South India

Chola Empire

  • As per the traditions, the Chola Country or Cholamandalam was along the Coromandel Coast in the fertile valley of Cauvery river. Its most ancient capital was Uraiyur in Tamil Nadu.
  • This was one of the longest lasting dynasties of South India {circa 300 BC to 13th century}. This 1500 years period has been divided into four parts viz. early Cholas, dark Period, medieval Cholas and later Cholas.


Brief Political History of Imperial Cholas

  • Not much authentic information about Early Cholas is available except that they had ruled between circa 200 BC and 200 AD.
  • Ashoka inscriptions note Cholas as southern neighbour of Maurya Empire.
  • The only notable early Chola king is Karikala Chola, who ruled around 170AD. He fought and won the Battle of Venni and established himself as a firm power in South. He is also known to have built the Kallanai Dam, which is one of earliest anicuts in world.
  • From third century AD to 9th century, the Chola history is obscure. During these centuries, Chola hegemony was lost and their country was under Kalabhras.
  • Kalabhras were non-Tamil speaking rulers who patronized Buddhism and Jainism. They were probably remnants of Satavahanas whose demise led them to create a niche somewhere in south India. They were finally drove out by Pallavas. Thus, in most part of this period, the Chola territories remained under Kalabhras, Pandyas and Chalukyas.
  • Chola, Pandyas and Chalukyas kept fighting with each other for dominance.
  • In 848 AD, a Pallava feudatory Vijayalaya Chola re-established the Chola rule by capturing Thanjavur from Pandyas. He renovated the capital and built the Someshwara capital at Padukottai.
  • His son Aditya Chola-I won over Pallavas and further strengthened the empire.
  • The Chola empire was further extended by his son Parantaka Chola who reigned for almost half century between 907 to 955 AD. In the beginning of his career, he attacked and captured Madurai from Pandyas and assumed title Madurakonda. He also defeated a combined army of Pallavas and Ceylon and thus assumed another title Maduraiyum Elamum Konda Parakesarivarman (The conqueror of Madura and Ceylon).
  • The successors of Parantaka Chola were insignificant. Between 955 AD and 985 AD, the Chola country was ruled by five different princes.
  • Finally, Chola empire was again on path of expansion when Rajaraja Chola-I ascended the throne in 985 AD.
  • By the time he died in 1014 AD, his territories included whole of modern Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, parts of Andhra Pradesh, parts of Odisha, whole of Kerala and Sri Lanka. He built the Rajrajeshwaram temple (also known as Brihadeeswarar Temple or Peruvudaiyar Kovil) at Thanjaur. This temple dedicated to Shiva is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. He also endowed a Burmese Buddhist Temple called Chudamani Vihara at Nagapattam Port. This temple survived till 19th century before it was destroyed and replaced by Jesuit priests with a Church in 1867.
  • The powerful standing army and great navy of Rajaraja Chola-I achieved even greater success under next ruler Rajendra Chola-I who ruled from 1014 AD to 1044 AD. He captured Ceylon, defeated Western Chalukyan king Jayasimha-II in battle of Maski, defeated Pala King Mahipala, defeated Kalinga, Gangas etc and assumed the title Gangakonda. His naval forces subdued the Srivijaya Kingdom (Modern Sumatra) and many other south east Asian kingdoms and colonies. He maintained good diplomatic and trade relations with contemporary Song dynasty of China.
  • To commemorate his victory over Palas he built the Gangaikonda Cholapuram as his new capital. This capital served all the later Cholas until it was ransacked by the Pandyas. Today, a temple stands there as architectural marvel of the Cholas and is a UNESCO world heritage site.
  • At the time of death of Rajendra Chola-I, the Chola Empire was the widest in the word and naval prestige was highest.
  • The benevolent imperialism of the Cholas was maintained by his successor Rajadhiraja Chola till 1059 when he was killed in the Battle of Koppam with western Chalukya King Someshwara-I over control of Vengi.
  • His brother Rajendra Chola-II crowned himself as next Chola monarch in the battlefield itself and reactivated the Chola army to fight with Chalukyas. He was able to defeat Someshwara-I.
  • In 1063, Rajendra Chola-II was succeeded by Virarajendra Chola, who subdued the Chalukyas and made them his tributaries. After this, the Chola Empire started declining.
  • His successor Athiranjendra Chola could reign only for few months and was killed in a civil unrest. This ended the imperial Chola dynasty. The next line of later Cholas was basically a fresh blood arising out of Chola-Chalukya marital alliances.


Chola Administration

The King and his Officers

  • The Chola administration was highly organised and efficient with King at the apex. King discharged his duties with the help of an immediate group of ministers and other high officers called Udankuttam. They represented all the major departments of administration and advised the King on disposal of his business.
  • The Cholas had an elaborate and complex bureaucracy comprising officials of various grades. The officers, who tended to form a separate class in the society, were organized in two ranks viz. upper perundanam and lower sirudanam. The higher officers were known with title of adigarigal, while officers of all ranks were usually referred to by the general titles of Karumigal and They were usually remunerated by assignments of land (jivitas) suited to their position. Titles of honour and shares in booty taken in war formed other rewards of public service.


Provincial Administration

  • The empire was divided into principalities (under vassal chiefs) andm andalams (provinces under viceroys who were mostly royal princes) with further division of the provinces intova lanadus (divisions), nadus (districts) and Kurrams (villages).


Town and Village Administration

  • There was autonomous administration for town and townships, known atsankurrams. Town autonomy was quite similar to village autonomy and both were administered by assemblies.


Revenue Administrations

  • A well organised department of land revenue, known as the Puravuvaritinaikalam, was in existence.
  • All cultivable land was held in one of the three broad classes of tenure which may be distinguished as peasant proprietorship (vellanvagai), service tenure, and tenure resulting from charitable gifts. The first type was the ordinary ryotwari village of modern times, having direct relations with the government and paying a land tax liable to revision from time to time.
  • All land was carefully surveyed and classified into tax-paying and non-taxable lands. In every village and town, the residential part of the village (or nattam), temples, tanks, channels, passing through the village, the outcastes hamlet (paracheri), artisans’ quarters (Kummanachcheri) and the burning ground (Sudugadu) were exempt from all taxes.
  • In its turn, taxable land was classified into different grades according to its natural fertility and the crops raised on it. Besides land revenue there were tolls in transit, taxes on profession and houses, dues levied on ceremonial occasions like marriage, and judicial fines.


Military Administration

  • The soliders of the Cholas generally consisted of two types-the Kaikkolar who were royal troops receiving regular pay from the treasury; and the nattuppadai who were the militia men employed only for local defence. The Kaikkolar comprised infantry, cavalry, elephant corps and navy. The Cholas paid special attention to their navy. Within the Kaikkolar, the Velaikkarars were the most dependable troops in the royal service ready to defend the king and his cause with their lives. Attention was given to the training of the army and cantonments called kadagams.


Chola Self Government

  • The most important feature of the Chola administration lies in the running of autonomous institutions. There was a great deal of local self-government in the villages in the Chola Empire.
  • Each village had its own general assembly which administered control over all the affairs of the village and was free from the control of the Central Government. It enjoyed all powers regarding the village administration. There were two types of institutions working at village level.



  • Ur was the general assembly of the village. The Ur consisted of all the taxpaying residents of an ordinary village. The Alunganattar was the executive committee and the ruling group of the Ur. The Ur was open to all the adult men but was dominated by the older member of the village.
  • The members of the executive committee of ‘Ur’ were called ‘Shashak Gana’ or ‘Ganam’. Exact number of the committee members or the procedure adopted for their election is not known.




  • This was a gathering of the adult men in the Brahmana villages which were called agraharas. These were villages settled by the Brahmanas in which most of the land was rent free. Sabha managed most of its affairs by an executive committee called variyam to which educated persons owning property were elected. Reporters appointed by the sabha were called Variyar.
  • Generally, Variyar was assigned some or other special task. Sabha could settle new lands, and executive ownership rights over them. It could also raise loans for the village and levy taxes.
  • Villages were divided among sheries, roads and blocks. Each shery constituted a community. Shery was assigned many tasks for the welfare of the village Each shery had its representation in the managing committee of the village.


Chola hegemony over seas: Analysis

  • In the early medieval period, the maritime commerce of India was adversely affected by two significant developments. One was the replacement of the Abbasid Empire of Baghdad by Fatimids of Egypt. This severed the trade links between ports of Persian Gulf and ports of western India, which were controlled by Rastrakuta.
  • However, under Fatimids, the trade with Red Sea ports provided greater incentive to the merchants of the far south of India. Thus, the Kerala coasts progressed at the cost of Karnataka coasts. The expansionist policy of Chola King Rajaraja-I over Ceylon, Maldives and Chera territories was part of the ongoing efforts to ensure that the merchants were not disadvantaged.
  • Another challenge came from the commercial opening of the China under the Song dynasty. In those times, China was ahead of other parts of world in terms of manufacturing items {as it stands today} and needed huge imports of raw material from India.
  • The trade of Indian merchants depended on will of the rulers of Sri Vijaya (Sumatra Islands, current Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore) because they controlled the Malacca strait which was an important international shipping lane in those times also. The strait shortened the time gap between China and southern parts of India. The Sri Vijaya rulers wanted to increase their share in profits from Chola-China trade. The decided that all the ships coming from India would need to terminate their journey in the strait and their middlemen would trans-ship the goods for respective destination. This idea miffed the merchant organizations in Chola state and thus King Rajaraja-I decided to use his substantial naval force to punish Sri Vijaya. Thus, it’s quite apparent that there was no imperial motive behind attack on Sri Vijaya. The campaign was solely for safeguarding the shipping lane for Chola’s merchant fleet to China by royal protection.



  • 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


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


Chalukyas of Badami

  • First half of the sixth century marks the rise Chalukyas of Badami or Vatapi as a very strong power in Deccan. The Chalukyas seem to be a race of Rajputs from North who imposed their rule upon the Dravidian inhabitants of the Deccan tableland. The Royal Emblem of Chalukyas of Badami was “Varaha”.
  • The earliest reference in this dynasty is of one Jayasimha / Vallabha, however the first sovereign king was Pulkeshin-I, who made himself master of a town called Vatapi (Bijapur district, Karnataka) in around 543 AD by overthrowing Kadambas. The Badami Cliff inscription tells that Pulkesin-I performed all of the five yajnas which make a king paramount vizH. iranyagarbha, Agnistoma, Vajapeya, Bahusuvarna and Paundarika.
  • The successors of Pulkeshin-I extended the empire by subjugating the Kadambas from Revatidweepa (modern Goa). The most celebrated king of this dynasty was Pulkeshin-II (grandson of Pulkeshin-I).
  • He defeated almost every contemporary including Kadambas, Alupas, Mauryans of Konkan, Pallava King Mahendravarman-I and Harsha.
  • The defeat of Harsha on banks of river Narmada made him undisputed Dakshinapatheshwara. However, enmity between Pallavas and Chalukyas finally cost Pulkeshin-II is life when he was defeated and killed by Pallava King Narsimhavarman in 642 AD. His successors tried to revive the Kingdom but largely failed because of continuous growth in the power of Rastrakuta and Pandyas. They were finally destroyed by Dantidurga of Rastrakuta empire.


Literature of Chalukyas of Badami

  • The most important source of history of the Badami Chalukyas Dynasty is the Aihole inscription of Pulkeshin-II written by his court poet Ravikirti in Sanskrit language and Kannada script.
  • Famous writers in Sanskrit from the Western Chalukya period are Vijnaneshwara who achieved fame by writing Mitakshara, a book on Hindu law, and King Somesvara-III, a noted scholar, who compiled an encyclopaedia of all arts and sciences called Manasollasa.
  • The Karnateshwara Katha, which was quoted later by Jayakirti, is believed to be a eulogy of Pulakesin-II.


Rastrakuta Empire

  • This dynasty was established by one Dantidurga who overthrew main branch of Chalukyas from Badami in 735 AD.
  • He made Gulbarga his capital but was soon deposed by his uncle Krishna who completed the establishment of Rastrakuta supremacy over the dominions of Chalukyas.
  • Krishna carried out the most extensive and most opulent example of rock cut architecture in India in the form of Kailas Temple at Ellora. Among his successors, the notable King was Amoghvarsha whose reign extended for 64 years. He was one of the greatest ruler among Rastrakuta and patronized the Digambara sect of Jainism.


Chalukyas of Kalyani and Chalukyas of Vengi

  • The main branch of Chalukyas (Badami Chalukyas) was destroyed by the Rastrakutas. They revived after two centuries in around 972-72AD to be known as Chalukyas of Kalyani under one Tailapa who was a feudatory of Rastrakutas.
  • Another branch of Chalukyas of Vengi emerged for a short period in modern Telangana region. The Chalukyas of Kalyani are also known as Western Chalukyas. This dynasty made a great contribution in the modern Kannada literature as well as Sanskrit literature.


Hoyasala Empire

  • A family or clan named Hoyasala had attained considerable power in the present day Karnataka during the 12th and 13th This empire ruled almost all the present day Karnataka between the 11th to mid of the 14th century. Their capital was Belur which was later shifted to Halebidu. This period was a very important era for the development of the art, architecture and religion in the Southern countries.
  • The Hoyasala Empire contributed in the growth of both the Kannada and Sanskrit literature.
  • The early Hoysala rulers were feudatories of Chalukyas of Kalyani. Their empire was consolidated by Vishnuvardhana or Bittiga in early part of 12th century. He established his capital at Dorasamudra (modern Halebidu in Karnataka). The last great ruler of this dynasty was Veera Ballala-III who reigned from 1291 to 1343 AD.
  • When Alauddin Khilji invaded Deccan, he was able to subdue all regional powers except Hoyalas. Veera Ballala III campaigned against the Khiljis from new capital Tiruvannamalai and founded another capital at the banks of River Tungabhadra at Hosapattana where his able commanders Harihara and Bukkaraya (popularly known as Hakka and Bukka) founded the Vijayanagar Empire in 1336. Veera Ballala III was killed in one of the battles against the Delhi Sultan in 1343.


Yadavas of Devagiri

  • The Yadavas of Devagiri were earlier feudatories of Western Chalukyas. Their capital was Devagiri (Modern Daulatabad) in Maharashtra and they controlled a territory in Modern Maharashtra, North Karnataka and Southern Madhya Pradesh.
  • Devagiri was founded by Bhillama who built a mighty fort there. This fort was ransacked by Alauddin Khilji in 1294 and later plundered by Malik Kafur again 1307, 1310 and 1318.
  • Bhillama was killed in a battle with a Hoyasala Chief in 1191 AD. The last king of this dynasty was Raja Ramachandra, who was also the last Hindu sovereign of Deccan.
  • He was defeated by Alauddin Khilji and ransomed his life for a large treasure tribute. His son Harpala revolted against Muslims but was defeated, flayed alive and decapitated by Mailk Kafur. Such was the tragic end of Yadavas of Devgiri.


The Pandya Kingdom

  • Pandya was also an ancient Kingdom mentioned in Mahabharata, Puranas and also in Asoka’s inscriptions. As the legend goes, one King of this dynasty Sarangdhwaj had participated in Mahabharata war. Fish was family crest of the ancient Pandyas. The most ancient capital of Pandyas was Korkai in Tamil Nadu. It is home of three brothers who founded Chola, Pandya and Chera Kingdoms.
  • Korkai was also a centre of pearl trade. Ancient Pandya country was well known to Greeks and Romans for its pearl trade.
  • The later capital of Pandyas was Madura. Madura, located on river Vaigai, is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities around the world. It was visited by Megasthenes in 3rd Century BC.


Marcopolo in Pandya Kingdom

  • Marcopolo had landed in Pandya Empire (at Kayal) in 13th century and impressed by the wealth and magnificence of the King, Prince as well as people, tagged with richest kingdom in existence.


  • However, not much authentic information is available regarding Pandya country before 10th In the times of Parantaka Chola in 10th century, Madura was under Maravarman Rajasimha-II.
  • Parantaka overran his kingdom and captured Madura and assumed the pompous title of Maduraikonda.
  • Rajsimha-II fled to Ceylon and later returned to Kerala to live under a Chera King in low profile. Similarly, Rajaraja Chola-I in 1000 AD reduced the Pandyas to tributary vassals. In 13th century, one of these Vassals Jatavarman Kulasekaran-I turned rebel to Cholas. But the Chola subdued him and made him surrender on humiliating terms. To seek revenge, his brother Maravarman Sundara Pandyan invaded Cholas in 1216.
  • He was able to plunder Thanjavur, Uraiyur and drive the Cholas in exile. However, he returned Chola territories on interference from Hoyasala King Veera Ballala-III. However, Cholas were now reduced to vassals of Pandyas. His successor Jatavarman Sundara Pandyan (1251-61) was also a mighty conqueror who plundered Sri Lanka and took away huge booty. He also conflicted with the Kakatiya Kings of Warangal.
  • Early in the 14th century, a dispute arose about the succession of the Pandya throne and one of the claimants appealed to the Sultan of Delhi, Alauddin Khilji for help. This probably resulted in an invasion by the Sultan’s forces in 1310 under Malik Kafur. Malik Kafur sacked, looted Madura and marched up to Rameshwaram, where he erected a mosque.
  • After that invasion, the Pandya kings ruled sporadically at undefined territories. Malik Kafur was followed by two other expeditions from the Delhi Sultanate in 1314 AD led by Khusrav Khan and in 1323 AD by Ulugh Khan. Later Muhammad Bin Tughlaq created a southern province and placed Sayyid Jalal-ud-Din Ahsan as its governor. In 1333 AD Sayyid declared his independence and created Madurai Sultanate.
  • Madurai Sultanate was replaced by the Nayaka Governors, who kept on ruling until arrival of British.


The Chera Kingdom

  • The Ashokan inscriptions have mentioned Choda (Chola), Pada, (Pandya), Ketala Puto (Keralaputra) and Satiya Puto (Satyaputra) in the south of Maurya Empire. The Keralaputra are considered to be Chera dynasty while nothing is known about Satyaputras. The Chera Kings adopted “bow and arrow” as their family insignia.
  • Their area of dominance included North Travancore, Cochin and southern Malabar region. Early capital of Cheras was Vanchi Muthur and later Cheras were Mahodayapuram /Kulashekarapuram.


Kakatiya Dynasty

  • The Kakatiyas were vassals of Western Chalukyas until 1163 when one Prataparudra-I declared himself sovreign and established the Kakatiya dynasty.
  • The capital of these dynasty rulers was Warangal and they dominated till 1323 when they were eventually annexed in Delhi Sultanate.
  • Between 1262 to 1289, the Kaktiyas were led by Rudrammadevi, one of the most celebrated Indian queens of medieval era. Marcopolo had visited India during her rule and has praised her rule.


Notes on Early Medieval Period

Indian Feudalism

  • From the post-Maurya period, and especially from Gupta times, India’s political and administrative developments tended to feudalise the state apparatus.


What is feudalism?

  • In Europeans sense, feudalism describes a set of reciprocal legal and military obligations among the warrior nobility, revolving around the three key concepts of lords, vassals, and fiefs. However, in context with ancient India, the system gradually developed from the beginning of the land grants.
  • The practice of making land grants to the Brahmanas was a custom, sanctified by the injunctions laid down in the Dharmashashtras, Epics and Puranas.
  • The Anusasana Parva of the Mahabharata devotes a whole chapter to the praise of making gifts of land (Bhumidanaprasamsa).


The Land Grants & Administrative Rights

  • The early Pali texts of the pre-Maurya period refer to the villages granted to the Brahmanas by the rulers of Kosala and Magadha. A term used for such grants was “Brahamdeyya“.


Earliest Land Grants

  • The earliest land grants belonging to the first century BC were given to the Buddhist priests and Brahmanas and other religious establishments.
  • However, in the post-Guptas period even administrative officials were granted land. The landed beneficiaries were given both powers of taxation and coercion, leading to the disintegration of the central authority. The secular recipients of the grants and the autonomous holders of land are generally termed as fief holders and free holders.


The major outcome was decentralization.

  • However, the Earliest epigraphic record of a land grants in India is a Saatavahana inscription of the first century BC, which refers to the grant of a village as a gift in the Ashvamedha Sacrifice. However, it is not clear, whether the administrative or revenue rights of these lands were also given to those priests or not. It has been guessed that the administrative rights were perhaps given up for the first time in the grants made to Buddhist monks by the Satavahana ruler – Gautamiputra Satakarni in the second century AD. Such a land grant included the rights that :
    • The royal troops could not enter such land granted
    • The government officials and district police was not supposed to disturb such lands.


Changes in Land Grants

  • From the period of later Mauryas, the land grants included the transfer of all sources of revenue, and the surrender of police and administrative functions. The grants of the second century AD mention that the transfer of the king’s control only over salt, which implies that he retained certain other sources of revenue. But in some other grants, it was recorded that the donor (King) gave up his control over almost all sources of revenue, including pastures, mines including hidden treasures and deposits.
  • Then, the donor not only abandoned his revenues but also the right to govern the inhabitants of the villages that were granted. This practice became more prevalent in the Gupta period. There are many instances of grants of apparently settled villages made to the Brahmanas during the Gupta era.
  • In such grants, the residents, including the cultivators and artisans, were expressly asked by their respective rulers not only to pay the customary taxes to the donees, but also to obey their commands.
  • All this provides clear evidence of the surrender of the administrative power of the state.
  • One of the important aspect of the Kings sovereignty was that he used to retain the rights of the punishing the culprits. In the Post-Gupta times, the king made over to the Brahmanas not only this right, but also his right to punish all offences against family, property, person, etc.


Implications of Land Grants

  • We see that, by giving such privileges, the state was bound to disintegrate. Out of the seven organs of the state power mentioned in literary and epigraphic sources, taxation system and coercive power based on the army are rightly regarded as two vital elements. If they are abandoned, the state power disintegrates. This was the system created by the grants made to the Brahmins. The land was granted for as long as the existence of the sun and the moon, which implies the permanent break-up of the integrity of the state.
  • The above discussion makes it clear that in the Post-Gupta period, the Brahamdeyya carried freedom from taxes , Administrative freedom and also the freedom from punishments (Abhayantarasiddhi). The widespread practice of making land grants in the Gupta period paved the way for the rise of Brahmin feudatories, who performed administrative functions not under the authority of the royal officers but almost independently. What was implicit in earlier grants became explicit in grants from about 1000AD; and well recognised in the administrative systems of the Turks.
  • The implications were many but them major implication was the creation of powerful intermediatories wielding considerable economic and political power. As the number of the landowning Brahmins went up, some of them gradually shed their priestly functions and turned their chief attention to the management of land. Thus, their case secular functions became more important than religious functions.
  • The comprehensive competence based on centralised control’, which was the hallmark of the Maurya state gave way to decentralisation in the post-Maurya and Gupta periods. The functions of the collection of taxes, levy of forced labour, regulation of mines, agriculture, etc., together with those of the maintenance of law and order, and defence which were hitherto performed by the state officials, were now systematically abandoned, first to the priestly class and later to the warrior class.


Thus, the main implications of the Indian Feudalism in early medieval period are as follows:


  • Political decentralization: The seed of decentralization that was sown in the form of Land grants turned into a vividly branched political organization made up semi-autonomous rulers, Samantas, Mahasamantas and others such as Rajpurushas.
  • Emergence of new landed intermediatories: The emergence of landed intermediaries- a dominant landholding social group absent in the early historical period- is linked to the practice of land grants which began with the Satavahana.
  • Changes in agrarian relations: Free vaishya peasants dominated the agrarian structure in early historical India and labour services provided by the Shudra. But, from the sixth century AD onwards the peasants stuck to the land granted to the beneficiaries because they were asked not to leave the village granted to the beneficiaries or migrate to tax-free village. This resulted in the immobility of the population and isolation from the rest of the world. Its implication was very profound such as development of localized customs, languages and rituals.


Other Changes in Society during Early Medieval India

  • The social changes in the early medieval India were mainly the product of certain economic developments, such as land grants and large scale transfers of land revenues and land to both secular and religious elements, decline of trade and commerce, loss of mobility of artisans, peasants and traders, unequal distribution of land and power etc.


Proliferation of castes

  • Increasing pride of birth, characteristic of feudal society, and the accompanying self-sufficient village economy, which prevented both spatial and occupational mobility, gave rise to thousands of castes in India.
  • The changes in economy were also a result of emergence of certain new castes and decline of certain old ones. For example, the constant transfer of land of land revenues made by princes to priests, temples and officials led to the rise and growth of the scribe or the Kayastha caste which undermined the monopoly of Brahmans as writers and scribes.
  • Similarly, the decline of trade and commerce led to the decline in the position of the Vaishyas. The process of proliferation and multiplication of castes was yet another marked feature of the social life of the period.
  • Many new communities, which are known to us by the generic term Rajputs, were also recognized as Kshatriyas during the period. The foreign elements, which could not be put in any three higher classes, were naturally designated as the Shudras.
  • The guilds of artisans gradually hardened into castes due to lack of mobility in post-Guptas times. The maximum affected people were the Shudra and the mixed castes.


Position of Brahmins

  • The Brahmins stood at the top of the social hierarchy during and post Gupta period. They had regained their power and were responsible for reinterpreting the regulatory canons of life as laid down by the earlier texts.
  • However, Brahmins had numerous subsections now divided on the basis of many criteria such as knowledge of Vedas etc.
  • Getting birth in a Brahmin family was a privilege. Brahmins had freedom from death-sentence, exemption form taxes, precedence on the road, lesser punishment for certain offences in comparison with other castes. Many writers have documented the exemption of the Brahmans from capital punishment. The most severe punishment for a Brahmin was banishment. When a Brahman killed a man, the former had only to fast, pray and give alms. On the other hand, if somebody killed a Brahmin, he was ought to be greatest sinner and performed the worst crime. No punishment or remorse could wipe off the Brahman-hatya, the greatest crime of those periods!


Position of Vaishya

  • Vaishyas in the early medieval India were almost degraded to the Shudra community. In fact, Alberuni also did not find any difference between the Vaishyas and Shudra. One difference was that the Shudra had freedom to sell all kinds of goods, but the Vaishya were forbidden to carry on transactions in some specified articles like salt, wine, meat, curds, swords, arrows, water, idols etc.


Position of Shudras

  • Shudras were the most numerous sections in the community and their number increased from age to age. Some of the Shudras were regarded as mixed castes, born of anulom and pratiloma marriages.
  • There were eight Shudra castes called “Ashtashudras” viz. Vyadha, Bhada, Kola, Koncha, Haddi, Doma, Jala, Bagatita, Vyalagrahi and Chandala. However, there was another Shudra caste also whose position was lower even these eight castes. These people were called the Antyajas. These Antyajas were beyond and below the four orders and four Varnas of the Indian society.



  • In the days of the composition of the early smritis, untouchables were called Antyajas. The Vedvyasamriti counts twelve names and includes all those who eat cow’s flesh as Antyajas.
  • Alberuni described eight groups of people, who were members of crafts and professions, but did not belong to the four-fold caste system, namely washerman, shoemaker, juggler, basket and shield-maker, sailor, angler, hunter of wild animals and birds, and weaver. These correspond to Rajaka, Charmakara, Nata or Sailushika, Buruda, Navika, Kaivarta, Bhilla and Kuvindaka, who have been regarded as Chandals and Antyajas in all early Smriti texts and as Shudras by Manu. Thus, they belonged to the lowest caste.



Position of Marriage & Women

  • The knowledge about the traditions prevalent in the institution of marriage in that era comes from two works viz. Smritichandrika and Smrityarthasara.
  • The former says that the inter-caste marriage is forbidden in Kaliyuga. Savarna marriages are necessary for the performance of religious rites, while Asavarna marriages are of an inferior type as being dictated by desire.
  • The later says that the marriage of Brahmins with Shudra women forbidden not the same in other castes. The polygamy was prevalent in the royal class and has been well documented in Vaijayanti.
  • The women’s position is far degraded from that in early eras. The husband and other male relations, to begin with must so arrange things that the wife never becomes independent. The wife must also be guarded not only against physical but also against mental unchastity for the sake of her offspring. wife’s right to maintenance in case of her supersession , they provide for her residence in her husband’s house as well as her maintenance even in the event of her committing adultery. When the wife is guilty of slight adultery, she must be maintained, though deprived of conjugal rights, till her performance of a penance.


Literature and science

  • During early medieval period, there was a considerable development in the literature. However, the quality of the content in them was not of a high order. It was basically of general imitative and reproductive character. The list is very big; however, here we note some of the most significant artworks.


  • Naishadhiyacharitam of Shriharsha is the most outstanding epic of this period, written under the patronage of Gahadawala king Jayachandra of Kannauj.
  • Rajatarangini of Kalhana is unique as the only known attempt at true history in the whole of surviving Sanskrit literature. A few short poems were also written during this period.
  • The Gita-Govindam of Jayadeva is known as the most musical song ever written in Sanskrit.
  • The Aryasaptashati of Govardhanacharya is an erotic poem following the tradition of
  • Gathasaptashati of Hala
  • Lalitavigraharaja-Nataka was a drama by Somadeva, the Harikeli-Nataka by Visaladeva, the Prasanna-Raghava by Jayadeva.
  • In Lexicology, the Abidhana Chintamani, Deshi-Namamala, Anekarthasamgraha and Nighantushesha of Hemachandra are of worth note.
  • Bhoja had written the Rajamriganka on astronomy.
  • The famous mathematician Bhaskaracharya flourished in the south in the twelfth century. His Siddhanta-Shiromani comprises four parts; Lilavati, Vijaganita, Grahaganita and Gola. The last deals with astronomy. A very significant idea in the Siddhanta-Shiromansi is that of perpetual motion, which was transmitted by Islam about AD 1200 to Europe where in course of time it led to the development of the concept of power technology.
  • The Rasarnava is a work on Tantra, which deals with metallic preparations and alchemy.
  • The Dakarnava is a Buddhist tantric work composed in Apabhramsha.
  • The Sadhanamala, a Buddhist tantric work belongs to the twelfth century
  • The field of erotic literature saw some development. Ratirahasya by Kokkaka, Haramekhala by Mahuka, Rativilasa by Jayamangal etc. are some important works on Kamashastra.
  • In the field of music we have Matanga, Dhatupatha as codified by Bhimasena, Kuttanimatam of Damodargupta etc.
  • Bhatta utpala wrote a work on Vastuvidya.
  • On cosmetics we have Gandhashatra by Padmashri in his work on erotics.
  • The Vishnudharmottara gives much attention to painting was the chitrasutra mentioned by Damodargupta.
  • The Aparajita-Prichcha is a work on architecture which appears to have been written in Gujarata in AD 1200.
  • The Sangita-Ratnakara of Sharangadeva was written in the 13th century in the south.
  • The Laghvarhannitishastra of Hemachandra is a work on political science.
  • Another work on the duties and obligations of princes was the Rajaniti-Kamadhenu of Gopala.




Development of local cultures

  • The foundation of various kingdoms and fiefdoms whose people were generally confined to them only led the development of localized culture, making India a diverse geographical area.
  • The Hunas and other foreign elements were absorbed into the Indian society and cleared the ground for the rise of larger defined units such as Rajputana. Similarly, Bengal, which was earlier divided into two parts viz. Gauda and Vanga, later the whole region was named after Vanga. The inhabitants of the different nations differed in customs, clothing and language. For example, the Kavalayamala (8th century) notes the existence of 18 major nationalists and describes the anthropological character of 16 peoples.


Development of Vernacular Languages

  • Though the Sanskrit continued to be used by the ruling class at the higher administrative levels, this language later become complex, verbose and ornate. The Apabhramsha started to differentiate into proto-Hindi, Proto-Bengali, Proto-Rajasthani proto-Gujarati, Proto-Marathi, Proto-Assamese, Proto-Ordya, Proto-Maithili languages.
  • From the 6th century onwards, the linguistic variation became very fast because of lack of interregional communication and mobility. In the tribal areas, the Brahmanas imposed various forms of Sanskrit on the existing Aryan and Pre-Aryan dialects. The consequential interaction gave rise to regional languages. The migrating Brahmanas also enriched the regional languages. This resulted in the development of regional scripts and regional grammar.


Development of Regional Art & Culture

  • In the field of art and architecture, this period ushered in a new age marked by regional styles in sculpture and construction of temples, which became particularly prominent in south India from the eighth century onwards.
  • The post-gupta iconography prominently displays a divine hierarchy, which reflects the pyramidal rank in society.
  • The Vishnu, Shiva and Durga became the supreme deities, lording over many other divinities of unequal sizes.
  • The Mahayajnas and danas (donations) were gradually replaced by a system known as Puja. Puja was interlinked to the doctrine of Bhakti, which became a distinct feature of medieval religion. Both puja and Bhakti became integral ingredients of tantricism, which arose due to the acculturation of the tribal people through large-scale religious land-grants.


Sangam Literature

  • The scientific analysis of the Sangam literature says that this work was composed in 120-150 years and most of the literature was composed from 100 AD to 250 AD. This is entire different from what has been mentioned in the Iraiyanar Akapporul and Sangam legend.
  • There are 2289 poems available under Sangam Literature now; many of them are very short having only 3-5 verses. 102 of them are anonymous. The number of poets estimated is 473.


Earliest Extant Tamil Work: Tolkāppiyam

  • Tolkāppiyam is a work of Tamil Grammar, which is said to be the earliest extant work of Tamil Literature. There are three books in Tolkāppiyam viz.E zhuttadikaram, Solladikaram and Poruladikaram, and each of them are composed of nine chapters. This work has divided the Tamil Language into two types’ viz. Sentamil (Classical Tamil) and Kotuntamil (Spoken Tamil).
  • Sentamil is used in almost all literary works of the Tamil Language.


Earliest Tamil Work: Agattiyam

  • However, the first work on Tamil Grammar, which is not extant and is lost irretrievably, is Agattiyam. Rishi Agastya wrote it. Tolakappiar who wrote the above-mentioned Tolkāppiyam is said to be a disciple of Rishi Agastya. As per the Tamil traditions, Rishi Agasyta invented the Tamil Language and brought its syntax from the lord Shiva.


Themes of Sangam Literature

  • On the basis of interpretation and context, the Sangam literature can be described into two types viz. Agam (inner) and Puram (outer). The topics of Agam are related to personal and human aspects such as love and sexual things. The topics of Puram are related to human experiences and emotions such as Heroism, Valor, Ethics and Philanthropy. The poems have also been classified on nature themes which are known as Thinai. The themes are as follows:
  • Kurinji (Mountianous Theme).
  • Mullai (Forests Theme)
  • Marutham (Agricultural Land Theme)
  • Neithal (Coastal Theme)
  • Paalai (Desert Theme)


The literature was lost and forgotten. The Tamil Scholars S V Damodaram Pillai and U V Swamitha Iyer brought it into light. They printed and published different works such as Tholkappiyam, Nachinarkiniyar urai, Tholkappiyam Senavariyar urai, Manimekalai, Cilappatikaram, Pattupattu, and Purananuru in different parts of the 19th century, all with commentaries.


Classification of Sangam Literature

  • Broadly, we can divide the Sangam literature in 2 parts viz Patinenmēlkanakku and Patinenkīlkanakku.
  • Out of them, the Patinenmēlkanakku refers to the oldest surviving Tamil Poetry of the Sangam Age, dating back to 200 BC to 100 BC while the Patinenkīlkanakku refers to the collection of 18 poetic works, which belongs to Post Sangam period, and date back to 100 AD to 500 AD. This classification has been further summarized as follows:



  • This is the collection of the Sangam Period works. Ettutokai is a large volume of the poems which is consisting of more than 2000 poems. These works, which are called “The Eight Anthologies”, are on deferent themes such as Narrinai on love, Kuruntokai on love, Aiankurunuru on erotic love etc. So most works of Ettukottai are of Agam style. Most works of Pattuppāttu are of Puram context and they have works on seasons and picturesque nature of Tamil Country. They are based upon the themes of the nature.


  • Patinenkīlkanakku is the post Sangam work that is of Agam as well as Puram context. Some important points of some of these works is as follows:
    • Naaladiyar was composed by Jain monks and the theme is the transient nature of life and youth. It was work of Nalatiyar.
    • Nanmanikkatiga is the collection of 100 songs of Vilambi Naganaar and deals conditions /emotions of 4 types of people who cannot sleep in the night and they are thief, lovelorn, after money, and worrying about losing money.
    • Inna Narpathu describes the things which should be avoided by the people. It deals with the things that bring unhappiness such as beautiful but disloyal wife, wealth of a miser, life under a tyrant and a beautiful flower without fragrance.
    • Iniyavai Narpathu deals with the things which should not be avoided by a person and seek even in adverse situations such as learning even by begging, advice of learned persons, healthy children, and not coveting other’s spouse.
    • Kalavazhi Narpathu deals with war and politics.
    • Ainthinai Aimpathu deals with human emotions, love, separation, lovers’ quarrels.
    • Thinaimozhi Aimpathu also deals with the Agam subjects such as love, seperation, lover fights etc.
    • Same is with Ainthinai Ezhupathu.
    • Same is with Thinaimalai Nurru Aimpathu .
    • Thirukkural is the first work in all of the Dravidian literature which deals with the ehics. It was authored by Thiruvalluvar. It is also known as Kuraland is a collection of 1330 couplets.
    • Thirikatukam deals with herbal medicines.
    • Acharakkovai deals with the personal behavior and correct methods to follow.
    • Pazhamozhi Nanuru deals with the character of the person.
    • Siruppanchamulam deals with the nature and combines the benevolent humans with benevolent neighbors.
    • Muthumozhikkanch deals with the right behavior and chastity.
    • Elathi deals with human qualities and also narrates some herbal medicines.
    • Kainnilai deals with the agam concepts.


Impact of Sanskrit on Tamil Literature

  • The Tamil language and literature did not flourish in isolation and was influenced by Sanskrit. The Aryans had penetrated the whole of the Tamil Land by 6th century AD and Post Sangam literature contains some traces of Aryan Culture. Influence of Sanskrit is more on the five epics of Tamil Literature, which were written between 1st century AD to 9th century AD.
  • Out of them Silappatikaram, which was written by Ilango Adigal, brother of Senguvattan, a Chera King and who was a Jain monk is a highly regarded epic. The other four epics are
    • Manimegalai which is a Buddhist Religious Work
    • Civaka Chintamani which is a Jain Religious work
    • Valayapathi which is also a Jain work of 9th Century
    • Kundalkesi which is a Buddhist work of 5th century by Nagasena.
January 1, 2018

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