King Harshavardhana- Period, Vardhana Dynasty, UPSC Notes

By Shivank Goel|Updated : October 19th, 2022

Harshavardhana was a prolific conqueror, administrator, Buddhist supporter, and patron of education and learning. Except for Kashmir, there is no denying that Harshayardhana subjugated the entire north India. Harshavardhana's forty-one-year rule is a crucial chapter in Indian history. The Vardhana dynasty is linked to a major part of the history of the Indian rulers and is an important topic in the Indian history syllabus of the UPSC GS II examination.

Harshavardhana then became the undisputed leader of Thaneshwar after his brother passed away when he was 16 years old. Frequent questions related to the Harshavardhana dynasty have been asked in the UPSC exam. It is necessary to be up to date with the events that led to the successful reign of Harshavardhana and his defeat in the battle of Narmada.

Table of Content

Who Was King Harshavardhana?

King Harsha, well known as Harshavardhana, was the leader of a massive empire in the northern region of India from 606 CE to 647 CE. Harshavardhana's reign appeared to indicate a transition from the old to the mediaeval periods, while decentralised provinces fought for expansionism all the time.

Harshavardhana Period UPSC Notes PDF

He was the final leader of the Vardhana Empire, also ancient India's last great empire prior to the Islamic Intrusion. Harshavardhana joined the majority of northern India and reigned for 40 years from the capital of Kanyakubja post the collapse of the great Gupta Empire in the midst of the sixth century CE, during which India witnessed its own golden age.

Harshavardhana's Empire

Harshavardhana's empire kept expanding as he acquired Kannauj, followed by Punjab, Orissa, Bihar and Bengal. He took care of the needy and poor by constructing rest homes with all the necessary amenities. He decided to not levy high taxes on the citizens, and even the economic condition was rather self-sufficient.

History of Vardhana Dynasty or Pushyabhuti Dynasty

The Pushyabhuti dynasty, well known by the name Vardhana dynasty, gained prominence post the Gupta Empire fell. Rajyavardhana, his elder brother, succeeded Harshavardhana.

It was one of the largest Indian imperial powers of the 7th century CE, encompassing all of the Northern and North-western regions in India. In eastern India, his empire stretched all the way to Kamarupa and down to the Narmada River.

Harshavardhana's empire is said to have spanned the existing states of Bengal, Orissa, and Punjab, including the entire Indo-Gangetic plain. The Vardhana Empire was divided into two kinds of territories:

  • those explicitly under Harsha's rule, like the Central Provinces of Gujarat, Kalinga, Bengal, and Rajputana, and
  • those that were feudatories under his power, such as Kashmir, Jalandhar, Sind, Nepal, and Kamarupa (Assam).

Administration Of Harshvardhana

Harshavardhana's administration was almost like that of the Gupta Empire as there was no slave labor in his kingdom, and individuals were allowed to live their lives as they pleased.

  • Kannauj, His capital, drew poets, artists, religious leaders, and intellectuals from all over the world.
  • He also kept friendly ties with the Chinese rulers. He even dispatched an Indian quest to China, instituting a strategic relationship between the two countries. Xuanzang, a renowned Chinese monk, lived for 8 years in his kingdom.
  • Harshavardhana amassed a formidable army during his reign. When his empire was at its peak, he was said to have a cavalry of 100,000 men and 50,000 infantrymen, including 60,000 elephants.
  • Furthermore, the majority of North India was devoid of coins during Harsha's rule. This indicates that the economic condition was in a feudal state.
  • Independent rulers, who were collectively called 'Mahasamantas,' paid homage to Harshavardhana. He also assisted him by providing military reinforcements.
  • It was critical to the advancement of Harshavardhana's empire.

Harshavardhana's Empire- Education and Art

Harsha supported art as well as education. He was also an author, having written three Sanskrit plays, Ratnavali, Nagananda, and Priyadarshika.

  • Scholars received a quarter of his earnings.
  • Furthermore, the famous Nalanda University was at its peak during Harsha's reign.
  • In addition, a renowned Indian author and poet called Banabhatta used to serve as the 'Asthana Kavi' in Harshavardhana's court.

Harshavardhana's Empire- Societal Structure And Religious Beliefs

Women's status had declined since the liberal times of previous eras. The caste system was widespread in the Hindu community. Widow immolation was prevalent, and widow remarriage was forbidden in upper castes. Harsha was initially a Shiva worshipper, before becoming a Mahayana Buddhist.

They were classified into four castes or as they called it 'varna' (each with a distinct subcaste):

  • Brahmana,
  • Vaishya,
  • Kshatriya, and
  • Shudra,

Achievements of Harshavardhana

King Harshavardhana was indeed a successful warrior, administrator, supporter of Buddhism, and a big advocate of learning and education. Except for Kashmir, there is no reason to suspect that Harshavardhana invaded and occupied all of northern India. Following are some of the eminent achievements of Harshavardhana.

  • Harshavardhana, aided by Bhaskara Varma of the Kamarupa empire, attacked and retaliated against Shashanka of the Gauda Kingdom.
  • However, till Shashanka was not dead, he couldn't completely destroy him. Afterwards, he crushed Devagupta of Malwa and invaded and occupied the kingdom on his own.
  • By 612 CE, he had gained full control of Punjab's Pancha Sindhus.
  • His kingdom expanded to include Kannauj, Bihar, Orissa, and other areas. He dethroned Vallabhi's Dhruvasana II. He later married his daughter to him and developed a solid partnership with him.
  • Harshavardhana conquered Orissa, Magadha, Vodra, Kongonda (Ganjam), and Bengal after the death of Shashanka of Gaudadesha (Gaudadesha).
  • Later, he deposed Nepal's ruler and welcomed respect from him. He established his authority by vanquishing the North Indian dynasties.
  • In recognition of the achievements of Harshavardhana, he was given the title "Uttarapatha Swara."
  • As a leader, Harshavardhana travelled from one province to another, inspecting administrative details.
  • He was courteous to all religions, as evidenced by his patronage of Buddhism as a saiva.
  • Under his leadership, Ujjain had become a centre of literary interaction.
  • Harsha patronised Banabhatta, the writer of Harshacharita, as well as a handful of poets and literary figures.
  • Harsha is credited with three dramatic works: Nagctncmda, Ratriavcili, and Priyadarshika. Such were the achievements of Harshavardhana in life.

Harsha Period For UPSC Exam

The Harsha period UPSC is an important portion of the UPSC syllabus for the preparation of the IAS exam. It is important to cover the history of the Indian rulers in the syllabus which covers the important events, characteristics of their empires, and battles that led to their expansion, as well as defeat.

A major part of this topic includes the achievements of Harshavardhana and his advocacy for art, education and Buddhism. It is also important to constantly keep referring to the Indian polity and history books for a good score in the IAS exam. You can also refer to the currently available UPSC study material and previous year question papers to prepare better.

Harshavardhana Period UPSC Questions

The aspirants must practice the questions based on the Harshvardhana dynasty and get in touch with the concept. The candidates must practice the previous year's papers to be able to gain insights into the fundamentals of the exam. You can check the questions that have been illustrated here to note the type and pattern of questions that can be asked in the exam.

Question: Consider the following statements:

  1. Harshavardhana invaded and occupied all of northern India
  2. He was a supporter of Buddhism and a big advocate of learning and education
  3. Harshavardhana was the last ruler of the Vardhana Empire
  4. He was successful in conquering Kashmir

Which of the above statements holds true for king Harshavardhana?

  1. 1 only
  2. 2 only
  3. 1,2 and 3 only
  4. All of the above

Answer: (C) 1,2 and 3 only

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FAQs on King Harshavardhana

  • King Harshavardhana was the last ruler of the Vardhana Empire, which was also ancient India's last great empire before the Islamic Invasion. He was a successful warrior, administrator, supporter of Buddhism, and a big advocate of learning and education. Except for Kashmir, there is no reason to suspect that Harshavardhana invaded and occupied all of northern India.

  • The Pushyabhuti dynasty, well known by the name of Vardhana dynasty, rose to prominence after the Gupta Empire fell. His elder brother, Rajyavardhana, succeeded Harshavardhana. After his brother died at the age of 16 years, Harshavardhana ended up becoming the undisputed king of Thaneshwar.


    It was one of the most powerful Indian imperial powers in the 7th century CE, encompassing all of India's northern and western regions. His empire in eastern India extended all the way to Kamarupa and down to the Narmada River.

  • The Vardhana Empire was divided into two kinds of territories one type comprised of those which were explicitly under Harsha's rule, like the Central Provinces, Gujarat, Bengal, Kalinga, and Rajputana, and the other type included  those that were feudatories under him, like  Kashmir, Jalandhar, Nepal, Sind, and Kamarupa (Assam).

  • Harsha supported art as well as education. He was also an author, having written three Sanskrit plays, Nagananda, Ratnavali, and Priyadarshika. 

    • Scholars received one-fourth of his earnings.
    • Furthermore, the famous Nalanda University was at its peak during Harsha's reign. 
    • In addition, a renowned Indian writer and poet called Banabhatta served as the 'Asthana Kavi' in Harshavardhana's court.
  • The caste system was widespread in the  Hindu community. They were classified into four castes or as they called it 'varna' (each with a distinct subcaste): 

    • Brahmana, 
    • Vaishya, 
    • Kshatriya, and
    • Shudra
  • From 606 CE to 647 CE, King Harsha, also known as Harshavardhana, ruled over a vast empire in northern India. Harshavardhana's reign appeared to mark a transition from the old to the mediaeval periods, despite the fact that decentralised provinces fought for expansionism at all times. Harshavardhana united the majority of northern India and ruled for 40 years from the capital of Kanyakubja after the great Gupta Empire collapsed in the middle of the sixth century CE, during which India experienced its own golden age.

  • Harshavardhana of Kanauj managed to conquer all of northern India, but when he tried to attack the Deccan, he was met with a major battle at the banks of the Narmada river by the King Pulakesin II of the Chalukya empire.


    Harsha lost a significant portion of his elephant strength and was forced to withdraw after suffering the humiliation of defeat. Pulakesin reached an agreement with Harsha, establishing the Narmada River as the border line between the Chalukya and the Vardhana empire.

  • Harshavardhana marked numerous accomplishments in the leaves of history. Following is a list of some of the Harsha’s achievements-

    • He conquered Orissa, Magadha, Vodra, Kongonda (Ganjam), and Bengal after the death of Shashanka of Gaudadesha (Gaudadesha).
    • Under his leadership, Ujjain had become a centre of literary interaction.
    • Harsha patronised Banabhatta, the writer of Harshacharita, as well as a handful of poets and literary figures.
    • Harsha is credited with three dramatic works: Nagctncmda, Ratriavcili, and Priyadarshika. Such were Harshavardhana's achievements in life.
  • Harshavardhana was the last among the rulers of the Vardhana empire. Under his reign, almost all of northern India was conquered by him. Harshavardhana's empire kept expanding as he acquired Kannauj, followed by Punjab, Orissa, Bihar and Bengal. He took care of the needy and poor by constructing rest homes with all the necessary amenities. He decided to not levy high taxes on the citizens, and even the economic condition was rather self-sufficient.

  • In order to prepare for the topic “Harshavardhana '' it is vital to include the important events under the Vardhana empire, characteristics of the empires, and battles that led to the expansion and defeat of the empire. This topic is heavily focused on Harshavardhana's accomplishments and his advocacy for art, education, and Buddhism. For a good grade, it is also necessary to constantly refer to Indian polity and history books.

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