Vardhanas – HarshaVardhana History Study Materials


Vardhanas – Harshavardhana History Study Materials

The Vardhanas (AD 550-647)

As the Gupta Empire disintegrated, the kingdom of Sthameshwar emerged as a seat of power in the region of Kanauj (earlier known as Thanes war). The first known king of this kingdom was Pushyabhuti. Their forefathers were never full kings as they were subordinates or appointed officials under the Imperial Guptas or the Hunas. Many records testify the rise of the Vardhanas to power and how they flourislied under Prabhakaravardhana and his two sons, Rajyavardhana and Harshavardhana.

Harshavardhana (AD 606-646)

            Harshavardhana, the younger son of Prabhakaravardhana, belonged to the Pushyabhuti family who ruled in Thanesar. north of Delhi. He ascended the throne in ad 606 in difficult circumstances at a very young age of 16 years. Prabhakaravardhana had a daughter, Rajyashree, who was married to Grihavarman. the Maukhan King of Kanauj. After Prabhakaravardhana’s death, the King of Malwa.

Devaguptu, attacked Kanauj, killed Grihavarmun and look Rajyashree as a prisoner. His elder brother, Rajyavardhana, who had succeeded his father to the throne, attacked the Malwa king to restore Kanauj and free his sister. Rajyavardhana was killed in the battle and it was later llarshavardhana who defeated Devagupta and his allies and reclaimed Kanauj. As his brother-in-law Grihavarman had no heir to the Kanauj throne, Harshavardhana merged it to his kingdom. He later moved his capital from Sthaneshwar to Kanauj. He established a strong empire conquering Bengal, Malwa, eastern Rajasthan and the entire Gangetic pluin

up to Assam, Under Harshavardhana, North India was reunited briefly, but neither the Guptas nor Harsha controlled a centralised state, and their administrative styles rested on the collaboration of regional and local officials for administering their rule rather than on centrally appointed personnel. However, he was successful in consolidating all the North Indian feudal states, which had emerged because of land grants after the fall of the Gupta Empire, under his sovereignty. By the end of his reign Harsha’s Empire extended from the Brahmaputra to eastern Punjab, from the Himalayas to the Narmada.


            Harshucharita by Bana and biography of the Chinese traveller Huien Tsang by Heuili throw light on Harshavardhana’s reign. Harshavardhan personally supervised all the business in the state. The empire was divided into provinces called bhuktis and put under the charge of governors called the bhuktis.

            Bhuktis were further sub-divided into districts called visayas, tehsils or pathaks and villages or gramas. A large army was maintained during his reign. The tax levied by him was a convenient one-sixth of the produce.

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            The main sources of income were land taxes and revenue paid by the kings whose land had been conquered. Soldiers were also sent by them when the emperor had to fight a war.


            Harshavardhana was initially a Hindu but later on converted to Buddhism. He was, however, tolerant towards

all religions. He patronised both Hinduism and Buddhism. He held many religious conferences and among them the most significant were the Kanauj Conference and the Prayaga Conference in which all religions were given equal importance. He sent a Brahmin priest as an ambassador to the Chinese king and welcomed Wand-Huc-Itsi, an ambassador of the Chinese king, in his court.


             There was no purdah system, but sati was prevalent. The government used to adequately support all public welfare causes and adopted measures to keep people happy. Hospitals and nest houses were built in good numbers to help the sick and poor people and travellers. The Nalanda University was patronised by the king and a fixed amount of funds were deposited with the university administrators to carry out the proper functioning of the university.


             Harshavardhana had profound interest in literature and administration. A prominent Chinese traveller, Hiuen Tsang. who stayed in India during the reign of Harshavardhana wrote a detailed account on India as it was at that time. He described Indians as hot tempered but honest and observed that there was no death sentence. He studied at Nalanda, a Buddhist university and a famous centre of Buddhism, which flourished during Harshavardhana’s period. He stayed in India for 8 years (ad 635-643). Another Chinese traveller, Yuangchang, wrote Si-yu-ki (a record of the western kingdom), which also discented Harsha’s reign. Banabhatfa, one of the four poets of Harshavardhana wrote Hanrshacharita a biography of the king. The history of Harshavardhana is reconstructed from a study of these two works. Buna also wrote Kadambri and Chandishataka but Harshacharita is the most prominent of them all.

Haridatta, Siddhasana,Mathangadivakara.

            Mayura (author of Suryaihathakam) and Bhartruhari (who wrote Hhartruharishatakam) are prominent literary figures of this era. The latter penned various dramas, prominent among them are Tarnavalli, Naiftinandan and Priyadarshika, which were considered to be of very high standard by the Chinese traveller I-tsing, in his accounts on India. I-tsing had visited India sometime after the death of Harsha.

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