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"Harshacharita": The First Historical Biography in Sanskrit

Madugundu's received a BA from Andhra University Vishakapatnam. They worked as a manager of a private company called Kurnool, AP for years.

King Harshavardhana

King Harshavardhana

King Harshavardhana

The Post-Gupta Period

In north and south India, many new kingdoms emerged after the end of the Gupta period. In the north, the kingdom of Hrashvardhana was the most powerful, and in the south, it was the Pallavas. Deccan was dominated by the Chalukyas.

King Harshvardhana (606 – 647 AD)

As we know, the Gupta inscriptions and coins give us a lot of information about the Gupta Period. Similarly, we can find out about some rulers from their biographies. Harshavardhana, who ruled for around 1,400 years, is one such ruler.

How Do We Know?

We can know more about Harshavaradhana from two literary works. The first is his biography Harshacharita, written by his court poet Banabhatta. Written in Sanskrit, this book tells us about the genealogy of King Harsha and ends with his becoming a king. The Harshacharita is the first historical biography in Sanskrit.

The other is the account of Xuan Zang, a Chinese pilgrim who visited India in Harsha’s region. He spent eight years at Harsha’s court. He also left a detailed account of whatever he saw. In addition to these sources, coins and inscriptions of this time tell us about Harsha and his region.

Military Campaigns

Harsha ascended the throne at the age of 16. the capital of his empire was Kanauj. During his rule, Harsha established a strong empire, which extended from Punjab, Kashmir, and Nepal in the north to the Narmada river in the south. He tried to cross the Narmada river to march into Deccan and attack the kingdom of the Chalukya king, Pulakeshin II. However, Harsha was defeated during this attempt.

Harsha conquered many territories but did not annex all. Most of these rulers accepted the superiority of Hrasha and offered him tribute.

Tolerant king

Harsha was a tolerant king. He was a worshiper of Lord Shiva but later became a Buddhist. He was also a patron of the arts and learning.

Harsha was a man of Dharmic and liberal nature. He strived after providing comforts to his subjects. He established centers to dispense medicine and food to the poor. He built rest houses throughout the country. Harsha would conduct Dharmic conferences once in five years at his capital Kanauj and Prayag.

Harshavardhana coins

Harshavardhana coins


Harshavardhana patronized scholars and men of letters. Banabhatta was the most important among them. Bana wrote `Harshvardhana’, a biography of Harshavardhana himself. `Kadambari’ is a prose – work that has immortalized itself and the poet in the world of Sanskrit literature. Harshavardhana has written three plays: Priyadarshika, Ratnavali, and Nagananda. He gave munificent endowments to Nalanda University.


There was no fee for either education, shelter, or food. Revenues of a hundred villages were earmarked for this purpose. Harshavardhana was a Patron of this university. Students had led disciplined lives. The faculty had great scholars.

Eight Mahapathashalas and three large libraries were on this campus. Buddhism was the main subject of study other subjects like Yoga, Veda, and medicine were also being taught. Hu – en – Tsang spent many years studying Buddhism at this university.

Harshvardhana had deputed his ambassador to China before Hu – en- Tsang visited India. China also sent its ambassador to India in turn.