Since the beginning of early medieval period, Indian subcontinent was marked with the feudal establishments. Rise of caste proliferation, regional identity in art and culture were prominent. Moreover emergence of closed economy was seen during this time. Hence, the period from 750 to 1200 AD was treated as dark phase because the whole country was divided into numerous regional states. All of these regional states were busy fighting with each other. But during this phase India witnessed growth in culture, traditions, art, literature and language. And thus this phase is now regarded as bright and vibrant phase of Indian history.
As this period is dominated by the presence of large number of regional states, the stronger states tried to establish their authority over the weaker states in northern India and the Deccan parts. In north India, the prominent dynasties in this supremacy struggle were the Pratiharas, the Palas and the Rashtrakutas. While in south Cholas emerged as the most powerful kingdom. The Cholas could manage to bring political unification in Deccan parts whereas northern parts were still fragmented.
Contacts with Arab traders started in 7th century. Later in 8th century Arabs conquered Sind region. While in 10th century Turks emerged powerful in parts of central and West Asia. They invaded India during the late 10th and early 11th century. Punjab was the first region which came under Turkish rule. Subsequent Turkish invasions in 12th and 13th century led to the establishment of Delhi Sultanate.
Delhi Sultanate marked the start of a new phase in the history of medieval India. Politically it led to the unification of India for almost a century. The sultanate disintegrated towards the end of the 14th century and regional kingdoms emerged again. Among these Bahmani and Vijaynagar kingdoms became very powerful. Economic life also witnessed major changes. Trade and crafts received a encouragement. New towns acted as centers of administration, trade and crafts. Also new elements of technology were introduced during this period.
Language and literature during medieval period
- Sanskrit continued to be used as the language of the ruling class. Sanskrit was still used at administrative levels though this language has become verbose and decorative.
- In interior or tribal areas Aryan and pre-Aryan languages were used. But Brahmanas forced various forms of Sanskrit onto the existing Aryan and pre-Aryan languages. This consequently gave birth to regional languages.
- Brahmanas who migrate from place to place systematized the local dialects into languages. Writing and grammar based on Sanskrit was introduced into these languages.
- By 7th century regional languages became much pronounced. And to decipher a single regional language, one had to learn several scripts.
Regional cultures during medieval period
- During this period various cultural units like Andhra, Assam, Bengal, Gujarat, Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra, Orissa, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu etc. existed.
- During 6th century, Rajputs emerged with local tribes and absorption of Hunas and other foreign elements into brahmanical society. This gave rise to the formation of Rajputana or Rajasthan.
- Bengal was divided into West Bengal (Gauda) and East Bengal (Vanga). Later whole Bengal came to be known as Vanga.
- Hiuen-tsang also mentioned about the prevalence of various nationalities in Indian Sub-Continent during 6th century.
- Even in Southern parts of India, regional cultures became popular after decline of Pallavas and rise of Cholas.
- The Mudrarakshasa, a historical play written by Vishakhadatta narrates about different regions with inhabitants following different customs, clothing and language.
Religious traditions during medieval period
- Mahayagnas (Vedic ritual performed in front of sacred fire) and danas (Vedic tradition of charity) performed during this period paved way for a system known as puja.
- The doctrine of bhakti (self-surrender of an individual to god) was interlinked with puja. This became striking feature of medieval religion especially in the southern parts.
- Alongside tantricism also rose in tribal areas. Tantricism was the mixture of puja and bhakti.
- Brahmins migrated from northern parts of India to other peripheral parts to enjoy land grants. During 5th to 7the century many Brahmins received land grants in and around Nepal, Assam, Bengal, Orissa and Central India.
- After migration Brahmins could maintain their land rights only by intermingling with the local tribes and adopting tribal rituals. This eventually gave rise to tantricism.
- The theory of incarnation of gods became very prominent during medieval period. Local gods were identified as incarnations of lord Shiva, Vishnu and Durga.
- Also during this period a new religion of Islam came into picture.
- Within a few centuries after the rise of Islam, it became the second most popular Indian religion with followers in every part of the sub-continent.
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