The downfall of the Gupta Empire in the middle of the sixth century brought about the breakup of the northern Indian kingdom into many small republics and monarchy states. Punjab and parts of central India had been taken over by the Huns regime, however over time, their power weakened as they assimilated with the native population.
Prabhakar Vardhan, ruler of Sthanvisvara, Thanesar (in present day Haryana) was the first ruler of the Vardhana dynasty. He had two sons. The elder son Rajya Vardhana ascended the throne after his father. His younger son was Harshavardhana.
Rajya Vardhana was deceived and murdered by King Gauda, at which point a young sixteen year old Harsha swore to take revenge. Harsha waged war against King Gauda and won the battle.
Harsha was consequently crowned the new ruler and he proved to be a great conqueror and administrator. He first united the kingdoms of Thanesar and Kannauj and then went on to bring Bengal, Bihar & Odisha under his command. He married off his daughter to Dhruvasena whom he had defeated in Gujarat.
King Harshavardhana then moved towards the south only to be stopped by Pulakesi II of Vatapi. As a result the Narmada became the southern limit of Harsha’s empire. Under Harsha the small republics from Punjab to central India were reunited.
Like many kings of that time, Harsha was a true patron of the arts. He supported the Nalanda university with financial grants. He was also an author of repute having penned Sanskrit plays like Nagananda, Ratnavali and Priyadarsika.
Banabhatta, Harsha’s court poet wrote the Harsha Charitam, the first historical poetic work on King Harsha. The Harsha Charitam is replete with the king’s achievements and deeds.
Harsha’s capital city, Kannauj extended 6 to 8 kilometers along the river Ganges. The city was filled with magnificent buildings & structures. He also had a systematic tax structure in place. One fourth of the taxes went towards the administration of his empire. The rest were given away to charities and to further the arts & cultural endeavors in his kingdom. Trade too flourished during his reign.
Later on in his life, King Harsha, a Shaivite by birth became a follower of Buddhism. He constructed various stupas in the name of Buddha. Under him all religions and schools of thought like Jainism and Buddhism enjoyed freedom of expression.
Harsha ruled ably for 41 years. However as he had no heirs, the kingdom disintegrated after his demise. Soon after his death, the Pratihars of Malwa, Palas of Bengal & the Rashtrakutas of the Deccan all fought for control over northern India.
With King Harsha’s passing, the idea of a single kingdom ruling northern India disintegrated.