September 26, 2013

THE BADAMI CHALUKYAS - Part I

THE THREE KINGDOMS OF THE SOUTH

In the early 6th century AD, political instability had gripped the northern parts of the Deccan peninsula. A sting of weak rulers and internal feuds had completely weakened the Kadamba dynasty which had ruled this region for nearly two centuries. The era of the Banavasi kings was in its twilight; the situation presented a golden opportunity to both, subordinate chieftains and external forces to increase their influence. Taking advantage of the chaos, a new family rose to power in this part of the country, filling in the vaccum caused by recent developments. Ruling from their capital of Badami (or Vatapi) near Bagalkot in their first stint, they went on to carve an empire that covered large portions of southern and central India between the sixth and the eight century; in fact, at their zenith, their territorial extent was more than twice as big as their predecessors. They maintained large and efficient armies that helped them repulse invasions from the north and win decisive victories over their rivals in the south. Their contribution in the field of literature, especially that in the local language - Kannada is immense. And finally, their elegant architecture is considered amongst the finest in our history; some elements of their style were later improvised by the Vijaynagar rulers too. The Badami Chalukyas are one of the most distinguished and illustrious dynasties of our country.

Though the exact origins of this clan, like most of our early dynasties is shrouded in mystery, it is fairly clear that they were feudatories to the Kadambas prior to their ascent. The details of the political developments that took place in the seventeen year period between the death of the last Kadamba king Harivarma in 525 AD and the establishment of the Chalukya power in 542 AD are unknown. Pulakeshi I who broke off all allegiance to the Banavasi court, laid the real foundation of the kingdom. The fourth Chalukya king, rather emperor Pulakesi II is undoubtedly, the greatest to occupy the throne and was the real architect of the empire. A military genius, his stunning victory over the mighty Vardhana emperor Harsha on the banks of the Narmada (a rare instance of a southern king successfully repulsing an attack from the north) is regarded as his greatest feat. Tragically, the last few years of his reign saw the Pallavas lead a successful campaign against him and Pulakeshi is believed to have died on the battlefield. In the eight decade long period following his demise, the Pallavas always had the upper hand in the war between the two dynasties. Things started changing when Vikramaditya II ascended the throne. He avenged earlier humiliation caused by defeat at the hands of his enemy by capturing Kanchipuram on three different occasions. A benevolent emperor, he refused to sack the magnificent temples in Tamil country and is said to have made several grants to the priests and the poor. He subjugated kingdoms in the deep south and also checked the Arab invasion. His son and successor Kirtivarman II was the last significant ruler of this line. Winds of change were sweeping Deccan. The Pandyas and the Rashtrakutas captured large parts of their kingdom, besides isolating them diplomatically. As Dantidurga and his successors expanded their possessions, leading their armies up to Kannauj - the richest city in contemporary India, the Chalukyas were forced to accept the overlordship of the Rashtrakutas, waiting for the appropriate time to stage a comeback.

A second branch of the Chalukyas ruled over the Seemandhra region since 624 AD from their capital of Vengi, near modern Eluru. The origins of this dynasty, also known as the Eastern Chalukyas lies in the conquest of coastal Andhra Pradesh by the emperor Pulakeshi II in the early seventh century. Knowing that the new territories were too far to be efficiently administrated from his capital, he appointed his younger brother Kubuja Vishnuvardhana as the viceroy of eastern Deccan. However, with the death of his elder brother, a war of succession broke amongst his sons even as the Pallavas captured Vatapi for thirteen years. It was at this time that Vishnuvardhana declared his independence and held sway over the territories between Srikakulam and Nellore along the Coromandel coast covering the fertile Krishna and Godavari deltas. The exact nature of relationship between him and his successors on one hand and their relatives ruling from Badami on the other, is not very clear. As the Rashtrakutas become powerful, the vengi kings accepted their suzerainty. King Vijayaditya III was known to be a close ally of the emperor Amogavarsha II. After the death of his friend, the Vengi king is believed to have raided and captured parts of the Rasthrakuta empire. Several wars were fought between these two families between 870 to 930 AD. As the Deccan plunged into chaos in the late eleventh century, the Eastern branch enlarged its territories. A serious threat to their existence came in the year 1006 AD when the Western Chalukyan king Satyasraya invaded Andhra with the aim of uniting the two kingdoms. However, timely intervention by the Chola army saved the eastern half. In the later years, both the Kalyana Chalukyas and the Cholas who were locked in a power struggle in the south, tried to increase their influence in the Vengi court by trying to place their own favourites on the throne. This dynasty - the longest serving of all the Chalukyan clans lost much of its prestige by 1070s and finally came to an end about a century later in 1189 AD. Though they are not as popular as their other relatives, they played a key role in the development of the Telugu language and brought about peace in the region in the period which is known as the 'Golden Age in Andhra history'.

The resurgence of the Chalukyas in their native Karnataka began when the powerful yet liberal Rashtrakuta emperor Krishna III made Tailapa II the chief of Tardavadi province near Bijapur in 965 AD for his services. The kings who occupied the throne after him were weak and the invasions from the north lead to further deterioration. Tailapa killed Karka - the last Rashtrakuta king and seized their capital of Manyakheta, establishing the Western Chalukaya kingdom. We are not sure about their relationship with the earlier Badami line of kings. But what we know for sure is that they fought constantly with a ruling family from the Tamil country - the Cholas. His son Satyasraya tried to capture the fertile Vengi region but failed. Someshvara I moved the imperial capital to Kalyani and hence, this dynasty is also referred to as the Kalyani Chalukyas. In the 1070s, an internal feud broke out between his two sons - Somesvara II and Vikramaditya V which escalated into a civil war involving vassals and neighbouring kingdoms. Finally, it was Vikramaditya who emerged as the winner and went on to become the greatest ruler of this line of kings. He inflicted two heavy defeats on the Cholas and cut down the feudatories to size in a reign that lasted nearly five decades. However, in the later half of the twelfth century, the Chalukyan kingdom faced the heat from emerging powers - the Kakatiyas, the Hoysalas and the Seunas. Somesvara IV, the last king fought hard to revive their fortunes but was sent into exile. Thus ended the rule of the Chalukyas in the Deccan in the 1200 AD.

Some scholars believe that the Solankis of Annhilwara - a dynasty that ruled Gujarat between the tenth and the thirteenth century were related to the Chalukyas of the Deccan in some way. The word 'Solanki' is said to be derived from 'Selukya' which in turn is a corrupted form of 'Chalukya'. However, it is not correct to base our assumptions merely on words and their origin. On the other hand, there is some probability that the above assumption may be true. We are sure that southern Gujarat was under the occupation of two Chalukyan dynasties - the Badami family and the Kalyani family for considerable period of time. Like it happened in Vengi, it is highly likely that a Badami Chalukya viceroy of Lata, as Gujarat was known then, may have been the fore father of the founders of the Annhilwara kingdom. We know that during the reign of Badami emperor Vikramaditya II, his viceroy in Gujarat - Avanijanashraya Pulakeshi who was somewhat closely related to the reigning king, inflicted a crushing defeat on the Arabs of Sindh which was much appreciated in the Badami court. It may be possible that the Solankis were descendents of this Puleshi or some other Chalukya viceroy of Gujarat. As such, a link cannot be entirely ruled out. However, unlike the Vengi Chalukyas or the Kalyana Chalukyas who claim to have descended from the Badami line of rulers in their inscriptions, no such mention is made by the Annhilwara kings. Hence, until some strong evidence emerges in this regard, it is better to assume that the Solankis had no links whatsoever, with Chalukyas of the Deccan.

Read the complete series on Badami Chalukyas here (Link)