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

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.[1] 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.[2] 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 overseas territories, and helped spread Hinduism and Buddhism into the historic cultural area of Southeast Asia.[3] In this time period, neighboring regions such as Afghanistan, Tibet, and Southeast Asia were under South Asian influence.[4]

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.[5] 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.[6] Mughal Empire was one of the three Islamic gunpowder empires, along with the Ottoman Empire and Safavid Persia.[7][8][9] The subsequent cultural and technological developments transformed Indian society, concluding the late medieval period and beginning the early modern period.

Terminology and periodization

One definition includes the period from the 6th century,[10] the first half of the 7th century,[11] or the 8th century[12] 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,[10] but is sometimes also included in the 'late medieval' period.[13]

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.[14] 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.[15] Or the "early medieval" period as beginning in the 8th century, and ending with the 11th century.[16]

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).[17] 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.[18] 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.[19]


Early medieval period

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,[21] ending the "classical" period, as well as "ancient India",[22] 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.[23] Another alternative for the preceding period is "Early Historical" stretching "from the sixth century BC to the sixth century AD", according to Romila Thapar.[24]

At least in northern India, there was no larger state until the Delhi Sultanate, or certainly the Mughal Empire,[25] 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,[26] not including local rajas.

Late medieval period

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.[28][29]

Other prominent kingdoms

Northeast India

Early modern period

The start of the Mughal Empire in 1526 marked the beginning of the early modern period of Indian history,[10] 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, from the turn of the century until the 1960s, Indian historians were often motivated by Indian nationalism.[34] 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.[35] 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."[36]

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.[37]


  1. ^ Keay, John (2000). India: A History. Grove Press. pp. xx–xxi.
  2. ^ Murray, H.J.R. (1913). A History of Chess. Benjamin Press (originally published by Oxford University Press). ISBN 978-0-936317-01-4. OCLC 13472872.
  3. ^ History of Asia by B.V. Rao p.211
  4. ^ "The spread of Hinduism in Southeast Asia and the Pacific". Encyclopædia Britannica. Archived from the original on 16 January 2020. Retrieved 20 December 2016.
  5. ^ Berger et al. 2016, p. 107.
  6. ^ "mughal_index". Archived from the original on 15 July 2019. Retrieved 14 June 2019.
  7. ^ Dodgson, Marshall G.S. (2009). The Venture of Islam. Vol. 3. University of Chicago Press. p. 62. ISBN 978-0-226-34688-5.
  8. ^ Streusand, Douglas E. (2011). Islamic Gunpowder Empires: Ottomans, Safavids, and Mughals. Philadelphia: Westview Press. ISBN 978-0-8133-1359-7.
  9. ^ Charles T. Evans. "The Gunpowder Empires". Northern Virginia Community College. Archived from the original on 26 May 2011. Retrieved 28 December 2010.
  10. ^ a b c "India before the British: The Mughal Empire and its Rivals, 1526-1857". University of Exeter. Archived from the original on 12 April 2016. Retrieved 12 August 2017.
  11. ^ Chakravarti, Mahadev, The Concept of Rudra-Śiva Through the Ages, pp. 153-154, 1986, Motilal Banarsidass Publ., ISBN 8120800532, 9788120800533, google books Archived 19 October 2023 at the Wayback Machine
  12. ^ 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
  13. ^ 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, archived from the original on 4 April 2023, retrieved 28 March 2019
  14. ^ According to the article on "Architecture" Archived 16 November 2020 at the Wayback Machine 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.
  15. ^ Singh, Upinder (2008). A History of Ancient and Early Medieval India: From the Stone Age to the 12th Century. Pearson Education India. p. 6. 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.
  16. ^ Ahmed, xviii
  17. ^ Keay, 155 "... the history of what used to be called 'medieval' India ..."
  18. ^ Rowland, 273
  19. ^ Examples: Farooqui; Radhey Shyam Chaurasia, History of Medieval India: From 1000 A.D. to 1707 A.D., 2002, google books Archived 5 February 2024 at the Wayback Machine; Satish Chandra, Medieval India: From Sultanat to the Mughals, 2004 (2 vols), google books Archived 5 February 2024 at the Wayback Machine; Upinder Singh, A History of Ancient and Early Medieval India: From the Stone Age to the 12th century, 2008, google books Archived 5 February 2024 at the Wayback Machine
  20. ^ Schwartzberg, Joseph E. (1978). A Historical atlas of South Asia. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. p. 26,146. ISBN 0226742210.
  21. ^ Rowland, 273; Stein, 105
  22. ^ Not for Burjor Avari, who ends "ancient India" at 1200. Avari, 2
  23. ^ For architecture, see Michell, 87-88. For "classical hinduism", see the note at Outline of ancient India.
  24. ^ Early Indian History and the Legacy of D.D. Kosambi Archived 22 December 2017 at the Wayback Machine by Romila Thapar. Resonance, June 2011, p. 571
  25. ^ Keay, xxii-xxiii
  26. ^ Keay, xx-xxi
  27. ^ Schwartzberg, Joseph E. (1978). A Historical atlas of South Asia. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. p. 37, 147. ISBN 0226742210.
  28. ^ Randall Collins, The Sociology of Philosophies: A Global Theory of Intellectual Change. Harvard University Press, 2000, pages 184-185
  29. ^ Craig Lockard (2007). Societies, Networks, and Transitions: Volume I: A Global History. University of Wisconsin Press. p. 364. ISBN 978-0-618-38612-3. Archived from the original on 15 January 2023. Retrieved 30 June 2019.
  30. ^ a b Chakrabarty, Dilip (2010). The Geopolitical Orbits of Ancient India: The Geographical Frames of the Ancient Indian Dynasties. Oxford University Press. pp. 47–48. ISBN 978-0-19-908832-4.
  31. ^ Kamath, Suryanath U. (2001). A concise history of Karnataka: from pre-historic times to the present. Bangalore: Jupiter Books. pp. 220, 226, 234.
  32. ^ Irschick, Eugene F. Politics and Social Conflict in South India, p. 8: "The successors of the Vijayanagar empire, the Nayaks of Madura and Tanjore, were Balija Naidus."
  33. ^ Zubair, Syed (4 November 2012). "Before India". Deccan Chronicle.
  34. ^ Sreedharan, E. (2004). A Textbook of Historiography, 500 B.C. to A.D. 2000. Orient Blackswan. p. 437. ISBN 8-125-02657-6.
  35. ^ Sreedharan, E. (2004). A Textbook of Historiography, 500 B.C. to A.D. 2000. Orient Blackswan. p. 451. ISBN 8-125-02657-6.
  36. ^ Sreedharan, E. (2004). A Textbook of Historiography, 500 B.C. to A.D. 2000. Orient Blackswan. p. 457. ISBN 8-125-02657-6.
  37. ^ Sharma, Ram Sharan (2003). Early Medieval Indian Society (pb). Orient Blackswan. pp. 17–18. ISBN 9788125025238. Archived from the original on 5 February 2024. Retrieved 17 June 2019.


  • 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
  • Berger, Eugene; Israel, George; Miller, Charlotte; Parkinson, Brian; Reeves, Andrew; Williams, Nadejda (2016). World History Cultures, States and Society to 1500 (PDF). University of North Georgia Press. ISBN 978-1-940771-10-6. OCLC 961216293.
  • 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

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.