Medieval India

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Medieval India refers to a long period of the Indian subcontinent's history between "ancient India" and "modern India". Definitions of the period itself vary widely, and partly for this reason, many historians now prefer to avoid the term completely.[1]

One definition, used in the rest of this article, includes the period from the 6th century[2] to the 16th century, essentially the same period as the Middle Ages of Europe. It may be divided into two periods: The 'early medieval period' which lasted from the 6th to the 13th century and the 'late medieval period' which lasted from the 13th to the 16th century, ending with the start of the Mughal Empire in 1526. The Mughal era, from the 16th century to the 18th century, is often referred to as the early modern period,[3] but is sometimes also included in the 'late medieval' period.

An alternative definition, often seen in those more recent authors who still use the term at all, brings the start of the medieval period forward, either to about 1,000, or to the 12th century. The end may be pushed back to the 18th century, making the period in effect that between the start of Muslim domination (at least in north India) and British India. Or the "early medieval" period is begun in the 8th century, ending with the 11th.[4]

The use of "medieval" at all as a term for periods in Indian history has often been objected to, and is probably becoming more rare (there is a similar discussion in terms of the history of China).[5] It is argued that neither the start nor the end of the period really mark fundamental changes in Indian history, comparable to the European equivalents.[6] Burton Stein still used the concept in his A History of India (1998, referring to the period from the Guptas to the Mughals), but most recent authors using it are Indian. Understandably, they often specify the period they cover within their titles.[7]

Historiography of medieval India[edit]

According to critics, Muslim historiography on medieval India is often motivated by Islamic apologetics, which tries to justify "the life of medieval Muslims to the modern world".[8]

Early medieval period[edit]

The start of the period is typically taken to be the slow collapse of the Gupta Empire from about 480 to 550,[9] ending the "classical" period, as well as "ancient India",[10] although both these terms may be used for periods with widely different dates, especially in specialized fields such as the history of art or religion.[11] At least in north India, there was no comparably large state until perhaps the Delhi Sultanate, or certainly the Mughal Empire,[12] but there were several different dynasties ruling large areas for long periods, as well as many other dynasties ruling smaller areas, often paying some form of tribute to larger states. John Keay puts the typical number of dynasties within the subcontinent at any one time at between 20 and 40,[13] not including local rajas.

Late medieval era[edit]

Early modern era[edit]

The start of the Mughal Empire in 1526 marked the beginning of the early modern period of Indian history,[3] often referred to as the Mughal era. Sometimes, the Mughal era is also referred to as the 'late medieval' period.

  • Mughal Empire was an imperial state founded by Babar, who had Turco-Mongol origin from Central Asia. The empire ruled most of the Indian subcontinent from 16th to 18th century, though it lingered for another century, formally ending in 1857.
  • Maratha Empire was an imperial power based in modern-day Maharashtra in western India. Marathas replaced the Mughal rule over large parts of India in the 18th century, but lost the Anglo-Maratha Wars in the early 19th century, and became rulers of Princely States.
  • Kingdom of Mysore was a Kannada kingdom have been founded in 1399 in the vicinity of the modern city of Mysore. Fully independent after the fall of the Vijayanagara Empire in 1646, reduced in size by the British, but ruled until 1947.
  • Nayak dynasty group of Kannada, Telugu, Tamil kings ruled parts of south India after the fall of the Vijayanagara Empire in 1646. Their contribution can be seen in Ikkeri, Sri ranga, Madurai, Chitradurga.
  • Sikh Empire[14] was a major power in the Northwestern part of the Indian subcontinent, which arose under the leadership of Maharaja Ranjit Singh in the Punjab region. They were usurped by the British East India Company between early and mid 19th century, following the British victory in the Anglo-Sikh wars.


  1. Keay, 155 "... the history of what used to be called 'medieval' India ..."; Harle, 9 "I have eschewed the term 'medieval', meaningless in the Indian context, for the years from c. 950 to c. 1300 ..."
  2. Stein, Burton (27 April 2010), Arnold, D., ed., A History of India (2nd ed.), Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, p. 105, ISBN 978-1-4051-9509-6 
  3. 3.0 3.1 "India before the British: The Mughal Empire and its Rivals, 1526-1857". University of Exeter. 
  4. Ahmed, xviii
  5. Keay, 155 "... the history of what used to be called 'medieval' India ..."
  6. Rowland, 273
  7. Examples: Farooqui; Radhey Shyam Chaurasia, History of Medieval India: From 1000 A.D. to 1707 A.D., 2002, google books; Satish Chandra, Medieval India: From Sultanat to the Mughals, 2004 (2 vols), google books; Upinder Singh, A History of Ancient and Early Medieval India: From the Stone Age to the 12th century, 2008, google books
  8. A Textbook of Historiography, 500 B.C. to A.D. 2000 By E. Sreedharan, p. 457, referencing Peter Hardy
  9. Rowland, 273; Stein, 105
  10. Not for Burjor Avari, who ends "ancient India" at 1200. Avari, 2
  11. For architecture, see Michell, 87-88. For "classical hinduism", see the note at Outline of ancient India.
  12. Keay, xxii-xxiii
  13. Keay, xx-xxi
  14. Zubair, Syed (4 November 2012). "Before India". Deccan Chronicle. 


  • Avari, Burjor, India: The Ancient Past: A History of the Indian Subcontinent from C. 7000 BCE to CE 1200, 2016 (2nd edn), Routledge, ISBN 1317236734, 9781317236733, google books
  • Farooqui, Salma Ahmed, A Comprehensive History of Medieval India: From Twelfth to the Mid-Eighteenth Century, 2011, Pearson Education India, ISBN 8131732029, 9788131732021, google books
  • Harle, J.C., The Art and Architecture of the Indian Subcontinent, 2nd edn. 1994, Yale University Press Pelican History of Art, ISBN 0300062176
  • Keay, John, India, a History, 2000, HarperCollins, ISBN 0002557177
  • Michell, George, (1977) The Hindu Temple: An Introduction to its Meaning and Forms, 1977, University of Chicago Press, ISBN 978-0-226-53230-1
  • Rowland, Benjamin, The Art and Architecture of India: Buddhist, Hindu, Jain, 1967 (3rd edn.), Pelican History of Art, Penguin, ISBN 0140561021