Harshavardhana came to power at a very inopportune time. Few would have expected such a rapid turn of events. His father, Prabhakaravardhana, who had styled himself ‘Parama Bhattaraka Maharajadhiraja’ (Sanskrit for Supreme Venerable Emperor) was at the pinnacle of his reign. He had married his daughter Rajyashri to the Maukhari scion, Grahavarman. Harsha’s elder brother was conducting a successful campaign against the troublesome Hunas of northwestern India. Around this time, most probably in 605 CE, Prabhakaravardhan fell ill and passed away. His sons were overcome with grief. But the Pushyabhuti clan had more misfortune to contend with.

Jealous rivals saw their patriarch’s demise as an opportunity to restore their influence. Two lords, Devagupta of Malava (modern Madhya Pradesh) and Shashanka of Gauda (modern Bengal) formed an alliance to challenge the Pushyabhutis and Maukharis. Devagupta attacked Kannauj and killed Grahavarman, Harshavardhana’s brother-in-law. He also threw Harsha’s sister, Rajyashri, into prison. This infuriated Rajyavardhana, the newly crowned Pushyabhuti king, who set out with a force of 10,000 horsemen. He engaged Devagupta in battle near Kannauj and killed him. But the youthful monarch had not figured out the trap set for him by Shashanka.

The lord of Gauda invited Rajyavardhana to parley. The latter accepted the offer, walked into his opponent’s camp and was promptly dispatched. This was condemned as an act of treachery by the Pushyabhutis. Harshavardhana swore vengeance. He immediately allied himself with Bhaskaravarman of Kamarupa (modern Assam), an enemy of Shashanka. On his way to Kannauj from Thanesar, he met his cousin Bhandi, who informed him that Rajyashri had escaped from prison and taken refuge in the Vindhya forests. Leaving the army under Bhandi’s care, Harsha rushed to the forest, saving his sister (who, out of utter despair, was about to take her life).

Image Attribution: The image above, sourced from Wikimedia Commons, shows a Maukhari coin issued by Ishanavarman, one of their earlier kings (c. 535-553 CE). It was uploaded by the Classical Numismatic Group. Grahavarman, Harshavardhana’s brother-in-law, was the last Maukhari king. After his death, the Maukhari kingdom was brought under Harsha’s control, and then united with that of the Pushyabhutis.

References:

  • India: The Ancient Past (A History of the Indian-Subcontinent from 7000 BC to AD 1200) by Burjor Avari (2007)
  • The Penguin History of Early India: From the Origins to AD 1300 by Romila Thapar (2002)
  • Ancient Indian History and Civilization by Sailendra Nath Sen (1988)
  • The Culture and Civilization of India in Historical Outline by DD Kosambi (1964)