ACK-110: Pulakeshi II

An out of print ACK # 394

Pulakeshi II

Pulakeshi II (610-42) is not the most glamorous of Kannada heroes. In comparison to other Kannada emperors such as Krishnadevaraya and Amoghavarsha or even Hoysala Vishnuvardhana and Ranadhira Kanthirava of Mysore, Pulakeshi hasn’t captured the attention of Kannadigas to the same extent. If Mayura was the founder of the first Kannada dynasty (Kadambas), then in the 7th century, Pulakeshi established the first pan-Indian Kannada kingdom; Pulakeshi II and Chalukyas were the first Kannada family to establish their control beyond their core area of northern Kannada speaking regions, effectively into all the south Indian regions, south of the Vindhyas. His success in stopping Harsha, the celebrated emperor of north India, on the banks of Narmada adds to his legend as a great Kannada hero. Yet, possibly because of the absence of popular legends and folk narratives, Pulakeshi doesn’t hold the same romantic appeal, as is the case with Mayura. His association with Kannada nationalism too seems to be contrived and forced.

Still, Pulakeshi is a Kannada hero. His father, Kirtivarma I (566-596 AD) passed away when Pulakeshi and his brother Vishnuvardhana were young. Their ambitious and capable uncle, Mangalesha (596-610 AD), ruled the Chalukya kingdom efficiently until the young prince Pulakeshi rebelled against his uncle and snatched the Chalukya throne in 610 AD. Immediately, he had to subjugate rebellious feudatories who had been emboldened by the internal power struggle among Chalukyas. The Aihole inscription written by Ravikirti, Pulakeshi’s court poet, provides details of Pulakeshi’s conquests, including the context of each campaign. Among his campaigns, a major dimension of his life long struggle against the Pallava king and well known author, Mahendravarma and his son, Narasimhavarma. He captured the Vengi region from the Pallavas, before sacking Kanchi, the Pallava capital. If this earned him the life long enmity of Narasimhavarma, the conquest of Vengi enabled him to establish Vishnuvardhana as a king in that region. However, towards the end of Pulakeshi’s reign, Narasimhavarma sacked and destroyed Badami, the Chalukya capital. Pulakeshi’s sons had to struggle for more than a decade to re-establish the Chalukya power and regain the lost glory.

Pulakeshi’s tragic end doesn’t take away the luster of his achievements yet surely it does seem to affect his legend and status as a Kannada hero. Still, descriptions of his kingdom, its people and the capital city of Badami in Chinese traveler Hiuen Tsang are quite flattering. Pulakeshi also received a Persian ambassador from the court of Khusro, a scene depicted in the Ajanta caves. Ravikirti’s following concluding description attests to Pulakeshi’s qualities and achievements:

"While He, Satyashraya, endowed with the powers of energy, mastery and good counsel,–having conquered all the quarters, having dismissed the kings full of honours, having done homage to gods and Brahmans, having entered the city of Vatapi–is ruling, like one city, this earth which has the dark-blue waters of the surging sea for its moat;......."


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Many many thanks to “Apoorva Chandar” for providing Amar Chitra Katha.


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