Karnataka has an enthralling history. This state lying in the southern part of India has been under the rule of several dynasties that have shaped its history. It has been invaded by a number of rulers at different points of time in history. Due to the influence of various rulers and dynasties Karnataka became enriched with their distinctive culture and values.
In the ancient times Karnataka was known as Karunadu which means elevated land or high plateau. The history of Karnataka can be traced back to the prehistoric days.
Pre-history of Karnataka in brief
The pre-historic culture of Karnataka was very different from that of the northern part of India. During the pre-historic times the hand-axe culture was prevalent in Karnataka. This culture was similar to the pre-historic culture of Africa. The use of iron was known to the inhabitants of Karnataka even before 1200 B.C. This was far earlier than the time when the inhabitants of North India came to know about the use of iron.
Early history of Karnataka
The early rulers of Karnataka were from the northern parts of the country. During the 4th and 3rd century BCE parts of Karnataka was under the rule of the Maurya and Nanda Empire of North India. After the fall of the Mauryan Empire the Satavahana dynasty came to power in Karnataka around 3 BCE. They ruled over extensive parts of Northern Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra. Prakrit was their administrative language. Both Kannada and Telugu were found and evolved during their rule. The Satavahana dynasty ruled over Karnataka for almost 300 years.
The weakening of the Satavahana dynasty resulted in the Pallavas of Kanchi becoming the political power in Karnataka for a brief period of time. The domination of the Pallavas was brought to an end by indigenous dynasties, the Kadambas of Banavasi and the Gangas of Kolar. The ascent of the Kadamba dynasty and the Western Ganga Dynasty marked the starting point of Karnataka becoming an independent political entity.
Medieval History of Karnataka
Karnataka has been witness to the rise and fall of many dynasties and empires.
Kadamba Dynasty (325 AD–540 AD)
The Kadambas are regarded as the earliest royal dynasty of Karnataka. The dynasty was founded by Mayurasharma. This dynasty ruled over North Karnataka and the Konkan from Banavasi. The Kadambas were the first rulers to use Kannada language at the administrative level. They also minted gold coins and contributed to the architectural heritage of Karnataka.
The Kadambas ruled Karnataka for more than 200 years before Chalukyas overtook their empire. But some minor branches of the Kadamba dynasty continued to rule Hanagal, Goa and some other regions till 14th century.
Western Ganga Dynasty (325 AD–999 AD)
The Ganga Dynasty initially ruled from Kolar and later moved their capital to Talakad. This dynasty is referred to as Western Ganga to distinguish them from The Eastern Ganga dynasty that in later centuries dominated over Kalinga (present day Odisha). Their reign extended over Southern Karnataka, parts of Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. They laid a strong foundation for the development of Kannada literature.
The Gangas constructed several monuments. The Gomateshwara statue in Shravanabelagola, constructed around 983 AD, is the tallest monolith statue in the world and is considered to be the most famous Ganga architecture.
The Ganga dynasty ruled for about 700 years and were a sovereign power till the advent of the Badami Chalukyas. They continued to rule under the Badami Chalukyas and the Rastrakutas till the end of the 10th century.
Badami Chalukya Dynasty (500 AD-757 AD)
The Chalukya dynasty was founded by Pulakeshin. The earliest dynasty was known as Badami Chalukyas and they ruled from Vatapi (present day Badami). The Chalukyas of Badami were instrumental in bringing the whole of Karnataka under a single rule. They contributed heavily in the fields of art and architecture.
The Badami Chalukyas were responsible for changing the political atmosphere in South India, shifting from small kingdoms to large empires. The Chalukyas ruled over most of Karnataka and Maharashtra and parts of Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha and Gujarat. The rise of the Rashtrakutas eclipsed the reign of the Badami Chalukyas.
Rastrakuta Dynasty (757 AD–973 AD)
The Rastrakuta dynasty was founded by Dantivarman or Dantidurga II. The Elichpur clan owed feudal allegiance to the Badami Chalukyas. During the dominion of Dantidurga, the clan toppled Chalukya Kirtivarman II and built an empire keeping the Gulbarga region in present day Karnataka as their base. This clan was later known as the Rastrakutas of Manyakheta.
According to an Arabic text, Silsilat al-Tawarikh (851), the Rastrakutas were regarded as one of the four principal empires of the world. This dynasty ruled over all of Karnataka and Maharashtra and large parts of Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. During their rule architecture flourished. The world famous Kailash Temple at Ellora was built by the Rastrakutas. The era of the Badami Chalukyas and Rastrakutas is considered as the “Age of Imperial Karnataka”.
Kalyana Chalukya Dynasty (973 AD–1198 AD)
The Chalukyas of Kalyana came to power after they overthrew the Rastrakutas in 973 AD. Their ruler, Someshwara I built his capital at Kalyana (present day Basava Kaluyana in Bidar district). The Kalyana Chalukya dynasty is also known as the Western Chalukya dynasty to differentiate them from the Eastern Chalukya dynasty of Vengi. This dynasty ruled over entire Karnataka and Maharashtra and parts of Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.
During their rule literature flourished in Karnataka as the Chalukyas were patrons of art and architecture. The Mahadeva temple at Itagi (in present day Raichur district) is considered to be the finest Chalukyan monument.
The rulers of the Kalachuri dynasty overtook their empire and reigned for about 20 years but could not uphold the integrity of the empire. This led to the empire becoming weak and finally it broke up and was shared by Sevunas in the north and Hoysalas in the south.
Sevuna Dynasty (1198 AD–1312 AD)
The Sevuna dynasty established their rule when the Kalyana Chalukya dynasty’s power waned. The Sevunas were once the feudatories of the Rashtrakutas and then of the Western Chalukyas before they declared independence. The founder of the Sevuna dynasty was Dridhaprahara. This dynasty is also known as Seuna or Yadavas of Devagiri as they had their capital at Devagiri (present day Daulatabad in Maharashtra). They ruled over northern Karnataka, parts of Andhra Pradesh and most of Maharashtra.
The dynasty was immortalised in history by the writings of the celebrated mathematician Baskarasharya, the famous scholar Hemadri and the great writer on music, Sharngadeva. The rulers of this dynasty were constantly in fight with the rulers of the Hoysala dynasty. The dynasty finally fell to the sultan of Delhi, Allah-ud-din Khilji and his general Mallikaffar.
Hoysala Dynasty (1000 AD–1346 AD)
The Hoysala Empire was found by a legendary individual called Sala. He became famous for killing a tiger in order to rescue his master and thus the empire was named as Hoysala (meaning to shoot it or to hit it). The Hoysalas initially had their capital at Belur but later shifted it to Halebidu. This dynasty ruled over southern Karnataka, parts of Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.
The Hoysala era saw significant development of art, architecture and religion in South India. They became famous for their temple architecture. The world-famous Chennakesava Temple at Belur, the Hoysaleswara Temple at Halebidu, and the Kesava Temple at Somanathapura are examples of their sculptural exuberance. Even today there are more than a hundred temples scattered across Karnataka that were built by the Hoysalas. They also encouraged literature to flourish in Kannada and Sanskrit. The era saw the emergence of great Kannada poets like Rudrabhatta, Raghavanka, Harihara and Janna.
Vijayanagara Empire (1336 AD- 1565 AD)
The Vijayanagara Empire was established in 1336 by Harihara I and his brother Bukka Raya I of Sangama Dynasty. Hampi was the capital of the Vijayanagara Empire. The empire rose to prominence due to the combined efforts of the southern powers to fend off Islamic invasions by the end of the 13th century. The Vijayanagara Empire dominated over most parts of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, entire Kerala and Tamil Nadu. This empire was famous for its power and wealth.
The rulers of this empire enabled fine arts and literature to reach new heights in Kannada, Sanskrit, Tamil and Telugu. Carnatic music evolved during this era. The empire’s legacy included several astounding monuments spread across South India. Some of the best known remnants of Vijayanagara Empire’s architectural prowess can be seen at the Group of Monuments at Hampi, which is recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Stone Chariot in Hampi is a brilliant example of the Vijayanagara style of architecture. The Vijayanagara Empire’s power declined after it was defeated in the battle of Talikota in 1565 AD by the Deccan Sultanates.
Bahmani Empire (1347 AD- 1527 AD)
The Bahmani Empire (also known as Bahmanid Empire or Bahmani Sultanate) was the first independent Islamic Kingdom in South India. The Bahmani Empire was established by Turkic or Brahmin convert Ala-ud-Din Hassan Bahman Shah. It was considered to be one of the great medieval kingdoms of India. The empire’s rule extended over northern Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. The empire collapsed after the last remnant of the Bahmani Sultanate was defeated by Krishnadevaraya of the Vijayanagara Empire.
After 1518 the Bahmani Sultanate got divided into five states, namely: Nizamshahi of Ahmednagar, Qutubshahi of Golconda (Hydrabad), Baridshahi of Bidar, Imadshahi of Berar, Adilshahi of Bijapur. Together they are known as the Deccan Sultanates.
Bijapur Sultanate (1490 AD- 1686 AD)
The Adilshahi was a Shia Muslim dynasty that was founded by Yusuf Adil Shah and the dynasty ruled over the Sultanate of Bijapur. Their rule extended over Bijapur and the adjoining areas. Bijapur was a great centre of learning in that era. During the rule of Bijapur Sultanate Islamic architecture flourished in the region. The Gol Gumbaz in Bijapur is the most famous monument built during their reign. The Bijapur Sultanate was conquered by Emperor Aurangzeb and it was absorbed into the Mughal Empire in 1686 AD.
Modern history of Karnataka
The modern history of Karnataka saw the emergence of the Wodeyars of Mysore and Hyder Ali as significant political powers. Karnataka later came under the British rule before the country gained independence.
Nayakas of Keladi (1500 AD- 1763 AD)
Nayakas of Keladi (also known as Nayakas of Bednore and Kings of Ikkeri) initially ruled as a vassal of the Vijayanagar Empire. They declared independence after the decline of the empire in 1565. They ruled over Coastal and Central Karnataka and parts of northern Kerala, Malabar and the central plains along the Tungabhadra River. They were an important dynasty in the history of Karnataka. In 1763 they were defeated by Hyder Ali and were absorbed into the Kingdom of Mysore.
Wodeyars of Mysore (1399 AD- 1761 AD)
The Kingdom of Mysore was initially a vassal state of the Vijayanagara Empire. With the decline of the Vijayanagara Empire the kingdom gained independence. They shifted their capital from Mysore to Srirangapattana. By 1686 the kingdom’s reign included almost all of south India. In 1687 AD the Wodeyars bought the city of Bangalore from Mughal by paying three lakh rupees. The Wodeyar Kingdom was overtaken by Hyder Ali by 1761 AD.
Sultanate of Srirangapattana (1761 AD- 1799 AD)
Hyder Ali ruled over the Kingdom of Mysore from Srirangapattana. His son Tipu Sultan came to power after him. The Sultanate of Srirangapattana extended over most of Karnataka, parts Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerela. The Kingdom of Mysore reached their height of military power and dominion under the de facto ruler Haider Ali and his son Tipu Sultan during the latter part of the 18th century.
Tipu Sultan repelled the attack from the British many times. Finally he was defeated due to the united efforts of British, Maratha and Hyderabad Nijamas and was killed on the battle field in 1799 AD. Due to his bravery on the battle field Tipu Sultan is known as the Tiger of Mysore.
Mysore Wodeyars (1800 AD- 1831 AD)
After the death of Tipu Sultan major portions of the Mysore Kingdom were annexed by the British and Mysore was transformed into a Princely state. The Wodeyars were reinstated as the rulers of the princely state and they ruled till 1831 AD, after which the British once again took over the empire.
British takeover (1831 AD- 1881 AD)
After the British snatched control the Mysore Empire in 1831 AD, they appointed commissioners to rule on their behalf. They introduced many changes in the functioning of the empire. They divided the state between Bombay and Madras provinces, Hyderabad Nijamas and Mysore.
Mysore Wodeyars (1881 AD- 1950 AD)
In 1881 Mysore was once again handed back to the Wodeyars under the rule of Jayachamaraja Wodeyar. By that time the cry for independence from British rule had gained much momentum across the country. The rule of the Wodeyars continued till India’s independence in 1947. After independence Mysore merged with the Indian union. Thus, Mysore became an independent state in 1950.
Under the Wodeyars, Mysore became one of the modern and urbanized regions of India. The rulers of the Wodeyar dynasty encouraged fine arts, architecture, music and art.
Unification of Karnataka – 1956 AD
After India’s independence, the states were reorganised based on linguistic and other criteria. The Kannada speaking population came together to form the present day Karnataka under the name of Mysore. It was ruled by the former Maharaja of Mysore as its governor till 1975. Mysore state was renamed Karnataka in 1973.