WITHOUT DOUBT, THE RASHTRAKUTA EMPIRE has few rivals in terms of grandeur, sprawl, influence and endurance. Its legacy survives till date in the surname Rathore (or Rathod). At its peak, its rule encompassed nearly fifty percent of Bharatavarsha’s landmass and its profuse contributions to Sanatana culture deserve a more comprehensive retelling. We wouldn’t have the magnificent Ellora Kailasanatha Temple without the Rashtrakutas nor would the Kannada language get its seminal Kavirajamarga. The Jaina Sampradaya would be infinitely poorer but for Rashtrakuta patronage. The newly ascendant Islamic barbarians from Arabia trembled at the mention of the Rashtrakutas, counting them among the world’s four greatest empires.
Our story begins at the fag end of this fabulous empire, in fact, in the very year its last king lapsed into permanent slumber inside the blanket of time. Circa 982.
His name is Indraraja IV or Indra IV. In Kannada inscriptions, he is known by rather charming and evocative titles:
1. Ratta-Kandarpa-Deva: the Rashtrakuta akin to Manmatha, the God of Love
2. Kirtinarayana: In his fame, he equalled Narayana or Vishnu
3. Chaladankakara: Possessed of grit-filled valour in fighting wars
4. Rajamartanda: The Emperor akin to the Sun
Items #3 and 4 were generic titles applied to most kings in the Kannada country.
These apart, Indra IV had earned a separate distinction by the sheer dint of a special prowess which is the subject of our story. He was known as Elevabedanga (ಎಳೆವಬೆಡಂಗ). This literally translates to proficient in pulling.
An inscription dated 982 CE discovered on a pillar in front of the Gandhavāraṇa Basadi at Chikkabetta in Shravanabelagola narrates the full story.
In the midst of this jungle of mundane human existence does the carpenter Yama select upright, round trees in the shape of men and cut them down. The son’s son of the illustrious Krishnarajendra [Krishna III], possessor of the ornaments of both truth and purity, the daughter’s son of Ganga-Gangeya [the Talakadu Ganga feudatory, Marasimha II], a pleasure-house of the goddess of Victory, the son-in-law of Rajachudamani.
It gives great glory to say this! Being happily praised by everyone on this earth, Ratta-Kandarpadeva obtained great renown. The sharp, fierce sword in his hand was a terror to hostile kings, his mere intent to destroy them was the greatness of his valour, and the might of his arm was the fire of their destruction.
Some can fight but cannot bestow gifts while others can bestow gifts but cannot fight. In Ratta-Kandarpadeva, the Rajamartanda, both courageous valour and great generosity are combined. Who even has the capacity to describe the exaltation of his valour and magnanimity? Oh! And how do we even describe his resolve? It was all-encompassing: his resolve to become the abode of undying fame, resolve to bestow wealth on seekers, resolve to not utter a lie, resolve to not desire another man’s wife, resolve to give shelter to those who seek protection, resolve to chase and smash the enemy’s army unassisted and alone. Words fail us to praise this Chaladankakara any further. His liberality is more prolific than the Kalpavruksha itself, his word is firmer than the divine Mount Meru, his valour is fiercer than the Sun’s glare. I am not flattering but speak the simple truth.
Ratta-Kandarpadeva is the Vira among the Viras—the hero among heroes.
He vigorously engages himself in war games every day as he believes that it is the abode to fortune, victory, learning, generosity, valour, fame and greatness. On this whole earth, this Indraraja alone is capable of making an astonishing variety of movements such as sukara [easy or simple], dushkara [difficult or complex], vishama [odd number or uneven] and vishama-dushkara [complex and uneven], in all the four directions: that is, inside, outside, to the left and right. He darts and moves and spins around at a ferocious pace dazzling the eyes of the onlookers. When these movements are made in the four directions, they total up to 338. For this expertise, he has earned the high title of Elevabedanga (a Marvel or an Expert at pulling and dragging). When he makes these movements at such astounding velocity moving in, moving out, pulling and pushing to the left and right, there is great beauty and artistry in the way his body moves. With each move, he unfailingly completes the circuit. He makes these movements both on foot and on horse. The size of the weapon is immaterial: Ratta-Kandarpa is adept at using thirty-two weapons.
For his daily practice, sometimes uses a ball the size of a black pepper seed, or he uses a stick that is shorter than the breadth of four fingers, or he uses a heavy sword; sometimes his horse maybe small or the size of a mountain; sometimes the circuit maybe a small field or larger than the circle of the earth; Indraraja will not be satisfied unless he makes these movements for eight or ten rounds.
Needless, this inscription makes for a brilliant cultural study by itself. However, purely in the context of this essay, we can consider the latter portion of the inscription. In contemporary terms, it describes what is known as the workout routine of Indra IV. Neither was he alone in this. From boyhood onwards, every Hindu king unfailingly underwent such gruelling physical exertion every single day as long as he lived. They were, to put it mildly, well-oiled fighting machines.
In general, two kinds of fighting were known to the people of the Kannada country: the defence called the ola-sadhaka, and attack, known as hora-sadhaka. In order to fully appreciate the aforementioned stunning movements that Indra IV performed, some illustrations are necessary.
Several other Vyuhas or battle-formations or arrays were employed by Hindu kings since time immemorial. Indeed, our national epic Mahabharata gives us an impressive list of these Vyuhas.
The foregoing illustrations are provided as rough samples to help us to more clearly visualize the extraordinariness of Ratta-Kandarpadeva’s prowess.
The ola-sadhaka warfare included delivering nine lethal cuts each at the left and right side, moving and spinning and pulling and thrusting at lightning speed. The total number of cuts is eighteen.
Similar moves were performed during an offensive attack or hora-sadhaka.
To make this scene more vivid, let’s consider the Chakravyuha, arguably the most complex battle-formation. In an offensive against the Chakravyuha, it can be attacked at five points: i.e., in the four directions plus from above (i.e., by leaping up in the air and delivering cuts, etc).
Thus, when we refer back to the inscription, this is what we get: the five cuts or attacks made with thirty-two different kinds of weapons takes the number to 160. When we multiply it by two—for left and right sides, the number stands at 320. Our inscription gives the number as 338: the additional moves can be factored in for variations in the actual style or variety of cuts. Which is precisely what Ratta-Kandarpadeva does:
The inscription also mentions how “Elevabedanga alone in the world knows how to make with ease such difficult and astonishing movements in Vyuhas such as mandala-maale [garland of the circular array], tri-mandala [three circular arrays], yamaka-mandala [two circular arrays], ardha-chandra [half-moon formation], sarvatobhadra [heavy deployment of forces on all sides, a defensive formation.], and Chakravyuha.”
The Rashtrakuta Empire disappeared with the death of Indra IV who is believed to have performed Sallekhana after ruling for just nine years. According to scholars and epigraphists, the inscription mentioned in this essay is akin to his epitaph, written with a passionate feeling of reverence to a wise, noble, and magnanimous king.
It is also a keyhole and a profound miniature to understand both the cultural and human nuances of Hindu Empires and emperors. The real history of India reveals itself to us through such portraits. Arid “scientific” historians give us little material by way of understanding the values of this land and its people. Interpretative perverts disguised as historians plant confusion in our minds, dismiss values as sentimentality and even worse, negate such episodes.
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