Emperor Harsha achieved remarkable success both in the field of peace and war. His age was characterized by political fragmentation of North India and after a gap of more than 100 years Harsha established unity and integrity in whole of North India.
Harsha is mentioned as Sakalouttarapatha (the lord of North India) in the Aihole inscription of Pulakesin II.This title also indicates that Harsha ruled over whole of North India. His Empire extended from Himalayas in North to the river Narmada in south and from Punjab in west to Bengal in East. This unification of North India by Harsha was one of the remarkable achievements.
Harsha was an efficient administrator as well. He successfully established a strong and efficient administrative system in whole of North India; the contemporary references suggest that peace and stability prevailed in North India. During the reign of Harsha and common public enjoyed large degree of freedom in the public and private life.
The reign of Harsha was also characterized by lofty ideals and benign principles. According to Hiuen Tsang Harsha pursued high ideals during his reign. No excessive control was imposed on the subjects and the demands of the state were minimal. The rate of land revenue collected by Harsha was 1/6th and other taxes were also light. The families were not required to register themselves and people were not subjected to forced labour.
The enlightened character of Harsha’s administration also found expression in the four fold division of state income. According to Hiuen Tsang one part of state resources was used for meeting the expenses of government, second part were used for paying the salaries of public servants. Third part was used for rewarding the intellectuals and fourth part was gifted to various religious sects.
Harsha divided his daily schedule into three parts where one part was used for looking after government affairs and remaining two parts established his control over these feudal elements and kept the centrifugal forces in check. This achievement could also be understood in the light of development that followed his death when feudal forces emerged in dominant manner once again and the central authority disappeared.
Harsha maintained a dept of records and archives and this dept were entrusted with the responsibility of recording every significant event taking place in empire.
Harsha took personal interest in improving the efficiency of the administration. The officers were instructed to visit their areas and he organized official tours to understand the difficulties of the masses. This was remarkable in the age which was characterized by all round decline in different aspects of life.
Harsha was not only an efficient administrator but he was also a successful military conqueror as well. According to contemporary sources Harsha fought number of wars and battles during his reign and conquered many areas. He did not adopt barbarious methods of conquests. He never ordered mass slaughter of the civilians and emphasized upon the moral methods. This was also part of his achievements.
The reign of Harsha was also remarkable for his friendly diplomatic relations.Harsha knew the significance of maintaining friendly relations with other kingdoms and outside world. According to contemporary sources, Harha exchanged embassies with China and the Chinese rulers sent three embassies to the court of Harsha.Harsha also maintained friendly relations with King Bhaskaravarman of Kamrupa.
Harsha was also great patron of cultural activities and organized Kanauj assembly in the honor of Hiuen Tsang.He patronized Banabhatta,the author of Kadambari and Harshacharita.Harsha himself was a fine scholar and composed Nagananda,Ratnawali and Piyadasika.
Though Harsha accomplished a number of remarkable achievements during his reign but it was also characterized by number of limitations. Though Harsha could check and control the feudal forces during his reign but he could not eliminate them because of this these feudal forces continue to threaten the unity and integrity of North India and emerged in much stronger form after his death.
Though Harsha tried to establish an efficient administrative system but the peace and security in his empire had many limitations. According to Hiuen Tsang he was looted twice while passing through central India.
The administrative system of Harsha was effective only in the areas around the capital and the contemporary references inform that semi-autonomous vassals ruled in other outer areas.
Emperor could not reverse the process of economic decline as well. The economic activities continued to decline during his reign and number of flourishing urban centres was depopulated. The level of the monetization of economy was also very low and according to Hiuen Tsang shells were used as means of exchange.
The socio-cultural life of North India was also characterized by downhill trends.Harsha’s age was marked by great rigidity in social life. The social mobility had disappeared. The status of women declined sharply during this period due to the popularity of child marriage and prohibition of widow remarriage. The social evils like sati became more popular.
The period also saw decline in the social status of vaishyas and they came to be equated with shudras.