The period following the death of Harsha is known as the Rajput period. The word Rajput connotes the scion of a royal family and these princes claimed descent from the sun(thereby calling themselves Suryavanshis)or the moon(and so calling themselves Chandravanshis). This was an era of chivalry and feudalism. Family feuds and strong notions of personal pride often exacerbated conflicts. The Rajputs weakened each other by constant fighting. This allowed the foreigners (Turks) to embark on victorious campaigns using duplicity and deceit wherever military strength failed against Rajputs.
One of them, Mohammad Ghori defeated Prithviraj Chauhan, the Tomar ruler of Delhi, at the battle of Tarain in 1192 and left the Indian territories in the charge of his deputy, Qutubudin (reign - 1206 - 1210), who had started life as a slave. This is the reason that the dynasty founded by him is known as the Slave Dynasty. It is he who built the towering Qutub Minar in Delhi. Raziya (reign - 1236 - 1239), the daughter of his successor Iltutmish (reign - 1210 - 1236), was quite an exception for that age. She sat on the throne of Delhi for a short while. Khiljis, Tughlaqs, Sayyids and Lodis followed in the footsteps of the 'Slaves'. This period is known as the Sultanate. Only a few rulers distinguished themselves in statecraft. Allauddin Khilji (reign - 1296 - 1316) was not only a distinguished commander but also an able administrator. He is remembered for his military campaign in the south as well as market reforms and price control measures. Also, infamous for his infatuation with Rani Padmini of Chittor. Muhammad Bin Tughlaq (reign - 1324 - 1351) was a visionary who had the misfortune of being misunderstood by almost everyone who came in his contact. Modern historians, however, have judged him more sympathetically. Once derided for his whimsical decisions - he once ordered the imperial capital to be shifted to Daulatabad in the Deccan as the site was more central - he is now given credit for his unusual 'vision'. Lodis were, by comparison, quite mild and are only recalled when one is in the vicinity of the majestic Lodi tombs set in beautifully landscaped gardens. The Sultanate introduced, in the sub continent, the Islamic concepts of society and governance, and thus prepared the ground for a scintillating encounter between two important world civilisations.
When the power of the Sultans declined, the outlying provinces once again became important and the process of Hindu Islamic synthesis continued almost without any interruption.
Much before the expulsion of the last Lodi ruler from Delhi by Babur the lustre of the Sultanate had dulled. Babur (reign - 1526-30), the founder of the Mughal Empire in India, was a descendant of Timur as well as Changez Khan. Ousted by his cousins from the small principality in Central Asia that he had inherited, he came to India and defeated Ibrahim, the last Lodi Sultan in 1526 at the First Battle of Panipat. There was a brief interruption to Mughal rule when Babur's son Humayun (reign - 1530-40) was ousted from Delhi, by Sher Shah, an Afghan chieftain.
Sher Shah (reign - 1540-55), assumed power in the imperial capital for a short while. He is remembered as the builder of the Grand Trunk road that spanned the distance from Peshawar to Patna and also one who introduced major reforms in the revenue system, gratefully retained by the Mughals.
It was Babur's grandson Akbar (reign - 1556-1605), who consolidated political power and extended his empire over practically the whole of north India and parts of the south. Akbar realized that if the empire was to attain stability, it must grow roots in the native soil, and that it should seek support from the local ruling groups.
Jahangir (reign - 1605-27) who succeeded Akbar was a pleasure loving man of refined taste. Contemporary chroniclers have recorded that during his reign the Persian nobility related to his wife Nur Jahan had become influential. Shah Jahan (1628-58) his son, ascended the throne next. Shah Jahan's fame rests on the majestic buildings he has left behind - the Taj Mahal, the Red Fort and the Jama Masjid. His successor,
Aurangzeb (reign - 1658-1707) was a brave general and an able administrator but his many virtues were eclipsed by religious dogmatism and rigid attitudes. By the end of his rule it was becoming clear that he had overstretched himself and depleted the resources of the empire. The long drawn conflict with the Marathas unfortunately projected Aurangzeb as an enemy of the Hindus. The man continues to be misunderstood.
Sharp decline set in after the death of Aurangzeb. His successors were weak and incapable of holding the far-flung empire together. Challengers to the imperial authority emerged in different regions. Provincial governors asserted their independence and soldiers of fortune made a bid for
sovereign power. In western India, Shivaji (1637-80) had forged the Marathas into an efficient military machine and given them a sense of national identity. They adopted guerrilla tactics to maul the Mughals and put a severe drain on their economic resources.
The contenders for political supremacy in the 17th and 18th Centuries included besides the Marathas, the Sikhs in Punjab and Hyder Ali (reign - 1721 - 1782) in Mysore. Tipu Sultan (reign - 1782 - 1799) - Hyder Ali's son and successor allied himself with the French against the British and strove to introduce the latest technical knowledge from Europe.
To perceptive Indians of Tipu's generation it was becoming clear that Medieval Indian society and polity would have to meet the challenge of Europe by casting itself in its mould. Beset by fratricidal feuds and petty bickering India had remained indifferent to the advent of Europeans but, now the time of reckoning could not be delayed.
Culture under the Mughals
The Mughals were great patrons of the arts. Many emperors and princes - Akbar and Dara Shikoh (Shah Jahan's son) being the most prominent - were deeply concerned with problems of metaphysics, while some others were writers of considerable talent. Babur penned Babur Nama, a moving memoir wherein he expressed his nostalgia for the land of his birth and documented the Indian scene with great objectivity. Jahangir too has left behind an eminently readable memoir - Tuzuke Jahangiri.
Babur and Humayun did not get enough time to undertake construction of imposing buildings but their successors displayed a great penchant for architecture.
Akbar commissioned the building of Fatehpur Sikri where an exquisite blending of elements and motifs from both the Islamic and the Hindu architectural styles is encountered.
Jahangir was a connoisseur of paintings and landscaped gardens. The beautifully landscaped gardens - Shalimar Bagh and Nishat Bagh - in Lahore and in Srinagar - evoke the resplendent floral exuberance of an expensive carpet.
Shah Jahan was a prolific builder. He built the Red Fort and the majestic Jama Masjid in Delhi, though what he is remembered most for is the Taj Mahal - the mausoleum to his beloved wife Mumtaj Mahal who had died during childbirth.
Impressive progress was made in the spheres of music, painting and literature. The Mughal miniatures influenced and spawned schools of art in the princely states of Kota, Bundi and Kishangarh in Rajasthan and in Kangra, Bhaisoli, and Guler in Himachal Pradesh. The themes of these exquisite landscapes and portraits deal with the love of Radha and Krishna, the changing cycle of seasons and the Ragas - modes - of Indian classical music. The Barahmasa and the Ragamalika - series of paintings are the evidence that the native genius in painting had survived the vicissitudes of political history since the days of Ajanta.
Court chroniclers concentrated on the genre of biography, but it was the compositions of the saint poets who laid the foundation of modern Indian literature in vernacular. Poetry that was sensitive to the aspirations of the masses was penned not only in Hindi, but also in Marathi, Gujarati and Tamil. Jayasi, Namdev, Tukaram, Narsi Mehta, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Thyagraja are only some of the illustrious names.
Many regional languages, such as Hindi, Urdu, Gujarati, Marathi and Bengali had by the 17th Century, acquired a distinct identity and could boast of a large body of literature. The languages that are spoken today in most parts of India are the ones that evolved and grew to maturity during the Mughal period.
Bahadurshah Zafar - the last of the great Mughals - was a passionate lover of poetry and eminent Urdu poets Ghalib and Zauk graced his court. Mir preceded them by a few decades lamenting the disintegration of a civilized way of life that followed in the wake of the decay of this great empire.
A great churning of ideas during this period gave rise to the Bhakti movement - a powerful social upsurge for reform - spearheaded by poet-saints. The ripples caused by verses sung by wandering minstrels carried the stimulating message across the land and engendered what can only be termed a national resurgence.
Kabir - the sharp-tongued weaver from Varanasi (Benaras) - delighted in exposing the hypocrisy of orthodox Hindus and Muslims alike. He wrote eloquently against idolatry, caste prejudice and articulated abstract metaphysical concepts in witty, memorable poetic phrases that were easy to grasp by the man on the street. The use of folk idiom blending many dialects made him exceptionally accessible for the masses.
Tulsidas retold the story of Rama, the virtuous Prince of Ayodhya, in vernacular as a moral discourse to instill ethical values in private and public life. His narrative poem Ramcharitmanas soon acquired the status of a sacred book and continues to be regarded by many Hindus in the countryside as a most useful encapsulation of traditional wisdom. Another remarkable name is that of Mira - a princess from Rajasthan who walked out of the palace to express her love for the cowherd God Krishna. She asserted the right of a woman to choose her way of life in a strait jacketed feudal society.
Raskhan was a Muslim devotee of Krishna and presents a wonderful illustration of communal harmony that prevailed. Interestingly, quite a few of these poet saints came from humble backgrounds.