Short essay on the religious policy of Harshavardhana



Hajsha was a religious minded king. Harsha belonged to a family which had individual preferences in matter of religion. Pushyabhuti, the founder of Vardhan dynasty was a Saiva Rajya Vardhana had adopted Buddhism.

These religions had made their impressions upon the mind of Harsha He on- one hand, was worshipper of Shiva and a devotee of Sun and cm the other hand, he had faith in Buddhism. But as he advanced his learning towards the Buddhism increased and his later days had become a staunch follower of Buddhism. Dr R. S. Tripathy has expressed his view in following words :

"In his later years, however, Harsha appears to have inclined towards Buddhism, and eventually adopted it with coating of a curious sort of electicism".

By the time of Harsha, the Puranic Hindusim was sweeping over India in full force. The Hindu Gods and Goddesses had come to dominate the religious faith of the people Buddha's images were also worshipped by the Hindus along with the images of their major Gods. Within the Puranic Hinduism, there were many sects Gods like Vishnu.

Siva, Surya were worshipped. Buddhism was slowly and gradually moving towards its decline. Jainism was confined to a few places like Vaisali and its former holy centres. In this time of religious assimilation, Harsha represented liberal mind.

Influence of Rajyavardhan, meeting with Divakara Mitra while searching Rajyasri and the visit of Chinese traveller in his court influenced much in the mind of Harsha to patronage Buddhism. Harsha's inclination was towards the Mahayana form of Buddhism. On account of his love and faith in Buddlijsm, he built a looft, high bronze temple in Nalanda Vihar.

He built many Stupas and Vihars at the bank of river Ganges. He prohibited violence and eating of meat. Every year he used to summon an assembly of the Buddhist monks and offered them gifts. According to Hiuen-Tsang after even five years, he used to give all his wealth in charity. Everyday he gave food to 100 Buddhist monks and 501 Bralunans.

However, Harsha also worshipped other Gods and Goddesses In his two dramas 'Priyadarsika' and 'Ratnavali' had worshipped vedic Gods and Goddesses. In the Pravag festival he had also worshipped Sun and Shiva. If on the on hand, he patronised Buddhist scholars. Divakarmitra and Jai Sing, on the oilier hand. Brahman scholars. Bana and Maurya also received his royal support and patronage.

Kanauj Assembly:

Harsha convoked a religious assembly in Kanauj in honour of Hiuen-Tsang. It was attended by 20 kings including Vaskar Varman of Kamarupa and thousands of Buddhists. Jaina and Brahmanical scholars and priests. This assembly was convened in 643 A.D.

The purpose of this assembly was also simplifying the doctrines of Malrayanism. Hiuen-Tsang was also present and presided the assembly. Harsha had built a special building for the perpose of assembly, Dr. R.S. Tripathy writes-"Harsha had preciously ordered two thousand halls, each capable of seating one thousand persons to be erected at the place of an assembly for the accommodation of the vast concourse and also a previous tower, about 199 feel high, in the middle of which was placed a golden statue of Buddha of the same height as the king himself."

The proceedings of assembly started with a procession which was led by a statue of Buddha and Harsha and Bhaskar Varman were walking. Serving the statue of Buddha in the form of Sakra and Brahma. They were followed by Hiuen-Tsang other scholars.

When this procession reached the assembly house the statue of Buddha was established at a high place and it was worshipped. In this assembly, Hiuen-Tsang was accorded the highest place of honour as the "Lord of the discussion".

As the procession progressed. Harsha scattered golden flowers, pearls, gems, on all sides for showing honour to the Buddha. Dharma and, Sangha. At the end of the procession. Harsha used to wash the image in his own hands at the altar and carry it on his own shoulders. Harsha's devotion to the image of Buddha in the Kanauj Assembly clearly proves his deep attachment to Matiavana Budliism. The Hindu Gods like Sakra and Brahama were also worshipped.

The Kanauj Assennbly was managed by two unfortunate incidents. Those incidents also show that many in that assembly did not like Harsha's extra ordinary favour to the Chinese Master of the Law, and to the Mahayanu faith. The first incident relates to a threat to the life of Hiuen-Tsang.

Comming to know of it, Harsha issued a proclamation to warn the intolerant ones- "If any one should touch or, hurt the Master of the Law, he shall be forth with executed, and whoever speaks against him, his tounge shall be cut out; but all those who desire to profit by his instructions, relying on my good will, need not fear this manifesto".

The second incident relates to an attempt on the life of Harsha himself. One night a monastery on the site of the assembly suddenly caught fire, and Harsha himself came out to put it down.

As he was coming down the steps of a Stupa from where he supervised that work, a fantastic with a danger rushed towards the emperor to assassinate him. He was caught and he confessed that he had been set to kill the king for his favour to the Buddhism.

Following the investigation 500 Brahmins were arrested and they confessed their guilt. They were all exiled from the country for their act of treason against the king. After the assembly was concluded, a procession was again taken out. Hiuen-Tsang was shown great reverence and was referred as "Mahayana Deva" and 'Mokshya Deva".

Prayag Assembly:

After the Kanauj Assembly was concluded, Hiuen-Tsang was making preparations to go to his home, but Harsha invited him to attend another Assembly which he used to hold after ever five years on the confluence of Ganga and Yamuna. Five such assemblies had already taken place and this was the sixth Assemblies in which Hieun-Tsang was invited. This ceremony was attended by the kings of eighteen kingdoms and about 5, 00,000 people including Sramanas. Hercetics, Nigranthas, the poor, the orphans etc, attended this assembly.

The ceremony started with the procession and thereafter the statue of Buddha was established and a lot of money was given incharity. On the second and the third day statues of Sun and Shiva respectively were established. On the fourth day. Precious articles and valuables were distributed to 10,000 monks. Each of the Buddhist monks was given hundred pieces of gold, one pearl, one cotton garment, various drinks, perfumes and flowers.

There after for ten days valuable articles and things were distributed to men of other religion. Further, orphans and poors were given charity for thirty days. This continued up to 75 days. When the accumulated treasures of state for five years were exhausted, the kings gave away his personal ornaments and dresses and were a secondhand garment provided by his sister. Then Ire paid worship to the "Buddhas of the ten religions" and rejoiced that his treasures had been bestowed in the-field of religious merits.

The Prayag Assembly is a glorious example of the generosity of Harshavardhan. The assemblies of Kanauj and Prayag clearly indicate that the victory of Mhayanism was forcibly proclaimed over religion.