Friday, January 20, 2012

Imperial Pratiharas as the first of the Rajput clans

The identity of the Rajput clans of Rajasthan and neighboring regions was forged by the fire and hammer of foreign invasions; whether of the Turk and Mughal invasion in medieval times, or of the Saka and Kushan invasions of the ancient era. The resistance to the latter set of invaders has been described in Indian warrior clans. The older clans dwindled away and new clans were born, and these took up the burden of fighting another set of invaders, the Huns of the 6th century and the Arabs of the 8th century. The limited impact of the Hun incursions and their aftermath are summed up by the historian KM Munshi: "The Hunas disappeared as they came. The Gupta Empire, grown very weak, was dissolved; the virile Maukharis emerged victorious. But with their rise began a new phase in Indian History. Kanauj emerged as the symbol of a new order. The Golden Prime of India became a thing of the past; the military superiority of Magadha disappeared. Out of the welter emerged a set of new dynasties: the Maukharis of Kannauj, the Pushpabhutis of Thaneswar, the Maitrakas of Vallabhi and the Chalukyas of Badami. The Pallavas of Kanchi alone among the old dynasties continued to flourish. In the west, the warrior clans of what is now Rajasthan, living in the region of Mount Abu and descended from Brahmin ancestors, emerged from obscurity as a closely knit hierarchy with the Pratiharas at their head." It is in fighting the Arabs that this hierarchy of Rajput clans rose to prominence and continued to retain power in that part of India down to the 20th century.

The rise of the Arabs as a military power in the seventh century is the most significant factor of world history. At the height of their power, the Arabs captured Sindh in 712 CE and launched a major offensive into Western India around 725 CE. Some of the petty states in their path claimed victory against these foreigners, which can only mean that the Arabs could not capture their fortified towns, but prevailed in field-battles because their advance continued up to Ujjain. Here for the first time they were defeated by Nagabhatta of the Pratihara clan, so completely that they retreated out of western India altogether back to their refuge of Sindh.

In the Gwalior inscription of his descendants, Nagabhatta is represented as having "crushed the large armies of the powerful Mlechha king." Nagabhatta attained prominence with this victory; at the same time he took advantage of the Arab convulsion of the other petty states to immediately launch his own military campaign against them. He thus raised the Pratiharas to imperial status. Under his grandson Vatsaraja (783 CE) this imperial power spread into the Gangetic plains, and under Vatsaraja's son Nagabhatta II (815 CE) it is stated that "the kings of Sindhu, Andhra, Vidarbha and Kalinga succumbed to the power of Nagabhata as moths do unto fire." All this while the Rajput confederacy continued battling the Arabs, ultimately breaking their power in the late 9th century. A description of the military power of the Rajputs, is provided by the Arab merchant Sulaiman in 851 CE, when the Pratihara ruler was Bhoja: "This king 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 Arabs is the greatest of kings. Among the princes of India there is no greater foe of the Muhammadan faith than he."

From contemporary literature the titles prevalent among the Rajputs were: baladhikrta (a military officer put in charge of a town), mahayudhapati (officer in charge of the arsenal), mahapratihara (chief of the palace guards), pilupati, asvapati and paikkadhipati (commanders of the elephant, horse and infantry forces). The kottapala was an officer in charge of a kotta or fort. Samantas were feudatory chieftains and nobility of the Pratiharas and other Rajput clans, Rajasthaniyas were viceroys, while Rajaputras were the royal princes, sons of the reigning kings of each clan. Other military and feudal titles were: Mahasamantadhipati, Mahasamanta, Mahamandalika, raja, rajakula (later known as Rawal), senani, Thakkura (the Thakur of later times) and Kanaka. The military camp for the Rajput armies was called skandhavara, and a description of the Rajput soldiers in the Yasastilaka champu is given as follows:

  1. They had dhotis coming up to knees.
  2. Their loins were girt with daggers mounted on the handles of buffalo horns.
  3. The close and dense growth of hair that covered their bodies, constituted as it were, armour for their entire body.
  4. They appeared to be three-headed on account of quivers on both the right and left sides of their heads.
  5. They surpassed even Krpa, Krpadharma, Karna, Arjuna, Drona, Drupada, Bhaga and Bhargava in shooting arrows swiftly, vigorously and accurately at distant objects.

What sets apart the Pratihara Empire from their contemporaries and predecessors is the sheer number, and near independent status, of their feudatory and allied clans. It is intriguing that some of these bigger clans claimed the same imperial status as the Pratiharas, by assuming the titles of Maharajadhiraja and Maharaja, and portrayed their relationship with the Pratiharas as an alliance in which they provided military aid in times of need. At other times they could field their armies in independent pursuits of power, and sometimes in contests against their overlord. The Pratiharas would not, or could not, suppress these alternate centers of power and this weakened their polity. On the other hand it gave a kind of stability to the region in that the fall of one clan to foreign invasion only gave an opportunity to another clan for filling the power vacuum and continuing the fight against that invader. The legacy of the contemporary Rashtrakutas and Palas is lost in the pages of history, but that of the Rajput clans has lasted thousands of years, right down to the 20th century.

These Rajput warriors were linked together as equals in the muster roll of 36 ruling clans (Chhattis Rajkul) which became the bedrock of Rajput identity in Rajasthan. The downside of this arrangement was that these warrior clans spent a great amount of time in internecine contests, stabilized on rare occasions by the rise of one power like the Pratiharas. Whenever such clan-confederacies emerged in Rajput history they projected their power into the Gangetic plains in the same manner as the Pratihara Rajputs had done: under the Chauhan Rajputs in the 12th century when Delhi and southern Punjab were captured, and then under the Sesodia Rajputs in the 16th century when the battle for the mastery of the Gangetic plains was fought at Khanua. At all other times these states, even those ruled by branches of the same clan, fought each other, as illustrated in the case of the rulers of Mandor, in west Rajasthan, who also belonged to the Pratihara clan. While the history of the Imperial Pratiharas is given in the Gwalior inscription of Bhoja, that of the Mandor Pratiharas is given in Jodhpur inscription of Bauka Pratihara. From these inscriptions it becomes clear that Mandor was the original kingdom of the Pratiharas, and younger members of the line established separate kingdoms in other parts of Rajasthan, Gujarat, and Madhya Pradesh. The senior line of Mandor had to submit to the junior line in the wake of the latter's victory over the Arabs, but reasserted their independence whenever the power of the Imperial Pratiharas was weakened. Both families constructed temples at the important religious center of Osian in west Rajasthan.

The town of Osian is built around the Sachiyamata hill, which is crowned by the Sachiyamata temple. The present construction dates to the 12th century and later, but the original temple is dated to the 8th century. Worship continues at this temple to this day, as it does at the Mahavira Jain temple, which was built by Vatsaraja of the Imperial Pratihara line. It is believed that of all the ancient temples at Osian, the Vishnu and Surya temples were constructed by the Imperial Pratiharas while the Saiva and Sakti temples were built by the Mandor Pratiharas. The latter increasingly after the 9th century when the Imperial line's power was centered more and more around Kannauj and Gwalior.

Links of the Pratihara with Brahmins, Bhandi, and Gurjara


Both the Imperial Pratiharas and the Mandor Pratiharas claimed the status of Suryavanshi Kshatriyas of the Ikshvaku clan of Sri Rama through his brother Lakshmana. The two differ marginally on how the term Pratihara originates with Lakshmana: inscriptions of the Imperial line claims that Lakshmana repelled the enemies under Meghanada, during the battle with Ravana, hence performing the duties of a pratihara (protector) while the Jodhpur inscription says that he performed this duty while guarding Sita. The term pratihar/pratihari originally was used for a palace guard or common soldier (its modern form in Hindi is prahri), but in the early medieval times the Mahapratihara had become the title of an important general. It is entirely conceivable that the Pratihara Rajputs had an ancestor who was such a general in some kingdom who later established his own rule, and his descendants carried on the clan name as Pratihara. Later they associated this title with the epic hero Lakshmana. In late medieval times the agnikula legend (warriors being created from a fire-pit by Brahmins at Mt Abu) was associated with four Rajput clans, including the Pratiharas, more as glorification than actual historicity. There are some other intriguing references in the old inscriptions:

Brahmin ancestry - The inscription of the Mandor Pratiharas states that their ancestor Harichandra was a Brahman who took up arms in the place of studying scriptures. Harichandra had two wives, a Brahmin woman (who is not given any title) from whom the Pratihara Bramins emerged, and a Kshatriya woman (who is given the title of queen) whose sons became Pratihara Rajputs. The inscription says, "those who were born of Queen Bhadra became drinkers of wine", which is a trait identified with the Rajputs. Each of her four sons are named individually, but the sons of the Brahmin wife are not even mentioned. And further no clan of Parihar Brahmins is mentioned in later history while Parihar Rajputs are still to be found. From the inscriptions of other Rajput clans it becomes clear that Brahmin status is additionally accorded to some of their rulers either because they gained proficiency in studying scriptures, or because as rulers they performed some religious functions. The Jodhpur inscription also says that the four sons of Harichandra built a large rampart round the fort of Mandavyapura (Mandor) which was gained by their own prowess. Forts cannot be built, or towns captured, without an existing army.

Bhati and Bhandi clans - Siluka, a ruler of the Mandor Pratihara line, is said to have defeated Bhattika Devaraj who was initially identified with Devaraja of the Imperial Pratihara line. But the reference to Bauka Pratihara's mother Padmini as belonging to the Bhati clan of Rajputs in that same inscription, suggests that Bhattika Devaraj was the ruler of the Bhati clan whose territories were in the Jaisalmer district, to the northwest of Mandor. Their old capital was Lodurva and after the initial battles, peace was made between the two clans by a matrimonial alliance. In the Gwalior inscription it is stated about Vatsaraja of the Imperial line that "with strong bows as his companion he forcibly wrested (hathad-agrahit) the empire (samrajyam), in battle from the famous Bhandi clan, hard to be overcome by reason of the rampart made of infuriated elephants." Some historians identify this Bhandi clan as the same as the Bhati Rajputs; this would explain why the Imperial Pratiharas wrested "the empire" from them as they were allied to the Mandor Pratiharas. Other historians take Bhandi to be the name of a clan located in UP because Bhandi was the name of a maternal uncle of Harshvardhana, the ruler of Kannauj.

Gurjara province - The Rajasthani hill-station of Mt Abu was the geographical and spiritual center of a territory known in ancient times as Gurjara. This territory covered northern Gujarat and southwest Rajasthan, and it shared a cultural affinity with the neighboring region of Maru, covering western Rajasthan. In more modern times, Gurjara evolved into Gujarat, while Maru became Marwar. The domain of the Mandor Pratiharas covered both these regions and the temples built at Osian are categorized under the Maru-Gurjara style of architecture. The agnikula legend of later times also points to Mt Abu as the original home of the Pratiharas. This is why the Pratihara rulers are sometimes described as Gurjara, Gurjararaja, Gurjaranatha, in the records of their contemporaries. Another related principality of this era was Nandipuri in southern Gujarat, which was founded by Dadda, who is identified with the youngest son of Harichandra Pratihara. This family claims to have been born in the lineage of the kings of Gurjara (Gurjara nripa vamsa) but the clan name of Pratihara is missing from all their records. It is plausible that Gurjara was the original name of a clan based in Mt Abu, after whom the territory got its name, and which sent different branches south into Gujarat and north into Mandor. However no record of such a clan has been unearthed. And if the Pratiharas of Mandor were descended from such a clan, it is inexplicable that the name Gurjara as used in the sense of a clan, is completely missing from their records or those of the Imperial Pratiharas. A separate blog post is required for the wild hypotheses of colonial historians on the ancient Gurjara province.

There are many more references to Gurjara as a province, than as a clan. The Kuvalayamala, was composed in Prakrit by Uddotana in 779 CE, at Jalor in Rajasthan at the same time as the Pratihara empire was being formed. It makes reference to the adjoining territories of Maru, Malava, Gurjar, Lata, Madhyadesa, Takka, and Sindhu. The 7th century Chinese pilgrim Hiuen Tsang has spoken of a kingdom in Rajasthan as follows: "The king is of the Kshatriya caste. He is just twenty years old, He is distinguished for wisdom and he is courageous. He is a deep believer in the law of Buddha and highly honours men of distinguished ability." Hiuen Tsang named this kingdom ku-che-lo, which can be identified as Gurjara, with its capital at pi-lo-mo, usually identified with Bhinamalla near Mt Abu. In Bana's Harsha Charita it is said that in the 6th century Prabhakarvardhana of Thaneswar (in modern Haryana) fought the Hunas (lingering on in the Punjab and Kashmir), the king of Sindhu (modern Sindh), the king of Gurjara (Gujarat+SW Rajasthan), the lord of Gandhara (northwest), the ruler of Lata (southern Gujarat), and that of Malava (western Madhya Pradesh). Even in more modern times the word Gujar was being used in territorial sense, rather than tribal, in certain parts of India. For instance the 1879 Rajputana gazetteer reports that in Marwar the word Gujar is used to designate Gujarat. Meanwhile the 1883 Gazetteer of the Bombay Presidency reports that in Maharashtra vani (traders) were named after the provinces of their origin; hence the word Gujar meant a Gujarat Vani while Marwari was used for a Marwar Vani. Apart from these references there are numerous communities still bearing the cognomen of Gurjar, pointing to its geographical origin, the most prominent of whom are the Gurjara Brahmins.

Parihar Rajput settlements around the old bases of the Pratiharas


The line of Imperial Pratiharas at Kannauj, which rose to power in the wake of the Arab invasion, was finally extinguished 300 years later during the Turk invasions of Mahmud of Ghazni. But the wider clan of Pratihara Rajputs, and their other bases like Mandor and Gwalior, continued to survive till a much later period. Over the centuries the clan name Pratihara evolved into Parihar and variants like Purihar and Padhiar. In Rajasthan the Parihar Rajputs have numerous sub-clans like Indha, Ramawat, Juda, Lulapota, Nadhat, and Sindhal, which is not surprising considering their long rule in Mandor. The above map shows how the population of Parihar Rajputs is located close to the major Pratihara strongholds.

Parihar Rajputs of Mandor - After a revival in the 10th century, the old line of Mandor Pratiharas saw a decline in their power, and became feudatory to the newer powers like the Paramars from Malwa, and later to the Chauhans of Nadol and Ajmer. The Mandor Pratihars were part of the Rajput confederacy under the Chauhans of Ajmer which was ended by the death of Prithviraja on the fatal field of Tarain in 1192. But it took another 100 years of constant warfare before the Delhi sultanate could project its power on Rajputana; in 1292 Mandor was conquered by Jalaluddin Khalji. The Parihar ruler and his family eluded captivity and found refuge in the neighboring Bhati Rajput kingdom of Jaisalmer. As per the 1879 Rajputana gazetteer, Purihar Rajputs were still to be found in that desert region. Mandor itself was under Muslim rule for the next 100 years; but it seems that only the city was occupied by the Turk governors and their soldiers while the remaining land was held by the Parihar Rajputs. The full story of this period is not before us; but we can assume that time and again the Parihars tried to overthrow the interlopers and were unsuccessful. At other times they paid land revenue and provided military service to the Turks.

What saved the Parihars from annihilation was the underlying strength of the Rajput clan system, described earlier, in that newer clans were always emerging to take on the mantle of resistance against the invaders. Guerrilla warfare by these Rajput clans led to the liberation of Rajputana in the late 14th century, while some nearby parts of India remained under the Turks. In the case of Mandor, the Rathor Rajputs had emerged from the district of Kher to become the dominant power in the Marwar region, and in 1382 they conquered Mandor from the Muslims. Mandor became the capital of the Rathor rulers until Jodhpur was established in the 15th century; the cenotaphs of their rulers are still to be found here. The Parihars were assimilated under the Rathors as feudatories and numbers of them are to be found in Jodhpur. Some of them joined in the Rathor expansion further north; Rao Bika the founder of Bikaner had a prominent general named Bela Parihar and not surprisingly Parihar Rajputs are to be found in that part of Rajasthan as well. Poorer members of this clan seemed to have joined the ranks of the other communities, such are the Parihar Meenas and Parihar Kolis. An interesting family of businessmen (seth), who were previously armourers, carry the clan name Parihar and trace their history to Mandore: Curious House.

The Parihar Rajputs in Marwar still had the numbers and resources to impact the polity centuries later. In the 17th century Mughal emperor Aurangzeb invaded the Rathor kingdom of Marwar and Jadunath Sarkar writes: "A strong force was sent into Marwar under Sarbuland Khan, and a fortnight later the emperor himself started for Ajmer to direct the conquest of the state. Anarchy and slaughter were let loose on the doomed province. The nationalist party was threatened by a host of enemies. The Parihars — the dispossessed ancient lords of the land and the hereditary enemies of the Rathor interlopers — tried to revive their historic kingdom of Gurjara-Pratihara by seizing Mandor, the ancient capital, 5 miles north of Jodhpur."

Ujjain - Another base for the Pratiharas was Ujjain. In the 11th century it came under the Parmara Rajputs but pockets of Parihar settlements still abound in the region spanning MP, Gujarat, and southeast Rajasthan. The 12th century Prithviraja Vijaya names Jaggadeva Pratihara as a general in the Solanki Rajput kingdom of Gujarat. In the 15th century the state of Umeta, situated due west of the city of Baroda, was established by a Padhiar Rajput named Jhanjarji.

Gwalior - the strategic fort of Gwalior contains some of the oldest records the Parihar Rajputs. But like Ujjain, it too fell to newer powers like the Chandellas and the Kacchapaghatas. In 1196 CE the latter clan were uprooted by the Turks of the Delhi sultanate. But once again the staying power of the Rajput clan confederacy was displayed when fifteen years later the Parihar Rajput chief Vigraha defeated the Muslims. His descendants held Gwalior for half a century and were only expelled by Sultan Balban in 1258. The Parihar Rajputs from Gwalior established important states in the adjoining regions that lasted till the modern era. One was Alipura in Bundelkhand and the other was Nagod, in Baghelkhand. Since Nagod has been a Parihar Rajput stronghold concurrently with Gwalior, it is depicted on the map along with the other Pratihara strongholds.

Nagod state is described in some detail by the Archaeological Survey of India (1874) covering Alexander Cunningham's tour of Central India: "Uchahara is a small town and railway station on the high road between Allahabad and Jabalpur, and six miles to the south-west of Bharhut. The town gives its name to the chiefship of a Parihar Raja, who is, however, better known now as the Raja of Nagod......From the late Minister of the Uchahara State, I learned that the Parihar chiefship was older than that of the Chandels of Mahoba, as well as that of the Baghels of Rewa......The great lake at Bilhari, called Lakshman Sagar, is said to have been made by Lakshman Sen Parihar; and the great fort of Singorgarh, still farther to the south, contains a pillar bearing the name of a Parihar Raja. The family has no ancient records, and vaguely claims to have come from Abu-Sikhar in the west (Mount Abu), more than thirty generations ago....The great ruined fortress of Singorgarh commands the Jabera pass leading through the hills between Jabalpur and Damoh and Saugor. It is true that the old fort is not of great size; but its name would appear to have been derived from a certain Gaj Singh Pratihar, according to an inscription of 8 lines which is recorded on a square stone pillar....in which the hill is called Gaja-Singhadurggye. The monolith is called kirtti-stambha, or the 'pillar of fame.' It was set up in the Samvat year 1364, or AD 1307. The whole of this part of the country would appear to have belonged to the Parihars or Pratihars as we find was actually the case in A. D. 1307, when these monoliths were erected."

Kannauj - A large colony of Parihar Rajputs is to be found in the Etawah district of Uttar Pradesh, with the Raja of Malhajini at their head. The Unnao district of Uttar Pradesh similarly has Parihar settlers, no doubt originating from their ancestral base of Kannauj. Another colony of Parihar Rajputs is in the Hamirpur district; they call themselves descendants of the celebrated Parihar Raja, Jajhar Singh of Hamirpur, who settled there from Marwar.