Introduction – This dynasty is only known through their two copper-plate grants, both issued by the same ruler of this dynasty. The dynasty claims their origin from moon and born in the family of the Pandavas. As the first member of the family is mentioned to be born in Mekala, hence this dynasty is known as the Panduvamshis of Mekala among scholars.
Mekala would be the region around the Maikal mountain range which is acts as a connecting link between the Vindya and the Satpura ranges. Narmada is usually referred as Mekala-kanya, the daughter of Mekala, as she originates from the Mekala mountain. Amarkantak is the assumed location from where Narmada originates and this town might have the eastern boundary of Mekala country.
Bandhavgarh, probably, would be the northern extreme as the villages mentioned in Bamhani grant are said to be located in the Uttara-rashtra. However Bamhani is about 100 km far from Bandhavgarh, so whether the empire was stretched till Bandhavgarh is contestable. Malhar would be the southern extreme of the empire as the villages mentioned in the Malhar grant are said to be located in the Dakshina-rashtra.
Though the extent of the country may have varied from time to time, however it can be said that the southern part of Shahdol district, eastern part of Mandla district and the northern part of Bilaspur district would have been included in Mekala country. Puranas mention that seven kings ruled over Mekala for seventy years. However we know only five kings from the epigraphical accounts, probably future discoveries may reveal missing two rulers.
Epigraphs – There are only two copper-plate grants available.
|Bamhani Plates of Udirnavaira||Epigraphia Indica Vol XXVII||Sanskrit||Southern class of Central Indian Alphabets||2nd regnal year||Surabala||Bamhani|
|Malhar Plates of Surabala||Studies in Indian Epigraphy||Sanskrit||Southern class of Central Indian Alphabets||8th regnal year||Surabala||Malhar|
Capital – No capital or issuing place is mentioned in the two grants of this dynasty hence nothing can be said with conformity. V V Mirashi proposed Bandhavgarh as their capital while K D Bajpai gives this honor to Sarabhapura, which he regards as the older name of Malhar. The latest grant of Surabala was found at Malhar so it is clear that this region was under his rule.
Period – As the two available grants are dated in the regnal years of their kings, so dating of this dynasty needs to done on other grounds.
Vakataka Connection – B Ch Chhabra suggests that the Vakataka king Narendrasena was the overlord of Bharatabala as there is a veiled allusion of this in the Bamhani grant. He suggest that there is a pun on word ‘ narendra’ used in this grant where it stands for king while referring Bharatabala otherwise it also stands for Narendrasena, his Vakataka overlord. Prthivisena II, a Vakataka king, in his records mention that the command of his father, Narendrasena, was honored by the lords of Kosala, Mekala and Malava. Narendrasena’s period was 435-470 CE, this puts Jayabala’s reign to be started in about 400 CE, assigning twenty years reign to all the intermediate kings. V V Mirashi also suggests similar dates, and assigns Bharatabala’s reign in 460-480 CE.
Ajay Mitra Shastri does not agree with this identification. He mentions that the word ‘narendra’ is used for Surabala but not for Bharatabala. Surabala does not show any kind of feudatory status in his grants and it appears that he enjoyed paramount power. It is stated that feudatory chiefs acknowledged his suzerainty which suggests that Surabala was not under anyone else’s supremacy. B Ch Chhabra suggests that Bharatabala was an autonomous ruler and his relation with the Vakataka ruler were on friendly terms and he accepted the latter’s supremacy just out of courtesy. If this is the case then why such a relationship or overlord ship is mentioned under such a veil?
R C Majumdar mentions that Jayabala and Vatsaraja were probably the feudatories under the Guptas but Nagabala and Bharatabala threw of the Gupta yoke. However the rulers of Mekala were under the command of Narendrasena for some time as evident from the Vakataka records. He further mentions that the Bamhani grant vaguely refers to Narendrasena as the overlord of Bharatabala is hardly acceptable.
Amararya-kula Connection – The wife of Bharatabala, we call her Lokaprakasha for convenience, is said to be born in the Amaraj family of Kosala. B Ch Chhabra and V V Mirashi suggest that the expression ‘amaraja-kulaja’ means ‘born in a family of the gods or of a divine origin’. B Ch Chhabra suggests that she probably belonged to the Panduvamshis of Kosala. But V V Mirashi, R C Majumdar and D C Sircar do not agree with this identification. Majumdar mentions that this theory is not tenable due to later date of the Panduvamshis of Kosala but Mirashi and Sircar points that as the both families must have belonged to the same gotra and marriages between same gotras are not allowed according to the Hindu law so it is not possible that Lokaprakasha was from that family.
Mirashi suggests that she belonged to the Sura family which is known only from one grant of its last ruler, Bhimasena II. Sircar suggests that she was a princess of the Sarabhapuriya family which is seconded by Mjumdar. However with the discovery of the Malhar grant of Vyaghra, it can be said that this Amaraj family might be the same as the Amararya-kula, the family to which Vyaghra belonged. This Amararya-kula is suggested to be the same family as that of the Sarabhapuriyas however this theory is not tenable on many counts. Hence we will take Amararya-kula as a different family.
It appears that Amararya-kula dynasty was ruling contemporarily with the Sarabhapuriyas. Few grants of the last ruler of the Sarabhapuriyas, Pravaraja, were found at Malhar and Surabala’s latest grant was also found at Malhar. Probably, Surabala took over Malhar from Pravararaja however there is no concrete evidence to support this theory. But there is another possibilityas well. If Lokaprakasha was born in Amararya-kula, we may say that she was probably related to any of the three known rulers of this family, Pravara-bhattaraka, Jaya-bhattaraka and Vyaghra. Vyaghra or his brother Pravara-bhattaraka wrestled Malhar from the Sarabhapuriyas as Vyaghra’s grant was discovered at Malhar. As Lokaprakasha was married to Bharatbala so Malhar came under the influence of the Panduvamshis of Mekala when Vyaghra or Pravara-bhattaraka expired without an issue or their dynasty collapsed in some war.
Genealogy – R C Majumdar mentions that epigraphic evidences points to the rule of the Panduvamshis of Mekala about the close of the fifth century CE or the beginning of the sixth century CE. However when he proposed this, only one grant of this dynasty was known. Ajay Mitra Shastri gives an average of twenty five years rule to each king of this dynasty. Hence as per his assignment, Jayabala ruled from 500 CE to 525 CE and the last ruler, Surabala, from 600 CE to 625 CE. However we have a reference from Puranas which states that seven kings ruled for seventy years over Mekala. Though it does not clearly state whether these kings were of the Pandava lineage however we may consider in reconstructing the historical chronology.
Few points to consider are laid down here. The latest year as per the available epigraph for Surabala is his eighth regnal year. The earlier rulers were not given regal titles like maharaja hence they might be some feudatories under a suzerain. Average twenty-five years assignment is pretty long period for a dynasty whose two plates are only discovered though it was mention in those grants they bestowed favors to brahmanas and temples. In such a condition, I would prefer to give average ten years rules to each king, applying the formula as given in the Puranas.
Jayabala (560-570 CE) – No epigraph of his is yet discovered so he is known from the epigraphs of his descendants. Jayabala is the first member of the family who was born in the lineage of the Pandavas in the Mekala country. He is referred as raja and is described as the foremost amongst the ruling chiefs. This suggests that he was not an independent ruler but a feudatory under a sovereign.
Vatsaraja (570-580 CE) – No epigraph of his is yet discovered so he is known from the epigraphs of his descendants. Vatsaraja was the son and successor of Jayabala. He is compared with the famous king of Vatsa, Udayana. He is mentioned to have won various battles and assailed enemies by the valor of his arms and made the garden attached to the houses of his enemies teem with wild beasts. This suggests that he extended his kingdom and influence and that’s why he is referred as a king in the grants. He married a lady named Drona-bhattarika.
Nagabala (580-590 CE) – No epigraph of his is yet discovered so he is known from the epigraphs of his descendants. Nagabala was the son and successor of Vatsaraja. There is a reference of a war where his cavalry and elephants played a major role. He is referred as maharaja, thus the first member of the family to have acquired this title. Hence it can be proposed that he probably threw off the yoke of the sovereign ruler and asserted his independence. He is further mentioned as a devout Maheshvara. He married a lady named Indra-bhattarika.
Bharatabala (590-600 CE) – No epigraph of his is yet discovered so he is known from the epigraphs of his descendants. Being the predecessor of the issuer of the grants, this rulers is described in detail in the grants. He is referred as maharaja and said to be a devout worshipper of Maheshvara. He is compared with Indra in valor and Agni in brilliance. He also assumed Indra as his second name. His birth from Indra-bhattarika is compared with that of Kartikeya from Parvati. He is also equated with Bharata, the brother of Rama.
It is mentioned that he as a gigantic quarter-elephant covered all quarters with a multitude of resounding tress in the form of overbearing enemies who were pulled down and torn asunder by him and that he gave refuge to the fortune of the host of his foes slain by him when she approached with his arms. This probably suggests that he had few victories over his enemies.
He married a lady named Lokaprakasha who was born in the Amaraja-kula in Kosala. V V Mirashi, R C Majumdar and B Ch Chhabra suggests that her name was Lokapraksha however A M Shastri mentions that the ‘lokaprakasha’ is a mere adjective used to define her character. Her name may be Mahadevi as mentioned in the Malhar grant however this word may also be an adjective to denote the principal queen.
She is described in detail however only in conventional manner. She is compared with Jahnavi, river Ganga, who descended down from heaven on account of her crystal-like pure character and strict observance of self-restraint and self-discipline. She attained a sublime status by dint of having grandsons and great-grandsons which suggests that she enjoyed a very long life. This high praise bestowed on her suggests that her marriage was an important affair in the history of this dynasty and probably they were benefited by this marriage.
Surabala (600-610 CE) – Bharatabala was succeeded by his son, Surabala who was also known as Udinravaira. He is known from his two grants which were issued in his second and eighth regnal year. He is said to have uprooted his enemies and overcome all the quarters by the pair of his lotus-like feet fervently rubbed by the heads of many a feudal chiefs subjugated by his perfect triple power.
- Lal, Hira (1916). Descriptive List of Inscriptions in The Central Provinces and Berar. Government Press. Nagpur.
- Majumdar, R C (1952). Ancient India. Motilal Banarasidas. New Delhi. ISBN: 812080435X
- Majumdar, R C (1954). The Classical Age. Bhartiya Vidya Bhavan. Mumbai.
- Shastri, Ajay Mitra (1995). Inscriptions of Sarabhapuriyas, Panduvamsins and Somvamsins. Motilal Banarasidas. New Delhi. ISBN: 8120806379
- Singh Deo, J P (1987). Cultural Profile of South Kosala. Gian Publishing House. New Delhi. ISBN: 8121200954