Harshacharita (socio-cultural Study)

by Mrs. Nandita Sarmah | 2014 | 67,792 words

This page relates ‘Cultivation of Knowledge’ of the English study on the Harshacharita: A Sanskrit (poetical work) which can be studied as a Historical book of Indian society during the 7th century. It was originally written by Banabhatta who based his Harsacarita on the life of the Gupta emperor Harshavardhana. This study researches the religion, philosophy, flora and fauna and society of ancient India as reflected in the Harsha-Charita.

Part 5: Cultivation of Knowledge

In the Harṣacarita there is no mention (hints) of giving the formal education to the women counterpart. But from the various descriptions it is known that women were expert in various fields. Description of giving formal education to princess Rājyaśrī is also absent.

1 Aesthetics Sense:

In the Harṣacarita vivid descriptions of devajanavidyā, i.e., the knowledge of making perfumes, dancing, singing, playing and other fine arts are to be found. In the 7th century A.D., these various special courses were prescribed for female. People wished their daughters too, should get educated. King Probhākarvardhana [Prabhākarvardhana?] arranged everything necessary for his daughter Rājyaśrī, so that she could acquire the knowledge about dancing, singing and all the arts and practice them. So, she was called vidagdhā.[1]

In Bāṇa’s time, the people had great aesthetics values, which were seen very clearly during the marriage of Rājyaśrī. When the king had arranged the marriage party, the people got busy to decorate the city, palace, walls (prākāra) of the houses and the street.[2] The king invited the best artesian and sculptors from different countries to decorate the city.[3] Some women prepared clothes or saris as bridal dress for princess Rājyaśrī.[4] They also collected the woolen threads for making a marriage bracelet.[5]

About the art of decoration, it is discussed in detail in the subsection ‘Art and Architecture’ in chapter 6 (Other Social and Cultural Aspects).

2 Saṅgīta-nāṭya-vādya:

gītaṃ vādyaṃ tathā nṛtyaṃ trayaṃ saṅgītamucyate[6]

This instruction was followed at that time also. Bāṇa has referred to dance and songs and various types of wonderful musical instruments which were used in his times.

The Amarakoṣa also agrees—

“The union of song, dance and instrumental music are known as nātya.”[7]

It has been seen that musical instruments were used in Bāṇa’s time, especially in their happy moments like birth of a child or in the time of marriage ceremony. Such as-the news of Harṣa’s birth had spread-up in the palace, all the citizen danced without any hesitation; and on that case, the masters and servants were brought to the same level, in which there was no distinction between young and aged.[8] The nextday, all the people of the capital performed different instrumentals such as—drums (mṛdaṅga), flute (veṇu), jingling (siñcāṇa), trumpet (paṭaha) etc., and harlots were also dancing and moving after them.[9] Among the instruments a kind of trumpet is also mentioned by the poet, which is known as turyanāda, paṭaha.[10] Again the people of the city enjoyed the marriage party of Rājyaśrī in very escalating mood. It is also found that they were singing auspicious songs pleasing the ear of the families of the bride and the bridegroom’s.[11]

3 Āyurveda:

Again, we have seen in the of the Harṣacarita that, there are vast-description of ayurvedic medicine, and of janavidyā (medicine) as when the writer gives the description of dhavalagṛha,[12] a room which was covered with different types of medicinal plants (bheṣajasāmagrī) used for treatment for the king Prabhākaravardhana.[13] Different medicinal herbs were also preserved, namely karpūra, candana, utpal, āmla etc.[14] for treatment of the king Prabhākarvardhana.

At the time of Harṣavardhana’s birth, all the medicine specialist or eminent physicians, holding various drugs and sitting in their proper places, looked after the queen Yaśomatī during delivery.[15]

About the Āyurveda and Āyurvedic treatment and its uses are discussed in detail in chapter-7, (Environment Awareness and Health Consciousness).

4 Purāṇa-Itihāsa:

The prose-writer Bāṇabhaṭṭa has a vast knowledge about Purāṇa, Itihāsa also. Ongoing to describe the different characters of the Harṣacarita Bāṇa has delineated many paurāṇic stories. For example, he has described the stories of Karṇa’s kavaca and kuṇḍala to compare the ear-rings and diadem, which were worn by the princes Rājyavardhana and Harṣavardhana.[16] Here, the paurānic story about, Karṇa, who had a kuṇḍala and kavaca given to him by the Sun on his very birth, is a type of charity. Indra (who was careful to guard his son Arjuna) had come to Karṇa disguised as a brāhmaṇa and begged him his kuṇḍala and kavaca and was able to get them. Indra, being pleased with his (Karṇa’s) liberality, gave him a śakti.[17] Arjuna was called kiritin.[18] Again, one of Bāṇa’s friends Sudṛṣṭi, entertained him with a recital of the Vāyupurāṇa.[19]

5 Science of Dramaturgy:

Bāṇabhaṭṭa has vast knowledge about dramaturgy. He uses several technical words pertaining to the science of dramaturgy. i.e., he compares the winds with ārabhaṭīnaṭa or rāsa.[20] Here ārabhaṭī is one of the four styles (vṛti) in dramatic compositions, the other three being bhāratī, sātvatī and kaiśikī.

It is defined in Sāhityadarpaṇa as follows—

māyendrajālasaṃgrāmakrodhodbhrāntadiceṣṭitaiḥ |
saṃyuktā vadhabandhādairuddhatārabhaṭī matā

Rāsa is a dance in a circle in which men and women join, holding one another’s hands. It is frequently mentioned in connection with Kṛsṇa and the gopīs in the Bhāgavatapurāṇa.[22] Again, Bāṇabhaṭṭa informs that the people were dancing in a circle as rāsa in the time of Harṣavardhana’s birth.[23]

6 Sāmudrikaśāstra:

The Sāmudrikaśastra (i.e., the knowledge of palmistry) tells about the qualities, future etc. of a person by taking into consideration the different marks on the different parts of the body. Various good signs on the body of the great king Harṣavardhana are referred in Harṣacarita. The sign of cakravarty i.e., was an indication of becoming an emperor, according to the Sāmudrikaśastra.[24]

Again, slow walking like a duck[25] and smooth and gentle talking by a lady regarded a sign of an excellent woman according to the Sāmudrikaśāstra.[26] These types of good sign were also seen in the character of Yaśomatī’s. Again, the writer notes that queen Yaśomatī had a great knowledge of palmistry.[27]

7 Dharmaśāstra:

Bāṇabhaṭṭa has mentioned various rules of Dharmaśāstra in his writings, which were followed by the society in the 7th century A.D. He has mentioned that the people followed the code of conduct according to the law of Manu.[28] According to the rule of Dharmaśāstras, the writer Bāṇabhaṭṭa himself performed all his religious ceremonies.[29]

Also the writer has mentioned the various rituals, marriage systems which are found in the Harṣacarita. All these are described in the subsection Religious Practices and Believes in chapter-6.

8 Philosophical Knowledge:

The writer Bāṇabhaṭṭa was not only the best prose-writer but he was a great philosopher also. Like various Vedas, Vedāṅgas and Śāstras, various branches of philosophies are mentioned in the Harṣacarita. It proves from this, that all those philosophies were learnt and discussed by the people of 7th century A.D. There are two main divisions of philosophy, viz., āstikadarśana (theist) and nāstikadarśana (atheist). It is found in the writings of Bāṇabhaṭṭa that he deeply believes in different Gods; mostly he worshiped the god Śiva.[30]

The writer Bāṇabhaṭṭa has given vivid picture of different divisions of philosophy on going to describe sage Divākaramitra’s āśrama (residential school) in the Harṣacarita.[31] Here, the pupils of the different locations had been acquiring knowledge according to different doctrines of philosophy. For example, the students of the doctrines of the upaniṣads (upaniṣadaiḥ), the students of Jain philosophy (ārhataiḥ), dharmaśāstribhiḥ (those, who studies the smṛtis), saptatantavaiḥ (who were expert in sacrifice), the students from śābdaiḥ (means who had the great knowledge in grammar and also they believed that the Vyākaraṇaśāstra would lead to mokṣa).

About this, the Mahābhāṣya also refers—

ekaḥ śabdaḥ samyakajñātaḥ śāstranvitaḥ suprayuktaiḥ svarge loke kāmadhugbhavati.[32]

Again, Bāṇabhaṭṭa has shown his great philosophical knowledge, when he describes the king Prabhākaravardhana going to advise his sons’ kumāra Rājyavardhana and Harṣavardhana; he compared their wealth like atoms

prāyeṇa paramāṇava iva samavāyesusvanugunībhuya dravyaṃ kurvanti pārthivaṃ kṣudrāḥ.[33]

Here, dravya and samavāya are technical words of the Nyāyavaiśeṣika philosophy. Among the saptapadārtha, dravya is one of them.[34]

Again he also advised—

nunamasya nirmāṇe girayo grāhitaḥ paramāṇutām.[35]

From these types of evidences, it may be said that the people of 7th century firmly believed in different philosophies.

9 On Poetics:

The writer Bāṇabhaṭṭa was not only the best prose-writer but a great poet also. He has mentioned much poetic compositions in the Harṣacarita. He also has used some technical terms of Rhetoric in his writing, viz., navortha[36] which is a new topic discussed only by Bāṇabhaṭṭa. This refers to the imaginative side of a poet’s mind, called pratibhā by Sanskrit Rhetoricians.[37] The different terms of Rhetoric used by him are, kukavaya[38] (i.e., bad poets), vāṅgamaya[39] (i.e., literature), bārabilāsinī[40] (i.e., notch girl), bipralambhakā,[41] bāliśa,[42] pallavaka[43] which implies the veśyāpati etc.

It is, therefore, found in the introduction to the Harṣacarita by the Sanskrit critics that Bāṇa’s works were regarded as the finest specimen of the pāñchālī style of composition i.e.,

savthārthayoḥ samo gumphaḥ pāñcālīrītirucyate |
śilābhattārikavāci bāṇoktisu ca sā yadi

So, it is said that Bāṇa is the first[45] among the writers of classical Sanskrit prose literature.

10 Turagavijñāna and Hastyāyurveda:

Bāṇabhaṭṭa has vast knowledge about animals also. He has given the description of different types of horses in the Harṣacarita which were adopted in different countries of breeds. King Harṣa’s stable (mandura) was covered with the horses from various countries, such as from Pāraśīka, Kāmboja, Sindhudeśa, Bharatavyāja etc.[46] Here he also mentions that the horses of Kāmboja country were the best breeds of horses. References to it are also found in different writings of Sanskrit poets. The great poet Kālidāsa also refers in his Raghuvaṃśam that the horses of Kāmboja were the best.[47] Bāṇa shows his familiarity with śālihotra (i.e., the science of horses) giving the description of stable (mandura) of rājaloka.[48] Here, the words śonaiśca[49] implies the various colors of horses.

In the Kādambarī, Bāṇabhaṭṭa gives the description of horse Indrāyudha, which king Tārāpīḍa had received as a present from the king of the Pārāsīka.[50] When the prince Candrāpīḍa had finished his education, his father, king Tārāpīḍa sent his commander, Balāhaka, with that wonderful and extraordinary (atipramāṇa [atipramāṇam]) horse for Candrāpīḍa.[51]

The poet has shown his knowledge about elephant also. He has mentioned the best quality of elephant known as gāndhāra[52] from Gāndhāradvīpa. Here, he also mentions a type of Elephant-fever known as kūṭapākala.[53] Moreover, he mentions vividly about Darpaśāta,[54] i.e., the king’s elephant, who lived in the palace. The word nāgavīthīpāla[55] (i.e., a place where elephants were caught and trained) mentions in the Harṣacarita, which imply that the people were very expert in the Hastāyurveda.

11 Pakṣivijñāna:

Bāṇabhaṭṭa, has vast knowledge on the pakṣīvijñāna [pakṣīvijñānam] i.e., on the knowledge of birds. He has informed about the powerful memory of the birds such as śuka, sārikā etc., which inhabited the home of the people at that time, and mentioned that that type of birds had a great capacity to teach the men.[56]

Seeing the great capacity to different branches of knowledge by a śuka birds, namely Vaiśampāyana, the king Śudraka expressed his feelings as—

śrutvā bhavadbhirasyavihangamasya spaṣṭatāvarṇoccāraṇe svare ca madhuratā……….idam tu mahatcitram.[57]

Again, the food habits of a śūka birds had described in the Kādambarī; those birds had very much like the fruits such as—jambuphala, dāḍim, āmalakī, etc.[58]

12 Viṣavidyā:

Viṣavidyā implies the knowledge of dealing with the snake. At that time, people studied about the snakes also. Bāṇa has mentioned one of his friends; Mayūr was a snake-doctor.[59] The descriptions of different types of snakes[60] and various mantras for controlling of snakes are found in the Atharvaveda[61] also.

13 Pākaśāstra:

In the Harṣacarita, there are many references to pākaśāstra or the science of cooking, which have shown the tastes of food and drinks of then society. Vegetable and non-vegetable, both types of food were eaten by people at that time. Almost all types of dishes were found at that time. About all these are discussed in the chapter-6 (Other Social and Cultural Aspects), in the subsection ‘Food and Drink’.

In this chapter, some vital elements of education system prevailed in the 17th century A.D. have been studied in the light of Bāṇabhaṭṭa’s Harṣacarita. It is found that, for boys, gurukula system of education was used to impart knowledge in various disciplines. Girls were also encouraged to be educated, although there was no provision for formal education for girls.

Footnotes and references:


atha rājyaśrīrapi nṛtyagītādiṣu vidagdhāsu….., Ibid.,IV.p.67


….. dhavalīkriyamāṇaprāsādapratolīprākāraśikharam, Ibid.,IV.p.69


sakaladeśādiśyamānaśilpisārthāgamanam, Ibid.,IV.p.68


bahuvidhabhaktinirmāṇanipuṇapurāṇapaurapudhribadhyamānairbadhaiścācāracaturāntaḥ purajaratījanitapūjārājamānarajajakajyamānai raktaiścobhayapoṭāntalagnaparijana-preṅkholitaiścyāyāsu śoṣyamāṇaiḥ śuṣkaiśca kuṭilakramarūpakriyamāna-pallavaparabhāgairaparaiarabdha… ……kuṃkumapaṅkastāsakacchuraṇaira-parairudbhujabhujiṣyabhajyamānabhaṅgurottarīyaiḥ kṣaumaiśca bādaraiśca dukūlaiśca lālātantujaiścaṃśukaiśca …. cāsīdrājkulam, Ibid.,IV.p.69


…….. lālātantujaiścāṃśukaiśca…………. sparśānumeyaivāsobhiḥ….., Ibid.




turyatrikaṃ nṛtyagītavādyaṃ nātyamidaṃ trayam, Amarakoṣa,1.7.10


prāvartata ca vigatarājakulasthitiradhaḥkṛtapratīhārākṛtirapanītavetrivetro nirdoṣāntaḥ purapraveśaḥ samasvāmiparijano nirviśeṣabālavṛddhaḥ samānaśiṣṭāśiṣṭajano durjñeyamattāmattapravibhāgastulyakulayuvatīveśyālāpavilāsaḥ pranṛttasakalakaṭakalokaḥ putrajanmotsavo mahān, Harṣacarita,IV.p.62


stānastāneṣu ca mandamandamāsphālyamānāliṅgakena śiñjānamañjuveṇunā-jhaṇajhaṇāyamānajhallarīkeṇa tāḍyamānatantrīpaṭahikena vādyamānānuttānālabuvīṇena… ……. paṇyavilāsinyaḥ prānṛtyan…, Ibid.,IV.p.63


anāhatānyapi maṅgalatūrjyāṇi reṇuḥ, sarvabhuvanābhayaghoṣaṇāpaṭah iva digantareṣu babhrām tūrjapratiśabdaḥ, Ibid.,IV.p.61


…….śrutisubhagāni maṅgalāni gāyantībhira…. ca, Ibid.,IV.p.69




bheṣajasāmagrīsampādanavyagrasamagravyavahāriṇi……, Ibid.,V.p.77


śiśirauṣadharasacūrṇavakīrṇasphaṭikaśūktiśaṅkhasañcaye, sañcitapracuraprācīnāmalaka-mātuluṅgadrākṣādāḍimādiphale….dhavalagṛhe sthitam, Ibid.,V.p.77-78


ātmocitasthānaniṣaṇṇacca mahānto vividhaūṣadhidharā bhiṣajo bhūdharā iva bhūbo dhṛtiṃ cakruḥ, Ibid.,IV.p.61


atha…… karṇājunamiva kuṇḍalakiritadharau,……prakāśatāṃ jagmatuḥ, Ibid.,IV.p.65-66




kiritaṃ suryasakāśaṃ bhrājate me śirogatam ……./ 129 ……..indradattamanahaṛyaṃ tenahurma kiritinam // 130 Mahābhārata,Virātaparva.43


Harṣacarita, III.p.39


raiṇavavartamaṇḍalīreicakarasararāsarabhasārabdhanartanarambhārabhatīnataḥ, Ibid.,II.p.22




Bhagavatapurāṇa, X.33


sāvarta iva rāsakamaṇḍalaiḥ……., Harṣacarita,IV.p.62


[a] saptanāṃ cakravartīnāmagraniścakravartīcihnānām mahāratnanāṃ …..sagarānāṃ palāyita …..suto ayaṃ devasya jātaḥ, Ibid.,II.p.61 [b].…sarvacakravartīnām…………………… …………………………… dhaureyasya mahārājādhirājaparameśvaraśrīharṣadevasya…, Ibid.,II.23


haṃsamayīva gatiṣu, Ibid.,II.p.57


parapuṣtamayīvālapeṣu, Ibid.


sāmudramayīva paracitrajñāneṣu, Ibid.


manāviva kartari varṇāśramavyavasthānāṃ…….., Ibid.,II.p.36


kṛtopanayanādikriyākalāpasya samāvṛttasya catuirdaśavarṣadeśīyasya pitāpi śrutismṛtivihitaṃ kṛtvā………evāstamagāt, Ibid.,II.p.19


.….prātareva snātvā,….devadevasya vīrupākṣasya ….surabhikusumamadhugandha…vidhāya pūjāṃ paramayā bhaktyā, ….pritikūtanniragāt, Ibid.,II.p.26


atha teṣāṃ taruṇāṃ madhye nānādeśiyaiḥ ……..kapilajainalokāyatikaiḥ kaṇādairopaniṣadaiḥ …….dharmaśāstribhiḥ paurāṇikaiḥ sāptatantavaiḥ ….śaivaiḥ śāvdaiḥ …śiṣyatāṃ pratipannairdurādevāvedyamānam, Ibid.,VIII.p.128


Mahābhāṣya,vol. III,p.58




dravyaguṇakarmasāmānyāviśeṣasamabāyābhāvaḥ saptapadārthaḥ, Tarkasaṃgraha,p.4






prajñā navanavonmeṣaśālini pratibhā matā, Mahābhārata,12.259.1




Ibid.,I. p.2


Ibid.,II. p.32










gadyaṃ kavināṃ nikaṣaṃ vadanti, Kāvyālaṅkārasūtravṛtti,I.3.21




kāmbojāḥ samare soḍuṃ tasya viryamatīsvarāḥ…….teṣāṃ sadaścabhūyiṣṭhāstuṅgā draviṇarāśayaḥ, Raghuvaṃśam,IV.69-70


atha vanāyujaiḥ ārahajaiḥ śonaiśca, śvetaśca, śyāmaiśca, ….bhupālavallabhaisturaṅgairaracitaṃ mandurāṃ vilokayan, Harṣacarita,II.p.29




eṣa khalu devasya pārāsīkadhipatinā tribhūvanaiakaratnam … indrāyudhanāmā turaṃgamaḥ …..prahitaḥ, Kādambarī, p.129


evam ca ……parisamāptasakalavidyā……candrāpīḍamānetuṃ rājā valāhakanāmānamāhuya…prāhinot, Ibid.,p.128




gāndhāradhīpagandhadvīpakūṭapākalo, Ibid.


esa khalu devaśya…..ātmāḥ bahiśvarāḥ prāṇā…. darpaśāta yathānāma varaṇapatiḥ tasyavāsthānamaṇḍapoayaṃ mahānadṛśyate, Ibid.,II.p.29




śukasārikavyadhyayanādiyamānopādhyāyaviśrāntisukhāni, Ibid.,I.p.21


Kādambarī,p. 45-46


deva, devyo vijñāpayanti,…..deva, kiṃ vā nāstāditam, āmatrakokilalocanacchabirnilapātalaḥ……jambuphalarasaḥ …..dāḍimabījani,…..prācīnāmalakīphalāni….devībhiḥ svayaṃ karatalopanīyamānamamṛtāyate, Ibid.,p.46


jāṅguliko mayurakaḥ, Harṣacarita,I.p.19


Arthavavedasaṃhitā, 5.13, 10.4



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