India has been the home of many rulers starting from the Great Ashoka of the Mauryan Dynasty to the Mughal Emperor Akbar. India has a diverse history of rulers belonging to Islam as well as Indian origin. The medieval ruins of India carved in stone stand as evidence for the greatness of Indian culture.
Though, most of India’s conflicts were due to internal friction between neighbouring clans and kingdoms. Multitudes including those of east and west have been a part of India as would-be conquerors. Of whom includes Genghis Khan of Mongol and Timur, the Persian Achaemenids under Cyrus the Great, and even the Emperor Alexander the Great.
Below mentioned are ten of the greatest empire-builders India’s turbulent but fascinating History, presented in date order.
Ajatasatru (512-461 BCE) : Haryanka Emperor
Ajatasatru was the second important king of the Haryanka Dynasty; he became one of the earliest rulers of the ancient kingdom of Magadha by deposing and executing his own father Bimbisara in north-east India.
Bimbisara was the head of the Haryanka dynasty in 543 BCE, who extended his territory through marriage, alliances and conquests. Ajatasatru’s desire for power, and family misunderstandings, led him to imprison his father before occupying the throne for himself.
Ajatasatru went on to expanding the Magadhan empire, defeating up to 36 neighbouring states in the process and spent 15 years fighting the Licchavi republic in the Vajji region of Nepal. He employed two new weapons, during these battles, a catapult and a covered chariot with a swinging mace, which looks like a modern-day tank. In the end, he would preside over a vast kingdom encompassing the northern tip of India, from Bengal to Punjab in the, and north into Nepal.
Chandragupta Maurya (340 BC – 298 BC): Mauryan Empire
Chandragupta Maurya was a pivotal figure and founding person of the Mauryan Empire in the History of India. He ruled over for 24 years then announced his voluntary retirement and renunciation in favour of his son Bindusara in 298 BC. He sought at the unification of India into a single state.
Under the guardianship of Chanakya, his advisor, Chandragupta, sought to rebel against the existing ruler, using a mixture of bribery and deception. He overthrew Dhana Nanda of the Nanda empire to become the new King of Magadha. He succeeded in conquering most of the Indian subcontinent, except the Tamil regions. His empire extended in all four directions from Bengal (East) to Balochistan (west), to the Himalayas and Kashmir in the north, and the Deccan Plateau in the south. Mauryan Empire was the largest empire yet seen in Indian History.
Ashoka Maurya (304-232 BCE): Maurya Dynasty
Ashoka, commonly known as Ashoka the Great, was the grandson of Chandragupta Maurya, an Indian emperor of the Maurya Dynasty. His loyal ministers assisted him to the throne in favour of the rightful successor. He earned the nickname “Ashoka the Fierce” for being a cruel and aggressive King during his reign. He also had ownership of an ornately decorated torture chamber.
The Emperor waged a fierce war against Kalinga Dynasty, a feudal republic on the east coast of India, beginning around 261 BCE. Kalinga War is the bloodiest of Wars ever waged in Indian History costing around 150,000 lives of Kalinga warriors and 100,000 Mauryan men. It is also said to have caused the Daya River to run red. After the renunciation of his throne and converting to Buddhism, he vowed never to take another human life. Such was his adherence to the newly adopted faith. He erected around 84,000 stupas (burial mounds) built and gave millions of pieces of gold to the monastic order.
Samudragupta (315-380): Gupta Emperor
Samudra Gupta was the son of Chandra Gupta I and regional Emperor of India and from about 330 to 380 CE. He was described as “India’s Napoleon” as he was undefeated in battle. He portrayed as, a poet, a musician and a muscular warrior who flaunted the “marks of hundreds of wounds received in many battles.” He was personified conception of the Indian the hero in many ways. By the end of his death, he had conquered more than 20 kingdoms, and with his military might, he had made neighbouring states in Iran and Afghanistan to become tax-paying tributaries.
Samudragupta’s legacy was stretching from the Himalayas to central India, which would last until the year 500 and often referred to as “the Golden Age of India”.
Raja Raja Chola I (947-1014): Chola King
The Chola dynasty has its roots in the Tamil region of southern India and dates back as far as the 3rd Century BC. Raja Raja Chola is one of the Most significant Emperors of India, who ruled between 985 and 1014 CE. It was during his rule that the Cholas started to emerge as a vast Empire by battling against Pandya and Chera kingdoms. His empire from as far as Sri Lanka in the south, and Kalinga (Odisha) in the northeast. He conquered Gangapadi in 999, and finally subdued the Chalukya Empire to the north-west, and the kingdom of Vengi towards the south. He went on to extend the empire till it stretched from the Tungabhadra River to encircling almost entire southern India and the majority of Sri Lanka. He built the famous Brihadeeswarar Temple, which is one of the largest and tallest temples in India.
Alha: Chandel king Parmal
Alha was an esteemed general of the Chandel king Parmal. He fought 52years of war and has never lost any battle. He defeated The Great Ruler of Delhi Prithviraj Chauhan whom many considered to be the greatest of the time. As he was about to kill Prithviraj Chauhan, his Guru stopped him by saying never loose the moral of a great warrior by killing him only to take revenge of your brother’s (Udal) death.
Epic of Alha Originates in the Bundelkhand Region. Alha recounts the entwined fates of the three chief Rajput Kingdoms of North India on the day before of Turkish conquest in the late 12th-century C.E; Delhi ruled by Prithviraj Chauhan, Kannauj governed by Jaichand Rathor, and Mahoba by Chandel king Parmal. The heroes of the epic Alha and Udal were the retainers of the Rajput status with exceptional courage, whose cause is the protection of Mahoba and defence of its honour.
Krishnadevaraya (1471-1529): Vijayanagara Emperor
Krishnadevaraya was the Emperor of the Vijayanagara Empire. The Vijayanagara Empire of southern India achieved its pinnacle under the patronage of Sri Krishnadevaraya, the third ruler of the Tuluva dynasty. He became the commanding ruler of the peninsula of India by defeating the Sultans of Bijapur, Golconda, the Bahmani Sultanate and the Gajapatis of Odisha. He was one of the most aggressive Hindu rulers in India. However, the Deccan sultanates became a threat to Krishnadevaraya’s reign. And the apotheosis of his action was the Battle of Raichur (in 1520), a crux in south Indian History.
With an army of 700,000 soldiers, 33,000 cavalry and 550 elephants Krishnadevaraya plummeted on Raichur to fight the King, Ismail Adil Shah, of Bijapur who had an army of 140,000 horse and foot soldiers. After an initial defeat when Adil Shah lost 16,000 men, Krishnadevaraya rallied his troops to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. In the end, this only served to stiffen the resolve of the Muslim Sultans, who allied against and overthrew the Vijayanagara Empire.
Akbar I (1542-1605): Mughal Emperor
Akbar became the third ruler of the Mughal empire in 1556 and greatly extended the realm until it encircled a massive swathe of the Indian subcontinent. He was a professional military commander and crafted the Mughal army into an active fighting force, by incorporating proper structures, employing fortifications, and innovating with the use of cannons and early firearms acquired from Europe.
To maintain the unity of his rulership, Akbar approved programs that won the loyalty of the non-Muslim populations of his realm. He reformed and strengthened his central administration and also centralised his financial system and reorganised tax-collection processes.
One of the notable features of Akbar’s reign was the extent of Hindu, and particularly Rajput, participation. Rajput princes attained the highest ranks, as generals and as provincial governors, in the Mughal service.
Maharana Pratap: Rajput Royal Family of Mewar
Maharana Pratap was born into a Rajput Royal Family of Mewar. After the death of Udai Singh, his father’s senior courtiers preferred Pratap, to be their king. Pratap’s brothers served Akbar. Most of the Rajput chiefs served as army commanders in Akbar’s armies and as members of his council.
However, when Akbar’s suzerainty approached Pratap, he politely refused to accept arguing that the Sisodia Rajputs had never taken any foreign ruler as their overlord, nor will he. Earlier, their grandfathers, Rana Sanga and Babur, had a feud between each other. Hence, the hostility was not only political but was also personal.
Shivaji (1674–1680 CE): Indian warrior-king and a member of the Bhonsle Maratha clan.
Shivaji Bhonsle, son of a General, was born in Pune in the west of India. He established a proficient and progressive civil rule with the help of an organised military and well-structured administrative organisations. He innovated new military tactics, developing the guerrilla warfare methods, which leveraged shrewd factors like geography, speed, and surprise and focused precise attacks on defeating his more substantial and powerful enemies.
He brought back ancient Hindu traditions and court conventions and promoted the usage of Marathi and Sanskrit, in court and administration. Nobody gave much importance of a navy except him, which gained him the title of father of the Indian navy. He was a very generous ruler. He established laws that were responsible for the social integrity of the state. He even built a mosque on Raigad for Muslim soldiers.