Mahendravarman I Analysis

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(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

One of the kings of the Pallava Dynasty ofsouth India, Mahendravarman (mah-HEHN-drah VAHR-mahn) I ruled from his capital at Kānchipuram from about 600 to 630 c.e. During his reign, a long-drawn-out conflict began with the Cālukyas, his western neighbors. The war was to shape politics in south India for several generations.

He was a Jain in his early life and later converted to Hinduism, embracing the god Śiva as his patron deity. He was the patron of a number of excavated rock-cave temples dedicated to Śiva at Tiruchipalli and Mahābalipuram. As a Śaivite convert, he did much to support the resurgence of Hinduism in south India after a long period of the religion’s being eclipsed by the popularity of Jainism and Buddhism. In his inscriptions, the king refers to himself as Cettakāri (temple builder), and in that respect, he was a pioneer in the creation of stone architecture in south India. Another of his names, Chittrakārapulli (tiger among painters), attests to his ability as an artist. Mahendravarman I was known as a great patron of all the arts; he was known also as a famous musician who wrote a treatise on music.

The Pallava king is best remembered as a writer of plays, two of which survive: Mattavilāsaprahasana (seventh century c.e.; English translation, 1974), literally, “the sport of the intoxicated,” and Bhagavadajjukam (seventh century c.e.; Bhagavaddajjuka prahasana, 1978), literally, “the saint and the prostitute.” Mahendravarman demonstrates in his plays knowledge of various religious beliefs and schools of thought as well as a spirited sense of humor. Both plays are lively, one-act farces written in Sanskrit. The writer indulges in witty frolic as a way to criticize in lighter vein the hypocrisy of some contemporary religious practices.


(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

Mahendravarman I greatly influenced the future course of politics and religion in south India. In particular, his patronage of stone architecture created the foundations for the south Indian style of architecture and art.

Additional Resources

(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

Lockwood, Michael. Mamallapuram and the Pallavas. Madras, India: The Christian Literature Society, 1982.

Lockwood, Michael, and A. Vishnu Bhat, trans. Mattavilasa Prahasana (The Farce of Drunken Sport). Madras, India: The Christian Literature Society, 1981.

Poulose, K. G. Bhagavadajjukam in Kutiyattam: The Hermit and the Harlot. Delhi, India: New Bharatiya Book Corporation, 2000.