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Karnataka: History & Culture

halebedu, Karnataka


Ibrahim Roza, Bijapur

The earliest history of Karnataka is perhaps as old as the Harappan culture. But the recorded history points to the 3rd century BC when Chandragupta Maurya spent his last years at Sravanabalagola, 96km from Mysore. His grandson Ashoka ruled over a large part of Karnataka. By first century BC, the Satavahanas succeeded the Mauryas. The Kadambas of Banavasi ruled over the modern Karnataka in 3rd century except for the South that was under Gangas. In the 4th century AD, the Gangas built the massive 17m tall statue of Lord Gomateshwara and the Jain temple at Sravanabalagola. The Chalukyas of Badami ruled Karnataka for 250 years from 550 AD. They built cave temples and evolved Chalukya style of architecture.

By the early 8th century, Rastrakutas consolidated their power over Karnataka after defeating the Chalukyas. The Rastakutas were patrons of fine arts and poetry. The Kalyan dynasty that was an offshoot of the Chalukyas overthrew the Rastrakutas in 973 AD and ruled Karnataka till the 12th century when two separate kingdoms emerged. The Northern Kingdom was that of Yadavas of Devagiri and the Southern one was that of Hoysalas of Dwarasamudra who attained fame for their magnificent structures, sculptures and temples. The frequent wars between the two weakened them enabling the Muslim rulers to defeat them in the 13th century. But before they could became real power, the Vijayanagara empire came into being in 1336 AD. It was famed for its great capital at Hampi, fabulous wealth, trade and military supremacy. Gigantic granite temples and monuments were built at Hampi. The empire stood strong for two centuries.

Asr Mahal

The Bahmani Kingdoms of Bijapur and Bidar, contemporary to Vijayanagara Empire, also added their share to cultural and architectural glory of Karnataka.They built many great structures in Islamic style. The most famous is Gol Gumbaz with its fantastic whispering gallery at Bijapur.

After the fall of Vijayanagara Empire, Karnataka was under many petty rulers. The southern half came under Wodeyar Dynasty and the north came under Marathas.

Tippu's Palace

In 1791 Hyder Ali took over power from the Wodeyars. Hyder Ali and his son Tipu Sultan are notable figures in the history of Karnataka. They expanded the Mysore kingdom and resisted the British to preserve the freedom of their land. They also built tanks, dams, palaces, and gardens in Mysore. After the fall of Tipu in 1799, the Wodeyars were reinstated to power and ruled Mysore until independence. In 1947, Mysore was acceded to Indian Union as Mysore State. In 1956 while reorganizing states, Karnataka acquired additional Kannada speaking territories from Madras, Hyderabad, and Bombay to form the present state of Karnataka with Bangalore as its capital.


The contribution of Karnataka to the composite culture of India is no way inferior to that of any other region of India. Its contribution in the fields of art, music, religion and philosophy are exemplary.


Karnataka's contribution to music is unparalleled. It developed a school of music that is called Karnatic School. Carnatic music spread all over south India and it is one of the two dominant musical styles in India.



It is one of the two ancient and rich folk theatrical forms of Karnataka, the other being puppet theatre. Earlier, it was called 'Bayalata', 'Bhagavathara Ata' or 'Dashavatara aata'. It acquired its present name because these plays were written in the form of musical dramas and that particular style of music was called Yakshagana. This historic south Indian dance drama evolved 400 years ago. This powerful spectacle, somewhat similar to Kathakali of Kerala in costumes and vigorous dancing, is a potent mix of song, dance and dialogue. The Raga melodies in which Yakshagana songs are sung, belong to an older Dravidian style of music, as most of the names of Raga's are not found in the Carnatic System of music.


'Silappadikaram', the Tamil text, refers to a dance of the Kannadigas performed in the court of Chera king Senguttavan. An inscription in Pattadakal reveals that Devadasis were engaged in 'Nritya seva' in temples. Gangas, Rashtrakuta and the later Chalukyas were patrons of Dance. Bhandary Lakshminarayana, the Natyacharya in Krishnadevaraya's court, was called 'Abhinava Bharata'. Dancers were encouraged to perform during the annual Dasara celebrations by the Vijayanagar rulers. The Mysore court also encouraged traditional dance, following the footsteps of the Vijayanagar rulers.

Botada Kunita (Dance of the Divine Cult), Nagamandala and Demon Dance are some form of rituals celebrated Dakshina Kannada coastal area.