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The Intellectual emperor

koodiyattam,The Pallavas, Rajasimha, ghatika

The Great Pallava

Among the more glamorous of later pallava kings and seemingly the most popular among them was Rajasimha who ruled between A.D 695 and A.D 728. He is referred to in many inscriptions as Narasimha varman and Narasimha Vishnu. His rule was by large the most lively and eventful one in the ancient times and recording the same has been a chronicler’s delight.

The pallavas were an ancient clan reknowned for their martial courage and judicial wisdom. One of the kings of this clan who was also father of Rajasimha is known to have single handedly routed a huge coalition that was dispatched against him. Like the cholas, the race of pallavas also finds mention in many ancient works. They were a clan of kshatriyas(royalty), who also had brahmin ancestors both male and female. The inscriptions of their time thus praise them of possessing the virtues of both these clans. Wisdom, grace and austere discipline considered to be traits of noble brahmins on one hand and valour and never-say-die-attitude of kshatriyas on the other. Rajasimha personified these traits more than any other predecessor of his.

Rajasimha or Narasimhavarman, who was the son of Parameswaravarman, inherited an empire that was probably the strongest military power in the subcontinent, but never let mediocrity become a competence and destroy all the magnificent efforts of his predecessors. Thanks to some strenuous military efforts made by his predecessors, pallava hegemony now encompassed entire southern peninsula of India, while further expeditions brought yearly tributes from srilanka and south east asia as far as Vietnam and cambodia. As a result he could now devote his time and energies on streamlining administration.


In the ancient holy city of kanchipuram the capital of pallavas reknowned to this day for remarkable town planning, Rajasimha founded many more ghatikas or centres of learning, where scholars from distant countries were invited to settledown and exchange knowledge on sciences(Sastra), grammar(Vyakarana), philosophy(nyaya), poetry, culinary arts, prose, drama, panegyrics, astrology etc. The pallava military presence in the south east led to diplomatic exchange with china to acknowledge which Rajasimha allowed the construction of a buddhist vihara near poompuhar in his territory. The religious endowments made by Rajasimha are particularly impressive and a mention of them is made even in the grants of last pallava chiefs of 13th century A.D.

From their grants and inscriptions it is possible to infer that many works of great literary merit and in different subjects were produced during this period but very few have survived the time. Among the ones that come down to us today are dasakumaracharitha(The tale of ten princes) and Kavyadarsa(a tutorial on poetry) of Sanskrit litterateur dandin who was one of the court poets of Rajasimha. It is known that dandin produced many works but only the above mentioned two are available in whatever vague form. Rajasimha himself was a good playwright, composer and musician. He was known to be adept in both tamil and Sanskrit . Some of his plays which are centred on ramayana, mahabharatha and puranas still form the subject matter for the ancient sanskrit dance drama called koodiyattam, now practiced only in small southern state of kerala. Infact Rajasimha’s plays were written for koodiyattam plays that were performed as a form of worship during festival days in temples. References to koodiyattam performances are available even in the most ancient of sangam classics (before 500 B.C), thus giving credence to it as the oldest surviving art form. The king on his part should have left more literary works but none of them have survived.





Apart from being a great warrior and a capable administrator, Rajasimha was a man noted for his piety. During his time as though by coincidence or as divine testimonials for his flawless regime were incarnated many great saints who are still revered as divine. The great saiva saint sundaramurthy does refer to Rajasimha in his hymns.


Two of the incidents that had a great impact in Rajasimha’s life were his encounters with two great saints the first one at tiruvarur and the next one at tiruninravur near kanchipuram.

The first incident took place during his sojourn to tiruvarur along with his chief queen to offer worship in the great temple of lord siva. There lived near that temple a great devotee by name naminandi adikal who used to worship the lord daily with flowers. It so happened that on this particular day the lovely flowers that were kept aside by the devotee for worship was accidentally taken by the queen and smelt. This very act of the noble lady so angered the devotee that he gave her a strongly worded feedback on her action, the king meanwhile entered the temple and looking at a visibly upset queen enquired about the matter. “ Those flowers that I had kept aside for worship of the lord have been polluted by the very act of your queen’s smelling the same.” replied the angry devotee. The king smiled and replied that, this being the case, the right punishment for the royal lady’s arrogance would be her banishment from the kingdom forever. But by the grace of the lord who has his abode in the temple, the king revoked his punishment. When a king’s justice fails we are told, his kingdom is doomed to perish. By his very act of pronouncing a harsh punishment on his chief queen for a minor offence against an ordinary individual, Rajasimha demonstrated his consideration for lord sivan’s devotees while at once displaying the characteristic judicial wisdom of pallava kings.


Like most selfless devotees, Rajasimha also regarded himself as a servitor to lord sivan and believed that one day he would also be able to gain a place among the lord’s favourite devotees. At the very insistence of Lord sivan he put up a dreary emaciated appearance and worshipped his dancing form at the golden hall in chidambaram. Further to this he constructed for him(lord sivan) a rock cut temple in kanchipuram. It was during the night before its consecration that we are told both by the great literary work periyapuranam of twelfth century A.D as well as two of his inscriptions at kanchipuram that he was asked by lord sivan to postpone the consecration of the temple by a day because he wished first to attend a poor aged devotee of his who had been meditating upon him for years. This devotee by name poosalar was a virtuous brahmin who did not have enough resources to construct a temple. Of him we are also told that his lips never ceased chanting Vedas. He was living in a hamlet of great repute called tiruninravur. The kanchipuram inscriptions of Rajasimha refer to this particular incident by the following phrase “ If in the noble krita age, emperors like dushyanta were able to see god and hear his voice, it is now least surprising because king Rajasimha is able to hear his voice in even this sinful age of kali.” Rajasimha’s subsequent visit to the aged devotee’s place to seek his blessings prior to the consecration of kailasanatha temple is mentioned in periyapuranam.

Rajasimha’s popularity is attested by the extraordinarily large number of titles that he took. Round the shrine rajasimheswara in kanchi are engraved on stone his titles like "Lion among kings",“The emperor of three worlds”, “The unrivalled warrior”, “ The great archer”, “ a servant of lord sivan”, “dispeller of evil forces”, “The crest jewel of kanchi” etc. Inscriptions also speak of his great acts of munificence to various shrines glorified in puranas.


Even though the set of inscriptions, copperplates, and other available documentations of Rajasimha’s period and in general that of pallava and chola periods form a very small and even inaccurate sample of the total number of such works commissioned during the same, they provide enough evidence to prove the superior administrative policies followed by pallava and chola kings. Even with the available inscriptions, one does not have to be a great analyst in order to understand and write about their administration. This is truly a hallmark of these clans. The details regarding the society, religious observances and administration available from the inscriptions are so clear that even a layman can understand the same and any book dealing with these two dynasties can at its best be a mere extension of the available documentations.
Published: 2007-12-12
Author: K Sethu Madhavan

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A management professional with eight years experience in telecommunications industry, I have written a lot of articles in subjects related to management and strategic information analysis.

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