Kanchipuram has always been a centre of learning. In the ancient era, it was known as a ghatikasthana, meaning a centre for Vedic studies. In the 4th century CE, a young man from Talagunda which is located in present day Shivamogga district of Karnataka, went to Kanchipuram to pursue his studies and become a master of Vedas. He hailed from a family of scholars. His grandfather Veerasharma and his father Bandhushena were both Vedic scholars and the young man also went to Kanchipuram to follow in the footsteps of his father and grandfather. However, his life would change forever in Kanchipuram.
Kanchipuram was the capital city of the Pallava dynasty which ruled major parts of Southern India back then. Even this young man’s hometown Talagunda fell in the Pallava limits. One day it so happened that while the Pallava king was performing the Ashwamedha yajna which is a Hindu ritual involving a horse, this young man came into conflict with a Pallava royal guard. The guard was mounted on a horse and was able to defeat the young man who was publicly humiliated. The young man experienced a change of character due to the insult he had suffered at the hands of the Pallava royal guard. He swore revenge against the Pallavas and the Brahmin in him had moved away and he had taken the character of a Kshatriya now.
The Talagunda inscription describes this as follows.
“That the hand dextrous in grasping the kusha grass, fuel and stones, ladle, melted butter and the oblation vessel, unsheathed a flaming sword, eager to conquer the earth”
He left Kanchipuram and moved to the forests of Shriparvata which most probably appears to be modern day Srisailam in Andhra Pradesh. He was able to gather support from the various forest tribes that inhabited the region. With the newly formed army, he was able to defeat the Pallava guards or the antharapalas in this region. He was able to subdue the Banas who ruled the Kolar region of present day Karnataka and was able to make allies out of them.
Meanwhile, the Pallavas experienced defeat on the battlefield against the mighty Gupta Empire whose ruler Samudragupta had embarked upon a campaign in Southern India. The defeat to the Guptas now exposed the Pallavas who until then had largely been dominant and were believed to be invincible. The young man made full use of this new found vulnerability of the Pallavas. He started attacking the Pallavas and wreaked havoc upon them.
Despite all their mighty military strength, the Pallavas could not defeat the young man and his army which now consisted of various forest tribes and the Banas of Kolar. Finally, the Pallavas had to acknowledge the sovereignty of the young man who now established his own independent empire. This young man was none other than Mayurasharma and the empire he established in and around 345 CE was the Kadamba Empire with Banavasi being the capital.
The word Kadamba actually refers to the Kadamba tree which is widely found in the Sahyadri region of the Western Ghats. Apparently, this tree grew in the neighbourhood of Mayurasharma when he was in his hometown Talagunda. An inscription at Talagunda which is dated to about 450 CE gives these details about Mayurasharma and the Kadambas.
The inscription is quite reliable since it avoids the mythical references and legends associated with the king and the empire. The Kadamba Empire was the first independent Kannada empire that ruled over the present day Karnataka. Prior to this, all the remaining empires like the Chutus and the Banas were minor empires that were subordinate to the mighty Pallavas. And before this, Karnataka was ruled by the famous Satavahana, Maurya, and Nanda empires. So, Kadamba Empire was the first empire that was completely native to the land. It was established by Mayurasharma in 345 CE and existed as an independent empire till 525 CE after which it was overtaken by the Chalukya Empire. However, Kadambas did exist as subordinates to the Chalukyas and later to the Rashtrakutas. Offshoots of the dynasty came up in various places and the Kadambas of Halasi and the Kadambas of Goa are pretty well known. The Kadamba script that came up during this era marks the birth of a dedicated script for writing Kannada language. It was used for writing Telugu, Marathi, Konkani, and Sanskrit languages as well. The Pyu script of Burma is also said to have been derived from the Kadamba script.
Kadambas have an important place in the history of Karnataka since they were the first ever independent Kannada empire and their arrival gave rise to a fresh impetus to the Kannada language in various fields such as literature. The Indian Navy’s base at Karwar, INS Kadamba has been named after this empire. However, it all began on the day way back in ancient India, in the holy city of Kanchipuram, when a young boy Mayurasharma was insulted by a Pallava royal guard. This insult that he suffered resulted in a chain of events that ultimately led to the establishment of a new empire, i.e. the Kadamba Empire.
1. A Concise History of Karnataka by Dr Suryanath U Kamath
2. A History of South India From Prehistoric Times to the Fall of Vijayanagar by KA Nilakanta Sastri
The image of the Talagunda inscription is tak