Pallav Mahasabha: The origin of Gamvkari?



District Manual of North Arcot by Cox provides some further information on Camanda Curumba Prabhu, though it may be more by way of inferences. Cox writes: “The earliest important settlers in Dravida appear to have been the Kurumbas, … they are said at first to have had no ruler, but dissensions among themselves led them to choose a chief named Komandu Kurumba Prabhu, the first king of a dynasty known as that of the Pallavas. Traditions state that a very considerable sea-trade was carried on by them with foreign countries, and this is confirmed by the discovery along the sea coast of Pallava coins, together with those of ancient Rome and China.”

Cox categorically calls Komandu Kurumba Prabhu the first king of the Pallav dynasty, thus establishing a firm relationship between the kurumbar and the Pallav. But as for the first king in the Pallav dynasty the history books mention a different name. Aiyangar & Sastri give it as Sihavamma, followed by Sivaskandavarman. [Aiyangar & Sastri, 1960: The Pallavas in Majumdar: A Comprehensive History Of India, 315]

Gopalan gives it as Bappa Dev, followed by Sivaskandavarman. [Gopalan, 1928: History of The Pallavas of Kanchi, 33]

We do not know if Sihavamma and Bappa Deva are the same person. Who was Komandu Kurumba Prabhu then? He could be the mythical founder of the Pallav dynasty who unified the kurumbar to take on the Cholas.

Pallav as a ruling dynasty and their trading empire stretching to South East Asia and China on one side and Rome on the other, does not seem to sit well with the kurumbar as the ‘first settlers’ of the Deccan. Therefore, we need to set the dichotomy in proper perspective. We do not have any direct evidence for what we are going to say and it is not possible to say anything with certainty; so we formulate a hypothesis on the basis of circumstantial evidence and preponderance of probability. On the basis of possibilities analysed up to now, it is reasonable to suppose that the vedar were the most direct descendants of the Anatomically Modern Humans (AMH) that came to inhabit the Indian peninsula around 40,000 BCE. We suppose that this inhabitation covered the entire peninsula, and extended into the Indo-Gangetic plain to the north of the Vindhya. We do not know up to when this situation lasted. But we know that it was so at least till about 8,000 BCE, when a people of Near-Eastern / Iranian descent migrated into the Indian subcontinent from its north-western corner. We have called these the ksatriya. [Khos Aumedid Ksatriya, May 26, 2019]

Later, around 6,000 BCE, another people of South East Asian and Chinese descent migrated into the Indian subcontinent from its north-eastern corner; that we have called the kirat. [Huanying Kirat, June, 2 2019]

We do not know to what extent the kirat penetrated the peninsular India; but the kirat ancestry is not very obvious in the peninsula. But the evidence for the ksatriya ancestry is strong. The incoming ksatriya seem to have interbred with the vedar, giving rise to the kurumbar, or what we have called the kur people. [The Formation of Kumlbi and Deccan Ksatriya, April 5, 2020]

The vedar are today almost totally absent from the upper part of the peninsula, which is the Deccan or Brhatkomkan. The kurumbar seem to have pushed them and their descendants southwards over the next few millennia. By the descendants of vedar we mean the tamil. [Camanda Curumba Prabhu, September 13, 2020]

We do not however know whether the tamil carry any other ancestry, other than the vedar. The kurumbar – tamil conflict we see in the Pallav story (the wresting of Kanchi by the Pallav from the Chola) at the beginning of the Common Era seems to be the culmination of the ksatriya expedition into the peninsula; this expedition seems to have been more genetic rather than military. Kurumbar may not really be the ‘first settlers’ of the Deccan; but given the fact that they carry only a small percentage of the ksatriya ancestry, only on the maternal side, they might as well be considered to be so. [The Formation of Kumlbi and Deccan Ksatriya, April 5, 2020]

During the long period of several millennia – from 8,000 BCE to about the last centuries before the Common Era, the kurumbar seem to have evolved from hunter-gatherers to farmer-herders to institution builders, to navigator-traders to overseas empire builders. We shall deal with their navigation – trading – overseas empire building role separately; for the moment let us get one step back to visualise their institution building role. Could the kurumbar be the progenitors of gamvkari? In his second The Sankara-Parvati Lecture, 1944, Sathyanathayer discusses the mahasabha, ‘the rural self-governing institutions’ under the later Pallavas and the Cholas, based on the Pallav and Chola inscriptions of eight to the 13th century CE. [Sathyanathayer, 1944: Studies In The Ancient History Of Tondamandalam, 27]

Unfortunately Sathyanathayer discusses more the geographical extent and distribution of the mahasabha institutions in Chingleput, North Arcot, Chittoor, South Arcot, Tanjore and Trichinopoly, in Tondaimandalam and Cholamandalam territories; and almost nothing about their structure, character and functioning. Note the two territories: Tondaimandalam and Cholamandalam; they practically read ‘the territory of tonda (Pallav)’ and ‘the territory of Chola’; ‘Pallav’ in kurumbar language is tondai in Tamil.

But a few of the points that Sathyanathayer tries to establish are significant. Based on the numerical predominance and precedence in time he asserts that the mahasabha originated in Tondaimandalam early in the eight century CE. [Sathyanathayer, 1944: 34]

Cholamandalam could have been previously a part of the Pallav territory, and basically inhabited by kurumbar even after being conquered by the Chola. Even Tondaimandalam may be a name given later by the Chola; they called it so to mean that it was the territory of the Pallav, the ‘tondai’ in Tamil.

‘Why did the mahasabha originate in Tondaimandalam?’ asks Sathyanathayer, and opines that ‘this institution can be connected directly neither with the Tamil institutions of the Sangam Age nor with the Northern Indian institutions of the Maurya and Gupta periods’. But he is unable to move any further, for he strains to find its roots in the Sanskrt texts. [Sathyanathayer, 1944: 35]

But the very fact that mahasabha originated in Tondaimandalam, the Pallav heartland, strongly suggests its close connection to the kurumbar.