The Pushyabhuti dynasty, also known as the Vardhana dynasty, ruled a portion of northern India during the 6th and 7th centuries. The dynasty attained its peak under its last ruler Harsha-Vardhana, whose empire spread much of north and north-western India, and spread till Kamarupa in the east and Narmada River in the south.
Etymology and Name
According to Harsha-Charita, composed by the court poet Banabhatta, the family was known as the Pushyabhuti dynasty or Pushpabhuti dynasty. Georg Bühler asserted that this was a scribal error and that the correct name was Pushyabhuti. Several modern scholars now use the form “Pushpabhuti”, while others prefer the variant “Pushyabhuti”.
Some modern books describe the dynasty as “Vardhana”, because the names of its kings end with the suffix “-Vardhan”.
No accurate information is available about the origins of the dynasty. Harshacharita by the 7th-century poet Bana delivers a legendary account of their origin, naming Pushyabhuti as the dynasty’s founder. According to this legend, Pushyabhuti lived in the Srikantha janapada (modern Kurukshetra district), whose capital was Sthanvishvara (modern Thanesar).
A devotee of Shiva, Pushyabhuti involved in a tantric ritual at a cremation ground, under the influence of Bhairavacharya, a teacher from “the South”. At the end of this ritual, a goddess (identified with Lakshmi) anointed him the king and blessed him as the founder of a great dynasty. The Pushyabhuti mentioned in Bana’s account appears to be a fictional character, as he is not mentioned in the dynasty’s inscriptions or any other source.
The writings of Xuanzang and Arya-manjushri-mula-kalpa suggest that the dynasty belonged to the Vaishya varna.
The Pushyabhuti dynasty originally ruled a small area around their capital Sthaneshvara (Thanesar). According to Hans T. Bakker, their ruler Aditya-Vardhana (or Aditya-Sena) was probably a feudatory to Sharva-Varman, the Maukhari king of Kannauj. His successor Prabhakara-Vardhana may have also been a feudatory to the Maukhari king Avanti-Varman in his early days.
King Prabhakar Vardhan
Prabhakara’s daughter Rajyashri married Avanti-Varman’s son Graha-Varman. As a result of this marriage, Prabhakara’s political status increased significantly, and he assumed the royal title Parama-bhattaraka Maharajadhiraja. (“the one to whom the other kings bow because of his valor and affection”).
According to the Harshacharita, after Prabhakara’s death, the king of Malava attacked Kannauj, supported by the ruler of Gauda. The Malava king killed Graha-Varman and captured Rajyashri.
King Rajya Vardhan
Bana does not mention this king, but historians speculate him to be a ruler of the Later Gupta dynasty. Prabhakara’s elder son Rajya-Vardhana defeated the Malava ruler but was killed by the Gauda king.
King Harsha Vardhan
The Harshacharita further states that Prabhakara’s younger son Harsha-Vardhana then vowed to destroy the Gauda king and their allies. Again, Bana does not mention the name of the Gauda king, but historians identify him with Shashanka-Deva, a Maukhari vassal (mahasamanta).
Harsha allied with Bhaskar Varman, the king of Kamarupa, and forced Shashanka to retreat. Subsequently, in 606 CE, Harsha was formally crowned as an emperor. He captured a large part of northern India. His overlordship was accepted by the king of Vallabhi in the west and the Kamarupa king Bhaskaravarman in the east; in the south, his empire extended up to the Narmada River.
Harsha eventually made Kanyakubja (modern Kannauj in Uttar Pradesh) his capital, and ruled till c. 647 CE. He died without an heir, leading to the end of the Pushyabhuti dynasty.