The Delhi Sultanate
An event of immense and lasting impact in Indian history was the advent of the Muslims in the north-west. Lured by tales of the fertile plains of the Punjab and the fabulous wealth of Hindu temples, Mahmud of Ghazni first attacked India in 1000 AD. Other raiders from Central Asia followed him, but these invasions were no more than banditry. It was only in 1192 that Muslim power arrived in India on a permanent basis. In that year, Mohammed of Ghori, who had been expanding his power all across the Punjab broke into India and took Ajmer. The following year his general Qutb-ud-din Aibak took Varanasi and Delhi and after Mohammed Ghori’s death in 1206, he became the first of the Sultans of Delhi. Qutb-ud-din Aibak founded the so called Slave Dynasty in India at Delhi, setting up the nucleus of the Delhi Sultanate, or the rule of Turkish and Afghan sultans, the Khiljis, the Tughlaqs and the Lodis.
Impact of Islam
The impact of Islam on Indian culture has been inestimable. It permanently influenced the development of all areas of human endeavor – language, dress, cuisine, all the art forms, architecture and urban design, and social customs and values. Conversely, the languages of the Muslim invaders were modified by contact with local languages, to Urdu, which uses the Arabic script, and the more colloquial Hindustani, which uses the Devnagri script. Both are major Indian languages today.
Kabir and Nanak
The synthesis of Hinduism and Islam is exemplified by the emergence, at this time, of the ideas of two great saints, Kabir and Nanak. Drawing on the devotional Hindu Bhakti and the mystical Islamic Sufi cults, the tolerance of Hinduism and the ideas of equality in Islam, they preached religions that advocated simple living and practical common sense. Kabir emphasized the oneness of the Divine in memorable couplets – “Hari is in the east, Allah in the west; look within your heart for there you will find both Karim and Ram.” The followers of Guru Nanak founded the Sikh religion, which has a large following.
The Great Mughals
(Babur, Akbar, Jehangir, Shahjahan)
The most important Islamic empire was that of the Mughals, a Central Asian dynasty founded by Babur early in the sixteenth century. Babur was succeeded by his son Humayun and under the reign of Humayun’s son , Akbar the Great (1562-1605), Indo-Islamic culture attained a peak of tolerance, harmony and a spirit of inquiry.The nobles of his court belonged to both the Hindu and the Muslim faiths, and Akbar himself married a Hindu princess. Leaders of all the faiths were invited to his court at Fatehpur Sikri to debate religious issues at the specially built ‘Ibadat Khana’. Akbar tried to consolidate religious tolerance by founding the Din-e-Ilahi religion, an amalgam of the Hindu and the Muslim faiths.
Mughal culture reached its zenith during the reign of Akbar’s grandson Shahjehan, a great builder and patron of the arts. Shahjehan moved his capital to Delhi and built the incomparable Taj Mahal at Agra.
Aurangzeb, the last major Mughal, extended his empire over all but the southern tip of India, though he was constantly harried by Rajput and Maratha clans.
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