(Sample Material) UPSC IAS Mains History (Optional) Study Kit "Early Medieval India"

Sample Material of Our IAS Mains History Study Kit

Subject: History (Optional)

Topic: Early Medieval India

Dynasties emerged from the mobilization of warriors inside and around farming communities; but they also came from pastoral, hunting, and mountain societies. It is accepted that there is a period of overlap during which one phase blends into the other. This interim period is now called “early medieval India”, with the medieval period, properly speaking, regarded as beginning with the establishment of Turkish rule in Delhi in A.D. 1206. Multiple sovereignties formed ranked layers as a king (raja) became a great king (maharaja) or “king of kings” (maharajadhiraja) by adding the names of more subordinate rulers (samantas) to the list of those who bowed to him.


The interregnum between the death of Harsha in the mid-seventh century A.D. and the rise of the Delhi Sultanate nearly six hundred years later is often viewed as a tedious epoch in Indian history, with few redeeming features. The opening of the eighth century witnessed the ascendancy of Yashovarman in Kanauj. A reputed warrior, he is even said to have allied with China against the growing power of the Arabs. He is also remembered as the patron of the great Sanskrit litterateur, Bhababhutti, as well as Vakpati, composer of the Prakrit poem, Gaudavaho (“Slaying of the king of Gauda”). In the eighth century, Lalitaditya of Kashmir made the Karkota dynasty the most powerful in India since that of the Guptas. He routed the Arabs of Sind and established his mastery over Kanauj, and was also the builder of the magnificent Martand Temple.

The great monarchs of the line included Indra, Dantidurga, and Krishna who built the famous rock-cut Kailash temple at Ellora. The dynasty entered a new phase with the accession of Dhruv, who launched its northern expansionist drive. Several tribal groups made the transition from pastoral economies to settled agriculture, as a consequence of which agrarian society was considerably expanded. Local and tribal forces also began to contribute to state formation. In Orissa, for instance, the Shailodbhavas, who came down from the Mahendragiri mountains and settled near the Rishikulya river, established a kingdom in the central regions. The great Sankaracharya renewed Vedanta philosophy and incorporated several doctrinal and organisational features of Buddhism and Jainism into Hinduism. He organised the sanayasis into ten Orders and established four spiritual centres at Badrinath. Puri. Dwarka and Sringeri. The great Bhakti saints included Appar, Sambandar and Manikkavasagare whose writings were collected in the Tirumurai, known as the Tamil Veda. The twelfth book, Periva Puranani. was composed by the poet Shekkilar at the behest of the Chola King, Kulottunga I.

Among the creative geniuses of the time was the poet Kamban, Composer of the Tamil Ramayana. Kannada received a boost from the compositions of Pampa, Ponna and Ranna on the lives of the Jain Tirthankaras. as well as the Mahabharata. A new era in Telugu literature was inaugurated with Nanniah’s translation of the Adi and Sabha Parvas of the Mahabharata. This was continued by Tikkana, from the Virata Parva to the end. Arab authors of the ninth and tenth centuries also portrayed India as a land of great wealth. They described the Rashtrakuta ruler of the western Deccan as the third or fourth greatest sovereign of the world. Literary works like the Prithviraja-Vijaya-Kavya and the Hammira-Mahakavya provide stirring narratives of important events of the early medieval period. There are also historical accounts like the Rajmala, the official chronicle of the ruling family of Tipperah, and the Rajatarangini of Kalhana. The documentation of history continued under the Mughals. The leading historians of the age include Abul FazI (AkbarNama). Nizamuddin Ahmad (Tubagat-i-Akbari). Badauni (Muntakhab al-tawarikh), Abdul Hamid Lahori ( Badshahnama) and Khafi Khan (Muntakhab-ul-Lubab).

Sufi literature constitutes another valuable source of information. Several biographies (tazkirahs) of Sufi saints and compilation of their sayings (malfuzat) are available. among the most important in the latter category being the Fawadul Fawaid. Both Abul Fazl (court chronicler of Emperor Akbar) and AliMuhammad Khan, diwan of Gujarat and author of the Mirat-i-Ahmadi (1748), enjoyed unprecedented access to state papers, on which they based their works. Sayyid Ahmed and Khuda Baksh extended their canvas beyond political matters and emphasised Islamic achievements in the fields of art, literature, science and religion. Mohammad Habib published a small but influential book. Mahmud of Ghaznin (1927), which stressed the economic motives underlying the Sultan’s invasions of India.

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K.M. Ashraf in Life and Conditions of the People of Hindustan averred that there had been no cultural strife in India in the medieval period, while I.H. Qureshi in The Administration of the Sultanate of Delhi (1942), claimed that the Sultanate administration had been more efficient than that of contemporary native states. Sir Jadunath Sarkar has been described as the father of modern historical research on account of his fidelity to the original documents, study of the language of the sources, meticulous checking of details and testing of evidence. His contributions include the five-volume History of Aurangzeb and the four volume The Fall of the Mughal Empire. In 1952 Mohammad Habib wrote a long introduction to the revised edition of Elliot and Dowson’s History of India Vol. II, wherein he applied Marxist methodology to the study of medieval Indian History.

Rajput Dynasties of Rajasthan and Central India

By contrast, in Rajasthan, a single dominant warrior group evolved, called Rajput (derived from Rajaputra), who rarely engaged in farming which was left exclusively for their peasant subjects. In the ninth century, separate clans of Rajput Chahamanas (Chauhans), Paramaras (Pawars), Guhilas (Sisodias), and Chaulukyas (Solankis) were branching off from sprawling Gurjara Pratihara clans. Rajput supremacy also stimulated the rise of warrior Jat peasant clans in Northen India in Rajasthan, the western Ganga basin, and Punjab where they built fortified villages and hilltop forts.

Regional Kingdoms

The Turks were altogether unsuccessful in taking Orissa. while Assam could never be subdued by the invaders. Rajputana was an unfaltering arena of resistance throughout the Sultanate period. South India remained free from South till almost the beginning of the fourteenth century. When north India was being devastated by the’ raids of Mahmud Ghazni, Rajaraja Chola was establishing a mighty empire that at his death embraced the whole of the south upto the Tungabhadra the Maldives, a part of Sri Lanka, with Andhradesa as a feudatory ally. The last king of that dynasty to preside over Kanauj was Rajyapala. He was killed by the Chandella king Vidyadhara for failing to resist Mahmud Ghazni’s invasion of the city and thus deviating from the path of his ancestors.


In the latter half of the eleventh century, the Gahadavalas came to power in Kanauj. Some scholars are of the view that the Gahadavalas were a branch of the Rashtrakutas or Rathors. The founder of the dynasty, Chandradeva, is described in his inscriptions as the protector of the holy sites of Kusika (Kanauj), Kashi. Uttara Koshala (Ayodhya) and Indrasthana (Delhi). Kahsi was the second capital of the Gahadavalas. Govindachandra was the next important ruler of this line. He expanded the kingdom at the expense of the declining Palas of Bengal.

One of the most important books on law, the Kritya-Kalpataru was written in Govindachandra’s reign. He appears to have been on intimate terms with the Cholas, as an incomplete inscription engraved in stone has been discovered in the Chola capital recording the genealogy of the Gahadavala Kings. The last king of this house, Jaichandra, lost his life combating Muhammad Ghori. But the Turks do not appear to have kept the conquered territory for long, as Jaichandra’s son. Harishchandra is known to have been in possession of the  Kanauj, Jaunpur and Mirzapur districts in 1197. The accounts of Muslim historians support the view that Kanauj was not won till the reign of Iltutmish (1210-1236), who also had to re conquer Varanasi.

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