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Cultural Development in Early Medieval South India: Introduction


  • The political history of south India during the sixth century to ninth century CE was marked by conflicts between the Chalukyas of Badami (Vatapi) (also known as Western Chalukyas), and the Pallavas of Kanchi.
  • At the same time, the period also saw great advancements in the field of culture and literature.
  • It also broke new grounds in areas like devotional literature, art and architecture.
  • The Bhakti movement, which impacted the entire sub-continent, originated in the Tamil country during this period.


  • Inscriptions on copperplates, on temple walls and pillars form a major source of historical information for this period.
  • Inscriptions issued by Chalukyas in Kannada, Telugu, Tamil and Sanskrit languages, and Pallavas in Tamil and Sanskrit, recording land grants to Brahmins, as well as the royal and the non-royal gifts made to religious establishment are equally important sources.
  • The Aihole inscription of Pulikesin II composed by his court poet Ravikirti in Sanskrit is among the most important of Chalukyan inscriptions.
  • Kavirajamarga, a work on poetics in Kannada, Vikramarjuna-vijayam, also called Pampa-bharata, by Pampa in Kannada, which were all of a later period, and Nannaya’s Mahabharatam in Telugu also provide useful historical data.
  • However, pride of place must go to Tamil literature.
  • The Bhakti movement which originated in South India found its greatest expression in the songs composed by the Azhwars and Nayanmars.
  • The poems of the Vaishnavite Azhwars were later compiled as the Nalayira Divya Prabhandam.
  • The Saiva literature was canonized as the Panniru Tirumurai.
  • The Thevaram, composed by Appar (Thirunavukkarasar), Sambandar (Thirugnanasambandar) and Sundarar; and Thiruvavasagam by Manickavasagar are prominent texts which are read as sacred literature to this day.
  • Periyapuranam written by Sekizhar, in a later period, also provides much historical information.
  • The Mathavilasa Prahasanam written by Mahendravarman I in Sanskrit, is an important source for the Pallava period.
  • Many inscriptional sources including the Allahabad Pillar inscription of Samudragupta and the Aihole inscription of the Chalukya king Pulakisin II provide details of Pallava Chalukya conflict.
  • The Kuram copper plates of Parameshwaravarman and the Velurpalayam copper plates of Nandivarman III record their military achievements.
  • Coins help us to understand the economic condition of the period.
  • Buddhist sources such as Deepavamsa and Mahavamsa, written in Pali, the accounts of Chinese travellers Hiuen Tsang and Itsing give us details about the socio-religious and cultural conditions of the Pallava times.
  • The ninth and tenth century writings of Arab travellers and geographers such as Sulaiman, Al-Masudi, and Ibn Hauka also tell us about the socio-political and economic conditions of India of this period.
  • The sculptures in the temples in Aihole, Badami, Pattadakal reflect the culture of the times.

From Kuram Copper Plate : (Line 12). The grandson of Narasimhavarman, (who arose) from the kings of this race, just as the moon and the sun from the eastern mountain; who was the crest-jewel on the head of those princes, who had never bowed their heads (before); who proved a lion to the elephant-herd of hostile kings; who appeared to be blessed Narasimha himself, who had come down (to earth) in the shape of a prince; who repeatedly defeated the Cholas, Keralas, Kalabhras, and Pandyas; who, like Sahasrabahu (i.e., the thousand-armed Kartavirya), enjoyed the action for a thousand arms in hundreds of fights; who wrote the (three) syllables of (the word) vijaya (i.e., victory), as on a plate, on Pulikesin’s back, which was caused to be visible (i.e., whom he caused to turn his back) in the battles of Pariyala, Manimangala, Suramara, etc., and who destroyed (the city of) Vatapi, just as the pitcher-born (Agastya) (the demon) Vatapi.

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