Heroic pratihAra-s and lessons to be learnt

We were too engrossed in personal life during the past two months to allot time for writing. But ideas always pop up in mid, a result of the devas’ wish. We have been hearing about the 1000 year foreign rule claim too often these days. When I met a few kids from nearby school, I could understand how bad the knowledge of history is among our younger generation. It seems this punyabhUmi was an open garden into which anyone came and looted the fruits. The successful defense offered by hindus are never acknowledged. The arab invasion of sind under bin qasim is mentioned but not the failed expeditions which were made earlier nor the expulsion of arabs within a few decades.

One of the major defenders of dharma against the mahAmada AtatAyin-s were the rulers of gurjara-pratihAra dynasty. The word ‘pratihAra’ means door-keeper. They indeed remained as the door-keepers of Aryavarta, holding back arab invasions for more than a century. They managed this feat against the most formidable, expansionist armies of their times – the arabs, who had destroyed the persian empire in a matter of years and had pushed the byzantine empire on back feet. While they were battling arab-s on the western front, they had to face the pAla-s of van~ga and rAs.trakUt.a-s of karnAt.a – both of whom were aiming to occupy the majestic kannauj. Thus, the pratihAra empire was in a state of continuous warfare. The glory of this dynasty begins with nAgabhat.a I. He is credited to have thrown out the arab-s from sind by heading a coalition against the mahAmada-s. The famous arab invasion of sind was nullified by this nAgabhat.a who is hailed as the very image of nArAyan.a by his descendant, mihira bhoja. nAgabhat.a’s rule is considered to have ended sometime after 756 CE. He was followed by his brother’s sons, kakkuka and devarAja, neither of whom distinguished themselves. The latter’s son, vatsarAja, who had to face the pAla-s and rAs.trakUt.a-s for kannuaj. The wars left his empire weaker with kannauj falling to dharmapAla.

The mahAmada-s were waiting for this instance. But their resurgence was crushed by the successor of vatsarAja, nAgabhat.a II. The dvitIya nAgabhat.t.a proved why he was born in the line of the arab crushing nAgabhat.a I. Even while he was enganing his enemies in north, east and south within the indian subcontinent, he is credited to have crushed the turushka-s in the west and captured their forts (which could refer to the border towns held by the mahAmada-s). The mahAmada adventure was kept in bay by this nava nAgabhat.a. He was followed by a weak ruler rAmabhadra, who certainly did not live up to his name. This napuMsaka rAma was followed by the greatest of pratihAra rulers, mihira bhoja.
The rAjyas’rI of pratihAra-s gained the greatest strength under this devotee of vis.n.u and bhagavatI, mihira bhoja. He minted coins bearing the legend ‘AdivarAha’ and it is believed that he took the name as one of his titles. Just as AdivarAha saved mother earth from rAks.asa hiran.yAks.a, mihira bhoja saved the punyabhUmi from the ravages of the rAks.asamatAbhimAnI-s. His empire extended from pan~canada to magadha and from himAlaya-s to narmadA. An arab, sulaimAn, refers to the might of this king of juzr (gurjara) as follows:

“This king maintains numerous forces and no other indian prince has so fine a cavalry. He is unfriendly to the arabs and still acknowledges the king of the arabs is the greatest of the kings. Among the princes of india, there is no greater foe of the mohammeddan faith than he…. There is no country of india more safe from robbers”.

We need not look for any other evidence to establish the prowess of this emperor. He was considered as the greatest foe of rAks.asamata. He was followed by his son mahendrapAla who had the great kavi rAjas’ekhara as his guru. The emperor mahendrapAla secured his western borders against the rAks.asa-s while in the east, he gained territories even in gaud.a. The feats of mahendra were so great that he was called ‘nirbhaya narendra’.The poet continued as the guru of mahedrapala’s son mahIpAla as well. He proudly calls his emperor-student as the mahArAjAdhirAja of Aryavarta. MahendrapAla ruled till 908 CE and his son mahIpAla ruled till 932 CE if not till 946 CE as some historians claim.
The pratihAra empire maintained its animosity towards the rAks.asa-s and they were forced to maintain large forces to keep their enemies at bay in all four directions. The arab historian, al-masUdI has written that mahIpAla maintained about 7 or 9 lAkh troops in each of the four cardinal directions. He specifically mentions that mahIpAla’s western army is in constant conflict with the mahAmada ruler of mUlasthAnapura. He also mentions that the pratiharA-s were in a state of war with the rulers of mankir (mAnykhet.a).

The destitute state of the mahAmada garrison at mUlasthAnapura (multan) can be surmised from the words of al-masUdI: “When the unbelievers march against mUltAn, and the faithful do not feel themselves strong enough to oppose them, they threaten to break their idol, and their enemies immediately withdraw”. Another writer (this one from persia), al-ishtakhri also mentions the same state of affairs regarding the defense of the city against hindu invaders. The self proclaimed butshikan-s were forced to take refuge behind the famous ‘but’ of their capital to retain their kingdom. The mUrti must be that of sUrya (supposedly built by the son of kr.s.n.a as per tradition). This is even more significant considering that mahIpAla titled himself as paramAditya bhakta. Thus, mahIpAla had reduced the arab-s to such a misery that only the existence of the temple of his is.t.a deva in the city could save the mahAmada kingdom. The pratihAra power began to lose strength in the second half of the tenth century – result of rAs.trakUt.a invasions and by the time the demonic ghaznavI attacked kannauj, it was ruled by a helpless, weakling who abandoned the city than rather than face the rAks.asa armies.

When we consider that the victorious armies of arab-s had marched without any great resistance such that by 732 CE, arab-s were at the entrance of france – entire northern africa and persian empire had fallen like a pack of cards against the arab invasions – the resistance offered by the hindu rulers of this land is indeed praiseworthy. The pratihAra rulers managed to keep the demonic arab-s at bay even when they were forced to fight long wars against their neighbor kings within the subcontinent.

But rather than feeling proud about this achievement, we must learn a very important lesson here. Hindus had defeated mahAmada-s for more than two centuries. But it went in vain. The hindu victories were never consolidated. We were happy with mere defence of our territories (much as we are doing against the western neighbor now). While every rAks.asa victory was followed by widespread massacres and destruction aimed at uprooting the foundation of hindu strength. Thus, we never completed our victories, being satisfied with safeguarding our borders – which was well utilized by our enemies. A single mahAmada victory could undo centuries of hindu resistance. Mere defense of one’s lands is never enough. Lack of offensive actions taking the war into enemy territory let us down in the long run. The short-sightedness of leaving battlefield to protect the temple could also be seen. When the mahAmada-s gained strength, they destroyed the temple and the mUrti. This is lesson number two. While the rAks.asa-s may allow us to worship and generally follow our religions when they are not in a position to oppose us; the situation will chage drastically when they gain enough strength. Therefore, to say that mahAmada-s of a particular place/land are not as bad as others is nothing but illogical.

It is indeed eerie to think about the current situaion. History does repeat. The city of mUlasthAnapura is once again ruled by the mahAmada-s. We have won some victories against the mahAmada-s in west. But nothing decisive came out of it. The mahAmada-s are gaining in numbers and weapons. When they reach a boiling point, we might face a defeat which could destroy our civilizational centres once again.

We have clear examples in history for what we could expect in future – if we do not change our strategy. We must prepare ourselves to face this uphill task by a u-turn in our military doctrine.