Karikala wrested Kanchi from Trilochana Pallava – III
by Jayasree Saranathan on 18 Nov 2023 39 Comments

Route from Lighthouse to Tiruvehka exists today as described in Sangam text


The Sangam text refers to Tiruvehka but not Varadaraja temple. This makes strange reading because today Varadaraja temple is more popular than Tiruvehka temple by size and the number of devotees visiting it. Why did the Sangam poet not make a mention of it? Was it because it was not popular then and was very small and insignificant?


In this context it is worth mentioning the observation of Mr. K.V. Raman in his book ‘Sri Varadaraja Swami temple Kanchi: A study of its history, art and architecture’ (1975) that Varadaraja Swami was not sung by many Alwars, more notably by those born in Kanchipuram. He says,

“It is rather strange that Alwars like Poigai who was born in Kanchi and Tirumalisai (Alwar) who spent considerable time in the city (and particularly at Tiruvehka) have not referred to the temple at Attiyur (Varadaraja temple). Nor has it been sung by Tirumangai Alwar who has composed hymns on even the smaller temples at Kanchi like Uragam, Padagam, Tiruvehka besides the Parameswara Vinnagaram.”


Varadaraja Swami is identified as one residing in Attiyur where Atthi refers to hasti, the elephant. As per the temple legend the deity appeared as ‘Hasti-giri’ an elephant-like mount. In one of the verses on Vishnu at Parameswara Vinnagaram, Tiruma?gai Alwar refers to ‘kacchi meya kaliru’ – the elephant in Kanchi - which is treated by scholars as referring to Varadaraja Swami. Apart from this reference, only Bhuthathalwar talks about Varadaraja swami as Attiyuran who flies on the bird. Other than this, there are references to only the walls of Kanchi in a couple of verses which indicate that such verses were composed after Kanchi was re-modelled by Karikala.


The absence of mention about the Varadaraja Swami temple on the way to Tiruvehka in the Sangam text conveys just one meaning – that the temple was not yet built. Sometime after the verse was composed, the re-building of Kanchi must have happened. Ilam Thirayan cannot be credited with re-building the city, for there is a specific mention about Karikala in the Tiruvalangadu plates as one who re-modelled the city. Only Karikala based at Pumpukar was the Chief and Ilam Thirayan was a subordinate king to him. It can be said that Karikala had a greater say in the affairs of Kanchi though technically it was under the tutelage of Ilam Thirayan, because it was Karikala who snatched Kanchi from Trilochana Pallava and brought it under the Chola control.


Trilochana or Trinetra Pallava was the ruler of the Telugu districts to the south of the rivers Krishna and Tungabhadra with his capital at Dharanikota (present Amaravati). He was an ardent devotee of Lord Shiva. It is said that like Shiva, he possessed a Third eye which gave him the name Mukkanti – the three-eyed. He was against the growing popularity of Jainism and Buddhism in his time and worked towards shunning them and developing Vedic practices. Several local records called Kaifiyat-s from different places of Andhra about this king and his services to the people were documented by N. Venkataramanayya in his book ‘Trilochana Pallava and Karikala Chola’ (1929).


Trilochana Pallava was also known as Mukkanti-Kaduvetti for having cleared the forests to create habitats, particularly from the region between Pennar in the South and Nallamalai in the North. The Kaifiyat-s of Sara (Kurnool), Chaudeswari-Nandavaram (Cudappah), Bandar (Krishna), Mandredu, Karasala, Mottupalli and Perala (all in Guntur) refer to his work in clearing the forests to make towns and villages, digging ponds and canals, and building temples. These activities indicate the antiquated period when most regions of the Deccan were forested and uninhabitable. According to several Kaifiyat-s, Trilochana was ruling from Dharanikota and had control over Cudappah, Kurnool, Nellore, Krishna and Guntur which extended up to Kanchi. His supremacy in this region was challenged by Karikala Chola.


His defeat at the hands of Karikala is mentioned in the Kaifiyat of the Palli community in Andhra. The Kaifiyat of Anantavaram (Guntur) refers to Karikala as the successor of Trilochana Pallava. The Kaifiyat of Chittivale refers to the Chola invasion under Karikala. The whole region between Pennar in the North and Thirumalai in the South was forested during Karikala’s regime. Karikala cleared the forests and made habitats, dug up tanks and embankments. One may tend to dismiss such actions of Karikala found in Nava Choda Charitra of Telugu Chola-s as an overstatement of Chola pride, but the same appearing in several local Kaifiyat-s cannot be ignored as deliberate imagination. It must also be noted that the Sangam text ‘Pattinap Palai’ refers to Karikala clearing the forests to create habitats. (lines – 283-84)


Some scholars earlier surmised that Pattinap Palai is in praise of some other Chola king, not Karikala, but Kalingatthu Bharani states in no uncertain terms that Karikala Chola gifted sixteen hundred thousand gold (coins) to the poet who composed Pattinap Palai about him. (verse 198)


After winning the kings of the other two Tamil dynasties and several local Tamil chieftains, Karikala Chola turned his attention to the North. He brought Kanchi under the Chola domain and appointed Ilam Thirayan, his cousin, as its ruler. Since Karikala Chola is remembered in Tiruvalangadu plates as one who remodelled Kanchi with gold, it is not possible to assume Ilam Thirayan as the Chola King Rajasena mentioned in Shankara Vijaya Vilasa.


The absence of reference to Varadaraja Swami temple in the Sangam verse on Ilam Thirayan also speaks of an early time after the capture of Kanchi when the city was not re-designed. Sometime after the composition of that verse, Adi Shankara arrived in Kanchi. On hearing about his arrival, Karikala Chola paid him a visit and as a staunch Vedic person, Karikala carried out every request made by Adi Shankara.


Only after he built the Kamakshi temple as per the advice of Adi Shankara, he must have made his northern expedition.


Karikala’s northern expedition


It has been a practice among the Tamil kings to reach the Himalayas and engrave their emblem on top of the peak as a mark of supremacy over others. Generally, this was done after a king brought the other two Tamil domains under his control. The Pandyan king, Konnavil Kon Nedumaran, was perhaps the earliest Tamil ruler to do so after he established his rule over the other two Tamil regions. He perhaps belonged to Southern Madurai which was then not even part of Bharat. His feat of going to the Himalayas is mentioned in a series of verses from an ancient composition quoted by Nakkirar in his commentary to Irayanar Agapporul.


Among the Chera kings, Senguttuvan repeated that feat. Before him, Imaya Varamban Nedum Cheralaathan had gone to the Himalayan peak to stamp his emblem. (Padhigam of 2nd Patthu of Paripadal). This king was said to be the husband of Karikala Chola’s granddaughter.


After winning and renovating Kanchi on the advice of Adi Shankara, Karikala must have undertaken his northern journey. This can be said with certainty because he visited the temple of the bangled Kamakshi Devi to get the weapon, Chendu for chiselling the emblem on the mountain.


While passing through Andhra, he conquered many places and established Chola rule. The conquests of Karikala of the regions of Andhra mentioned in the Kaifiyat-s must have happened when he passed through those places while going North. Kaifiyat of Pottapi (Cudappah) says that Karikala cleared the forests of Karigiri Hill and created many towns which were clubbed together as Pottapi nadu.


From the Kaifiyat of Nyayakallu (Bellary), we learn that Karikala Chola built 101 temples for Shiva and created Agrahara-s. There is even a story of Karikala’s son having killed a Brahmin. Kaifiyat of Divvur mentions Karikala Chola as the king of that region. Several such Kaifiyat-s refer to Karikala clearing the forests for making new habitats or renewing old habitats or building temples or renovating old temples or building tanks and dams.


All these works in Andhra region are un-reported in Tamil sources but are nevertheless reliable because Karikala had crossed these regions to reach North India. As far as Tamil sources are concerned, Vikrama Cholan Ula refers to Senni having engraved the tiger emblem on the Himalayas (line- 25). Rajaraja Cholan Ula also says the same (lines- 33-34). Kali?gatthu Bharani also mentions about Karikala Chola engraving his emblem on the Himalayas using the weapon, Chendu (verse 178).


In Silappadhikaram, there are references to three countries of the North visited by Karikala Chola where he received some special gifts. Those gifts were exhibited in Pumpukar during the Indra Festival, reports Silappadhikaram.


The king of Vajra desa offered him a pearl canopy. The Magadha king gave him a Vidya Mandapa. The king of Avanti gifted him a Torana. A special feature about these gifts is that they were made by artisans whose ancestors learnt the art of making them from none other than Mayan who taught them the techniques of making them in return for the help those ancestors rendered to him. (Si: ch 5- lines 105 to 107). This could be a reference to the Mahabharata period when Mayan, rescued by Arjuna and Krishna from Khandava vana fire offered to build Maya-Sabha. The artisans who helped them had retained the knowledge of the techniques they learned from Mayan and passed them on to their descendants.


That knowledge was alive until Karikala-s time when he was gifted artifacts that retained the stamp of Mayan. Of the three gifts mentioned, only Torana appears familiar to us as they are still found in Buddhist shrines. Avanti in Madhya Pradesh seems to be well known for Torana art. Something like the Torana of Sanchi was given to Karikala. This Torana design and art belonged to the pre-Common Era.


The three places visited by Karikala were part of the 16 Janapada-s. Of these, the location of Vajra is unknown. Among the Janapada-s, a country by name Vajji appears. Vajji-s or Vraji-s are mentioned by Panini and Kautilya, but the location is not exactly known. In Silappadhikaram, it is mentioned as Vajra surrounded by water. Some scholars place it in Bengal and some on the banks of the Son River. But considering the route taken by Karikala Chola, this writer suggests that Vajra was the country of Vajra, the great-grandson of Krishna. It was Indraprastha of the old and New Delhi of the current times. Its location on the banks of river Yamuna fulfils the description of Silappadhikaram.


If we place Vajra in Bengal or in Son or near Nepal as some suggested it is related to Liccavi-s, it is found away from the expected path taken by Karikala Chola.


Karikala-s route of Northern expedition


From Pumpukar, Karikala went to Kanchi where he worshipped Kamakshi Devi and acquired the Chendu. From there he passed through the regions once held by Trilochana Pallava. Since there is no evidence of winning Dharanikota, he could have skipped that region and gone further north. Both Magadha and Avanti appearing in his itinerary, he could be expected to have passed through one of them at a time and crossed the other on the return journey. In both onward and return journeys he could have crossed Vajra Desa if it was the same as Indraprastha. From Indraprastha, he had gone to Amarnath peak to engrave his symbol. On the return journey, he could have passed through Indraprastha and gone to Magadha from where he turned southward.


This journey could have been through land and not through the sea though there is a Purananuru verse praising him for having a naval fleet (66th verse). The numerous Kaifiyat-s showing his presence in the entire Andhra region and his visit to the three important countries of the North show that he had taken a land-bound route.


Karikala suffered a personal tragedy with loss of his son-in-law


Other than the northern expedition, the next achievement of Karikala was the construction of an embankment across the River Kaviri. Critics question this view due to the absence of any reference to this in any of the Sangam texts in praise of Karikala. The answer probably lies in the fact that it was built much later in his life – long after those verses were composed. It seems the idea of constructing the dam that stands to this day arose from a personal tragedy he suffered.


Every year the river Kaviri brings copious flows at the beginning of the season. Everyone including Karikala Chola used to visit a place called ‘Kazhar’ to witness the flow and play in the waters. Karikala used to take pride in the prosperity bestowed by the overflowing Kaviri. On one occasion, he was in Kazhar with his family, watching the elephants splash and play in the water (Agananuru – 376). At that time his daughter Adhimandhi and son-in-law, Attanatthi of Chera origin were playing in the river water. Attanatthi, known by his very name for dancing, started dancing in the river water. While everyone was enjoying his dance, a sudden flow in the river swept him in its way and he was lost. Adhimandhi kept running along the river-flow to find him. Finally, he was found near the estuary, brought forth as dead by the sea waves (Agananuru- 222). This story is told in several verses of Agananuru and narrated by Kannagi while recalling the Patni women of Pumpukar.


This incident must have shocked Karikala very much. Around the same time, the flash floods seem to have inundated some of the coastal towns including Pumpukar. There is also a likelihood of the loss of a considerable part of Pumpukar around this time. The curse on Nedumudi Killi of a flood in Pumpukar by the deity for neglecting the Indra Festival might have occurred at that time. Let me produce the evidence for the flood after giving the evidence for the building of the Grand Anicut (Kallanai) by Karikala Chola.


(To be continued )

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