Kadamba dynasty (kadamba) (ಕದಂಬ ರಾಜವಂಶ) is one of the most ancient and long serving royal dynasties of Karnataka. Apart from the Banavasi Kadambas who were the first to use that name, different branches have ruled from variant places such as Goa, Hanagal, Karadikallu, Bankapura and Nurambada. However, the Kadmabas of Banavasi who ruled approximately during the interval between 345 A.D. and 525 A.D. is perhaps the most important and ancient.

The mythological explanation that links the dynasty to Shiva and Parvathi may be dismissed easily as it is a figments of imagination. Banavasi is now a small town in the North Canara district of coastal Karnataka. Kadambas are given the distinction of being the first indigenous dynasty from Karnataka with Kannada having the prime place in administration. It is documented that they belonged to ‘mAnavya gOtra’ and they were ‘hArIti putra’s. There are amorphous speculations that the Kadambas were descendants of some North Indian king. However it has not found favour with important historians. The caste of these kings is also disputed. Some say that they were Brahmins who became militant and took up arms due to some insult meted out to Mayurasharma a member of their clan. (The tALagunda inscription narrates how Mayurasharma proceeded to Kanchi in 345 along with his guru and grandfather Veerasarma to prosecute 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 Srisailam region.) Others contend that they were from some tribal group called ‘kadamabu’ who worshipped Kadamba tree which is endemic to that region. It is said that ‘kadambu’s are mentioned in the ancient Sangam literature of Tamil and that they were totemic worshippers of Lord Subrahmanya. Sangam literature documents the fact that Kadmabas were marine pirates and that they were defeated by the Chera and Chola kings. It is argued that the dynasty might have linked itself to the Brahmin community more as a matter of prestige.

Almost all the information that we have about the early history of Kadambas is gleaned from inscriptions particularly the famous pillar inscription that was found in Talagunda. (450 A.D.) This inscription installed by Shantivarma gives abundant information about his father Kakusthavarma and his ancestors. The approximate lineage of this dynasty is as follows:


1.      Mayurasharma

2.      Kongavarma (Kongunivarma?) .

3.      Bhagiratha

4.      Raghu

5.      Kakusthavarma (Raghu’s brother)

6.      Shanthivarma

7.      Krishnavarma-1 (Shanthivarma’s brother)

8.      Mrugeshavarma

9.      Shivamandhatruvarma (Mrugesha’s brother)

10. Ravivarma (Mrugesha’s son)

11. Harivarma


Krishnavarma-1 who ruled from 430 A.D. to 460 A.D. formed a separate branch that started ruling from triparvata (?) Their lineage is documented as follows:

1.      Krishnvarma-1 .

2.      Vishnuvarma .

3.      Simhavarma

4.      Krishnavarma-2

5.      Ajavarma

6.      Bhogivarma.

This branch came back to power in Banavasi itself during the regime of Krishnavarma-2 who defeated Harivarma the last king of the original Banavasi branch.

Kadamba dynasty was liberated from its feudatory affiliation to Pallavas and became an independent kingdom during the regime of Mayuravarma. ‘guDnApura inscription’ and ‘tALagunda inscription’ throw light on these occurrences. One finds exaggerated remarks that he conquered many subsidiary kingdoms including a few in North India.

Kakushtavarma is ranked among the more famous kings of this dynasty. He extended his kingdom by defeating the Pallavas and by entering in to marital relationships with the guptas, vAkATakas, ALupas and gangas. Mrugeshavarma extended the kingdom even further and ‘halasi’ in Khanapaura talluk, Belgaum district became the second capital. Ravivarma was the next important king and he defeated the king of kAnchi and Ucchangidurga in Bellary district became yet another capital city. Krishnavarma-1 and krishnavarma-2 belonging to the Triparvata branch fought many a war and and controlled vast reaches of land. Gradually, Kadambas lost their identity against the mighty insurge of the Chalukya dynasty.

Kadambas followed the Vedic religion quite scrupulously and the caste system was iron clad. However there are many evidences to prove that they supported other religions such as Jainism and Buddhism. Education was regarded highly and places such as tALagunda were great centres of learning.

Administration was properly streamlined and the state was sub divided in to smaller units such as viSaya, rAStra and nADu. Inscriptions mention many officials such as mahattara, rAJapuruSa, grAmabOgika, viSayapati, manevergaDe, tantrapAla etc. Many taxes were levied and agriculture was the main profession. However there are evidences of trade and trans-oceanic business relations. Quite a few towns such as banavAsi, ucchangidurga, tALagunda and halasi came up during this period.

Even though references are found to some temples built during the reign of Kadambas, none of them have survived the ravages of time. Hence it is not possible to make any speculations about Kadamba architecture. “The earliest monument of the Kadamba period, according to Dr. G. M. Moraes, is the Jaina Basadi at Halsi, which is said to have been built by Mrigesavarma. It is a simple structure which consists of a Garbhagriha and an Antarala, but not a Mukhamantapa. Here again, the Antarala is wider than the Garbhagriha. The walls are clumsily raised and the granite stones are roughly hewn.” (Artikaje Krishnabhat) A temple of durgA found in jambEhaLLi in Soraba talluk was allegedly built during the reign of Ravivarma. The temple is gone but the idol has survived. 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.

Many inscriptions belonging to this period are copper plates. They are found in various places of Karnataka such as Shivamogga, kaDUru, hAsana and Mysore . Most of them use the Sanskrit language and the Brahmi script.

Stone inscriptions installed during the regime of the Kadambas are very important. Chandravalli, Malavalli, Talagunda, Banavasi, Gudnapura, and Halmidi have housed very important inscriptions. Halmidi is the oldest Kannada inscription. TALagunda inscription is the oldest Sanskrit inscription of Karnataka. We do not have concrete evidence to prove conclusively that any coin found in Karnataka was minted during the regime of the Kadambas.

Kadamba dynasty originating from Banavasi found its extensions in other parts of Karnataka and out side and those branches are dealt with separately.



Further Readings and Links:

1.      George M. Moraes (1931), The Kadamba Kula, A History of Ancient and Medieval Karnataka, Asian Educational Services, New Delhi, Madras, 1990

2.      "Kadambas of Banavasi, Dr. Jyotsna Kamat". © 1996-2006 Kamat's Potpourri. http://www.kamat.com/kalranga/deccan/kadamba.htm. Retrieved on 2006-11-28. 

3.      "History of Karnataka - Kadambas of Banavasi, Arthikaje". © 1998-00 OurKarnataka.Com,

4.      ‘Kadambas, their history and culture: Seminar Papers’ edited by Balakrishnan Raja Gopal, N.S. Taranatha, 1996, Pub. Directorate of Archaeology and Museums, Mysore.


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