Imperial Pratihars: India’s glorious chapter forgotten in history books

Imperial Pratihars India’s glorious chapter forgotten in history books

At a time when Arab imperialism was growing in the Middle-East region and Central Asia in the seventh century, they couldn’t make much headway beyond Sindh in the Indian subcontinent. The primary reason for this resistance was the rule of the Imperial Pratihars who created a bulwark of defence against the marauding Islamic invaders bringing peace and stability in the region.

 

Their domain united all the Rajputs of Northern India and their feudatories included the Guhilots (Sisodiya) of Mewar, Chauhans of Shakambhari, Chandelas of Jejakabhukti, Kachwahas of Gwalior, Tomars of Delhi and Solankis of Gujarat. Yet this dynasty fails to find an honourable mention in our history books. That is the one of the biggest untold tragedies of Indian history.

So, who exactly were the Imperial Pratihars?

Genealogically, each of these linked themselves to Lord Ram’s brother Lakshmana, but the earliest historically known Pratihar was Harishchandra. The Ghatiyala inscription of 861 AD refers to him as a vipra (learned man). The branch of Imperial Pratihars was founded by, Nagbhatt I of Bhinmal (Abu), near the Rajasthan Gujarat border. Some of our textbooks wrongly refer to them as “Gurjar-Pratihars”. As per noted historian Prof. SR Sharma, the Imperial Pratihars never identified themselves as ‘Gurjar Pratihar’. Even though the dynasty was founded in the ancient Gurjara region (parts of Rajasthan and Gujarat), it subsequently ruled from Ujjain in MP and later Kannauj in UP (Sharma, Shanta Rani; Origin and Rise of the Imperial Pratihars of Rajasthan; p. 30). Historically, the phrase ‘Gurjar-Pratihar, was used only once by an Imperial Pratihar feudatory called Mathandev of Rajorgarh (Alwar, Rajasthan) in an Inscription for himself. Famous indologist F Kielhorn and BD Chattopadhyay identified this Alwar clan as Badgujar Rajputs (Epigraphia Indica, III, No. 36; Rajor Inscription of Mathandev VS 1016 by F Kielhorn).

Sculptures near Teli Mandir, Gwalior Fort (Credit: The British Library)
Sculptures near Teli Mandir, Gwalior Fort (Credit: The British Library)

Noted historian and freedom fighter KM Munshi wrote about the Imperial Pratihars as, ‘They all came from warrior clans between 550 and 700 AD in Gurjaradesa, of which the pivot was the region of Mount Abu’. He went on to write, ’the ultimate source of their greatness can be traced to the upsurgence of Gurjaradesa, modern Marwar, under Harichandra in c. 550 and the aggressive vigour which it acquired under Nagabhata I when he drove out the Arabs in c. 725 A.C.; their descendants survive today under the name of Rajputs’.

The Gallaka inscription (795 CE) notes that Nagbhatt I (730-760 CE), defeated the invincible Gurjara rulers from Bharuch (Epigraphia Indica XLI, p. 49-57). After his conquest of Gurjara pradesh, his contemporaries called Nagbhatt I as Gurjareshwar i.e. Lord of Gurjara region. His grandnephew Vatsraja Pratihar (780 -800 CE) shifted the capital to Ujjain in Malwa. The Gallaka inscription also attests both Nagbhatt I, and Vatsraja having defeated Arab forces (Shanta Rani, p. 69 & 82). Tripartite Struggle with Rashtrakuts (Rathores) and Palas resulted in Pratihars winning Kannauj and making it their capital.

It was under Bhoja I or Mihirbhoj Pratihar (836-885 CE) that their empire was at their peak, stretching from the foot of the Himalayas in the north to the Narmada River in the south, and from the Sutlej River in the northwest to Bengal in the east. The Barah Copper Plate Inscription (836 CE) introduces him as “Param Bhagavati Bhakto Maharaja Bhojdev”. He was described by the Arab Chronicler Sulaiman (851 CE) as, “Among the princes of India, there is no greater foe of the Islamic faith than him.” Mihirbhoj Parihar also constructed the famous Teli ka Mandir of Gwalior. After fighting for over two centuries, against the Islamic invasions of the west and Ghaznavid invasions in the Northwest, the dynasty eventually fell in decline resulting in the independence of several Rajput states like Mandore Pratihars, Delhi Tomars, Shakambhari Chauhans, Patan Solankis, and Chandels.

The Pratihar Rajputs of Kannauj were succeeded by several cadet-lineages in the vicinity, namely the Gwalior-Narwar Parihar, Chanderi and Nagod-Unchahara dynasties. The Parihar dynasty of Gwalior is attested by the 1150 inscription of Ramdeo and 1194 inscription of Lohanga-Deva (EI XXXVIII Part I,p. 134). In 1232 CE, the Gwalior Pratihar dynasty met its end with the invasion of Iltutmish. The Jauhar Kund at northern end of Gwalior Fort marked the first recorded Jauhar among any Rajput group. Two rock-cut inscriptions of Parihar Rajput rulers from Chanderi, Malwa, bear witness to the second branch. The famous general of Rana Sanga, Medini Rai who regained control of Chanderi in exchange for his services, is believed to be from this branch (Arvind Kumar Singh, Later Pratihar Rulers and their Inscriptions, Itihas Darpan XV (2) -2010, p. 60).

A third sub-branch from Kannauj established itself between Mahu (Charkhari) and Mahoba, they were later pushed eastwards by the Chandels. This branch under Veerrajdeo Parihar established the Nagod State with its capital at Unchehara in 1344. This Parihar (apabhramsa for Pratihar) state in Satna district in Baghelkhand, remained the last vestige of Pratihar power till 1947 (History, Satna District, The Imperial Gazetter, p. 300-301)

The reign of the Imperial Pratihars was the golden period of what historians termed as the ‘Rajput Era’. It comes as a huge surprise that a glorious stable Hindu empire existed for more than two centuries under the face of Islamic invasions. Yet our political establishment and successive governments have indulged in reckless distortion of history, let alone recognise the role of Imperial Pratihars in our textbooks, due to vote-bank politics.

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