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Western Ganga Dynasty


The Western Ganga Dynasty (350 - 1000 C.E.) (Kannada:ಪಶ್ಚಿಮ ಗಂಗ ಸಂಸ್ಥಾನ) - an important ruling dynasty of ancient Karnataka in India, known as Western Gangas to distinguish them from the Eastern Gangas who in later centuries ruled over modern Orissa. The Western Gangas began their rule during a time when multiple native clans asserted their freedom due to the weakening of the Pallava empire in South India, a geo-political event sometimes attributed to the southern conquests of Samudra Gupta. The Western Ganga sovereignty lasted from about 350 to 550 C.E., initially ruling from Kolar and later moving their capital to Talakad on the banks of the Kaveri River in modern Mysore district.

After the rise of the imperial Chalukyas of Badami, the Gangas accepted Chalukya over lordship and fought for the cause of their overlords against the Pallavas of Kanchi. The Rashtrakutas of Manyakheta replaced the Chalukyas in 753 C.E. as the dominant power in the Deccan. After a century of struggle for autonomy, the Western Gangas finally accepted Rashtrakuta over lordship and successfully fought along side them against their foes, the Chola Dynasty of Tanjavur. In the late tenth century, north of Tungabhadra river, the emerging Western Chalukya Empire replaced the Rashtrakutas and the Chola Dynasty saw renewed power south of the Kaveri river. The defeat of the Western Gangas by Cholas around 1000 C.E. resulted in the end of the Ganga influence over the region.

Though territorially a small kingdom, the Western Ganga contribution made an important contribution to polity, culture and literature of the modern south Karnataka region. The Western Ganga kings showed benevolent tolerance to all faiths but most famously for their patronage towards Jainism resulting in the construction of monuments in places such as Shravanabelagola and Kambadahalli. The kings of that dynasty encouraged the fine arts due to which literature in Kannada and Sanskrit flourished. Ninth-century Kannada literature refer to the Ganga King Durvinita of sixth century as an early writer in Kannada language prose. Many classics had been written on various subjects ranging from religion to elephant management.


Multiple theories have been proposed regarding the ancestry of the founders of the Western Ganga dynasty (prior to the fourth century).

Western Ganga Kings (350-999)Konganivarman Madhava(350 - 370)Madhava(370-390)Harivarman(390-410)Vishnugopa(410-430)Madhava III Tandangala(430-469)Avinita(469 - 529)Durvinita(529 - 579)Mushkara(579 - 604)Polavira(604 - 629)Srivikrama(629 - 654)Bhuvikarma(654 - 679)Shivamara I(679 - 726)Sripurusha(726 - 788)Shivamara II(788 - 816)Rachamalla I(816 - 843)Ereganga Neetimarga(843 - 870)Rachamalla II(870 - 907)Ereganga Neetimarga II(907 - 921)Narasimha(921 - 933)Rachamalla III(933 - 938)Butuga II(938 - 961)Marulaganga Neetimarga(961 - 963)Marasimha II Satyavakya(963 - 975)Rachamalla IV Satyavakya(975 - 986)Rachamalla V (Rakkasaganga)(986 - 999)Neetimarga Permanadi(999) Rajaraja Chola I
(Chola) (985-1014)

Some mythical accounts point to a northern origin1 while theories based on epigraphy propose a southern origin. Historians who propose the southern origin have further debated whether the early petty chieftains of the clan (prior to their rise to power) had been natives of the southern districts of modern Karnataka2, the Kongu region in modern Tamil Nadu 3 or of the southern districts of modern Andhra Pradesh.4 Those regions encompass an area of the southern Deccan where the three modern states merge geographically. A theory states that the Gangas may have taken advantage of the confusion caused by the invasion of southern India by the northern king Samudra Gupta prior to 350, and carved out a kingdom for themselves. The area they controlled had been called Gangavadi and included regions of the modern districts of Mysore, Chamarajanagar, Tumkur, Kolar, Mandya and Bangalore in Karnataka state. At times, they also controlled some areas in modern Tamil Nadu (Kongu region starting from the sixth century rule of King Avinita) and Andhra Pradesh (Ananthpur region starting from middle of fifth century). Konganivarman Madhava, who made Kolar his capital around 350 and ruled for about 20 years, had been the founding king of the dynasty.

By the time of Harivarman in 390, the Gangas had consolidated their kingdom with Talakad as their capital. Their move from the early capital Kolar may have been a strategic one with the intention of containing the growing Kadamba power. By 430 they had consolidated their eastern territories comprising modern Bangalore, Kolar and Tumkur districts and by 470 they had gained control over Kongu region in modern Tamil Nadu, Sendraka (modern Chikkamagaluru and Belur), Punnata and Pannada regions (comprising modern Heggadadevanakote and Nanjangud) in modern Karnataka.5 In 529, King Durvinita ascended the throne after waging a war with his younger brother whom his father, King Avinita, favored. Some accounts suggest that in that power struggle, the Pallavas of Kanchi supported Avinita's choice of heir and the Badami Chalukya King Vijayaditya supported his father-in-law, Durvinita.6 Inscriptions reveal that those battles had been fought in Tondaimandalam and Kongu regions (northern Tamil Nadu) prompting historians to suggest that Durvinita fought the Pallavas successfully.7 Considered the most successful of the Ganga kings, Durvinita had been well versed in arts such as music, dance, ayurveda and taming wild elephants. Some inscriptions sing paeans to him by comparing him to Yudhishtira and Manu: figures from Hindu mythology known for their wisdom and fairness.8

Politically, the Gangas constituted feudatories and close allies who also shared matrimonial relations with the Chalukyas. Inscriptions, which describe their joint campaigns against their arch enemy, the Pallavas of Kanchi, attest to that.9 From the year 725 onwards, the Gangavadi territories came to be called as the "Gangavadi-96000" (Shannavati Sahasra Vishaya) comprising the eastern and western provinces of modern south Karnataka.10 King Sripurusha fought the Pallava King Nandivarman Pallavamalla successfully, bringing Penkulikottai in north Arcot under his control temporarily for which he earned the title Permanadi.11 A contest with the Pandyas of Madurai over control of Kongu region ended in a Ganga defeat, but a matrimony between a Ganga princess and Rajasimha Pandya's son brought peace helping the Gangas retain control over the contested region.12

In 753, when the Rashtrakutas replaced the Badami Chalukyas as the dominant force in the Deccan, the Gangas offered stiff resistance for about a century.13 King Shivamara II won renown for his wars with the Rashtrakuta Dhruva Dharavarsha, his subsequent defeat and imprisonment, his release from prison and eventually his death on the battle field. The Ganga resistance continued through the reign of Rashtrakuta Govinda III and by 819, a Ganga resurgence gained them partial control over Gangavadi under King Rachamalla.14 Seeing the futility of waging war with the Western Ganga, Rashtrakuta Amoghavarsha I gave his daughter Chandrabbalabbe in marriage to Ganga prince Butuga I, son of King Ereganga Neetimarga. The Gangas thereafter became staunch allies of the Rashtrakutas, a position they maintained till the end of the Rashtrakuta dynasty of Manyakheta.15

After an uneventful period, Butuga II ascended the throne in 938 with the help of Rashtrakuta Amoghavarsha III (whose daughter he married). He helped the Rashtrakutas win decisive victories in Tamilakam in the battle of Takkolam against the Chola Dynasty. With that victory, the Rashtrakutas took control of modern northern Tamil Nadu.16 In return for their valor, the Gangas received extensive territories in the Tungabhadra river valley.17 King Marasimha II who came to power in 963 aided the Rashtrakutas in victories against the Gurjara Pratihara King Lalla and the Paramara kings of Malwa in Central India.18 Chavundaraya, a minister in the Western Ganga court had been a valiant commander, able administrator and an accomplished poet in Kannada and Sanskrit. He served King Marasimha II and his successors ably and helped King Rachamalla IV suppress a civil war in 975. Towards the end of the tenth century, the Rashtrakutas had been supplanted by the Western Chalukya Empire in Manyakheta. In the south, the Chola Dynasty, who saw a resurgence of power under Rajaraja Chola I, conquered Gangavadi around the year 1000, bringing the Western Ganga dynasty to an end. Thereafter, large areas of south Karnataka region came under Chola control for about a century.


Chandragiri hill temple complex at Shravanabelagola
Saint Bharatha at Shravanabelagola temple complex
Chavundaraya basadi on Chandragiri hill in Shravanabelagola temple complex

Principles stated in the ancient text Arthashastra influenced the Western Ganga administration. The praje gavundas mentioned in the Ganga records held similar responsibilities as the village elders (gramavriddhas) mentioned by Kautilya. Succession to the throne had been hereditary but instances of that being overlooked occurred. The kingdom divided into Rashtra (district) and further into Visaya (consisting of possibly 1000 villages) and Desa. From the eighth century, the Kannada term Nadu replaced the Sanskrit term Visaya. Examples of that change include Sindanadu-8000 and Punnadu-6000,19 with scholars differing about the significance of the numerical suffix. They opine that represented either the revenue yield of the division computed in cash terms20 or the number of fighting men in that division or the number of revenue paying hamlets in that division21 or the number of villages included in that territory.20

Inscriptions have revealed several important administrative designations such as prime minister (sarvadhikari), treasurer (shribhandari), foreign minister (sandhivirgrahi) and chief minister (mahapradhana). All of those positions came with an additional title of commander (dandanayaka). Other designations included royal steward (manevergade), master of robes (mahapasayita), commander of elephant corps (gajasahani), commander of cavalry (thuragasahani). In the royal house, Niyogis oversaw palace administration, royal clothing and jewelery and the Padiyara had responsibility for court ceremonies including door keeping and protocol.22

Officials at the local level included the pergade, nadabova, nalagamiga, prabhu and gavunda.23 The pergades had been superintendents from all social classes such as artisans, gold smiths, and black smiths. The pergades dealing with the royal household went by the title manepergade (house superintendent) and those who collected tolls Sunka vergades.24 The nadabovas, accountants and tax collectors at the Nadu level, sometimes functioned as scribes.25 The nalagamigas (officers) organized and maintained defense at the Nadu level.26 The prabhu constituted a group of elite people drawn together to witness land grants and demarcation of land boundaries.27 The gavundas, appearing most often in inscriptions, served as the backbone of medieval polity of the southern Karnataka region. They acted as landlords and local elite whom the state utilized their services to collect taxes, maintain records of landownership, bear witness to grants and transactions and even raise militia when required.28

Inscriptions that specify land grants, rights and ownership described the boundaries of demarcation using natural features such as rivers, streams, water channels, hillocks, large boulders, layout of the village, location of forts (kote) if any in the proximity, irrigation canals, temples, tanks and even shrubs and large trees. Also included, the type of soil, the crops meant to be grown and tanks or wells to be excavated for irrigation.29 From the Mavali inscription and Indivalli inscription 30 Inscriptions mention wet land, cultivable land, forest and waste land.31 Numerous references existed to hamlets (palli) belonging to the hunter communities who resided in them (bedapalli).32 From the sixth century onwards, the inscriptions refer to feudal lords by the title arasa. The arasas had been either brahmins or from tribal background who controlled hereditary territories paying periodic tribute to the king.33 The velavali,loyal bodyguards of the royalty, had been fierce warriors under oath (vele). They moved with the royal family, expected to fight for the master and be willing to lay down their lives in the process. If the king died, the velavali protocol required self immolation on the funeral pyre of the master.34


Part of a series onHistory of KarnatakaOrigin of Karnataka's nameKadambas and GangasChalukya dynastyRashtrakuta DynastyWestern Chalukya EmpireSouthern KalachuriHoysala EmpireVijayanagara EmpireBahamani SultanateBijapur Sultanate Political history of medieval Karnataka Kingdom of MysoreUnification of Karnataka
Societies EconomiesArchitectures Forts

The Gangavadi region consisted of the malnad region, the plains (Bayaluseemae) and the semi-malnad with lower elevation and rolling hills. The main crops of the malnad region had been paddy, betel leaves, cardamom and pepper and the semi-malnad region with its lower altitude produced rice, millets such as ragi and corn, pulses, oilseeds and it also served as the base for cattle farming.35 The plains to the east, constituted flat lands fed by Kaveri, Tungabhadra and Vedavati rivers where cultivations of sugarcane, paddy, coconut, areca nut (adeka totta), betel leaves, plantain and flowers (vara vana) had been common.36 from the Melkote copper plates and Mamballi inscriptions, Medutambihalli inscription of ninth century 37 Sources of irrigation had been excavated tanks, wells, natural ponds and water bodies in the catchment area of dams (Katta).38 Inscriptions attesting to irrigation of previously uncultivated lands seem to indicate an expanding agrarian community.39

Soil types mentioned in records range from black soil (Karimaniya) in the Sinda-8000 territory and to red soil (Kebbayya mannu)40 From the Doddahomma inscription of Rachaballa IV of 977 41 Cultivated land categorized into three types; wet land, dry land and to a lesser extent garden land with paddy being the dominant crop of the region. Wet lands called kalani, galde, nir mannu or nir panya had been specifically used to denote paddy land requiring standing water.42 Pastoral economies spread throughout Gangavadi region, as evidenced from references to cowherds in many inscriptions. The terms gosahasra (a thousand cows), gasara (owner of cows), gosasi (donor of cows), goyiti (cowherdess), gosasa (protector of cows) attest to that.43 Inscriptions indicate ownership of cows may have been as important as cultivable land and a social hierarchy based on that may have existed.44 Inscriptions mention cattle raids attesting to the importance of the pastoral economy, destructive raids, assaults on women (pendir-udeyulcal), abduction of women by bedas (hunter tribes); all of which indicate the existing militarism of the age.45

Some lands enjoyed exemption from taxes (manya), sometimes consisted of several villages. Local chieftains granted them without any reference to the overlord, indicating a de-centralized economy. Those lands (bilavritti or kalnad) often had been given to heroes who perished in the line of duty.46 Such a grant made for the maintenance of temples at the time of consecration had been called Talavritti.47 Some types of taxes on income were kara or anthakara (internal taxes), utkota (gifts due to the king), hiranya (cash payments) and sulika (tolls and duties on imported items). Taxes had been collected from those who held the right to cultivate land; even if the land lay uncultivated.4849

Siddhaya referred to a local tax levied on agriculture and pottondi to a tax levied on merchandise by the local feudal ruler. Based on context, pottondi also meant 1/10, aydalavi meant 1/5 and elalavi meant 1/7.50 Mannadare literally meant land tax, levied together with shepherds tax (Kurimbadere) payable to the chief of shepherds. Bhaga meant a portion or share of the produce from land or the land area itself. Minor taxes such as Kirudere (due to the landlords) and samathadere (raised by the army officers or samantha) had been mentioned. In addition to taxes for maintenance of the local officer's retinue, villages had an obligation to feed armies on the march to and from battles.51 Bittuvatta or niravari taxes comprised usually of a percentage of the produce collected for constructing irrigation tanks.52


Footprint worship at Shravanabelagola
Panchakuta basadi of 9th century at Kambadahalli


The Western Gangas gave patronage to all the major religions of the time; Jainism and the Hindu sects of Shaivism, Vedic Brahminism and Vaishnavism. Scholars have argued that some Gangas kings may have been prejudiced. Some historians believe that the Gangas had been ardent Jains.53 Inscriptions contradict that by providing references to kalamukhas (staunch Shaiva ascetics), pasupatas and lokayatas (followers of Pasupatha doctrine) who flourished in Gangavadi, indicating that Shaivism had been also popular. King Madhava and Harivarman had been devoted to cows and brahmins, King Vishnugopa practiced as a devout Vaishnava, Madhava III's and Avinita's inscriptions describe lavish endowments to Jain orders and temples54 and King Durvinita performed Vedic sacrifices prompting historians to claim he had been a Hindu.55

Jainism became popular in the dynasty in the eighth century when the ruler King Shivamara I constructed numerous Jain basadis.56 King Butuga II and minister Chavundaraya had been staunch Jains, evidenced by the construction of the Gomateshwara monolith.57 Jains worshipped the 24 tirthankars (Jinas) whose images had been consecrated in their temples. They believed that the tirthankars had creative and destructive powers, similar to the beliefs of Hindus who assigned those powers to the holy trinity (Trimurti); Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva.58 The worship of the footprint of spiritual leaders such as those of Bhadrabahu in Shravanabelagola from the tenth century parallels Buddhism.59 The consecration of the Gomateshwara monolith, the statue of Bahubali, the son of tirthankar Adinatha (just as Hindus worshipped the sons of Shiva) displays some brahminical influences.60 The worship of subordinate deities such as yaksa and yaksi, earlier considered as mere attendants of the tirthankars had been seen from the seventh century to the twelfth century.61

Vedic Brahminism proved popular in the sixth and seventh centuries when inscriptions refer to grants made to Srotriya Brahmins.62 Those inscriptions also describe the gotra (lineage) affiliation to royal families and their adherence of such Vedic rituals as asvamedha (horse sacrifice) and hiranyagarbha.63 Brahmins and kings enjoyed a mutually beneficial relationship; rituals performed by the brahmins gave legitimacy to kings and the land grants made by kings to brahmins elevated them in society to the level of wealthy landowners.64 Vaishnavism maintained a low profile, few inscriptions describe grants towards its cause.65 Some Vaishnava temples were built by the Gangas such as the Narayanaswami temples at Nanjangud, Sattur and Hangala in modern Mysore district.66 The deity Vishnu has been depicted with four arms holding a conch (sanka), discus (cakra), mace (gada) and lotus (padma).67

From the beginning of the eighth century, patronage to Shaivism increased in every section of the society; the landed elite, landlords, assemblies (samaya), schools of learning (aghraharas)68 and minor ruling families such as the Bana, Nolamba and Chalukya clans. The Shaiva temples contained a Shiva linga (phallus) in the sanctum sanctorum along with images of the mother goddess, Surya (Sun god)69 and Nandi (a bull and attendant of Shiva) normally enshrined in a separate pavilion facing the sanctum.70 The linga had been man made and in some cases had etchings of Ganapati (son of Shiva) and Parvati (consort and wife of Shiva) on it.70 Due to the vigorous efforts of priests and ascetics, Shaiva monastic orders flourished in many places such as Nandi Hills, Avani and Hebbata in modern Kolar district.71


Gomateshwara at Shravanabelagola (982-983) C.E.
pillar relief sculpture at Shravanabelagola

The Western Ganga society in many ways reflected the emerging religious, political and cultural developments of those times. Women became active in local administration because Ganga kings distributed territorial responsibility to their queens such as the feudal queen Parabbaya-arasi of Kundattur72 and the queens of King Sripurusha, Butuga II and feudal king Permadi.73 The son-in-law, the wife or by the daughter evidentially inherited fiscal and administrative responsibility. The position of prime minister of King Ereganga II and position of nalgavunda (local landlord) bestowed upon Jakkiabbe, the wife of a fallen hero offer examples. When Jakkiabbe took to asceticism, her daughter inherited the position.7475

The devadasi system (sule or courtesan) in temples prevailed, modeled after the structures in the royal palace.76 Contemporaneous literature such a Vaddaradhane makes a mention of the chief queen (Dharani Mahadevi) accompanied by lower ranking queens (arasiyargal) and courtesans of the women's royal quarter (pendarasada suleyargal).77 Some of the courtesans and concubines employed in the harem of the kings and chieftains attained respect, examples being Nandavva at whose instance a local chief made land grant to a Jain temple.78 Education in the royal family had been closely supervised and included such subjects as political science, elephant and horse riding, archery, medicine, poetry, grammar, drama, literature, dance, singing and use of musical instruments.73 Brahmins enjoyed an influential position in society, enjoying exemption from certain taxes and customs due on land. In turn they managed public affairs such as teaching, local judiciary, functioned as trustees and bankers, managed schools, temples, irrigation tanks, rest houses, collected taxes due from villages and raised money from public subscriptions.79

By virtue of a Hindu belief that killing of a brahmin (Bramhatya) constituted a sin, they escaped capital punishment.80 Upper caste kshatriyas (satkshatriya) also had been exempt from capital punishment due to their higher position in the caste system. Severe crimes committed had been punishable by the severing of a foot or hand.81 Contemporary literary sources reveal up to ten castes in the Hindu caste system; three among kshatriya, three among brahmin, two among vaishya and two among shudras.82 Family laws permitted a wife or daughter or surviving relatives of a deceased person to claim properties such as his home, land, grain, or money if no male heirs existed. If no claimants to the property stepped forward, the state took possession of those properties as Dharmadeya (charitable asset). 83 Intercaste marriage, child marriage, marriage of a boy to maternal uncle's daughter, Svayamvara marriage (where the bride garlands her choice of a groom from among many aspirants) had been in vogue.84 Memorials containing hero stones (virkal) had been erected for fallen heroes and the concerned family received monetary aid for maintenance of the memorial.85

The presence of numerous Mahasatikals (or Mastikal-hero stones for a woman who accepted ritual death upon the demise of her husband) indicates the popularity of Sati among royalty.86 Ritual death by sallekhana and by jalasamadhi (drowning in water) had been also practiced.87 Popular clothing among men consisted of two unrestricted garments, a Dhoti as a lower garment and a plain cloth as upper garment while women wore Saris with stitched petticoats. Turbans had been popular with men of higher standing and people used umbrellas made with bamboo or reeds.88 Men and women enjoyed wearing ornaments; they decorated elephants and horses. Men wore finger rings, necklaces (honnasara and honnagala sara), bracelets (Kaduga) and wristlets (Kaftkina). Women wore a nose jewel (bottu), nose ring (mugutti), bangles (bale or kankana) and various types of necklaces (honna gante sara and kati sutra).88 During leisure, men amused themselves with horse riding, watching wrestling bouts, cock fights and ram fights.89 There existed a large and well organized network of schools for imparting higher education and these schools were known by various names such as agraharas, ghatikas, brahmapura or matha.90 Inscriptions mention schools of higher education at Salotgi, Balligavi, Talagunda, Aihole, Arasikere and other places.


Roof sculpture, Panchakuta basadi at Kambadahalli
Mahasthambha (pillar) and Chandragupta Basadi at Chandragiri Hill in Shravanabelagola

The Western Ganga rule had been a period of brisk literary activity in Sanskrit and Kannada, though many of the writings have been lost and known only by references made to them. Chavundaraya's writing, Chavundaraya Purana (or Trishashtilakshana mahapurana) of 978 C.E., an early existing work in prose style in Kannada, contains a summary of the Sanskrit writings, Adipurana and Uttarapurana written a century earlier by Jinasena and Gunabhadra during the rule of Rashtrakuta Amoghavarsha I. The pros