The period between the death of Harsha (in the mid-seventh century A.D.) and the establishment of Delhi Sultunate (in the 12th century A.D.) covers a span of 500 years. In political life this period was dominated by the presence of a larger number of states. That’s why the general political picture was that of fragmentation. These centuries also witnessed rise of some important kingdoms:
- in the east there were Palas
- in the Deccan there were Rashtrakuts
- in the north there were Gurjara Pratiharas.
|Rajput Powers emerged in 11th century|
Around the end of the 10th century A.D. the powers of the Pratiharas, Palas and Rashtrakuts declined almost simultaneously. Over these territories other dynasties came into existence. Most of them were Rajputs. According to tradition there are four Rajput clans namely Paramara, Pratihara, Chauhan and Chalukya who were born from fire altars. Therefore, they are also known as Agnikulas. Famous Rajput dynasties includes, The Gahadhavalas of Kanauj, Paramaras of Malwa, Chandellas of Khajuraho, Chauhans of Ajmer, Kalachuris of Tripuri, Chalukyas of Gujarat and Tomars of Delhi.
It was in this period that India’s contact with the new religion of Islam began. The contacts began late in the 7th century through the Arab traders. Later, in early 8th century, the Arabs conquered Sind. In the 10th century, the Turks emerged as a powerful force in central and west Asia and carved out kingdoms for themselves. The Turks first invaded India during the late 10th and early 11th century and Punjab came under Turkish rule. Another series of Turkish invasions in the late 12th and early 13th century led to the establishment of the Sultanate of Delhi. The first of these invaders was Mahmud of Ghazni (Ghazni was a small kingdom situated in Afghanistan). He ascended the throne in 998 A.D. Shortly after his accession he led as many as 17 expeditions into India between 1000 and 1027 A.D. He invaded India to plunder the big towns and rich temples for their wealth. The 15th invasion of Mahmud against the temple of Somnath, situated on the seacoast in Gujarat, was the most disastrous one. During the course of his expedition, Mahmud annexed Punjab and Multan to his empire. In one of his campaigns Mahmud was accompanied by Alberuni. Alberuni was a great Persian scholar. He lived for many years in India, learnt Sanskrit and wrote a book on India known as Tahkik-i-hind. After the death of Mahmud in 1030 A.D., India enjoyed a respite for about 150 years from foreign invasions.
In social life there was a greater rigidity of the caste system than before. The law givers of this period followed the earlier marriage rules. Remarriage was also permitted. Women had the right to inherit property. After coming into Muslim contact there began the Purdah system. The practice of sati became more prevalent to save them from failing into the hands of invaders. People also followed different type of social activities such as fairs, festivals and pilgrimages to sacred places and Centre. Sculptures depict various types of dresses and ornaments. There is a great variety and quality of textiles such as wool, cotton and silk. People followed different types of dresses and ornaments. The working in metals was pursued with much success. Agni Purana mentioned about 33 kind of Gems and methods of analysis of different qualities of precious and semi-precious stones. Various types of guilds (srenis) were flourishing in different branches of craft and industries. A guild consisted of people following a common profession such as artisans’ guild and a bankers’ guild. Artisans worked both in towns as well as in villages.
There is an advance in scientific knowledge on agriculture, such as various types of soils, several varieties of grains, agricultural tools and implements and fertility of soil. Various means of Irrigation including the Persian Wheel (arahata) were known to the people prior to the coming of Muslims rulers. The most famous book of this period on agriculture is Krishi Parashar. Travelers of Arab mentioned Indian exports consisting of diverse products of aloe wood, sandalwood, camphor, nutmeg, clove, and other spices, coconut, vegetables, textiles, metals, precious and semi-precious stones, pearls and fisheries. In the list of imports, horses were the most important. The best breeds of horses were imported from central and Western Asia but the process of decline in trade and of urban centres had continued.
Language and literature
Religion and Science
|Radha added to Bhaktism|
In Vaishnavism, particularly the legend of ten incarnations of Vishnu became more popular. The worship of Krishna along with Radha became very popular during this period. Their love was interpreted as the longing of the human soul (atma) for union with the universal soul (paramatma). Saivism became more popular through local variations such as Virasaivas, Lingayats and Pashupatis. Adi shankara and Ramanuja were great philosophers.
|Nayanars & Alvars|
The Bhakti movement led by Nayanars (saiva saints) and Alvars (Vaishnava saints) in South India spread all over India. These saints went from place to place carrying theirs messages of love and devotion. They disregarded the inequalities of caste. The Bhakti movement renewed emphasis on the Vedas. Buddhism witnessed the worship of Buddha became more elaborate accompanied by devotional songs, rites and ceremonies. Jainism gained popularity among the trading classes in northern India and western India and also gained extensive patronage in south India. The colossal Jain image at Sravanabelgola was set up. The Jain doctrines of four gifts (learning, food, medicine and shelter) helped to make Jainism popular among the people. Tantricism is another sect which became popular. Tantric practice centered on prayers, special formulae, magical diagrams and symbols and the worship of a particular deity.
Art and Architecture
The most famous temples during this period are of Odisha especially those of Bhubaneswar, Konark and Puri are superb examples of the Nagara style or North Indian style of Indian architecture. Each temple consists of a Vimana (towered shrine), Jagamohana (audience hall), Nata mandapa (dance hall), and Bhoga mandapa (offering hall). The Lingaraja temple of Bhubaneswar is located in an extensive area, with a number of subsidiary shrines. The spire of the Lingaraja temple is about 40 metres high. The spire is curved and has a rounded top.
The sun temple in Konark, popularly known as the ‘Black Pagoda’, perhaps because of the black stone used, is unique in design. Since it is dedicated to the sun god, the whole temple is designed as a chariot with twelve massive wheels drawn by seven horses. Each wheel with it rich carving is a masterpiece. The human and animal figures carved out in Black stone are most lifelike. The poses of dancing apasaras depicted in sculptures.
Temples in Khajuraho (M.P.) built by the Chandellas are known for their carvings and sculptures. Kandariya Mahadeva temple is such a temple. The sikhara of these temples is graceful and refined and is adorned with sculptures. The Jain temples generally have octagonal domes and are decorated with subjects drawn from Jain mythology, for example, temple of Dilwara at Mount Abu in Rajasthan, which is a finest monument of Solanki king of Gujarat. The Abu temples are very attractive because of the delicate and intricate carvings in white marble. The Jain statue of Gomatesvara at Shravanabelgola in Mysore district (Karnataka) is one of the largest free standing Image (57 feet) in the world. The older tradition of decorating the walls of temples and palaces with murals continued. Miniature paintings also began during this time, which became popular in the Mughal period. The illustrations in manuscripts were also given. Small pictures on palm leaves were painted showing the scenes described in the texts.
New elements added in Medieval Art and Architecture
The Turks brought with them architectural ideas developed in Persia, Arabia and Central Asia. When these new rulers started erecting religious and secular buildings such as palaces and mosques, they came into contact with the traditions that had already been developed in India. The interaction of these two traditions resulted in a new synthesis of architectural styles. The ancient Indian buildings were decorated with beautiful carving and sculpture while the Muslim buildings were marked by simplicity and lack of adornment. When the new buildings began to be erected, the two styles were gradually synthesized into a new and unique style.
The rulers of the sultanate were great patrons of architecture and under them the process of synthesis started. It continued with many regional variations in the different kingdoms, but during the Mughal period, the flowering of this synthesis took place. The distinctive features of Muslim Architecture i.e. the mosque consisted of a large, rectangular open courtyard surrounded by arcades on all four sides. The mehra which faces Mecca indicates the direction to the prayer. The call to worship was made from a tall tower or minaret. Another characteristic feature was the arch in the gateway and other places. The dome was also another prominent feature of the mosque and the mausoleum. The chief decorative element was sculpturing the building with geometrical designs and lettering in calligraphic styles.