A contemporary of north Indian ruler Harshavardhan in the seventh century AD, Mahendravarman was one of the prominent kings of Pallava dynasty which had been ruling the region south of Krishna-Tungabhadra in South India since fourth century AD. Mahendravarman is known for introducing the cave style of temple architecture for which Pallavas are known all over the world.
Mahendravarman was the son of Simhavishnu who ascended the throne in the latter half of the sixth century AD; or to be more precise, 575 AD. From Simhavishnu’s time the history of Pallavas emerges from legend and dubious tradition and becomes more definite.
Mahendravarman’s accession to the throne signaled the growing strength of the Pallavas. It was the reign of Mahendravarman which saw the beginning of that famous struggle between the Pallavas and their sworn enemies the Chalukyas of Vatapi (early western Chalukyas), who ruled north of them. The struggle which became necessary for the mastery of south India, lingered through the generations. During his reign the Pallava capital Kanchipuram was destroyed by western Chalukya king Pulakesin II.
In his early days Mahendravarman was a Jaina, but was converted to Shaivism by Appar, one of the most famous of the sixty-three Nayanars, the Shaiva poets of the Tamil country. This conversion was to a great measure responsible for the decrease in the royal patronage to Jainism in Tamil nadu.
Mahendravarman I, who assumed the significant title of Vichitrachitta, "curious-minded", was a ariter of standing. He is credited with the authorship of the famous burlesque known as the Mattavilasa-prahasana.
Mahendravarman I was a great patron of art and architecture too. Under his instructions, some of the finest rock-temples at Mahabalipuram Mamallapuram (located in Kancheepuram district in Tamil Nadu) were hewn out.