The south of India has seem many empires, however one of the most powerful to exist in that region was the Pallava dynasty. The Pallavas were great conquerors and patrons of art and architecture. They ruled for nearly 500 years.
The Pallavas initially conquered the region of Thondaimandalam in Pallavapuri right on the coastline. Shortly thereafter, a natural disaster occurred and the entire area was washed away by the sea. The Pallavas then moved to Kanchipuram and it was from there that they built their mighty empire which extended from northern Odisha to Tanjore and Trichi in the far south.
Skandavarman is believed to be the first Pallava ruler who ruled in the early part of the fourth century. Skandavarman extended his territories from the Krishna river to Pennar in the south all the way across to Bellary in the west. After having performed the Ashvamedha and various Vedic rituals, he earned the title of “Supreme King of Kings devoted to Dharma.”
The Pallavas were in a hurry and they began to rapidly expand their kingdom. They soon took over areas of north and south Arcot, Chengalpet and parts of Tanjore. During the period of 350 AD to 575 AD, there were over 16 kings who ruled. King Sambashivu ruled from 560 AD to 580 AD. He was a strong ruler who defeated the Cholas, Pandyas and Kalabhras who were the original rulers of the southern regions. Sambashivu was a Vaishnavite, a devotee of Lord Vishnu and his portrait is present in the Adi Varaha temple in Mahabalipuram, Tamil Nadu.
Sambashivu was followed by his son, Mahendravarman who ruled from 600 AD to 630 AD. Mahendravarman was a very learned person, a poet and a skilled musician. His instrument of choice was the veena. He was also a patron of the arts, music and architecture, which flourished during his reign. The stunning cave temples of Mahabalipuram near Chennai were initiated by Mahendravarman.
It was during his reign that conflicts with the Chalukyas of Badami began which lasted for centuries. Pulakesi II, the Chalukya king heard of the riches in his neighboring kingdom and provoked Mahendravarman by attacking his empire. Pulakesi attacked Mahendravarman’s army at Pullalar in the year 620 AD. The Pallavas suffered a defeat which completely devastated Mahendravarman. His health suffered badly along with his mental well being as he was never at peace again.
He did try and take revenge by taking on Pulakesi in multiple battles but success eluded him. He finally died, a broken king, in the year 630 AD.
Narasimhavarman, Mahendravarman’s brave and intelligent son, felt deeply humiliated and vowed to avenge his father’s death.
He challenged Pulakesi II twice. One in Manimangalam and again in Pariyalam in 632. Both the times he defeated Pulakesi II and achieved what his father could not. Pulakesi II was pushed into a retreat and he agreed never to conquer lands towards the south.
With these victories, Narasimhavarman had taken control of Badami and continued to rule over it for thirteen years. With his powerful navy he also helped the King of Simhala (Sri Lanka) to get back his lost kingdom.
Narasimhavarman during his reign completed the beautiful temples of Mahablipuram. He also built a host of other temples like the Kailasanatha temple at Kanchipuram and the Shore temple.
The king, who was a great wrestler, had earned the title of ‘Mamalla,’ which is why Mahabalipuram is also known as Mamallapuram.