Medieval Indian Culture and Tradition


  • The Indian society was divided into four major groups. They were the aristrocats, the priests, the towns people and the peasants.
  • Some communities like the Banias, Marwaris and Multanis made trade their special vocation. The banjaras traded in caravans and were continuoulsy on the move carrying goods from one place to another.
  • Delhi was the centre
  • rice from the East, sugar from Kanauj, wheat from the Doab and fine silks from the South
  • silver tanka (coin) most commonly used currency and was introduced by Iltutmish
  • system of weights, that were used at that time


  • Muslims first came to India in the eighth century AD mainly as traders.
  • Prophet Mohammad preached Islam in the seventh century AD in Arabia.
  • The five fundamental principles of Islam are:
    • Tauhid (belief in Allah)
    • Namaz (prayers, five times a day)
    • Roza (fasting in the month of Ramzan)
    • Zakat (giving of alms)
    • Haj (pilgrimage to Mecca)
  • Prophet Mohammad’s sayings are preserved in what is called the Hadith or Hadees.
  • There were four pious Caliphs.
  • Both the Bhakti and the Sufi movements believed that all humans are equal, God is supreme and devotion to God is the only way to achieve salvation.

Rise of Sufism

  • liberal in their religious outlook
  • believed in the essential unity of all religions
  • preached spirituality through music and doctrines that professed union with God
  • Sufi saints such as Moinuddin Chisti, Nizamuddin Auliya, Fariduddin Ganj-e-Shakar were the pioneer sufïs
  • influenced by the Christian and Buddhist monks regarding the establishment of their khanqahs and dargahs
  • Khanqah the institutions (abode of Sufis) set up by the Sufis in northern India took Islam deeper into the countryside.
  • Mazars (tombs) and Takias (resting places of Muslim saints) also became the centres for the propagation of Islamic ideas.
  • Organised into religious orders or silsilahs
  • Silsilahs were named after their founders such as Chishti, Suhrawardi, Qadi. and Naqshbandis
  • Abul Fazl, the author of the Ain-i-Akbari, there were as many as fourteen silsilahs in India during the sixteenth century.
  • Tradition of piri-muridi, (teacher and the disciple)
  • Listened to poetry and music (sama) which were originally in Persian, but later switched to Hindawi or Hindustani
  • Preached the unity of God and self-surrender unto Him in almost the same way as the votaries of the Nïrgun Bhakti movement did
  • Hindu impact on Sufism also became visible in the form of siddhas and yogic postures


  • The rulers of Delhi, who ruled from 1206-90, were Mamluk Turks. They were followed by the Khiljis, Tughlaqs, Sayyids and Lodis, who ruled northera India from Delhi till 1526.
  • A Sultan was supposed to rule over a territory on behalf of the Khalifa or Caliph
  • Both the names of the Khalifa and the Sultan used to be read in the khutha, (Friday prayers) by the local Imams
  • In 1526 the Delhi Sultans were replacedby the Mughals, who initially ruled from Agra and later from Delhi till 1707. Thereafter, the Mughal rule continued only nominally till 1857 when the dynasty ended.
  • Sher Shah, a local Afghan ruler, challenged the Mughal ruler, Humayun and kept him away from the throne of Delhi for about fifteen years (1540-55)
    • Sarak-i-Azam or Grand Trunk Road
    • struck beautiful coins in gold, silver and copper
  • Mughal emperor Akbar (1556-1605)
    • tried to develop friendly relations with the Hindus
    • uniform system of administration
    • Din-i-Illahi which encompassed ideas from various religions
    • Ibadat Khana in Fateh Pur Sikri at Agra (place where scholars from different religions came to debate on religious issues raised by the emperor)
    • Nine Navratna Mulla Do Pyaza, Hakin Humam, Abdur Rahim Khan e Khanan, Abul Tayal, Tansen, Raja Todar Mal, Raja Man Singh, Faizi and Birbal.


  • Indo- Islamic style: (a) dome; (b) lofty towers or minarets; (c) arch; and (d) the vault
  • Mughal gardens like the Shalimar Bagh and the Nishat Bagh
  • Pinjore Garden situated on the Chandigarh-Kalka
  • The pietra dura or coloured stone inlay work on marble became very popular in the days of Shah Jahan and the finest examples of this type of work are available in the Red Fort in Delhi and the Taj Mahal at Agra.
  • coins of Muslim kings are valuable in history
  • Muhammad Tughlaq’s coins were minted at Delhi, Daulatabad and several other provincial capitals and had at least twenty-five different varieties.


  • popular among the artisans, craftsmen and traders in the
  • attacked the rigidity in religion and the objects of worship.
  • disregarded caste and encouraged women to join in their religious gatherings.
  • did their entire teaching in the local vernacular language to make it comprehensible even to simple minds
  • belonged to various backgrounds but mainly from the lower castes
  • long known in the South
  • idea of preaching Bhakti through hymns and stories was traditionally done by the Alvars and the Nayannars of the Tamil devotional cult.
  • Guru Nanak
    • Trained in accountancy, he preferred the company of saints and Sufis
    • composed hymns and sang them to the accompaniment of the ‘rabab’, which is a musical instrument.
    • emphasised love and devotion for the one and only God
    • strongly denounsed idol worship, pilgrimages,
      sacrifices and rituals as a way to achieving God
    • demanded purity of character and conduct as the first
      condition of approaching God
    • believed that anyone could achieve a spiritual life while doing his duties as a householder
  • Ramanuja
    • taught in the langauge of the common people
    • disciple was Ramananda who took his Guru’s message to the northern parts of India
  • Ramananda
    • Educated at Varanasi
    • Wanted to rid the Hindu religion of its evil customs and practices
    • Wanted people to know that all men were equal in the eyes of God and there was nobody high born or low born
    • Followers belonged to different walks of like
    • Kabir was a weaver, Sadhana was a butcher, Ravidasa was a cobbler and Sena was a barber
  • Kabir
    • Ramananda’s favourite disciple
    • Criticised the existing social order and called for Hindu-Muslim unity
    • Strongly denounced idol worship, taking part in formal worship such as Namaz, pilgrimages or bathing in rivers
    • wanted to preach a religion which was acceptable to all and that would unite all religions
    • emphasised the unity of God
  • Chaitanya Mahaprabhu
    • saint from Bengal
    • devotee of Lord Krishna
    • condemned the caste system and emphasised on the
      equality of all
  • Mirabai
    • worshipped, composed and sang songs in praise of Lord Krishna
  • Namadeva
    • Tailor
    • Wrote in Marathi.
    • His poetry spoke of intense love and devotion to God

Popularity of the Bhakti Movement

  • Welcomed the ideas of equality and brotherhood
  • Emphasised oneness of God
  • Path to God lay in devotion and Bhakti to Him and not in any rituals.
  • They condemned rituals and sacrifies
  • Two Streams in northern India
    • Nirguna bhaktas were devotees of a formless God even while calling him variously as Rama, Govinda, Hari or Raghunatha. Kabir and Nanak.
    • Saguna bhaktas were devotees of Rama, the son of Dasharatha, or Krishna, the son of Devaki and Vasudeva. Tulsidas, Surdas and Raskhan

Feature of bhakti movement

  • Concept of oneness of God and brotherhood of all human beings
  • Surrender into God, who is all pervasive and capable of solving the problems of the devotees
  • Intense personal devotion to God with an emphasis on a good moral life

System of pahul

  • Pahul was the sanctified water offered by a master to the pupil or shishya as a token of his being accepted as a trainee on his march to godliness.
  • The Sikhs performed “washing of the swords” ceremony, called khande ka pahul, evolving as the pir-muridi custom (the saint-soldier concept).


  • Garba, Kalbella, Bhangra, Gïddha, Bamboo dance, Lavani
  • Rajasthan- odhanis , shirts and ghagras
  • Punjab- phulkaris
  • Lucknow- chikan work
  • The tamasha and the lavani forms of dance drama were developed in Maharashtra; the Pandavanis in central India and Merasis in northern India applied such art forms with slight modifications.


  • Humayun brought painters with him to India when he became the ruler of Delhi once again in 1555.
  • Famous among them were Mir Sayid Ali and Abdus Samad who nurtured the tradition of painting manuscript.
  • An example of it is Dastan-e-Amir Hamza, which has nearly 1200 paintings.
  • Mughal school of painting continued to flourish under Akbar, Jahangir and Shah Jahan
  • Akbar employed a large number of Hindu painters like Daswant
    and Basawan Lal
  • The Mughal school of painting reached its zenith under Jahangir. His court was adorned with famous painters like Ustad and Abul Hasan. Mansur was famous for his miniature painting.
  • However, Aurangzeb due to his orthodox views and political preoccupations, stopped patronising music and painting.
  • The Mughal school of painting from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century gave rise to the Indo-Persian school of miniature art.
  • They illustrated such important works as the Changeznama, Zafarnama and the Ramayana.


  • The Mughal emperors Akbar, Jahangir and Shah Jahan, patronised several musicians.
  • Tansen, who adorned the court of Akbar, not only sang the classical ragas but also composed new ones.
  • Shah Jahan himself was quite a good singer
  • During the Turko-Afghan rule in India, a synthesis of Indo-Iranian music had started.
  • Khayal, Thumri and Ghazal were also elaborated
  • In south, the Carnatic school of music developed. local chiefs like Alha-Udal, Dulla-Bhatti, Jaimal-Phatta

Indo-Mughal Culture

  • The Mughal rulers discarded the Afghan titles of Sultan and styled themselves as Badshah (emperor) and Din-e-Panah (protector of faith).
  • Started the practice of jharokha darshan or making public appearances through specially built windows.
  • They also encouraged the court practice of sijda (low prostration before the kings).


  • Urdu perhaps originated around Delhi.
  • Bijapur and the Golconda in the Deccan became the cradles of Urdu literature
  • Nearly all other modern Indian languages like Bengali, Assamese, Oriya, Khari Boli, Punjabi, Gujarati, Marathi, Sindhi, Kashmiri as well as the four South Indian languages -Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam – came to acquire their present form and developed during this period


  • Sikhism
    • Punjab
    • believe that their religion was revealed by God to Guru Nanak
    • Guru Gobind Singh, ordained the Sikhs to treat the Adi Granth, popularly known as the Guru Granth Sahib
    • Basically believe in a formless God, equality of all mankind, need of a guru and the pahul tradition
    • The fifth guru, Guru Arjun Dev, gave the Sikhs three things.
    • The first was in the shape of the Adi Granth, which contains the sayings of five gurus and other allied saints.
    • The second was the standardised script for Gurmukhi in which the Adi Granth was first written.
    • And finally, the site and the foundation of the Har Mandir sahib or the Golden Temple and the Akal Takht at Amritsar, the highest seat from where the dictats for the entire Sikh community are issued.
    • The tenth guru, Guru Gobind Singh created the Khalsa, which means “the pure”, in 1699.
    • Guru Gobind Singh ordained the Sikhs to take five vows, namely, keeping of kesh (long hair and a beard), kangha (comb), kada (a metallic bangle), kirpan (a sword) and kaccha (an underwear extending to a little above the knees).
  • Zoroastrianism
    • founded by Zarathushtra or Zoroaster, in the eighth century BC.
    • preached monotheism in the region now known as Persia.
    • worship of fire and the presence of good and bad in the form of Ahura Mazda and Ahura Man
    • taught the ethical doctrine of kindness and charity enshrined in the Zend Avesta
    • Outstanding Figures: Dadabhai Naoroji, Jamshedji Tata
    • not a proselytising religion and no new entrants are accepted into its fold under any circumstances


Cholas (9-11th centuries AD)

  • Cholamandalam region in Southern India
  • strong army and navy
  • Rajendra Chola
  • developed democratic institutions at the village level
  • Buddhism and Jainism
  • Literature, fine arts, sculpture and metal castings of the highest
    order flourished
  • A new state Vijayanagara now called Karnataka and Bahamani to the north now known as Andhra Pradesh
  • Both these kingdoms were pitted against each other over the rich Raichur Doab
  • Cholamandalam region, the Tamil language was popular
  • remains of Vijayanagara found in Hampi
  • Kanchi became a great seat of learning

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