TN History Textbook: Harshvardhana (606 - 647 A.D) Notes | Study Must Read (Old & New) NCERTs for IAS Preparation - UPSC

UPSC: TN History Textbook: Harshvardhana (606 - 647 A.D) Notes | Study Must Read (Old & New) NCERTs for IAS Preparation - UPSC

The document TN History Textbook: Harshvardhana (606 - 647 A.D) Notes | Study Must Read (Old & New) NCERTs for IAS Preparation - UPSC is a part of the UPSC Course Must Read (Old & New) NCERTs for IAS Preparation.
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 Page 1


113
The decline of the Gupta Empire was followed by a period of
political disorder and disunity in North India. It was only in the
beginning of the seventh century A.D. that Harshvardhana
succeeded in establishing a larger kingdom in north India.
The chief sources for tracing the history of Harsha and his
times are the Harshacharita written by Bana and the Travel accounts
of Hiuen Tsang. Bana was the court poet of Harsha. Hiuen Tsang
was the Chinese traveler who visited India in the seventh century
A.D. Besides these two sources, the dramas written by Harsha,
namely Ratnavali, Nagananda and Priyardarsika also provide
useful information. The Madhuben plate inscription and the Sonpat
inscription are also helpful to know the chronology of Harsha. The
Banskhera inscription contains the signature of Harsha.
Early Life of Harsha
The founder of the family of Harsha was Pushyabhuti.
Pushyabhutis were the feudatories of the Guptas. They called
LESSON 10
HARSHAVARDHANA (606 – 647 A.D.)
Learning Objectives
Students will acquire knowledge about
1. Sources for the study of Harsha.
2. The early life of Harsha.
3. The military activities of Harsha.
4. Harsha’s contribution to Buddhism.
5. Nalanda University.
          
  
       
    
       
        
      
Page 2


113
The decline of the Gupta Empire was followed by a period of
political disorder and disunity in North India. It was only in the
beginning of the seventh century A.D. that Harshvardhana
succeeded in establishing a larger kingdom in north India.
The chief sources for tracing the history of Harsha and his
times are the Harshacharita written by Bana and the Travel accounts
of Hiuen Tsang. Bana was the court poet of Harsha. Hiuen Tsang
was the Chinese traveler who visited India in the seventh century
A.D. Besides these two sources, the dramas written by Harsha,
namely Ratnavali, Nagananda and Priyardarsika also provide
useful information. The Madhuben plate inscription and the Sonpat
inscription are also helpful to know the chronology of Harsha. The
Banskhera inscription contains the signature of Harsha.
Early Life of Harsha
The founder of the family of Harsha was Pushyabhuti.
Pushyabhutis were the feudatories of the Guptas. They called
LESSON 10
HARSHAVARDHANA (606 – 647 A.D.)
Learning Objectives
Students will acquire knowledge about
1. Sources for the study of Harsha.
2. The early life of Harsha.
3. The military activities of Harsha.
4. Harsha’s contribution to Buddhism.
5. Nalanda University.
          
  
       
    
       
        
      
115 114
Harsha led another campaign against the ruler of Sindh, which
was an independent kingdom. But, it is doubtful whether his Sind
campaign was a successful one. Nepal had accepted Harsha’s
overlordship. Harsha established his control over Kashmir and its
ruler sent tributes to him. He also maintained cordial relations with
Bhaskaravarman, the ruler of Assam. Harsha’s last military campaign
was against the kingdom of Kalinga in Orissa and it was a success.
Thus Harsha established his hold over the whole of north
India. The regions modern Rajasthan, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar
and Orissa were under his direct control. But his sphere of influence
was much more extensive. The peripheral states such as Kashmir,
Sind, Valabhi and Kamarupa acknowledged his sovereignty.
Harsha and Buddhism
In his early life, Harsha was a devout
Saiva but later he became an ardent Hinayana
Buddhist. Hiuen Tsang converted him to
Mahayana Buddhism. Harsha prohibited the
use of animal food in his kingdom and punished
those who kill any living being. He erected
thousands of stupas and established travellers’
rests all over his kingdom. He also erected
monasteries at the sacred places of Buddhists.
Once in five years he convened a gathering of
representatives of all religions and honoured
them with gifts and costly presents. He brought the Buddhist monks
together frequently to discuss and examine the Buddhist doctrine.
Kanauj Assembly
Harsha organized a religious assembly at Kanauj to honour
the Chinese pilgrim Hiuen Tsang towards the close of his reign. He
invited representatives of all religious sects. It was attended by 20
HIUEN TSANG 
themselves Vardhanas. After the Hun invasions they assumed
independence. The first important king of Pushyabhuti dynasty was
Prabhakaravardhana. His capital was Thaneswar, north of Delhi.
He assumed the title Maharajadhiraja and Paramabhattaraka.
After Prabhakaravardhana’s death, his elder son
Rajyavardhana came to the throne. He had to face problems right
from the time of his accession. His sister, Rajyasri had married the
Maukhari ruler called Grihavarman. The ruler of Malwa, Devagupta
in league with Sasanka, the ruler of Bengal had killed Grihavarman.
Immediately on hearing this news, Rajyavardhana marched against
the king of Malwa and routed his army. But before he could return
to his capital, he was treacherously murdered by Sasanka. In the
meantime, Rajyasri escaped into forests. Harsha now succeeded
his brother at Thaneswar. His first responsibility was to rescue his
sister and to avenge the killings of his brother and brother-in-law.
He first rescued his sister when she was about to immolate herself.
Harsha’s Military Conquests
In his first expedition, Harsha drove out Sasanka from Kanauj.
He made Kanauj his new capital. This made him the most powerful
ruler of north India. Harsha fought against Dhuruvasena II of V alabhi
and defeated him. Dhuruvasena II became a vassal.
The most important military campaign of Harsha was against
the Western Chalukya ruler Pulakesin II. Both the accounts of Hiuen
Tsang and the inscriptions of Pulakesin II provide the details of this
campaign. Harsha with an ambition to extend his kingdom south of
the Narmada river marched against the Chalukya ruler. But the Aihole
inscription of Pulakesin II mentions the defeat of Harsha by
Pulakesin, who after this achievement assumed the title
Paramesvara. Hiuen Tsang’s accounts also confirm the victory of
Pulakesin.
Page 3


113
The decline of the Gupta Empire was followed by a period of
political disorder and disunity in North India. It was only in the
beginning of the seventh century A.D. that Harshvardhana
succeeded in establishing a larger kingdom in north India.
The chief sources for tracing the history of Harsha and his
times are the Harshacharita written by Bana and the Travel accounts
of Hiuen Tsang. Bana was the court poet of Harsha. Hiuen Tsang
was the Chinese traveler who visited India in the seventh century
A.D. Besides these two sources, the dramas written by Harsha,
namely Ratnavali, Nagananda and Priyardarsika also provide
useful information. The Madhuben plate inscription and the Sonpat
inscription are also helpful to know the chronology of Harsha. The
Banskhera inscription contains the signature of Harsha.
Early Life of Harsha
The founder of the family of Harsha was Pushyabhuti.
Pushyabhutis were the feudatories of the Guptas. They called
LESSON 10
HARSHAVARDHANA (606 – 647 A.D.)
Learning Objectives
Students will acquire knowledge about
1. Sources for the study of Harsha.
2. The early life of Harsha.
3. The military activities of Harsha.
4. Harsha’s contribution to Buddhism.
5. Nalanda University.
          
  
       
    
       
        
      
115 114
Harsha led another campaign against the ruler of Sindh, which
was an independent kingdom. But, it is doubtful whether his Sind
campaign was a successful one. Nepal had accepted Harsha’s
overlordship. Harsha established his control over Kashmir and its
ruler sent tributes to him. He also maintained cordial relations with
Bhaskaravarman, the ruler of Assam. Harsha’s last military campaign
was against the kingdom of Kalinga in Orissa and it was a success.
Thus Harsha established his hold over the whole of north
India. The regions modern Rajasthan, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar
and Orissa were under his direct control. But his sphere of influence
was much more extensive. The peripheral states such as Kashmir,
Sind, Valabhi and Kamarupa acknowledged his sovereignty.
Harsha and Buddhism
In his early life, Harsha was a devout
Saiva but later he became an ardent Hinayana
Buddhist. Hiuen Tsang converted him to
Mahayana Buddhism. Harsha prohibited the
use of animal food in his kingdom and punished
those who kill any living being. He erected
thousands of stupas and established travellers’
rests all over his kingdom. He also erected
monasteries at the sacred places of Buddhists.
Once in five years he convened a gathering of
representatives of all religions and honoured
them with gifts and costly presents. He brought the Buddhist monks
together frequently to discuss and examine the Buddhist doctrine.
Kanauj Assembly
Harsha organized a religious assembly at Kanauj to honour
the Chinese pilgrim Hiuen Tsang towards the close of his reign. He
invited representatives of all religious sects. It was attended by 20
HIUEN TSANG 
themselves Vardhanas. After the Hun invasions they assumed
independence. The first important king of Pushyabhuti dynasty was
Prabhakaravardhana. His capital was Thaneswar, north of Delhi.
He assumed the title Maharajadhiraja and Paramabhattaraka.
After Prabhakaravardhana’s death, his elder son
Rajyavardhana came to the throne. He had to face problems right
from the time of his accession. His sister, Rajyasri had married the
Maukhari ruler called Grihavarman. The ruler of Malwa, Devagupta
in league with Sasanka, the ruler of Bengal had killed Grihavarman.
Immediately on hearing this news, Rajyavardhana marched against
the king of Malwa and routed his army. But before he could return
to his capital, he was treacherously murdered by Sasanka. In the
meantime, Rajyasri escaped into forests. Harsha now succeeded
his brother at Thaneswar. His first responsibility was to rescue his
sister and to avenge the killings of his brother and brother-in-law.
He first rescued his sister when she was about to immolate herself.
Harsha’s Military Conquests
In his first expedition, Harsha drove out Sasanka from Kanauj.
He made Kanauj his new capital. This made him the most powerful
ruler of north India. Harsha fought against Dhuruvasena II of V alabhi
and defeated him. Dhuruvasena II became a vassal.
The most important military campaign of Harsha was against
the Western Chalukya ruler Pulakesin II. Both the accounts of Hiuen
Tsang and the inscriptions of Pulakesin II provide the details of this
campaign. Harsha with an ambition to extend his kingdom south of
the Narmada river marched against the Chalukya ruler. But the Aihole
inscription of Pulakesin II mentions the defeat of Harsha by
Pulakesin, who after this achievement assumed the title
Paramesvara. Hiuen Tsang’s accounts also confirm the victory of
Pulakesin.
117 116
known as nilopitu and it was under the control of special officers.
Both good and bad events happened during his time had been
recorded.
Society and Economy under Harsha
Both Bana and Hiuen Tsang portray the social life in the times
of Harsha. The fourfold division of the society – Brahmin, Kshatriya,
Vysya and Sudra – was prevalent. The Brahmins were the privileged
section of the society and they were given land grants by the kings.
The Kshatriyas were the ruling class. The V ysyas were mainly traders.
Hiuen Tsang mentions that the Sudras practiced agriculture. There
existed many sub castes. The position of women was not satisfactory.
The institution of Swyamvara (the choice of choosing her husband)
had declined. Remarriage of widows was not permitted, particularly
among the higher castes. The system of dowry had also become
common. The practice of sati was also prevalent. Hiuen Tsang
mentions three ways of disposal of the dead – cremation, water
burial and exposure in the woods.
The trade and commerce had declined during Harsha’s period.
This is evident from the decline of trade centres, less number of
coins, and slow activities of merchant guilds. The decline of trade in
turn affected the handicrafts industry and agriculture. Since there
was no large scale demand for goods, the farmers began to produce
only in a limited way. This led to the rise of self-sufficient village
economy. In short, there was a sharp economic decline as compared
to the economy of the Gupta period.
Cultural Progress
The art and architecture of Harsha’s period are very few and
mostly followed the Gupta style. Hiuen Tsang describes the glory of
the monastery with many storeys built by Harsha at Nalanda. He
also speaks of a copper statue of Buddha with eight feet in height.
kings, 1000 scholars from the Nalanda University, 3000 Hinayanists
and Mahayanists, 3000 Brahmins and Jains. The Assembly went
on continuously for 23 days. Hiuen Tsang explained the values of
Mahayana doctrine and established its superiority over others.
However, violence broke out and there were acts of arson. There
was also an attempt on the life of Harsha. Soon, it was brought
under control and the guilty were punished. On the final day of the
Assembly, Hiuen Tsang was honoured with costly presents.
Allahabad Conference
Hiuen Tsang mentions in his account about the conference
held at Allahabad, known as Prayag. It was the one among the
conferences routinely convened by Harsha once in five years. Harsha
gave away his enormous wealth as gifts to the members of all religious
sects. According to Hiuen Tsang, Harsha was so lavish that he
emptied the treasury and even gave away the clothes and jewels he
was wearing. His statement might be one of admiring exaggeration.
Harsha’s Administration
The administration of Harsha was organized on the same lines
as the Guptas did. Hiuen Tsang gives a detailed picture about this.
The king was just in his administration and punctual in discharging
his duties. He made frequent visits of inspection throughout his
dominion. The day was too short for him. Taxation was also light
and forced labour was also rare. One sixth of the produce was
collected as land tax. Cruel punishments of the Mauryan period
continued in the times of Harsha. Hiuen Tsang condemned the trials
as barbarous and superstitious. Harsha’s army consisted of the
traditional four divisions – foot, horse, chariot and elephant. The
number of cavalry was more than one lakh and the elephants more
than sixty thousands. This was much more than that of the Mauryan
army. The maintenance of public records was the salient feature of
Harsha’s administration. The archive of the Harsha period was
Page 4


113
The decline of the Gupta Empire was followed by a period of
political disorder and disunity in North India. It was only in the
beginning of the seventh century A.D. that Harshvardhana
succeeded in establishing a larger kingdom in north India.
The chief sources for tracing the history of Harsha and his
times are the Harshacharita written by Bana and the Travel accounts
of Hiuen Tsang. Bana was the court poet of Harsha. Hiuen Tsang
was the Chinese traveler who visited India in the seventh century
A.D. Besides these two sources, the dramas written by Harsha,
namely Ratnavali, Nagananda and Priyardarsika also provide
useful information. The Madhuben plate inscription and the Sonpat
inscription are also helpful to know the chronology of Harsha. The
Banskhera inscription contains the signature of Harsha.
Early Life of Harsha
The founder of the family of Harsha was Pushyabhuti.
Pushyabhutis were the feudatories of the Guptas. They called
LESSON 10
HARSHAVARDHANA (606 – 647 A.D.)
Learning Objectives
Students will acquire knowledge about
1. Sources for the study of Harsha.
2. The early life of Harsha.
3. The military activities of Harsha.
4. Harsha’s contribution to Buddhism.
5. Nalanda University.
          
  
       
    
       
        
      
115 114
Harsha led another campaign against the ruler of Sindh, which
was an independent kingdom. But, it is doubtful whether his Sind
campaign was a successful one. Nepal had accepted Harsha’s
overlordship. Harsha established his control over Kashmir and its
ruler sent tributes to him. He also maintained cordial relations with
Bhaskaravarman, the ruler of Assam. Harsha’s last military campaign
was against the kingdom of Kalinga in Orissa and it was a success.
Thus Harsha established his hold over the whole of north
India. The regions modern Rajasthan, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar
and Orissa were under his direct control. But his sphere of influence
was much more extensive. The peripheral states such as Kashmir,
Sind, Valabhi and Kamarupa acknowledged his sovereignty.
Harsha and Buddhism
In his early life, Harsha was a devout
Saiva but later he became an ardent Hinayana
Buddhist. Hiuen Tsang converted him to
Mahayana Buddhism. Harsha prohibited the
use of animal food in his kingdom and punished
those who kill any living being. He erected
thousands of stupas and established travellers’
rests all over his kingdom. He also erected
monasteries at the sacred places of Buddhists.
Once in five years he convened a gathering of
representatives of all religions and honoured
them with gifts and costly presents. He brought the Buddhist monks
together frequently to discuss and examine the Buddhist doctrine.
Kanauj Assembly
Harsha organized a religious assembly at Kanauj to honour
the Chinese pilgrim Hiuen Tsang towards the close of his reign. He
invited representatives of all religious sects. It was attended by 20
HIUEN TSANG 
themselves Vardhanas. After the Hun invasions they assumed
independence. The first important king of Pushyabhuti dynasty was
Prabhakaravardhana. His capital was Thaneswar, north of Delhi.
He assumed the title Maharajadhiraja and Paramabhattaraka.
After Prabhakaravardhana’s death, his elder son
Rajyavardhana came to the throne. He had to face problems right
from the time of his accession. His sister, Rajyasri had married the
Maukhari ruler called Grihavarman. The ruler of Malwa, Devagupta
in league with Sasanka, the ruler of Bengal had killed Grihavarman.
Immediately on hearing this news, Rajyavardhana marched against
the king of Malwa and routed his army. But before he could return
to his capital, he was treacherously murdered by Sasanka. In the
meantime, Rajyasri escaped into forests. Harsha now succeeded
his brother at Thaneswar. His first responsibility was to rescue his
sister and to avenge the killings of his brother and brother-in-law.
He first rescued his sister when she was about to immolate herself.
Harsha’s Military Conquests
In his first expedition, Harsha drove out Sasanka from Kanauj.
He made Kanauj his new capital. This made him the most powerful
ruler of north India. Harsha fought against Dhuruvasena II of V alabhi
and defeated him. Dhuruvasena II became a vassal.
The most important military campaign of Harsha was against
the Western Chalukya ruler Pulakesin II. Both the accounts of Hiuen
Tsang and the inscriptions of Pulakesin II provide the details of this
campaign. Harsha with an ambition to extend his kingdom south of
the Narmada river marched against the Chalukya ruler. But the Aihole
inscription of Pulakesin II mentions the defeat of Harsha by
Pulakesin, who after this achievement assumed the title
Paramesvara. Hiuen Tsang’s accounts also confirm the victory of
Pulakesin.
117 116
known as nilopitu and it was under the control of special officers.
Both good and bad events happened during his time had been
recorded.
Society and Economy under Harsha
Both Bana and Hiuen Tsang portray the social life in the times
of Harsha. The fourfold division of the society – Brahmin, Kshatriya,
Vysya and Sudra – was prevalent. The Brahmins were the privileged
section of the society and they were given land grants by the kings.
The Kshatriyas were the ruling class. The V ysyas were mainly traders.
Hiuen Tsang mentions that the Sudras practiced agriculture. There
existed many sub castes. The position of women was not satisfactory.
The institution of Swyamvara (the choice of choosing her husband)
had declined. Remarriage of widows was not permitted, particularly
among the higher castes. The system of dowry had also become
common. The practice of sati was also prevalent. Hiuen Tsang
mentions three ways of disposal of the dead – cremation, water
burial and exposure in the woods.
The trade and commerce had declined during Harsha’s period.
This is evident from the decline of trade centres, less number of
coins, and slow activities of merchant guilds. The decline of trade in
turn affected the handicrafts industry and agriculture. Since there
was no large scale demand for goods, the farmers began to produce
only in a limited way. This led to the rise of self-sufficient village
economy. In short, there was a sharp economic decline as compared
to the economy of the Gupta period.
Cultural Progress
The art and architecture of Harsha’s period are very few and
mostly followed the Gupta style. Hiuen Tsang describes the glory of
the monastery with many storeys built by Harsha at Nalanda. He
also speaks of a copper statue of Buddha with eight feet in height.
kings, 1000 scholars from the Nalanda University, 3000 Hinayanists
and Mahayanists, 3000 Brahmins and Jains. The Assembly went
on continuously for 23 days. Hiuen Tsang explained the values of
Mahayana doctrine and established its superiority over others.
However, violence broke out and there were acts of arson. There
was also an attempt on the life of Harsha. Soon, it was brought
under control and the guilty were punished. On the final day of the
Assembly, Hiuen Tsang was honoured with costly presents.
Allahabad Conference
Hiuen Tsang mentions in his account about the conference
held at Allahabad, known as Prayag. It was the one among the
conferences routinely convened by Harsha once in five years. Harsha
gave away his enormous wealth as gifts to the members of all religious
sects. According to Hiuen Tsang, Harsha was so lavish that he
emptied the treasury and even gave away the clothes and jewels he
was wearing. His statement might be one of admiring exaggeration.
Harsha’s Administration
The administration of Harsha was organized on the same lines
as the Guptas did. Hiuen Tsang gives a detailed picture about this.
The king was just in his administration and punctual in discharging
his duties. He made frequent visits of inspection throughout his
dominion. The day was too short for him. Taxation was also light
and forced labour was also rare. One sixth of the produce was
collected as land tax. Cruel punishments of the Mauryan period
continued in the times of Harsha. Hiuen Tsang condemned the trials
as barbarous and superstitious. Harsha’s army consisted of the
traditional four divisions – foot, horse, chariot and elephant. The
number of cavalry was more than one lakh and the elephants more
than sixty thousands. This was much more than that of the Mauryan
army. The maintenance of public records was the salient feature of
Harsha’s administration. The archive of the Harsha period was
119 118
rulers. Though it was a Mahayana University, different religious
subjects like the Vedas, Hinayana doctrine, Sankhya and Yoga
philosophies were also taught. In addition to that, general subjects
like logic, grammar, astronomy, medicine and art were in the syllabus.
It attracted students not only from different parts of India but from
different countries of the east. Admission was made by means of an
entrance examination. The entrance test was so difficult that not
more than thirty percent of the candidates were successful. Discipline
was very strict. More than lectures, discussion played an important
part and the medium of instruction was Sanskrit.
Recent archeological excavations have brought to light the ruins
of the Nalanda University. It shows the grandeur of this centre of learning
and confirms the account given by the Chinese pilgrims. It had numerous
classrooms and a hostel attached to it. According to Itsing, the Chinese
pilgrim, there were 3000 students on its rolls. It had an observatory
and a great library housed in three buildings. Its fame rests on the fact
that it attracted scholars from various parts of the world. It was an
institution of advanced learning and research.
Learning Outcome
After learning this lesson the students will be able to explain
1. The sources for the study of Harsha such as Harshacharita
and the travel accounts of Hiuen Tsang.
2. Harsha’s early life and his military adventures.
3. Harsha and his services to Buddhism like the Kanauj
Assembly and Allahabad Conference.
4. Socio-economic condition and cultural development
under the rule of Harsha.
5. The Nalanda University and its international reputation.
The brick temple of Lakshmana at Sirpur with its rich architecture
is assigned to the period of Harsha.
Harsha was a great patron of learning. His biographer
Banabhatta adorned his royal court. Besides Harshacharita, he
wrote Kadambari. Other literary figures in Harsha’s court were
Matanga Divakara and the famous Barthrihari, who was the poet,
philosopher and grammarian. Harsha himself authored three plays -
Ratnavali, Priyadarsika and Nagananda. Harsha patronised the
Nalanda University by his liberal endowments. It attained
international reputation as a centre of learning during his reign. Hiuen
Tsang visited the Nalanda University and remained as a student for
some time.
Nalanda University
The Chinese travelers of ancient India mentioned a number of
educational institutions. The most famous among them were the
Hinayana University of Valabhi and the Mahayana University of
Nalanda. Hiuen Tsang gives a very
valuable account of the Nalanda
University. The term Nalanda means
“giver of knowledge”. It was founded
by Kumaragupta I during the Gupta
period. It was patronised by his
successors and later by Harsha. The
professors of the University were
called panditas. Some of its
renowned professors were Dingnaga, Dharmapala, Sthiramati and
Silabadhra. Dharmapala was a native of Kanchipuram and he
became the head of the Nalanda University.
Nalanda University was a residential university and education
was free including the boarding and lodging. It was maintained with
the revenue derived from 100 to 200 villages endowed by different
RUINS OF NALANDA UNIVERSITY 
Page 5


113
The decline of the Gupta Empire was followed by a period of
political disorder and disunity in North India. It was only in the
beginning of the seventh century A.D. that Harshvardhana
succeeded in establishing a larger kingdom in north India.
The chief sources for tracing the history of Harsha and his
times are the Harshacharita written by Bana and the Travel accounts
of Hiuen Tsang. Bana was the court poet of Harsha. Hiuen Tsang
was the Chinese traveler who visited India in the seventh century
A.D. Besides these two sources, the dramas written by Harsha,
namely Ratnavali, Nagananda and Priyardarsika also provide
useful information. The Madhuben plate inscription and the Sonpat
inscription are also helpful to know the chronology of Harsha. The
Banskhera inscription contains the signature of Harsha.
Early Life of Harsha
The founder of the family of Harsha was Pushyabhuti.
Pushyabhutis were the feudatories of the Guptas. They called
LESSON 10
HARSHAVARDHANA (606 – 647 A.D.)
Learning Objectives
Students will acquire knowledge about
1. Sources for the study of Harsha.
2. The early life of Harsha.
3. The military activities of Harsha.
4. Harsha’s contribution to Buddhism.
5. Nalanda University.
          
  
       
    
       
        
      
115 114
Harsha led another campaign against the ruler of Sindh, which
was an independent kingdom. But, it is doubtful whether his Sind
campaign was a successful one. Nepal had accepted Harsha’s
overlordship. Harsha established his control over Kashmir and its
ruler sent tributes to him. He also maintained cordial relations with
Bhaskaravarman, the ruler of Assam. Harsha’s last military campaign
was against the kingdom of Kalinga in Orissa and it was a success.
Thus Harsha established his hold over the whole of north
India. The regions modern Rajasthan, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar
and Orissa were under his direct control. But his sphere of influence
was much more extensive. The peripheral states such as Kashmir,
Sind, Valabhi and Kamarupa acknowledged his sovereignty.
Harsha and Buddhism
In his early life, Harsha was a devout
Saiva but later he became an ardent Hinayana
Buddhist. Hiuen Tsang converted him to
Mahayana Buddhism. Harsha prohibited the
use of animal food in his kingdom and punished
those who kill any living being. He erected
thousands of stupas and established travellers’
rests all over his kingdom. He also erected
monasteries at the sacred places of Buddhists.
Once in five years he convened a gathering of
representatives of all religions and honoured
them with gifts and costly presents. He brought the Buddhist monks
together frequently to discuss and examine the Buddhist doctrine.
Kanauj Assembly
Harsha organized a religious assembly at Kanauj to honour
the Chinese pilgrim Hiuen Tsang towards the close of his reign. He
invited representatives of all religious sects. It was attended by 20
HIUEN TSANG 
themselves Vardhanas. After the Hun invasions they assumed
independence. The first important king of Pushyabhuti dynasty was
Prabhakaravardhana. His capital was Thaneswar, north of Delhi.
He assumed the title Maharajadhiraja and Paramabhattaraka.
After Prabhakaravardhana’s death, his elder son
Rajyavardhana came to the throne. He had to face problems right
from the time of his accession. His sister, Rajyasri had married the
Maukhari ruler called Grihavarman. The ruler of Malwa, Devagupta
in league with Sasanka, the ruler of Bengal had killed Grihavarman.
Immediately on hearing this news, Rajyavardhana marched against
the king of Malwa and routed his army. But before he could return
to his capital, he was treacherously murdered by Sasanka. In the
meantime, Rajyasri escaped into forests. Harsha now succeeded
his brother at Thaneswar. His first responsibility was to rescue his
sister and to avenge the killings of his brother and brother-in-law.
He first rescued his sister when she was about to immolate herself.
Harsha’s Military Conquests
In his first expedition, Harsha drove out Sasanka from Kanauj.
He made Kanauj his new capital. This made him the most powerful
ruler of north India. Harsha fought against Dhuruvasena II of V alabhi
and defeated him. Dhuruvasena II became a vassal.
The most important military campaign of Harsha was against
the Western Chalukya ruler Pulakesin II. Both the accounts of Hiuen
Tsang and the inscriptions of Pulakesin II provide the details of this
campaign. Harsha with an ambition to extend his kingdom south of
the Narmada river marched against the Chalukya ruler. But the Aihole
inscription of Pulakesin II mentions the defeat of Harsha by
Pulakesin, who after this achievement assumed the title
Paramesvara. Hiuen Tsang’s accounts also confirm the victory of
Pulakesin.
117 116
known as nilopitu and it was under the control of special officers.
Both good and bad events happened during his time had been
recorded.
Society and Economy under Harsha
Both Bana and Hiuen Tsang portray the social life in the times
of Harsha. The fourfold division of the society – Brahmin, Kshatriya,
Vysya and Sudra – was prevalent. The Brahmins were the privileged
section of the society and they were given land grants by the kings.
The Kshatriyas were the ruling class. The V ysyas were mainly traders.
Hiuen Tsang mentions that the Sudras practiced agriculture. There
existed many sub castes. The position of women was not satisfactory.
The institution of Swyamvara (the choice of choosing her husband)
had declined. Remarriage of widows was not permitted, particularly
among the higher castes. The system of dowry had also become
common. The practice of sati was also prevalent. Hiuen Tsang
mentions three ways of disposal of the dead – cremation, water
burial and exposure in the woods.
The trade and commerce had declined during Harsha’s period.
This is evident from the decline of trade centres, less number of
coins, and slow activities of merchant guilds. The decline of trade in
turn affected the handicrafts industry and agriculture. Since there
was no large scale demand for goods, the farmers began to produce
only in a limited way. This led to the rise of self-sufficient village
economy. In short, there was a sharp economic decline as compared
to the economy of the Gupta period.
Cultural Progress
The art and architecture of Harsha’s period are very few and
mostly followed the Gupta style. Hiuen Tsang describes the glory of
the monastery with many storeys built by Harsha at Nalanda. He
also speaks of a copper statue of Buddha with eight feet in height.
kings, 1000 scholars from the Nalanda University, 3000 Hinayanists
and Mahayanists, 3000 Brahmins and Jains. The Assembly went
on continuously for 23 days. Hiuen Tsang explained the values of
Mahayana doctrine and established its superiority over others.
However, violence broke out and there were acts of arson. There
was also an attempt on the life of Harsha. Soon, it was brought
under control and the guilty were punished. On the final day of the
Assembly, Hiuen Tsang was honoured with costly presents.
Allahabad Conference
Hiuen Tsang mentions in his account about the conference
held at Allahabad, known as Prayag. It was the one among the
conferences routinely convened by Harsha once in five years. Harsha
gave away his enormous wealth as gifts to the members of all religious
sects. According to Hiuen Tsang, Harsha was so lavish that he
emptied the treasury and even gave away the clothes and jewels he
was wearing. His statement might be one of admiring exaggeration.
Harsha’s Administration
The administration of Harsha was organized on the same lines
as the Guptas did. Hiuen Tsang gives a detailed picture about this.
The king was just in his administration and punctual in discharging
his duties. He made frequent visits of inspection throughout his
dominion. The day was too short for him. Taxation was also light
and forced labour was also rare. One sixth of the produce was
collected as land tax. Cruel punishments of the Mauryan period
continued in the times of Harsha. Hiuen Tsang condemned the trials
as barbarous and superstitious. Harsha’s army consisted of the
traditional four divisions – foot, horse, chariot and elephant. The
number of cavalry was more than one lakh and the elephants more
than sixty thousands. This was much more than that of the Mauryan
army. The maintenance of public records was the salient feature of
Harsha’s administration. The archive of the Harsha period was
119 118
rulers. Though it was a Mahayana University, different religious
subjects like the Vedas, Hinayana doctrine, Sankhya and Yoga
philosophies were also taught. In addition to that, general subjects
like logic, grammar, astronomy, medicine and art were in the syllabus.
It attracted students not only from different parts of India but from
different countries of the east. Admission was made by means of an
entrance examination. The entrance test was so difficult that not
more than thirty percent of the candidates were successful. Discipline
was very strict. More than lectures, discussion played an important
part and the medium of instruction was Sanskrit.
Recent archeological excavations have brought to light the ruins
of the Nalanda University. It shows the grandeur of this centre of learning
and confirms the account given by the Chinese pilgrims. It had numerous
classrooms and a hostel attached to it. According to Itsing, the Chinese
pilgrim, there were 3000 students on its rolls. It had an observatory
and a great library housed in three buildings. Its fame rests on the fact
that it attracted scholars from various parts of the world. It was an
institution of advanced learning and research.
Learning Outcome
After learning this lesson the students will be able to explain
1. The sources for the study of Harsha such as Harshacharita
and the travel accounts of Hiuen Tsang.
2. Harsha’s early life and his military adventures.
3. Harsha and his services to Buddhism like the Kanauj
Assembly and Allahabad Conference.
4. Socio-economic condition and cultural development
under the rule of Harsha.
5. The Nalanda University and its international reputation.
The brick temple of Lakshmana at Sirpur with its rich architecture
is assigned to the period of Harsha.
Harsha was a great patron of learning. His biographer
Banabhatta adorned his royal court. Besides Harshacharita, he
wrote Kadambari. Other literary figures in Harsha’s court were
Matanga Divakara and the famous Barthrihari, who was the poet,
philosopher and grammarian. Harsha himself authored three plays -
Ratnavali, Priyadarsika and Nagananda. Harsha patronised the
Nalanda University by his liberal endowments. It attained
international reputation as a centre of learning during his reign. Hiuen
Tsang visited the Nalanda University and remained as a student for
some time.
Nalanda University
The Chinese travelers of ancient India mentioned a number of
educational institutions. The most famous among them were the
Hinayana University of Valabhi and the Mahayana University of
Nalanda. Hiuen Tsang gives a very
valuable account of the Nalanda
University. The term Nalanda means
“giver of knowledge”. It was founded
by Kumaragupta I during the Gupta
period. It was patronised by his
successors and later by Harsha. The
professors of the University were
called panditas. Some of its
renowned professors were Dingnaga, Dharmapala, Sthiramati and
Silabadhra. Dharmapala was a native of Kanchipuram and he
became the head of the Nalanda University.
Nalanda University was a residential university and education
was free including the boarding and lodging. It was maintained with
the revenue derived from 100 to 200 villages endowed by different
RUINS OF NALANDA UNIVERSITY 
121 120
c) Kanauj assembly was an assembly convened by Harsha once
in five years.
d) The Kanauj assembly went on peacefully without any religious
strife.
V. State whether the following statements are True or
False.
1. Baskaravarman was the ruler of Kashmir.
2. Harsha patronized the Hinayana sect of Buddhism.
3. There was all-round economic prosperity during the reign of
Harsha.
VI. Write short notes (Any three points).
1. Sources for the study of Harsha.
2. Travel accounts of Hiuen Tsang.
3. Kanuaj Assembly.
4. Allahabad Conference.
VII. Answer briefly (100 words).
1. Bring out the cultural progress under the rule of Harsha.
2. Write a brief account of the Nalanda University.
VIII. Answer in detail (200 words).
1. Give an account of the life and achievements of
Harshavardhana.
2. Estimate the contributions of Harsha to Buddhism.
3. Describe the administration and society under Harsha as
explained by Hiuen Tsang.
MODEL QUESTIONS
I. Choose the correct answer.
1. The original capital of Harshavardhana was
(a) Pataliputra (b) Peshavar
(c) Thaneshwar (d) Delhi
2. The Banskhera inscription contains the signature of
(a) Hiuen Tsang (b) Bana
(c) Harsha (d) Pulakesin II
II. Fill in the blanks.
1. The new capital established by Harsha was ……
2. The archive of the Harsha period was known as ……
3. Dhuruvasena II was the ruler of …..
III. Match the following.
1. Bana a) Author of three plays
2. Dharmapala b) Poet and philosopher
3. Bharthrihari c) Biographer of Harsha
4. Harsha d) Head of the Nalanda University
IV. Find out the correct statement. One statement alone is
right.
a) The Kanauj assembly was organized by Harsha to honour
Hiuen Tsang.
b) Representatives of Mahayana Buddhism were alone invited
to the Kanauj assembly.
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