Study of Inscriptions during the Pallavas era

  • This article, by students of Chettinad Hari Shree Vidyalayam, a leading Chennai school, focusses on inscriptions during the Pallava era.

This essay contains abstract, introduction, how they came to power, capital town, Mahabalipuram, extent of dynasty, Inscriptions, Major inferences from their inscriptions and Conclusion. This paper focuses on Pallava inscriptions, which provide a detailed insight about the Pallavas’ ancestors, wars fought, victory records, religious beliefs and contributions of the kings of the Pallava dynasty.


Cholas/Cōḻarkaḷ, Cheras/Cērar, Pandyas/Pāṇṭiyarkaḷ, Pallavas/Pallavarkaḷ were the predominantly known South Indian kingdoms and have left an irreplaceable mark in history.  The major focus of this research is Pallavas/Pallavarkaḷ and their contributions traced out through their inscriptions.

The major sources for history or how we get to know about ancient dynasties is through the architectural work, inscriptions, coins and other excavations that have been found out. These sources are very important as they help us trace out the social practices, economy and lifestyle that was followed.

Inscriptions are basically writings, scriptures and drawings on monoliths, stones and relatively on hard materials and act as an important source for history as they tell us about aspects varying from messages, ownership of property, victories over other kingdoms, hymns, shlokas, story of the monument, praises of the king(s) and much more.

The Pallava inscriptions are found to be in Prakrit (earliest), Sanskrit and Tamil but more of Tamil as predominantly their settlement was near Kanchipuram/Kāñcipuram and Mahabalipuram/Makāpalipuram region in Tamil Nadu but they did have their empires extending to belts of Tanjore and Trichy.

The major focus of this paper would be the Pallava inscriptions that have been discovered. They have actually helped to trace the chronological order of the Pallava dynasty and also the foreign influences in the construction of the structure.


In the latter half of the 6th century, a new dynasty called the Pallavas came to power in South India. The moment we state important South Indian kingdoms, names of great dynasties like the Cholas, Cheras, Pandyas and later the Vijayanagara Empire and Chalukyas are discussed.

When it comes to power tussle and power politics, South Indian history has always been a great example for this as three to four kingdoms have always waged war with each other to establish their power and rule the zone.

There are many theories about the origin of the Pallavas. Many historians and researchers have mentioned that the name Pallava was a disambiguation of Pahlava who were of Scythian origin. Many others have sought to connect them with Jaffna, identified with the island of Manipallavam mentioned in the Manimekalai/Maṇimēkalai. (ḷ -dynasty/13636 (accessed on 12th December 2019)

Also, another view is that Pallava is a Sanskrit word meaning tender shoots and leaves of a plant. The northern parts of Tamil Nadu and southern parts of Andhra Pradesh were under the rule and control of the Pallavas. Their capital was Kanchi.

By the beginning of the seventh century AD, there were three major states which were seen emerging in southern India and these were: the Pallavas along with the Chalukyas of Badami and the Pāṇṭiyarkaḷ of Madurai.

Their kingdom, referred to as Tondaimandalam, stretched from southern Andhra Pradesh to northern Tamil Nadu - the fertile plains between the river basins of the Penna and Ponnaiyar rivers. Kanchipuram/Kāñcipuram was the capital of their empire and the port city of Mahabalipuram, the source of all their wealth.

How they came to power

The founder of the Pallava dynasty was Simha Vishnu who was said to be a very efficient and strong ruler. After the death of Simha Vishnu, Mahendravarman, his son succeeded him, and he was also believed to be a very efficient ruler and extremely learned.

The famous cave temple at Mahabalipuram was constructed based on his ideas. The news about the upcoming and prosperous dynasty spread all around and the famous Chalukya Pulakesi-II came to know about the richness and abundance of the kingdom. He attacked the kingdom and successfully defeated Mahendravarman.

The Pallavas were defeated only because their leader Mahendravarman died during the battle. His son, Narasimhavarman ascended the throne after him. It is said that Narasimhavarman vowed to take revenge for his father's death. He is believed to be physically well-built and having great intelligence. With planning, plotting and tactics, he almost destroyed the Chalukya Pulakesi kingdom. 

He got a number of temples constructed in the capital Kanchi. It was in 740 AD, that the Pallava supremacy completely ended in South India when the Chalukyas overran the Pallavas in the revived conflict. ( (accessed on 12th December 2019)

Capital Town

The town of Kanchipuram was the capital of the Pallavas. Kanchi is best known for history, culture, art and architecture.

In Sanskrit there is a saying which glorifies this place, Nagareshu Kanchi/Nākarēṣu kāñci, meaning the first among cities. The earliest reference to the city is in the Mahabhashya of Pathanchali of the 2nd century BCE. Later Tamil works of the 2nd century CE like Manimekala and Perumbhanatrupadai talk about the town as it was during that time.

Chinese Buddhist scholar Hieun Tsang travelled here in the 6th century CE and recorded his account about the town, while Marco Polo noted his views during his visit in the 12th century CE.

Bodhidharma/Pōtitarmar, said to be the son of a Pallava king and founder of Chan Buddhism travelled to Canton in China around 520 CE. The Saivite poet Appar of the 7th century CE and a contemporary of Mahendravarman described the city as a storehouse of immeasurable knowledge and learning.




Mahabalipuram/Makāpalipuram was once a thriving city port. Lying on the Coromandel Coast, Mahabalipuram/Makāpalipuram was renamed Mamallapuram during the reign of the Pallava King Narasimhavarman/Naracim’mavarmaṉ I. The title "Mamalla" meaning "the great wrestler" was given to the king considering his bravery and achievements.

Mahabalipuram was an ancient port of the Pallavas, who have created many marvelous monuments with sculptural panels, caves, monolithic rathas and temples. It is referred as an open-air museum. The architecture and sculptures reflect the stylistic qualities of the great Pallava kings, Narasimha I and Rajasimha ( (accessed on 21st December 2019)

The port was constructed by Emperor Mahendra Varman in the 7th century. Famous monuments in Mahabalipuram include:

1. Shore Temple

2. Arjuna’s Penance

3. Varaha Temple

4. Mahishasuramardini

5. Krishna’s Butterball

6. Pandava Rathas

5 Rathas Mahabalipuram

Extent of the Empire  

Extent of the Empire


Major Inscriptions of the Pallavas   

Inscriptions are the major source of information in history. Inscriptions are writings or texts carved on solid objects such as pillars, walls, temples, forts, caves, palaces and stone. It is known as epigraphic information as they provide authentic information about various dynasties and their contributions.

Pallava Inscriptions:

1. Pillars

2. Temple walls

3. Written books

Languages used and where they were found:  

Languages used were mainly Prakrit, Sanskrit, Tamil and Telugu.

All early Pallava inscriptions were either in Sanskrit or Prakrit as these were considered the official languages of the dynasty. Some official scripts of Pallavas/Pallavarkaḷ were in Grantham/Kirantam.

Inscription in Grantham 

Inscriptions found in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka state were in Sanskrit and Prakrit.

( (accessed on 13th December 2019)

Pallava inscriptions in Prakrit were also found in Palnad taluk of Guntur district, which speaks about King Simhavarman. This inscription is also an evidence to show that they adopted Tamil later.

Subsequently, Tamil became the main language to be used by the Pallavas/Pallavarkaḷ in their inscriptions. This language was first adopted by Mahendravarman I himself in a few records of his and from the time of Paramesvaravarman I, the records were inscribed mostly in Sanskrit and the rest in Tamil. (   (accessed on 13th December 2019)

Tamil works of the 2nd century CE like Manimekalai and Perumbhanatrupadai talk about the town, Kanchipuram/Kāñcipuram as it was during that time. (āñcipuram / (accessed on 13th December 2019)

Tamil inscription at Kanchipuram 

Major inferences from their inscriptions 

1. Ancestors:

The history of the Pallavas/Pallavarkaḷ are recorded in Sanskrit and can be seen at Amaravati in Andhra. From the inscriptions, the ancestral lineage of Pallavas/Pallavarkaḷ remain mystical. It talks about a child of a union between the apsara Madani and the brahman warrior Ashwathaman, descendent of sage Bharadvaja, the son of Brahma. (South Indian History Congress, The Congress, 1980, 2008)

There is only a single record of Mahedravarman III/Makēntiravarmaṉ, which is found on a slab set up in a street at Kanchipuram/Kāñcipuram. The whole previous Pallava history concluding with the coronation of Prince Nandivarman is depicted in sculptures elaborately carved on the walls of the verandah around the Garbhagriha of the Vaikunthaperumal temple at Kanchipuram/Kāñcipuram.

Vaikuntha Piramal wall with stories. Courtesy Anuradha Goyal of Indiatales 

2. Wars fought:

Narasimhavarman/Naracim'mavarmaṉ I met the Chalukyas and defeated them in three separate encounters in Pariyala, Suramana and Manimangala, all close to the Pallava capital Kanchi, forcing them to retreat.     

In 642 CE, a Pallava force under Paranjothi was sent by Narasimhavarman to capture Vatapi, the capital of the Chalukyas. Pulakesi-II met the Pallavas on the outskirts of his capital and is said to have lost his life in the ensuing battle.

The Pallavas achieved a decisive victory over Pulakeshin II and took the capital. Narasimhavarman I constructed a Mallikarjuna Temple at Vatapi to commemorate his victory. He also adopted the title “Vatapi-kondan” or “taker of Vatapi. 

He carved an inscription recording his victory on the walls of the Teggina-Irappa temple in Vatapi. Paranjothi brought numerous items of war booty to the Pallava kingdom from Vatapi, including a famous icon of Lord Ganesha (Ganapathi) known as Vatapi Ganapathi, which he enshrined in his hometown. (ātāpi/ (accessed on 13th December 2019)

Vatapati Ganapati.

3. Victory records:

The Pallava victory of Narasimhavarma is found on an inscription at the Mallikarjuna temple at Vatapi/Vātāpi, which corresponds to 642-43 AD. It was probably engraved after the capture and victory over Chalukyas. ( (accessed on 13th December 2019)

4. Religious beliefs:

In the Udayendiram plate of Nandivarman II, Simhavishnu is said to have been a devout worshipper of Vishnu, and this is noteworthy especially since his son Mahendravarman I, who followed Jainism earlier, later converted to Shaivism through the influence of Saint Appar. ( (accessed on 13th December 2019)

Mahendravarman’s inscription on Vishnu. Credit Saurabh Shukla for Puratattva

5. Kings and their contributions:

Numerous inscriptions around the Kailasanadha temple are in 3 different scripts: Nagari, Pallava-Grantha and calligraphic Nagari. 320 titles in praise of the King Rajasimha are found among them which speak of the munificence of the king, his valour and charity done by him.

One of the inscriptions, written in the Kannada script speaks about Vikramaditya Chalukya, who had invaded Kanchi with rage and he encountered this temple. Vikramaditya Chalukya, astounded by its architectural beauty, ordered his commanders not to touch anything in this conquered town and instead presented gold and jewellery as offerings to the God. His queen Loka Mahadevi too, having been impressed with this, is said to have taken artisans from Kanchi to build a similar temple at her home location of Pattadakal, and that today stands as the Virupaksha Temple. ( (accessed on 22nd December 2019)

Kailasanadha temple inscription.          


The Pallavas were a prominent and dominating South Indian kingdom, which has heavily influenced culture in South India with some unparalleled contributions.

The Pallava inscriptions provide to us credible information about various dynasties and their valuable contributions, which help us analyze in great depth about the contemporary social, cultural, economic and political set-up during the Pallava period in South India. These inscriptions provide a detailed insight about the Pallavas’ ancestors, wars fought, victory records, religious beliefs and contributions of the kings. Therefore, without a doubt we can say that the Pallavas have gone down in history as one of the mightiest kingdoms of South India.

 To read all articles by students

Grade 9 Group: Vidur Ashwin, Arjuun B, Dhruv T, Vaghul Kumar, Vishal Sachin Perla, Nikhil Loganathan, Shabbir H Madraswala, Vishakan Ponnusamy.

Readers are requested to kindly consider the following:

1. These papers are submitted by students of Grade 9 (age group: 14-15 years). Their efforts may not be comparable with professional research work and rigour.

2. This is the first time that these students have attempted studies on these topics with comparatively limited access to reference materials and resources, as compared to professional and advanced research initiatives.

3. Two key limitations faced by the students include: 

i) Working primarily within the school premises, with no opportunity for field-research or interviews with domain experts

ii) Time limitations, given academic commitments.

4. Citations and sources of references have been included in the reports. However, in case any source or citation has been missed out, the same is purely inadvertent, accidental or due to ignorance. 

The above paper submitted by the students is part of an initiative called ‘Utsav’ conducted by the school aimed at developing awareness, interest and orientation for Indic wisdom, knowledge, history and philosophy, among students. 

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