Early Medieval Period (600-750 CE): Pushyabhutis and Maukharis

Post Ancient/Early Medieval History is the period which marks the end of the ancient period and the start of the medieval period. Political fragmentation, feudalism, and the creation of various states are highlights of this period. In South India, this was a period where the king played the role of ritual head and lacks a firm revenue infrastructure or a standing army. This period from 600-1200 CE can be classified into two phases:



The Early Medieval Kingdoms: Pushyabhutis of Thanesar

The fall of the Gupta Empire had resulted in the division of northern India into several kingdoms. Around the 5th century Kashmir, Punjab, and northwest India were annexed and came under the sovereignty of the Hunas. Different feudatories of the Guptas declared their independence and start ruling in North and Western India. Pushyabhutis/Vardhanas declared their independence and gained prominence after the fall of the Guptas and they established their capital at Thanesar (near Kurukshetra, Haryana).

Prabhakar Vardhana (6th Century CE)

He was the first notable king of Pushyabhutis but the 4th ruler from the family, who laid the foundation of this dynasty. He had been preceded by his father, Adityavardhana, grandfather Rajyavardhana I, and great-grandfather, Naravardhana.

Inscriptions suggest that Banabhatta, the seventh-century bard and chronicler of the Pushyabhutis/Vardhanas, may have been wrong to call these earlier rulers kings and that they may instead have been mere feudatory rulers of minor significance He defeated the rulers of Punjab, Malwa, Gujarat, Sindh, and Gandhara.

He also resisted the invasion of Hunas. He married his daughter Rajyashri with Maukhari ruler Grahavarman of Kannauj. His elder son Rajya Vardhana took the throne after him, but Rajya Vardhana was killed by Shashanka, the king of Gauda (region of Bengal and Bihar).

Harsha Vardhana (c.606-647 CE)

Harshavardhan was one of the foremost rulers in the history of India. His long reign of more than 40 years enjoys a place of great significance in Indian History. The Harshavardhan reign shines like a moon in the age of political fragmentation. His achievements in the fields of peace & war were equally remarkable.

Rajya Vardhana had succeeded Prabhakar Varadhana initially. However, Harsha succeeded his brother, when Rajya Vardhana left the reigns of governance in the hands of Harsha Vardhan as he had to undertake a campaign against the ruler of Malwa, Devagupta, and Shashanka, the ruler of Gauda, who had imprisoned their sister rajyashri and killed her husband Grahavarman. Rajya Vardhan defeated the Malwa army and killed Devagupta, but was unfortunately killed by Shashanka, who also cut the Bodhi tree and occupied Kannauj.

Harsha ascended the throne at the age of sixteen years. Harsha marched towards Kannauj for the rescue of his sister Rajyashri, who was on the verge of committing He defeated Shashanka and took control over parts of Kongoda in Orissa. Harshavardhan was Shaiva but he also supported Buddhism. He took the title of Sakalottarapathanath (Lord of the North).

Harsha brought Punjab, Kannauj, Bengal, Orissa, and Mithila regions under his control and assumed the title of ‘Siladitya’: As per Nausasi copper plate inscription, he also defeated the ruler of Sindh, Vallabhi King, Dhruvasena II, Pulkeshin II defeated him on the bank of the River Narmada.

Harsha’s Empire included Thaneswar, Kannauj, Ahichchhatra, Shravasti, and Prayag. Harshavardhana moved his capital from Thaneswar to Kannauj. Chinese pilgrim Hsuan Tsang visited India during 629-643 CE and left a detailed account of the beauty, glory, and opulence of Kannauj.

Harsha was a great patron of art and learning, He wrote three dramas Priyadarshika, Ratnavali (both romantic comedies), and Nagananda (based on Bodhisattva Jimutavahana). Many famous writers were part of his court such as; Banabhatta: Author of Harshacharita & Parvatiparinay; Mayura: Author of Mayurashataka; Bhartrihari: Author of Vakapadiya, Matanga Divakara. Harsha was able to maintain diplomatic relations with his Chinese counterpart T’ang Emperor sent three embassies to his court. The last of these, under Wang-hiuen-tse, came to India in 647 CE after Harsha’s death.


The Emperor appointed provincial governors known as Lokapalas who were posted at chosen centers in different quarters. The provinces were known as Bhuktia, districts as Vishayas, sub-divisions of districts as Patakas, and Villages as gramas. Next to the sovereign were the chief minister and the mantriparishad. Avanti was the supreme minister of war and peace. For maintaining law and order, a great number of military and executive officers were employed.

According to Hiuen-Tsang, both ministers and officials received land grants instead of salaries. The revenues of Harsha’s Empire were divided into four parts. The first part was spent on the king and the second part was spent on scholars. The third part was spent on public servants and the fourth part was spent on religious activities.

The army of Harsha was organized into four traditional divisions. Probably 60,000 elephants and 100,000 horses. Lawlessness was not the order of the day but there were plots against kings including one against Harsha. The offender was punished by imprisonment for life. Trial by ordeal was common.

Socio-Economic and Cultural Setup

According to Hiuen-Tsang who visited Harsha’s kingdom, there was an existence of the caste system in Indian society. Also, there was a rise in several mixed and sub-castes. Hiuen-Tsang also mentions the existence of untouchables and outcastes. The position of women had also declined considerably during this period. Yet women were not regarded as inferior to men.

In the religious field, the ascendancy of Brahmanism brought about the decline of Buddhism. Vaishnavism, Shaivism, and Jainism were also practiced. Harsha was considered to be a liberal and secular king. The chief source of revenue was the one-sixth produce of the land. Few other taxes were imposed on ports, ferries, etc. Return from royal lands, mines, and tributes from vassals filled royal coffers were also the revenue sources.

Makuhari of Kannauj

The Maukharis belong to a very ancient family. A clay seal of the Maukharis has been found at Gaya belonged to the Maurya period. Reference to a Maukhari general is found in an inscription dated 239 A.D., discovered at Kota in Rajputana.

Four stone inscriptions of different Maukhari families have been in this area, which indicates the ex­istence of seven Maukhari families during the third century. The Maukharis claimed descent from Asvapati, mentioned in the Mahabharata as the King of Madra in Central Punjab. They were feudatories of the Guptas. They used the title of Samanta. They ruled over the Kannauj which gradually replaced Pataliputra as the political center of northern India. Harsha’s sister Rajyashri was married to Grahavarmana.

Hari Varhmana Maukhari (mid-6th Century)

Harivarman, the first ruler of Maukhris, assumed the title of Maharaja. He is described in his inscriptions as one who had carried on extensive military campaigns and brought other kings under subjection.

Advaita Varmana: He had succeeded his father and is said to have assumed the title of Maharaja.

Ishanavarmana (c.554-560 CE)

According to the Asirgarh copper plate inscription, Ishanavarman was the first full-fledged independent Maukhari king, who took the title ‘Maharajadhiraja’. Ishanavarman claims to have defeated the Andhras, Sulikas, and the Goudas.

He had suffered defeat at the hands of Kumaragupta and probably also by Damodargupta. He offered resistance to Hunas and defeated them.

Sarvavarmana (c.560-585 CE)

He succeeded the kingdom after his father Ishanavarmana. He did maintain his hold on Magadha and kept the later Guptas under subordination. Asirgarh copper plate inscription narrates his victory over Damodargupta, and describes Nimara as a ‘Maukhari outpost in the Deccan.’

Avanti Varmana (c.585-600 CE)

Sarvavarmana was succeeded by his son Avanti Varmana who took the title of ‘Maharajadhiraja’. He extending his boundary of the kingdom. He transferred his capital to Kannauj.

Grahavarmana (around c.600 CE)

He succeeded Avantivarmana. He was married to Rajyashri, the daughter of Prabhakar Vardhana of the Pushyabhutis. He was killed by the Deva Gupta of the later Gupta lineage.