Emperor Mihirbhoj Pratihāra: Saving his legacy from vote bank politics

Emperor Mihirbhoj Pratihar vote bank politics

The birth anniversary of Rajput Emperor Mihirbhoj Parihar, one of the greatest rulers of the ninth century, is being celebrated across north India on October 18. Celebrations are particularly notable in historical towns of Pratihars (their descendants are now known as Parihar Rajputs) like Mandore, Bhinmal, Kannauj, Gwalior, and Nagod. Ironically, the celebrations have not been limited to prominent Rajput organizations like Akhil Bhartiya Kshatriya Mahasabha and Kshatriya Yuvak Sangh, but some groups from the Gujjar community too have joined in too. The last two decades have been witness to distortion of Rajput history where political parties led by RSS-BJP have reduced historical figures like Mihirbhoj Pratihar in order to garner votes of the Gujjar community. This distortion has led to Gujjars of NCR wrongly claiming they are descendants of the Gurjar-Pratihars, as explained in my previous article.

The reign of the Imperial Pratihars is one of the golden chapters of our history where the Rajput dynasty had kept the marauding Islamic invaders at bay for more than two centuries. Emperor Bhoja I Pratihar (836–885 CE) alias Mihirbhoj Parihar followed his father Rambhadra and reconsolidated the Pratihar Empire in the ninth century. At its height, Bhoja’s empire extended to Narmada River in the South, Sutlej River in the northwest, and up to Bengal in the east. It extended over a large area from the foot of the Himalayas up to the river Narmada.

The Barah Copper Inscription introduces Bhoja I or Mihirbhoj Pratihar as – Param Bhagavatī Bhakto Maharāja Śrī Bhojadeva. The Arab chronicler Sulaiman describes the army of the Mihirbhoj Pratihar as it stood in 851 CE, “The ruler of Gurjara 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”

Mihirbhoj Pratihar built the Sagar Tal at Gwalior and the inscription opens with adoration of Vishnu then it highlights the origin of the Pratihar clan. It mentions legendary kings like Ikshvaku and highlights that “In the same race was born Lakshmana, the brother of Rama. Saumitri (Lakshmana) was a devoted brother and served as a Pratihara (doorkeeper). It further states that “In that family, which bore the insignia of Pratihara, was born Nagabhata I who destroyed an army of a mlechchha king.”(Epigraphia Indica-18, p. 110. The Gwalior Prashasti of Bhoj I). One of Emperor Mihirbhoj’s wife, the mother of his successor Mahendrapala I (885–910), was a Bhati Chandrabhattarika – indicating that the Bhattis were firmly entrenched in Vallamandala (older name of Jaisalmer region). His other wife was Kalavati Chauhan, the sister of Guvaka I Chauhan (863-890 CE) of Sambhar Chauhan dynasty (RB Singh, History of Chauhans, p. 96-97, 116).

The prominent feudatories under the Pratihars were Rajput lineages like the Guhilots of Chatsu (Jaipur) survived by Guhilot Rajputs of today’s Sāttha-Chaurasi, the Guhilots of Mewar, Tomar Rajputs of Kurukshetra (identified by the Pehowa Inscription), the Chauhans of Sambhar and Dholpur, Pratihars of Mandore, Bhattis of Maand or Vallamandala, Chavdas of Patan, Kalchuris of Chedi and Chandels of Jejakabhukti (Bundelkhand).

Kannauj, the capital of Pratihars, was later be conquered by Raja Gopal Rathore (Rashtrakut) who was a feudatory of Emperor Chandradev Gaharwar. (R.C. Majumdar, The Struggle for Empire,Bhartiya Vidya Bhavan, pp. 50-51). In 1911, the district Gazetteer of Farrukhabad (Kannauj was part of Farrukhabad) recorded a Parihar/Pratihāra Rajput population of 1,575 who owned 4235 acres (E R Neave; Farrukhabad: District Gazetteers of The United Provinces of Agra and Oudh; p. 72).

The Imperial Pratihar dynasty also left behind many cadet branches near Kannauj, especially in the Chambal and Bundelkhand regions. Some of them were the Gwalior Pratihar, Hamirpur Pratihar, Chanderi Pratihar, Damoh-Nagod Pratihar dynasty. The Census of India, 1921, Volume-XX, Gwalior, Part-II, p.78 showed 1,754 Parihars in Gwalior district. Similarly, Volume XXII of the District Gazetteers of the United Provinces & Oudh, 1909, p. 71 counted 2,640 Parihar Rajputs in Hamirpur district. The Central India State Census series, Vol XXII, Nagod State, p. 13 counted 2451 Parihars in Satna District.

Apart from the plethora of inscriptional evidence and British era Gazetteers/Census records, noted anthropologist Prof FC Spaulding submitted a research paper to the Ohio State University in 1994. He made the distinction between Gujjar and Gurjara stating, “… there were no traditions, written, oral or otherwise, among the Gujars to suggest the existence of this medieval kingdom and of the contemporary Gujars’ link to it”. If we are to take this logic further, then if Pratihar and other Rajputs of ‘Gurjara’ (ancient word for the region comprising parts of Rajasthan and Gujarat) are Gujjar because of the demonym Gurjara associated with them, then shouldn’t it also apply to Gurjara Brahmins, Gurjara Jains, Gurjara Suthars, Gurjara Pasis as well?

That other communities are also celebrating the birth anniversary of Emperor Mihirbhoj Pratihar is welcome, as he is truly a national treasure and an important historical figure. Yet, this should not come at the expense of his lineage distorted for political gains. The appropriation of the ninth century Rajput emperor just before the UP assembly elections is another example of vote bank politics to appease backward castes at the expense of Rajput history.

First published in Times of India

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