Middle Kingdoms of India, Part 75


Lord Narasimhadeva, Kailasnath Temple at Kanchi
Built by Pallavas 1500 years ago

Aug 20, 2015 — CANADA (SUN) — A serial presentation of India's great history, religious movements and temple architecture.

The Pallavas

As we said in our opening segment, a great deal can be said about the Pallava dynasty's mark on ancient India, in all areas of devotional and temple art. It has been said that the Bhakti Movement in the South was made possible through the nucleus of great temples constructed there, beginning with those built during the Pallava period. Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu visited a number of these tirthas, as we will see in the segments to come.

So well established were the leaders of the Pallava dynasty that they are found mentioned in historical narratives on the great asvamedha-yajnas held during the Vakataka-Gupta Age. In fact, the early Pallavas performed so many sacrifices that they claimed to have become satakratukalpa -- 'almost similar to Indra' in their greatness. [1] According to this conception, Lord Indra owes his position to the successful performance of a hundred sacrifices, and the implication of the above expression is that the Pallavas themselves had almost reached that threshold.

Agnishtoma, vajapeya and asvamedha yagnas figure prominently among the sacrifices performed by the Pallavas. [2] Asvamedha is the horse sacrifice; vajapeya the sacrifice of offering soma; and agnishtoma is the fire yagna.

While the Pallava era spanned from the 3rd to 9th Century A.D., there appears to be one significant mark, between the 7th and 8th, that can be connected to the great Pallava yagnas described above. This was summarized by R.M. Eaton in a book on the Mughal influence in Bengal, discussed in our past Feature series, "The Mughal Influence on Vaisnavism:

    "Prior to that, in the 7th and 8th centuries, the Vedic culture in Bengal had undergone a significant change, with the re-infusion of Vedic civilization into regions that had come heavily under the Buddhist influence. In The Rise of Islam and the Bengal Frontier, R.M. Eaton describes this transformation, which saw Bengal's chieftains and rulers again patronizing Vaisnava temples, and building many new shrines for the deities. Many Brahmans were co-opted into this system, giving service to the mundane rulers who supported them rather than strictly following in the practices of their own sampradayas. [Eaton writes:]

    "The regenerative cosmic sacrifice of Vedic religion, which Buddhists had already transformed into rites of gift-giving to monks, was now transformed into a new ceremony, that of the "Great Gift" (mahadana), which consisted of a king's honoring a patron god by installing an image of him in a monumental temple. These ideas crystallized toward the end of the eighth century, when, except for the Buddhist Palas, the major dynasties vying for supremacy over all of India—the Pratiharas of the north, the Rashtrakutas of the Deccan, and the Pandyas and Pallavas of the south—all established centralized state cults focusing on Hindu image worship. Instead of worshiping Vedic gods in a general or collective sense, each dynasty now patronized a single deity (usually Vishnu or Siva), understood as that dynasty's cosmic overlord, whose earthly representative was the gift-giving king

    These conceptions were physically expressed in monumental and elaborately carved temples that, like Buddhist stupas, were conceptually descended from the Vedic sacrificial fire altar. Brahmans, meanwhile, evolved into something much grander than domestic priests who merely tended to the life-cycle rituals of their non-Brahman patrons. Now, in addition to performing such services, they became integrated into the ritual life of Hindu courts, where they officiated at the kings' "Great Gift" and other state rituals."


[1] Indian Antiquary, Bombay, V, 155., p. 358

[2] Epigraphica Indica, XX, 16; XV 251.


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