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History of Medieval India

Subhadeep Mitra
History of Medieval India

Executive Summary

The classical age was acknowledged for the development of the artistic, educational, military and
scientific exploits which after its beginning continued to leave its mark over the preceding generations.
Significant achievements in these fields marked the importance and enhanced its reputation in the whole
history of the Classical age. Religion underwent a synthesis and major sectarian deities, image
worshipping and devotionalism and temples gained grounds. Religious life became more enriched with
music, classical dances, and religious literary works and so on. Subjects like grammar, astronomy and
other scientific fields were dealt in an advanced manner with specialization being done on them. Classical
age in India is also revered for its contributions in the field of mathematics and astronomy, as being the
first to replace the roman system with the Indian numeral system. `Decimal` system is again one such
invention of this era. Charaka and Sushruta were the two exponents who excelled in the medical field.
Indians also excelled in pharmacopoeia, bone setting, caesarean section and skin grafting procedures.
Followed by the Classical age was Gujara-Pratihara. They were followed by Pala Dynasty then by
Rastakuta Empire, then Islam and finally the Mughals. The country witnessed a drastic change in culture
& civilization, trade patterns, society and technology.

History of Medieval India

Table of Contents

Classical Age in India-Overview ..............................................................................................................4

Gujara Pratihara Empire ........................................................................................................................... 4
Pala Empire...............................................................................................................................................6
Rashtrakuta Empire .................................................................................................................................. 8
Islam Dynasty ........................................................................................................................................... 8
Mughal Dynasty...................................................................................................................................... 11
Conclusion ..............................................................................................................................................14

History of Medieval India

Classical Age in India-Overview

The classical age was acknowledged for the development of the artistic, educational, military and
scientific exploits which after its beginning continued to leave its mark over the preceding generations.
Significant achievements in these fields marked the importance and enhanced its reputation in the whole
history of the Classical age. Religion underwent a synthesis and major sectarian deities, image
worshipping and devotionalism and temples gained grounds. Religious life became more enriched with
music, classical dances, and religious literary works and so on. Subjects like grammar, astronomy and
other scientific fields were dealt in an advanced manner with specialization being done on them. Classical
age in India is also revered for its contributions in the field of mathematics and astronomy, as being the
first to replace the roman system with the Indian numeral system. `Decimal` system is again one such
invention of this era. Charaka and Sushruta were the two exponents who excelled in the medical field.
Indians also excelled in pharmacopoeia, bone setting, caesarean section and skin grafting procedures.
Gupta and Vardhan empires are both the pioneers and the nurturers of the Indian tradition under whom
the classical age gained prominence and it excelled in various major fields. The Gupta rulers were
versatile monarchs who built a large empire and even ruled it efficiently. They also consolidated the large
northern India under one political banner, which was remarkable. They encouraged the development of
trade and commerce, which multiplied the wealth of the country. Internal security was of high standard
which allowed the smooth functioning of trade relations, maintenance of law and order and growth in the
religious, cultural and economic prosperity of the people. They were the patrons of Gandhara School,
which was in an indianised form, and aristocrats reserved a room as picture galleries known as
`Chitrashala`. The Vardhan dynasty reached its zenith during the rule of Harshavardhana who was a great
patron of art and also a scholar. He united different parts of India like Punjab, Bengal, Haryana and Orissa
under his domain. Though a very young monarch in the beginning he very soon after his ascension
transferred his capital from Thanesar to Kannauj and united both of them.

Gujara Pratihara Empire

The Gurjara Pratihara Empire formed an Indian dynasty that ruled much of Northern India from the 6th to the 11th
centuries. At its peak of prosperity and power (c. 836–910), it rivaled or even exceeded the Gupta Empire in the
extent of its territory.The Gurjara Pratihara king in the tenth century was entitled as Maharajadhiraja of
Aryavarta. People known as Gurjar Parihars claim descendant from Gurjar Pratihars.

Gurjar is the name of a race. According to Georgian scholars, they came to India from Georgia of present Russia
whereas some historians hold the view that Gurjars were local people of India who lived in obscurity before their rise
on the political stage. Some scholars state that Gurjars received this epithet when some Chiefs of this community
served as attendant (Pratihara) at a sacrifice performed by a Rashtrakuta monarch at Ujjain. Pratihara records

History of Medieval India
mention that their ancestor, Laxmana, acted as door keeper (pratihara) to his brother Ramachandra during exile so
they came to known as Pratihara.

Rulers of the dynasty

Gurjar pratihar rulers (650-1036 AD)

Dadda I-II-III (650 - 750)

Nagabhata I (750 - 780)

Vatsaraja (780 - 800)

Nagabhata II (800 - 833)

Ramabhadra (833 - 836)

Mihir Bhoja the Great (836 - 890)

Mahendrapala I (890 - 910)

Bhoj II (910 - 913)

Mahipala I (913 - 944)

Mahendrapala II (944 - 948)

Devpala (948 - 954)

Vinaykpala (954 - 955)

Mahipala II (955 - 956)

Vijaypala II (956 - 960)

Rajapala (960 - 1018)

Trilochanpala (1018 - 1027)

Jasapala (Yashpala) (1024 - 1036)

History of Medieval India
Legacy of the Empire

Pointing out the importance of the Gurjara Pratihara empire in the history of India, Dr. R.C. Majumdar has observed,
"the Gurjara Pratihara Empire which continued in full glory for nearly a century, was the last great empire in Northern

India before the Muslim conquest. This honour is accorded to the empire of Harsha by many historians of repute, but

without any real justification, for the Pratihara empire was probably larger, certainly not less in extent, rivalled

the Gupta Empire and brought political unity and its attendant blessings upon a large part of Northern India. But its

chief credit lies in its succecessful resistance to the foreign invasions from the west, from the days of Junaid. This

was frankly recognised by the Arab writers themselves. Now there can be little doubt that it was the power of the

Gurjara Pratihara army that effectively barred the progress of the Muslims beyond the confines of Sindh, their first

conquest for nearly three hundred years. In the light of later events this might be regarded as the "Chief contribution

of the Gurjara Pratiharas to the history of India".

Pala Empire
• Capital : Pataliputra, Gaur

• Languages : Pali, Sanskrit, Prakrit

• Religion: Buddhism, Hinduism

• Government : Monarchy King

• Historical Area : Middle Ages

The Pala Empire was a Buddhist dynasty as well as one of the major middle kingdoms of India that ruled
from Bengal in the eastern region of the Indian subcontinent. The Palas were often described by
opponents as the Lords of Gauda. The name Pala means protector and was used as an ending to the names
of all Pala monarchs. The Palas were followers of the Mahayana and Tantric schools of Buddhism.

After Shashanka's reign, Bengal was shrouded in obscurity and was shattered by repeated invasions. The
social and political structure of Bengal was devastated. According to Taranatha: Every single Brahman,
every Kshatriya, every Elite became all powerful in their areas and surrounding regions. Disgusted at the
situation the desperate people of Bengal made a bold move which marked a glorious period in the history of
the sub-continent. They elected Gopala, a popular military leader, as their king by
a democratic election which was probably the only democratic election in medieval India. The empire
reached its peak under Dharmapala and Devapala. Dharmapala extended the empire into the northern parts

History of Medieval India

of the Indian Subcontinent. This triggered once again the power struggle for the control of the
subcontinent. Devapala, successor of Dharmapala, expanded the empire to cover much of South Asia and
beyond. His empire stretched from Assam and Utkala in the east, Kamboja (modern day Afghanistan) in the
north-west and Deccan in the south.

Pala Administration

Pala rule was Monarchial. King or Monarch was the centre of all power. Pala kings would adopt Imperial titles
like Parameshwar, Paramvattaraka, Maharajadhiraja. Pala kings appointed Prime Ministers. The Line of
Garga served as the Prime Ministers of the Palas for 100 years. Garga | Darvapani | Someshwar | Kedarmisra|
Vatt Guravmisra Pala Empire was divided into separate Vuktis (Provinces), Vuktis into Vishaya (Divisions) and
Mandala Districts. Smaller units were Khandala, Bhaga, Avritti, Chaturaka, and Pattaka. Administration covered
widespread area from the grass root level to the imperial court. The Pala copperplates mention following
administrative posts:Raja, Rajanyaka, Rajanaka, Ranaka, Samanta andMahasamanta (Vassalkings), Mahasandhi-
vigrahika (Foreign minister), Duta (Head ambassador), Rajasthaniya (Deputy), Aggaraksa (Chief
guard), Sasthadhikrta (Tax collector), Chauroddharanika (Police tax), Shaulkaka (Trade
tax), Dashaparadhika (Collector of penalties. Agricultural posts like Gavadhakshya (Head of dairy
farms), Chhagadhyakshya (Head of goat farms), Meshadyakshya (Head of sheep farms), Mahishadyakshya (Head
of Buffalo farms).

Economic Life

The main source of income during the Pala period was agriculture products of the land granted to them.
Rice, sugarcane, mango, bamboo were the most important agricultural products. During the Pala period
paddy production became the chief source of economy for Bengal. Mineral resources were abundant during
the Pala period. Iron ore was available in plenty. Using this iron ore they used to make double edged sword.
Silk industry was booming at that point of time. They used to trade with countries like Ceylon, Arabia,
Persia and China. Other industries like gold smithy produced gold and silver ornaments and plates. Trade
was done using copper coins.

Pala art and Sculpture

The most brilliant side of the Pala Empire was the excellence of its art and sculptures. Palas created a
distinctive form of Buddhist art known as the "Pala School of Sculptural Art." The gigantic structures of
Vikramshila Vihar, Odantpuri Vihar, and Jagaddal Vihar were masterpieces of the Palas. The Nalanda

History of Medieval India

University which is considered one of the first great universities in recorded history, reached its height
under the patronage of the Palas.

Rashtrakuta Empire

• Capital : Manyakheta

• Language(s) : Kannada, Sanskrit

• Religion : Hindu, Jain

• Government : Monarchy King

Islam Dynasty

The main ISLAM dynasties during medieval India were.

 Slave dynasty (1206-90)

 Khalji dynasty (1290-1320)

 Tughlaq dynasty (1320-1413)

 Sayyid dynasty (1414-51)

 Lodi dynasty(1451-1526).

Impact on Property

The Arabs conquered Sindh in 712 AD and ruled it as a province of the Caliphate. By the 9th Century AD,
provincial governors established independent rule and struck their own coins. However, it was with the
emergence of Turkish Sultans of Delhi in the 12th Century that a decisive break was made with the past and
the existing motifs were gradually replaced by Islamic devices, largely calligraphy. The unit of account
came to be consolidated and was referred to as the 'tanka' with the 'jittals' as the smaller value coins. With
the Delhi Sultanate (1206-1526 AD) came the attempt at standardisation. This period was marked by a
considerable expansion of the money economy. Coins were struck in gold, silver and copper. In the
monetary system, the equation between gold and silver was probably at 1:10. The Khilji rulers issued coins

History of Medieval India

in abundance with grandiloquent titles (Ala-ud-din Khilji struck coins assuming the title 'Sikandar al Sani',
the second Alexander) as well as honorific epithets for mints (the Delhi mint bore titles 'Hazrat Dar-al-
Khilafat, etc.). The coins of the Tughlaqs (1320-1412 AD) were superior in design and execution to those
of the Khiljis. Muhammed bin Tughlaq (1325-1351 AD), took personal interest in his coinage, however, his
monetary experiments were a failure and the cause of much misery. The first experiment was to make his
coinage reflect the gold/silver price ratio prevailing in the free market. When this experiment failed the old
gold and silver coins of about 11 grams were reintroduced. The next experiment was inspired by Chinese
paper currency which had spurred the development of trade and commerce. Tughlaq attempted to establish
a fiduciary system of coinage between 1329 to 1332 AD. He attempted to issue tokens of brass and copper.
These tokens bore the legends such as : 'Sealed as a tanka of fifty ganis' together with appeals such as 'He
who obeys the Sultan, obeys the Compassionate'. Mass forgeries rendered the experiment a total disaster
and Tughlaq, to his credit, redeemed all tokens, forged or genuine, in specie. It may be noted that the
experiments of Tughlaq were genuine experiments: while they were forced on the populace, they were not
dictated by a bankrupt treasury. Gold coins were issued in very large numbers during the reign of
Muhammed bin Tughlaq, thereafter gold coins became scarce. By the time of the Lodhis, coins were struck
almost exclusively of copper and billon. In the provinces, the Bengal Sultans, the Jaunpur Sultans, the
Bahamanis of the Deccan, the Sultans of Malwa, the Sultans of Gujarat, etc. struck coins. In the
South,however, the Vijayanagar Empire evolved coinage of different metrology and design which was to
remain as a standard in the region and influence coin design up to the 19th Century
Social Impact of Islam
Although as a religious faith, Islam is commonly believed to provide for the "equality" of all believers,
the Quran and the Hadith bith justify the second-class or third class treatment of non-believers and
infidels. thta is why there is considerable evidence that most Hindus experienced considerable downward
mobility as a consequene of the Islamic invasions. Only those social groupings that actively collaborated
with the alien rulers were able to maintain their wealth and status (or in some cases, move up the ladder).
The general bias towards trade, and the trend towards higher taxes on the peasantry led to far greater
concentrations of wealth amongst the social elite. Not only did the distance between rich and poor widen
with the arrival of the Islamic invaders, Islamic rulers did not contribute in any meaningful way to
breaking down the caste system. Hence, it would be wrong to exaggerate the "egalitarian" character of
Islam versus the "discriminatory and sedentary " character of caste-driven Hinduism. As some historians
have pointed out - those who earned their living by "unclean tasks" (such as corpse-handling,
tanning/leather work, or janitorial work) were often treated with disdain by both the Islamic and Hindu
elite. The majority of the Islamic conquerors and ruling dynasties refrained from close social interaction
and marriage with the local artisans and working castes just as much as did Brahmins or Kshatriyas. It

History of Medieval India

would also be wrong to argue that caste rigidity was uniformly enforced in 'Hindu' India. Many of India's
greatest ruling dynasties sprang from lower castes or socially "inferior" mixed castes. The Nandas were
shudras, the Mauryas hailed from a mixed caste, and Harsha was a Vaishya. The Rajputs were of Central
Asian stock and became accepted as Kshatriya after they had established their power. And just like the
Muslims, the Kalingas of Orissa allowed anyone to join their armies and rise to the top by demonstrating
their skills in battle. Moreover the Vaishnava and Bhakti movements had already been popularizing the
notion that spiritual devotion superceded caste in terms of gaining salvation. Hence, Islam did not offer
anything that was substantially new or more radical to the majority of India's Hindus and this is why the
majority did not convert to Islam. Just as the impact of Islam varied considerably, it would be wrong to
generalize about pre-Islamic India. Caste rigidity and Brahminical conservatism were not uniform or all-
prevalent features of the sub-continent. Had Islam offered a truly radical alternative to the Indian masses,
a much greater proportion of the Indian population would have converted.


Islam's impact was the most notable in the expansion of trade. The first contact of Muslims with India,
was the Arab attack on a nest of pirates near modern-day Bombay, to safeguard their trade in the Arabian
Sea. Around the same time many Arabs settled at Indian ports, giving rise to small Muslim communities.
the growth of these communities was not only due to conversion, but also the fact that many Hindu kings
of south India (such as those from Cholas) hired Muslims as mercenaries.

While southern India was already in trade with Arabs/Muslims, northern India found new opportunities.
As the Hindu and Buddhist kingdoms of Asia were subjugated by Islam, and as Islam spread through
Africa - it became a highly centralizing force that facilitated in the creation of a common legal system that
allowed letters of credit issued in say Egypt or Tunisia to be honoured in India or Indonesia. In order to
cement their rule, Muslim rulers initially promoted a system in which there was a revolving door between
the clergy, the administrative nobility and the mercantile classes. The travels of explorer Muhammad Ibn-
Abdullah Ibn-Batuta were eased because of this system. He served as an Imam in Delhi, as a judicial
official in the Maldives, and as an envoy and trader in the Malabar. There was never a contradiction in
any of his positions because each of these roles complemented the other. Islam created a compact under
which political power, law and religion became fused in a manner so as to safeguard the interests of the
mercantile class. This led world trade to expand to the maximum extent possible in the medieval world.
Sher Shah Suri took initiatives in improvement of trade by abolishing all taxes which hindered progress
of free trade. He built large networks of roads and constructed Grand Trunk Road (1540–1544), which
connected Calcutta to Kabul, of which parts of it are still in use today.

History of Medieval India

Islam and the spread of technology

With the growth of international trade also came the spread of manufacturing technology and a more
advanced urban culture. Local inventions and regional technologies became more easily globalized. This
was of profound importance to those parts of the world that had lagged in terms of technological
development. On the other hand, for a nation like India which had had a rich intellectual tradition of its
own, and was already a relatively advanced civilization, this may have been of lesser import.
Nevertheless, no country has a lock on technology, and to the extent that the arrival of Islam was
concomitant with the adoption of new technologies it helped India too. The use of ceramic tiles in
construction was inspired by architectural traditions prevalent in Iraq, Iran, and in Central Asia.
Rajasthan's blue pottery was an adaptation of Chinese pottery which was imported in large quantities by
the Mughal rulers. There is also the example of Sultan Abidin (1420-70) sending Kashmiri artisans to
Samarqand to learn book-binding and paper making.But regardless of whether the Islamic rulers
introduced new technology or not, there is considerable evidence that many Islamic rulers developed
Karkhanas - i.e. small factories during their reign. Of even greater significance is how new towns that
specialized in a particular category of manufactured goods emerged throughout the country. Khurja and
Siwan became renowned for pottery, Moradabad for brass ware, Mirzapur for carpets, Firozabad for glass
wares, Farrukhabad for printing, Sahranpur and Nagina for wood-carving, Bidar and Lucknow for
bidriware, Srinagar for papier-mache, Benaras for jewelry and textiles, and so on.In part this came about
because even Babar (who held India in great disdain) was compelled to acknowledge the great variety of
artisan skills that were available in India.

Mughal Dynasty

• Capital: Agra; Delhi; Fatehpur Sikri

• Language: Persian

• Religion: Sunni Islam

• Govt.: Absolute monarchy

• Currency: Rupee

• Succeeded by: Hindu Maratha Empire

History of Medieval India

The Mughal Empire or Mogul (also Moghul) Empire in former English usage was an Indian imperial
power that ruled a large portion of the Indian subcontinent. It began in 1526, invaded and ruled most
of India by the late 17th and early 18th centuries, and ended in the mid-19th century.

The Mughal Emperors were descendants of the Timurids, and at the height of their power around 1700,
they controlled most of the Indian Subcontinent—extending from Bengal in the east to Balochistan in the
west, Kashmir in the north to the Kaveri basin in the south. Its population at that time has been estimated
as between 110 and 150 million, over a territory of over 3.2 million square kilometres (1.2 million square

The "classic period" of the Empire started in 1556 with the accession of Jalaluddin Mohammad Akbar,
better known as Akbar the Great. It ended with the death and defeat of Emperor Aurangzeb in 1707 by the
rising Hindu Maratha Empire, although the dynasty continued for another 150 years. During this period,
the Empire was marked by a highly centralized administration connecting the different regions. All the
significant monuments of the Mughals, their most visible legacy, date to this period which was
characterised by the expansion of Persian cultural influence in the Indian subcontinent, with brilliant
literary, artistic, and architectural results.

Following 1725 the empire declined rapidly, weakened by wars of succession, agrarian crises fueling
local revolts, the growth of religious intolerance, the rise of the Maratha, Durrani, and Sikh empires and
finally British colonialism. The last king, Bahadur Zafar Shah II, whose rule was restricted to the city
of Delhi, was imprisoned and exiled by the British after the Indian Rebellion of 1857.

The name Mughal is derived from the original homelands of the Timurids, the Central Asian steppes once
conquered by Genghis Khan and hence known as Moghulistan, "Land of Mongols". Although early
Mughals spoke the Chagatai language and maintained Turko-Mongol practices, they were
essentially Persianized. They transferred the Persian literature and culture to India, thus forming the base
for the Indo-Persian culture.

A major Mughal contribution to the Indian subcontinent was their unique architecture. Many monuments
were built by the Muslim emperors, especially Shahjahan, during the Mughal era including the UNESCO
World Heritage Site Taj Mahal, which is known to be one of the finer examples of Mughal architecture.
Other World Heritage Sites includes the Humayun's Tomb, Fatehpur Sikri, Red Fort, Agra Fort,
and Lahore Fort.

History of Medieval India

The palaces, tombs, and forts built by the dynasty stands today in Delhi, Aurangabad, Fatehpur
Sikri, Agra, Jaipur, Lahore, Kabul, Sheikhupura, and many other cities of India, Pakistan, Afghanistan,
and Bangladesh. With few memories of Central Asia, Babur's descendents absorbed traits and customs of
the Indian Subcontinent, and became more or less naturalised.


Trade in Mughal India was quite large and diversified and included huge number of people. New trade
routes to Arab and Turkic lands were opened. The chief Imports were gold, ivory, raw silks, horses,
perfumes, precious stones. The main exports included spices, opium, textiles, indigo. One of the most
significant industry was that one of the Cotton cloth making industry, along with shipbuilding, iron &
steel. Foreign trade was a significant part of the economy. The customs duty was very low (3.5%) during
that period. Active trade also existed on and along the Ganga river and Yamuna river upto the city of
Agra. Pepper was one of the most important articles of trade and commerce on the western coast.


The Indian economy remained as prosperous under the Mughal as it was, because of the creation of a road
system and a uniform currency, together with the unification of the country. Manufactured goods and
peasant-grown cash crops were sold throughout the world. Key industries included shipbuilding (the
Indian shipbuilding industry was as advanced as the European, and Indians sold ships to European firms),
textiles, and steel. The Mughals maintained a small fleet, which merely carried pilgrims to Mecca,
imported a few Arab horses in Surat. Debal in Sindh was mostly autonomous. The Mughals also
maintained various river fleets of Dhows, which transported soldiers over rivers and fought rebels.
Among its admirals were Yahya Saleh, Munnawar Khan, and Muhammad Saleh Kamboh. The Mughals
also protected the Siddis of Janjira. Its sailors were renowned and often voyaged to China and the East
African Swahili Coast, together with some Mughal subjects carrying out private-sector trade. Cities and
towns boomed under the Mughals; however, for the most part, they were military and political centres,
not manufacturing or commerce centres. Only those guilds which produced goods for the bureaucracy
made goods in the towns; most industry was based in rural areas. The Mughals also built Maktabs in
every province under their authority, where youth were taught the Quran and Islamic lawsuch as
the Fatawa-e-Alamgiri in their indigenous languages.

The nobility was a heterogeneous body; while it primarily consisted of Rajput aristocrats and foreigners
from Muslim countries, people of all castes and nationalities could gain a title from the emperor. The
middle class of openly affluent traders consisted of a few wealthy merchants living in the coastal towns;
the bulk of the merchants pretended to be poor to avoid taxation. The bulk of the people were poor. The

History of Medieval India

standard of living of the poor was as low as, or somewhat higher than, the standard of living of the Indian
poor under the British Raj; whatever benefits the British brought with canals and modern industry were
neutralized by rising population growth, high taxes, and the collapse of traditional industry in the
nineteenth century.


Fathullah Shirazi (c. 1582), a Persian-Indian polymath and mechanical engineer who worked for Akbar the
Great in the Mughal Empire, developed a volley gun. Considered one of the most remarkable feats
in metallurgy, the seamless globe was invented in Kashmir by Ali Kashmiri ibn Luqman in 998 AH (1589–90
CE), and twenty other such globes were later produced in Lahore and Kashmir during the Mughal Empire.
Before they were rediscovered in the 1980s, it was believed by modern metallurgists to be technically
impossible to produce metal globes without any seams, even with modern technology. Another famous series
of seamless celestial globes was produced using a lost-wax casting method in the Mughal Empire in 1070 AH
(1659–1960 CE) by Muhammad Salih ahtawi with Arabic and Persian inscriptions. It is considered a major
feat in metallurgy. These Mughal metallurgists pioneered the method of wax casting while producing these
seamless globes.


The medieval history of India is largely dominated by incidents of foreign rule and invasion due to lack of
stability in Indian rulers. The country witnessed a drastic change in culture & civilization, trade patterns,
society and technology. During the classical period of Indian history India have been estimated to have
the largest economy of the ancient and medieval world, controlling between one third and one fourth of the
world's wealth up to the 18th century.

History of Medieval India