In this article we will discuss about the tripartite contest between the Gurjara-Pratiharas, the Rashtrakutas and the Palas for the Suzerains over Kannauj or the Ganges Valley which happened after the death of Emperor Harsha Vardhana.
After the death of Emperor Harsha Vardhana, his empire disintegrated and north India was parcelled out in many states. Yet, the glory of Kannauj remained. The glory of being the capital of north India was no more Pataliputra but Kannauj. All eminent rulers of India contested among themselves either to make Kannauj their capital or keep their control over it. After Emperor Harsha; Yasoverma (Nearly 690-740 A.D.) revived the glory of Kannauj first.
His contempory rulers were Chalukya king, Vinayaditya and king of Kashmir, Lalitaditya. Both of them fought against him to capture Kannauj. The contest between Yasoverma and Vinayaditya, probably, was not decisive but Lalitaditya, certainly, defeated Yasoverma. None of the successors of Yasoverma proved capable and. in the late 8th century, Kannauj was captured by rulers of another dynasty, the Ayudhas.
In 770 A.D., among the Ayudhas, Vajrayudh became the ruler of Kannauj. But his kingdom was small. After his death, his son, Indrayudh became the ruler in 783 or 784 A.D. His brother, Chakrayudha, however, opposed him. When these two brothers were fighting against each other for capturing the throne of Kannauj, the newly risen eminent powers of India desired to capture Kannauj for themselves.
By this later period of the 8th century, three dynasties had become powerful in India. These were the Gurjara-Pratiharas of Rajasthan, the Rashtrakutas of Maharashtra and nearby territories in south India and the Palas of Bengal. Different rulers of these dynasties tried to fulfill the ideal of a Chakravartin Samrat and therefore, attempted to extend their empires as much as could be possible and also to capture Kannauj which enjoyed the glory of being the capital of north India.
Therefore, different rulers of these dynasties fought against each other to capture Kannauj and, thereby, to gain the glory of being the emperor of India. This contest between these three dynasties to capture Kannauj and. thereby, the Ganges Valley has been called Tripartite-contest.
The Pratihara ruler, Vatsraja took the initiative to capture Kannauj and, thereby, the Ganges Valley. Indrayudha was the ruler of Kannauj at that time. He accepted the suzerainty of Vatsraja. But, at that time, the Pala ruler, Dharmapala and the Rashtrakuta ruler, Dhruva were equally desirous of capturing Kannauj. Vatsraja proceeded ahead of Kannauj and defeated Dharmapala in a battle.
But, at that very time, Dhruva entered north India. He gave a battle to Vatsraja in the Ganges-Yamuna-Doaft and defeated him. Dhruva also attacked the Pala ruler, Dharmapala defeated him and captured Kannauj. But Dhruva could not remain for long in north India. He soon returned to the South. The advantage was taken over by Dharmapala.
The power of Pratiharas being crippled, he found the opportunity to attack Kannauj. He deposed Indrayudh from the throne who had accepted the suzerainty of the Pratiharas and the Rashtrakutas in turn and placed his brother, Chakrayudh on the throne of Kannauj under his suzerainty.
The success of Dhrampala at Kannauj was a challenge to the Pratiharas. However, Vatsraja died in 805 A.D. He was succeeded by his son Nagabhatta II. Nagabhatta II revived the glory of his empire and. after consolidating his power in nearby territories, attacked Kannauj. He defeated Chakrayudh and captured Kannauj. He also attacked Dharmapala, defeated him as well and succeeded in entering in his territory up to Munger in Bihar.
But, Nagabhatta II too could not enjoy his fortune for long. The then Rashtrakuta ruler, Govinda III was also an ambitious and capable ruler and had inherited enmity with the Pratiharas. Besides he, probably was invited by Chakrayudh and Dharmapala to the North who sought his help against Nagabhatta II. Govinda III, therefore, attacked north India.
Chakrayudh and Dharmpala accepted his suzerainty without fighting and Kannauj was taken over by Govinda III But Nagabhatta II gave him a battle somewhere in Bundelkhand in 809-810 A.D. Nagabhatta II was defeated. But Govinda III also could not stay in north India and soon retired to the South.
It again left free the Pratiharas and the Palas to contest against each other for capturing Kannauj. Both Nagabhatta II and Dharmapala consolidated their respective powers. However, no battle took place between the two. Probably, Kannauj was occupied by Nagabhatta II.
Dharmpala was succeeded by Devapala (810-850 A.D.) in Bengal. He renewed the contest against the Pratiharas. Devapala forced Nagabhatta II to withdraw back. He established his supremacy in north India and also defeated the new Pratihara ruler. Mihirbhoja (836-885 A.D ). However, the successors of Devapala proved weak and. though the power of the Palas was once more revived by Mahipala I (988-1038 A.D.), yet, they could not pose to be challengers to the Pratiharas after the rule of Devapala.
The Pratihara ruler Mihirabhoja succeeded not only in capturing Kannauj but, probably, Bihar also. Mihirabhoja tried to penetrate in the South also and therefore, fought against the Rashtrakuta ruler. Krishna II twice. First time, he succeeded against Krishna II but next time, was defeated. Yet, Mihirabhoja succeeded in creating an extensive empire in the North.
The Rashtrakuta ruler, Indra III also attacked north India sometime between 915-918 A.D., defeated the Pratihara ruler Mahipala and looted Kannauj. But, again the Rashtrakutas withdrew to south India and their success proved short-lived. The Pratiharas again regained pre-eminence in north India. Thus, in this tripartite contest between the Pratiharas, Palas and Rashtrakutas for the suzerainty over Kannauj and capture of Ganges Valley, the Pratiharas were victorious.
But the final impact of this contest went against the interest of India. It limited the power of the Palas in Bengal alone while the power of the Pratiharas and the Rashtrakutas was weakened.
Thus, by the beginning of the 10th century, all the three powers were practically broken down which resulted in fragmentation of India in many states. Besides, no Indian dynasty after the Pratiharas attempted to unite even north India which paved way for the successful attacks of Mahmud of Ghazni on India in the 11th century.