The term pratihar/pratihari originally was used for a palace guard or common soldier (its modern form in Hindi is prahri), but in the early medieval times the Mahapratihara had become the title of an important general. It is entirely conceivable that the Pratihara Rajputs had an ancestor who was such a general in some kingdom who later established his own rule, and his descendants carried on the clan name as Pratihara. Later they associated this title with the epic hero Lakshmana. In late medieval times the agnikula legend (warriors being created from a fire-pit by Brahmins at Mt Abu) was associated with four Rajput clans, including the Pratiharas, more as glorification than actual historicity. There are some other intriguing references in the old inscriptions:
Brahmin ancestry - The inscription of the Mandor Pratiharas states that their ancestor Harichandra was a Brahman who took up arms in the place of studying scriptures. Harichandra had two wives, a Brahmin woman (who is not given any title) from whom the Pratihara Bramins emerged, and a Kshatriya woman (who is given the title of queen) whose sons became Pratihara Rajputs. The inscription says, "those who were born of Queen Bhadra became drinkers of wine", which is a trait identified with the Rajputs. Each of her four sons are named individually, but the sons of the Brahmin wife are not even mentioned.
And further no clan of Parihar Brahmins is mentioned in later history while Parihar Rajputs are still to be found. From the inscriptions of other Rajput clans it becomes clear that Brahmin status is additionally accorded to some of their rulers either because they gained proficiency in studying scriptures, or because as rulers they performed some religious functions. The Jodhpur inscription also says that the four sons of Harichandra built a large rampart round the fort of Mandavyapura (Mandor) which was gained by their own prowess. Forts cannot be built, or towns captured, without an existing army.
Gurjara province - The Rajasthani hill-station of Mt Abu was the geographical and spiritual center of a territory known in ancient times as Gurjara. This territory covered northern Gujarat and southwest Rajasthan, and it shared a cultural affinity with the neighboring region of Maru, covering western Rajasthan. In more modern times, Gurjara evolved into Gujarat, while Maru became Marwar. The domain of the Mandor Pratiharas covered both these regions and the temples built at Osian are categorized under the Maru-Gurjara style of architecture. The agnikula legend of later times also points to Mt Abu as the original home of the Pratiharas. This is why the Pratihara rulers are sometimes described as Gurjara, Gurjararaja, Gurjaranatha, in the records of their contemporaries.
Another related principality of this era was Nandipuri in southern Gujarat, which was founded by Dadda, who is identified with the youngest son of Harichandra Pratihara. This family claims to have been born in the lineage of the kings of Gurjara (Gurjara nripa vamsa) but the clan name of Pratihara is missing from all their records. It is plausible that Gurjara was the original name of a clan based in Mt Abu, after whom the territory got its name, and which sent different branches south into Gujarat and north into Mandor. However no record of such a clan has been unearthed. And if the Pratiharas of Mandor were descended from such a clan, it is inexplicable that the name Gurjara as used in the sense of a clan, is completely missing from their records or those of the Imperial Pratiharas. In any case, there are many more references to Gurjara as a province, than as a clan.
Parihar Rajput settlements around the old bases of the Pratiharas
The line of Imperial Pratiharas at Kannauj, which rose to power in the wake of the Arab invasion, was finally extinguished 300 years later during the Turk invasions of Mahmud of Ghazni. But the wider clan of Pratihara Rajputs, and their other bases like Mandor and Gwalior, continued to survive till a much later period. Over the centuries the clan name Pratihara evolved into Parihar and variants like Purihar and Padhiar. In Rajasthan the Parihar Rajputs have numerous sub-clans like Indha, Ramawat, Juda, Lulapota, Nadhat, and Sindhal, which is not surprising considering their long rule in Mandor. The above map shows how the population of Parihar Rajputs is located close to the major Pratihara strongholds.
Parihar Rajputs of Mandor - Pratihara rulers of Mandor had restored Pushkar Tirtha in the 7th century, repairing the ghats and restoring the sarovar by making an embankment on the side by which water flowed. They built twelve Dharamashalas and Ghats on the three sides of the Pushkar lake. To this day they are known as Pariharam Ki Sala.
After a revival in the 10th century, the old line of Mandor Pratiharas saw a decline in their power, and became feudatory to the newer powers like the Paramars from Malwa, and later to the Chauhans of Nadol and Ajmer. The Mandor Pratihars were part of the Rajput confederacy under the Chauhans of Ajmer which was ended by the death of Prithviraja on the fatal field of Tarain in 1192. But it took another 100 years of constant warfare before the Delhi sultanate could project its power on Rajputana; in 1292 Mandor was conquered by Jalaluddin Khalji. The Parihar ruler and his family eluded captivity and found refuge in the neighboring Bhati Rajput kingdom of Jaisalmer. As per the 1879 Rajputana gazetteer, Purihar Rajputs were still to be found in that desert region.
Mandor itself was under Muslim rule for the next 100 years; but it seems that only the city was occupied by the Turk governors and their soldiers while the remaining land was held by the Parihar Rajputs. The full story of this period is not before us; but we can assume that time and again the Parihars tried to overthrow the interlopers and were unsuccessful. At other times they paid land revenue and provided military service to the Turks.
What saved the Parihars from annihilation was the underlying strength of the Rajput clan system, described earlier, in that newer clans were always emerging to take on the mantle of resistance against the invaders. Guerrilla warfare by these Rajput clans led to the liberation of Rajputana in the late 14th century, while some nearby parts of India remained under the Turks. In the case of Mandor, the Rathor Rajputs had emerged from the district of Kher to become the dominant power in the Marwar region, and in 1382 they conquered Mandor from the Muslims. Mandor became the capital of the Rathor rulers until Jodhpur was established in the 15th century; the cenotaphs of their rulers are still to be found here. The Parihars were assimilated under the Rathors as feudatories and numbers of them are to be found in Jodhpur. Some of them joined in the Rathor expansion further north; Rao Bika the founder of Bikaner had a prominent general named Bela Parihar and not surprisingly Parihar Rajputs are to be found in that part of Rajasthan as well. Poorer members of this clan seemed to have joined the ranks of the other communities, such are the Parihar Meenas and Parihar Kolis.
The Parihar Rajputs in Marwar still had the numbers and resources to impact the polity centuries later. In the 17th century Mughal emperor Aurangzeb invaded the Rathor kingdom of Marwar and Jadunath Sarkar writes: "A strong force was sent into Marwar under Sarbuland Khan, and a fortnight later the emperor himself started for Ajmer to direct the conquest of the state. Anarchy and slaughter were let loose on the doomed province. The nationalist party was threatened by a host of enemies. The Parihars — the dispossessed ancient lords of the land and the hereditary enemies of the Rathor interlopers — tried to revive their historic kingdom of Gurjara-Pratihara by seizing Mandor, the ancient capital, 5 miles north of Jodhpur."
Umeta - Pockets of Parihar settlements still abound in the region spanning MP, Gujarat, and southeast Rajasthan, descended no doubt from the Imperial Pratiharas of Ujjain. The 12th century Prithviraja Vijaya names Jaggadeva Pratihara as a general in the Solanki Rajput kingdom of Gujarat. In this region the clan name Pratihar evolved into Padhiyar. In the 15th century the state of Umeta, situated due west of the city of Baroda on the banks of the Mahi River, was established by a Padhiar Rajput named Jhanjarji. His descendants ruled with the title Thakor till their state was merged into modern Gujarat in the 20th century. The kuldevi of Padhiyar Rajputs is Chamunda.
Gwalior - the strategic fort of Gwalior contains some of the oldest records the Parihar Rajputs. But like Ujjain, it too fell to newer powers like the Chandellas and the Kacchapaghatas. In 1196 CE the latter clan were uprooted by the Turks of the Delhi sultanate. But once again the staying power of the Rajput clan confederacy was displayed when fifteen years later the Parihar Rajput chief Vigraha defeated the Muslims. His descendants held Gwalior for half a century and were only expelled by Sultan Balban in 1258.
The Parihar Rajputs from Gwalior established important states in the adjoining regions that lasted till the modern era. One was Alipura in Bundelkhand and the other was Nagod, in Baghelkhand. Since Nagod has been a Parihar Rajput stronghold concurrently with Gwalior, it is depicted on the map along with the other Pratihara strongholds.
Nagod state is described in some detail by the Archaeological Survey of India (1874) covering Alexander Cunningham's tour of Central India: "Uchahara is a small town and railway station on the high road between Allahabad and Jabalpur, and six miles to the south-west of Bharhut. The town gives its name to the chiefship of a Parihar Raja, who is, however, better known now as the Raja of Nagod......From the late Minister of the Uchahara State, I learned that the Parihar chiefship was older than that of the Chandels of Mahoba, as well as that of the Baghels of Rewa......The great lake at Bilhari, called Lakshman Sagar, is said to have been made by Lakshman Sen Parihar; and the great fort of Singorgarh, still farther to the south, contains a pillar bearing the name of a Parihar Raja. The family has no ancient records, and vaguely claims to have come from Abu-Sikhar in the west (Mount Abu), more than thirty generations ago....
The great ruined fortress of Singorgarh commands the Jabera pass leading through the hills between Jabalpur and Damoh and Saugor. It is true that the old fort is not of great size; but its name would appear to have been derived from a certain Gaj Singh Pratihar, according to an inscription of 8 lines which is recorded on a square stone pillar....in which the hill is called Gaja-Singhadurggye. The monolith is called kirtti-stambha, or the 'pillar of fame.' It was set up in the Samvat year 1364, or AD 1307. The whole of this part of the country would appear to have belonged to the Parihars or Pratihars as we find was actually the case in A. D. 1307, when these monoliths were erected."
Kannauj - A large colony of Parihar Rajputs is to be found in the Etawah district of Uttar Pradesh, with the Raja of Malhajini at their head. The Unnao district of Uttar Pradesh similarly has Parihar settlers, no doubt originating from their ancestral base of Kannauj. Another colony of Parihar Rajputs is in the Hamirpur district; they call themselves descendants of the celebrated Parihar Raja, Jajhar Singh of Hamirpur, who settled there from Marwar.