- He was an Indian emperor who ruled North India from 606 to 647 CE.
- He was born in 590 AD.
- He was the son of Prabhakarvardhana who defeated the Alchon Huna invaders.
- He belonged to Pushyabhuti also called Vardhana dynasty.
- He was a Hindu who later embraced Mahayana Buddhism.
- He was married to Durgavati.
- He had two sons and a daughter. His daughter was married to the king of Vallabhi whereas his sons were killed by his own minister.
King Harshavardhana Ascension
- After Prabhakarvardhana died, his elder son Rajyavardhana ascended to the throne of Thanesar.
- Harsha had a sister, Rajyashri who was married to King Grahavarman of Kannauj. Shashanka, the Gauda King killed Grahavarman and kept Rajyashri prisoner. This prompted Rajyavardhana to fight against Shashanka, but Shashanka killed Rajyavardhana.
- This led the 16 year old Harshavardhana to ascend the throne of Thanesar in 606 AD.
- He vowed to avenge his brother’s murder and rescue his sister.
- For this, he forged an alliance with Bhaskaravarman, the Kamarupa king. Harsha and Bhaskaravarman marched against Shashanka. Ultimately Shashanka left for Bengal and Harsha became the King of Kannauj also.
Empire of King Harshavardhana
- On acquiring Kannauj, Harsha united the two kingdoms of Thanesar and Kannauj.
- He made Kannauj his new capital.
- He ruled over a vast territory consisting of eastern Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Bihar, and Orissa under their control. Nepal had accepted his overlordship.
- He also defeated the Vallabhi King in Gujarat.
- Most important battle fought by Harshavardhan was against Chalukyan ruler Pulakeshin II with the ambition to extend his empire beyond Narmada. Aihole inscription of Pulakeshin mentions that Harsha was defeated.
- There were two types of territories under Harsha, one was directly under him and the other was feudatories.
- Direct territories – Central provinces, Bengal, Kalinga, Gujarat.
- Feudatories – Jalandhar, Kashmir, Kamarupa, Sind, Nepal.
- Harsha’s reign marked the beginning of feudalism in India.
- He began the practice of granting land to officers in lieu of salary.
- Taxation was light and forced labor was also rare.
- One-sixth of the crop produce was collected as land tax.
- His army consisted of four divisions- foot, chariot, horse and elephant. It was much more than that of the Mauryas.
- There were provisions of cruel punishments, similar to the Mauryan times.
Economy and Society
- There was four-fold Varna system comprising Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras.
- Brahmins received land grants from the king, Kshatriyas were the ruling class, Vaishyas were involved in trading and Shudras practiced agriculture.
- Women lost the privilege of Swayamvar.
- Widow Remarriage was not permitted.
- The practice of dowry and Sati became prevalent.
- Trade and commerce declined, as depicted by a decrease in trade centers.
- This decline also affected handicraft and agriculture. This also led rise of self-sufficient village economy.
Developments in Art and Culture
- It was based on Gupta style primarily. Hiuen Tsang refers to an 8 feet tall copper Buddha statue. He also talks of a multistory monastery at Nalanda.
- In Chhattisgarh at Sirpur, a brick temple of Lakshman is surviving example of architecture during Harsha’s period.
- Harsha was great patron of learning and himself authored three plays- Ratnavali, Priyadarsika, Nagananda.
- He also patronized Nalanda University.
- Harshavardhana’s biographer was Banabhatta, who wrote Harshacharita and Kadambari.
- In Harshavardhana’s court other notable figures were Matangadivakara and Barthrihari.
Religion during Harsha’s reign
- Harsha was a Shiva follower in the beginning but gradually embraced Buddhism.
- He was a tolerant ruler. It is believed that Hiuen Tsang converted him to Mahayana Buddhism.
- Harsha prohibited animal slaughter for food in his kingdom.
- He also erected various Stupas and established traveler’s rest house all over his kingdom.
- He conducted a gathering of representatives of all religions once in every five years.
- Two of them are important:
- Kannauj Assembly
- It was presided over by Hiuen Tsang.
- 20 kings, 1000 scholars of Nalanda University, 3000 Brahmins and Jains attended this assembly at Kannauj.
- It continued till twenty three days.
- Hiuen Tsang explained and established superiority of values of Mahayana doctrine over others.
- However, violence broke out and an assassination attempt was made on Harsha’s life.
- Allahabad Assembly
- It was held for 75 days where quinquennial distribution by the king to the people happened.
- Hiuen Tsang was invited by Harshavardhan to withdraw this sixth distribution of alms and gifts at Allahabad.
- Hiuen Tsang writes that Harsha actually gave away everything in the royal treasury.
Decline of Harsha’s Kingdom
- Harsha died in 647 AD after ruling for 41 years. Since he died without any heirs, his empire disintegrated very soon after his death.
- He was the last king to rule over a vast empire of India before the invasion which was led by Muhammad bin Qasim.