Ancient India

Formation of New States and Rural expansion in the Peninsula

The New Phase

THE PERIOD circa A.D. 300-750 marks the second historical phase in the regions south of the Vindhyas. It continued some of the processes which had started in the first historical phase (circa 200 B.C. A.D. 300). But it also shows certain new phenomena which do not appear to be important in earlier times. In the first phase we notice the ascendancy of the Satavahanas over the Deccan and that of the Tamil kingdoms in the southern districts of Tamil Nadu. In that period, northern Tamil Nadu, southern Karnataka, a portion of southern Maharashtra and the land between the Godavari and the Mahanadi broadly owed allegiance to seats of political authority established outside their areas. They themselves did not have their own states. Now in these areas and also in Vidarbha, between A.D. 300 and A.D. 600 there arose about two dozen states which are known to us from their land charters. Eventually by the beginning of the seventh century the Pallavas of Kanchi, the Chalukyas of Badami and the Pandyas of Madurai emerged to be the three major states. The first historical phase is marked by the appearance of numerous crafts, internal and external trade, widespread use of coins and a good number of towns. Trade towns and coinage seem to be in a state of decline in the second phase which is distinguished by a large number of land grants made to the brahmanas free of taxes. The grants suggest that many new areas were brought under Cultivation and settlement. This period therefore saw far more expansion of agrarian economy.

We also notice the march of triumphant brahmanism. In the first phase we encounter extensive Buddhist monuments in both Andhra and Maharashtra. Cave inscriptions probably indicate the existence of Jainism and also of Buddhism in the southern districts of Tamil Nadu. But now Jainism was confined to Karnataka and in the peninsula as a whole we find numerous instances of the performance of Vedic sacrifices by kings. This phase also marked the beginning of the construction of stone temples for Shiva and Vishnu in Tamil Nadu under the Pallavas and in Karnataka under the Chalukyas of Badami. By the beginning of the second phase, : south India had ceased to be the land of megaliths and towards its end we notice the process which eventually made it a land of temples.

The language followed by the rulers and the literate class underwent a change. Even if we leave aside the Ashokan inscriptions found in Andhra and Karnataka, epigraphs between the second century B.C. and the third century A.D. were mostly written in Prakrit. The Brahmi inscriptions which are found in Tamil Nadu also contain Prakrit words. But from about A.D. 400 on Sanskrit became the official language in the peninsula and most charters were composed in it.

States of the Deccan and South India

In northern Maharashtra and Vidarbha (Berar), the Satavahanas were succeeded by the Vakatakas, a local power. The Vakatakas, who were brahmanas themselves, are known from a large number of copper-plate land grants issued to the brahmanas. They were great champions of the brahmanical religion and performed numerous Vedic sacrifices. Their political history is of more importance to north India than to south India. We have seen how Chandragupta II married his daughter Prabhavati Gupta in the Vakataka royal family and with its support succeeded in conquering Gujarat and the adjoining parts of western India from the Shaka Kshatrapas in the last quarter of the fourth century A.D. But culturally the Vakataka kingdom became a channel for transmitting brahmanical ideas and social institutions to the south.

The Vakataka power was followed by that of the Chalukyas of Badami who played an important role in the history of the Deccan and south India for about two centuries until A.D. 757, when they were overthrown by their feudatories, the Rashtrakutas. The Chalukyas claimed their descent either from Brahma or Manu or Moon. They boast that their ancestors ruled at Ayodhya, but all this was done to acquire legitimacy and respectability. Really they seem to have been a local Kanarese people, who were improvised into the ruling varna with brahmanical blessings.

The Chalukyas set up their kingdom towards the beginning of the sixth century A.D. in the western Deccan. They established their capital at Vatapi, modern Badami, in the district of Bijapur, which forms a part of Karnataka. Later they branched off into several independent ruling houses, but the main branch continued to rule at Vatapi for two centuries. In this period no other power in the Deccan was so important as the Chalukyas of Badami until we come to Vijayanagar in later medieval times.

On the ruins of the Satavahana power in the eastern part of the peninsula there arose the Ikshvakus in the Krishna-Guntur region. They seem to have been a local tribe who adopted the exalted name of the Ikshvakus in order to demonstrate the antiquity of their lineage. They have left behind many monuments at Nagaijunakonda and Dharanikota. They started the practice of land grants in the Krishna Guntur legion, where several of their copper-plate inscriptions have been discovered.

The Ikshv&kus were supplanted by the Pallavas. The term pallava means creeper and is a Sanskrit version of the Tamil word tondai, which also carries the same meaning. The Pallavas were possibly a local tribe who established their authority in the Tondainadu or the land of creepers. But it took them some time to be completely civilized and acceptable because in Tamil the word pallava is also a synonym of robber. The authority of the Pallavas extended over both southern Andhra and northern Tamil Nadu. They set up their capital at Kanchi, identical with modern Kanchipuram, which became a town of temples and Vedic learning under them.

The early Pallavas came into conflict with the Kadambas, who had founded their rule in northern Karnataka and Konkan in the fourth century A.D. They claimed to be brahmanas and they rewarded their fellow caste men generously.

The Kadamba kingdom was founded by Mayurasharman. It is said that he came to receive education at Kanchi, but he was driven out unceremoniously. Smarting under this insult the Kadamba chief set up his camp in a forest and defeated the Pallavas possibly with the help of the forest tribes. Eventually the Pallavas arrenged the defeat but recognized the Kadamba authority by formally investing Mayurasharman with the royal insighia. Mayurasharman is said to have performed eighteen ashvcunedhas or horse sacrifices and granted numerous villages to brahmanas. The Kadambas established their capital at Vaijayanti or Banavasi in North Kanara district in Karnataka.

The Gangas were another important contemporary of the Pallavas. They set up their rule in southern Karnataka around the fourth century. Their kingdom lay between that of the Pallavas in the east and of the Kadambas in the west. They are called Western Gangas or Gangas of Mysore in order to demarcate them from the Eastern Gangas who ruled in Kalinga from the fifth century onwards. For most of the time the Western Gangas were the feudatories of the Pallavas. Their earliest capital was located at Kolar, which may have helped the rise of this dynasty because of its gold mines.

The Western Gangas made land grants mostly to the Jainas; the Kadambas also made grants to the Jainas, but they favoured the brahmanas more. But the Pallavas granted numerous villages free of taxes largely to the brahmanas. We have as many as 16 land charters of the early Pallavas. A few, which seem to be earlier, are written on stone in Prakrit. But most of them were recorded on copper-plates in Sanskrit. The villages granted to the brahmanas were exempted from payment of all taxes and forced labour to the state. This implied that these were collected from the peasantry by the brahmanas for their own enjoyment. As many as 18 kinds of immunities were granted to the brahmanas in a Pallava grant of the fourth century. They were empowered to enjoy the granted land free from payment of land tax, from supply of forced labour, from supply of provisions to royal officer’s in the town and free from, the interference of royal constabulary and agents.

The Pallavas, the Kadambas, the Chalukyas of Bad ami and their other contemporaries were great champions of Vedic sacrifices. They performed cishvamedha and vajapeya sacrifices, which not only legitimatized their position and enhanced their prestige but also added enormously to the income of the priestly class. The brahmanas therefore emerged as an important class at the expense of the peasantry, from whom they collected their dues directly and also received as gifts a good portion of the taxes collected by the king from his subjects.

Although the period between A.D. 300 and A.D. 750 was extremely Important for state formation and agrarian expansion in the peninsula, very little is known about, what happened at the tip of the peninsula after the eclipse of the Cholas, the Cheras and the Pandyas. The only important event is a revolt led by the Kalabhras in the sixth century. It affected the Pallavas as well as their neighbouring contemporaries. The Kalabhras axe called evil rulers who overthrew innumerable kings and established their hold on the Tamil land. They put an end to the brahmadeya rights granted to the brahmanas in numerous villages. It seems that the Kalabhras held Buddhist persuasions, for they patronize© Buddhist monasteries. The Kalabhras revolt was so widespread that it could be put down only through the joint efforts-of the Pandyas, the Pallavas and the Chalukyas of Badami. According to a tradition, the Kalabhras had, imprisoned the Choi a, the Pai dya and the Chera kings. All this shows that their revolt had assumed wide propor tions and produced repercussions outside the Tamil land. The confederacy of the kings against the Kalabhras, who had revoked the land grants made to the brahmanas, shows that the revolt was directed against the existing social and political order iii south India.

It, therefore, appears that some, land grants were made between A.D. 300 and A.D. 500 to the brahmanas by the kings of the deep south. The Sangam texts tell us that villages are granted to the warriors for their acts of bravery by the chief. Land grants seem to have stimulated agrarian expansion not only under the Pallavas in south Andhra and north Tamil Nadu from the end of the third century onwards but also under some rulers of the deep south whose names are not known to us at present.

Conflict between the Pallavas and the Chalukyas

The main interest in the political history of peninsular India fromThe sixth to the eighth century centres around the long struggle between the Pallavas of Ranchi and the Chalukyas of Badami for supremacy. The

Pandyas, who were in control of Madurai and Tirunelveli districts of Tamil Nadu, joined this conflict as a poor Third. Although both the Pallavas and the Chalukyas championed brahmanism, performed Vedic sacrifices and made grants to the brahmanas, the two quarrelled with each other for plunder, prestige and territorial resources. Both tried to establish supremacy over the land lying between the Krishna and the Tun Abhadra. This doab formed the bonC of contention in late medieval times between the Vijayanagar and the Bahmani kingdoms. Time and again pie Pallava princes tried to cross the Tungabhadra, which formed the natural historic boundary between many a kingdom of the Deccan and the deep south. The struggle continued for long with varying fortunes.

The first important event in this long conflict took place in the reign of Pulakeshin II (609-642), the most famous Chalukya king. He is known to us from his eulogy written by the court poet Ravikirti in the Aihole inscription. This inscription is an example of poetic excellence reached in Sanskrit and in spite of its exaggeration is a valuable source for the biography of Pulakeshin. He subjugated the Kadamba capital at Banavasi and compelled the Ganges of Mysore to acknowledge his suzerainty. He also defeated Harsha’s army on the Narmada and checked his advance towards the Deccan. In his conflict with the Pallavas, he almost reached the Pallava capital, but the Pallavas purchased peace by ceding their northern provinces to Pulakeshin II. About A.D. 610 Pulakeshin II also conquered the entire area between the Krishna and the Godavari, which came to be known as the province of Vengi. Here was set up a branch of the main dynasty and it is known as the eastern Chalukyas of Vengi. However Pulakeshin’s second invasion of the Pallava territory ended in failure. The Pallava king Narasimhavarman (A.D. 630-668) occupied the Chalukya capital at Vatapi in about A.D. 642, when Pulakesin II was probably killed in fight against the Pallavas. Narasimhavarmari assumed the title of vatapikonda or the conqueror of Vatapi. He is also said to have defeated the Cholas, the Cheras, the Pandyas and the Kalabhras.

Towards the end of the seventh century there was a lull in this conflict, which was again resumed in the first half of the eighth century A.D. The Chalukya king Vikramaditya II (A D; 733-745) is said to have overrun Kanchi three times. In 740 he completely routed the Pallavas. His victory ended the Pallava supremacy in the far south although the ruling house continued for more than a century afterwards. However, the Chalukyas could not enjoy the fruits of their victory over the Pallavas for long for their own hegemony was brought to an end in 757 by the Rashtrakuta.


Besides the performance of Vedic sacrifices, the worship of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, especially of the last two, was getting popular, From the seventh century onwards the Alvar saints, who were great devotees of Vishnu, popularized the Worship of this god. The Nayanars rendered a similar service to the cult of Shiva. From the seventh century onwards, the cult of bhakti began to dominate the religious life of the south Indians and the Alvars and Nayanars played a great part in propagating it.

The Pallava kings constructed a number of stone temples in the seventh and eighth centuries for housing these gods. The most famous of them are the seven ratha temples found at Mahabalipuram, at a distance of 65 km from Chennai. These were built in the seventh century by Narasimhavarman, who founded the port city of Mahabalipuram or Mamallapuram. This city is also famous for the Shore Temple, which was a structural construction, put up independently and not hewn out of any rock. In addition to this, the Pallavas constructed several such structural temples at their capital Kanchi. A very good example was the Kailashanath temple built in the eighth century. The Chalukyas of Badami erected numerous temples at Aihole from about A.D. 610. Aihole contains as many as 70 temples. The work was continued in the adjacent towns of Badami and Pattadakal. Pattadakal has ten temples, built in the seventh and eighth centuries. The most celebrated of these are the Papanatha temple (C. 680) and the Virupaksha temple (C. 740). The first, although 30 metres long, has a low and stunted tower in the northern style. The second was constructed purely in southern style. It is about 40 metres in length and has a very high square and storeyed tower (shikhara). The temple walls are adorned with beautiful pieces of sculpture representing scenes from the Ramayana.

We have no clear idea how these early temples were maintained. After the eighth century, land grants to temples became a common phenomenon in south India and usually they were recorded on the walls of the temples. But the temples seem to have been constructed and maintained out of the taxes collected by the king from the common people. Some temples in Karnataka under the Chalukyas were erected by the Jaina traders. Although the common people worshipped their village gods by offering them paddy and toddy, they may also have made offerings to these temples to acquire status and to satisfy their religious cravings.

Demaads on the Peasantry

For carrying on wars, for cultivating art and literature, for promoting religion and for maintaining the administrative staff, enormous resources were needed. These were apparently provided by the peasantry. The nature of burdens imposed on the agrarian communities is more or less the same in the Vakataka kingdom and the Pallava kingdom although the former belonged to Vidarbha and Maharashtra and the latter to southernAndhra and northern Tamil Nadu. In addition to land tax, which was a part of the produce, the king could demand benevolence in the form of cereals and gold and could bore certain trees such as the palmyra for obtaining salt and moist substances such as sugar and liquor, all derived from plants. Of course all the deposits and hidden treasures in the villages belonged to him. Further, he demanded flowers and milk, wood and grass and could compel the villagers to carry loads free of charge. The king was also entitled to forced labour or vishti.

In connection with the visit of royal officials, who would appear in the villages either for collecting taxes or for punishing the criminals and also in course of the march of the army, the rural communities had to perform a number of obligations They had to supply bullocks for carts and provide cots, charcoal, ovens, cooking pots and attendants.

This whole list of imposts would show that the state made heavy demands on the labour and produce of the peasantry. Most of these demands are covered by the 18 types of immunities granted to the brahmanas from the fourth century A.D. Later more and more demands were made on-the peasantry.

Rural Expansion

These numerous demands made by the king on the agrarian population presuppose capacity to pay on the part of the peasantry. Collection could not have been possible unless there was increase in agricultural production. In this period we witness the formation of new states in the trans-Vindhyan regions. Every state had a number of feudatory chiefdoms, which were small states within a large state. Each of these states, big or small, paramount of feudatory, needed its own army, its own taxation system, its own administrative machinery and a good number of priestly and similar supporters. Every state, therefore, needed resources which could be obtained from its rural base. Therefore, the states could not multiply without the proliferation of rural communities or increase in agricultural production in the existing villages. It seems that in tribal areas the brahmanas were granted land and the tribal peasantry learnt the value of preserving cattle and better methods of agriculture from them. In certain areas there was dearth of labour power. In order to keep the economy of such areas going it was also found necessary to make over some sharecroppers and weavers to the brahmanas, as is known from an early Pallava grant, Therefore the large number of grants made to the brahmanas played an important role in spreading new methods of cultivation and increasing the size of the rural communities.

In this period we come across three types of villages in south India; ur, sabha and nagaram. Ur was the usual type of village inhabited by peasant castes, who perhaps held their land in common; it was the responsibility of the village headman to collect and pay taxes on their behalf. These villages were mainly found in southern Tamil Nadu. The sabha type of village consisted of brahamadeya villages or those granted to the brahmanas and of agrahara villages. The brahmana owners enjoyed individual rights in the land but carried on their activities collectively. The nagaram type of village consisted of the village settled and dominated by combinations of traders and merchants. This happened possibly because trade declined and merchants moved to villages. In the Chalukya areas rural affairs were managed by village elders called mahajana. On the whole the period circa A.D. 300 A.D. 750 provides good evidence of rural expansion, rural organization and better use of land.

Social Structure

We can present a rough outline of the sodial structure that developed in this period. Society was dominated by princes and priests. The princes claimed the status of brahmanas or kshatriyas though many of them were local clan chiefs promoted to the second varna through benefactions made to the priests. The priests invented respectable family trees for these chiefs and traced their descent from age-old solar and lunar dynasties. This process enabled the new rulers to acquire acceptability in the eyes of the people. The priests were mainly brahmanas, though the Jaina and Buddhist monks should also be, placed in this category. In this phase priests gained in influence and authority because of land grants. Below the princes and priests came the peasantry, which was divided into numerous peasant castes. Possibly most of them were called shudras in the brahmanical system. If the peasant and artisan castes failed to produce and render services and payments, it was looked upon as a departure from the established dharma or norm. Such a situation was described as the age of Kali. It was the duty of the king to put an end to such a state, of affairs and restore peace and order which worked in favour of chiefs and priests. The title dharwa-maharaja, therefore, is adopted by the Vakataka, Pallava, Kadamba and Western Ganga kings. The real founder of the Pallava power, Simhavarman, is Credited with coming to the rescue of dharma when it was beset with the evil attributes typical of the Kaliyuga. Apparently it refers to his suppression of the Kalabhras who upset the existing social order.

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