UPSC History Vardhan Empire (ERA OF HARSHWARDHAN) NCERT Extracts - Harsha and His Times

NCERT Extracts - Harsha and His Times

Category : UPSC

 Harsha's Kingdom


  • Harshavardhana (A.D.606-647) was the king of Thanesar in Haryana.
  • He made Kanauj (in UP) the seat of his power.
  • By the seventh century Pataliputra fell on bad days and Kanauj came in the frontline.
  • Pataliputra owed its power and importance to trade and commerce.
  • But once trade declined, money became scarce and officers and soldiers began to be paid through land grants, the city lost its importance.
  • Power shifted to military camps (skandhavaras), and places of strategic importance, which dominated long stretches of land, acquired prominence.
  • To this class belonged Kanauj, situated in Farrukhabad district of Uttar Pradesh.
  • Its emergence as a centre of political power from Harsha onwards typifies the advent of the feudal age in north India.
  • Kanauj was situated on an elevated area which was easily fortifiable. Located right in the middle of the doab, it was well-fortified in the seventh century.
  • The early history of Harsha's reign is reconstructed from a study of Banabhatta, who was his court poet and who wrote a book called
  • This can be supplemented by the account of the Chinese pilgrim Hsuan Tsang, who visited India in the seventh century A.D. and stayed in the country for about 15 years.
  • Harsha's inscriptions speak of various types of taxes and officials.
  • Harsha is called the last great Hindu emperor of India.
  • In eastern India he faced opposition from the Shaivite king Shashanka of Gauda.
  • Shashanka had cut off the Bodhi tree at Bodh Gaya.
  • Harsha's southward march was stopped on the Narmada river by the Chalukyan king pulakeshin who ruled over a great part of modem Kanataka and Maharashtra with his capital at Badami in the modem Bijapur district of Kamataka.




  • Harsha governed his empire on the same lines as the Guptas did, except that his administration had become more feudal and decentralised.
  • Land grants continued to be made to priests for special services rendered to the state. In addition Harsha is credited with the grant of land to the officers by charters.
  • Hsuan Tsang inform us that the revenues of Harsha were divided into four parts.
  • One part was earmarked for the expenditure of the king, a second for scholars, a third for the endowment of officials and public servants, and a fourth for religious purposes.
  • He also tells us that ministers and high officers of the state were endowed with land.


Hsuan Tsang's Account


  • The reign of Harsha is important on account of the visit of the Chinese pilgrim Hsuan Tsang, who left China in A.D. 629 and travelled all the way to India.
  • After a long stay in India, he returned to China in A.D. 645.
  • He had come to study in the Buddhist University of Nalanda situated in the district of the same name in Bihar and to collect Buddhist texts from India.
  • The pilgrim spent many years in Harsha's court and widely travelled in India.
  • Under his influence Harsha became a great supporter of Buddhism and made generous endowments in its favour.
  • The pilgrim vividly describes Harsha's court and life in those days, and this account much richer and more reliable than that of Fa-hsien.
  • It sheds light on the economic and social life as well as the religious sects of the peril
  • The Chinese account shows that Pataliputra was in a state of decline; so was Vaishali On the other hand, Prayag and Kanauj in the doab had become important.
  • Hsuan Tsang calls the shudras agriculturists, which is significant. The earlier texts repress them as serving the three higher vamas.
  • The Chinese pilgrim takes notice of untouchables such as scavengers, executioners, etc. They lived outside the villages, and took garlic and onion. The untouchables announced their entry into the town by shouting loudly so that people might keep away from them.


Buddhism and Nalanda


  • The Buddhists were divided into 18 sects in the time of the Chinese pilgrim.
  • The old centres of Buddhism had fallen on bad days. The most famous centre was Nalanda, which maintained a great Buddhist university meant for Buddhist monks.
  • It is said to have had as many as 10,000 students, all monks.
  • They were taught Buddhist philosophy of the Mahayana school.
  • In A.D. 670 another Chinese pilgrim I-tsing visited Nalanda; he mentions only 3000 monks living there.
  • According to Hsuan Tsang the monastery at Nalanda was supported from the revenues of 100 villages. I-tsing raises this number to 200.
  • Nalanda thus had a huge monastic establishment in the time of Harshavardhana.
  • Harsha followed a tolerant religious policy. A Shaiva in his early years, he gradually became a great patron of Buddhism.
  • As a devout Buddhist he convened a grand assembly at Kanauj to widely publicize the doctrines of Mahayana.
  • The assembly was attended not only by Hsuan Tsang and the Kamarupa Bhaskaravarman, but also by the kings of twenty countries and several thousand priest belonging to different sects.                                                  
  • After Kanauj, he held at Prayag a great assembly, which was attended by all the tributary princes, ministers, nobles, etc.
  • At the end Harsha made huge charities, and he gave^way everything except his personal clothing,                              
  • Banabhatta gives us a flattering account of the early years of his patron in his book Hanhacharita in an ornate style which became a model for later writers.
  • Harsha is remembered not only for his patronage and learning but also for the authorship of three dramas - the Priyadarshika, the Ratnavali and the Nagananda.
  • Bana attributes great poetical skill to him and some later authors consider him to be a literary monarch.
  • In fact both in ancient and medieval India we find that all kinds of achievements including high literary attainments were ascribed to a king in order to boost his image. Obviously the object in such cases was to validate the position of the king in the eyes of his rivals and subjects.


Timeline - Major Textual Tradition


  • 500 BCE                        -        Ashtadhyayi of Panini, a work on Sanskrit grammar
  • 500-200 BCE             -        Major dharmasutras (in Sanskrit )
  • 500-100 BCE            -        Early Buddhist text including the tripitaka (pali)
  • 500 BCE-400 CE     -        Ramayana and Mahabharata ( in Sanskrit )
  • 200 BCE-200 CE     -        Manusmriti ( in Sanskrit ); composition and compilation of tamil sangam literature

NCERT Extracts - Harsha and His Times
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