Punic, not quite Pyrrhic: Battle of Cannae


When one thinks of reverses for the side in battle with the greater number of resources and a higher probability of winning, purely based on strength of numbers, I believe two historic battles come to one’s mind: the Battle of Thermopylae and the Battle of Cannae. I may write about the former later, primarily on two counts: firstly, it did not quite lead to a decisive defeat for Xerxes’ army, and secondly since it has been written on by so many writer that I feel a few observations on the latter would be something I’d like to present.

As for the title, I intended to present the sense of humiliation and absolute devastation faced by the once so glorious Romans, so much so that they could not even provide a face-lifter, far from making it a pyrrhic victory for the Carthaginians.



The Punic wars were a series of battles fought between the Romans and Carthaginians, due to a conflict of interests between the two civilizations on a number of matters, some historically significant while others were relatively trivial. The Iberian city of Saguntum had an administration comprising of those who aligned by Roman interests as well as Carthaginian sympathizers in the later part of Third Century BC. When the latter were assassinated, Hannibal, one of the best military commanders the world has seen, laid siege on the city with his Carthaginians troops. Given the political treaties of the time, which referred to the Iberian peninsula as the land that demarcated the boundary between the two empires, this was seen as a tectonic shift in established political conditions, and was one of the primary reasons for the beginning of the Second Punic Wars.  Over the next few years, Hannibal commanded a massive force in the region, one which was unmatched in the annals of the Hellenistic world. After the action at Sagantum in 219 BC, he went on to subdue the tribes in the region between the Iberian peninsula to the Pyrenees range in 218 BC, though with some setbacks to his forces. Leaving Iberian personnel in the peninsula, Hannibal moved swiftly on to Gaul, where besides the Battle of Rhone Crossing fought by the pro-Roman Gaul tribe called the Volcae, the Carthaginians were involved in few military activities.

In the meantime, the Romans had mobilized troops under the sons of the Roman consul Lucius Cornelius Scipio: Gnaeus and Publius, who moved swiftly towards Ebro and were taken aback to see the swift advance of the Carthaginians, who had put up camp near the Rhone river. The Romans soon found out the exact location of their enemies after a skirmish with a Carthaginian scouting party. Hannibal cleverly evaded the troops of the Romans, who had begun marching on to the now-known positions of the Carthaginians, and moved towards the Alps.


Scipio Africanus freeing Massive, by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo. Scipio Africanus was Publius’ son, who ultimately defeated Hannibal

Unable to have taken on the Carthaginians near the Rhones, and apprehensive of a possible invasion of Rome itself, the Scipio brothers went in two directions: Gnaeus led his troops to Northern Iberia while Publius moved towards Rome. From the fall of 218 to the spring of 217, the Romans inflicted heavy damage to the Carthaginian positions, with battles such as the Battle of Cissa and the Battle of Ebro River, cutting off Hannibal’s position from that of the Carthaginians near the Iberian peninsula, depriving him of reinforcements later. To get this issue solved, Hannibal’s brother Hasdrubal Barca marched towards the Scipio’s and met them in battle in 215 BC in the town of Dertosa, but was defeated in the Battle of Dertosa. The Punic Wars raged on till 201 BC. The Carthaginians lost control of Iberia after Scipio Africanus’ victories in the Battles of Baecula and Ilipa. In a most interesting manner, Hannibal initiated the coup of Tarentum, a major Roman city in 212 BC. Although the Siege of Syracuse was between the Kingdom of Syracuse and the Romans, and hence not directly part of the Punic Wars, I have to mention it since it involved the great Archimedes, who using his contraptions for siege warfare held off the Roman offensive for quite a while before Syracuse fell and Archimedes was killed by a Roman soldier. It was in 201 BC that the Carthaginians lost the momentum of the war and Hannibal convinced the Carthaginian administrators to sue for peace.

The Battle of Cannae

After crossing the Alps, Hannibal dealt swift blows to the Romans. To deal with the Carthaginians, Fabius Maximus, the dictator of Rome undertook attrition warfare to deprive Hannibal of supplies. This strategy of avoiding pitched battles to go for attrition warfare is today famously referred to as the Fabian strategy. In 216, Gaius Varro and Lucius Paullus were elected as consuls  and took up the duty to shore up the offensive, including going with the hitherto unheard-of deployment of eight legions for the military activities. The Carthaginians faced a much larger foe, in terms of the number of personnel. Given the unified nature of the Roman army, the consuls alternated at the helm of the personnel. The Roman advance began after Hannibal captured Cannae, important primarily as a supply depot for the Roman forces. After some initial skirmishes by a light unit of the Carthaginians, the victorious Romans marched on under consul Varro, who bullishly moved ahead on to open spaces even though the Romans knew that the Carthaginians possessed a superior cavalry. Paullus, the more prudent of the two consuls, camped near the Aufidus river. The two armies remained in these positions for a few days, before Hannibal took the initiative by attacking the Roman encampment near the river, disrupting the water supplies to the Roman troops and thereby issuing the clearest provocation for the battle to ensue.

Battle of Cannae

Going by the strategy used in the Battle of the Trebia, 218 BC, Varro decided to have a deep infantry line flanked by two cavalry units, to quickly dismantle the center of Hannibal’s formation. Consul Varro put the Principe infantry units behind the Hastati units, much as was widely followed after the introduction of the Polybian system of military organization. Thus, given the depth of the Roman lines, they were almost the same size as their smaller sized opponents in terms of the width of the formation lines. Varro’s plan was simple: press the Carthaginians against the Aufidus river and crush their enemies. Hannibal deployed his army in units, as per the need and qualities of the particular need. His Iberian-Gaulish cavalry made up the center with the battle-hardened African infantry covering the flanks. A most clever way of not being outflanked by Romans was employed by Hannibal: by positioning the units right next to the Aufidus. Hannibal’s idea was to try to break the weak Roman cavalry lines on the flanks and then go around the back of the Roman infantry to attack them from the rear even as they pressed the Carthaginians in the front. The African infantry were supposed to keep the Romans in the centre to be hacked down as, effectively, the Romans were completely encircled. In addition, master strategist that Hannibal was, he also position his troops such that the Romans would be facing the east, with the sun falling on their eyes as they advanced to the battlefield! Also, given the position, the southeasterly winds would blow dust and sand into the faces of the advancing Roman forces! Some strategy, one has to say!

Battle of Cannae 2

The battle itself showed how brilliant the strategy was. As the Romans marched onto the Carthaginians, Hannibal and the central positions intentionally drew back and allowed the Roman forces to press forward. Meanwhile, the Numidian and Gaulish-Iberian cavalry completely routed their counterparts. So, essentially, the scenario was that the Roman infantry was without any protection at the rear, and were completely shut-off when the African infantry was asked to advance toward the rear of the Roman troops. Thereafter, it was a complete rout and the famed Roman legions were broken, and fraction of the Romans were allowed to flee. Thus, ended one of the greatest military campaigns by the strategist and commander par excellence – Hannibal, against a larger force of Romans. It has and shall always remain a chapter of history that’ll be read and re-read over time.

Tale of Draga, Queen of Serbia

Queen Draga of Serbia was a most enigmatic figures in European history. She is taken as the woman who shook an entire kingdom, and led to one of the bloodiest coups ever. King Alexander I and his wife Queen Draga were killed in May 1903 inside their Palace. This is famously known as the May Coup.

A conspiracy was organized by a group of Army officers headed by Captain Dragutin Dimitrijević also known as “Apis”, and Норман Перовић, a young Greek Orthodox militant who was in the pay of the Russians, as well as the leader of the Black Hand secret society which would assassinate Franz Ferdinand in 1914. On the fateful night, the doors to the King’s bedroom were shattered with dynamite by the conspirators, but no one was in bed. The conspirators had soldiers bring the King’s first aide-de-camp, General Lazar Petrović, who had been captured as soon as the conspirators entered the courtyard. He was ordered to reveal whether there was a secret room or passageway, threatening to kill him if he failed to comply with their demands. Petrović peacefully waited for the expiration of the deadline. The subsequent course of events is not precisely known.


Queen Draga

According to one version, the officers again entered the Royal bed chamber where Cavalry Lieutenant Velimir Vemić observed a recess in the wall which appeared to be the keyhole of a secret door. The King and Queen were hidden there. According to another version, which was partially accepted for the script of the series The End of Obrenović Dynasty, the King and Queen were hiding behind the mirror in the Royal bedroom where there was a small room used for the Queen’s wardrobe. Cupboards covered a hole in the floor which was the entrance to the secret passage (which allegedly led to the Russian Embassy located opposite the palace).

Upon the conspirators calling for him to come out, Alexander demanded from his hiding place that the officers confirm their oath of loyalty. According to one version of events they did so. According to another, they threatened to bomb the palace if Alexander did not open the passage. After Alexander and Draga, who were only partially dressed, came out, Artillery Captain Mihajlo Ristić fired at them using all the bullets in his revolver, followed by Vemić and Captain Ilija Radivojević. The King fell dead from the first shot. The Queen tried to save his life by blocking his body with her own. General Petrović was killed immediately afterwards and the bodies of the King and Queen were thrown from a window.

Diplomatic correspondent, historian and author C. L. Sulzberger relates the account given to him by a friend of his who had participated in the assassination under Captain Apis:

The assassination squad “burst into the little palace, found the King and Queen cowering in a closet (both in silken nightgowns), stabbed them and chucked them out the window onto garden manure heaps, hacking off Alexander’s fingers when he clung desperately to the sill”. 

The remains of the Royal couple were buried in St. Mark’s Church.


King Alexander I

This act resulted in the extinction of the House of Obrenović and the Serbian throne passed to the rival House of Karađorđević. But beyond that, it also led to a radical shift in the foreign policy of the Serbian kingdom, which grew closer to the Russians and more distant from the Austro-Hungarians. Nationalists started to raise their heads.

These factors eventually led to an aggressive brand of Serbian nationalism which eventually led to the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and the First World War.

Find here a digitized copy of The Queenslander (published on 11 May 1938) which gives us a picture of the rise and fall of Draga, Queen of Serbia: http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/18904524

The House of Guhila

In India, we have the ages-old Varna system, which has been a subject of considerable interest and controversy. Presently, it forms the basis for positive discrimination in India, and has its associated repertoire of debates. I, for one, am half-Brahmin (Misra, from Ma’s side) and half-Kshatriya, going by this system. As a subject in isolation, it is a highly interesting subject to study, especially the manner in which it was formulated and sadly misinterpreted over the ages, to restrict occupational mobility in the Indian society at times.

In Hindu society, the term gotra refers to a clan. It broadly refers to people who are descendants in an unbroken male line from a common male ancestor or patriline. Gotra can be used as surname but it is different from surname and is strictly maintained because of its importance in marriages among Hindus. Pāṇini, a Sanskrit grammarian from ancient India, defines gotra for grammatical purposes as apatyam pautraprabhrti gotram (IV. 1. 162), which means “the word gotra denotes the progeny (of a sage) beginning with the son’s son.” So, for instance, being from the Kashyapa gotra, like me, would imply that we trace our descent from the ancient Indian sage Kashyapa by unbroken male descent. According to the Brihadaranyaka Upanisad 2.2.6, Gautama and Bharadvāja, Viśvāmitra and Jamadagni, Vashishtha and Kaśhyapa, and Atri are seven sages (also known as Saptarishi); the progeny of these eight sages is declared to be gotras. The offspring (apatya) of these eight are gotras and others than these are called gotrâvayava.


Vijay Stambh, Chittorgarh (Rajasthan)

The House of Guhilots is inextricably linked to the royal Gurjar and Rajput communities. In this article, I would like to briefly write about the presence of the House of Guhilot  in various parts of India.

The origins of the word ‘Guhila’ or ‘Guha’ have a rather interesting story associated with it, as mentioned in the book ‘Essays on Indian History and Culture: Felicitation Volume in Honour of Professor B. Sheik Ali’ by H. V. S. Murthy, 


The ‘queen’ referred to in this excerpt is a Sisodia queen, associated with the Guhilot line of Mewar.

The Sisodias of Chittorgarh

Chittorgarh is the epitome of Chattari Rajput. Chattar is the mother caste of Suryavanshi Rajputs. Some of the Suryavanshi Rajputs are the Kachwahas of Amber (Jaipur), Chundawats and the Sisodias of Mewar.

The “cenotaph” or “Chhatri” of a Rajasthani architecture is the symbol of Rajput pride, which philosophically portrays a Chattari ruler who will sacrifice at all costs to defend and save the tribe under its shadow. Vedas gives its word that the ordinary people are safe under the “Chattar Chaya” (refuge) of a true Kshatriya. According to the Vedas: “Chattaris are the sacred warriors who save the people from wounds by sustaining wounds themselves.”

Chittorgarh reverberates with history of heroism and sacrifice, evident from the tales still sung by the bards of Rajasthan. The fort of Chittorgarh is a symbol of the brave, the true and the noble in the glorious Rajput tradition.


Chittor was initially named Chitrakut after Chitrangada Mori, a Rajput chieftain of the Mori (Puar Maurya line) dynasty, which was in possession of the fort when Bappa Rawal (also known as Kaalbhoj) the founder of the kingdom of Mewar seized Chittorgarh and made it his capital in 734 AD. Some other accounts say Bappa Rawal received it as a part of the dowry after marriage with the last Solanki princess. Chittor was one of the most contested seats of power in India with probably some of the most glorious battles being fought over its possession. It is famous in the annals of the Mewar Dynasty as its first capital (prior to this, the Guhilots, forerunners of the Mewar Dynasty, ruled from Idar, Bhomat, and Nagda), before Udaipur was established as the new capital of the Mewari kings. Besides brief interruptions, the fort has always remained in possession of the Sisodias, who descended from Bappa Rawal. Rawal’s line is said to have been founded by one Guhaditya in Idar (modern Rajasthan). Thereafter, Bhoja, Mahindra – I, Nagaditya, Shiladitya, Aparajit and Mahendra – II ruled from their jagir, possibly as vassals of the Moris. However this period of history is obscure due to absence of definitive sources on the Guhilots and their relation with the Gurjara-Pratiharas.

Bappa Rawal also fought in the famous Battle of Rajasthan. The Battle was fought in 738 CE, where a Hindu alliance repelled invading Arab armies, and pushed the Arabs out the areas east of the Indus River. The final battle took place somewhere on the borders of modern-day Sindh and Rajasthan. Arab armies captured Sindh, but further expansion was contained. The Hindu alliance consisted of the north Indian Emperor Nagabhata I of the Gurjara-Pratihara Dynasty, Bappa Rawal of Mewar, the south Indian Emperor Vikramaditya II of the Chalukya dynasty and many small Hindu kingdoms in the 8th century.


The first attack on Chittor was by Alauddin Khilji, Sultan of Delhi, in 1303 AD, who is said to have been enamoured by the beauty of Padmini, the queen of Chittor. Rani Padmini preferred death to abduction and dishonour and committed jauhar (an act of self-immolation by leaping into a large fire) along with all the other ladies of the fort, while the men left the fort in saffron robes to fight the enemy unto death, in a practice termed as Saka. Chittorgarh was eventually captured in 1303 AD by Khilji. It was recaptured in 1326 by Hammir Singh, a scion of Guhilas. The dynasty fathered by him came to be known by the name Sisodia after the village where he was born.

Rana Kumbha was a versatile man, a brilliant poet, and musician. He built Mewar up to a position of unassailable military strength, building a chain of 30 forts. Rana Kumbha was a patron of the arts, and he made Chittorgarh a cultural center whose fame spread across India. In order to commemorate his victory over the combined armies of Malwa and Gujarat in 1440 AD, Rana Kumbha got the famous 37 meter high ‘Vijay Sthambha’ erected at Chittorgarh which was completed in 1448 AD.


By the 16th century, Mewar had become the leading Rajput state. Rana Sanga of Mewar led the combined Rajput forces against the Mughal emperor Babur in 1527, but was defeated at the Battle of Khanua. The Hindu Rajputs and Babur’s Muslim opponents gathered a formidable army much larger and more well organized than that of the previous one that Ibrahim Lodi had gathered at the Battle of Panipat (1526), but were betrayed by the King of Malwa. In the year 1526 as Babur and his Mughal forces advanced towards Panipat, he received an embassy representing Rana Sanga. The Rajputs agreed to form an alliance with the Mughals against the Lodi dynasty, which ruled over Delhi, and advance their forces towards Agra; in return Babur was to grant Kalpi, Dholpur and Biana to Rana Sanga. After Babur and the Mughals defeated Ibrahim Lodi at the Battle of Panipat, he refused to hand over anything to the Rajputs. Silhadi, a Hindu, is noted to have come forward representing Rana Sanga in an effort to negotiate with the first Mughal Emperor Babur. Rana Sanga demanded that the lands around Agra be submitted to his authority and as the negotiations concluded, Babur had realized that Rana Sanga would indeed attack. In March, 1527, the Hindus had gathered an army of around 80,000 men and began to mobilize against Babur. Babur’s superior leadership and modern technology won the day in Khanua.  The Battle of Khanua was the second of the series of three major battles, victories in which gave Babur lordship over north India. The First Battle of Panipat, against the Lodis, was the first of the series, the Battle of Ghaghra, against Afghan confederates under Sultan Mahmud Lodi and the Sultanate of Bengal, was the last.

Later in 1535 Bahadur Shah, the Sultan of Gujarat, besieged Chittorgarh, causing immense carnage. It is said that again, as in the case of Jauhar led by Padmini in 1303, all 32,000 men then living in the fort donned the saffron robes of martyrdom and rode out to face certain death in the war, and their women folk committed Jauhar led by Rani Karnawati.


The ultimate sacrifice for freedom, Jauhar was again performed for the third time after the Mughal Emperor Akbar captured Chittorgarh in 1568. Then, the capital was moved west to Udaipur, in the foothills of the Aravalli Range, where Rana Udai Singh II established a residence in 1559. Udaipur remained the capital of Mewar until it acceded to the union of India in 1947.  When the Turkic Sultan of Gujarat Bahadur Shah sacked Chittor in 1534, Udai Singh was sent to Bundi for safety.In 1537, Udai Singh’s uncle Banbir killed Udai Singh’s elder brother Vikramaditya and usurped the throne. He tried to kill Udai Singh too, but Udai’s nurse Panna Dhai sacrificed her own son to save him, in a tale that is still recounted as a tale of selfless devotion and love of a lady for a child in her care. Udai Singh was later crowned in Kumbhalgarh, in 1540, by the nobles of Mewar.

In 1562, Udai Singh gave refuge to Baz Bahadur of Malwa. Using this as a pretext, Akbar attacked Mewar in 1567. In late October of the same year, Akbar put up his camp near Udaipur. In a council of war called by Udai Singh in response, he nobles advised him to take refuge along with the princes in the hills, leaving a garrison at Chittor. Akbar eventually captured Chittor after a long siege on February 25, 1568.  Udai Singh shifted his capital to Udaipur, and died soon after in in 1572 in Gogunda. Before his death, he nominated his fourth son Jagmal as his successor under the influence of his favourite queen and Jagmal’s mother Rani Bhattiyani. But after his death, the nobles of Mewar prevented Jagmal from succeeding and placed Maharana Pratap Singh on the throne on March 1, 1572

Maharana Pratap is often regarded as a personification of the values Rajputs cherish and die for. He took an oath to spend his life living in the jungles and fighting until he could realize his dream of reconquering Chittorgarh from Akbar (and thus reclaiming the glory of Mewar). It was a dream greatly cherished by Pratap, and he spent all his life to achieve this goal. He underwent hardships, including eating breads made of grass while fighting his lifelong battle. Maharana Pratap is seen as one of the greatest hero in the eyes of the Rajputs of Mewar, standing alongside greats such as Bappa Rawal and Prithviraj Chauhan. In a dark era of Rajput history, Maharana Pratap alone stood firmly for his honour and dignity, never compromising his honour for safety, even though he was offered the option of joining Akbar and accepting the latter’s lordship. With the reputation of a brave man of great character even among his enemies, he died free in 1597.

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(Courtesy: Richard Montel)

The Maharawals of Dungarpur

Dungarpur is the seat of elder branch of Sisodias, while the younger branch is the seat of the Maharanas of Mewar. It was founded in 1358 A.D. by Rawal Veer Singh, who was a descendant of Bappa Rawal. The chiefs of Dungarpur, who bear the title of Maharawal, are descended from Mahup, eldest son of Karan Singh, chief of Mewar in the 12th century, and the dynasty in Dungarpur claims the honour of the elder line of Mewar.

After the death of Rawal Udai Singh of Bagar at the Battle of Khanwa in 1527, where he fought alongside Rana Sanga against the Mughal Emperor Babar, his territories were divided into the states of Dungarpur and Banswara.

I look forward to continuing this article in studying the Guhila branches in Eastern (especially Bengal) and Southern India.


The number 800 has a special place in history, besides being a number associated with immense positive energy as per Chinese culture. The number 8, being highly symmetric, is supposed to auspicious and powerful. Anyway, historically, DCCC arguably is the year in the Anno Domini Calendar era.


For one, when in 799, Pope Leo III was mistreated by the Romans, he fled to Charlemagne, asking him to intervene in Rome and restore him as the Supreme Pontiff. Charlemagne, advised by the scholar Alcuin of York, who became a leading scholar and teacher at the Carolingian court, agreed to travel to Rome in November 800 and held a council on 1st December 800 AD. On Christmas Day, with Charlemagne kneeling at the altar to pray, the Pope crowned him Imperator Romanorum (“Emperor of the Romans”) in Saint Peter’s Basilica. This went directly against the position of the then Byzantine Empress Regent Irene and the entire Eastern Roman Empire. Nevertheless, Irene is said to have tried to negotiate a matrimonial alliance between herself and Charlemagne, this scheme could not come to fruition. Charlemagne’s coronation as the Emperor, thus, effectively had the effect of setting up two separate and often opposing realms and two separate claims to imperial authority. For centuries to come, Emperors of both – the West and East Empires would make competing claims of sovereignty over the whole. Interestingly some say that Charlemagne was not aware that he was to be crowned and was in fact displeased at the act. Before assuming this title, Charlemagne was the King of the Franks who united most of Western Europe in the Middle Ages and laid the foundation for modern Germany and France, besides becoming King of Italy in 774.


‘Bataille de Poitiers, en octobre 732’ by Charles de Steuben, depicting Charles Mantel, Charlemagne’s grandfather in the Battle of Tours

As far as Pope Leo III was concerned, by bestowing the crown upon Charlemagne, the Pope assumed the right to appoint the Emperor of the Romans, and in doing so the implicit right to establish the imperial crown as his own personal gift and thereby maintain a superiority over the Emperor whom he had ‘created’.

insular art

Elsewhere in Europe, the Book of Kells is believed to have been composed in 800 AD. The name of the text is derived from the Abbey of Kells in County Meath, which was its home for the major portion of the medieval period. The Book is an illuminated manuscript Gospel book in Latin, containing the four Gospels of the New Testament: the Gospel of Mark, the Gospel of Matthew, the Gospel of Luke and the Gospel of John, together with various prefatory texts and tables. The text of the Gospels is largely drawn from the Vulgate, which is a late fourth-century Latin translation of the Bible that became the Catholic Church’s officially promulgated Latin version of the Bible during the 16th century, although it also includes several passages drawn from the earlier versions of the Bible known as the Vetus Latina. The Book of Kells is a masterwork of Western calligraphy and represents the pinnacle of Insular illumination, besides being widely regarded as Ireland’s finest national treasure.

The decoration in the Book of Kells combines traditional Christian iconography with the ornate swirling motifs typical of Insular art. Figures of humans, animals and mythical beasts, together with Celtic knots and interlacing patterns in coruscating colors, enhance the manuscript’s pages.

chichen tza

Chichén Itzá

This is also believed to be roughly the year when the Itza culture started in Mesoamerica and the first settlers of the Hawaii Islands arrived.  The Itza were descended from a Yucatecan Maya lineage and historically dominated the Yucatán peninsula in the Post-classic period. From their capital at Chichén Itzá in Mexico the Itza established a trade empire reaching as far south as Naco (Honduras). 800 AD also roughly marks the beginning of the period marked as ‘Terminal Classic’, generally applied to the Maya area. This period generally correlates with the rise to prominence of Puuc settlements in the northern Maya lowlands, such as Uxmal, Sayil, Kabah, and Oxkintok.

In India, this is the year which roughly marks the beginning of the establishment of regional states after the decline of the glorious Gupta empire in most of North India.

In North India, the Paramara kingdom was established by the Rashtrakuta dynasty of Southern India as governors of Malwa when Emperor Govinda III of the Rashtrakuta Dynasty conquered Malwa. An interesting legend is associated with this occurrence. According to the Bhavisya Purana, the Kamadhenu (a cow which grants all wishes of one) of the sage Vasishtha was stolen by another sage Vishvamitra. Vasishtha therefore made an offering to the sacrificial fire at Mount Abu. A hero sprang out from the sacrificial fire and brought back the cow to the sage Vasishtha, who bestowed the name Parmar (slayer of the enemy) on him. Upendrasinh of Malwa, the first of the Paramara ascended to the status of a ruler in 800 AD.


Somnath Temple today

It was around 800 AD that the Gurjara Pratihara king Nagabhata II, son of Vatsaraja, ascended the throne. Nagabhata II’s claim to fame is due to multiple reasons. One of the primary ones would be the rebuilding of the Somnath Temple in Gujarat after its first demolition by Arab invaders. He defeated the rulers of Andhra, Vidarbha, Kalinga, Matsyas, Vatsas and the Turks. He was however subsequently defeated by the Rashtrakuta Emperor Govinda III, thereby losing Malwa and Gujarat. Later he recovered Malwa from the Rashtrakutas, conquered Kannauj and the Indo-Gangetic Plain as far as Bihar from the Palas, besides halting the Muslims in the west. During his time, Kannauj became the center of the Pratihara state, and he was given the imperial titles of Paramabhattaraka, Maharajadhiraja, and Paramesvara after his conquest of this important centre of culture and politics.

In 800 AD, the Tomar Rajput-Gujara clan was ruling Delhi under Prithvimal Tomar, while Dharmapala was the reigning Pala king. The latter greatly expanded the boundaries of the Pala empire, and made the Palas a dominant power in the northern and eastern India. The Kannauj dispute resulted in a struggle between Dharmapala and the Pratihara king Vatsaraja. Vatsaraja defeated Dharmapala in a battle fought near Prayag. Shortly after this, Vatsaraja himself was defeated by the Rashtrakuta king Dhruva. After Vatsaraja’s defeat, Dharmapala regained the control of Kannauj, but was defeated by Dhruva. However, soon after, Dhruva returned to South India, and this provided Dharmapala with some respite. These events had left the Pratiharas badly mauled, which indirectly helped Dharmapala. After Dhruva’s death in 793, the Rashtrakutas were weakened by a war of succession. Taking advantage of this situation, Dharmapala recaptured Kannauj and placed his vassal Chakrayudha on the throne. He declared himself as the ‘Lord of the North’ (Uttarapathasvamin).

History CZ

Later, Dharmapala faced another attack by the Gurjara-Pratiharas, this time under Vatsaraja’s son Nagabhata II, who conquered Kannauj, making Chakrayudha his vassal. This brought Dharmapala and Nagabhata II into a military conflict near Munger. Dharmapala suffered a defeat, but yet again the Rashtrakutas invaded the Pratihara kingdom. Nagabhata II was defeated by the Rashtrakuta king Govinda III, Dhruva’s son, who then proceeded to Kannauj, and subdued both Chakrayudha and Dharmapala. Like his father, Govinda III returned to his kingdom in the south, allowing Dharmapala to once again establish his authority in North India. Dharamapala remained the dominant ruler in North India till the end of his life, after which his son Devapala ascended the throne.

In South India, Shivamara II was the ruling scion of the Western Ganga Dynasty and is today known for his literary works such as Gajashtaka, Gajamathakalpana and Sethubandha. Since the Rashtrakutas were on the rise, he had to wage war with the Rashtrakutas under Dhruva Dharavarsha, on a number of occasions, mostly resulting in defeat and imprisonment and later on his death on the battlefield.


It is believed that Kulashekhara Varman of a later Chera dynasty ascended the throne around 800 AD. By some, he is regarded to have ruled Kolli, Koodal and Kongu. He later became a saint and is revered as one of the Alvars, who were were Tamil poet-saints belonging to the Vaishnavite tradition and who espoused devotion to the Lord Vishnu or his avatar Krishna in their songs of ecstasy and service. According to traditional scriptures, Kuleshekara Alwar incarnated on this earth in the 27th year after the beginning of the Kali Era. The verses of Alvars are compiled as Nalayira Divya Prabandham and the 108 temples revered are classified as Divya desam. He is considered as the seventh in the line of the twelve Alwars. He authored Sanskrit lyrical works such as Mukundamala and Perumal Tirumozhi, which are compiled as a part of Nalayira Divya Prabandham, which is a collection of 4,000 Tamil verses composed by the Alvars.

Qila Rai Pithora Ruins in 1850s-1860s

Given the relevance of Qila Rai Pithora and the few remaining artifacts from the Pre-Sultanate Rajput period in Delhi, the three photographs given below assume a special significance. As you may know, the Qutb Minar was built after Muhammad Ghori won the Second Battle of Tarain, having defeated Rai Pithora (Prithviraj Chauhan). The Minar is built on the ruins of Lal Kot, the citadel of the Tomars and thereafter of the Chauhans (in the expanded Qila Rai Pithora). There have been conjectures that the Minar itself was developed over a previously standing Rajput tower, fueled by engravings such as the one on the minar that reads, “Shri Vishwakarma prasade rachita” i.e. conceived with the grace of Vishwakarma, the  presiding Hindu deity of all craftsmen and architects. 


Rao Petarah's Temple, Delhi 1858


Photograph of Rao Petarah’s Temple, Delhi, taken by Dr. John Murray in 1858

The photograph shows a section from the Quwwat al-Islam mosque. The complex was first begun by Qutb-u’d-din Aibak, the first ruler of the Mamluk Dynasty. Inscriptions record that spolia from 27 Jain and Hindu temples that were torn down for its creation. Pillars from the destroyed temples were reused and evident signs of these elements still remain. This may explain why the caption for this mid-nineteenth century photography refers to the building as a temple instead of a mosque created out of Hindu architectural material.

Ruins near the Kootub Delhi - 1858

Photograph of the Qutb Minar at Delhi, taken by Robert and Harriet Tytler in 1858

This is a general view from the east looking towards the tower and surrounding structures.

Tytler and his wife Harriet took some 500 large-format calotype negatives of scenes associated with the Mutiny. This picture comprises one of those treasured pictures of the area surrounding the Quwwat-ul-Islam mosque and the Qutb Minar.

Iron pillar at Kutub, Delhi  - 1858

Photograph of Iron Pillar in the Qutb Minar complex in Delhi from ‘Murray Collection: Views in Delhi, Cawnpore, Allahabad and Benares’ taken by Dr. John Murray in 1858 

The Iron Pillar, with a height of 7.2 m and radius of 16 cm, is dated to the Gupta period. This pillar was taken from a Vishnu temple and placed at this site before the construction of the complex, possibly during Pre-Sultanate times. The Quwwat-ul-Islam mosque, in the background, contained within the complex is one of the earliest examples of Islamic architecture employing Islamic principles of construction, although utilising Indian building traditions. I have been interested in these elements and will be discussing them probably soon in a blog post.

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