Canberra, 5 February 2016

Most modern chronicles of Indian history tend to concentrate on the events that took place in the Punjab, Rajasthan and Central India, which makes the narrative somewhat skewed. By not considering incidents that were happening simultaneously in areas that were peripheral to the regions adjoining the two mountain passes that permit entry into north-west India, the inclusiveness of the history is lost in these chronicles. Undoubtedly momentous events took place in the core areas of Hindustan, but activities in other outlying kingdoms, both small and big, created ripples that influenced the mainstream activities. These cannot be ignored without losing the completeness of the story. The kingdoms to the south-west of Rajasthan fall into this category and their stories are important to an inclusive understanding of the broader history of the sub-continent. These kingdoms were clear buffer states to the greater kingdoms of the interior and at times stood as bulwarks against external invasion.

The two Hindu kingdoms of Valabhi and Broach, which existed for more than 200 years during the 7th and 8th centuries, fall into the category of the less-described kingdoms of India. Their territories fall into modern day Gujarat, Valabhi being eastern Kathiawar or Saurashtra in olden days, and Broach being most of modern day Gujarat. The Gujarat region is dominated by three major rivers—the Tapti, Narmada, and Sabarmati. The land is broadly divided into three areas based on these rivers. South Gujarat is up to the River Narmada and was called Paranta in the Mahabharata; the region between Narmada and Sabarmati is Middle Gujarat, called Lata in ancient times which is mentioned by Varahamihira in his writings. The area was also referred to as Anarta, a name that has been lost in antiquity. The region north-west of Sabarmati River was called Anandapura by Hieun Tsang in his chronicle.

The Maitrakas of Valabhi

Ruins of the old town of Valabhi have been discovered few miles north-west of modern Bhavnagar. The Maitrakas who ruled a territorially small kingdom from Valabhi is thought to have risen from the ruins of the Great Gupta Empire. It was also one of the longer-lasting kingdoms to spring up in the western part of the far flung Gupta Empire. Even though the Maitraka kingdom was territorially small, it was politically significant enough to have merited a visit by the Chinese pilgrim, Hieun Tsang, around 640 during his travels in India. His visit could also have been triggered because the Valabhi kingdom was religiously tolerant and supported Buddhist educational activities. Hieun Tsang’s chronicle established two facts about the Maitrakas—one that the ruling king during his visit, Dhruvasena, was a Kshatriya; and two that he was the son-in-law of Harsha Vardhana, ‘Emperor of India’ and the king of Kanauj. These facts are also corroborated by inscriptions and copper plate grants that have been subsequently discovered and studied.

Origins of the Maitraka Dynasty

Most Valabhi inscriptions begin with the proclamation that they are the descendants of one Bhatarka who belonged to the Maitraka family. In some inscriptions, they also indicate their relationship to the Rajput Sesodias of Udaipur. The Sesodias are considered to have descended from ancient Kshatriya clans who trace their ancestry back to the days of Lord Sri Ram’s rule of Ayodhya as recounted in the Ramayana. They are considered part of the premier ‘Suryavanshi’ or ‘Solar Race’ of Kshatriyas originating from Rajasthan. It is possible that some far-fetched connection existed between the ancient Suryavanshi clan of the Sesodias and the Maitrakas, but there is no proof available to confirm this fact. The only indication of this connection is Hieun Tsang’s clear statement in his chronicle that the Maitrakas were the best Kshatriyas of their time. Some European scholars have raked up the issue of the origins of the Maitrakas of Valabhi by insinuating that they were of the Gujjar race and therefore descended from the Huns. However, this assertion is mere conjecture with absolutely no proof to substantiate it and should be dismissed as tangential and provocative thinking of medieval European scholars.

The name Maitraka has also been the subject of much speculation and debate. Once again there is a group of Western historian who support the school of thought that the name derives from Mitra, meaning the Sun, which is also equated to Mihira. Ergo, the Maitrakas were actually Mihiras. This is patently incorrect and is conjecture pushed to its extreme, just to prove a point of an improbable hypothesis. [There are many instances of European scholars of Medieval Indian history propounding theories regarding the origins of some of the more obscure dynasties who ruled peripheral kingdoms for short durations. Almost all of these theories turn out to be flights of fantasy, not supported by any evidence.] The fundamental truth seems to be that Maitraka was the name of the family and nothing more. Like many other names, it does not mean anything and cannot be translated into a meaningful word. At a stretch, it could be said that the word was meant to mean ‘of Mitra’ or ‘Mitra-born’, attesting their claim to solar lineage.

Noble Alliances – Custom of the Time

Some of the kings of the time were Vaisyas and they were always keen to improve their family status by giving their daughters in marriage to Kshatriyas from the more noble families of the kingdom. If the prospective bridegroom happened to be from a royal family, that much the better. It has been mentioned in ancient records that it was indeed the ambition of Vaisyas of the higher strata of society to arrange marriage alliances with Kshatriya families.

Harsha Vardhana’s biographer, Bana had written, ‘Wise men look for noble descent only in the bride-groom, among his other qualifications’.

Hieun Tsang’s statement also refutes the theory of the Maitraka’s being descended from the Huns. Even if it is assumed that they were indeed Hinduised Huns, it is seen that there was insufficient time for the Maitrakas to raise their stature to ‘high-class’ Kshatriyas of the solar line, from the arrival of the Huns into the sub-continent to their becoming a royal dynasty. Further, if they were not of a sufficiently high level of purity, it is highly unlikely that Harsha Vardhana would have given his daughter in marriage to the Maitraka king. Therefore, circumstances dictate the discarding of the theory that they were descended from the Huns as fanciful thinking.

The Traditional Story of Maitraka Origins

The traditional story of the origins of the Maitrakas of Valabhi, as passed on in folklore through word of mouth (and recorded much later) goes somewhat like this:

Kanakasena belonging to a ‘Suryavanshi’ family from Ayodhya (which establishes the connection to the Ramayana) came to a place called Lohak. (This place cannot be correctly identified and could be Lahore, although that too is conjecture) From there he travelled south and arrived at a place called Bimagar in Saurashtra. He took over control of the region from the local prince around 140 A.D. Kanakasena then became a Thakur, local chieftain, under the Saka rulers of Kathiawar.

Four generations later, his descendent Vijayasena founded the town of Vijayapur (modern Dholka) and subsequently the family built Valabhipur that became the capital. (Valabhipur came to be shortened to Valabhi, over a period of time) The Senas later became vassal chiefs after the Gupta conquest of Saurashtra and gradually adopted the family name of Maitraka from a title that had been bestowed on the family. They declared independence on the demise of the glorious Gupta Empire, establishing a small kingdom from the capital Valabhi.

Even after achieving relative independence from Gupta suzerainty, the Senas retained the titles of Senapati and Maitrakanam, using them for few more generations. Retaining the titles given by erstwhile overlords was a common practice within the Indian dynasties and is seen in many cases throughout Indian history. The Valabhi kings are also referred to in some records as Mahasamantas, a title given to them by a Gupta emperor.

Bhatarka, the acknowledged founder of the dynasty as claimed by inscriptions and copper plates, is reported to have been born into a royal family. The history taken from folk lore that dates back before Bhatarka therefore may have some truth in it. Bhatarka was a ‘senapati’—a term that has denoted military leadership of varying status across Indian history—of the Gupta king Skandagupta and was also the appointed governor of Saurashtra. At some opportune stage during his governorship when Gupta power was on the wane, he declared independence from Gupta overlordship and is therefore considered by historians to be the real founder of the Maitraka dynasty. It is highly probable that both Bhatarka and his son continued to pay ritual tribute to the Gupta kings, Skandagupta and his successor Budhagupta. It is certain that the Maitrakas continues to accept Gupta overlordship during the initial phases of the establishment of the dynasty, which is confirmed by the use of the Gupta era in their coinage and inscriptions of the time. However, Al Biruni, the Arab scholar, calls the same era the Valabhi era.

The Maitraka Kings

Bhatarka had four sons who followed him on the throne, one after the other. Dhruvasena I, the third son (ruled 526-535) assumed the grandiose title of Maharaja, as opposed to the title of Senapati that his father and two elder brothers who had preceded him on the throne had been content to bear. This was a significant move that formally declared Maitraka independence from Gupta overlordship and indicates the rising power and maturing of the Maitraka dynastic rule and influence in the region. The contemporary Gupta king Narasimhagupta was astute enough not to challenge this declaration of total independence and was therefore able to preserve, to some extent, the dignity and, the by then precarious, status of the Gupta dynasty.

Dhruvasena I was followed on the throne by his younger brother Dharapatta and subsequently by Dharapatta’s son Guhasena (ruled 539-569). In ancient and medieval Hindu kingdoms, it was customary for a younger brother to succeed to the throne on the demise of the elder brother, especially if the elder brother’s progeny were minors at the time of his death. However, it was also customary for the elder brother’s son to be anointed the heir apparent or Yuvaraja on his attaining majority and subsequently to be anointed king. In this case of the Maitraka succession, this does not seem to be the case. For some reason, the son of the youngest brother who ruled only for a very short span of four years was made the king on his death. The reasons for this state of affairs are obscure and that there was no succession struggle with other claimants to the throne seems to be even more intriguing. It is not possible that of the four brothers who ruled after the death of their father, none had any sons who could claim the throne. The direct succession of Guhasena, son of the youngest brother, is an enigma in the history of the Maitrakas that has not been solved so far.

Information regarding Guhasena’s three-decade long reign is available from three elaborate copperplates. It is probably correct to state that he was the first really independent king of the dynasty. Some of the later records and chronicles place Guhasena immediately after the rule of Bhatarka. Although chronologically this is incorrect, the assumption made in these records could mean that the combined period of rule of the four brothers immediately before Guhasena was irrelevant in the broader sweep of Maitraka history. It was during Guhasena’s rule that the core family adopted the Rajput-style title of Gohila with descendants from collateral branches calling themselves Gohila-putra, or the ‘sons of Gohila’, which when written in the Prakrit language becomes Gehlot.

Guhasena was followed by his son Siladitya I, whose grants have been found and authenticated. Another son Kharagraha who ruled briefly followed and was replaced by his son Dharasena who also ruled only for a brief period of time. Dharasena was succeeded to the throne by his brother Dhruvasena II, the famous son-in-law of King Harsha Vardhana, mentioned by Hieun Tsang. Dhruvasena II accompanied Harsha and the Kanauj army on several military expeditions. Hieun Tsang refers to him as Dhruvopatta and places him at Prayag during the famous alms-giving ceremony conducted by Harsha Vardhana. Dhruvasena is reported to have become a Buddhist, in all probabilities to please his powerful father-in-law who had embraced that religion. He also adopted the title of Siladitya, a title that was thereafter used by all the kings of the dynasty.

The Destruction of Valabhi

The details of the destruction of Valabhi and the demise of the Maitrakas are available from the reports of Al Biruni. It seems that around 770, a disgruntled nobleman of Valabhi called Ranka invited the Arabs ruling Sind to attack Valabhi. The Arabs had been reconciled to the power and influence of the Maitrakas, but had also been waiting for an opportunity to weaken the Hindu kingdom that had kept them at bay for more than a century. This time the Arabs were able to sail into the Bhavnagar estuary without much opposition and thereafter sack and destroy Valabhi. The king was killed and the population forcibly dispersed. Ranka’s actual role in this episode is not clear, but it seems certain that he engineered the arrival of the Arab fleet without raising any suspicion on the part of the Valabhi people. Valabhi continued to exist as a small town for another century or so and is mentioned in 10th century chronicles as a township of no consequence.

The lack of concerted resistance to this Arab incursion has been commented on by a number of historians. It is believed that by the time of the Arab invasion, the people of Valabhi had become so steeped in the Buddhist ideals of the practice of non-violence, that they were no more a war-like people capable of defending themselves. They had long lost the art of warfighting and resorting to the use of arms had become alien to them. They fell easy prey to the concerted violence of the invading Arab army. Further, successive Maitraka kings were benign and caring rulers who had brought in relative peace and prosperity to the kingdom and established stability for nearly two centuries. The prospect of violent invasion had gradually become a farfetched extremist vision. It is not surprising that the principle of ahimsa, non-violence, finds a stronghold in the Saurashtra and Gujarat region even today.

Maitrakas – An Assessment

The Maitrakas ruled from around 500 to 775 A.D., providing unparalleled stability, peace and prosperity to their small kingdom for nearly 275 years in an era of violent upheavals in other parts of North India. The kingdom consisted of northern Gujarat, eastern Kathiawar and some parts of western Malwa. This territorial smallness contributed to the ease with which the kingdom was overrun since the lack of geographical depth invariably translates to a lack of strategic depth in times of invasion and conflict. This is a salutary lesson that greater dynasties have clearly imbibed. It is seen that all great kingdoms try to expand their territorial holdings in such a manner as to create buffer states and sufficient strategic depth to fight a holding battle with invaders if the need arises. By having a hinterland of adequate depth a kingdom is able to muster greater resources when it is required to ward off and counter an invasion by a large and powerful adversary. The Maitrakas unfortunately did not have this luxury.

The Maitraka kings were uniformly learned men, simple and straightforward in their dealings. Their administration was orderly and systematic and they dispensed justice with an even hand. The land was measured and given out to people to cultivate and the king collected revenue in kind as ‘bhoga’, which is a term that is still used in Gujarat. In the 6th century, Valabhi rivalled Nalanda as a centre of Buddhist learning with a number of renowned scholars in residence under the patronage of the king. The modern town that stands in the place of Valabhi does not show any signs of its ancient greatness, even though the grandeur was short-lived.

The educational excellence that the Maitrakas managed to achieve in their small territorial holding is indicative of a kingdom at peace. For, only a kingdom at peace with itself and devoid of external intrusions can turn its energies towards greater achievement in educational and other aesthetic pursuits. War and conflict are not, and have never been, conducive to the pursuit of abstract knowledge for its own sake.

The Gurjaras of Broach

Broach covered most of the area of modern Gujarat. In ancient times, much before the Gurjaras made an appearance, the region of Broach was ruled by the Traikutakas, who claim descend from the Haihayas. The poet Kalidasa mentioned the Traikutakas in his famous tome Raghuvansha. Subsequently the Chalukyas of Deccan overran the region and established the Navsari branch of the Chalukyas. This branch is celebrated for their successful resistance against the Arab invasions of the time. Copperplates provide details of the Arab invasion from Sind and the hard fought battle near Navsari. These are important chronicles in the broader Indian history since they testify to the resistance and fighting spirit that was displayed by the Hindu kingdoms against external invasions. From the records it is clear that the Arab intention was to penetrate into the Deccan Plateau after defeating the kingdoms that lay on the way. The copperplates provide a list of kingdoms that lay between Sind and Navsari—which are eastwards from Sind, Kachhela, Valabhi, Chavotaka, Maurya and Broach. The actual geographical area of the region and the number of kingdoms mentioned make it easy to understand the territorial ‘smallness’ of each of these kingdoms. All of them were more princely states than actual kingdoms and their strategic viability was always in question.

The Gurjara rule of Broach is authenticated through copperplates and grants that have been discovered. The later kings of the dynasty claim that they are descendants of the ‘Maharaja Kama’, although the antecedents of this Kama cannot be ascertained. Sometime during the early 1900s there was an attempt to equate this Kama with another Kama mentioned in the Mahabharata. However, this connection cannot be accepted since the Kama of Mahabharata was a ‘suta’ or charioteer, meaning that he was low-born and could never have been considered a Maharaja, especially in the ancient times in which the story is situated. It is possible that Maharaja Kama was an early king of the Gurjaras who was considered a great leader by the clan and whose details have unfortunately been lost in antiquity.

The primary Gurjara kingdom was Bhinmal and Broach is a long distance to the south of it. The Gurjara kings of Broach titled themselves Samantas, which indicates that they were not obviously fully independent of the mother kingdom of Bhinmal and continued to depend on the more powerful Gurjara branch for support. Broach can be considered the meeting point between the north and the south in the western part of the sub-continent—the small kingdom and the Gurjara rule throw up some interesting facts. The Gurjaras are confirmed as people of the north, whereas the common people of Broach were not Gurjaras nor of the north. The Brahmins and Kshatriyas of the region were decidedly of southern origin. The Gurjaras used a distinctly southern style of writing their grants but the royal signatures were uniformly done in the northern style. This is an indication that the kings were from the north while the people were southerners.

The name of the region, Gujarat is considered to have been derived from the Gurjaras, which in later days got superimposed on the older names of Anarta and Lata, both of which vanished owing to disuse. Even the language, Gujarati, is distinctly northern and more akin to Sanskrit than any southern languages. The northern slant is emphasised when the language is compared to the sacred writings of the Jains of Kathiawar which uses a southern induced language. There can be no doubt that Broach under the Gurjaras was a hybrid state, the kings from the north while the common people were southerners. The fact that most of the Jain sacred writing was in a southern language, unlike that of Buddhist religious texts, also indicates that Jains were predominant in South India. However, as in the case of many such historical issues, the naming of the language after the Gurjara rulers is disputed by some Gujarati scholars. The debate continues, and there can be no clear answer to this vexed question.

The Gurjaras of Broach and the original clan in Bhinmal were sun worshippers. This religious orientation is quoted by some historians as proof that the Gurjaras were of foreign origin. This assertion cannot be considered as conclusive proof, since sun worship was a common feature in India, even before the advent of the first foreign incursion into the sub-continent. In fact, Sun worship in India is as old as the Vedas. The Gayatri Mantra, one of the oldest incantations is addressed to the Sun. However, it is possible that the Gurjaras formed the second wave of invasions and were the ones that converted within the Indian milieu to the Vaisya class—essentially concerning themselves with agriculture and cow herding. Irrespective of their origins, the Gurjaras of Broach ruled as vassals of the main branch. They are mentioned in the Periplus, which confirms that being a coastal kingdom they engaged in some sort of maritime trade.

There is no clear indication of how the Gurjaras of Broach vanished from the political scene of the south-west of the sub-continent. There is no mention anywhere of a catastrophic war and no mention in Arab chronicles of their conquest of this small principality. The Gurjaras disappear as stealthily as they gathered a step-hold and established a kingdom in Gujarat, possibly bequeathing their name to the region for posterity. In a broader analysis it could perhaps be conjectured that the encroaching arrival of the Arab forces from Sind in the west, which was followed by the more concerted Islamic invasions made it difficult for the smaller Hindu border kingdoms to survive. The Gurjaras of Broach was one such that collapsed on the wayside, falling prey to the inevitable march of history.


© [Sanu Kainikara] [2016]
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About Sanu kainikara

Sainik School Kazhakuttam (Kerala), National Defence Academy 39/A, 108 Pilot's Course IAF, fighter pilot, QFI, FCL, psc, HACC, Voluntary Retirement as Wing Commander. Canberra-based Defence Analyst specialising in air power and national security. PhD in International Politics from University of Adelaide Adjunct Professor, University of New South Wales, Distinguished Fellow Institute For Regional Security (IFRS)

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