Maukharis of Kanauj:
The Maukharis belong to a very ancient family. There is reference to the Maukharis in Panini’s work. A clay seal of the Maukharis has been found at Gaya belonged to the Maurya period. Reference to a Maukhari general is found in an inscription dated 239 A.D., discovered at Kotah in Rajputana.
Four stone inscriptions of different Maukhari families have been in this area, which indicate existence of seven Maukhari families during the third century. The Maukharis claimed descent from Asvapati, mentioned in the Mahabharata as the King of Madra in the Central Punjab.
From epigraphic evidence we come to know that two groups of Maukhari Kings ruling in South Bihar and U.P. early in the sixth century A.D. The founder of one group of rulers was Yajnavarman who was succeeded by his son Sardulavarman and Anantavarman. The rulers of the second group were Harivarman. Adityavarman, Ishwaravarman, Ishanavarman, Sarvavarman, Avantivarman, and Grahavarman were feudatories to the Guptas and ruled early in the sixth century A.D. They are referred to as Samantas or Samantachudamani.
Harivarman, the first of the second line of rulers, assumed the title of Maharaja and it is presumed that he perhaps had assumed an independent status. He is described in his inscriptions as one who had carried on extensive military campaigns and brought other kings under subjection.
The Maukhari history becomes definite from, the time of Ishanavarman. One of his inscriptions dated A.D. 554 coincides with the downfall of the Gupta Empire and he must have come to power before this date. Ishanavarman claims to have defeated the Andhras, Sulikas and the Gaudas, and assumed the title of Maharajadhiraja.
It is, therefore, probable that Ishanavarman was the first full-fledged independent Maukhari king. It is, however, not possible to determine the limits of his dominions with certainty. From the findspots of his coins it is presumed to be present Uttar Pradesh, parts of Orissa, and Bengal.
The later Gupta rulers had protracted conflict with the Maukharis and King Ishanavarman was defeated by Kumaragupta and probably also by Damodargupta. Ishanavarman was succeeded by Sarvavarman and the latter by Avantivarman.
From Bana’s Harshacharit we come to know that Avantivarman was succeeded by his son Grahavarman who later married Rajyasri, daughter of Prabhakarvardhana, the Pushyabhuti king of Thaneswar. Grahavarman was not, however, destined to rule for long. Devagupta, a Gupta king of Malwa, who was an ally of King Sasanka of Gauda, defeated and killed Grahavarman and carried away Rajyasri as captive. Rajyavardhana was also killed by Sasanka, ally of Devagupta and the throne of Thaneswar also fell vacant. It was at this juncture, the throne of Kanauj, that is of the Maukharis, was united with that of Thaneswar and Harshavardhana became the king of the United Kingdom.
Another State that arose Out of the ashes of the Gupta Empire was that of Thaneswar under the Pushyabhuti family. This state was destined to play more important part than the Maukharis of Kanauj and Maitrakas of Valabhi, etc.
Pushyabhutis of Thaneswar:
The first three kings of the Pushyabhuti dynasty were mere names and do not seem to have exercised any power. Prabhakarvardhana, the fourth king, extended his dominions at the expense of his neighbours and that he had built up a powerful dominion is clear from his assumption of imperial title: Paramabhattaraka Maharajadhiraja.
Prabhakarvardhan’s sovereignty probably extended to the whole of the Punjab and Malwa. After a busy aggressive career Prabhakarvardhana died in A.D. 604 and he was succeeded by his eldest son Rajyavardhana. He had given his daughter Rajyasri in marriage with the Maukhari King Grahavarmana.
Prabhakarvardhana’s career synchronised with those of two other rulers who had established powerful Kingdom in Bengal and Assam. They were Sasanka King of Bengal and Bhaskaravarman of Kamrup.
Under Prabhakarvardhan the Kingdom of Thaneswar was well on the road to imperial expansion. He conquered Malwa, northwest Punjab from the Huns and Rajputana from the Gurjaras. He was related through his maternal side to the Gupta imperial dynasty and ambition for building an empire was but natural for him in whose veins ran the Gupta imperial blood.
In 604 A.D. when the Huns attacked the Kingdom of Prabhakarvardhana, the latter sent his eldest son Rajyavardhan against them. Rajyavardhan defeated the Huns and established a reputation as a military commander.
Prabhakarvardhan gave his daughter Rajyasri in marriage with Grahavarman, the Maukhari King of Kanauj. Alliance between the two families, namely, the Pushyabhutis of Thaneswar and Maukharis of Kanauj greatly strengthened the power and position of Prabhakarvardhan. Sasanka, King of Bengal, sought to counter this accession of strength of Prabhakarvardhan by contracting a friendly alliance with Devagupta of Malwa, for Sasanka who himself was aspiring after imperial expansion foresaw a conflict with the House of Thaneswar.
Thus towards the end of the reign of Prabhakarvardhan there were two political leagues in northern India, one under the leadership of the House of Thaneswar and the other under Sasanka of Bengal. In 605 A.D. Prabhakarvardhan died rather suddenly and was succeeded by his eldest son Rajyavardhan.
Rajyavardhan (605-606 A.D):
Hardly Rajyavardhan ascended the throne; the Bengal-Malwa league took the initiative to attack Kanauj. Devagupta, ally of Sasanka, took the Maukhari capital of Kanauj by surprise, defeated and killed Grahavarman and took his wife Rajyasri prisoner. The news of the defeat and death of Grahavarman came as a shock and surprise to Rajyavardhan who immediately marched against Devagupta of Malwa with a force of 10,000 cavalry to take revenge for Grahavarman’s death and imprisonment of Rajyasri.
The promptness with which he proceeded against Devagupta had its advantage and resulted in complete defeat of the latter. On his return march to Kanauj Rajyavardhana was killed by Sasanka, King of Bengal and an ally of Devagupta. An unresolved mystery surrounds round the episode of the death of Rajyavardhana by Sasanka.
According to Bana, author of Harshacharit, Rajyavardhan was treacherously murdered by Sasanka. But from two grants of Harshavardhan, the death of Rajyavardhan is referred to as the sequel to a duel between him and Sasanka. On the basis of the evidence of Bana as also according to Hiuen T-Sang it is held by some scholars that Rajyavardhan was allured into confidence by false civilities on the part of Sasanka, the King of Gauda, and then weaponless, confiding and alone despatched in his own quarters.
Dr. Majumdar is of the opinion that partisans of Rajyavardhan ascribed his death to foul treachery on the part of Sasanka but there is reason to believe that this is a perversion of truth for party purposes. Dr. Majumdar also remarks that “our sole authorities Banabhatta and Hiuen T-Sang were both hostile to Sasanka and cannot be looked upon as impartial”. But their statements differ in respect of the circumstances under which the treachery was acted by Sasanka.
Further, from almost a contemporary inscription of Harsha it is learnt that Rajyavardhan gave up his life in the mansion of his foe owing to his adherence to a promise. From these divergent views and statements it is difficult to arrive at any definite conclusion about the manner of the duel and eventual death of Rajyavardhan. Dr. Majumdar remarks certain it is, Rajyavardhan failed in his enterprise and lost his life.
Dr. R. D. Banerjee points out that Bana’s mention of the death of Rajyavardhan as a treacherous murder has been followed by many of the modern historians. But two grants of Harshavardhan describe the event as the result of a duel between Rajyavardhan and Sasanka.However, the mystery about Rajyavardhan’s death remain still unraveled.
The death of Rajyavardhana in 606 A.D. brought his younger brother, Harshavardhan, on the throne of Thaneswar. This was approved by the royal court at the suggestion of Bhandi, a member of the Royal Court. The death of Grahavarman of Kanauj had also left the throne vacant there, the throne of Kanauj was also offered to Harshavardhan. Thus the two Kingdoms came under one King and Harsha became ruler of both Kanauj and Thaneswar.
Harshavardhan (A.D. 606-647):
Lack of historical materials that embarrasses the historian in reconstructing the history of the latter half of the sixth century is no longer felt for writing the history of the seventh century. The source materials for the reign of Harshavardhan are diverse and numerous, both indigenous and foreign. Our knowledge about the period of Harshavardhan is, therefore, more precise than what we possess about any earlier Indian ruler except Asoka.
The invaluable description of India recorded by Hiuen T-Sang during the rule of Harshavardhana reads like a Gazetteer in the scope of its enquiry and its wealth of details. The life of Hiuen T-Sang by his friend Hwui-li translated by Beal in his Life of Hiuen T-Sang, the official Chinese historical works are of immense importance as source of materials for the reign of Harshavardhan.
Bana’s Harshacharit contain a considerable historical information about Harshavardhana and his time. The information furnished by the above sources when combined with that furnished by inscriptions, coins, and other sources give us a knowledge surpassing in fullness and precision that is available for any other period except that of the Mauryas. Dr. Smith remarks “His personal characteristics and the details of his administration, as recorded by men who knew him intimately, enable us to realise him as a living person who achieved greatness by his capacity and energy.”
When in 606 A.D., on the death of Rajyavardhan, Harshavardhan, a youth of 16 or 17 years of age, was called upon to occupy the throne; he was reluctant. But he was constrained by the nobles to accept vacant throne.
Immediate task before him was the rescue of his sister Rajyasri. Information reached him of the escape of Rajyasri. According to Bana, as the tragic news of the murder of Rajyavardhan reached Harsha he took a vow to take revenge against Sasanka, the King of Gauda, the killer of Rajyavardhan. “I swear”, said Harsha, “that unless in a limited number of days, I clear this earth of Gaudas…….. then I will hurl my sinful self like a moth, into an oil-fed flame”. According to Bana Harsha was not simply to exterminate Gauda but decided upon world-wide conquest. He also caused a proclamation to be issued all over India asking all kings to either accept his over- lordship or to be prepared for war with him.
Hardly Harsha had proceeded in his march against Sasanka, a messenger from Bhaskaravarman, King of Kamrupa, with its Capital at Pragjyotisha came and reported that as his master was a devotee of Lord Siva and does homage to him alone, it would not be possible to do homage to any earthly king and offered to enter into a perpetual alliance with Harshavardhan.
An alliance was entered into between the two parties when within a few days Bhaskaravarman personally met Harshavardhan. The alliance was of great benefit to both Harshavardhan and Bhaskaravarman, for it was an added strength to Harsha against his enemy Sasanka and a measure of safety to Bhaskaravarman against his powerful neighbour Sasanka.
After Harsha had continued his march for a few days Bhandi who was returning with the remnant of Rajyavardhan’s army informed him of the release of Rajyasri from confinement and her taking shelter in the Vindhya forest and the numerous search parties sent to find her out had not yet returned. Harsha left Bhandi in charge of his army and went to search out his sister. In the Vindhya forest he met Rajyasri who after a few days’ wandering was about to mount a funeral pyre. She was persuaded to return with Harsha.
Bana’s narrative abruptly ends here. But in Hiuen T-Sang’s account it is stated that Harshavardhan and his two predecessors were rulers of Kanauj. He, however, refers to the fact that the ministers at the instance of Po-ni, usually identified with Bhandi, the great minister, invited Harshavardhan to ascend the throne of Kanauj, on Rajyavardhan’s death.
Hiuen T-Sang mentions a romantic story that Harsha sought the oracle of a statute of Avalokitesvara Bodhisatva on the bank of the Ganges. The Bodhisatva advised Harsha not to ascend the throne actually and not to use the title of Maharaja. Thereupon Harsha became King of Kanauj assuming the title and style Rajaputra Siladitya.
Chinese work Fang-Chih represents Harsha as a joint ruler with his widowed sister. Dr. Majumdar thinks that Harsha probably administered the government of Kanauj in the name of his sister to begin with, later openly assumed the crown and sovereign rights over Kanauj.
Hiuen T-Sang’s story has been regarded as absurd by modern historians, for Harsha did not come to occupy the throne of Kanauj on the death of his brother-in-law. The only implication of Hiuen T-Sang’s narrative is that at the instance of Bhandi Harsha was invited to rule over Kanauj presumably because Grahavarman did not leave any heir to succeed him and Rajyasri perhaps did not agree to undertake the responsibility of ruling the country. Thus, on Harshavardhan’s assumption of the rule of Kanauj, both the thrones of Kanauj and Thaneswar were united under the same ruler.
Harsha was a great warrior and carried on a series of military expedition which made him the most powerful ruler in northern India. The Chinese traveler Hiuen T-Sang mentions that Harsha went from east to west subduing all who were, not obedient, the elephants were not unharnessed, nor the soldiers un-helmeted. He proceeded in his military campaigns with 5,000 war elephants, 20,000 cavalry and 50,000 infantry.
After rescuing Rajyasri Harsha rejoined his army but what was the outcome of his campaign against Sasanka of Bengal is not known, for Bana’s narrative does not continue after Harsha’s finding of his sister in the Vindhya forest. R. S. Tripathi amusingly enough fills in the gap by introducing an imaginative story that Sasanka beat a masterly retreat on the approach of Harsha’s army considering that discretion was the better part of valour. That Harsha could not make much headway against Sasanka is evident from the absence of any reference in Bana’s narrative and from the fact that Sasanka was known to have ruled over Bengal, south Bihar and Orissa till 619 A.D.
Manjusri Mulakalpa, a Buddhist chronicle, mentions of the defeat of Sasanka at the hands of Harsha who forbade the former to move out of his capital. Dr. Majumdar is of opinion that no reliance can be placed on this vague and obscure statement of the medieval Buddhist chronicle.
We have, however, no systematic or chronological reference to the military campaigns of Harsha, for Hiuen T-Sang’s account makes only general and rather vague reference to his expeditions. However, Harsha’s military campaigns may be considered under four distinct phases, namely, his conflict with
(i) Kingdoms of Valabhi and Gurjara,
(ii) Chalukya Kingdom,
(iv) Eastern countries such as Magadha, Gauda, Odra, and Kongod.
(i) At the time of Harsha Valabhi was a powerful and independent Kingdom and exercised supremacy over northern Gujarat and a part of Malwas. From a Gurjara inscription at Broach, there is reference to Harshavardhan’s over-powering the lord of Valabhi. This proves that there was a conflict between Harshavardhana and the Kingdom of Valabhi.
The King of Valabhi at that time was Dhruvasena or Dhruvabhatta. But the identification is not, however, definite. According to some scholars, Dr. R. C. Majumdar, for instance, thinks that Harshavardhana gave his daughter to the King of Valabhi and thus the hostilities between the two, ended in sweet relationship and Valabhi had not to accept Harsha’s suzerainty.
Dr. D. C. Sarkar, on the other hand, maintains that the King of Valabhi had to recognise Harsha as his suzerain. According to some other scholars Harsha did not fare well in his conflict with the King of Valabhi and that was why he had to enter into a matrimonial alliance with him. From Hiuen T-Sang’s account and an inscription of Dhruvasena, the Maitrakas of Valabhi ruled over Malwa and north Gujarat as independent ruler.
(ii) Harshavardhan’s war with Pulakeshin-II, the Chalukya King of the south, was a memorable event both for the Chalukya Kingdom and Harsha. According to Hiuen T-Sang, Harsha although succeeded in defeating kings of many countries failed to defeat Pulakeshin-II. Harsha, according to Hiuen T-Sang gathered troops from the five India’s, and summoned the best leaders from all countries, and himself gone at the head of the army to punish and subdue those people, but he has not yet conquered their troops.
Obviously Harsha took an aggressive attitude towards Pulakeshin but suffered defeat at the latter’s hand. The successors of Pulakeshin regarded defeat of Harsha as a matter of great pride but also mention that after defeating Harsha Pulakeshin took the title Paramesvara.
The successors of Pulakeshin and some modern scholar’s assertion of a crushing defeat of Harsha notwithstanding, there is no evidence to prove where battle was actually fought and Dr. Smith’s opinion that Pulakeshin-II who guarded the passes of the Narmada so effectively that Harsha compelled to retire accepting the river Narmada as the dividing line between his Kingdom and that of Pulakeshin-II. In the Aihole inscription the Latas, Malavas and the Gurjaras are referred to as feudatories of Pulakeshin as such it is doubtful if the Narmada could be the boundary of his kingdom towards the South.
(iii) It may be remarked that Harsha’s attempt at conquest of Valabhi and Chalukya Kingdom ended in a failure. He was also not successful against Sind. Sind was hostile to Prabhakaravardhan also. It is suggested by Dr. Raychaudhuri that Harsha might have led a campaign against Sind but Hiuen T-Sang leaves no doubt that Sind was a strong and independent Kingdom even when he visited it. Bana is also not very explicit about the outcome of the conflict for he rhetorically remarks that Harsha pounded the King of Sindhu and appropriated his fortune.
(iv) On the evidence of Life of Hiuen T-Sang we learn that when early 643 A.D. Hiuen T-Sang had been to Kamrup at the invitation of Bhaskaravarman, Harsha had completed the subjugation of Kongod and Orissa, and was halting at Kajangal near Rajmahal. This proves that Harsha must have led victorious campaigns towards the easy and conquered the territories mentioned above and all the intervening regions.
From the Chinese encyclopaedist Ma-twan-lin, we learn that Siladitya assumed the title of the King of Magadha in 641 A.D. Harsha must have conquered Magadha after the visit of Hiuen T-Sang, for when he was in Magadha during the year 637-638 A.D. the ruling King was Purnavarman who revived the Bodhi tree at Gaya which was cut down by Sasanka. This corroborates Harsha’s occupation of Magadha after Hiuen T-Sang’s visit to that country and Ma-twan-lin’s statement that Harsha assumed the title of the King of Magadha in 641 A.D.
According to Hiuen T-Sang Harsha had brought five India’s under his allegiance. Five India’s which have been identified as the Punjab, Kanauj, Bihar, Orissa and Bengal. Dr. Majumdar is, however, doubtful if Harshavardhan had even got possession of territories east of the Bhagirathi or north of the Padma River.
But there is evidence that Bhaskaravarman, King of Kamrup, probably occupied this area or a considerable portion of it. Dr. Majumdar, however, concedes that “we cannot altogether exclude the possibility that Harsha was- suzerain of Bengal for a short time and it was not till after his death that Bhaskaravarman gained the same position”.
K. M. Panikkar is of opinion that “Nepal and Kashmir were also within this ‘Harsha’s empire. While his authority in north of Vindhyas was complete, Harsha’s arms met with a definite set back when he advanced towards the south”.
From the contemporary records we learn that Harsha led an expedition against Kashmir and brought the tooth relic of Buddha from there. But there is no reference to the time when he did so.
Extent of Harshavardhan’s Empire: A Critique:
There is a great divergence of opinion about the extent of Harshavardhan’s empire. According to some scholars Harsha’s empire comprised Thaneswar, Kanauj, Ahichhatra, Sravasti, Prayag, etc. According to Hiuen T-Sang Magadh and Orissa were also within his empire. In the Advanced History of India, it is remarked that “The emperor’s army had overrun the whole of northern India, from the snowy mountains of the north to the Nerbudda in the south, and from the Ganjam in the east to Valabhi in the west”.
Dr. R. C. Majumdar also holds that the whole of northern India was within Harsha’s empire. We have already mentioned that Panikkar thinks a modern biographer of Harsha that Harsha’s empire extended from Nepal and Kashmir to the Vindhyas. Another biographer of Harsha, Ettinghansen, also holds the same view.
It has also been pointed out that Kamrup was a subordinate ally of Harshavardhan. In some south Indian inscriptions Harshavardhan has been referred to as Sakalauttarapathanath, i.e., Lord of whole northern India.
Dr. R. C. Majumdar states that there has been an exaggerated notion about the extent of Harsha’s empire on the basis of Bana’s Harshacharit and Hiuen T-Sang’s account. The contention that whole of northern India was under Harsha, Dr. Majumdar points out, would not bear a moment’s scrutiny. For, Kashmir, Western Punjab, Sindh, Gujarat, Rajputana, Nepal, and Kamrup were certainly independent states in his day.
After a detailed discussion of the political condition of India and the status of different Kingdoms during the time of Harsha, Dr. Majumdar comes to the conclusion that Harsha’s Kingdom originally comprised Thaneswar and Kanauj was later united with it. He also added some territories both in the north and the west. It may be said to have comprised the Eastern Punjab and Uttar Pradesh. Towards the close of his reign, he had annexed Magadha and even pushed his conquests as far as Orissa and Kongod. It is not definitely known, however, whether the last two with the intervening territory were ever incorporated in his dominions.
It becomes quite obvious that this limit of Harsha’s empire was far less wide in expanse than what is generally believed. The findspots of his coins and inscriptions also corporate this view. In the present State of our it is difficult to agree to the view that Harsha exercised his sovereignty over whole of northern India.
Administration Under Harsha:
Harshavardhan’s administration was personal government without despotism. He believed that constant exertion by the king himself was the secret of administrative efficiency. From Hiuen T-Sang we come to know that the Harsha was indefatigable in his activities as a king. A day was too short for him; such was the task he would perform.
For the control of his extensive empire Harsha relied on his personal supervision executed with untiring energy rather than upon the services of the bureaucracy. He was constantly on the move of punishing the wrongdoer and rewarding the meritorious. It was only during the rains when travelling was impossible in those days that he would stop going to different parts of his empire. His itinerary was a big affair, for like the Mohgul emperors he would have a very extensive number of camp followers all marching beat of the drum.
From the evidence of Hiuen T-Sang and Bana, we may doubtless come to the conclusion that Harsha was a ruler of versatile ability and wonderful personality. Like his predecessor Fa-hien, about two centuries earlier, Hiuen T-Sang was highly impressed by the benign character of the government.
Theoretically the government of Harsha was an autocracy but a considerable measure of autonomy was left at different levels down to the village and the most characteristic feature of his government was the cooperation of the central government with popular bodies. It was, therefore, a government which was a mixture of autocracy and popular elements.
The empire was divided into provinces (Bhuktis), provinces into districts (Visayas) and the districts into village (gram). The government had two parts: the central government and the provincial government.
The emperor was the supreme head of the State. He was assisted by a Council of Ministers. The Council seem to have enjoyed the power of choosing the king when the normal line of succession was disturbed or when the throne fell vacant without an heir-apparent. We know how the Chief Minister, Bhandi, convened a meeting of the Council of Ministers and after deliberating on the suitability of Harsha being placed on the throne and what is more important that the people at large would trust him that Harsha was called upon to ascend the throne after it had fallen vacant due to the death of Rajyavardhan.
That the Council of Ministers also exerted its influence on the king in his dealings with foreign potentates is evident from the fact that Rajyavardhana accepted the invitation of Sasanka to meet him and got himself killed. Beal remarks that “Owing to the fault of his ministers, he was led to subject his person to the hand of his enemy” Harsha had a well-organised Secretariat through which the orders of the government were acted upon.
Besides minister-in-charge of foreign relations and war, Commander-in-Chief, Chief Commandant of war elephants, there were keeper of Records, and high officials of the state called Mahasamanta, Maharaja, Paramatara, Rajasthaniya, Kumaramatya, Uparika, Visayapati, etc. The top ranking civil service was manned by Kumaramatyas.
It was from the Kumaramatyas that Ministers, district officers, and secretariat officers were appointed. According to Hiuen T-Sang high officials were assigned portions of land, and their maintenance was the responsibility of the cities assigned to them. Lower grade officers were, however, paid in cash or assignment of land. Bana enumerates the high officials each of whom was in charge of a department.
Harsha was a great warrior and quite in keeping with the royal tradition of ancient India, maintained a huge army for military conquests. From Hiuen T-Sang we learn that his army comprised 5,000 elephants, 2,000 cavalry, and 50,000 infantry but with acquisition of more territories he raised the strength of the army to 30,000 cavalry, 7,000 elephants, and 600,000 infantry. Dr. R. C. Majumdar remarks that “The Statement of Hiuen T-Sang is certainly open to grave doubts”. But great attention paid to the cavalry by Harsha, is borne out by Bana.
The system of provincial government, by and large, continued to be as it had been under the Guptas. The high officials already mentioned above, such as the Mahasamantas, Maharajas, were officers who were hereditary local chiefs. Other provincial officers were the Kumaramatyas, Uparikas, etc. Visayapati was the district officer and Gramika, the village officer. The central and provincial government maintained keeper of records called Karanika.
The royal revenue was derived from three kinds of taxes, namely, the Bhaga, Bali, and Hiranya. The major source of revenue was the Bhaga, i.e., the land tax. The term Bhaga means ‘Share’. Bhaga was one-sixth share of the produce of the land taken as revenue. Tax paid in cash realised from the merchants and farmers was called Hiranya.
The nature of the tax called Bali is not very clear, but it is supposed to be an extra tax. Besides these major sources of revenue, there were ferry tax, customs duties, etc. Taxes on merchandise, i.e., customs, were levied with reference to the weights or measures of the merchandise. Forced labour was resorted to, but it was paid for. The burden of taxation, we learn from Hiuen T-Sang, was light.
According to Hiuen T-Sang the crown land was divided into four parts, the income of first part was used for the affairs of the State, that of the second part for payment of officers, the third part for rewarding men of genius, and the fourth part for grant to religious communities.
We learn from Hiuen T-Sang that the number of criminals and rebels was too small but should any law be broken, any crime committed or any rebellion staged, the offenders used to be punished severely. For certain officers’ mutilation of limbs, such as cutting off the nose, ears, etc. of the offender and turning him out of the city is to live a forlorn life in the jungles for the rest of his life. For certain offences only small fines were imposed. There was no system of repression for exacting confession from the offenders. For some kinds of offences trial by ordeal was resorted to.
Character of the Administration:
Hiuen T-Sang speaks well of the character of Harshavardhan’s administration. It is mentioned as a very generous administration and absolutely non-interfering with the lives of the people. But Dr. Altekar does not think that the administration of Harsha was as efficient as that of the time of the Mauryas or of the Guptas. Hiuen T-Sang’s eulogy of Harshavardhan’s administration is, according to Dr. Altekar, is rather unjustified.
In fact, Hiuen T-Sang himself had fallen in the hands of robbers and lost much of his belongings and narrowly escaped with his life. Yet, after taking all things into consideration, it must be conceded that Harshavardhan’s administration is not a model one from the point of view of efficiency, it was sufficiently solicitous of the welfare of the people and was based on benign principles.
One distinctive feature of the Pushyabhuti family was that the kings had their individual preferences in regard to religion. While Prabhakarvardhan was worshipper of the Sun, Rajyavardhan was a Buddhist and Harshavardhan was eclectic in matters of religion and worshipped Siva, Sun and Buddha. Harshavardhan appears to have been deeply impressed by the religious ideas of Hiuen T-Sang and by listening to the latter’s discourses on Mahayana Buddhism. Harsha himself turned in favour of Mahayanism.
In order to take full advantage of Hiuen T-Sang’s presence and mastery over the laws of Buddhism and for the spread of this religion Harsha summoned an Assembly at Kanauj in A.D. 643. The Assembly was attended by 3,000 Hinayana and Mahayana Buddhist monks, same number of Brahmanas and Nigrodhas, and nearly 1,000 scholars from the University of Nalanda. Hiuen T-Sang presided over .the Assembly and the discussion took place on Mahayanism. Many kings including the King of Valabhi from the extreme west and the King of Kamrup from the extreme east attended the Assembly.
The centre of attraction of the Assembly was the great shrine erected for the purpose on the bank of the Ganges wherein a golden image of Buddha equal in height with Harsha was installed and was kept in a 100 feet high tower. Smaller images of Buddha, 3 feet in height, was carried every day in solemn procession of twenty kings and three hundred elephants. The canopy was borne by the King Harsha himself.
The King as he proceeded on the procession scattered pearls, golden flowers, and other precious substances in honour of Buddha Religion and the Order (Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha)— the three jewels of Buddhist religion. Harsha bathed the image of Buddha with his own hands and carried it on his shoulder to the western tower and offered it gems and thousands of silken robes. After dinner the Assembly sat in a religious disputation.
Harsha heard that Hiuen T-Sang’s life was in danger at the hands of rival theologians, particularly because of Harsha’s manifest partiality towards him, a proclamation prohibiting all from touching the Master of Law, i.e., Hiuen T-Sang on pain of instant execution. But all who would desire to profit by his instructions need not have to be afraid of this proclamation. As a result no one entered into the disputation.
It was on the occasion of the ceremony at Kanauj that an attempt on the life of Harsha was made by a fanatic, armed with a dagger but the assassin was promptly apprehended. It transpired that the assassin was instigated by the Brahmins who resented excessive royal favour to the Buddhists. Five hundred Brahmins were put under arrest, confession was extorted and some of the leaders were executed and about five hundred were exiled.
It becomes evident that during the time of Harsha there was not only bitter animosity between the Hinayana and Mahayana Buddhism which was all the more accentuated due to Harshavardhan’s support of Mahayanism but there was also a great ill-feeling evoked in the minds of the orthodox Hindus when they noticed manifestly partial treatment towards Buddhism upon whom royal favour was being lavished.
After the Kanauj Assembly, Harsha invited the Chinese pilgrims to accompany him to the Moksha Parishad, another Assembly, at Prayaga on the confluence of the Jumna and the Ganges. Eighteen royal dignitaries and about half a million people attended this Assembly. Harshavardhan had been holding such Assemblies every five years for the past thirty years and this Assembly held in 643 A.D. was the sixth in the series.
The religious ceremony was of an eclectic nature. On the first day an image of Buddha was installed in a temporary hutment built on the sands and a large quantity of costly clothes and other valuables were distributed among the people. On the second and third days images of the Sun and Siva were similarly honoured, but distribution of gifts was only half of what had been distributed on the first day.
On the fourth day gifts of 100 gold coins, a pearl, and a cotton cloth besides food, perfume, flowers, etc. were given to each of ten thousand religious persons of the Buddhist order. The next twenty days the Brahmans received royal gifts followed by similar distribution of gifts for ten days to the Jainas and other sundry religious sects.
This was followed by distribution of gifts to mendicants from distant parts, the poor, destitute, and the orphans. The ceremony lasted for long 75 days. Hiuen T-Sang states that by this all the accumulation of the past five years was exhausted except the war elephants, horses, and other military accoutrements.
Hiuen T-Sang mentions that “Besides these the king freely gave away his gems and goods, his clothing and necklaces, ear-rings and bracelets, chaplets and neck-jewel and bright head jewel, all these he freely gave without stint. All being given away, he begged his sister (Rajyasri) for an ordinary second hand garment, and having put it on he paid worship to the Buddhas of the ten regions”.
After the Assembly at Prayaga Hiuen T-Sang was permitted to depart. He was offered various gifts which he declined to accept; only he agreed to receive three thousand gold and ten thousand silver pieces to cover his arduous journey.
Here we may pause for a brief review of the religious condition of the time of Harsha. It goes without saying that the great spirit of religious toleration he practised marked the Maurya and the Gupta periods. As Dr. R. K. Mookerji points out, Harsha’s anxiety to preach Mahayana Buddhism was his personal religion and his manifest particularly to Mahayana Buddhist period was open to hostility.
Brahamanical Hindiusm was, it may be pointed out, the predominant religion. Bana refers to followers of Krishna, KapiJa, Kanada, Nyaya, and the Upanishada among the Brahmanas. There were also a large number of Siva worshippers. Hiuen T-Sang saw numerous Hindu temples consecrated to Vishnu, Siva, Surya in Kanauj, and a hundred temples at Banares, mostly of Siva.
At Multan he saw a Surya temple. Likewise he saw many important monasteries of the Buddhists named after important Buddhist monks. There were also quite a number of Jaina monks living in Jaina monasteries. Thus while the general religious condition of the country was one of religious cosmopolitanism, Harsha’s too much leaning towards the Mahayanism in preference to Hinayanism gave rise to religious animosity as we have seen on the occasion of the Kanauj Assembly.
Authorship and Patronage of Learning:
Harshavardhan was equally great in both peace and war. He was himself a poet of great skill, remarkable for originality and learning. Bana’s praise of Harsha as a poet and man of learning has been corroborated by the Chinese pilgrim I-T-Sing. Harsha is credited with the authorship of three dramas, Nagananda, Ratnavali and Priyadarsika.
He was also a great calligrcphist. I-T-Sing tells us that Harsha was a great patron of learning and the learned. He was responsible for causing the compilation of the poetic works of the learned men of his court. Five hundred poetical compositions on the previous lives of Buddha had been compiled and presented to him. It is known as Jatakamala.
Jayadeva, the celebrated poet of Gitagovinda, mentions Harsha as a poet comparable to Kalidasa and Bhasa, although there is exaggeration in the statement. Dr. Smith remarks that his play Nagananda is considered to rank among the best works of Indian theatre. The greatest ornament of the literary circle of Harsha’s court was the Brahman Bana who composed the Harshacharit and Kadambari.
Harsha was a great patron of learning. Jayasena, Hari- datta, and many other scholars of the time received his patronage and encouragement. The revenue of a fourth part of the Crown was spent for the maintenance of the learned and places of learning. The University of Nalanda enjoyed the liberal patronage of Harshavardhan. Education was widely special among the Brahmanas and the Buddhist monks. The learned were held in great esteem by the government.
After enjoying a long reign Harshavardhan died in A D, 646 or early in A.D. 647.
Estimate of Harsha:
The reign of Harshavardhan constitutes and marks an epoch in the history of India. Harsha forces our admiration as a great ruler, a brave warrior, and an able military strategist and above all as a patron of Arts and letters. He was a man of noble impulses and was one of the best monarchs and distinguished personalities that India had produced in the ancient times.
Harsha sat upon throne of Thaneswar at a critical period of the history; it was also critical from the point of view of the royal family. Rajyavardhan had been killed by enemy, Grahavarman of Kanauj, husband of Rajyasri, was defeated and killed. Rajyasri, sister of Harsha, was herself taken prisoner.
Sasanka, king of Gauda and the leader of the Sasanka-Devagupta alliance, was posing a serious danger to the kingdoms of Thaneswar and Kanauj. Harsha not only surmounted these difficulties but succeeded in making Thanesvar the most powerful kingdom of northern India and raising it to the status of an empire.
As a conqueror and a military genius, he had many successful military campaigns to his credit. He suffered occasional defeats no doubt, the most humiliating being that at the hands of Pulakesin II. But he was decidedly the unquestioned master of northern India, and the kings who did not acknowledge his suzerainty at least stood in awe of the great conqueror. Unity of the two thrones of Thanesvar and Kanauj under Harsha must have facilitated the increase of his strength and power.
As a ruler he has been praised by Hiuen T-Sang for the indefatigable manner of his work, forgetting even his food and sleep for the well-being of his subjects. His itinerary all over the empire in all seasons except the rains, kept him in touch with his subjects which facilitated his work for the good of the people and kept the imperial administration alert and in good trim.
Dr. R. K. Mookerjee remarks that as a conqueror and administrator, as one solicitous of the well-being of his subjects Harsha combined in himself some of the attributes and characteristics of Samudragupta and Asoka. Other historians have also praised Harshavardhan in a somewhat different strain. K. M. Panikkar states that Harsha has often been compared to Asoka, but there is no similarity between them except of the most superficial kind. The only point of comparison is perhaps that they were both patrons of Buddhism……….. A more suitable parallel then that of Asoka is Akbar…………. Like Akbar again, Harsha was a military monarch for greater part of his reign. In spite of obvious shortcomings Harsha was without doubt an enlightened monarch and deserves to be considered among India’s greatest rulers…….. There is no doubt that Harsha, the ruler, the poet, and the religious enthusiast, will ever have an honoured place in Indian history.
Rawlinson, however, has an unqualified praise for Harsha whom he mentions as a remarkable man and stands besides Asoka and Akbar among the greatest rulers that India has produced. Soldier and administrator, unwearied in his efforts for the good of his subjects, pious and merciful, a patron of literature and himself a poet and dramatist of distinction, he stands forth on the page of history, a bright and fascinating figure.
Harsha distinguished himself both in the arts of peace and war. He could wield the pen as well as the sword (Majumdar). If he had built up an empire by his military campaigns, he had himself had contributed to the literary achievements of the period by writing three dramas, Nagananda, Priyadarsika, and Ratnavali and was a patron of learning and the learned.
The luminaries of his court were Bana- bhatta, Mayura, and other men of literature. Harsha had a part of his revenue marked for the support of men of intellectual eminence. Education was widely diffused under his reign and the great Nalanda, University became a centre of culture, education, and seat of Buddhist Philosophy under his patronage.
Banabhatta and Hiuen T-Sang who have left pompous, rhetorical exaggeration about Harsha’s personal qualities and activities may not be accepted to us fully. Yet after making due allowances for such fulsome praise, we cannot deny that Harsha was a ruler of versatile ability and wonderful personality. In his religious activities although he was eclectic yet we miss that measure of complete toleration during his time, which had characterised the Maurya and the Gupta Ages.
Some scholars are of the opinion that Harsha was the last Hindu ruler who attempted to build an empire. Dr. R. C. Majumdar refutes such opinion by saying that It would be wrong to assume, as many have done, that Harsha was the last great empire-builder in Hindu period and his death marked the end of all successful attempts to restore political unity of northern India. Several empires, which did not compare unfavourably with his, rose and fell in northern India during the next five centuries, and some of them, like the Pratihara Empire, were not only bigger but also more enduring.
By common consent Harshavardhan was decidedly one of the most remarkable rulers and an admirable personality of Hindu India.
Relation with China:
Harshavardhana appears to have been very much impressed by what he had come to know of the Chinese emperor’s power and prestige from Hiuen T-Sang. He felt encouraged to send a Brahman as ambassador to the court of the Chinese emperor in A.D. 641. The Chinese emperor reciprocated by sending an embassy under Liang- hoai-King with a letter, who reached Harsha’s court in A.D. 649.
In Ma-Twan-Lin’s encyclopaedia historical work, he even is described in the following way:
In (641) Siladitya assumed the title of King of Magadha and an ambassador with a letter to the emperor. The emperor, in his turn, sent Lian-hoai-King as an envoy with a royal patent to Siladitya with an invitation to him to submit to the authority of the Chinese emperor. Siladitya was full of astonishment and asked his officers whether any Chinese envoy ever came to his country since time immemorial. ‘Never’ they replied in one voice. Thereupon the king went out, received the imperial decree with bended knees, and placed it on his head.
Ettinghansen has taken this as signifying a condition of utter helplessness on the part of Harsha who perhaps was in trouble and sought the help of the Chinese assistance, hence assumed that submissive; attitude. Dr. R. C. Majumdar considers such a conclusion drawn by the Chinese chronicler Ma-Twan-Lin as wholly unwarranted, for it is absurd to believe that Harsha could expect any material assistance from such a distant country as China, obviously almost unknown to him before Hiuen T-Sang met him. The whole confusion was due to the invariable practice of the Chinese chroniclers to represent the customary presents from the envoy of a foreign country as tributes.
In the same year (A.D. 643) a second embassy came to Magadha under Li-y-Piao and Weng-hiuen-Tse. This embassy carried with it the reply of the Chinese emperor to Siladitya and was received with great honour. Wang-hiuen-Tse returned to China in A.D. 645. In the meantime Hiuen T-Sang had also reached China. Presumably after hearing the details about India and emperor Harsha from Hiuen T-Sang, Wang was at once sent again to Harsha’s court in 646 A.D.
This was the third Chinese mission to India, but when it reached India Harsha was already dead. Arjuna, a minister of Harsha, had usurped the throne in the meantime. He massacred the Chinese Mission and looted the presents brought by it for Harsha. Wang-hiuen-Tse obtained military assistance from Srong-tsan-Gampo who was related to the Chinese emperor and defeated Arjun in a battle near Trihut and took him as prisoner to China. Trihut remained under Tibet for some time.
Wang-Hiuen-Tse again visited India in A.D. 657 to offer robes to the Buddhist Holy places.
The most celebrated of the Chinese pilgrims who visited India, was Hiuen T-Sang. He is variously called The Master of Law, Prince of the Pilgrims, and Present Sakyamuni, etc. The material and reliability of the facts of his work have made his work one of the most important documents we possess on the life of India at that time. He visited India during A.D. 630 and A.D. 644.
In those days the Chinese were not permitted by the Chinese government to freely leave China, permission would be necessary for it. Hiuen T-Sang having been refused permission to leave China for a visit to India, he secretly left his country, passed through Tashkhand, Samarkhand, and Balkh in Central Asia and reached Gandhara in 630 A.D. From Gandhara he reached Kashmir and after staying there for two years he came to Punjab and began an itineracy to places connected with the life of Buddha, such as Kapilavastu, Benares, Bodhgaya, Kushinagar, etc.
At the Nalanda University Hiuen T-Sang stayed for long five years studying Buddhist philosophy. Nalanda at that time was the most important centre of studies in Buddhist and Hindu Dharmasastras. Hiuen T-Sang received his lessons from Silabhadra, Acharya of the Nalanda University.
Hiuen T-Sang visited Kamrup on the invitation of the King and therefrom came to the court of Harshavardhan who invited him to his Court on listening to the masterly discourses on Mahayana Buddhism Harsha became an ardent follower of Mahayanism.
The Chinese pilgrims also visited the Deccan and the Western-ghats. He described the Chalukya King Pulakesin II and Harsha as the two greatest kings of southern and northern India respectively. While at the court of Harshavardhan, Hiuen T-Sang attended the great Kanauj Assembly held in his honour as also the quinquennial Assembly at Prayaga, at the request of Harsha.
After the Assembly at Prayaga bad been over, he left for home (A.D. 644) with the permission of Harsha who deputed King Udhita to escort him upto the frontier. Laden with numerous images of Buddha made of gold, silver and sandal wood, 657 volumes of Buddhist manuscripts and 150 relics of Buddhas body he proceeded to his home country.
He was deposited more than once on his way home, he succeeded in carrying the above materials with him. He reached China in 645 A.D. and on hearing of his experience in India and about emperor Harsha, the Chinese emperor sent Wang-Hiuen-Tse for a second time as an ambassador to the Court of Harsha with various presents (A.D. 646). Wang reached India when Harsha was already dead.
Hiuen T-Sang has left an account of his travels in India which although dealt with Buddhism in India, is replete with details about the life and condition of India prevalent at that time which according to Dr. R. K. Mookerjee reads like a Gazetteer in the scope of its enquiry and its wealth of details. On reaching China, Hiuen T-Sang abided the rest of his life in translating the manuscripts that he had taken from India.
Hiuen T-Sang’s account, translated by Beal, gives us a wealth of information—political, social, economic, and religious aspects of India of the time of Harshavardhan. Importance of his work lies in the fact that the details are acquired on his own first hand information. There are certain statements here and there which have been questioned by modern scholars, yet by and large his account is a faithful narration of the condition of India of the time. It is of particular importance coming as it does, from a foreigner, to find words of praise for the administration, economic and social condition of the time.
We may attempt a resume of the account left by Hiuen T-Sang about India.
As regards the administration under Harshavardhan, Hiuen T-Sang observes that it was founded on benign principles and the Executive was simple. The people were not required to register themselves, nor were they subjected to forced labour. The Khas lands, i.e., the Crown land was divided into four parts.
The income of the first part was ear-marked for the affairs of the State, that of the second part for paying the ministers and other officers of the Crown; of the third part for rewarding men of genius and of the fourth for giving alms to religious communities. Taxes were light and services required for the people were also very moderate.
Those who cultivated the royal demesne had to pay a sixth part of the produce as revenue. Merchants and traders travel from place to place in pursuit of their business and. had to pay customs, tolls, and ferry charges on their merchandise. Labour required for the public works was exerted no doubt, but was paid for.
Crimes and rebellions were very few in number, and fewer of them were really troublesome. Law breakers were punished with fines. There, was no corporal punishment but the offenders were thrown out of the protection of the State. In cases of violation of rules of morality or justice, or when a man was guilty of dishonesty or was wanting in respect to the parents, the offenders’ hose and ears were cut off and he is expelled from the city to wander in the jungle for the rest of his life. Extortion of confession by torture was not resorted to. In case where the offender was obstinate and would not admit his fault trial by ordeal was resorted to.
Hiuen T-Sang mentions that Harsha was indefatigable in his administrative duties and would often forget his food and sleep in doing his work. Except in rainy season he would be constantly on move: visiting different parts of his empire, punishing the evil-doers and rewarding the meritorious.
Hiuen T-Sang mentions that at first Harsha’s army comprised 50,000 infantry, 2,000 cavalry and 5,000 elephants and was subsequently raised to 600,000 infantry, 60,000 elephants and 100,000 horses. This statement of Hiuen T-Sang has been doubted by modern scholars.
According to Hiuen T-Sang all transactions of the government were recorded. He refers to Harsha as a great patron of the University of Nalanda where he (Harsha) built a magnificent Vihara and a bronze temple.
Hiuen T-Sang tells us that caste-system dominated the Hindu Society. While the Brahmanas performed religious duties, the Kshatriyas comprised the governing class, the Vaisyas were engaged in trade; commerce and industry, and the sudras did the work of cultivation and menial work. About the Brahmans and Kshatriya Hiuen T-Sang remarks that the Brahmanas and the Kshatriyas were cleanly and wholesome in their dress, and lived in a homely and frugal way.
The rich merchants were very particular in their cleanliness. They braided their hairs, pierced their ears. They mostly went about barefooted, a few wore sandals. All people, Brahman, Kshtriyas, Vaisyas, etc., washed before eating, never used left over food of the previous meals. Metal vessels were washed clean after every meal. They washed their hands and mouth after every meal.
About the general nature of the people Hiuen T-Sang remarked that they were naturally light-minded, but were upright and honourable. In money matters, they were without craft and in the administration of justice they were judicious and considerate. They are not deceitful or treacherous in their conduct, and they are faithful to their oaths and promises and their rules of government, there is remarkable rectitude, while in their behaviour there is much gentleness and sweetness.
No inter-caste marriage was permissible and marriage within one’s own caste was prohibited upto certain degrees of relationship. There were certain restrictions in taking of food by different castes. Purity of diet was strictly observed. Onions and garlics were rarely used. Widow marriage was not permissible. The rite of Sati was prevalent and Queen Yashomati burnt herself to death after the death of her husband Rajyavardhan.
Hiuen T-Sang was very much impressed by the economic prosperity of India. He mentions that the people of India had a high standard of living. The main source of the economic life was agriculture. The soil was very fertile and the produce was abundant. Besides cereals which constituted the staple food, various fruits and vegetables were produced.
Main food of the people consisted of wheat, parched grains, sugar, milk, ghee, and on occasion’s fish, veneson, mutton, etc. Flesh of certain birds and animals as also beef were forbidden as food. Gold and silver coins, cowries and pearls were in circulation as medium of exchange.
About the industries, Hiuen T-Sang remarks that the art of making fine silk cloth, woollen and cotton fabrics had reached a high degree of excellence at that time. Of the various textiles, a mixed cloth called Kausiya was made of silk and cotton. Kasuma or linen cloth was manufactured from cotton, flux, and jute. Blankets were also manufactured from Wool.
Gold ornaments were manufactured for the king and the grandees. Rings, bracelets, tiaras, neck-chains, etc., were manufactured with great skin.
Industries had their guilds. The Brahmans, however, did not take part in the industrial activities and the Sudras were confined to agriculture.
Towns and Cities:
Hiuen T-Sang mentions that the towns and villages had wide and high walls with inner gates. The streets and lanes were tortuous and the roads winding. Thoroughfares were dirty. Stalls with signboards were arranged on both sides of the streets. Butchers, fishermen, dancers, scavengers, etc., had to live outside the city.
There people had to keep to the left side of the road while coming in or going out of the towns and cities. Walls and buildings of the towns and cities were built of bricks and tiles. Towers, balconies and belvederes were made of bamboos and wood. Different buildings have the same form as those in China.
Walls of buildings were smeared with mud, or lime mixed with cowdung for purity. The monasteries were constructed with extraordinary skill. Three-storied tower at each of the four corners was built and beams and projecting heads were carved with great skill into different shapes. Doors, windows, and the walls were painted profusely.
In the centre of the monastery was a hall, high and wide. Hiuen T-Sang tells us that many new cities came into prominence while the old ones were on the decline. Pataliputra had ceased to have its former glory and Kanauj took its place. He saw hundreds of monasteries and two hundred Hindu temples in Kanauj itself.
The City of Kanauj had lofty structures, beautiful gardens, tanks of clear water and museum of varieties collected from strange lands. Sravasti, Kapilavastu had been in ruins. Prayaga became prominent as a town. Nalanda, the seat of learning, both religious and secular, and Valabhi were places with a Buddhist learning.
Learning and Religion:
Learning during this period was diffused through monasteries. While religious works were written on paper of leaves, the Vedas were transmitted orally and not reduced to writing. Brahmi scripts were used. Sanskrit was the language of the learned and grammar was strictly followed in the use of this language. Education of a person lasted from the age of 9 to 30 years of age.
About Nalanda, where Hiuen T-Sang himself had studied for five years, where eminent scholars held disputations and one who would distinguish himself by refined language, subtle investigation, logic and deep penetration, would highly be honoured and one who would fail in his argument and knowledge would be publicly disgraced.
Hiuen T-Sang mentions that the general nature of life was largely influenced by Buddhism. He had noticed numerous Buddhist monasteries and about 200 Hindu temples in Kanauj itself. He also mentions the eclectic nature of Harsha’s religion and describes how he honoured Buddha, Surya and Siva at Prayaga.
That the period was not free from religious animosity is proved from Hiuen T-Sang account. There was bitter animosity between the two great sects of the Buddhist Church, i.e., the Hinayanists and the Mahayanists but also between the Buddhists and the Brahmanical Hindus. From Hiuen T-Sang it is known that Mahayana doctrine was more predominant than Hinayanism.
Hiuen T-Sang’s account is not only an excellent source of information about India of the time but significant for the praise contained in it from the pen of a foreigner who saw things himself and therefore a matter of pride for India.
The most brilliant luminary in the Harsha’s Court was his Court- poet Brahman Banabhatta. He was the author of the Harshacharit which is an eulogistic history of the reign of Harsha and a very reliable source of our information regarding the reign of the monarch, excluding of course the pompous rhetorics used by the poet.
Bana’s work gives us an idea of the political, social, economic, and religious life of the time and helps us considerably in the task of reconstruction of the history of the reign of Harshavardhan. His work has been translated into English by Cowell and Thomas. About the merit of the work of Banabhatta, Cowell and Thomas remarks that “The Court, the camp, the quiet village and still more quiet monasteries and retreats, whether of Brahmanas or Buddhists, are all painted with singular power”. Harshacharit supplements as well as corroborates the work of Chinese traveller Hiuen T-Sang.
Bana’s narrative, however, abruptly ends with the recovery of Rajyasri from the Vindhya forests. From Bana we know of Harsha’s determination for world-wide conquests’ and the issue of a proclamation to all kings of India to either accept his allegiance or to be prepared for a fight with him.
We are also told how Bhaskaravarman of Kamrup negotiated a friendly alliance and not one of vassalage. About Harsha’s determination to make the earth Gaudaless within a specified time but no reference to Harsha’s success against Sasanka of Gauda has been referred to by the poet.
Despite the usual exaggeration of a royal panegyrist while praise of his master had been done, the work of Banabhatta in essential parts is reliable and where he is corroborated by the foreign traveller Hiuen T-Sang, it is unassailable.
Nalanda was the seat of learning and culture during the reign of Harshavardhan and continued to be so long after Harsha. I-tsing who visited India after Hiuen T-Sang compared Nalanda with the best of the Chinese Universities. The Nalanda monastery was founded by one of the later Gupta Kings, in the 5th century A.D.
It received patronage not only from the Indian King, but being a centre of learning where specially Buddhist philosophy was taught as also the Vedic Philosophy, logic, grammar, medicine, received patronage from foreigners. Originally started as a Buddhist monastery, Nalanda soon outgrew its limits as a seat of Buddhist learning and became a seat of learning of various subjects, giving it the real character of a University.
The Nalanda University had a very vast campus with magnificent buildings. There were eight colleges in it, one of which was built by King Balaputradeva of Sumatra. On the inscription of Yasovarmadeva there is eloquent praise of grandeur of the buildings of the Nalanda University. According to Hiuen T-Sang the University campus was enclosed by a wall made of bricks.
The eight colleges were built in a row and one gate opened into the great college from which eight other halls were separated. There were Priests’ chambers which were of four stages. The stages have dragon projections and coloured caves, pearled pillars, carved and ornamented, richly adorned balustrades, and roofs covered with tiles that reflect the light in a thousand shades.
The students were provided with all kinds of facilities expected in a University. There were three great libraries in the University namely, the Ratnasagara, Ratnadodhi, and Ratnaranjak. Hiuen T-Sang who studied in the University of Nalanda for long five years saw more than 10,000 students and teachers there. The students and teachers came from all over India as well from countries like China, Japan, Korea, Tibet, Ceylon, Sumatra and other countries of South East Asia.
The Nalanda University did not only attack scholars in large numbers particularly from the Buddhist countries but sent out scholars to outside countries like China, Tibet, etc. Santarakshit, Padmasambhava, Buddhakirti, Sthiramali, Kamalasila went to Tibet while Kumarajiva, Paramartha, Subhakara, and Dharmadeva went to China. They were responsible for the spread of Buddhism in those countries.
Some of the most famous teachers at Nalanda were Nagarjuna, Anga, Aryadeva, Vasubandhu, Dinnaga, Silabhadra, Silrakshit, Dhar- mapala, Jinamitra, Prabhamitra, Chandrapala, etc. Atisadipankar had been a student and later a teacher at Nalanda before he was sent to Tibet at the request of the Tibetan King for the purpose of reforming Buddhism there.
A huge number of scholars of great ability and learning were there whose fame had spread far and wide. The students and teachers discussed subjects of studies and they found the day to be too short and spent day and night in scholarly discussion for perfection of their knowledge.
Nalanda had the true character of a university for it stood for freedom of knowledge and welcomed knowledge from all quarters, religions and sects. Admission to this University was restricted by selection test and the percentage of rejection of intending candidates was as high as 80%. According to Hiuen T-Sang, Nalanda University was joined by learned scholars for attaining perfection.
The expenses of the University was met from rich endowments made to it by Indians and foreigners and the liberal patronage it received from the Indian royal houses, such as the Guptas, Harshavardhana, and the Palas. The University had vast agricultural lands, dairy farms from which supplies of rice, milk, butter, etc. came.
The Nalanda University was not only a residential University but it had Viharas affiliated to it as is evident from the find of seals inscribed with Sri Nalanda-Mahavihara-Arya-Bhikshu-Samghasya, that is, of the Governing Body of the august University of Nalanda. Seals had Dharmachakra inscribed on them. Likewise Viharas or Colleges also used seals mentioning the fact of their affiliation to the Nalanda University. Obviously association of the name of the Nalanda University was by itself a great honour for colleges of the time.
When I-Tsing visited India in the last quarter of the seventh century, he found the Nalanda University equally great and important centre of learning. He found more than 3,000 resident students at Nalanda. It had then 200 villages under it for meeting the expenditure of the University. He mentions that the rules of the monastery of Nalanda were very strict. Nalanda University continued to be the most important centre of learning upto the twelfth century A.D. and its end came in the wake of the end of Buddhism in India.