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Vardhanas

Vardhanas

  • The down fall of Gupta Empire  in the mid-6th century CE, formed into a number of small independent kingdoms in North India. selfstudyhistory.com
    • The Huns established their supremacy over the Punjab and certain other parts of central India.
    • The northern and western regions of India into the hands of a dozen or more feudatories. Gradually, one of them, Prabhakar Vardhana, the ruler of Thanesar, who belonged to the Pushabhukti family, extended his control over all other feudatories.
  • Prabhakara Vardhana founded the Vardhana dynasty.
    • An important ruling family to gain prominence after the fall of the Gupta was that of the Pushyabhutis who had their capital at Thanesar (Thanesvara in Kurukshetra, Haryana).
    • The dynasty became influential with the accession of Prabhakarvardhana, who was able to defeat the Hunas and strengthen his position in the regions of Punjab and Haryana.
    • Some scholars suggests that in early days they were probably a feudatory the Maukhari king of Kannauj.
    • Prabhakara’s daughter Rajyashri married the Maukhari ruler Grahavarman .
      • As a result of this marriage, Prabhakara’s political status increased significantly.
      • He assumed the imperial title Parama-bhattaraka Maharajadhiraja. (“the one to whom the other kings bow because of his valour and affection”).
    • Prabhakarvardhana was succeeded by his elder son Rajyavardhana (Harsha’s brother).
    • Prabhakara Vardhana had two sons called Rajya Vardhana & Harsha Vardhana and one daughter, Rajyashri.
    • After the death of the founder, his son Rajya Vardhana succeeded him.
  • According to the Harshacharita, after Prabhakarvardhana’s death, Devagupta, the king of Malava attacked Kannauj, supported by Shashanka, the ruler of Gauda. Devagupta killed Graha-Varman, and captured Rajyashri.
    • Bana does not mention this king of Malva, but historians speculate him to be a ruler of the Later Gupta dynasty.
  • Harsha’s brother, Rajya Vardhana, then the king at Thanesar, could not accept this affront on his family.
    • So he marched against Devagupta and defeated him.  But he was treacherously killed by Shashanka (ruler of the Gauda kingdom) who had joined the battle as an ally of Devgupta.
  • Harshavardhana then ascended the throne of both Thanesar and Kannauj (in AD 606). He was only sixteen years of age at that time.
    • He rescued his sister Rajyashri, just as she was going to commit sati.
    • He united the two important kingdoms Kannauj and Thaneshwar and shifted the capital to Kannauj.
    • Shashanka continued to rule Gauda with frequent attacks from Harsha which he is known to have faced bravely.
  • Shashanka was famous for destroying the Buddhist stupas of Bengal and persecuting Buddhists.
    • Major contemporary sources of information on his life, including copperplates of his rivals Harsha and Bhaskaravarman, the accounts of Banabhatta (Harshacharita) who was a bard in the court of Harsha, and of the Chinese monk Xuanzang, and also coins minted in Shashanka’s reign.

Harshavardhana (606 A.D – 647 A.D):

  • Harsha ruled over the northern parts of India for a period 41 years. He united the two kingdoms of Thanesar (Kurukshetra) and Kannauj and transferred his Capital from Thanesar to Kannauj.
  • His reign is comparatively well documented, thanks to his court poet Bana in Harschacharita and by Chinese traveller Xuanzang (Hieun Tsang) in Si-Yu-Ki.
    • Xuanzang wrote a full description of his travels in India.
    • Bana composed an account of Harsha’s rise to power in Harshacharitha, the first historical poetic work in Sanskrit language.

Military campaign and expansion:

  • Harsha waged many wars.
    • He also brought the five Indies-eastern Punjab (The present-day Haryana), Kannauj, Bengal, Bihar and Orissa- under his control.
    • He conquered Vallabhi King Dhruvasena of Gujarat. He also conquered Ganjam, a part of the modern Orissa state.
    • He also tried with his efforts to bring South India under his rule.
  • Hiuen -Tsang’s record, Banabhatta’s narrative and the Chalukya records all claimed Harsha as the Lord of Northern India or Sakalottarpatha natha i.e. the sovereign of the entire uttarapatha,
  • Hiuen-Tsang’s account also says that Harsha was the “Lord of Five Indias”.
    • These five Indias are equivalent to Punjab, Kanauj (in U.P.), Bihar, Bengal and Orissa.
    • Thus Harsha was not the Lord of whole North India. Kashmir, Western Punjab, Sindh, Gujrat, Rajputana, Nepal, Eastern and Northern Bengal, Kamrupa or Assam remained out of his sway. Yet his vast empire from Punjab to Orissa was indeed an evidence of his military genius.
    • Hiuen Tsang mentions that India of that period had about seventy kingdoms.
  • His long run of victories was only broken when he was defeated by the south Indian Emperor Pulakesi II of the Chalukya dynasty.

Extent of his empire:

  • Between 606 and 612 A.D. he brought most of northern India (Punjab, Uttara Pradesh, Bengal, Bihar and Orissa) under his control, and assumed the title of Siladitya.
  • Hiuen Tsang described that Harsha conquered the entire country within the first six years of his reign.
    • However, the statement is not to be taken seriously.
    • Harsha did not occupy even North India completely nor his wars and conquests were limited to the first six years of his reign.
  • Harsha first invaded Bengal. The campaign was not very successful because evidences prove that Sasanka continued to rule over the greater part of Bengal and Orissa till 637 A.D. It was only after the death of Sasanka that Harsha succeeded in his mission.
  • Harsha also exercised influence on the kings of Jalandhar and perhaps Kashmir.
  • In western India, Harsha’s early relations with the rulers of Valabhi were cordial but soon Malwa became the bone of contention between the two and so he had to turn his attention to western India.
    • It resulted in the defeat of the Valabhi ruler, Dhruvasena II and his acceptance of the position of a feudatory vassal.
    • His hostilities with Valabhis ended through a matrimonial alliance.
  • Opinions differ about Harsha conquest of Nepal.
    • An era mentioned in the Nepalese inscription can be taken as era of Harsha. So, we may say that He probably subdued Nepal.
  • Harsha was also successful in his eastern campaign.
    • A Chinese account mentions him as the king of Magadha in 641 A.D.
    • The king of Kamarupa, Bhaskaravarman, was his subordinate ally. He helped in his campaign of Bengal and other parts of eastern India. It helped him gaining control over Bengal and Orissa.
  • He was victorious against the ruler of Sindh in the north-west as well.
  • In the south the Narmada was the boundary beyond which Pulakesin II was ruling.
  • Dr K.M. Panikkar describes that the empire of Harsha extended from Kamrupa in the East to Kashmir in the West and from the Himalayas in the North to the Vindhyas in the South.
    • But Dr R.C. Majumdar has strongly refuted this view. He has maintained that the empire of Harsha included only Eastern Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal and Orissa, though his power was recognised by his neighbouring states in North India as was the case with the rulers of Vallabhi, Kutch and Kamrupa.
    • However, Kashmir, Western Punjab, Sindh, Rajputana, Nepal and Kamrupa were certainly independent states in his days. Yet, Harsha has been regarded as a powerful emperor who, certainly, succeeded in providing unity to a large part of Northern India after the fall of the great Guptas.
  • Thus, extent of his empire was most of the Northern and central India. While actual control was exercised in most of Gangetic plain, rulers in peripheral areas were ruling as feudal vassals. His relation with neighbours depended on political necessities of his empire.

Can Harsha be called a great conqueror:

  • Banabhatta and Hiuen Tsang have described Harsha as one of the greatest rulers of Northern India.
  • Many modern historians have accepted their version and have, therefore, concluded that “Harsha was the last great empire-builder of Hindu period and his death marked the end of all successful attempts to restore the political unity of India.”
  • But Dr R.C. Majumdar, though recognising him as a powerful ruler of Northern India, is not prepared to accept him as one of the last empire-builders and Hindu rulers of India.
    • In the North, the empire of Lalitaditva in Kashmir, Yasovarman at Kannauj and of Ganga and Karma of Kalachuri dynasty were not less than the empire of Harsha in extension of territories while those of Pala and Pratihara dynasties were certainly more extensive and proved more duraole than the empire of Harsha.
    • In the South, the Rastrakuta kings Dhruva and Govinda III, the Chalukaya ruler Vikramaditya VI and the Chola ruler Rajendra, certainly, established far extensive empires than the empire of Harsha.
    • Thus, according to Dr R.C. Majumdar, it would be an act of injustice to Indian history if we accept Harsha as the last empire-builder of Hindu-India.
    • However, Dr Majumdar accepts many virtues of Harsha. He writes, “While, therefore, it would be idle to pretend that Harsha Vardhan’s reign constitutes a distinctive age or marks an epoch in Indian history in any way, we cannot withhold our tribute of praise and admiration which is due to him as a great ruler, a brave military leader, a patron of arts and letters, and a men of noble impulses and distinguished personality.
      • The opinion which has been expressed by D Majumdar is based on facts and therefore, is now widely accepted.
  • Harsha was a brave ruler and possessed qualities of a practical statesman which helped him in establishing quite an extensive empire in Northern India.
    • He succeeded his brother when the kingdom of Thaneswar was one of some other equally powerful kingdoms of Northern India and its position was quite critical.
    • On the North-West and West, he had enemy states while in the East Deva Gupta of Malwa and Sasanka of Bengal had succeeded in killing Graha Varman, his brother-in-law and Rajya Vardhana, his brother and had occupied Kannauj. Under these conditions, his own kingdom was not secure.
    • But, Harsha took bold steps and pursued an aggressive policy.
      • He entered into diplomatic alliance with Bhaskara Varman, ruler of Kamrupa, occupied Kannauj and finally succeeded in occupying Bihar, Orissa and West Bengal.
      • He fought against the ruler of Vallabhi which ultimately resulted in a matrimonial alliance between the two and helped in strengthening his position in the North.
    • However, his effort to penetrate in the Deccan was checked by Pulakesin II, the Chalukya king of the South.
    • Yet, Harsha succeeded in creating a most powerful and extensive empire of his age in Northern India and we have no hesitation in accepting him as one of the empire- builders of Northern India.
  • Harsha was a capable commander but certainly no military genius or a great conqueror.
    • He did not succeed much against Sasanka and, probably, was defeated by Pulakesin II while the friendship of Vallabhi ruler was bargained by entering into matrimonial alliance with him.
    • Therefore, Harsha cannot be regarded as a successful military commander though, of course, he was respected by his neighbouring rulers, both friends and foes, who certainly did not dare to attack his kingdom but, on the contrary, decided to befriend him.
  • Therefore, Harsha has been regarded as a capable ruler and has been assigned a respectable place among the rulers of ancient India. Yet, he was neither the last great empire-builder nor a great emperor of ancient India.
    • Harsha failed to provide that unity and emotional integrity to his empire which could succeed in the establishment of a great and enduring empire in India. Therefore, his empire broke up soon after his death.
    • Thus, the success of Harsha was personal and proved short-lived which proves that he lacked the qualities which would have succeeded in providing an enduring progress and unity to India. That is why he fails to be ranked among the great emperors of India though, of course, he has been rightly accepted as one of the great rulers of his own times.
The relations of Harsha with the contemporary rulers:
  • Sasanka:
    • The Gauda king Sasanka and the Malava king Devagupta had created trouble by killing Grahavarman, the Maukhari king and the brother-in-law of Harsha. They captured Kannauj.
    • Rajyavardhana, Harsha’s elder brother died in the enemy camp.
    • After rescuing his sister and Grahavarman’s widowed queen Rajyasri, Harsha was offered the throne by the ministers of the Maukharis since they had no successor.
      • Harsha now occupied the throne of Kannauj and, thus, began to rule over both the territories of the Pushyabhutis and the Maukharis.
    • He now took a vow to take revenge on Sasanka and invaded those kingdoms in the east which had refused allegiance to him.
      • However, neither Banabhatta nor Xuan Zang give any information regarding the actual conflict between Sasanka and Harsha.
    • Besides, Xuan Zang mentions that some years before 637-638 CE, Sasanka had cut down the Bodhi tree at Gaya. It was a sacred symbol of the Buddhists and Sasanka could not have performed such an act unless he was in occupation of the Gaya region.
      • He also indicated that Harsha conquered North, eastern and southern Odisha by 643 CE.
      • Thus, it appears that Harsha could not achieve any success in eastern India before the death of Sasanka in c. 637 CE.
  • Bhaskaravarman:
    • Bhaskaravarman was the ruler of Kamarupa. Harsha had friendly relation with Him.
    • Alliance with the king of Assam (Kamrupa), Bhaskaravarman gave Harsha the help and cooperation of a powerful ruler both in his external and internal affairs.
    • The Harsha Charita of Bana gives a detailed account of  a Bhaskaravarman sent an envoy, Hangsavega’s meeting with Harsha. Plying him with gifts and praise, the diplomat was able to effect an offensive and defensive alliance between the two kings.
    • This alliance help Harsha in his conflict against the alliance of the Gauda and East Malwa.
    • The armies of Harsha and Bhaskara Varman, king of Kamrupa, attacked Bengal after the death of Sasanka and succeeded.
      • East Bengal was occupied by Bhaskara Varman and West Bengal was occupied by Harsha.
  • Kingdoms of Valabhi and Gurjara:
    • The kingdom of Valabhi in Saurashtra was being ruled by the Maitrakas who were vassals of the Guptas. The relationship between Harsha and the Maitraka dynasty is a little complicated.
      • In the inscription of the Gurjara kings of Broach they claimed to have protected the Valabhi ruler who was overpowered by Harsha. This proves that there was a conflict between Harshavardhana and the Kingdom of Valabhi.
    • Originally the Latas (southern Gujarat), Malavas and the Gurjaras occupied a strategic position in between the kingdoms of Harsha and that of Chalukya Pulakesin II situated to the north and south of the Narmada respectively.
      • Thus, both Harsha and Pulakesin would attempt to bring three of them under control.
      • Pulakesin II claims these three rulers as his vassals in his Aihole inscription.
    • However, when Harsha occupied the Valabhi kingdom, peace must have been settled due to a matrimonial alliance between the two.
      • Thus, Dhruvasena II Baladitya of the Maitraka dynasty married the daughter of Harsha and became his ally.
      • According to some scholars, Dr. R. C. Majumdar, for instance, thinks that Harshavardhana gave his daughter to the King of Valabhi and thus the hostilities between the two, ended in sweet relationship and Valabhi had not to accept Harsha’s suzerainty.
      • Dr. D. C. Sarkar, on the other hand, maintains that the King of Valabhi had to recognise Harsha as his suzerain.
      • According to some other scholars Harsha did not fare well in his conflict with the King of Valabhi and that was why he had to enter into a matrimonial alliance with him.
    • This alliance, thus, weaned away Dhruvasena II from Pulakesin’s influence. This might have been the reason for the celebrated conflict between Harsha and Pulakesin II.
  • Pulakesin II:
    • The kingdoms of Harsha and Pulakesin II touched on the border of the river Narmada.
      • In his Aihole inscription Pulakesin says that Harsha’s joy (harsha) melted away through fear when his elephants fell in battle.
    • From the account of Xuan Zang it appears that Harsha took the initiative but could not achieve any success against Pulakesin.
    • The claim is made by the successors of Pulakesin II that he acquired the title of Parameshvara by defeating sakalottarapathesvara (Harsha).
  • Ruler of Sind:
    • Sind was hostile to Prabhakaravardhan also. Conflict followed during Harsha period. Harsha is said to have been victorious against the ruler of Sindh. However, it has been doubtful.
      • It is suggested by Dr. Raychaudhuri that Harsha might have led a campaign against Sind but Hiuen T-Sang leaves no doubt that Sind was a strong and independent Kingdom even when he visited it.
      • Bana is also not very explicit about the outcome of the conflict for he rhetorically remarks that Harsha pounded the King of Sindhu and appropriated his fortune.
  • He impressed his might on Kashmir due to certain border disputes.
    • Harsha established his control over Kashmir and its ruler sent tributes to him.
  • Opinions differ about Harsha conquest of Nepal.
    • An era mentioned in the Nepalese inscription can be taken as era of Harsha. So, we may say that He probably subdued Nepal.
  • However, the kingdoms of Sind, Kashmir and Nepal remained independent of the influence of Harsha.
  • Harsha had maintained diplomatic intercourse with the Chinese empire.
    • A Brahmin envoy whom he had sent to the Tang Emperor of China, Tai Tsung of the Tang Dynasty in 641 A.D. returned in 643 A.D. accompanied by a Chinese mission bearing a reply to Harsha’s dispatch.
    • Envoys from each country visited each other nation after diplomatic relations established first time by Xuanzang who spent eight years in the dominions of Harsha.
    • Harsha’s diplomatic relations with China were probably meant as a counter poise to the friendship that Pulakeshi II, his southern rival cultivated with the king of Persia about which we are informed by the Arab historian Tabari.

Administrative Units:

  • The administration of Harsha was similar to the Gupta Empire.
  • Bhukti:
    • The kingdom was divided into various provinces or divisions called Bhukti.
  • Visayas: 
    • They were further divided into Visayas corresponding to modern districts.
  • Pathaka:
    • It was a smaller territorial term perhaps of the size of the present day taluk.
  • Grama:
    • The lowest unit of administration was Grama.

Administration of Harsha:

  • The Administration of Harsha Vardhana was despotic and in oriental despotism the sovereign is the centre of the State. Hence the success in administration depends on his ability and benevolence.
  • Theoretically Harsha ruled as an autocrat. But in practice his rule was one of enlighten despotism.
  • As the ministers and the village community possessed great power they served as a check on the royal autocracy. “People lived in peace and happiness. The king made charities to the poor.” Yet other evidences showed that though Harsha’s administration was superb and very efficient, it was not so efficient and all pervasive as that of the Mauryas or that of the Guptas.

(a) Civil Administration:

  • According to Hiuen Tsang, the day of Harsha was divided into three periods.
    • One was devoted to the State affairs and two for religious works.
  • The civil administration of Harsha Vardhana is highly praised.
    • The king personally supervised the administration instead of relying upon the bureaucrats.
    • He constantly toured the provinces and administered justice to all.
    • Rural and urban areas received his equal attention.
    • During this tour in the manner of state procession with music and drums he used to punish the guilty and made contact with the people.
  • He suspended his inspection work during the rainy season on account of the difficulties of weather and communications.
    • He got prepared temporary buildings for his stay while on tour.
    • When the king halted at any place, the people could interview him and put before him their grievances.
  • Hiuen-Tsang told us that during the reign of Harshavardhana there were very few criminals and rebel.
    • Whoever offended the law was strictly punished.
    • The principal mode of punishment were mainly mutilation of limbs, banishment into the jungles, imprisonment etc. Trial by ordeal was also in vogue.

(b) Military Administration:

  • Harsha had a well-organised standing army.
    • It had elephants, camels, cavalry and infantry.
    • Cavalry and elephants had separate commanders.
    • The head of the cavalry was called Brihadasvavaru.
  • Hiuen Tsang says that Harsha had 60,000 elephant’s corps and a cavalry of one lakh.
  • Bana says that horses were purchased from places like Kamboja, Sindh, Persia, etc.

(c) Ministers and Advisors:

  • He was assisted by a council of ministers, known as the Mantri-Parisad, who advises him in all important affairs concerning the state and on matters of foreign policy.
    • There were host of other high and low officers to manage the day to day governmental activities. Harsha Charita of Banabhatta provides us with a list of them. The superior civil service was manned by Kumaramatyas or Cadet Ministers.
  • Other ministers and officials were
    • Mahasandhivigrahika (supreme minister for peace and war),
    • Mahapratihara (head of the palace-guards),
    • Simhanda (commander-in-chief),
    • Mahabaladhikrita (commander of the forces),
    • Mahakshapatalike (chief accounts-officer),
    • Nyayakarnika (judicial-officer),
    • Bhandagaradhikrita (superintendent of stores), Kayastha (scribe), etc.
  • According to Hiuen Tsang Harsha was just in his administration and punctilious in the discharge of his duties.
    • Society was not choked by a grinding bureaucracy or overburdened by a heavy system of taxation.
    • Families were not registered and individuals were not subject to forced labour contribution.
  • Most of the senior officers enjoyed the income of particular areas of land as remuneration of their posts as they were not paid in cash.
    • But the lower grade officers were paid in cash or in land.
    • Thus we find the trace of Jaigirdari system of feudalism in Harsha’s administrative system.

Economy under Harsha:

  • Economy under Harsha’s reign became growingly more self-sufficient and feudal in nature as trade and commerce receded.
    • This is reflected in the decline of trade centres, paucity of coins and near complete disappearance of trader and merchant guilds. (though initially the economy of northern India prospered and his capital at Kanauj became a great centre of trade.)
  • Diminishing trade and commerce affected handicraft and other industries through want of demand; and affected agriculture although not directly.
  • As a result of the lack of trade, the need to produce agricultural goods for sale externally vanished and people began producing amounts adequate enough to meet their own local needs. This marked the rise of self-sufficiency in the village economy and the growing dependence on agriculture.

(a) Feudalism:

  • When scholars mention Indian feudalism, the kingdom of Harsha is usually taken as a typical state.
  • Insight into Harsha’s state is given by the discovery of a set of plates of copper, dating back to 632 CE, recording the gift of land by a military officer under Harsha’s service to two Brahmins.
  • Donations before Harsha’s reign had come from either a royal prince or one of the provincial governors.
  • In the copper plates, the first dignitary mentioned was a Mahasamanta, who ruled a territory adjoining Kanauj.
    • But, the donor of the land was a military servant of Kanauj, and the execution of the grant came under Harsha’s accounts.
    • This leads to the conclusion that the Mahasamantas were in fact independent rulers with kingdoms near the core area of an overlord – here, King Harsha – and they paid tribute and provided military assistance to him.
    • Though they may have obtained their territories through inheritance or conquest, there were some who served kings and got grants in the form of land to support their official duties; a process similar to distribution of feudal grants in Europe.

(b) Finance:

  • The main source of income of the State was land-revenue; it was 1/6th of the agricultural produce. There were other taxes also, but they were light and the State’s demands were few.
  • The income of the State was spent under four categories:
    • for the expenses of the state and ceremonial worship;
    • for the advancement of ministers;
    • for rewarding the clever, the learned and the talented;
    • for acquiring religious merit by spending on the heretics.

(c) Harsha’s Coins:

  • A gold coin found has been attributed to Harsha. It has on it the legend Harshadeva with the figure of a horseman.
    • Harsha is called Harshadeva not only in inscriptions but also in Bana’s Harshacharitha.
  • About 284 silver coins with the name ‘Sri Siladitya’ was discovered.

Patron of scholars:

  • Harsha is credited with the composition of three Sanskrit dramas- Ratnavali, Priyadarsika and Nagananda.
    • In addition, he is credited with two significant poems on Buddhist themes –
      • Ashtamahasricaityastotra (Praise to Eight Grand Chaityas)
      • Suprabhatastotra (Laud to Morning)
      • A tract on grammatical gender, the Linganusasanam.
    • Harsha’s authorship has been disputed on several occasions, but no decisive contrary arguments have been proposed.
  • In his court lived the famous literary figure, Bana who wrote Kadambari and Harshacharita.
  • Bana’s brother-in-law, Mayura was a celebrated poet whose work was Surya Sataka, Arya Muktamala and Mayurastaka.
  • Other scholars like Haridatta and Jayasena were patronized by him.
  • Bana mentions more than once that a group of skilled painters painted auspicious scenes.
  • The iconoclastic zeal of the early Muslim invaders has left us not even a trace of these paintings nor the monuments erected by Harsha.

Religion:

  • Prabhakaravardhana was a devotee of the Sun and is said to have offered daily a bunch of red lotuses in a ruby bowl. Rajyavardhana was a Buddhist.
  • Harsha was a devotee of Shiva, Surya and Buddha.
    • He is stated to have erected costly temples for the service of all the three personalities.
    • Harsha’s conversion to Buddhism is attributed by Bana to the influence of the Buddhist ascetic Divakaramitra who lived in the hermitage in the Vindhya forests.
    • It was however  Chinese Pilgrim Xuanzang (Hiuen Tsang) who definitely gave both Harsha and his sister their faith in Mahayana Buddhism by his discourse on its doctrines and exposure of the deficiency of Hinayana at the very first meeting between Harsha and him.
    • According to the Xuanzang, who visited his kingdom in 636, Harsha built numerous stupas in the name of Buddha.
  • His approach to religion is evident in his celebrated play Nagananda.
    • The play’s theme is based on the Jataka tale of the Bodhisattva Jimutavahana, but Harsha introduces the Goddess Gauri, as the saviour of Jimutavahana, a feature not found in the Jataka.
  • Harsha’s enthusiasm for his new faith led him at once to organize the grand assembly at Kanauj to give publicity to the masterly treatise of Hiuen Tsang on Mahayana and establish its supremacy over all other creeds of the times.
    • Harsha is said to have prohibited even more rigorously than Ashoka, animal slaughter and meat eating.
  • At Nalanda he erected a bronze temple, 100 feet high, and along the highway built rest houses and hospitals.

The Kanauj Assembly:

  • In 643 A.D. Harsha summoned an assembly at Kanauj.
  • The object of the assembly was to take advantage of the presence of Hiuen Tsang to spread the teachings of Buddha in the country.
  • A large number of kings attended the assembly.
    • There were 3000 Mahayana and Hinayana Buddhist monks, 3000 Brahmanas and Nigrodhas and about 1000 Buddhist scholars from the Nalanda University.
  • The meeting was presided by Hiuen Tsang where a topic on Mahayana Buddhism was discussed.
    • The meeting lasted for 23 days. On that occasion a monastery and shrine was erected on the banks of Ganga and a golden image of Buddha was kept in a tower, 100 feet high.
    • A similar but smaller image, three feet in height was carried every day in a procession which was joined by 20 Rajas and 300 elephants.
    • Harsha personally washed the image and carried it in the procession.
  • At the conclusion of the assembly, Harsha in recognition to the scholarship of Hiuen Tsang offered him gold, silver, jewels and other valuables including garments. But Hiuen Tsang refused to accept them.
    • Then Harsha placing Hiuen Tsang on an elephant led him in a procession proclaiming that he had established the standard of Mahayana doctrines overthrowing all opposing ones.

The Prayag Assembly:

  • After the assembly at Kanauj, Harsha, accompanied by Hiuen Tsang, proceeded to Prayag (Allahabad) at the confluence of the Ganga and Yamuna (and Sarswati) where he used to celebrate another solemn religious festival at the end of every five years (Kumbha Mela). This assembly was the sixth of its kind during his reign.
  • Harsha summoned his tributary kings, the king of Vallabhi and Bhaskar Varma, the king of Assam; followers of different sects, Shramanas, Nirgranthas, the poor and the orphan and the needy to attend this assembly.
    • On the first day the image of Buddha was installed in a thatched building followed by the distribution of precious articles and clothing of the first quality.
    • On the second day they installed the image of Aditya (Sun-god) and distributed in charity precious things and clothing to half the amount of the previous day.
    • On the third day they installed the image of Shiva followed by distribution of charity and gifts as on the day before.
  • This assembly lasted for three months.

Society during the time of Harsha:

  • The Chinese traveller Hiuen Tsang who visited India during the rule of Harsha has left valuable accounts of the observation which he had made on the society of those times.
  • According to Hieun Tsang people were known for their honesty, courage and love for learning.
    • They were not deceitful or treacherous in their conduct and were faithful in their oaths and promises.
    • They were known for their personal hygiene and used to clean the floors of their houses with cow-dung and strewn it with season flowers.
    • They bathed daily and smeared their bodies with scented unguents like sandal and saffron.
    • They used to wash their hands before meals and fragments and remains of meals were not served up again.

The Nalanda University:

  • Not only from China but also from countries like Mongolia, Korea, Japan, Java, Tiber, Ceylon, etc., students came to India to study in her various universities including the University of Nalanda.
  • Nalanda was an educational institute of higher learning or post-graduate studies.
  • Here education was not confined to religious subjects nor it was connected with one religion or sect. Hindu and Buddhist literature in all their branches and other subjects like logic, grammar, medicine, Sankhya philosophy, occult science, etc. were studied.
  • The university campus had many halls and buildings with storeys where about 8500 students and 1500 teachers lived. The students were provided with free education, food and lodging.
  • The working hours of the university was of eight hours and nearly one hundred lectures were delivered everyday by many teachers, the famous of whom were Dharmapal (who was the Kulapati of Nalanda when Hiuen Tsang was a student there), Arya Deva, Chandrakirti, Chandragomin, Gunamati, Prabhamitra, Buddhakirti, Jinamitra, Sumatisena, etc.
  • Students seeking admission here had to pass a tough entrance examination and only about 20 percent could succeed in clearing it.
  • The university had a big library comprising of three buildings known as ‘Ratna-Sagar’, ‘Ratnadadhi’ and ‘Ratna Ranjaka’.
  • Chinese traveller Yijing notes that revenues from 200 villages (as opposed to 100 in Xuanzang’s time).
  • Towards the end of twelfth century, Muslim invaders set fire to the buildings of the university, burnt the valuable library and killed the monks, teachers and students. The glorious career of a university famous the world over came to an end.
    • Afghan military chief Bakhtiyar Khilji was the man who destroyed the great universities at Nalanda, Vikramsila and Odantapuri.

Harsha’s Personality (characteristics of both Samudragupta and Ashoka):

  • At a very young age Harsha took up the reigns of the kingdom and established a fairly large empire.
    • His was a multi-dimensional personality.
    • Not only was he a good administrator but also known for his political shrewdness.
    • The way he made the ruler of Vallabhi into his permanent ally by giving his daughter in marriage to him is evidenced to it.
  • Similarly though the ruler of Gauda, Sasanka was responsible for the death of his brother, Rajyavardhana, Harsha after rescuing his sister did not took a hasty decision to take on Sasanka given the precarious situation in which he had come to power after the death of his father, mother, brother and brother-in-law.
  • Because of his ideas of administration and military achievements some historian like Dr. R. K. Mookerjee had declared that as a conqueror and administrator, as one solicitous of the well-being of his subjects Harsha combined in himself piety of Ashoka and the valour of Samudragupta.
    • Both the ruler brought most of north India under their control and showed their might to the far flung rulers and reducing them to level of feudal vassal.
  • Harsha having the piety of Ashoka:
    • Hiuen Tsang described that Harsha conquered the entire country within the first six years of his reign. And then peacefully ruled for next 30 years without raising single arm.
      • Ashoka had also involved in military activities only in early part of his rule and after the war of Kalinga he gave up war.
    • Like Ashoka, Harsha too patronized Buddhism. Both are said to have converted to Buddhism and adopt its ideas.
    • Yuan Chiang states that Harsha banned animal slaughter for food.
      • Ashoka, as per his major  Rock Edict I, also had Prohibited animal slaughter and Baned festive gatherings and killings of animals.
    • Yuan Chiang further states that he erected several thousand stupas on the banks of the Ganges river, and built well-maintained hospices for travellers and poor people on highways across India.
      • Ashoka also said to have constructed 84000 stupas and several Viharas for traveling monks.
    • Religious assemblies were organised during both rulers. e.g,
      • Third Buddhist council was held in 250 BC at Pataliputra under the patronage of King Asoka and under the presidency of Moggaliputta Tissa.
      • Harsha organised 2 major assemblies at Kannauj and Prayag under presidency of Yuan Chiang.
    • Both kings are known for their generosity and made donations to different religious order.
    • Both Harsha and Ashoka, though being converted to Buddhism were tolerant to other religions.
    • For both Ashoka and Harsha the welfare of his subjects as his foremost duty and, except the rainy season, they constantly travelled over different parts of his empire to see things with his own eyes.
      • Both were known for there benevolent nature.
      • Kautilya states that “In the happiness of his subjects lies the king’s happiness, in their welfare lays his welfare”.
      • Yuan Chiang also states that “Harsha even forgets to take meals or sleep for doing Public Welfare activities”.
    • Like Ashoka. Harsha also maintained friendly relations with some of his neighbors like Bhaskarvarman of Kamrupa and with ruler of Jalandhar.
      • Ashoka also maintained friendly relations with his neighbors like Chola, Pandyas, Satyapura and Keralputra Kingdoms of South.
    • Both Ashoka and Harsha had diplomatic relation with foreign rulers. While Ashoka sent envoys to Greek ruler, ceylon etc Harsha sent envoy to Chinese ruler.
  • However, Some Historian like K. M. Panikkar states that there is no similarity between them except of the most superficial kind. The only point of comparison is perhaps that they were both patrons of Buddhism. He says that Harsha was a military monarch for greater part of his reign. Some other points which raises doubts on such comparisons are:
    • There are evidences that Harsha was involved in war even in his later part of his regime. E.g. the control over Bengal was gained only after the death of Sasanka in 637 CE.
    • Yuan Chiang states that Harsha built several monasteries and stupas. But it is not proved archaeologically.
    • Ashoka concept of righteous conquest is not found during Harsha.
  • Harsha having the valour of Samudragupta:
    • Like Samudragupta, Harsha is also known for his military conquests and victories.
    • Both had waged many wars, followed a policy of expansion and aggression and established a vast empire.
    • Harsha attempted to revive the imperial memories of Samudragupta and sought to unite the Northern and Southern India under one sculpture—in vain as the sequel proved.
    • The Allahabad pillar inscription gives information about Samudragupta’s conquests and great qualities. Similarly Banabhat and Yuan Tsang given information about Harsha conquests.
  • However, this comparison with Samudragupta has been  questioned by many scholars:
    • Harsha’s ascended the throne of both Thanesar and Kannauj. This placed him in a privileged position for achieving his goals of empire building.
    • Harsha was a capable commander but certainly no military genius or a great conqueror.
      • He did not succeed much against Sasanka and, probably, was defeated by Pulakesin II while the friendship of Vallabhi ruler was bargained by entering into matrimonial alliance with him.
      • On the other hand, Samudragupta got military success even in southern part of the country.
    • The success of Harsha was personal and proved short-lived which proves that he lacked the qualities which would have succeeded in providing an enduring progress and unity to India.
    • One the other hand, Samudragupta created an enduring empire which lasted for more than 150 years
  • Therefore, the historians like Dr. R. C. Majumdar has questioned such view. Though considering him as combination of the piety of Ashoka and the valour of Samudragupta is questionable, Harsha was without doubt an enlightened monarch and deserves to be considered among India’s greatest rulers of his time.
  • Indeed Harsha was the last long line of the Hindu rulers who worked to build and organized a powerful state for the progress of humanity.
    • But it will be wrong to think that Harsha made the last attempt for political unity of India.
    • After his death we saw the rise and fall of several empires.
  • Yet we cannot underestimate his contribution as it was he who made the small Thaneswar a big power in Indian history.
    • He was indeed a great scholar and equally a great administrator.
    • His two admirers Banabhatta and Hiuen-Tsang spoke very high of him. It is but natural that they tried to paint him with exaggeration.
  • Ancient Indian education and literature flourished during the time of the Harsha’s rule.
    • Harsha distinguished himself equally in the arts of peace and war.
    • He was a great patron of learning. He himself was a good author and the three Sanskrit plays “Nagananda, Ratnavali and Priyadarshika” exhibit his literary skill. Harsha put in verse the story of Bodhisattva Jimuta-Vahana. But Jaydeva also praised Harsha as a poet.
  • From Hiuen-Tsang we came to know that Harsha used to spend one-fourth of his revenue for patronizing the scholars.
    • It is true that he patronized the University of Nalanda the greatest centre of Buddhist learning’s.
    • He had a literary circle in his court of which we know the name of Banabhatta, the famous author of Kadambari and Harsha Charita.
    • There were also other stars like Mayura, Divakara, Jaysena and the Chinese scholar Hiuen-Tsang.
  • He was famous for his religious catholicity, benevolence and charities. At the royal lodge every day rations were provided for 1000 Buddhists monks and 500 Brahmanas.
  • Even if we accept the documents of Banabhatta and Hiuen-Tsang with a grain of salt, we cannot in any way underrate the impact and contribution of Harshavardhana over the early history of India.

Was Harsha last Hindu Emperor?

  • He is considered the last Hindu emperor of Northern India but it can be said that neither he was follower of only Hinduism nor he was Emperor as he ruler only part of north India.
  • He gave patronage to any other religion.

Aftermath:

  • Harsha died in 647, having ruled for 41 years. His empire died with him, disintegrating rapidly into small states.
  • In 648, Chinese Emperor Taizong of Tang Dynasty sent Wang Xuance to India in response to Harshavardhana sending an ambassador to China.
    • However once in India he discovered Harshavardhana had died and the new king (Arunashwa, the minister of Harsha, who usupred the throne) attacked Wang and his 30 mounted subordinates.
    • This led to Wang Xuance escaping to Tibet and raising the army of over Nepalese mounted infantry and Tibetan infantry and attack on the Indian state.
    • The success of this attack won Xuance the prestigious title of the “Grand Master for the Closing Court.” He also secured a reported Buddhist relic for China.
  • Chinese history texts tends to over-play Wang’s influence at ending the Harsha Empire.
  • Neither Bana’s nor Xuanzang’s account gives any details of this period.

Q. “Harsha owes his greatness largely not to any real achievements but to formulate descriptions by two famous men.” Discuss.

Ans:

Harshavardhana ascended the throne in AD 606. He was only sixteen years of age at that time. Still he proved himself to be a great warrior and an able administrator. He brought Punjab, Uttara Pradesh, Bengal, Bihar and Orissa under his control. He shifted his capital from Thanesar to Kanauj and is described as the lord of the north (sakalauttarapathanatha).

Sources of Harsha period:
  • Harshacarita written by his court poet Banabhatta.
    • Banabhatta also wrote Kadambari. But he could not complete it, Bhusanabhatta, his son , completed it.
  • Si-Yu-Ki, the travel account of the Chinese Buddhist pilgrim Yuan Chiang, who visited India during AD 629–644.
  • Inscriptions belonging to his regime:
    • Banskhera inscription.
    • Madhuban plate inscription.
    • Nalanda inscriptions and
    • Sonepat inscriptions
  • Three romantic comedy works by Harsha himself:
    • Ratnavali,
    • Priyadarshika,
    • Nagananda.
Among the above sources, The works Banabhatta and Yuan Chiang is considered as most important one.
The achievements of Harsha Which made him a great ruler:
  • Territorial expansion:
    • In his first expedition Harsha drove away Shashanka from Kannauj who had occupied it after murder­ing Harsha’s brother.
      • Though it is not clear if he could avenge the murder of his brother.
      • He rescued his sister, who was on the verge of committing sati. Kanauj subsequently passed into the hands of the Pushyabhutis.
    • Between 606 and 612 A.D. he brought most of northern India ( Punjab, Uttara Pradesh, Bengal, Bihar and Orissa) under his control, and assumed the title of Siladitya.
    • Harsha’s early relations with the rulers of Valabhi were cordial but soon Malwa became the bone of contention between the two and so he had to turn his attention to western India.
      • It resulted in the defeat of the Valabhi ruler, Dhruvasena II and his acceptance of the position of a feudatory vassal.
      • His hostilities with Valabhis ended through a matrimonial alliance.
    • Harsha was success­ful in his eastern campaign.
      • A Chinese account mentions him as the king of Magadha in 641 A.D.
      • The king of Kamarupa, Bhaskaravarman, was his ally in his campaign of Bengal and other parts of eastern India.
    • He was victorious against the ruler of Sindh in the north-west as well.
    • He impressed his might on Kashmir too.
    • Opinions differ about Harsha conquest of Nepal.
      • An era mentioned in the Nepalese inscription can be taken as era of Harsha. So, we may say that He probably subdued Nepal.
    • Thus, after decline of Gupta empire there was vacuum created which was filled by Harsha but putting all the regional power under one central control.
    • In about 6 years (606 -612 AD) he became the Lord paramount of the north i.e sakalauttarapathanatha.
    • He not only extended his empire by conquest or force but by alliance and friendship also. e.g:
      • Allegiance with the king of Kamarupa, Bhaskaravarman, during his campaign against Bengal ruler.
      • Matrimonial alliance with Valabhis.
    • However, he suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of the Western Chalukya ruler Pulakeshin II.
  • Administration:
    • Harsha governed his empire on the same lines as the Guptas did, except that his administration had become more feudal and decentralised. i.e the Nature of Polity was a confederate type of monarchy. direct administration was less extensive than the sphere of influence.
      • The accepted title of a great king in Harsha’s days was Parma-Bhattaraka Mahesvara and Maharajadhiraja which implied the existence of lesser kings with considerable authority within the empire.
      • The major part of the territory conquered by Harsha was ruled by such feudatories. Independent in the internal administration of their territories, they generally owed allegiance to a suzerain.
      • The leading feudatories of Harsha were Bhaskaravarman of Kamarupa, Dhruvabhatta of Valabhi, Purnavarman of Magadha and Udita of Jalandhara.
      • Bana speaks of samanta, mahasamanta, pradhana samanta etc.
    • The King was the centre of administration, helped by the crown prince.
      • Other princes were ap­pointed as Viceroys of provinces.
      • Ministers of various types and advisers assisted the king in the administration.
      • During Harsha’s time high officers i.e., Daussadha Sadhnika, Pramatara, Rajasthaniya, Uparika and Vishayapati, etc., were not paid in cash for their services to the state, but were compen­sated by way of offering one-fourth of the royal revenues.
    • The Local administration was, for all practical purpose. independent of the center. The officer in charge of the district (ayukta) and the provincial official (kumaramatya) were the link between local administration and the center.
      • Village came under the control of rural bodies consisting of the headman and the village elders.
    • Harsha maintained contact with public opinion both through his officers and by his own tours, which gave him the opportunity of supervising the administration.
  • He maintained relation with china also and their exchange of envoy between the two countries.
  • Religious:
    • Earlier he was probably a Saiva by faith. Later he converted to Buddhism after completion of his conquests. Later on, he changed over to Mahayana Buddhism under the influence of Hiuen Tsang.
      • His land grant inscriptions describe him as Parama-maheshvara (supreme devotee of Shiva), and his play Nagananda is dedicated to Shiva’s consort Gauri. His court poet Bana also describes him as a Shaivite.
      • According to the Chinese Buddhist traveler Yuan Chiang, Harsha was a devout Buddhist. It shows, his conversion to Buddhism would have happened, if at all, in the later part of his life.
    • He was always tolerant to other religion. He built charitable institutions did charity with generosity.
      • Even Yuan Chiang states that Harsha patronised scholars of all religions, not just Buddhist monks.
    • Harsha used to organised great religious festivals.
      • Yuan Chiang mentions 2 great assemblies at Prayagraj and Kannauj.
      • At these assemblies global scholars were invited and bestowed charitable alms on them.
  • Patron to art and learning:
    • He is said to have written a number of books but three of them the Dramas Ratanavali, Priyadarshika, and Nagarnanda, all in Sanskrit, occupy a high place in the world of Sanskrit literature.
      • He also wrote a work on grammar as well.
    • He was also a skilled Calligraphist.
      • His signature is found in Banskhera copper plate inscription.
    • He had interest in poetry as well. The inscription of Banskhera and Madhuban plates of which former is attested by his own composition are evidently his own composition.
      • Jayadeva,12th-century poet and author of the Gita Govinda, names Harsha along with Bhasa and Kalidasa.
    • He patronized brilliant philosophers, poets, dramatists and artists.
      • He allotted one fourth of the revenue from the crown lands for rewarding the learned.
      • He gave liberally to the great seat of education, namely, the University of Nalanda.
      • Harsha had a large number of Scholars in his court:
        • Bana was the chief among them and he wrote Harshacharita and Kadambari.
        • Haridatta was also patronised by Harsha.
        • Jayasena was famous for his learning in various subjects and Harsha offered him the revenues of eight villages in Orissa. However, the offer was declined by Jayasena.
        • Mayura the author of Mayurashataka, and
        • Bhartrihari, the author of Vakapadiya, a grammarian, also lived at the court of Harsha.
    • Banabhatta tells that Harsha was a lute player and had wide learning.
    • From the Harsha’s time started the formation of regional cultural units such as Bengal, Gujarat Maharashtra, Orissa, Rajasthan, etc
  • Yuan Chiang states that Harsha banned animal slaughter for food, and built monasteries at the places visited by Gautama Buddha. He erected several thousand stupas on the banks of the Ganges river, and built well-maintained hospices for travellers and poor people on highways across India.
  • The death of Harsha in AD 647 was followed by a political confusion that continued up to the eighth century when the Gurjara Pratiharas, the Rajput rulers, emerged as a big force in northern India.
However, greatness of Harsha has been questioned by many. His greatness is due to Banabhatta and Yuan Chiang work to a great extent:
  • Harsha could become great because of availability of sources in the form of accounts of Banbhatta and Yuan Chiang which was not for other rulers of the time. Apart from mere availability of account, Harsha also became great because both of them have also exaggerated the account about Harsha.
  • Banabhatta:
    • Being court poet of Harsha and a childhood friend, so he was mainly focused to emphasis achievements of Harsha and was silent about his failure.
      • For example, he didn’t mention about the check that Harsha met with while his campaign towards Deccan by Chalukya ruler Pulakesin II, the Chalukya ruler, on the banks of river Narmada.
      • His Harshacharita is only source in matter related to Shanshanka, While Harsha attacked Gauda but it is not clear that whether he could avenge murder of his brother.
    • Though it mentioned that police system was very efficient and There was fine system of spies who turned throughout the state and secretly detected the crimes. There was serious problem with law and order.
      • Even Yuan Chiang himself was robbed more than once.
    • Many scholars accused him that he is biased in his writing and portray a dubious account of life of his patron in Harshacharita. Bana has exaggerated many the facts and displayed lavished Harsha’s Political skills and praised him too generously.
      • Bana’s focus on his poetic skill also led to exaggeration.
  • Yuan Chiang:
    • His writing gives us information about social, political, economic, religious and administrative aspect of life of India.
    • Though his writing is more trustworthy as it was written after he went back to china and thus was too secure to be affected by the reactions his account might produce in India, still, it is affected at some places:
      • by author’s preconceived ideas on the government and administration,
      • his early scholastic training,
      • the code of behavior of his country and
      • His favour for Buddhism.
    • Given that Harsha turned out to be a great patron of Buddhism it was normal that Yuan Chiang mainly highlight positive aspects Harsha period.
    • Many of his account looks exaggerated:
      • he says that people are not subjected to forced labour, taxes are light, there is no infliction of corporal punishment.
        • However, forced labour (vishti), Various kind of taxes etc were typical features of post-Gupta period society.
      • He also exaggerates by saying that Harsha was indefatigable in the discharge of his administrative routine, forgot sleep and food in his devotion to good work and spent most of the years in making tours of inspection throughout his dominions.
      • He said that during Prayagraj assembly, Harsha gave everything in devotion even his clothes.
    • He tells us that Harsha maintained a huge army. The number of foot soldiers was 5 lakh. The cavalry consisted of one lakh of horsemen. The elephant was roughly 60,000.
      • This was clearly an exaggerated account which is clearer from the fact that Harsha was defeated by Pulakesin II.
      • Further, in quasi-feudal political system of this period, the existence of such a huge standing army is questioned.
    • Harsha tolerance to other religion is also questioned:
      • At 1st assembly at Kannauj, he published doctrine of Mahayana. There was attempt on his life probably by his theological rival. In reaction, Harsha killed manny Brahmanas.
      • This event shows the existence of religious conflict.
    • Yuan Chiang claim of Harsha building many stupas is not substantiated archaeologically.
  • Other limitations:
    • Society was divided on the line of varna system.
      • This period witnessed the ascendancy of varnasramadharma.
    • Status of Shudras and Vaishyas was depressed.
    • The position of women seems to have suffered a further decline during this period. Remarriage of widows was not permitted particularly among the higher varnas. Sati and dowry was prevalent during this period.
    • Economically, there was decline in trade and urban life. The guilds of artisans and merchants also began to lose their earlier importance.
      • No evidence shows that Harsha took any step to revive the trade and commerce.

No doubt, Harsha was great and a competent ruler. in fact, after Harsha’s rule whole north India was disintegrated into regional kingdoms and a power vacuum was created which was to be filled only after invasion of Turks in India. It was Harsha who could maintain a central authority in almost entire north India. Banabhatta’s and Yuan Chiang’s account though filled with praises and even exaggeration, are most valuable sources of that period.

Q. “Harsha was a patron of learning and the arts, and had various talents himself.” Comment.

Ans:

Harshavardhana was noted for his pursuit and patronage of art and learning.

Various talents in Harsha

  • Banabhatta in his Harshacharitra credit him with poetic skill and originality and wide learning.
  • Bana tells us that the king was an accomplished lute player.
  • As regards too his own compositions, I-tsing says that Harsha authored the drama Nagananda with story of the Bodhisattva Jimutvahana who surrendered himself in place of a Naga. We are also told that Harsha had this drama set to music and had it performed by a band accompanied by dancing and acting and thus popularized it in his time.
  • Historians of Sanskrit literature credit him with the authorship of two other dramas, Ratnavali (‘Necklace’) and Priyadarshika (‘Gracious Lady’) together with a gramatical work. Ratnavali and Priyadarshika are romantic comedies
  • Jayadeva, the author of Gita-Govinda, names Harsha along with Bhasa and Kalidasa as one of his illustrious predecessor.
  • Harsha was also a skilled calligraphist as his signature is seen in the Banskhera Copper Plate inscription, the last line of which consists of the sign-manual of the king written in elaborately ornamented character.
  • The inscriptions on both the Banskhera and Madhuban plates are evidently Harsha’s own compositions. They contain metrical stanzas which represent some fine poetry.
  • There are also two short poems on Buddhistic content which are also attributed to Harsha. One of these called the Suprabhatastotra, a hymn in praise of the Buddha, mentions Harsha’s name in the colophon while the other, entitled Astamahasrichaityasamskritastotra, a hym to the Eight Great Buddhist Shrines, preserved in Chinese, is attributed by Hieun Tsang to an Indian king designated in Chinese as ‘Sun of Virtue’ i.e. Siladitya, the title by which Harsha was known.

Harsha as a patron of art and learning

  • A lover and devotee of learning himself, Harsha was one one of the best patron of men of letters.
  • His court was always filled with brilliant philosophers, poets, dramatists and artists.
  • As Banabhatta puts it, ‘his learning at once suggests helping the learned.’ Banabhatta himself, the author of Harshacharitra and Kadambari, was the most distinguished of his literary proteges. A inscription mentions one Haridatta raised to eminence by Harsha. Mayura, and Matanga Divakara were among the accomplished writers associated with his court
  • Harsha wanted to settle in his province of Orissa one of the most learned men of the times, Jayasena by name, who had become the admiration of the age by the range of his knowledge, including subjects like Hetu-vidya, Sabdavidya, Yoga-sastra, four vedas, astronomyy, geography, medicine and arithmetic. Harsha offered him the revenues of eight villages in Orissa. However, the offer was declined by Jayasena.
  • The Chinese traveller I-tsing who visited India after Harsha’s death records that the King Siladitya (Harsha) was exceedingly fond of literature and at one time called for poetic compositions by the literary men of his court, whereupon it was found that they had presented their sovereign with 500 poems dealing with the popular theme of the times, the Jatakas or previous births of the Buddha.
  • It is said that Harsha’s policy was that fourth of the revenue from the crown land should be spent on rewarding intellectuals and another fourth on gifts to the various sects.
  • He gave liberally to the great seat of education, namely, the University of Nalanda.
  • He built charitable institutions did charity with generosity. He organized the grand assembly at Kanauj to give publicity to the masterly treatise of Hieun Tsang on Mahayana and became a great patron of Buddhism.
  • He is said to be erected several Buddhist Stupas on the bank of the Ganga and a number of monasteries at the sacred places of Buddhists.

Q.  Hiuen Tsang has said—”Harshavardhana was impartial in justice and regular in doing his “duties. He even forgets to take meals or sleep for doing Public Welfare activities”. Comment.

Ans:

Hiuen Tsang was a Chinese pilgrim who visited Harsha’s kingdom and patronized by him. He wrote a travelogue Si-Yu-Ki which is an important source of Harsha’s period.

In above statement, Hiuen Tsang has praised the Harsha’s emphasis on justice and and his dedication towards his duty. Being the king, Harsha was the central figure of the entire administrative machinery. He was the supreme lawmaker, the chief executive, and the fountain of justice and he did his best to deliver his services.

Harshavardhana was impartial in justice:

  • The penal system under Harsha was a curious mixture of both the Maurya severity and the Gupta leniency. It may be noted that Harsha consolidated his power by putting down anarchical conditions under petty rulers. He had to win the people’s confidence by a forceful penal system. The Penal Code, therefore, was made severe, though applied with moderation.
    • Treason against the state and the king was considered a great crime and traitors were punished by life-long imprisonment.
    • For crimes against the society, for immorality, and for anti-social conduct, the offenders suffered mutilation of limbs, or deportation to an outside country, or into wild forests
    • Ordeals by fire, water etc. were sometimes resorted to for determining the innocence or guilt of an accused person.
    • Unlike the Maurya penal system, force or tortures were not used in the time of Harsha to obtain confession of their crimes from the criminals.
    • On the whole, Harsha’s administration created fear in the mind of men by a thorough penal code; though in practice, the punishments were not turned into a cruel system.
  • One instance of impartial justice was seen at the time of religions assembly at kanauj, some Brahmana tried to kill him. The king punished the ring leader and banished all ramaining 500 Brahman as to the frontiers of India while he respects and always present gifts to Brahmanas.
  • His sense of justice also extended to other species as he banned animal slaughter for food.
Harshavardhana being regular in doing his duties:
  • He was a benevolent ruler and personally supervised the administration in both urban and rural areas.
  • He was also very hard working. Hiuen Tsang writes, “He was indefatigable and the day was too short for him.” He regarded the welfare of his subjects as his foremost duty and, except the rainy season, constantly travelled over different parts of his empire to see things with his own eyes. During these official tours, Harsha heard and addressed the grievance of the people.
  • When such tours were not necessary, Harsha kept himself busy in his capital attending to government work.
  • Hiuen Tsang says that Harsha divided his day into three parts, one of which was kept exclusively for state affairs.
  • He established benevolent institutions for the benefit of travelers, the poor, and the sick throughout his empire.
  • Hiuen Tsang also described that Harsha constructed Punvashalas on the side of every highway within his empire wherein provision was made for free food, stay, etc. for the travellers and free medical care for the poor ones.
  • Banabhatta has also praised very much the public welfare works of Harsha.
However, the statement that he even forgets to take meals or sleep for doing Public Welfare activities seems to be an exaggeration.
  • However, in spite of the severity of laws and punishments, there was no peace and security within the empire as compared to the Gupta period. The Chinese traveller Hiuen Tsang himself was looted and deprived of his belongings several times while travelling through the country.
  • Many scholars have doubt on credibility of Hiuen Tsang’s excessive praise for Harsha. It is also visible in other statements like
    • “He forgot sleep and food in his devotion to duty”. Harsha remained so devoted to his works that it became difficult even for kings to get an interview with him.
    • These statements seems to be an exaggeration.
Thus, it can be concluded that no doubt Harsha was committed to his duty and the idea of Justice. He succeeded in providing a fairly good administration to his subjects. However, it remained inferior to that of Guptas and the Mauryas. He succeeded neither in providing public services to his subjects as compared to the Mauryas nor in maintaining law and order as compared to the Guptas. Yet, he was a kind and generous king and his subjects were happy and prosperous.

Q. “Of all the events that had a singular being on the history of India, Harsha’s death in 647 A.D. is significant.” Why? 

  • Harsha was the last and greatest ruler of Vardhana dynasty. He ruled between 606 CE to 647 CE. He brought almost all north India under him and was described as the lord of the North (Sakalauttarapathanatha). His death is considered to be uniquely significance in history of India, as it led to creation of political vacuum in North India.
  • Harsha’s death in 647 A.D. is significant:
    • Political significance:
      • Harsha didn’t leave a successor. After his death, his empire disintegrated and north India was parcelled out in many states.
      • After Harsha’s peaceful rule there was a dramatic change in political equilibrium and tendencies towards political unification virtually disappeared and rivalries and jealousies among the ruling class became regular feature of the Indian politics.
      • Harsha had made Kannauj his capital. This glory of Kannauj of being the capital of north India(no more Pataliputra) remained even after his death. But now, all eminent rulers of India contested among themselves either to make Kannauj their capital or keep their control over it.
        • e.g. tripartite struggle between Gurjara-Pratiharas, Rashtrakutas  and Palas to control Kannauj.
      • various Rajput dynasties emerged in North and central India. The frequent fighting was the constant feature of Rajput polity.
      • The scramble for power, frequent fighting  led to chaos and Lawlessness prevailing throughout North India. This in turn led to weakening of weakening of Indigenous powers of India ultimately leading to muslim invasions.
        • Harsha during his lifetime kept check on the foreign invasions (Huns invasion).
      • Thus, many modern historians have concluded that “Harsha was the last great empire-builder of Hindu period and his death marked the end of all successful attempts to restore the political unity of India.”
    • Societal significance: (Write basic features of early medieval society)
      • Feudalism got further boost. Hierarchical system based on land and land rights was the main feature of the society.
      • Cast system further strengthened.
        • Various new castes emerged based on birth, profession, residence etc.
          • Even sub-castes within a caste emerged based on regions, gotra, branch of vedic learning,  etc.
          • The Kshatriyas also multiplied as a result of the assimilation of foreigners and other local people.
          • Kayasthas, engaged as clerks of the administration, now regarded as new Jati.
        • The idea of untouchability was gaining ground during this period.
      • The traditional professions related to four ‘Varnas’ were not rigorously followed during this period.
        • There were Brahmans, who did not habitually confine their activity to studying, teaching, worshipping, and the performance of priestly functions.
      • Position of Women further degraded.
        • Widow remarriage was rare.
        • Sati system was prevalent.
        • There was restrictions of their access to education.
        • However, there was no Purdah system in the society.
      • Rich people, especially the different Rajput chiefs led a very luxurious life. They were fond of wine and opium and were inclined towards pleasure and dancing. These habits sometimes led to laziness and affected the society adversely.
    • On religious front:
      • Buddhism and Jainism further declined. Brahmanism acquired the center space.
      • New sects like Tantrism, vajrayana etc emerged.
      • The superstitious believes crept the Hindu society and rationality took a backseat.
        • It is amply reflected in Al-Beruni’s writing.
      • Rise of Bhakti movement is another feature of Post-Harsha religious life.
    • The rise in superstitious believe also adversely affected the long traditions of development of science and technology. There is now prominent innovation and development of science and technology in post-Harsha period till the arrival of Turks.
  • However, most of above developments processes were already undergoing even before and during Harsha period. And yes, the impact of his death was only limited to North India only.
    • Dr R.C. Majumdar writes, “It would be quite wrong to assume, as many have done, that Harsha was the last great emmpire- builder in the Hindu period.” He argues that many empires rose and fell both in the North and the South in the next five centuries after the death of Harsha.

      • In the North, the empire of Lalitaditva in Kashmir, Yasovarman at Kannauj and of Ganga and Karma of Kalachuri dynasty were not less than the empire of Harsha in extension of territories while those of Pala and Pratihara dynasties were certainly more extensive and proved more durable than the empire of Harsha.
      • In the South, the Rastrakuta kings Dhruva and Govinda III, the Chalukaya ruler Vikramaditya VI and the Chola ruler Rajendra, certainly, established far extensive empires than the empire of Harsha.
      • Thus, according to Dr R.C. Majumdar, it would be an act of injustice to Indian history if we accept Harsha as the last empire-builder of Hindu-India. However, Dr Majumdar accepts many virtues of Harsha.
      • Majumdar further writes, “While, therefore, it would be idle to pretend that Harsha Vardhan’s reign constitutes a distinctive age or marks an epoch in Indian history in any way, we cannot withhold our tribute of praise and admiration which is due to him as a great ruler, a brave military leader, a patron of arts and letters, and a men of noble impulses and distinguished personality.” The opinion which has been expressed by D Majumdar is based on facts and therefore, is now widely accepted.
    • Further the greatness of Harsh, to a great extent, was because of availability of sources in the form of accounts of Banbhatta and Yuan Chiang which was not for other rulers of the time. Apart from mere availability of account, Harsha also became great because both of them have also exaggerated the account about Harsha.
    • After decline of Gupta, already there was rise of regional kingdoms in North India. Feudalism was already in progress due to practice of land grant.
      • Even during Harsha period, there was no complete unity even in north North India. The real central authority was exercised in a limited area and regional rulers ruled there area with almost complete autonomy.
    • The cultural theme of History continued to progress in post Harsha period, as it did before Harsha’s death.
      • Both Nagara and Dravida style of architecture had it’s origin in pre-Harsha time. Both continue to flourish in post-Harsha period. e.g. khajuraho temples of Chandela’s, Odisha style of temples, Chola temples etc were constructed in post-Harsha period.
    • On religious front, Pala rulers of eastern India continued to patronize Buddhism in Post-Harsha period.
    • Economic aspects of life continued to be dominated by the agriculture and urbanization and trade was declining as during Harsha period.
    • Prevalent caste system, low position of women etc had it’s origin in pre-Harsha period and existed during Harsha period.
  • Thus, there is no doubt that the death of Harsha was a significant event in History. But it can’t be taken to an extent that his reign constituted a distinctive age or marks and marks an epoch in India History. Almost all the aspects of history continued as it had been progressing in Pre-Harsha and during Harsha period.

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