Chalukyas of Badami


Extent of Badami Chalukya Empire 543–753 A.D. (source: Wikipedia)

The Chalukya dynasty was an Indian royal dynasty that ruled large parts of southern and central India between the 6th and the 12th centuries. During this period, they ruled as three related yet individual dynasties. The earliest dynasty, known as the “Badami Chalukyas”, ruled from Vatapi (modern Badami) from the middle of the 6th century. The Badami Chalukyas began to assert their independence at the decline of the Kadamba kingdom of Banavasi and rapidly rose to prominence during the reign of Pulakeshin II. After the death of Pulakeshin II, the Eastern Chalukyas became an independent kingdom in the eastern Deccan. They ruled from Vengi until about the 11th century. In the western Deccan, the rise of the Rashtrakutas in the middle of the 8th century eclipsed the Chalukyas of Badami before being revived by their descendants, the Western Chalukyas, in the late 10th century. These Western Chalukyas ruled from Kalyani (modern Basavakalyan) until the end of the 12th century.

The rule of the Chalukyas marks an important milestone in the history of South India and a golden age in the history of Karnataka. The political atmosphere in South India shifted from smaller kingdoms to large empires with the ascendancy of Badami Chalukyas. A Southern India-based kingdom took control and consolidated the entire region between the Kaveri and the Narmada rivers. The rise of this empire saw the birth of efficient administration, overseas trade and commerce and the development of new style of architecture called “Chalukyan architecture”. Kannada literature, which had enjoyed royal support in the 9th century Rashtrakuta court found eager patronage from the Western Chalukyas in the Jain and Veerashaiva traditions. The 11th century saw the birth of Telugu literature under the patronage of the Eastern Chalukyas.


While the opinions vary regarding the early origins of the Chalukyas, the consensus among noted historians such as John Keay, D.C. Sircar, Hans Raj, S. Sen, Kamath and Karmarkar is the founders of the empire at Badami were native to the modern Karnataka region. 

A theory that they were descendants of a 2nd-century chieftain called Kandachaliki Remmanaka, a feudatory of the Andhra Ikshvaku (from an Ikshvaku inscription of the 2nd century) was put forward. This according to Kamath has failed to explain the difference in lineage. The Kandachaliki feudatory call themselves Vashisthiputras of the Hiranyakagotra. The Chalukyas, however, address themselves as Harithiputras of Manavyasagotra in their inscriptions, which is the same lineage as their early overlords, the Kadambas of Banavasi. This makes them descendants of the Kadambas. The Chalukyas took control of the territory formerly ruled by the Kadambas.

A later record of Eastern Chalukyas mentions the northern origin theory and claims one ruler of Ayodhya came south, defeated the Pallavas and married a Pallava princess. She had a child called Vijayaditya who is claimed to be the Pulakeshin I’s father. However, according to the historians K. V. Ramesh, Chopra and Sastri, there are Badami Chalukya inscriptions that confirm Jayasimha was Pulakeshin I’s grandfather and Ranaranga, his father. Kamath and Moraes claim it was a popular practice in the 11th century to link South Indian royal family lineage to a Northern kingdom. The Badami Chalukya records themselves are silent with regards to the Ayodhya origin.

The epigraphist K. V. Ramesh has suggested that an earlier southern migration is a distinct possibility which needs examination. According to him, the complete absence of any inscriptional reference of their family connections to Ayodhya, and their subsequent Kannadiga identity may have been due to their earlier migration into present day Karnataka region where they achieved success as chieftains and kings. The writing of 12th century Kashmiri poet Bilhana suggests the Chalukya family belonged to the Shudra caste while other sources claim they were Kshatriyas. 

The historians Jan Houben and Kamath, and the epigraphist D.C. Sircar note the Badami Chalukya inscriptions are in Kannada and Sanskrit. According to the historian N. L. Rao, their inscriptions call them Karnatas and their names use indigenous Kannada titles such as Priyagallam and Noduttagelvom. The names of some Chalukya princes end with the pure Kannada term arasa (meaning “king” or “chief”). The Rashtrakuta inscriptions call the Chalukyas of Badami Karnatabala (“Power of Karnata”). It has been proposed by the historian S. C. Nandinath that the word “Chalukya” originated from Salki or Chalki which is a Kannada word for an agricultural implement.

Historical sources

Inscriptions in Sanskrit and Kannada are the main source of information about the Badami Chalukya history. Among them, the Badami cave inscriptions of Mangalesha (578), Kappe Arabhatta record of c. 700, Peddavaduguru inscription of Pulakeshin II, the Kanchi Kailasanatha Temple inscription and Pattadakal Virupaksha Temple inscription of Vikramaditya II (all in Kannada language) provide more evidence of the Chalukya language. The Badami cliff inscription of Pulakeshin I (543), the Mahakuta Pillar inscription of Mangalesha (595) and the Aihole inscription of Pulakeshin II (634) are examples of important Sanskrit inscriptions written in old Kannada script. The reign of the Chalukyas saw the arrival of Kannada as the predominant language of inscriptions along with Sanskrit, in areas of the Indian peninsula outside what is known as Tamilaham (Tamil country). Several coins of the Badami Chalukyas with Kannada legends have been found. All this indicates that Kannada language flourished during this period. Travelogues of contemporary foreign travellers have provided useful information about the Chalukyan empire. The Chinese traveller Xuanzang had visited the court of Pulakeshin II. At the time of this visit, as mentioned in the Aihole record, Pulakeshin II had divided his empire into three Maharashtrakas or great provinces comprising 99,000 villages each. This empire possibly covered present day Karnataka, Maharashtra and coastal Konkan. Xuanzang, impressed with the governance of the empire observed that the benefits of king’s efficient administration was felt far and wide. Later, Persian emperor Khosrau II exchanged ambassadors with Pulakeshin II.

Periods in Chalukya history

The Chalukyas ruled over the Deccan plateau in India for over 600 years. During this period, they ruled as three closely related, but individual dynasties. These are the “Chalukyas of Badami” (also called “Early Chalukyas”), who ruled between the 6th and the 8th century, and the two sibling dynasties, the “Chalukyas of Kalyani” (also called Western Chalukyas or “Later Chalukyas”) and the “Chalukyas of Vengi” (also called Eastern Chalukyas).

Chalukyas of Badami:-

In the 6th century, with the decline of the Gupta dynasty and their immediate successors in northern India, major changes began to happen in the area south of the Vindyas – the Deccan and Tamilaham. The age of small kingdoms had given way to large empires in this region. The Chalukya dynasty was established by Pulakeshin I in 543. Pulakeshin I took Vatapi (modern Badami in Bagalkot district, Karnataka) under his control and made it his capital. Pulakeshin I and his descendants are referred to as “Chalukyas of Badami”. They ruled over an empire that comprised the entire state of Karnataka and most of Andhra Pradesh in the Deccan.

Pulakeshin II, whose precoronation name was Ereya, commanded control over the entire Deccan and is perhaps the most well-known emperor of the Badami dynasty. He is considered one of the notable kings in Indian history. His queens were princess from the Alupa Dynasty of South Canara and the Western Ganga Dynasty of Talakad, clans with whom the Chalukyas maintained close family and marital relationships. Pulakeshin II extended the Chalukya Empire up to the northern extents of the Pallava kingdom and halted the southward march of Harsha by defeating him on the banks of the river Narmada. He then defeated the Vishnukundins in the southeastern Deccan. Pallava Narasimhavarman however reversed this victory in 642 by attacking and occupying Badami temporarily. It is presumed Pulakeshin II, “the great hero”, died fighting.

The Badami Chalukya dynasty went into a brief decline following the death of Pulakeshin II due to internal feuds when Badami was occupied by the Pallavas for a period of thirteen years. It recovered during the reign of Vikramaditya I, who succeeded in pushing the Pallavas out of Badami and restoring order to the empire. Vikramaditya I took the title “Rajamalla” (lit “Sovereign of the Mallas” or Pallavas).[64] The thirty-seven year rule of Vijayaditya (696–733) was a prosperous one and is known for prolific temple building activity.

The empire was its peak again during the rule of the illustrious Vikramaditya II (733–744) who is known not only for his repeated invasions of the territory of Tondaimandalam and his subsequent victories over Pallava Nandivarman II, but also for his benevolence towards the people and the monuments of Kanchipuram, the Pallava capital. He thus avenged the earlier humiliation of the Chalukyas by the Pallavas and engraved a Kannada inscription on the victory pillar at the Kailasanatha Temple. During his reign Arab intruders of the Umayyad Caliphate invaded southern Gujarat which was under Chalukya rule but the Arabs were defeated and driven out by Pulakesi, a Chalukya governor of Navsari. He later overran the other traditional kingdoms of Tamil country, the Pandyas, the Cholas and the Cheras in addition to subduing a Kalabhra ruler. The last Chalukya king, Kirtivarman II, was overthrown by the Rashtrakuta King Dantidurga in 753. At their peak, the Chalukyas ruled a vast empire stretching from the Kaveri in the south to the Narmada in the north.


The Badami Chalukya era was an important period in the development of South Indian architecture. Their style of architecture is called “Chalukyan architecture” or “Karnata Dravida architecture”. Nearly a hundred monuments built by them, rock cut (cave) and structural, are found in the Malaprabha river basin in modern Bagalkot district of northern Karnataka. The building material they used was a reddish-golden Sandstone found locally. Though they ruled a vast empire, the Chalukyan workshops concentrated most of their temple building activity in a relatively small area within the Chalukyan heartland – Aihole, Badami, Pattadakal and Mahakuta in modern Karnataka state.


Chalukya emblem of Aihole in Karnataka depicts Vishnu in Varaha form. A 6th century stone emblem. (source: Wikipedia)

Other aspects


The army was well organised and this was the reason for Pulakeshin II’s success beyond the Vindyas. It consisted of an infantry, a cavalry, an elephant corps and a powerful navy. The Chinese traveller Hiuen-Tsiang wrote that the Chalukyan army had hundreds of elephants which were intoxicated with liquor prior to battle. It was with their navy that they conquered Revatidvipa (Goa), and Puri on east coast of India. Rashtrakuta inscriptions use the term Karnatabala when referring to the powerful Chalukya armies.

Land governance

The government, at higher levels, was closely modelled after the Magadhan and Satavahana administrative machinery. The empire was divided into Maharashtrakas (provinces), then into smaller Rashtrakas (Mandala), Vishaya (district), Bhoga (group of 10 villages) which is similar to the Dasagrama unit used by the Kadambas. At the lower levels of administration, the Kadamba style prevailed fully. The Sanjan plates of Vikramaditya I even mentions a land unit called Dasagrama. In addition to imperial provinces, there were autonomous regions ruled by feudatories such as the Alupas, the Gangas, the Banas and the Sendrakas. Local assemblies and guilds looked after local issues. Groups of mahajanas (learned brahmins) looked after agraharas (called ghatika or “place of higher learning”) such as at Badami which was served by 2000 mahajans and Aihole which was served by 500 mahajanas. Taxes were levied and were called the herjunka – tax on loads, the kirukula – tax on retail goods in transit, the bilkode – sales tax, the pannaya – betel tax, siddaya – land tax and the vaddaravula – tax levied to support royalty.


The Badami Chalukyas minted coins that were of a different standard compared to the coins of the northern kingdoms. The coins had Nagari and Kannada legends. The coins of Mangalesha had the symbol of a temple on the obverse and a ‘sceptre between lamps’ or a temple on the reverse. Pulakeshin II’s coins had a caparisoned lion facing right on the obverse and a temple on the reverse. The coins weighed 4 grams and were called, in old-Kannada, hun (or honnu) and had fractions such as fana (or fanam) and the quarter fana (the modern day Kannada equivalent being hana – which literally means “money”). A gold coin called gadyana is mentioned in a record at the Vijayeshwara Temple at Pattadakal, which later came to be known as varaha (their royal emblem).


Both Shaivism and Vaishnavism flourished during the Badami Chalukya period, though it seems the former was more popular. Famous temples were built in places such as Pattadakal, Aihole and Mahakuta, and priests (archakas) were invited from northern India. Vedic sacrifices, religious vows (vrata) and the giving of gifts (dana) was important. The Badami kings were initially followers of Vedic Hinduism and dedicated temples to popular Hindu deities in Aihole. Sculptures of deities testify to the popularity of Hindu Gods such as Vishnu, Shiva, Kartikeya, Ganapathi, Shakti, Surya and Sapta Matrikas (“seven mothers”). The Badami kings also performed the Ashwamedha (“horse sacrifice”). The worship of Lajja Gauri, a fertility goddess is known. Jainism too was a prominent religion during this period. The kings of the dynasty were however secular and actively encouraged Jainism. One of the Badami Cave temples is dedicated to the Jain faith. Jain temples were also erected in the Aihole complex, the temple at Maguti being one such example. Ravikirti, the court poet of Pulakeshin II was a Jain. Queen Vinayavati consecrated a temple for the Trimurti (“Hindu trinity”) at Badami. Sculptures of the Trimurti, Harihara (half Vishnu, half Shiva) and Ardhanarishwara (half Shiva, half woman) provide ample evidence of their tolerance. Buddhism was on a decline, having made its ingress into Southeast Asia. This is confirmed by the writings of Hiuen-Tsiang. Badami, Aihole, Kurtukoti and Puligere (modern Lakshmeshwar in the Gadag district) were primary places of learning.


The Hindu caste system was present and devadasis were recognised by the government. Some kings had concubines (ganikas) who were given much respect, and Sati was perhaps absent since widows like Vinayavathi and Vijayanka are mentioned in records. Devadasis were however present in temples. Sage Bharata’s Natyashastra, the precursor to Bharatanatyam, the classical dance of South India, was popular and is seen in many sculptures and is mentioned in inscriptions. Some women from the royal family enjoyed political power in administration. Queen Vijayanka was a noted Sanskrit poet, Kumkumadevi, the younger sister of Vijayaditya (and queen of Alupa King Chitravahana) made several grants and had a Jain basadi called Anesajjebasadi constructed at Puligere, and the queens of Vikramaditya II, Lokamahadevi and Trailokyamahadevi made grants and possibly consecrated the Lokesvara Temple (now called Virupaksha temple) but also and the Mallikarjuna temple respectively at Pattadakal.

Political History of the Chalukyas of Badami

Jayasimha was the first Chalukyan king. His father’s name was Ranaraga. From the Kauthem inscription we come to know that Jayasimha defeated Indra, the son of Krishna and thereby re-established the Chalukya dynasty. But, we do not find this reference in the Aihole inscription, hence, this cannot be fully believed.

Pulakesin I

He was the first great king among the Chalukyas. He was the first independent ruler. In fact, he is regarded as the real founder of this dynasty. He has titles of Ranavikram and Shree Prithvi – Vallabha.  He has been credited to perform several Yajnas and sacrifices; for example, the Hiranyagarbha, the Ashwamedha, Agnishtoma and Vajpaye. He was a great scholar, well – versed in the Puranas, Ramayana and Mahabharata. According to the Badami inscription, he laid the foundation of the Vatapi fort. 


Kirtivarman ascended the throne in 566 or 567 A.D. He constructed several temples in the city of Vatapi. He had defeated Vangas, angas, Magadha, Keralas, Vatmas, Madraka, Gangas, Pandyas, Cholas, Mousikanoes and Aluka. The Mahakuta inscription and the Aihole inscription both refer to his victories in the battles.


Kirtivarman was succeeded by his brother Mangalesha in 597 or 598 A.D. as he had no successor. Mangalesha had taken upon titles such as Rana-Vikrama, Parambhagavata, etc. The Aihole inscription refers to his victories over Kalachuris and Revati island. The Mahakuta inscription also tells about his victory over Bodhara,j a Kalachuri ruler. Towards the end of his reign, Mangalesha had to fight his nephew Pulakesin II, who killed him and asecnded the throne in 610 A.D.

Pulakesin II

He had acquired the titles of Shree Prithvi – Vallabha and Parameshwara. At the time of his accession, there was a political chaos and several rulers took advantage of the civil war and established independent kingdoms. The capital city was threatened by foreign enemies. In such a situation Pulakesin II took a diplomatic and tactful step. He adopted the policy of divide and rule. Entering into an allegiance with Govinda, he defeated Appayika ( It is even possible that at least one of them, if not both, was Mangalesha’s son. Pulakeshin II confronted their army on the banks of the river Bhima. Appayika ran away from the battlefield, while Govinda surrendered. Pulakeshin built a pillar to celebrate his victory).

After strengthening his power, he adopted a policy of aggression and brought all neighbouring states under his authority. The Aihole inscription provides elaborate description of his great deeds. He had become the head of three states namely, Maharashtra, Konkan and Karnata. He had also established cordial relations with the Cholas, Keralas and Pandyas.

Social conditions – Xuanzang was a Chinese traveler who visited India in the 7th century. Xuanzang praised the Chalukya king Pulakeshin II as a “man of farsighted resource and astuteness who extends kindness to all”. His subjects obey him with perfect submission. The people of the Chalukya kingdom left a strong impression on him. He stated:The people preferred death to disloyalty. “They were tall and sturdy in stature and proud and carefree by nature, grateful for kindness and revengeful for injustice.” If they or their family were insulted they would call for a duel”.  Xuanzang vividly described the Chalukya army of Pulakeshin II, which had hundreds of well-trained and armed warriors as well as numerous elephants which were given alcohol before letting loose on the battlefield. Although Pulakeshin II was a Hindu ruler Xuanzang mentioned that there were one hundred Buddhist monasteries in his kingdom.

Battle with Harsha – When Pulakeshin II pushed forth up to the Narmada, he came face to face with Harshavardhana of Kanauj who already had the title Uttarapatheshvara (Lord of the North). In a decisive battle fought on the banks of the river Narmada, Harsha lost a major part of his elephant force and had to retreat. The Aihole inscription describes how the mighty Harsha lost his harsha (joy) when he suffered the ignominy of defeat. Pulakeshin entered into a treaty with Harsha, with the Narmada River designated as the border between the Chalukya Empire and that of Harshavardhana.

Xuanzang describes the event thus:

“Shiladityaraja (i.e., Harsha), filled with confidence, himself marched at the head of his troops to contend with this prince (i.e., Pulakeshin); but he was unable to prevail upon or subjugate him”.

It was indeed a great victory for the Chalukya monarch, who assumed the proud titles of Parameswara (Paramount Overlord), Satyashraya, Prithvivallabha. With this conquest, Pulakeshin’s control extended over most of Southern India, including Maharashtra and parts of Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat. He received the title Dakshinapatheshvara (Lord of the South) at around the same time. These victories happened before 634 A.D. According to Dr. Shreenand L. Bapat, Registrar, Bhandarkar Oriental Research institute, Pune, Pulakeshin II defeated Harsha on the banks of Narmada in the winter of 618-619 A.D. His information is based on a recently discovered copperplate inscription of Pulakeshin II. Pulakeshin II married a princess of the Alupas of South Canara.

Death and Legacy

Pulakesin II could not resist the Pallavas for long – Narasimhavarman I, invaded Badami and conquered it. It is possible that Pulakeshin II lost his life in one of these encounters against the Pallavas and was possibly killed directly by Narasimhavarman I. The thirteen years that followed saw the eclipse of Chalukya power, while Badami remained in the hands of the Pallavas.

Pulakeshin exchanged ambassadors with the Shah of Persia Khosrau II. His reception of the Persian ambassador is depicted in one of the paintings in the Ajanta caves. The Chinese traveller Hsuan Tsang, who visited India in the 7th century, wrote admiringly of Pulakeshin and his Empire.[citation needed]

Pulakeshin was the first ruler in South India to issue gold coinage. Broad and circular in shape, the punch-marked coins had various punches at the edge, and a central punch depicting a Varaha or Boar. The Boar was the royal emblem of the Chalukyas. Contemporary literature cites the gold coins of south India as Varahas.

Pulakeshin had five sons, Chandraditya, Adityavarma, Vikramaditya, Jayasimha and Ambera. They fought among themselves after his demise, trying to divide the kingdom into territories for each of themselves. Pulakeshin’s third son Vikramaditya I became the Chalukya king in 642 and successfully re-united the kingdom after defeating his brothers. He was eventually successful in driving the Pallavas out of Badami after their 13 years of occupation. A later King of this dynasty, Vikramaditya II would re-build the empire to the zenith of power enjoyed during the rule of Pulakeshin II.

The last king of the Chalukyas of Badami was Kirtivarman II. He ruled till 757 A.D. During his reign the Chalukya dynasty started hastening towards decay and downfall. Within a short period of time, the Rashtrakutas became powerful in the southern part of India.

References –


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