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The Genealogy of the Pallavas: From Brahmins to Kings

Issue: Vol 5 No. 1/5.2 (2011) Genealogy and History in South Asia

Journal: Religions of South Asia

Subject Areas: Religious Studies Buddhist Studies Islamic Studies

DOI: 10.1558/rosa.v5i1/2.339


In their epigraphical genealogies the Pallavas of South India (fourth to ninth centuries CE) claim to belong to a brahmin lineage that gradually embraced the duty of kings. As such, these genealogies present a definition of kingship that differs from its Brahmanical conceptualization. I show how the Pallavas accounted in their ‘mythical genealogies’ for their royal occupation through a transformation in two steps: from pure brahmins to brahmin-warriors, and from brahmin-warriors to kings. I explain how the birth of the eponymous hero Pallava, from Aśvatthāman and a mother who has a strong link with royalty, marks the shift towards kingship. I describe how this royal status of the dynasty is confirmed by the integration of royal figures from other dynasties into the ‘pseudo-historical genealogies’ that link the eponym to the historical kings. I then explore the mythical patrimony of the Pallavas, discussing how we might understand in a broader context the ideological purport of this royal claim to both brahmin and kṣatriya descent.

Author: Emmanuel Francis

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