Medieval India refers to the period of Indian history that is between the ancient India and the modern India. The start of the medieval period marks a slow collapse of the Gupta Empire (240 – 590) that resulted in the end of the Ancient India.
This period can be divided into:
The beginning of the Early Medieval Period is said to be characterized by rulers and dynasties who were taking care of their own regions without much connection with each other as a country, a whole unit. Gradually the things began to change and the period saw some strong rulers who tried to unite the kingdoms for better administration and governance. Some important dynasties during the early period are:
The Chalukya dynasty was an Indian dynasty that ruled large parts of southern and central India between the 6th and the 12th centuries. The earliest dynasty, known as the “Badami Chalukyas”, ruled from Vatapi (modern Badami) from the middle of the 6th century.
Eastern Chalukyas, also known as the Chalukyas of Vengi, were a dynasty that ruled parts of South India between the 7th and 12th centuries. They started out as governors of the Chalukyas of Badami in the Deccan region. Subsequently, they ruled the Vengi region as feudatories of the Cholas until 1189 CE.
Pallavas became a major power during the reign of Mahendravarman I (571 – 630 CE) and Narasimhavarman I (630 – 668 CE) and dominated the Telugu and northern parts of the Tamil region for about 600 years until the end of the 9th century. Throughout their reign they were in constant conflict with both Chalukyas of Badami in the north and the Tamil kingdoms of Chola and Pandyas in the south and were finally defeated by the Chola kings in the 9th century CE. Pallavas are most noted for their patronage of architecture, the finest example being the Shore Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Mahabalipuram.
The Pala Empire was an imperial power during the Late Classical period on the Indian subcontinent, which originated in the region of Bengal. It is named after its ruling dynasty, whose rulers had their names ending with the suffix of Pala which means “protector” in Sanskrit. . The Pala stronghold was located in Bengal and Bihar. Their army was known for its huge war elephant troop. They patronized classical Indian philosophy, literature, painting and sculpture. They built astounding temples and monasteries. Somapura Mahavihara was one of them. The great universities of Nalanda and Vikramashila were supported by them.
The Chola dynasty was one of the longest-ruling dynasties in South India. The earliest record of their rule comes from the inscriptions left by Ashoka, of the Maurya Empire around 3rd century BC. Rajaraja Chola I and his successors Rajendra Chola I, Rajadhiraja Chola, Virarajendra Chola and Kulothunga Chola I made South Asia and South East India into a military, economic and cultural power.
Various other dynasties include:
South India saw the most powerful kingdom of Cholas emerge as rulers during this period. The Cholas were successful in bringing large parts of South India together under one rule and uniting the otherwise scattered states that were in desperate need of one strong ruler. It was during the rule of Cholas that India was introduced to the new religion of Islam. It so happened that the Arab Traders had started pouring in, in search of new trading avenues in India.
During the early 8th century the Arabs conquered Sind. By the 10th century the Turks were the most powerful in Central and West Asia. The Turks’ first invasion was in the state of Punjab during the late 10th and early 11th century. It was as early as this that the state of Punjab came under Turkish rule.
Later in the end of 12th and early 13th century the Turkish invaders took control over Delhi. There they established the Sultanate of Delhi. Thus Zahiruddin Muhmammad Babar was the founder of Mughal Empire in India and their rule started from 1526. Within a few centuries after the rise of Islam in Arabia it became the second most popular religion in India with followers in every part of the country.
The establishment of the Delhi Sultanate was the beginning of a new phase in the history of medieval India. It led to the unification of northern India and parts of the Deccan. Towards the end of the 14th century, the Delhi Sultanate began to disintegrate. This led to the emergence of a number of kingdoms in different parts of the country. A few like Bahmani and Vijaynagar kingdoms emerged as the powerful ones.
By now India had the presence of Mughals and the original inhabitants all over in almost every kingdom in India. This led to the formation of a new mixed kind of society which had new groups that included the Turks, the Persians, the Mongols and the Afghans besides the Arabs who had settled in India. There were important changes in economic life also. Trade and crafts received a stimulus and many new towns arose as centres of administration, trade and crafts. New elements of technology were also introduced during this period.
A very interesting development took place in this period. It was the rise of a self-sufficient village economy where production was according to the requirements of the local residents of the villages. There was no interest taken to produce more than required and no or little trade took place outside the villages.
This sort of subsistence economy of the village led to decline in trade. The other reasons for decline in trade include emergence of wide range of local weights and measures and unstable political conditions and internal fighting.
Culture and Religion during Medieval Period
Culturally medieval period is known for its architectural marvels and exquisite art which is an integral part of both the phases in their own special ways. Both, the dynasties in south and the Mughals are central and northern India laid their impressions on whatever they touched.
This is the period which is also known for its literature and languages that developed due to the fusion of Indian and Muslim cultures. Birth of Urdu, poetry, ghazal, music, musical instruments like Tabla and Sarangi and Kathak dance form, all are the contributions of this period to not just India but whole world. The two new languages that became part of Indian linguistic baggage are Arabic and Persian. Historical writings which provide us the evidence to this most treasured history was the gift of this period.
This period saw two great religious movements- The Bhakti movement and the Sufi Movement
Both the movements disapproved religious narrow-mindedness, superstitions and rituals that had little or no meaning. The Bhakti saints condemned caste inequalities. They said all humans are but the children of God and thus Equal and brotherens.
In fact the Sufis or the Muslim mystics preached the message of love and human brotherhood through their sufi music and dance.
There was this new religion that took birth during the medieval period –Sikhism. This was based on the teachings of Guru Nanak and later other Gurus of Sikhism.
Akbar, the greatest Mughal Emperor, played a very important role in bringing the Hindus and Muslims together and become the emperor of all, loved by all and hailed by all equally as their ruler. After being influenced by various saints of Bhakti and sufi origin, he introduced a new system called Sulhkul (peace with all). It was an open session meant to be a forum where preachers, saints, sufies and Gurus could all come together under one roof and discuss spiritualism without any fear thus promoting love, trust and inclusiveness.