The term medieval has been derived from the Latin words ‘medius’ and ‘aevum’ which means Middle Age.
Medieval India is the phase of the Indian subcontinent that lies between the ancient and the medieval period. It is related to the time period between the 6th century, after the fall of the Gupta Empire, and the 18th century i.e. the beginning of colonial domination.
For the convenience of studying the state and society of medieval India, historians usually divide the medieval period into the Early Medieval Period (700-1200 CE) and Late Medieval Period (1200-1707 CE).
According to them the early medieval period refer to the phase of Indian history that stretches from the fall of the Gupta Empire to the beginning of the Sultanate period in the 13th century. The period that comprises mainly that of the reigns of the Sultanate and the Mughal periodis generally considered as the late medieval period, certainly with regional variations.
The medieval period is an important period in Indian history because of the developments in the field of art and languages, culture and religion. This period also witnessed the impact of other religions on the Indian culture.
Characterizing Medieval Indian History
The use of “medieval” as a term for periods in Indian history has often been objected to, and is probably becoming rarer. It is argued that neither the beginning nor the end of the period really denotes basic changes in Indian history, comparable to the European equivalents.
Burton Stein still used the concept in referring to the period from the Guptas to the Mughals, but most of the recent authors using it are Indian. Plausibly, they often specify the period they cover within their titles.
Early Medieval India
The start of the early medieval period is typically taken to be the gradual decline of the Gupta Empire from about 480 to 550 CE, ending the “classical” period, as well as “ancient India”.
According to Romila Thapar, another alternative for the preceding period is “Early Historical” stretching from the 6th century BCE to the 6th century CE.
Early medieval period was earlier considered by historians as a ‘dark phase’ because during this time India was divided into numerous regional states which were in conflict with each other. But recent studies have indicated that, although India was divided politically yet it witnessed a growth of new and rich cultural activities in the fields of art, literature and language. In fact, some best specimens of temple architecture and Indian literature belong to this period. Thus, far from being ‘dark’ it may be treated as a bright and vibrant phase of Indian history.
In Northern India, at least, there was no larger state until the Delhi Sultanate, or certainly the Mughal Empire, but there were a number of different dynasties ruling large areas for long periods, along with many other dynasties ruling smaller areas, often paying some form of tribute to larger states. According to John Keay, the number of dynasties within the subcontinent at any one time was between 20 and 40.
Pallava dynasty, rulers of Telugu and some Tamil areas who ruled from the 3rd to 9th centuries.
Harsha’s Empire which controlled almost the whole of Northern India from 601 to 647 CE, under Harsha of the Vardhana dynasty.
Gurjara-Pratihara dynasty which was the last largest dynasty of Northern India that ruled from the 6th century to 11th century CE.
Chalukya dynasty which ruled most of the Western Deccan and some parts of South India, between the 6th to 12th century CE.
Rashtrakuta dynasty ruling large parts of the Indian subcontinent between the 6th and the 10th centuries CE.
Eastern Chalukyas, a South Indian Kannada-Telugu dynasty whose kingdom was located in present-day Andhra Pradesh. They ruled between 7th and 12th centuries CE.
Pala Empire, which ruled from the 8th to 12th CE centuries in Bengal. They briefly controlled most of North India in the 9th century CE.
Chola Empire, a South Indian empire that ruled from Tamil Nadu from the 9th century to 13th century CE.
Western Chalukya Empire of the Western Deccan and some part of South India that ruled between the 10th to 12th centuries CE.
Kalachuri dynasty, ruled areas in Central India between 10th and 12th centuries CE.
Western Ganga dynasty of Karnataka that ruled from 350 to 1000 CE.
Eastern Ganga dynasty ruling Odisha region who were descendants of Kannada Western Ganga Dynasty and Tamil Chola Empire.
Hoysala Empire that ruled most of the modern day state of Karnataka between the 10th and
the 14th centuries CE.
Kakatiya Kingdom that ruled most of current day Andhra Pradesh from 1083 to 1323 CE.
The Sena dynasty of Bengal that ruled through the 11th and 12th centuries CE.
Kamarupa, 4th to 12th century in Assam, ruled by three dynasties viz Varman dynasty, Mlechchha dynasty, Pala dynasty (Kamarupa).
Late Medieval Period
This period follows the Muslim conquests of the Indian subcontinent and the decline of Buddhism, the subsequently founding of the Delhi Sultanate and the creation of Indo-Islamic architecture, followed by the world’s major trading nation, the Bengal Sultanate.
Chero dynasty, ruled from the 12th to 18th century CE, ruled over parts of Eastern Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand.
Delhi Sultanate, whose five dynasties ruled from 1206 to 1526 CE.
Reddy Kingdom which ruled from 1325 to 1448 CE, in Andhra Pradesh.
Bengal Sultanate ruled over Bengal and Burma from 1352 to 1576 CE.
Yadava dynasty ruled a kingdom stretching from the Tungabhadra to the Narmada river from 1190 to 1315 CE.
Vijayanagara Empire based in Karnataka ruled from 1336 to 1646 CE in the Deccan Plateau region.
Gajapati Empire ruled from 1434 to 1541 CE over Kalinga (the present day Odisha).
Rajput states that ruled Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Uttaranchal, Himachal Pradesh, Western Uttar Pradesh and Central Uttar Pradesh.
Early Modern Period
The beginning of the Mughal Empire in 1526 CE marked the commencement of the early modern period of Indian history or the Mughal era. Sometimes, the Mughal era is also referred as the ‘late medieval’ period.
Nayaka dynasties of Kannada, Telugu and Tamil kings that ruled parts of South India after the decline of the Vijayanagara Empire in 1646 CE.
Kingdom of Mysore, was a Kannada kingdom have been founded in 1399 CE in the vicinity of the modern city of Mysore.
Mughal Empire founded by Babur which ruled most of the Indian subcontinent from the 16th to 18th century CE, though it lingered for another century, formally ending in 1857 CE.
Maratha Empire based in modern-day Maharashtra in Western India that ruled from 1674 to 1818 CE. Marathas replaced the Mughal rule over large parts of India in the 18th century.
Bharatpur State was a Jat kingdom that was founded in 1722 CE around the modern city of Bharatpur.
Sikh Empire was a major power in the North-Western part of the Indian subcontinent that ruled from 1799 to 1849 CE, which arose under the leadership of Maharaja Ranjit Singh in the Punjab region.