Medieval India

History of Medieval India

Medieval India

The period from the 8th to 12th century in political life in India is particularly dominated by the presence of large number of states. The bigger ones tried to establish their supremacy in northern India and the Deccan. The main contenders in this struggle for supremacy were the Pratiharas, the Palas and the Rashtrakutas. In the south the most powerful kingdom to emerge during this period was that of the Cholas. The Cholas brought about the political unification of large parts of the country but the general political picture was that of fragmentation particularly in northern India. It was in this period that India’s contact with the new religion of Islam began. The contacts began late in the 7th century through the Arab traders.

Later in the early 8th century the Arabs conquered Sind. In the 10th century the Turks emerged as a powerful force in Central and West Asia and carved out kingdoms for themselves. They conquered Persia but their lives were richly influenced by Persian culture and tradition. The Turks first invaded India during the late 10th and early 11th century and Punjab came under Turkish rule. Another series of Turkish invasions in the late 12th and early 13th century led to the establishment of the Sultanate of Delhi. Within a few centauries 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 Sultanate marked the beginning of a new phase in the history of medieval India. Politically it led to the unification of northern India and parts of the Deccan for almost a century. Its rulers almost from the time of the establishment of the Sultanate succeeded in separating it from the country from which they had originally come. The sultanate disintegrated towards the end of the 14th century leading to the emergence of a number of kingdoms in different parts of the country. Some of these like Bahmani and Vijaynagar kingdoms became very powerful. In society new social groups -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.

Art and Architectural in Medieval India

The coming of the Turks inaugurated a new era in the history of Indian architecture, the Turks brought with them architectural ideas developed in Persia, Arabia and Central Asia. They came into contact with the traditions that had already been developed in India. The interaction of these two traditions resulted in a new synthesis of architectural styles. The rulers of the Sultanate were great patrons of architecture and under them the process of synthesis started. It continued with many regional variations in the different kingdoms. During the Mughal period the flowering of this synthesis took place and some of the greatest monuments of India were built. Based on the interaction of the two traditions a unique Indian style of architecture was developed in this period.

Main features of Islamic architecture

The Mosque consisted of a large rectangular open courtyard surrounded by arcades on all four sides. The mehrab which faces Mecca indicates the direction to the prayer. The call to the worship was made from a tall tower or minaret. In some mosques there were many minerats. Another characteristic feature was the arch in the gateway and other places. The dome was another prominent feature of the mosque and the mausoleum. The chief decorative element was sculpturing the building with geometrical designs and lettering in calligraphic style. Some of these features were new to Indian architecture. The ancient Indian buildings were decorated with beautiful carving and sculpture while the Muslim buildings were marked by simplicity and lack of adornment. When the new buildings began to be erected the two styles were gradually synthesized into a new and unique style.

Culture in Medieval India

Culturally medieval period marks the beginning of new stage in the growth of India’s composite culture. It saw the introduction of new features in art and architecture of India and their diffusion to all parts of the country. The architecture that developed during this period was the result of the synthesis of the traditions of Central Asia and Persia with the pre-existing Indian styles. During the 15th and 16th centauries distinctive styles of art and architecture also developed in the regional kingdoms which had emerged with the disintegration of the Sultanate.

During this time notable advances were made in the development of languages and literature. Two new languages-Arabic and Persian became a part of India’s linguistic heritage. Historical writings for the first time became an important component of Indian literature. Under the influence of Persian, new forms of literature such as the ghazal were introduced. The period saw two great religious movements. The Bhakti movement spread throughout the country.

It disapproved religious narrow-mindedness, superstitions and observance of formal rituals. The Bhakti saints condemned caste inequalities and laid stress on human brotherhood. The other was Sufi movement. The Sufis or the Muslim mystics preached the message of love and human brotherhood. These two movements played a leading role in combating religious exclusiveness and narrow -mindedness and in bringing the people of all communities together. Sikhism began to emerge as a new religion based on the teachings of Guru Nanak and other saints. The growth of a composite culture reached its highest point under the Great Mughals in the 16th and 17th centuries. The Mughals built an empire which once again brought about the political unification of a large part of the country.

Akbar the greatest Mughal Emperor followed the policy of Sulhkul (peace with all). Some of the finest specimen of Indian architecture and literature belong to this period. A new significant art form was painting which flourished under the patronage of the Mughal court. Influenced by the Persian traditions the Mughal painting developed into a distinct Indian style. It later spread to other parts of the country in various regional styles. Another significant development was the emergence of a new language Urdu which became the lingua franca of the people of the towns in many parts of the country.

Literature in Medieval Period

In the early medieval period in northern India, Sanskrit continued to be the language of literature. This is the period of the works of two writers in Kashmir-Somadeva’s Katha-sarit –sagar and Kalhana’s Rajataringini.Rajataringini is a work of great importance as this is first historical work in India. Another famous work of this period is Gitagovinda by Jayadeva.It is one of the finest poems in Sanskrit literature.

One of the earliest works in an early form of Hindi was Prithviraj Raso by Chandbardai.It is a work on heroic deeds of Prithviraj Chauhan.

Another important Sanskrit work of this period is Bilhana’s Vikramankadeva-Charita a biography of the Chalukya king Vikramaditya VI.

This period also saw development in Dravidian languages.Nripatunga wrote a great work of poetry in Kannada called the Kavirajamarga.Pampa wrote the Adipurana and Vikramarjuna- Vijaya with the former dealing with the life of the first Jain tirthankara and latter based on the Mahabharata.Ponna wrote the Shantipurana, a legendary history of the 16th tirthankara.Another great Kannada writer was Ranna a contemporary of Pampa and Ponna.

Two of the famous works are the Ajitapurana and Gadayuddha.Kamban wrote the Rama a contemporary of Pampa and Ponna.Two of the famous works are the Ajitapurana and Gadayuddha.Kamban wrote the Ramayanam in Tamil.This was the period of the composition of the great hymns of the Alvars and the Nayanars. The hymns of the Alvars are collected into the Nalayira- Divyanam in Tamil. This was the period of the composition of the great hymns of the Alvars and the Nayanars. The hymns of the Alvars are collected into the Nalayira- Divya Prabandham. Some of the Nayanar works are the Thiruvasagam,the Thirumanairam and Thiruttondattogai.

The Delhi Sultanate saw great advancement in the growth of Indian languages and literature.Braj Bhasha and Khari Boli began to be used in literary compositions.The famous Rajasthani ballad Alha Udal and the Vishaldeo Raso belong to this period.Mulla Daud wrote the oldest poem in Awadhi language called Chandayana.

Persian was the court language of the Sultanate.A very notable contribution of the Turks was in the field of historical literature in Persian.There were many historians in this period.Ziauddin Barani wrote the Tarikh-i- Firozshahi which gives a detailed account of Khaljis and Tughlaqs. He also wrote a work on political theory called the Fatawa-i- Jahandari.

The most outstanding literary figure in this period was Amir Khusrau.He was a poet,historian,mystic and composer of music. He was also a disciple of Nizamuddin Auliya.He wrote the Ashiqa,the Nuh Siphir ,the QiranalSadayan,the Khazain-ul- Futuh and several works of poetry.

The regional kingdoms provided a great stimulus to regional languages and literature.There were two main forms of Hindi in this period- Bhojpuri and Awadhi.Kabir wrote in Bhojpuri and his dohas or couplets have become a part of the folklore.Malik Muhammad Jayasi wrote the Padmavat in Awadhi.The famous Ramacharitmanas by Tulsidas was also written in Awadhi in this period.Qutban a disciple of the sufi saint Shaikh Burhan wrote the Mrigavati.

In Bengali the Ramayana by Krittivasa and the hundreds of lyrics by the famous poet Chandidas were written under the patronage of the rulers. With Chaitanya the tradition of writing devotional songs began.Narasi Mehta wrote devotional songs in Gujarati and Namdev and Eknath in Marathi. Under king Krishnadeva Raya,telugu literature reached new heights.He was Telugu and Sanskrit writer.He wrote the Vishnuchittiya.The other famous poets in his court were Allasani Peddana who wrote the Manucharita.Dhurjati wrote the Kalahasti Mahatamya. In Mughal India,Babbar was one of the pioneers of Turkish poetry and also author of biography in Turkish Babar nama.Gulbadan Begum sister of Humayun wrote the Humayun Nama.Jahangir wrote his autobiography the Tuzuk-i- Jahangiri.Aurangzeb also was a prolific writer and the last Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar was a notable Urdu poet.

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