ANCIENT AND MEDIEVAL KINGDOMS IN SOUTHERN INDIA

ANCIENT AND MEDIEVAL KINGDOMS IN SOUTHERN INDIA

During the Kushana Dynasty, an indigenous power, the Satavahana Kingdom (first century B.C.-third century A.D.), rose in the Deccan in southern India. The Satavahana, or Andhra, Kingdom was considerably influenced by the Mauryan political model, although power was decentralized in the hands of local chieftains, who used the symbols of Vedic religion and upheld the varnashramadharma . The rulers, however, were eclectic and patronized Buddhist monuments, such as those in Ellora (Maharashtra) and Amaravati (Andhra Pradesh). Thus, the Deccan served as a bridge through which politics, trade, and religious ideas could spread from the north to the south. [Source: Library of Congress *]

Dravidian social order was based on different ecoregions rather than on the Aryan varna paradigm, although the Brahmans had a high status at a very early stage. Segments of society were characterized by matriarchy and matrilineal succession--which survived well into the nineteenth century--cross-cousin marriage, and strong regional identity. Tribal chieftains emerged as "kings" just as people moved from pastoralism toward agriculture, sustained by irrigation based on rivers, small-scale tanks (as man-made ponds are called in India) and wells, and brisk maritime trade with Rome and Southeast Asia. *

Discoveries of Roman gold coins in various sites attest to extensive South Indian links with the outside world. As with Pataliputra in the northeast and Taxila in the northwest (in modern Pakistan), the city of Madurai, the Pandyan capital (in modern Tamil Nadu), was the center of intellectual and literary activities. Poets and bards assembled there under royal patronage at successive concourses and composed anthologies of poems, most of which have been lost. By the end of the first century B.C., South Asia was crisscrossed by overland trade routes, which facilitated the movements of Buddhist and Jain missionaries and other travelers and opened the area to a synthesis of many cultures. *

Early Tamil Kingdoms

Farther south were three ancient Tamil kingdoms--Chera (on the west), Chola (on the east), and Pandya (in the south)--frequently involved in internecine warfare to gain regional supremacy. They are mentioned in Greek and Ashokan sources as lying at the fringes of the Mauryan Empire. A corpus of ancient Tamil literature, known as Sangam (academy) works, including Tolkappiam, a manual of Tamil grammar by Tolkappiyar, provides much useful information about their social life from 300 B.C. to A.D. 200. There is clear evidence of encroachment by Aryan traditions from the north into a predominantly indigenous Dravidian culture in transition. *

Ancient literature describes a homeland of the Tamils—the dominant ethnic group in southern India—that more or less corresponds with the modern state of Tamil Nadu. Writing, urbanization, and other aspects of classical Indian culture appear to have been introduced by sea between the 5th and 2nd centuries B.C. The earliest Tamil inscriptions are in Jain caves, dated to about the end of the 1st century B.C. Beginning in the 2nd century B.C. large irrigation systems were built, especially on the Kaveri River, and increased agricultural productivity made the creation of major kingdoms and civilizations possible.

The Tamils were never absorbed by the north Indian kingdoms. The Pandyan kingdom dates back to the 2nd century B.C. According to ancient Tamil literature it was founded by the daughter Herakles with help from 500 elephants,, 4000 cavalry, 13,000 infantry and Roman ships. The Pandiya kingdom produced Tamil Sangam literature, unique poetic books written in the A.D. 1st to 3rd centuries that describe trade with Europeans. Poompuhar was the center of a Tamil dynasty that traded with the Far East, Rome and Egypt in the A.D. 2nd century but was destroyed by a tsunami in the 6th century. The ruins now lie in the sea about three kilometers from the sea. Other Tamil kingdoms included Cholas on the Kaveri Basin, the Ceras in Kerala, and the great Pallava kingdom at Kanchipuram which endured from 7th to the 9th centuries. The Coljas developed a rich civilization in 10th to the 13th centuries and for a while ruled Sri Lanka, the Maldives and parts of Indonesia.

Southern India After the Gupta Empire

When Gupta disintegration was complete, the classical patterns of civilization continued to thrive not only in the middle Ganga Valley and the kingdoms that emerged on the heels of Gupta demise but also in the Deccan and in South India, which acquired a more prominent place in history. In fact, from the mid-seventh to the mid-thirteenth centuries, regionalism was the dominant theme of political or dynastic history of South Asia. Three features, as political scientist Radha Champakalakshmi has noted, commonly characterize the sociopolitical realities of this period. First, the spread of Brahmanical religions was a two-way process of Sanskritization of local cults and localization of Brahmanical social order. Second was the ascendancy of the Brahman priestly and landowning groups that later dominated regional institutions and political developments. Third, because of the seesawing of numerous dynasties that had a remarkable ability to survive perennial military attacks, regional kingdoms faced frequent defeats but seldom total annihilation. [Source: Library of Congress *]

Peninsular India was involved in an eighth-century tripartite power struggle among the Chalukyas (A.D. 556-757) of Vatapi, the Pallavas (A.D. 300-888) of Kanchipuram, and the Pandyas (seventh through the tenth centuries) of Madurai. The Chalukya rulers were overthrown by their subordinates, the Rashtrakutas, who ruled from 753 to 973. Although both the Pallava and Pandya kingdoms were enemies, the real struggle for political domination was between the Pallava and Chalukya realms. *

Despite interregional conflicts, local autonomy was preserved to a far greater degree in the south where it had prevailed for centuries. The absence of a highly centralized government was associated with a corresponding local autonomy in the administration of villages and districts. Extensive and well-documented overland and maritime trade flourished with the Arabs on the west coast and with Southeast Asia. Trade facilitated cultural diffusion in Southeast Asia, where local elites selectively but willingly adopted Indian art, architecture, literature, and social customs. *

Culture in Southern India after the Gupta Empire

The interdynastic rivalry and seasonal raids into each other's territory notwithstanding, the rulers in the Deccan and South India patronized all three religions--Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism. The religions vied with each other for royal favor, expressed in land grants but more importantly in the creation of monumental temples, which remain architectural wonders. The cave temples of Elephanta Island (near Bombay, or Mumbai in Marathi), Ajanta, and Ellora (in Maharashtra), and structural temples of Kanchipuram (in Tamil Nadu) are enduring legacies of otherwise warring regional rulers. By the mid-seventh century, Buddhism and Jainism began to decline as sectarian Hindu devotional cults of Shiva and Vishnu vigorously competed for popular support. *

Although Sanskrit was the language of learning and theology in South India, as it was in the north, the growth of the bhakti (devotional) movements enhanced the crystallization of vernacular literature in all four major Dravidian languages: Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, and Kannada; they often borrowed themes and vocabulary from Sanskrit but preserved much local cultural lore. Examples of Tamil literature include two major poems, Cilappatikaram (The Jewelled Anklet) and Manimekalai (The Jewelled Belt); the body of devotional literature of Shaivism and Vaishnavism--Hindu devotional movements; and the reworking of the Ramayana by Kamban in the twelfth century. A nationwide cultural synthesis had taken place with a minimum of common characteristics in the various regions of South Asia, but the process of cultural infusion and assimilation would continue to shape and influence India's history through the centuries. *

Pallava Kingdom

The Pallavas were a seafaring dynasty based near present-day Madras. The Pallava kingdom ruled much of south India from A.D. 350 to 880 and helped spread Indian civilization to Southeast Asia,. The Khmer civilization at Angkor Wat began as Hindu Civilization. The Pallavas, it is believed, were initially a pastoral tribe whose early capitalwas located at Pallavapuri (Bhavatri, Nellore in Andhra Pradesh). They belonged to a sect called "Thiraiyar" and the region they ruled was called"Thondaimandalam". After their capital was washed away by the sea due to a natural disaster, the Pallavas moved southwards to Kanchipuram and settled there and established a more powerful kingdom with its territory occupying Northern Orissa,Tanjore and Trichi.

Though classical writings talks about Pallavas, there is no particular mention of any Pallava rulers's name. Excavations by the Indian archeological department reveals the earliest possible reign dated back to A.D. 1st or and 2nd century. The earliest known coinage was made of lead and issued by the then Pallavs between A.D. 3rd and 4th century. Around the A.D. 4th century, Pallavas defeated Ikshvakus and occupied the land around the river Krishna. An inscription in Allahabad describes Hastivarman of Vengi's defeat to Samudraguptain the A.D. 4th century. A copper plate from the A.D. mid 4th centur ,talked about a Pallava grant in Andhra by Siva Skandavarman. [Source: Glorious India <>]

During the 5th century, the Pallavas expanded very fast, crossed the river Krishna and occupied Bellary, Sorth and South Arcot, Trichirapalli, Chengalpet and part of Tanjoretoo. At the end of A.D. 500, the territory came into the possession of Simha Vishnu, and he became the founder of the Pallava dynasty. He fought several wars and his kingdom enjoyed prosperity. After his death, his son Mahendravarman succeded him. He was a learned man, who started the work of cave temple at Mahabalipuram. Chalukya Pulkesi-II learned about the riches of Kanchi and attacked the kingdom to defeat Mahendravarma. Mahendravarman died a broken man. His son Narasimhavarman was a man of tact and intelligence. Pulekisin II, the great Chalukya ruler, learned of the riches of Kanchi and wanted to capture it. He came with a huge army and defeated Mahendravarman at Pullalur in 620 A.D. Mahendravarman’s attempts to take revenge in a series of battles with Pulikesin in the northern part of Tamil Nadu were all futile. He died a broken man in A.D. 630. <>

Narasimhavarman ascended the throne in A.D. and vowed to revenge the insult done tohis father by the Chalukyas. With a large army, he defeated Pulikesi II inthe Battle of Manimangalam and Pariyalam in the year A.D. 632. He completely burnt the capital city of Pulakesi. Narasimhavarman was well built and was a great wrestler too. Badami maintained his control until A.D. 655 until Vinayaditya restored it back to the Chalukya realm. Narasimhavarman completed the cave temples of Mahabalipuram and constructed a large number of temples. The Pallava dynasty endured until the Cholas took it over the in the 9th century. <>

Chalukya Dynasty

The Chalukyas were the dominant power in the Deccan region of southern India during A.D. 6th to 8th century. During the A.D. 10th century they regained their power and ruled 12 century. The Chalukyas who ruled from Badami were the Western Chalukyas. The one who ruled from Kalyani are referred as Later Western Chalukyas and the Chalukyas of Vengi are known to the historians as the Eastern Chalukyas. The legendary history of the Chalukyas makes their origin very controversial. [Source: Glorious India <>]

They claimed descent from Pulakesin I (reigned 543-566), who established himself at Badami (in Bijapur) and who asserted their independence at the decline of the Satavahana empire and rapidly rose to prominence during the reign of Pulakesin II (reigned 609-642). The Early Chalukyas held power in northern Karnataka from the 6th century until 757, and were rivals to the Pallavas. Vengi (in East Andhra Pradesh) became the centre of the Eastern Chalukya dynasty, which ruled there from 624 until the 11th century, surviving the fall of the Early Chalukyas in Badami. The Late Chalukyas gained ascendancy in the Deccan about 973, centered at Kalyani. The history of the Kalyani Chalukya kingdom was largely one of war with the Cholas and defense against the incursions of the Turks and Arabs who were plundering North India. The kingdom broke up in 1189. <>

Early Western Chalukyas Rulers

With the modest beginning under Jayasimha and his son Ranaraga, Chalukyas ruled from about A.D. 535 to 566. The real dynasty is known to be founded by the Maharaja Pulakesin I. Pulakesi I took up many titles such as Satyasraya and was a scholar too. He ruled from Badami, the present day Bijapur. Pulakesin I was succeeded by his son Kritivirman I, who constructed several temples and buildings in the town of Vatapi. The political influence of Chalukyas spread over a wider region embracing southern part of Maharastra, Mysore and Tamil Nadu. He defeated the rulers of Vanga, Anga, Kalinga, Vattura, Magadha . He is also stated to have broken up the confederacy of Kadambas. Mangalesa, the brother of Kritivirman I, ascended the throne in 598 AD. The Kalachuris were conquered by Mangalesa and the whole of central and northern maratha country was brought into the territory. The eventual civil was between Mangalesa and his nephew Pulakesi-II cost Mangalesa his own life. [Source: Glorious India <>]

Pulakesi II ascended the throne in 610 and ruled until 642. The reign was troubled. Various parts of Chalukyas assumed independence. Internal rebellions and frequent invasion by Appayika and Govinda were eventually subdued. He defeated Gangas of south Mysore and Mauryas of Konkan. These conquests brought him into contact with Harsha and in A.D. 637. Harsha was defeated when Harsha invaded Kathiawad. Pulakesi II defeated the Pallava king Mahendra Varman I and crossed the Cauvery river and made friends with the Cholas, Keralas and Pandyas. Because Pallavas were not totally crushed, they took revenge and attacked Pulakesi II. Pulakesi II appears to have been killed in the battle, and the Chalukya empire began to decline after that. <>

After the death of Pulakesi II, Badami and some of the southern districts remained in the hands of Pallavas. Though Chalukyas’ throne remained vacant from A.D. 642 to 655, Vikramaditya I managed to ascend the throne in 655. He recovered Badami and brought the whole kingdom under his control. Vinayaditya, the next to Vinayaditya, ruled from 681 to 696 and carried on campaigns against Cholas, Pandyas, Pallavas, Aluvas. By defeating the Lord of the entired Uttarapatha, he acquired the banner Palidhvaja. His immediate successor Vijayaditya ruled for nearly forty years (696 - 733). His reign was stated to have been peaceful throughout. <>

Vikaramaditya II, a son of Vijayaditya, ruled from A.D. 734 to 745. He defeated the Pallava king, ending hostilities between those two kingdoms. With this conquest, he took possession of musical instruments, banner, elephants, rubies which belonged to the Pallavas. He destroyed the power of the Chola, Kerala, Pandya. Kritivarman II, the son of Vikramaditya II, reign for the next eleven years. He was the last and glorious ruler of Chalukyas. For the next fifty years, the Chalukya power was totally eclipsed by the Rashtrakutas. Dantidurga defeated Kritivarman II to gain the control of Chalukyas once for all. The subsequent attempt by Kritivarman II to regain the control was futile. The Rashtrakutas remained the supreme power for the next two centuries until the same was destroyed by the later Western Chalukyas of Kalyani. <>

Later Western Chalukyas

The founder of the later Western Chalukyas was Taila or Tailapa II. He consolidated his realm with the help of earlier Chalukya family and with the help of Kadambas and recovered much of the lost territories of earlier Chalukyas. Kadambas were rewarded with the ruling of Banavasi and Goa. Taila succeeded by his son Satyasraya. Satyasraya won a victory against Raja Raja Chola who had invaded Satyasraya's region. Raja Raja's territories were thus conquered by him. The successors of Satyasraya were Dasavarman, Vikramaditya V, Jayasimha-I and Jagadhekamalla. Jayasimha repelled invasions from the North and the southern invasion from the Chola King Rajendra. He moved his capital from Malkhed to Kalyana (in Bidar). Jagadekamalla is stated to have defeated Bhoja the ruler of Malava confederacy and Chedi King. [Source: Glorious India <>]

The successor Somesvara I (1043 - 1068), the son of Jayasimha expelled Rajadhiraja Chola, but the capital was already plundered by the Cholas prior to it. Inscription states that he broke the succession of Rajendra Chola by killing him. Somesvara I preferred his second son Vikramaditya as his successor, but the latter declined the honour in favour of the elder Somesvara II. Vikramaditya conquered Cholas, Keralas, Ceylon as a military leader of his brother. Somesvara II soon fell into evil ways and soon lost the loyalty of his brother towards him. Vikramaditya ruled the southern part of the kingdom independently. <>

Vikramaditya also received submission from the ruler of konkan, and soon marched against Vira Rajendra Chola, the latter sued for peace by giving his daughter to marry Vikramaditya. When Vira Rajendra died, Vikramaditya placed his brother-in-law named Adhi-Rajendra on the throne of Cholas. After his brother-in-law got killed, Vikramaditya was defeated by the Eastern Chalukya king Jayasimha and was given with the governship of Bellary. <>

Again in 1076, Vikramaditya took the help of Hoysala and ascended the throne as Vikramaditya VI. The two great writers, named Bhilhana and Vijnaneswara flourished in the court of Vikramaditya VI. The next successor Somesvara III was more interested in literary matters and allowed Vishnuvardhana Hoysala to take an opportunity to declare independence. Someswara III was succeeded by Jagadhekamalla II who reigned from 1135 - 1151. Hoysalas invaded the Chalukya territory. Taila III appeared on the throne to rule for the next thirteen years. He was captured by the Kakatiya invader Prola I and the commander-in-chief of Taila-III, Bijjala Kalachuri captured the throne. <>

Bijjala Kalachuri strengthened the position of his kingdom. The kingdom saw rapid succession after his reign. Somesvara (1168 - 1177), Sankama II (1177- 1180), Ahavamalla (1180 - 1183) and Singhana (1183 - 1184) ruled peacefully in succession. However, the Chalukyas were able to recover their territory under the leadership of Somesvara IV, the son of Taila III. His suzerainty was acknowledged by the last Kalachuri ruler Singhana. He soon gained allegiance of Kadambas of both Goa and Banavasi, and Pandyas of Uchchangi. With the attack from the Hoysalas under Vira Ballala I and the Yadavas of Devagiri, the later Western Chalukya dynasty came to and end in about 1190. <>

Eastern Chalukyas

This dynasty was a branch of the Chalukyas of Badami. Pulakesin II, the renowned ruler of Chalukyas conquered Vengi (near Eluru) in A.D.624 and installed his brother Kubja Vishnuvardhana (A.D.624--641) as its ruler. His dynasty, known as the Eastern Chalukyas, ruled for nearly four centuries. Vishnuvardhana extended his dominions up to Srikakulam in the north and Nellore in the south. He was succeeded by his son Jayasimha I (A.D.641--673). Between A.D.641 and A.D.705 some kings, except Jayasimha I and Mangi Yuvaraju, (A.D.681--705) ruled for short duration. Then followed a period of unrest characterised by family feuds and weak rulers. In the meanwhile, the Rashtrakutas of Malkhed ousted Chalukyas of Badami. The weak rulers of Vengi had to meet the challenge of the Rashtrakutas, who overran their kingdom more than once. [Source: Glorious India <>]

There was no Eastern Chalukya ruler who could check them until Gunaga Vijayaditya came to power in A.D.848. He also failed to face the Rashtrakutas, and the then Rashtrakuta ruler Amoghavarsha treated him as his ally. After Amoghavarsha's death, Vijayaditya proclaimed independence. He started on a campaign to the south and achieved some notable success. He ruled for 44 years and passed away in A.D.892. He was succeeded by his brother's son, Chalukya Bhima (A.D.892--921). Rashtrakutas again attacked the Vengi kingdom during this period but were repulsed effectively by Vengi and came to an understanding with Rashtrakutas and treated them as his allies. They were able to maintain their independence until the Chalukyas of Kalyani in A.D.973 overthrew the Rashtrakutas. Contemporaries to the Eastern Chalukyas were the Eastern Gangas in the northeast and the Pallavas in the south. <>

Among the minor Chalukya families that ruled parts of Andhra, those of Vemulavada (presently in Karimnagar district) are the most important. Their rule extended over the present-day Karimnagar and Nizamabad districts. As subordinate rulers loyal to the Rashtrakutas, they ruled with semi-independent status for about two centuries (A.D.755--968). The rule of the Vemulavada Chalukyas coincided with that of the Rashtrakutas. <>

Chola Dynasty

In 985, Maharajah Rajaraja the Great (who name roughly translates to King Kingking the Great) became the leader of the Chola kingdom of southern India. He built a huge stone temple dedicated to Shiva not so much out of piety but as means of unifying support against the Muslims and taking a stake in the trading empires in Southeast Asia, the Indian Ocean and China.

The Chola dynasty had been around several centuries before it became a major player in India. It was mainly a regional power in southern India and didn’t have much influence over India as a whole until later. Battles between the Chola kings and their rivals from Chera and the Pandyan kingdom are described in the poems and epic ballads of Sangam anthologies, the earliest surviving Tamil literature. The Chola Dynasty produced beautiful carved Indian goddesses from granite and bronze. See Art.

The Cholas are among the earliest of South Indian royal houses. The artifacts of the period found in South India, the Mahabharata and Ashokan inscriptions mention it. It is known that Karikala was a Chola ruler who reigned in the A.D. 2nd century. During Karikala's reign, the capital city was moved to Kaveripattanam from Uraiyur. Nedumudikilli seems to have been the successor of Karikala, whose capital town was set to fire by the sea pirates. The frequent attacks of Pallavas, Cheras and Pandyas decreased Chola’s power. Cholas’s glory began when Pallavas power declined. [Source: Glorious India <>]

Chola Dynasty Rulers

Around A.D. 850, Vijayalaya founded the Chola dynasty probably by starting off as a vassal of the Pallava king. With the conflict between Pallavas and Pandyas, Vijayalaya occupied Tanjore and made it his capital. He was succeeded by his son Aditya I. Aditya I defeated Pallava king Aparajita and also Parantaka Viranarayana, the Kongu ruler. Aditya I was soon succeeded by his son Parantaka I, who ruled between 907 to 955. Cholas power reached supremacy under his reign. He annexed territory of of the Pandya King and soon conquered the Vadumbas. He swept away all traces of Pallavas power, but received a set back at the hands of Rashtrakutas. [Source: Glorious India <>]

The most powerful ruler of the Chola kingdom was Raja Raja - the Great. He ruled from 985 - 1014. His army conquered Venginadu, Gangapadi, Tadigaipadi, Nolambavadi, Kudamalai-nadu, Kollam, Kalingam, and Ilamandalam of the Singalas. His first triumph was achieved early in his reign by destroying the Navy of Cheras at Trivendrum. He annexed the north part of Ceylon to his kingdom and sacked Anuradhapuram. Polonnaruva was made his capital of the Chola province of Ceylon. Political divisions of the Western Ganga's Gangavadi, Tadigaivadi and Nolambavadi were conquered in 991 and it remained under them for the next century. Union of Eastern and Western Chalukyas was stopped by helping Eastern Chalukya ruler . Towards the end of the reign, the Cholas was attacked by the Western Chalukyas, but Raja-raja Chola won the war. <>

Rajendra I founded his new capital at Gangaikonda Cholapuram. He set up Vaishnava centre and the Vedic college for teaching Vedas. He had a friendly relationship with the China emperor, and had a peaceful reign of 32 years. He extended the territory inherited from his father, and subdued the power of Pandyas and Keralas. He performed Asvamedha sacrifice too. He was very successful in the beginning but later on he lost his life in the famous battle of Koppam on the Tungabhadra. The next ruler Rajendra II (1052-1064) just managed to maintain the Chola empire though he had to struggle with the troubling Chalukyas. <>

Vira Rajendra (1064 - 1070) was the elder brother of Rajendra II. He succeeded his brother to reign for the next seven years. He met the invasion of Chalukya King and defeated the Chalukya ruler. He reconquered Vengi and foiled the efforts of Vijayabahu of Ceylon who was trying to drive the Cholas out of Ceylon. When Someswara II succeeded the Chalukyas throne, Rajendra made some incursions but later on built a friendly ties by giving his daughter to Vikramaditya. Soon after the death of Vira Rajendra in 1070, there was a contest for the throne and Adhi-Rajendra, the heir apparent took the throne. He had a short uneventful reign, Vijayabahu assumed independence in Ceylon. <>

Rajendra II succeeded Adhirajendra under the title Kulottunga Chola. In about 1073, Kalachuri King Yasahkarana invaded Vengi but did not gain anything. Pandyas and Chera's attack were put down by Kulottunga. The southern Kalinga revolt were put down too. In about 1118, the Viceroy of Vengi - the Vikramaditya VI took control of Vengi from Chola and thus succeeded in separating the Cholas from the Eastern Chalukyas. Gangavadi and Nolambavadi were lost to Hoysala's Vishnuvardhana.

Vikrama Chola (1120 - 1135), the son of Kulottunga I, restored Chola power by reconquering Vengi and by taking control of part of Gangavadi. His reign was somewhat peaceful to his subjects though there were floods and famines in the South Arcot. The Hoysala expansion took control of Chola power slowly and subsequently. The last rulers of Chola—namely Kulottunga II, Rajaraja II, and Rajadhiraja III—could not stop the Hoysalas annexation of Chola Kingdom. Cholas hold on Pandyan kingdom had already weakened. In about 1243, the Pallava chief declared independence. The Kakatiyas and Hoysalas partitioned among themselves the territory of the Chola empire and Chola empire ceased to exist for ever. <>

Chola Sculpture

The golden age of Indian sculpture was during the Chola Dynasty (10th to 13th century). Works from this period included beautiful carved granite Indian goddesses and multi-armed bronze gods. The Chola rulers came to power at a time during the Hindu Restoration, when Hinduism was reasserting itself after a long period when Buddhism and Jainism were strong. Part of the revival was the production of images of Hindu deities. During the early years of the Chola dynasty granite was the favored material but it was heavy and difficult to transport. Bronze then became the material of choice because it could be be crafted into smaller, lighter objects and metal was one of the five elements of nature.

Favored images were the gods Shiva, his consort Parvati, Durga, Ganesha and Lord Rama. Describing a late 10th century bronze Shiva statue called “Lord Crowned with the Moon,”Souren Melikian wrote in International Herald Tribune: it “has a smile of ineffable contentment on its closed lips. It invites and at the same time defies scrutiny.” A Vishnu bronze he wrote, stands “with one arm steadying his club while another peacefully salutes and the other two arms hold up symbols. Here, the deity, smiles with irrepressible glee.” On a Durga made in 970 he wrote it “must have been inspired by a young woman in her teens. She stares with a soft almost timid expression at odds with the character of a goddess that tramples demons. Yet the longer you look at the masterpiece, the more you suspect something in eludes the profane.” [Source: Souren Melikian wrote in International Herald Tribune, February 22, 2003]

Great Living Chola Temples

According to to UNESCO: “The Great Living Chola Temples were built by kings of the Chola Empire, which stretched over all of south India and the neighbouring islands. The site includes three great 11th- and 12th-century Temples: the Brihadisvara Temple at Thanjavur, the Brihadisvara Temple at Gangaikondacholisvaram and the Airavatesvara Temple at Darasuram. The Temple of Gangaikondacholisvaram, built by Rajendra I, was completed in 1035. Its 53-m vimana (sanctum tower) has recessed corners and a graceful upward curving movement, contrasting with the straight and severe tower at Thanjavur. The Airavatesvara temple complex, built by Rajaraja II, at Darasuram features a 24-m vimana and a stone image of Shiva. The temples testify to the brilliant achievements of the Chola in architecture, sculpture, painting and bronze casting. [Source: UNESCO World Heritage Site website \^/]

“The great Cholas established a powerful monarchy in the A.D. 9th century at Thanjavur and in its surroundings. They enjoyed a long, eventful rule lasting for four and a half centuries with great achievements in all fields of royal endeavour such as military conquest, efficient administration, cultural assimilation and promotion of art. All three temples, the Brihadisvara at Thanjavur, the Brihadisvara at Gangaikondacholapuram and Airavatesvara at Darasuram, are living temples. The tradition of temple worship and rituals established and practised over a thousand years ago, based on still older Agamic texts, continues daily, weekly and annually, as an inseparable part of life of the people. \^/

These three temple complexes therefore form a unique group, demonstrating a progressive development of high Chola architecture and art at its best and at the same time encapsulating a very distinctive period of Chola history and Tamil culture. The Brihadisvara temple at Gangaikondacholapuram in the Perambalur district was built for Siva by Rajendra I (1012-1044 CE). The temple has sculptures of exceptional quality. The bronzes of Bhogasakti and Subrahmanya are masterpieces of Chola metal icons. The Saurapitha (Solar altar), the lotus altar with eight deities, is considered auspicious.\^/

“The Brihadisvara temple at Tanjavur marks the greatest achievement of the Chola architects. Known in the inscriptions as Dakshina Meru, the construction of this temple was inaugurated by the Chola King, Rajaraja I (985-1012 CE) possibly in the 19th regal year (1003-1004 CE) and consecrated by his own hands in the 25th regal year (1009-1010 CE). A massive colonnaded prakara with sub-shrines dedicated to the ashatadikpalas and a main entrance with gopura (known as Rajarajantiruvasal) encompasses the massive temple. The sanctum itself occupies the centre of the rear half of the rectangular court. The vimana soars to a height of 59.82meters over the ground. This grand elevation is punctuated by a high upapitha, adhisthana with bold mouldings; the ground tier (prastara) is divided into two levels, carrying images of Siva. Over this rises the 13 talas and is surmounted by an octagonal sikhara. There is a circumambulatory path all around the sanctum housing a massive linga. The temple walls are embellished with expansive and exquisite mural paintings. Eighty-one of the one hundred and eight karanas, posed in Baharatanatya,are carved on the walls of second bhumi around the garbhagriha. There is a shrine dedicated to Amman dating to c.13th century. Outside the temple enclosure are the fort walls of the Sivaganga Little Fort surrounded by a moat, and the Sivaganga Tank, constructed by the Nayaks of Tanjore of the 16th century who succeeded the imperial Cholas. The fort walls enclose and protect the temple complex within and form part of the protected area by the Archaeological Survey of India. \^/

“The Airavatesvara temple at Tanjavur was built by the Chola king Rajaraja II (1143-1173 CE.): it is much smaller in size as compared to the Brihadisvara temple at Tanjavur and Gangaikondacholapuram. It differs from themin itshighly ornate execution. The temple consists of a sanctum without a circumambulatory path and axial mandapas. The front mandapa known in the inscriptions as Rajagambhiran tirumandapam, is unique as it was conceptualized as a chariot with wheels. The pillars of this mandapa are highly ornate. The elevation of all the units is elegant with sculptures dominating the architecture. A number of sculptures from this temple are the masterpieces of Chola art. The labelled miniature friezes extolling the events that happened to the 63 nayanmars (Saiva saints) are noteworthy and reflect the deep roots of Saivism in this region. The construction of a separate temple for Devi, slightly later than the main temple, indicates the emergence of the Amman shrine as an essential component of the South Indian temple complex.” \^/

Kerala

Kerala has a long history of contacts with outsiders and was one of the first parts of the Orient to be open to western Europe. It may have been "Ophir," where King Solomon's ships discovered apes, gold and peacocks. The Greeks, Romans, Chinese and Arabs and maybe the Phoenicians, visited the Malabar Coast before the first European explorers arrived. The Roman established a military facility here and built a temple that honored the Roman Emperor Augustus at the seaport of Cranganur. Islam most likely arrived in Kerala first, in the 7th and 8th centuries, and spread from there to the rest of India. There were also Jewish merchants from Venice. St. Thomas is said to landed here in A.D. 52. Columbus was look for its spices when he landed in America. For a while there was large Arab community in Kerala.

For a time Kerala was only source in the world for pepper. Vasco da Gama came here in 1498 and opened up a trade route that sent cotton fabrics, spices, ivory and other goods to Europe. The Dutch and French briefly controlled the region before the British took control. Ships traveling between places as diverse as Indonesia, Madagascar and Zanzibar often stopped in Kerala to load up on water and food.

Kerala has been known for its independent ways and enlightened views throughout its history. While foreigners were coming and going, Kerala was ruled a succession of kingdoms that varied in size and had complex relations with one another and histories. The kingdoms of Cochin and Travancore remained independent under the British. In the 19th century rulers in the state reduced the power of feudal lords and upper castes and raised the status of lower castes.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Ministry of Tourism, Government of India, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated June 2015

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