In 630 CE, Harshavardhana launched a campaign against the Maitrakas of Valabhi (in modern Gujarat). Having subdued them, he offered his daughter’s hand to the Maitraka prince, Dhruvasena II. It allowed him to strengthen his grip over Malava (which lay on the way from Kannauj to western India) and draw the powerful Maitrakas away from the Chalukyas of Deccan, and into his own orbit. Harsha could do little more as the Chalukya king, Pulakeshin II, had turned out to be more than a match for his army. According to some Indian scholars, the two sovereigns had clashed in the winter of 618-619 CE. The Pushyabhuti monarch had marched to the banks of the Narmada, leading a mighty host. But Pulakeshin II defended the passes along the river with great determination, inflicting heavy losses on his opponent’s elephant corps and forcing him to retire from battle. The Narmada would now serve as the boundary between North and South.

Given below is an article ‘Pulakeshin’s victory over Harsha was in 618 AD’ that appeared in ‘The Hindu’ newspaper (dated April 25, 2016):

Researchers from the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute (BORI), which houses South Asia’s largest collection of manuscripts and rare texts, claim to have fixed the date of Emperor Harshavardhan’s defeat to the Chalukya King Pulakeshin II by decoding a copper plate. The date of Pulakeshi’s great triumph over Harsha in a battle fought primarily with elephants, on the banks of the Narmada, can now be fixed at 618 AD, said Shreenand Bapat, Registrar, BORI.

Pulakeshin, who ruled from the Chalukyan capital of Badami, challenged Harsha’s conquests. The former had established himself as ‘lord paramount’ of the south, as Harsha had of the north. Unwilling to tolerate the existence of a powerful rival in the south, Harsha had marched from Kanauj with a huge force. Such was Pulakeshin’s efficiency in guarding the passes of the Narmada that Harsha was compelled to accept the river as the demarcation and retire from the battlefield after losing most of his elephant force. “It was believed that the battle occurred sometime between 612 AD and 634 AD. But now, thanks to this new copper plate, it can be ascertained definitively to have taken place in the winter of 618-619 AD,” Dr Bapat said, remarking that the copper plate was received by the BORI from Raghuvir Pai, a noted coin-collector of Mumbai.

Interestingly, in Volume II of the classic nine-volume History of India series (published in 1906 and edited by American historian-linguist AV Wiliams Jackson), the great British Indologist and historian Vincent A Smith, with astonishing accuracy, places the date of the battle at around 620 AD. The plate is also useful in fixing the details of the coronation of Pulakeshi II in 610-611 AD, said researchers. Pulakeshin anointed himself king after defeating his uncle, Mangalesha. Legend has it that Mangalesha, the regent, wanted to deny his nephew the Chalukya throne. The plate further records the grant of 50 ‘nivarthanas’ (a unit of land) by Pulakeshin from the village Brahmana-Vataviya (in modern-day Paithan Taluka of Aurangabad) to a Vedic scholar, Nagasharma. This donation must have been made by the Chalukya king during his return from the Narmada campaign against Harsha, scholars said.

Harsha’s sworn enemy, Shashanka, had passed away in 620 CE. As soon as he got wind of it, the king set his sights upon Bengal. The districts of Tamralipta (Medinipur), Samatata (southern and eastern Bangladesh) and Karnasuvarna (Murshidabad) were captured. Prior to this campaign, only northwestern Bengal was under the undisputed control of Kannauj. Harsha had also directed his forces against Sindh, in the far west. Sindh was ruled, at around that point of time by the Rai dynasty, adherents of Buddhism. It would be toppled by a Brahman minister, Chach. Sindh seems to have maintained its independence despite these intrusions. In 635 CE, he paid a visit to Kashmir and acquired (by force) Buddhist relics from the region. Jalandhara in the northwest marked the western limit of the empire. From 637 to 642 CE, Harsha fought battles in Odra (northern Odisha) and Kongoda (central Odisha) to gain paramountcy in the east. Alas, it would be a short-lived one.

Image Attribution: The image above, sourced from Wikimedia Commons, shows the political division of India around 625 CE, halfway through the reign of Emperor Harsha (r. 606-647 CE). It was uploaded by Woudloper, a Swiss geologist.

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)