|History of South Asia|
Medieval India refers to a long period of Post-classical history of the Indian subcontinent between the "ancient period" and "modern period". It is usually regarded as running approximately from the breakup of the Gupta Empire in the 6th century CE to the start of the Early modern period in 1526 with the start of the Mughal Empire, although some historians regard it as both starting and finishing later than these points. The medieval period is itself subdivided into the Early Medieval and Late Medieval eras.
In the Early Medieval period, there were more than 40 different states on the Indian subcontinent, which hosted a variety of cultures, languages, writing systems, and religions. At the beginning of the time period, Buddhism was predominant throughout the area, with the short-lived Pala Empire on the Indo Gangetic Plain sponsoring the Buddhist faith's institutions. One such institution was the Buddhist Nalanda mahavihara in modern-day Bihar, India, a centre of scholarship and brought a divided South Asia onto the global intellectual stage. Another accomplishment was the invention of the Chaturanga game which later was exported to Europe and became Chess. In Southern India, the Tamil Hindu Kingdom of Chola gained prominence with an overseas empire that controlled parts of modern-day Sri Lanka, Malaysia, and Indonesia as oversees territories, and helped spread Hinduism and Buddhism into the historic cultural area of Southeast Asia. In this time period, neighboring regions such as Afghanistan, Tibet, and Southeast Asia were under South Asian influence.
During the Late Medieval period, a series of Islamic invasions from modern-day Central Asia, Afghanistan and Iran conquered massive portions of Northern India, founding the Delhi Sultanate which ruled until the 16th century. As a consequence, Buddhism declined in South Asia, but Hinduism survived and reinforced itself in areas conquered by Muslim empires. In the far South, the Vijayanagara Empire resisted Muslim conquests, sparking a long rivalry with the Bahmani Sultanate. The turn of the 16th century would see introduction of gunpowder and the rise of a new Muslim empire—the Mughals, as well as the establishment of European trade posts by the Portuguese colonists. Mughal Empire was one of the three Islamic gunpowder empires, along with the Ottoman Empire and Safavid Persia. The subsequent cultural and technological developments transformed Indian society, concluding the Late Medieval period and beginning the Early modern period.
One definition includes the period from the 6th century, the first half of the 7th century, or the 8th century 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, but is sometimes also included in the 'late medieval' period.
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. 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. Or the "early medieval" period as beginning in the 8th century, and ending with the 11th century.
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). 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. 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.
Main article: Middle kingdoms of India
The start of the period is typically taken to be the slow collapse of the Gupta Empire from about 480 to 550, ending the "classical" period, as well as "ancient India", 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. Another alternative for the preceding period is "Early Historical" stretching "from the sixth century BC to the sixth century AD", according to Romila Thapar.
At least in northern India, there was no larger state until the Delhi Sultanate, or certainly the Mughal Empire, 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, not including local rajas.
This period follows the Muslim conquests of the Indian subcontinent and the decline of Buddhism, the eventual founding of the Delhi Sultanate and the creation of Indo-Islamic architecture, followed by the world's major trading nation, the Bengal Sultanate.
The start of the Mughal Empire in 1526 marked the beginning of the early modern period of Indian history, often referred to as the Mughal era. Sometimes, the Mughal era is also referred as the 'late medieval' period.
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. 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. 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."
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.
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.