HARSHAVARDHANA AND HIS TIMES
The age of Harsha was a trubulent one. Yet, the general life of people was a prosperous one.
In estimating the social life of people during the Harsha, We have to keep in view the administration of Harsha, for the social life of a people anywhere in olden days, to some extent was influenced by its administrative system. Hiuen-Tsang attributes commendable administrative vigilance to Harsha - made tours of inspection throughout his kingdom, and promoted benevolent activities like construction and maintenance of roads, sarais, hospitals, etcl. Hiuen-Tsang states as the government is generous officals requirements are few. Families are not registered and individuals are not subject to forced labour contributions the king's tenants pay one-sixth of the products as the rent."
But talking of justice, cruel punishment continued. Trial by or deal was common. For offences against social morality, disloyal and inferior conduct, the punishment ws to cut of the nose, ear, hand, foot or to banish the offender to another country or into wilderness. Hiuen-Tsnad maintains that as the government was honestly administrated and the people lived on good terms the criminal classes was small. But Chinese pilgrim about whom special care may have been taken by the government was robbed of his belongings, although he records that according to the laws of the land severe punishments wre inflicted for cirme. Robbery wsa considered to be a second treason for which the right hand of the robber was amputated. But it seems that under the influence of Buddhism the severity of punishment was mitigated, and criminals were imprisoned for life.
Talking of political life, in most cases kingshop was hereditary although at times a king was nominated by his predecessor or elected by people or nobels. Nandivarman Pallava was raised to the throne by the mula prakritis. At Thaneshwar the crown was offered to Harsha by a council of nobles headed by Bhandi. Secondly the tradition that the welfare of king depends on the welfare of people was still believed in. Fa-Hien, Hiue-Tsang and Suleiman record that rulers did their best to live up to this anciant maxim. Fourthly quite a number of important rulers loved learning and patronized the arts. Harsha, Mahendra varman, Amoghavarsha I, Bhoja of Dhar somesware III of Kalyan and Ballala Sena of Bengal were writers of no mean repute. Fitthly, the king was all important even though has was assisted by Ministers. Manu's recommendation of council of seven or eight ministers was normally followed Sixthly the chief source of revenue was land-one-sixth of its produce. A few other taxes were imposed on ports, ferries, etc. Apart from taxation, returns from royal lands, mines etc. and tributes from vassals filled royal coffers. Finally, kingdoms were divided into smaller units for the convenience of administration. And royal armies mostly relied on elephants, infantry and cavalry. From the features delineated above, one can easily deduce that the political structure of the day did impinge upon the lives of people.
Relating to social life, Hiuen-Tsang metions four chief castes and also innumerable sub-castes. But Bana mentions that castes mixed freely. Bana even makes mention of his two brothers born of Shudras. The Chinese traveler, Hiuen-Tsang, refers to prohibition, widow-remarriage and the costom of sati. Yet, women were not regarded as inferior to men. Som of the royal ladies were skilled in music and dancing. Rajyasri sat along with Harsha and listened to the discourses on Buddhism. Interestingly, Hiuen-Tsang notes the absence of tailors and shoe-makers; the simplicity of brahmins and kshatriyas; the luxuries of king's nobels and rich men; honesty and morality of the people because of the fear of retribution in life to come: and, suicide of very old men of people afflicted with incurable diseases in the Ganges. Another interesting point mentioned by him is the etiquette of lifting the turban as a mark of greeting is social gatherings. Regarding the temperament of people, the travelers note that they were hasty and inecisve but moral. The people were not deceitful by nature and valued their pledges and promises. The country was prosperous. Vegetables and minerals were abundant. Fish and mutton were consumed occasionally. Onions and garlic were not much used.
The brahmins and kshatriyas are reported to have led a simple life, but the nobles and priests led a luxurious life. Hiuen-Tsang calls the Shudras agriculturists, which is significant. In the earlier texts they are represented as serving the three higher varnes. The Chinese pilgrim takes note of untouchables such as scavengers, executioners, etc. They lived outside the villages and consumed garlic and onion. The untouchables announced their entry into the town by shouting loudly so that people might keep awap from them.
Coming to the cultural life of people, we cannot ignore the contribution of Harsha to it. Probably Harsh wrote the three dramas Ratnavali, Priadarshika and Nagananda in Sanskrit. The Chinese traveler, I-Tsing recorded that Harsh versified the story of Jimutayahana in Nagananda and extremely fond of literature. It is contended that the Banskhera and Madhuban copper-plate inscriptions were probably composed by Harsha himself. The other works attributed to him are the two Sanskrit stotras in praise of the Buddha and a work on grammer. Besides Harsha, Bana was the Chief poet who wrote Hadembari and is also supposed to have written the'Parvati-parinay' and the Chandiskata, A writer Mayura was a master of erotic poetry. A other literary figure was Matanga Divakara.
Apart from royal court, the sylvan ashramas were the centers of intellectual activity. Bana records a detailed account of the ashrama of the Buddhist saga Divakaramitra in the Vindhyas. Hiuen-Tsand credits the people of the middle country with clearness and correctness of speech. According to him children were taught the five subjects of grammer, mechanical arts, medicine, logic and philosophy from the seventh year onwards. He was all praise for the great scholars of the day. Among educational centers the most famous was the Nalanda university. It attained international repute. It was patronized by Kumaragupta I, and also by Hrasha. The famous teachers of the university were Dignaga, Dharmapala and Shilabhara. The teacher, Dharmapala, originally belonged to the city of Kanchi and wrote books on Buddhist logic and metaphysics. It was during the time of Shilabhadra that Hiuen-Tsang visited Nalanda. Even though the university was a Mahayana institution, brahminical subjects like the Vadas were included in the curriculum. Those who sought admission in the university were examined by the keepers of the gate. It is said that not more than 20 per cent of candidates could pass this examination of the gate-keepers. There was no fee for education. Boarding lodging and clothing were free. The university derived its revenues from the villages granted to it by royalty. During the time of Hiuen-Tsang there were about 10,000 student and women were also included in it. I-Tsing says that the discipline was strict at Nalanda. Sanskrit was the medium of instruction. The method of teaching was primarily tutorial even though there were some lectures. Time was regulated by a water-clocl. I-Tsing says that there were eight halls and 300 rooms in this university. It possessed an observatory and a laboratory also.
With regard to art, the Guptam style was continued. Hiuen-Tsang refers to a copper statute of the Buddha. The brick temple of Laxmana at Surpur is one of the most beautiful in India, unsurpassed in the richness and refinement of its ornaments.
Talking of religion, it was a remarkable era. In the Gupta period brahminism re-asserted itself. The reading of the Gita was popular with intelligentsia. The leader of Hindu reformation Sankara, in the 8th century, commented on the Gita. By the time of Alberuni it was so popular that Alberuni quotes the text of the Gita.
Nevertheless, Hinduism, of the Gupta age witnessed a set-back some developed the dectrine of mimamsa. The doctrine was quite ancient but it became popular with prabhakara at the end of the sixth century. Another great exponent of it was Kumarila in the 7th century. Another doctrine imprimarily concerned with the technique of thought, that is, it is only concerned with rituals. 'The Mimamsa lives in a world of self-revealed Vedas and is concerned only with correct performance of the rites as laid down". This doctrine was poles apart from popular puranic religion of people. Also, it contradicts the idea of a popular personal deity which is to be realized either through bhakti or yoga. Luckily this barren ritualism was attacked by Sankara in the 8th century. Here we must also note that Buddhism was on the declire. Hiuen-Tsang notes the dacay of Buddhism even though he was not conscious of it. But Buddhism gained popularity in Kanara, in certain parts of UP and in Bengal.
Thus, there is nothing unique about the life of people during the age of Harsha. The creative urge witnessed in the Gupta period continued. Yet, as the future was to prove, the quiet greatness of this age was only as afterglow.