By the middle of the 6th century a line of Gupta rulers with the same surname, but not connected in the official genealogy with the line, ruled in Magadha. In fact, the name ending “Gupta” may have been cho- sen and cherised by the Later Guptas in an attempt to bring the family closer, in the eyes of the people, to well-established Imperial Gupta dynasty. Krishna Gupta (480-502 A.D.), the founder of the dynasty, and his two successors, Harsha Gupta and Jivita-Gupta may be regarded as feudatories of the main Guptas. The dynasty came into its own with the accession    of Kumar Gupta, who made his kingdom more than a mere principality. Malwa was the chief centre of Later Guptas until the rise of Harsha.

Mahasena Gupta was the most famous ruler of this dynasty, probably, he defeated the Maukharis. He asso- ciated himself with the rising Pushyabhuti dynasty and giving in marriage his sister to Aditya Vardhan, the grand father of Harsha. Thus, Mahasena Gupta, with the help of Pushyabhuti, recovered his kingdom and got victory over Kamarupa (Assam). Mahasena Gupta’s two sons were sent to Thaneshwar to be companions of Harsha and the third son remained at Malwa. Harsha’s empire included Magadha which he entrusted to the Madhava Gupta, the first son of Mahasena Gupta.

Thus, actually two lines of Later Guptas came into existence. The Guptas of Magadha continued to prosper. But the story of Malwa is different. The Gupta ruler of Malwa Deva Gupta attacked Maukhari king Graha Varman and killed him. Graha Varman had married Rajyashri, the sister of Rajya Vardhan and Harsha Vardhan. Rajya Vardhan marched to Malwa, killed Deva Gupta and annexed the territory to his dominions. Thus, the Malwa branch of the Later

Guptas came to an end.

The Maukharis

In the second half of the sixth century, Kanyakubja (Kannauj) rose to the prominence as the capital of the Maukharis. The first three kings of this dynasty are given the simple title of Maharaja. The fourth king Ishana-Varman (550-560 A.D.) took the title of Ma- harajadhiraja. He followed an aggressive expansion- ist policy. After defeating the Andhras, the Sulivas and the Gauda, he came into conflict with the Later Guptas of Magadha. He was succeeded by Sri Sarva Varman, who firmly established Maukharis supremacy in Madhya-desha. The next famous ruler of this dy- nasty was Graha Varman, who married Rajyashri of the Pushyabhuti family of Thaneshwar. The wicked king of Malwa killed Graha Varman and imprisoned Rajyashri. The kingdom of Kannauj was combined with that of Thaneshwar of Harsha Vardhan.

The Pushyabhutis

The first three rulers of this dynasty i.e. Nara Vardhan, Rajya Vardhan and Aditya Vardhan are given the simple title of Maharaja. It shows that these rulers were initially feudal-lords under Gupta Kingdom and subsequently the Huna kings. Aditya Vardhan’s son Prabhakara Vardhan (A.D. 583-605) was the first ruler of the dynasty to assume the title Param Bhattarak Maharaja–dhiraja. He defeated Hunas, Sindhu kings, Gurjaras, the Lord of Gandhara and the kings of Malwa. His desire for conquest was eventually carried out by his younger son Harsha Vardhan.

Prabhakar Vardhan had made a matrimonial al- liance with the Maukharis by giving in marriage his daughter Rajyashri to Graha Varman. As a result of this engagement, the Maukhari nobles, on the death of their last king Graha Varman, requested Harsha, the reigning Pushybhuti king to unite his kingdom with the Maukhari kingdom and rule from Kannauj. Prabhakar Vardhan was succeeded by his elder son Rajya Vardhan, but shortly he was killed in a battle with Shasanka of Gauda (Bengal). He was succeeded by Harsha Vardhan, his younger brother who was ac- tually elected to the throne by the Mantri parishad.

Harsha Vardhana (606-647 A.D.)

•          Hieun-Tsang informs us that Harsha was reluctant to take the responsibilities of kingship.

•          He belonged to the Pushyabhuti family and was the son of Prabhakar vardhan, originally the feudatories of the Guptas.

•          Rajyavardhan succeeded Prabhakaravardhan. Grahavardhan, the Maukhari ruler of Kannauj and husband of Rajyasri (daughter of Prabhakara) was murdered by Devagupta, the ruler of Malwa who in alliance with Sasanka, ruler of Gauda and Bengal occupied Kannauj and imprisoned Rajyasri. Rajyavardhan undertook a campaign against Devagupta and killed him but was deceived and killed by Sasanka.

•          Harsha now succeeded his brother at Thaneswar. He brought most of north under his control and assumed the title of ‘Siladitya’.

•          Originally belonged to Thaneswar, but shifted to Kannauj which after his death was won from his successors by the Pratiharas.

•          Brought ‘5 Indies’ under his control – Punjab, Kannauj, Bengal, Bihar, and Orissa.

•          Harsha used to celebrate a solemn festival at Prayag, Allahabad at the end of every 5 years.

•          He was a great patron of learning and established a large monastery at Nalanda. Banabhatta, who adored his court wrote Harshacharita, Parvatiparinay and Kadambari. Harsha himself wrote 3 plays: Priyadarshika, Ratnavali and Nagananda.

Buddhism during Harsha’s reign:

•          Purana varman of Magadha, the last of the race of Ashoka, was one of the vassals of Harsha. He is reputed to have brought back to life the bodhi tree, cut down to its roots by Shashanka, by watering its roots with the milk of hundred cows.

•          Harsha’s brother and sister were ardent Hinayana Buddhists and he himself developed strong leanings towards Mahayana Buddhism after he came in contact with Hieun-Tsang.

•          Though the Chinese traveller Hieun-Tsang counted nearly 200,000 Buddhist monks, yet it is clear that Buddhism was clearly on the path of decline against the resurgent Puranic Hinduism.

•          In Harsha’s time, Jainism was prevalent only in the places like Vaishali and eastern Bengal.

•          In spite of losses due to accidents and robbery, Hieun-Tsang took with him to China 150 pieces of Buddha’s bodily relics; many images of teachers in gold, silver and sandalwood and 657 volumes of manuscripts, carried upon 20 horses.

•          In this period, Tantricism in both Hinduism and Buddhism came to the forefront.

Political Organization and State Administration

•          Nothing is known of the city of Kannauj after the death of Harsha until A.D. 730, when Yasovarman, who may have been a Maukhari king, was ruling there. Yasovarman was a famous monarch who sent an embassy to China in A.D. 731.

•          Samanta system emerged in the post-Gupta period and by the time of Harshvardhan, it was widely prevalent all over North India.

•          Harsha relied more on personal supervision than on an organized bureaucracy.

•          There seems to have been a council of ministers, which wielded real power on occasions.

•          According to Hieun-Tsang, the officers received their salaries in kind, in grants of land, and were paid according to their work.

•          Treason against the king was punished by lifelong imprisonment. Taxation was light and 1/6 was the royal share of the land revenue from the people.

•          The existence of a department of records and archives shows the enlightened character of the administration.

•          Harsha governed empire on the same line as the Guptas did except that his administration had become more feudal and decentralised.

•          Land grants continued to be made to priests for special services rendered to the state.

•          In addition Harsha is credited with the grant of land to the officers by charters as in case the Agrahara lands.

•          The Chinese pilgrim Hieun Tsang informs us that the revenues of Harsha were divided into four parts.

•          One part was earmarked for the expenditure of the king, a second for scholars, a third for the endowment of officials and public servants and a fourth for religious purpose.

•          He also tells us that ministers and high officers  of the state were endowed with land. The feudal practice of rewarding and paying officers with grants of land seems to have begun under Harsha. This explains why we do not have too many coins issued by King Harsha.

•          In the empire of Harsha, law and order was not well-maintained.

•          The Chinese pilgrim Hieun Tsang, about whom special care may have been taken by the government, was robbed of his belonging, although he reports that according to the law of the land severe punishments were inflicted for crime.

•          Robbery was considered to be a second treason for which the right hand of the robber was amputated. But it seems that under the influence of Buddhism, the severity of punishment was mitigated and criminals were imprisoned for life.

•          Harsha is called the last great Hindu emperor of India, but he was neither a staunch Hindu nor the ruler of the whole country.

•          His authority was limited to North India, except Kashmir-Rajasthan, Punjab, Utter Pradesh, Bihar and Orissa were under his direct control, but his sphere of influence spread over a much wider area.

•          It seems that the peripheral states acknowledged his sovereignty. Harsha was unable to extend his power in eastern and southern India.

•          In eastern India he faced opposition from the Shaivite king Shashanka of Gauda, who cut off the Bodhi tree at Bodh Gaya. But Shashanka’s death in 619 put an end to this hostility.

•          Harsha’s southward march was stopped on the Narmada river by the Chalukyan king Pulkesin II in 620 A.D., who ruled over a great part of modern Karnataka and Maharashtra with his capital at Badami in the modern Bijapur district of Karnataka. Pulskesin II bestowed the title of ‘the lord of the entire north’, on him.

•          Events towards the end of Harsha’s reign are described in Chinese sources.

•          T’ang Emperor of China Tai-Tsung sent an ambassador to Harsha’s court in 643 and again in 647. On the second occasion the Chinese ambassador found that Harsha had died and that the throne had been usurped by an undeserving king.

•          The Chinese ambassador rushed to Nepal and Assam and raised a force with which the allies of Harsha defeated the usurper, who was taken to China as a prisoner.

•          The kingdom of Harsha Vardhan disintegrated rapidly into small states after his death. The three border states of Assam, Nepal and Kashmir resumed their independence. Northern India was divided among several Rajput States.

•          Village was divided into groups of 10 for the purpose of assessment in the Deccan and in the groups of 12 or 16 in the northern region.

•          The power and privileges of the feudatories were clearly on the rises in this period and the biggest casualties were the lower classes and women.

•          The relationship between the village authorities and the feudatories was clearly defined. Brahmanas were granted tax-free lands as well as many privileges along with it.

•          The beginning of the practice of making religious grants roughly synchronizes with the date of the earliest epic and the Puranic description of the Kaliyuga or the age of social crisis.

•          Grants of land were made to the priests and the temples, and later to royal officers, along with fiscal and administrative immunities, which undermined the authority of the state.

•          The fiscal concessions accompanying the land grants included the royal right over salt and mines, which were royal monopolies in the Mauryan period and evidently signs of sovereignty.

•          Now, villages were granted in perpetuity to the beneficiaries, often with administrative rights.

•          The recipients of land grants in north India were empowered to punish thieves and other criminals; in central and western India from the fifth century onwards, they were also given the right to try the civil cases.

•          The transfer of magisterial and police powers together with fiscal rights to the donees not only weakened the royal authority, but also led to the oppression of peasants and inhabitants of the gift villages who were asked to obey their new masters and carry out their orders.

•          Several inscriptions indicated the emergence of serfdom, which meant that the peasants were attached to their land even when it was given away. Perhaps this began in South India in the earlier period because a third century Pallava grant informs us that four sharecroppers were asked to remain attached to their land which was given to the brahmanas.

Hieun-Tsang’s Account

Hieun-Tsang (or Yuan Chwang) was the most celebrated of all the Chinese pilgrims who came to India. He visited India in the first half of the seventh century A.D. and spent about 15 years (630-645) in the country. During this period he travelled all over the country and observed everything very minutely. No doubt he came to this country with the chief aim of collecting the Buddhist scriptures and visiting all those places connected with the Lord, but his clever eyes left nothing unnoticed.  He returned  to his country with a lot of material  concerned  with the Buddhist faith (such as Buddhist relics, images  of Buddha and about 657 volumes of manuscripts), but above all he carried with him the memories of this land. After reaching his homeland, he translated all his memories in the book-form entitled ‘Si-yu-Ki’ or the Records of the Western world. This book is   an invaluable source of information regarding Harsha and the political, social, religious and economic conditions of India during his reign (or in the first half of seventh century A.D.).

According to Dr. V.A. Smith, this book is a treasure house of accurate information, indispensable to every student of Indian antiquity and has done more than any archaeological discovery to render possible the remarkable re-association (revival) of lost history. From Hieun-Tsang’s account, the following important information is derived regarding Harsha and the condition of India during his time:

•          Kingdom of HarshaVardhan: Hieun-Tsang spent about eight years in Harsha’s court and consequently he had written in detail about his character and personality. According to Hieun-Tsang, Harsha was a very generous king who used to give a major portion of his revenue in alms to the poor, the needy  and religious men. He had built a large number of rest houses, hospitals, stupas, monasteries, and other works of public utility. He was a very dutiful king who never felt tired while serving his people. In the very words of Hieun-Tsang, “He was indefatigable and forgot sleep and food in the discharge of his duties.” Again, “the day was too short for him. He was the busiest of men and devoted all his time to promote the welfare of his people.”

About Harsha’s religious views, he writes that in the beginning he was a worshipper of Shiva and the Sun and later on he became a follower of Buddhism. Then, he devoted all his energies for the spread of his faith. Hieun-Tsang writes that Harsha led a very luxurious life and often bathed in vessels of gold and silver. Harsha’s capital Kannauj was known all round for its lofty structures, beautiful gardens, tanks to clear water and museum of varieties collected from strange lands. It was a great cosmopolitan town with one hundred Buddhist monasteries and about two hundred deva temples; it had greatly grown in its importance under Harsha.

•          Political Condition and Administration: Hieun- Tsang has written in detail about Harsha’s administration and the political condition of India during his times. He has every praise for Harsha’s administration. Harsha fully knew that in order to make the life of his subjects happy, a good deal of personal supervision was most essential, from time to time he himself used to go from place to place in order to punish the evil-doers and reward the good.

Harsha’s government was based on benign and generous principles. Hieun-Tsang further writes, “The government is generous, official requirements are few, families are not registered and individuals are not subject to forced labour-contribution”. Taxes were very light. The source of income was the land- tax which was 1/6 of the total produce. The royal income was spent in a very systematic way. Its one- fourth part was spent on government, one-fourth on the maintenance of the public servants, one fourth to reward the learned and the rest portion was reserved for distributing gifts among holymen.

The penal code was very severe and sometimes hands, ears or nose were also cut off. Fines were also inflicted and trial by ordeal was also known, though it was awarded very rarely. Hieun-Tsang, however, writes that roads were not so safe as he himself was thrice looted and once even his clothes were snatched away from him.

According to Hieun-Tsang, there was a special department of keeping records of all the important events of the state. In these records, good and bad events were recorded and instances of public calamity and good fortune are set forth in detail. Hieun- Tsang says that Harsha had maintained a powerful and well-equipped army which was over two lakhs. It was comprised of 50,000 infantry, 6,000 elephants and 100,000 horsemen.

•          Socio-economic Condition: From certain casual remarks of Hieun-Tsang, we can form  an  idea  of the social and economic conditions of India during Harsha’s reign. About the dress and general appearance of the people, he writes that they wore simple dress comprising inner clothing and outward garment which did not involve any tailoring work. They were, however, very fond of ornaments. Again, he writes that most of the people go bare-footed and shoes are rare. The food of the people was very simple and pure. They generally took milk, ghee, rice, grain and vegetables. Onions and garlic’s were rarely used and the use of meat was not so common.

About the architecture or house planning of the people, Hieun-Tsang writes that their walls were generally built of brick, and often coated with chunam. The roofs were sometimes made of thatched reed matting but generally there were wooden flat roofed rooms which were often covered with tiles, burnt and unborn. Their floors were purified with cow dung and strewn with flowers of the season. Their houses, in short, were ‘sumptuous inside and economical outside.’ According to Hieun-Tsang, the architecture of public building and Buddhist monasteries was very remarkable.

The people in those days had a high sense of cleanliness. According to Hieun-Tsang, “They are pure on their own accord and not from any compulsion. Before every meal they must have a wash, the fragment and remains are not served up again. The food utensils are not passed on.” Persons who followed unclean or disreputable occupations (like butchers, fisherman, executioners and scavengers) had to live outside the city.

The people also led a high moral life. They were hospitable, honest, generous and charitable. They were afraid of doing any thing wrong and sinful. According to Hieun-Tsang, they are of pure moral principle.

Hieun-Tsang has thrown a good deal of light on the social customs of the people. The caste-taboos had be- come very rigid and usually the people married within their castes. According to him, ‘Relations whether by the father’s or mother’s side do not inter marry.’ The accursed purdah-system did not exist but the practice of sati was, however, practiced by the people. Harsha’s own mother Yasomati died as a sati.

The chief occupation of the people was cultivation of land, domesticating animals, adopting various other occupations including industries, trade and commerce. Trade was carried on both by sea and land-routes with many neighbouring countries, such as China and Persia. The medium of exchange comprised not merely gold and silver coins, but also cowries and small pearls.

•          Religious Condition: Hieun-Tsang was a religious pilgrim and so he wrote in detail about the religious condition of India in the first half of the seventh century A.D. There were three religions-Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism that were  flourishing  side  by side in India in the seventh century A.D. About Buddhism, Hieun-Tsang nowhere writes that it was on the decline, but from his account that ancient  seats of Buddhism like Gaya and Kapilvastu were ruins, historians have derived the conclusion that Buddhism was declining day by day. But still in every big town there were many monasteries where about 10,000 monks lived. There were many Indian rulers (like Harsha) who patronized Buddhism. In addition to the two main sects-the Hinayana and the Mahayana-Buddhism had further been split up into 18 different sub-sects.

About Hinduism, Hieun-Tsang writes that it was gaining strength. India was known in China as ‘the country of the Brahmans.’ Hinduism had greatly regained its superior status since the day of the Imperial Guptas. The predominance of Hinduism was further demonstrated by the popularity of Sanskrit which, according to Hieun-Tsang, had begun to be commonly used both in speaking and writing. The Buddhist teacher had also developed a great fondness for this language of the gods.

Though Indian people followed different religions according to their likings, yet they practiced complete religious toleration. The followers of different faiths lived peacefully. Harsha, no doubt, had become a Buddhist, but he did not become a religious persecutor. While showering favours and distributing money, he never made any distinction between a Buddhist monk and a Brahman priest.

•          Educational System: From Hieun-Tsang’s account, we come to know that there was well-organised system of education during the reign of Harsha. Elementary education was given in temples and monasteries where students resided with their teachers. The higher education was provided by some well-known centres of education which resembled more or less the modern universities. Some of the well-known universities then existing were those of Taxila, Ujjain, Gaya and Nalanda.

The most important university was that of Nalanda which had its own six-storyed  building.  It  was a university of international fame and students from various foreign countries usually came  here  for study. There were about 1,510 Professors in all who imparted knowledge to about 10,000 students. No fees were charged from the students and even food, accommodation and clothes were provided free of cost to them. The expenditure of this university was met by the rich donations made by many Indian rulers and rich people. Moreover, about 100 villages and their revenues were attached with this university for meeting out its expenses. Harsha is also said to have made rich endowments to this university. Such a university perhaps did not exist any where else on the surface of the world.

•          Harsha’s Assemblies: Hieun-Tsang has given a vivid description of Harsha’s assemblies. Harsha called a special assembly at Kannauj to honour Hieun-Tsang and to give wide publicity to the doctrines of the Mahayana faith. In this assembly a heated discussion took place between the Brahmans and Hieun-Tsang. In the end, Hieun-Tsang won the day and a special procession was organized to honour him on his success. Again Hieun-Tsang writes that Harsha used to distribute alms among the learned, religious men, the poor and the needy on a large scale. One of such assemblies was held in 643 A.D. which was attended by Harsha himself. On the first day, Harsha worshipped Buddha, on the second day the image of Sun and on the third day adoration was offered to Shiva.

After these adorations to various deities Harsha began his work of distributing wealth and offering gifts to the Buddhist monks, Brahman heretics, and the poor, the orphans and the destitute. He exhausted his entire treasury so much so that he had to borrow his personal clothes from his sister Rajyashri.

The Vakatakas

•          The Vakatakas came to control parts of the Deccan and Central India till the rise of the Chalukyas.

•          The founder of this Brahmin dynasty was Vindhyasakti.

•          The most important king was Pravarasena I who performed 4 Ashvamedha yagnas.

•          He was succeeded by Rudrasen I, Prithvisen I and Rudrasen II respectively.

•          Chandragupta II married his daughter Prabhavati to the vakataka king Rudrasen II.

•          Rudrasen II was succeeded by Divakarasena, Damodarasena or Pravarasena who composed a Prakrit work titled Setubandha in glorification of Rama, though he was a devotee of Shiva.

The Abhiras

•          On the downfall of the Satvahanas, the Abhira Ishwarsena established himself in northern Maharashtra. He started an era in A.D. 249. It is known as Kalachuri-Chedi or Abhira era.

•          According to Puranas there were 10 Abhira kings.

•          From an inscription it seems that Kathika was the family name of the Abhiras.

The Shakas of Mahishaka

•          It was founded by Mana after the decline of the Satvahanas in the Deccan.

The Traikutakas

•          Appear to be the feudatories of Abhiras at first.

•          First ruler was Indradutta, who was followed by Dahrasena, Vyaghrasena and Madhyamsena.

•          Aniruddhapura was the capital of this kingdom.

•          Vikramsena was the last known king of this dynasty.

The Rashtrakutas

•          Founder was Dantidurga.

•          Originally district officers under Chalukyas of Badami.

•          Their king Krishna I is remembered for constructing the famous rock-cut Kailasha temple at Ellora.  It was constructed in the Dravidian style and elaborately carved with fine sculptures.

•          Their King Amoghvarsha is compared to Vikramaditya in giving patronage to men of letters. He wrote the first Kanadda poetry named Kaviraj marg and Prashnottar Mallika. He built the city of Manyakheta as their capital.

•          Their king, Krishna III set up a pillar of victory and a temple at Rameshwaram after defeating the Cholas.

•          Rashtrakutas are credited with building the cave shrine of Elephants. It was dedicated to shiva, whose image as Mahesh (popularly known as Trimurti) counts among the most magnificent art creations of India. The three faces represent Shiva as Creator, Preserver and Destroyer, and only Shiva is represented in 3 faces and not Brahma, Vishnu, etc.


•          In early period the Kalachuris were known as Haihayas with Mahishmati as their capital.

•          Krishnaraja, the earliest known chief of this dynasty was succeeded by his son Buddharaja.

The Gangas

•          Also called Chedagangas of Orissa.

•          Their King Narasimhadeva constructed the Sun temple at Konark.

•          Their King Anantavarman Ganga built the famous Jagannath temple at Puri.

•          Kesaris who used to rule Orissa before Gangas built the Lingaraja temple at Bhubaneshwar.

The Palas of Bengal

•          In the middle of the 8th century, the Pala dynasty came into power. Its founder was Gopala (750 A.D.) who was elected to the throne as he had proved his valor and capability as a leader.

•          Suleiman, an Arab merchant had termed the Pala kingdom as Rumi.

•          Gopala was an ardent Buddhist.

•          He was succeeded by Devapala. He extended his control over Pragjoytishpur (Assam). He was a Buddhist.

•          Balaputradeva, a King of Buddhist Sailendras ruling Java asked Devapala for grant of 5 villages to endow a monastery at Nalanda. He granted the request and appointed Vikramaditya as Head of Nalanda monastery.

•          Devapala’s court was adorned with the Buddhist poet Vijradatta, the author of Lokesvarasataka.

The Senas

•          They ruled Bengal after the Palas.

•          Its founder was Samantasena. His grandson Vijayasena (son of Hemantasena) brought the family into limelight.

•          The famous poet Sriharsha composed the Vijataprasasti in memory of Vijayasena.

•          He was succeeded by Ballalasena. He wrote Danasagara and Adbhutsagara.

•          He was succeeded by Lakshmanasena, Jayadeva. The famous Vaishnava poet of Bengal and the author of Gita Govinda lived at his court.

•          His reign saw the decline of Sena power. The invasions of Bakhtiyar Khalji gave it a crushing blow.

Leave a Reply

Scroll to Top