Harsha Siladitya himself was a man of letters. As a poet and a dramatist he made noteworthy contributions to the literature of his time.
As a Buddhist king, he wrote hymns relating to Buddhism.
Two of such works were the Ashta-Maha-Srichaitya- Stotra or A Hymn to the Eight Great Chaityas’, and the Suprabhata-Stora or A Hymn of the Dawn to Buddha’.
Harsha’s greater fame as an author rests on his three famous dramas. They were Nagananda, Ratnavati and Priyadarsika. All the three were romatic comedies. Harsha was so famous in the literary world that Jayadeva, the celebrated author of Gita-Govinda compared him with Kalidasa and Bhasa.
Harsha was a patron of poets and scholars. The most renowned among them was Bana Bhatta. Besides his worthy work Harsha-Charita, Bana also wrote a romance in prose, Kadambari. His prose works are regarded as excellent examples of refined and ornate Sanskrit.
Under the encouragement of Harsha, hundreds of poems were composed on the previous lives of Buddha. They were presented to him as the Jatakamala. Harsha felt so impressed with a learned scholar in Orissa named Jayasena that he offered to him a number of villages to enjoy their revenue. But, a true philosopher, Jayasena declined to receive the royal gift. Harsha’s fame as a learned king was known to the Buddhists of China during his life time and for long thereafter.
The Nalanda University:
It was during the time of Harsha that the great University of Nalanda reached the pinnacle of its glory. Founded in 5th century A.D. by a later Gupta emperor, it came to be the most prestigious centre of learning in the whole of Asia during the age of Harsha. Both Hiuen Tsang, and I-tsing who came after him, left vivid accounts of this University. Other historical sources also refer to its eminence. The stupendous ruins of Nalanda are objects of wonder even for men of today.
It is known from the accounts of Hiuen Tsang (also of I-tsing after him) that the Nalanda Mahavihara or University was a centre of advanced post-graduate studies in various subjects. Foreign scholars from distant countries like Korea, Japan, China, Mongolia, Bukhara, Tibet and Ceylon came to Nalanda for their higher learning. Hiuen Tsang himself studied Yoga in Nalanda for long five years, from 635 A.D. to 640 A.D., under the guidance of the Chancellor of the University, Silabliadra.
The University possessed imposing and massive buildings with spacious halls, class rooms and apartments. Some of the buildings were of many storeys high, ‘touching the clouds with their towers’. One of the libraries was of 9 story’s. The three notable libraries were named as Ratnasagara or Sea of Gems, Ratnodadhi or Ocean of Gems, and Ratnaranjaka or Collection of Gems.
When Hiuen Tsang studied there, Nalanda had 8,500 scholars on roll. They were taught by 1,510 professors. To get admission to the University was most difficult. Students had to seek admission through an entrance examination in which 80% candidates became unsuccessful and only20% passed.
For those who got admission on their merit, the studies were of a high standard. There was little rest or leisure for students who had to attend to their studies without fail. According to Hiuen Tsang: “Learning and discussing, they found the day too short; day and night they admonished each other; juniors and seniors mutually helping to perfection”.
“The subjects of study”, writes historian Radha Kuniud Mookerji, “were both Brahmanical and Buddhist, Sacred and Secular, Sciences and Humanities, Arts and Crafts, the Vedas including Atharaveda, Hetuvidya (Logic), Sabdavidya (Grammar), Chikitsavidya (Medicine), Samkhya, Yoga, Nyaya, besides
Buddhist works of different Schools, Sarvastivadin, Madhyamika and the like”.
Harsha patronised the University by r emitting “the revenues of about a hundred villages of Nalanda”. Gifts and endowments were plentiful for the maintenance of the celebrated University which not only admitted students from outside countries but also sent learned scholars to other lands for spread of learning. The names of several such Nalanda scholars who went to China and Tibet have survived till today. They not only taught, but also translated many Indian works from Sanskrit to Chinese and Tibetan languages.
Harsha honoured the Nalanda scholars as best as the could. To his Kanauj Assembly, he invited one thousand learned men from Nalanda University to take part in the discussions. He requested the Nalanda scholars to come to Orissa for arguments with the Buddhist philosopher of that land. The Nalanda University of Harsha’s time was a bright example of ancient India’s academic excellence. It continued to thrive for many centuries after Harsha as a light of learning for India and outside.