7 History

Medieval India

Learning Goals:

  • Maps of different periods
  • Changing terminologies
  • Meanings of Hindustan
  • Meaning of foreigner

Medieval India: The period between 8th and 18th century CE in the Indian subcontinent is referred to as the Medieval Period in the Indian History. Many historians divide the period into 'early medieval period' (up to 13th century) and 'late medieval period' (beyond 13th century). This period witnessed many dramatic changes in the Indian subcontinent.


Indian Maps

Over a period of time, the map of an area made by a person differs significantly from that made by another person. This is because of the changes in the information about that region. For example, consider the following maps:

indian map arab cartographer
Ref: NCERT Text Book
  • This was by the Arab geographer Al-Idrisi.
  • It was made in 1154 CE (Christian era).
  • In this map south India is where we would expect to find north India.
  • Sri Lanka is an island at the top of India.
  • The names of places are marked in Arabic and there are some popular places of Uttar Pradesh like Kanauj (spelt as Qanauj).

indian map french cartographer
Ref: NCERT Text Book
  • It was made by a French cartographer (a person who makes maps).
  • It was drawn in the 1720s, i.e. 600 years after Map 1.
  • This map is more familiar to us, i.e. it is more similar to the map we know of than the map drawn by Al-Idrisi.
  • The coastal areas, in particular are detailed.
  • It was used by the European sailors and merchants on their voyages.

Another reason for difference in the maps of two distinct periods is the difference in the science of cartography. When documents, maps and texts from the past are read by historians, they have to keep in mind the differences in the historical backgrounds and the contexts in which the information about the past was produced. Hence maps and documents cannot be interpreted in absolute and independent terms.


New and old terminologies

Information changes over a period of time;

  • In terms of the context in which it is produced.
  • In terms of meaning and language – For instance medieval Persian is different from modern Persian both with reference to grammar, vocabulary and meanings.

Meanings of Hindustan

The term ‘Hindustan’ is interpreted differently by different people, which are as follows:

Present Context: Today, this term refers to what we know as ‘India’, the modern nation-state.

Thirteenth Century: In this period, when this term was used by Mihaj-i-Siraj, a chronicler who wrote in Persian, it included;

  • In the geographical sense: The areas of Punjab, Haryana and the lands between the Ganga and Yamuna was referred to as Hindustan.
  • In the political sense: The lands that were a part of the dominions of the Delhi Sultan were referred to as Hindustan. The areas included in this term shifted with the extent of the Sultanate. It never included south India.

Sixteenth Century: This term was used by Babar to describe the geography, culture and fauna of the inhabitants of the subcontinent.

Fourteenth Century: The term ‘Hind’ used in this period by the poet Amir Khusrau was somewhat similar to the way it was used in the sixteenth century.

The term ‘Hindustan’ did not carry the political and national meaning that we associate with it today in spite of the existence of a geographical and cultural entity like ‘India’.

Meanings of 'foreigner'

Present Context: In the present times, the term ‘foreigner’ means a person who is not an Indian.

Medieval Period: In this period, the term ‘foreigner’ meant a stranger who appeared in a given village, i.e. a person who was not a part of that society or culture. Thus a city dweller would consider a forest dweller as ‘foreigner’ whereas two farmers of the same village even if they belonged to different castes, religion etc.; were not foreigners to each other.


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