POLITICAL DEVELOPMENTS IN EARLY MEDIEVAL PERIOD


The period between AD 750 and AD 1200 is referred to as an early medieval period of Indian History.

It was earlier treated by historians as a ‘dark phase’.

It was so because during this time the whole country was divided into numerous regional states which were busy fighting with each other.

This can be best understood if we divide the period from AD 750 to AD 1200 in two parts (a) AD 750–AD 1000; (b) AD 1000–AD 1200.

The first phase was marked by the growth of three important political powers in India.

These were–

[1] Gurjara Pratiharas in north India

[2] Palas in eastern India and

[3] Rashtrakutas in South India.

These powers were constantly fighting with each other with a aim to set up their control on Gangetic region in northern India.

In northern India, the disintegration of the Pratihara empire brought to the forefront various Rajput states under the control of different Rajput dynasties such as the Chahmanas (Chauhans), Chandellas, Paramaras. etc.

These were the states which fought and resisted the Turkish attacks from northwest India led by Mahmud Ghaznavi and Mohammad Ghori in the 11th and 12th centuries, but had to yield ultimately as they failed to stand unitedly against the invaders.

 

The Gurjara Pratihara dynasty was founded by Nagabhatta I in the region of Malwa in the eighth century.

He belonged to a Rajput clan.

Later one of his successors, Vatsaraja extended his rule over to a large part of North India and made Kannauj in western Uttara Pradesh his capital.

Vatsaraja’s policy of expansion brought him in conflict with Dharamapala, the Pala King of Bengal and Bihar.

Soon, the Rashtrakuta king Dhruva from south India jumped into the fight. And thus began what is known as ‘Tripartite Struggle’ i.e struggle among three powers.

It continued for about the next hundred and fifty years under various succeeding kings with ups and downs.

The Gurjara-Pratiharas, however, could continue to maintain their hold over Kannauj till the last.

One of the important kings of this dynasty was Mihira Bhoja (ninth century). He was highly praised by an Arabian scholar Sulaiman for keeping his empire safe from robbers.

 

In eastern India, Pala dynasty was founded by Gopala (8th century).

As the names of all the succeeding kings ended with ‘Pala’ this dynasty come to be known as the ‘Pala’ dynasty.

The son and grandson of Gopala,viz; Dharmapala and Devapala greatly extended the power and prestige of the Pala dynasty.

Though their expansion towards west was checked by the Pratiharas, the Palas continued to rule over Bihar and Bengal for nearly four centuries with a small break.

The Pala kings were the followers of Buddhism.

They greatly promoted this religion by making monasteries (viharas) and temples in eastern India.

Dharmapala is known to have founded the famous Vikramashila university near Bhagalpur in Bihar.

Like Nalanda university, it attracted students from all parts of India and also from Tibet. Many Sanskrit texts were translated into Tibetan at this monastery.

The most celebrated name associated with Vikramashila University was that of Atisha Dipankara who was greatly respected in Tibet.

 

In south, Dantidurga was the founder of the dynasty called, Rashtrakuta dynasty (8th AD).

The capital of the Rastrakutas was Manyakheta or Malkhed near Sholapur.

It was under the king Dhruva that the Rashtrakutas turned towards north India in a bid to control Kannauj, then the imperial city.

One of the important kings of the Rashtrakuta dynasty was Krishna I. He built the famous Kailasha temple at Ellora (near Aurangabad, Maharastra).

Kailasha temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva and is monolithic i.e. made of one single piece of rock.

The Arab accounts inform us that the Rashtrakutas were quite friendly with the Arab traders who visited their empire.

These traders were allowed to build mosques and follow their religion without any hindrance.

 

In South India, the Chola Kings founded a mighty empire during AD 1000–AD 1200.

The relationship between these Cholas, called the “Imperial Cholas” with the earlier Cholas mentioned in the Sangam literature is not clear.

The Cholas came to power after over throwing the authority of the Pallavas in South India.

The founder of the Chola dynasty was Vijayalaya (9th century AD) but the real architects of the glory of the dynasty were Rajaraja I (AD 985–AD 1014) and his son Rajendra I (AD 1014–AD 1044).

During the heyday of the Chola empire, it extended from R.Tungabhadra (a tributary of R.Krishna) in north to Kanya Kumari in south.

The Chola Kings made a successful use of their navy and conquered not only Maldive and Lakshdweep Islands but also Sri Lanka.

They also defeated the kings of Malaya and Java and Sumatra.

One of the greatest contribution of Rajaraja I was the construction of the famous temple known as Rajarajeshwara or Brihadesvara temple, dedicated to Shiva at Tanjore.

He also ordered a survey of land for better collection of land revenue in his empire.

The rule of his son, Rajendra I was even more dazzling.

He carried his arms up to Ganga in Bengal after defeating the Pala King, Mahipala.

To commemorate this victory he founded a new capital called ‘Gangaikondacholapuram’ and acquired for himself the title “Gangai-konda” (conqueror of Ganga).

He was a great patron of learning and was known as Pandita-chola.

The last important Chola king was Kullotunga (AD 1070–1122 AD). Under him the Chola empire started disintegrating and shrunk to much smaller area.