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

India.

 

     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

constructions.

 

     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]

 

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