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History of Medieval India

Medieval History of India:

With the death of Harshavardhana in 647 AD, Rajputs came into prominence. Many of the early Rajput Kings were erstwhile feudal lords, who came to political prominence and declared their independence as there was absence of any paramount political power in India, following the death of Harsha. They established their own sovereign states and declared themselves as kings. That began the process of Rajput rule. The Rajputs, which means scions of the royal family, were mostly concentrated in what is today known as Rajasthan. Many Rajput states were engaged in bitter fighting with each other , which encouraged the invaders to take their chances. Many of them did, and they succeeded too. . .

Mahmud Ghazni was one of the early invaders. His chief aim was to plunder the riches of India, and propagate Islam among the Indian masses. Though Muhammad bin Qasim's Arab invasion of Sindh in 712 AD was India's first brush with Islamic invaders, but Muhammad Ghazni's 17 successive invasions during 997-1027AD were of much more devastating nature. Ghazni plundered the enormous riches from India's temples, and set in a series of bloody massacres during his invasions. However, his aim was not political

The Sultans:

Muhammad Ghori was the first Islamic ruler to establish political rule in India, after defeating Prthviraj Chauhan in the Battle of Tarain, in 1192 AD. Slowly but surely, he extended his political hegemony over much of north India, and also parts of Gujarat and Gwalior. His rule can be said to be the onset of medieval era in India. The Turkish rule was consolidated(Ghori was a Turk), when his slave turned deputy Qutubuddin Aibek(1206-1210 AD) took the reins of power on Ghori's death, and started the Slave Dynasty. Aibek started the work on Qutab Minar in Delhi, which his slave turned successor Iltutmish(1210-1236 AD) completed. Iltutmish's daughter Razia Sultana(1236-1240 AD) was the only women ruler during the entire Sultanate and Moghul era, which lasted for five hundred years.

She encountered the hostility of the Turkish nobility who were unaccustomed to see a women in power, and eventually a rebellion ensued in Bhatinda. When she had gone to quell that rebellion, Razia's brother usurped the throne, with the support of Turkish nobles. She came to recapture Delhi and was killed in the battle. The Slave dynasty was eventually followed by other dynasties, and together this Turkish rule is termed in India as the Sultanate era. After the Slave dynasty, the Khilji dynasty, Tughlaq dynasty, Sayyid dynasty, and Lodhi dynasty ruled Delhi respectively. Yes Delhi was the seat of political power even then, and was the capital of Turk Sultans. However, Muhammad bin Tughlaq(1324-1351AD) of Tughlaq dynasty once shifted the capital from Delhi to Devagiri(which he renamed Daulatabad), which turned out to be a political blunder, as the water supply in Devagiri was inadequate.

He had to revert his decision soon and Delhi was restored to being the capital of Sultanate. However, the entire process of shifting and re-shifting of capital caused enormous human casualties. Besides the controversial Muhammad bin Tughlaq, who was also known in the history for introducing token currency(which again ended in failure as the concept was much ahead of its times), Allauddin Khilji(1296-1316AD) also deserves special reference in the Indian history. He was not only a great warrior, but also an able administrator. He not only initiated successful military campaigns in the hitherto untouched and hence unconquered south India, but also introduced far reaching market reforms and price control measures. And he did all these things despite being an illiterate.

The Mighty Moghuls:

In 1526 AD, Babur defeated Ibrahim Lodhi of the Lodhi dynasty in the First Battle of Panipat, and established Moghul rule in India. Babur was a descendant of Timur as well as the ferocious 13th Century invader Changez Khan, and hailed from Persia. His rule however, lasted only four years, and on his death in 1530 AD, his son Humayun succeeded him. If to Babur(1526-1530 AD) goes the credit of setting up Moghul rule in Delhi, to Akbar goes the credit of consolidating it. Akbar (1556-1605 AD) was the grandson of Babur and the son of Humayun, who came to throne at the tender age of thirteen, upon his father's untimely and accidental death. Here it deserves a mention that Humayun, though a great scholar, was a weak king as compared to his father and grandson, and Sher Shah, a Pathan chieftain, managed to usurp power from him and established his rule in the imperial capital Delhi. Sher Shah's rule of fifteen years (1540-1555 AD) was a brief interruption in the Moghul rule in India.

(i) Akbar the Secular
Akbar, though having no formal education, was known for many path breaking administrative and revenue reforms, among which Mansabdari system deserves special mention. He was a great warrior and strategist who not only extended his empire across whole of north India, but also conquered even parts of south. He can be regarded as the greatest ruler of the medieval India.

Most importantly, his imperialistic ambitions, though substantial, were overshadowed by his secular outlook. He was not only tolerant to all religions, but encouraged religious diversity, which in turn reinstilled India's essentially pluralistic heritage, that was standing to be threatened during the more than three hundred years of Sultanate era. He also inducted many eminent Hindus like Todar Mall and Birbal in his court. He was also known for patronizing arts and literature and commissioning great works of architectures (Agra Fort, Fathepur Sikri,etc.) and nurturing a group of talented people from various walks of life, who adorned his court as 'Navaratnas.' Akbar also founded his own religion named Din -i-Ilahi or the Divine Faith, which though failed to attract popularity, amply reflected his broad vision, and his effort to end the element of religious animosity within India.

The three mighty Moghul emperors who followed Akbar, also left their imprints of greatness along the tracts of history. Jahangir(1605-1627AD), Shah Jahan(1628-1658 AD), and Aurangazeb (1658-1707 AD) tried to give Moghul empire a pan-Indian presence and were successful to some extent. Their instrument to achieve them was through successive invasions on the independent states. That is not condemnable, if we take into account of the mores of that era; then imperialism was not a dirty word, rather it was an effective means to establish political hegemony. During Shah Jahan's reign the famous Red Fort and Jama Masjid(in Delhi), and the world famous Taj Mahal were built. The later is a mausoleum, built in memory of his beloved wife Mumtaz.

(ii) The Intolerant Aurangazeb
Shah Jahan's youngest son Aurangazeb, who usurped throne through deceit and ruthless slaying of his brothers-Murad and Dara Shikoh- and imprisoning his father, turned out to be a religious bigot. He undid many good things which Akbar initiated(reintroducing the Jizia tax on non Muslims was one example), and his regime of narrow-mindedness, orthodoxy and dogmatism, compromised on the secular character of the Indian ethos. He encouraged defacing and destruction of many Hindu temples, and pursued the policy of forcibly converting many non-Muslims into Islam. He also isolated himself from Rajputs, who had friendly ties with Akbar.

Though during his nearly five-decade-old reign the Moghul empire was extended to its maximum, but it also grew unwieldy. As a result, he faced resentment and rebellion from many quarters, which gained momentum during his later years. Some orthodox historians cite Aurangazeb's anti-Hindu stance as the primary reason for these rebellions, while many modern historians trace the reasons to be economic and political ones. The Maratha king Shivaji troubled him the most and challenged his hegemony. The Sikhs, led by their ninth Guru - Guru Tegh Bahadur- and his worthy successor the tenth Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, fought valiantly against the repressive policies of Aurangazeb. Guru Tegh Bahadur even chose martyrdom over forcible conversion to Islam. During his entire reign, Aurangazeb was engaged in continual warfare across his kingdom, and vigorously pursued a policy of military expansion, which left him with little time for any constructive exercises.

Aurangazeb was the last of the great Moghul emperors(the sixth in succession), after whose death, the mighty empire showed signs of crumbling. Eventually the weak successors failed to keep the empire intact and secure from numerous attacks from all sides, and ultimately with the increasing colonisation move of the Britishers, the Moghal empire, which was already reduced to a pale shadow of its past with little power beyond the confines of Delhi, completely disintegrated. Bahadur Shah Zafar, the last Moghul emperor to have graced the throne of Delhi, was the reluctant leader of the Sepoy Mutiny. He was later exiled in Rangoon after the failure of the Sepoy Mutiny, where he died in 1862.

Literature, Architecture and Reformism
Medieval era was also distinguished by various social movements, which attempted to challenge the prevalent orthodoxy, that was propagated by the so called custodians of both Hindu and Muslim religion. These reformist movements attained considerable mass support and they are in totality clubbed under the term 'Bhakti Movement.' The pivotal players of the Bhakti Movement were Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh religion, Kabir and many sufi saints. They together called for religious harmony and shunned intolerance, casteism and ostentation. They, with their writings, verses or oral preachings, played a major role in bridging the emotional gap between practitioners of two predominant religions of India of that age, that is Hindu and Muslim, which helped the essential pluralistic trait of India to reemerge in the historical firmament.

Though in the medieval India, orthodoxy ruled and this throttled learning and hence scientific and other academic pursuits to some extent, but the arts and architecture showed great development. Miniature paintings were introduced during the Moghul era and authoritative biographies were written. Baburnama by Babur himself, describes Hindustan with great prose, though with a somewhat jaundiced view. Ain-i-Akbari and Akbarnama by Abul Fazal are only some of the other examples of the vast body of biographies generated during the Moghul era.

Furthermore, the verses of the sufi saints and other saint poets of the Bhakti movement created a literature for the first time, which was sensitive to the aspirations of the masses. Many regional languages like Hindi, Urdu, Marathi, Bengali, etc. also attained their distinct identities during the Moghul era, which in later age helped to produce a vast body of quality regional literature. Moreover, Indo-Persian architecture and Moghul architecture also attained their sublime expressions. The Moghul architecture infuses Indian, Persian and Turkish architectural styles, whose zenith reached in Taj Mahal; that eternal poetry carved in marble for the world to wonder in awe. However, very few know that it was inspired by the Humayan's Tomb in Delhi, which is also a specimen of wonderful architecture. However, Taj Mahal proved that inspirations can sometimes surpass their originals.

 

 

Last Updated On: 2011/08/18

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