CHAPTER-27 : Harsha and His Times

Ancient History of India
Short Notes or Revision Notes 

North India After the Guptas 

Power Vacuum and Rise of Regional Kingdoms (Mid-6th Century CE Onwards)

  • The Gupta Empire’s decline led to a fragmented North India with several kingdoms.
  • White Huns dominated Kashmir, Punjab, and Western India (500 CE onwards).
  • Thanesar Dynasty (Haryana) rose to prominence under Harshavardhana (606-647 CE).

Harshavardhana’s Reign (606-647 CE)

  • Made Kanauj his capital and expanded his control across North India.
  • Pataliputra lost importance, marking a shift towards the feudal age.
  • Sources for Harsha’s reign: Harshacharita (by Banabhatta, court poet) and accounts of Xuan Tsang (Chinese pilgrim).
  • Known for various taxes and administrative officials.
  • Not a staunch Hindu or ruler of entire India; controlled North India excluding Kashmir.
  • Direct control over Rajasthan, Punjab, UP, Bihar, and Orissa.
  • Faced opposition in East India from Shaivite king Shashanka of Gauda (ended 619 CE).
  • Southern expansion halted at Narmada River by Chalukya king Pulakeshin II.

Harshavardhana’s Administration 

Transitional Period (7th Century CE)

  • Harsha’s reign bridged the gap between Gupta Empire and the medieval era.
  • Administration resembled the Guptas but with a more decentralized, feudal structure.
  • Military: Possessed a large army with 100,000 horses and 60,000 elephants (according to Xuan Tsang).

Revenue and Land Grants

  • Revenue divided into four parts: king’s expenses, scholars, officials, and religious purposes.
  • High officials received land grants, possibly marking the beginning of this feudal practice.

Importance of Xuan Tsang’s Visit (629-645 CE)

  • Provided valuable information on Harsha’s court, social life, and religious sects.
  • Contrasted Pataliputra’s decline with the rise of Kanauj and Prayag.
  • Observed social hierarchy: Shudras as agriculturists and untouchables’ living conditions.

Buddhism in Nalanda during Harshavardhana’s Reign (c. 606-647 CE)

  • Fragmentation of Buddhism: By 7th century CE, Buddhism had divided into 18 sects.
  • Nalanda University: A renowned Buddhist university focused on Mahayana teachings.
    • Student Population:
      • 7th century CE (Xuanzang): 10,000 monks
      • 670 CE (Yijing): 3,000 monks
    • Monastery Support:
      • Xuanzang: Revenue from 100 villages
      • Yijing: Revenue from 200 villages
    • Harshavardhana’s Role:
      • Originally Shaiva, later a patron of Buddhism.
      • Convened assemblies to promote Mahayana Buddhism:
        • Kanauj assembly
        • Prayag assembly with Xuanzang’s participation
      • Literary contributions (authorship debated):
        • Priyadarshika
        • Ratnavali
        • Nagananda

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