Vishnukundina

Vishnukundina

The Vishnukundina dynasty ruled over the eastern Deccan in South India comprising of the area covered by modern day Andhra Pradesh and Kalinga (Orissa). It played an important role in the history of the Deccan during the 5th and 6th centuries C.E.). They are believed to be one of the ancestors of Pusapati's of vizianagaram and three other clans of Raju community in Andhra Pradesh.

By 514 C.E., the Vakataka empire was reduced to areas of present day Telangana area. The area north of the Godavari, (Kalinga), became independent. The area south of the Krishna River fell to the Pallavas.

The Vishnukundin reign came to an end with the conquest of the eastern Deccan by the Chalukya, Pulakesi II. Pulakesei appointed his brother Kubja Vishnuvardhana as Viceroy to rule over the conquered lands. Vishnuvardhana eventually started the Eastern Chalukya dynasty.

Origin of Vishnukundins

"Vishnukundina" is a Sanskritized name for "Vinukonda". Several attempts have been made by scholars to find out the origins of this dynasty, but no definite conclusions have been reached as yet. one theory states that they are of Vasistha gothra of kshatriyas who migrated from ayodhya during the early 5th century. The early rulers of the dynasty migrated to the west in search of employment and under the Vakatakas they might have attained feudatory status under the Satavahanas. They had Indrapalanagara in the Nalgonda district as their capital.

During the reign of Madhava Varma, the great, they became independent and conquered coastal Andhra from the Salankayanas and might have shifted their capital to a place in the coastal Andhra.

Chronology

The Vishnukundin reign may be fixed between the end of the Salankayana and the rise of the Eastern Chalukyan power in 624 AD.

Indra Varma

According to the Indra Pala Nagara plates, Indra Varma is considered to be the first ruler of the Vishnukundin dynasty. He might have carved out a small principality for himself probably as a subordinate of the Vakatakas sometime about the last quarter of the fourth century C.E. Not much information is known about the next two kings, Madhav Varma I and his son Govinda Varma. They might have kept intact the inheritance or extended their sway to some extent.

Madhav Varma II

By the middle of the 5th century A.D., the dynasty began its imperial expansion under its most efficient ruler Madhav Varma II. The reign of Madhav Varma (461-508 C.E.) for nearly half a century was a golden age in the history of the Vishnukundins. It was during this period, the small Vishnukundin dynasty rose to imperial heights. A princess of the then powerful ruling family of the Deccan the Vakatakas was given in marriage to Madhav Varma's son, Vikramendra Varma.

This alliance with the great power made easy the task of extending the Vishnukundin influence to the east coast and vanquishing the petty chieftains lingering on in that area. Madhav Varma II led his arms against Ananda Gotrikas who were ruling over Guntur, Tenali and Ongole, probably enjoying subordinate position under the Pallavas of Kanchipuram.

After occupying these areas from the Anandas, Madhav Varma II made Amarapura (modern Amaravati) his capital. Keeping in view the constant threat from the Pallavas, he created an out-post to check their activities and appointed his son, Deva Varma and after his death the grandson Madhav Varma III as its Viceroy.

Madhav Varma II next turned his attention against the Vengi kingdom which was under the Salankayanas. The Vengi region was annexed. The Godavari tract became part of the Vishnukundin territory. After these conquests the capital might have been shifted to Bezwada (Vijayawada), a more central location than Amarapura. These extensive conquests entitle him to the title of the lord of Dakshinapatha (southern country). After these various conquests Madhav Varma performed many Asvamedha, Rajasuya and other Vedic sacrifices.

Successors of Madhav Varma II

The fortunes of the Vishnukundins were at a low ebb during the reign of next ruler Vikramendra Varma I (508528 C.E.). The next two and half decades also experienced the constant strife and dynastic struggles during the reign of Indra Bhattaraka Varma (528555 C.E.). Though Indra Bhattaraka could not withstand the hostile Kalinga subordinate, Indra Varma and lost his life in battle. The Vishnukundins lost their Kalinga possessions north of the Godavari.

Vikramendra Varma II

With the accession of Vikramendra Varma II (555569 C.E), the fortunes of the Vishnukundin family were restored. To have an immediate access to the Kalinga region, he shifted his capital from Bezwada to Lenduluru (modem Denduluru in the West Godavari district). He repulsed the attack of the Pallava ruler Simhavarman. He was successful enough to restore the fortunes of the Vishnukundins in the Kalinga region. His son Govinda Varma II enjoyed a comparatively short period of rule (569573 C.E.).

Govinda Varma II

The Vishnukundin empire set about again to imperial expansion and cultural prosperity under its able ruler Janssraya Madhav Varma IV (573-621 A.D.). This prudent king spent his early years of rule in consolidating his position in Vengi. The later part of his reign is marked by wars and annexations. In his 37th regnal year, he suppressed the revolt of his subordinate chief the Durjaya Prithvi Maharaja in Guddadivishya (modern Ramachandrapuram in the East Godavari district).

Madhav Varma IV had to face the Chalukyan onslaught in his last years of rule. By about 616 C.E., Pulakesin II and his brother Kubja Vishnuvardhana conquered Vengi from the Vishnukundins and the Pithspuram area from their subordinate Durjayas. In 621 C.E. in his 48th regnal year, Madhava crossed the Godavari probably to oust the Chalukyas from his territories. However he lost his life on the battlefield. His son Manchana Bhattaraka also might have been expelled by the Chalukyas. Thus the Vishnukundin rule was brought to a close by 624 A.D.

Vishnukundin country

They had three important cities, near Eluru, Amaravathi and Puranisangam. There is an inscription in an old Buddhist monastery in southeast Hyderabad suburbs near Dislsukhnagar mentioning Govindavarma. Keesara, Northeast of Hyderabad could have Vishnukundin connections as well. A fort traditionally connected to Rajus is Kalidindi in Krishna district, which was under the Vishnukundina sway for a long time.

Use of Telugu

During Visnukundina rule, the Telugu language began to make historical developments. Until then all the royal inscriptions used either Prakrit or Sanskrit. This was in spite of the fact there was a well-developed local language in Telugu.

The possible migration of the Chola kings following the invasion of the Tamil country by Kalabhras towards the north seem to have began the process of the growth of the Telugu language. The Telugu Chola kings had eventually gained prominence and filled the vacuum left by the end of Pallava rule in the Andhra region. They ruled from Renadu, which corresponds roughly to the modern day Kadapa, Eastern Chittoor, Southern Nellore and surrounding areas.

They broke with the prevailing fashion and introduced the tradition of writing Royal Proclamations in the local language. The earliest available inscription containing Telugu sentences comes from these Chola kings and is dated from 573576 C.E. During the next fifty years, Telugu inscriptions appeared in the neighbouring Anantapur and all the surrounding regions.

Their act of patronizing Telugu over Sanskrit had caught on and other kings in the Telugu land had begun to follow their lead. The first available Telugu inscription in the coastal Andhra Pradesh comes from about 633 C.E. Around the same time, the Eastern Chalukya kings of Telangana also started using Telugu for inscriptions.

Administration

For administrative convenience, the empire was divided into a number of "Rashtras" and "Vishayas". Inscriptions refer to:
*Palki Rashtra
*Karma rashtra
*Guddadi Vishaya etc.

Madhav Varma III appointed members of the royal family as Viceroys for various areas of the kingdom.

The king was the highest court of appeal in the administrator of Justice. The Vishnukundin rulers established various kinds of punishments for various crimes. They were known for their impartial judgment and high sense of justice.

Their army consisted of traditional fourfold divisions:
*Elephants
*Chariots
*Cavalry
*Infantry

*Hastikosa (Officer-in charge of elephant forces)
*Virakosa (officer-in-charge of land forces)

were referred in records. These officers issued even grants on behalf of the kings. There might have been well-organised administrative machinery for collection of land revenue.

Agrahara villages enjoyed tax exemptions. Sixteen types of coins of the Vishnukundin rulers have been found by archealogists.

Religion

All the records of the Vishnukundins throw a flood of light on the religious conditions of the period. Buddhism was a considerable force to be reckoned with during the Vishnukundin period. The kings prior to the Madhav Varma II seem to be patrons of Buddhism. Govinda Varma I was hailed as the Buddhist and builder of "stupas" and "Viharas". His wife Parama Bhattari Kama Devi also patronised Buddhism and built a monastery. Vikramendra Varma II, although a Hindu, made liberal grants to the same Mahadevi's Buddhist vihara.

However from the time of accession of Madhav Varma II, an aggressive self-assertion of the Vedic Brahmanism occurred. Elaborate Vedic ceremonies like Rajasuya, Purushamedha, Sarvamedha and Aswamedha were undertaken. The celebration of all these sacrifices represents the militant spirit of the brahmanical revival. Some of the rulers referred to themselves as 'Parama Mahesvaras'. The inscriptions refer to their family deity Sri Parvata Swami.

The names of rulers like Madhav Varma and Govinda Varma show their Vaishnavite leanings. Thus both the Hindu sects of Saivism and Vaishnavism might have received equal patronage from them. Rock-cut cave temples were constructed at Bezwada, Vimdavalli and Bhairava Konda which were dedicated to both the sects.

Literature

The Vishnukundins were also great patrons of learning. They established colleges for vedic learning. Learned Brahmins were encouraged by gifts of lands and colleges were established for the propagation of Vedic studies. Indra Bhattaraka established many schools for imparting education on Vedic literature. Performance of several elaborate Vedic ceremonies by Madhav Varma is evidence of the faith of the rulers in Brahmanism and popularity of Vedic learning with the people during this period.

Some of the Vishnukundin kings were credited with authorship of several books. Vikramendra Varma I was described as "Mahakavi" – great poet in a record. Further, an incomplete work on Sanskrit poetics called 'Janasraya Chando Vichiti', was attributed to Madhav Varma IV who bore the title of 'Janasraya'.

Sanskrit enjoyed royal patronage. Telugu had not yet grown to the stature of receiving royal patronage.

Art and Architecture

Being great devotees of Siva, the Vishnukundins seem to have been responsible for construction of a number of cave temples dedicated to Siva, The cave structures at Bezwada (Vijayawada), Mogalrajapuram, Undavalli caves and Bhairavakonds were dated to this period. Though some of these cave temples were attributed to the Pallavas Mahendra Varman I, the emblems found on the caves and the areas being under the rule of the Vishnukundins during this period clearly show that these were contributions of the Vishnukundins. The big four-storeyed cave at Undavalli and the 8 cave temples in Bhairavakonda in Nellore district show however clear resemblances with the architecture of Pallava Mahendra Varman's period.

References

* Durga Prasad, History of the Andhras up to 1565 A. D., P. G. PUBLISHERS, GUNTUR (1988)
* South Indian Inscriptions [http://www.whatisindia.com/inscriptions/]
* Nilakanta Sastri, K.A. (1955). A History of South India, OUP, New Delhi (Reprinted 2002).


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