Pallava Empire
275 CE–897 CE
Pallava territories during Narasimhavarman I c. 645. This includes the Chalukya territories occupied by the Pallavas.
Pallava territories during Narasimhavarman I c. 645. This includes the Chalukya territories occupied by the Pallavas.
Common languagesPrakrit, Sanskrit, Tamil, Telugu
• 275–300
Simhavarman I
• 882–897
Historical eraClassical India
• Established
275 CE
• Disestablished
897 CE
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Kalabhra dynasty
Satavahana dynasty
Chola dynasty
Eastern Chalukyas
Today part ofIndia
Sri Lanka[1]
Pallava Monarchs (200s–800s CE)
Vishnugopa I(??–??)
Vishnugopa II(??–??)
Simhavarman III(??–??)
Mahendravarman I600–630
Narasimhavarman I630–668
Mahendravarman II668–670
Paramesvaravarman I670–695
Narasimhavarman II695–728
Paramesvaravarman II728–731
Nandivarman II731–795
Nandivarman III846–869

The Pallava dynasty was an Indian dynasty that existed from 275 CE to 897 CE, ruling a portion of southern India. They gained prominence after the eclipse of the Satavahana dynasty, whom the Pallavas served as feudatories.[2][3]

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 were in constant conflict with both Chalukyas of Badami in the north and the Tamil kingdoms of Chola and Pandyas in the south and Pallava were finally defeated by the Chola Aditya I in the 9th century CE.[4]

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.


Kailasanathar Temple, Kanchipuram, Tamil Nadu, 685–705
Inner court or the circumambulatory passage with 58 subshrines. Kailasanathar Temple, Kanchipuram
Pillar with multi-headed lions. Kailasanathar Temple, Kanchipuram

There were numerous theories about the origin of Pallavas.[5] According to many notable scholars like Gabriel Jouveau, N.S Ramaswamy early pallavas originated in Andhradesa, which forms present day Andhra region and then extended till kanchipuram of present day Tamilnadu.[6][7]The early literary works of pallavas were traced in Prakrit and sanskrit from third century to sixth centuary and tamil literary records of Pallavas were only available from seventh century.[8]

A Sangam Period classic, Manimekalai, attributes the origin of the first Pallava King from a liaison between the daughter of a Naga king of Manipallava named Pilli Valai (Pilivalai) with a Chola king, Killivalavan, out of which union was born a prince, who was lost in ship wreck and found with a twig (pallava) of Cephalandra Indica (Tondai) around his ankle and hence named Tondai-maan. Though Manimekalai posits Ilam Tiriyan as a Chola, not a Pallava, the Velurpalaiyam plates dated to 852, do not mention the Cholas. Instead, they credit the Naga liaison episode, and creation of the Pallava line, to a different Pallava king named Virakurcha, while preserving its legitimising significance. [9]

Another version states that "Pallava" was born from the union of the Brahmin Ashvatthama with a Naga Princess also supposedly supported in the sixth verse of the Bahur plates which states "From Ashvatthama was born the king named Pallava".[10] The Pallavas themselves claimed to descend from Brahma and Ashvatthama.[11]

Historically, early relations between Nagas and Pallavas became well-established before the myth of Pallava's birth to Ashvatthama took root.[12] A prashasti (literally "praise"), composed in 753 on the dynastic eulogy in the Kasakadi (Kasakudi) plates, by the Pallava Trivikrama, traces the Pallava lineage from creation through a series of mythic progenitors, and then praises the dynasty in terms of two similes hinged together by triple use of the word avatara ("descent"), as below:[9]

...from him (Aśvatthāman) in order (came) Pallava, the lord of the whole earth, whose fame was bewildering. Thence, came into existence the race of Pallavas... [including the son of Chūtapallava] Vīrakūrcha, of celebrated name, who simultaneously with (the hand of) the daughter of the chief of serpents grasped also the complete insignia of royalty and became famous.

Velurpalaiyam plates dated to 852 AD, mentioned Virakurcha to be the first king of the Pallava dynasty as grant tells that Virakurcha grasped the complete insignia of royalty after marrying a Naga princess of Cutu-Nagas of Vanavasi who were feudatories of Andhras.[13][9]

The Proceedings of the First Annual Conference of South Indian History Congress also notes: The word Tondai means a creeper and the term Pallava conveys a similar meaning.[14] Since the Pallavas ruled in the territory extending from Bellary to Bezwada, it led to the theory that they were a northern dynasty who contracted marriages with princesses of the Andhra Dynasty and so inherited a portion of southern Andhra Pradesh.[10]

Historian K. R. Subramanian says the Pallavas were originally a Telugu power rather than a Tamil one. Telugu sources know of a Trilochana Pallava as the earliest Telugu king and they are confirmed by later inscriptions.[15] The first Chalukya king is said to have been met, repulsed and killed by the same Trilochana near Mudivemu (Cuddappah district). A Buddhist story describes Kala the Nagaraja, resembling the Pallava Kalabhartar as a king of the region near Krishna district. The Pallava Bogga may be identified with the kingdom of Kala in Andhra which had close and early maritime and cultural relations with Ceylon.[12]

K. A. Nilakanta Sastri postulated that Pallavas were descendants of a North Indian dynasty who moved southwards, adopted local traditions to their own use, and named themselves as Tondaiyar after the land called Tondai.[14][16] K. P. Jayaswal also proposed a North Indian origin, putting forward the theory that the Pallavas were a branch of the Vakatakas.[14][17]

The earliest inscriptions of the Pallavas were found in the districts of Bellary, Guntur and Nellore and all the inscriptions of the dynasty till the rise of Simhavishnu were found in the latter two of those.[12]

The mention of the Pallava king Vishnugopa of Kanchi, in the Allahabad record of Samudragupta in the fourth century, is noted as an important milestone in early Pallava history.[18]


With Cholas

The Pallavas captured Kanchi from the Cholas as recorded in the Velurpalaiyam Plates, around the reign of the fifth king of the Pallava line Kumaravishnu I. Thereafter Kanchi figures in inscriptions as the capital of the Pallavas. The Cholas drove the Pallavas away from Kanchi in the mid-4th century, in the reign of Vishugopa, the tenth king of the Pallava line. The Pallavas re-captured Kanchi in the mid-6th century, possibly in the reign of Simhavishnu, the fourteenth king of the Pallava line, whom the Kasakudi plates state as "the lion of the earth". Thereafter the Pallavas held on to Kanchi until the 9th century, until the reign of their last king, Vijaya-Nripatungavarman.[19]

With Kadambas

The Pallavas were in conflict with major kingdoms at various periods of time. A contest for political supremacy existed between the early Pallavas and the Kadambas. Numerous Kadamba inscriptions provide details of Pallava-Kadamba hostilities.[20]

Kadamba dynasty's founder Mayurasharma first succeeded in establishing himself in the forests of Shriparvata (possibly modern Srisailam in Andhra Pradesh) by defeating the Antharapalas (guards) of the Pallavas and subduing the Banas of Kolar in 345 CE. The Pallavas under Skandavarman were unable to contain Mayurasharma and recognised him as a sovereign in the regions from the Amara Ocean (Western Ocean) to Prehara (Malaprabha River). Some historians feel that Mayurasharma was initially appointed as a commander (Dandanayaka) in the army of the Pallavas, as the inscription uses such terms as Senani and calls Mayurasharma Shadanana (six-faced god of war). After a period of time, due to the confusion caused by the defeat of Pallava Vishnugopa by Samudragupta (Allahabad inscriptions), Mayurasharma formed his kingdom with Banavasi (near Talagunda) as his capital.[21]

With Kalabhras

During the reign of Vishnugopavarman II (approx. 500–525), political convulsion engulfed the Pallavas due to the Kalabhra invasion of the Tamil country. Towards the close of the 6th century, the Pallava Simhavishnu stuck a blow against the Kalabhras. The Pandyas followed suit. Thereafter the Tamil country was divided between the Pallavas in the north with Kanchipuram as their capital, and Pandyas in the south with Madurai as their capital.[22]


The royal custom of using a series of descriptive honorific titles, Birudas, was particularly prevalent among the Pallavas. The birudas of Mahendravarman I are in Sanskrit, Tamil and Telugu. The Telugu birudas show Mahendravarman's involvement with the Andhra region continued to be strong at the time he was creating his cave-temples in the Tamil region. The suffix "Malla" was used by the Pallava rulers.[23] Mahendravarman I used the biruda, Satrumalla, "a warrior who overthrows his enemies", and his grandson Paramesvara I was called Ekamalla "the sole warrior or wrestler". Pallava kings, presumably exalted ones, were known by the title Mahamalla ("great wrestler").[9]

Languages used

Coin of the Pallavas of Coromandel, king Narasimhavarman I. (630-668 AD).Obv Lion left Rev Name of Narasimhavarman with solar and lunar symbols around.

All early Pallava royal inscriptions were either in Sanskrit or Prakrit, considered the official languages of the dynasty while the official scripts were Pallava and later Grantha. Similarly, inscriptions found in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka State are in Sanskrit and Prakrit.[24] 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 power (Mahadevan 1995a: 173–188). The Pallavas in their Tamil country used Tamil and Sanskrit in their inscriptions.[25][26]

Tamil came to be the main language used by the Pallavas in their inscriptions, though a few records continued to be in Sanskrit.[26] 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.[26]

Writing system

Main article: Pallava alphabet

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.


Pallavas were followers of Hinduism and made gifts of land to gods and Brahmins. In line with the prevalent customs, some of the rulers performed the Aswamedha and other Vedic sacrifices.[27] They were, however, tolerant of other faiths. The Chinese monk Xuanzang who visited Kanchipuram during the reign of Narasimhavarman I reported that there were 100 Buddhist monasteries, and 80 temples in Kanchipuram.[28]

Pallava architecture

The Shore Temple at Mahabalipuram built by Narasimhavarman II
Early Pallava style pillar, 7th c.
Early Pallava style pillar, 7th c.

Further information: Pallava art and architecture

The Pallavas were instrumental in the transition from rock-cut architecture to stone temples. The earliest examples of Pallava constructions are rock-cut temples dating from 610–690 and structural temples between 690–900. A number of rock-cut cave temples bear the inscription of the Pallava king, Mahendravarman I and his successors.[29][30][31][32]

Among the accomplishments of the Pallava architecture are the rock-cut temples at Mahabalipuram. There are excavated pillared halls and monolithic shrines known as Rathas in Mahabalipuram. Early temples were mostly dedicated to Shiva. The Kailasanatha temple in Kanchipuram and the Shore Temple built by Narasimhavarman II, rock cut temple in Mahendravadi by Mahendravarman are fine examples of the Pallava style temples.[33] The temple of Nalanda Gedige in Kandy, Sri Lanka is another. The famous Tondeswaram temple of Tenavarai and the ancient Koneswaram temple of Trincomalee were patronized and structurally developed by the Pallavas in the 7th century.[34][35]

Pallava society

The Pallava period beginning with Simhavishnu (575 AD – 900 AD) was a transitional stage in southern Indian society with monument building, foundation of devotional (bhakti) sects of Alvars and Nayanars, the flowering of rural brahmanical institutions of Sanskrit learning, and the establishment of chakravartin model of kingship over a territory of diverse people; which ended the pre-Pallavan era of territorially segmented people, each with their culture, under a tribal chieftain.[36] While a system of ranked relationship among groups existed in the classical period, the Pallava period extolled ranked relationships based on ritual purity as enjoined by the shastras.[37] Burton distinguishes between the chakravatin model and the kshatriya model, and likens kshatriyas to locally based warriors with ritual status sufficiently high enough to share with Brahmins; and states that in south India the kshatriya model did not emerge.[37] As per Burton, south India was aware of the Indo-Aryan varna organized society in which decisive secular authority was vested in the kshatriyas; but apart from the Pallava, Chola and Vijayanagar line of warriors which claimed chakravartin status, only few locality warrior families achieved the prestigious kin-linked organization of northern warrior groups.[37]


Sastri chronology

The earliest documentation on the Pallavas is the three copper-plate grants, now referred to as the Mayidavolu, Hirehadagali and the British Museum plates (Durga Prasad, 1988) belonging to Skandavarman I and written in Prakrit.[38] Skandavarman appears to have been the first great ruler of the early Pallavas, though there are references to other early Pallavas who were probably predecessors of Skandavarman.[39] Skandavarman extended his dominions from the Krishna in the north to the Pennar in the south and to the Bellary district in the West. He performed the Aswamedha and other Vedic sacrifices and bore the title of "Supreme King of Kings devoted to dharma".[38]

The Hirahadagali copper plate (Bellary District) record in Prakrit is dated in the 8th year of Sivaskanda Varman to 283 CE and confirms the gift made by his father who is described merely as "Bappa-deva" (revered father) or Boppa. It will thus be clear that this dynasty of the Prakrit charters beginning with "Bappa-deva" were the historical founders of the Pallava dominion in South India.[40][41]

The Hirahadagalli Plates were found in Hirehadagali, Bellary district and is one of the earliest copper plates in Karnataka and belongs to the reign of early Pallava ruler Shivaskanda Varma. Pallava King Sivaskandavarman of Kanchi of the early Pallavas ruled from 275 to 300 CE, and issued the charter in 283 CE in the 8th year of his reign.

Vijaya Skandavarman (Sivaskandavarman) was king of the Pallava kingdom at Bellary region in Andhra, and viceroy of Samudragupta at Kanchipuram. The writer of the grant was privy councillor Bhatti Sharman and was supposed to be valid for 100,000 years.

As per the Hirahadagalli Plates of 283 CE, Pallava King Sivaskandavarman granted an immunity viz the garden of Chillarekakodumka, which was formerly given by Lord Bappa to the Brahmins, freeholders of Chillarekakodumka and inhabitants of Apitti. Chillarekakodumka has been identified by some as ancient village Chillarige in Bellary, Karnataka.[40]

In the reign of Simhavarman IV, who ascended the throne in 436, the territories lost to the Vishnukundins in the north up to the mouth of the Krishna were recovered.[42] The early Pallava history from this period onwards is furnished by a dozen or so copper-plate grants in Sanskrit. They are all dated in the regnal years of the kings.[27]

The following chronology was composed from these charters by Nilakanta Sastri in his A History of South India:[27]

Early Pallavas

Later Pallavas

The rock-cut temples at Mamallapuram constructed during the reign of Narasimhavarman I
Elephant carved out of a single-stone

The incursion of the Kalabhras and the confusion in the Tamil country was broken by the Pandya Kadungon and the Pallava Simhavishnu.[43] Mahendravarman I extended the Pallava Kingdom and was one of the greatest sovereigns. Some of the most ornate monuments and temples in southern India, carved out of solid rock, were introduced under his rule. He also wrote the play Mattavilasa Prahasana.[44]

The Pallava kingdom began to gain both in territory and influence and were a regional power by the end of the 6th century, defeating kings of Ceylon and mainland Tamilakkam.[45] Narasimhavarman I and Paramesvaravarman I stand out for their achievements in both military and architectural spheres. Narasimhavarman II built the Shore Temple.

Later Pallavas of the Kadava Line

The kings that came after Paramesvaravarman II belonged to the collateral line of Pallavas and were descendants of Bhimavarman, the brother of Simhavishnu. They called themselves as Kadavas, Kadavesa and Kaduvetti. Hiranyavarman, the father of Nandivarman Pallavamalla is said to have belonged to the Kadavakula in epigraphs.[46] Nandivarman II himself is described as "one who was born to raise the prestige of the Kadava family".[47]

Aiyangar chronology

According to the available inscriptions of the Pallavas, historian S. Krishnaswami Aiyangar proposes the Pallavas could be divided into four separate families or dynasties; some of whose connections are known and some unknown.[48] Aiyangar states

We have a certain number of charters in Prakrit of which three are important ones. Then follows a dynasty which issued their charters in Sanskrit; following this came the family of the great Pallavas beginning with Simha Vishnu; this was followed by a dynasty of the usurper Nandi Varman, another great Pallava. We are overlooking for the present the dynasty of the Ganga-Pallavas postulated by the Epigraphists. The earliest of these Pallava charters is the one known as the Mayidavolu 1 (Guntur district) copper-plates.

Based on a combination of dynastic plates and grants from the period, Aiyangar proposed their rule thus:

Early Pallavas

Middle Pallavas

Later Pallavas

Later Pallavas of the Kadava Line

Genealogy of Māmallapuram Praśasti

The genealogy of Pallavas mentioned in the Māmallapuram Praśasti is as follows:[9]

Other relationships

Pallava royal lineages were influential in the old kingdom of Kedah of the Malay Peninsula under Rudravarman I, Champa under Bhadravarman I and the Kingdom of the Funan in Cambodia.[49] Pallan dynasty who were also the descendants of the Iran.[50] According to some historians, the Pallars who are presently existing are classified as Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes are descendants of Pallavas who ruled the Andhra and Tamil countries between the 6th and 9th centuries.[51][52]

See also


  1. ^ Ancient Jaffna: Being a Research Into the History of Jaffna from Very Early Times to the Portuguese Period, C. Rasanayagam, p.241, Asian Educational Services 1926
  2. ^ The journal of the Numismatic Society of India, Volume 51, p.109
  3. ^ Alī Jāvīd and Tabassum Javeed. (2008). World heritage monuments and related edifices in India, p.107 [1]
  4. ^ Gabriel Jouveau-Dubreuil. The Pallavas. Asian Educational Services, 1995 - Art, Indic - 86 pages. p. 83.
  5. ^ Chaurasia, Radhey Shyam. History of Ancient India: Earliest Times to 1000 A. D. Atlantic Publishers & Dist. ISBN 9788126900275.
  6. ^ Jouveau-Dubreuil, Gabriel (1995). The Pallavas. Asian Educational Services. ISBN 9788120605749.
  7. ^ Ramaswami, N. S. (1975). Amaravati, the art and history of the stupa and the temple. Govt. of Andhra Pradesh.
  8. ^ Kumar, Raj (2008). Encyclopaedia of Untouchables Ancient, Medieval and Modern. Gyan Publishing House. ISBN 9788178356648.
  9. ^ a b c d e Rabe, Michael D (1997). "The Māmallapuram Praśasti: A Panegyric in Figures". Artibus Asiae. 57 (3/4): 189–241. JSTOR 3249929. ((cite journal)): Unknown parameter |subscription= ignored (|url-access= suggested) (help) Cite error: The named reference "RMD 189-241" was defined multiple times with different content (see the help page).
  10. ^ a b Ordhendra Coomar Gangoly. The art of the Pallavas, Volume 2 of Indian Sculpture Series. G. Wittenborn, 1957. p. 2. Cite error: The named reference "Gangoly" was defined multiple times with different content (see the help page).
  11. ^ Jaiswal, Suvira (2000). Caste: origin, function, and dimensions of change. Manohar Publishers. p. 115. ISBN 9788173043345.
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  25. ^ Heras, p 38
  26. ^ a b c Venkayya, V (April 1911). "Velurpalaiyam Plates of Nandivarman III". The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland: 521–524. JSTOR 25189883.
  27. ^ a b c Nilakanta Sastri, A History of South India, p.92
  28. ^ Kulke and Rothermund, pp121–122
  29. ^ Nilakanta Sastri, pp412–413
  30. ^ James G. Lochtefeld (2002). The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Hinduism: A-M. The Rosen Publishing Group. p. 399. ISBN 978-0-8239-3179-8.
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  34. ^ "Group of Monuments at Mahabalipuram". Retrieved 23 October 2012.
  35. ^ Group of Monuments at Mahabalipuram, Dist. Kanchipuram, Archaeological Survey of India (2014)
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