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Harsh Vardhan as the most powerful king of Northern India

Updated on March 7, 2016

The great king Harshavardhan


Silver drachm of King of Harshavardhana


The Reign of Harsha


Harsh had only limited success in his efforts to create a large empire

The kingdom of Thaneswar had emerged as a strong state during the reign of Prabhakara vardhana. Prabhakara Vardhana had two sons, Rajyavardhana and Harsh Vardhan, and a daughter Rajyashri who was married to the Maukhari king Grahavarman. Soon after Prabhakaravardhana's death in AD 606, the allied forces of Shashanka of Gauda and Devagupta of the Later Gupta family attacked Kanauj and killed Grahavarman. Rajyavardhana too, as killed when he went to Kanauj to help his widowed sister. Harsh Vardhan thus became king of the Thaneswar kingdom.

He then proceeded to Kanauj, captured the city and also rescued his sister who was trying to commit sati. These events have been narrated by the poet Banabhatta in his biography of Harsh Vardhan as the `Harshacharita'. Later the Maukhari territory became a part of the kingdom of Thaneswar. Harsh Vardhan then transferred his capital from Thaneswar to Kanauj.

Harsh's Conquest

Harsh had only limited success in his efforts to create a large empire. He entered into an alliance with king Bhaskara Varma of Kamrup (Assam) against the kingdom of Gauda, their common enemy. The alliance did not help while Sasanka lived. It was only after Shaka's death that Harsh Vardhan succeeded in conquering Bihar, Bengal and parts of Orissa in AD 643 to 44. His other conquests included parts of eastern Punjab and some territories in the Bundelkhand region. His efforts to expand his empire southwards failed when he was defeated by Pulakesin II, a powerful ruler of the Chalukya dynasty of the Deccan.

Extent of Harsha's Empire

Towards the end of his reign Harsh Vardhan empire extended from eastern Punjab in the west to the Bay of Bengal in the east and from the Himalayas in the north to the Vindhyas in the South. Yet he as the most powerful king of northern India of his time.

Harsh Vardhan as an enlightened and benevolent ruler. The welfare of his subjects always dominated his thoughts and actions. He took personal and intimate interest in the affairs of his government.

Harshvardhan was the first monarch of ancient India to establish a welfare state in the country.

Nalanda: The First Residential University


people and the culture in the time of Harshavardhana

The empire was subdivided into provinces. The provinces were subdivided into districts called visayas. The penal code was exceptionally severe. Death sentence was also awarded. Fines had to be paid for minor offences. Taxes were reasonable. One – fourth of the income was spent on government, one- fourth on public services, one – fourth to reward schools and one- fourth for charity and religious purposes.

Harsha kept a powerful army. He depended on the rule of military governors of feudatory chiefs. Each of the feudatory chiefs contributed to the imperial army in times of need. The system of land grants continued. Law and order was not a good as during the Gupta age. Hiuen Tsang was robbed of his belongings several times.

Hiuen Tsang has described the fifth buddhist council, held at Kannauj. This was attended by twenty kings and hundreds of Buddhist monks and priests of other religions. Hiuen Tsang presided over this grand ceremony. The council organised discussion on religious issues.

The Nalanda University in Magadha became a renowned institution that attracted students from other countries. This was due to the royal patronage of Harshavardhana. Entrance to this institution was not easy due to the difficult admission test. Students were provided with free boarding and lodging. Sanskrit was the medium of instruction. The University gave importance to Buddhist learning.The subjects taught were astronomy, philosophy, art, tantra, medicine, grammar, logic and Brahmanical and buddhist literature. Hiuen – Tsang studied here for five years. The institution had three great libraries. Silabhadra, a distinguished Buddhist scholar, was the head of the university. Debates and discussions were organised. The students had to maintain strict discipline. Harshavardhana granted the revenues of 100 villages for the maintenance of this University. In AD 670 another Chinese pilgrim who visited Nalanda wrote that about 3000 monks stayed in Nalanda.


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    • 10000001 profile image

      madugundu krishna 2 years ago from Yemmiganur

      thanks for reading

    • sandeep15r profile image

      Sandeep Rathore 2 years ago from New Delhi

      A good read, thanks.