The empire of Harsha Vardhana was vast. His suzerainty also extended far and wide.
Like Samudragupta, he kept the heartland of northern India under his direct administration and the rest of the territories under his dominating influence.
Harsha’s Empire included the kingdoms of Thaneswara or eastern Punjab, and Kanauj in the Gangetic Doab, and the regions of Ahichchhatra or Rahilkhand, Sravasti or areas of Oudh, and Prayaga or Allahabad.
Magadha as well as a portion of Orissa were also within the empire. In the north-west, it included major portions of the Punjab, and whole of Sindh. In the west, the kingdom of Vallabhi came within the imperial authority. Harsha’s Empire touched the Arabian Sea.
In the east, the empire included Bengal, and touched the Bay of Bengal. In the north-east it extended as far as the Brahmaputra valley. If the empire also included Kashmir and Nepal, it touched the Himalayas in the north. Thus, with almost the whole of Northern India, from the snowy mountains of the north to the river Narmada in the south, and from Ganjam in the eastern coast to Vallabhi in the western coast, the Empire of Harsha was one of the most extensive empires of Indian history.
Harsha’s political influence was also deeply felt outside the limits of his direct rule. Beyond the river Brahmaputra, the King of Kamarupa regarded Harsha as his superior. It is known from the Chinese source that he did not venture to disobey the orders of Harsha whom he regarded as a mighty monarch. The Chinese source suggests that the King of Kamarupa could not dare to detain a Chinese pilgrim in his capital against the wishes of Harsha. Similarly, if Kashmir was not included in Harsha’s Empire, his power was nevertheless felt there.
The Chinese source refers to an incident when the King of Kashmir was forced to surrender a tooth relic of Buddha to Harsha. In another instance, King Udito of Jalandhar, who accepted Buddhism, was commanded by Harsha to conduct Hiuen Tsang safely to the frontiers with a military escort on the pilgrim’s homeward journey. King Udito obeyed the order. It is known from the Chinese source that the rulers of distant lands up to China’s borders, helped the pilgrim with escorts out of respect for Harsha.
It is proved, thus, that the neighoubring states of Harsha’s Empire were greatly afraid of the emperor’s power, and obeyed his wishes or orders. So was the case with several local rulers who survived within the empire, paying their homage to the emperor. Even the most powerful enemy of Harsha in the South, the Chalukyas, acknowledged Harsha’s supremacy in the whole of Uttarpatha by calling him Sakala-Uttarapatha-natha or the Lord Paramount of the North.
According to V.A. Smith, Harsha ruled over “the whole of the basin of the Ganges, from the Himalayas to the Narmada”. The extent of his empire as well as the extent of his political influence made him the paramount sovereign of the whole of Northern India. The term ‘Five Indies’ used by Hiuen Tsang to describe Harsha’s dominion might be taken as well justified when we take into account his sway over the different regions of India.”
Harsha ruled his empire from his capital at Kanauj, on the bank of the Ganges. It is known from the accounts of Hiuen Tsang that the city was well fortified and strongly defended. It abounded with majestic buildings, beautiful gardens, and tanks of clean water. It was also a centre of learning and culture. The inhabitants of the capital lived a prosperous life. The city of Kanauj enjoyed the hey-day of its splendour in the age of Harsha.