous musician Rudracharya lived during Mahendravarma I. The sculptures of this period depict many images in dancing postures.

The Chalukyas

The Chalukyas ruled larger parts of west and centre of South India,  consisting of Maratha country with Vatapi (Badami) as  their capital. There were three distinct but closely related and independent Chalukya dynasties. They were (1) Chalukyas of Badami, (2) Chalukyas of Vengi (Eastern Chalukyas) and (3) Chalukyas of Kalyani (Western Chalukyas). These Chalukyas held Harsha in the north, the Pallavas in the south and Kalinga (Odisha) in the east.



Badami Cave Inscription of Mangalesha

Kanchi Kailasanatha Temple Inscription

Pattadakal Virupaksha Temple Inscription

Aihole Inscription of Pulakesin I

Foreign Notice

Accounts of Chinese traveller Hiuen Tsang

Aihole Inscription

It is found at Meguti Temple in Aihole (Bagalkot district, Karnataka). It is written in Sanskrit by Ravikirti, a court poet of Chalukya king Pulakesin II. It makes a mention of the defeat of Harsha Vardhana by Pulakesin II.

The Chalukyas of Vatapi

Pulakesin I, a petty chieftain of Pattadakal in the Bijapur district, took and fortified the hill fort of Vatapi around 543 AD (CE). He soon conquered the territory between the Krishna and Tungabhadra rivers and the Western Ghats. His son Kirtivarman I (c. 566 to 597) brought the Konkan coast under Chalukya control. Pulakesin II (c.610 to 642) emerged as the most powerful ruler of the dynasty. The Persian (Iran) king Khusru II sent an embassy to the court of Pulakesin II. Pulakesin succeeded in seizing parts of Gujarat and Malwa.

He defied the North Indian ruler Harsha and according to an agreed understanding Narmada river was fixed as the boundary between the two. About 624, Pulakesin II conquered the kingdom of Vengi and gave it to his brother Vishnuvardhana, the first Eastern Chalukya ruler.

During 641–647 the Pallavas ravaged the Deccan and captured Vatapi, but the Chalukyas had recaptured it by 655. Vikramaditya I (655 to 680) and Vikramaditya II, the successor of Vikramaditya I captured Kanchipuram but spared the city. Kirtivarman II, the successor of Vikramaditya II was defeated by Dantidurga, the founder of the Rashtrakuta dynasty.

Western Chalukyas of Kalyani

They were the descendants of Badami Chalukyas ruled from Kalyani (modern-day Basavakalyan). In 973, Tailapa II, a feudatory of the Rashtrakuta ruling from Bijapur region defeated Parmara of Malwa. Tailapa II occupied Kalyani and his dynasty quickly grew into an empire under Somesvara I. Somesvara I moved the capital from Manyakheta to Kalyani.

For over a century, the two empires of southern India, the Western Chalukyas and the Chola dynasty of Thanjavur, fought many fierce battles to control the fertile region of Vengi. During the rule of Vikramaditya VI in the late 11th century, vast areas between the Narmada River in the north and Kaveri River in the south came under Chalukya control.

Contributions to Art and Architecture

As supporters of both Saivism and Vaishnavism, the Chalukyas contributed richly to art and architecture. A new style of architecture known as Vesara was developed. Vesara is a combination of south Indian (Dravida) and north Indian (Nagara) building styles. They perfected the art of stone building without mortar. They used soft sandstones in construction.

They built a number of rock-cut cave-temples and structural temples dedicated to Siva, Vishnu and Brahma. The structural temples of Chalukyas exist at Aihole, Badami and Pattadakal. The important stone temples are the Vishnu temples at Badami and Aihole and the Virupaksha or Siva Temple at Pattadakal in Bijapur district in present-day Karnataka. The Vishnu temple at Badami was built by Mangalesa of the Chalukya Dynasty and contains the Aihole inscription of Vikramaditya II. Their cave temples are found at Ajanta, Ellora and Nasik.

The cave temples at Badami contain fine sculptures of Vishnu reclining on Sesha Nag; Varaha, the Boar; Narasimha or the lion-faced man; and Vamana, the dwarf. The Kasi Vishweshvara Temple at Lakkundi, the Mallikarjuna Temple at Kuruvatti, the Kalleshwara Temple at Bagali and the Mahadeva Temple at Itagi represent well-known examples of the architecture of Western Chalukyas of Kalyani.

Chalukyas adopted the Vakataka style in paintings. Some of the frescoes of the caves of Ajantha were created during the reign of Chalukyas. The reception given to the Persian embassy by Pulakesin II is depicted in a painting at Ajanta.

Pattadakal (UNESCO World Heritage Site) is a small village in Bagalkot district of Karnataka. It has ten temples. Out of them, four were built in northern style (Nagara), while the rest six are in the southern (Dravida) style. Virupaksha Temple and Sangameshwara Temple are in Dravida Style and Papanatha temple is in Nagara style. The Virupaksha temple is built on the model of Kanchi Kailasanatha temple. Sculptors brought from Kanchi were employed in its construction.

 The Rashtrakutas

The Rashtrakutas ruled not only the Deccan but parts of the far south and the Ganges plain as well from 8th to 10th century AD(CE). They were of Kannada origin and their mother tongue was Kannada. Dantidurga was the founder of Rashtrakuta dynasty. He was an official of high rank under the Chalukyas of  Badami. Krishna I succeeded Dantidurga. He consolidated and extended the Rashtrakuta power. He was a great patron of art and architecture. The Kailasanatha temple at Ellora was built by him.

Rashtrakuta Kings

The greatest king of the Rashtrakuta dynasty was Amogavarsha. He built a new capital at Manyakheta (now Malkhed in Karnataka) and Broach became the port. Amogavarsha (c. 814–878) was converted to Jainism by Jinasena, a Jain monk. Krishna II, who succeeded his father Amogavarsha, suffered a defeat in the battle of Vallala (modern Tiruvallam, Vellore district) at the hands of Cholas under Parantaka in c. 916.

Krishna III (c. 939–967) was the last able ruler of Rashtrakuta dynasty. He defeated the Cholas in the battle of Takkolam (presently in Vellore district) and captured Thanjavur. The Chalukyas under Krishna III contested with other ruling dynasties of north India for the control of Kanauj. He built Krishneshwara temple at Rameshwaram.Govinda III was the last ruler to hold the empire intact. After his death, the Rashtrakuta power declined.

Contribution of Rashtrakutas to literature, art and architecture Literature

Kannada language became more prominent. Kavirajamarga composed by Amogavarsha was the first poetic work in Kannada language. Court poets produced eminent works in Kannada. The three

gems of Kannada literature during the period were Pampa, Sri Ponna and Ranna. Adikavi Pampa was famous for his creative works Adipurana and Vikramarjunavijaya. The life of Rishabadeva, the first Jain Tirthankara is depicted in Adipurana. In Vikramarjunavijaya Pampa’s patron, Chalukya Arikesari, is identified with Arjuna, epic hero of Mahabharatha.

Art and architecture

The Rashtrakutas made significant contribution to Indian Art. The art and architecture of the Rashtrakutas can be found at Ellora and Elephanta.

Kailasanatha Temple – Ellora (near Aurangabad, Maharashtra)

Kailasanatha Temple was one of the 30 temples carved out of the hill at Ellora. It was built during the reign of Krishna I. The temple is known for its architectural grandeur and sculptural splendour. The temple covers an area of over 60,000 sq. feet and vimanam (temple tower) rises to a height of 90 feet. This temple has resemblance to the shore temple at Mamallapuram. The Kailasanatha temple portrays typical Dravidian features.

Elephanta Island

Originally known as Sripuri and called Gharapuri by the local people, Elephanta is an island near Mumbai. The Portuguese named it as Elephanta, after seeing the huge image of an elephant. The Trimurthi (three-faced) Siva icon is an illustrative of the sculptural beauty portrayed in the Cave Temple of Elephanta. There are impressive images of dwarapalakas (entrance guards) at the entrance of the Temple.


Rashtrakutas built temples in the complex of Pattadakal. The Jain Narayana temple and the Kasi Vishwesvara temple were built by Rashtrakutas.

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