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Karnataka History

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Click here to read more about the History of Karnataka.

The decline of the Satavahana power in the Deccan was followed by the rule of many lesser dynasties like the Chutus, the Abhiras and the Ikshvakus during the third century A.D. the Karnataka area, however emerged out of this welter of political confusion in the following century, when the Kadambas of Banavasi rose to prominence. In fact, they were the political and cultural heirs of the Satavahanas in Karnataka. Some scholars believe that they were related to the Satavahanas, as they described themselves as Brahmanas, and as belonging to the Manavya Gotra, and as Haritiputra. Politically, they were the contemporaries of the Guptas, the Vakatakas, the Pallavas and the Gangas.

Prof. G. M. Moraes, the author of 'The Kadambakula' (1931) has rightly pointed out that "The origin of the Kadamba family is enveloped in the mist of legendary tales". According to one account, the originator of this family was one Trilochana Kadamba who had three eyes and four arms. He was born out of the sweat of Siva, which had fallen under a Kadamba tree, hence his name Kadamba. His son was Mauryavarma, the founder of the Kadamba dynasty.

Another legend is to the effect that Mauryavarma himself was the son of Siva and the Earth Goddess, and was born under a Kadamba tree. As he also had a third eye on the forehead, the crown had to be tied to his knee!

The Grama Paddhati, a Kannada work dealing with the history of the Tulu Brahmanas, narrates a story that after Parasurama created the Haiga and Tulu countries, Siva and Parvati came to Sahyadri, and there a child was born to the divine couple. Since the birth took place under a Kadamba tree, the child was named Kadamba, and was placed in charge of the Sahyadri region. Mauryavarma belonged to this family and he made Banavasi his capital.

There are a few more versions about the origin of the Kadamba family. The Devagiri Plates of Krishna Varman I connect the Kadamba family with the Nagas. Another account speaks of the Nanda origin of the Kadambas. There is also a Jain tradition according to which Mauryavarman was the son of the sister of Ananda Jinavritindra. These legends do not in any way put the speculations to rest; and they cannot explain the origin of the Kadamba family. The only plausible account of the origin of the Kadamba dynasty is available in the Talagunda pillar inscription of Santivarma. According to Dr. B. L. Rice, " It gives what appears to be a realistic and true account of the Kadamba line of Kings, free from numerous legends that are current regarding it". It describes at length the circumstances that led to the founding of the Kingdom by Mayurasarman, who by his Kshatriya demeanour came to be known as Mayuravarma.

According to the Talagunda Pillar inscription, the founder of the Kadamba Kingdom was one Mayurasarma who belonged to an orthodox Brahmana family which derived its descent from Hariti and belonged to the Manavya Gotra. The family was deeply devoted to the Vedic studies and the performance of Vedic sacrifices. The Kadamba tree that grew near their house gave the family its name. The Gudnapur inscription, recently discovered by Dr. B. R. Gopal, tells us that Maurya's grandfather was Virasarma, who also acted as his preceptor, and that Maurya's father was Bandhushena who developed the character of a Kshatriya.

The Talagunda inscription narrates how Mayurasarma proceeded to Kanchi, along with his Guru Virasarma to prosecute his Vedic studies at a Ghatika. There, owing to some misunderstanding between him and a Pallava guard, a quarrel arose in which Mayurasarma was humiliated. In high rage, the Brahmana discontinued his studies, left Kanchi, swearing vengeance on the impudent Pallavas, and had recourse to arms. The inscription does not miss the opportunity to provide a dramatic effect to the event, and says: " with the hand dexterous in grasping the Kusa grass, the fuel and the stones, the ladle, the melted butter and the oblation vessel, unsheathed a flaming sword, eager to conquer the Earth". An open rebel against the Pallava authority and arrogance, Mayurasarma collected an army and routed the Pallava officers guarding the frontier and occupied the area of Sriparvata (Srisailam). He then subdued the Brihad-Bana and other kings and collected tributes from them. Unable to tame the power of Mayura, the Pallava rulers thought it wise to compromise with him and acknowledged his sway over the territory from the Western Ocean to Prehara.

Politically, the success of Mayurasarma should be viewed, as scholars like Dr. G. M. Moraes and Prof. K. A. Nilakanta Sastri have pointed out, in context of the confusion that prevailed in the South after the invasion of Samudragupta. Mayura was successful in exploiting the situation to his advantage. It has also been argued that the whole event was a reflection of the revolt of the Brahmanas against the Kshatriya misrule and tyranny. In fact, Mayura, after he successfully defied the Pallava authority, preferred to change his surname 'Sarma' to 'Varma', which was indicative of the Kshatriya status.

The political career of Mayura did not stagnate after he secured a base for his ambition. He soon defied the authority of the Pallavas and proclaimed his independence. His Chandravalli record says that he subdued the Traikutas, Abhiras, Pallavas, Pariyatraka, Sakasthana, Mokhari, Punnata and Sayindhakas. Pariyatraka was the region of the Western Ghats between the Aravalli and the Vindhyas. Sayindhakas were the Sendrakas governing a part of the Shimoga area while Punnata was the Heggadadevanakote region. Dr. P.B. Desai thinks that though it is not improbable that Mayurasarma came into conflict with some of these kings, it is doubtful he went as far as the Sakasthana and Mokhari which are identified with the territories of the Sakas of Ujjaini and the Maukharis of Rajasthan. Dr. K. P. Jayaswal is convinced that Mayurasarma's Kingdom was confined to Karnataka. However, it is said that in commemoration of his spectacular victories, Mayura performed the Aswamedha sacrifice to advertise his sovereignty.

We are not able to establish Mayura's chronology with any certainty. If we accept the view that his activities began after Samudragupta's South Indian expeditions, we may tentatively say that Mayurasarma came to the throne in C. 350 A. D. and ruled for about two decades. His prowess and organizing abilities merit admiration. He was a Dvijothama to start with, but transformed himself into a redoubtable and successful warrior and an Empire-builder. He was convinced that a little toughness was needed to survive in the harsh world around him, and that mere piety and effete goodness were not adequate qualifications for a successful man of action.

Mayurasarma was succeeded by his son Kangavarma in C.365 A.D. perhaps he had to suffer the discomfiture of losing a portion of the Kuntala to the powerful Vakatakas. His son and successor, Bagiratha (C. 390-415) is said to have retrieved the losses of the family, although the Vakataka inscriptions do not substantiate this proud claim. His son Raghu ( C.415-435) succeeded him, and after a hectic rule is said to have lost his life in a contest against the Pallavas. As he died childless, his younger brother, Kakustha Varma (C. 435-455), who had functioned as a Yuvaraja, came to the throne. Dr. G. M. Moraes thinks that under him the " Kadamba Empire reached the acme of its greatness". The Talagunda inscription hails him as " the ornament of the Kadamba Family". He is described as a " formidable warrior" who defied every danger. His political influence is reflected in the fact that he was able to conclude matrimonial alliances with many prominent ruling families of the day. The Talagunda inscription states that he maintained such relationship with the imperial Guptas. It is possible that Kakusthavarma's daughter was married to Kumara Gupta's son, Skanda Gupta. His another daughter Ajjhitabhattarika by name, was married to the Vakataka ruler, Narendrasena. Similar alliances were concluded with the Bhatari chief, the Alupas and the Gangas, thus extending the Kadamba influence among a number of ruling powers. The Halsi plates and the Hamidi inscription refer to the abilities, industry and magnanimity of Kakusthavarma, and bestow eloquent tributes to his greatness.

After Kakusthavarma, the Kadamba Kingdom was divided between his two sons, Santivarma and Krishna Varma I, who commenced their independent rule simultaneously at Banavasi and Triparvata respectively. Santivarma, who was associated with his father's administration, had a brief reign, and was succeeded by his eldest son, Mrigeshavarma, in C. 460 A. D. he crossed his sword against the Gangas and the Pallavas, married a princess from the Kekeyi family, and earned a reputation as impartial administrator of justice. After his death in C. 480 A. D., his brother Shivamandhativarma acted as a regent to the former's son Ravivarma who came to the throne in C. 485 A. D. his rule was marked by a series of clashes against the Triparvata branch of the family, and also against the Pallavas and the Gangas. He is also credited with a victory against the Vakatakas, which extended his Kingdom as far north as the river Narmada. After his death in C. 519, he was succeeded by his son Harivarma, whose brief, undistinguished rule was brought to an end by Krishnavarma II of the Triparvata line. But, by then, the Kadamba power had been considerably weakened by many political and economic forces, and was soon eclipsed by the growing power of the Chalukyas and the Pallavas.

The Triparvata branch of the Kadambas was founded by Krishnavarma I, who was an energetic and successful ruler, who performed the Aswamedha sacrifice. His capital Triparvata is identified as Halebid by Dr. G. M. Moraes and as Murgod in Belgaum district by K. P. Pathak. The latter is more probable. After Krishnavarma I, rulers like Vishnuvarma, Simhavarma and Krishnavarma II managed the affairs of the Triparvata branch. They fought wars against the Banavasi branch, which must have led to considerable exhaustion, and that in turn, led to the decline of the Kadamba power.

The Kadamba rulers managed a kingdom which approximately covered the area of the present Belgaum, North Kanara, Chitradurga and Bellary districts. In administration, the Kadambas, by and large, imitated the Satavahanas. The lofty ideals of administrations expounded in the ancient texts were expected to provide the guidance to the rulers. They assumed such titles as 'Dharmamaharaja', 'Vaijayantidharmamaharajadhiraja', or 'Vedangavidyavisharada'. The Kadamba administration witnessed an important development in the form of an increasing influence of the office of the Yuvaraja. Sometimes, he assisted the king in the administration; sometimes he would look after the affairs of some distant provinces. It certainly provided the necessary training ground for the heir-apparent and made for a smoother transfer of power.

Dr. G. M. Moraes is of the opinion that the King was assisted in administration by a cabinet of five ministers like Pradhana or Prime-minister, Manevergade or the steward of the household, Kramukapala or the betel-carrier, Tantrapala or the minister in charge of the external affairs and the Sabhakarya Sachiva or the secretary of the Council. The inscriptions refer to other officers like the Sarvakaryakartha (the Chief Secretary), the Rahasyadhikrita(Private Secretary), the Rajjukas or the officers in charge of revenue, and the Lekhakas or writers. Dharmadhyaksha was perhaps the Chief Justice. The ministers or the officials were appointed on the basis of their merit and qualifications, as the efficiency of the Government largely depended on them.

The kingdom was divided into provinces (mandalas), which were entrusted to governors who were responsible to the King. For administrative convenience, cities like Halsi, Triparvata or Uchchangi were made secondary capitals although Banavasi had been the Headquarters of the Kadamba authority. The provinces were divided into Vishayas or districts, which were further sub-divided into Mahagramas or Deshagramas, resembling a hobli. The village was the lowest unit of administration, and was under a Gramika. The village enjoyed a great deal of autonomy.

The Kadamba taxation was generally based on the principles laid down by the Smritis. Land tax was not more than one-sixth of the total produce and was the main source of revenue to the State. Inscriptions speak of taxes like Perjunka (levy on loads), Bilkode (sales tax), Kirukula (levy on retail goods on transit), taxes on betel leaves and many other professional taxes on the barbers, oilmen, blacksmiths, carpenters and so on.

The judicail administration in the Kadamba period was marked by leniency and moderation. Capital punishment was not awarded to those guilty of murder, they were merely fined. The judicial procedure, however, seemed to have been simple and sometimes even crude. Ordeals were often resorted to. Justice was mostly a matter of local concern, although the kingdom had a number of courts, a Dharmadhyaksha or Chief Justice, and of course, the King himself, who was the highest Court of appeal. Although details of the army administration are scanty, it is probable that the Kadamba rulers gave adequate attention to the army matters. Officers like Dandanayaka and Senadhipati are referred to in the inscriptions. The Chaturangabala was the basis of the army organization. The Kadambas seem to have enjoyed the Guerilla technique of warfare, and must have used it to great advantage against the Pallavas. Their kingdom had a number of strong, impregnable fortresses, which must have contributed to their militayr strength.

The Kadamba society was organized on the traditional basis of Varnashramadharma. But it is possible that the entry of the foreign elements into the Deccan and the resultant admixture of races and castes which we notice in the Satavahana period continued during the Kadamba rule, and it must have disturbed the social order. The tradition has it that Mayuravarma imported Brahmanas from Ahichchatra in Rohilkhand and settled them in Tulunadu. The Kadamba society did not, however show signs of disharmony among various castes. Women continued to enjoy considerable freedom, and they actively participated in social, cultural and political activities.

The Kadamba economy was primarily agricultural. There are references in the inscriptions to the classifications of lands on the basis of fertility, and also to the survey and measurement of lands. Different types of land tenures like individual ownership and joint ownership are also referred to. The Kingdom could boast of several flourishing cities like Banavasi, Halsi or Belligami. Inland trade was brisk and was in the hands of Virabhanajigas. Overseas trade contact was maintained with the Arabs as with a few Western countries. Honnavar, Mangalore, Goa or Ankola were the flourishing ports in the Kingdom. The Kadambas introduced new traditions in coinage: they replaced the punch-marked coins by the Padma Tankas, which became the model for the South Indian Varaha.

Education, both religious and secular, was promoted in the Agraharas and the Ghatikas. The Jaina and the Buddhist monasteries also worked to provide the educational base to the society. The Ghatikas provided platforms for religious disputation, in which the scholars could excel themselves to merit the title ' Ghatika Sahasa'. The Agraharas, like the Belligami Agrahara or the Talagunda Agrahara became famous as residential universities, which attracted students from far and wide.

Prakrit had the status of an official language under the early Kadamba rulers. But by the time of Kakusthavarma, Sanskrit came to be increasingly adopted. Kannada too was assuming greater importance by the 5th century A.D. as evidenced by the Halmidi inscription.

The Kadambas were the followers and the champions of Brahmanical religion. They were the enthusiastical performers of Vedic sacrifices, and Madhukeshwara of Banavasi was perhaps their family deity. But then, they also patronised Jainism and often so liberally that some scholars thought them to be Jains. Pujyapada, Kumaradatta, Niravadya Pandita and many other Jain saints are mentioned in the Kadamba records. There were Jain monasteries at Belligami, Kuppalur and other places. Buddhism too was a religion in the Kadamba period. Hieun-Tsang in the 7th century describes Banavasi as having about 100 Sangharamas wherein lived 10,000 priests of both Mahayana and Hinayana sects. Archaeological excavations in the region have confirmed this information. However, Saivism seemed to have been popular, and the inscriptions refer to the Saiva sects like the Goravas, Kapalikas, Pasupatas or Kalamukhas. Vaishnavism too must have enjoyed considerable popularity. In short, the Kadambas ruled over a region which presented an interesting mosaic of religions and religious sects.

Although the Kadamba monuments are not known either for their magnificence or their profusion, they have been regarded as one of the foundations upon which the Karnataka architecture is based. The earliest monument of the Kadamba period, according to Dr. G. M. Moraes, is the Jaina Basadi at Halsi, which is said to have been built by Mrigesavarma. It is a simple structure which consists of a Garbhagriha and an Antarala, but not a Mukhamantapa. Here again, the Antarala is wider than the Garbhagriha. The walls are clumsily raised and the granite stones are roughly hewn. The Pranavesvara temple at Talagunda presents a certain measure of refinement: the Pillars are moderately ornamented with geometrical designs and the lintels of the doorways have some floral designs. The temple is said to have been rebuilt by Prabhavati, the Queen of Mrigesavarma, and her son, Ravivarma. The Madhukesvara temple at Banavasi and the Adimadhukesvara temple at Hale-Banavasi belong to the early Kadamba period. So were the Kadambesvara and Srikantesvara temples in the neighbourhood of the Madhukesvara shrine.

The Kadamba style of architecture is further reflected in the group of temples at Kadaroli in the Belgaum district. The Sankaradeva temple presents a square Garbhagriha surmounted by a pyramidal Vimana, which rises in horizontal stages resembling steps. The Hattikesvara temple at Halsi shows yet another stage of the development of the Kadamba architecture, as it has perforated screen windows on either side of the doorway. The Pillars attain greater variety and refinement in the Kallesvara temple at Halsi as well as in the Somesvara temple. The monuments of Yalavatti, of which a Jaina temple is most important, shows the additional sophistication introduced into the Kadamba architecture. Similarly, the Ramesvara temple and the Varanarasimha temple at Halsi show the myriad facets of their architectural tradition. Dr. K. V. Soundara Rajan speaks of three Brahmanical caves at Arvalem in Goa as belonging to this period. They are unique because they are hewn out of laterite rock.

The contribution of the Kadambas to the architectural heritage of Karnataka is certainly worthy of recognition. Dr. G. M. Moraes believes that the Kadamba style can be identified and that it has a few things in common with the Chalukyan and the Pallava styles. They also drew from the architectural tradition of the Satavahanas. It has also been pointed out that in architecture and sculpture, the Kadambas contributed to the foundation of the later Chalukya-Hoysala style.

Mr. Arthikaje

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