The Pallavas

The Pallavas – Part 1

In the words of Vincent A Smith, “A body of history must be supported upon a skeleton of chronology, and without chronology history is impossible”. In this study we are going to create such a skeleton of Pallava dynasty. A study of a dynasty involves various dimensions to focus upon. The first and foremost is the epigraphs of that dynasty and its contemporary dynasties. The next dimension comes from the art and architecture that flourished during their time. The third and the last, perhaps, is from the literature of their times and later times. There is a forth dimension as well, numismatic study of their coins. However this dimension does not apply for the Pallavas, as unfortunately we do not have any of their coins. This study is a small step in study of the Pallavas, keeping focus on all the above mentioned three dimensions. We will try to establish the genealogy of this dynasty and after that the respective time periods of individual rulers. Before we start on this exciting journey, first we look into the various problems and issues related in such a study.

As highlighted earlier , epigraphs play an important role. However not all the Epigraphs are useful or clear,The silence of records on the time period in which it was engraved requires lot of research and investigation. In epigraphy study comes very handy. Though this technique is not very accurate, however it gives a near accurate information. In this, we check the style of alphabets used and the language of records. Then we try to find some other record where similar style is used and which has information on its time. Though Pallava records do not carry the time information, we have many records with time information from other contemporary dynasties.

Another issue with epigraphy is the authenticity of record. This issue is more prominent in metal plate grants as there is a wide scope for forgery. Unfortunately study in Pallava dynasty, specially of earlier times, is largely based upon the copper-plate grants of their kings. We have to be very cautious here, as a forged record may hamper with the results. To minimize this error, we will only take those facts of the grants which can be substantiated by more than one record.

Art and architecture study will be used to substantiate the facts gathered above. In this study we will try to find what kind of architecture was in existence before this dynasty and what all was left for the other to carry forward. We will also try to find external or foreign influences on architecture during the time period of their rule. While making inferences we need to be cautious as we can see similar architectural styles at two different places which were never in contact and are located quite distant to each other. In such a case we need not waste our time to find a correlation between these two. Also while stating that someone borrowed a style from someone else, there must be a substantiating proof for this inference.

The study of literature also poses lots of challenges to us. The first thing to bear in mind is the kind of literature we are talking about, is this just a fiction or some historical record. A fiction cannot be taken as a historical record just because it has antiquity associated. For example Meghadootam of Kalidasa is not a historical novel but a fiction, hence when we take reference of this in some study, it should be substantiated with other statements from other places as well. What we can easily take from it is, if he talks about some personage in this novel, whether historical or fiction, we can be sure that at his time this personage was known. The same applies to the places or other descriptions.

Without wasting much time we start our journey. What we have with us, we have all the inscriptions of the Pallavas, arranged in the manner of probable successors. We also have probable time period in which these might be issued or engraved. We also have knowledge of monuments constructed in their times. Apart from all above, we also have few literature works of their times. When we say their time (Pallavas’ time), we mean from start of our era to end of ninth century as we know that the Cholas took over the Pallavas in end of ninth century and after that there was no reference of this dynasty. With this information, we proceed here.

We will do this study in two parts, first the early history of the Pallavas and second will be the successors of Simhavishnu. We split this into two parts as we have their monuments from the time of Mahendravarman I only, who was the direct successor of Simhavishnu. Hence our study of the early Pallavas is purely based upon their inscriptions and literature of that time. In these early epigraphs, we have few records written in Prakrit and rest are in Sanskrit and Tamil. It is a common notion that Prakrit was in use before Sanskrit, so the Prakrit records of the Pallavas should be prior to Sanskrit records. We do not have many Prakrit records, only four out of which one is a stone inscription and three are in form of copper-plate grants. We will first have a look at the three copper plate grants and the genealogy formed by these.

The three grants considered here are Maidavolu, Hirahadagalli and Charudevi grant. You can see the details of these grants here. Yuva-maharaja Sivaskandavarman of Maidavolu grant is probably same person as Rajadhiraja Sivaskandavarman of Hirahadagalli plates as he was once a heir-apparent (yuva-maharaja) and later one became the king. Hirahadagalli plates gives someone with name Lord Bappa as the father of Sivaskandavarman. This name, Lord Bappa, is a very strange name however we take it as it is mentioned in the epigraph. Two of these grants were issued from Kanchipuram hence it is clear that Kanchi was with the Pallavas since the time of father of Sivaskandavarman. From third grant, Charudevi plates, we get more names to form some genealogy but this grant does not give any information about the place from where it is issued. This place could be Kanchipuram or some other royal camp. From above three grants, we arrive at the below arrangement:

Lord Bappa

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Yuva-maharaja Sivaskandavarman = Rajadhiraja Skandavarman = Vijaya-Skandavarman

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Yuva-maharaja Vijaya-Buddhavarman (married to Charudevi)

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Buddhyankura

All the three grants are engraved in similar alphabets with little differences. While editing Maidavolu plate, E Hultzsch wrote,” The alphabet of this plate is an epigraphic curiosity. Though on the whole resembling that of the Hirahadagalli plates, it exhibits a few letters which differ from the corresponding characters of all Indian alphabets”. He further states that the style of writing and words resembles with the inscriptions seen on various caves. While editing Hirahadagalli plates, he states that the majority of the letters is traceable partly in the edicts of Ashoka and partly in the inscriptions of the caves of Western India and of Amravati Stupa. Based upon the style of alphabets and languages used, we think that these plates were done in third century of our era. As per Maidavolu plate, we came to know that the order was issued to an officer/governor of Amravati. Amravati was the capital of Satvahanas (Andhra) dynasty and they constructed a marvelous white marble stupa in the time of the king Vashishtiputra Satkarni.  Amravati was with them till the dynasty came to an end by about 220 CE. In that case,  Pallavas would have gained control over this only after the end of Satvahanas, which most probably would be after 220 CE. Hirahadagalli grant talks about an area called as Sathani-rattha which probably was somewhere near current Bellary as the grant was found there.  As of now we leave this question here, and will surely take it later on when we will have enough details on this dynasty. We have an inscription, of Satvahanas, Myakadoni inscription (GO No 99, 29th August 1916-report on Epigraphy for 1915-1916), which says that King Pulumayi II (Vashishtiputra Satkarni) reigned about 140 AD over the province of Satavahani-Hara. This Satavahani-hara could be none other than Satahani-rattha of Hirahadagalli plates. In this case, this region was also taken over from Satvahanas by the Pallavas. As Hirahadagalli grant was also issued from Kanchipuram, we can say that the Pallavas ruling from Kanchipuram enjoyed the kingdom which goes till Amravati (probably till the river Krishna) in north and till Bellary on western side. In such a situation, were Pallavas an offshoot of the Satvahanas or they were original natives of Kanchipuram? If they were offshoots of the Satvahanas, in that case they must be ruling from Amravati for quite some time and then only proceed to extend their empire. However we do not have any epigraphy record from Amravati which can be associated with the Pallavas, to the best of my knowledge. The first record of the Pallavas, Maidavolu grant, was issued from Kanchipuram. In this circumstances, I feel that we say that the Pallavas were original tribes who were ruling at Kanchipuram, probably from their advent. In this case, we need to see whether they took over Kanchipuram from some other dynasty or they were the people who made this settlement.

Another important information comes to us from Allahabad Pillar inscription of Samudragupta where there is a mention of Vishnugopa of Kanchi. Though there is no date mentioned in this inscription, however scholars have put this to of 340-350 CE. In this case we should have a king with name Vishnugopa of Kanchi. Though the pillar inscription does not say anything whether Vishnugopa was a Pallava or not, however we can take him as a Pallava because two of the above grants were issued from Kanchi only. In this circumstances we may put the above genealogy before 340 CE.

One more thing of importance we see is that few lines, mangala in Hirahadagalli grant and comminatory verses in Charudevi grant, are in Sanskrit. This suggests that Sanskrit was known to people at that time. Still the maximum of grant is in Prakrit, which could only be because Prakrit enjoyed the status of official language perhaps.

The last Prakrit record of the Pallavas is a stone inscription of the Pallava king Simhavarman. You can view the details of this inscription here. Not much information is given in this inscription. We can only say that there was a Pallava king, Simhavarman, who probably came after the above mentioned genealogy. This assumption is totally based upon the language of the inscription.

Our enhanced genealogy is like this now, dotted association between Buddhyankura and Simhavarman as we do not know the in between kings, also we do not know if Vishnugopa comes before Simhavarman or not, as of now we keep him later:

Lord Bappa

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|                                                                                                    Yuva-maharaja Sivaskandavarman = Rajadhiraja Skandavarman = Vijaya-Skandavarman

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Yuva-maharaja Vijaya-Buddhavarman (married to Charudevi)

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Buddhyankura

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Simhavarman

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Vishnugopa (340 CE)

We know move to Sanskrit inscriptions of the Pallavas. Unlike the Prakrit inscriptions, we have plenty of Sanskrit inscriptions of this dynasty. Following epigraphs are considered for this part of study, Omgodu Plate B, Pikira Plates, Mangalur Plates, Vilavetti Plates, Uruvappalli Plates, Nedungaraya Plates, Vesanta Plates, Omgodu Plate A, Sakrepatna Plates, Udayendiram Plates. You can see all these plates in detail here. From the above grants, we get the following genealogy:

 

Kumarvishnu

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Skandavarman

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Viravarman

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Vijaya-Skandavarman

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Yuva-maharaja Vishnugopavarman

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Simhavarman

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Skandavarman

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Nandivarman

 

Four of the above inscriptions, Pikira, Omgodu B, Mangalur and Vilavetti, include yuva-maharaja Vishnugopavarman in genealogy however Vesanta and Sakrepatna, skip him by directly associating Simhavarman to Skandavarman. Perhaps this is done as Vishnugopavarman was never a king, always a yuva-maharaja (heir-apparent). We take a literary reference here from a Jaina work. Jaina work Lokavibhaga refers to 22nd regnal year of Simhavarman, the lord of Kanchi, as corresponding to 380 Saka, hence he would be consecrated in 436 CE. There is a reference of an eclipse in  Omgodu B grant. If we accept this then eclipse should have happened in 440 CE however this did not happen. This omgodu B grant is assigned to 5th century on paleaographical aspects. Another reference of relationship between Simhavarman and Skandavarman comes from Penugonda copper plate of Western Gangas, which tells that Simhavarman and Skandavarman anointed on the Ganga throne the Western Ganga kings Ayyavarman and Madhva II, father and son.  This means that there was a pair of king with order Simhavarman and Skandavarman, telling with our above genealogy.

As we discussed before, the defeat of Vishnugopa of Kanchi by Samudragupta, in which he was captured and liberated by the victorious king. However when he was liberated, Kanchi may have been already taken away from them. Among the Sanskrit inscriptions, Omgodu B, Pikira, Mangalur, Vilavetti, Uruvapalli and Nendungaraya grants, all in the reign of Simhavarman, were issued from royal victory camps but not from Kanchipuram. Does this mean that Simhavarman was on his way to claim Kanchi which was lost earlier? In this case we should correct the genealogy by placing Simhavarman after Vishnugopa. Vesanta grant of the same king, issued in his nineteenth year of reign, was issued from Kanchi. It suggests that he got back Kanchi by the nineteenth year of his reign. But we also have Sarkepatna grant, issued in forty-first regnal year of Simhavarman, and issued from Maundgali but not from Kanchi. Does this mean that Kanchi was again lost by the Pallavas? But to whom they lost Kanchi second time? As per Tiruvalangadu plates of Rajendra-Chola I, Karikala made Kanchi new with gold. Karikala’s date is roughly fixed to 6th century CE, hence it seems that Kanchi was with Cholas at that time. But if this is correct then Karikala should be of 5th century if we date Simhavarman to 436 CE.

Lord Bappa mentioned in Hirahadagalli plate should not be taken as the name of the father of Sivaskandavarman, though it is probably used to refer his father only. From all the Sanskrit epigraphs discussed above(Uruvupalli, Nedungaraya, Vesanta, Sakrepatna, Udayendiram, Chendalur, Omgodu B, Pikira, Mangalur, Vilavetti, Chura and Omgodu A), we found a phrase ‘Bappa-bhattaraka-pada-bhakta’, which suggests that the issuer was a devotee to the feet of Lord Bappa. Bappa-bhattarka-pada-bhakta (EI Vol IV Page 143 note 7) clearly gives the meaning of this phrase. It seems that this Lord Bappa was either some kula-deva (family god) or the originator or the first king of the dynasty. With this we have our enhanced genealogy as follows:

Unknown father

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Vijaya-Skandavarman

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Yuva-maharaja Vijaya-Buddhavarman (married to Charudevi)

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Buddhyankura

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Vishnugopa (340AD)

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Simhavarman

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Kumarvishnu

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Skandavarman

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Viravarman

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Vijaya-Skandavarman

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Yuva-maharaja Vishnugopavarman

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Simhavarman

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Skandavarman

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Nandivarman

To fill up the dotted lines, we have to look into more inscriptions. These are Chendalur grant and Chura grant. You can have a detailed look on these two grants here. Chendalur grants leads us to the following order, we suffix with numerals for similar names excluding yuva-maharajas:

Unknown father

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Vijaya-Skandavarman I

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Yuva-maharaja Vijaya-Buddhavarman (married to Charudevi)

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Buddhyankura

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Vishnugopa I (340 CE)

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Simhavarman I

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Skandavarman II

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Kumarvishnu I

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Buddhavarman

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Kumarvishnu II

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Skandavarman III

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Viravarman

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Vijaya-Skandavarman IV

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Yuva-maharaja Vishnugopavarman

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Simhavarman II

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Skandavarman V

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Nandivarman

Chura grant supplies with the following genealogy.

Skandavarman

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Vishnugopavarman

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Simhavarman

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Vijaya-Vishnugopavarman

However this genealogy does not fit in our above enhanced list, hence we keep this tree as a separate tree now, later we will see if we can accommodate this in our final structure. So now we have two structures to work upon:

Unknown father                                            Skandavarman

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Skandavarman I                                        Vishnugopavarman

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Yuva-maharaja Vijaya-Buddhavarman          Simhavarman

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Buddhyankura                                    Vijaya-Vishnugopavarman

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Vishnugopa I (340 CE)

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Simhavarman I

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Skandavarman II

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Kumarvishnu I

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Buddhavarman

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Kumarvishnu II

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Skandavarman III

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Viravarman

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Vijaya-Skandavarman IV

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Yuva-maharaja Vishnugopavarman

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Simhavarman II

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Skandavarman V

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Nandivarman

With the following points we will continue our study in the second part of this series.

1. The early records of the Pallavas are issued from Kanchi which suggests that they had Kanchi in their possession, probably, from the start of the dyansty.
2. It seems that they lost Kanchi, at least once, probably during the fight between the Gupta king Samudragupta and the Pallava king Vishnugopa.
3. They again captured Kanchi, probably defeating the Cholas who took over this when Vishnugopa was busy with Samudragupta.