‘Harshacharita’ (The Deeds of Harsha) is one of the greatest literary works of ancient India. Composed in Sanskrit, by Banabhatta (Emperor Harshavardhana’s court poet), it is both a biography (of the Pushyabhuti monarch) and an autobiography (of Banabhatta). The chronicle provides a fascinating glimpse of courtly life in seventh century India. Bana hailed from a distinguished Brahman family, from the village of Pritikuta, near Kannauj. His mother, Rajadevi passed away when he was very young and he was brought up by his father, Chitrabahanu. Born in an affluent family, Bana had the privilege of receiving the finest education. Unfortunately, his father also passed away, when he reached the age of fourteen. Full of anguish, Bana took to a life of wandering. His retinue included his half-brothers, Chandrasena and Matrasena, several friends, and a number of painters, actors, singers, dancers, musicians, poets, and philosophers.
Having wandered over the country for a few years, Bana returned to Pritikuta. However, he was unable to stay there for long, being summoned by Emperor Harsha, to his camp, at Manitara, on the banks of the Achiravati River, two days’ travel from his village. It seems that the Emperor had his ears poisoned against Bana, by courtiers jealous of the young man’s genius. Harsha was of the opinion that Bana had squandered his family’s good name, leading a life of self-indulgence and profligacy. The poet defended his reputation and managed to gain the king’s trust and appreciation. Soon enough, Bana was being honored and rewarded for his talents. In return, he penned the ‘Harshacharita’, one of the finest works of prose in Sanskrit literature. The first two chapters are autobiographical, about Bana’s ancestry and early life. The rest revolve around the Emperor’s rise to eminence. I will have a series of posts with excerpts from the chronicle.
Image Attribution: The image above, sourced from Wikimedia Commons, shows Pulakeshin II receiving envoys from Khusrau II of Persia (625 CE). Pulakeshin II, ruler of the Chalukyas, was a contemporary of Harshavardhana. Bana’s ‘Harshacharita’ describes the day-to-day affairs of people frequenting Harsha’s court and camp. The image is taken from ‘Hutchinson’s History of the Nations’.
- The Harshacharita of Bana translated by E. B. Cowell and F. W. Thomas (1897)
- Banabhatta: A Monograph by K. Krishnamoorthy (1976)