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Home>>South India>>Karnataka


History of Karnataka

A Pre-historic Brief
The pre-historic culture of Karnataka, the hand-axe culture, compares favourable with the one that existed in Africa and is quite distinct from the pre-historic culture of North India. The early inhabitants of Karnataka knew the use of iron far earlier than the North, and iron weapons, dating back to 1200 B.C have found at Hallur in Dhaward district.

Early rulers
he early rulers of Karnataka were predominantly from North India. Parts of Karnataka were subject to the rule of the Nandas and the Mauryas.

The Shathavahanas (30 B.C to 230 A.D of paithan) ruled over extensive areas in Northern Karnataka. Karnataka fell into the hands of the Pallavas of Kanchi. Pallavas domination was ended by indigenous dynasties, the Kadambas of Banavasi and the Gangas of Kolar, who divided Karnataka between themselves.

The Kadambas
The Kadamba Dynasty was founded by Mayurasharman in c. 345 A.D. Subjected to some kind of humiliation at the Pallava capital, this young brahmin gave up his hereditary priestly vacation and took to the life of a warrior and revolted aganist the Pallavas. The Pallavas were forced to recognise him as a sovereign when he crowned himself at Banavasi in Uttar Kannada Dt. One of his successors, Kakustha Varman (c. 435-55) was such a powerful ruler that even the Vakatakas and the guptas cultivated martial relationship with this family during his time. The great poet Kalidasa deems to have visited his court.

The Gangas
The Gangas started their rule from c. 350 from Kolara and later their capital was shifted to Talakadu (Mysore Dt.). Till the advent of the Badami Chalukyas, they were almost a sovereign power. Later they continued to rule ove Gangavadi (which comprised major parts of South Karnataka) till the close of the 10th century as subordinates of the Badami Chalukyas and the Rastrakutas.
The Badami Chalukyas

It is the Chalukyas of Badami who brought the whole of Karnataka under a single rule. They are also remembered for their contributions in the feild of art. Their monuments are found at Badami, Aihole and Pattadakal. The first great prince of the dynasty was Pulikeshin I (c. 540-66 A.D) who built the ashwamedha (horse sacrifice) after subduing many rulers including the Kadambas.

His grandson, Pulikeshin II (609-42) built a vast empire which extended from Narmada in the north to the Cauveri in the south. In the east, he overthrew the Vishnukundins and appointed his younger brother Vishnuvardhana, the voceroy of Vengi.

The Chalukyan empire included not only the whole of karnataka and Maharashtra, but the greater part of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Andra, and also parts of Orissa and Tamilnadu. Vikramaditya II (693-734) in the line defeated the Pallavas, entered the Pallava capital Kanchi victorious. The Chalukyan power was weakened in the long run by its wars with the Pallavas.

The Rastrakutas
In 753, Danthidurga, the Rastrakuta feudatory of the Chalukyas, overthrew the Chalukya king Keerthivarman II, and his family inherited the fortunes of the Chalukyas. The engraving of the celebrated monolithic Kailas temple at Ellora (now in Maharshtra) is attribuited to Danthidurga's uncle, Krishna I (756-74). Krishna's son, Dhruva (780-93) crossed the Narmada, and after defeating celebrated princes like Vathsaraja (of the Gurjara Pratheehara family of central India) and Dharmapala of Bengal, extracted tribute from the ruler of Kanauji, 'the seat of India's paramountry'. His son Givinda III (793-814) also repeated the feast when he defeated Nagabhata II, the Gujara Pratheehara and Dharmapala of Bengal and again extracted tribute from the King of Kanauj.The achievements of the Chalukyas of Badami and the Rastrakutas by defeating the rulers of Kanauj have made their erathe "Age of Imperial Karnataka".

The Kalyana Chalukyas
The Chalukyas of Kalyana overthrew the Rastrakutas in 973, Someshwara I (10432068), succeeded in resisting the efforts of the Cholas to subdue Karnataka, and he built a new capital, Kalyana (mordern Basava Kaluyana in Bidar Dt.) The Chola king Rajadhiraja was killed by him at Koppar in 1054.

His son Vikramaditya VI (10762127) has been celebrated in history as the patron of the great jurist Vijnaneshwara, (work: mitakshara, standard work on Hindu law), and the emperor has been immortalised by poet Dilhana (haling from Kashmir) who chose this prince himself as the hero for his sanskrit poem, Vikramankadeva Charitam. Vikramaditya defeated the Paramaras of Centeral India thrice. In the South he captured Kanchi from the Cholas in 1085, and in the East, he conqured Vengi in 1093. His commander, Mahadeva built the Mahadeva temple at Itagi (Raichur Dt.) the finest Chalukyan monument. His son Someshwara III (1127-39) was a great scholar. He has written Manasollasa, a sanskrit encyclopedia and Vikrmankabhyudayam, a peom of which his father is the hero,

The Sevunas
The Sevunas (or Yadavas) who were foundatories of the Rastrakutas and the chalukyas of Kalyana, became a sovereign power from the days of Bhillama V (1173-92) who founded the new capital Devagiri (modern Daulathabad in Maharastra). Bhillama V captured Kalyana in 1186, and later clashed with Hoysala Ballala II at Sorarturu in 1190. Though he lost the battle.He built a vast kingdom, extending from the Narmada to the Krishna. His son Jaitugi (1192-99) not only defeated Parmara Subhata varma, but also killed the Kakatiya kings of Orangal, Rudra and Mahadeva.

Singhana II (11992247), the greatest of the Sevunas, extended the Sevuna kingdom upto the Tungabhadra. But the Servunas were defeated by the army of the Delhi Sultan in 1296, and again in 1307 and finally in 1318, and thus the kingdom was wiped out. The Sevunas have become in immortal in history by the writings of the mathematician Baskarasharya, of the great writer on music, Sharngadeva, and of the celebrated scholar Hemadri.

The Hoysalas
The Hoyasala continued the great traditions of their art-loving overlords the Kalyana Chalukyas, and their fine temples are found at Beluru, Helebidu and Somanathapura. Vishnuvardhana (11082141) freed Gangavadi from the Cholas (who had held it from 999), and in commemoration of his victory, built the celebrated Vijayanarayana (Chennakeshva) Temple at Belur.

His commander Katamalla built the famous Hoysaleshwara temple at Halebidu.

Though Vishnuvardhana did not succeed in his serious effort to overthrow the Chalukyan yoke, his grandson Balla II (11732220) not only became free, but even defeated Sevuna Bhillama V at Soraturu in 1190, after having defeated Chalukyas Someshwara IV in 1187. When the Cholas were attacted by the Pandyas in Tamilnadu, Balla II drove the Pandyas back and thus assumed the title "Establisher of the Chola Kingdom". Later, in the days of his son Narasimha II (1120-35), Hoysalas even secured a foothold in Tamilnadu and Kuppam, near Srirangam became a second capital of the Hoysalas.

Ballala III (12912343), the last Hoysala, had to struggle hard to hold his own against the invasion of the Delhi Sultan. He died fighting the Sultan of Madhurai. It was his commanders, Harihara and Bukka, who founded the Vijayanagra Kingdom, which later grew to be an empire. Hoyasala age saw great kannada poets like Rudrabhatta, Janna, Harihara and Raghavanka. Hoysala temples at Beluru, Halebidu, Somanathapur, Arasikere, Amritapura etc., are wonderful works of art.

Karnataka Under Vijayanagar Empire
The most celebrated dynasty that ruled Karnataka is the Vijayanagar dynasty. The Vijyanagar kings were the greatest of all medieval Hindu empires and were lovers of fine arts. They have contributed a lot to the culture and traditions of the state. Many foreign visitors who came to this place during this period have described it as one of the most prosperous states.

The Fall of Vijayanagar Empire
The grand Vijayanagar dynasty disintegrated with its capital at Hampi after the attack of the Deccan Sultan in 1565 A.D. Therefore, Bijapur was established as the capital and many monuments were build around the city. It was ruled by the Bahmani Shahis and the Adilshahis, who have contributed a lot to the architecture, art and the spread of Islam in the state.

The Muslim Domination and The British Control
Later, the state was ruled by Hyder Ali and his brave son Tipu Sultan. They were responsible for the expansion of the Mysore kingdom. Tipu was a great scholar and lover of literature. He was a good administrator and offered expensive gifts to the Hindu temples. Tipu Sultan was also known as "Tiger of Karnataka", since he fought bravely with the British and never allowed them to overpower Mysore . He was killed in 1799 A.D. and thus the throne of Mysore went into the hands of Wodeyar's. In the beginning of the 19th century, entire Karnataka came under the control of the British.

Karataka Post-Independence
After India's Independence, the state of Mysore was governed by the Maharaja of Mysore, who was appointed by Independent India. But later, on November 1, 1973, the integrated state was renamed as Karnataka.


Vital Statistics
Area : 1,91,791 square kilometers
Population : 44,977,201 (1991 census)
Capital : Bangalore

  • Literacy rate : 56.04%
  • Extending over 1,92,000 sq. km. on the western half of the Deccan plateau bounded by Andhra Pradesh in the east, Maharashtra in the north and Tamil Nadu and Kerala in the south, Karntaka has a population of over 45 millions.

  • The coast about 330 km long with its silver sand beaches and blue lagoons hedged by miles and miles of tall, waving, palmgroves against the back drop of majestic mountain regions is strikingly beautiful.

  • The Malnad stretches about 650 km from north to south with an undulating range of mountains.

Karnataka Coastal Region

The Karnataka Coastal Region, which extends between the Western Ghats, edge of the Karnataka Plateau in the east and the Arabian Sea in the West, covers Dakshina Kannada and Uttara Kannada districts. This region is traversed by several ridges and spurs of Western Ghats. It has difficult terrain full of rivers, creeks, water falls, peaks and ranges of hills. The coastal region consists of two broad physical units, the plains and the Western Ghats. The Coastal plains, represent a narrow stretch of estuarine and marine plains. The abrupt rise at the eastern flanks forms the Western Ghats. The northern parts of the ghats are of lower elevation (450-600 metres) as compared to Southern parts (900 to 1,500 metres). The Coastal belt with an average width of 50 to 80 km covers a distance of about 267 km. from north to south.

  • There are quite a few high peaks both in Western and Eastern Ghat systems with altitudes more than 1,500 metres.
  • Among the tallest peaks of Karnataka are the Mullayyana Giri (1,925 m), Bababudangiri (Chandradrona Parvata 1,894 m) and the Kudremukh (1,895 m) all in Chikmagalur Dt. and the Pushpagiri (1,908 m) in Kodagu Dt. There are a dozen peaks which rise above the height of 1,500 metres.


Climate Semi-tropical Seasons Summer, March to May (18oC to 40oC); Winter December, March to May (14oC to 32oC);
Seasons, South-West Monsoon: June to August; North-East
Monsoon October to December

Rainfall 500 mm to over 4000 mm


The official Language of Karnataka State
Kannada is almost as old as Tamil, the truest of the Dravidian family. Initially the area of the Kannada speech extended much further to the north than present Karnataka, but was pushed back by the Aryan Marathi.

The Kannada Literature
The early (pre 800AD) bits and pieces of Kannada literature are insufficient to lay claims to the literature’s origins. The oldest extant book is king Nripatunga’s literary critique Kavi Raja Marga (circa 840). Jainism being a popular religion at the time, there were some Jaina poets like Srivijaya and Guna Varman I.
A new trend began with the ‘Three Gems’ of Kannada literature, Pampa, Ponna and Ranna in the 10th century, where prose and verse were mixed – the campu style. The three poets extensively wrote on episodes from the Ramayana and Mahabharata and Jain legends and biographies. Chavunda Raya, Ranna’s elder contemporary then came up with an elaborate work – a history of all the 24 Jaina tirthankaras (saintly teachers). The Chola kings of Tamil-land got too aggressive around the 11th century and fought wars.
This meant a lean phase in literary activities except for the works of a few writers like Naga Chandra, known for his Jain Ramayana, the Jain poetess Kanti, the grammarian Naga Varman II who wrote Karnataka Bhasha Bhushana in Sanskrit sutras (aphorisms), and Kirtti Varman and Vritta Vilasa.

The middle phase--(1150-1800AD)
The middle phase of Kannada literature (1150-1800AD) saw the power of Puranic Hinduism over Jainism. A very distinct phase of writing began the second half of the 12th century in the Vira-Shaiva phase with Basava’s Vachanas.
There was a spate of writers like Harihara, Raghavanka and Kereya Padmarasa writing fervently about Shiva in the 12th-13th centuries.
Rebellion against the orthodox rituals came from the brilliant poetess Akkamahadevi, a harbinger of Bhakti poetry (see below).
The Jains, too, weren’t idle all this while; they composed legendary histories of various tirthankaras (ford makers). In all, the 13th century was chock-full with poems, literary criticism, grammar, natural science and translations from Sanskrit.

Kannada literature Has Strong Hindu Influence
Kannada literature took a strong Hindu bend with the orthodox Vijayanagara kings (14th-15th AD). Some eminent names were Bhima Kavi, Padmanaka, Mallanarya, Singiraja and Chamarasa. The Bhakti movement also affected Kannada literature in the 15th and 16th centuries. The Ramayana, Mahabharata and Puranas were translated afresh using the folk meters satpadi and regale. Devotional songs of dasas or singing mendicants were compiled, which formed an important part of popular literature.

The Change of Language From Middle To Modern Kannada
The next two centuries were a busy period with many rules, of the Wodeyar kings, Bijapur Sultans and Mughals, and much literary activity.
Bhattakalanka Deva’s Karnataka Shabdaushasana (1604AD) on grammar, Sakdakshara Deva’s romantic campu the Rajshekhara Vilasa (1657AD), the historical compositions of the Wodeyar period (1650-1713AD), Nijaguna Yogi’s Viveka Chintamani of Shaiva lore (mid 17th century), Nanja Raja’s Puranic works the Shiva Bhakti Mahatmya and Hari Vamsa (circa 1760), were some of the notable creations.
All this while the language was changing from Middle to Modern Kannada. The popular Yakshagana, dramatization of Puranic tales with much singing, was an innovation of the late 18th century. A good mass of folk poetry thus came to be written.

Modern education made a late entry in Karnataka as compared to other parts of India. Works based on Sanskrit models, like Shakuntala of Basavappa Shastri, continued till the late 19th century. With a little initiation from the Christian missionaries, the Academy of Kannada Literature was set up in Bangalore in 1914.

Gradually modern literature gained tempo and translations were made from English, Bengali and Marathi. Kerur and Galaganatha attempted the first novels in Kannada, followed by a host of novelists like Shivarama Karanta, K. V. Puttapa, G P Rajaratnam, Basavaraja Kattimani, Nanjanagudu Tirumalamba (the first major woman writer in modern Kannada) and others.

The short story too made its advent with Panje Mangesha Rao and Masti Venkatesha Ayyangar. A new trend in drama began with the use of colloquial language. Poetry, too, wasn’t left behind; B. M. Shrikanthayya too Kannada poetry to great heights with innovations like the blank verse.

Literature in Kannada today is a big enterprise, with bustling centres like the University of Mysore, the Karnataka University at Dharwar and the Kannada Sahitya Parishad of Mysore.


By Air: There are many flights catering to national and international places. Karnataka is connected with Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Madras, Pune, Coimbatore, Goa, Trivandrum, Hyderabad and Calicut.

By Rail: One can depend on railways for getting to Karnataka. Bangalore, the main city, has two railway stations. There are railways running directly to Delhi, Ahmedabad, Bombay, Kolkata, Cochin, Guwahati, Hyderabad, Mangalore, Mysore, Madras, Nagpur, Trivandrum and Goa.

By Road: The well-maintained bus-routes and stands in Karnataka allow people to travel to Karnataka by road. Bus is a most economical way to reach here.


More Attractions in Karnataka  

>> Cubbon Park

>> Lalbagh Garden

>> Vrindavan Garden


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