The Delhi Sultanate was on its decline owing to weak successors and attack of Timur on Delhi in 1398 proved to be a bolt from the blue. The Sultan of Delhi, Nasir-ud-din Mahmud Shah Tughlaq was forced to seek shelter in Gujarat and then in Malwa.
The provincial governors took advantage of this vulnerability and set up autonomous principalities for themselves. The states of Deccan, Bengal, Sindh and Multan were the first to break away from Delhi Sultanate. Gujarat, Malwa and Jaunpur soon followed. After the expulsion of Muslim Governor of Ajmer, various Rajput states too declared their independence.
In due course of time, these empires formed principalities which established a balance of power in the region.
The Eastern kingdoms of Bengal, Orissa and Jaunpur checked the powers of each other.
In the West, Gujarat, Malwa and Mewar balanced each other .
The Lodis were also engaged in conflict with Jaunpur in the East and were able to annex it. They also fought with Gujarat and Mewar for the territory of Malwa. It was this rivalry that led Rana Sanga of Mewar to invite Babur to destroy the power of Lodis.
Kashmir in early 14th Century AD was a centre of Shaivism. However, the Mongol leader Dalucha attacked Kashmir in 1320 AD and ordered wholesale massacre of men and women, and after this invasion the polity and society of the state changed profoundly. There was continuous incursion of Muslims refugees from Central Asia via Baramulla route.
This further led to the rise of Sufi saints called Rishis who amalgamated the features of Hinduism and Islam. The population of the state, especially the lower class, were fascinated by the idea of Islam and many of them went for religious conversion. Apart from voluntary conversion, Islam was also forced on people during the reign of Sikander Shah (1389-1413). The sultan gave a choice to Hindus to either accept Islam or leave the valley. Several temples were destroyed and idols made of gold and silver were melted to make currency. This was a reign in which there was vehement persecution of Brahmins.
The situation improved with the accession of Zainul Abidin (1420-70), who is considered as the greatest of the muslim monarchs of Kashmir. Abidin rescinded the earlier draconian orders, conciliated and brought back all the Hindus who had fled Kashmir in fear of persecution. He also gave grants to Hindus to construct temples and restored those that were destroyed. He abolished Jizya, prohibited cow slaughter and gave high offices to Hindu nobles as well.
Zainul Abidin was a learned man and an accomplished poet. He was well versed in Persian, Kashmiri, Sanskrit and Tibetan languages. Under him Sanskrit works like Mahabharata and Rajatarangini (history of Kashmir ) were translated into Persian. Musicians also found patronage in his rule.
Economy under Abidin was also doing well. He brought in many crafts in Kashmir such as paper making, book binding, shawl making, gold beating, musket making, manufacturing of fireworks. The cause of agriculture was promoted by building dams, canals and bridges. He also has novel engineering achievements to his name as he got constructed Zaina Lanka, an artificial island in Wular Lake on which he built his palace.
Zain-ul-Abidin was also known as ‘Akbar of Kashmir’. The scriptures ‘Jain-Prakash’ and ‘Jain-Vilas’ were compiled during his rule.
His military achievements were no less in number. He defeated the Mongol invasion of Ladakh, conquered Baltistan and unified Kashmiri Kingdom by extending control over the regions of Jammu, Rajauri, etc. Due to all these accomplishments, he is known as Budshah (the Great Sultan).
The area of Eastern Uttar Pradesh which included the fertile Gangetic Valley was the territory of Jaunpur. Malik Sarwar, a prominent noble, was appointed in 1394 AD as Malikus-Sharq (Lord of the East) under Firoz Shah Tughlaq.
Assessing the weakness of the Sultan, he declared his independence and set up thekingdom of Jaunpur after the invasion of Timur. The successors of Malik Sarwar came to be called as Sharqis.
Malik was succeeded by his son Mubarak Shah in 1399 AD. He struck coins in his name and also Khutba was read in his name. However, he did not rule for long and died in 1402, to be succeeded by his younger brother Ibrahim Shah (1402-1440).
The Jaunpur Sultanate achieved its height under Ibrahim Shah. The kingdom extended from Aligarh in the Western Uttar Pradesh to Darbhanga in north Bihar, from boundary of Nepal in the north to Bundelkhand in the south. He waged battles with Delhi and Bengal but was unsuccessful and during his reign, Kannauj was lost to the Sultan of Delhi.
Mahmud Shah succeeded Ibrahim Shah in 1440 AD. He waged a successful campaign and annexed Chunar. He also fought against the rulers of Bengal and Orissa. In 1452 AD, he invaded Delhi but was defeated by Bahlul Lodi. His son Muhammad Shah succeeded him in 1457 AD but he could not rule for long and was overthrown by his brother Hussain Shah in 1458 AD.
Hussain Shah (1458-1486 AD) was the last ruler of Jaunpur kingdom. He tried to invade Delhi several times but was unsuccessful. After successive defeats at the hands of Bahlul Lodi, he was forced to seek shelter under Sultan Alauddin Hussain Shah of Bengal where he died later.
Bahlul Lodi gave the charge of Jaunpur to one of his eldest surviving son Barbak Shah Lodi in 1486 AD.
Many rulers of Sharqi dynasty were great patrons of culture. Men of letters, poets and scholars and saints used to assemble at Jaunpur. The last ruler Hussain Shah assumed the title of Gandharva and contributed significantly in the development of Khayal, a genre of Hindustani classical music. He also composed several new ragas (melodies).
Malik Muhammad Jayasi, the author of the well-known Hindi work ‘Padmavat’ lived at Jaunpur.
Jaunpur was beautified with magnificent buildings which included several mosques and mausoleums.
The Atala Masjid, the Lai Darwaza Masjid and the Jama Masjid are the most enduring achievements of Sharqi architecture.
The first Muslim invader to conquer Bengal was Ikhtiyar-ud-Din Muhammad Bin Bakhtiyar, a military commander of Muhammad Ghori. In 1204, he conquered Nadia, one of the capitals of Lakshman Sena of Bengal. During the reign of Muhammad Bin Tughlaq, there were revolts in many parts of the empire and taking advantage of this, Bengal broke away from Delhi in 1338 AD.
In 1342 AD, Ilyas Khan, a noble captured Lakhnauti and Sonargaon and ascended to the throne with the title of Sultan Shamsuddin Ilyas Khan. He annexed several territories and his empire reached till Banaras in the west. This brought him in direct conflict with Firoz Tughlaq who defeated Ilyas Khan and captured his capital Pandua. Ilyas was forced to take shelter in the fort of Ekdala from where he accepted a peace treaty under which River Kosi was fixed as the boundary between the two kingdoms. The peace treaty with Delhi enabled Ilyas Shah to focus on eastern territories and he extended his control over a part of the Kingdom of Kamrupa (Assam). Ilyas also raided Jajnagar (Orissa) and returned with a rich booty.
Ilyas was succeeded by his son Sikander. During his reign, Firoz Tughlaq once again tried to invade Bengal but Sikander followed the tactics of his father and retreated to Ekdala, forcing Firoz to return back in vain. After this attempt, Bengal was left undisturbed for next 200 years. It was only in 1538 AD that Sher Shah invaded Bengal and annexed it to his empire.
The most famous Sultan of Kingdom of Bengal was Ghiyasuddin Azam Shah (1389-1409 AD). He was also a patron of learning and had close relations with the famous Persian Poet Hafiz of Shiraz. He also had friendly relations with Chinese which helped in growth of overseas trade of Bengal. Chittagong port was a flourishing centre of foreign trade.
The Sultans of Bengal were great patrons of art and architecture. Many magnificent buildings got constructed in a style distinct from that of Delhi. Bengali language also got patronage. The celebrated poet, Maladhar Basu, who compiled Sri Krishna Vijaya was given the title of Gunaraj Khan and his son was honoured with the title of Satyaraj Khan.
Sultan Alauddin Hussain (1493-1519 AD), who was famous for his liberal religious policies, also promoted Bengali literature. In his court, the famous Vaishnava brothers, Rupa and Sanatan, were given high posts. Vaishnava Saint Chaitanya Prabhu was also held in high regard by the Sultan.
Alauddin Hussain also fought a successful conquest against the Kamrup Empire and annexed it to the Bengal Kingdom. However, his campaigns against the state of Orissa were not fruitful as river Saraswati remained the de facto boundary between Bengal and Orissa.
Later, Alauddin’s son Nusrat Shah wanted to further extend the territories to Assam, but was repulsed by the Ahoms under Suhungmung (also known as Swarg Narayana) who is considered the greatest Ahom ruler. Vaishnavite reformer Shankardev belonged to this period and was an important influence for the spread of Vaishnavism in the area.
The Ahom kingdom was established by Sukaphaa, a Tai prince from Mong Mao (present-day Yunnan province, China) in the 13th century. The kingdom was converted to Hinduism over the centuries, and it became a multi-ethnic culture.
They ruled for about 600 years and no attack on them was successful during this period, hence they largely remained independent.
The Ahoms expanded their territory in the 16th century under Suhunmung (1497-1539).
The Hinduization of Ahoms is marked by Suhungmung changing his name to Svarga Narayana.
Bengal Sultan Nusrat Shah attacked Ahoms but was defeated and repulsed.
Vaishnavite reformer Sankardev (born in Nagaon district, Assam) lived during this time (1449-1568). He played an important role in the spread of Vaishnavism in Assam. He and his followers established Sattras (monasteries), where the Sattriya dance form originated.
During medieval times, the Hindu Gajapati rulers (1435 – 1541 CE) ruled over Kalinga (Odisha), large parts of Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal, and the eastern and central parts of Madhya Pradesh and Jharkhand.
Kapilendra Deva founded the Gajapati dynasty in 1453 CE after the decline of the eastern Ganga dynasty.
They spread their control over Karnataka in the south, which put them at odds with Vijayanagara, the Reddis, and the Bahmani sultans.
However, by the early 16th century, Vijaynagara and Golconda had gained control of substantial areas of the southern empire, and the Gajapati dynasty had even given way to the Bhoi dynasty.
The state of Malwa enjoyed a strategic location. Trade routes between Gujarat and northern India, and between Northern and Southern India passed through it. The Malwa plateau made it geographically difficult to conquer while the rivers Narmada and Tapi served as a cheap mode of transport. This made the territory of Malwa a priced gem and neighbouring Gujarat, Mewar, and even the Delhi Sultanate wanted to extend their control over it.
Malwa was occupied by Alauddin Khalji in 1305 AD and remained with the Sultanate till 1401 AD. However, after the invasion of Timur, the Governor of Malwa, Dilawar Khan Ghori declared its independence and established Ghurid Dynasty with its capital at Dhar.
The capital was shifted from Dhar to Mandu during the reign of his son and successor Hoshang Shah. Hoshang Shah adopted a policy of religious tolerance and many Rajputs were encouraged to settle in Malwa. He also extended his patronage to Jains who were the principal commercial merchants and bankers of the area.
The Ghurid dynasty was replaced by Mahmud Shah I, who proclaimed himself as the king in 1436. He founded the Khalji Dynasty that ruled over Malwa till 1531. He was an ambitious monarch and was engaged in battle against all his neighbours- Gujarat, Mewar, Gondwana, Orissa and even Delhi Sultanate. He was not tolerant towards other religions and in his rule many Hindu temples were destroyed.
Mahmud Khalji I was succeeded by his eldest son Ghiyas-ud-Din. The last days of Ghiyas-ud-Din were embittered by a struggle for throne between his two sons, with Nasir-ud-Din emerging victorious over Alauddin and ascending the throne in 1500.
The last ruler Mahmud Shah II surrendered to Bahadur Shah, the sultan of Gujarat after the fort of Mandu fell to Bahadur Shah in 1531.
A distinct style of architecture developed in Mandu. It was characterised by large scale use of coloured and glazed tiles. The architecture was made to look massive by the use of lofty plinths for the buildings. Jama Masjid, Jahaz Mahal and Hindola Mahal are important monuments of the period.
After the conquest of Ranthambhore by Alauddin Khalji,the power of Chauhans waned and a number of new states emerged during this time of power of vacuum.
The state of Marwar with Jodhpur as its capital, founded in 1465 AD.
Muslim principality of Nagaur
Mewar, which emerged as a major power center under Rana Kumbha (1433-1468 AD).
Rana Kumbha was an able military general who led successful campaigns against several territories like Bundi, Kota, Dungarpur etc. and annexed them to his Kingdom.
Since Kota was earlier paying tribute to Malwa and Dungarpur to Gujarat, these conquests brought Rana Kumbha in direct conflict with rulers of Gujarat and Malwa. These conflicts kept Rana engaged for majority of his rule, though he was able to maintain his control over his territories.
Rana had to face Rathores of Marwar too. Marwar was under the control of Mewar, but under the leadership of Rao Jodha, it declared its independence.
Rana was also a patron of art and culture. He himself composed several books. He also established Victory Pillar (Kirti Stambh) at Chittor to commemorate his victory over combined forces of Malwa and Gujarat. He also constructed several lakes and reservoirs for irrigation purposes.
Rana was killed by his son Uday Simha (Uday Singh I) for the throne, but he could not rule long. Rana Sanga, grandson of Kumbha ascended to the throne in 1508 AD.
At this time, the ruler of Malwa, Mahmud II had disagreement with Medini Rai, a powerful noble in control of Eastern Malwa. Mahmud II asked help from ruler of Gujarat, while Medini Rai defected to Rana Sanga. In 1517 AD, Rana Sanga defeated Mahmud II and Eastern Malwa came under the control of Mewar.
Given the strategic importance of Malwa, the Delhi Sultan Ibrahim Lodi attacked Mewar but was repulsed by Rana Sanga at Khatoli. It was under the influence of this rivalry that Rana Sanga invited Babur to defeat the Lodis.
Gujarat was one of the richest provinces of the Delhi Sultanate due to the flourishing handicraft industry and external trade via natural sea ports.
Under the Tughlaqs, it was administered by a Governor appointed by the Delhi Sultan. However, as the Delhi Sultanate was under disarray after the attack of Timur, the then Governor of Gujarat, Zafar Khan, declared independence and ascended to the throne of Gujarat Kingdom under the title Muzaffar Shah in 1407 AD.
However, Ahmad Shah-I (1411-43 AD) is considered as the real founder of the kingdom of Gujarat. He was the grandson of Muzaffar Shah and it was during his reign that the consolidation of empire began. He shifted his capital from Patan to the newly constructed town of Ahmedabad.
Several magnificent palaces including bazaars, mosques and madrsas were also constructed. The style of architecture was different from that prevalent in Delhi. Some of the finest examples of architecture of the period are Jama Masjid and Tin Darwaza in Ahmedabad.
Ahmad Shah was also a great military leader. He captured strong fort of Girnar in Saurashtra and brought the Rajput states of Jhalawar, Bundi and Dungarpur under his control.
However, his conquests reflected his bigotry as he attacked Hindu pilgrimage place Sidhhpur and destroyed many beautiful temples. He imposed Jizya for the first time on the Hindus of Gujarat, and was hailed by medieval historians as an enemy of infidels.
The kingdoms of Gujarat and Malwa were arch rivals. Muzaffar Shahdefeated Hoshang Shah the ruler of Malwa, but was forced to reinstate him as Malwa proved a difficult territory to control.
This further intensified the rivalry and the two powers were continuously on the lookout for an opportunity to weaken the other, whether by giving help to defected members or common rivals.
This rivalry drained the two Empires of their resources and hence they could not establish themselves as a stable empire for long.
Another famous Sultan of Gujarat was Mahmud Begarha who ruled for more than 50 years (1459-1511 AD).
He conquered two important forts of Girnar (Junagarh fort) and Champaner and brought the entire Saurashtra region under his control.
He laid the foundation of town of Mustafabad at Girnar which served as the second capital of the empire. At Champaner, he established the town of Muhammadabad.
Begarha also raided Dwarka and destroyed many temples.
The architecture under him was of distinct style and many Jain principles were used in it. Jama Masjid of Champaner is one example of such architecture.
Begarha also collaborated with ruler of Egypt to attack Portuguese who were creating trouble in Gujarat’s trade with the West, but he was not successful in defeating them.
Overall, his long tenure was peaceful and trade and commerce got encouragement. He constructed various inns and sarais for the travelling merchants and roads were made safe.
He also provided patronage to men of learning. Poet Udayaraja who composed in Sanskrit adorned his court.
Under Mahmud Begarha, Gujarat emerged as a strong kingdom, and its power was realised when it posed a threat to Mughal Emperor Humayun later.