• In northern Maharashtra and Vidarbha (Berar), the Satavahanas were succeeded by the Vakatakas, a local power. They were contemporaneous with the Guptas in northern India.
  • The Vakaṭaka Empire was a royal Indian dynasty that originated from the Deccan in the mid-third century CE. Their state is believed to have extended from the southern edges of Malwa and Gujarat in the north to the Tungabhadra River in the south as well as from the Arabian Sea in the western to the edges of Chhattisgarh in the east.


  • The history of the Vakatakas is largely known from inscriptions and from texts such as the Puranas.
  • The Vakatakas, who were brahmanas themselves, are known from a large number of copper plate land grants issued by them.
    • Vindhyashakti I was the founder of the dynasty.
    • Vindhyashakti is described as a dvija, and other Vakataka inscriptions describe kings of this dynasty as Brahmanas belonging to the Vishnuvriddha gotra.
  • They were great champions of the brahmanical religion and performed numerous Vedic sacrifices.
    • Culturally however the Vakataka kingdom served as a channel for the transmission of brahmanical ideas and social institutions to the south.
  • Their political history is more linked to north India than to south India.
    • Chandragupta II married his daughter Prabhavati Gupta into the Vakataka royal family and with its support conquered Malwa and Gujarat from the Shaka Kshatrapas in the last quarter of the fourth century AD.
  • This dynasty had matrimonial ties with the imperial Guptas, Nagas of Padmavati, Kadambas of Karnataka, and Vishnukundins of Andhra.
  • The Ajanta inscription of the time of Harishena alludes in poetic terms to his military achievements.
  • Vakataka rule lasted from the mid-3rd to the late 5th/early 6th centuries CE.

Location of original home of Vakatakas:

  • South India:
    • Some scholars place it in South India.
    • This is based on the mention of ‘Vakataka’ in a fragmentary inscription at Amaravati in Andhra Pradesh and certain similarities between some technical terms in Vakataka inscriptions and the Hirehadagalli and Mayidavolu grants of the Pallava king Shivaskandavarman.
    • Further, the Basim plates of Vindhyashakti II use the title Haritiputra for Pravarasena I and Dharmamaharaja for Sarvasena I and the reigning king.
      • These titles also occur in inscriptions of southern dynasties such as the Pallavas, Kadambas, and Chalukyas of Badami.
    • Certain inscriptions of the time of Harishena (the last known king of the Vakataka line of Vatsagulma), describe the family of one of his ministers as hailing from Vallura, which may be identified with Velur near Hyderabad.
  • Vindhyan region:
    • Inscriptions and the Puranas indicate that this dynasty initially established its base in the Vindhyan region, north of the Narmada.
    • The Puranas refer to the dynasty as the Vindhyakas.
      • The town of Kanchanaka, mentioned in the Puranas in connection with one of the early kings, Pravarasena I, can be identified with Nachna village in Panna district of Madhya Pradesh.
      • Several early Vakataka inscriptions and structural remains of the period have been found here.
    • This clearly indicates that the Vakatakas first established themselves in the Vindhyan region. From here they extended their power southwards, eventually becoming a major political power in the Deccan.

Pravarpura-Nandivardhana branch:

Vindhyashakti I (250–270 CE)

  • In the Cave XVI inscription of Ajanta he was described as the banner of the Vakataka family and a Dvija.
    • It is stated in this inscription that he added to his power by fighting great battles and he had a large cavalry.

Pravarasena I (270-330)

  • The second king of the line was Pravarasena, who seems to have extended the empire southwards into Vidarbha and the adjoining areas of the Deccan. His capital was Kanchanaka (modern Nachna).
  • He conducted wars with the Naga kings.
  • The marriage between his son Gautamiputra and the daughter of the Naga king Bhavanaga cemented an important political alliance.
  • The Puranas mention him as performing several vajapeya and vajimedha sacrifices, accompanied by the distribution of many lavish gifts.
    • Inscriptions mention his four ashvamedhas and several other sacrifices.
  • Pravarasena I was the only Vakataka king with the imperial title samrat; the others had the relatively modest title maharaja.
  • During the later part of Prithivishena I’s reign, his son Rudrasena II was married to Prabhavatigupta, daughter of the Gupta emperor Chandragupta II.
    • When Rudrasena died fortuitously after a very short reign in 385 C.E, his sons Damodarasena, and Pravarasena II were minors, and Prabhavatigupta held the reigns of government for a very long time as a regent on behalf of her two sons.

Prabhavatigupta (385 – 405):

  • Prabhavati Gupta’s inscription mentions about one “Deva Gupta” who is her father and the historians equated him with Chandra Gupta II.
  • Prabhavatigupta’s inscriptions give her natal genealogy and emphasize her natal connections.
    • Her gotra is given as Dharana, not Vishnuvriddha, the gotra of the family into which she had married.
  • During this period the Vakataka realm was practically a part of the Gupta Empire. Many historians refer to this period as the Vakataka-Gupta age. 
  • Nandivardhana (identified with Nandardhan near Nagpur) seems to have become the capital during this period.
  • The seal of Prabhavatigupta’s Miregaon plates describes her as ‘mother of two kings’.

Pravarasena II:

  • The largest number of Vakataka inscriptions including copper plate inscriptions belong to the reign of Pravarasena II.
    • The earlier ones were issued from Nandivardhana and the later ones from Pravarapura (identified with Paunar in Wardha district).
  • He shifted the capital from Nandivardhana to Pravarapura, a new city of founded by him. He built a temple dedicated to Rama in his new capital.
  • A Prakrit work called Setubandha or Ravanavaho, woven around Rama’s journey to Lanka and his victory over Ravana, has been attributed to Pravarasena II.
    • A few verses of the Gaha Sattasai (originally by Hala) are also attributed to him.
  • Prabhavatigupta continued to issue inscriptions in her own right and died during the later part of her son’s reign.

Other rulers:

  • The death of Pravarasena II may have been followed by a succession struggle. Narendrasena (440-460) ultimately emerged successful.
  • The last known king of this line was Prithivishena II.
    • A copper coin from Paunar seems to belong to his reign.
    • After his death in 480, his kingdom was probably annexed by Harishena of the Vatsagulma branch of Vakataka.
  • The Sudarshana lake at Junagadh seems to have acquired a celebrity status, for the name Sudarshana became popular for lakes and reservoirs in the northern Deccan.
    • A reservoir built by Prabhavatigupta’s children in their mother’s memory was known as Sudarshana.
  • The Vakataka power was followed by that of the Chalukyas of Badami in Deccan.

Vatsagulma branch:

  • Sarvasena (330 – 355):
    • The Vatsagulma branch was founded by Sarvasena, the second son of Pravarasena I.
    • Sarvasena took the title of Dharmamaharaja.
    • He is also known as the author of Harivijaya in Prakrit which is based on the story of bringing the parijat tree from heaven by Krishna. This work, praised by later writers is lost.
    • He is also known as the author of many verses of the Prakrit Gaha Sattasai originally by Hala.
  • Vindhysena (355 – 400):
    • He was also known as Vindhyashakti II.
    • He is known from the well-known Washim plates which recorded the grant of a village situated in the northern marga of Nandikata (presently Nanded).
    • The genealogical portion of the grant is written in Sanskrit and the formal portion in Prakrit.
    • This is the first known land grant by any Vakataka ruler.
    • He also took the title of Dharmamaharaja.
  • Pravarasena II (400 – 415):
    • Pravarasena II (400 – 415) was the next ruler. The Cave XVI inscription of Ajanta says that he became exalted by his excellent, powerful and liberal rule.
  • Harishena (475 – 500):
    • He was a great patron of Buddhist architecture, art and culture.
    • Ajanta is surviving example of his works.
    • The rock cut architectural cell-XVI inscription of Ajanta states that he conquered:
      • Avanti (Malwa) in the north,
      • Kosala (Chhattisgarh),
      • Kalinga and Andhra in the east,
      • Lata (Central and Southern Gujarat) and
      • Trikuta (Nasik district) in the west and Kuntala (Southern Maharashtra) in the south.
    • Varahadeva, a minister of Harishena and the son of Hastibhoja, excavated the rock-cut vihara of Cave XVI of Ajanta.
      • Three of the Buddhist caves at Ajanta, two viharas – caves XVI and XVII and a chaitya – cave XIX were excavated and decorated with painting and sculptures during the reign of Harishena.

End of Vakataka:

  • According to Dasakumaracarita of Dain, which was written probably around 125 years after the fall of the Vakataka dynasty, Harishena’s son, though intelligent and accomplished in all arts, neglected the study of the Dandaniti (Political Science) and gave himself up to the enjoyment of pleasures and indulged in all sorts of vices.
  • Finding this a suitable opportunity, the ruler of Ashmaka instigated the ruler of Vanavasi (in the North Kanara district) to invade the Vakataka territory.
  • The king called all his feudatories and decided to fight his enemy on the bank of the Varada (Wardha).
  • While fighting with the forces of the enemy, he was treacherously attacked in the rear by some of his own feudatories and killed. The Vakataka dynasty ended with his death.

The Administrative Structure of the Vakataka Kingdom

  • Vakataka inscriptions offer comparatively less information regarding administrative structure.
  • Rashtras or rajyas (provinces):
    • The Vakataka empire was divided into provinces called rashtras or rajyas.
    • For instance, the Pakkana rashtra is mentioned in the Belora plates, the Bhojakata rashtra in the Chammaka plates, the Varuchha rajya in the Pandhurna plates, and the Arammi rajya in the Dudia and Padhurna plates (all these inscriptions belong to the reign of Pravarasena II).
    • Rajyadhikritas (Governor):
      • The rajyas were administered by governors known as rajyadhikritas.
  • Vishayas:
    • Provinces were further subdivided into vishayas.
  • Aharas and bhogas or bhuktis:
    • Vishayas were further divided into aharas and bhogas or bhuktis.
  • Sarvadhyaksha and Kulaputra:
    • Vakataka grants refer to an officer called the sarvadhyaksha, who appointed and directed subordinate officers known as kulaputras.
    • The duties of kulaputras included the maintenance of law and order.
  • Chhatras and bhatas:
    • The chhatras and bhatas, usually understood as referring to irregular and regular troops, represented the coercive arm of the state.
    • They wandered about the countryside, extracting taxes due to the state, and may have also been responsible for maintaining law and order.
  • Rajuka:
    • The rajuka, known in Maurya sources as an officer connected with revenue assessment, is mentioned in the Indore plates of Pravarasena II as the writer of the land grant charter.
  • Senapati and dandanayaka:
    • The senapati and dandanayaka were military officers.
    • Interestingly, the Vakataka charters are described as drafted in the senapati’s office.
    • Inscriptions belonging to various years of the reign of Pravarasena II mention different persons as senapati. This either indicates changes in the occupancy of the post, or that several individuals had this designation.
  • Other officials:
    • The inscriptions of feudatories of the Vakatakas refer to some additional admininstrative terms.
    • The rahasika, mentioned in the Bamhani plates of Bharatabala, a ruler of Mekala, seems to have been a confidential officer attached to the king.
    • The same inscription mentions the gramakuta or village headman.
    • The devavarika may have been the head of the village police.
    • The gandakas may have been the equivalents of the bhatas of Vakataka grants.
    • The dronagrakanayaka may have been in charge of the administrative unit known as the dronagraka or dronamukha.

Land grants by Vakatakas:

  • While the imperial Guptas were not apparently great donors of land to Brahmanas, the Vakatakas were.
  • The tally of the gifted villages mentioned in Vakataka inscriptions is 35. A large number of these gifts were made during the reign of Pravarasena II—his 18 inscriptions record the gift of 20 villages in all.
  • A wide range of technical terms are mentioned in the grants, indicating the exemptions and privileges that were bestowed on the gifted land and the donees.
  • Thirteen inscriptions mention the area of land, ranging from 20 to 8000 nivartanas by the royal measure.
  • There are also a few instances of villages being donated in exchange for previous gifts.
  • The Yavatmal plates of Pravarasena II record the renewal of an earlier grant.
  • From the time of Pravarasena II, there seems to have been a shift in the location of gifted villages from the eastern to the western part of the Vakataka kingdom, particularly to the Tapi valley.
  • Basim plates of Vindhyashakti II record the king’s grant of Akasapadda village to certain Atharva Veda Brahmanas. The following exemptions and privileges were associated with the grant (the language is a mixture of Prakrit and Sanskrit):
    • to last as long as the moon and the sun i.e., forever;
    • not to be entered by the district police;
    • exempt from the royal prerogative of digging salt and purchasing fermented liquor;
    • exempt from the obligations to gift grain and gold to the king;
    • exempt from the obligation to supply flowers and milk;
    • exempt from the obligation to supply to the state customary cows and bulls;
    • exempt from providing pastures, hides, and charcoal to touring officials;
    • not to be entered by royal soldiers;
    • not to provide sleeping cots, water pots, and slaves to touring officers;
    • not to pay taxes;
    • not to provide draught cattle for the transport of officials;
    • along with the right to hidden treasures and deposits;
    • along with major and minor taxes;
    • exempted with all kinds of immunities.
  • The Poona plates of Prabhavatigupta also refer to the donees being granted the right to mines and khadira trees.
  • The term in some of the plates of Pravarasena II and Riddhapur plates of Prabhavatigupta indicates that the gifted land was free from forced labour.
  • The Riddhapur plates of Prabhavatigupta state that the field was granted along with a farmhouse and four farmers’ huts.
  • The Pauni grant of Pravarasena II records the gift of a village along with the habitations.
  • Some of the grants contain the phrase which means ‘not to be entered by regular and irregular troops’.
  • The Chammak plates of Pravarasena II have a curious stipulation. The donees—1,000 Brahmanas—were to enjoy the gifted land
      • as long as they did not commit treason against the kingdom,
      • as long as they were not found guilty of the murder of a Brahmana, or of theft, adultery, and high treason, etc.;
      • as long as they did not wage war and did not harm other villages.
    • It was declared that if they indulged in or assented to any such acts, the king would be justified in taking the land away from them.


  • The Vakatakas are noted for having been patrons of the arts, architecture and literature. They led public works and their monuments are a visible legacy.
  • The rock-cut Buddhist viharas and chaityas of Ajanta Caves was built under the patronage of Vakataka King Harishena of Vatsagulma branch.
  • Spink attributes the Ajanta caves of the period to a single, intense burst of enthusiasm during the reign of the Vakataka king Harishena. It was Harishena’s death, he argues, that marked the end of the golden age.
  • There were two phases of activity at this site—five caves were excavated in the Satavahana period, while 23 belong to the Vakataka period (inscriptional evidence establishes this).
  • Indra, Vishnu, Rama, Hara, and Kama are mentioned in a donative inscription of Varahadeva, minister of the Vakataka king Harishena, in one of the Buddhist caves at Ajanta.
  • The scale and magnificence of the Ajanta caves suggest that they must have housed a prominent monastic community which attracted lavish patronage from the elites of the Vakataka kingdom.
  • The second phase of painting  in Ajanta corresponds to the Vakataka period.
The rock-cut Buddhist viharas and chaityas of Ajanta Caves, built under the patronage of the Vatsagulma branch of the Vakataka rulers
Remains of the Pravareshvara Shiva temple built by Pravarasena II at Mansar, Nagpur

Painting of Padmapani and Vajrapani in Ajanta:

Ajanta_Padmapaniajanta painting


  • The Panchatantra is an example of a nidarshana—a work which shows through illustration what should and should not be done.
  • The date and authorship of this text are uncertain. Its stories are presented as narrated by a sage named Vishnusharman.
  • The three princes whom Vishnusharman instructs in niti (policy, statecraft) through many engaging stories have names ending in the suffix ‘shakti’, which suggests the possibility that the work was composed in the Vakataka empire.
  • The text is divided into five sections illustrating the following topics:
    • splitting an alliance that is contrary to one’s interest,
    • forming an alliance,
    • waging war,
    • getting the better of a fool, and
    • the results of action without reflection.
  • Most of the Panchatantra stories are amusing, satirical tales in which animals play an important role.
  • The style is elegant prose, interspersed with verses.

Other information about Vakatakas:

  • Vakataka inscriptions mention the terms klipta and upaklipta; they also refer to vishti or forced labour.
  • Vakataka inscriptions mention the terms klipta and upaklipta.
    • According to D. C. Sircar, the former may have meant a purchase tax or a sale tax, while Maity suggests it may not refer to a tax at all but to some royal right over land.
    • The upaklipta may have referred to some additional or minor taxes.
  • With specific reference to the Vakataka kingdom, Shrimali argues for a decline in trade, traders, and the urban economy.
  • Shrimali asserts that the inscriptions convey a picture of
    • a nonmonetary,
    • small-scale village economy,
    • an expansion of rural settlements,
    • a contraction of urbanism, and
    • an early onset of feudalism.
  • There are several references to artisans, traders, and occupational groups in Vakataka inscriptions.
    • The Indore plates of Pravarasena II mention a merchant (vanijaka) named Chandra, who bought half a village and donated it to some Brahmanas.
    • The gifted village Charmanka in the Chammak copper plates of Pravarasena II may have been a settlement of leather workers.
    • The Thalner copper plates record the gift of Kamsakaraka and Suvarnakara, which, from their names, seem to have been villages of bronze workers and goldsmiths.
    • A goldsmith named Ishvaradatta is mentioned as the engraver of the Pattan plates.
    • Kallara, mentioned in the Pandhurna plates, and Madhukajjhari, mentioned in the Patna Museum plates, may have been villages of alcohol distillers.
    • The inhabitants of Ishtakapalli of the Mandhal plates may have specialized in brickmaking.
    • Places such as Ishtakapalli, Hiranyapura, Lavanatailaka, and Lohanagara seem to have been connected with brickmaking, goldwork, salt manufacture, and iron working respectively.
  • The Indore plates of the Vakataka king Pravarasena mention a merchant (vanijaka) named Chandra, who bought half of the village that was gifted by the king to certain Brahmanas.
    • The Vakataka genealogies do not generally mention queens. However, Vakataka inscriptions reveal the exercise of political power by queen Prabhavatigupta during the reigns of three consecutive Vakataka rulers.
    • Gift giving by women:
      • Some royal women took the initiative in gift-giving.
      • Prabhavatigupta made grants in her own right.
      • The Masoda plates of Pravarasena II records a grant made at the request of an unnamed chief queen.
      • A fragmentary inscription found on the walls of the Kevala-Narasimha temple in Ramtek (Nagpur district) records the construction of this temple (given the name Prabhavatisvamin) in memory of the deceased queen Prabhavatigupta by her daughter.
  • The Vakataka king Pravarasena I is described in inscriptions as having performed four horse sacrifices, as well as others such as the agnishtoma, brihaspatisava, vajapeya.

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