Notes on the influence of Islam during Mid-Eighth Century AD to the Thirteenth Century



Northern India had been subjected to invasions since the early times: the Greeks, the Scythians, the Parthians and the Hunas came as aliens, invaded, ruled and held power for considerable times. Yet, they were assimilated; the fact of their being mlechchas was overlooked by the Hindus as long as the mlechchas could be accommodated within the existing institutions.

Also, the fact that their invasions areas which were not strongholds of Hindu ortho­doxy helped. It was easier for them to get into the various levels of social structure and the rejection and exclusion with which the Hindu religious hier­archy treated the newcomers was less active and less pronounced. The Buddhists seized the opportunity, hastened to make converts among the newcomers and were successful in large measures.

One important point about the invasions of the Greeks, Scythians and Huns is that they did not bring their men of religion and theologians with them, nor their coming lead to a confrontation between two established religions such as Islam and Hinduism. Islam brought with it a new life style essentially different from the Hindu way of life.

The changes and modifications resulting from the con­tacts with the early invaders were in some measure acceptable to the Buddhist and Hindu orthodoxy; at least they learned to live with it after making some compromise.

This did not happen with Islam. Romila Thapar observes: "Nonetheless, assimilation did take place, not merely in superficial ways such as the Turks adopting local habits of eating and dressing, but in more fundamental fields, as with the intro­duction of new social ideas, which became an integral part of Indian life."

Knowing that they were only of a limited number, the Islamic invaders had to rely increasingly on Hindu converts. However, conversion was not easy.

The converted Hindus did not, at least in the early years, occupy high positions in the adminis­tration and thereby in the society and their lifestyle was not very different from the majority of people among whom they lived.

Surprisingly, however, this made assimilation, at least among the lower strata of people to some extent easier. "Two groups of artisans, having worked together for generations as part of the same sub-caste or guild, would continue, on the conversion of one group, to maintain certain ties.

But the cultural fusion of the two ideologies was less predictable amongst the ruling classes and their separateness was insisted upon by the theologians of both religions and on occasion by politically ambitious sections of the aristocracy. The call to Muslim loyalty or Hindu loyalty could always be used for purposes other than religious, and this sentiment could always be exploited when conve­nient" (Romila Thapar, A History of India, Vol.1).

The thirteenth century could be perhaps, re­garded as the time when the signs of Islamic influence on Indian culture became manifest; when after the death and destruction of the past two centuries, the Delhi Sultanate embarked on a policy of consolidation and development.

In the beginning it was chaos and death, destruction and desecration; cities were laid to waste, palaces and buildings razed to the ground, temples and religious places ravaged and despoilt. It was like a light without end as the sultanate expanded.

However, with regions subjugated and territories offering submission, a slow process of peace and development started, which continued in a large section of north India that was directly under the Sultanate for about 200 years.

On the threshold of their victorious campaigns in India, the Turks not only regarded themselves as proud flag bearers of Islam, but also as posseessors of the Islamic knowledge in arts, state craft and science and technology. In addition, they had taken up Persian as their language of communication, which was the language of administration and arts in central Asia, Iran and Khurasan since the tenth century.

Successors of a civilization that evolved over thousands of years, inheritors of its rich cultural and religious traditions, the Hindus had reached a peak of excellence in arts and science in the 4th and 5th centuries. It has been found by recent researches that the interregnum between the eighth and twelfth century, generally regarded as a period of decline, was not so.

It was an era which witnessed the flowering of Indian temple architecture. It was the period when the amalaksilas and shikharas of Nagara type temples in north India and the rekhadeuls and mandaps of temples in Orissa bloomed into magnificence along with the exquisite sculptures on their walls.

In philosophy and religion, Udayana proved the existence of God on the basis of pure and abstract logic, Shankara in his Vedanta showed the path to the sublime and in the South the search for a personal god through a movement of love and devotion began.

Long before the advent of Islam in India, its contact with Hinduism and Buddhism had started which increased somewhat upon its arrival.

Despite "the seemingly irreconcilable nature of Islam and Hinduism, with Islam emphasising strict monotheism, rejecting all Gods other than Allah whose last messenger was the Prophet, while Hinduism accepted unity in diversity with multifarious Gods which the Muslims rejected, a slow process of mutual adjustment and rapproachment began.

This process can be said to be seen at work in the fields of architecture, literature, music, etc. It was also at work in the field of religion with the entry of Sufism in the country, and the gradual development of a popular movement of Bhakti in north India.

The process continued apace during the 15th century gathered force in the 16th and 17th centuries under the Mughals. But it would be wrong to assume that the elements of conflict had disappeared. Both conflict and the process of rapproachment continued side by side, with setbacks under in some rulers in s regions, and faster development under some other rulers" (Professor Satish Chandra, Medieval India).