Harshavardhana Empire - 510-650 AD
After the overthrow of the White Huns no supreme power existed in India until the beginning of the 7th century. 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 AD that Harshvardhana (606-647 or 648) succeeded in establishing a larger kingdom in north India. Harsha, originally king of Thaneswar, after a thirty-five years' war, became the lord paramount of the north, while Pulikesin II, the greatest of the Chalukya dynasty, was the leading sovereign in the south.
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 AD. 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.
The founder of the family of Harsha was Pushyabhuti. Pushyabhutis were the feudatories of the Guptas. They called 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.
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 Valabhi 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.
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.
About 620 the armies of the northern and southern empires met. The result of this encounter was that Harsha was forced to accept the Narbada river as his southern frontier. At the end of his reign Harsha held sway over the whole of the Gangetic plain from the Himalayas to the Narbada, while the kings of Kamarupa (Assam), Valabhi (in Kathiawar), and Nepal were his vassals. By this time Kalinga had been depopulated and was for the most part covered with jungle. In the west the independent kingdom of Sindh was ruled by kings of the Sudra caste, and the Punjab and Multan formed one kingdom.
The Chalukya dynasty rose into importance in the middle of the 6th century. They seem to have been Eajputs from the north imposing their rule on the Dravidian inhabitants of the Dekkan. Their capital was at Vatapi (the modern Badami). The Pallavas, between the Kistna and Godaveri, were driven from their homes by the Chalukyas; but the Pallavas of Kanchi struggled eagerly for their liberty, and victory inclined now to one side, now to the other.
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 labor 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 known as nilopitu and it was under the control of special officers. Both good and bad events happened during his time had been recorded.
After Harsha's death (c. 648) India became once more a medley of petty states, but, except for the merely local incursion of the Arabs into Sindh, was free from foreign invasion till the beginning of the 11th century. Much of the information of the political state of India at that time is owed to the report of the travels of the Chinese pilgrim Yuan Chwang.
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|