The Gurjara Pratihara – Rulers, Administration, Art etc.

The Gurjara Pratihara

· The Gurjara Pratihara, or simply, the Pratiharas was an imperial power during 8th – 11th century, which held their authority over western and northern India.

· The Pratiharas were known chiefly for their patronage of art, sculpture and temple-building, and for their continuous warfare with contemporary powers like the Palas of eastern India and the Rashtrakuta Dynasty of southern India.

· Harichandra is said to have laid the foundation of this dynasty in the 6th century. The dynasty rose in prominence by gaining a reputation for repelling the Arab Islamic invasions. Nagabhata I defeated the Arab army under Junaid and Tamin during the Caliphate campaigns in India.

· Gurjara-Pratihara are known for their sculptures, carved panels and open pavilion style temples. The greatest development of their style of temple building was at Khajuraho, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

· The primary contribution of the Gurjara-Pratiharas was to hold the Islamic attackers at bay for more than three hundred years.


· The origin of the dynasty and the meaning of the term “Gurjara” in its name is a topic of debate among historians.

· The rulers of this dynasty used the self-designation “Pratihara” for their clan, and they claimed descent from the legendary hero of Ramayana, Lakshmana, who is said to have acted as a Pratihara (“door-keeper”) for his brother Rama.

· Some modern scholars speculate that a Pratihara ancestor served as a “minister of defence” (or Pratihara) in a Rashtrakuta court, hence, the dynasty came to be known as Pratihara.

· According to the Agnivansha legend given in the later manuscripts of Prithviraj Raso, the Gurjara Pratiharas, Chalukyas, Parmaras, and Chahmanas were born out of a yajna done at Mount Abu. Therefore, these four dynasties are also known as agnikulas (fire-clans). The four dynasties of Rajputs were created for the protection of the country from external aggressions.

Political History

· The Pratihara Kings ruled from 6th century till the end of 11th century C.E.

· Their kingdom was laid by Harichandra near modern Jodhpur in the mid sixth century C.E.

List of rulers

List of rulers

Nagabhata I






Nagabhata II




Mihira Bhoja or Bhoja I


Mahendrapala I


Bhoja II


Mahipala I


Mahendrapala II






Mahipala II


Vijayapala II









Nagabhatta I (730-760)

· The foundation of Pratihara dynasty’s magnitude was positioned by Nagabhatta I, who ruled between 730-760 C.E.

· His rule was prominent because of his successful confrontation with the Arabs. He established an empire extending from Gujarat to Gwalior and defied the Arab invasions towards further east of Sindh.

· He fought against King Dantidurga, the Rashtrakuta ruler and was defeated. The success of Dantidurga was short-term and Nagabhatta again won over his empire which included Gujarat, Malwa and parts of Rajputana.

· Nagabhatta I was succeeded by his brother’s sons, Kakkuka and Devaraja.

Vatsaraja (780–800)

· Devaraja was succeeded by his son Vatsaraja who proved to be an influential ruler.

· He seems to have consolidated his position and made Ujjain as his capital.

· His ambition to capture Kannauj led him into conflicts with the Pala ruler Dharmapala of Bengal and the Rashtrakuta ruler Dhruva.

· He succeeded in defeating Dharmapala in the Doab region and vanquished Northern India including the Ganga Yamuna valley. Dhurva defeated him later on and captured Kannauj.

· Vatsraja was succeeded by Nagabhata II.

Nagabhatta II (800–833)

· Nagabhatta II who succeeded Vatsaraja revived the lost prestige of the empire by conquering Sindh, Andhra, and Vidarbha.

· He defeated the rulers of Andhra, Saindhava, Vidarbha and Kalinga. He subdued Matsayas in the North, Vatsas in the East and Turuskka (Muslims) in the West.

· Kannauj became the center of the Gurjar Pratihara state, which covered much of northern India during the peak of their power.

· He also succeeded in defeating Dharmapala and entered into his territories as far as Munger in Bihar. But he could not enjoy his success for long. Nagabhata II was initially defeated by the Rashtrakuta ruler Govinda III, but later recovered Malwa from the Rashtrakutas.

· He rebuilt the great Shiva temple at Somnath in Gujarat, which had been demolished in an Arab raid from Sindh.

· Rambhadra, the son and successor of Nagabhatta II proved incapable and lost some of his territories, probably, to Pala ruler, Devapal. He was succeeded by his son Mihirbhoj who proved to be an ambitious ruler.

Mihirbhoj (836–885)

· Mihirabhoja ascended the throne on 836 C.E. He was a very brave and powerful king.

· He reorganized and consolidated the empire inherited from his ancestors and ushered in an era of prosperity of the Pratiharas.  Mihirbhoj made Kannauj his capital.

· He had re conquered Bundelkhanda, Rajputana and several other provinces.

· He defeated the Palas, and possibly even the Rashtrakutas with the help of his Chedi and Guhila feudatories. He managed to annex many parts of the Pala Empire in eastern India and recovered territories in Gujarat, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, thus extending his empire to a considerable extent.

· He had consolidated his power in Rajputana and the Kalachuris of Bihar and Chandelas of Bundelkhand had accepted his sovereignty.

· Bhoja-I was a devotee of Vishnu, and adopted the title of ‘Adivaraha.’ 

Mahendrapala I (885–910)

· Mahendrapala-I was also known as ‘Mahendrayudha’, and ‘Nirbhayanarendra.’ He was a liberal patron of learned men.

· Mahendrapala I maintained the empire established by his father Bhoja and made fresh conquests in the east extending it further by annexing Magadha and parts of Northern Bengal.

· He lost to the king of Kashmir and ceded to him some territories in Punjab.

· His death was followed by a civil war between his son Mahipala and his half-brother Bhoja II.

Mahipala I (913–944)

· Mahipala I managed to secure the throne but was defeated by the Rashtrakutas, which enabled the Palas to take advantage of the situation and retake some of their former territories from the Pratiharas.

· Mahipala tried to recover from these losses and did regain some lost lands but his plans of conquest were checked in the later years once more by the Rashtrakutas.

· His period marked the beginning of the decline of the power of Pratiharas.

Decline of Pratihara Dynasty

· Several feudatories of the empire took advantage of the temporary weakness of the Gurjar Pratiharas during war of succession and they declare their independence, notably the Paramaras of Malwa, the Chandelas of Bundelkhand, the Kalachuris of Mahakoshal, Tomaras of Haryana, and the Chahamanas of Shakambhari.

· The Gurjar-Pratiharas lost control of Rajasthan to their feudatories, and the Chandelas captured the strategic fortress of Gwalior in central India, 950 C.E.

· By the end of the tenth century the Gurjar Pratihara domains had dwindled to a small state centered on Kannauj.

· Mahmud of Ghazni sacked Kannauj in 1018 C.E, and the Pratihara ruler Rajapala fled.

· The Chandela ruler Gauda captured and killed Rajapala, placing Rajapala’s son Trilochanpala on the throne as a proxy.

· Yasapala, the last Gurjara ruler of Kannauj, died in 1036 C.E. With this the Gurjara-Pratihara went into the historical horizon of India.

Administration under the Gurjara Pratihara

· King occupied the highest position in the state and had enormous powers, kings adopted big titles such as ‘Parmeshwara’, ‘Maharajadhiraja’, ‘Parambhaterak’.

· There are eight types of different officers in the administration of the Pratiharas such as –

o   Kottapala highest officer of the fort,

o   Tantrapala representative of the king in samanta states,

o   Dandapashika was highest officer of the police,

o   Dandanayaka look after the military and justice department,

o   Dutaka carry order and grants of the king to specified persons,

o   Bhangika was the officer who wrote order of charities and grants,

o   Vynaharina was probably some legal expert and used to provide legal advice, and,

o   Baladhikrat was the chief of army.

· The entire state was divided into many bhuktis (provinces). There were many mandals or vishaya (districts) in each bhukti and each mandala had several cities and many villages as well.

· They were, respectively, governed by a governor (uparika) and a district head (vishayapati), who were tasked with collecting land revenue and maintaining law and order with the help of the army units stationed in their areas.

· The villages were locally administered. The elders of the villages were called Mahattar who looked after the administration of the village. Gramapati was an officer of the state who advised in matters of village administration. The administration of the city was looked after by councils which are referred as Goshthi, Panchakula, Sanviyaka and Uttar sobha in the inscriptions of the Pratiharas. Thus the administration of the Pratiharas was quite efficient.


· The Pratiharas, like all other kingdoms in the period, maintained a core army supplemented by mercenaries, allied and feudatory troops.

· The Pratiharas were well-known for their cavalry. Horses were imported from Central Asia and Arabia and constituted an important item of Indian trade in this time period.

· According to Al-Masudi, the army had four divisions. The northern army was deployed against the Muslims, the southern army against the Rashtrakutas and the eastern against the Palas. The elephants were only 2000 in number, thus showing that the Pratiharas focused more on their horsemen.

Social Condition or Society

· Caste system was prevalent in India during Gurjara-Pratihara period and the reference of all the four caste of the Vedic period is found in the inscription as well. The people of each caste were divided into different classes.

· Sati was there though it was not very much prevalent.

· There was no purdah system among the women of the royal families.

· According to Rajasekhar women learnt music, dancing and paintings. Women were very much fond of ornaments and also used oils and cosmetics.

Religion in India during the Gurjara Pratihara Period

· This age was the age of the progress of the Brahminical religion. Different sects of Brahmanism further progressed during this period. Vaishnava, Shaiva, Sakta and Surya were the prominent sects of Brahmanism, which were prevalent during this period.

· From the religious point of view the Pratihara kings were tolerant and had allowed the people to follow any acts they looked.

· Besides idol worship, Yajanas and giving of charity at religious places were also prominent.

· Buddhism was on the decline during this period and the number of its followers was diminishing. So was the case with the followers of Jainism whose followers mostly lived in Rajputana, Gujarat and Deogarh.

· Thus, it can be seen that while Jainism and Buddhism were declining, Brahmanism was progressing during the period of Pratiharas. Besides, the followers of Islam were also coming to India and were making converts to their religion.

Literature under the Gurjara Pratihara

· The Pratiharas were patrons of learning and literature.

· Mahendrapala-I was a liberal patron of learned men. Rajsekhara was learned man of his court. He had written Karpuramanjari, Bala-Ramayana, Bala Bharata, Kavyamimansa, Bhuvana Kosha, and Haravilasa.

Art & Architecture under the Gurjara Pratihara

· The Gurjara-Pratihara rulers were great patrons of arts, architecture and literature.

· The most important groups of architectural works generally credited to the early Pratiharas are at Osian. The extraordinary Teli-ka-Mandir in Gwalior fort is the oldest surviving large-scale Pratihara work.

· The early works at Osian have five-bay mulaprasadas with porch and open hall but no vestibule or ambulatory and several have five-shrine complexes (pancha-yatana). Open halls are surrounded by vedika.

· The Teli-ka-Mandir at Gwalior Consists of an elevated rectangular mulaprasada and a double oblong shikhara and a closed portico. The sides have three bays, though there are small intermediate recessions and the central zone steps out in diminishing planes below the bizarre superimposed horseshoe window motifs of the shikhara’s two levels.

· There are notable examples of architecture from the Gurjara-Pratihara era, including sculptures and carved panels. Their temples, constructed in an open pavilion style. One of the most notable Gurjara-Pratihara style of architecture was Khajuraho, built by their vassals, the Chandelas of Bundelkhand.

Māru-Gurjara architecture

· Māru-Gurjara architecture was developed during Gurjara Pratihara Empire.

Bateshwar Hindu temples complex

· The Bateshwar Group of Temples comprises about 44 temples spread over an area of 25 acres, built across the sloping hills at Bateshwar, Morena.

· Most of the temples are dedicated to Shiva or Vishnu. They were built during 8th and 10th century C.E. by the Gurjara-Pratiharas. Most of them are built in the nagara style with a simple shikhara, no mandapa and a small precursor of antarala.

· The nagara style shikhara is topped with an amalaka or two in some cases, and a pot finial at the top. The shikhara is triratha with a mesh of gavaksha arranged in a line, reaching up to the top. A minority of the temples have a simple mandapa with two pillars and no enclosing walls. The entire platform makes for a very impressive sight.

Baroli temples complex

· Baroli temples complex are eight temples, built by the Gurjara-Pratiharas, and is situated within a walled enclosure.


 So this was all about the The Gurjara Pratihara Dynasty – Origin, Rulers, Administration, Society and Art & Architecture. If you want to read about the other dynasties of Tripartite Struggle, than click on the following links – Pala Dynasty – Rulers, Administration, Art & Architecture 

Rashtrakuta Dynasty – Rulers, Administration, Art & Architecture 

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