Early Medieval India – History

The early medieval phase of Indian History denotes the period from 6th century AD to 12th century AD. This phase represents a period of major socio-political change.

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During early medieval period Kannaui, situated on the bank of Ganga, in UP, became the center of political activities in North India and remained so till the Turkish conquest at the close of the 12 the century. The political unity crumbled on Harsha’s death and the process of emergence of numerous centers of power started in different parts of North India leading to multi-state system. In South India, too, similar situation prevailed after the decline of the Pallavas till the Cholas created an empire.

North India




Kannauj Region

Yashovarman: Chachanama, an important literary source of the period, mentions four kings ruling at Kannauj, while narrating the history of Sind. In AD 730, Yashoverman ruled over Kannauj and large territory over northern India including North-Western Frontier Provinces, Haryana and Punjab. His invasion of Gauda (Bengal) formed the subject of the Prakrit poem Gaudavabo by Vakpatiraja, Yashovarman’s court-poet. he founded the city named Yashovarmanpura. Yashovarman was a man of learning. He is said to have written a play named Ramabbyudaya. The Rajatarangini mentions that the poets Vakpatiraja, Bhavabhuti and others adorned the court of Yashovarman.


After the decline of Yashovarman’s dynasty, Nagabhata II founded the Gurjara-Pratihara kingdom at Kannauj which survived for nearly two centuries.

The Gurjar-Pratiharas

The Pratiharas were a branch of the famous Gurjara tribe who came in the wake of the Huma invasion. There were many branches of the Pratiharas. The most important Pratihara ruling family was that founded by Nagabhata I in the first half of the 8th century AD. Nagabhata I died in AD 760 leaving a powerful and extensive kingdom to his brother’s son Kakkuka or Kakustha. He was succeeded by his younger brother Devaraja. Vatsaraja (AD 775-800) was the son and successor of Devaraja. He is known as Ranahastin Vatsaraja in Kuvalayamala, a jain work. Vatsaraja followed aggressive imperial policy which brought him into conflict with the Pala rulers of Gauda. Vatsaraja was succeeded by his son Nagabhata II (AD 805-33). Nagabhata II was succeeded by his son Ramabhadra.

Bhoja I, the son and successor of Ramaghadra, was the greatest king of this dynasty. He defeated Narayanapala, the successor of Devapala. Thus, the whole of the pala empire to the west of Magadha passed into the hands of the Pratiharas. Bhoja I ruled over this vast empire with his capital at Kannauj. Arab merchant (AD 851) Sulaiman described him as the greatest enemy of the muharmmadan faith.


Bhoja I was succeeded by his son Mahendrapala I (AD 880-910). His guru Rajashekhara wrote Karpuramanjari, Bala-Ramayana, Bala-Bharata, Kavyamimansa, Bbuvana-kosha and Harsavilasa.

The Gahadavalas

Chandradeva founded the Gahadavala dynasty at Kannauj some time between AD 1080 and AD 1085 after defeating a chief named Gopala. Shortly before AD 1114, Madanapala was succeeded by his son, Govindachandra. As crown prince, prior to AD 1109, he had repulsed the Muslim expedition sent by the Ghaznavid king, Masud III (AD 1098-1115), under Hajib Tughatigin.

Govindachandra was succeeded by his son Vijayachandra in AD 1154. The Pritbviraja-Raso credits him with extensive victories. He drove back the forces of Amir Khusrau or his son Khusrau Malik, who had occupied Lahore after their expulsion from Ghazni by Alauddin Ghori.

Vijayachandra’s son and successor, Jaichandra, was a patron of literature. Sriharsha, the author of naishadhacharita and the Khandana Khanda Khadya, lived in his court. The famous generals Alha and Udal belonged to his army.

Jaichandra’s fame in Indian history is due to his enmity with Prithviraja III of the Chahamana dynasty. In AD 1194, Shihabuddi Ghori marched toards Kannaju and killed Jaichandra. His son, Harischandra, was allowed by Ghori to rule on his behalf.

The Chahamanas of Shakambhari

Chahamanas arose as vassals of the imperial Pratiharas and ruled in different parts of Gujarat and Rajputana in the 7th and 8th centuries. There were several branches of the Chahmana dynasty but the main line ruled at Sapadalaksha cuntry with its capital at Shakambhari (modern Sambhar in Ajmer district of Rajasthan). Vasudeva was the founder of this line in the middle of the sixth century AD. Vakpatiraja who ruled during AD 917-944 assumed the title of Maharaja and built a temple at Pushkara (Rajasthan) for Shiva.

Prithviraja III or Rai Pithaura of the Muslim writers was the greatest monarch of this dynasty (AD 1179-92). He attacked the Chandella king Paramardi or Paramala (AD 1165-1203), and occupied Mahoba and other fortresses in Bundelkhand.

Prithviraja was called upon to resist the attacks of Shihabuddin Muhammad Ghori, who was gradually advancing into “the alluring plains of Hind”. In the first engagement at Tarain in AD 1191, Ghori troops were completely overwhelmed. In the Second Battle of Tarain in AD 1192, he returned to Hindustan with reorganized forces and Prithviraja was defeated, captured and killed.


At the time of Arab invasion, Sind was under the Dynasty founded by the Brahman ruler named Chach. When Huein-tsang was travelling across India (AD 629-45), Sind was ruled by a Buddhist monarch of the Shudra caste. After the death of the last ruler of this dynasty, his Brahmin minister, Chach, married the widowed queen, and himself assumed the crown. His son, Dahir, who succeeded Chandar or Chandra (Chach’s brother) had to face a serious Arab invasion because he did not chastise the people of Debal for having seized a vessel carrying rich presents from the king of Sri Lanka to Jajjaj, the Ummayyad governor of Iraq. Muhammad bin Kasim led the expedition; he storme Debal in AD 712, captured Bahmanadad, and destroyed Multan in AD 723, thus completing the conquest of Sind. This was the culmination of the Arab plundering raids, which began as early as AD 636-37 during the Khilafat or Omar.

North-West Frontier

The Shahis (Shahiyas)


A dynasty of Indianised foreigners is known to have ruled in Kabul valley and North-Western Frontier Province up to the ninth century AD and were called Turkish Shahiyas.

This Shahi Kingdom had close political relation with Kashmir. Kallar is called Lalliya Shahi in Rajatangini. His son Toramana was ousted by an adventurer but he recovered his throne with the help of Kashmir. His son called himself Maharajadhiraja Pramesware Shahi Sri Bhimadeva. His daughter was the famous queen Didda of Kashmir.


Threedynasties, the Karkota, the Utpala and the Loharas ruled over Kashmir during the period. Lalitadiry Mukrapida (AD 724-760) and Jayapid Vinyaditya (AD 779-810) were the two most illustrious rulers of the Karkota dynasty. The power of the Karkotas was supplanted by the Utpalas about the middle of the ninth century. The first among Utpalas was Avantivarman who reigned during AD 855-83 with his able minister Suva. Avantivarman founded a new city Avantipur (Bantipur). He was patron of learning. His court was adorned by the two poets, Ratnakara and Anandavardhana.

An assembly of Brahmins ushered in an era of prosperity by choosing a right ruler named Yasaskara, who was succeeded by his minor son Samgramadeva in AD 948. He was succeeded by a more unworthy son Kshemagupta, whose queen Didda, with her Lohara relations, set up a female government.

Harsha retrieved the lost glory of Kashmir by his able administration and patronage of culture, learning and art. His reign is narrated in Rajalarangini of Kalhana. After his death, Kashmir faced a quick succession of weak Lohara rulers and finally the dynasty ended in AD 1172.


The Chandellas of Jejakabhukti

The Chandellas, who ruled at Jejakabhukti or modern Bundelkhand, were the feudatories of the Partiharas of Kannauj. Vidyadhara, the greatest Chandella king, attacked and killed the Pratihara king Rajayapala in AD 1019 for having surrendered before Mahmud Ghazni. Four years later, however, when Mahmud Ghazni attacked Kalinjar, Vidyadhara could not defend Chandella territories.

Among later Chandella rulers, Madanavarman 9c. 1129-63) were the most notable figures. The Chandellas were great builders and they greatly beautified their kingdom by constructing a large number of exquisite religious edifices and embanked lakes. Three most important cities in the Chandella dominion were Khajuraho (Chhatarpur district, MP), Kalinjar (Banda district, UP) and Mahotsavangar (Mahaba, Hamirpur district, UP).


The Paramaras

Taking advantage of the decline of the Pratihara power, the Paramaras became an independent power in the second half of the tenth century. Initially their capital was at Ujjain, but they later transferred it to Dhara (both in Madha Pradesh)

The first great Paramara ruler was Vakpati Munja (c.974- 977-98), who defeated the Kalachuris of Tripuri and the Chalukya king Tailapa II. His court was graced by Padmagupta, Dhananjaya (author of Dasarupa), Dhanika, Halayudha and others. But the greatest ruler of the dynasty was Bhoja (c. 1010-55) who was a rare combination of military ability, constructive statesmanship and literary genius. Bhoja was the greatest scholar king of India. He is called Kaviraja in an inscription and is said to have authored about two dozen works on a variety of subjects, such as medicine, astronomy, religion, grammar, architecture, etc.


The Chalukyas of Anhilwara

The Chalukya or Solanki ruled in Gujarat and kathiawar for nearly three centuries and a half(950-1300). Mularaja consolidated the Chalukya authority in Gujarat. The next important king was Bhima I (1022-64), during whose reign Mahmud Ghazni overran Gujarat and plundered the great temple of Somnath. It was during his reign that the famous Dilwara temple at Mount Abu was built.

Jauasimha (AD 1093-1143), the next important king, assumed the title Siddharaja. He annexed Avanti to the kingdom of Gujarat. In the South, he defeated the Chalukya Vikramaditya VI of Kalyani. The celbrated Jain Scholar Hemachandra wrote the famous grammar Siddha-Hemachandra as well as many other works. Jayasimha established schools for the study of Jyotisha, Nyaya and Purana. Bhima II was the last ruler of Chalukya dynasty of Gujarat and the Vaghelas succeeded them. The last Vaghela ruler of Gujarat was Karna, during whose rule whole of Gujarat was conquered by Alauddin Khalji.


The Palas

At the time of death of Harsha, West Bengal was known as Gauda and East Bengal as Vanga. During mid 8th century, Gopala was elected (Grabita) by the people. According to the Tibetan Lama, Taranatha, Gopala built the celebrated monastery at Odantapura and reigned for forty-five years.

Gopala’s son and successor, Dharamapala was a Buddhist, and he is said to have founded the famous Buddhist university at Vikramashila (Patharghata, Bhagalpur district, Bihar). He was succeeded by his son, Devapala. A copper plate discovered at Nalanda, informs that Devapala granted five villages, for “various comforts” of the Bhikshus as well as for writing the Dharamaratnas and for the upkeep of the Buddhist monastery built there by Balaputradeva, the king of Sumatra and Java.

The Senas

The Pala power in Bengal was replaced by the Senas whose first king Vijaysena conquered a large part of Pala territory. He was succeeded by his son Vijaysena, who founded two capitals, Vijayapuri in West Bengal and Vikramapura in East Bengal. He was succeeded by Ballalasena (1165-85). Ballalasena was the author of Danasagara, a work on Smriti and Adbhutasagara, a work on Astronomy. He is also credited with an important social movement known as Kulinism by which the nobility of birth and purity of blood were carefully protected.

Ballalasena was succeeded by Lakhmanasena who was unable to put any resistance to the Turkish invader Muhammad bin Bakhtiyar Khalji and escaped of his life by flight (1194). The Turkish invaders had an easy way to the Sena capital at Nadia (remaned Lakhnauti or Lakshmanasena was culturally very prosperous. At his court flourished such literary celebrities as Jayadeva, the linguist, and Dhoyi, the poet of Pavanadutam.


The important dynastics during the early medieval period in the region were the Kesari of Bhuvaneshwar and the Eastern Gangas of Kalingapatam or Mukhalingam in Ganjam district (Orissa). The Kesaris were devout Shaivas. The great Lingaraja temple (c. eleventh century) stands in Bhubaneshwar to this day, as one of their noblest monuments.

The Eastern Gangas

The Eastern Gangas established themselves in Kalinga about beginning of the eighth century. Towards the last quarter of the eleventh century, the Ganga family rose to the zenith of its power under Anantvarman Chodaganga who ruled for over seventy years, the known limit of his reign being AD 1077-1147. Tradition ascribes to him the building of the famous temple of Puri.

The Kalachuris of Tripuri

The Kalachuris rose into prominence under Kokalla of the Gahadavalas. The greatest ruler of this dynasty was Karna. Karna routed Bhoja Paramara of Dhara with the help of Bhima I Chalukya of Gujarat (c. 1022-64).

South India

In the early medieval times, like North India, South India also was ruled by a number of dynastics. In the Deccan, the Rashtrakutas ruled from about the middle of the eighth century to the close of the tenth century. In the far south or in the region to the south of Krishna-Tungabhadra, the contemporaries of the Rashtrakutas were the Pallavas of Kanchi. Besides these four dynasties, there were many smaller dynasties like the Cheras of Kerala, the Pandyas of Madurai, the Chalukyas of Vengai or Eastern Chalukyas, the Kadambas of Banavasi, the Gangas of Mysore, etc.


The Rashtrakutas

They were feudatories under the Chalukyas of Badami. The founder of the Rashtrakuta kingdom was Dantivarman or Dantidurga. Dantivarman was succeeded in AD 750 by his uncle Krishna I, who dealt the final blow to the power of the Chalukyas of Badami, attacked the Gangas of Mysore and forced the chalukyas of Vengi to acknowledge his suzerainty.

The Chalukyas of Kalyani

The Rashtrakutas were overthrown in AD 974-75 by Tailapa or Taila II, who belonged to the Chalukya dynasty. The dynasty founded by him, with its capital at Kalyani, is known as the later Chalukya or Chalukyas of Kalyani. Tailapa’s son and successor Satyasraya, also known as Sollina or Solliga, had to face two chola invasions led by Rajendra Chola.

The last great Chalukya ruler was Vikramaditya VI (1076-1126) who, on his coronation, withdrew the Shaka era and introduced the Chalukya-Vikram era. In 1085, he invaded Kanchi and snatched some Chola territories in Andhra. Vikramaditya VI was a great patron of men of letters. Bilhana, the author of the Vikramankadevacharita and Vijnaneshvara, the commentator of the Mitaksharas system of justice on the Smiritis, adorned his court.

The Cholas

The Choals, as rulers, are known to have existed from remote antiquity first mentioned by Mauryan ruler Asoka in his rock edicts. Vijayalaya was the founder of the dynasty which ruled during early medieval period.

With the accession of Sundara Chola’s son Rajaraja I (c. AD 985-1014) began the most glorious epoch of the cholas. After the death of Rajaraja I, the sceptre passed to his worthy son, RAjendra I. He reasserted the Chola supremacy over the kings of Kerala and the Pandyan country.

Rajandra I also came into conflict with the Western Chalukya monarch Jayasimha II Jagadekamalla (AD 1016-42). Next Rajendra I directed his armies marched trimphantly as far as the Ganga and the dominions of the Pala king Mahipala. The Chola monarch’s achievements were not limited to land; he possessed a powerful fleet which gained successes across the Bay of Bengal. rajendra I was succeeded by his son, Rajadhiraja I, in AD 1044-52. He subdued the Pandyan and Kerala kings. In the 12th century Kulottunga ruled as the important Chola ruler.

He introduced certain reforms in the internal administration of the kingdom. Of these, the most important was that he got the land re-surveyed for taxation and revenue purposes. Himself a devout Shaiva by faith, he is recorded to have made grants to the Buddhist shrines at Negapatam.

After a long reign of about half a century, Kulottunga I passed away some time in AD 1122 and was succeeded by his son, Vikrama Chola, surnamed, Tyagasamundra, wo had held the viceroyalty of Vengi. Vikrama Chola (c. AD 1118-33) and his immediate successors, Kulottunga II (c. AD 1133-47),Rajaraja II (c. AD 1147-62) and Rajadhiraja II (c. AD 1162-78), were all weaklings under whom the power of the Cholas rapidly declined and their place was taken by the Hoysalas of Dwarsamudra and Pandyas of Madurai.

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