Ancient History

The Empire of Harsha [NCERT Notes: Ancient Indian History For UPSC] l


King Harshavardhana was also known as Harsha. He was the son of Prabhakar Vardhana, the founder of the Pushyabhuti Dynasty or the Vardhana Dynasty. Harshavardhana is considered as one of the most prominent Indian emperors in the 7th century AD.  He built a huge empire that extended from north & northwestern India till the Narmada in the South. His capital was Kannauj. His reforms and policies were generous and were always aimed at boosting the peace and prosperity of his people. This article will talk about key-facts about Harshavardhana, the empire of Harsha for the IAS Exam.

Candidates can refer to related Ancient History articles in the table below:

Harshavardhana (UPSC Notes):- Download PDF Here

Facts about King Harshavardhana (Reign: 606 A.D to 647 A.D.)

  • Harshavardhana was born in 590 AD to King Prabhakaravardhana of Sthaneshvara (Thanesar, Haryana).
  • He belonged to the Pushyabhuti also called the Vardhana dynasty.
  • He was a Hindu who later embraced Mahayana Buddhism.
  • He was married to Durgavati.
  • He had a daughter and two sons. His daughter married a king of Vallabhi whereas his sons were killed by his own minister.
  • King Harshavardhana deeds were praised by Chinese Buddhist traveller Xuanzang in his writings.
  • Autograph of Harsha: Harsha - Autography of Kinf Harshavardhana

Harsha Ascension

  • After Prabhakara Vardhana died, his elder son Rajyavardhana ascended to the throne of Thanesar.
  • Harsha had a sister, Rajyashri who was married to king Grahavarman of Kannauj. Sasanka, the Gauda king killed Grahavarman and kept Rajyashri prisoner. This prompted Rajyavardhana to fight against Sasanka. But Sasanka killed Rajyavardhana.
  • This led the 16-year old Harshavardhana to ascend the throne of Thanesar in 606 AD.
  • He vowed to avenge his brother’s murder and also rescue his sister.
  • For this, he forged an alliance with Bhaskaravarman, the Kamarupa king. Harsha and Bhaskaravarman marched against Sasanka. Ultimately, Sasanka left for Bengal and Harsha became the king of Kannauj also.

Empire of Harsha – King Harshvardhana’s Empire

  • On acquiring Kannauj, Harsha united the two kingdoms of Thanesar and Kannauj.
  • He moved his capital to Kannauj.
  • After the fall of the Guptas, North India was divided into many small kingdoms.
  • Harsha was able to unite many of them under his command. He had under his control of Punjab and central India. After Sasanka’s death, he annexed Bengal, Bihar and Odisha.
  • He also defeated the Vallabhi king in Gujarat. (The Vallabhi king and Harsha came to a truce by a marriage between Harsha’s daughter and the Vallabhi king Dhruvabhata.)
  • However, Harsha’s plans to conquer lands to the south were hampered when the Chalukya king, Pulakesin II defeated Harsha in 618-619 A.D. This sealed Harsha’s southern territorial limit as the Narmada River.
  • There were two types of territories under Harsha. One was directly under him and the other type was those that were feudatories.
    1. Direct territories: Central Provinces, Bengal, Kalinga, Rajputana, Gujarat
    2. Feudatories: Jalandhar, Kashmir, Kamarupa, Sind, Nepal
  • Even the feudatories were under the tight command of Harsha. Harsha’s reign marked the beginning of feudalism in India.
  • Hiuen Tsang visited India during Harsha’s reign. He has given a very favourable account of king Harsha and his empire. He praises his generosity and justice.
  • Harsha was a great patron of the arts. He himself was an accomplished writer. He is credited with the Sanskrit works Ratnavali, Priyadarshika and Nagananda.
  • Banabhatta was his court poet and he composed the Harshacharita which gives an account of Harsha’s life and deeds.
  • Harsha generously supported the Nalanda University.
  • He had a good tax structure. 1/4th of all the taxes collected were used for charity and for cultural purposes.
  • Harsha was a competent military conqueror and an able administrator.
  • Harsha was the last king to rule over a vast empire in India before the invasions by the Muslims.

Harsha’s death

  • Harsha died in 647 AD after ruling for 41 years.
  • Since he died without any heirs, his empire disintegrated very soon after his death.

Harshavardhana (UPSC Notes):- Download PDF Here

These NCERT Notes on Harshavardhana are relevant to the UPSC civil services exam. These notes will also be useful for other competitive exams like bank PO, SSC, state civil services exams, and so on.

Get Medieval History and Modern History notes from the links below:

  1. NCERT Medieval History Notes for UPSC
  2. NCERT Modern History Notes for UPSC

Frequently Asked Questions on King Harshvardhana


Q 1. Who was Harshvardhana?

Ans. King Harshavardhana was the son of Prabhakar Vardhana, the founder of the Pushyabhuti Dynasty or the Vardhana Dynasty. He is considered one of the most prominent rulers of the 7th century. He had ascended the throne of Thaneshwar and Kannauj on the death of his brother, Rajyavardhana and consolidated his kingdom in northern India.


Q 2. Whi is King Harshavardhana considered a prominent ruler?

Ans. King Harshavardhana was well known for his religious toleration, able administration and diplomatic relations. He had also maintained diplomatic ties with China. Hiuen Tsang, the famous Chinese traveller had also visited India during his reign and written vividly about the social, economic and religious conditions under his rule.

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