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Southern Kingdoms of India, Chalukyas, Pallavas, Pandyas

The decline of the Gupta Empire led to a period of confusion and political flux in the northern part of India. With the exception of the reign of Harshavardhan, the entire north India witnessed a continuous struggle, as there were a number of small states, each one of them fighting with the others to gain the upper hand. However, the situation in the Deccan and south India was different from that in the north. Unlike the kingdoms that emerged in the north during this period, the kingdoms of South India were large and powerful.

A number of kingdoms emerged in the Deccan and peninsular part of India after the decline of the Satvahana dynasty, which ruled a large part of central India, including the Deccan region and Andhra Pradesh. The important kingdoms of south India between AD 500 and AD 750 were that of the Chalukyas, Pallavas, and the Pandyas. The relationship between most of the kingdoms of the south was not amicable and they constantly fought with each other.


The Chalukyas built their kingdom on the ruins of the Vakataka dynasty who themselves had built up their state on the remains of the Satvahana kingdom. Vatapi (modern Badami) became the capital of the Chalukyan state. The famous Chalukyan ruler Pulakeshin II (AD 609-642) was a contemporary of Harshavardhan. While Harsha wanted to expand his empire to the south, Pulakeshin II wanted to move to the northern parts of the country. As the ambitions of both the rulers collided, they met in a battle on the banks of River Narmada, where Harsha was defeated.

The defeat ended the dreams of Harsha of expanding his empire southwards. On the other hand, the problems of the Chalukyas were far from over, as they had to constantly deal with two adversaries, the Rashtrakutas (from the north) and the Pallavas (from the south). The Rashtrakutas, who ruled a small stretch of area in the north Deccan region, were originally subordinate to the Chalukyas, but in the course of time they began to challenge the power of the Chalukyas. In the 8th century AD, the Rashtrakutas finally defeated the Chalukyas.

During the reign of Pulakeshin II, the Pallavas began to emerge as a powerful force to the south of the Chalukyan kingdom. The struggle between Pallavas and the Chalukyas spanned three hundred years, beginning from the 6th century AD. Pulakeshin II fought a battle against the Pallava ruler Mahendravarman and defeated him in 610 AD. However, after a few years in 642 AD, the Pallava king Narasimhavarman attacked the Chalukyan kingdom, defeated Pulakeshin II and captured Vatapi, the capital of the Chalukyas. After surviving many upheavals, the Chalukyas continued to survive until the 12th century AD, when their rule finally ended.

Vatapi, the capital of the Chalukyan kingdom, was a flourishing city. It had trade with a number of places like Persia (Iran), Arabia, and the ports on the Red Sea, along with a number of kingdoms in Southeast Asia. Pulakeshin II had diplomatic links with the rulers of Persia. The Chalukyan rulers were great patrons of art and provided financial aid for constructing temples and cave shrines through different parts of the Deccan hills. The magnificently carved sculptures in the temples and temple complex built by them are splendid examples of their artistic skills.


On the ruins of the eastern part of the kingdom of the Satvahanas, the Pallava rulers established their kingdom. The Pallava rulers originally worked as officials under the Satvahana rulers and, in the course of time, they established themselves as local rulers. Soon their kingdom spanned parts of southern Andhra Pradesh and northern Tamil Nadu. They established their capital at Kanchi (modern Kanchipuram near Chennai), which gradually became popular and famous for its temples and as center of Vedic learning.

The Pallavas fought many wars with the Chalukyas (to the northwest) and the Pandyas (to the south). Both of these states tried their best to stop the Pallavas from rising, but failed. King Mahendravarman was a contemporary of Pulakeshin II, the Chalukyan ruler. Like other rulers in south India, he was a poet and musician apart from being a good warrior.

The Pallava Empire continued to live on until the 13th century AD. However, after 9th century AD onwards, they succumbed to the combined armies of the Pandyas and the Cholas and from then on remained as a minor feudal state under the Cholas.


The kingdom of the Pandyas was south to that of the Pallavas and emerged during the 6th century AD. They set up their capital at Madurai. Their kingdom was confined to the southernmost and southeastern parts of the Indian peninsula. The kingdom of the Pandyas prospered from the trade with the Romans. Their kingdom continued to exist until the 11th century AD, when the mighty Chola rulers subdued them.


The society of south India was also caste ridden, like that in north India. The Brahmins (priestly class) and Kshatriyas (warrior class) dominated the people belonging to the lower castes. The position of the Brahmins was on the rise as the rulers began to grant land to temples and important priests.

The peasants either tilled land belonging to the ruler or the temples and little remained with them. Religion played an important part in the life of the people in south India. Buddhism was not popular there, and followers of Jain faith were few. Hinduism held sway in these kingdoms and Vedic sacrificial rights were common. The cult of Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva became important during this time and Kanchipuram became an important pilgrim center for the Hindu devotees. Kanchipuram, which was the capital of the Pallavas, also became an important center of Tamil and Sanskrit studies.

The temples were not the only places of worship, but they became important cultural and administrative centers where festivals were held. People also gathered in the temples to solve local problems, as the temples governed large areas of land and the people thereof.


The rulers of these southern kingdoms were not only great warriors, but also were great patrons of art and architecture. The Pallava kings built a number of important temples in the seventh and the eighth centuries AD. The large rock-cut temples at Mahabalipuram are magnificent examples of the architectural prowess of the artisans of that time. Temple architecture reached its zenith in ancient India when the Kailashnath temple at Ellora was built in the 8th century. Like the Pallavas, the Chalukyas were also great builders. They built a number of temples in Aihole in the 7th century AD. The rock-cut cave temples of Badami and the Virupaksha temple at Pattadakal are good examples of Chalukyan architectural skills. It is even said that the caves of Ajanta, the rock-cut temples of Ellora, and Elephanta have been built by the Chalukyas.


As trade with Rome declined after 6th century AD, towns became redundant and decayed. The beginning of the medieval period (after AD 750) saw the emergence of the great Chola Empire. The Indian subcontinent also began to witness an emergence of cultural units, having their own distinct language, culture, cuisine, etc, which later on laid the foundation of different "states". The early 8th century also saw the migration of large number of people of Iranian origin on the west coast of India, who were later on known as the Parsis.

The period between AD 500 to 750 in south India was not only a time of intense struggle, but also saw the rise in activities pertaining to art, architecture, and religion.