Pallava Dynasty

Pallavas {literally means a branch} were a prominent power in India for more than four centuries between the 6th and 9th centuries.

Origin of Pallavas

There are no records about Pallavas in the vernacular legends. They were forgotten until a copper plate grant was found in 1840. There are several theories of origin around Pallavas. As per one theory, Pallavas were earlier feudatories of Satavahanas. Another theory says that they were offsprings of Chola and Naga rulers of Ilam (Sri Lanka).

Another theory links them to Pahalavas (Indo-Parthians). This theory suggests that the Indo-Parthians were further shifted southwards from northern India and they settled in Tondaimandalam and evolved as Pallavas. They adopted the local religion Saivism and became Dravidians. This theory is supported on the basis of below arguments:

  • Pahalavas were prominent in second century AD in northern parts of India and they had struggled with other outfits for survival.
  • Many sculptures in Mahabalipuram have remarkable affinity with Persian features. This includes the lion symbol and tall cylindrical headdresses wore by Iranians in those times. Further, the pillars resemble with Perseopolis and the roofs of Pancharathas and tower of Kainashnath temple in Kanchipuram shows affinity with the shrines of babylon.

Political History of Pallavas

Initial territories of Pallavas seem not to be very extensive and they look similar to Kalabhras.  The first known king of this dynasty was Sivaskanda Varman who ruled in second century AD. He raised himself against many subordinate chiefs and performed an Ashwamedha. More information is available about Simhavarman who ruled around 570 AD.  He defeated the Tamil countries and kings of Ceylon and tried to extend his dominion. His some Simhavishnu was first Pallava Monarch to have a reign beyond Kanchipuram.


Simhavishnu was patron of Bharavi, the great poet who wrote the famous Kiratrjuniya, the dialogue between Arjuna and Shiva and in which Shiva blessed Arjuna with the Pasupata Shastra.

The next Pallava monarch Mahendravarman-I was a great patron of art and architecture and built the Pancharathas of Mahabalipuram. He also wrote Mattavilasa Prahasana or ‘The Farce of Drunken Sport’, a celebrated ancient Indian satirical play. Further, the rock cut temples at Mahabalipuram (Seven Pagodas) were also excavated by the Pallavas most probably under Mahendravarman I. His son Narsimhmvarman-I defeated and killed his Chalukyan counterpart Pulkesin II in 642 AD. After this victory, he assumed the title “Vatapikonda” after sacking the capital Vatapi (Badami) of Chalukyas.

Nayanmar saints like Appar and Tirugnanasambandar lived during reign of Narsimhvarman-I.  Huen Tsang visited the Pallava kingdom during the reign of Narsimhavarman-I.

Among the successors the important ones were Nripatunga who defeated a Pandya King Shrimara.

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