Medieval India

Some Characteristics of the Medieval Period

The medieval period in India is characterised by some broad trends. These were the outcome of India’s interaction with Muslims as well as the next of the world.

  • Firstly, the coming of the Muslims led to the growth of a composite culture. There was a lot of interaction on two fronts-between north and south India and between the Hindus and the Muslims. This led to cultural exchanges and the growth of a culture that was above regional and caste differences. It was an Indian culture, wholly Indian in form and spirit.
  • Secondly, the Muslim dynasties, particularly the Mughals, provided an extended period of stability to the country. This led to an increase in trade and the growth of urban centres.
  • Thirdly, there was much more contact between India and the rest of the world especially in the field of trade. Trade led to a greater interaction of people from different parts of the world. There was a lot of give and take. India borrowed heavily from the traditions of other countries.

Historical Sources of Information Regarding the Medieval Period

Just like the ancient period, information about the medieval period is available from two main sources-archaeological and literary. The sources for this period, however, are much more detailed than that of the ancient period. That is why we know much more about the medieval period than the preceding period of Indian history.

Archaeological Sources

These sources include monuments, temples, inscriptions, coins, utensils, tools, weapons, ornaments, paintings, etc. Monuments, artefacts and paintings throw light on the society and economy of the time. Rulers of south India encouraged temple building activities. Temples are a rich source of religious and cultural history. Paintings are another valuable source, particularly for the study of the Mughal period.

Coins are equally important for the study of the history of medieval India. They give us dates of important political events. A book on coins titled Drarya-Pariksha (an examination of coins) was written during the reign of Ala-ud-din Khsalji. It lists details of coins minted during the reign of the Sultan.

Literary Sources

This group of sources include chronicles of rulers and dynasties, biographies and autobiographies, accounts of foreign travellers and other literary works. Original farmans (imperial decrees) and the correspondence of some rulers also provide us an insight into the period. Political chronicles are another important category of source material. Most of them were compiled under the patronage of kings. A few were compiled by independent scholars, who were not associated with the courts.

Original Sources

Most of the original sources of the medieval period are in the Persian, Arabic and Turkish languages. Firishta wrote Tarikh-iFirishta. It deals with the history of the Delhi sultans, the Mughals and the provincial kingdoms that prospered during the period. Other important works of this period include Al-Beruni’s Tahkiki-Hind, Barani’s Tarikh-i-Firoz Shahi, Tabaqat-i Nasiri by Minhaj-us Siraj, Muntakhabul-Tawarikh by Badauni, Akbarnama and Ain-iAkbari by Abul Fazl and Abdul Hamid Lahori’s Padshahnamah.

Among autobiographies, the most famous works are the Futuhat-i-Firoz Shahi of Firoz Shah Tughluq, Baburnama of Babur and the Tuzuk-i-fahangiri of Jahangir.

Works in Sanskrit and other languages include PrithvirajRaso of Chandbardai, Bilhana’s Vikramankadeva-Charita and Kalhana’s Rajatarangini. The last one is a history of the kings of Kashmir and was written in the twelfth century.

Travelogues

The travelogues of the period are yet another important literary sources. Muslim travellers visiting India wrote an account of their travels. Ibn Battuta’s Rihla (The Travelogue) describes the reign of Muhammad-bin Tughluq. Al-Beruni also wrote an account of his stay. Abdul Razzaq visited the kingdom of Vijayanagar and wrote about the conditions there.

The accounts written by European travellers are another source. Some of these providing an account of the conditions in India at the time of their visit include:

  • Marco Polo (from Venice in Italy)
  • Nicolo Conti (from Venice in Italy) – He gives an account of the kingdom of Vijayanagar and its war with the Bahmani kings.
  • Nikitin (from Russia) – He describes the Bahmani kingdom.
  • Duarte Barbosa (from Portugal)
  • Domingo Paes (from Portugal) – He wrote an account of the conditions during the reign of Krishnadev Raya of Vijyanagar.
  • Father Monserrate-He visited the court of Emperor Akbar. His account describes the court life and the building of Fatehpur Sikri. He also gives information about the customs of the people of the empire.
  • Ralph Fitch (from England) —-He arrived when Jahangir was the king. His letters tell us about conditions during this period.
  • Father Guerreiro-His account deals with Jesuit activity in India in the seventeenth century. * Captain William Hawkins (from England)-He stayed at the court of Jahangir. His narrative describes the hierarchy of imperial officials the sources of income and how it was spent, and the magnificence of the Mughal court.
  • Thomas Coryat (from England)
  • Edwar Terry (from England)
  • Sir Thomas Roe-He came to India to persuade Emperor Jahangir to enter into a trade agreement with the English. He gives a detailed description of the Mughal court and the festivals celebrated here.
  • Francisco Pelsaert (from Belgium)
  • Tavernier (from France)
  • Bernier (from France)
  • Niccolao Manucci (from Venice in Italy)-He gives an account of the reign of Emperor Aurangzeb.

Significant Features of the Medieval Period

In India, the period from the eighth to the eighteenth century is conventionally regarded as the medieval period. The medieval period is sub-divided into two phases-Early and Late Medieval Periods.

  • Three major trends characterise the medieval periodthe growth of a truly ‘Indian’ culture, many centuries of stability, and greater contacts between India and the other parts of the world, largely through trade.
  • Archaeological and literary sources provide information on the medieval period.
  • Monuments, artefacts, coins and paintings are a few important archaeological sources.
  • Important literary sources include chronicles of rulers and dynasties, biographies and autobiographies, accounts of foreign travellers, etc. They can be divided into two-original sources and travelogues.
  • Many European travellers visited India during the medieval period. Their accounts constitute an important source material.

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