Middle Kingdoms of India, Part 31


Lord Vishnu on Sesanaga
Vishnukundina's Undavalli Cave Temples, Andhra Pradesh

May 22, 2015 — CANADA (SUN) — A serial presentation of India's great history, religious movements and temple architecture.

The Vishnukundinas

"The Vishnukundina Empire was a Middle Kingdom dynasty that ruled over the Deccan, Odisha and parts of South India during the 5th and 6th Centuries, carving land out from the Vakataka Empire.

The Vishnukundin reign came to an end with the conquest of the eastern Deccan by the Chalukya, Pulakesi II. Pulakesi appointed his brother Kubja Vishnuvardhana as Viceroy to rule over the conquered lands. Eventually Vishnuvardhana declared his independence and started the Eastern Chalukya dynasty.

By 514 CE, the Vakatakas were reduced to the areas of present day Telangana area. The area north of the Godavari, Kalinga, became independent. The area south of the Krishna River fell to the Pallavas.

Vishnukundina is a Sanskritized name for Vinukonda. Several attempts have been made by scholars to find out the origins of this dynasty, but no definite conclusions have yet been reached. The early rulers of the dynasty migrated to the west in search of wealth and under the Vakatakas they might have attained feudatory status.

During the reign of Madhava Varma the Great, they became independent and conquered coastal Andhra from the Salankayanas. They might have shifted their capital to a place in the Coastal Andhra at that time. They had three important cities, near Eluru, Amaravati and Puranisangam.

All the records of the Vishnukundins and the kings prior to the Madhav Varma II indicate they were patrons of Vaisnavism.

From the time of accession of Madhav Varma II, an aggressive self-assertion of the Vedic Brahmanism occurred. Elaborate Vedic ceremonies like Rajasuya, Purushamedha, Sarvamedha and Aswamedha were undertaken. The celebration of all these sacrifices represents the militant spirit of the brahmanical revival going on at the time. Some of the rulers referred to themselves as 'Parama Mahesvaras', an inscription referring to their family deity, Sri Parvata Swami (Shiva).

The names of rulers like Madhav Varma and Govinda Varma show their Vaishnavite leanings. Thus both the Hindu sects of Saivism and Vaishnavism might have received equal patronage from them.

The Vishnukundins were also great patrons of learning. They established Vedic colleges, where learned Brahmins were encouraged by gifts of land to propagate Vedic studies. Indra Bhattaraka established many schools for imparting education on Vedic literature. Performance of several elaborate Vedic ceremonies by Madhav Varma is evidence of the faith of the rulers in Brahmanism and popularity of Vedic learning during this period.

Some of the Vishnukundin kings were credited with authorship of several books. One record describes Vikramendra Varma I as Mahakavi – great poet. An incomplete work on Sanskrit poetics called Janasraya Chando Vichiti was attributed to Madhav Varma IV, who bore the title of 'Janasraya'. Generally, Sanskrit (not Teluga) enjoyed royal patronage under the Vishnukundins.

Being great devotees of Shiva, the Vishnukundins seem to have been responsible for construction of a number of cave temples dedicated to Shiva. The cave structures at Bezwada (Vijayawada), Mogalrajapuram, the Undavalli caves and Bhairavakonda are dated to this period. Though some of these cave temples were attributed to the Pallava Mahendra Varman I, the emblems found on the caves and the areas being under the rule of the Vishnukundins during this period clearly show that they were contributions of the Vishnukundins. The big four-storeyed cave at Undavalli and the 8 cave temples in Bhairavakonda in Nellore district show clear resemblances with the architecture of Pallava Mahendra Varman's period.


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