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The period from 752-985 CE saw the rise of the Rashtrakuta dynasty in the region of Karnataka. Dantidurga, the founder of the empire, who defeated the Gurjaras and captured Malwa from them, after which he annexed the Chalukya kingdom by defeating Kirtivarman II, became a paramount power in the Deccan region. His successor, equally successful, defeated the Gangas and eastern Chalukyas of Vengi. Victorious in the northern India, Govinda III became one of the important kings of the dynasty.

Amoghavarsha I, the next in the lineage ruled for a period of 64 years with his reign being popular for an overall cultural development. He was an ardent follower of Jainism, and was a disciple of Jinasena. He is credited with having built the Rashtrakuta capital, Malkhed or Manyakheda. Krishna III is said to have gone as far as Rameshwaram and built many temples. After his death though, the power of Rashtrakutas gradually declined.

The royal insignia of the empire was the Garuda, the vehicle of Vishnu. The period of Rashtrakutas saw a great cultural development. Harmony in religions was visible under the Rashtrakuta kings. Shaivism and Vaishnavism, both flourished during this period, however did not hamper the development of Jainism. There also existed some Buddhist settlements like Kanheri, Sholapur and Dharwar. Almost all of their inscriptions began with an invocation to Shiva or Vishnu.

The Rashtrakutas contributed to the architecture of the Deccan. One of the most striking pieces of art of this period is the Kailash Temple at Ellora. A monolithic temple, it is the zenith of rock-cut architecture and sculpture. Built by Krishna I in the 8th century, the temple was excavated and was elaborately carved with various sculptures. The main temple has a Dravidian Shikhara with episodes from epics and Puranas adorning the sides of the temple. The Dashavatara gallery is a masterpiece of the architecture. The Elephanta caves near Bombay too have been built by the Rashtrakutas. The main cave belonging to the brahminical group dedicated to Shiva is noted for its fine sculptures. It is well known for the huge Trimurti sculpture, depicting Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva.

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