Islamic and Hindu Kingdoms in India
No centralized imperial authority emerged to govern the Indian subcontinent as had been the case in China; however the area remained united because of powerful social and cultural traditions, including the caste system and the Hindu religion. In the seventh century C.E., Islam came to India and became influential in Indian society. Indian traditions soon became influential in other parts of Southeast Asia, including the spread of Islam.
The last successful Indian dynasty, the Gupta dynasty, collapsed under attack from the White Huns in the late fifth century, C.E. The sub-continent then devolved into a series of independent regional states ruled by various groups. India remained disunited until the sixteenth century when it was invaded by the Mughals, a Turkish tribe who extended authority over the entire subcontinent.
Even with the collapse of the Gupta dynasty, the ideal of centralized imperial rule did not completely disappear. Unified rule was briefly restored under King Harsha (r. 606-648 C.E.) who gained the throne at age sixteen. He led an army of 50,000 infantry and 5,000 war elephants which he used to subdue most of Northern Indian. He was Buddhist, but tolerant of other religions, and had a reputation for liberality and scholarship. He often doled out gifts to his subjects, and patronized scholars generously. However, even with his generosity, he was unable to establish permanent centralized rule. Local rulers had become too entrenched. Harsha spent much time attempting to solidify a loose empire, based mainly on his personality; however he was assassinated in 648 and left no heir. With his death, Northern India again broke apart into warring principalities as various warlords attempted to enlarge their territory at the expense of their neighbors.
Turkish speaking people from central Asia often took advantage of the unsettled state of Indian affairs and came in through the Khyber Pass. They ultimately worked themselves into the Caste system and became completely absorbed in Indian affairs. Other nomadic peoples invaded, however, and contributed to the disruption of Northern India.
The Introduction of Islam to Northern India:Islam entered India through several routes:
Arabic forces entered India as early as the seventh century, C.E. In 711, an Arab expedition conquered Sind in the Indus River Valley and incorporated it as a province of the Umayyad Empire. Sind later became part of the Abbasid Empire. Even so, it was far removed from their seat of authority and much of the population remained Hindu, Buddhist, or Parsee. A series of unorthodox Islamic movements also took root there. Infighting between Arabic administrators allowed local politicians to reassert Hindu authority, even though the area remained nominally Islamic until the fall of the Abbasid dynasty.
Arab forces had entered India earlier, even before the establishment of the Umayyad Empire; but they were primarily exploratory missions, not attempts to conquer the area.
Islam traveled to coastal regions of northern and southern India by means of merchants. They were the successors to Persian and Arab mariners who had traded in the area long before Muhammad. Muslim merchants formed small communities in India and often played prominent roles in business and commerce. They often married local women and found places for themselves within Indian society. Islam gradually found a foothold in the larger Indian port cities.
A number of Turkish speaking tribes migrated and invaded India. They had converted to Islam through their dealings with the Abbasid dynasty. While some moved into Anatolia and threatened Byzantium, others moved into Afghanistan, and established an Islamic state there. The Turks in Afghanistan were led by Mahmud of Ghazni, who mounted a number of expeditions against Indian territories. He took advantage of the infighting between local warlords and annexed several parts of northwestern India. Mahmud was more interested in plunder than in rule; as a result he attacked and demolished Hindu and Buddhist temples and carted off the wealth stored in the temples. His campaigns hastened the decline of Buddhism in India. Mahmudís armies often constructed mosques on the sites of destroyed Buddhist or Hindu temples; but they did not encourage Indians to convert to Islam.
Mahmudís successors attempted to conquer India more systematically, and to place it under Islamic rule. They conquered most of the Hindu Kingdoms of northern India by the 13th century and established the Sultanate of Delhi, as an Islamic state with a capital at Delhi. From that site, they ruled northern India for more than 300 years. By the 14th century, they commanded an army of 300,000 men and had the most powerful force in Islam; however they did not extend their authority far beyond Delhi. They conducted raids from time to time in the Deccan region of Southern India, but never overcame Hindu resistance. They had no permanent bureaucracy or administrative system, and their authority dependent upon the good will of Hindu kings who carried out their policies. The area remained largely Hindu. Even so, they managed to establish a firm foothold for Islam in India.
The Sultans of Delhi did not even have good control over their own court. Nineteen of the thirty five sultans were assassinated.
Hindu Kingdoms of Southern India:Hindu rulers in the South ruled over small, loosely administered states that were not subject to the invasions and turmoil which had been the rule in the North. There were some regional wars, but they were less frequent and less destructive than in the North.
Two kingdoms eventually exercised nominal rule over a large part of Southern India:
The Chola Kingdom, which at its high point had conquered Ceylon and parts of southeast Asia. Chola rulers allowed considerable autonomy for local institutions as long as they maintained order and taxes were paid on time. The Empire lasted for four centuries, from roughly 800 to 1200 C.E., when they were expelled from Ceylon and their power was reduced to the status of one regional kingdom among many.
The Vijayanagar Kingdom was established by two brothers, Harihara and Bukka, who were sent by the Sultans of Delhi to implement court policies in the South. They saw an opportunity to claim rule for themselves and as a result renounced Islam and returned to their original faith, Hinduism. They proclaimed the kingdom of Vijayanagar, meaning "city of victory." Despite their unorthodox method of taking over, trade continued with Muslim merchants, and no hostilities erupted. The area was apparently too far removed for the Sultans to be concerned about.
Production and Trade in the Indian Ocean Basin:The nature of the monsoon winds of the Indian subcontinent render Irrigation necessary for successful agriculture. The winds blow from the southwest and bring moisture during the spring and summer; but during the autumn and winter when they blow from the northeast, they are cool and dry. Short supplies of rain from the summer monsoons can lead to drought and famine; so irrigation is a necessity.
As Southern India became more populated, irrigation became more crucial, even though it had existed to some extent since Harappan times. Irrigation systems became a prodigious effort, involving the construction of dams, reservoirs, canals, wells, and tunnels. Tremendous reservoir and irrigation systems eventually led to large increases in agricultural production. The increase in production led to a corresponding increase in population. The Indian population grew from roughly 5.3 million in 600 C.E. to 79 million by 1000. Most of the population was centered in urban areas; in fact Delhi, the capital of the Sultanate, had a population in excess of 400,000 by the fourteenth century, the most populous Muslim city in the world except for Cairo.
Trade and Economic Development in Southern India:As the population of India trade and the opportunities for specialized work also increased. Most areas were self sufficient in producing staple foods such as rice, barley and wheat; however other items, such as iron, copper, salt, spices, and certain specialized crops could only be found in certain areas. The regional specialization of items lent itself to trade over long distances
Ceylon and Southern India benefited most from the trade, which was dominated by the Hindu Temples of the area. Relative political stability led to economic development, particularly in the Chola Kingdom, which allowed considerable autonomy for its subjects. As a result, towns and cities in Southern India tended to their own affairs largely free from centralized governmental supervision. Public life centered around Hindu temples that also served as economic and social centers. Many Hindu temples were built by wealthy Indians and were quite elaborate. The Temples organized agricultural activities, coordinated irrigation work, and maintained food reserves for hard times. Most offered basic schooling for boys; schooling for girls was only found in the larger temples. They also employed a large staff of Brahmins, musicians, servants, and slaves. They raised money for their financial obligations by collecting a portion of the agricultural yield from fields under the templeís authority. Temple authorities were also bankers who made loans and invested in commercial ventures. By investing in commercial ventures, the temples promoted economic development by encouraging trade. They also worked with merchant guilds that made gifts of land and money to the temples as a way of securing the cooperation of the temple leaders.
Cross Cultural Trade in the Indian Ocean Basin:Indian merchants had traded in the Indian Ocean basin as early as the classical era and also with merchants from the Roman Empire who came in search of pepper. Larger ships and improved commercial organization during the postclassical period led to a dramatic increase in the volume and value of trade in the area. Merchants relied on the monsoon winds to guide vessels across the Indian Ocean; however the nature of the winds meant that one often had to spend months at distant ports waiting on the winds to change. As a result, most trade was conducted in stages.
Indiaís location at the center of the Indian Ocean basin made it the perfect site for Emporia (singular form: emporium, meaning "a place of trade) and warehouses. Merchants from Asia and Persia often exchanged goods there for others which they took back west; while merchants from China and Southeast India also traded. Indian ports became principle clearing houses for trade items in the area.
Trade grew rapidly after the establishment of the Umayyad and Abbasid dynasties in Southwest Asia and the Tang and Song Dynasties in China. Prosperity in those areas created a large demand for silk and porcelain from China; spices from southeast Asia, and gold, ivory, and slaves from Africa. As the volume of trade increased, many areas in the Indian Ocean basin engaged in specialized production of commodities for sale. Indian artisans built large cotton industries as the demand for cotton textiles grew. This led to an increase in agricultural demand by those who worked in the industry.
Sugar, leather, and carpets were also specialized industries in postclassical India, as well as Iron and steel production. Indian artisans were famed for high carbon steel with a sharp cutting edge; so much so that the demand for Indian knives and blades grew. Other nations who traded in the basin, such as China, also developed specialized markets in response to the increase in trade across the Indian Ocean.
The political effects of trade are illustrated by the Kingdom of Axum in Northern Ethiopia. Originally a small kingdom on the Red Sea, it displaced Kush as Egyptís principal link to the southern lands. The Axumites adopted Christianity in the fourth and fifth centuries, C.E., and began territorial expansion which carried them as far as southern Arabia. As Muslim conquerors subdued areas around Axum, it was isolated from other Christian societies; but its merchants maintained commercial ties with both Christian and Muslim countries. It became the most prominent port in east Africa.
Caste and Society:The caste system changed as a result of political, economic, and social changes. It adapted to the influx of migrants from other areas such as Turkish or Muslim merchants in the area who were recognized as distinct groups within the caste system. Codes of conduct for behavior within their own groups were established as well as guidance for dealing with members of other castes. Within a few generations, their descendants were absorbed into Indian society.
Most people closely identified with the jati, or sub castes, which often took the form of workerís guilds. As merchants and manufacturers grew more important within the society, they formed a group identity working within the caste system. Merchants in particular types of commerce and artisans working in particular industries established themselves as a separate subcastes.
Trade also augmented the expansion of the caste system into southern India where it had previously not existed. Guild members in southern India often organized as a separate caste, and the temples often fostered caste distinction. Since the temples provided the only form of education available and also served as the center of social life, the Brahmins became effective promoters of the system. By the eleventh century, the caste system was firmly entrenched in Southern India.