Chapter 2:OUR PASTS PART - II
Al Biruni wrote Kitab ul Hind an account of his travels,
He was an Uzbekistani who was captured by Sultan Ghazni and brought
to his kingdom. This is where he developed his affection for India.
Another traveller Ibn Batuta, Moroccon descent
also wrote extensively about his journey to India and then China.
Each traveller described India with a different view. While the
accounts of ibn batuta are that of wonder , the accounts of French
traveller Bernier paint a grim picture and give an
account of the backwardness compared to Europe.
Sir John Strachey - Author of India (Book)
had spent many years in the subcontinent, ultimately becoming amember of
the Governor General’s Council. Now in retirement in England, he set his Indian
experience against the background of recent political developments in
He had a
theoretical argument to the effect that ‘India’ was merely a label of convenience, ‘a name which we give to a great region including a multitude of different
In Strachey’s view, the differences between the countries of Europe were
much smaller than those between the ‘countries’ of India. ‘Scotland is more
like Spain than Bengal is like the Punjab.’ In India the diversities of race,
language and religion were far greater.
Unlike in Europe, these ‘countries’
were not nations; they did not have a distinct political or social identity. This,
Strachey told his Cambridge audience, ‘is the first and most essential thing to
learn about India – that there is not, and never was an India, or even any country
of India possessing, according to any European ideas, any sort of unity,
physical, political, social or religious’.
Strachey thought it ‘conceivable that national sympathies may
arise in particular Indian countries’, but ‘that they should ever extend to India
generally, that men of the Punjab, Bengal, the North-western Provinces, and
Madras, should ever feel that they belong to one Indian nation, is impossible.
Strachey’s remarks were intended as a historical judgement. At the time,
new nations were vigorously identifying themselves within Europe on the
basis of a shared language or territory, whereas none of the countries that he
knew in India had displayed a comparable national awakening.
There were also many others who argued that, unlike France or Germany or Italy, there
was here no national essence, no glue to bind the people and take them purposively
forward. From this perspective stemmed the claim that it was only
British rule that held India and the Indians together.
The most important ‘Stracheyans’ was undoubtedly Winston Churchill. In the 1940s, with
Indian independence manifestly round the corner, Churchill grumbled that he
had not become the King’s first minister in order to preside over the liquidation
After Gandhi’s ‘salt
satyagrafra’ of 1930 in protest against taxes on salt, the British government
began speaking with Indian nationalists about the possibility of granting the
colony dominion status. This was vaguely defined, with no timetable set for
its realization. Even so, Churchill called the idea ‘not only fantastic in itself
but criminally mischievous in its effects’. Since Indians were not fit for selfgovernment,
it was necessary to marshal ‘the sober and resolute forces of the
British Empire’ to stall any such possibility.
claimed that if the British left the subcontinent, then ‘an army of white janissaries,
officered if necessary from Germany, will be hired to secure the armed
ascendancy of the Hindu’. Three months later, speaking at the Albert Hall on
‘Our Duty to India’ – with his kinsman the Duke of Marlborough presiding –
Churchill argued that ‘to abandon India to the rule of the Brahmins [who in his
opinion dominated the Congress Party] would be an act of cruel and wicked
negligence’. If the British left, he predicted, then the entire gamut of public
services created by them – the judicial, medical, railway and public works departments
– would perish, and ‘India will fall back quite rapidly through the
centuries into the barbarism and privations of the Middle Ages’
The 8th century saw an increase in the representation of deities in
texts and sculptures. This was attributed to composition of
devotional texts into simple language easily accessible to all and
second reason was brahmans were reworking the social practices and
beliefs in these. People started viewing their gods as supreme and
this led to conflict with Jains and Buddhists.
Early Bhakti Traditions of South India
The Bhakti movement started with the emergence of poet saints. While
the role of Brahmans in the society was still high these saints
started getting their own league of followers. The Bhakti movement
had two forms: Nirgun [formless - believed in worshiping an
abstract form of god] and Sagun - believed in a Deity worship.
The lower castes, women, categories considered ineligible
for upliftment in the Brahmanical order were attracted to Bhakti
Alvars - Vaishnavaites and Nayanars - Shaivaites
were early Bhakti movement leaders who lived in Tamil Nadu and
praised their gods by hymns. They recogniZed sacred places for their
gods and these became pilgrimage sites. The worship in such temples
was done by hymns of the saints.
The members of this movement also belonged to lower castes
of the society. Women too were allowed and they
leaders criticized the Caste system and dominion of
The Alvars and Nayanars were critical of other religious movements
like Jainism and Buddhism.
Virshaiva tradition - Karnataka
Basavanna a Brahman founded this tradition. His
followers were called Virshaiva [heroes of Shiva]
or Lingayats [ wearers of linga]. Women and
marginalized sections were attracted to this movement as it attacked
the caste order and approved rituals like post puberty marriage and
Bhakti Movement - North India
In North India the Bhakti movement didn't develop till the 14th
Century even though deities like Shiva and Vishnu were worshiped.
This is because of the emergence of Rajputs states. The position
occupied by Brahmans in these states was high as they performed
ritual and secular functions. No challenge was made to their
position directly or indirectly.
However religious groups like Naths, Jogis, Siddhas emerged that
challenged the authority of the Vedas and called for equality
amongst all. However they never gained a position of favor amongst
the ruling classes. This situation changed when the
Turkish rulers entered and the position of Rajput states and
their Brahmans were undermined. Emergence of Sufism played an
important role here.
Sufism in North India
Islam emerged in the 8th century in Middle East and through contacts
from trade and conquer by Generals reached the Northwest region of
Indian subcontinent. Due to the poor military tactics and disunity
amongst members the Muslim rulers emerged in Delhi and South India
too. Theoretically these were to be guided by Ulemas who were
Islamic scholars who ensured rule was according to Islamic
principles. India the Muslim rulers not only were ruling over
Muslims but other communities as well. The other communities were
called protected and had to pay Jiziya tax. These
Emperors were mostly generous in grants and reliefs to Non
Although Islam came fro the Middle East it had followers in all
classes. It had become adopted to local traditions and practices
e.g. Arab merchants residing in South India adopted Malayalam and matrilinity.
Sufism emerged as a group of people moved towards asceticism and
mysticism in protest over the materialism of the Caliphate as a
political organization.They disliked the interpretation of Islam by
theologians and believed in worship through devotion. They believed
Prophet Muhammad to be the perfect human being.
Sufi's then formed Khangah's or communities and had followers. These
were led by Sheikh or Pir who appointed a successor. The silsila's
were formed which signified unbroken chain from master to pupil.
Another extreme form of Islam emerged where followers ignored
rituals and completely left all worldly attachments and observed
mendicancy / celibacy. These were the called be-sharia
The pilgrimage to tombs of Sufi saints and qawwalis were
introduced by Sufism. In Deccan, Bhakti movement also
inspired Sufism and it led to devotional songs being created. Islam
found following in Deccan due to this. Though Sufi's maintained a
distance from politics they accepted donations from rulers. Rulers
sought their support in order to become seen as legitimate rulers of
the lands. Conflicts also were seen between Sultans and Sufi saints
as both asserted their authority by addressing self with titles.
The ruins of the Empire were discovered by Colin Mackenzie. The
Empire at its zenith occupied land from Krishna river in the north
to southern tip of India. It was ruled by Sangam dynasty followed
by Saluvu and then Tuluvu. King Krishnadev raya of Tuluvu
dynasty was the most powerful and famous ruler. The
military chiefs became more powerful after Krishnadev rayas death
and the rule passed on to the Aravidu dynasty. The King Rama raya
tried to pit one sultan against other and so the Sultans united
against him and defeated him. The armies of the Sultan's then
sacked the Vijaynagar empire.
Another reason for the decline of central control in the Empire
was the formation of Amar nayak systems. These
were military commanders who were responsible for governing forts
and maintaining a contingent of soldiers. But later they asserted
authority by forming independent kingdoms.
A unique feature of the kingdom was enclosure of agriculture
tracts within walls of the kingdom. This was to keep agriculture
production during sieges. Temples of this period also had tall Gopurams
Fig 1: Gopuram of a Vijaynagar Temple
Peasants and Agriculture production in Medieval India
Peasant conditions are not known as they never wrote an account
of their lives. Ain i Akbari gave an account but from the rulers
point of view. Since the purpose of cultivation was food security
most of the crops were for consumption like rice, wheat and
millets. Areas receiving high rainfall cultivated rice. Rural life
was self sufficient but not egalitarian as a few elite exercised
control over assets and lower classes were denied access to places
and housed outside the cities.
The place of woman was important as child bearers but high
mortality rate amongst them meant emergence of varied practices
like widow re-marriage or divorced women remarriage.
Women were also guarded as households were male dominated and any
infidelity was cruelly punished.
Zamindars occupied a dominant position in the
rural society. They had access over assets and decided privileges
of other to them. They also cultivated lands indirectly through
hired labor. The zamindars often kept a contingent of armed forces
to serve the king and held forts. They also collected revenue on
behalf of the state.
Mahajan is a merchant community in Ancient India
represented by their chief called Nagarsheth.