Alupa dynasty

Alupa Kingdom

The Alupa, Aluva or Alva (4th to 15th centuries) were a minor dynasty who ruled parts of what is now coastal Karnataka, India. They ruled independently the Alvakheda region in the beginning (200 BCE to 450 CE). Later with the dominance of Kadambas from Banavasi, they became feudatory to them. With the changing political scenario, soon they became the vassals of the Chalukyas, Rashtrakutas, Hoysalas and Vijayanagara Rayas. Their influence over coastal Karnataka lasted for about 1000 years.There is evidence that the Alupas followed the law of matrilineal inheritance(Aliyasantana) since the Alupa king Soyideva was succeeded by his nephew Kulasekhara Bankideva(Son of Alupa princess Krishnayitayi and Hoysala Veera Ballala III).The legendary king who is credited with introducing matrilineality in Tulu Nadu is named Bhuta Alupa Pandya The name Alva survives as a surname even today among Bunt landlords who are Matrilineal [1] The last Alupa king to have ruled is Kulasekharadeva Alupendradeva whose inscription dated 1444 CE have been found in Mudabidri


The origin of Alupas prior to the Kadambas is unclear as there are no epigraphical evidences. The rule of other Chutu dynasty was restricted only to Banavasi (whole of Uttara Kannada), and the rule of Sadakanas were confined to Chandravalli region (around 30 km radius). The region of North Karnataka was more under so-called Elephant, Lion, Horse and Bull Maharatis. Again, later Shatavahana branch and Later Kuras moved southward to establish only in Banavasi. The region of Dakshina Kannada (modern Udupi and Mangalore district) was free from any such an external influence and appears to have been under the strict control of Alupa kings in the ancient times.

In south India Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu), only three of the local dynasties are known to the history, namely the Sangam-age Cholas, Cheras and the Pandyas. Alupas migrated to the coastal region of Mangalore and took control of the coastal land stretching from Southern Kasaragod till modern Udupi with Mangalore as the epicenter. The region of South Canara (Dakshnina Kannada) prior to this dynastic rule is still tagged to the same ruling house though the ruling was more informal and in the evolving stage.

The rule over Uttara Kannada region, with Banavasi as its capital was by Chutu clan followed by the Shatavahana branch which governed for Siri, Siva, Pulumavi and Yajna Satakarnis, prior to the Kadambas. With the Kadambas rule from Banavasi, Karnataka saw developments in the field of art and culture. Land of Karnataka saw more and more epigraphs that recorded the activities of the past, mostly erected in the temple premises. The first clear mention of Alupas comes from the Halmidi inscription of 450 CE where their possible early ruler Pashupathi of Alapa (Alupa) gana is mentioned. Pashupathi was the contemporary of the Kadambas. Hence for historical record, we can safely assume that the dynastic formation of Alupas took place around 5th century CE. Their royal emblem was the double fish and they claimed to belong to the Pandyavamsha and Soma Kula (lunar).[2] Their coins carried the dynastic title "Sri Pandya Dhananjaya" which means "Arjuna among the Pandyas".


Although Alupas controlled part of Uttara Kannada and Shimoga of Karnataka and northern part of Kerala during the zenith, the core region consisted of the modern Tulunadu which comprises Mangalore and Udupi district (earlier it used to be a single district Dakshina Kannada, also known as South Canara. In the ancient times, the region was referred as Alvakheda and during the later part of the reign, the region was referred as Tulunadu. The term Tulunadu is still practised today while referring to the region.

1. Alvakheda

The term Alvakheda could be seen in several of ancient inscriptions of the Alupas. The region of Alvakheda encompassed the modern Tulunadu and part of Uttara Kannada up to Ankola on the coastal north and Banavasi on the interior west of Uttara Kannada District. Also, the region of Humcha in the Shimoga district, and the land of Kasaragod in Kerala up to the Payasvini river was the boundary in the south. The term Alvakheda is not seen in the inscriptions during the Vijayanagara period, when the region of Barakuru and Mangalore were two separate provinces under the administration of Governors who started controlling the territory without interfering in the autonomy of the Alupas.

2. Tulunadu

The region stretches from Mangalore in the south all the way to Baindoor in the north. On the west is the Arabian sea and on the east is the Western Ghat that fences the land like a fort that formed a heaven for the ruler. More than it, number of rivers that criss crossed near Mangalore, Udyavara and Barkur made this land fertile. The western ghats, the thick forests and the towns along the shoreline of Arabian sea established several sea ports for trade with the Romans and Arabs. Trade routes from with the Romans were well established as early as the 2nd century CE and with the Arabs around 7th century CE. The Netravati in Mangalore and Seethanadi in Barakur are the main rivers that run in the capital cities of Alupas. Other rivers such as Suvarnanadi, Shambhavi in Karkala and Mulki, Gurupura river, Pavanje, Nandini and numerous streams all running from east to west. The region of Puttur, Sullia, Belthangady and Puttur, Karkala are the Malnad region and supported as an agricultural backbones of the kingdom and the region of Mangalore, Udupi and Kundapur are the coastal regions that supported more of marine activities though agriculture is the other occupation.

Political history

The history of clan emerges from obscurity during the rise of Badami Chalukya in the Aihole and Mahakuta inscriptions which claims the Alupas had accepted Chalukya overlordship and become their feudatory. They ruled initially from Mangalore and other times from Udyavara in Udupi and later Barkur. Their first regular full length inscription is the Vaddarase inscription in Kannada is dated to early 7th century. They maintained marital relations with their overlords over the centuries.

Alupas rule confined to the modern districts of Udupi, Mangalore and parts of Shimoga and Uttara Kannada districts in the state of Karanataka and part of northern Kerala (Kasaragod district) up to Payashvini river. In the history of India, no other single dynasty has ever ruled for over thousands years. The record that breaks this exception goes to the Alupas who ruled their territory for nearly thousand years. Alupas though originated as a ruler to the coastal region of Karnataka around beginning of the Christian era, it is only around the 5th century they made their debut as a dynasty as witnessed in the epigraph of Halmidi. The last ruler's name that we see in the epigraph of Venupura (Moodubidre), belong to the 14th century CE. There are over two hundred stone epigraphs left behind this dynasty and only about one hundred and twenty epigraphs have been read and deciphered so far. The finest record of the early Kannada script is seen in the 7th-century CE copper plate of Belmannu. There is yet another set of five copper plates that surfaced in the beginning of 2007, but no information is known about the ruler, provenance within the district of Udupi or its content.

Alupas put coins into circulation in 8th century CE and continued the tradition till 14th century CE. Their coins carried the dynastic emblem of "Two fishes over a spread Lotus flower, below a royal umbrella". Nearly 180 unique coins have been known so far, of which around 175 coins are published in the book written by Prabhu and Pai. The detailed history, with a proper reference pointers are also seen in the same book.


All their inscriptions are in Kannada and Sanskrit. The earliest known copper plate inscription in Kannada language is attributed to Aluvarasa II, called the Belamannu plates and is dated the early 8th century, according to Dr. Gururaj Bhat. This full-length Kannada copper plates in Old Kannada script (early 8th century CE) belongs to the Alupa King Aluvarasa II from Belmannu, Karkala Taluk, Udupi District, and displays the double crested fish, the royal emblem of Alupa kings. The records also refers king with the title Alupendra.

The first known epigraph that talks about the possession of Banavasi Mandala (Banavasi kingdom of Uttara Kannada District) by the Alupas, belongs to the reign of Western Chalukya king Vinayaditya.[4] Te epigraph comes from Jambani of Sagar Taluk, discovered by Dr Gururaj Bhat, mentions about Chitravahana Alupendra in possession of Kadamba mandala. This is in fact the first stone epigraph that points the ruler as a subordinate to Western Chalukya King (8th century CE).


Art and architecture

The Alupas built some fine temples in their area of rule. The Panchalingeshwara temple at Barkur, Brahmalingeshwara temple at Brahamavar, Koteshwara temple at Kotinatha and the Sadashiva temple at Suratkal are attributed to them. They used sculptural styles from their various overlords over the centuries.

1. Sri Rajarajeshwari Temple, Polali

In modern Mangalore District, Polali is one of the oldest temple that has the earliest inscription of the Alupa dynasty, written in 8th-century Kannada. The temple is dedicated to Sri Rajarashewari, and Alupa kings enriched this temple during throughout their rule. For more details on Rajarajeswari temple.

2. Sri Manjunatheshwara Temple, Kadri

In modern Mangalore district, Kadri has the other important and old temple that belonged to the era of Alupas. The temple has several finest bronze statues installed by the King Kundavarma, which bears inscriptions of him dated 968 CE. In the inscription of Lokeshwara statue, king Kundavarma is compared to Arjuna in bravery. For more details on the temple and its history.

3. Sri Mahishamardini Temple, Neelavara

In times, Alupas changed their capital from Mangalore to Udyavara, Udyavara to Mangalore and then again to Barkur depending on the political situation and demand. To be in centre to their ruling place, they even shifted their capital to Barakur from where they could look after the vast territory which spread up to Ankola in the North Kanara (Uttara Kannada District). During this period, they patronaged several temples in the surrounding areas of Barakuru (which was their captiral). Neelavara Kshetra is one such a holy place where Mahishasuramardini temple has several Alupa inscriptions of later period.

4. Sri Panchalingeshwara Temple, Vittla

This temple is one of the oldest temple of Alupa territory, built during 7th century CE. The architecture of the temple is in line with that of Sri Ananteshwara temple which is the oldest temple built by the Alupas. The architecture is unique and is an innovation of 7th century. The Brahmins of Sivahalli of Uttara Kannada were attracted during 7th century CE by the Alupas and were given Agraharas for imparting Vedic knowledge to the people of Alvakheda. The Alupas built many temples and allowed these Brahmins to take care of it. The legend says that there were hundreds of temples that every day there is a festival in one or other temple of the region. The temple of Vittla Panchalingeshwara is one of the oldest structure which was renovated by the later local dynasties such as Heggades. The latest renovation is being held now, which in fact is a pity to the world of history, which would not want see antiquity to be destroyed to replace with new structure.

5. Sri Anantheshwara Temple, Udupi

Diagonally opposite to the main entrance of the Sri Krishna Mutt, and adjacent to the Chandramouleeshwara Temple, stands one of the oldest Alupa temple namely Sri Anantheswara Temple. A old belief is that lighting a lamp at the ancient Anantheshwara Temple takes away evil and sins. It is one of the biggest temple in Udupi. The main idol is Linga, whose adornment makes it to look like a Face of Lord Siva. From a small window on the left, the site where Madhvacharya disappeared is seen. An aerial view from wikimapia shows the Elephant-Back architecture of this temple.

Both Sri Vittla Panchalingeshwara and Sri Udupi Anantheshwara Temple have Elephant-back type curvilinear structure. Another temple of similar architecture is also seen in Aihole Durga temple, appears to be a structure of 7th century CE. So, tagging it to any architectural style is ruled out unless more detailed study or research is done on this topic. The unique noteworthy feature of the architecture of South Canara temples is their roof. Being in a landscape of high rainfall, the temple roofs evolved from grass, clay tiles and eventually with the copper-plates.