In North India, all politically ambitious rulers tended towards Kannauj, which had by then become a symbol of imperial power due to its connection with Harsha Vardhan and Yashovarman who maintained this status for the city. This resulted in struggle between the Rashtrakutas, the Pratiharas and the Palas for the control over Kannauj. This exhausted all the three dynasties to such a extent that finally they lost control over large parts of their own empire. This resulted in formation of numerous small kingdoms in north India, which added to the bleak picture of a divided India, a perfect playground for the foreign mercenaries.
The social origin of the Pratiharas, said to be the descendents of Gurjara people of Rajasthan in western India, is uncertain and the Rashtrakutas claimed they were door-keepers (pratihara), in order to suggest an insultingly low origin for their enemies. The first important Pratihara king is said to have been a fierce enemy of the mlechchhas or barbarians, the mlechchhas here is a reference to the Arabs who had conquered Sindh by 712 A.D. Having successfully resisted the Arabs, the Pratiharas looked eastwards, and by the end of the eighth century were not only ruling over a large part of Rajasthan and Ujjain but had captured Kanauj.
The third power involved in the three-sided conflict over Kannauj was the Pala dynasty, which controlled almost whole of Bengal and Bihar. This in itself was a rich area, but in addition the Palas derived an income from the substantial trade with south-east Asia.
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