While the history of the early Rashtrakutas has caused much debate, the history of the Rashtrakutas of Manyakheta (in present day Gulbarga) of the 8th-10th centuries can be accurately constructed because numerous contemporaneous inscriptions and texts refer to them. The crux of the Manyakheta empire extended from the Kaveri river in the south to the Narmada in the north. At their peak they were the only south Indian empire that conquered regions in far northern India (Kannauj) as well as the extreme south (Tamilakam). The Lata branch of the empire (in present day Gujarat) was an important dynasty belonging to the Manyakheta family line which later merged with the Manyakheta kingdom during the 9th century.
The appearance of the terms Rathika, Ristika (Rashtrika) or Lathika in conjunction with the terms Kambhoja and Gandhara in some Ashokan inscriptions of 2nd century BCE from Mansera and Shahbazgarhi in North Western Frontier Province (present day Pakistan), Girnar (Saurashtra) and Dhavali (Kalinga) and the use of the epithet "Ratta" in many later inscriptions has prompted a claim that the earliest Rashtrakutas were descendants of the Arattas, natives of the Punjab region from the time of Mahabharata who later migrated south and set up kingdoms there, while another theory points more generally to north western regions of India. Based on this theory, the Arattas may have become natives of the Deccan having arrived there during the early centuries of the first millennium.
This is counter to the argument by other scholars that the term Rishtika used together with Petenika in the Ashokan inscriptions implied they were hereditary ruling clans from modern Maharashtra region and the term "Ratta" implied Maharatta ruling families from modern Maharashtra region. But this has been rejected on the basis that from ancient books such as Dipavamsha and Mahavamsha in Pali language it is known the term Maharatta and not Rashtrika has been used to signify hereditary ruling clans from modern Maharashtra region and the terms Rashtrika and Petenika appear to be two different displaced ruling tribes.
It is noted by another scholar that ruling clans called Rathis and Maharathis were in power in parts of present day Karnataka as well in the early centuries of the Christian era, which is known inscriptions from the region and further proven by the discovery of lead coins from the middle of 3rd century bearing Sadakana Kalalaya Maharathi in the heart of modern Karnataka region near Chitradurga. In the face of these facts it is claimed it can no longer be maintained that the Rathi and Maharathi families were confined only to present day Maharashtra. It is claimed there is sufficient inscriptional evidence that several Maharathi families were related to Kannadiga families by marriage and they were naga worshippers, a form of worship very popular in the Mysore region (modern Karnataka). Also, no evidence to confirm that these families were either Aryan or non-Aryan is available.
The epithet Ratta, it is also claimed is a Kannada word from which the word Rashtrakuta has been derived. The use of the word Rattagudlu (meaning an office) has been found in inscriptions from present day Andhra Pradesh dated prior to the 8th century indicating it was a South Indian word. From the Deoli plates and Karhad records it is argued there was a prince called Ratta and his son was called Rashtrakuta. Hence it has been argued the Rashtrakutas were of Kannada origin. It is also said the term Rashtra means "kingdom" and Kuta means "lofty" or Rashtra means province and Kuta means chieftain.
Another epithet used in inscriptions of Amoghavarsha I was Lattalura Puravaradhiswara. It is proposed that it refers to their original home Lattalur, modern day Latur in Maharashtra state, bordering Karnataka. This area it is claimed was predominantly Kannada speaking based on surviving vestiges of place names, inscriptions and cultural relics. It is explained that Latta is a Prakrit variation of Ratta and hence Rattana-ur became Lattana-ur and finally Lattalur. Another theory is that Latalurapura is modern day Ratnapur in Bilaspur district of central India.
It has been noted that princes and princesses of the Rashtrakuta family used pure Kannada names such as Kambarasa, Asagavve, Revakka and Abbalabbe as their personal names indicating that they were native Kannadigas. It has been pointed out that princesses of family lineage belonging to Gujarat signed their royal edicts in Kannada even in their Sanskrit inscriptions. Some examples of this are the Navsari and Baroda plates of Karka I and the Baroda plates of his son Dhruva II. It has been attested by a scholar that the Gujarat Rashtrakuta princes signed their inscriptions in the language of their native home and the race they belonged to. It is well known that the Gujarat line of Rashtrakutas were from the same family as the Manyakheta line. It is argued that if the Rashtrakutas were originally a Marathi speaking family, then the Gujarat Rashtrakutas would not have signed their inscriptions in Kannada language and that too in far away Gujarat. The theory that under the rule of the Badami Chalukyas of Kannada country, Kannada speaking dynasties were established in the far corners of the Chalukyan empire in Gujarat, Andhra and Berar (present day Vidharba region in modern Maharashtra) and hence the ancestors of King Dantidurga, the founder of the Manyakheta empire were Kannadigas. It is further claimed there is proof that in the locality where Dantidurga lived Kannada was the spoken language.
The only Rashtrakuta family whose royal emblem is similar to that of the rulers of Manyakheta, the golden eagle or Garuda lanchhana (emblem) is that of the family that ruled from Amravathi district of modern Maharashtra. It has been theorised that this line may possibly have been ancestors of the Manyakheta kings. Their inscriptions (Tivarkhed and Multhai) were issued from Achalapura (modern Elichpur) which may have been their capital. Another Rashtrakuta family ruling from Manapur in Malwa region with its founder King Abhimanyu had the emblem of a lion. This makes it improbable that they were the ancestors of the Manyakheta family. While the Garuda is normally indicative Vaishnavite leanings, it has to be observed here that earlier coins belonging to King Krishna I's period use the legend Parama Maheshwara, which in turn indicate staunch Shaivite leanings. This change in symbology has been used to theorise that the Rashtrakutas may have originally been Shaivites and embraced Vaishnavism later.
The Rashtrakuta inscriptions call them the vanquishers of the Karnatabala, a sobriquet used to refer to the near invincibility of the Chalukyas of Badami. This however it is claimed should not be construed to mean that the Rashtrakutas themselves were not Kannadigas. Their patronage and love of the Kannada language is apparent in that most of their inscriptions within modern Karnataka are in Kannada, while their inscriptions outside of modern Karnataka tended to be in Sanskrit. An inscription in classical Kannada of King Krishna III has also been found as far away as Jabalpur in modern Madhya Pradesh which further supports the view of their affinity to the language. Adikavi Pampa, Sri Ponna, Shivakotiacharya and King Amoghavarsha I were among the noteworthy scholars in Kannada, the Apabhramsha poet Pushpadanta wrote several works and famous Sanskrit scholars such as Jinasena and Virasena (both of who were theologians), mathematician Mahaviracharya and poets such as Trivikrama and Gunabhadra adorned their courts. The earliest extant Kannada literature belongs to this time. These Rashtrakuta kings married princess from Northern and Southern India and several Rashtrakuta branches emerged in Northern India during the their imperialistic expansion in the 9th century.
The argument that the Rashtrakutas were either Marathi speaking Marathas or Telugu speaking Reddies in origin has been rejected. Reddy's in that time period had not come into martial prominence even in the Telugu speaking regions of Andhra, being largely an agrarian society of cultivators who only much later (in the 14th century - 15th century) came to control regions in the Krishna - Rajamundry districts. The Rashtrakuta period did not produce any Marathi inscriptions or literature (with the exception of a 981 CE Shravanabelagola inscription which some historians argue was inscribed later). In addition very few literary works in Prakrit language are available from this period. Jainism which played such an important role in giving patronage to early Kannada literature did not flourish as much in the present day Maharashtra region which is why no Marathi literature emerged during this period. Hence Marathi as the language of the Rashtrakutas, it is claimed, is not an acceptable argument.
The Rashtrakutas emerged before the term "Rajput" came to be used as a community. The emergence of Rajputs in Rajasthan and Gujarat coincides with the arrival of the Rashtrakutas and Chalukyas in the region.