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The Pallava trail blazer


Among the most notable of chiefs of Pallava descent during 13th century were kopperunjingadeva 1 and 2. They are important because of their domination against all odds of a period that witnessed sustained erosion of the social fabric that was prevalent since ancient times and of an era marked the beginning of end of great and powerful empires of ancient Indian dynasties that had dominated asia for more than 12 centuries. In the age of kali, which is the last of four ages each of which consists of lakhs of years according to Indian beliefs, the human virtues reach the lowest ebb, as such just about any one with enough of essential resources could assert their authority on the rest and proclaim themselves as rulers. The late twelfth and 13th centuries emphasized this excessive wickedness of age of kali much more than the centuries that preceeded and was a harbinger of what was to come.

At the beginning of 13th century A.D, The Chola empire, that had dominated the continent during the four previous centuries had become so drained of resources that they were simply not the power they used to be. What was once a great empire had now been reduced to a patchwork quilt of collectorates and magistracies rife with corruption and disorder. Hostile states and dynasties had slowly started making the moves that they would not have dared to hope a few years ago. Kopperunjingadevar, a chieftain of pallava descent who was serving as a feaudatory to cholas and who was related to them matrimonially was the first to use the situation to strengthen his position. The problem faced by cholas was intensified by the fact that during this tumultuous period the chola throne was occupied by a ruler who was incompetent and corrupt and by no means comparable to the illustrious cholas of the previous centuries. The situation reached the boiling point when the southern pandyan state declared independence in 1222 A.D and also occupied some of the chola provinces. The king’s inability to check this aggression so angered kopperunjingan and rightly that he launched an attack on the chola capital and imprisoned the king and his ministers.

Kopperunjinga deva apart from being a great warrior and general was known for his piety and active patronage to literature especially to tamil. His inscriptions speak of great munificence to various temples along the banks of river kaveri. In 1231 A.D, he constructed for godess durga a magnificent shrine in chidambaram. However, Kopperunjingan,for all his ambitions and extraordinary courage was short on two things.Time and resources. Also, he found himself in a situation where his province was surrounded by provinces that were the abodes of hostile enemies and thereby had to fight much harder than his resources were actually capable of.From his inscriptions it is possible to infer that he was a very good judge of situation and a brilliant strategist. The encounter with cholas demonstrated how well he could handle multiple enemies at a time. Nevertheless, considering the sheer numerical strength of his enemies, he would have been the first one to admit that he had bitten off more than he could chew. But being a determined and uncompromising warrior with a brilliant military background he would simply not settle down for mediocrity and seek diplomatic engagement of enemies. Thus having opted for military solution, he made one last attempt to seize command and launched a campaign against the northern Karnataka rulers who were his main enemies and in a bloody battle destroyed their army and territories and collected a huge booty in gold and other resources. Some of his inscriptions give a graphic account of his treatment of prisoners of war. The war booty was later utilized to construct the eastern gopuram(tower) of the great temple at Chidambaram and carry out renovations of other temples. For once it might have seemed as if there could be a re-emergence of glorious and creative pallava period of 6th , 7th and 8th centuries A.D.

Kopperunjingadeva belonged to that lineage of pallavas who descended from Bhimavarman who ruled combodia and vietnam. He was the brother of Simhavishnu varma who dispatched naval expeditions and occupied combodia, vietnam and malaya in late sixth century A.D. The Pallava kings took many titles during their reign and one of the most well known title was ‘kaadavarkon’, or ‘kaaduvetti’. Kaadavar occurs as a title of illustrious Rajasimha pallava of 8th century A.D. Kopperunjingan, following the tradition of his ancestors styled himself with the same title.

Kopperunjingan who was a devotee of Lord Nataraja at Chidambaram temple which was now in his territory, is credited with funding the temple renovation. Though his territory was in making during most part of his career, kopperunjingan also concentrated on a lot of development activities like founding villages, colleges, laying roads,libraries,gardens and other public utilities. Kopperunjingan’s inscriptions give us a picture of society during the period and the rapid transition it was undergoing. Though we may safely conclude that not all inscriptions available to us contain reliable information due to forgery , duplication and attempts to manipulate evidence and facts by the succeeding dynasties. One of the inscriptions referring to periodic audit of all temple transactions point to his efficient administration. Another inscription speaks of the temple deity being taken out on public procession during a certain festival, which is indicative of incorporation of new practices resulting out of demographic evolution and cultural shifts in the region. Yet another one, which speaks of a subordinate of his depositing money to burn a perpetual lamp in the ancient temple at vriddhachalam for " The victory and well being of kopperunjingadevar who is off to the battlefield" certainly points to troubled times. Kopperunjingan’s exceptionally brilliant military genius is brought to light in inscriptions at vriddhachalam that record his successes in war against kings of Pandya,Karnataka,Andhra and Chedi kingdoms and the subsequent performance of tularohana (measuring in gold against one’s own weight) ceremony at Chidambaram with war booty and constructing the southern tower of that temple. There are also records that speak of great munificence to temples at vriddhachalam, vennainallur, jambukeswaram(in trichy) and ekambaranatha at kanchipuram his capital city.

Kopperunjinga devar's military career reveal his zeal to the cause of freedom under law and his willingness and ability to go against all odds to defend the same. A duty bound mind never loses confidence and is hardly dispirited by setbacks. Kopperunjingan personified this saying as much as any great military warriors of history.

Kopperunjingan was also known as periya devar and alagiya(handsome) pallavar. He was succeeded by his son kopperunjingan2. Like his father this kopperunjingan was a great warrior. He continued the policy of wars against neighbours started by his father and was actually more successful as he could obtain the submission of enemies even more easily. He was a pious soldier who used his war booty to construct the east and west towers at ancient Chidambaram temple. He has left a lot of inscriptions, a few more than his father. These inscriptions relate to the construction of tanks, creation of parks and streamlining of administration and temple rituals. Kopperunjingan2 fortified sendamangalam near trichy and used it as his second capital where he is celebrated as a "great patron of tamil literature". The last chola prince Rajendran, is supposed to have come to throne greatly because of kopperunjingan’s help against his father. The chola was a devotee at Chidambaram temple which was now in kaadava(kopperunjingan's) territory. Though a much more assertive and vigorous person than his father, he had unfortunately inherited a situation that was made worse by his father and was now in an enviable position of having to do too much with too less. The warlike rajendran eager to restore chola glory, started a campaign against the pandyan kingdom in south and was successful to a certain extent that he managed to defeat and kill two of the five pandyan kings and make the rest "mortally afraid of him".

But the resources had become too scarce for any more aggressive ventures. Also the fact that he had a formidable and capable kopperunjingan with whom he partnered, possibly resulted in a bit of confusion as to who would take up the saddle. Throughout the decade of 1260 Rajendra assisted kopperunjingan in his campaigns. The year 1279 happened to be the last year for both the dynasties. At the end of that year both of them vanished which may or may not be in campaigns. Eventhough one is surprised and seeks clarification for this sudden disappearance, we must know that it is an exercise in pure futility to saddle up the perceptions and analyses of this age to the incidents that took place several centuries ago. Definitely, the men who took the stage then were men of their age. Eventhough they dominated only for a short period of time the kaadava father-son pair, not to mention the gallant last chola prince, could achieve a few of their preset objectives.

The huge temple-fort at Sendamangalam, now in ruins with vestiges of rampart walls, moat, palace buildings and bathing pools spread all over the place, is a silent testimony this day, of the glory of this small but important Kaadava principality which flourished in the 13th century A.D and its great wars for the sake of virtue and truthfulness.

Published: 2007-06-26
Author: K Sethu Madhavan

About the author or the publisher
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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