About PRATIHARA Empire - Central India

Teli-ka-Mandir, Gwalior Fort made by Pratihara king.
  • Article tells about individual kings of the Pratihara Empire. The Pratiharas stood as a bulwark against aggression of the Muslims.

During a visit to Gwalior Fort saw Teli-ka temple. Impressive. The ASI board said it was made during the reign of a Pratihara king Mihira 9th century. During the same trip saw Bateshwar Temple, Morena which was made by the Pratihara kings (6-9th century). As I looked back, realized that the lovely Jain temple in Osian near Jodhpur was also made a Pratihara king Vatsaraja and dated back to 783 A.D.  


Next question who were the Pratiharas? What period did they rule and what parts of India? This compilation tells about the Pratihara kings and empire. The key kings were Nagabhata I, Nagabhata II, Mihir Bhoja, Mahendrapala etc.


In 712 the Arabs conquered Sindh. About 725 its Governor Junaid, sent an army for the conquest of India. It overran Saurashtra etc. and reached Ujjayani. Nagabhata belonged to the Pratihara family, rallied the warriors of the allied clans of the Pratiharas, Chaahamanas and perhaps Chalukyas and defeated the invaders. His defeat of the Arabs made him a national hero.


Kulapati K M Munshi wrote that, “Under the Pratihaas, Kanauj reached the zenith of power, (815-940). Its rulers were called Gujaresvaras; in a later inscription, Gurjara-Pratiharas.” Kanauj or Kanyakubja continued to be the most influential centre of culture till 1018 A.D. when it was dethroned by Mahmud of Ghazni. Pg. x


Under the Pratihars, Kanauj reached the peak of power, learning and culture during 815-940. Decline of the Pratihara Empire brought into prominence new powers, known later as RAJPUTS. Munshiji wrote, “Many of the Rajput rulers who surrendered power in 1947-48 were descendants of the feudatories and generals of Mihir Bhoja.” Pg.xi  


This article is compiled based on Volume 4 of The History and Culture of Indian People published by the Bharatiya Vidya Bhawan. All credits to authors of volume.


About Pratihara Kings

Nagabhata I (730-756 A.D.)

The family came into prominence in the second quarter of the 8th century by successful resistance to the Arabs. They stood as a bulwark against the Muslims of the Sindhu Valley. R. C. Mazumdar wrote, “Muslim writers wrote that whenever the Pratihara armies advanced the Muslims threatened to destroy the famous image of the Sun-god in Multan, so the Pratiharas retreated.”  


Not much is known about the ancestors of Nagabhata I. He might have ascended the throne around 730 and probably ruled till 756. Whether he defeated Junaid or his successor Tamin is not clear. According to “Prithviraj Raso, the imperial legend of the dynasty tells us that the dynasty descended from the ‘Agnikula’ clan of the Rajputs. The royal dynasty derived their origin from a Yagna Kunda at Mount Abu.” Source


Inspite of various wars, some losses, Nagabhata I left for his successors a powerful principality consisting of Malwa, parts of Rajputana and Gujarat.


His brother’s son Vatsaraja was a powerful ruler. Jain monks refer to him in their writings. He is said to be the King of Avanti in 783 A.D. He is said to have ascended the throne in or before 778 and his kingdom comprised Malwa and eastern Rajputana.


He is said to have expanded his kingdom in the North and defeated the Lord of Gauda, perhaps the king of Bengal. Vatsaraja was defeated by the Rashtrakuta king Dhruva. After his defeats not much is known of Vatsaraja.


The Jain Temple at Osian near Jodhpur was made by Vatsaraja in 783.

Jain Temple Osian. 

Nagabhata II (Date not sure  to 834)

He is the son of Vatsaraja and as per a Gwalior inscription the rulers of Andhra, Vidharbha, Kalinga and Saindhava chiefs (ruling in West Kathiawar) lost to him. He also won control of many hill-forts. However, he was defeated by Rashtrakuta king Govinda III who overran his dominions and reached by the Himalayas (war took place before 809-810). Although Nagabhata II’s ambitions were curbed his power was not destroyed. Pg. 27


Nagabhata II probably occupied Kanauj (near Kanpur) and made it the permanent capital of the Pratiharas. Per records Nagabhata II scored a great victory over his Pala rival king Dharampala. Pg. 26


On the whole it can be said that Nagabhata II exercised his sway on the large part if not the whole of Rajputana and Kathiawar Peninsula. In the east his sway extended up to Gwalior and probably further east so as to include Kanauj and Kalanjara.


Inspite of little information available on Vatsaraja and Nagabhata II their reigns occupy a prominent place in the contemporary history of India. Both had a high degree of military skill, and the defeat by the Rashtrakutas cannot reduce their glory because they achieved military victories from one end of north India to another. They did not head a stable empire but laid the foundations well for king Bhoja (grandson of Nagabhata II) to build a great empire.

Bateshwar Temples Morena, MP built 6-9the century during Pratihara rule.

Mihira Bhoja (836-885)

It is likely that by 836 Bhoja had fixed his capital at Kanauj and obtained mastery of the region around it, which was probably lost during his father’s reign.


The Jodhpur Pratiharas probably regained independence during the reign of Bhoja’s father Ramabhadra. By 843 Bhoja had reasserted his authority over Gurjaratra or Central and Eastern Rajputana.


Bhoja was defeated by the Pala king Devapala between 845-860 and by Rashtrakuta king Dhruva. He also lost control over part of Rajputana during 843-861. Post Devapala’s death Bengal became weaker. 


Rashtrakuta king Amoghavarsha (814-878) was of religious disposition. Taking advantage Bhoja invaded Bengal and inflicted a crushing defeat on king Narayanapala. He also defeated Rashtrakuta king Krishna II (878-914). He occupied Malwa and headed towards Gujarat. He lost his hold upon Kaira District although he maintained supremacy over the whole of Kathiawar. In the north-west his dominions extended to Punjab. In the east the Kalachuris of Gorakpur were his feudatories and probably the whole of Awadh was included in his domain. The Chandellas of Bundelkhand too acknowledged his overlordship.


With this Bhoja created a mighty empire that his ancestors dreamt of. His capital Kanauj rose to the position of an imperial city once again.


An Arab account of India composed in 851 and attributed to Sulaiman refers to the great power and resources of Bhoja. He is unfriendly to the Arabs, still he acknowledges that the king of the Arabs is the greatest of the kings. Among the princes of India, there is no greater foe of the Muslim faith than he.


He stood as a bulwark of defence against Muslim aggression. Bhoja was undoubtedly one of the outstanding political figures of the 9th century and ranks with Dhruva and Dharampala as a great general and empire-builder. Unlike others what he conquered he consolidated as well.  


“Al-Masūdi, the Baghdadi visitor of early 10th century, refers to Bhoja-Bauura (a corruption of title Varāha) as ‘the lord of the city of Kannauj’ and as ‘one of the Kings of Sindh’. “He has large armies in the garrisons on the north and on the south, on the east and in the west; for, he is surrounded on all sides by warlike kings….Bauura, who is the king of Kannauj, is an enemy of Balharā (Vallabha Rāja, the title of Rashtrakuta emperors), the king of India.” He adds that Bhoja, “has four armies, according to the four quarters of the wind. Each of them numbers 7 to 9 lakh men. The army of the north was against the prince of Multān, and with the Musalmans, his subjects, on the frontier. The army of the south fights against the Balhara, king of Mankir (Manyakheta).” Source Pragyata.com


Munshiji wrote, “The Pratihara emperors formed the spearhead of this religious and cultural upsurge. Some like Bhoja worshipped Bhagvati as their guardian deity, others Siva and Vishnu. They maintained the tradition of being the protectors of dharma. While they led the country to progress, they drew upon and social and spiritual energy of the people. The reciters of the Puranas became as powerful, if not more, as Brahmanas specialising in ritualism, philosophy or literature. The Brahmins of Kanyakubja played a great role during this period.” Pg. xv


Mahendrapala (885-908)

He maintained in tact his father’s empire and added Karnal district of modern day Haryana, Nepalese terrain and Rajshahi district of Bengal. Pg xxii.


R.C. Mazumdar wrote, “The Pratiharas under Bhoja and Mahendrapala, brought under their direct administration a vast extent of territory, from the Kathiawad Peninsula in the west to Northern Bengal in the east. No such empire flourished in North India after the Guptas. It had a more stable and organised administration than the empire of Harsha-vardhana.” It breaks the wrong notion that Harsha was the last builder in Northern India.


Mahipala (912 to about 930)

Mahipala not only maintained the empire inherited by him but probably even extended it in the early part of his reign. However, Rashtrakuta king Indra III defeated Mahipala and occupied Kanauj. Like earlier, the Rashtrakutas did not stay long enough to consolidate their conquests in the north.


It is to the credit of Mahapala that he survived the above attack and re-established the fortunes of his family, helped by powerful feudatories. It is not known if Mahipala recovered all territories. But in 931 his empire extended up to Saurashtra in the west and Kashi in the east. As late as 946 the Pratihara Empire included Malwa.


Over the time the feudatories asserted independence and the Pratihara Empire disintegrated. Instead rose were the Chandellas, Chedis and Paramaras.

Eastern gateway, Mandhata Fort Omkareshwar built by the Parmar rulers 13th century.

Many rulers prevailed to the imperial throne during 945-960. There was a steady decline in Pratihara power. A second expedition by Rashtrakuta king Indra III about 963 gave a final blow to the Pratihara Empire. New powers like the Kalachuris in Central India, the Paramaras in Malwa and the Chaulukyas in Gujarat weakened the empire too. About the middle of the 10th century the empire disintegrated and was reduced to the territory around Kanauj.


Rajyapala, ruled over the small kingdom of Kanauj till it was swept away by the invasions of Sultan Mahmud.


Out of the ruins of the Pratihara empire arose powerful states Chauhans in Rajputana, Chalukyas (Solankis) in Gujarat and Parasmaras (Pawars) in Malwa.


General Review of the Pratihara Empire

It was the last great empire in North India before the Muslim conquest. From the days of Junaid (725) to those of Mahmud of Ghazni the Pratiharas stood as a bulwark against aggression of the Muslims.


The Pratihara line was distinguished for its long succession of able rulers. Apart from its founders, 4 remarkable kings were Vatsaraja, Nagabhata II, Bhoja and Mahendrapala who ruled for a century and a half with a short break of 3 years. They created a tradition of imperial glory which survived many rude shocks. It is reflected in the literary works of Raja-sekhara, the last Indian who could with justifiable pride, refer to his royal patron as “the Maharajadhiraja of Aryavarta”. Pg. 40


NOTE that Mahumd Ghazni’s son, Masud Ghazni invaded India with an army of more than 100,000 men in May 1031 AD. He was defeated by Raja Sukhdev in the Battle of Bahraich in 1033. The victory was so resounding that no Muslim king from the Northwest dare to invade India from 1033 to 1187 A.D.  To read about the Battle of Bahraich


To see albums of three monuments made by Pratihara Kings

1. Teli-ka-Mandir Gwalior Fort

2. Bateshwar Temples, Morena near Gwalior

3. Jain Mandir Osian ie near Jodhpur


Also read about

1. Mihir Bhoja and Pratiharas

2. Morena – Architectural workshop of the Gurjara-Pratiharas  


We are doing short precis on Hindu kings before and during the Muslim invasion. The first was About Vijayanagara Kings-Empire, this is the second. Do mail in feedback and suggestions.



1. Volume 4 of The History and Culture of Indian People published by the Bharatiya Vidya Bhawan. Pictures by Sanjeev Nayyar.


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