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Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Nandivarman II – The Forgotten Pallavan Emperor From South East Asia

The land of Bharat was blessed with many great emperors, who were the torchbearers of Dharma and unity among the Dharmikas. The emperors of Bharat did not only rule the regions of Bharat but also conquered parts of South East Asia and Sri Lanka. This resulted in Hindu Dharma spreading in those lands. But unlike the barbaric invaders who invaded Bharat and forcefully converted its people, the Dharmic emperors spread Dharma through peaceful means without forcing anyone. Unfortunately, these emperors of Bharat are rarely mentioned in our history books, which instead glorify our invaders.

Recently in an article published in Hindustan Times, the native Chola emperors of Dakshin Bharat were compared with Mughals in their grandeur and glamour. The article also mentioned Rajendra Chola as the only king of Bharat to have controlled parts of South East Asia. This article has not only fallen flat in presenting facts by comparing the grandeur of Dharmic Cholas with barbaric Mughals but has also pointed out the shallowness in the knowledge of Bharatiya history possessed by our native historians.

Our historians who seems to know almost everything about Mughals, hardly notice any of the native emperors. Hence it doesn’t come as a surprise for many of us that they have ignored the mighty Pallavas, who ruled the parts of South East Asia four centuries before Rajendra Chola. The lineage of Pallavas was blessed with many great emperors whose reign spread across the Indian Ocean. In this article, we will be seeing the history of the unique Pallava emperor Nandivarman II, who came from South East Asia and united the whole of Tamilakam under his rule.

The Chalukyan emperor, Vikramadtiya II invaded Kanchi (capital of Pallavas) around 730 CE – Pallava-Chalukya rivalry was legendary. The Pallavas suffered a humiliating defeat in this battle and the Chalukyan emperor entered Kanchi forcing humiliating conditions on the Pallava ruler. Seeking revenge for this humiliating defeat, the Pallava emperor attacked the Ganga king who was the ally of Chalukyas in their invasion of Kanchi. But Pallavas suffered another humiliating defeat at the hands of combined Ganga and Chalukya forces, and the reigning Pallava monarch, son of the great Rajasimha, was killed in the battle – without any heirs.

After the death of the Pallava Emperor, at the hands of the Chalukyan Emperor Vikramadtiya II, the Pallava dynasty of the famous emperor Simhavishnu ended. The Chalukyas installed Chitramaya, maybe from a cadet branch of Pallavas, as a puppet ruler for the Pallava empire. Chitramaya is credited in certain Chalukyan inscriptions as the heir of the dead Pallava monarch, but the more reliable Pallava sources name him as a puppet ruler.

The Chalukyas controlled the affairs of the Pallava empire through Chitramaya and made it pay a protectorate. Humiliated by this state of the Pallava empire, a company of ministers, generals and few other important people set sail for Kambojadesha, which was then ruled by the descendants of Simhavishnu’s brother, Bhimavarman. Kambojadesha was comprised of parts of modern day Vietnam and Cambodia.

This proves false the claim about Rajendra Chola being the only Bharatiya king to have ruled over South East Asia, as from the time of Bhimavarman in the 6th century, Pallavas were ruling this territory in South East Asia for about 180 years, when the entourage from Kanchi visited their court. The then King of Kambojadesha had four sons named Kshatriyamalla, Sangramamalla, Rajamalla and Pallavamalla respectively. The name ‘malla’ stands as a testimony to the wrestling skills possessed by these brothers. The youngest son Pallavamalla, who was about 12 years of age at that time, accepted the request of the company to revive the Pallava empire in Bharat by reclaiming the throne. Pallavamalla was coronated as the Pallava emperor in 731 CE and was named as Nandivarman II.

The first few years of Nandivarman II were spent in unsuccessful valiant attempts to dethrone Chitramaya and free the Pallava empire from Chalukyan intervention. But being a shrewd diplomat, he forged an important alliance with the Rashtrakuta king Dantidurga, by marrying his daughter. With the combined efforts of Pallava and Rashtrakuta forces and with the able service of Udayacandran (commander of Nandivarman’s army who was also a part of the company which sailed to Kambojadesha), the Chalukyan rule was overthrown. As a result, the Pallava and Rashtrakuta empires were established, which was followed by many successful expeditions of Nandivarman II to expand his empire.

Nandivarman II further expanded his empire by conquering the Chera and Pandya kingdoms. Though he failed in his early expeditions against these empires, he bounced back in a stupendous way and emerged victorious. As a result, Nandivarman II reestablished the lost glory of the Pallava empire by bringing the whole of Tamilakam and parts of Deccan under his rule after inheriting it in shambles.

Nandivarman II was also gifted in various forms of arts. The poem ‘Nandikkalambakam’ celebrates his expertise in different art forms and literature along with hailing his great conquests. Nandivarman II constructed and renovated many great temples in his reign. One of those famous temples is the Kanchipuram Vaikuntha Perumal temple – a physical representation of the theology and philosophy of Pancaratra Vaishnava school.

Thirumangai Azhwar, one of the 12 azhwars, was his vassal king, and he has composed ten verses in his ‘Periya Thirumozhi’ about the Vaikuntha Perumal temple, calling it as ‘Parameshwara Vinnagaram’, while worshiping Vishnu there and hailing Nandivarman II. The first of the ten verses which hails Nandivarman II as a great monarch and archer is given below :

The brief translation of this verse is –

“Lord Vishnu is the Vedas, their substances and their rules. He is the five senses as well as their controller. He is Brahma, Shiva and Narayana, residing in Kanchi and surrounded by lotus tanks. The Malla Emperor Pallava, whom the world praises as ‘Pallava the great’ and ‘the great archer’ – and to whom other kings come and offer homage, worships Lord Vishnu at the temple of Parameshvara Vinnagaram (Vaikuntha Perumal temple)”

Vaikuntha Perumal temple in Kanchipuram, stands as an example of the extraordinary architectural skills possessed by the Pallavas. It is a three storeyed temple which houses Vishnu in seated, resting and standing postures in three different floors respectively. The temple consists of many sculptures depicting the life and reign of Nandivarman II. Despite being declared as a protected monument by the Archaeological Survey of India for its stupendous architecture, the temple has now become the den of bats without proper maintenance.

Thus, a great emperor of a great lineage who constructed many beautiful temples in Bharat, is completely forgotten and ignored by our historians and history books. Even the temple which is a living evidence of his prosperous and glorious reign is in a pathetic state.

Cholas were not an exception. Bharatiya rulers did expand their territories beyond Bharat from Lalitaditya in north to Pallavas and Cholas in south – but in a humane manner unlike the barbarian Abrahamic hordes. They established such strong empires outside Bharat that their scions could dream about reclaiming their original homeland when the main branch faltered. Pallavamalla came back to Bharat along with his royal preceptor, a Vaishnava Pancaratrika saint – so, Hindu Dharma was strong enough in South East Asia that they produced great scholars locally who could become Rajagurus on the might of their knowledge. Such a prosperous and knowledgeable society, steeped in Dharma, extending from Central Asia to South East Asia was the Dharmika homeland – before the Abrahamic hordes invaded and laid to waste many areas of this heaven on earth.

Note: This article has been jointly written by Paanchajanya (@paanchajanyaa) and Trasadasyu (@dasyavevrka)

(Feature Images Courtesy: Templepurohit and Tripadvisor)

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