The Age and Administration of Harsha

After the Skandagupta, the successive Gupta rulers did not able to fight with the external Huna invasion. So, the Gupta Empire started declining. When the central power became dilapitated many feudal lords declared their independence from the weak central power. So, aftermath of Gupta Period, Indian Subcontinent saw the rule of many feudal lords over the north-western India.

So, approximately 10 feudal lords parcelled out Gupta Empire among themselves. But gradually one of the feudal lord ruling at the Thanesar in Haryana empowered itself to such extent that all other feudal lords surrendered to the Thanesar. And this great feudal lord was Harshavardhan.

Sources of Harsha Empire

Chinese Pilgrim

Xuan Zang Chinese Pilgrim during the reign of Harsha
Xuan Zang Chinese Pilgrim during the reign of Harsha

Xuan Zang (629-644 CE) was the Chinese pilgrim, who came in India during the reign of Harsha. His book Si-Yu-Ki describes the Harsha’s Reign. He defines that Shudras as peasants. He also said that there were 60000 elephants in Harsh’s Army. Most of the Indians were vegetarian during his period.

Xuan Zang spent a lot of time at Harsha’s Court as a Royal Guest. But he writes that roads during the reign of Harsha were not free from the robbery. Even, he himself was once robbed. However, royal police were able to find out the robbers.


Banabhatta was the court poet of Harsha. He wrote Harshacharita, Kadambari, Parvati Parinaya, Chandi-Satak etc. In his work, he praised his Emperor. Harshacharita is the biography of the Harsha. Banabhatta wrote Harshacharita in Sanskrit.

Aihole Inscription

Aihole inscription of Chalukyan King Pulkeshin-II mentions about Harsha. It actually mentions that Pulkeshin-II stopped Harsha’s southward campaign at the Narmada Valley. So, the Ravikirti, court poet of Pulkeshin-II said that after the defeat at the hand of Pulkeshin-II, “Harsha was no longer Harsha (Happy)”.

Harshavardhan’s Work

Harshavardhan had written three plays

  • Priyadarshika
  • Nagananda
  • Ratnavali

He also wrote two Buddhist poems

  • Suprabhat
  • Ashthamahashree

Banskhera Inscription

It gives an account that writing of Harshavardhan was very nice.

Other Inscriptions

Madhuban, Paskhera and Kurukshetra copper plate inscriptions give an account of land grants given during the reign of Harshavardhan.

Harshavardhan Accession to the Throne

Harshavardhan's Empire
Harshavardhan’s Empire

Harshavardhan, also known as Siladitya ascended the Pushyabhuti throne in 606 CE at the age of 16th and ruled for 41 years. Actually, his father Prabhakarvardhan gave his kingdom to his elder son (who was the elder brother of Harshavardhan) Rajyavardhan. But he was killed in a conspiracy by rulers of Malwa and Bengal. So, Harshavardhan also called as Harsha ascended to the throne thereafter.

Harshavardhan proceeded towards the east against Shashank of Gauda. Shashank of Gauda was the killer of Rajyavardhan and Grahavarman (Brother-in-Law of Harshavardhan). Harsha got the support from the Bhaskarvarman, the King of Kamakhya or Kamroop. With the help of Bhaskarvarman, Harshvardhan succeeded to defeat Shashank.

Administrative System of Harsha

Though Harshavardhan governed his Empire in a similar way as of Gupta Rulers. But there was a more feudal character in the administrative system of Harshavardhan. His first capital was Thanesar. But then he shifted his capital to Kannauj. Because Kannauj was situated at the higher elevation. So, it seemed to be easy to fortify the Capital there.

It is evident that the feudatories contributed him by their elephants, horses and army men, whenever needed. So, there was a great role of feudal lords during the Harshavardhan’s reign. Harshavardhan divided his income into four parts,

  1. One part was saved for the Royal Family.
  2. Second part for the Army Officials and Public Servants.
  3. The third part was for the Scholars.
  4. Last part was for the Religious purpose.

Harshavardhan was the last important ruler of the north India in ancient times. It is said that he was influenced by the Buddhism. So, it seems under the influence of Buddhism the severity of punishment was not present during his reign. During the reign of Harshavardhan, the Mahayana Buddhist sect flourished and spread over the North Asia.

Kannauj Assembly and Prayag Mahotsav

Kannauj Assembly During Harsha Period
Kannauj Assembly During Harsha Period

All religions conference took place in his capital Kannauj. It was Kannauj Assembly. All the scholars and priests from the different religions and sects came to attend this assembly. Xuan Zang presided the Kannauj Assembly. Xuan Zang was the supporter of Mahayanist Sect of Buddhism.

In every 5 years, Prayag Mahotsav or Mahamoksha Parishad was organised during the reign of Harshavardhan. In this festival Lord Shiva, Ganesha, Buddha was worshipped. However, one day of this festival was devoted to the Charitable purpose, in which land grants were given for the religious or any purposes. Harshavardhan personally participated in this festival.

Birth of Samantas

The term Samanta, which meant an independent neighbour, according to Arthashastra. Manu Smriti and Yajnavalkya Smriti used Samanta term in the sense of those persons with whose help boundaries disputes were resolved. Now the meaning of term Samanta changed. During the Harshavardhan’s reign, Samanta meant to be high government officials. And their post became hereditary during his reign.

This was all about the Harshavardhan’s Empire and administration. We have completed all the main important rulers of the north India. Now from the next post, we shall start to journey for the Southern Kingdoms.

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