Kingdoms & Dynasties of the Medieval Period

The Early Medieval Period saw the rise of many kingdoms all over India. In the north were the Palas, the Gurjara-Pratiharas, the Rajput kingdoms, and the Ghaznavids and Ghorids. The Rashtrakutas ruled in the Deccan. There were some more small kingdoms here. In the south were the Pallavas, the Pandyas and the Cholas. They pray at fire temples. The holiest of these temples in India is the Atash Behram at Udvada, near Mumbai, where the Sacred Fire brought by Iranian refugees from Iran has been burning continuously since 1741.

Zoroastrianism In India

An old religion, founded in today’s Azarbaijan in the 6th century BC, Zoroastrianism teaches the duties of man according to the law of nature, which Zarathushtra, the founder of Zoroastrianism, called the law of Asha. Fire and the sun are the emblems of Zoroastrianism.

Zarathushtra spent several years in meditation, reflecting on life and human existence, until he discovered perfect power or energy and perfect wisdom. His religion was universal and advanced for an age when people were still practising a primitive form of polytheism. He preached that a better life could be achieved with the help of an invisible god of wisdom, truth, light and goodness, rather than a set of superstitious rituals. Zarathushtra emphasised doing good towards one’s fellow man; hence the motto of the religion is ‘Good thoughts, good words, good deeds’.

The religion’s holy texts, the Gathas, are sacred songs written while Zarathushtra meditated on a mountain. Other scriptures were later written by his disciples in Eastern Iran. There are five Gathas: Gatha Ahunavaiti, on freedom of choice; Gatha Ushtavaiti, on supreme bliss (ushta); Gatha Spenta Mainya, on the holy spirit; Gatha Vohu Kshathra, on the good kingdom; and Gatha Vahishtoishti, on sovereign desire or fulfillment.

The followers of Zoroastrianism are called Parsis, a term derived from Parsa, the name of a province in south-western Iran in ancient times. Around 766, a small group of Iranian Parsis set sail in open sailing vessels and landed at Divo Dui, a tiny island at the tip of Kathiawar, in Gujarat. They settled there to practise their faith and later spread along the west coast of Gujarat where they settled down as farmers, fruit growers, toddy planters, carpenters and weavers. The Parsis were excellent weavers and they have left a legacy of three ancient crafts, namely the Surti ghat, the garo and the tanchoi. All three are exquisite silk textiles differing in texture and design. The Surti ghat is a soft silk with a satin finish, while the garo is fine embroidered silk and the tanchoi is a type of rich floral brocade.

They pray at fire temples. The holiest of these temples in India is the Atash Behram at Udvada, near Mumbai, where the Sacred Fire brought by Iranian refugees from Iran has been burning continuously since 1741 .

North India

The Palas The Palas ruled in the region of Bengal, Bihar and Jharkhand. The first ruler of the dynasty was Gopala. He and his son Dharmapala expanded and strengthened the kingdom. Dharmapala also encouraged trade with South-east Asia. Devapala was another powerful ruler. He conquered some parts of present day Assam and Orissa. After his death, the kingdom became weak. It finally collapsed in the middle of the twelfth century. The Palas were succeeded by rulers of the Sena dynasty.

Pratiharas of Kanauj

The Pratiharas are believed to be the clan of Rajputs. They set foot in India during the Hun’s invasion and settled around the Punjab Rajputana region. Soon they advanced to Aravali and Ujjain. The branch of the Pratiharas who ruled in the Gujarat were the Gurjaras-Pratiharas. Towards the end of 10th century, the prestige of the Pratiharas came to an end with the humiliating submission of Rajyapala to Mahmood in the year 1018 A.D. The successors of Pratiharas like Trilochanapala, Yasapala continued reigning for another century. The Pratiharas of Kannauj were different from the Gurjara-Pratiharas. They ruled for a very short period.

Chandellas of Bundelkhand

The Chandela Rajput clan ruled Bundelkhand from the 10th to the 16 th centuries. In the early 10 th century when they were feudatories of the Pratiharas of Kannauj, the Chandellas took over many of their territories. The Chandelas built the famous temple-city of Khajuraho between the mid-10th and mid-11th centuries. Khajuraho was the capital city of Chandella rulers. It has many temples built by them. The most famous among them is the Kandariya Mahadev temple. During the Chandela period, Bundelkhand was home to a flourishing Jain community and numerous Jain temples were built in that period. The king Kirtivarman was the most powerful ruler of the dynasty.

The Ghaznavids

The Ghaznavids dynasty was founded by Subaktagin, a Turkish slave who had been converted to Islam. It was formed during the long battle of the Samanids, who were Iranians by descent, with the Turkish tribesmen, towards the end of the ninth century. In this respect the Ghaznavids were as much missionaries as fighters. It was their resourcefulness and willingness to undergo great privations for the sake of Islam that enabled the infant Muslim states of central Asia to hold their own against the Turks.

From the year 1000 A.D. onwards, there were many invasions into India. Mahmud of Ghazni led the first series of invasions.

Mahmud of Ghazni

Mahmud played an important role in the defence of the Islamic states against the Turkish tribes and in the Iranian cultural renaissance. But in Indian history he is perceived more as a plunderer and destroyer of temples than a defender of Islam. Muhammad was a ruler of the kingdom of Ghazni, now in Afghanistan. He wanted to make Ghazni the most powerful kingdom in the region. For this he needed a large army but did not have enough money to maintain it. He had heard about the wealth of India. So he decided to raid India to raise money to build up a powerful army. In a span of 25 years (1000 -1025 A.D.), Mahmud invaded India 17 times. His early raids were against the Hindushahi rulers, whose territories extended from Punjab to Afghanistan. He defeated Jaipal and Anandpal and made them his vassals. They paid tribute to Mahmud. The subsequent raids were against the temple towns of India. He plundered the enormous wealth lying in these temples and carried away the riches to his homeland.

Mahmud’s most daring raids were against Mathura and Kannauj in the year 1018 A.D. and against Somnath in 1025 A.D. The Somnath temple in Gujarat was stripped of all its wealth. Even the precious stones embedded on the temple walls were taken out. Mahmud carried the booty to Ghazni.

Mahmud died in the year 1030 A.D. His successors were weak and the Ghaznavid Empire shrank rapidly in the subsequent period. As a result, there were no further invasions for more than a century.

The Ghoris Like Ghazni, Ghor was a small kingdom in Afghanistan. Mahmud of Ghazni defeated the ruler of Ghor and made him accept his suzerainty. After Mahmud’s death and the decline of the Ghaznavids, Ghor became independent. Taking advantage of the weakness of Ghazni, the Ghor ruler Muizzudin Muhammad conquered Ghazni in the year 1173 A.D. He is popularly known as Muhammad Ghori.

Muhammad Ghori

Muhammad Ghori, also known as Shahab-ud-Din-Muhammad Ghori was an ambitious ruler. He wanted to expand his empire. He had heard about Mahmud’s invasions into India. He too decided to invade India. Plunder, however, was not his motive. He wanted to build up an empire in India.

Muhammad Ghoris first invasion into India was in the year 1175 A.D. He conquered Multan. In 1178 A.D., he received a temporary setback as he was defeated by the ruler of Gujarat. Soon he realised that Punjab could be a good base for further conquests. In 1190, he conquered Punjab. The boundaries of Muhammad Ghori’s kingdom now touched that of the kingdom of the Chauhan ruler – Prithviraj Chauhan.

In the year 1191 A.D., Muhammad Ghori conquered Bhathinda. His advance threatened Prithviraj Chauhan. The two armies met at Tarain, 80 miles from Delhi. Muhammad Ghori was decisively defeated. However, Prithviraj made no attempts to expel the Ghorids from Punjab. Muhammad Ghori began to regroup his forces.

Prithviraj and Muhammad Ghori came face to face once again in the year 1192 A.D. This time Muhammad’s army was better organised and better prepared. Prithviraj appealed to the neighbouring kings for help. Some Rajput rulers came forward. However, the most powerful Rajput ruler-Raja Jaichandra of Kannauj, stayed away. Prithviraj was defeated and captured and his territories were occupied by Muhammad Ghori. Muhammad Ghori did not stop at this. In 1194 A.D., he defeated Raja Jaichandra at the Battle of Chandwar. Thereafter, his army overran the entire Ganga Yamuna doab. Soon, a Sultanate with Delhi as its power centre was established.

Final Days and Death

In 1206, Shahab-ud-Din Ghori had to travel to Lahore to crush a revolt. On his way back to Ghazni, his caravan rested at Damik near Sohawa (which is near the city of Jhelum in the Punjab province of modern-day Pakistan). He was assassinated on March 15, 1206, while offering his evening prayers. The identity of Shahabuddin Ghori’s assassins is disputed, with some claiming that he was assassinated by local Gakhars and others claiming he was assassinated by Hindu Khokhars.

Some also claim that Shahab-ud-Din Ghori was assassinated by a radical Ismaili Muslim sect.

As per his wishes, Shahabuddin Ghori was buried where he fell, in Damik.


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