(Last Updated on : 20-02-2019)
One of the most important Indian emperors of the 7th century, Harshavardhana was a Buddhist
convert in a Hindu
era, whose reign seemed to mark the transition from the ancient
to the medieval
period, when decentralized regional empires continually struggled for dominance. Harshavardhana was a part of the Pushyabhuti dynasty also known as the Vardhana dynasty
, which came into prominence after the downfall of the Gupta Empire
Ascension of Harshavardhana
The second son of Prabhakaravardhana, the king of Thaneswar, Harshavardhana was crowned at the age of 16 years after the assassination of his elder brother, Rajyavardhana. It was King Shashanka
, the ruler of Gauda
in Eastern Bengal
who murdered Rajyavardhana. After the unfortunate death of his brother, Harshavardhana marched against the treacherous king of Gauda and killed Shashanka in a battle.
Reign of Harshavardhana
Harshavardhana ruled over the entire North India from 606 to 647 CE and united the small republics from Punjab
to Central India
. Under the rule of Harshavardhana, there was a vast unified empire which underwent considerable expansion and grew to include the Punjab, Rajasthan
, Bengal, Odisha
and the entire Indo-Gangetic plain
north of the Narmada River
. He proved himself to be an able administrator and presided over a kingdom where peace and prosperity prevailed for most of the time.
Harshavardhanas capital Kannauj
, modern day Uttar Pradesh
, attracted many artists, poets
, religious leaders
and scholars who travelled from far and wide. Harshas Sanskrit
court poet Banabhatta
authored his biography, Harshacharita
, where he described Harshas association with Thaneswar, besides mentioning the defence wall, a moat and the palace with a two-storied Dhavalagriha or a white mansion.
Under his administration the economy became increasingly self-sufficient and feudal in nature. Over a period of time trade started declining and commerce receded. The diminishing trade and commerce also affected other industries
and thus the people grew increasingly dependent upon agriculture
. As the king Harshavardhana maintained good relations with Emperor Taizong of the Tang Dynasty in China. Chinese pilgrim Xuanzang spent several years in India and following his visit, Harshavardhana sent a mission to China which established the first diplomatic relations between China and India.
Harshavardhana tried to extend his empire to the southern peninsula of India but was defeated Pulakeshin II
of the Chalukyan dynasty
, who proposed a treaty with Harshavardhana. The main term of treaty was that the Narmada River was designated as the border between the Chalukyan and the Vardhana Empire.
Religion followed by Harshavardhana
Harshavardhanas ancestors were sun
worshippers, but Harshavardhana was a Shaivite
. He was an ardent devotee of Lord Shiva
, in fact in the Sanskrit play
Nagananda which was written by Harshavardhana himself was dedicated to Lord Shivas consort Goddess Parvati
. According to the Chinese Buddhist traveller Xuanzang, Harsha became a devout Buddhist at some point in his life. Harshavardhana built hospices and ordered his men to maintain them well. These hospices served as shelters to the poor and to the religious travellers across India. He also organized a religious assembly called Moksha
, which was organized once in every 5 years.
Harshavardhana was also renowned for organizing a grand Buddhist convocation in 643 CE. This convocation was held at Kannauj and it was attended by hundreds of pilgrims and 20 kings who had come from far and wide. Xuanzang also describes a 21-day religious festival
organized by Harsha in Kannauj. During this festival, Harshavardhana and his subordinate kings performed daily rituals before a life-sized golden statue of the Buddha
Harshavardhana built many stupas
and viharas and forbade the slaughter of all sorts of creatures. He passed away on about 647 AD. After his death there was an utter chaos and disorder in Northern India
. He died without any heir and his entire kingdom was divided into many parts and various rulers took charge of those parts. He made endowments to the University of Nalanda
, where 2 seals
of Harsha have been found there.