After the decline of the Guptas northern India was divided into four main kingdoms, those of the Guptas of Magadha (not to be confused with the main Gupta dynasty), the Maukharis, the Pushyabhutis, and the Maitrakas. The first of these, the Guptas of Magadha, were a minor line bearing the same name. The Maukharis at first held the region of western Uttar Pradesh around Kannauj, and gradually they ousted the Magadhan Guptas from their kingdom, after which the Guptas moved to Malwa. The Pushyabhutis ruled in Thanesar, north of Delhi. They had made a marriage alliance with the Maukharis, and, on the death of the last Maukhari king, the Maukhari nobles requested Harsha Vardhan, the reigning Pushyabhuti king, to unite his kingdom with the Maukhari kingdom and rule from Kanauj. The Maitrakas, it is claimed, were of Iranian origin and ruled in Gujarat (now called Saurashtra), and developed Valabhi, their capital, into an important centre of learning. On the periphery of these four kingdoms were a number of small principalities continually fighting each other and seizing territory. This was particularly the case in Bengal and Assam. Of the four main kingdoms, the Maitrakas survived the longest and continued to rule until the middle of the eighth century, when they succumbed to attacks from the Arabs.
The Pushyabhuti family came to the fore after the Hun invasion and achieved influence on the accession of Prabhakara Vardhana. Prabhakara Vardhana's desire for conquest was eventually carried out by his younger son, Harsha Vardhana, generally known as Harsha.
Harsha began his reign in A.D. 606. Banabhatta has written a colourful biography of his patron, Harsha Vardhana called the Harshacharita (Life of Harsha). There is also an account of a Chinese visitor, the Buddhist pilgrim Hsuan Tsang, who was in India during Harsha's reign. In the course of the forty-one years that he ruled, Harsha included among his feudatories kings as distant as those of Jalandhar (in the Punjab), Kashmir, Nepal, and Valabhi. However, Harsha Vardhana was unable to extend his power into the Deccan or southern India. He suffered his one of the worst defeat at the hands of a Deccan king, Pulakeshin II.
Harsha had realized the weakness of a cluster of small kingdoms and had decided to conquer his neighbours to weld them into an imperial structure. However, this was not possible owing to the particular political and economic conditions of the time. As with the Guptas, Harsha finally found himself ruling a large kingdom in northern India loosely connected by feudal ties, and not a closely connected empire of the Mauryan variety.
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