Unity in diversity- The Medieval India History

Unity in diversity- The Medieval India History

The process of accommodation of Islam raised several unprecedented issues which went on for several centuries and took various forms at different levels of society.It would probably be right to say that prior to the entry of Islam the foreign invaders who came to India had not brought with them any major developed religion with an articulate ideology and a commitment to its propagation. It is of course true that even the Muslim invaders who came to India did not come with the primary purpose of gaining new adherents to the faith. But Islam did represent a distinct religious identity and those who professed it were expected to help spread the message. This was a challenge not only to local political authority and military prowess but also to the religion-philosophical systems then prevalent in the country and potentially also to the prevalent social structure consisting finally of a Varna-Jati based economical and hierarchical system of social relationships.

Islam did not come to the country at one point of time but through diverse groups and in several waves ata serious points of time between the 17th century when first the Arabs came in the 16th century when the Mughals entered India. In between the Turks, the Ghazanavids, the Ghurs, and the Afghans and others had invaded India and had established their kingdoms or Sultanates as far as the Ganges and as far South as the Kaveri. The Persians also came to India albeit in smaller numbers but their influence must have been strong enough for persian to have become the preferred Court language in later years. those who subscribed to Islam were not a homogeneous group.The processes of accommodation and adjustment were going on at several levels between different groups between those who had come to India earlier and those who came later and therefore differed in their appreciation of the local situation, those who came as part of the conquering group or could claim affiliation to that group and those who had been converted to Islam from within the local communities, and, finally, those who were Muslims and those who were not.

Ofcourse the process of adjustment between the ruling Muslims and the non-muslim local communities was itself highly vary depending on the closeness or otherwise of these different groups to the ruling class and the court.This closeness must Excel have been a function of the degree of ritualist exclusiveness the different local castes and communities observed and on their willingness to compromise for the benefit that came with greater closeness to the ruling elite. There must also have been considerable regional variations which characterized this process of accommodation. One would imagine that in the Northwest which for centuries continued to be the main point of entry into India for outside groups, the pressures for mutual adjustment and flexibility must have been greater as compared with the remote areas in the east of the distant south. 

The process of adaptation again has to be examined at two levels- the social systemic level and the level of religious ideology. At the social level the idea of purity of decent seems to have played an important role all through Indian history. In India it has played a role when Vedic aryans work out a pattern of relationships with the non-aryans. The fear of Varna-Sankar was one of the dominant considerations, apart from occupational differentiation in all the detailed rules of marriage endogamy and social exclusion that developed in vedic and Post- Vedic period. 

This again seems to have played an important role in the establishment of a social hierarchy in the Muslim period as well. Muslims who could claim purity of descent from the original ethnic groups of Turkish, Afghan or Persian origin were at the top of the hierarchy, those who were of pure mixed origin occupied a lower rank and those who were of pure local origin were at the bottom. Among them again those who had been converted from the higher castes probably occupied higher status than those who had converted from among the middle or lower castes. To the extent this assumption is valid the Muslim eternal hierarchy developed consciously or unconsciously a caste structure of its own. That there is a caste structure among the Muslims in India is an accepted fact.

There were of course other factors like economic and occupational status that played a part in the development of a more comprehensive social hierarchy which was inclusive of all communities- muslim as well as non- muslim. In economic life the lives of individuals and castes were closely interwoven and interdependent, independent of religious affiliation. Hindu and Muslim services giving caste worked for patrons from either religious groups depending upon where they happened to have lived over the generations. Hindu and Muslim landlords and Businessman had generally more in common with each other than Hindu or Muslim patrons had with their coreligionist dependents. 

At the village level ownership of land must have been an important determinant of individual and caste status. In the urban areas – particularly in the seat of the court – the occupational categories of the trader and the bureaucrat were able to bargain effectively for high status. In the process in Northern India where Muslim presence was stronger, the social and political status of the Brahmin suffered a relative decline. Brahmins when no longer the main group from which political advisors and bureaucrats were drawn. The Kayasthas became important pool from which the Muslim rulers recruited non-muslim advisors and bureaucrats. 

In religious life the interaction between Hinduism and Islam can probably be considered from several perspectives. The first perspective is to examine the spread of Islam in India. One is that Islam spread at the point of this word another that it spread as a result of peaceful but active proselytisation and a third disillusioned with what in Hinduism had offered them till then and thought that Islam as a religion and the new power structure in society between them offered them a better life chance. The possibility is that all these processes active as they are not mutually exclusive and possibly one or the other process was more dominant of a particular period in the long history of interaction between Islam and Hinduism. The most conscious and the best known effort to bring the two religions together was of course the one made by King Akbar during his reign when he tried to bring the best thinkers from all religions together to evolve a common faith. As well known these efforts did not succeed while his Council of Scholars prepared the basis for such a world religion this new faith did not gather any following and was formerly abandoned by Akbar’s Successors. In Fact it seems that religious puritanism and intolerance at the Mughal court grew during the reign of Aurangzeb. 

But there was another level with the two major religions of mediaeval India seem to have interacted. Islams seems to have strengthened the d ritual icing and egalitarian trends in Hinduism mobile Hindu philosophy seems to have strengthened the mystical spiritual strain in muslim religious thought. It could not be an accident that during the long period of Muslim rule the Bhakti movement gathered strength in Hinduism and the Sufi saints gathered considerable following in Islam. Neither of these variants in the two religions could be said to owe their origin to the other religion. The Bhakti Movement emerged within Hinduism among the Alwar and nayanar Saints in the extreme south of the country much before Muslim rule was established in India and similarly sufism arose outside India and could not be said to have being the result of contact with Hinduism. But the Bhakti movement which indirectly we can the hold of the priesthood and the deemphasized religious ritual and status hierarchy among the followers must have found strength in the context of Islam and Muslim dominance. Similarly, the Mystic and devotional stream in Islam must have found a responsive strain among Indian Muslims. The saints of the Bhakti movement gathered considerable following among the middle and lower caste in the Deccan and in the north between the twelfth and sixteenth centuries which was the major period of strong Muslim dominance. This was also the period of the spirit of sufism in India to the teachings of Christian saints.

In the middle ages it was uncommon for the political regime to be clearly differentiated from the religious. Not unnaturally many of the muslim rulers in India associated themselves directly or indirectly with the proselytizing activities of the Islamic religious leaders. In consequence the process of reproachment between Islam and Hinduism remain seriously impaired.


Nikita Maitra

Nikita Maitra

I am recently pursuing my graduation on English hons and have completed 5 grammer courses. I love to write stories and be creative.

Nikita Maitra

I am recently pursuing my graduation on English hons and have completed 5 grammer courses. I love to write stories and be creative.

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