(Sample Material) IAS Mains History (Optional) Study Kit "Society, Culture & Religion"

Sample Material of Our IAS Mains History Study Kit

Subject: History (Optional)

Topic: Society, Culture & Religion


During the second millennium, social environments were being slowly but steadily transformed, offering new kinds of social experience and new surroundings for the socialization of each generation. Farming communities extended their control over land and labour and people slowly obtained new social identities. Dominant agrarian castes came into existence in different regions; Jats, Rajputs, Kunbis, Vellalas, Velamas, Reddys, Kapus, Nayars, and many others. Popular bhakti movements made sovereign gods ever more vital in everyday social life, even for the poorest people who did all the hardest manual labour but who were prohibited from ever setting foot in the temple and whose exclusion marked them as the people of the lowest social rank. Among the various signs of change in society in the period, one was the application of the blanket Varna category -Sudra to disparate social groups, and the gradual withering away of any sharp distinction between the vaishyas and the sudras. New entrants into caste society had, however, varied status and even the same tribe could break up into several varnas and castes. The Abhiras, for example, came to be grouped into Brahmins, kshatriyas, vaishyas, mahasudras and so on.

Position of Women

Purdah System

With the advent of Islam, new forces appeared on the Indian horizon. Strict veiling of women was the common practice among the Muslims in their native land. Naturally in a foreign country like India, greater stress was laid upon it. The Hindus adopted purdah as a protective measure. The tendency to imitate the ruling class was another factor which operated in favour of introducing purdah among the Hindu families.


Monogamy seems to have been the rule among the lower stratum of society in both communities during the medieval period. In spite of the decision of the ulema in the Ibadat Khana in Akbar’s times that a man might marry any number of wives by mutah, but only four by nikah, Akbar had issued definite orders that a man of ordinary means should not possess more than one wife unless the first proved to be barren. Polygamy was the privilege of the rich.

Child Marriages

The custom, in those days, did not allow girls to remain in their parents’ home for more than six to eight years after birth. Dowry was demanded and in some castes and localities the bride-price was known. Akbar tried in vain to bring home to the people that the consent of the bride and bridegroom as well as the permission of parents was essential before the confirmation of the engagement.

Position of Widows

Divorce and remarriage, common among Muslims, were prohibited to Hindu women. Widow-remarriage, except amongst the lower caste people, had completely disappeared in Hindu society during the medieval age. The custom of sati was prevalent. Even betrothed girls had to commit sati on the funeral pyres of their would-be-husbands.

Custom of Sati

Some of the Delhi Sultans did try to discourage the custom of sati which prevailed among a large section of the Hindu population, particularly the upper classes and the Rajputs. Though sati was only voluntary in the south and not enjoined upon widows, it is difficult to account for its wide popularity in the Vijayanagar Empire, whose rulers, however, do not seem to have put any restriction on its observance. Muhammad Tughluq was, in all probability, the first medieval ruler who placed restrictions on its observance.

Economic Position

Economically, a Muslim woman was entitled to a definite share in the inheritance with absolute right to dispose of it. Unlike her Hindu sister, she retained the right after marriage. Mehr, or entente nuptial settlement, was another safeguard whereas a Hindu woman had no right to the property of her husband’s parents. A Hindu woman was entitled to maintenance and residence expenses besides movable property like ornaments, jewellery, etc. The women in the south under the Imperial Cholas however had the right to inherit property.

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Art and Architecture

The assimilation of different styles and elements to create a new one is well represented by the architecture of the Sultanate period. Many of the characteristics of Indian architecture are obvious in the buildings of the Muslim rulers. This was because though the buildings were designed by Muslim architects to suit the requirements of their religious ideas, Hindu craftsmen actually built them. The new features brought by the Turkish conquerors were:
(i) lofty towers;
(ii) the dome:
(iii) the true arch unsupported by beam:
(iv) the vault,

While India’s indigenous architecture is trabeate, that is to say, that space is spanned by means of beams laid horizontally, the Islamic form is arcuate, whereby arches are used to bridge a space. The dome is a prominent feature of the mosque in contrast to the shikhar (spire) of Hindu temples. The tomb was another new edifice introduced into the sub­continent by Islam. The tombs of important religious divines were called dargahs, a Persian word meaning a court or palace. The earliest surviving Islamic monuments in India are located at Banbhore near Thatta in Sind. This site, dated sometime after the birth of Islam, is possibly the first Arab settlement in South Asia.

This showed advanced mathematical knowledge and engineering skill. They also brought with them an expert knowledge of the use of concrete and mortar, which had hitherto been little used in India. The famous Iron Pillar. uprooted from Mathura where it had stood for more than six hundred years, was placed in front of the mosque without its crowning figure of Garuda, the vehicle of Lord Vishnu.The Sultans of Delhi were liberal patrons of architecture and they erected numerous splendid edifices The Arhai-din ka Jhonpra at Ajmer has a beautiful prayer hall. an exquisitely carved mehrab of white marble and a decorative arch screen. The first example of true or voussoired arch is said lo be the tomb of Ghiyas-ud-din Balban in Mehrauli. In the Khalji period the usage of voussoired arch and dome was established once and for all. The monuments show a rich decorative character.

Famous examples are the tomb of Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia at Delhi, whose style of beam-on-brackets under the entrance arch of the central chamber came to be almost regularly employed in subsequent buildings. The Tughlaq buildings show stark simplicity and sobriety. probably indicating less financial resources as well as puritanical taste. Sloping walls and a dark appearance characterise the buildings. Typical of the Tughlaq style is thick and battered or sloping walls. squinch arches for supporting domes, multi-domed roofs and tapering minaret-like buttresses or supports at the external angles of buildings. The trabeate and arcuate are combined. Muhammad bin Tughlaq built the fourth city of Delhi called Jahanpanah.

Firuz Shah Tughlaq’s buildings have a rough and ready appearance probably due to scarcity of skilled workmen following the transfer of capital by Muhammad bin Tughlaq, and shortage of funds. The Sayyid period was too short to allow construction of elaborate buildings. But the tombs of this period display some characteristics such as use of blue-enamelled tiles, the lotus-motif covering the dome and free use of guldastas. These features had much influence on the architectural style of the subsequent period.

The resources available to the Lodhis were limited, and this is clearly indicated by the hard and bare tombs they erected. Bui some ol their buildings were quite elegant, with the use of enamelled tiles—a technique introduced from Persia. A certain amount of imagination and a bold diversity of design are also displayed in the Lodhi architecture. Another characteristic was the use of double domes. One building of note is the Moth Ki Masjid erected by die prime minister of Sikandar Lodhi. All the Lodi rulers were buried in the Bagh-i-Jud, known today as Lodi Garden. Located here also is a small mosque known as the Bara Gumbad, constructed on the orders of Sikandar Lodi.

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