By the end of 6th Century AD, Gupta Empire almost faded away from the map of India. The last Gupta ruler Devagupta was ruling over a relatively smaller state of Malwa. In the North, Thanesar (modern day Kurukshetra) also known as the kingdom of Sthanvisvara was ruled by Pushyabhuti family.
Events leading to Harshavardhana’s Accession to the Throne
The descendent of Pushyabhuti family and the first ruler of Vardhana Dynasty was Prabhakara Vardhana (580 AD – 606 AD), who was also the father of Harshavardhana. After the decline of Gupta Empire in Northern India more than 30,000 Huna Barbarians entered India through North Western India (present day Afghanistan). Prabhakara Vardhana managed to keep the Hunas away from the territory of Thanesar.
Prabhakara Vardhana was succeeded by by his elder son, Rajya Vardhana. Rajya Vardhana was a brave ruler who was able to get rid of all the Hunas from the kingdom of Sthanvisvara. He was brave and he fought like a lion. It so happened that Rajya Vardhana and Harsha’s sister Rajyasri had been married to Maukhari King, Grahavarman. Grahavarman was killed by king Devagupta of Malwa and Rajyasri was held as a war prisoner. Rajya Vardhana couldn’t stand this disrespect to his family and attacked Malwa. Brave Rajya Vardhana defeated Devagupta but before he could kill Devagupta, Sasanka, king of Gauda in Eastern Bengal secretly managed to break the royal defenses of Rajya Vardhana and and murdered him in 606 AD.
The murder of Rajyavardhana led to empty throne of Thanesar and thus Harshavardhana, who was only sixteen at that time, succeeded the throne. Harshavardhana conquered Malwa again and killed Devagupta although his attempts to capture Bengal could not come true till 628 AD, till the death of Sasanka.
Rule and Culture during Harshavardhana
Harshavardhana united the kingdoms of Punjab, Bengal, Orissa along with a large portion of Indo-Gangetic Plain. He defeated the ruler of Kannauj and shifted his capital from Thanesar to Kannauj. He was an active ruler and thrived in expanding his empire. In 630, Harshavardhana faced his first defeat at the hands of Chalukya King Pulakesi II. As a result, Harshavardhana decided not to go beyond the banks of Narmada river located south to the Vardhana Kingdom.
Harsha was a Hindu but he encouraged Buddhism and Jainism too. He was a learned man and wrote three Sanskrit plays, namely Nagananda, Ratnavali and Priyadarsika. He was also known for his five-yearly religious festivals at the Prayag, Allahabad and generous donations to Nalanda University. He was extremely influenced by Buddhism and gave a lot of money for the construction of Stupas. Harshavardhana also had good ties with his contemporary Chinese T’ang emperor Tai-Tsung. Chinese Buddhist pilgrim, Xuanzang (Hsuan-tsang) also visited india during Harshavardhana’s reign. One of his courtiers, Banabhatta, wrote Harshacharitra, a biography of Harshavardhana.
Death of Harshavardhana
The death of Harshavardhana is not well documented. It is said that he was married to Durgavati and had two sons named Vagyavardhan and Kalyanvardhan. They were killed by Arunashwa, a minister in Harshavardhana’s court much before the death of Harshavardhana himself. Therefore, on his death Harshavardhana wasn’t left with any heir to the throne. As a result, Arjuna, one of the chief ministers of Harshavardhana took up the throne. Later, in 648 AD, Arjuna was held prisoner in an attack by Chinese army led by T’ang Emperor.