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Pallavas Trade and Society


  • Kanchipuram was an important trading centre in the Pallava period.
  • The merchants had to obtain license to market their goods.
  • Barter system generally prevailed but later the Pallavas issued gold and silver coins.
  • Merchants had their own organizations such as Manigramam.
  • In foreign trade, spices, cotton textiles, precious stones and medicinal plants were exported to Java, Sumatra, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, China and Burma (Myanmar).
  • Mamallapuram was an important seaport.
  • Traders founded guilds and called themselves as sudesi, nanadesi, ainurruvar and others.
  • Their main guild functioned at Aihole.
  • Foreign merchants were known as Nanadesi.
  • It had a separate flag with the figure of bull at the centre, and they enjoyed the right of issuing virasasanas.
  • The jurisdiction of this guild stretched over entire south-east Asia.
  • The chief of this guild is registered in the inscriptions as pattanswamy, pattnakilar, and dandanayaka.
  • Its members were known as ayyavole-parameswariyar.

Maritime Trade

  • Unlike in the Ganges plain, where large areas were available for cultivation, the regions controlled by the Pallavas and the Chalukyas commanded a limited income from land.
  • Mercantile activity had not developed sufficiently to make a substantial contribution to the economy.
  • The Pallavas had maritime trade with south-east Asia, where by now there were three major kingdoms:
  • Kambuja (Cambodia),
  • Champa (Annam), and
  • Srivijaya (the southern Malaya peninsula and Sumatra).
  • On the west coast, the initiative in the trade with the West was gradually passing into the hands of the foreign traders settled along the coast, mainly Arabs.
  • Indian traders were becoming suppliers of goods rather than carriers of goods to foreign countries, and communication with the west became indirect, via Arabs, and limited to trade alone.


  • Brahmins as learned scholars in literature, astronomy, law and others functioned as the royal counsellors.
  • Not only were they in the teaching profession, they were also involved in agriculture, trade and war.
  • They were exempted from paying taxes and capital punishment.
  • The next important social group which ruled the state was called sat-kshatryas (quality kshatriyas).
  • Not all the kshatryas were of warring groups; some of them were involved in trading as well.
  • They also enjoyed the right to read the Vedas, a privilege denied to lower varnas.
  • The trading group maintained warriors for protection and founded trade guilds.
  • The people who were at the bottom of the society worked in agriculture, animal husbandry, and handicraft works.
  • People engaged in scavenging, fishing, dry-cleaning and leather works were positioned outside the varna system.
  • Most scholars agree that Aryanisation or the northern influence on the south picked up pace during the Pallava period.
  • This is evident from the royal grants issued by the kings.
  • The caste structure had firmly established.
  • Sanskrit came to be held in high esteem.
  • Kanchipuram continued to be a great seat of learning.
  • The followers of Vedic religion were devoted to the worship of Siva.
  • Mahendravarman was the first, during the middle of his reign, to adopt the worship of Siva.
  • But he was intolerant of Jainism and destroyed some Jain monasteries.
  • Buddhism and Jainism lost their appeal.
  • However, Hiuen-Tsang is reported to have seen at Kanchi one hundred Buddhist monasteries and 10,000 priests belonging to the Mahayana school.
  • Many of the great Nayanmars and Alwars, Saiva and Vaishanava poet-saints lived during his time.

Growing influence of Brahmanism

  • Perhaps the most obvious sign of the influence of Aryan culture in the south was the pre-eminent position given to Brahmins.
  • They gained materially through large gifts of land. Aryanisation is also evident in the evolution of educational institutions in the Pallava kingdom.
  • In the early part of this period education was controlled by Jains and Buddhists, but gradually the Brahmins superseded them.
  • The Jains who had brought with them their religious literature in Sanskrit and Prakrit, began to use Tamil.
  • Jainism was extremely popular, but the competition of Hinduism in the succeeding centuries greatly reduced the number of its adherents.
  • In addition, Mahendravarman I lost interest in Jainism and took up the cause of Saivism, thus depriving the Jains of valuable royal patronage.
  • The Jains had developed a few educational centres near Madurai and Kanchi, and religious centres such as the one at Shravanabelagola in Karnataka.
  • But a vast majority of the Jaina monks tended to isolate themselves in small caves, in hills and forests.

Monasteries and Mutts

  • Monasteries continued to be the nucleus of the Buddhist educational system and were located in the region of Kanchi, and the valleys of the Krishna and the Godavari rivers.
  • Buddhist centres were concerned with the study of Buddhism, particularly as this was a period of intense conflict between orthodox and heterodox sects.
  • But Buddhism was fighting a losing battle.
  • Royal patronage, which the Buddhists lacked, gave an edge to the protagonists of Vedic religions.
  • Apart from the university at Kanchi, which acquired a fame equal to that the Nalanda, there were a number of other Sanskrit colleges.
  • Sanskrit was the recognized medium, and was also the official language at the court, which led to its adoption in literary circles.
  • In the eighth century the mathas (mutts) became popular.
  • This was a combination of a rest house, a feeding-centre, and an education centre, which indirectly brought publicity to the particular sect with which it was associated.

Growing Popularity of Sanskrit

  • Mahendravarman I composed Mathavilasa Prahasanam in Sanskrit.
  • Two extraordinary works in Sanskrit set the standard for Sanskrit literature in the south:
  • Bharavi’s Kiratarjuniya and
  • Dandin’s Dashakumaracharita.
  • Dandin of Kanchipuram, author of the great treatise on rhetoric Kavyadarsa, seems to have stayed in Pallava court for some time.

Rock-cut Temples

  • Mahendravarman I is credited with the introduction of rock-cut temples in the Pallava territory.
  • Mahendravarman claims in his Mandagappattu inscription that his shrine to Brahma, Isvara and Vishnu was made without using traditional materials such as brick, timber, metal and mortar.
  • Mahendravarman’s rock-cut temples are usually the mandapa type with a pillared hall or the mandapa in front and a small shrine at the rear or sides.

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