Tuesday 1 January 2013

The Jala Samadhi of a King

It was 1067 AD and south India was repeatedly seeing a conflict between the Chalukyas of Karnataka and the Cholas of Tamil Nadu.
The Chalukya Emperor Someshwara (1043-1069), the first, had repeatedly stood as a bulwark against the Cholas. Someshwara had not only managed to guard his territories of Karnataka well but he had victories against his other enemies. In 1051, he had invaded Malwa and overrun the Paramara kingdom and its capital Dhara.
 Someshwara had shifted the capital of the Kalyan Chalukyas from from Manyakheta (present day Malkhed ) to Kalyani (Kalpana or Basavakalyan in Bidar district).
He had developed Kalyan into a magnificent city. He had repeatedly taken on Rajendra Chola, his son Rajadhiraja Chola and his brother Veerarajendra.
Someshwara, unfortunately, is one of the most underrated emperors of Karnataka. The Tamil and Chola texts are uncharitable to him and the Kannada texts have not done full justice.
What is undeniable is that Someshwara was a warrior without any fear and this is borne out by the many times he faced the Cholas. Whether he lost or won is not the criteria. What matters is that he prevented the Cholas from subjugating the entire south India.
The Cholas were frustuated by the stand of Someshwara. They had tried to overrun the Chalukyas seven times but had failed.
The Chalukyas were not Someshwara’s only enemies. The Paramars of Dhara and the Chalukyas of Gujarat were also at war with him. In 1054, Someshwara had invaded Malwa again and killed the Paramara Emperor, Bhoja. The same year he had killed the Chola Emperor, Rajadhiraja at the battle of Koppara (Raichur).          
 Unfortunately, historians and even Chola texts of the period mistake Someshwara the first with his son the second Someshwara. Infact, one of the Chola texts goes on to belittle this Emperor and calls him names.
The reason is as follows. In 1059, Someshwara sent an invitation to the Chola Emperor, Rajendra Chola the second, for a battle at Kudala Sangama on River Krishna. Remember that parts of Raichur and Gulbarga district then were under the Cholas.
Someshwara, in his invitation, also specified the date and time of the battle. Instead of viewing this as an act of a brave emperor, the Tamil and Chola texts belittle this act. What I fail to understand is how this noble act could be seen in any other light. 
Someshwara had chosen Kudala Sangamam as the place of the battle. He wanted to take revenge for the earlier loss he had suffered at the hands of the cholas.
When the Cholas received the message, Virarajendra-the brother of  the ruling Chola Emperor- immediately set out for the battle and camped near Kandai for the Chalukyan army to arrive. The exact date set for the battle, according to Virarajendra’s inscription found at Manimangalam, was Monday, 10 September 1067 AD
The Chola army waited for more than a month but the  expected battle never took place. The Cholas wrongly believed that Someshwara had no stomach to face them. They then devastated the surrounding countryside, erected a pillar of victory on the banks of the Tungabhadra river and went back.
It was only later that the Cholas realised that Someshwara had committed suicide by drowning himself in the Tungabhadra. The Cholas tried to claim credit for this incident too, saying that Someshwara died because he could not face them. This is entirely false and there is no iota of  truth in this assertion.
By 1067, Someshwara had already realized that the Chalukyan torch would be further carried on not by his elder son Someshwara the second by his second son Vikramaditya. He had also realised that Vikramaditya was sufficiently intelligent to safeguard the Kannadigas. He wanted to make Vikramaditya the Emperor but the latter had turned it down, saying that Someshwara as an elder had a better claim.
Someshwara was astonished and pleased by the manner in which Vikramaditya conducted himself. It was in March 1067 that he decided to call on the Cholas for battle. Both Vikramaditya and Someshwara the second were away from the kingdom and the Chalukyas made all preparations for their regular war with the Cholas. 
A few days after Someshwara sent the invitation of war to the Cholas, he fell ill and no doctor in the kingdom could cure him. Days passed into weeks and weeks into months and there was no cure in sight. The ailment was finally diagnosed as malignant fever.
One of  Someshwara’s literary giants, Bilahana, has written a poignant account of the suicide. Bhilana was a poet and author. His  Sanskrit work Vikramanka Deva Charitam gives us an account of the suicide.
The book says Someshwara was suffering untold miseries and that his body felt as hot as coal. There was no respite from the raging fever and even the sandal paste applied on his body and medicated oil was of no avail.
Someshwara then decided to end his life instead of waiting for Death. He thought that the best option was to die in the Tungabhadra.
He then decide to enter Jala Samadhi at Kuravatti, a small village. Accompanied by his wives, children, ministers, army and others he reached Kuravetti, now in Bellary district. By then news of the Emperors; decision had spread far and wide and thousands of people assembled at the spot.
On the morning of the Jala Samadhi, Someshara took bath, performed his morning rituals, including pooja and seated in the royal palanquin, made his way to the river side.
He removed his royal robes and wore only the barest minimum to cover his modesty. The Brahmins, who had assembled n large numbers, began chanting mantas and wrapped Shalya or clothe around his stomach.
Several ministers and relatives of Someshwara then gently escorted the Emperor into the waters of the Tungabhadra. Someshwara waved them aside and  stood in the waters distributing wealth to the poor and needy, scholars and also to the Brahmins.
After some time, Someshwara bid adieu to the people and his Queens. He then began going deeper and deeper into the Tungabhadra. With each step he took towards death, the eyes of the onlookers filled with tears.
 All the while, Someshwara was praying to God. He began moving into the deeper waters. When water reached the neck of Someshwara,  he stopped and turned back to look at his Queens and subjects.
He then began the ritual of Surya Namaskara-prayer to the Sun. He then closed his eyes and began praying for Moksha. For one last time, he opened his eyes and looked on the thousands of people who stood watching him aghast. He folded his hands towards them and slowly walked into the deeper waters.
The flowing waters of the Tungabhadra soon covered him and he was lost forever. The news soon reached his second son Vikramaditya who reacted with pain and anguish. By the way, Someshwara the second was crowned the Chalukya Emperor.
As far as the Cholas were concerned, they knew nothing of what  had happened. They erroneously assumed that Someshwara was scared to wage war and claimed victory in a war that never occurred, installed a pillar of victory, destroyed the countryside and left.
When the news of Someshwara’s suicide reached the Cholas, they were uncharitable to the Chalukya even in death. They said it was due to them that Someshwara had died. This is a fallacy as the above accounts prove that Someshwara was not a coward by a brave person who stood as a bulwark against Chola expansion. It is perhaps the frustration of not being able to conquer the entire south that made Cholas and Tamils uncharitable towards Someshwara and the Chalukyas.
(I have based this article after going through Chalukyan accounts, inscriptions and texts. I have also referred to the work of Bhilana and even some Chola records.)

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