After the disintegration of the Satavahana dynasty several small kingdoms grew up in the different provinces, which were previously under them. The Abhiras usurped the provinces of Gujarat, Konkan and Northern Maharashtra including the districts ofNasik and Khandesh.
The Ikshvakus became the rulers in the Andhra region. South Kosal and Kalinga were probably divided into small chiefdoms. Vidarbha and Southern Konkan were overrun by the Vakatakas.
Jayaswal has held that Vakatakas originally hailed from a place called Vakata, which he identifies with Bagat in the northernmost part of the former Orchha state. V.V. Mirashi has refuted the northern origin of the Vakatakas for the simple fact the Vakatakas never issued any coins but utilized the monetary issues, first of the western Kshatrapas and, later, of the Guptas.
Further, no early records of the Vakatakas have been found north of the Narmada. We may, however, accept the southern origin of the Vakatakas on the following grounds:
(i) Vindhyshakti, the founder of the dynasty derived his name from the hill Vindhya;
(ii) the epigraphs of the Vakatakas had a striking similarly to those of the Pallavas;
(iii) like the Satavahanas, Kadambas and Chalukyas, the Vakatakas also called themselves Haritiputras or the descendants of Hariti; and
(iv) the Vakatakas assumed the title of dharmamaharaj, a typical characteristic of the southern kings. The earliest inscription which mentions the Vakataka family is a pilgrim record incised in characters of about the third century AD on a pillar at Amaravati in the Andhra country. The Puranas do not name the royal family as Vakataka; they perhaps refer to it as Vindhyaka after Vindhyashakti who was its founder.
Vindhyashakti is mentioned in the Puranas and in an inscription from Ajanta which calls him ‘the banner of the Vakataka family’, and gives the valuable information that he was a dvija. Vindhyashakti is supposed have extended his kingdom and performed Vedic sacrifices. The capital from which Vindhyashakti ruled is still uncertain.
The Puranas apparently mention two capitals in connection with the rule of his son Pravira (i.e. Pravarasena 1), viz. Purika and Chanaka. Of these, Chanaka was probably the original capital of the royal family. Chanaka may have been situated somewhere in central Andhra. Vindhyashakti is placed in the period c. AD 250- 70. The Puranas say that he lived a long life of 96 years.
Vindhyashakti was succeeded by his son Pravarasena I, who was the real founder of the Vakataka empire. He extended his influence further to the north as far as the Narmada. He performed all the seven soma sacrifices, including vajapeya, and also celebrated four ashvamedhas. He assumed the unique imperial title samrat.
After annexing the Naga territory of Purika defeating its ruler Shishuka, he shifted his capital to Purika which was situated somewhere in Vidarbha at the foot of the Satpura mountains. The Puranas credit Pravarasena I with a long reign of sixty years and may have ruled from AD 270 to 330.
He sought to strengthen his position by a matrimonial alliance with the Bharashiva Nagas. Bhavanaga, the maharaja of the Bharashiva family, was a contemporary of Pravarasena I. Bhavanaga gave his daughter in marriage to the Vakataka prince Gautamiputra. This matrimonial alliance seems to have greatly strengthened the power of Pravarasena, so much so that it triggered another alliance between the Guptas and the Lichchhavis.
After Pravarasena I died, his four sons divided the kingdom out of which only two are known to us: the main branch and the Vatsagulma branch. Rudrasena I, the son of Gautamiputra (who predeceased his father), took over the reigns of the main branch.
He was the contemporary of Samudragupta. Because of Samudragupta’s campaigns the Vakataka kingdom became confined to Northern Vidarbha. Samudragupta returned to the north after subjugating the rulers of Kalinga, Andhra, and Kanchi etc.
But for some unknown reason he does not seem to have crossed swords with the Vakatakas. Samudragupta may have thought it prudent to have friendly relations with his southern neighbour who occupied a strategic position with respect to the kingdom of the powerful Western Kshatrapas, who he had not yet subdued.
Rudrasena I was succeeded in c. AD 345 by his son Prithivisena I. Prithivisena I probably had a long reign which seems to have terminated about AD 400. About AD 395, Chandragupta II launched his attack on the Shaka Kshatraps of Malwa and Kathiawar.
It is not unlikely that in this campaign Chandragupta II sought the alliance of his powerful neighbour, the Vakataka king Prithivisena I. After his victory, Chandragupta II sought to cement the political alliance with the Vakatakas by giving his daughter Prabhavatigupta in marriage to the Vakataka prince Rudrasena II.
During Prithivisena I’s time the Vakataka capital seems to have been shifted to Nandivardhana near Nagpur. This place is surrounded by strong forts such as Bhirgarh ana Ghughusgarh, which may have been the reason for its selection as a royal capital.
Prithivisena was succeeded by his son Rudrasena II. Unlike his ancestors, who were all Shaivas, this King became a devotee of Chakrapani (Vishnu) under the influence of his wife Prabhavatigupta. She greatly venerated the footprints (pada-mulas) of Rama on the hill of Ramagiri (modern Ramtek) where she made both her known grants.
Rudrasena II died after a short reign of five years, leaving behind at least two sons – Divakarasena and Damodarasena – who succeeded him one after the other. Divakarasena was a minor at the time of his father’s death. So Prabhavatigupta looked after the affairs of the state as the regent. Gupta influence became prominent at the Vakataka court during her regency.
Chandragupta II had deputed some of his trusted officers to assist his daughter in governing the kingdom. One of these was probably the famous Sanskrit poet Kalidasa, who seems to have stayed at the Vakataka court for some time. He composed his Meghaduta at Ramagiri. His graphic description of the six year old prince Sudarshana in the 18th canto of the Raghuvamsha may have been suggested by what he observed at the Vakataka court.
Narendrasena, who succeeded his fat Pravarasena II in AD 455, married the Kun princess Ajjhitabhattarika. She probably belong to the Rashtrakuta family founded by Manan Narendrasena made some conquests in the east the north. He seems to have subdued Kosa’* Mekala and Malwa. Bharatabala of the Somavamshi dynasty was ruling at Mekala at time. Kosala (Dakshina) was being ruled Bhimasena besides these, Narendrasena seer to have annexed the Apupa country, which had capital at Mahishmati.
Towards the end of his rei the Vakataka territory was invaded by the Nala ki Bhavadatta Varman. Evidence shows that considerable portion of the Vakataka territory w annexed by the Nalas, including Nandhivardha for some years.
Prithivisena II, who succeeded Narendrase in AD 465, was forced to move to the east andtJ set up his capital at Padmapura. After consolidate his position he ousted his enemies and eve’ devastated the enemy’s capital Pushkari Prithivisena II soon retrieved his position in the north too and even some territories i Bundelakhand region which was being ruled b the scions of Uchchhakalpa dynasty, namely Vyaghradeva.
Prithivisena II, aparambhagavata, is the last) known member of this senior branch of the Vakataka dynasty. Perhaps Harisena of the Vatsagulma branch, who made extensive conques in all directions, incorporated Northern Vidarbha in his kingdom after the death of Prithivisena II.