India In Turmoil
The Rising Flood Of Asian Culture, 300-1300
For eight hundred years after the Gupta era ended, India languished in an
abyss of political confusion, with only temporary periods of political unity.
First Huns, then Turks, and finally Mongols invaded the land; their wars
against Hindu kings and among themselves, as well as internal Hindu conflicts,
contributed largely to the general decline. Religious extremism and corruption
also played a part. Hindu sectarianism increased, the brahmins grew more
arrogant and greedy, concern for personal salvation lessened personal
initiatives, the poor became more oppressed, the economy faltered, and cities
lost population. Some art and literature survived, but scientific
investigation almost stopped. Not until the sixteenth century would Indian
culture regain Gupta levels.
While their kindred ravaged Europe in the late 400s, Huns invaded
northwestern India, shattering the Gupta Empire. They were stopped by a Hindu
confederation, but this terrible disruption was followed by more incursions of
Central Asians, who intermarried with local populations to produce a class of
fighting aristocrats known as Rajputs. These fierce warriors carved out
kingdoms among the Hindu states of northern India. The resultant near-anarchy
was alleviated for a while in the seventh century by Harsha, a strong Hindu
leader. In six years he reconquered much of what had been the Gupta Empire,
restoring order and partially reviving learning. Unfortunately, Harsha left no
heir when he died in 647, and the country again dissolved in civil war and
confusion. This paved the way, in 712, for an Arab conquest of Sind, the
coastal gateway to northwest India.
Muslim Invasions Of India
The Arab Caliphate, which annexed Sind, threw its shadow over the Middle
East in the 700s; as it weakened during succeeding centuries, various Central
Asian peoples, notably the Turks, entered the area. The Turkish flood into
Persia and Mesopotamia spilled over into India during the late tenth century.
Hindu-Muslim conflict was by then centuries old; but the Turkish invaders,
only partially civilized and recently converted Muslims, were most zealous in
pursuing a holy crusade against infidels. They were also fearsome marauders.
One of their leaders, the ruler of a small Afghan state, annexed the Punjab in
1022. For another two centuries, fighting continued between Turks and Rajputs,
until Muhammed Ghuri, another Muslim commander, conquered most of northern
After Muhammed Ghuri was assassinated in 1206, one of his generals seized
power as sultan at Delhi, setting the stage for another unification of India.
At the peak of its power in the thirteenth century, the Delhi Sultanate held
not only the north but part of the Deccan in the south. Its political unity
and power, however, was often wasted or abused. While often patrons of the
arts, builders of splendid monuments, and proponents of philosophy, the
sultans regularly murdered their political rivals, tortured prisoners, and
wasted resources. By the middle of the fourteenth century, they had lost
control of the south and were hard-pressed by various Hindu and Muslim
challengers. Although experiencing brief periods of revival, the regime
continued to disintegrate internally before it was destroyed by the
Turko-Mongol Tamerlane in 1388.
Muslim rule in India brought about some cultural integration,
particularly among ordinary Hindus. Many of the people found emotional appeal
in the Muslim faith, sought to lighten their taxes, hoped to raise their caste
status, or tried to qualify for public service by converting to Islam. An
example of the cultural integration is the creation of Urdu, a spoken language
using Persian, Arabic, and Turkish words within Hindu grammatical
Assimilation of Islamic values led to a further degradation in the status
of Hindu women. Girls were married younger, education of females was
practically eliminated, widows were absolutely prohibited from remarrying, and
suttee became an almost universal custom. Very few Hindu queens administered
affairs of state after the eleventh century. Muslim discrimination in sexual
morality also penetrated Hindu culture. Adultery and infidelity became
criminal offenses for women (but not for men), and the veiling of upper-class
women (purdah), which had earlier been only sporadic among Hindu women, became
the norm. Perhaps the most dramatic illustration of women's lowered status
came in the refusal of Hindu society to accept returning women who been
captured and carried off to Muslim harems.
Cultural synthesis, however, could not eliminate the Hindu-Muslim
contention over polytheism, religious images, and closed castes. Aristocratic
Hindu leaders desperately resisted Islam, often suffering cruel persecution.
After the Delhi Sultanate, life in India was largely divided into Hindu and
Muslim streams, which mingled only superficially.
Hindu India During The Delhi Sultanate
Southern India during the period of the Delhi Sultanate was governed by a
number of struggling Hindu monarchies, each organized on a semi-feudal basis
and heavily dependent upon peasant agriculture. Some of these fell to the
sultan's armies, but a few survived. One such kingdom was Chola, on the
southeast coast. By the eleventh century it had become a great maritime power,
prominent in the trade and politics of Southeast Asia. As India grew weaker
prior to the Mongol invasions of the thirteenth century, Chola and the other
petty Hindu states of the south continued to maintain a semblance of their
ancient culture in Sanskrit texts and massive temple architecture, with its
characteristic symbolic statues.
[See Delhi Sultanate]
World History Project