Civilization and Culture of the Pallavas


The Pallava rule formed a golden epoch in the cultural history of south India. The period under the Pallavas was marked by considerable literary activities and cultural revival. The Pallavas warmly patronized Sanskrit language and most of the literary records of the time were composed in that language. Due to the cultural renaissance and a great revival of the Sanskrit language a galaxy of scholars flourished during the Pallava era, which accentuated the literary and cultural development in Southern India. Tradition referred that Simhavishnu, the Pallava king invited the great poet Bharvi to adorn his court. Dandin, the master of Sanskrit prose probably lived in the court of Narasimhavarmana II. Under the royal patronage, Kanchi became the seat of Sanskrit language and literature. The core of learning and education, Kanchi became the point of attraction for the literary scholars. Dinanaga, Kalidasa, Bharvi, Varahamihir etc were the distinguished person with enormous talent in the Pallava country. Not only the Sanskrit literature, the Tamil literature also received a huge impetus during the Pallava period. “Maatavailasa Prahasana”, written by Mahendravarmana became very popular. The famous Tamil classic “Tamil Kural was composed during the period under the royal patronage. Madurai became a great center of the Tamil literature and culture. The Tamil grammar “Talakappiam” and Tamil versical compilation “Ettalogai” etc were composed during the period. These were of immense literary importance.

From the 6th century AD, due to the Sanskrit revival, long poetical composition replaced the earlier style of the short poetry. Poetry was written according to the taste of the sophisticated and aristocratic people of the society. The “Silappadigaram” is one of such work suited to the taste of the sophisticated, educated people of the Pallava era. One of the most important literary works of the time was “Ramayanam” by Kaban. This is known as the Tamil form and version of Ramayana, where the character of Ravana was painted with all the noble virtues in comparison to Rama. It is consistent with the Tamil tradition and Tamil ego against the Northern Ramayana by Valmiki. The Buddhist literary work “Manimekhala” and the Jaina poetical work “Shibaga sindamani” etc. also flourished during the period.

The devotional songs composed by Vaishnava Alavaras and the Saiva Nayanaras also shared a significant position in the cultural renaissance of the Pallava period. Appar, Sambandhar, Manikkabsagar, Sundar were some of the devotional Narayana poets who composed Tamil Stotras or hymns. Siva was the object of worship and love. Since the Pallava kings were great musicians themselves they were the great patrons of music. Several celebrated musical treatise were also composed under their patronage. During the time painting also received a great patronage from the Pallava kings. Specimen of the Pallava painting has been found in the Pudukottai State.

Civilization of the Pallava period was greatly influenced by the religious reform movement that swept over India during the eighth century. The wave of the reform movement was originated in the Pallava kingdom first. The Pallavas completed the Aryanisation of Southern India. The Jains who had entered south India earlier had set up educational centers at Madurai and Kanchi. They also made a massive use of Sanskrit, Prakrit and Tamil as the medium of their preaching. But in the competition with the growing popularity of the Brahmanical Hinduism, Jainism lost its prominence in the long run.

Mahendravarmana lost interest in Jainism and became a staunch follower and patron of Saivism. Consequently Jainism began to fade out and continued in diminishing glory in centers like Pudukottai and in the hilly and forest regions.

Buddhism, which had earlier penetrated in the south, fought against invading Brahmanism in the monasteries and public debates. The Buddhist scholars debated finer points of theology with Brahmanical scholars and mostly lost the ground.

The civilization of the Pallava period was marked by the tremendous ascendancy of the Hinduism, which has been branded by the modern historians as the victory of the northern Aryanism. It is said that the influx of the mlechcha Sakas, Huns and the Kushanas in Northern India had polluted the significance of the Vedic rites and religion. In order to protect the purity of Vedic religion many Brahmins migrated to Southern India and preached the Vedic Religion. Henceforth the civilization of Deccan or southern India was mostly influenced by the Brahmanical Hinduism. Pallavas became the patrons of the orthodox Vedic preachers. The performance of the horse sacrifices by the Pallava rulers testified the ascendancy of the Vedic civilization. The success of Hinduism was mostly caused by the royal patronage to this religion. Sanskrit was the vehicle of the Brahmanical thought. Hence both the Brahmanical religion and Sanskrit literature made a great progress during the Pallava period. Several centers for the Brahmanical study sprang up. These study centers were closely connected with the temple premises and were known as Ghetikas. The study of the Brahmanical scriptures and literatures was the order of the day. The Pallava kings in order to promote the Brahmanical civilization made land grants or agraharas to the maintenance of the educational institutions. In the 8th century AD, another significant Hindu institution called Mathas or monasteries were in vogue. They were a combination of temple, rest houses, educational centers, debating and discoursing centers and the feeding Houses. The university of Kanchi became the spearhead of Aryan-Brahmanical influences of the South. Kanchi was regarded as one of the sacred cities of the Hindus. The Pallava king though mainly were the worshippers of Vishnu and Siva, they were tolerant towards other religious creeds. Although the religions like Buddhism and Jainism lost its former significance during the Pallava era, yet the civilization of the Pallava period was marked by the multiethnicity promoted by the Pallava kings.

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