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State and Society in Medieval India | History - Political Changes (1000–1700) | 9th Social Science : History: State and Society in Medieval India

Chapter: 9th Social Science : History: State and Society in Medieval India

Political Changes (1000–1700)

(a) North India: The Advent of Islam (b) The Chola Empire in the South (c) Vijayanagar and South India after the Cholas (d) The Mughals (1526–1707 A.D. (C.E.)) (e) The Arrival of the Europeans

Political Changes (1000–1700)


(a) North India: The Advent of Islam

Muslim rule was established in Delhi at the end of the 12th century by Muhammad Ghori, but did not expand much beyond this core region for another hundred years. Muslim merchants and rulers were known in India for several centuries even prior to this. Arab Muslim merchants had been trading in the ports of the west coast, especially Kerala, as early as the 9th century. Similarly, Muslim invaders from west Asia had set up Sultanates in Gujarat and Sind since the 8th century. However, these contacts did not lead to any widespread exposure to Islam or Muslim rule in the rest of the country.

The impact of Muslim rule was felt during the reign of Alauddin Khalji (1296-1316 A.D. (C.E.)) who sent military campaigns to the south. The primary objective was to plunder the wealth, rather than to expand his territory. Devagiri (near Aurangabad) was captured by Alauddin Khalji. Renamed Daulatabad, it was the second stronghold of his growing kingdom. Alauddin Khalji’s slave and commander, Malik Kafur, was sent on military expeditions further south in the first decade of the 1300s A.D. (C.E.).

The Tughlaq kings who came after Alauddin also sent their armies to the south. As a result, the generally more isolated southern part of the country came into the orbit of the rulers of the north. Governors were appointed in various provinces in the Deccan region, and a Sultanate was even established in Madurai.

During the reign of Muhammad bin Tughlaq, there was a revolt in Daulatabad. Alauddin Bahman Shah set up the Bahmani sultanate in 1347 A.D. (C.E.), with his capital in Bidar. The Bahmani kingdom survived for nearly a century and a half, mainly due to the able administration of Mahmud Gawan, a great statesman and loyal minister. After his death, many viceroys declared their independence, and by the end of the fifteenth century, five sultanates came up in the Deccan: Bijapur, Golkonda, Ahmednagar, Berar, and Bidar. Bijapur and Golkonda were the largest of these sultanates and the region entered a phase of considerable economic growth and expansion of trade. The Deccan sultanates were conquered by Aurangzeb in the 1660s A.D. (C.E.), and the entire region, as far south as Madras (Chennai) became a part of the Mughal empire.

(b) The Chola Empire in the South

The territorial expansion of the Chola empire began under Rajaraja I. The Pallava kingdom had already been assimilated into the Chola kingdom. The Pandya kingdom remained independent, but was subservient to the Cholas. The empire expanded further under Rajendra I who had successfully taken his armies as far to the northeast as the river Ganges. He had also sent naval expeditions against the Sailendra Kingdom of Sri Vijaya (in Indonesia), Kadaram (Kedah) and Ceylon. This earned him the title “the Chola who had conquered the Ganga and Kadaram” (gangaiyum kadaramum konda cholan). Ceylon remained a province of the Chola empire for a few decades. The empire was further consolidated through marriage with the eastern Chalukyas under Rajendra’s grandson Kulottunga I, and extended up to the border of Orissa.

Maritime trade with south-east Asia and China expanded greatly during the Chola period. The continued interaction with Tamil merchants resulted in the spread of the influence of Indic culture and art into south-east Asia, as seen in the magnificent temples of Angkor Wat in Cambodia.


(c) Vijayanagar and South India after the Cholas

The Chola Empire began to decline after the middle of the 13th century. The last known Chola emperor was Rajendra III. The empire died out in 1279 A.D. (C.E.). Several power centres came up after this in the region. Further to the south, the Pandya kings again sought to regain the glory they had lost under the Cholas. Many brilliant Pandya kings like Jatavarman Sundara Pandyan ruled at the end of the 13thcentury. Further to the north was the Hoysala kingdom, with its capital at Belur and later Halebidu. This kingdom extended through much of the present day state of Karnataka. The Kakatiyas ruled from Warangal (Telangana) while the Yadavas ruled in Devagiri until Devagiri fell to Alauddin Khalji’s forces at the end of the 13th century. These states did not exist in peaceful cooperation, and the region was beset by many internal wars and conflicts.

The establishment of the kingdom (subsequently empire) of Vijayanagar was the most momentous development in the history of south India in the medieval period. The kingdom was established by Harihara and Bukka, two brothers. They were the first rulers of the Sangama dynasty. They founded a new capital city on the southern banks of Tungabhadra which they named Vijayanagara (city of victory). Harihara was crowned in 1336 A.D. (C.E.). The Sangama dynasty ruled Vijayanagar for nearly one and a half centuries. This was followed by the Saluva dynasty which was in power only for a brief period. The Tuluva dynasty then succeeded as rulers. Krishnadeva Raya, the greatest ruler of Vijayanagar, belonged to this family.

As the empire expanded, kingdoms to the south, such as the Hoysalas and the Tamil region, were also assimilated into Vijayanagar. The rulers of Vijayanagar were almost continuously at war with the Bahmani sultanate as well as with the Religous based kingdoms of Kondavidu and Orissa. Finally, the combined forces of the five Deccani Sultanates defeated Vijayanagar in 1565 A.D. (C.E.) at the Battle of Talikota. The Vijayanagar emperors then shifted their capital further south to Penugonda, and eventually to Chandragiri near Tirupati. The empire (or what remained of it) finally withered away in the middle of the seventeenth century.


(d) The Mughals (1526–1707 A.D. (C.E.))

The Mughal empire was founded by Babur in 1526 A.D. (C.E.) after he defeated Ibrahim Lodi at Panipat. The first six Mughal emperors are referred to as the ‘Great Mughals’. Aurangzeb was the last of the great Mughals. Akbar consolidated the Mughal empire through conquests and through a policy of conciliation with the Religious based kingdoms of Rajasthan. The Mughal empire though began to disintegrate after Aurangzeb, continued to exist nominally till 1857 A.D. (C.E.) when the British finally ended the virtually non-existent empire.

A new power centre rose in Maharashtra in the seventeenth century, and the Marathas under the leadership of Shivaji seriously undermined the authority of the Mughals in western India. At its height, the empire stretched over most of the Indian sub-continent. Only the south-western region of Kerala and southern Tamilnadu were not directly under Mughal rule.


(e) The Arrival of the Europeans

During the fifteenth century the Europeans were pre-occupied with trying to find a direct sea route to India, bypassing the overland route through west Asia and the Mediterranean. The spice trade from India was controlled by Muslims up to Alexandria. By gaining direct access to India the Europeans could exercise more direct control over the spice trade and obtain the spices at more favourable prices. In 1498 A.D. (C.E.), Vasco da Gama landed on the Kerala coast having sailed around the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa. Barely five years later, the Portuguese built their first fort at Cochin in 1503 A.D. (C.E.). Goa was captured in 1510 A.D. (C.E.) and became the centre of the Portuguese state in India. Because of their naval superiority, the Portuguese were able to conquer many ports from east Africa up to Malacca, and could effectively control the maritime trade over the entire region.

Other European nations soon followed the Portuguese, most notably the Dutch, English and French. The activities of the latter were carried on through the respective East India Companies. While these were all private trading enterprises, they all had a strong political agenda. During the seventeenth century, when Mughal authority was still powerful, the European companies were able to trade in the Mughal empire, but could not have their own territorial base within the boundaries of the empire. In South India, however, political authority was fragmented and much less cohesive, and they had their own enclaves over which they exercised complete authority. The Dutch were in Pulicat (and later Nagapatnam), the English in Madras, the French in Pondicherry and the Danes in Tarangampadi (Tranquebar).

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