Harshavardhana – Period, Vardhana and Pushyabhuti Dynasty, UPSC Notes

By BYJU'S Exam Prep

Updated on: November 14th, 2023

Harshavardhana was a prolific conqueror, administrator, Buddhist supporter, and patron of education and learning. Except for Kashmir, there is no denying that he 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.

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. His reign appeared to indicate a transition from the old to the medieval periods, while decentralized provinces fought for expansionism all the time.

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 decline of 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 HarshVardhana 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. Main features of Harsha Administration are as illustrated here-

  • 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.

Harshvardhana 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.
  • Banabhatta wrote Harshavardhana biography

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.

End of Harshavardhana Dynasty

Harshavardhana ruled the empire for 41 years and died in 647 AD. There was no successor to the King, which became a major reason for the collapse of Harshavardhana dynasty. Pulakeshin II defeated Harsha in the battle near Narmada. Harsha tried to stretch his empire to the southern peninsula segment of India, but that led to his defeat of Harsha. He was attributed to being the last ruler of the Harshvardhana dynasty, he ascended to the throne after the death of his elder brother. His legacy was widespread and the capital Kannuaj remained at its highest glory even after the death of Harsha.

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.

Questions on Harshavardhana Dynasty

The aspirants must practice the questions based on the Harshvardhana dynasty and get in touch with the concept. The candidates must practice the UPSC previous year question paper 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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