To understand the nature of polities and the social origins of the ruling families that emerged in peninsular India, it is necessary to complete the evidence from inscriptions with Puranic material. The importance of epigraphic sources, which are increasingly available from the 4th century AD and become more numerous in the early medieval period, has been emphasized for reconstructing the historical processes of the period from the 3rd to the 6th centuries AD. However, the importance of early Puranic texts (albeit with some interpolations) for the historical processes in the Deccan and Andhra regions from the 3rd to the 6th centuries AD, along with inscriptional evidence, needs to be recognized. This is because the Brahmanical polities of that period invariably followed the Puranic tradition and religious ideology to legitimize their emergence to power and territorial authority. However, the concept of territory had not quite crystallized into cognizable regions with clear limits or boundaries that could be claimed by any of the ruling families known from the epigraphic sources, with the exception of the Vakatakas and Kadambas of Maharashtra and Karnataka respectively, and to some extent the Visnukundis of the Andhra region. It becomes necessary, therefore, to adopt a historical geography approach to study the peninsular regions in order to situate the ruling families in their respective zones, which were constantly fluctuating due to conflicting interests among them.
Ruling lineages claiming Brahmana origin or connections with the gotras that are recognized in the gotra lists of the Srauta Sutras emerged in peninsular India, conspicuously in the Deccan plateau and Andhra plains. This is reflected in the inscriptions of the ruling families. A new term, Brahmakshatra/Brahmakshatriya, occurring only once in the corpus of inscriptions, represents a rather dubious category of social status, which is claimed by a few of the ruling families like the Visnukundi and the Pallavas. This indicates either the assumption by Brahmanas of Kshatriya functions and status, creating monarchical states with territorial bases, or the local clan or ‘tribal chiefs combining the functions of priest and ruler being described by the term Brahmakshatriya and claiming territorial authority. In the process, they may well have been influenced by the evolution of monarchical states in the north and the Dharmasastric model of the institution of kingship.
In the Puranas, the Vamsanucharita sections list the progenitors of the gotras as descendants of the Ikshvaku or Ila lineages. The epic and Puranic sources refer to the Kshatropeta dvijas and occasionally to the Brahma Kshatriya. The Kshatropeta dvijas, who according to the Puranas, were brahmanas endowed with kshatra qualities, may be the same as the Brahmakshatriya of the mid-first millennium AD and early medieval inscriptions. However, some lineages with gotra identities cannot be covered by the category of Brahma Kshatriya. The term seems to be an extra-constitutional category that evolved over time (also found in early medieval Rajput inscriptions).
There are several explanations for the term. It is suggested that the Brahmakshatriyas were originally brahmana families that transitioned to the profession, life, and status of kshatriyas over time. Another view is that the Brahma Kshatriya was a transitional status resulting from matrimonial alliances between kshatriyas and brahmanas, particularly in the early medieval period. In this period, the Brahmakshatriya was a special category of brahmanas who assumed the duties of the Kshatriya varna without being relegated to a lower status. The Brahma Kshatriya category was significant for certain brahmana families that acquired temporal power while maintaining their earlier brahmana identity. However, some historians reject this category as a pure fabrication.
It is also possible that the social category of Brahma Kshatriya might have originated among non-brahmanical descent groups and clans in the Deccan, independent of the societal processes seen in the epic-Puranic tradition. It would be challenging to envision a strict separation of the political and religious spheres of activity in such societies. For instance, in the case of the Brahatphalayanas and the Ananda gotrins of the Andhra region, Brahma Kshatriya may represent the brahmanical version of the vestiges of a non-brahmanical institution, namely, the priest-chief. Therefore, the social category of Brahma Kshatriya might have had multiple origins in the post-Satavahana Deccan.
It is acknowledged by historians that these ruling families were more numerous in the Deccan and southern India, particularly in Karnataka, where the early Kadambas began their political career. In the Andhra region, the Visnukundis claimed the status of Brahma Kshatriya. Vikramendravarman is described in the Tummalagudem Plates (AD 557) as endowed with the brilliance of Brahma Kshatriya. Notably, none of the ruling families during this period claimed connections with Chandravamisa (Lunar) or Suryavamsa (Solar) lineages.
The totemic name of the clan or the name of a fictional ancestor might have been Brahmanized to resemble a gotra term. The Brahatphalayanas ruled over present-day Gudivada taluk and adjoining parts of Krishna and Guntur districts in the 3rd to 4th century AD, and the name Brahatphalayana might have been a lineage or family name that acquired the status of a gotra, as it was a common practice for contemporary lineages to mention their gotras in their inscriptions. The Kandura kula, later known as Ananda gotrins, may have had non-brahmanical origins, and the transformation of their social identity as rulers might have been facilitated by the Vedic-Puranic brahmanas, some of whom could have been the donors of the brahmadeya charters. The Anandagotrins performed the Hiranyagarbha mahadana, which is believed to be a device used by post-Satavahana ruling lineages to acquire a new noble birth or even caste for the first time, as suggested by L.K. Sarma. This ritual may be interpreted as a ceremony to rejuvenate the persona of the ruler, as suggested by D.D. Kosambi, rather than to change the caste or varna.
The social origins of the dominant ruling lineages also indicate the influence of the Bhargavangirasa Brahmanas (elite groups) in the formation of post-Satavahana polities in the Deccan and Andhra regions. It appears that the Puranic references provided the ideological foundation for the rise to temporal power of at least some of the Bhargavangirasa brahmana families in the Deccan in the mid-first millennium AD.
The Salankayanas, belonging to the same gotra, claimed to be worshippers of Chitraratha Svamin or the Sun god and may have had links with the Maga brahmanas of Sakadvipa (Sind?). They established Chaturvaidyasalas or Ghatikas, which were centers of Brahmanical learning, in a later period.
In the mid-first millennium AD, there was a proliferation of Brahmanical ruling lineages, and the adoption of gotras may have been necessitated to validate repeated transgressions of the Smriti injunctions or the theoretical model of a varna-based society in Dharmasastra. Thus, the Puranic category of Kshatropeta dvijas and the Itihasa-Puranic tradition rationalized these transgressions within the theoretical framework of the Smriti tradition.
The epic motif of the Brahmana warrior hero personified by Rama Jamadagnya holds significant implications for the societal processes that took place during the post-Satavahana period. There was a prevalence of Bhargavangiras Brahmanas who served as both rulers and beneficiaries or recipients of donations.