Reign of Harsha Vardhana: Conquest, Governance & Cultural Flourishing


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Lakshmi Rameshwar Rao
Lakshmi Rameshwar Rao, Hyderabad

Harsha Vardhana One Punjab Kingdom which had helped to drive the Huns out of India was Thanesar, “The Place of the God”. In the year 606 A.D. Harsha Vardhana became ruler of Thanesar. Harsha had a powerful army with thousands of elephants, foot soldiers and horsemen. He conquered Hindustan, from Punjab to the borders of Assam. It was said that “His elephants were always harnessed and his soldiers never took off their helmets. Like his Gupta predecessors, Harsha tried to conquer all of India but was defeated by a powerful Chalukya or Rajput king on the banks of the River Narmada such that the Centre and South were divided into many kingdoms.

Harsha Vardhana

Harsha built monasteries at sacred places and made rest houses for travelers where they could get shelter, food and drink and where doctors attended the poor and sick. Harsha’s reign was troubled with wars but he was a wise ruler and worked to make 2 an efficient government and encouraged literature, art and other learned studies. By this time Buddhism had begun to decline but Harsha like Asoka became a champion of Buddhism. In his court, Hsuan-chang, a Chinese Buddhist monk, like Fa Hien, in the Gupta court, wrote down what he saw. In his description of Harsha, Hsuan- chang says the emperor was just and careful in all his royal duties.

He was so hard-working that each day was too short for all he wished to do in it. It was divided into three periods: one part of the day for his tasks of government and two parts for his religious works. At the end of the fifth century, a university was built at Nalanda in Bihar. It was among the wonders described by Hsuan-chang. Its buildings were six storeys high and there was a big temple with towers rising more than three hundred feet. Ten thousand monks lived and studied in the hundred lecture rooms here.

3 Famous works of literature like “The Cloud Messenger”, and, “Four Seasons” by Kalidasa were written. Aryabhatta the mathematician and astronomer were born in 476 in Pataliputra. He was one of the few wise men of the ancient world who taught that the world was not flat but a kind of spinning sphere. He also explained the causes of eclipses of sun and moon. The first stone Hindu temples were built and beautifully decorated with carved bricks and Buddhist halls and shrines ornamented with figures of the Buddha, lotus flowers and scenes from sacred stories. Parts of these buildings have been preserved.

Ships sailed from South India to Malaya, Sumatra, Java and Indo-China with Hindu and Buddhist priests and traders spreading Indian languages and civilizations. Harsha died in 648 A.D. With it the “golden age” through the Gupta reign, came to an end. Hindustan, both the north and south became 4 divided into many kingdoms. There were struggles for power and there was confusion for centuries. One of the strongest kingdoms was that of the Rajputs in Rajputana and Gujarat in the north-west. They defended the country when the Turkish armies led by Mahmud began their attacks in 1000 A.D.

The White Huns In the later years of the Gupta dynasty India was invaded by another branch of Huns, The Hephthalites, sometimes called the White Huns, were a people who lived in Central Asia. in the 5th to 8th centuries. A spectacular victory was won over these invaders by the emperor Skandagupta but in the year A.D.465 the Huns attacked again to break up the Gupta Empire. Their leader Toramana and his son were fierce and cruel warriors but the empire which they made in North- West India did not last long. In the sixth centuries a coalition countered the attack to drive the Huns out of India.

(The writer has a Masters in Adult Education from Jamia Millia Islamia. She has many years of teaching experience at the school level as well as ten years of experience in the book publishing industry. Her work has been published in newspapers and a few syllabus books as well. Lakshmi has retired and now lives in Hyderabad.)

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  1. It was lovely to read ‘Reign of Harsha….Flourishing’ by Lakshmi.
    It has been a looong time since I read a piece written by her. Well presented, and as I recall, always so.
    We, her college buddies, can thank Mukti for getting her writings ‘back to us’ .
    To us Fergussonians she is known as Buchi.
    Stay well and keep it coming, Buchi!!



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