Kalabhra dynasty

Kalabhra Empire
Kalabhra territories
Capital Kaveripumpattinam, Madurai
Languages Prakrit, Tamil
Religion Buddhism
Government Monarchy
   5th century Achyutavikranta
Tiraiyan of Pavattiri
Pulli of Vengadam
Historical era Classical India
   3rd century c. 250
   7th century c. 600
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Ancient Tamil country
Pallava dynasty
Pandyan dynasty
Today part of  India

The Kalabhra dynasty (Kalappirar in Tamil) ruled over the entire ancient Tamil country between the 3rd and the 7th century in an era of South Indian history called the Kalabhra interregnum. The Kalabhras, possibly Jain, displaced the kingdoms of the early Cholas, early Pandyas and Chera dynasties by a revolt. The Kalabhras put an end to the Brahmadeya rights granted to the Brahmans in numerous villages across southern India.

Information about the origin and reign of the Kalabhras is scarce. They left neither artefacts nor monuments, and the only sources of information are scattered mentions in Sangam, Buddhist and Jain literature. The Kalabhras were defeated by the joint efforts of the Pallavas, Pandyas and Chalukyas of Badami.


The origin and identity of the Kalabhras is uncertain. They are generally believed to have been hill tribes that rose out of obscurity to become a power in South India.[1] Their kings were likely followers of Buddhism and Jainism.[2] Some of their coins feature images such as a seated Jain monk, the Buddhist Bodhisattva Manjushri, or the Swastika symbol, with Prakrit inscriptions in Brahmi script on the other side. Later specimens dating towards the 6th century employ both Prakrit and Tamil in their inscriptions and feature images of Hindu gods and goddesses.[3]

A number of theories have been advanced for the identity of the Kalabhras. T. A. Gopinath Rao equates them with the Muttaraiyars, and Kallars and an inscription in the Vaikunta Perumal temple at Kanchi mentions a Muttaraiyar named as Kalavara-Kalvan. The word Kalabhra might possibly be a Sanskrit derivation of the Tamil Kalvan. M. Raghava Iyengar, on the other hand, identifies the Kalabhras with the Vellala Kalappalars.[3] The c.770 Velvikudi plates of the Pandyan king Parantaka Nedunjadaiyan mention the Kalabhras and R. Narasimhacharya and V. Venkayya believe them to have been Karnatas.[4][5] K. R. Venkatarama Iyer suggests that the Kalabhras might have settled in the Bangalore-Chittoor region early in the 5th century.[3]

Evidence from literature

The history of Cholas of Uraiyur (Tiruchirappalli) is exceedingly obscure from 4th to the 9th century, chiefly owing to the occupation of their country by the Kalabhras. Buddhadatta, the great writer in Pali, belonged to Uraiyur. He mentions his contemporary, King Achyutavikranta of the Kalabharakula, as ruling over the Chola country from Kaveripumpattinam. He was a Buddhist. Tamil literary tradition refers to an Achyuta who kept the Chera, Chola and Pandya rulers in captivity. On the basis of the contemporaneity of Buddhadatta with Buddhaghosha, Achyuta may be assigned to the 5th century. Thus, after the Sangam age, the Cholas were forced into obscurity by the Kalabhras, who disturbed the placid political conditions of the Tamil country.

Reasons for the unpopularity

Kalabhras, by ruling the Tamil country, disturbed the prevailing order. The Velvikudi inscriptions of the third regnal year of Pandya ruler Nedunjadaiyan (c. 765  c. 815) say that Pandya ruler Mudukudumi Peruvaludi gave the village of Velvikudi as Brahmadeya (gift to the Brahmins). They enjoyed it for a long time. Then a Kali king named Kalabhran took possession of the extensive earth, driving away numberless great kings.

Patrons of literature

The period of Kalabhras was marked by the ascendancy of Buddhism, and probably also of Jainism. It was characterized by considerable literary activity in Tamil. Most of the works grouped under the head, "The Eighteen Minor works" might have been written during this period as also the Silappadhikaram, Manimegalai and other works. Many of the authors were characterised as belonging to the "heretical" sects (meaning Buddhists and Jains). However, the great Tamil lexicographer Vaiyapuri Pillai had ascribed later dates to many of these works. This theory would undermine the link between the Kalabhras and the "Eighteen Minor works".[6]


It is known that the Kalabhras patronised Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism.[7] The late Kalabhras appear to have been Shaivite and Vaishnavite. Scholar F. E. Hardy traced the palace ceremony to a Vishnu or Mayon temple to the rule of the Kalabhras.[8] They are known for patronising the Hindu god, Skanda or Subramanya. They imprinted his image on their 5th-century coins, especially those of the Kaveripumpattinam rulers.[9] King Achyuta worshipped Vaishnava Tirumal.[10]

Fall of the Kalabhras

The rule of the Kalabhras of South India was ended by the counter-invasions of Pandyas, Chalukyas and Pallavas. There are other references to the Kalabhras in Pallava and Chalukya inscriptions. They were conquered by Pallava, Simhavishnu and Pandya, Kadungon.

Further reading


  1. Thapar, Romila (2003). The Penguin History of Early India: From the Origins to AD 1300. Penguin Books. p. 327. ISBN 9780141937427. Retrieved 7 September 2016.
  2. Kulke, Hermann; Rothermund, Dietmar (2007). A History of India (4th ed.). London: Routledge. p. 105. ISBN 9780415329200. Retrieved 7 September 2016.
  3. 1 2 3 Gupta, Parmanand (1989). Geography from ancient Indian coins & seals. New Delhi: Concept Pub. Co. pp. 23–24. ISBN 9788170222484. Retrieved 7 September 2016.
  4. Narasimhacharya, R. (1990) [1934]. History of Kannada language: readership lectures. New Delhi: Asian Educational Services. p. 34. ISBN 9788120605596. Retrieved 8 September 2016.
  5. Sastri, Rao Bahadur H. Krishna (1924). Epigraphia Indica vol.17. Government of India. p. 295.
  6. "Society under the Kalabhras". Tamil Nadu. tamilnadu.ind.in. Retrieved 2008-12-18.
  7. P. 146 Kerala State gazetteer, Volume 2, Part 1 By Adoor K. K. Ramachandran Nair
  8. Veermani Pd. Upadhyaya Felicitation Volume by Veermani Prasad Upadhyaya
  9. P. 150 and P. 152 The peacock, the national bird of India By P. Thankappan Nair
  10. Buddhism in Tamil Nadu: collected papers By G. John Samuel, Ār. Es Śivagaṇēśamūrti, M. S. Nagarajan, Institute of Asian Studies (Madras, India)
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