Medieval India

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The Mehrangarh Fort was built in medieval India during the reign of Jodha of Mandore.

Medieval India refers to a long period of the history of the Indian subcontinent between the "ancient period" and "modern period". It is usually regarded as running between the breakup of the Gupta Empire in the 6th century AD and the start of the Mughal Empire in 1526, although some historians regard it as both starting and finishing later than these points.


Medieval India during the Harsha Empire of the 7th century A.D.

One definition includes the period from the 6th century,[1] the "first half of the 7th century",[2] or the 8th century[3] up to the 16th century, essentially coinciding with the Middle Ages of Europe. It may be divided into two periods: The 'early medieval period' which lasted from the 6th to the 13th century and the 'late medieval period' which lasted from the 13th to the 16th century, ending with the start of the Mughal Empire in 1526. The Mughal era, from the 16th century to the 18th century, is often referred to as the early modern period,[1] but is sometimes also included in the 'late medieval' period.[4]

An alternative definition, often seen in those more recent authors who still use the term at all, brings the start of the medieval times forward, either to about 1000 CE, or to the 12th century.[5] The end may be pushed back to the 18th century, Hence, this period can be effectively considered as the beginning of Muslim domination to British India.[6] Or the "early medieval" period as beginning in the 8th century, and ending with the 11th century.[7]

The use of "medieval" at all as a term for periods in Indian history has often been objected to, and is probably becoming more rare (there is a similar discussion in terms of the history of China).[8] It is argued that neither the start nor the end of the period really mark fundamental changes in Indian history, comparable to the European equivalents.[9] Burton Stein still used the concept in his A History of India (1998, referring to the period from the Guptas to the Mughals), but most recent authors using it are Indian. Understandably, they often specify the period they cover within their titles.[10]


Early medieval period[edit]

The start of the period is typically taken to be the slow collapse of the Gupta Empire from about 480 to 550,[11] ending the "classical" period, as well as "ancient India",[12] although both these terms may be used for periods with widely different dates, especially in specialized fields such as the history of art or religion.[13] Another alternative for the preceding period is "Early Historical" stretching "from the sixth century BC to the sixth century AD", according to Romila Thapar.[14]

At least in northern India, there was no larger state until the Delhi Sultanate, or certainly the Mughal Empire,[15] but there were several different dynasties ruling large areas for long periods, as well as many other dynasties ruling smaller areas, often paying some form of tribute to larger states. John Keay puts the typical number of dynasties within the subcontinent at any one time at between 20 and 40,[16] not including local rajas.

  • Pratihara dynasty, was the last largest dynasty of northern India which rivaled the Gupta empire in extent and ruled most part of India from 6th century up-to 11th century. They can be differentiated from other kingdoms as they were called Imperial Pratiharas.
  • Chalukya dynasty ruled most of the western Deccan and some of South India, between the 6th to 12th centuries. Kannada-speaking, with capital at Badami.
  • Rashtrakuta dynasty, was a Kannada Dynasty ruling large parts of the Indian subcontinent between the 6th and the 10th centuries and one who built World Heritage center Ellora, Maharashtra.
  • Eastern Chalukyas, 7th and 12th centuries, a South Indian Kannada dynasty whose kingdom was located in the present-day Andhra Pradesh they were the descendants of Western Chalukyas.
  • Pallava dynasty, rulers of Telugu and some Tamil areas from the 6th to 9th centuries.
  • Pala Empire, the last major Buddhist rulers, from the 8th to 12th centuries in Bengal. Briefly controlled most of north India in the 9th century.
  • Chola Empire, a South Indian empire which ruled from Tamil Nadu and extended to include South-east Asian territories at its height. From 9th century to 13th century.
  • Empire of Harsha, a brief period of control of most of north India, from 601 to 647, under Harsha of the Vardhana dynasty.
  • Western Chalukya Empire, ruled most of the western Deccan and some of South India, between the 10th to 12th centuries. Kannada-speaking, with capital at Badami.
  • Kalachuri dynasty, ruled areas in Central India during 10th-12th centuries.
  • Western Ganga dynasty, was an important ruling dynasty of ancient Karnataka, often under the overlordship of larger states, from about 350 to 1000 AD. The large monolithic Bahubali of Shravanabelagola was built during their rule.
  • Eastern Ganga dynasty, was a royal dynasty ruling Odisha region who are descendants of Kannada Western Ganga Dynasty and Tamil Chola Empire. They have built famous Konark Sun Temple and Jagannath Temple, Puri.
  • Hoysala Empire, a prominent South Indian Kannadiga empire that ruled most of the modern day state of Karnataka between the 10th and the 14th centuries. The capital of the Hoysalas was initially located at Belur but was later moved to Halebidu.
  • Kakatiya Kingdom, a Telugu dynasty that ruled most of current day Andhra Pradesh, India from 1083 to 1323 CE.
  • The Sena dynasty, was a Hindu dynasty that ruled from Bengal through the 11th and 12th centuries. The empire at its peak covered much of the north-eastern region of the Indian subcontinent. The rulers of the Sena Dynasty traced their origin to the south Indian region of Karnataka.
  • Kamarupa, 4th to 12th century in Assam, ruled by three dynasties

Late medieval era[edit]

Following the Muslim conquests of the Indian subcontinent and the decline of Buddhism were seen to be taken place, eventually founding the Delhi Sultanate and creating the Indo-Islamic architecture, followed by the world's major trading nation Bengal Sultanate.[17][18]

Other prominent kingdoms[edit]

Northeast India[edit]

Early modern era[edit]

The start of the Mughal Empire in 1526 marked the beginning of the early modern period of Indian history,[1] often referred to as the Mughal era. Sometimes, the Mughal era is also referred to as the 'late medieval' period.

  • Mughal Empire, was an imperial state founded by Babur, who had Turco-Mongol origin from Central Asia. The empire ruled most of the Indian subcontinent from 16th to 18th century, though it lingered for another century, formally ending in 1857.
  • Maratha Empire, was an imperial power based in modern-day Maharashtra in western India. Marathas replaced the Mughal rule over large parts of India in the 18th century, but lost the Anglo-Maratha Wars in the early 19th century, and became rulers of Princely States.
  • Kingdom of Mysore, was a Kannada kingdom have been founded in 1399 in the vicinity of the modern city of Mysore. Fully independent after the fall of the Vijayanagara Empire in 1646, reduced in size by the British, but ruled as a princely state until 1947.
  • Nayak dynasty of Kannada, Telugu, Tamil kings ruled parts of south India after the fall of the Vijayanagara Empire in 1646. Their contribution can be seen in Ikkeri, Sri Ranga, Madurai, and Chitradurga.
  • Kingdom of Bharatpur, was a Jat kingdom have been founded in 1722 in the vicinity of the modern city of Bharatpur. It was founded during the fall of the Mughal Empire, reduced in size by the invaders, but ruled as a princely state until 1947.
  • Sikh Empire,[19] was a major power in the Northwestern part of the Indian subcontinent, which arose under the leadership of Maharaja Ranjit Singh in the Punjab region. They were usurped by the British East India Company between early and mid 19th century, following the British victory in the Anglo-Sikh wars.


Modern historical works written on Medieval India have received some criticism from scholars studying the historiography of the period. E. Sreedharan argues that, after Indian independence up until the 1960s, Indian historians were often motivated by Indian nationalism.[20] Peter Hardy notes that the majority of modern historical works on Medieval India up until then were written by British and Hindu historians, whereas the work of modern Muslim historians was under-represented.[21] However, he argues that some of the modern Muslim historiography on Medieval India at the time was motivated by Islamic apologetics, attempting to justify "the life of medieval Muslims to the modern world."[22]

Ram Sharan Sharma has criticised the simplistic manner in which Indian history is often divided into an ancient "Hindu" period, a medieval "Muslim" period, and a modern "British" period. He argues that there is no clear sharp distinction between when the ancient period ended and when the medieval period began, noting dates ranging from the 7th century to the 13th century.[23]


  1. ^ a b c "India before the British: The Mughal Empire and its Rivals, 1526-1857". University of Exeter.
  2. ^ Chakravarti, Mahadev, The Concept of Rudra-Śiva Through the Ages, pp. 153-154, 1986, Motilal Banarsidass Publ., ISBN 8120800532, 9788120800533, google books
  3. ^ Stein, Burton (27 April 2010), Arnold, D. (ed.), A History of India (2nd ed.), Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, p. 105, ISBN 978-1-4051-9509-6
  4. ^ Parthasarathi, Prasannan (2011), Why Europe Grew Rich and Asia Did Not: Global Economic Divergence, 1600–1850, Cambridge University Press, pp. 39–45, ISBN 978-1-139-49889-0
  5. ^ According to the article on "Architecture" in Banglapedia, "Unlike European periodisation, the medieval period in Indian history is generally regarded to have started with the coming of the Muslims, particularly the conquest of Delhi towards the end of the twelfth century by the Ghorids of Afghanistan." The "generally regarded" is dubious.
  6. ^ Singh, Upinder (2008). A History of Ancient and Early Medieval India: From the Stone Age to the 12th Century. Pearson Education India. ISBN 978-81-317-1120-0. Due to such reasons, most historians have discarded the Hindu-Muslim-British periodization of the Indian past in favour of a more neutral classification into the ancient, early medieval, and modern periods. The dividing lines may vary, but the ancient period can be considered as stretching roughly from the earliest times to the 6th century CE; the early medieval from the 6th to the 13th centuries; the medieval from the 13th to 18th centuries; and the modern from the 18th century to the present. The current use of these terms shifts the focus away from religious labels towards patterns of significant socio-economic changes.
  7. ^ Ahmed, xviii
  8. ^ Keay, 155 "... the history of what used to be called 'medieval' India ..."
  9. ^ Rowland, 273
  10. ^ Examples: Farooqui; Radhey Shyam Chaurasia, History of Medieval India: From 1000 A.D. to 1707 A.D., 2002, google books; Satish Chandra, Medieval India: From Sultanat to the Mughals, 2004 (2 vols), google books; Upinder Singh, A History of Ancient and Early Medieval India: From the Stone Age to the 12th century, 2008, google books
  11. ^ Rowland, 273; Stein, 105
  12. ^ Not for Burjor Avari, who ends "ancient India" at 1200. Avari, 2
  13. ^ For architecture, see Michell, 87-88. For "classical hinduism", see the note at Outline of ancient India.
  14. ^ Early Indian History and the Legacy of D.D. Kosambi by Romila Thapar. Resonance, June 2011, p. 571
  15. ^ Keay, xxii-xxiii
  16. ^ Keay, xx-xxi
  17. ^ Randall Collins, The Sociology of Philosophies: A Global Theory of Intellectual Change. Harvard University Press, 2000, pages 184-185
  18. ^ Craig Lockard (2007). Societies, Networks, and Transitions: Volume I: A Global History. University of Wisconsin Press. p. 364. ISBN 978-0-618-38612-3.
  19. ^ Zubair, Syed (4 November 2012). "Before India". Deccan Chronicle.
  20. ^ A Textbook of Historiography, 500 B.C. to A.D. 2000 by E. Sreedharan, p. 437, Orient Blackswan, 2004, ISBN 8-125-02657-6
  21. ^ A Textbook of Historiography, 500 B.C. to A.D. 2000 by E. Sreedharan, p. 451, referencing Peter Hardy
  22. ^ A Textbook of Historiography, 500 B.C. to A.D. 2000 by E. Sreedharan, p. 457, referencing Peter Hardy
  23. ^ Sharma, Ram Sharan (2003). Early Medieval Indian Society (pb). Orient Blackswan. pp. 17–18. ISBN 9788125025238.


  • Avari, Burjor, India: The Ancient Past: A History of the Indian Subcontinent from C. 7000 BCE to CE 1200, 2016 (2nd edn), Routledge, ISBN 1317236734, 9781317236733, google books
  • Farooqui, Salma Ahmed, A Comprehensive History of Medieval India: From Twelfth to the Mid-Eighteenth Century, 2011, Pearson Education India, ISBN 8131732029, 9788131732021, google books
  • Harle, J.C., The Art and Architecture of the Indian Subcontinent, 2nd edn. 1994, Yale University Press Pelican History of Art, ISBN 0300062176
  • Keay, John, India: A History, 2000, HarperCollins, ISBN 0002557177
  • Michell, George, (1977) The Hindu Temple: An Introduction to its Meaning and Forms, 1977, University of Chicago Press, ISBN 978-0-226-53230-1
  • Rowland, Benjamin, The Art and Architecture of India: Buddhist, Hindu, Jain, 1967 (3rd edn.), Pelican History of Art, Penguin, ISBN 0140561021

Further reading[edit]

Primary sources
  • Babur, ., & Thackston, W. M. (2002). The Baburnama: Memoirs of Babur, prince and emperor. New York: Modern Library.
  • Muḥammad, A. K., & Pandit, K. N. (2009). A Muslim missionary in mediaeval Kashmir: Being the English translation of Tohfatu'l-ahbab.
  • V. S. Bhatnagar (1991). Kānhaḍade Prabandha, India's Greatest Patriotic Saga of Medieval Times: Padmanābha's Epic Account of Kānhaḍade. Aditya Prakashan. ISBN 978-81-85179-54-4.
  • Jain, M. The India They Saw : Foreign Accounts (4 Volumes) Delhi: Ocean Books, 2011.

External links[edit]