Upper India remained in turmoil for a century after Harsha’s death. The landscape was dotted with small kingdoms inhabited by descendants of the Huns, Gurjaras, and allied tribes that had invaded and since settled, and their rajas were in frequent conﬂ ict with one another. The Rajput, or sons of the king, inheritors of the Vedic Kshatriya tradition, came to power during this period. Their appellation was both literal and ﬁ gurative. They were indeed the sons of the monarchs of assorted kingdoms when the title Rajput was adopted.
But some began to claim divine descent, and the kings they cited as their fathers included the sun, the moon, and ﬁ re. Over time the name came to apply to all mem-bers of the ruling class and to all members of the tribes they led. The Rajput developed their own social order, founded on a strong code of conduct and honor. Boys were trained in the art of warfare and horse-manship from a young age. Much of their ﬁ ghting was against other Rajputs.
The ﬁrst major Rajput kingdom was founded in 816 by Nagabhata II (r. 805–833) on territory wrested from Kanauj. Kanauj had been under Kashmir and Bengal’s control since Harsha’s death, and its rulers served at the pleasure of these powerful neighbors. Pratihara, as the kingdom was known, grew to encompass much of northern India and retained its power until early in the 10th century. Raja Mahira Pratihara (r. ca. 836–890), also known more popularly as Bhoja, is considered the greatest ruler of the line. From his capital at Dhar he controlled territory stretching from the Himalayas in the north to the Nerbuda in the south, and from the now dried-up river Hakra in the west to Magadha, a vassal state in the east.
A Hindu, Bhoja maintained a large army. His son, Mahendrapala (r. 890–910) took Magadha from the Pala kings of Bengal. Mahendrapala was in turn succeeded by his son, Mahipala (r. 910–940). But whereas Mahendrapala had been a worthy successor to Bhoja, Mahipala was a weak ruler who began to lose control over his kingdom. He suffered a grievous defeat in 916 when Indra III, the Rashtrakuta king of Deccan, raided the kingdom. Mahipala’s lack of power allowed other kingdoms along his borders to gain strength. One bordering kingdom helped the former ruler of Magadha regain his lost territory, continuing the decline of Mahipala’s empire. The last of the line of this kingdom’s rajas was overthrown by Mahmud of Ghazni in 1018–19.