|Empire of Harsha
Harsha's empire at its greatest extent
|Outline of South Asian history
History of Indian subcontinent
Harshavardhana (Sanskrit:हर्षवर्धन) (c. 590–647), commonly called Harsha, was an Indian emperor who ruled northern India from 606 to 647 from his capital Kanauj. He belonged to Pushyabhuti Dynasty . He was the son of Prabhakara Vardhana and the younger brother of Rajya Vardhana, a king of Thanesar, Haryana(earlier known as Eastern Punjab).At the height of his power his kingdom spanned the Punjab, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Bengal, Odisha and the entire Indo-Gangetic plain north of the Narmada River.
After the downfall of the prior Gupta Empire in the middle of the 6th century, North India reverted to small republics and small monarchical states ruled by Gupta rulers. Harsha was a convert to Buddhism. He united the small republics from Punjab to central India, and their representatives crowned Harsha king at an assembly in April 606 giving him the title of Maharaja when he was merely 16 years old.Harsha belonged to Kanojia. He brought all of northern India under his control. The peace and prosperity that prevailed made his court a center of cosmopolitanism, attracting scholars, artists and religious visitors from far and wide. The Chinese traveler Xuan Zang visited the court of Harsha and wrote a very favorable account of him, praising his justice and generosity.
Hiuen tsang (Xuanzang), the well known Chinese scholar, traveler, and translator who described the interaction between China and India in the Harsha period, stated that Harsha was of brahman,Kanojia caste.
According to Alexander Cunningham, hiuen tsang might have mistaken the Vaisa for Bais, a Jat clan that becomes a Rajput clan, though, Thomas Watters has pointed out this is most unlikely as hiuen tsang, "had ample opportunities for learning the antecedents of the royal family, and he must have had some ground for his assertion, moreover, hiuen tsang had an expert knowledge of Sanskrit and the caste system, which he discusses, in some detail in his book. He mentions that rulers traditionally belonged to the Kshatriya caste and his specific mention that Harsha was a feishe was probably because this was an uncommon occurrence."
Period prior to his reign
After the downfall of the Gupta Empire in the middle of the 6th century, North India was split into several independent kingdoms. The Hunas had established their supremacy over the Punjab. The northern and western regions of India passed into the hands of a dozen or more feudatory states.
Prabhakara Vardhana, the ruler of Sthanvisvara, who belonged to the Pushyabhuti family, extended his control over neighboring states. Prabhakar Vardhan was the first king of the Vardhana dynasty with his capital at Thaneswar.
After Prabhakar Vardhan’s death in 605, his eldest son, Rajya Vardhana, ascended the throne. Harsha Vardhana was Rajya Vardhana’s younger brother.
Rajya Vardhana’s and Harsha’s sister Rajyasri had been married to the Maukhari king, Grahavarman. This king, some years later, had been defeated and killed by king Devagupta of Malwa and after his death Rajyasri had been cast into prison by the victor. Harsha's brother, Rajya Vardhana, then the king at Thanesar, could not stand this affront on his family, marched against Devagupta and defeated him. But it so happened at this moment that Shashanka, king of Gauda in Eastern Bengal, entered Magadha as a friend of Rajyavardhana, but in secret alliance with the Malwa king. Accordingly, Sasanka treacherously murdered Rajyavardhana.
On hearing about the murder of his brother, Harsha resolved at once to march against the treacherous king of Gauda and killed Deva Gupta in a battle. Harsha ascended the throne at the age of 16.
Contact with China
Harsha maintained diplomatic relations with China, which was under the rule of Emperor Taizong of the Tang Dynasty. He also had good relations with the Tang rulers of China. Envoys from each country visited each other nation, most notably being Xuanzang who spent eight years under the dominions of Harsha.
Legacy of Kumbha Mela
Harsha, who was a Shaiva by faith, began celebration of religious festivals every five years, at the confluence of three rivers (the Ganga, the Yamuna, and the Saraswati) at Prayaga. It is said to be the beginning of the famous Kumbha Mela of India which still attracts lacs of devotees
Patron of Buddhism and literature
Harsha's father, Prabhākara was from Thaneshwar, his brother followed Hinayana Buddhism while, according to Bana, Harsha himself was a Mahayana Buddhist. Harsha was a tolerant ruler and supported all Indic faiths – Buddhism, Vedism and Jainism. Early in his life, he seems to have been a follower of Sun Worship, becoming a patron of Shaivism and Buddhism later on.
His sister Rajyashri's conversion to Buddhism presumably had a positive effect on his support to the religion. 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, Shiva's consort, as the saviour of Jimutavahana, a feature not found in the Jataka. The great Indian mathematician Brahmagupta also lived in the Empire of Harshavardhana.
According to the Chinese Pilgrim Xuanzang, who visited his kingdom in 636, Harsha built numerous stupas in the name of Buddha. Xuanzang entered a grand competition organized by Harsha and won the theological debate. Harsha also became a patron of art and literature. He made numerous endowments to the University at Nalanda. Two seals of Harsha have been found in Nalanda in the course of the excavations. All these favours and donations of the great emperor were crowned by the construction of a lofty wall enclosing all the buildings of the university to defend the institution from any other possible attack. In 643 he held a Buddhist convocation at Kannauj which was reputedly attended by 20 kings and thousands of pilgrims.
In 641, following Xuanzang's visit, Harsha sent a mission to China which established the first diplomatic relations between China and India. The Chinese responded by sending an embassy consisting of Li Yibiao and Wang Xuanze, who probably traveled through Tibet and whose journey is commemorated in inscriptions at Rajagriha – modern Rajgir, and Bodhgaya.
Harsha was a noted author on his own merit. He wrote three Sanskrit plays – Nagananda, Ratnavali and Priyadarsika. His reign is comparatively well documented, thanks to his court poet Bana and Xuanzang. Bana composed an account of Harsha's rise to power in Harsha Charitha, the first historical poetic work in Sanskrit language. Xuanzang wrote a full description of his travels in India.
Harsha's participation in the cultured life of his court was more direct than that of most kings, and it is in his personal contribution to Sanskrit literature that he clearly overshadows them. To him are assigned three plays: Priyadarsika, Ratnavali, and the Nagananda. In addition, he is credited with two significant poems on Buddhist themes - the Ashtamahasricaityastotra (Praise to Eight Grand Caityas [Buddhist assembly halls]) and Suprabhatastotra (Laud to Morning) - and a tract on grammatical gender, the Linganusasanam. Harsha's authorship has been disputed on several occasions, but no decisive contrary arguments have been proposed.
The Priyadarsika appears to be the earliest of Harsha's plays. It and the Ratnavali deal with the amorous adventures of the king Vatsa, his queen Vasavadatta, and newcomers to the royal harem. Both plays borrow from the earlier works of Bhasa and Kalidasa (especially the latter's Malavikagnimitra) and are based ultimately on material in the collection Brhatkatha. These plays lack thematic novelty but sustain interest through brisk dialogue. Both are frequently cited by later writers on dramatic theory and technique.
Harsha's Nagananda is his most important play. It is, in fact, a singular creation in Sanskrit drama. This five-act drama draws again on the Brhatkatha for the substance of its first three acts. In them, the hero, Jimutavahana, Prince of the Vidyadharas, meets and marries the Siddha princess Malayavati. To that point, the romance of the fairy prince and princess is quite conventional.
The mood of the play changes sharply in the fourth act. Jimutavahana discovers mounds of skeletons which evidence the daily sacrifice of serpents to the celestial bird Garuda. The hero resolves to offer his own body so that the serpents may be spared (a type of resolution very familiar in Buddhist literature). At the drama's conclusion it is the non-Buddhist goddess Gauri, however, who restores the bodhisattva, Jimutavahana, to life. In this attractive and moving drama, Harsha combined Buddhist and "Hindu" themes adroitly and uniquely, and through it one sees clearly his artistic and political genius.
Harsha died in the year 647. He ruled for 41 years. After Harsha's death, his empire died with him. The kingdom disintegrated rapidly into small states. The succeeding period is very obscure and badly documented, but it marks the culmination of a process that had begun with the invasion of the Huns in the last years of the Gupta Empire.
Neither Bana's nor Xuanzang's account gives any details of this period. Harsha had two sons named Vagyavardhana and Kalyanvardhana. They were killed by Arunashwa, a chief minister in Harsha's court. Harshavardhan's wife Durgavati was taken prisoner.
|Middle kingdoms of India|
|Northwestern India||Indo-Gangetic Plain||Central India||Southern India|
|Western Gangetic Plain||Northern India
(Central Gangetic Plain)
|Culture||Late Vedic Period||Late Vedic Period
|Late Vedic Period
|6th century BC||Gandhara||Kuru-Panchala||Magadha||Adivasi (tribes)|
|Culture||Persian-Greek influences||"Second Urbanisation"||Pre-history|
|5th century BC||(Persian rule)||Shishunaga dynasty||Adivasi (tribes)|
|4th century BC||(Greek conquests)|
|Culture||Spread of Buddhism||Pre-history||Sangam period
(300 BC – AD 200)
|3rd century BC||Maurya Empire||Early Cholas
46 other small kingdoms in Ancient Thamizhagam
|Culture||Preclassical Hinduism[c] - "Hindu Synthesis"[d] (ca. 200 BC - AD300)[e][f]
Epics - Puranas - Ramayana - Mahabharata - Bhagavad Gita - Brahma Sutras - Smarta Tradition
|2nd century BC||Indo-Greek Kingdom||Sunga Empire||Adivasi (tribes)||Early Cholas
46 other small kingdoms in Ancient Thamizhagam
|1st century BC||Yona||Maha-Meghavahana Dynasty|
|1st century AD||Kuninda Kingdom|
|2nd century||Pahlava||Varman dynasty|
|3rd century||Kushan Empire||Western Satraps||Kamarupa kingdom||Kalabhras dynasty|
|Culture||"Golden Age of Hinduism"(ca. AD 320-650)[g]
Co-existence of Hinduism and Buddhism
|4th century||Gupta Empire||Kalabhras dynasty|
|5th century||Maitraka||Adivasi (tribes)||Kalabhras dynasty|
|6th century||Kalabhras dynasty|
|Culture||Late-Classical Hinduism (ca. AD 650-1100)[h]
Advaita Vedanta - Tantra
Decline of Buddhism in India
|7th century||Indo-Sassanids||Vakataka dynasty, Harsha||Mlechchha dynasty||Adivasi (tribes)||Pandyan Kingdom(Under Kalabhras)|
|8th century||Kidarite Kingdom||Pandyan Kingdom|
|9th century||Indo-Hephthalites (Huna)||Gurjara-Pratihara||Pandyan Kingdom|
|10th century||Pala dynasty||Medieval Cholas|
- RN Kundra & SS Bawa, History of Ancient and Meddieval India
- International Dictionary of Historic Places: Asia and Oceania by Trudy Ring,Robert M. Salkin,Sharon La Boda p.507
- Cunningham, Alexander. The Ancient Geography of India: The Buddhist Period, Including the Campaigns of Alexander, and the Travels of Hwen-Thsang. 1871, Thübner and Co. Reprint by Elbiron Classics. 2003., p. 377.
- Watters, Thomas. On Yuan Chwang's Travels in India. Two volumes. 1904–1905, Royal Asiatic Society, London. One volume reprint: Munzang had an expert knowledge of Sanskrit and the caste system, which he discusses, in some detail in his book. He mentions that rulers traditionally belonged to the Kshatriya caste and his specific mention that Harsha was a feishe was probably because this was an uncommon occurrence
- Watters, Thomas. On Yuan Chwang's Travels in India. Two volumes. 1904–1905, Royal Asiatic Society, London. One volume reprint: Munshiram Manoharlal, Delhi, 1973, p. 168.
- Li, Rongxi. The Great Tang Dynasty Record of the Western Regions. Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research, 1996, pp. 58–59.
- Watters, Thomas. On Yuan Chwang's Travels in India. Two volumes. 1904–1905, Royal Asiatic Society, London. One volume reprint: Munshiram Manoharlal, Delhi, 1973, pp. 344–345. Moreover, Xuanzang had an expert knowledge of Sanskrit and the caste system, which he discusses, in some detail in his book. He mentions that rulers traditionally belonged to the Kshatriya caste and his specific mention that Harsha was a feishe was probably because this was an uncommon occurrence
- Legislative Elite in India: A Study in Political Socialization by Prabhu Datta Sharma, Publ. Legislators 1984, p32
- Revival of Buddhism in Modern India by Deodas Liluji Ramteke, Publ Deep & Deep, 1983, p19
- Some Aspects of Ancient Indian History and Culture by Upendra Thakur, Publ. Abhinav Publications, 1974, p77
- Drekmeier, Charles. 1962. Kingship and Community in Early India. nalanda University Press, Stanford, California. ISBN 0-8047-0114-8, p. 187
- Watters, Thomas. On Yuan Chwang's Travels in India. Two volumes. 1904–1905, Royal Asiatic Society, London. One volume reprint: Munshiram Manoharlal, Delhi, 1973, pp. 343–344.
- Beal, Samuel, Si-Yu-Ki: Buddhist Records of the Western World, by Hiuen Tsiang. 2 vols., 1884, Translated by Samuel Beal. London. 1884. Reprint: Delhi. Oriental Books Reprint Corporation. 1969.