Old NCERT Textbook (Satish Chandra): Age of the Three Empires of Northern India Notes | Study History for UPSC CSE - UPSC

UPSC: Old NCERT Textbook (Satish Chandra): Age of the Three Empires of Northern India Notes | Study History for UPSC CSE - UPSC

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 Page 1


TWO
Northern India: Age of the Three Empires 
(800–1000)
After the decline of Harsha’s empire in the seventh century, a number of large
states arose in north India, the Deccan and south India. Unlike the Gupta and
Harsha’s empire in north India, none of the other kingdoms in north India
were able to bring the entire Ganga valley under its control. The Ganga valley
with its population and other resources was the basis on which the Gupta
rulers and Harsha had been able to extend their control over Gujarat which,
with its rich sea ports and manufacturers, was important for overseas trade.
Malwa and Rajasthan were the essential links between the Ganga valley and
Gujarat. This defined the geographical limits of an empire in north India. In
south India, the Cholas were able to bring the Krishna, Godavari and the
Kaveri deltas under their control. This was the basis of their supremacy in
south India.
Large states arose in north India and the Deccan between AD 750 and 1000.
These were the Pala empire, which dominated eastern India till the middle of
the ninth century; the Pratihara empire, which dominated western India and
the upper Gangetic valley till the middle of the tenth century, and the
Rashtrakuta empire, which dominated the Deccan and also controlled
territories in north and south India at various times. Each of these empires,
although they fought among themselves, provided stable conditions of life
over large areas, extended agriculture, built ponds and canals, and gave
patronage to arts and letters, including temples. Of the three, the Rashtrakuta
empire lasted the longest. It was not only the most powerful empire of the
time, but also acted as a bridge between north and south India in economic as
well as in cultural matters.
THE STRUGGLE FOR DOMINATION IN NORTH INDIA: THE PALAS
Page 2


TWO
Northern India: Age of the Three Empires 
(800–1000)
After the decline of Harsha’s empire in the seventh century, a number of large
states arose in north India, the Deccan and south India. Unlike the Gupta and
Harsha’s empire in north India, none of the other kingdoms in north India
were able to bring the entire Ganga valley under its control. The Ganga valley
with its population and other resources was the basis on which the Gupta
rulers and Harsha had been able to extend their control over Gujarat which,
with its rich sea ports and manufacturers, was important for overseas trade.
Malwa and Rajasthan were the essential links between the Ganga valley and
Gujarat. This defined the geographical limits of an empire in north India. In
south India, the Cholas were able to bring the Krishna, Godavari and the
Kaveri deltas under their control. This was the basis of their supremacy in
south India.
Large states arose in north India and the Deccan between AD 750 and 1000.
These were the Pala empire, which dominated eastern India till the middle of
the ninth century; the Pratihara empire, which dominated western India and
the upper Gangetic valley till the middle of the tenth century, and the
Rashtrakuta empire, which dominated the Deccan and also controlled
territories in north and south India at various times. Each of these empires,
although they fought among themselves, provided stable conditions of life
over large areas, extended agriculture, built ponds and canals, and gave
patronage to arts and letters, including temples. Of the three, the Rashtrakuta
empire lasted the longest. It was not only the most powerful empire of the
time, but also acted as a bridge between north and south India in economic as
well as in cultural matters.
THE STRUGGLE FOR DOMINATION IN NORTH INDIA: THE PALAS
The period following the death of Harsha was a period of political confusion.
For some time, Lalitaditya, the ruler of Kashmir brought the Punjab under his
control and even controlled Kanauj which, since the days of Harsha, was
considered the symbol of the sovereignty of north India—a position which
Delhi was to acquire later. Control of Kanauj also implied control of the
upper Gangetic valley and its rich resources in trade and agriculture.
Lalitaditya even invaded Bengal or Gaud, and killed its reigning king. But his
power waned with the rise of the Palas and the Gurjara-Pratiharas.
The Palas and the Pratiharas clashed with each other for the control of the
area extending from Banaras to south Bihar which again had rich resources
and well developed imperial traditions. The Pratiharas also clashed with the
Rashtrakutas of the Deccan.
The Pala empire was founded by Gopala, probably in AD 750 when he was
elected king by the notable men of the area to end the anarchy prevailing
there. Gopala was not born in a high, much less a royal family, his father
probably being a soldier. He unified Bengal under his control, and even
brought Magadha (Bihar) under his control. Gopala was succeeded in AD 770
by his son, Dharamapala, who ruled till AD 810. His reign was marked by a
tripartite struggle between the Palas, the Pratiharas and the Rashtrakutas for
the control of Kanauj and north India. The Pratihara ruler advanced upon
Gaud (Bengal), but before a decision could be taken, the Pratihara ruler was
defeated by the Rashtrakuta ruler, Dhruva, and was forced to seek refuge in
the deserts of Rajasthan. Dhruva then returned to the Deccan. This left the
field free for Dharmapala who occupied Kanauj and held a grand darbar
which was attended by vassal rulers from Punjab, eastern Rajasthan, etc. We
are told that the rule of Dharmapala extended upto the furthest limit of India
in the northwest and, perhaps, included Malwa and Berar. Apparently, this
implied that the rulers of these areas accepted the suzerainty of Dharmapala.
The triumphal career of Dharmapala may be placed between AD 790 and
800. Dharmapala could not, however, consolidate his power in north India.
The Pratihara power revived under Nagabhatta II. Dharmapala fell back, but
was defeated near Mongyr. Bihar and modern east Uttar Pradesh remained a
bone of contention between the Palas and the Pratiharas. However, Bihar, in
Page 3


TWO
Northern India: Age of the Three Empires 
(800–1000)
After the decline of Harsha’s empire in the seventh century, a number of large
states arose in north India, the Deccan and south India. Unlike the Gupta and
Harsha’s empire in north India, none of the other kingdoms in north India
were able to bring the entire Ganga valley under its control. The Ganga valley
with its population and other resources was the basis on which the Gupta
rulers and Harsha had been able to extend their control over Gujarat which,
with its rich sea ports and manufacturers, was important for overseas trade.
Malwa and Rajasthan were the essential links between the Ganga valley and
Gujarat. This defined the geographical limits of an empire in north India. In
south India, the Cholas were able to bring the Krishna, Godavari and the
Kaveri deltas under their control. This was the basis of their supremacy in
south India.
Large states arose in north India and the Deccan between AD 750 and 1000.
These were the Pala empire, which dominated eastern India till the middle of
the ninth century; the Pratihara empire, which dominated western India and
the upper Gangetic valley till the middle of the tenth century, and the
Rashtrakuta empire, which dominated the Deccan and also controlled
territories in north and south India at various times. Each of these empires,
although they fought among themselves, provided stable conditions of life
over large areas, extended agriculture, built ponds and canals, and gave
patronage to arts and letters, including temples. Of the three, the Rashtrakuta
empire lasted the longest. It was not only the most powerful empire of the
time, but also acted as a bridge between north and south India in economic as
well as in cultural matters.
THE STRUGGLE FOR DOMINATION IN NORTH INDIA: THE PALAS
The period following the death of Harsha was a period of political confusion.
For some time, Lalitaditya, the ruler of Kashmir brought the Punjab under his
control and even controlled Kanauj which, since the days of Harsha, was
considered the symbol of the sovereignty of north India—a position which
Delhi was to acquire later. Control of Kanauj also implied control of the
upper Gangetic valley and its rich resources in trade and agriculture.
Lalitaditya even invaded Bengal or Gaud, and killed its reigning king. But his
power waned with the rise of the Palas and the Gurjara-Pratiharas.
The Palas and the Pratiharas clashed with each other for the control of the
area extending from Banaras to south Bihar which again had rich resources
and well developed imperial traditions. The Pratiharas also clashed with the
Rashtrakutas of the Deccan.
The Pala empire was founded by Gopala, probably in AD 750 when he was
elected king by the notable men of the area to end the anarchy prevailing
there. Gopala was not born in a high, much less a royal family, his father
probably being a soldier. He unified Bengal under his control, and even
brought Magadha (Bihar) under his control. Gopala was succeeded in AD 770
by his son, Dharamapala, who ruled till AD 810. His reign was marked by a
tripartite struggle between the Palas, the Pratiharas and the Rashtrakutas for
the control of Kanauj and north India. The Pratihara ruler advanced upon
Gaud (Bengal), but before a decision could be taken, the Pratihara ruler was
defeated by the Rashtrakuta ruler, Dhruva, and was forced to seek refuge in
the deserts of Rajasthan. Dhruva then returned to the Deccan. This left the
field free for Dharmapala who occupied Kanauj and held a grand darbar
which was attended by vassal rulers from Punjab, eastern Rajasthan, etc. We
are told that the rule of Dharmapala extended upto the furthest limit of India
in the northwest and, perhaps, included Malwa and Berar. Apparently, this
implied that the rulers of these areas accepted the suzerainty of Dharmapala.
The triumphal career of Dharmapala may be placed between AD 790 and
800. Dharmapala could not, however, consolidate his power in north India.
The Pratihara power revived under Nagabhatta II. Dharmapala fell back, but
was defeated near Mongyr. Bihar and modern east Uttar Pradesh remained a
bone of contention between the Palas and the Pratiharas. However, Bihar, in
addition to Bengal, remained under the control of the Palas for most of the
time.
Failure in the north compelled the Pala rulers to turn their energies in
other directions. Devapala, the son of Dharmapala, who succeeded to the
throne in AD 810 and ruled for 40 years, extended his control over
Pragjyotishpur (Assam) and parts of Orissa. Probably a part of modern Nepal
was also brought under Pala suzerainty.
Thus, for about a hundred years, from the middle of the eighth to the
middle of the ninth century, the Pala rulers dominated eastern India. For
some time, their control extended upto Varanasi. Their power is attested to
by an Arab merchant, Sulaiman, who visited India in the middle of the ninth
century, and wrote an account of it. He calls the Pala Kingdom Ruhma, (or
Dharma, short for Dharmapala), and says that the Pala ruler was at war with
his neighbours, the Pratiharas and the Rashtrakutas, but his troops were more
numerous that his adversaries. He tells us that it was customary for the Pala
king to be accompanied by a force of 50,000 elephants, and that 10,000–
15,000 men in his army were employed ‘in fulling and washing clothes’. Even
if these figures may be exaggerated, we can assume that the Palas had a large
military force at their disposal. But we do not know whether they had a large
standing army, or whether their forces consisted largely of feudal levies.
Information about the Palas is also provided to us by Tibetan chronicles,
although these were written in the seventeenth century. According to these,
the Pala rulers were great patrons of Buddhist learning and religion. The
Nalanda university which had been famous all over the eastern world was
revived by Dharmapala, and 200 villages were set apart for meeting its
expenses. He also founded the Vikramasila university which became second
only to Nalanda in fame. It was located on the top of a hill, on the banks of
the Ganga in Magadha, amidst pleasant surroundings. The Palas built many
viharas in which a large number of Buddhist monks lived.
The Pala rulers also had close cultural relations with Tibet. The noted
Buddhist scholars, Santarakshita and Dipankara (called Atisa), were invited to
Tibet, and they introduced a new form of Buddhism there. As a result, many
Tibetan Buddhists flocked to the universities of Nalanda and Vikramsila for
study. Although the Palas were supporters of Buddhism, they also extended
Page 4


TWO
Northern India: Age of the Three Empires 
(800–1000)
After the decline of Harsha’s empire in the seventh century, a number of large
states arose in north India, the Deccan and south India. Unlike the Gupta and
Harsha’s empire in north India, none of the other kingdoms in north India
were able to bring the entire Ganga valley under its control. The Ganga valley
with its population and other resources was the basis on which the Gupta
rulers and Harsha had been able to extend their control over Gujarat which,
with its rich sea ports and manufacturers, was important for overseas trade.
Malwa and Rajasthan were the essential links between the Ganga valley and
Gujarat. This defined the geographical limits of an empire in north India. In
south India, the Cholas were able to bring the Krishna, Godavari and the
Kaveri deltas under their control. This was the basis of their supremacy in
south India.
Large states arose in north India and the Deccan between AD 750 and 1000.
These were the Pala empire, which dominated eastern India till the middle of
the ninth century; the Pratihara empire, which dominated western India and
the upper Gangetic valley till the middle of the tenth century, and the
Rashtrakuta empire, which dominated the Deccan and also controlled
territories in north and south India at various times. Each of these empires,
although they fought among themselves, provided stable conditions of life
over large areas, extended agriculture, built ponds and canals, and gave
patronage to arts and letters, including temples. Of the three, the Rashtrakuta
empire lasted the longest. It was not only the most powerful empire of the
time, but also acted as a bridge between north and south India in economic as
well as in cultural matters.
THE STRUGGLE FOR DOMINATION IN NORTH INDIA: THE PALAS
The period following the death of Harsha was a period of political confusion.
For some time, Lalitaditya, the ruler of Kashmir brought the Punjab under his
control and even controlled Kanauj which, since the days of Harsha, was
considered the symbol of the sovereignty of north India—a position which
Delhi was to acquire later. Control of Kanauj also implied control of the
upper Gangetic valley and its rich resources in trade and agriculture.
Lalitaditya even invaded Bengal or Gaud, and killed its reigning king. But his
power waned with the rise of the Palas and the Gurjara-Pratiharas.
The Palas and the Pratiharas clashed with each other for the control of the
area extending from Banaras to south Bihar which again had rich resources
and well developed imperial traditions. The Pratiharas also clashed with the
Rashtrakutas of the Deccan.
The Pala empire was founded by Gopala, probably in AD 750 when he was
elected king by the notable men of the area to end the anarchy prevailing
there. Gopala was not born in a high, much less a royal family, his father
probably being a soldier. He unified Bengal under his control, and even
brought Magadha (Bihar) under his control. Gopala was succeeded in AD 770
by his son, Dharamapala, who ruled till AD 810. His reign was marked by a
tripartite struggle between the Palas, the Pratiharas and the Rashtrakutas for
the control of Kanauj and north India. The Pratihara ruler advanced upon
Gaud (Bengal), but before a decision could be taken, the Pratihara ruler was
defeated by the Rashtrakuta ruler, Dhruva, and was forced to seek refuge in
the deserts of Rajasthan. Dhruva then returned to the Deccan. This left the
field free for Dharmapala who occupied Kanauj and held a grand darbar
which was attended by vassal rulers from Punjab, eastern Rajasthan, etc. We
are told that the rule of Dharmapala extended upto the furthest limit of India
in the northwest and, perhaps, included Malwa and Berar. Apparently, this
implied that the rulers of these areas accepted the suzerainty of Dharmapala.
The triumphal career of Dharmapala may be placed between AD 790 and
800. Dharmapala could not, however, consolidate his power in north India.
The Pratihara power revived under Nagabhatta II. Dharmapala fell back, but
was defeated near Mongyr. Bihar and modern east Uttar Pradesh remained a
bone of contention between the Palas and the Pratiharas. However, Bihar, in
addition to Bengal, remained under the control of the Palas for most of the
time.
Failure in the north compelled the Pala rulers to turn their energies in
other directions. Devapala, the son of Dharmapala, who succeeded to the
throne in AD 810 and ruled for 40 years, extended his control over
Pragjyotishpur (Assam) and parts of Orissa. Probably a part of modern Nepal
was also brought under Pala suzerainty.
Thus, for about a hundred years, from the middle of the eighth to the
middle of the ninth century, the Pala rulers dominated eastern India. For
some time, their control extended upto Varanasi. Their power is attested to
by an Arab merchant, Sulaiman, who visited India in the middle of the ninth
century, and wrote an account of it. He calls the Pala Kingdom Ruhma, (or
Dharma, short for Dharmapala), and says that the Pala ruler was at war with
his neighbours, the Pratiharas and the Rashtrakutas, but his troops were more
numerous that his adversaries. He tells us that it was customary for the Pala
king to be accompanied by a force of 50,000 elephants, and that 10,000–
15,000 men in his army were employed ‘in fulling and washing clothes’. Even
if these figures may be exaggerated, we can assume that the Palas had a large
military force at their disposal. But we do not know whether they had a large
standing army, or whether their forces consisted largely of feudal levies.
Information about the Palas is also provided to us by Tibetan chronicles,
although these were written in the seventeenth century. According to these,
the Pala rulers were great patrons of Buddhist learning and religion. The
Nalanda university which had been famous all over the eastern world was
revived by Dharmapala, and 200 villages were set apart for meeting its
expenses. He also founded the Vikramasila university which became second
only to Nalanda in fame. It was located on the top of a hill, on the banks of
the Ganga in Magadha, amidst pleasant surroundings. The Palas built many
viharas in which a large number of Buddhist monks lived.
The Pala rulers also had close cultural relations with Tibet. The noted
Buddhist scholars, Santarakshita and Dipankara (called Atisa), were invited to
Tibet, and they introduced a new form of Buddhism there. As a result, many
Tibetan Buddhists flocked to the universities of Nalanda and Vikramsila for
study. Although the Palas were supporters of Buddhism, they also extended
their patronage to Saivsm and Vaishnavism. They gave grants to large
numbers of brahmans from north India who flocked to Bengal. Their
settlements helped in the extension of cultivation in the area, and the
transformation of many pastoralists and food-gatherers to settle down to
cultivation. The growing prosperity of Bengal helped in extending trade and
cultural contacts with countries of Southeast Asia—Burma, Malaya, Java,
Sumatra, etc.
The trade with Southeast Asia was very profitable and added greatly to the
prosperity of the Pala empire and led to the incursion of gold and silver from
these countries into Bengal. The powerful Sailendra dynasty, which was
Buddhist in faith and which ruled over Malaya, Java, Sumatra and the
neighbouring islands, sent many embassies to the Pala court and sought
permission to build a monastery at Nalanda, and also requested the Pala
ruler, Devapala, to endow five villages for its upkeep. The request was granted
and bears testimony to the close relations between the two empires.
THE PRATIHARAS
The Pratiharas who ruled over Kanauj for a longtime are also called Gurjara-
Pratiharas. Most scholars consider that they originated from the Gurjaras
who were pastoralists and fighters, like the Jats. The Pratiharas established a
series of principalities in central and eastern Rajasthan. They clashed with the
Rashtrakutas for the control of Malwa and Gujarat, and later for Kanauj
which implied control of the upper Ganga valley. The Pratiharas who first
had their capital at Bhinmal gained prominence under Nagabhatta I who
offered stout resistance to the Arab rulers of Sind who were trying to
encroach on Rajasthan, Gujarat, the Punjab, etc. The Arabs made a big thrust
towards Gujarat but were decisively defeated by the Chalukyan ruler of
Gujarat in 738. Although small Arab incursions continued, the Arabs ceased
to be a threat thereafter.
The efforts of the early Pratihara rulers to extend their control over the
upper Ganga valley and Malwa were defeated by the Rashtrakuta rulers
Dhruva and Gopal III. In 790 and again in 806–07, the Rashtrakutas defeated
the Pratiharas, and then withdrew to the Deccan, leaving the field free for the
Page 5


TWO
Northern India: Age of the Three Empires 
(800–1000)
After the decline of Harsha’s empire in the seventh century, a number of large
states arose in north India, the Deccan and south India. Unlike the Gupta and
Harsha’s empire in north India, none of the other kingdoms in north India
were able to bring the entire Ganga valley under its control. The Ganga valley
with its population and other resources was the basis on which the Gupta
rulers and Harsha had been able to extend their control over Gujarat which,
with its rich sea ports and manufacturers, was important for overseas trade.
Malwa and Rajasthan were the essential links between the Ganga valley and
Gujarat. This defined the geographical limits of an empire in north India. In
south India, the Cholas were able to bring the Krishna, Godavari and the
Kaveri deltas under their control. This was the basis of their supremacy in
south India.
Large states arose in north India and the Deccan between AD 750 and 1000.
These were the Pala empire, which dominated eastern India till the middle of
the ninth century; the Pratihara empire, which dominated western India and
the upper Gangetic valley till the middle of the tenth century, and the
Rashtrakuta empire, which dominated the Deccan and also controlled
territories in north and south India at various times. Each of these empires,
although they fought among themselves, provided stable conditions of life
over large areas, extended agriculture, built ponds and canals, and gave
patronage to arts and letters, including temples. Of the three, the Rashtrakuta
empire lasted the longest. It was not only the most powerful empire of the
time, but also acted as a bridge between north and south India in economic as
well as in cultural matters.
THE STRUGGLE FOR DOMINATION IN NORTH INDIA: THE PALAS
The period following the death of Harsha was a period of political confusion.
For some time, Lalitaditya, the ruler of Kashmir brought the Punjab under his
control and even controlled Kanauj which, since the days of Harsha, was
considered the symbol of the sovereignty of north India—a position which
Delhi was to acquire later. Control of Kanauj also implied control of the
upper Gangetic valley and its rich resources in trade and agriculture.
Lalitaditya even invaded Bengal or Gaud, and killed its reigning king. But his
power waned with the rise of the Palas and the Gurjara-Pratiharas.
The Palas and the Pratiharas clashed with each other for the control of the
area extending from Banaras to south Bihar which again had rich resources
and well developed imperial traditions. The Pratiharas also clashed with the
Rashtrakutas of the Deccan.
The Pala empire was founded by Gopala, probably in AD 750 when he was
elected king by the notable men of the area to end the anarchy prevailing
there. Gopala was not born in a high, much less a royal family, his father
probably being a soldier. He unified Bengal under his control, and even
brought Magadha (Bihar) under his control. Gopala was succeeded in AD 770
by his son, Dharamapala, who ruled till AD 810. His reign was marked by a
tripartite struggle between the Palas, the Pratiharas and the Rashtrakutas for
the control of Kanauj and north India. The Pratihara ruler advanced upon
Gaud (Bengal), but before a decision could be taken, the Pratihara ruler was
defeated by the Rashtrakuta ruler, Dhruva, and was forced to seek refuge in
the deserts of Rajasthan. Dhruva then returned to the Deccan. This left the
field free for Dharmapala who occupied Kanauj and held a grand darbar
which was attended by vassal rulers from Punjab, eastern Rajasthan, etc. We
are told that the rule of Dharmapala extended upto the furthest limit of India
in the northwest and, perhaps, included Malwa and Berar. Apparently, this
implied that the rulers of these areas accepted the suzerainty of Dharmapala.
The triumphal career of Dharmapala may be placed between AD 790 and
800. Dharmapala could not, however, consolidate his power in north India.
The Pratihara power revived under Nagabhatta II. Dharmapala fell back, but
was defeated near Mongyr. Bihar and modern east Uttar Pradesh remained a
bone of contention between the Palas and the Pratiharas. However, Bihar, in
addition to Bengal, remained under the control of the Palas for most of the
time.
Failure in the north compelled the Pala rulers to turn their energies in
other directions. Devapala, the son of Dharmapala, who succeeded to the
throne in AD 810 and ruled for 40 years, extended his control over
Pragjyotishpur (Assam) and parts of Orissa. Probably a part of modern Nepal
was also brought under Pala suzerainty.
Thus, for about a hundred years, from the middle of the eighth to the
middle of the ninth century, the Pala rulers dominated eastern India. For
some time, their control extended upto Varanasi. Their power is attested to
by an Arab merchant, Sulaiman, who visited India in the middle of the ninth
century, and wrote an account of it. He calls the Pala Kingdom Ruhma, (or
Dharma, short for Dharmapala), and says that the Pala ruler was at war with
his neighbours, the Pratiharas and the Rashtrakutas, but his troops were more
numerous that his adversaries. He tells us that it was customary for the Pala
king to be accompanied by a force of 50,000 elephants, and that 10,000–
15,000 men in his army were employed ‘in fulling and washing clothes’. Even
if these figures may be exaggerated, we can assume that the Palas had a large
military force at their disposal. But we do not know whether they had a large
standing army, or whether their forces consisted largely of feudal levies.
Information about the Palas is also provided to us by Tibetan chronicles,
although these were written in the seventeenth century. According to these,
the Pala rulers were great patrons of Buddhist learning and religion. The
Nalanda university which had been famous all over the eastern world was
revived by Dharmapala, and 200 villages were set apart for meeting its
expenses. He also founded the Vikramasila university which became second
only to Nalanda in fame. It was located on the top of a hill, on the banks of
the Ganga in Magadha, amidst pleasant surroundings. The Palas built many
viharas in which a large number of Buddhist monks lived.
The Pala rulers also had close cultural relations with Tibet. The noted
Buddhist scholars, Santarakshita and Dipankara (called Atisa), were invited to
Tibet, and they introduced a new form of Buddhism there. As a result, many
Tibetan Buddhists flocked to the universities of Nalanda and Vikramsila for
study. Although the Palas were supporters of Buddhism, they also extended
their patronage to Saivsm and Vaishnavism. They gave grants to large
numbers of brahmans from north India who flocked to Bengal. Their
settlements helped in the extension of cultivation in the area, and the
transformation of many pastoralists and food-gatherers to settle down to
cultivation. The growing prosperity of Bengal helped in extending trade and
cultural contacts with countries of Southeast Asia—Burma, Malaya, Java,
Sumatra, etc.
The trade with Southeast Asia was very profitable and added greatly to the
prosperity of the Pala empire and led to the incursion of gold and silver from
these countries into Bengal. The powerful Sailendra dynasty, which was
Buddhist in faith and which ruled over Malaya, Java, Sumatra and the
neighbouring islands, sent many embassies to the Pala court and sought
permission to build a monastery at Nalanda, and also requested the Pala
ruler, Devapala, to endow five villages for its upkeep. The request was granted
and bears testimony to the close relations between the two empires.
THE PRATIHARAS
The Pratiharas who ruled over Kanauj for a longtime are also called Gurjara-
Pratiharas. Most scholars consider that they originated from the Gurjaras
who were pastoralists and fighters, like the Jats. The Pratiharas established a
series of principalities in central and eastern Rajasthan. They clashed with the
Rashtrakutas for the control of Malwa and Gujarat, and later for Kanauj
which implied control of the upper Ganga valley. The Pratiharas who first
had their capital at Bhinmal gained prominence under Nagabhatta I who
offered stout resistance to the Arab rulers of Sind who were trying to
encroach on Rajasthan, Gujarat, the Punjab, etc. The Arabs made a big thrust
towards Gujarat but were decisively defeated by the Chalukyan ruler of
Gujarat in 738. Although small Arab incursions continued, the Arabs ceased
to be a threat thereafter.
The efforts of the early Pratihara rulers to extend their control over the
upper Ganga valley and Malwa were defeated by the Rashtrakuta rulers
Dhruva and Gopal III. In 790 and again in 806–07, the Rashtrakutas defeated
the Pratiharas, and then withdrew to the Deccan, leaving the field free for the
Palas. Perhaps the main interest of the Rashtrakutas was the domination of
Malwa and Gujarat. The real founder of the Pratihara empire and the greatest
ruler of the dynasty was Bhoja. We do not know much about the early life of
Bhoja, or when he ascended the throne. He rebuilt the empire, and by about
AD 836 he had recovered Kanauj which remained the capital of the Pratihara
empire for almost a century.
Bhoja tried to extend his sway in the east, but he was defeated and
checkmated by the Pala ruler, Devapala. He then turned towards central India
and the Deccan and Gujarat. This led to a revival of the struggle with the
Rashtrakutas. In a sanguinary battle on the bank of the Narmada, Bhoja was
able to retain his control over considerable parts of Malwa, and some parts of
Gujarat. But he could progress no further in the Deccan. Hence, he turned his
attention to the north again. According to an inscription, his territories
extended to the western side of the river Sutlej. Arab travellers tell us that the
Pratihara rulers had the best cavalry in India. Import of horses from Central
Asia and Arabia was an important item of India’s trade at that time.
Following the death of Devapala and the weakening of the Pala empire, Bhoja
also extended his empire in the east.
The name of Bhoja is famous in legends. Perhaps, the adventures of Bhoja
in the early part of his life, his gradual reconquest of his lost empire, and his
final recovery of Kanauj struck the imagination of his contempories. Bhoja
was a devotee of Vishnu, and adopted the title of ‘Adivaraha’ which has been
found inscribed in some of his coins. He is sometimes called Mihir Bhoja to
distinguish him form Bhoja Paramara of Ujjain who ruled a little later.
Bhoja probably died in about 885. He was succeeded by his son
Mahendrapala I. Mahendrapala, who ruled till about 908–09 maintained the
empire of Bhoja and extended it over Magadha and north Bengal. His
inscriptions have also been found in Kathiawar, east Punjab and Awadh.
Mahendrapala fought a battle with the king of Kashmir but had to yield to
him some of the territories in the Punjab won by Bhoja.
The Pratiharas, thus, dominated north India for over a hundred years,
from the early ninth to the middle of the tenth century. Al- Masudi, a native
of Baghdad, who visited Gujarat in 915–16, testifies to the great power and
prestige of the Pratihara rulers and the vastness of their empire. He calls the
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