The History of Early Medieval Northern India | Indian History

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Early Medieval Northern India:

After the disappearance of the centralized polities in northern India, the period between 800 -1200 A.D. saw the emergence of regional kingdoms. Centralized states gave way to decentralized political systems based on local interests. This change took place due to the emergence of a politico-eco­nomic structure termed as feudalism.


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Since the Gupta period, the political structure in northern India was increasingly becoming feudal. The relationship of the king to his subordinates was more like vassal and lord. Feudatories were granted land along with certain rights on the land. Later they were given the right to sub-infeudation, i.e. making a further grant of the land, thus building a hierarchy of officials.

The feudatory had certain military obligations towards the king and was required to supply the king with armed men whenever needed. Theoretically the feudatory was a claimant of the larid revenue and the land was re-assigned after his death, but in reality the feudatory held the land in perpetuity and this tended to become hereditary with time.

Gradually these feudatories assumed criminal and judicial functions and administered territories with minimum possible allegiance to the central authority. They also began to assume high sounding titles as Mahasamanta, Mahamandaleshwara and so on.

The outcome of the growth of feudalism was the carving out of independent principalities by the various vassals in different parts of the country. It is under these conditions that decentralized regional power flourished in the eighth- ninth century A.D. in northern India. This period is also known for the tripartite struggle between the Rashtrakutas, the Palas and the Pratiharas who established them­selves in different regions.

The Pratiharas:

The Pratiharas were also called Gurjara-Pratiharas, probably because they origi­nated from Gurjaratra or South-Western Rajasthan. The earliest well-known king of this dynasty was Nagabhatta I, who was known for repulsing an attack of the mlechhas, possibly the Arabs of Sind. His grand nephew Vatsaraj was known to have ruled in 813 A.D.

He included Jodhpur in his kingdom. He defeated Dharmapala, the Pala ruler of Bengal but himself suffered a defeat at the hands of the Rashtrakuta king Dhruva. His successor Nagabhatta II exterminated Yasovarman’s dynasty and shifted his capital from Bhinmal to Kannauj. Govinda III of the Rashtrakutas defeated him and occupied Malwa.

He overran Kannauj, deposed Chakrayudha, Dharmapala’s protege and made Kannauj the seat of Pratiharas. He also defeated his contemporary, Dharmapala. After a brief rule of his son Ramabhadra, the Pratihara glory reached its zenith under Mihir Bhoja or Bhoja (836-85 A.D.), 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 under Dhruva III .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.

The Daulatpura Copper Plate inscription of Bhoja shows that the Pratihara king had succeeded in reasserting his authority over central and eastern Raiputana. After the death of the powerful Pala ruler Devapala, Bhoja defeated the weak Pala king Narayanapala and secured considerable part of his western dominions.

The Arab traveller, Sulaiman, writing in A.D. 851 paid tribute to the efficiency of Bhoja’s administration. Bhoja’s dominion extended upto Sutlej in the North-West, the foot of the Himalayas in the North, Bengal in the east, major portion of Rajaputana in the west and upto Narmada in the South. Bhoja was a devotee of Vishnu and adopted the title of Adivaraha.

Bhoja was succeeded by his son Mahendrapala I, who extended the empire over Magadha and north Bengal, but lost some of the territories in the Punjab to the king of Kashmir. In the reign of Mahipala, the Rashtrakuta ruler Indra III completely devasted the city of Kannauj. One of the last Pratihara rulers was Rajyapala, during whose reign Mahmud of Gazni invaded Kannauj.

In 1018 A.D. Rajypala instead of opposing the invader deserted Kannauj and retired to a safe place. To punish him for such a cowardly act, the Chandella king Vidyadhara attacked and killed him in the ensuing war. 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 Gurjarat – Pratihara kingdom al-Juzr (a corrupt form of Gurjarat), and the king Baura, the title used for Bhoja, although Bhoja had died by that time.

The Palas:

The Pala dynasty was founded by Gopala in A.D 750 at a time when Bengal was without a king under anarchy. Gopala was elected by different chiefs and nobles as their king. Gopala was an ardent Buddhist and is supposed to have built the monastery of Odontapuri.

Dharmapala (780- 810 A.D), the son and successor of Gopala was the most powerful king of the dynasty. He is credited with the establishment of the Vikramshila University. He was a devout Buddhist and assumed the title of Paramasangata. During the reign of Dharmapala the Pala kingdom extended from Pataliputra to Rajshahi.

Dharmapala was defeated by the Rashtrakuta ruler, Dhruva, who had earlier defeated the Pratihara ruler. Dharmapala installed Chakrayudha on the throne of Kannauj, but he could not consoli­date his control over Kannauj.

He was defeated by the Pratihara king Nagabhatta II near Monghyr. As a Buddhist, he founded the famous Buddhist establishment at Vikramashila (in Bhagalpur district). He is aiso credited with the construction of a vihara at Somapura.

Dharmapala was succeeded by his son Devapala who is regarded as the most powerful Pala ruler. Epigraphic records credit him with extensive conquests. The Badal Pillar inscription claims that Devapala eradicated the Utkalas race humbled the pride of the Hunas and Gurjaras (Mihir Bhoja).

Devapala was a great patron of Buddhism. Balaputradeva, a king of the Buddhist Sailendras, sought permission to build a monastery at Nalanda and also requested Devapala to endow five villages for its upkeep.

The requect was granted by Devapala. During the reign of Mahipala, Rajendra Chola invaded Bengal and defeated him. The Chola invasion, however did not lead to the establishment of Chola suzerainty over Bengal. After his death, the Pala power declined under his successors on account of internal dissensions and external invasions.

The Palas had close trade contacts and cultural links with South-East Asia which added greatly to the prosperity of the Pala Empire. Information about the Palas is also provided by the Tibetan chronicles.

The Palas also had close cultural relations with Tibet. The noted Buddhist scholars, Santa-rakshita and Dipankara (called Atisa), were invited to Tibet, and they introduced a new form of Buddhism there.

The power of the Palas is attested by the Arab merchant Sulaiman, who visited India in the middle of the ninth century. He called 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.

The Senas:

The Senas of Bengal called themselves Kshatriya and Bramha-Kshatriya and were originally the inhabitants of Dakshinpatha. Vijayasena ascended the throne in A.D. 1095 and conquered Vanga defeating Bhojavarman. He occupied a large part of Bengal from the Palas.

The Deopara inscriotion composed by the poet Dhoyi testifies his successful extension of the Sena territory. Vijayasena is said to have founded two capitals, Vijayapuri in West Bengal and Vikramapura in East Bengal.

The famous poet Sriharsha composed the Vijayaprasasti in his memory. Vijaysena was suceeded by his son Ballalasena in 1158 A. D. He conquered Mithila and a portion of east Bihar. Ballalasena was a great scholar and wrote Danasagara, a work on Smriti and Adbhutasagara, a work on Astronomy.

He is credited with introduction of Kulinism, an important social movement by which the nobility of birth and purity was carefully protected. He was succeeded by Lakshmansena who defeated Jayachandra of the Ghadavala dynasty. He was unable to offer any resistance to the Turkish invader Muhammad bin Bakhtiyar Khalji and escaped for his life by flight in 1194.

The Turkish invaders had an easy way to the Sena capital at Nadia. A detailed account of the invasion of Bhaktiyar Khalji has been given in Tabaqat-i-Nasiri by Minhaj-us-Siraj. He was a learned man and patronized art and literature. His successors continued to rule in east Bengal till about the thirteenth century.

The Rajput Dynasties:

With the breakup of the Pratiharas, a number of Rajput states came into existence in north India. The most important of these were the Ghadavalas of Kannauj, the Paramaras of Malwa and the Chauhans cf Ajmer. The other Rajput dynasties were Kalachuris of Jabalpur, Chandellas of of Bundelkhand, Chalukyas of Gujarat and Tomars of Delhi.

The origin of the Rajputs is obscure. Many Rajputs claim their descent from the solar and lunar families of Kshatriyas. Various legends connect them to these families of the epic age. The traditional view speaks of them as indigenous people whereas the other view talks of them as foreigners who were assimilated into the Hindu society of their times. Many propagate the view that the Rajputs were of mixed origin.

According to the Agnikula myth, the founder of the Paramara dynasty originated from the fire pit of Sage Vashistha on Mount Abu. This fire origin is also ascribed to the Chalukyas of Gujarat, the Pratiharas and the Chahamanas of Ajmer.

However these myths have no semblance with reality and are mostly creations of the bards. One aspect of the early medieval Indian polity is that these creation of myths demonstrate the Kshatriya symbol as a way of legitimization of the newly acquired power of these families. It was done in order to gain recognition politically and also to rise high in social status.

The Ghadavalas:

The Gahadavalas ruled from Kannauj from the latter half of the eleventh century A.D. Chandradeva was the first ruler of the dynasty. He seized Kannauj and made it his capital. He also included Ayodhya and Varanasi in his empire.

Govindachandra, his grandson proved to be a capable ruler and extended the boundaries of his kingdom both by war and diplomacy. He advanced as far as Patna and Monghyr. Govindachandra’s kingdom in the east was up to Danapur in Bihar.

His son Vijaychandra was also a capable ruler and kept the boundaries of the empire intact. He is known for the defeat inflicted on the Ghaznavids of Lahore. Jayachandra was the last ruler of the Gahadavalas.

His empire included the entire Uttai Pradesh and a part of Bihar. His advance into east India was checked by the Sena ruler Lakshmansena. He was famous for his bitter relations with Prithviraj Chauhan of Ajmer on account of his daughter’s elopement with Prithviraj.

The most important event of Jayachandra’s reign was the invasion of Muiz-ud-din Muhammad Ghori, who after defeating Prithviraja, the Chahmana ruler at the battle of Tarain in 1192 A.D. marched towards Kanauj in 1194 and met Jayachandra on the plain between Chandawar and Etawah.

The latter was defeated and slain but the kingdom was not annexed. His son, Harishchandra, was allowed by Muhammad Ghori to rule on his behalf. Jayachandra’s name is associated with patronage of poets.

The Paramaras:

The Paramaras began their political domination as the feudatory chiefs Of the Rashtrakutas. They established themselves in the Malwa region with their capital at Dhar. The founder of the dynasty was Upendra.

Siyaka II defied the authority of the Rashtrakutas. During the reign of Khottiga, the Rashtrakuta ruler, Siyaka II sacked Malkhed. The first great Paramara ruler was Vakpati Munja whose greatest enemy was the Chalukyas Taila II.

Munja was a capable commander and defeated big powers as Kalachuris, the Huns and the Guhilas. Both the Chalukyas and the Paramaras were annexing the territories of the disintegrated Rashtrakutas and were close rivals of each other. Munja successfully repulsed the attack of the Chalukyas several times.

Munja was put to death by Taila II when the former launched an aggressive campaign against Taila. Munja was succeeded by his brother Sindhuraja. He was also a capable commander. He is credited with wars with the Huns and the Latas. He assumed the title of Navasahasanka. Bhoja was the greatest ruler of the Paramaras who raised the power of his dynasty to an imperial rank.

He is known as a great scholar as well as an able commander. Bhoja was the greatest scholar king of India. He is called Kaviraja in an inscription and is said to have authored about two dozen of books on a variety of subjects.

Bhoja’s commentary on the Yogasutras of Patanjali, Ayurvedasaravasya, a work on medicine and Samaranganasutradhara, an excellent work on art and architecture are some of his prominent literary creations. He expanded Dhara and founded the city of Bhojpura. He also founded a college known as Bhojasala at Dhara. The image of Sarasvati installed by him in the main hall of Sarasvati temple of Dhara, shows Paramara sculpture at its best.

With the death of Bhoja, the glory of the Paramaras declined. His successors continued as local rulers till about the thirteenth century A.D. The last known Paramara king was Mahlak Deo who was defeated by Alauddin Khalji and executed by him. Thus Malwa became a province of the Sultanate.

The Chahamanas:

There were several branches of the Chahamanas better known as the Chauhan Rajputs. The most important of them ruled in Sakambhari (Sambhar) in Rajasthan. The Chahamana rulers were feudatories of the Pratiharas till Vigraharaja II who declared the independence of the dy­nasty in the last quarter of the tenth century. One of his successors, Ajayraja founded the city of Ajaymeru or Ajmer.

Vigraharaja IV extended his kingdom up to the Punjab, conquered Delhi from the Tomaras and in the south he plundered the Chalukya dominion of Kumarapala. Vigraharaja IV was also an accomplished poet and a patron of letters.

The Harikeli Nataka, portions of which were recovered from an inscribed stone slabs on the wall of Adhai-din-ka Jhopra, a mosque built by Qutubuddin Aibek at Ajmer, is supposed to be his composition.

The next important king Prithviraja III began his reign in 1177 A.D. He is said to have carried away the daughter of Jayachandra Ghadavala, Samyogita, and married her against Jayachandra’s wishes. He invaded the Chandella kingdom, defeated its king Paramardi and occupied Mahoba and other fortresses in Bunaeikhand.

Prithviraja also invaded the Chalukya kingdom of Gujarat and forced the Ehalukyari king Bhima II to conclude a treaty His great­est victory was in the battle of Tarain over Muhammad Ghori in 1191 AD.

The rout constantly troubled the Sultan, and the very next year, in 1192 A.D., he returned to Hindustan with a reorganised army to avenge it. Muhammad Ghori defeated Prithviraja who was taken prisonei and executed.

His achieve­ments are narrated in two great poems, viz., Prithviraj Raso written by his court poet Chand Bardai and Prithvirajavijaya by Jayanaka.

The Chahamana dynasty ruled from Ranthambhortill its capture by Alauddin Khalji in A.D. 1301.

The Chalukyas:

The Solankis or Chalukyas were divided into three branches. The branch at Gujarat was founded by Mularaja I in Anhilvad. During the reign of Bhimadeva I, the great grandson of Mularaja, Mahmud of Ghazni overran Gujarat and plundered Somnath (1025 A.D.). After the withdrawal of Mahmud he regained his capital. Kama, the successor of Bhimaraja fought against the Paramaras of Malwa and Chauhanas of Marwar.

Jayasimha Siddharaja was the greatest Chalukya ruler who in commemoration of his victory over the Paramaras adopted the title of Avantinatha. In the south, he won a victory over the Chalukya Vikramaditya VI of Kalyani. Jayasimha was also a great patron of literature. Under him, Gujarat became a famous seat of learning and literature. He was also the patron of the celebrated Jaina scholar Hemachandra.

Kumarapala embraced Jainism under the influence of Hemachandra. He forbade animal sacrifice in his kingdom. In A.D. 1178, Muizuddin Muhammad Ghori invaded Anhilvara or Patan, the capital, who was defeated by Mulraja II near Mount Abu.

Qutubuddin Aibak led two expeditions to Gujarat and plundered Anhilvara in 1197. The last ruler of Gujarat was Kama in whose reign Gujarat was conquered by Alauddin Khalji in 1297. Kama fled to Devagiri but his queen Kamala Devi fell into the hands of Alauddin Khalji.

The Kalachuris:

The Kalachuris of Chedi started as feudatories and called themselves the de­scendants of Haihayas. The Kalachuri power was restricted to Dahala near Jabalpur. Their capital was Tripuri. The dynasty was founded by Kokalla (875-925 A.D.). He strengthened the dynasty through matrimonial alliances with the Rashtrakutas and the Chandellas and by friendly relations with the Pratiharas.

The Kalachuris played an important role in the history of north India under Gangeyadeva Vikramaditya (1030-1041 A.D.). Gangeya occupied Allahabad, raided Punjab, Bengal and Orissaand defeated the Chalukyas of Kalyani.

He was finally defeated by Bhoja I Paramara. Laxmi- Kama was Gangeya’s son. He made extensive conquests. He overthrew Bhoja with the aid of Chalukyas of Kalyani and Anhilvad. He conquered the Chandellas and the Palas. His rule extended from Gujarat to Bengal and from Ganges to Mahanadi. The Kalachuris were conquered by the Delhi sultans.

The Chandellas:

The Chandellas were regarded as a clan of aboriginal chiefs who were promoted to the rank of kshatriyas. They ruled over the region of Bundelkhand. The area was called Jejakabhukti. The founder of the dynasty was Nannuka.

Dhanga, (954-1002 AD.) the son and successor of Yasovarman proved to be the greatest king of the Chandellas. He built some grand temples at Khajuraho. His kingdom extended from Yamuna to Chedi and from Gwaliorto Kalinjar. The next important ruler of the dynasty was Vidyadhara.

Sultan Mahmud twice invaded his kingdom in 1019 and 1022. The last king Paramardideva was defeated by Prithviraj III in 1182 A.D.

The basis of the Rajput society was the clan. Every clan traced its descent from a common ancestor, real or imaginary. The clans generally dominated particular territories. Attachment to land, family and honour was the characteristic of the Rajputs.

They were chivalrous and valued their honour as utmost. Each Rajput state was supposed to be ruled over by the ruler in conjunction with his chiefs who were mostly his blood brothers. The social organization of the Rajputs was bound by a strong sense of brotherhood. It was mostly egalitarian in nature that often created problems within them.

But their basic weakness was their tendency to form exclusive groups, each claiming supremacy over the others. They could not tolerate the inclusion of non-Rajputs within their clan. This often created a hostile relation between the minority Rajputs and the majority of the population. The Rajputs treated warfare as a sport.

Their struggle for land and cattle often engaged them in various wars with the other Rajput states. They were followers of Hinduism and gave large grants of land to Bramhanas and temples. In return for these concessions the Bramhanas were ready to recognize the Rajputs as descendants of solar and lunar dynasties of kshatriyas.


Three dynasties, the Karkota, the Utpala and the Loharas, ruled over Kashmir from the seventh century A.D. In the seventh century A.D. Kashmir grew into a first-rate power under a localdynasty, styled Karkota founded by Durlabhayardhana. Two grandsons of Durlabhavardhana, Chandrapida and Muktapida Lalitaditya, succeeded him.

Lalitaditya (724-760 A.D.) is justly eulogised for his pious foundations, among which the famous Sun temple of Martanda stands pre-eminent. Jayapida Vinayaditya emulated the exploits of his grandfather Lalitaditya, by defeating the kings of Gauda and Kannauj. The Karkota dynasty came to an end in 855 A.D. and was supplanted by the house of Utpala.

Avantivarman (855-83 A.D.) the founder of the Utpala dynasty is famous for his irrigation works carried out under the direction of his minister Suyya. He founded a new city Avantipur (Bantipur). He was a patron of learning. Ratnakara and Anandavardhana the two poets adorned his court. The next king, Sankaravarman extended the boundaries of Kashmir in several directions.

He harassed the people by fiscal extortions and met his end in a conflict with the people of Urasa. A period of turmoil followed. The widowed queen Sugandha attempted to rule in the name of puppet kings. But she had to encounter formidable opposition from the powerful military factions of the Tantrins who made them­selves virtual dictators of the state.

The Tantrins were eventually put down by certain feudal chiefs. In the end an assembly of Brahmanas raised to the throne a member of their own order named Yasakara. The line of Yasakara was followed by that of Parva Gupta.

In the time of Kshema Gupta, son and successor of Parva Gupta, the virtual ruler was his queen Didda, daughter of a Lohara chief. After Kshema Gupta’s death in 958 A. D. Didda ruled Kashmir for another fifty years. She ruled as a regent for her son Abhimanyu assisted by an able minister Naravahana. The queen died in 1003 AD, leaving the throne to her nephew Sangramaraja with whom a new dynasty, the Loharas, began.

The kingdom of Samgramaraja was fortunate to escape destruction at the hands of Mahmud of Gazni. After a series of incompetent rulers Harsha retrieved the lost glory of Kashmir by his able administration and patronage of culture and learning.

During his reign, Kalhana wrote Rajatarangini. After Harsha’s death, Kashmir faced a quick succession of weak Lohara rulers and finally the dynasty ended in 1172. A.D.

Suhadeva ruled Kashmir from 1301-20 who was succeeded by Tibetan chief Rinchana. After his murder in 1323, the Hindu rule was replaced by the Muslim Shah Miri dynasty in 1339 A.D.

North-West Frontier—the Shahiyas:

In the ninth century, a Turkish family—the Shahiyas ruled over the Kabul Valley and Gandhara. Its last ruler Logaturman was ousted by his Brahman minister named Kallar who founded a new dynasty known as Hindu Shahiya dynasty. Kallar is called Lalliya Shahi in Rajataringini. The Hindu Shahis had its capital at Udabhandapura. His descendent Jayapala consolidated the kingdom and made himself master of the entire Punjab plain.

He faced the second expedition of Mahmud of Gazni at Peshawar where he was defeated in a bloody battle. Jayapala did not survive the shock of humiliation and he burnt himself to death.

He was succeeded by his son Anandpal in 1002 A.D. In the sixth expedition of Mahmud which was directed against Anandpal in 1008 A.D., Anandpal organised a Hindu confederacy with King Rajyapala of Kanauj and the Chandella Vidyadhara.

After an initial victory of the Hindu confederacy Mahmud came out victorious by his superior generalship. A large number of Hindus were captured and put to death. A huge booty fell in the hands of Mahmud. Trilochanpal, Anandpal’s suc­cessor was also defeated and killed by Mahmud of Gazni in 1021-1022 AD. With the death of his son and successor Bhimpal in 1026 A.D. the Hindu Shahi dynasty came to an end which had done a lot to check the advance of the Muslims in India.

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