Kadamba Dynasty

Kadamba (345 - 525 CE) was an ancient royal dynasty of Karnataka that ruled northern Karnataka and the Konkan from Banavasi in present-day Uttara Kannada district. At the peak of their power under King Kakushtavarma, the Kadambas of Banavasi ruled large parts of modern Karnataka state.

The dynasty was founded by Mayurasharma in 345 CE which at later times showed the potential of developing into imperial proportions, an indication to which is provided by the titles and epithets assumed by its rulers. King Mayurasharma defeated the armies of Pallavas of Kanchi possibly with help of some native tribes. The Kadamba fame reached its peak during the rule of Kakusthavarma, a notable ruler with whom even the kings of Gupta Dynasty of northern India cultivated marital alliances. Tiring of the endless battles and bloodshed, one of the later descendants, King Shivakoti adopted Jainism. The Kadambas were contemporaries of the Western Ganga Dynasty and together they formed the earliest native kingdoms to rule the land with absolute autonomy. The dynasty later continued to rule as a feudatory of larger Kannada empires, the Chalukya and the Rashtrakuta empires, for over five hundred years during which time they branched into minor dynasties known as the Kadambas of Goa, Kadambas of Halasi and Kadambas of Hangal.

During the pre-Kadamba era the ruling families that controlled the Karnataka region, the Mauryas, and the Satavahanas were not natives of the region and the nucleus of power resided outside present day Karnataka. The Kadambas were the first indigenous dynasty to use Kannada, the language of the soil, at an administrative level. In the history of Karnataka, this era serves as a broad based historical starting point in the study of the development of region as an enduring geo-political entity and Kannada as an important regional language. Their legacy was so impressive that even the Vijayanagar rulers who fought Deccan Sultanates hired descendants of the Kadambas to manage their Goa military naval fleet.

History of Kadamba Dynasty

There is no shortage of myths about the origin of the Kadambas. According to one account the dynasty was founded by one Trilochana Kadamba also known from the Halsi and Degamve records as Jayanta who had three eyes and four arms. He was born out of the sweat of Shiva, which had fallen under a Kadamba tree and hence his name Kadamba. According to another myth, Mayurasharma himself was born to Lord Shiva and mother earth and had three eyes. According to Grama Paddhati, a Kannada work dealing with the history of the Tulu Brahmanas, Mayurasharma was born to Lord Shiva and goddess Parvathi under a Kadamba tree in the Sahyadri mountains and hence the name Kadamba. An inscription of the Nagarakhanda Kadambas, a later descendent dynasty, gives a legendary account and traces their lineage back to the Nandas. According to the inscription, King Nanda who had no heir prayed to Lord Shiva in the Kailash mountains when a heavenly voice advised him that two sons would be born to him, would bear the name of Kadamba Kula (family) and they should be instructed in the use of weapons.

There are two theories to the origin of the Kadamba dynasty, a native Kannadiga origin and the other a north Indian origin. Mention of the north Indian origin of the Kadambas are only found in their later records of their offshoot descendent dynasty and is considered legendary. The earliest record making this claim is the 1053 and 1055 inscriptions of Harikesari Deva which are copied in inscriptions thereafter, describing Mayurasharma as the progenitor of the kingdom who established his might on the summit of Mount Himavat. But this theory has not found popularity as there is no indication of this account in any of their early records. On the contrary, the family derives its name from the Kadamba tree that is common only to the South India region.

Historians are divided on the issue of the caste of the Kadamba family, whether the founders of the kingdom belonged to the Brahmin caste as claimed by the Talagunda inscription, or were of tribal origin. A claim has been made that the Kadambas were none other than a tribe called the Kadambu, who were in conflict with the Chera kingdom (of modern Tamil Nadu Kerala region). The 'Kadambus' find mention in the Tamil Sangam literature as totemic worshippers of the Kadambu tree and the Hindu god Subramanya. While some historians have argued that they being of Brahmin descent made Mayurasharma's ancestors natives of northern India, the counter argument is that it was common for Dravidian peoples to be received into the Brahmanic caste during early and later medieval times. Being native Kannadigas, the Kadambas promptly gave administrative and political importance to their language, Kannada, after coming to power. It is thus claimed that the family of the Kadambas were undoubtedly of Kanarese descent and may have been admitted into the Brahminical caste. The Naga descent of the Kadambas has been stated in early inscriptions of King Krishna Varma I too, which confirms the family was from present day Karnataka.

Inscriptions in Sanskrit and Kannada are the main sources of the Kadamba history. The Talagunda, Gundanur, Chandravalli, Halasi and Halmidi inscription are some of the important inscriptions that throw light on this ancient ruling family of Karnataka. They belonged to the Manavya Gotra and were Haritiputras (lineage), which connects them to the native Chutus of Banavasi, a feudatory of the Satavahana empire. Inscriptions of the Kadambas in Kannada and Sanskrit ascribed to the main dynasty and branch kingdoms have been published by historians. The Kadambas minted coins with Nagari, Kannada and Grantha legends which provide additional numismatic evidence of their history.

Kadambas were the first rulers to use Kannada as an additional official administrative language, as evidenced by the Halmidi inscription of 450. Three Kannada inscriptions from their early rule from Banavasi have been discovered. Several early Kadamba dynasty coins bearing the Kannada inscription Vira and Skandha was found in Satara collectorate. A gold coin of King Bhagiratha (390415 CE) bearing the old Kannada legend Sri and Bhagi also exists. Recent discovery of 5th century Kadamba copper coin in Banavasi with Kannada script inscription Srimanaragi on it proves the usage of Kannada at the administrative level further.

One of their earliest inscriptions, the Talagunda inscription of Santivarma (450) gives what may be the most possible cause for the emergence of the Kadamba kingdom. It states that Mayurasharma was a native of Talagunda, (in present-day Shimoga district) and his family got its name from the Kadamba tree that grew near his home. The inscription narrates how Mayurasharma proceeded to Kanchi in 345 along with his guru and grandfather Veerasarma to pursue his Vedic studies at a Ghatika (school). There, owing to some misunderstanding between him and a Pallava guard or at an Ashvasanstha (a place of horse sacrifice), a quarrel arose in which Mayurasharma was humiliated. In high rage, the Brahmana discontinued his studies, left Kanchi, swearing vengeance on the impudent Pallavas, and took to arms. He collected a faithful group of followers and routed the Pallava armies near Srisilam region. After a prolonged period of low intensity warfare against the Pallavas and other smaller kings such as the Brihad-Banas of Kolar region, he proclaimed independence. Unable to contain him, the Pallavas had to accept his sovereignty. Thus in an act of righteous indignation was born the first native kingdom of Karnataka, the Pallava King Skandavarman condescending to recognise the growing might of the Kadambas south of the Malaprabha river as a sovereign power. Scholars such as Mores and Sastry opine that Mayurasharma availed himself of the confusion that was created by the invasion of Samudragupta who in his Allahabad Inscription claims to have defeated Vishnugopa of Kanchi. Taking advantage of the weakening of the Pallava power, Mayura appears to have succeeded in establishing a new kingdom." The fact that Mayurasharma had to travel to distant Kanchi for Vedic studies gives an indication that Vedic lore was quite rudimentary in the region at that time. The recently discovered Gudnapur inscription states that Mauryasharma's grandfather and preceptor was Virasarma and his father Bandhushena developed the character of a Kshatriya.

Mayurasharma's successor was his son Kangavarma in 365 who had to fight the Vakataka might to protect Kuntala. He was defeated by Vakataka Prithvisena but managed to maintain his freedom. His son Bhagiratha is said to have retrieved his fathers losses but Vakataka inscriptions do not attest to this. His son Raghu died fighting the Pallavas. He was succeeded by his brother Kakusthavarma who was the most powerful ruler of the dynasty. He maintained marital relations with even the imperial Guptas of the north, according to the Talagunda inscription. One of his daughters was married to Kumara Gupta's son Skanda Gupta. His other daughter was married to a Vakataka king Narendrasena. He maintained similar relations with the Bhatari, the Alupas of South Canara and the Western Ganga Dynasty of Gangavadi according to the Talagunda inscription. The great poet Kalidasa had visited his court.

After Kakusthavarma only Ravivarma who came to the throne in 485 was able to build upon the kingdom. His rule was marked by a series of clashes within the family, and also against the Pallavas and the Gangas. He is also credited with a victory against the Vakatakas, which helped extend his Kingdom as far north as the river Narmada. The crux of their kingdom essentially consisted of large areas of Karnataka, Goa and southern areas of present-day Maharashtra. After his death, the kingdom went into decline due to family feuds. The Birur plates of Kadamba Vishnuvarman call Shantivarman "The master of the entire Karnataka region". The Triparvatha branch that broke away in 455 ruled from Murod in Belagavi for some time and merged with the main Banavasi kingdom during rule of Harivarma. Finally the kingdom fell to the power of the Badami Chalukyas. The Kadambas thereafter became feudatories of the Badami Chalukyas and later the Rashtrakutas and Kalyani Chalukyas. The successors of Mayurasharma took to the name "varma" to indicate their Kshatriya status.

Earliest Kannada Inscription

The Halmidi inscription was the earliest known epigraph that showed the early usage of Kannada script (Kadamba script). The stone inscription found at Halmidi has been assigned to C. 450 CE. and belongs to Kadamba ruler Kakusthavarma, whose reign is estimated to be between 435 CE to 455 CE.

In the year 2006, the Jalagars, the sand sievers family, from Tamil Nadu, yielded around 6 Kannada inscribed potin coins from the riverbed of Varada in Sirsi Taluk, which is in Uttara Kannada district. The legends could not be satisfactorily deciphered by Sri MM Prabhu of Mangalore due to the poor chipped condition of coins, and was read Sri Manaragi. Later, when more coins came to limelight, the next year, he managed to attribute it to the Kadambas of Banavasi. The Banavasi village, which is 22 miles (35 km) away from the Sirsi town was the ancient capital of the Kadambas of Banavasi. Banavasi was also known as "Jaldurga" in the Aihole inscription of Pulakeshin II. The Varada river encompassed the Banavasi town in all the four directions to form a natural water port and hence the name Jal (water) durga (port).

For the next two years (20072008), the Jalagars made a headway and yielded Satavahana Potin coins bearing Elephant/quadri-directional symbol in quantity above 5000 pieecs along with few hundreds of Kura Potin coins bearing Bull/Bow-and-Arrow symbols. Most of the elephant Satavahana coins were of rulers Siri, Satakarni and Pudumavi. The Satavahaha fractions of up to 50 mg weight, with similar elephant motiff and illegible legend were also obtained. The Bull/Discus Potin coins were issued mainly by Rajno Vishnurudra though other rulers name such as Vishnurudra Putra, Vasithi Putra, Satakarni etc. exist. Third of the series, the inscribed Kadamba Potin coins were found too, but in small quantities, estimated to be around 100 pieces with four unique legend types. Only the coins bearing the legend Sri-Manarashi and Sr-Dhosharashi have been published yet. There exist around 10 die variations of the same. Other coins such as Bull/Trident-Goad coins in bell metal of tetradrachm standard bearing legend Vinukhata Brahmananda were found in 5 to 6 numbers, Copper and Lead coins of Chutukulananda, Mulananda and Sivalananda etc. are seen seldom in those river beds but in too lesser numbers. Copper coins of Chutus were not known hitherto. Since Banavasi was an important religious site of sanctity, the site attracted old-age piigrims from distant places who spent their last days in the holy site. They offered coins such as Guptas, Kushan, Roman, Western Kshatrapas, Vijayanagaras and Hoysalas etc., which stands evidence to this.

As far as the chronology of these Banavasi Kadamba coins concerned, Sri-Dhosharashi coins follow Sri-Manarashi coins as evidenced by the script style. Since Dhosharashi epithet was adorned by Ravivarma, the Manarashi coins are either issued by the predecessors Shanthivarma or Mrigeshavarma. This is understood by the script style of Manarashi coins that resembled more that of Halmidi inscription. Moreover, Halmidi inscription is assigned to Kakkushthavarman. These potin coins are observed in varied weights such as 200 mg to 400 mg stanadard. The fractional coins weighed around 100 mg and contained religious symbols such as Discus, Conch and Lotus, which are the icons of Lord Vishnu.

Their Talagunda inscription had an invocation of Lord Shiva while the Halmidi and Banavasi inscriptions started with an invocation of Lord Vishnu. Moreover, their temple, the Madukeshwara, also seem to have undergone several changes over a period. The initial statue is believed to be of Lord Vishnu while Siva Linga is currently worshipped. Another tale about this place involves the slaying of demon Madhu by Lord Vishnu at the behest of Lord Shiva. This tale is mentioned in the Puranas. So, the religious symbol such as Conch, Discuss and Lotus only signifies the fractional value of coin, which is seen evenin the Hanas and Hagas of the Alupas and Gangas, who were the contemporaries and also in time, the feudatories of the Kadambas of Banavasi.

It is impressive to see the shift of script usage to Kannada, from the Satavahana Brahmi. Satavahana Brahmi was used by the Chutus, Satavahanas and the Kuras respectively as the official script. It is quite possible that Kannada was in use prior to the rule of the Chutus but Brahmi was the script. The usage of Kannada script in coins and inscriptions is the gift of the Kadambas and trend continued in the whole of then Karnataka. The stone tablets recently found in Parkala, Udupi taluk, attests the usage of Kannada around the same period (5th century CE).


The Kadamba kings called themselves Dharmamaharajas like the Satavahana kings. Dr. Mores has identified various cabinet and other positions in the kingdom from inscriptions. The prime minister (Pradhana), Steward (Manevergade), secretary of council (Tantrapala or Sabhakarya Sachiva), scholarly elders (Vidyavriddhas), physician (Deshamatya), private secretary (Rahasyadhikritha), chief secretary (Sarvakaryakarta), chief justice (Dharmadhyaksha) and other officials (Bhojaka and Ayukta). The army consisted of officers like Jagadala, Dandanayaka and Senapathi.

A crown prince from the royal family helped the king in administration. Princesses of the royal family were appointed as governors of various provinces. King Kakusthavarma had appointed his son Krishna as viceroy of Thriparvatha region. This later proved detrimental to the kingdom as it gave opportunity for break away factions in the kingdom.

The kingdom was divided into Mandalas (provinces) or Desha. Under a Mandala was Vishayas (districts). A total of nine Vishaya have been identified. Under a Vishaya were Mahagramas (Taluk) and Dashagramas (Hobli). Mahagrama had more villages than Dashagramas. One sixth of land produce was collected as tax. Taxes were collected as Perjunka (levy on load), Vaddaravula (social security tax for royal family), Bilkoda (salex tax), Kirukula (land tax), Pannaya (betel tax) and other professional taxes on traders etc. recently Dr.s.g.samak of shimoga has discovered a hoard of 6 kadamba copper plates from a place called aratalegadde is in shimoha district. in that hoard two new kings so far unknown in the geniology of the kadambas have been identified. they are priyavruta varma and pulinda varma.

Kadamba Temples and Architecture

Kadamba architecture was a style of temple architecture founded by Mayurasharma in 4th century AD in Karnataka Kadambas created new style of architecture which was the basis of the Hoysalas style of architecture, developed original school of sculpture, was the forerunner of series of South Indian sculptors. Many temples at Aihole, Badami and Hampi are built in Kadamba architectural style.

The contribution of the Kadambas to the architectural heritage of Karnataka is certainly worthy of recognition. The Kadamba style can be identified and that it has a few things in common with the Chalukya and the Pallava styles. The most prominent feature of their architecture, basic as it was is their Shikara called Kadamba Shikara. The Shikara is pyramid shaped and rises in steps without any decoration with a Stupika or Kalasha at the top. This style of Shikara are used several centuries later in the Doddagaddavalli Hoysala temple and the Mahakuta temples in Hampi. Some of their temples also use perforated screen windows. It has also been pointed out that in architecture and sculpture, the Kadambas contributed to the foundation of the later Chalukya-Hoysala style.

The Madhukeshwara (Lord Shiva) temple built by them still exists in Banavasi. Built in the 10th century and renovated many times, the temple is a very good piece of art. The stone cot with wonderful carvings is one of the main tourist attractions in the temple.

Banavasi is an ancient temple town in Uttara Kannada District bordering Shivamogga district in the south Indian state of Karnataka having main attraction of Madhukeshwara Temple built in the 9th century and dedicated to Lord Shiva the supreme God in Shaivism which is known as a major branch of Hinduism. Recently a 5th century copper coin was discovered here with an inscription in the Kannada script which is considered as a one of the oldest coin ever discovered. The Directorate of Archaeology and Museums said that the coin's inscription in archaic Kannada proves beyond doubt that Banavasi had a mint in the 5th century. The coin's discovery supports those seeking classical status for the Kannada language.

Adikavi Pampa, the first poet of Kannada, wrote his epic poems in Banavasi. The town once was the capital of the Kadamba rulers, an ancient royal dynasty of Karnataka. They established themselves there in A.D. 345 and ruled for two centuries.

Kadambotsava ("The festival of Kadamba") a festival is celebrated every year by Government of Karnataka in honour of this kingdom. A popular Kannada film, Mayura starring Dr. Raj Kumar celebrates the creation of the first Kannada kingdom. On 31 May 2005 Defence minister Pranab Mukherjee commissioned India's most advanced and first dedicated military naval base named INS Kadamba after the Kadamba dynasty, in Karwar.

The 5th century monuments at Halasi are the oldest surviving Kadamba structure. The most prominent feature is the Kadamba Shikara with a Kalasa on top. In Belgaum district, Hattikeshwara, Kalleshwara and Someshwara temples at Halasi and group of temples at Kadaroli illustrates the Kadamba architecture. The old Jain basadi containing a sanctum and a sukanasi at Halasi the most ancient stone temple in Karnataka. Kadamba architecture constituted an important link between the Shatavahanas, Pallavas and Chalukyas architecture. Kadamba architecture elements in Hoysala Architecture.

Aihole: Many temples at Aihole including Ramlingesvara temple Complex, Badigergudi temple and small shrines at Durga temple complex, Tryambakeshwara temple complex, ruined temple at Mallikarjuna temple complex, shrines at Jyotirlinga temple complex, small temple at Hucchimalli temple complex, ruined temples Galaganatha temple complex and many temples along the Malaprabha River are built in Kadamba architectural (Shikhara) style.

Badami: Kadamba style Mallikarjuna group of temples and Bhutanatha group of temples(temple on adjacent small hill top) at Badami.

Hampi: Including Jain temples and two Shiva temples and many ruined temples on Hemakuta hill at Hampi built in Kadamba style of architecture.

Mahakuta: There are many shrines with Kadamba superstructure at Mahakuta including Bhimeshwara ling temple, newly renovated temple out side main temple complex.

Bandalike: There are many temples and Basadis at Bandalike (Bandalika), it is about 35 km from Shikaripura including Shantinath basadi, Sahasralinga temple and Someshwara threemurthy temples those are of Rastrakutas and Kadambas period, temples built in Kadamba style of architecture.

Belgaum district: Kamala Narayana Temple, Degaon (Degamve / Devgram), The Ruined temple at Konnur is 4 km from Gokak falls, Kamala basadi at Belagavi, Bhutnath temple Torgal (Torgal Fort) near Munvalli in Belgaum district, Panchlingeshwara Temple Munavalli Belgaum district has Kadamba shikhara, Ramalingaeshwara temple at Bailhongal.

There are few ruined temples at Hooli with Kadamba shikhara. The ruined temple beside the river at Kadaroli has the Kadamba style shikara. Temples at Halasi and Ramtheerth temple a top of the hill near Halasi.

Uttara Kannada district: Including Madhukeshwara temple and Parvati temple many other temples at Banavasi has Kadamba style architecture (Shikhara). Ratnatraya Basti at Bilgi a small village near Siddapura, Uttara Kannada district of Karnataka. The 12th and 14th century AD Shankara Narayana temple at Haliyur and Venkataramana Swamy temple at Muttinkere near Sonda in Sirsi taluk of Uttarkannada district. Mallikarjuna Temple at Haliyal is also an example.

Hassan district: Yoga Narasimha temple at Holalu in Hassan district. The Kadamba Bettada Byreshwara Shiva temple built in black stone near Hanbal a hill station of Sakleshpur (in Western Ghats) in Hassan district. The Kadamba style Keerthinarayana temple is at Heragu in Hassan district.

Gadag district: The old Jain temple at Lakshmeshwara has Kadamba shikara. Trilingeshwara temple at Hosur in Gadag district. Narasimha temple Gadag, veera narayana temple complex Gadag.

Haveri district: The Kere Someshwara Temple at Kalakeri in Hangal taluk of Haveri district, is in Kadamba style architecture (Shikhara). Basavann Temple in the Chaudayyadanapura Mukteshwara temple complex, Haveri District. Narasimha temple Narasapura near Chaudayyadanapura, Haveri District. Veerabhadra temple Hale Honatti in Ranebennur taluk of Haveri district.

Chikmagalur district: The Kadamba style Bhairaveshwara Temple at Bhairapur, 22 km from Mudigere (in western ghats) in Chikmagalur district near to Kukke Subramanya. Prasanna Rameshwara Temple Devarunda, Mudigere in Chikmagalur district. Malahanikareshvara, Bhavani temples shringeri.

Other parts of Karnataka: The 12th century AD Shiva temple at Udri Shimoga built in Kadamba style architecture. Mallikarjuna Temple and Neelakanteshwara Temple, Kalasi. Tryambakeshwara temple (Trikutachala) with Kadamba Shikhara at Kavital in Manvi taluk in Raichur district. Jain temple at Brahmagiri hill in Chitradurga district.