HARSHAVARDHAN AND THE PUSHYABHUTI DYNASTY
In the history of India we know some figures that were great in the art
of war and greater still in the art of peace. Harshavardhan, the celebrated
Pushyabhuti king was one of them.
We luckily have some authentic sources of the period of the Pushyabhuti
dynasty. Our knowledge here is far more precise than any earlier dynastic
Hiuen Tsang?s account, Bana?s Harshacharit, the numismatic and
epigraphic evidences give a full picture of the dynasty. The Madhuban
copper plate inscription, Sonpat copper seal inscription, Banskhera copper
plate inscription, and Nalanda clay seals inscriptions throw some
light on this dynasty.
Towards the close of the 5th or the beginning of the 6th C. A.D. the
Pushyabhuti dynasty came in power in Thaneswar. The Huna invasion
and the fall of the Guptas created political confusion in north India.
According to Banabhatt, Pushyabhuti founded this dynasty. The first important
king of this dynasty was Prabhakaravardhan (580-605 A.D.) In the epigraphs
and seals, before Prabhakaravardhan, three kings ruled the state. We only
know the names of these kings. No details are available of their rule.
Naravardhan, Maharaja Rajyavardhan and Maharaja Adityavardhan ruled
Pravakaravardhan (580-605 A.D.)
The Pushyabhuti family came to the power after the Huna invasion. Prabhakaravardhan
was the first important ruler of this dynasty. He assumed the high sounding
title of Maharajadhiraja. Under him Thaneswar became an empire. He fought
the Gurjaras and the Hunas. Prabhakarvardhan extended his rule as far
as Malava and Gujarat. He died fighting with the Hunas in 605 A.D.
Rajyavardhan (605-606 A.D.)
After the death of Prabhakaravardhan his elder son Rajyavardhan
came to the ancestral throne. He reigned for a little over one year. During
this period, he confronted with lots of problems. The Maukhari king Grahavarman
assassinated his brother-in-law. Grahavarman imprisoned his sister Rajashree
with the help of Devagupta of Malava and Shashanka of Gauda. Rajyavardhan
inflicted a crushing defeat on Devagupta. Unfortunately, he was killed
by Shashank of Gauda.
Harshavardhan started his reign at the age of sixteen. The throne of
Thaneswar was in great trouble at this time. But Harsha?s statesmanship
enabled him to rule out the difficulties. He raised the small principality
of Thaneswar to the most formidable kingdom of north India of his time.
In 606 A.D. Harsha ascended his ancestral throne of Thaneswar.
Bana informs us that on hearing the news of his brother?s death he
immediately assumed sovereignty. It was a Maukhari kingdom. There is also
no evidence that Kanauj came under his rule at the time of his accession
to the throne of Thaneswar.
Hiuen Tsang gives us a contrary picture. His view is that after the death
of Rajyavardhan, the statesmen of Kanauj invited Harsha. There is one
possibility that, Grahavarman of Kanauj left behind widowed queen Rajashree
only with no heir. Hence the spokesmen of Kanauj may have requested Harsha
to accept the throne.
However, according to Bana, a noble named Gupta ascended the throne
of Kanauj after the death of Grahavarman. The Nalanda seal discloses that
Grahavarman had a younger brother whose name was probably Surasena. According
to Dr R.C. Majumdar, Surasena succeeded to the throne of his elder brother.
This also washes away the theory of Hiuen Tsang that Harsha ascended the
throne of Kanauj immediately after the death of Grahavarman.
All this goes against the theory of Hiuen Tsang. In fact, it is proved
by now that he took the crown of Kanauj after six years of his accession.
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The genesis of his statecraft was: an advisory body called mantriparishad,
the division of the empire into several bhuktis, the state share of the
produce fixed to 1/6th and a severe penal code.
Harsha ascended the throne with lot of difficulties. His elder brother
Rajyavardhan was killed. Grahavarman, Harsha?s brother-in-law,
lost his life. Harsha?s sister Rajashree was imprisoned by
the enemies. Harsha?s immediate task was to rescue his sister and
to teach Shashank a lesson.
According to Bana, Harsha decided to launch campaigns for digvijay. He
sent an ultimatum to all the kings to either surrender or fight.
Bana, the court poet of Harsha wrote Harshacharit, a biography
of Harsha. Accordingly, Harsha and Bhaskaravarman of Kamarupa marched
against Shashanka. Harsha was in a better position to meet Sananka?s
army. Receiveing a messege, Harsha went to Vindhya Mountains in search
of his sister, Rajashree. Rajashree was about to commit suicide. But Harsha
reached in time.
This narration of Bana is an exaggeration. Neither Rajashree could go
to Vindhya, nor Harsha could arrive at the appropriate moment to save
After rescuing Rajashree, Harsha joined the army to destroy Shashank.
What exactly happened to Shashank is not very clear. According to Dr R.C.
Majumdar Shashank probably placed the younger brother of Grahavarman on
the throne. To occupy Kanauj Harsha would have had to oust him from the
Even after Shashank?s withdrawal from Kanauj, the hostility between
Harshavardhan and Shashank did not end. Dr Majumdar opines that Shashank
ruled with full power upto 619 A.D. or even more
The Second Campaign
Harsha?s first campaign against Shashank was a failure so far the
permanent results were concerned. Even in the second campaign, Shashank
did not lose any of his territories. Some scholars suggest that the combined
armies of Harshavardhan and Bhaskaravarman between 619 and 629 A.D must
have defeated him. But according to Dr Majumdar Shashank reigned in full
glory till his death.
After Shashank?s death, Harsha conquered Magadh, West Bengal, Orissa
and Kangada. It is not definitely known whether Harsha ruled over the
other parts of Bengal.
Harsha?s Campaign in Western India
Prabhakaravardhan, the father of Harsha had to face hostility from Lata
i.e. Gujarat, Malava and Gurjaras. Harsha had to face the legacy of their
The kingdom of Vallabhi in Gujarat was a formidable power. Although
in the first encounter Harsha defeated the king of Vallabhi, he regained
power with the help of Dada II, the Gurjara king of Broach.
The identity of this king of Vallabhi is not known or certain but he
was most probably Dhruvasen II or Dhruvabhatt.
The hostilities ended in the marriage of Harsha?s daughter with
Dhruvabhatt. Later, Vallabhi became a subordinate ally of Harsha.
Harsha?s War with the Chalukyas
Pulakesin II, the Chalukya king of Vatapi, wished to become the lord
of the south. The old enemies of Thaneswar like Lata (Gujarat), Malavas
and Gurjaras became Pulakesin?s feudatories. This resulted in Harsha?s
war with Pulakesin II.
Harsha?s War with Pulakesin II
According to Hiuen Tsang, in order to smash Pulakesin, Harsha raised
a vast army. He personally conducted the campaign against Pulakesin.
Acceding to Dr. V.A. Smith, Harsha led his army southward upto the Narmada.
There he met Pulakesin. He could not cross the Narmada.
Dr R.C. Majumdar seriously contests this. Dr. Majumdar suggests that
Harsha?s empire did not extend upto the Narmada, and other feudatories
of Pulakesin must have fought with him earlier.