Reign of Pulakeśin II Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Pulakeśin II was the greatest king of the Cālukya Dynasty of Bādāmi and one of the greatest warrior kings of ancient India. He forged a huge and formidable kingdom that endured in its homeland for more than two centuries.

Summary of Event

The fourth king of the Cālukya Dynasty, Pulakeśin II was named after the founder of the line. A fearless and mighty warrior, his name meant “great lion” or possibly “tiger-haired.” The appellation suited his warrior personality. The Cālukyas and particularly Pulakeśin II played a pivotal role in the politics and historical circumstances of the seventh century in the Deccan and southernmost region of India. The first Pulakeśin, by building an imposing fortress on a hill at Vāṭāpi (modern Bādāmi) in northern Mysore sometime around 543, embarked on an age of Cālukyan ascendancy that was to last until the middle of the eighth century. Declaring Vāṭāpi his capital, the first ruler established an important precedent in performing the aśvamedha Aśvamedha (horse sacrifice) and other important Vedic rituals. The Cālukyas were an indigenous Kṣatriya (warrior caste) family from the Kanara area who claimed a glorious and ancient lineage connected to the Mānavya gotra (clan). [kw]Reign of Pulakeśin II (c. 611-642) [kw]Pulakeśin II, Reign of (c. 611-642) Cālukya Dynasty[Calukya Dynasty] Pulakeśin II Cālukya Dynasty[Calukya Dynasty] India;c. 611-642: Reign of Pulakeśin II[0290] Expansion and land acquisition;c. 611-642: Reign of Pulakeśin II[0290] Government and politics;c. 611-642: Reign of Pulakeśin II[0290] Pulakeśin II Maṇgaleśa

Pulakeśin I’s son Kīrtivarman I Kīrtivarman I (r. c. 566-597) expanded the dynasty’s land holdings considerably by warring against the neighboring states ruled by the Nalas, the Mauryas, and very powerful Kadambas. In doing so, he carved out a sizeable kingdom that included the very important port at Revatidvipa (modern Goa). The second king who is referred to in one inscription as “Night of Destruction,” also conducted several important Vedic sacrifices. At the time of Kīrtivarman’s death, his son Pulakeśin II was still a minor and too young to rule. Thus, Kīrtivarman’s brother, Maṇgaleśa Maṇgaleśa , took the throne and initiated a series of raids far to the north, in modern-day Gujerat, Khandesh, and Malwa, but was unsuccessful in permanently securing the region. By the time Pulakeśin II came of age, Maṇgaleśa relished his power too much to relinquish the throne to his nephew. He also wanted his own son to inherit his position. Furious with his uncle, Pulakeśin left the court, taking with him many loyal supporters. Sometime around 609-610, the prince and the loyalists initiated a civil war that rent the central part of the kingdom and left the outlying provinces and the borders unsecured. Maṇgaleśa was killed, and the rightful heir assumed the throne.

Immediately on assuming his new position, however, Pulakeśin faced serious challenges. The civil war had left the kingdom in a state of chaos and anarchy; even the capital province was in danger of attack. The new king was equal to the threat, and within a short time, he secured the homeland and subjugated the rebellious provinces. In the Meguti Temple at Aihole, a detailed account of his conquests is provided in an inscription; dated to 634, the lengthy record was composed by the court poet, a Jain named Ravikīrtti. Pulakeśin not only kept in check rebels attempting to break with Cālukya rule but also embarked on a bellicose expansionist policy that was characteristic of the Cālukyas. First, he extended the empire northward into Gujerat, overrunning the Lāṭas, Malwas, and Gurjaras. He then met Harṣa Harṣa of Kanauj, the famous king of north India, in battle, an event recorded by the Chinese Buddhist pilgrim Xuanzang (Hsüan-tsang; c. 602-664). The struggle between the two kings seems to have ensued from the attempts of both to extend their control over the Deccan.

The reputation of the ferocious king of the Cālukyas spread well beyond the subcontinent of India. A Muslim historian named al-ṭabarī wrote that King Khosrow II Khosrow II (r. 590-628) of Persia received an embassy from Pulakeśin in 625. Al-ṭabarī gives the name of the king as Prmesha (Parameśa), one of Pulakeśin’s alternate names. Unfortunately, it is not clear if the purpose of the visit was for trade or other reasons.

After his victories in the north, Pulakeśin turned his ambitions toward the eastern Deccan, where he brought under his control the Kosalas and the Kaliṇgas and the ruling house of Piśṭapura. Placing his younger brother in charge of the newly acquired territories, he founded the Eastern Cālukya Dynasty, which persisted for more than four hundred years. At that point in time, Cālukya rule extended over enormous tracts of land spanning the Deccan between the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal and from Gujerat in the north to southern Mysore. In one inscription he is referred to as “lord of the eastern and western waters,” a description that confirms the breadth of his empire. With the dream of taking the entire subcontinent south of the Vindhya Mountains, the warrior king directed his army to turn south and follow the coastline into the adjacent realm of the Pallava King Mahendravarman I Mahendravarman I . A fierce battle ensued, in which the Pallava Pallavas;Cālukyans and king eventually was forced to retreat behind the ramparts of his capital city at Kanchipuram, a fact that both Pallava and Cālukyan records confirm.





The record as to what occurred next is not clear, but soon afterward, Pulakeśin returned to Vāṭāpi without securing the Pallava lands. With his initial invasion, Pulakeśin inaugurated a period of protracted warfare between the two empires that lasted for generations, and whatever success he had in his rivalry with the Pallavas was short-lived. Narasiṃhavarman I Mahāmalla Narasiṃhavarman I Mahāmalla , the son of Mahendravarman I, avenged his father’s humiliation by repeatedly attacking the Cālukyas and finally capturing and occupying Vāṭāpi for a period of thirteen years, a fact supported by an inscription left by the Pallava king at Vāṭāpi. Pulakeśin II was killed around 642 while defending his capital.

In 641, the year before the fall of Vāṭāpi, Xuanzang Xuanzang (Buddhist monk) traveled through the Cālukya kingdom and left a valuable description of the land and its people. He found the populace stern and vindictive as well as honest, simple, and willing to aid anyone in distress. When insulted, they were quick to avenge themselves in fair fights Travel by land;Xuanzang . Many were fond of learning and grateful to their benefactors. The Buddhist pilgrim also recorded a rare account of ancient Indian warfare that is as chilling as it is fascinating. He claimed that the Cālukyas had a large group of champion warriors who, before engaging in battle, would become intoxicated with wine. Thus, fortified in the face of death, the warriors would readily take on any and all challengers. The troops advanced to the beat of drums. Particularly grim is Xuanzang’s report that many hundreds of elephants were given wine to drink so that they too became inebriated and infuriated. An awesome spectacle followed in which troops of drunken warriors riding intoxicated elephants rushed en masse to stampede and trample the enemy; it was a compelling and diabolical ancient war machine.

Pulakeśin was both a warrior and an empire builder, and certainly part of his responsibility as king was to ensure divine blessings by building temples. Previously, Cālukya Architecture;Cālukya[Calukya] kings had supported the excavation of cave temples from rock. The capital city Vāṭāpi has four excellent early caves carved along the scarp of an imposing hill. The Ravula Phadi cave temple at nearby Aihole is another fine example of an early Cālukyan artistic endeavor. After his victories in the north, Pulakeśin seems to have been inspired by the religious architecture he had seen, and he supported the building of temples. The Meguti Temple Meguti Temple , a small Jaina structure built in 634 by Pulakeśin’s court poet, is the earliest stone structural temple in the region. The Upper Śivālaya Temple Upper Śivālaya Temple[Upper Sivalaya Temple] was constructed at the north end of the fort at Bādāmi, and soon after, the Mālegiti Śivālaya Mālegiti Śivālaya[Malegiti Sivalaya] was built part way down the hill. Although small and modest, the structures are important in that they were pioneering examples of a new movement toward making permanent houses for the divine; previously, temples in the region had been made of impermanent materials, usually brick or wood.


The impact of the Cālukya Dynasty and particularly the powerful king Pulakeśin II on the history of India is significant. Pulakeśin forged one of India’s truly vast empires. He created it by continuously subjecting neighboring states and even those far beyond to swift and decisive war campaigns. Despite the ongoing conflict, Pulakeśin fostered a thriving kingdom that was innovative and prosperous.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Majumdar, R. C. The Classical Age. Bombay: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 1954. An excellent and thorough resource on Indian history, the treatise provides expert and detailed information on political events and inscriptions. Bibliography.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Michell, George. Pattadakal. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2002. An excellent survey of the religious monuments of a major Cālukya site with a brief historical introduction.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Nilakantha Sastri, A. K. A History of South India from Prehistoric Times to the Fall of Vijayanagar. Bombay: Oxford University Press, 1966. This compilation of the author’s many studies of South India treats not only political history in a coherent historical narrative but also social life, commerce, religion, philosophy, literature, and the arts.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Rajasekhara, S. Early Chālukya Art at Aihole. New Delhi: Vikas Publishing House, 1985. Provides a brief political history as background to temple building at an important Cālukya religious center. Bibliography.

Categories: History Content