The Huns were a fierce tribe who lived in Central Asia and wandered from place to place with their herds of cattle. When they got tired of their dry lands and mountains, they set out in search of new pastures. Some went to Europe; and some came towards India. They were like robbors looking for a rich house to loot.
The Huns were very good horsemen. They could stay in the saddle for many days and even sleep on horseback. They lived in tents made of skins, ate uncooked meat and drank sour milk. They were very good marksmen and could shoot an arrow or throw a lance without missing.
The Huns came in thousands, galloping on their sturdy little horses. They rode over the Punjab, Rajasthan and Kathiawar and went as far east as Bihar. Wherever they went, they burned houses, killed people and took everything on which they could lay their hands. People trembled with fear at their very name. They would pitch their black tents for a night or so at the place they raided. The next day, they were again on their way to kill and burn and rob.
King Skandagupta, who was ruling at this time, defeated the Huns once. But after he died, there was no one to stop them. Toramana, their leader, got himself a golden throne and fine silk robes. He began to call himself king. His capital was called Shakala, the old name for Sialkot, which is now in Pakistan. The people obeyed Toramana because they were afraid of him, but secretly they hated him.
For seventy years there was great cruelty and terror in the country. Toramana's son, Mihiragula, was even crueler than his father.
The Huns built an empire of their own. But it did not last long because the people were unhappy and hated the Huns. Yashodharman, a brave king from central India, finally defeated them. After many long years they became a part of the people of India and took to peaceful ways.
HARSHAVARDHANA OF KANUJ
Would you give away everything you had to someone who needed it more than you? If you would, you are like one of the greatest kings that ever ruled in India. The name of this king was Harshavardhana.
Harsha was the prince of Thanesar. He was brave and kind and everyone loved him. His sister, Rajyashri, was married to the king of Kanauj. When Harsha was sixteen years old, Rajyashri's husband was killed and she was put in prison. The young Harsha defeated the king who had killed his brother-in-law and saved his sister. When the ministers of Kanauj saw the courage of this young prince, they asked him to become the king of Kanauj. So the kingdoms of Thanesar and Kanauj became one and Harsha was crowned king.
The first thing Harsha did was to conquer more land. For six years, his soldiers did not take off their belts. They had no time for rest. The elephants of Harsha's army always remained in harness. He won many battles, and soon his empire stretched from the Punjab to Bengal. It was almost as big as the empire of Chandragupta Vikramaditya had been. Harsha wanted to make it even bigger. So he tried to conquer the south. But there was a powerful king called Pulakesin in the Deccan who did not even let Harsha cross the river Narmada.
A poet called Bana lived at the king's court. Bana admired Harsha and wrote a book about him. The book is in Sanskrit and is called Harshacharita. When you learn Sanskrit you can read for yourself how just and wise Bana thought King Harsha to be. Bana's other well-known book Kadambari, is a novel.
There is another person who has told us about the times of Harsha. He is Yuan Chwang, a traveller who came from far-off China. Like Fa-Hian, he also came to look for books about Buddhism, and to see holy places. In those days India was famous for her learning and her wise men. Yuan Chwang was also a very learned man. He walked all the way from China. Many times he lost his way in the desert. Many times he and his horse became so thirsty that they could not walk another step. But Yuan Chwang did not give up. He faced all the hardships and dangers to come to the land of Buddha.
When Yuan Chwang came, Harsha was away from his capital travelling with his ministers and courtiers. When he heard that Yuan Chwang had arrived at Kanauj, Harsha asked him to come to his camp at once. Yuan Chwang started out to meet the king. He travelled for many days. As he neared Harsha's camp, it got dark. So he pitched his tent on the other side of the river for the night, thinking that he would meet the great king the next morning. But in the middle of the night drums began to beat and the dark river was lit up with thousands of lamps. Yuan Chwang woke up in alarm. He soon found out that the king and his courtiers were crossing the river. Harsha was so eager to meet the learned man from China that he could not wait until the morning. They were both delighted to see each other. Afterwards, Harsha and his sister Rajyashri had many talks with Yuan Chwang and both became followers of Buddha.
The great king returned to Kanauj and took Yuan Chwang with him in a grand procession. Drums and trumpets sounded all the way. There were many elephants. On one elephant was a beautiful statue of Buddha made of gold. The king scattered golden flowers, pearls and perfumes. Thousands of his subjects, dressed in bright uniforms, followed him on foot. Many came by river in boats. When they reached Kanauj, a very large crowd of citizens, including princes, nobles and holy men, welcomed them. Yuan Chwang spoke to them. Many of them became Buddhists.
Harsha, who had become a follower of Buddha, continued to pray to Shiva, and the Sun, like other Hindus. He respected both religions. He was a very kind-hearted king. Every five years he went to Prayag and gave away everything he had, his money, clothes and jewels, to the poor. He did this six times in his life. It is said that once he had to borrow an old garment from his sister as he had nothing left to wear!
Harsha ordered that animals were not to be killed. The royal kitchens used to feed a thousand Buddhists and five hundred Brahmins every day. All over the kingdom there were rest houses. No one needed to be without food or clothes. In everything Harsha followed in the footsteps of the great kings who had ruled before him Ashoka and the Gupta emperors. Harsha also loved books, music and painting. He himself was a poet and wrote a number of plays.
Yuan Chwang, who wrote down almost everything he saw and heard, tells many of these things to us. Yuan Chwang also tells us of his visit to Nalanda in Bihar. Here there was a great Buddhist university to which students from distant lands came to study. Thousands of priests and learned men lived and taught here. The students and teachers of Nalanda University were very happy to welcome Yuan Chwang.
After fifteen years of travelling, Yuan Chwang felt it was time to return to China. Harsha was sorry to see him go, and offered him many gifts. Yuan Chwang refused everything, except a fur coat. He knew it would be very cold on the way back. Harsha also gave him an elephant to ride on, and horses to carry the books, pictures and statues he was taking back with him. When Yuan Chwang left, Harsha was so sad that he galloped after him to say good-bye once more.