The Harshavardhana Era
Harshavardhana belonged to the Pushyabhuti dynasty, founded by Naravardhana close of the 5th or beginning of the 6th century A.D. It was only under the king of Thaneswar Prabhakarvardhana (father of Harshavardhana), the Pushyabhuti dynasty flourished and he assumed the title of Maharajadiraj. Harshavardhana succeeded the throne in 606 A.D in the age of sixteen after his elder brother Rajyavardhana was killed by Sasanka while going to suppress the kings of Gauda and Malawa. Harsha was also known as Sakalottarapathanatha. After ascending the throne he rescued his sister Rajyasri and moved towards Sasanka with an unsuccessful attempt.
In his second expedition, after the death of Sasanka, he conquered Magadha and Sasanka’s Empire. He established his capital at Kannauj. With a great army, Harshavardhana extended his kingdom from Punjab to northern Orissa and from Himalayas to the bank of Narmada. He also tried to extend his kingdom beyond Narmada but failed to do so. He faced a defeat at the hands of Pulakesin II, Chalukya king of Badami. The period of Harsha is well documented in Harshacharitra written by Banabhatta. The writings of Chinese scholar Hiuen-Tsang who visited Harsha’s court also provide the great detail about Harsha and India of Harsha’s time. After the death of Harshavardhana in 647 A.D. the Empire died with him.
The revenues of Harsha’s Empire were divided into four parts. The first part was spent on the king. The second part was spent on scholars. The third part was spent on public servants and the fourth part was spent on religious activities.
Socio-Economic and Cultural Setup:
According to Hiuen-Tsang who visited Harsha’s kingdom, there was an existence of caste system in Indian society. Also there was rise of several mixed and sub-castes. Hiuen-Tsang also mentions the existence of untouchables and outcastes. The position of women had also declined considerably during this period. Yet women were not regarded as inferior to men. In the religious field, the ascendancy of Brahmanism brought about the decline of Buddhism. Vaishnavism, Shaivism and Jainism were also practiced. Harsha was considered to be liberal and secular king. The chief source of revenue was the one-sixth produce of land. Few other taxes were imposed on ports, ferries etc. Return from royal lands, mines and tributes from vassals filled royal coffers were also the revenue sources.
There were two important personalities during the reign of Harshavardhana.
a) Banabhatta was a poet in Harsha’s court. He wrote ‘Harshacharita’ a biography of Harshavardhan with detailed account of the events leading upto his rise of power. It was written in Sanskrit language. He also wrote a drama called ‘Kadambri’.
b) Hiuen-Tsang a Chinese pilgrim visited Harsha’s court, wrote a book ‘Shi-Yu-Ki’ (the world of the west) after going back to China. Along with Harshavardhan Hiuen-Tsang in his book also praised two other kings- Narsimha Varman of Pallava dynasty and Pulkesin II of Chalukya dynasty. He came through central Asia via Afghanistan and went back through the same route. Hiuen-Tsang studied at Nalanda and later taught there only for nine years.
- Harshavardhan was great patron of learning and he himself wrote three Sanskrit plays-Nagananda, Ratnavali and Priyadarshika.
- He built many rest houses and hospitals.
- Hiuen-Tsang mentioned about the grand assembly held at Kannauj which was attended by twenty kings, four thousand Buddhist monks and about three thousand Jains and Brahmans.
- Harsha also used to organize a religious festival called Mahamoksha Harishad at Prayaga (Allahabad), at the end of every five years. Here he performed the ceremony of Dana.
Harshvardhana divides his income in four equal parts namely- for royal family, for army and administration, for religious endowments and for poor’s and destitute.
- According to Hiuen-Tsang, Harshvardhana had an efficient government. He also mentioned that families were not registered and there was no forced labour. However he complained about robbery which was a regular affair.
- The defeat of Harshavardhana in the hands of Pulakesin II is mentioned on Aihole inscription (Karnataka). He was the first North Indian king to be defeated by South Indian King.
- Vardhan dynasty was established around late fifth or early sixth century A.D. by Naravardhana.
- Harshavardhan took throne in 606 A.D at the age of sixteen after the death of his elder brother Rajyavardhana.
- Harsha rescued his sister Rajyasri who was made prisoner by Sasanka after killing her husband Grahavarman.
- Hiuen-Tsang visited Harsha’s court in 631 A.D.
- Harsha was defeated by Pulakesin II in 637 A.D.
- Grand assembly held at Kannauj for Hiuen-Tsang in 643 A.D.
- Harsha died in 647 A.D.