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30 Interesting King Harshavardhana Facts

by Sankalan Baidya
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King Harshavardhana

Ancient India was ruled by some of the greatest emperors known to India. When we speak of ancient times, the first name that possibly flashes in front of us is Emperor Ashoka of Maurya Empire. However, there were others too who equally contributed to the glory of India and under whose rule, science, technology, art, literature and philosophy – everything made significant advancements. One such emperor was Harshavardhana who ruled over a large empire in Northern India. Let us learn 30 interesting King Harshavardhana facts and understand how he rose to power and what was contributed to Indian culture under his rule.

Interesting King Harshavardhana Facts: 1-10

1. Harshavardhana (or Harsha or Harṣa) was born c. 590 CE. He was the second son of king of Sthanvishvara (modern day Thaneswar) – Prabhakaravardhana.

2. Prabhakarvardhana’s elder son Rajyavardhana became king after the death of Prabhakarvardhana.

3. When Rajyavardhana was king, his and Harsha’s sister Rajyashri was married to Grahavarmana, the ruler of Maukhari Kingdom. The capital city of Maukhari was Kannauj.

4. The ruler of Malava Kingdom however murdered Grahavarmana and captured Rajyashri. To avenge the death of Grahavarmana and rescue his sister Rajyashri, Rajyavardhana marched on Malava with his army, defeated the ruler of Malava and rescued Rajyashri.

5. Cicra 606 CE, Rajyavardhana went for a meeting with King Shashanka of Gauda Kingdom. During this meeting, Shashanka murdered Rajyavardhana.

6. The death of Rajyavardhana placed Harshavardhana on the throne. At that time, Harsha was only 16 years old.

7. After he came to throne, Harsha made an alliance with Bhaskaravarmana, the king of Kamarupa and waged war against Gauda Kingdom’s King Shashanka who murdered Harsha’s brother. He however failed to defeat Shashanka.

8. Defeat at the hands of Shashanka did not deter Harsha from his ambitions. He declared himself the sovereign ruler of Kannauj because the death of Grahavarmana left the Maukhari Kingdom with no rulers.

9. Once Harsha declared himself the sovereign ruler of Kannauj, he transferred his capital to Kannauj and then started a number of military campaigns. He used his large army of 5,000 war elephants, 50,000 infantry and 20,000 cavalry to take over the nearby kingdoms.

10. He continued his military conquests for 6 years straight and fought numerous battles. By the end of 6 years, he conquered most of the kingdoms in Northern India and his military might increased so much that at any given point, he was able to field an army of 60,000 war elephants and 100,000 cavalry.

Interesting King Harshavardhana Facts: 11-20

11. His military success took him to the south of the Indian subcontinent where his army met with the army of Emperor Pulakesi II. He was the emperor of South India and the ruler of Chalukya Dynasty.

12. This was one decisive war (or possibly a series of battles) in which Harsha lost to Pulakesi II while attempting to conquer the Deccan in around 620 CE. Harsha’s defeat stopped the further advancement of his empire.

13. Following the defeat, Harsha and Pulakesi II agreed that Harsha will not attempt to extend his kingdom to the south of Narmada River and Pulakesi will not attempt to extend his empire to the north of Narmada River.

14. At the height of his power, Emperor Harsha’s kingdom covered Punjab, Rajasthan, Bengal, Gujarat, Odisha and the whole of Indo-Gangetic plain that lay to the north of river Narmada.

15. Though Harsha controlled a massive empire, he did not implement a centralized administrative system. All the conquered kingdoms were still ruled by their respective kings. All these kings paid tribute to Harsha and offered military support whenever needed. The only exceptions were Kannauj and Thaneswar which were directly under Harsha’s command.

16. Harshavardhana got rid of forced labor in his kingdom. Everyone was free to carry out his or her own affair. He became a just ruler and travelled across his kingdom to know the plight of his people.

17. He ordered the building of Rest-Houses both in rural and town areas. These rest houses were all stocked with medicines, food and drinks so that anyone in need and easily access them.

18. The economy of his kingdom gradually moved towards self-sufficiency. The kingdom became feudal by nature with a gradual decline in commerce and trade with eventual disappearance of merchants’ guild and traders.

19. Agricultural dependency increased. Village economies became self-sufficient and handicrafts and other industries gradually vanished.

20. Harsha was a tolerant ruler when it came to religion. Jainism, Vedism and Buddhism – all thrived under his rule. He himself was a follower of Sun Worship. He however later converted to Buddhism

Interesting King Harshavardhana Facts: 21-30

21. During his rule, Harshavardhana also maintained diplomatic relations with the Chinese. China was then under the rule of Tang Dynasty ruled by Emperor Taizong.

22. Envoys from both countries visited each nation. The most notable of all Chinese envoys was Xuanzang who spent 8 years in Harsha’s Kingdom and became a personal friend of Harsha.

23. Once Harsha converted to Buddhism, people’s faith in Buddhism was reinforced with Rajyashri (Harsha’s sister) converting to Buddhism as well. Harsha went on building numerous Stupas for Buddha.

24. Harsha gradually became a patron of literature and art. He made huge contributions to Nalanda University. Great literary personalities like Mayura and Banabhatta adored his court.

25. Harshavardhana was himself into writing plays. He wrote at least three plays – Nagananda, Ratnavali and Priyadarsika. Nagananda specifically is popular because in this drama, he elegantly combined Hindu and Buddhist religions.

26. Harsha lived till 647 CE. His 41 years of rule was very peaceful with the exception of the first 6 years.

27. One of the legacies of Harsha is the famous Kumbh Mela. He started the famous religious festival at Prayaga at the confluence of rivers Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati.

28. Harsha was actually married to Durgavati with whom he had two sons – Vagyavardhana and Kalyanvardhana.

29. Sadly both his sons were murdered by Harsha’s chief minister Arunashwa, which eventually left Harsha with no heir to rule his huge empire after his death.

30. After the death of Harsha in 647, his empire disintegrated because of no heir. The whole empire fell into a period of anarchy.

Sources: 1, 2, 3

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1 comment

Ram Bilas Misra Prof. Dr. October 16, 2017 - 4:44 pm

Dear Sankalan, I am amazed for yr knowledge. Pl. answer straightway my query if Emperor Harshavardhana was born as a Brahmin? Wikipedia is confusing. Some authors say that he was a “Vais Rajput”, which the Chinese traveller wrongly assumed its distorted form and claimed Harsha.. as a “Vaishya”. Further, the kingdom of Vais Rajputs is supposed to be near present day’s Lalganj (in Rae Bareli dist. of U.P.). The region on border of 2 districts: Rae Bareli and Unnao is still called “Vaiswara”, where recently Govt. of India ordered for evacuation. It was suspected that a tremendous amount of gold was buried by the ruler Rao Ram Chandra Bux Singh during British regime. However, no success was achieved. Prof. Dr. R.B. Misra, ex VC, Avadh Univ., Faizabad, U.P., India.

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