Geography of India
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|During the medieval period, some of the achievements of the ancient times were carried forward and new and magnificent structures were built on those foundations. Many new elements appeared in Indian society which influenced the growth of various aspects of culture. |
The period from the eighth to the twelfth century in political life is dominated mainly by the presence of a large number of states. The bigger ones among them tried to establish their supremacy in northern India and the Deccan. The main contenders in this struggle for supremacy were the Pratiharas, the Palas and the Rashtrakutas. In the south, the most powerful kingdom to emerge during this period was that of the Cholas. The Cholas brought about the political unification of large parts of the country but the general political picture was that of fragmentation, particularly in northern India. The process of decline in trade and of urban centers had continued. In social life, there was greater rigidification of the caste system than before. In some respects, the period was characterized by stagnation and insularity. Seen as a whole, however, the situation was not so dismal. Some of the most splendid temples in India were built, in a variety of regional styles, during this period, both in the north and the south. The period is also important for the growth of modern Indian languages. Architecture, sculpture, literature, and philosophy flourished under the patronage of the Chola Kings. Trade and cultural contact with the countries of South-East Asia received an impetus in the Chola kingdom. New trends towards cultural unity also emerged during this period. One of these trends is associated with the name of the philosopher Shankaracharya who set up his maths or monasteries in different parts of the country. The other was the beginning of the Bhakti cult throughout the country. It had originated with the Alvars and Nayanars, this cult became a major feature of the religious life of the people in most parts of the country.
It was in this period that India’s contact with the new religion of Islam began. The contacts began late in the seventh century through the Arab traders. Later, in early eighth century, the Arabs conquered Sind. In the tenth century, the Turks emerged as a powerful force in Central and West Asia and carved out kingdoms for themselves. They conquered Persia but, in turn, their life was deeply influenced by the old and rich Persian culture. The Turks first invaded India during the late tenth and early eleventh century and Punjab came under Turkish rule. Another series of Turkish invasions in the late twelfth and early thirteenth century led to the establishment of the Sultanat of Delhi. Within a few centuries after the rise of Islam in Arabia, it became the second most popular religion in India with followers in every part of the country.
The establishment of the Sultanat of Delhi marked the beginning of a new phase in the history of medieval India. Politically, it led to the unification of northern India and parts of the Deccan for almost century. Its rulers, almost from the time of the establishment of the Sultanat, succeeded in separating in from the country from which they had originally come. The Sultanat disintegrated towards the end of the fourteenth century leading to the emergence of a number of kingdoms in different parts of the country. Some of these, for example, the Bahmani and Vijaynagar kingdoms, became very powerful. In society, the period is important for the introduction of new elements – the Turks, the Persians, the Mongols and the Afghans, besides the Arabs who had settled sown in some coastal regions- into India. There were important changes in economic life also. Trade and crafts received a stimulus and many new towns arose as centers of administrations, trade and crafts. New elements of technology were also introduced during this period.
Culturally, this period marks the beginning of a new stage in the growth of India’s composite culture. It saw the introduction of new features in art and architecture of India and their diffusion to all parts of the country. The architecture that developed during this period was the result of the synthesis of the traditions of Central Asia and Persia with the pre-existing Indian styles. During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, distinctive styles of art and architecture also developed in the regional kingdoms, which had emerged with the disintegration of the Sultanat. During this time notable advances were made in the development of languages and literature. Modern Indian languages, which had started developing earlier, became major vehicles of literature.
These languages were enriched by the Bhakti saints and this gave the literature of these languages many common features: Two new languages – Arabic and Pesian – became a part of India’s linguistic heritage. Of these, Arabic was mainly the language of Islamic learning. For literature and in its widespread use, Pesian was more important. In many areas, it replaced Sanskrit as the court language and throughout the country, along with Sanskrit, it became the language of learning. Historical writings for the first time became an important component of Indian literature. Under the influence of Persian, new forms of literature such as the ghazal were introduced.
The period saw two great religious movements, besides the spread of a new religion. The Bhakti movement which had started many centuries earlier, spread throughout the country. Significantly, the Bhakti movement, best represented by Kabir and Nanak, disapproved of religious narrow-mindedness, superstitions ad observance of formal rituals. The Bhakti saints condemned caste inequalities and laid stress on human brotherhood.
The other was the Sufi movement. The Sufis, or the Muslim mystics, preached the message of love and human brotherhood. These two movements played a leading role in combating religious exclusiveness and narrow-mindedness and in bringing the people of all communities together. Sikhism began to emerge as a new religion based on the teachings of Guru Nanak and other saints.
The growth of a composite culture reached its highest point under the Great Mughals in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The Mughals built an empire which once again brought about the political unification of a large part of the country. Like Ashoka earlier, Akbar, the greatest of the Mughal emperors, followed a policy of Sulh-kul (‘peace with all’). He said, “The various religious communities are Divine treasures enthused to us by God. We must love them as such. It should be our firm faith that every religion is blessed by Him, and our earnest end avour to enjoy the bliss of the evergreen garden of universal toleration. The Eternal King showers his favours on all men without distinction. Kings who are ‘Shadows of God’ should never give up this principle”. Some of the finest specimens of Indian architecture and literature belong to this period. A new significant art form was painting which flourished under the patronage of the Mughal court. Influenced by the Persian traditions, the Mughal painting developed into a distinct Indian style. It later spread to other parts of the country in various regional styles. Another significant development was the emergence of anew language –Urdu- which became the lingua franca of the people of the towns in many parts of the country.
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