King Harshavardhan was an Indian emperor who ruled North India

Famous Plays Written by Emperor Harshavardhana

Plays written by Emperor Harshavardhana were in the Sanskrit Language namely, Nagananda, Priyadarshika, and Ratnavali.

Who was Harshavardhana?

Harshavardhana,  popularly known as Harsha, was an Indian emperor who ruled North India from 606 to 647 CE. He was a member of the Vardhana Dynasty.

He was the son of Prabhakarvardhana and the elder brother of Rajyavardhana.

At the height of Harsha’s power, his Empire covered many of North and Northwestern India, spread East till Kamarupa, and South till Narmada River and eventually made Kannauj (present Uttar Pradesh state) his capital, and ruled till 647 CE. 

Harsha’s court was a center of students, artists, and religious visitors. The Chinese traveler Hiuen-Tsang visited the court of Harsha and wrote a very pleasing account of Harsha’s justice and humanity. 

Sanskrit poet Banabhatta written Harshacharita (“Deeds of Harsha”). It is a biography of Harshavardhana. He told his relationship with Thanesar, besides stating the defense wall, a canal, and the palace with a two-storied Dhavalagriha (white mansion).

Plays written by Harshavardhana


Nagananda is a play written by King Harshavardhana
Book Cover of Nagananda

Nagananda means Joy of the Serpents. It is a Sanskrit play. It is among the most acclaimed Sanskrit dramas.

In five acts, it narrates the popular story of Vidyadhar King Jimutavahana’s self-sacrifice to save the Nagas. The unique feature of this drama is the invocation to Lord Buddha in the Nandi verse.

Nagananda is the story of how prince Jimutavahana gives up his own body to stop a sacrifice of a Naga prince to the divine Garuda.


Priyadarshika is a play written by King Harshavardhana
Book Cover of Priyadarshika

The Sanskrit play Priyadarsika was written by King Harsha (606 – 648). It was first interpreted into English by G. K. Nariman, A. V. Williams Jackson, and Charles J. Ogden and published by the Columbia University Press in 1923 as the tenth volume of the 13 volume Columbia University Indo-Iranian Series (1901-32).


Ratnavali is a play written by King Harshavardhana
Book Cover of Ratnavali

Ratnavali means Precious Garland. It is a Sanskrit drama about a beautiful princess named Ratnavali, and a great king named Udayana. It is a Natika in four acts. One of the first textual references to the celebration of Holi, the festival of Colors has been found in this text.


So, these three are plays written by Harshavardhana. But there are some controversies. 

Some believe (for example, Mammata in Kaviprakasha) that it was Bana, the court poet of Harsha, who wrote the plays as a paid commission, Wendy Doniger said, “persuaded, however, that king Harsha really wrote the plays … himself.”

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