Harshavardhana [606 AD - 647 AD]
In the second half of the seventh century, efforts at empire building were made by Harshavardhana (or Harsha). He belonged to the Pushabhukti family, who ruled in Thaneshwar, north of Delhi. His reign is comparatively well-documented, thanks to his court poet, Bana, who composed an account of his rise to power, Harshacharita. The Chinese buddhist pilgrim, Hieun Tsang, who visited India during his reign, also left a lengthy account of his travels.
Harsha moved his capital from Thaneshwar to
Kanauj. The area under his control covered many parts of northern India,
including the Punjab, eastern Rajasthan and the Ganga valley as far as Assam.
But, his empire included territories of distant feudal kings too. Harsha
governed his empire on the same lines a the Guptas. The kings he conquered paid
him revenue and sent soldiers when he was fighting war. They accepted his
sovereignty, but remained rulers over their own kingdoms. Harsha's ambition of
extending his power to the Deccan and southern India were stopped by Pulakesin
II, the Chalukya king of Vatapi in northern Mysore.
Hieun Tsang noticed that at the time of Harsha, Buddhism was not as popular in all parts of India as he had thought it would be. But in eastern India, it was still popular. Nalanda university was still a famous centre of Buddhism. He also recorded the existence of a rigid caste system.
Soon after Harsha's death, apparently without any heirs, his empire died with him. The kingdom disintegrated rapidly into small states. The succeeding period is very obscure and badly documented, but it marks the culmination of a process which had begun with the invasion of the Hunas in the last years of the Gupta empire. Meanwhile, the kingdoms of the Deccan and the south became powerful.