(Medieval Indian History) Political Conditions, Trade, Society and Education

Political condition (800-1200 AD)

  • This period is known for political fragmentation with the absence of one strong empire which could encompass a significant portion of India.
  • This period was dominated by the Rajputs. Colonel Tames Todd asserts that Rajputs were descendants of the Hunas who were later absorbed into Indian society. G.S. Ojha believes that the Rajputs originated from the ancient Kshatriya clan. Romila Thapar, D.N. jha agree that the Rajputs were of mixed origin from both indigenous and foreign elements.
  • Every stat4e attempted to grow at the expense of the leading to mutual rivalries and hostilities.
  • The king’s position was generally hereditary. He was supported by many feudal lords and wars were frequent between kings on the one hand, and kings and feudal lords on the other hand.
  • The Rajputs and feudal lords tended to prepare attractive genealogies connecting themselves to solar and lunar lineages.
  • Kingdoms were divided into Bhuktis (provinces) which in turn were divided into Visaya (districts) District government was properly organised. The governor of a bhakti (province) was called ‘Uparika’ and the head of a visaya (district) was called ‘visayapati’. The Uparika and Visayapati were expected to collect land revenue and maintain law and order in his jurisdiction . However in the Rashtrakuta Kingdom, the province was called as ‘Rushtra’ ruled by a ‘Rashtrapati’, the visaya was a district and the bhukti was a smaller unit than a visaya.
  • Below these territorial divisions was the village which was the basic unit of administration. The village administration was carried on by the village headman and the village accountant whose posts were generally hereditary. They were paid by grants of rent free land. The village headman was often helped in his duties by the village elder called grama-mahajana.
  • ‘Nan-gavundas’ or ‘Desa-gramakutas’ were hereditary revenue officers of the Deccan, they appear to have discharged the same functions as the deshmukh and deshpande of later times in Maharashtra.
  • Khasa refers to Assam and Lata refers to South Gujarat.
  • Tilak was the name of Hindu general who commanded the Ghaznavid armies in which Hindu soldiers were also recruited.
  • The Pala kings patronized a brahmana family which supplied four successive Chief Ministers to Dharmapala and his successors.
  • The revenue assignment (bhoga) granted by a ruler to his officers and supporters were temporary in theory and were liable to be resumed whenever the ruler wanted, but this was rarely done in practice.

Trade and Commerce (800 – 1200 AD)

  1. In northern India there was decline in trade and commerce between the 7th to 10th century which led to decline of towns and town life in the region. The setback to trade and commerce was due to collapse of Roman Empire in the west and the collapse of Sassanid (Iranian) empire countries contributing for the remarkable paucity of gold and silver coins in north India between the 7th to the 10th century.
  2. The situation in northern India gradually changed with the rise of powerful and extensive empire of Arabs in west Asia and Africa.
  3. The Arabs being a sea faring people came to western sea ports in India and traded in Indian fabrics, spices and incenses and brought in gold which led to revival of trade and commerce in northern India gradually from the 10th century onwards the chief beneficiaries of which were Gujarat and Malwa . Many new towns such as Champaner and Anhilwara in Gujarat can be traced back to this period.
  4. Harisena’s ‘Brihatatha’ which contains the stories about the many adventures of Indian merchants in the seas became the basis of the well-known story Sindbad or Sinbad the sailor.
  5. The chief port for sailing to South –East Asia was Tamralipti in Bengal. The Palas and the Senas in Bengal and the Pallavas and Cholas in the south actively promoted Eastern trade.
  6. The Chola emperor Rajendra I, sent a naval expedition against the Saillendra rulers of Sumatra to overcome their interference in trade with China. He also sent an embassy to China. Thus while India’s trade with the western areas declined, trade with South-East Asia grew steadily till the 12th century which contributed to the material prosperity of Bengal and South India.
  7. Vastupal and Tejpal were ministers under the Chalukyas of Gujarat who were reputed to have been the richest merchants of their times.

Society (800 – 12 AD)

  1. The caste system formed the basis of the society.
  2. The Smriti writers exalt the privileges of the Brahmanas.
  3. Rajput claimed Kshatriya status. The basis of Rajput society was the clan. They traced their origin to a comman ancestor and dominated a compact territory based on writs of 12 or 24 or 48 or 84 villages. Attachment to land, family and honour was a characteristic of the Rajputs. Though there was a sense of brotherhood and egalitarianism among the Rajputs, they were not prepared to extend the sense of brotherhood to non- Rajputs.
  4. Vaishyas were enerally engaged in trade and banking activities. Some merchants such as Vatupala and Tejpala also served as ministers under the Chalukyos such as vastupala and Tejpala also served as ministers under the Chalukyas of Gujarat. Alberuni mentions that the Vaishyas were not permitted to study Vedas and had status as Sudras.
  5. The Smriti writers surpass the previous writers in emphasizing the social and religious disabilities of the Sudras. The Sudras were engaged in different acticites such as agriculture, crafts cattle rearing and even trade Agriculture though was the main occupation of the Sudras it is significant that the Smriti writers of the period regarded handicrafts as low occupations.
  6. Kayasthas who included various caste groups who worked in royal establishments, got the status of a Full fledged for the first time in Vyasa Smriti.
  7. The Jajmani system appeared in a fully developed form.
  8. The position of women was mixed one. Women were considered mentally inferior to males and were expected to serve their husbands. The Matsya Purana even authorized the husband to beat his erring wife. Women were denied the right to study the Vedas. Their marriageable age was lowered, thus destroying their opportunities for higher education.
  9. Chinese writer Chau-ju-Kua (Zhao Rugua), said that, in Gujarat both men and women had double ear-rings and wore close fitting clothes, with hoods on their heads as well as red-coloured foes on their feet.
  10. According to Kalhana’s Rajatarangini, Harsha introduced into Kashmir, A general dress befitting a king which included the long coat.

Education, Science and Learning (800 – 1200 AD)

  • Education continued as in the earlier period with not much charge. There was no idea of mass education at that time. People Learnt what they felt was needed for their livelihood. Reading and writing was confined to a small section. Mostly Brahmins and some sections of the upper classes. Sometimes temples made arrangements for higher education as well. The main subjects studied were the various branches of the Vedas and grammar.
  • Secular education of a formal kind was taught in Universities in Bihar such as Nalanda, Bihar and Uddandapura (Odantapuri) which attracted students even from Tibet. These universities were patronized by the Pala rulers of Bengal and Bihar.
  • The growth of science slowed down to such an extent that India was no longer regarded as a leading country in the field of science. Surgery declined and became a profession of barbers. Astronomy was gradually pushed into the background by astrology. However some advance was made in the field of Mathematics. The Lilawati of Bhaskara II which was written during this period remained a standard maths text for a long time.
  • Pampa, Ponna and Ranna were regarded as three gems of the Kannada poetry.
  • Nanniah started work on the telugu version of Mahabharata, later competed by Tikkana and Yerrapragada.

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