After the downfall of the Gupta Empire in the middle of the sixth century AD, north India was again split into several independent kingdoms.
The Huns established their supremacy over the Punjab and certain other parts of central India. The northern and western regions of India into the hands of a dozen or more feudatories. Gradually, one of them, Prabhakar Vardhana, the ruler of Thanesar, who belonged to the Pushabhukti family, extended his control over all other feudatories.
Prabhakar Vardhana was the first king of the Vardhana dynasty with his Capital at Thanesar, which is now a small town in the vicinity of Kurukshetra. It is located at a distance of nearly 150 km. from Delhi. After his death in 606 A.D, his eldest son, Rajya Vardhana ascended the throne. He was killed in a battle, which he won against Devagupta. The latter had killed Grahavarman, the husband of his sister Rajyashri and usurped the throne of Kannauj.
Harsha ascended the throne at the age of 16. Though quite a young man, he proved himself to be a great conqueror and an able administrator. After his accession, Harsha first rescued his sister just as she was going to commit sati. At the request of his sister, he united the two kingdoms of Thanesar (Kurukshetra) and Kannauj and transferred his Capital from Thanesar to Kannauj. Harsha waged many wars. He defeated Sasank of Bengal. He also brought the five Indies-eastern Punjab (The present-day Haryana), Kannauj, Bengal, Bihar and Orissa- under his control. He conquered Dhruvasena of Gujarat. He also conquered Ganjam, a part of the modern Orissa state.
His empire included territories of distant feudal kings too. Harsha governed his empire on the same lines as those of the Guptas. The kings whom he conquered paid him revenues and sent soldiers whenever he was fighting wars. They accepted his sovereignty but remained rulers over their own kingdoms. Harsha’s ambitions of extending his power to the Deccan and southern India were stopped by Pulakesin II, the Chalukya king of Vatapi in northern Mysore.
His reign is comparatively well-documented, thanks to his court poet Bana Bhata and Hieun Tsang. Bana composed an account of
Harsha’s rise to power in Harshacharita. Hieun Tsang was a Chinese Buddhist pilgrim who came to India during this time to collect Buddhist literature and visit places connected with Buddhism. He wrote a full description of his journey in his book SI-YU-KI. Harsha died in the year 647 AD. He ruled over India for 41 years. He was the last empire builder of ancient India. Harsha supported the development of philosophy and literature and wrote three well-known plays-Nagananda, Ratnavali and Priyadarshika.
After Harsha’s death, apparently without any heir, 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 process, which had begun with the invasion of the Hunas in the last years of the Gupta’s empire. Meanwhile, the kingdoms of the Deccan and the south became powerful.