January 10, 2015

THE BADAMI CHALUKYAS - Part VI

THE ACHIEVEMENTS

(1) The Vesara style of Temple Building: The heart of the Badami Chalukya empire - the Malaprabha basin dotted by the towns of Badami (Vatapi), Aihole, Pattadkal and Mahakuta are described by many as the 'cradle of Indian temple architecture'. The Chalukyas blended the elements of the Nagara style of the North that reached its pinnacle during the Gupta era and the southern Dravidan style of their nemesis - the Pallavas to give rise to the Vesara temple architecture.

The Badami rulers as well as their queens were prolific builders; using locally available sandstone, the architects patronized by them created some of the most magnificent temples in northern Deccan. Designated as UNESCO World Heritage sites, the temples of this region, namely the Virupaksha, the Mallikarjuna and the Kashi Vishwanatha shrines in Pattadkal, the Lad Khan and Durga temples in Aihole and numerous cave temples in Badami are some of the most well preserved specimens of Chalukyan architecture. In fact, they are counted amongst the most beautiful heritage structures in the country and annually attract thousands of visitors.

(2) The development of Kannada: With nearly 4 crore speakers, Kannada is amongst the forty most spoken languages in the world. Spoken primarily in the state of Karnataka in southern India, it has a history of nearly two millennia. Though the language got its independent script during the Kadamba era, it was in the reign of the Badami Chalukyas when it became popular. The large number of Kannada inscriptions attributed to the kings and emperors of this dynasty are a clear indication that Kannada was not only the official language of the Vatapi court but it was also widely understood by a large section of their subjects. Besides, their closest allies - the Western Gangas too were great patrons of the language.

Of course, the contribution of preceeding dynasties as well as those who succeeded the Badami Chalukyas viz the Kadambas, the Rashtrakutas, the Gangas, the Kalyani Chalukyas, the Hoysalas and the Vijaynagar Empire in the development of Kannada too is immense; some will argue that several of the most important literary works were written much after the glitter and pomp of the Vatapi court had passed into the history books. However, in many ways, they were continuing the tradition that began first at the Banvasi and which was taken to an all new level during the days of the Badami kings.

(3) Stabilizing Deccan: The first empire builders based out of medieval Deccan, the Badami Chalukyas, at their height were the masters of the entire peninsular region, stretching from southern Rajasthan to Kanyakumari. The greatest ruler of this dynasty, Pulakeshi II led a mighty army on campaign across southern India, banishing his rivals and forging diplomatic ties with others; not so surprisingly, he is widely considered to be one of the most able monarchs in the history of the country. Though none of his illustrious successors succeeding in building an empire as strong as his, they managed to hold on to their domain in spite of being at constant state of war with their neighbors. The rulers of this dynasty were efficient administrators; during their reign, the core of the empire was largely peaceful. In fact, for nearly two centuries, the Badami Chalukyas provided much needed stability to Deccan which helped in creating an atmosphere conducive for the growth of art, architecture and literature. Moreover, during this time, trade flourished and prosperity prevailed as mentioned in the memoirs of Hiuen Tsang.

(4) Keeping the invaders at bay: Perhaps, one of the glorious moment in the history of entire Southern India came when Chalukyan monarch Pulakeshi II repulsed the invasion of the Emperor Harshavardhan of Kannauj on the banks of the Narmada river. It is one of the few rare instances in antiquity when peninsula was able to defend itself from the attacks of the rulers of the Gangetic plain. What makes this victory remarkable is that Harsha was no ordinary king; he was the undisputed Overlord of Northern India and had a vast army consisting of hundreds of elephants. About a century later, his namesake - Avanijanashraya Pulakeshi who was a Chalukyan prince governing Lata, saw off an invasion mounted by the Arabs in the west during the reign of Vikramaditya II. And that is not all; the Badami rulers also checked the rising powers of the Pallavas of Kanchipuram in the south.

The period between 7th century and 11th century was the time when Southern India was much more powerful and stable than the rest of the country. While northern and western parts of the nation were split into several smaller kingdoms following the death of Harshavardhan, Deccan was ruled by two powerful and warring dynasties - the Chalukyas and the Pallavas. In course of time, the Rashtrakutas who are the political successors of the Badami clan even managed to capture Kannauj which was the richest city in contemporary Northern India.

(5) Establishing relationship with rulers outside the Sub-continent: So powerful were the Badami rulers that tales of their military strength and fame traveled much beyond the realm of the Indian Sub-continent. Pulakeshi II, the warrior king who beat Harshavardhan and died on the battlefield while fighting Pallava Narshimavarman I is believed to set up diplomatic relationship with the Persian court. Similarly, other kings who occupied the throne of Vatapi are said to have sent emissaries to China and weilded considerable influence in the politics of Sri Lanka too for a certain period. There are others who believe that Chalukyans had some form of contact with the Khmer kingdom in South East Asia. Though the evidence to confirm this claim is missing, there is no doubt that the Badami Chalukya rulers were one of the strongest players in South Asian politics during this period.

Read the complete series on Badami Chalukyas here (Link)