Warfare for Wealth

Social ScienceAncient Indian History


There were quite a few powerful dynasties ruling next to each other in the north, south and eastern part of the Indian subcontinent during the 7th century CE. Some of these dynasties were −

  • Cholas of South India
  • Palas of Bengal
  • Rashtrakutas of Deccan
  • Chauhans of West India
  • Gurjara-Pratiharas of Central India
  • Chalukyas of Vadami

All these dynasties had powerful rulers who wanted to invade the neighboring states to gain more wealth and power.

Kanauj The Seat of Contest

During the 7th century CE, Kanauj became a thriving centre for trade, commerce and administration. These led Kanauj to become a centre of political interest and many dynasties tried to have it under their control. This tussle over Kanauj led to long drawn conflict between three powers - Gurjara-Prathihara of central and west India, Rasthrakutas of Deccan, and Palas of Bengal which continued for three centuries and came to be popularly known as the “Tripartite Struggle”. “Tri” meaning ‘three’ and ‘partite’ stood for ‘parties involved’.

Did You Know?

Why was Kanauj important in 7th century CE?

Kanauj was located in the Gangetic plains of North India and was an important seat of power during the Gupta Empire. It was also strategically located between the trades of Gangetic plains and also connected the Silk Routes of China. This strategic and commercial advantage lured rulers to assume control over it.

During the rule of Harshavardhana, who claimed power over the vast north Indian plains, Kanauj was at the pinnacle of political success and economic prosperity.

Naturally all ruling powers during the 7th century CE wanted to lay claim over this town.

Tripartite Struggle: How It Began

This episode lasted over turbulent few centuries with Kanauj being the bone of contention. Successors of Harshavardha, namely Yashovarman founded a kingdom in Kanauj in around 727 CE. Other rulers of Kanauj during these times included Indrayudha, Vijrayudha but they were not able to rule Kanauj in peace as they had to constantly fight the Palas, Rashtrakutas and the Gurjara-Prathiharas.

It all began when a conflict broke out between the Pala ruler, Dharmapala and the Gurjara-Prathihara king Vatsaraja. The Prathihara ruler emerged victorious but it proved to be temporary as he was soon defeated by Rashtrkuta king, Dhruv 1. But once, Dhruva returned to Deccan, the Pala king Dharmapala invaded and brought Kanauj under his reign. But this control also seemed temporary. Thus began the Tripartite Struggle over Kanauj.

The continues struggle for over two hundred years proved to be counterproductive as all the dynasties were weakened and Kanauj lost the crowning glory of being an important political and economic centre. The weakness of powers in the northern Gangetic plains during the 9th and 10th century CE made it vulnerable to Arab and other Islamic foreign invasions and ultimately paved the way for the establishment of the Delhi Sultanate towards the end of 12th century CE.

Temple: A Symbol of Power

It is interesting to know how rulers during this time period began building structures, pillars, and temples as an expression of art and culture and also as a symbol of their military might and political power. These architectures bear evidence of the level of artistic sensibilities achieved during that time when these structures were commissioned to be built. With time, temples also became places were wealth was kept hidden. Thus, increasingly during invasions, temples began to be razed and destroyed.

Afghan Occupation

Afghan invasion of India began by 10th century CE. They entered India through the mountain passes in north-western part of India (Sindh) and came riding on horses to plunder wealth. One of the early Afghans who organized successful plundering missions of India was Mahmud of Ghazni. He invaded India multiple times but his first invasion took place in 1001 CE. The plundered wealth was utilized to create a stable and prosperous kingdom in Ghazni.

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Did You Know?

  • Mahmud of Ghazni was the ruler of the province of Ghazni in modern day Afghanistan between 971-1030 CE.
  • He invaded India about 17 times to plunder the wealth of the prosperous country.
  • He attacked and plundered the Somanatha Temple in Gujarat in 1025 to obtain gold reserves kept in that temple.

Al-Biruni & Kitab-al-Hind

Literary accounts are important sources to know the history of a certain period. Sultan Mahmud of Ghazni wished to know more about the Indian subcontinent and also wanted to put down the accounts of his exploits in India. For this, he entrusted the Arabic scholar, Al-Biruni, whose work, Kitab-al-Hind is a great source of information for the period of Afghan invasions right up to the initial few years of the establishment of Delhi Sultanate in 1206 CE.

Did You Know?

  • Kitab-al-Hind written in Arabic is a book written by Al-Biruni and chronicles Muslim occupation of India from the times of Sultan Mahmud of Ghazni.
  • It is a very important source of history of the contemporary times and comments about Indian sciences, culture, religion.
  • Al-Biruni is believed to have been the first Muslim Scholar to have read Sanskrit texts and tried to understand Brahmanical cultures and tradition.

Other Invasions & Prithviraj Chauhan

Apart from foreign invasions, infighting for supremacy between the native rulers of India continued well into the 10th and 11th century CE. One such kingdom that was involved in warfare was the Chamanas of who ruled Delhi & Ajmer. They later came to be known as the Chauhans and made Delhi & Agra important centres of inland trade and commerce.

Chauhans were an ambitious lot and wanted to expand their control into west and east India. The most notable ruler of the dynasty was Pruthviraj Chauhan III (1162-1192). He is known for his bravery in leading an army against the Afghan invader Sultan Muhammad Ghori, whom he defeated in 1191 CE. But Prithviraj Chauhan was finally defeated by Ghori during his successive invasion in 1192 CE.

Did You Know?

  • Prithviraj Chauhan, the ruler of Ajmer and Delhi is a legendary historical figure and his leadership to resist Afghan invasion of Sultan Muhammad of Ghori has been praised by many historians.
  • These battles with Muhammad Ghori took place in Tarain and hence the encounters were known as the Battle of Tarain.
  • Battle of Tarain I (1191 CE)
  • Battle of Tarain II (1192 CE)


Q1. Name the dynasties involved in the Tripartite Struggle? How long did this contest last?

Ans. The dynasties involved in the tripartite struggle were −

  • Gurjara Prathihara,
  • Rasthrakutas of Deccan, and
  • Palas of Bengal

The struggle for supremacy over Kanauj continued for almost three centuries.

Q2. Which sort of architectural structures were built by rulers in the 7th century CE to showcase their power?

Ans. Temples were often commissioned and built by rulers in the 7th century CE to showcase their power and subjugate people of the kingdom by organizing them into organized religion.

Q3. Name an important literary source of ancient India that talk about the Afghan invasions?

Ans. Kitab-al-Hind composed by Al-Biruni details about the Afghan invasions of India from the 10th century.

Q4. Which powers were part of the Battle of Tarain (I & II)?

Ans. Chauhan king, Prithviraj Chauhan and Sultan Muhammad of Ghori locked heads with each other at the Battles of Tarain (1191-1192).

Updated on 13-Oct-2022 11:19:47