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.

Devotional Cults

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 movement.

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 Brahmins.

The Alvars and Nayanars were critical of other religious movements like Jainism and Buddhism.

Virshaiva tradition - Karnataka

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 widow remarriage.

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  Muslims too.

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 cults.

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.

Vijaynagar empire

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 or Gateways.

Gopuram of a Vijaynagar Temple

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.


is a merchant community in Ancient India represented by their chief called Nagarsheth.