Extent of the Gurjara Pratihara Empire
|Historical era||Medieval India|
|-||Established||6th century CE|
|-||Battle of Rajasthan||738 CE|
|-||Conquest of Kannauj by Mahmud of Ghazni||1008 CE|
The Gurjara Pratihara (Sanskrit: गुर्जर प्रतिहार, Gurjara Pratihâra), was a kshatriya imperial dynasty that ruled much of Northern India from the 6th to the 11th centuries. At its peak of prosperity and power (c. 836–910), the Gurajara-Pratihara Empire rivaled or even exceeded the Gupta Empire in the extent of its territory.
Kannauj was the capital of imperial Gurjara Pratiharas. The Gurjara Pratihara rulers in the tenth century was entitled as Maharajadhiraja of Āryāvarta ("Great King over Kings ". i.e. Lords of Northern India).
The word "Pratihara" means protector or "who takes over the enemy/opponent" and was used by the Gurjara-Pratihara rulers as self-designation. It is derived mainly from Buddhist term "Pratiharya" which is quoted in many Buddhist sutras, as title awarded to them for defending the Vedic realm of Āryāvarta. The Pratihara rulers claim descent from the Hindu mythological character Lakshmana, who had performed the duty of a guardian ("pratihara") for his elder brother Rama. They were thus Suryavansh dynasty according to traditional Indology.
A 1966 book published by the Directorate of Public Relations of Rajasthan mentions that the rulers of this dynasty came to be known as the Pratiharas, because they guarded the north-western borders of the Indian subcontinent against foreign invasions.
According to a legend given in later manuscripts of Prithviraj Raso, the Pratiharas were one of the Agnikula clans of Rajputs, deriving their origin from a sacrificial fire-pit (agnikunda) at Mount Abu. However, this mythical story of Agnikula is not mentioned at all in the original version of the Prithviraj Raso preserved in the Fort Library at Bikaner.
Several scholars including D. B. Bhandarkar, Baij Nath Puri and A. F. Rudolf Hoernle believe that the Pratiharas were a branch of Gurjars. The Pratihara dynasty is referred to as Gurjara Pratiharanvayah, i.e., Pratihara clan of the Gurjaras, in line 4 of the "Rajor inscription (Alwar)". The historian Rama Shankar Tripathi states that the Rajor inscription confirms the Gurjara origin of the Pratiharas. In line 12 of this inscription, occur words which have been translated as "together with all the neighbouring fields cultivated by the Gurjaras". Here, the cultivators themselves are clearly called Gurjaras and therefore it is reasonable to presume that, in line four too, the term bears a racial signification. The Rashtrakuta records, as well as the Arab writers like Abu Zaid and Al-Masudi (who allude their fights with the Juzr or Gurjara of the north), indicate the Gurjara origin of the Pratiharas. The Kanarese poet Pampa expressly calls Mahipala Ghurjararaja. This epithet could hardly be applied to him, if the term Ghurjararaja bore a geographical sense denoting what after all was only a small portion of Mahipala's vast territories. Tripathi believes that all these evidences point to the Gurjara ancestry of the Pratiharas. However, H. A. Rose and Denzil Ibbetson stated that there is no conclusive proof that the Agnikula clans are of Gurjara origin; they believed that there is possibility of the indigenous tribes adopting Gurjara names, when their founders were enfiefed by Gurjara rulers. Dasrath Sharma believed that Gurjara was applied for territory and conceded that although some sections of the Pratiharas (e.g. the one to which Mathanadeva belonged) were Gurjars by caste, the imperial Pratiharas of Kannauj were not Gurjars. However, in the earliest epigraphical records of the Gurjars of Broach, Dadda is described as belonging to the Gurjara-nrpati-vamsa which, as Calukva-vamsa or Raghuvamsa, refers not to the country, but to the family or the people; i.e., it stands for the Gurjar family and not the country. Gurjaratra, Gurjara-bhumi or Gurjara-mandala would thus only mean land or Mandala of Gurjars.
|Gurjara-Pratihara Rulers (650-1036 AD)|
|Dadda I-II-III||(650 - 750)|
|Nagabhata I||(750 - 780)|
|Vatsaraja||(780 - 800)|
|Nagabhata II||(800 - 833)|
|Ramabhadra||(833 - 836)|
|Mihira Bhoja I||(836 - 890)|
|Mahendrapala I||(890 - 910)|
|Bhoj II||(910 - 913)|
|Mahipala I||(913 - 944)|
|Mahendrapala II||(944 - 948)|
|Devpala||(948 - 954)|
|Vinaykpala||(954 - 955)|
|Mahipala II||(955 - 956)|
|Vijaypala II||(956 - 960)|
|Rajapala||(960 - 1018)|
|Trilochanpala||(1018 - 1027)|
|Jasapala (Yashpala)||(1024 - 1036)|
Harichandra is said to have laid the foundation of this dynasty in the 6th century. He created a small kingdom at Bhinmal near about 550 A.D. after the fall of Gupta Empire. The Harichandra line of Gurjara-Pratiharas established the state of Marwar, based at Mandore near modern Jodhpur, which grew to dominate Rajasthan. The Pratihara rulers of Marwar also built the temple-city of Osian.
Nagabhata I (730–756) extended his control east and south from Mandor, conquering Malwa as far as Gwalior and the port of Bharuch in Gujarat. He established his capital at Avanti in Malwa, and checked the expansion of the Arabs, who had established themselves in Sind. In this Battle of Rajasthan (738 CE) Nagabhata led a confedracy of Gurjars to defeat the Muslim Arabs who had till then been pressing on victorious through West Asia and Iran. Nagabhata I was followed by two weak successors, who were in turn succeeded by Vatsraja (775–805).
Vatsraja sought to capture Kannauj, which had been the capital of the seventh-century empire of Harsha. His ambitions brought the Pratiharas into conflict with the Pala dynasty of Bengal and the Rashtrakutas of the northern Deccan, with whom they would contest for primacy in northern India for the next two centuries. Vatsraja successfully challenged abd defeated the Pala ruler Dharmapala and Danti durga the Rashtrakuta king for control of Kannauj. In about 786 the Rashtrakuta ruler Dhruva (c. 780–793) crossed the Narmada River into Malwa, and from there tried to capture Kannauj. Vatsraja was defeated by Dhruva around 800.Vatsraja was succeeded by Nagabhata II (805–833). Nagabhata II was initially defeated by the Rashtrakuta ruler Govinda III (793–814), but later recovered Malwa from the Rashtrakutas, conquered Kannauj and the Indo-Gangetic Plain as far as Bihar from the Palas, and again checked the Muslims in the west. He rebuilt the great Shiva temple at Somnath in Gujarat, which had been demolished in an Arab raid from Sindh. Kannauj became the center of the Gurjar Pratihara state, which covered much of northern India during the peak of their power, c. 836–910.
Rambhadra (833-c. 836) briefly succeeded Nagabhata II. Bhoja I or Mihir Bhoja (c. 836–886) expanded the Gurjar dominions west to the border of Sind, east to Bengal, and south to the Narmada. His son Mahenderpal 1 (890–910) expanded further eastwards in Magadha, Bengal, and Assam.
Bhoja II (910–912) was overthrown by Mahipala I (913–944). Several feudatories of the empire took advantage of the temporary weakness of the Gurjar Pratiharas to declare their independence, notably the Paramaras of Malwa, the Chandelas of Bundelkhand, and the Kalachuris of Mahakoshal. The Rashtrakuta emperor Indra III (c.914–928) briefly captured Kannauj in 916, and although the Pratiharas regained the city, their position continued to weaken in the 10th century, partly as a result of the drain of simultaneously fighting off Turkic attacks from the west and the Pala advances in the east. The Gurjar-Pratiharas lost control of Rajasthan to their feudatories, and the Chandelas captured the strategic fortress of Gwalior in central India, c. 950. By the end of the tenth century the Gurjar Pratihara domains had dwindled to a small state centered on Kannauj. Mahmud of Ghazni sacked Kannauj in 1018, and the Pratihara ruler Rajapala fled. The Chandela ruler Gauda captured and killed Rajapala, placing Rajapala's son Trilochanpala on the throne as a proxy. Jasapala, the last Gurjar ruler of Kanauj, died in 1036.
It can be understood from many Arabic sources that armies of the Muslim invaders greatly feared the might of the Gurjar Pratiharas. The Persian traveler Ahmad ibn Rustah praised the Gujara-Pratihara ruler Mihir Bhoja I in his Kitāb al-A'lāk an-Nafīsa thus:[dubious ]
|“||In Hind there is a Malik (ruler) who is called Al-juzar (Gujar). Such is awdl (justice) in his empire, if the gold is dropped in the way, there is no danger of its being picked up and stolen away by any body. His empire is very vast. Arab traders go to him, he makes ahsan (favour) to them, purchases merchandise from them; the purchase and sale are carried in gold coin called tatri. When the Arabs request him to provide a body guard, he says, there is no thief in my empire. If there is any incident or loss to your goods, merchandise and money I stand surety. Come to me, I will pay the compensation.||”|
The Gurjara-Pratihara rulers great patrons of arts, architecture and literature. Mihir Bhoj, was the most outstanding ruler of the dynasty. Notable sculptures of this period, include Viswaroopa form of Vishnu and Marriage of Siva and Parvati from Kannauj. Beautifully carved panels are also seen on the walls of temples standing at Osian, Abhaneri and Kotah. The female figure named as Sursundari exhibited in Gwalior Museum is one of the most charming sculptures of the Gurjara-Pratihara art.
The image of standing Laksmi Narayana (Plate 42) from Agroha, now preserved in the Chandigarh museum, is also a fine piece of art of the Gurjara-Pratihara period. They are known for their open pavilion temples. The gretatest development of Gurjar Pratihara style of temple building took place at Khajuraho. Gurjar Pratihar rulers also built many Jain temples.
Junaid, the successor of Qasim, finally subdued the Hindu resistance within Sindh. Taking advantage of the conditions in Western India, which at that time was covered with several small states, Junaid led a large army into the region in early 738 CE. Dividing this force into two he plundered several cities in southern Rajasthan, western Malwa, and Gujarat.
Indian inscriptions confirm this invasion but record the Arab success only against the smaller states in Gujarat. They also record the defeat of the Arabs at two places. The southern army moving south into Gujarat was repulsed at Navsari by the Solankis and Rashtrakutas. The army that went east, after sacking several places, reached Avanti whose ruler Nagabhata (Gurjar Pratihara) trounced the invaders and forced them to flee. After his victory Nagabhata took advantage of the disturbed conditions to acquire control over the numerous small states up to the border of Sindh.
Junaid probably died from the wounds inflicted in the battle with the Gurjara Pratihara. His successor Tamin organized a fresh army and attempted to avenge Junaid’s defeat towards the close of the year 738 CE. But this time Nagabhata, with his Chauhan and Guhilot feudatories, met the Muslim army before it could leave the borders of Sindh. The battle resulted in the complete rout of the Arabs who fled broken into Sindh with the Gurjara-Pratihara close behind them.
In the words of the Arab chronicler, a place of refuge to which the Muslims might flee was not to be found. The Arabs crossed over to the other side of the Indus River, abandoning all their lands to the victorious Hindus. The local chieftains took advantage of these conditions to re-establish their independence. Subsequently the Arabs constructed the city of Mansurah on the other side of the wide and deep Indus, which was safe from attack. This became their new capital in Sindh. Thus began the reign of the Imperial Gurjar-Pratiharas.
In the Gwalior inscription, it is recorded that Gurjara-Pratihara emperor Nagabhata crushed the large army of the powerful Mlechcha king. This large army consisted of cavalry, infantry, siege artillery, and probably a force of camels. Since Tamin was a new governor he had a force of Syrian cavalry from Damascus, local Arab contingents, converted Hindus of Sindh, and foreign mercenaries like the Turkics. All together the invading army may have had anywhere between 10–15,000 cavalry, 5000 infantry, and 2000 camels.
The Arab chronicler Sulaiman describes the army of the Imperial Pratiharas as it stood in 851 CE, The ruler of Gurjars maintains numerous forces and no other Indian prince has so fine a cavalry. He is unfriendly to the Arabs, still he acknowledges that the king of the Arabs is the greatest of rulers. Among the princes of India there is no greater foe of the Islamic faith than he. He has got riches, and his camels and horses are numerous.
At the time of the Battle of Rajasthan the Gurjar Pratihars had only just risen to power. In fact Nagabhata was their first prominent ruler. But the composition of his army, which was predominantly cavalry, is clear from the description. There are other anecdotal references to the Indian rulers and commanders riding elephants to have a clear view of the battlefield. The infantry stood behind the elephants and the cavalry formed the wings and advanced guard.
At the time of the battle the Gurjar Pratihara may have had up to 5,000 cavalry, while their Guhilot and Chauhan feudatories may have had 2,000 horsemen each, added to which we may include infantry, camels, and elephants. So all told the Hindu and Muslim armies were evenly matched with the better cavalry in the former.
Following their victory the Gurjar Pratiharas spread their rule over North India. The Guhilots under their leader Bappa Rawal captured Chittor and the Chauhans established a kingdom in North Rajasthan. Along with their Pratihar overlords these clans formed a recognized clan hierarchy (miscalled feudalism), and a hereditary ownership of lands and forts.
The Arabs in Sindh took a long time to recover from their defeat. In the early 9th Century the governor Bashar attempted an invasion of India but was defeated by Nagabhatta II and his subordinates, Govindraja Chauhan and Khommana II Guhilot. After this the Arab chroniclers admit that the Caliph Mahdi, “gave up the project of conquering any part of India.”
The Arabs in Sindh lost all power and broke up into two warring states of Mansurah and Multan, both of which paid tribute to the Gurjar-Pratiharas. The local resistance in Sindh, which had not yet died out and was inspired by the victories of Pratiharas manifested itself when the foreign rulers were overthrown and Sindh came under its own half-converted Hindu dynasties like the Sumras and Sammas.
Pointing out the importance of the Gurjara-Pratihara Empire in the history of India, Dr. R.C. Majumdar has observed, "the Gurjara Pratihara Empire which continued in full glory for nearly a century, was the last great empire in Northern India before the Muslim conquest. This honour is accorded to the empire of Harsha by many historians of repute, but without any real justification, for the Pratihara Empire was probably larger, certainly not less in extent, rivalled the Gupta Empire and brought political unity and its attendant blessings upon a large part of Northern India. But its chief credit lies in its succecessful resistance to the foreign invasions from the west, from the days of Junaid. This was frankly recognised by the Arab writers themselves."
Historians of India, since the days of Eliphinstone, have wondered at the slow progress of Muslim invaders in India, as compared with their rapid advance in other parts of the world. Arguments of doubtful validity have often been put forward to explain this unique phenomenon. Currently it is believed that it was the power of the Gurjara Pratihara army that effectively barred the progress of the Muslims beyond the confines of Sindh, their first conquest for nearly three hundred years. In the light of later events this might be regarded as the "Chief contribution of the Gurjara Pratiharas to the history of India".
|Timeline:||Northwestern India||Northern India||Southern India||Northeastern India|
6th century BCE
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