December 05, 2014



Serving at the court of Banavasi as feudatories in the early sixth century, the Chalukyas of Badami rose to become the first empire builders of the Deccan in the post-Satavahana era. Though north and central peninsular region formed the core of their territory, at the height of their power, their suzerainty extended over extensive parts of modern day Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and southern Orissa. Considered by many to be one of the greatest monarchs in the history of the country, Pulakeshi II - the warrior king who humbled the mighty Emperor Harshavardhan and checked his imperialistic ambitions also belonged to this distinguished and illustrious clan. As their military conquests brought them fame, their fame spread beyond the realm of Deccan which is evident from the fact that they established diplomatic relations with countries far and wide including Sri Lanka, Persia (Iran) and China. As they provided much needed stability to southern India, trade prospered and arts and crafts flourished. The Badami rulers were prolific builders and it was under them that the unique Chalukyan style of temple building emerged. Besides the magnificent temples in places like Badami, Pattadkal, Aihole and Alampur which have been designated as UNESCO World Heritage sites, amongst their greatest legacies that has endured till date is the development of Kannada as an independent language.

As far as the origins of this clan are concerned, I must confess that I am truly impressed by the 'creativity' of the poets and the writers that were patronized by the Chalukyas, especially those ruling from Kalyana and Vengi in the later period. Surely, they can give modern authors and Bollywood script writers a run for their money. In a bid to glorify their history and legitimize their right to rule, the dynastic records claim that they were descendants of great mythological warriors like Chuluka - a great warrior created by Lord Brahma on the request of the Gods to rid the world of Adharma as well as Lord Rama - the protagonist of the epic Ramayana who is considered by Hindus till date as an ideal ruler. They claim that they received the 'boar' or the 'Varaha' emblem from Lord Vishnu and ruled for over 50 generations at Ayodhya before migrating to the south. As far as the original home of the Chalukyas is concerned, some scholars believe that there may be some element of truth in the above mentioned legends and that may have come from the north. Others associate them with Gujarat, few believe that they hailed from Central Asia whereas another school of thought states that their native country was in the peninsula itself; whether it was Andhra or northern Karnataka is another matter of debate.


Though I consider the Chalukyas to be the political successors of the Kadambas, there is a gap of nearly two decades between the death of Harivarma - the last ruler of the latter dynasty in AD 525 and the establishment of the Badami kingdom in AD 543. What exactly transpired in these 18 years and how the Chalukya kingdom was established is as yet, unclear. Anyway, historians are unanimous of the opinion that Pulakeshi I (543-566) was the founder of this clan. As per the inscriptions, he is believed to have performed several elaborate Vedic ceremonies including the Ashwamedha Yagjna (Horse Sacrifice) and further strengthened the fortifications around the metropolis of Vatapi (Badami) which served as their capital. His son and successor Kirtivarman I (566-597) helped stabilize the nascent kingdom by subjugating the ruling clans of Karnataka including the Konkan Mauryas, the Alupas, the Gangas and the Nalas in his three decade long reign. Following his death, his younger brother was appointed as the Regent to the crown prince Ereya who was still a minor. Though he was to look after the administration in the name of his nephew, the inscriptions of Mangalesa (597-609) make it amply clear that he was the third monarch in this line. He is accredited with waging a successful war against the Kalachuris and annexing their territories and capturing Goa. Unfortunately, his reluctance to hand over the throne to his nephew when he came of age led to a civil war in the kingdom that ended in favor of Ereya.


The ascension of Ereya on the throne of Badami marks an important epoch in the history of India in general and that of the Deccan in particular. Taking up the title of Pulakeshi II (610-642), he made the whole of Deccan submit to him at the height of his power. The Aihole inscription penned by his court poet Ravikirti gives a detailed account of his reign, especially the campaigns in his three decade long career.

The fratricidal war that saw him depose his uncle took its toll on the Chalukyan kingdom, shaking its very foundations. Some officers in the administration who were appointed by Mangalesa were averse to him whereas many of the vassal states refused to acknowledge his overlordship. Using his military prowess and shrewd diplomatic skills, the young monarch overcame all these challenges. He saw off the rebellion of Appayika and Govinda, invaded Banavasi, perhaps to dismantle the remnants of the erstwhile Kadamba kingdom and forced a host of sub-ordinate chiefs to submit to his authority either by force or by entering into matrimonial alliances with them. In the next few years, he extended his domain up to the banks of the river Narmada and the received tribute from the Latas, the Pratiharas and the Malawas.

Pulakeshi's greatest feat was his victory over emperor Harshvardhan of Kannauj who was keen to expand his empire down south after humbling most rulers of the north and the east. However, his invasion was repulsed by the mighty Chalukyan army which is believed to have inflicted a heavy defeat on their worthy foe. Following this, the river Narmada was chosen as the boundary between the territories of the two rulers. Next, he undertook a series of conquests in the east that included a victory over the Vishnukundins and the capture of Vengi. He appointed his brother Kubuja Vishnuvardhan as the Viceroy of these newly acquired regions; in course of time, Vishnuvardhan laid the foundation of the Chalukya kingdom of Vengi. Turning his attention to the south, he undertook a successful campaign against the Pallava king Mahendravarman I and defeated him, thereby sowing the seeds of enmity between the two dynasties that would last for over a century. Thus, Pulakeshi converted the shaky kingdom that he had 'forcefully' acquired into a huge empire stretching between the Arabian on one side and the Bay of Bengal on the other. A painting in the Ajanta caves depicts him receiving an ambassador from the King of Persia. Besides, the accounts of Chinese travelers like Xuanzang and Hieun-tsang speak highly of the conditions prevalent in his empire. At this point in history, the power of the Badami Chalukyas was unrivaled across the whole of the peninsula.

Unfortunately, his successes against his southern adversary was rather short-lived; the new Pallava monarch Narsimhavarman I who is considered to be the greatest ruler of his clan regrouped his forces and mounted a counter-invasion to avenge the humiliation suffered by his father. With the support of subordinates like the Cholas, the Pandyas and the Cheras, he beat the Chalukyan army and eventually captured and sacked Vatapi. It is generally believed that the great warrior king Pulakeshi perished on the battle field defending his capital against his rivals. The Pallavas held on to the Chalukyan capital for about 13 years which is regarded as the 'darkest period in the family's history'. Again, what happened in this period is largely unknown though we can conclude that at least two of Pulakeshi's sons - Chandraditya and Adityavarman had taken up royal titles as can be seen from their inscriptions.


It was Pulakeshi's son Vikramaditya I (655-680) who beat the Pallavas and ended their occupation of the Chalukyan capital. A worthy son of a great father, he went about the task of rebuilding the kingdom and re-affirmed his hold up to the river Narmada in the north. Besides, he is believed to have led his army on a southern campaign against the rulers of Kanchi and their allies. While the Chalukyan sources claim that the war ended in favor of Vikramaditya, the records of their adversaries say that it was the Pallava army that emerged victorious. His son Vinayaditya (680-696) who succeeded him is said to have led a victorious expedition to the Gangetic plain as per Chalukyan records. Besides, he is believed to have extracted tribute from the kings of Lanka, Persia and Kamera which some scholars have identified with Khmer or Cambodia; of course, while this would be gross exaggeration, it still shows that this empire had deep ties with rulers and peoples outside the Sub-continent. The reign of Vijayaditya (696-733) that lasted for over three decades, the highest amongst the kings of this line, is largely marked by peace and saw the construction of several temples around Vatapi.

The next ruler in this family - Vikramaditya II (733-746) was the last great ruler of this dynasty. Up till now, it was the Pallavas who held the upper hand in the clash between the two southern empires for supremacy of the peninsula. However, the tide turned in favor of the Vatapi king during his time. As a crown prince, he is said to have invaded the territories of the king of Kanchi and defeated him. Once on the throne, he undertook a second conquest that saw him capture the Pallava metropolis. However, instead of destroying the city, the Chalukyan ruler is said to have made handsome grants to the temples here. This was in sharp contrast to the conduct of the Pallava emperor Narasimhavarman I when he had conquered Badami about a century ago. Thus, Vikramaditya avenged the defeat of his great great grand-father Pulakeshi II by the Pallavas and their subsequent capture of Vatapi. Moreover, his son and crown prince Kirtivarman too is said to have invaded the Kanchi kingdom some years later and defeated their army. Moreover, it was during his reign that his governor of Lata - Avanjijanasraya Pulakeshi a Chalukyan scion repulsed the Arab invasion.


In spite of leading his army to a victory over their arch rivals at such an early stage in his life, the last king Kirtivarman II (746-753) proved to be incompetent as new families began to rise in the Deccan. While they were pre-occupied with exterminating the Pallavas, the Pandyas and the Rashtrakutas were consolidating their position. Kirtivarman is believed to have been defeated by Pandya ruler Maravarman Rajasimha and then by Dantidurga, the founder of the Rashtrakuta dynasty. As he occupied Maharashtra and Gujarat, a substantial part of the south territories were lost to the Pandyas. With his death, sometime in mid 750s, the illustrious line of the Badami Chalukyas is believed to have come to an end.

Read the complete series on Badami Chalukyas here (Link)