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Rashtrakutas: Polity and administration

Rashtrakutas: Polity and administration

Rashtrakutas (755 – 975 A.D.)

  • While the Palas and the Pratiharas were ruling over north India, the Deccan was being ruled by the Rashtrakutas who were earlier feudatories of the Chalukyas.
  • Dantidurga was the founder of the Rashtrakuta dynasty with their capital at Manyakheta.
    • He defeated the Gurjaras and captured Malwa from them.
    • Then he annexed the Chalukya kingdom by defeating Kirtivarman II.
    • Thus, the Rashtrakutas became a paramount power in the Deccan.
  • Geographically the Rashtrakuta kingdom located nearly in the middle of India along the top of the Deccan Plateau. The Rashtrakutas dominated the entire area of northern Maharashtra. This position afforded many opportunities for expansion.
    • The Rashtrakutas took advantage of this and frequently interfered with both the northern and southern kingdoms of India.
    • The northern kingdoms were particularly easy to prey on, as there was no one powerful enough to effectively repel the Rashtrakutas.
      • Although their raids did not result in the extension of the Rashtrakuta empire to the Ganga valley, they brought rich plunder, and added to the fame of the Rashtrakutas.
    • They engaged with the Pratiharas for the overlordship of Gujarat and Malwa.
    • The Rashtrakutas also fought constantly against the eastern Chalukyas of Vengi (in modern Andhra Pradesh) and in the south against the Pallavas of Kanchi and the Pandyas of Madurai.
  • The Rashtrakutas also controlled large portions of the western coast of India.
    • The majority of the trade with West Asia came through these ports and much of the Rashtrakutas wealth along with it.
    • Tea and cotton textiles were exported out of the kingdom and horses were imported to be sold further inland.
  • The Rashtrakutas also maintained good relations with the Arabs in Sind and traded extensively with them.
  • By the end of the 10th century the geographical advantages the Rashtrakutas had enjoyed turned to disadvantages, as new powers in the north and south emerged as threats.
    • In the south the Cholas were becoming the dominant kingdom in the area.
    • The Chalukya dynasty, whom the Rashtrakutas had originally overthrown, was regaining much of their former power and territory.
      • With this new threat in the south the Rashtrakutas were unable to keep the Cholas from regaining their northern territories.
    • Along with the threat of these two kingdoms was the rise of the Shilaharas in the north-western Decca. They took over much of the western coast and port cities of Western India. In the end the Rashtrakuta‘s dynasty was overthrown by the Chalukyas, from whom Dantidurga had claimed independence from hundreds of years ago.

Origin of the Rashtrakuta

  • Several theories are put forward to explain the origin of the Rashtrakutas.
  • Decent from Yadava family:
    • It is said that they were indigenous people of the country claiming decent from the sacred Yadava family of Epic fame, especially considering their predominance in the Gujarat and Deccan region.
    • Of the 75 inscriptions and copper grants of the Rashtrakutas of Deccan and Gujarat that have so far been discovered, only eight mention any connection between the Rashtrakutas and the Yadavas.
    • A copper grant dated to 914 C.E states, Rashtrakuta Dantidurga was born in the line of Yadava Satyaki.
    • The book Kavirahasya by Halayudha also mentions the Rashtrakutas as being the descendants of Yadava Satyaki.
  • Other opinion:
    • Another opinion is that Rashtrakuta was a title given to governors of provinces by the Chalukya kings and meant head of the region. Since it was such governor who established an independent kingdom, the dynasty itself came to be called the Rashtrakutas.
    • On becoming more powerful, they also assumed the title of Prithvi Vallabha with the Vallabha getting transliterated into Balharas in the Arab chronicles of the time.
  • Tribes of Punjab:
    • The earliest reference to the Rashtrakutas is found in the Edicts of Asoka Maurya as Rashtrika and Rathika, who have been used to refer to a tribe of the North-Western regions.
    • It has been opined that Rashtrika refers to the same tribe as the Arattas of Punjab.
      • The Arattas are mentioned in the Mahabharata and also in the account of Alexander’s invasion of Gandhara.
    • The historian C.V. Vaidya is of the opinion that the Rashtrakutas were initially settlers of Punjab who migrated south and carved out a kingdom in the Deccan, gradually becoming the Kshatriyas of Maharashtra.
  • Kanarese origin:
    • Dr. A.S. Altekar has pointed out that the Rashtrakutas originally lived in the Karnataka country and their mother tongue was Kanarese. They used the Kanarese script.
    • Several inscriptions describe them as ―”Lord of Lattura”. This place is identified with Latur-in Bidar in modern Karnataka.

Sources of Information

  • Numerous inscriptions spread all over the Deccan written in Sanskrit, Kannanda language and stone records.
  • Literary sources:
    • ancient literature in Pali,
    • contemporaneous Kannada literature such as Kavirajamarga (850 C.E) and Vikramarjuna Vijaya (941 C.E),
    • Sanskrit writings by Somadeva, Rajashekara, Gunabhadra, Jinasena and others and
    • the notes of Arab travellers of those times such as Suleiman, Ibn Haukal, Al Masudi, Al Istakhri and others.

Political history of Rashtrakutas

  • The power of the Rashtrakuta dynasty increased under the reign of Dantidurga, the son and successor of Indra.
  • His successor Krishna I was also a great conqueror.
    • He defeated the Gangas and the eastern Chalukyas of Vengi.
    • He built the magnificent rock-cut monolithic Kailasa temple at Ellora.
    • The next important king of this dynasty was Govinda III.
  • Govinda III (793-814)
    • He achieved victories over north Indian kingdoms.
    • After a successful expedition against Nagabhatta of Kanauj and the annexation of Malwa, Govinda returned to the south.
      • As per an inscription, Govinda terrified the Kerala, Pandya and the Chola kings and caused the Pallavas to wither.
      • The Ganga (of Karnataka) met with death.
      • The king of Lanka and his minister were captured and brought over as prisoners to Halapur. Two statues of the lord of Lanka were carried to Manyakhet, and installed like pillars of victory in front of a Siva temple.
  • Amoghavarsha (814-878):
    • Amoghavarsha ruled for 64 years but by temperament he preferred the pursuit of religion and literature to war.
    • He was a patron of letters and he himself is credited with writing the first Kannada book on poetics, Kavirajamarga.
    • He was a follower of Jainism. Jinasena was his chief preceptor.
    • He was a great builder, and is said to have built the capital city Manyakhet.
    • He had lost control over Malwa and Gangavadi.
      • There were many rebellions in the far flung Rashtrakuta empire under Amoghavarsha. These could be barely contained, and began afresh after his death.
  • Indra III (915-927)
    • Amoghavarsha’s grandson, Indra III reestablished the empire. After the defeat of Mahipala and the sack of Kanauj in 915, Indra III was the most powerful ruler of his times.
    • According to al-Masudi who visited India at that time, the Rashtrakuta king, Balhara or Vallabharaja, was the greatest king of India and most of the Indian rulers accepted his suzerainty and respected his envoys. He possessed large armies and innumerable elephants.

Krishna III (934-963):

  • He was the last in a line of brilliant rulers. He was famous for his expeditions.
  • He was engaged in a struggle against the Paramaras of Malwa and the eastern Chalukyas of Vengi.
  • He also launched a campaign against the Chola ruler of Tanjore, who had supplanted the Pallavas of Kanchi.
  • Krishna III defeated the Chola king, Parantaka I (AD 949), and annexed the northern part of the Chola empire.
    • He then pressed down to Rameshwaram and set up a pillar of victory there and built
      a temple.
    • He built several temples in the conquered territories including the Krishneswara temple at Rameswaram.
  • Throughout his reign he possessed the Tondaimandalam region including the capital Kanchi.
  • After his death, all his opponents united against his successor. The Rashtrakuta capital, Malkhed, was sacked and burnt in 972. This marked the end of the Rashtrakuta empire.
  • The Rashtrakuta rule in the Deccan thus lasted for almost two hundred years, till the end of the tenth century.

Administration

  • Rshtras:
    • The Rashtrakuta Empire under direct rule of the monarch was divided into several provinces called rashtras under the control of rashtrapatis.
    • Rashtrapati who exercised both civil and military jurisdiction over the Rashtra. He maintained law and order, collects taxes and maintained records of accounts.
  • Vishayas:
    • Rashtras were further divided into vishayas or districts governed by vishayapatis.
  • Bhukti:
    • The next subdivision was bhukti consisting of 50 to 70 villages under the control of bhogapatis.
  • These officers were directly appointed by the central government.
  • Village administration:
    • The village administration was carried on by the village headmen.
    • However, the village assemblies (council) played a significant role in the village administration. Household were represented in the councils.
  • King:
    • The king was the sovereign and fountain of power.
    • He used high sounding titles like Paramesvara, Paramabhattaraka, Maharajadhiraja to add to his dignity.
    • He lived in extraordinary pomp and grandeur.
    • The Rashtrakuta court was marked with impressive ceremonies and etiquettes. In the court, the king was attended by Ministers, officers, vassals, generals, poets etc.
    • Kingship was hereditary. It usually passed from the father to the eldest son. The latter was called Yuvaraja. In special cases younger sons were selected as heir to the throne.
  • Ministers:
    • The actual work of the administration was carried by the ministers.
    • Person of efficiency were appointed as ministers.
    • Some officers were appointed to carry tour of inspection throughout the empire and keep watch upon the vassals.
  • Vassals: 
    • The Emperor established direct rule over part of the empire and the rest was governed by vassals.
    • Powerful vassals enjoyed complete autonomy in their internal administration. They could even make grants of land without seeking the consent of the suzerain.
    • The vassals attended the court when summoned by the Emperor. Sometimes they accompanied the king in military campaign.
  • Army:
    • The Rashtrakuta had a vast army. A greater part of the army was always stationed at the capital for safety.
    • The Rashtrakuta standing army was employed both for defensive and offensive purpose.
    • Added to this the armies of the provincial and feudatories also could be drawn whenever necessary.
  • Revenue:
    • The revenue of the state was mainly derived from the tributes paid by the vassals.
    • Mines, forests and wasteland also brought the revenue.
    • Land tax was called the Udranga or Bhagakara, the kings’s share.
    • Normally the tax collected was ¼ of the gross produce.
    • The lands that were granted to the Brahmins and temples were also not exempted from taxation, but the tax on such land was low.
    • If the state was visited by natural disaster like drought or famine, the tax was not levied.
  • Coins: 
    • The Rashtrakuta had a system of coins.
    • There were five kinds of coin- Drama, Suvarna, Godhyanka, Kalanju and Kasu.
    • Some gold coins also issued by Rashtrakuta emperors.

Society

  • The Dharmasastras and the accounts of the Arab writers help us to form a picture of the society
    and economic condition during this period.
  • There were a numbers of social groups. Among the four varnas, the Brahmans enjoyed a superior status. In actual practice, the privileges of the Kshatriyas were no less than those of the Brahmana.
  • The status of the Vaishyas had degenerated to a great extent.
  • The period witnessed improvement in the position of the Sudras. The Bhakti movements led by Nayanars and Alvars which preached the footing equality of man with man narrowed down the gulf between the high and low castes.
  • The untouchables had come to be excluded from the main stream life.
  • Joint family system was the order of the day. Widows and daughters were recognized as heirs to the property. Sati system was not popular in the Deccan. Child marriage had become common in society.
  • The Hindu sects of Vaishnavism and Saivism flourished during the period of Rashtrakutas.
    • Yet, they did not affect the progress of Jainism under the patronage of Rashtrakuta kings and officers.
    • There were some prosperous Buddhist settlements at places like Kanheri, Sholapur and Dharwar. There was harmony among various religions.
  • There was a college at Salatogi, situated in modern Bijapur district.
    • An inscription gives details of this educational centre.
    • It was run by the income from the endowments made by the rich as well as by all the villagers on occasions of functions and festivals.

Economy

  • The economy was also in a flourishing condition.
  • Agriculture continued to receive the attention of the government as before. But the period made much progress in mining and industry.
  • Textile industry made considerable progress.
    • Cloth was manufactured in sufficient quantity to meet internal demand and to leave large surplus for export.
  • Muslins, hides, mats, indigo, incense, sandal and teakwood, ivory were main articles of exports.
  • Among the article of imports were gold, wine, copper, tin, lead, topaz etc.
  • Commercial transactions were carried on either barter or by the exchange of gold and silver.
  • Trade and industries were organized into their respective guilds.
    • They used to regulate trade and industry and do the banking business.
  • Foreign trade must have been handled by the Arab merchants who have by now become intermediaries in Indian overseas trade.
    • There was an active commerce between the Deccan and the Arabs. The Rashtrakuta kings promoted the Arab trade by maintaining friendship with them.

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