We know about Harshavardhana, who ruled 1400 years ago, from his biography Harshacharita, written in Sanskrit by his court poet Banabhatta.
Xuan Zang spent a lot of time at Harsha’s court and left a detailed account of what he saw.
Harsha was not the eldest son of his father but became king of Thanesar after both his father and elder brother died.
His brother-in-law was the ruler of Kannauj and he was killed by the ruler of Bengal.
Harsha took over the kingdom of Kannauj and then led an army against the ruler of Bengal.
Although he was successful in the east and conquered both Magadha and Bengal, he was not as successful elsewhere.
He tried to enter Deccan but was stopped by Pulakeshin II of the Chalukya dynasty.
They were one of the most important ruling dynasties in south India.
Their kingdom spread from the region around their capital, Kanchipuram, to the Kaveri delta.
They were also one of the most important ruling dynasties in south India.
Their kingdom was centred around the Raichur doab, between the rivers Krishna and Tungabhadra.
Their capital, Aihole, was an important trading centre and also developed as a religious centre with a number of temples.
The Pallavas and the Chalukyas frequently raided one another’s land, especially attacking the capital cities, which were prosperous towns.
Pulakeshin II was the best known Chalukya ruler.
His prashasti was composed by his court poet Ravikirti.
Ultimately both the Pallavas and the Chalukyas gave way to new rulers belonging to the Rashtrakuta and Chola dynasties.
How were these kingdoms administered?
As in the case of earlier kings, land revenue remained important for these rulers.
The village remained the basic unit of administration.
There were some new developments as well:
Some important administrative posts were now hereditary. For example, the poet Harishena was a maha-danda-nayaka, or chief judicial officer, like his father.
Sometimes, one person held many offices. For example, Harishena was also a kumar-amatya, meaning an important minister, and a sandhi-vigrahika, meaning a minister of war and peace.
Besides, important men probably had a say in local administration. These included the nagara-shreshthi or chief banker or merchant of the city, the sarthavaha or leader of the merchant caravans, the prathama-kulika or the chief craftsman, and the head of the kayasthas or scribes.
A new kind of army
Like earlier rulers, some of these kings maintained a well organised army.
Besides, there were military leaders who provided the king with troops whenever needed.
They were not paid regular salaries. Instead some of them received grants of land.
They collected revenue from the land and used this to maintain soldiers and horses, and provide equipment for warfare.
These men were known as samantas, who tried to become independent whenever the ruler was weak.
Assemblies in the southern kingdoms
Sabha was a local assembly of brahmin land owners.
The ur was a village assembly found in areas where the land owners were not brahmins.
The nagaram was an organization of merchants.
Ordinary people in the kingdoms
Kings and most brahmins spoke sanskrit.
Ordinary people spoke prakrit.
Abhijnana Shakuntalam written by Kalidasa is a love story between a king named Dushyanta and a young woman named Shakuntala.