The Pratiharas were an Indian dynasty that ruled a large kingdom in northern India from the 6th to the 11th centuries. However the political history of the Pratiharas was marked with their career of enormous warfare.
The ascendancy of the Pratihara power began with Nagabhatta I, who ascended the throne in the middle of the 8th century. He extended his control in the east and south from Mandor, conquering Malwa as far as Gwalior and the port of Bhrauch in Gujarat. He established his capital at Ujjaini in Malwa.
The greatest achievement of Nagabhatta was his victory against the Arabs. The Arabs had snatched a portion of Malwa. Thus the strong foundation of the Pratihara kingdoms was threatened. He inflicted a violent defeat to the Arabs. Thus the Arabs remained confined in the region of Sind and could not penetrate into India.
In due course Nagabhatta united under his banner the Gurjara principalities of Nandipuri and Jodhpur. He installed the strong Pratihara kingdom consisting of Malwa, Gujrat and parts of Rajputana.
In the political history of the Pratiharas, Nagabhatta was succeeded by Vatsaraja. Vatsaraja was the grandnephew of Nagabhatta I. He ruled over as extensive territory comprising central India (Malwa) and Rajputana. While Vatsaraja was installing his imperial career in western India, the Palas had established a strong monarchy in the east. This resulted into the conflict between the Pala and the Pratiharas. At that time the Rashtrakutas were also aspiring for their mastery over the Deccan region. Thus began the famous tripartite struggle, which is very important in the political history of India.
The tripartite struggle smashed the very foundation of the Pratihara. Though initially Vatsaraja made an enormous victory and annexations through his aggressive policy, yet his victory was a short lived one.
The Rashtrakuta king Dhruva crushed him as well as the Pratihara kingdom. Vatsaraja was drove away to the deserts of Rajputana in about 783 AD.
However the political history of the Pratiharas was not completely shattered. It revived its lost glory under the rule of Nagabhatta II. He was the son and successor of Vatsaraja. He conquered Sind, Andhra, Vidarbha and Kalinga, which were lost to the Pratiharas.
The sweeping success of Nagabhatta made his struggle with the eastern rival, Dharmapala inevitable. Nagabhatta attacked Kanauj and overthrew Chakrayudh, the vassal of Dharmapala there. In the struggle, Dharmapala was completely routed in the field of Monghyr.
Later Nagabhatta captured the hill forts of Anaratta, Malava, Kirata and Matsya. Thus Nagabhatta II extended the Pratihara kingdom to a vast extent and revived its lost glory.
Nagabhatta II’s huge success however was proved a short-lived one. The Rashtrakuta king Govinda III appeared on the north and defeated Nagabhatta in the battle of Bundelkhand.
Consolidating his kingdom, Bhoja I established his capital in the imperial city of Kanauj. During his reign the Pratiharas made a dazzling success as the political and military power in India. The reign of Bhoja undoubtedly covers an important eon in the political history of the Pratiharas.
Next to Bhoja, Mahendrapala inherited the Pratihara throne. He was an able son of Bhoja I. Meanwhile, Pala power had suffered a decline after the death of Devapala. Taking advantage of this situation, Mahendrapala defeated the existing Pala king and extended his sway in the east. He annexed Magadha and a considerable section of northern Bengal.
According to some historians, Mahendrapala lost some territories of north to the ruler of Kashmir. On a whole the Mahendrapala not only retained the magnificent glory of his father’s kingdom but also made enormous additions to it. The reign of Mahendrapala constituted an important chapter in the political history of the Pratiharas.
Mahendrapala was succeeded by Bhoja II, who ruled for a short period of time and later was succeeded by his brother Mahipala.
However the imperial fabric of the Pratiharas began to decline during the reign of Mahipala, who started his political career with the successful campaigns against the Mulakas, Mekalas and Kalingas. But the hereditary enmity of the Pratiharas with the Rashtrakutas proved dangerous to the flourishing Empire of the Pratiharas.
Indra II, the Rashtrakuta king crushed the Pratihara power under Mahipala and thoroughly sacked the Pratihara capital Kanauj. Indra III ravaged the region of Kanauj and marched upto Prayaga. Mahipala recovered his lost fortune after the withdrawal of Indra to the south.
Due to the crushing defeat led by the Rashtrakuta invasion, the Pratihara kingdom was a completely disrupted. The vassals of the Pratiharas started their struggle for independence. Moreover the newly emerged powers also challenged the supremacy of the Pratiharas.
The Rashtrakutas also renewed their invasion against the Pratiharas. Thus the forces of disintegration during the reign of Mahipala weakened the foundation of the Pratihara Empire.