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The Rashtrakutas
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Society, Religion and Economic conditions:
The Rashtrakuta society was based on the traditional four - fold division; but a number of sub-castes had emerged on occupational basis. The Dharmasastras indicate that there was considerable mobility among the social groups. Brahmins were not averse to taking up civil or military offices in the State. The Kshatriyas too were disposed to pursue vocations, supposedly meant for the lower orders. It is also pointed out that the period saw a marked improvement in the position of the Sudras, as he could take up military profession or opt for agriculture, trade or industry. Yet untouchability remained an entrenched social evil.

The Rashtrakuta rulers were the followers of Vedic religion, and the worship of Vishnu and Siva was popular. Jainsim enjoyed royal patronage. Amoghavarsha I is said to have had his leanings towards Jainsim, and that his preceptor was Jinasena. The great Jaina scholar, Gunabhadra, was a teacher of Krishna II. However, Buddhism had been on a decline, and its one important centre was Kanheri.

The economy of the period was evidently based on agriculture. However, mining seemed to have been developed, and there are references to copper mines in Bijapur, Bellary Cudappah and Dharwar. The mines of Golkonda yielded precious stones. The most important industry of this period was textile industry, and the surplus manufacture of cloth encouraged export. The Arabs had been playing a key role in the overseas commerce of the empire. Though barter was the most method of exchange, the inscriptions speak of currencies of Gold, and Silver like Suvarna Dramma, Kalanju Manjati and Akkam. The economy must have been prosperous enough to support the vast schemes of conquests and expansions, which the Rashtrakuta rulers undertook.

The Rashtrakura period was one of brisk and creative literary activity, both in Sanskrit and Kannada. Trivikrama, the author of Nalachampu was an important Sanskrit poet of the period. Halayudha, who was patronized by Krishna III, wrote Kavirahasya and Mritasanjivini. The Rashtrakuta feudatory, Arikesari of Vemulavada, patronized Somadevasuri, who wrote Nitikavyamrita. The period saw the activities of many advaita scholars like Padma pada and Visvarupa and Jain theologians like Virasena, Jinasena, Gunabhadra, Pushpadanta, Akalanka and others who enriched literary tradition as well.

Kannada language, script and literature showed remarkable growth during the Rashtrakuta period. Kannada alphabet assumed sound and beautiful shapes and forms, and its literature attained productivity and dignity. The inscriptions mention a number of Kannada poets. However, the first extent work in Kannada is Kavirajamarga, a treatise on Kannada poetics. It is ascribed to the Rashtrakuta ruler Amoghavarsha I Nripatunga. Although some scholars argue that it was written by his court - poet, Sri Vijaya Ponna, the famous Kannada poet, was patronized by Krishna III, and was honoured with the title, Kavichakravarthi. The great classical Kannada poet, Pampa who wrote Adipurana and Vikramarjuna Vijaya, was patronized by Arikesari of Vemulavada, who was a feudatory of the Rashtrakutas. The inscription at Jura, belonging to the reign of Krishna III, is regarded as an epigraphical landmark of classical Kannada literary composition, with charming poetic diction in polished Kanda metre.

Art and Architecture:
The Rashtrakuta contributions to art and architecture are reflected in the splendid rock-cut shrines at Ellora and Elephanta. It is said that they altogether constructed 34 rock-cut shrines, but most extensive and sumptuous of them all is the Kailasanatha temple at Ellora. Hewn out of single solid granite about 100 feet high, the temple measures 150' X 100'. There are four main parts of the temple, and those are the main shrine, the entrance gateway to the west, a Nandi pavilion and cloisters all round the courtyard. It is possible that the supplementary shrines were excavated at a later date. The temple is a splendid achievement of art, and Vincent Smith extols it as the most marvelous architectural freak and one of the wonders of the world.

The poet who wrote the inscription at Ellora, fancies that even the denizens of heaven were awe-stricken by its grandeur, whispering among themselves, "this must be the Creator's miracle and not a human performance, otherwise how could it be so perfect and magnificent!"

Dr. Percy Brown observes: "The temple of Kailasa at Ellora is not only the most stupendous single work of art executed in India, but as an example of rock architecture it is unrivalled…. The Kailasa is an illustration of one of those occasions when men's minds, hearts and heads work in unison towards the consummation of a supreme ideal."

The Dashavatara temple is large and simple. There are figure sculptures of great size, which depict both the Vaishnava and Siva themes. The Hiranyakashipu relief is an outstanding sculpture, which has earned full-throated praise from Ananda Coomaraswamy. There are other cave temples at Ellora like Ravana - ka - khai, Rameshvara and Dhumar Lena. Of the Jaina shrines the outstanding are the Chota Kailasa, Indra Sabha and Jagannath Sabha.

The sculptural masterpieces of Elephanta have been widely acclaimed. It is pointed out that the sculptured reliefs of Nataraja and Sadashiva at Elephanta are better executed than the Bhairava relief at Ellora. There are splendid sculptures of Ardhanarishvara and Maheshamurthy at Elephanta. The latter is a three-faced bust of Siva, which is more than 25 feet high, and is regarded as "one of the finest sculptures in all India."

As Grousset points out, "The three countenances of the One Being are here harmonized without a trace of effort. There are few material representations of the divine principle at once as powerful and as well balanced as this in the art of the whole world".

Next edition: The Chalukyas of Kalyani

to be continued…..


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