The Pallava Kingdom (550 AD – 906 AD)
There is no consensus among historians about the origin of Pallavas. Some say they were the original inhabitants of the Thondai Nadu and descendants of the ancient ruler Ilantirayan. One earlier Pallava inscription at Talavanur hails Mahendra Varman I as the king of Thondai Nadu clan. But others say they were outsiders as they issued edicts mostly in Sanskrit and Prakrit. The Pallavas too called themselves as Brahma-Kshatriyas and proclaimed their mythical lineage from Brahma. The Velurpalayam Copper plate inscriptions of 9th Century AD and the Vayalur stone inscriptions mention the real lineage of Pallava kings. The vast sculptures inside the Vaikunda Perumal temple visually depict the ancestry of Pallava dynasty.
Period of Turbulence and Transition - Whatever might be the origin of the Pallavas, but after coming into the Tamil region they fully merged themselves with its society. The Kalabras’ rule did not satisfy the Tamils’ aspiration for change. The then official religions like Buddhism and Jainism too supported status quo in society and aligned with the trading community. The vast majority of peasants and ordinary people were waiting for change. The powerful religious movements of Saivite Nayanmars and Vaishnavite Azhwars were gaining ground and catching people’s imagination. Exactly at this juncture the Pallavas entered into Tamil Nadu. Their rule in Kanchipuram coincided with the turbulent transitional phase of Tamil society. No wonder, some of the Pallava kings and their chiefs are included among the 63 Saivite Nayanmars.
Pallava rule is classified into earlier phase and later phase. The earlier period Pallava kings ruled mostly outside Kanchi even though they claimed to have issued their royal edicts from Kanchi. As per the Velurpalayam and Vayalur inscriptions, Vira Kurchan, Skanda Varman, Kumara Vishnu and Buddha Varman are the Pallava ancestors – in chronological order. The Velurpalayam inscriptions mention that Kumara Vishnu, the son of Skanda Varman, attacked the Gathika in Kanchi and occupied the city. Gathika was the college for rulers and administrators. Especially, the Kanchi Gathika was very famous in south India. There could have been one or more Gathikas in Kanchi. Control over them symbolized the control over the city. Even though the earlier Pallavas occupied Kanchi, they could not enjoy stability due to constant outside attacks.
The later period Pallava rule was stable and closely associated with the history of Kanchi. In this lineage Simha Varman was the first king (550-560 AD). His Pallan Koil copper plate edict is very important. This is the first among the copper plate edicts in Tamil Nadu to have a royal order issued in Tamil language. Its Sanskrit part starts with the sacred word ‘Swarga’. But its Tamil part starts, replacing the usual ‘Swasthi Sree’ with ‘Kovisaya’ – pure Tamil word. It says about the land grants made by the king to the Jain temples in Tirupparuthi Kundram near Kanchipuram. This grant was given under supervision of Saint Vajra Nandhi of Nandhi Sangam. Simha Varman had two sons, namely, Simha Vishnu and Bheema Varman. After his demise, Simha Vishnu (560 – 590 AD) came to power. Simultaneously, Simha Vishnu’s brother Bheema Varman and his descendants were in-charge of some remote parts of Pallava kingdom about which not much is known.
After Simha Vishnu, his son Mahendra Varman I ascended to throne. From his time onwards, the Pallavas ruled the north, central and western parts of Tamil Nadu for 300 years until 900 AD. In governance, trade, economy, religion, literature, art and architecture Tamil Nadu witnessed distinct progress during the Pallava rule. As centre of all these developments, the capital city Kanchi reached zenith of its glory.
- Mahendra Varman I (590 – 630 AD)
- Narasimha Varman I (630 – 668 AD)
- Mahendra Varman II (668 – 670 AD)
- Parameswara Varman I (670 – 700 AD)
- Narasimha Varman II or Rajasimhan (695 – 728 AD)
- Mahendra Varman III (720 – 728 AD)
- Parameswara Varman II (728 – 731 AD)
- Nandi Varman II or Pallava Mallan (731 – 796 AD)
- Danti Varman (796 – 847 AD)
- Nandi Varman III (846 – 869 AD)
- Nirupathunga Varman (865 – 906 AD)
- Aparajitha Varman (870 – 890 AD)
Since the days of Nirupatunga Varman the Pallava dynasty gradually became weak due to infighting and external invasions. Pandiyas and Cholas attacked from the south; Gangas from the west; Rashtrakutas and Telugu Cholas from the north. After 900 AD the Pallava Kingdom became extinct.