The Maukharis of Kanauj
Since the time of the Maurya dynasty the Maukhari had been a promi-nent tribe. In the sixth century a new line of Maukhari kings arose. They had ruled as chieftains in the Gaya district as vassals of the imperial Guptas and had developed an independent kingdom that con-stantly fought with the second Gupta line. Toward the end of the sixth century the Maukhari succeeded in expelling the Guptas from Magadha and afterward dominated upper India.
Harshavardhana (ca. 590–648), raja of Thanesar (a holy Hindu town north of Delhi), was the younger son of Prabhakaravardhana, a ruler famed for victories against the Gujaras, Malavas, and other tribal invaders. Harsha followed in his father’s footsteps and for several years fought to establish rule over the northern subcontinent. Prabhakara died in 604, and, after his elder son was assassinated in 606, nobles selected Harsha to be king.
About this time the heirless last ruler of the Maukhari dynasty, Grahavarman, was killed in battle and his army defeated by the Malwa king. Grahavarman was married to Harsha’s sister, and after his death she and other Maukhari nobles invited Harsha to take the throne of their kingdom. Harsha agreed. He then raised an army said to num-ber 100,000 cavalrymen and conquered Punjab, Bihar, Malwa, and Gujarat. He continued south to the Deccan, where he was defeated, and accepted Narmada River as the boundary of his empire. Making Kanauj his capital, he turned his efforts from expanding to administering the kingdom.
Though he reigned at a time when the region’s fortunes were in decline, Harsha, a scholar, poet, and dramatist as well as a monarch, is regarded as the last of the great Hindu rulers. During an assembly Harsha convened in Kanauj in honor of a visiting Chinese chronicler, Xuanzang, an attempt was made on the king’s life in a plot engineered by Brahmans. Nonetheless, Xuanzang wrote a vivid, complimentary account of the kingdom and Harsha’s court.
Harsha died in 648 without an heir. A minister seized power. He attacked and robbed a Chinese envoy, who escaped to Nepal, which was Tibet’s suzerain. Tibet’s king was married to a Chinese princess and attacked Kanauj to avenge the ambassador’s honor. After this incident the Maukhari empire disintegrated into small states that remained inde-pendent throughout the century.