1. Harshavardhana (606-647 C.E): Harshavardhana was the greatest ruler of the Vardhanas. He came to power in 606 C.E. Prabhakara Vardhana and Yashomathi were his parents. He had an elder brother Rajavardhana and a younger sister Rajyashri. Prabhakara Vardhana was succeeded by Rajavardhana.
Yashomathi pained by the death of her husband, committed Sati in 605 C.E. Devagupta of Malwa killed Rajyashri’s husband Gruhavarma and imprisoned her at Kanauj. Rajavardhana who went to get her released, was killed by Shashanka of Gaudadesha. Harshavardhana came to power under such painful circumstances.
2. Immediate tasks and conquests : The immediate task of Harsha was twofold One to crush his enemies and the other to save his sister from the enemy’s prison. King Shashanka of Bengal was responsible for the murder of Harsha’s brother and even for imprisoning Rajyashri. Harsha marched against Shashanka and won a diplomatic victory by concluding a treaty of friendship with Bhaskaravarma of Kamarupa, then attacked Shashanka and took revenge.
Harsha’s first act was to rescue Rajyashri. She had escaped from prison (Kanauj) and went towards the Vindhya forests. Harsha searched for her with great difficulty, saved her and brought her back to Kanauj. Rajyashri did not agree to rule Kanauj. Harsha was compel led to accept that and he united the Kingdoms of Thaneshwar and Kanauj.
Later he shifted his capital to Kanauj. Later, he defeated Devagupta of Malwa and annexed his Kingdom. By 612 C.E., he achieved complete control over the five sindus of Punjab, Kanauj, Goudadcsha, Mithila, Orissa, and other places and annexed them to his Kingdom.
3. Annexation of North India: HaVshavardhana won Orissa, Magadha, Vodra, Ganjam, and Bengal. Later he defeated the ruler of Nepal and received tributes from him. He established his supremacy by defeating most of the north Indian Kingdoms. In commemoration of these achievements, he took the title‘Uttarapatheshwara’.
4. War with Pulikcshi – II : After the northern campaign, Harsha turned his attention towards south. However, he received resistance from the Chalukyan ruler, Pulikeshi – II when he tried to extend his Empire in the south. Armies of the two Emperors met on the banks of Narmada, in 634 C.E. In the battle of Narmada, Harshavardhana was defeated.
Pulikeshi – II won the battle and took the title ‘Parameshwara’. As a result, the river Narmada became the boundary line of both the Empires. Aihole inscription says, that Harsha’s harsha” (happiness) flew away, seeing his war elephants falling in the battlefield.
5. Extent of the Kingdom: Harsha exchanged Ambassadors with China. The credit for uniting north India after the Guptas, goes to Harshavardhana. His Empire extended from Bengal and Orissa in the east, Punjab in the west, Himalayas in the north and Narmada river in the south.
Harsha was a devotee of Lord Shiva and called himself ‘Parama Maheshwara’. Later, he embraced Buddhism due to the influence of Hieun Tsang. He built stupas at a few prominent places of Buddhism. He conducted a Buddhist council at Kanauj for a religious debate in 643 C.E. 3000 Buddhist monks, 1000 scholars, 20 Kings, 3000 brahmins and Jains attended the conference.
A golden statue of Buddha, as well as that of the King, were installed in the Auditorium. Hieun Tsang explained the philosophy of Mahayana in this council.
Harshavardhana organised the Mahamoksha Parishat, at Prayag in 643 C.E. Hieun Tsang was invited to it and a procession of Buddha’s idol along with that of Shiva and Surya was taken out.
7. Literature: Harsha was an able administrator, patron of literature and cared for the welfare of his people. He wrote the following dramas:- Ratnavali, Nagananda and Priyadarshika in Sanskrit. He patronised the famous poet Biinabhatta, author of Harshacharite.
The celebrated Chinese pilgrim and scholar Hieun Tsang adorned his court. Nalanda University, which was established by Kumara Gupta, spread Mahayana Buddhist Philosophy and received the patronage and reached the zenith of its glory, during the reign of Harshavardhana.