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Indian History

The Gurjara-Pratiharas

  • 11 Nov 2022
  • 23 min read

For Prelims: Gurjara-Pratihara's prominent rulers, Art and Architecture

For Mains: Gurjara-Pratihara's way of administration, Social Conditions, Art and Architecture

Who are the Gurjara-Pratihara?

  • The meaning of the word Pratihara is "doorman."
  • The Gurjara-Pratiharas came to prominence in the second quarter of the 8th century, when they offered successful resistance to the Arabs during the time of Nagabhata I.
  • Bhoja was the Pratihara dynasty's greatest emperor and the actual founder of the empire.
  • The Pratiharas who ruled over Kannauj for a longtime are also called Gurjara- Pratiharas.
  • In the eastern and central portions of Rajasthan, the Pratiharas founded a number of principalities.
  • The expansion of the Gurjara-Pratihara Kingdom involved constant conflicts with other contemporary powers such as the Palas and Rashtrakutas.
  • They fought with the Rashtrakutas for Malwa and Gujarat, and subsequently for Kanauj, which meant control of the upper Ganga valley.
  • Dhruva and Gopal III of the Rashtrakuta Kingdom defeated the early Pratihara emperors' attempts to expand their dominion over the Malwa region and the upper Ganga basin.
  • The Rashtrakutas defeated the Pratiharas in 790 and again in 806-07, after which they withdrew to the Deccan and cleared the way for the Palas.
  • The poet Rajashekhara, associated with the court of the Gurjara-Pratihara King Mahendrapala and his son Mahipala.

Who were Prominent Ruler of Pratiharas?

  • Nagabhata Ⅰ (730 – 760 AD):
    • The foundation of Pratihara dynasty's magnitude was positioned by Nagabhatta I, who ruled between 730-756 C.E.
    • His rule was prominent because of his successful confrontation with the Arabs.
    • He defeated the Arabs while the caliphate was being propagated.
    • He established an empire extending from Gujarat to Gwalior and defied the Arab invasions towards further east of Sindh.
    • He fought against King Dantidurga the Rashtrakuta ruler as well and was defeated.
    • Conversely the success of Dantidurga was short-term and Nagabhatta left for his successors a far-reaching empire which included Gujarat, Malwa and parts of Rajputana.
    • Nagabhata I was succeeded by his brother's sons, Kakkuka and Devaraja.
  • Vatsaraja (780 – 800 AD):
    • Devaraja was succeeded by his son Vatsaraja who proved to be an influential ruler.
    • He ruled from 775 to 805 AD. He seems to have consolidated his position and made Ujjain as his capital.
    • He was on the verge of his imperial career in Western India.
    • He increased his control over a sizable portion of north India.
    • He in trying to be ruler of Northern India annexed the territories upto Kanauj and central Rajputra by defeating Bhandi, the ruling dynasty probably related to the Vardhanas.
    • Kannauj (Western Uttar Pradesh) became his capital.
    • His ambition to capture Kannauj led him into conflicts with the Pala ruler Dharmapala of Bengal and the Rashtrakuta ruler Dhruva.
    • In the tripartite struggle, Dharmapala (the Pala king) was defeated by Vatsaraja, who was then defeated by Dhruv (the Rashtrakuta king).
    • He succeeded in defeating Dharmapala in the Doab region and vanquished Northern India including the Ganga Yamuna valley.
    • Dhurva defeated him later on and captured Kannauj.
    • Vatsraja was succeeded by Nagabhata II.
  • Nagabhata Ⅱ (800 – 833 AD):
    • Nagabhatta II who succeeded Vatsaraja revived the lost prestige of the empire by conquering Sindh, Andhra, Vidarbha.
    • After the defeat of Vatsaraja by Dhruva the Pratihara empire was limited only to Rajputana.
    • Nagabhata II revived the policy of conquest and extension of the empire.
    • He defeated the rulers of Andhra, Saindhava, Vidarbha and Kalinga.
    • He subdued Matsayas in the North, Vatsas in the East and Turuskka (Muslims) in the West.
    • Nagabhatta attacked Kannauj and after defeating Chakrayudha occupied it.
    • He also succeeded in defeating Dharmapala and entered into his territories as far as Munger in Bihar. But he could not enjoy his success for long.
    • Nagabhata II was initially defeated by the Rashtrakuta ruler Govinda III, but later recovered Malwa from the Rashtrakutas.
    • 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.
    • Rambhadra, the son and successor of Nagabhata II proved incapable and lost some of his territories, probably, to Pala ruler, Devapal.
    • He was succeeded by his son Mihirbhoj who proved to be an ambitious ruler.
    • Nagabhata’s control extended over parts of Malwa, Rajputana, and Gujarat.
    • Later Gurjara-Pratihara kings, including Nagabhata II, moved into the Kanauj region.
  • Bhoja Ⅰ/Mihir Bhoja (836 – 885 AD):
    • The best known Gurjara-Pratihara king was Bhoja, grandson of Nagabhata II.
    • A glorious chapter of the history of the Pratiharas begins with the accession of Mihirabhoja.
    • Mihirabhoja ascended to the throne in 836 AD.
    • He ruled the Pratiharas for more than 46 years and is regarded as their most popular king.
    • He reorganized and consolidated the empire inherited from his ancestors and ushered in an era of prosperity for the Pratiharas.
    • Kannauj which was likewise known as Mahodaya was regarded as the capital of his empire,
    • The Skandhavara military camp at Mahodaya is mentioned in the Barrah Copper Plate inscription.
    • He was a great follower of Vaishnavism and assumed the title of “Adivaraha”.
    • The Arabs of Sindh, the Chandalas, and the Kalachuris all acknowledged his supremacy.
    • The Pratihara rulers reportedly had India's strongest cavalry, according to Arab travelers.
    • Al-Masudi, an Arab traveler, gave him the title "King Baura."
  • Mahendrapala (885 – 910 AD):
    • He significantly contributed to the expansion of the Pratihara Empire, which extended across the Narmada and north to the Himalayas, east to Bengal, and west to the Sindh border.
    • The title "Maharajadhiraja of Aryavarta" was bestowed upon him (Great king of northern India).
    • Rajashekhar, a renowned Sanskrit poet and critic, graced his court.
    • Karrpuramanjari (written in Sauraseni Prakrit), Kavya Mimansa, Balabharata, Bhrinjika, Vidhasalabhanjika, Prapanch Pandav, and other works are among his works.
  • Mahipala Ⅰ (913 – 944 AD):
    • During his rule, the Pratiharas began to fall apart.
    • The Rashtrakuta king, Indra III, beat him and devastated Kannauj.
    • Al-Masudi writes in his accounts that the Pratihara kingdom "had no access to the sea," which led to the Rashtrakutas gaining dominance of Gujarat.
  • Rajyapala (960 – 1018 AD):
    • Krishna III of Rashtrakuta defeated the Pratihara king.
    • When Mahmud Ghazni stormed Kannauj, Rajyapala was forced to leave the battle.
    • Vindyadhar Chandela was the man who killed him.
  • Yashpala (1024 – 1036 AD):
    • He served as the Pratihara dynasty's last ruler.
    • The Gandhavalas took control of Kannauj about 1090 AD.
    • Rajashekhara’s drama, the Viddhashalabhanjika, was staged in the court of Yuvaraja in order to celebrate the victory against the Rashtrakutas.

What type of administration did Pratihara have?

  • In the Gurjara-Pratihara history, kings occupied the highest position in the state and had enormous powers, kings adopted big titles such as 'Parmeshwara', 'Maharajadhiraja', 'Parambhaterak'.
  • The appointment of the samantas and singing on giants and charities were also the works of the kings.
  • The samantas used to give military help to their Kings and fought for them, the advice of the high officers was taken in matters of administration.
  • However, there is no reference of mantriparishad or ministers in the inscriptions of that period.
  • There are eight types of different officers in the administration of the Pratiharas such as
    • Kottapala: Highest officer of the fort.
    • Tantrapala: Representative of the king in samanta states.
    • Dandapashika: was the highest officer of the police.
    • Dandanayaka: look after the military and justice department.
    • Dutaka: carry order and grants of the king to specified persons.
    • Bhangika: was the officer who wrote orders of charities and grants.
    • Vynaharina: was probably some legal expert and used to provide legal advice.
    • Baladhikrat: was the chief of army.
  • The entire state was divided into many bhuktis.
  • There were many mandals in each bhukti.
  • Each mandala had several cities and many villages as well.
  • Thus, the Pratiharas had organized their empire into different units for administrative convenience.
  • The samantas were called Maha samantahipati or Maha Pratihara.
  • The villages were locally administered.
  • The elders of the villages were called Mahattar who looked after the administration of the village.
  • Gramapati was an officer of the state who advised in matters of village administration.
  • The administration of the city was looked after by councils which are referred to as Goshthi, Panchakula, Sanviyaka and Uttar sobha in the inscriptions of the Pratiharas.
  • Thus, the administration of the Pratiharas was quite efficient.
  • It was on account of the efficient administration that the Pratiharas were able to defend India from the attacks of the Arabs.

What type of social conditions Existed under Pratihara's rule?

  • Caste system was prevalent in India during Gurjara-Pratihara period and the reference of all the four castes of the Vedic period is found in the inscription as well.
  • The inscription refers to the Brahmans as Vipra and several Prakrit words are used for Kshatriyas.
  • The people of each caste were divided into different classes.
  • Chaturveda and Bhatta groups were prominent among the Brahmans.
  • Among the Vaishyas the Kanchuka and Vakata groups were prominent.
  • The Arab writer Ibda Khurdadab has referred to seven castes in the time of the Pratiharas.
    • According to him, there existed the classes of Savakufria, Brahman, Kataria, Sudaria, Bandalia and Labla.
  • King was selected from the Savakufria class whereas people of the Brahman class did not take wine and married their sons with the daughters of the Kataria class.
  • The Kataria classes were regarded as Kshatriyas.
  • The people of Sudaria were regarded as Sudras and usually did farming or cattle rearing.
  • Basuria class was the Vaishya class whose duty was to serve other classes.
  • The people of Sandila class did the work of Chandals.
  • The Lahuda class was a low and wandering tribe.
  • The above description of the Arab writer indicates that the Vaishyas did the work of the Sudars and the Sudar did the work of the Vishyas.
  • It appears that the caste system was slowly and gradually breaking in a nice manner.
    • The Brahmans started marrying kshatriya girls and the vaishyas performed the work of the sudras as well.
  • The Muslim attacks had begun during this period and many Hindus of the conquered states had been becoming the followers of Islam.
    • It also appears that the Hindu society had allowed the purification of such Hindus.
  • Smriti Ghandrayana Vrat, 'Biladuri' and the writings of Aluberni and other Muslim writers also confirm this fact.
  • Some references of inter-caste marriage have also been found.
    • The prominent Sanskrit scholar Rajasekhar had married a Kshatriya girl named Avanti Sundari.
  • Kings and the rich classes practiced polygamy.
    • However, usually men had only one wife.
  • It can also be known from some reference where on the death of their husbands, women had burnt themselves along with their husbands.
    • Thus, sati pratha was there though it was not very much prevalent.
  • There was no purdah system among the women of the royal families.
  • According to Rajasekhar women learnt music, dancing and paintings.
  • Women were very much fond of ornaments and also used oils and cosmetics.
  • People of rich families used to wear very thin clothes.

How did art and architecture develop more and more during Pratihara’s regime?

  • The Gurjara-Pratihara rulers were 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 most important groups of architectural works generally credited to the early Pratiharas are at Osian in the heart of Gurjara, to the east in the great fort at Chittor and at Roda in the south by the border of modern Gujarat which the Pratiharas had absorbed by the end of the 8th century.
  • They had also reached north-central India, where several temples around Gwalior are comparable to the later works at Osian.
  • The extraordinary Teli-ka-Mandir in Gwalior fort is the oldest surviving large-scale Pratihara work.
  • The early works at Osian have five-bay mulaprasadas with porch and open hall but no vestibule or ambulatory and several have five-shrine complexes (pancha-yatana).
  • In addition to ghana-dwaras for the principal manifestations of the deity in the central projections.
  • Open halls are surrounded by vedika with 'seat-back' coping supporting truncated purna-kalasha columns and their internal pillars, square with projections, often have purna-kalasha for both capital and base to provide the extra height needed in the center of halls, as in the Surya Temple and Hari-Hara I.
  • The shrine portal of Hari-Hara III is typical of non-architectonic compositions with lotus, pearl and mithuna jambs rising from Ganga and Yamuna and dikpalas but Surya's richly incised pilasters support a prasada.
  • Porches and the balconies of Hari-Hara III have flat roofs and even the later halls have two or three superimposed slabs without additional superstructure.
  • Early ceilings are flat, later ones corbelled and embellished with carving.
  • Hari-Hara III's nine-square hall is unique in having curved side vaults.
  • Most of the works at Roda have five-bay mulaprasadas without ambulatory, like the temples at Osian, but they generally have only a porch.
  • Sometimes with platforms, they have socles unlike those of early Pratihara works elsewhere.
  • For instance, one piece of architecture in Roda, has a slab-like plinth with a semi-kumbha, a recessed zone and a festooned floor slab surmounted by a minor padma, all below a heavy dado which includes khura, kaiasha and kapota. Walls are usually relieved only by ghana-dwaras.
  • Shikharas are all of the Latina variety, similar in their stunted profile and bold central bands to the predominant type at Osian.
  • Porches sometimes have pitched roofs in superimposed tiers with bold blind dormers, like those of the Maitrakas.
  • Pillars are usually exquisite examples of the square type with purna-kalasha capitals and the sanctuary portals of Roda IV and III well represent respectively the non-architectonic and architectonic approaches - the deeply carved pilasters of the latter, conforming to the type of the attached pillars outside, bearing a particularly elegant suite of five niches assimilated to the prasada motif.
  • Dedicated to a Shakti cult, the Teli-ka-Mandir at Gwalior consists of an elevated rectangular mulaprasada and a double oblong shikhara and a closed portico.
  • There are two principal projections to the back with ghana-dwaras bearing tiered kapotas and miniature lunettes, like those of the sides, flanked by aedicule with various shikhara like superstructures.
  • On a simple platform and stepped base, the unorthodox dado has a double recession with kaiasha and kapota.
  • The stepped superstructure over the portico is modern but the Kameshvara at Auwa the Teli-ka-Mandir contemporary has one of the earliest surviving examples of a Phamsana roof, for which precedents may most plausibly be found in the Maitraka tradition.
  • Thus, in these early works the various elements of the mature northern complex had appeared Latina mulaprasadas with varied planes accommodating ambulatories, balconies, open halls with full vedika and closed ones matching the mulaprasada, Phamsana roofs, richly faceted supports with varied purna-kalasha or padma-kumbha capitals.
  • In the next phase of their development the Pratiharas turned their attention to the elaboration of the socle and the superstructure.
  • The Ghateshwara at Baroli has a Phamsana in two registers over its square, portico with parapets bearing elaborate aedicule and miniature Latina shikharas at the corners.
  • In this and several other features the Baroli temple anticipates the sumptuous practice of the Chandelles in particular:
  • The shikhara is taller, more elegantly curved than hitherto, and has central bands which penetrate up into the zone of the amalaka's base.
  • The partly excavated Gyaraspur Temple is more advanced in plan, with ambulatory as well as vestibule and closed hall with balconies and porch making it cruciform.
  • Its shikhara, with nine miniature Latina forms clustered about its base, is perhaps the oldest surviving Sekhari example in the central domain of the Pratihara Empire.
  • The roofs of both hall and porch are Phamsana. The dado with kaiasha and kapota is raised on a high podium.
  • The Ambika Matha at Jagat is an early and exquisite example of the further elaboration and synthesis of the various elements so far encountered: five-bay mulaprasada, with ambulatory, and equilateral projections suggesting a diagonal as well as octagonal grouping of facade elements in response to the clustered composition of its Sekhari shikhara, Phamsana-roofed, cruciform closed hall with richly detailed aedicule matching those of the mulaprasada, porch with high vedika, seat-like coping and prominent chadya, elaborately carved purna-kalasha pillars with prominent bracket capitals.
  • The Vishnu and Someshwara Temples at Kiradu may be taken as representative of the still more sumptuous culmination of the Pratihara tradition.
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