History of Medieval India by Satish Chandra

As a nation grows, it is bound to review its past to see what part of its legacy is relevant, or an inhibiting factor, for growth. The medieval period of Indian history has often been equated to the period of Turkish and Mughal rule over the country. This meant that primacy was given to political factors rather than societal ones. This attitude was also based on the assumption that there has been little change in Indian society down the centuries. This attitude has now begun to change. Historians have traced the evolution of tribe-based society in India to the rise of territorial states, and the gradual formation of classes and castes within this state system. It has also been shown that with the growing trend towards ownership of land, and the desire to dominate and control those engaged in cultivation, a new form of society arose—that is, the feudal mode. It has, however, been recognized that there were vital differences between this social order and the feudal order in Europe.
Without trying to investigate these differences in detail, an attempt has been made to trace the evolution of social, economic, political and cultural trends in India from the eight century to the end of the seventeenth century. It is a daunting task to bring all these aspects together in a single volume. An attempt has been made in the hope that the summation of the efforts of many historians during the last four decades to give a new orientation to medieval Indian history would stimulate public interest, and also put in better perspective recent controversies regarding the nature of the state in medieval India, the extent of religious freedom to peoples within it, and the nature of the economic growth during the period.
A point has been made in the book that the emergence of large empires followed by their breakdown into smaller components and vice versa did not necessarily mean economic stagnation and cultural decay. Even when larger states emerged subsequently, there was often an active interchange between the new center and the regional states.
Thus, Indian history is not just an endless story of the rise and fall of empires without any institutional and cultural growth, as Sir Charles Elliot had postulated in his introduction to the eight-volume History of India as Told by its Own Historians. Indian history is a much more complex web with the center of gravity shifting from north to east, or to the south, and back again, and finally, for a long period the forces of growth triumphing under the Mughals over the forces of disintegration. The process of disintegration during the eighteenth century, and a re-integration under vastly different circumstances under the British and its harmful consequences have not been touched upon here.
In the end, I would like to thank Orient Longman for bringing out this work, despite many difficulties.
Satish Chandra
New Delhi
January 2007


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