REGIONAL IDENTITY AND BEGINNINGS OF VERNACULAR LITERATURE 11
the large clusters of inscriptions belonging to the seventh-tenth, centuries C.E. Geography and history provide an explanation.
The Rayalaseema region, comprising Kumool, Cuddapah, Anantapur, and Chittoor districts in south-western Andhra Pradesh, is characterised by the spread of low hills and an arid climate. Except in the narrow belt of the Pennar River, there is hardly any stretch of fertile land. Economically less attractive and separated by the stretches of Velikonda, Nallamalai, Erramalai, and Seshachalam Hills, this region appears to have remained comparatively isolated from the other culturally advanced regions.3 Neither archaeology nor epigraphy has so far yielded any clear evidence of advanced cultures to have flourishing consistently in this region before the sixth century C.E.4 Rather, the bits of evidence that we can gather from historical sources show that this region was an inhospitable tract. A passage in the Talangunda inscription (ca. 450 C.E.) mentions the thick jungles of ^riparvata (^risailam) (Kielhom, El 8:24ff.). The adjoining hilly tracts, now forming parts of Kumool, Prakasam, and Nellore districts, were also in a similar cultural situation. Several tribes like Chenchus, BOyas, and Yemkulas, still living in subsistence economies, are widespread in the region. There is recorded evidence for the situation in the eighth century C.E.: a Pallava general appears to have made attempts to acquire some parts of this region, which perhaps were emerging then with some better economic activity. For this he had to fight a number of BOya chieftains in the boya-kotfams, which can possibly be interpreted as tribal chieftaincies; one of those defeated by him during this operation is named Prthvivyaghra, ^Nisada (Kielhom, El 3:142).5 Even by the ninth century C.E. the situation appears to have remained unchanged. We hear in a record of ca. 850 C.E. that an Eastern Calukya general occupied twelve boya-kottams and established a provincial capital at Kandukuru (Prakasam district).6 If this was the situation even in Kandukur which is easily accessible from the forward regions of northern coastal Andhra, we can imagine that Rayalaseema had much less interaction with the advanced cultures of the day.
But Rayalaseema began to rise out of its isolation from about the sixth-seventh centuries C.E. as a result of some significant political developments in the larger South Indian scene. The rise of the Calukyas of Badami in neighboring north Kamataka and the consolidation of power by the Pallavas at Kancipuram, both engaged in bitter warfare with each other in an everlasting power struggle, made this mid-lying territory a region of strategic importance. A number of inscriptions of this period reveal that armies of both rival powers traversed this region off and on,7 and an equally appreciable number of vira^ah (hero stones)8 show that this was also the scene of conflict often, and that the local population had an active participation in these. Such large-scale, long-drawn military activity not only brought this region in touch with advanced culture groups, but also threw up numerous opportunities for the people of the region to make a profit out of it. The local population, a majority of whom appear to have been tribal hunting groups, began to recognize their importance in this political game and many of them could have got themselves recruited in the rival armies as mercenaries. The viragals of the regions commemorating heroes that died in the battlefield are characteristically revealing.