Sample Material of Our IAS Mains History Study Kit
Subject: History (Optional)
Topic: Post-Gupta Period
The origins of feudalism were traced to the pre-Gupta period,
particularly to growth of the practice of land grants with administrative
rights, corroding the authority of the state. From the decline of the Guptas
until the rise of Harsha, in the beginning of seventh century there flourished
four major kingdoms in north India. These were the Guptas of Magadha, the
Maukharis, the Pushyabhutis, and the Maitrakas.
The Maukharis held the region of western Uttar Pradesh around Kanauj.
Isanavarman and his son Sarvavarman were powerful Maukhari kings and adopted the
title of maharajadhiraja.
In the west, the Maitraka clan under its leader Bhatarka established a
kingdom in Saurashtra with Valabhi as its capital. Under the Maitrakas, Valabhi
become not only a seat of learning and culture but also a centre of trade and
At the same time Pushyabhuti dynasty of Thaneswar was
established. The Pushyabhuti family came to the fore after Huna invasion and
made its political presence felt on the accession of Prabhakarvardhana. He
assumed the title of paramabhattaraka, maharajadhiraja. He had two sons,
Rajayavardhana and Harshavardhana and a daughter Rajyasri, which married to the
Maukhari king Grahavarman. After the death of Prabhakaravardhana, Sasanka, with
the help of Malwa king invaded Kanauj, King Grahavarman was killed and the queen
Rajyasri was thrown into prison.
Hearing this news Rajyavardhana immediately started with his
troops to suppress the kings of Gauda and Malwa. But he was’ treacherously
killed by Sasanka. About A.D. 525, an independent kingdom was established in
Bengal, when Gupta Empire fell. Half a century later, the throne of Gauda was
occupied by Sasanka. He established his capital at Karnasuvarna (near
Murshidabad) and soon made himself master of the whole of Bengal.
Harshavardhana (606 – 647 A.D.)
The decline of the Gupta Empire was followed by a period of
political disorder and disunity in North India. It was only in the beginning of
the seventh century A.D. that Harshvardhana succeeded in establishing a larger
kingdom in north India. The chief sources for tracing the history of Harsha and
his times are the Harshacharita written by Bana and the Travel accounts of Hiuen
Tsang. Bana was the court poet of Harsha. Hiuen Tsang was the Chinese traveler
who visited India in the seventh century A.D. Besides these two sources, the
dramas written by Harsha, namely Ratnavali, Nagananda and Priyardarsika also
provide useful information. The Madhuben plate inscription and the Sonpat
inscription are also helpful to know the chronology of Harsha. The Banskhera
inscription contains the signature of Harsha.
Early Life of Harsha
The founder of the family of Harsha was Pushyabhuti.
Pushyabhutis were the feudatories of the Guptas. They called themselves
Vardhanas. After the Hun invasions they assumed independence. The first
important king of Pushyabhuti dynasty was Prabhakaravardhana. His capital was
Thaneswar, north of Delhi. He assumed the title Maharajadhiraja and
Paramabh-attaraka. After Prabhakarav-ardhana’s death, his elder son
Rajyavardhana came to the throne. He had to face problems right from the time of
his accession. His sister, Rajyasri had married the Maukhari ruler called
Grihavarman. The ruler of Malwa, Devagupta in league with Sasanka, the ruler of
Bengal had killed Grihavarman. Immediately on hearing this news, Rajyavardhana
marched against the king of Malwa and routed his army. But before he could
return to his capital, he was treacherously murdered by Sasanka. In the
meantime, Rajyasri escaped into forests. Harsha now succeeded his brother at
Thaneswar. His first responsibility was to rescue his sister and to avenge the
killings of his brother and brother-in-law. He first rescued his sister when she
was about to immolate herself.
Harsha’s Military Conquests
In his first expedition, Harsha drove out Sasanka from Kanauj.
He made Kanauj his new capital. This made him the most powerful ruler of north
India. Harsha fought against Dhuruvasena II of Valabhi and defeated him.
Dhuruvasena II became a vassal. The most important military campaign of Harsha
was against the Western Chalukya ruler Pulakesin II. Both the accounts of Hiuen
Tsang and the inscriptions of Pulakesin II provide the details of this campaign.
Harsha with an ambition to extend his kingdom south of the Narmada river marched
against the Chalukya ruler. But the Aihole inscription of Pulakesin II mentions
the defeat of Harsha by Pulakesin, who after this achievement assumed the title
Paramesvara. Hiuen Tsang’s accounts also confirm the victory of Pulakesin.
Harsha led another campaign against the ruler of Sindh, which
was an independent kingdom. But, it is doubtful whether his Sind campaign was a
successful one. Nepal had accepted Harsha’s overlordship. Harsha established his
control over Kashmir and its ruler sent tributes to him. He also maintained
cordial relations with Bhaskaravarman, the ruler of Assam. Harsha’s last
military campaign was against the kingdom of Kalinga in Orissa and it was a
success. Thus Harsha established his hold over the whole of north India. The
regions modern Rajasthan, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Orissa were under his
direct control. But his sphere of influence was much more extensive. The
peripheral states such as Kashmir, Sind, Valabhi and Kamarupa acknowledged his
Harsha and Buddhism
In his early life, Harsha was a devout Saiva but later he
became an ardent Hinayana Buddhist. Hiuen Tsang converted him to Mahayana
Buddhism. Harsha prohibited the use of animal food in his kingdom and punished
those who kill any living being.
He erected thousands of stupas and established travellers’
rests all over his kingdom. He also erected monasteries at the sacred places of
Buddhists. Once in five years he convened a gathering of representatives of all
religions and honoured them with gifts and costly presents. He brought the
Buddhist monks together frequently to discuss and examine the Buddhist doctrine.
Harsha organized a religious assembly at Kanauj to honour the
Chinese pilgrim Hiuen Tsang towards the close of his reign. He invited
representatives of all religious sects. It was attended by 20 kings, 1000
scholars from the Nalanda University, 3000 Hinayanists and Mahayanists, 3000
Brahmins and Jains. The Assembly went on continuously for 23 days. Hiuen Tsang
explained the values of Mahayana doctrine and established its superiority over
others. However, violence broke out and there were acts of arson. There was also
an attempt on the life of Harsha. Soon, it was brought under control and the
guilty were punished. On the final day of the Assembly, Hiuen Tsang was honoured
with costly presents.
Hiuen Tsang mentions in his account about the conference held
at Allahabad, known as Prayag. It was the one among the conferences routinely
convened by Harsha once in five years. Harsha gave away his enormous wealth as
gifts to the members of all religious sects. According to Hiuen Tsang, Harsha
was so lavish that he emptied the treasury and even gave away the clothes and
jewels he was wearing. His statement might be one of admiring exaggeration.
The administration of Harsha was organized on the same lines
as the Guptas did. Hiuen Tsang gives a detailed picture about this. The king was
just in his administration and punctual in discharging his duties. He made
frequent visits of inspection throughout his dominion. The day was too short for
him. Taxation was also light and forced labour was also rare. One sixth of the
produce was collected as land tax. Cruel punishments of the Mauryan period
continued in the times of Harsha. Hiuen Tsang condemned the trials as barbarous
and superstitious. Harsha’s army consisted of the traditional four divisions –
foot, horse, chariot and elephant. The number of cavalry was more than one lakh
and the elephants more than sixty thousands. This was much more than that of the
Mauryan army. The maintenance of public records was the salient feature of
Harsha’s administration. The archive of the Harsha period was known as nilopitu
and it was under the control of special officers. Both good and bad events
happened during his time had been recorded.