Rashtrakuta dynasty (753 – 982 CE) ruled over large parts of the Indian subcontinent between the 6th and 10th centuries AD.
The Rashtrakuta Empire dominated the Deccan for almost 200 years till the end of 10th century and also controlled territories in north and south India at various points of time.
Through inscriptions of the Chalukya kings it is assumed that the Rashtrakutas were initially feudatories of the Chalukyas.
The dynasty was founded in the mid of the 8th century, by Dantidurga, who was one of the feudal chieftains of Chalukya kings. He fought his way to the front and overthrewKirtivarman-ll, thus bringing an end to the main branch of Chalukyas. This marked the beginning of the Rastrakuta Empire in Deccan.
Danti Durg performed a ritual called Hiranya-garbha.
There was no power in northern India strong enough to interfere with the affairs of the Deccan which provided an opportunity for the emergence of Rashtrakutas.
Expansion of Political Influence
The heart of the Rashtrakuta Empire included all the territories of the modern day Karnataka, Maharashtra and some parts of Andhra Pradesh.
Dantidurga, the founder of the dynasty probably ruled from Achalapura in Berar (modern Ellichpur in Maharashtra).
He was succeeded by Krishna-I who brought major portions of present-day Karnataka and Konkan under his control.
Under the rule of Dhruva in 9th century, the Rashtrakuta kingdom expanded into a vast empire that encompassed almost all of the territory between the Kaveri River and Central India. He led successful campaigns to Kannauj, and defeated the Gurjara-Pratiharas and the Palas of Bengal in the tripartite struggle. He also subdued the Eastern Chalukyas and brought Gangas of Talakad under his control.
According to historians, the Rashtrakutas became a pan-India power during his reign.
The ascent of Govinda-lll to the throne heralded majestic era of success for the Rashtrakutas. He also took active part in the three way conflict among the Rashtrakutas, the Palas and the Pratiharas for the control over the fertile Gangetic plains. He was victorious over the Pratihara Emperor Nagabhatta-ll and the Pala Emperor Dharmapala, as mentioned in the Sanjan inscription. His military exploits are often compared to those of Alexander the Great.
Under his reign, the Rashtrakuta Empire spread over the areas from Cape Comorin to Kannauj and from Banaras to Bharuch.
Amoghavarsha-I, the successor of Govinda-lll, made Manyakheta in Maharashtra as his capital and ruled over a large empire. He was a great patron of arts, literature and religion. Rastrakuta king Amoghavarsha-I was born in 800 AD near Narmada river in a military camp during the time when his father Govinda-ll was returning after successful campaign of north India.
Amoghavarsha-I was an accomplished scholar in Kannada and Sanskrit. His composition of Kavirajamarga is considered as a landmark in Kannada poetics.
Attributing to his religious temperament, and his interest in the arts and literature along with his peace-loving nature, he has often been compared to the great emperor Ashoka and fondly called ‘Ashoka of the South’.
Prominent Rulers of Rashtrakutas
Dantidurga was the founder of the Rashtrakuta empire who fixed his capital at Manyakheta or Malkhed near modern Sholapur. He seems to be the contemporary of Karka II.
Dantidurga attacked Kanchi, the capital of the Pallavas, and struck up an alliance with Nandivarman Pallavamalla.
Dantidurga captured the outlying territories of the extensive Chalukyan empire in 753 CE and then assaulted the heart of the empire and easily defeated Kirtivarman.
The Samangadh inscription of 754 CE records that Dantidurga overthrew the last Chalukya ruler of Badami called Kirtivarman II and assumed full imperial rank and described himself as:
Dantidurga describes his territory as comprising four lakhs of villages, which probably included his sway over a little more than one half of the Chalukyan Empire of Badami.
Dantidurga died childless, which led to a dispute between Krishnaraja I his uncle and other family members.
Krishnaraja, I succeeded in seizing the throne in 756 CE because of his popularity.
He had the titles Shubhatunga (high in prosperity) and Akalavarsha (constant rainer) mentioned in Bhandak Inscription of Krishnaraja I of 772 CE.
The newly established Rashtrakuta kingdom expanded in all directions under him.
The Bhandak plates of 772 CE show that the whole of Madhya Pradesh had come under his rule.
Southern Konkana was also conquered and brought under his sway by Krishnaraja I.
He also expanded his empire in the southern direction by establishing lordship over the Ganga kingdom.
The Rashtrakuta empire under Krishnaraja I may, thus, be taken to have extended over the whole of the modern Maharashtra state, a good part of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, with Vengi farther east acknowledging its supremacy and a large portion of Madhya Pradesh.
Krishnaraja, I died sometime between 772 CE and 775 CE and was followed on the throne by his son Govinda II.
Govinda II (774–780 CE) bears the titles Prabhutavarsha (profuse rainer) and Vikramavaloka (the man with a heroic look).
His name is omitted in some of the later grants of the line.
It was due to civil war for the throne between him and his younger brother Dhruva ruling in the region of Nasik and Khandesh as governor.
The first war between brothers ended disastrously for Govinda II.
Dhruva (780 – 793 CE) assumed the titles:
Kali-vallabha (fond of war)
Dharavarsha (heavy rainer)
Shrivallabha (the favourite of fortune)
Dhruva severely punished all kings who assisted Govinda II in the late civil war after securing the throne.
He made his younger but ablest son Govinda III king during his lifetime.
Govinda III (793-814) became one of the greatest Rashtrakuta rulers who had the titles of:
Jagattunga (Prominent in the world)
Kirti-Narayana (The very Narayana in respect of fame)
Janavallabha (Favorite of the people)
Tribhuvanadhavala (Pure in the three worlds)
Prabhutavarsha (The abundant rainer)
He first quelled the rebellions of his elder brothers in the south.
In the north, after a successful expedition against Nagabhatta of Kanauj and the annexation of Malawa along with Kosala, Kalinga, Vengi, Dahala and Odraka,Govinda III again turned to the south.
Performing better than his father’s expectations, he spread the fame of the Rashtrakuta empire literally from the Himalayas to Cape Comorin through his skills both in diplomacy and on the battlefield.
Govinda’s successor became his only son Maharaja Sarva better known as Amoghavarsha I.
Amoghavarsha I (814-878 CE) like his father, proved himself as one of the greatest of Rashtrakuta monarchs.
He had the titles:
Nripatunga (exalted among kings)
Atisayadhavala (wonderfully white in conduct)
Maharaja-shanda (best of the great kings)
Vira-Narayana (the heroic Narayana)
He was genuinely interested in the religious traditions of contemporary India and used to spend his time in the company of Jaina monks and other forms of spiritual meditation.
His inscriptions count him among the most prominent followers of Jainism.
He was not only an author himself but also a patron of authors.
Jinasena, the author of Adipurana, was among the Jaina preceptors of Amoghavarsha I.
He not only promoted Jainism but also the Brahmanical religion and also performed several rituals for the welfare of his subjects.
His death was followed by the accession of his son Krishna II in about 879 CE.
Krishna II (878–914 CE) had the titles Akalavarsha and Shubhatunga.
He was not wholly successful in curbing rebellions.
The only success of his reign was the termination of Lata viceroyalty.
The wars he undertook against Vengi and the Cholas got him on the whole nothing but disaster, disgrace, and exile for some time.
Indra III became king in 915 CE. Indra III had the titles:
Nityavarsha (constant rainer)
Amoghavarsha I’s grandson Indra III re-established the empire.
The advance of the Rashtrakuta forces through Lata and Malawa right up to Kalpi and Kanauj and the dethronement of Mahipala were, no doubt, significant military achievements of Indra.
After the defeat of Mahipala and the sack of Kanauj in 915 CE, Indra III was the most powerful ruler of his times.
Indra III’s reign comes to a close towards the end of 927 CE.
He was followed on the throne by his son Amoghavarsha II and reined for one year according to the Bhandana grant of Silahara Aparajita (997 CE).
Krishna III was the last in a line of brilliant rulers.
Krishna III defeated the Chola king Parantaka I (949 CE), annexed the northern part of the Chola empire and distributed the Chola kingdom among his servants.
He, then, pressed down to Rameshwaram and set up a pillar of victory there and built a temple.
After his death, all in late 966 CE or very early in 967 CE his opponents united against his successor half-brother Khottiga. The Rashtrakuta capital Manyakheta was sacked, plundered and burnt in 972 CE by the Paramara kings and the emperor was forced to abandon Manyakheta.
As with other contemporary kingdoms, Rashtrakuta administration was also monarchical, with the king vested with all the supreme powers.
The Chief Minister (Mahasandhivigrahi) assumed a vital position under the king. The commander (Dandanayaka), the foreign minister (Mahakshapataladhikrita) and a prime minister (Mahamatya or Purnamathya) followed the chief minister in the order of administration.
Monarch and Feudatories based administration:
A powerful monarchy was the core of the empire, assisted by a large number of feudatories.
Interestingly, the realm was getting feudalized more and more with the maturity of the reign of each Rashtrakuta king.
The system of administration in the realms was based on the ideas and practices of the Gupta Empire and the Harsha’s kingdom in the north, and the Chalukyas in the Deccan.
As before, the monarch was the fountainhead of all powers including the head of administration and the commander-in-chief of the armed forces.
Law and Order:
The king was responsible for the maintenance of law and order within the kingdom and expected absolute loyalty and obedience from his family, ministers, vassal chiefs, feudatories, officials, and chamberlains.
System of Hereditary Succession:
The king’s position was generally hereditary, but the rules about succession were not rigidly fixed.
The eldest son often succeeded, but there were many instances when the eldest son had to fight his younger brothers and sometimes lost to them.
Thus, the Rashtrakuta ruler Dhruva and Govinda IV deposed their elder brothers.
Kings were generally advised and helped by many hereditary ministers chosen by them from leading families.
Important Administrative Positions:
From epigraphic and literary records, it appears that in almost every kingdom there was a chief minister, a minister of foreign affairs, a revenue minister and treasurer, chief of armed forces, chief justice, and purohita.
Division of Administrative Area:
In the Rashtrakuta kingdom the directly administered areas were divided into:
Amoghavarsha I’s kingdom comprised of sixteen ‘Rashtra’. Rashtra was ruled by a Rashtrapati and Vishaya was ruled over by a vishayapati. The Grama or a village was the lowest division supervised by a Gramapathi or Prabhu Gavunda.
Administration of divided Area:
The Vishaya was like a modern district under Visayapati, and the Bhukti was a smaller unit than it.
A body of assistants called the Rashtramahattaras and Vishayamahattaras respectively assisted provincial governors and district level governors in the Rashtrakuta administration.
The roles and powers of these smaller units and their administrators are not clear.
It seems that their primary purpose was the realization of land revenue and some attention to law and order.
It appears that all officials were paid by giving them grants of rent-free land.
The village was the basic unit of administration. The village administration was carried on by the village headman and the village accountant whose posts were generally hereditary.
Grants of rent- free lands were paid to them.
The headman was often helped in his duties by the village elder called grama-mahajana or grama-mahattara.
In the Rashtrakuta kingdom, particularly in Karnataka, there were village committees to manage local schools, tanks, temples and roads in close cooperation with the headman and received a particular percentage of the revenue collection.
Towns also had similar committees, in which the heads of trade guilds were also associated.
Law and order in the cities and areas in their immediate vicinity was the responsibility of the koshta-pala or kotwal.
The petty chieftainship and the increased hereditary elements weakened the power of village committees. The central rule also found it difficult to assert his authority over them and to control them. It implies that the government was becoming feudalized.
Defense instalments of the Rashtrakuta:
The Rashtrakuta kings had large and well-organized infantry, cavalry, and a large number of war-elephants mentioned in the chronicles of Arab travelers.
The large armed forces were directly related to the glamor and power of the king, which was also essential for the maintenance and expansion of the empire in the age of wars.
The Rashtrakutas were famous for a large number of horses in their army imported from Arabia, West Asia, and Central Asia.
The real power of the Rashtrakutas is reflected from their many forts garrisoned by special troops and independent commanders.
The infantry consisted of regular and irregular soldiers and levies provided by the vassal chiefs.
The regular forces were often hereditary and sometimes drawn from different regions all over India.
There is no reference to war chariots which had fallen out of use.
The economy of the Rashtrakuta Empire was driven by its agricultural and natural produce, money obtained from subjugation of territories and the revenues from manufacturing industries. Cotton was the principal crop of the Rashtrakuta regions of southern Gujarat, Khandesh and Berar.
Ujjain, Paithan and Tagara were significant centers of the textile industry. Muslin cloth was weaved in Paithan and Warangal. The cotton yarn and cloth was exported from the port of Bharuch. The Deccan soil, although not as fertile as the soil of the Gangetic plains, was replete with mineral deposits.
The copper mines of Cudappah, Bellary, Ahmednagar, Bijapur and Dharwar were an important source of income and played an important role in the economy. Diamonds were mined in Kurnool and Golconda and the capital Manyakheta and Devagiri were the important diamond and jewellery trading centers.
The leather and tanning industry also prospered in Gujarat and in the several regions of northern Maharashtra.
The Rashtrakuta Empire controlled most of the western sea coast of the subcontinent which also facilitated its maritime trade. The empire earned a significant income from the port of Bharuch, which was one of the most prominent ports in the world at that time. During their rule, Artists and craftsman functioned as corporations (guilds) rather than as individual businesses.
The Rashtrakuta period was an important epoch in the history of the development of South Indian literature in general and the Kannada literature in particular.Kannada was the court language of the Rashtrakutas , and their inscriptions were mostly engraved in Kannada language.
However, some of the State records were written in Sanskrit also. The earliest work in poetics in the Kannada language, the Kavirajamarga was written at the time of Amoghavarsha I. Adikavi Pampa, regarded as one of the greatest Kannada writers, became famous for Adipurana during the Rashtrakuta rule.
The inscriptions of Rashtrakuta period are highly illustrious. One of the remarkable features of the Rashtrakuta inscriptions is the literary content of the messages.
For example, the Rashtrakuta army’s march through Malwa to defeat the Pratihara King Mahipala is described as the reduction of a prosperous city (Mahodaya) to a Kusasthali (a meadow of grass).
Art and Architecture
The finest examples of the art and architecture of the Rashtrakutas are found atEllora and Elephanta. At Ellora, the most remarkable feature is the Kailasa temple. It was excavated during the reign of Rashtrakuta King Krishna-I. It is carved as a three storied temple excavated top-down in a monolithic manner.
The Kailasa temple is considered as an architectural marvel with its beautiful sculptures. The general characteristic of the Kailasa temple resembles Dravidian style of temple building.
The sculptural art of the Rashtrakutas reached its zenith in the Elephanta islands near Mumbai. The sculptures at Ellora and those at Elephanta are closely related. At the entrance to the sanctum sanctorum, there are lifelike figures of dwara-palakas. In the walls of the prakara around the sanctum, the images of Shiva are carved out in various forms – Nataraja, Gangadhara, Ardhanareesvara and Somaskanda.
Importance of Dynasty
The rule of Rashtrakutas of Manyakheta (Malkheda) had a great impact on India, especially in the northern parts.
The Arab scholars like Sulaiman and Al Masudi wrote that Rashtrakuta Empire was the largest in contemporary India and Sulaiman further ranked it among the four great contemporary empires of the world.
According to the travelogues by Al Masudi in the 10th century, most of the kings paid tribute to Rashtrakuta emperors.
The Rashtrakuta kings assumed the titles of ‘King of kings’ (Rajadhiraja) who possessed the mightiest of armies and whose domains extended from Konkan to Sind.
Their rule marked the golden period for evolution of south Indian literary traditions and marvels in cave-architecture.