The political, social, economic, religious and cultural condition of India on the eve of Muslim conquest can be described as follows:
I. Political Condition:
(1) An age of small kingdoms:
On the eve of Muslim invasions on India there were many small kingdoms in the country. This period is refered to as the Rajput period of Indian history. This period is also called a period of political disintegration. During this period many of the Rajput kings were very powerful, but there was no ruler in the country that could bring about political unification of the country like Ashoka. Famous Historian Dr. Ishwari Prasad writes correctly that what the country lacked was political unity and social organization.
(2) There were Mutual Jealousy and Hostility between States:
The small kingdoms of the period harboured jealousy and hostility against each other and always tried to run down each other. Famous Historian A. B. Pandey writes correctly that mostly all the kingdoms indulged in warfare with their neighbours inspired by imperialist ambitions.
(3) Monarchical Organization:
The nature of all small kingdoms was mostly feudal monarchy. The king was supreme in this system and ruled according to the theory of Divine Right. He assumed high sounding titles like Maharajadhiraj, Parameshwar, Parambhattarak and lived in great luxury. His office was hereditary. He was often despotic and autocratic. Often his advisors were only those who could indulge in utmost flattery of the king.
(4) Heavy Military Expenses:
The Rulers of small kingdoms considered only that king great who was victorious every times. As such they were inspired by a desire for imperial expansion and considered war to be a sport like the feudal nobles of medieval Europe. For expansive activities they maintained a huge army and the state spent most of the resources for the maintenance of the army to the neglect of public welfare activities.
(5) There was Tradition of Nomination of the Heir:
The Rajputs nominated the eldest or their favourite prince as heir apparent. The king arranged for his social and administrative training within his lifetime only.
(6) Feudal System:
It is said that the Rajputs used to give back the kingdom of his vanquished enemy or who surrendered voluntarily but his position was more like a feudatory. Feudal nobles gave military help to the king and a feudatory was very often not loyal to his overlord.
(7) Desirable Qualities of a King:
It was considered a moral duty of the king that he should be brave, indulge in warfare, acknowledge the Varnashram system, and give grants to the Brahmins etc.
(8) Ministers and Officials:
The Rajput kings appointed many ministers. It depended upon the king to increase or decrease their numbers. The chief minister was referred to as Mahamatya or Mahhpradhan. Besides there were the Purohits, Pradhans, Sachivs, Sumants, Amatyas, Meassenger etc. Besides these ministers there were other ministers as Mahasandhivgrahika (foreign minister), Mahadharmadhyaksha (head of judicial department), Shaulki (in charge of custom department), Mahakshapitika (incharge of audit), Dwarpala, Kayastha, Lekhaka etc. All the offices were often hereditary.
In place of cash salary, they were assigned Jagirs or Iqtas. The villages thus assigned by the king to his officials were called ‘Bhog’ Though in theory the king could take this land back at his will but in practice the land was hardly ever taken back except on charge of disloyalty or treachery. According to contemporary thought it was considered sinful even to occupy the land of a vanquished king.
(9) Military Organization:
The Rajput kings mostly recruited Rajputs only in their army. In the battlefield special reliance was placed on elephants though horses, camels, infantry, chariots etc. were also part of the army. In the battlefield certain ideals and morals were adhered to. It was not considered fair to hit at an enemy who was fleeing from the battlefield. An officer named Bhandagarik used to care for the supply etc. of the army.
The army had permanent and temporary, both types of recruits. Besides the personal army of the king, rest of the army was supplied by feudal nobles. The Rajputs forts were built on high hills. When a Rajput king saw that he would be defeated, the women, the children and aged were asked to perform’ Johar. The Rajput kings did not pay any special attention towards the frontiers and forts.
(10) Decentralization of State and Administration:
Rajput kings had divided their Kingdom into many provinces ‘Prantapati’ was the official ruling over a prant or a Bhukti. He was also called Rajsthaniya ‘Uparika Bhoj’ or ‘Bhogapati’. ‘Bhuktis’ were sub divided into Districts or ‘Vishyas’ ruled over by ‘Vishyapatis’. The cities had an oligarchy rule by the ‘samitis’ of the rich. Village was the smallest unit of the administration ruled over by Panchayats under ‘Gramik’ or ‘Grampati’.
(11) Judicial Organization:
King was the supreme justice. He dispensed justice with the advice of the Purohits and on the basis of the Hindu scriptures. Probably this work was done in the villages by the Panchayats.
The main source of state income was land revenue (1/2 or 1/6 of the produce). Customs, income from mineral resources, fines, gifts by the nobles etc. were other sources of income. The state spent the income on the army, court and public welfare activities.