Medieval India

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Medieval India refers to a long period of the history of the Indian subcontinent between the "ancient period" and "modern period".


  • A.L. Basham’s widely read The Wonder that was India, for instance, tells us that: ‘The history of the succeeding [7th to 11th] centuries is a rather drab story of endemic warfare between rival dynasties. It can be followed in some detail, thanks to the numerous inscriptions and copper-plate charters of the period, but the detail is monotonous and uninteresting to all but the specialist’.
    • A.L. Basham quoted from Al-Hind, The Making of the Indo-Islamic World. Volume 1
  • The year A.D. 1000 was a fateful year for India. In that year, Mahmud of Ghazni first invaded it. That event, in my opinion, divides Ancient from Medieval India.
    • K. M. Munshi, in : R. C. Majumdar, editor., The History and Culture of the Indian People, vol. 5.
  • These rulers were often men of ability, and their followers were gifted with fierce courage and industry; only so can we understand how they could have maintained their rule among a hostile people so overwhelmingly outnumbering them. All of them were armed with a religion militaristic in operation, but far superior in its stoical monotheism to any of the popular cults of India; they concealed its attractiveness by making the public exercise of the Hindu religions illegal, and thereby driving them more deeply into the Hindu soul. Some of these thirsty despots had culture as well as ability; they patronized the arts, and engaged artists and artisans—usually of Hindu origin—to build for them magnificent mosques and tombs; some of them were scholars, and delighted in converse with historians, poets and scientists.
  • The Moslem historians were almost as numerous as the generals, and yielded nothing to them in the enjoyment of bloodshed and war. The Sultans drew from the people every rupee of tribute that could be exacted by the ancient art of taxation, as well as by straightforward robbery; but they stayed in India, spent their spoils in India, and thereby turned them back into India’s economic life. Nevertheless, their terrorism and exploitation advanced that weakening of Hindu physique and morale which had been begun by an exhausting climate, an inadequate diet, political disunity, and pessimistic religions.
  • The study of medieval Indian history in modem times may be said to have begun about a century ago when, in the eighteen-sixties, and under the patronage of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, the Indo-Persian chronicles of the medieval period began to be printed in the Bibliotheca Indica Series, and in 1867-77 appeared Elliot and Dowson’s History of India as Told by its Own Historians. Elliot’s work contained in eight fairly bulky volumes translations of extracts from most of the then known Persian chronicles, and soon became indispensable for the researcher on medieval history. The original Persian works were so eulogistic of the cruelties of Muslim conquerors and rulers that the great painstaking scholar Elliot and his followers were perforce constrained to be critical of medieval Indian rulers, and this school held the ground for quite some time.
    • Lal, K. S. (1992). The legacy of Muslim rule in India. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan.
  • But the worst effect of partition has been that 1947 has tended to produce two historiographies based on territorial differentiation. Comparing the works of Ahmad Ali entitled Culture of Pakistan with Richard Symond’s The Making of Pakistan (London, 1950) on the one hand and Humayun Kabir’s Indian Heritage and Abid Hussain’s National Culture of India on the other, W. Cantwell Smith says that the Pakistani historian “flees from Indian-ness, and would extra-territorialize even Mohenjodaro (linking the Indus-valley civilisation with Sumer and Elam) as well as the Taj (yet though left in India, the monuments and buildings of Agra and Delhi are entirely outside the Indian tradition and are an essential heritage and part of Pakistani culture, - p.205), and omits from consideration altogether quite major matters less easily disposed of (such as Asoka’s reign, and the whole of East Pakistan)…” The Indians “on the other hand seek for the meaning of Muslim culture within the complex of Indian ‘unity in diversity’ as an integral component.” So, after 1947, besides the ‘objective’ and ‘apologist’, ‘Secular’ and ‘Communal’ versions, there are the Pakistani and Indian versions of medieval Indian history.
    • W. Cantwell Smith in Philips, Historians of India, Pakistan and Ceylon, pp.322-23. Quoted from Lal, K. S. (1992). The legacy of Muslim rule in India. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan. Chapter 2
  • The significant feature of Professor Habib’s Marxist interpretation of medieval Indian history is not that Marxism has absorbed Islam but that Islam has absorbed Marxism.”
    • Peter Hardy in Philips, Historians of India, Pakistan and Ceylon. Quoted from Lal, K. S. (1992). The legacy of Muslim rule in India. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan.
  • Early in the seventeenth century, Muhammad Sharif Hanafi, the author of Majalis-us-Salatin (composed C.E.1628) and a much travelled man, carried the same impression about the Southern region of the country. Writing about Carnatic he says: “All the people… are idolaters. There is not a single Musalman. Occasionally a Musalman may visit the country deputed by Nizam Shah, Adil Shah or Kutb Shah, but the natives are all infidels.”
    • Muhammad Sharif Hanafi, Elliot and Dowson, VII, p.139., quoted from Lal, K. S. (1990). Indian muslims: Who are they.
  • Marxist history also lays claim to be counted as objective history. The phrase ‘objective history’ is very attractive, but sometimes under this appellation, all shadows are removed and medieval times are painted in such bright colours by Marxist historians as to shame even the modern age. At others, modern ideas of class-conflict, labour-exploitation and all that goes with it, and many other modern phenomena and problems are projected backwards to fit in the medieval social structure. The word ‘religion’ is tried to be eschewed because it is thought to be associated with bitter memories. If the medieval chronicler cries out ‘Jihad’, it is just not heard: but if he cries aloud persistently, it is claimed that he never meant it. The Marxists or leftists read into history what they think history should be. All this makes the content of Marxist history dubious, needing it to be buttressed by brochures, statements and booklets under a number of signatures. Often, Marxist writers work in groups, mutually admiring each other’s discoveries.
    • Lal, K. S. (1992). The legacy of Muslim rule in India. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan. Chapter 3
  • Dr. R.C. Majumdar has summed up the situation so far in the following words: “India south of the Vindhyas was under Hindu rule in the 13th century. Even in North India during the same century, there were powerful kingdoms not yet subjected to Muslim rule, or still fighting for their independence… Even in that part of India which acknowledged the Muslim rule, there was continual defiance and heroic resistance by large or small bands of Hindus in many quarters, so that successive Muslim rulers had to send well-equipped military expeditions, again and again, against the same region… As a matter of fact, the Muslim authority in Northern India, throughout the 13th century, was tantamount to a military occupation of a large number of important centres without any effective occupation, far less a systematic administration of the country at large.” .... The situation during the 14th and the 15th centuries has been summed up by Dr. R.C. Majumdar in the following words: “The Khalji empire rose and fell during the brief period of twenty years (A.D 1300-1320). The empire of Muhammed bin Tughlaq… broke up within a decade of his accession (A.D. 1325), and before another decade was over, the Turkish empire passed away for ever… Thus barring two every short-lived empires under the Khaljis and Muhammad bin Tughlaq… there was no Turkish empire in India. This state of things continued for nearly two centuries and a half till the Mughals established a stable and durable empire in the second half of the sixteenth century A.D.”
    • R.C. Majumdar, Quoted from Goel, Sita Ram (2001). The story of Islamic imperialism in India. Chapter 8 ISBN 9788185990231
  • And yet some writers delude themselves with the mistaken belief that they can change their country's history by distorting it, or brain-wash generations of young students, or humour fundamentalist politicians through such unethical exercise. To judge what happened in the past in the context of today's cultural milieu and consciously hide the truth, is playing politics with history. Let history be accepted as a matter of fact without putting it to any subjective interpretations. Yesterday's villains cannot be made today's heroes, or, inversely, yesterday's Islamic heroes cannot be made into robbers ransacking temples just for treasures. Nor can the medieval monuments be declared as national monuments as suggested in some naive 'secularist' quarters. They represent vandalism. No true Indian can be proud of such desecrated and indecorous evidence of 'composite culture'. 'History,' says Froude, 'does teach that right and wrong are real distinctions. Opinions alter, manners change, creeds rise and fall, but the moral law is written on the tablets of humanity.' It is nobody's business to change this moral law and prove the wrongs of the medieval period to be right today by having recourse to misrepresentation of history. Manipulation in the writing of medieval Indian history by some modern writers is the worst legacy of Muslim rule in India.
    • Lal, K. S. (1992). The legacy of Muslim rule in India. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan. Chapter 3 (also in K.S. Lal, Historical Essays)
  • Of course, we had to stop advancing during the Mohammedan tyranny, for then it was not a question of progress but of life and death.
    • Swami Vivekananda. Complete Works (4.373)
  • Judged by a similar standard, the patronage and cultivation of Hindu learning by the Muslims, or their contribution to the development of Hindu culture during their rule . . . pales into insignificance when compared with the achievements of the British rule... It is only by instituting such comparison that we can make an objective study of the condition of the Hindus under Muslim rule, and view it in its true perspective.
    • R. C. Majumdar, ed., The History and Culture of the Indian People, vol. 6, The Delhi Sultanate (London: G. Allen & Unwin, 1952), p. 623. quoted in Ibn Warraq, Why the West is the best, "India under the Arabs and the British". also quoted in Bostom, A. G. M. D., & Bostom, A. G. (2010). The Legacy of Jihad: Islamic Holy War and the Fate of Non-Muslims. Amherst: Prometheus.

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