The Mythical Medieval: Periodization, Historical Memory and the Imagination of the Indian Nation


Anubhuti Maurya




This discussion emerges from my experience of teaching medieval Indian history in an undergraduate classroom in Delhi University.[1] The classroom has been the space of contestation between the discipline of history, produced by us, the historians, and an intuitive historical sensibility which the undergraduate students bring to the classroom. This sensibility is constituted by the history they study in the school, hear from their families, see on TV and Cinema, read in literature, and interact with on social media or virtually. It draws upon diverse sources—the story of their own family, devotion to a specific deity, admiration for a historical figure, political propaganda, ghost story, pilgrimage etc.


The Medieval in India is a deeply contested historical period in public imagination and in the politics of the country. In the popular discourse the medieval is marked by the advent of Islam in the form of the Muslim conqueror. In one discourse, the medieval is marked by a history of conflict between communities. This discourse represents India’s past as a contest between the ancient Hindu civilization and the Muslim invader/conqueror. There is another discourse, which sees the medieval as the period of emergence and coexistence of multiple communities. In the modern and contemporary politics of the Indian nation-state, different imaginations of the medieval emerged as a significant focus of mobilization.[2]


The debates between different political imaginations on the medieval play out in our classrooms, on social media, on Twitter, through Whatsapp forwards. It is played out in the twitter hash tag #RemoveMughalsfromHistory[3] and when the Taj Mahal is threatened with demolition.[4] This threat would be laughable if it did not evoke the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992.[5]


The discussions in my classroom reflect these contesting imaginations of the Indian nation. In contemporary India, the public sphere has become increasingly communalised, marking the Muslim as the other. In such times, these contests over history no longer remain didactic or academic but have acquired urgency, and have real life implications. Historians have made significant interventions in this political discourse. They have engaged with, critiqued, and challenged the communal discourse on history.[6] There is a large body of scholarship that ranges from presenting the medieval as a period of harmonious co-existence, as a period of the formation of communities and community memories, as a period of pluralities.[7] There is a seeming contradiction between the history of the medieval produced by the academy and that which circulates in the popular domain. However, both of these are part of “the politics of time”[8], where the medieval is more than a term of chronological taxonomy. The question that I want to think through in this article is, does the history produced in the academy lend itself to the divisive discourse on the medieval in India?


In this article, I want to highlight two aspects of this historiography: the place of conquest and violence in the delineation of the medieval and the visualisation of the medieval state. Discussing the issue of violence only briefly, here I want to address the question of the state in medieval historiography.


The problem of the medieval


Most discussions around periodization in Indian history begin with James Mill’s tripartite division of Indian history into Hindu—Muslim— British periods.[9] The heft of this periodization was accompanied by the weight of colonial government—not just in how the colonial administrators interacted with or administered the colony, but in terms of the organisation of the archives, the work of colonial departments like the Archaeological Survey, or other departments with the task of survey.


Nationalist historians of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century challenged Mill in particular and colonial historiography in general. Over time, in the Nationalist and subsequently the Nationalist Marxist historiography, the Hindu—Muslim—British schema was replaced by a new tripartite division of Ancient—Medieval—Modern. However, the new terminology did not fundamentally challenge the colonial delineation of periods in Indian history. Partha Chatterjee pointed out that while the nationalist historians challenged the Orientalist/colonial historiography, they framed their opposition and wrote their histories within the same categories and discourse of colonial modernity and Enlightenment rationality.[10] In this historiography, up till the 1960s, the medieval began in 1200, with the establishment of the Delhi Sultanate. From about the 1970s, there was a shift and greater emphasis was placed on the study of socio–economic transformations as the basis of marking change in historical periods. The eighth to the thirteenth centuries were designated as the feudal age, and were included in the medieval.[11] This period, which came to be called the early medieval, emerged as a site of nuanced historiographical debates.[12]


The periodization debates in Indian history were closely tied to the making of and imagining the nation. Romila Thapar in different discussions has pointed out, that in colonial and orientalist writings, the ‘Hindu’ period represented the ‘autochthonous ancient’ stretching eternally into the past. This understanding established the ‘Hindu’ as the original inhabitant of India.[13] This implied that the Indian nation, with a set of original inhabitants, was constituted in this ancient past.[14] Gyan Prakash argued that the nationalist historians established India as an active subject, as opposed to the passivity attributed to it by the orientalist writings. But they “[…] assumed that India was an undivided entity, which had held a sovereign and unitary will that was expressed in history… India was given an ontological presence prior to and independent of its representations”.[15] This schema of periodization reinforced the idea of ancient/hindu India as a coherent temporal, spatial and social entity.


So, how was the historical transition from the ancient to the medieval or from the early medieval into the medieval envisioned? The answer is that there was, and still is, no conceptualization of a transition, there isn’t really a shift into the medieval.[16]


The medieval arrives in Indian history-writing as a watershed moment, heralded by invasions and military conquests: Muhammad bin Qasim’s conquest of Sindh in the eighth century,[17] the Ghaznavid invasions of the eleventh century, the Ghorid campaigns of the twelfth century, culminating in the establishment of the Delhi Sultanate in the thirteenth century.[18] The history of over two centuries is collapsed into one historical moment of invasion and violence and Muslim presence in South Asia are woven into one inextricable strand.[19] The foundations of the medieval, in historiography, were deep in the act of conquest and, violence thereof. Further, this intertwining became deeply embedded into nationalist imagination and history writing, replaying the same tropes in the discussions of subsequent conquests. As Shahid Amin points out,

Medieval Muslim warfare and rule, c. 1000 onwards, has understandably been the object of considerable narrative anxiety from the nineteenth century to the present… for at its heart is the issue of the pre-colonial conquest of the subcontinent—and of its consequences. How different was this medieval ‘Muslim’ India of Turkish Sultans and Mughal padshahs from the conquest and colonization of India by industrial Britain?“[20]


There is an old debate around Muslim conquest/Turkish Invasions in Indian history. Recent historiography, notably the works of Romila Thapar, BD Chattopadhyaya, Finbarr Flood, Manan Ahmed Asif and Shahid Amin have critiqued the older historiography and have opened up the period as well as history writing  to newer questions.[21] There is a large body of rich scholarship on the relationship between history writing, community identities, communalism and the question of violence. This particular issue is not the main discussion in this paper.


I would focus on the second major characteristic of the historiography of the medieval. Much of the history writing on South Asia is closely aligned to the study of state structures. The medieval states are imagined as centralised, hegemonic structures, where power flows out of the person of the king and the court. The historiography around these states foregrounds the bureaucratic and military organization. It identifies the revenue collection—a system for the collection and redistribution primarily of surplus agrarian production—as central to the nature and character of these states. Beyond the structures of administration, there is discussion on the political cultures of these states, articulated in theories of sovereignty. The historiography on centralized state, as Farhat Hasan has noted, is emphatically nationalist, conflating the medieval and early modern structures with the modern nation. In this paper I will look at the centralised empires from their margins, specifically from Kashmir. I will explore how historiography of this region on the frontier—of the medieval north Indian states as well as the modern Indian nation—engaged with periodization in history in relation and response to the centralised state.


The Medieval State as a Behemoth


The history of medieval north India is primarily told through two major state formations of the Indo Gangetic plain: the Delhi Sultanate [1200–1526 CE] and the Mughal Empire [1526–1857 CE]. The dominant historiography on these states focussed on the institutions and structures of governance. Pouchepadass characterised the historiography as “[…] old perspective of classical political geography which dealt with rather simply defined categories of state, population, territory and resources […]”.[22] In this historiography, these states were described as structures where absolute power rested in the hands of the Sultan/Padshah and the nobility,[23] with complex bureaucratic structures, though the Mughal state developed a more sophisticated administration.[24] These states collected surplus agrarian production from the peasantry, through a set of intermediaries. In both these states, the court was the locus of political culture, which was articulated through urban constructions, public works and literary productions. History writing on these states outlined the institutional structures as well as the theories of kingship. In this historiography, the theories of kingship were a functional part of the state structure, rather like revenue administration, which served to create legitimacy of rule.[25] Pouchepadass pointed out that,

“[…] the crucial factor is the extent to which it [the territorial state] has been able to transmute a power initially exercised through the use (or effective threat) of physical force into an authority rooted in the dominant ideology, a legal right to enforce obedience based on the inner consent of the subjects and whose norms have been widely internalized”.[26]


Much of the medieval historiography remains focused on the imperial centre. For example, in the case of the Mughal state, these are the major terms and points of discussion in the historiography: nature of the Mughal state, which is variously characterized as a gunpowder empire, Turko-Mongol Kingship, bureaucratic state, exploitative state, feudal state, segmentary state, patrimonial-bureaucratic empire, patchwork quilt and more recently, as messianic kingship, empire as network and so on.[27]


The historiography on the medieval segues from the Sultanate to the Mughal empire, presenting the two almost as stages in the development of the same political structure. The state centred historiography established structural continuities. They traced the evolution of administrative institutions from the Sultanate to the Mughal state. These institutions were presented as normative structures and their evolution through the practice of governance and participation of different groups of people—the administrators, local power holders, peasants etc.—was peripheral to the practice of governance. These histories privileged the courtly Persianate texts as the primary archive. The historiographical preoccupation with imperial centres has also dictated the nature of the archive for writing the histories of the medieval state. While new work has now started to break this hold, medieval historiography of north India has privileged the Indo-Persianate literary material.[28] For the study of the Mughal empire historians have used courtly texts in Persian—Tawarikh, Insha, Tabaqat, Tazkirat, Akhlaq, Adab—alongside literary productions, safarnama, and documents from the Mughal chancellery as the primary archives. The visual archives of the courtly arts and architecture have been seen as the supplementary archive.


The conflation of the Sultanate and the Mughal state flows from or allows for another kind of conflation. While looking at conquest and origins in South Asian historiography, Asif argued that, “what remained unexamined was the centrality of the origins narrative—naturalness with which ‘Muslims’ remained outsiders—such that each historical epoch began anew.”[29] I would like to build on this critique. In treating the Sultanate and the Mughal empire as a continuous entity, historians have privileged the origins of the ruling groups of the Sultanate and the Mughal empire—as conquerors, central Asian, Muslim etc. As a result, the engagement of these states with their spatial location and historical contexts is overlooked. As Asif points out, in the history writing, states like the Mughal empire bore, “[…] very little relationship to their Indic predecessors.”[30] This is inscribed into the historiography by the use of the term Indo–Islamic states to refer to the Delhi Sultanates and the Mughal empire.


Since the late 1990s, there has been a regional turn in the historiography of India, which has allowed for a decentring of the historian’s gaze and has broadened the focus from purely the political to the socio–economic. This emergent trend has also placed the shifts in languages, literature, religion, cultural forms at the centre of history writing.[31] However, the imperial centre still dominates the historical imagination.


The Region in the Meta schemes of Periodization


The historiography centred on the imperial centre has shaped how the histories are written in and on different regions of South Asia. In this section I will look at issues of periodization in the regions and the relationship between the imperial centre and regional history from the vantage point of the region of Kashmir in the sixteenth century.


In modern Kashmiri historiography, the question of periodization is a bit complicated. Till the 1970s, the histories of Kashmir were divided into the Hindu-Muslim and the Dogra period.[32] It is over the 1980s that the terms of periodization in Kashmiri history writing shifted to the Ancient, Medieval and Modern. In these changing terminologies, the Kashmiri historians aligned themselves with the wider trends in Indian academies. But this change did not suggest a rethinking of these categories. In Kashmiri historiography, the ancient, sanskritic and the Hindu remain coterminous. For example, Kalhana’s Rajatarangini, a Sanskrit text, remains the most important source for the ancient history of Kashmir. However, the text was compiled in the twelfth century and was deeply embedded in its temporal location.[33]


In Kashmiri histories, the medieval begins with the accession of Rinchin in 1320 CE. Rinchin was a Bhautta prince, an immigrant from Tibet, who subsequently converted to Islam and adopted the title of Sultan.[34] Though the fourteenth century saw many significant changes in the polity of Kashmir, Rinchin’s accession did not signal anything more than a dynastic shift. The medieval in Kashmir continued to be coeval with Muslim kingship. In Kashmiri historiography, the Sultanates [1320–1540, 1540–1586] and the Mughal rule [1586–1752] comprised the medieval centuries. The Afghan [1752–1819] and the Sikh rule [1819–1846] are presented as a period of transition. Dogra rule [1846–1948] marked the beginning of the modern. In writing the histories of the region, Kashmiri historians conformed to the wider schema of periodization of across Indian history.


A discordant note on the issue of periodization was struck by Ishaq Khan, who pointed out that, “any generalisation [in demarcating phases in Indian history] covering the entire subcontinent or even its greater part is bound to be misleading and arbitrary.”[35] He asked,

“[…] although scholars have very ably tried to clarify the concept and content of medievalism, the problem remains as to when, why and how the medieval period ends in Indian history. True that the advent of the British in Bengal is generally seen as marking the beginning of the modern period in Indian history […] the British rule on the sub-continent did not come into being concurrently […] the fact that the British conquests of Bengal did not ‘atomise’ India is amply borne out by Kashmir which remained medieval as late as the beginning of the present century”.[36]


Ishaq Khan made the argument that the period beginning 1846, marked by the accession of Dogras as the kings of Kashmir, saw the beginning of an age of feudalism in Kashmir. The Dogra rulers had established a new system of agrarian exploitation, where the new polity combined political authority with economic power more fully. In this period, through the practice of begar, or forced labour, the peasants were reduced to the status of serfs. Ishaq Khan pointed out that though in other parts of the subcontinent, “the forces of change were moving towards modernity, Kashmir had taken a step back and feudal relations were becoming stronger.”[37] In turn, since feudalism is a characteristic of the medieval, he argued, that, in the nineteenth century, Kashmir was still in the medieval period. Ishaq Khan’s characterisation of the nineteenth century in Kashmir as medieval drew an equivalence between feudal and backward and between medieval and feudal. While critically engaging with the practices of periodization in Indian history, he was drawing lineage from what Kathleen Davis called the “globalised history of the medieval”.[38] This was not just a description of a period, Ishaq Khan was also making a political claim.


Ishaq Khan’s argument about periodization was a politically transformative one. It was also an argument made from the very specific position of the politics of Kashmir in the 1980s. He placed the modern in Kashmir’s history well into the first half of the twentieth century, with the emergence of a commercialised middle class, of political movements like the shawl merchants’ protest and the secularised politics of the National Conference. In Ishaq Khan’s narrative of the 1980s, Sheikh Abdullah was the figure of emergent modernity in Kashmir. But in doing so, he flattened out the complex relationships between the local historical personages, processes, and colonial modernity.


In the foregoing discussion, three different schema of dividing historical time co-exist. One marked historical change through influential events, most often through military conquest. The second provided the tripartite schema of Hindu—Muslim—Modern or the ancient—medieval—modern. The third created identities for different epochs through their characteristics, identifying period as the feudal or dark age.


Kashmir and the Mughal Empire


The historian of medieval or early modern Kashmir writes the history of the region, all the while negotiating with a wider history of the Indian nation. Kashmir was conquered by the Mughal armies in the last years of the 1580s. With Mughal conquest, the region became a province of the Mughal empire. In the historiography which privileges the imperial centre, the historical processes of the local, the regional are rendered invisible. Concomitantly, the history of the sixteenth century in Kashmir is bound up with the teleology of Mughal conquest. Abul Fazl, the chronicler of Akbar’s reign [1556–1605] and the author of the Akbarnama and the Ain i Akbari, wrote that the victorious standards of the Mughal army were planted in Srinagar, Kashmir in 1586, and with it Mughal rule was established in the region.[39]


In the historiography of the Mughal empire, this event usually merits only a brief mention, if at all. In Kashmiri historiography, this is a watershed moment. And like that other watershed moment of South Asian history, that is, the Ghaznavid and Ghorid invasions, it is heralded by the march of armies and military conquest. Kashmiri histories narrate the story of the Mughal conquest in a mode of lament.[40] PN Bazaz wrote,

“For we find that at the fall of Shahmiri dynasty, the Kashmiris had lost self-confidence and the sense of national pride; the main act of patriotism if at all it may be called by that name, was to invite foreign rulers to invade Kashmir and to occupy it.”[41]

The Mughals succeeded, the Kashmiris say, because the rulers were weak and decadent, the nobility was corrupt and fractious. There was no unity, there was internal strife and disputation over religion. Even when confronted by a foreign threat, the ruling elite of Kashmir failed to unite. And thus, Kashmir lost its independence.


This narrative marks the Mughal victory in the battle as the foundation of this fundamental shift in Kashmir’s history. It erases all other histories of Kashmir in the sixteenth century—the political processes, shifting social equations, the new political spheres that were emerging out of strife etc. To reference the earlier discussion, this narrative takes the agency for their history out of Kashmiri hands. Further, for the historians of Kashmir, since the 1920s, the Mughal conquest has posed a bit of a dilemma. While the Mughal armies came to Kashmir as conquerors, and established the foreign yoke, Mughal rule brought with it peace and prosperity, the shawl industry and wondrous gardens.[42] AM Mattoo, author of one of the two monographs devoted to Mughal rule in Kashmir, describes the impact of Mughal conquest with these words: “Kashmiris lost control over their destiny”.[43] In the introduction to his work he writes,

“Consequently the kingdom of Kashmir lost its independence and became a regular province of the Mughal empire in 1586, which though it proved advantageous to the Kashmiris in many respects, by widening the scope of their economic and social activities and developments in many fields in the Subah, yet it restricted the full growth of the people of Kashmir to rise to the stature of independent living according to their own choice and wishes and the continuity of institutions and traditions which independence alone can bring forth.”[44]

Across his monograph, Mattoo repeatedly described the Mughal rule as foreign and exploitative in character. He complained that it emasculated the Kashmiris—“destroyed their martial spirit”[45]. However, at the empirical level, Mattoo presented the Mughal rule as the harbinger of peace and prosperity in the region. With Mughal conquest, the sectarian strife of the earlier period came to an end and Kashmir began to participate in wider networks of trade and commerce and sufi silsilas. Much of what Mattoo wrote drew upon the discussions on Kashmir in the imperial texts.


The sixteenth century chronicles and other texts from the Mughal court carried descriptions of the provinces of the empire. They narrated the processes of conquest and establishment of imperial authority in the newly conquered regions and brought them within the imperial ecumene. In the texts from the Mughal court, Kashmir was presented as passive recipient of imperial authority. It is a testimony to the hegemonic character of the imperial state that even today, it is difficult to move away from the frames of reference created within the imperial textual traditions. As a result, the history of Kashmir in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was completely subsumed within the history of the Mughal empire. Its history was told through the actions of the reigning Mughal emperors and provincial governors. It was represented as a site of imperial action and intervention: It was conquered, its land was assessed for revenue, its landscape was shaped into gardens. It was the recipient of royal charity, royal justice and royal grace. Kashmir became the object of the royal gaze, a destination for royal sojourns. In South Asia, the trope of the loss of independence invokes the entire history of colonial subjugation. In Kashmir, the historical sensibility of loss of independence is a powerful political statement. But what the Kashmiri historians are lamenting is not just the loss of independence, but also the loss of their history.




Periodization is not “[…] simply the drawing of an arbitrary line through time”.[46] It is as Davis says “a fundamental political technique”.[47] In India, our histories align closely to the boundaries of our nation state. The fractures in these neat boundaries become especially clear when viewed from the margins of the nation. The characterisation of the medieval in history writing, especially the emphases on centralised state structures and warfare, dovetails into the popular imagination of the period. Periodization, as a heurisitic practice, continues to be directed by our location, viz. what constitutes the modern. The medieval in Indian history continues to be defined by the politics of the nation.


[1] The Undergraduate History syllabus of Delhi University can be found here:, accessed October 27, 2018.

[2] Romila Thapar, “Politics and the rewriting of history in India,” Critical Quarterly 47, no. 1–2 (2005): 195–203.

[3], accessed October 12, 2018.

[4], accessed October 12, 2018.

[5] The demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992 was a significant moment in India’s contemporary politics. There is a lot of literature, both in terms of reportage, political pamphlets as well as academic work on this event. I am here referring to only two works, which offer both information and perspective on this event. Abdul G. Noorani, The Babri Masjid Question, 1528–2003, 2 vols. (New Delhi: Tulika, 2018); Sarvepalli Gopal, ed., Anatomy of a Confrontation: Ayodhya and the Rise of Communal Politics in India (London: Zed Books, 1993).

[6] Romila Thapar, Bipan Chandra & Harbans Mukhia, Communalism and the Writing of Indian History, (New Delhi: People’s Publishing House, 1969), Gyanendra Pandey, The Construction of Communalism in Colonial India (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1990).

[7] For a critical discussion on the emergence of secular histories see Neeladri Bhattacharya, “Predicament of Secular Histories,” Public Culture 20, no. 1 (2007): 57–73

[8] I borrow this phrase from Johannes Fabian, Time and the Other. How Anthropology Makes Its Object (New York: Columbia University Press, 2002): 97-104.

[9] James Mill, The History of British India, 6 vols. (London: Baldwin, Cradoch, and Joy, 1826).

[10] Partha Chatterjee, The Nation and its Fragments: Colonial and Postcolonial Histories (Princeton: N. J. Princeton University Press, 1993).

[11] Ram S. Sharma, Indian Feudalism (New Delhi: Macmillan Publishers, 1965); Dwijendra N. Jha, ed., The Feudal Order (Delhi: Manohar, 2003).

[12] Brajadulal D. Chattopadhyaya, The Making of Early Medieval India (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1996); DN Jha, Feudal Order (see note 11); Upinder Singh, ed., Rethinking Early Medieval India (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2011).

[13] Romila Thapar, “Imagined Religious Communities? Ancient History and the Modern Search for a Hindu Identity,” Modern Asian Studies 23, no. 2 (1989): 209–231.; Neeladri Bhattacharya, (2007): 57–73.

[14] Thapar, “Imagined Religious Communities?” (see note 13): 209–231.

[15] Gyan Prakash, “Writing Post Orientalist Histories of the Third World: Perspectives from Indian Historiography,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 32, no.2 (1990), pp. 390 — 391.

[16] See for example, HC Raychaudhuri, Political History of Ancient India, (Calcutta: University of Calcutta, 1927) which brings ancient India to an end with the Gupta empire. Also see the discussion in RS Sharma, Early Medieval Indian Society: A Study in Feudalisation (Hyderabad: Orient Longman, 2001): 15— 17.

[17] Manan Ahmed Asif, The Book of Conquest (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2016).

[18] ABM Habibullah, The Foundation of Muslim Rule in India (Allahabad: Central Book Depot, 1967, 2nd edition), RC Majumdar ed., The History and Culture of the Indian People vol V, VI & VII (Bombay, Bhartiya Vidya Bhavan, 1957).

[19] I am glossing over many of the critiques of this periodization, notably on the use of the terms Hindu, Muslim, India as terms signifying a unitary or homogenous identity.

[20] Shahid Amin, Conquest and Community: The Afterlife of Warrior Saint Ghazi Miyan (New Delhi: Orient Blackswan Private Limited, 2015): 3.

[21] Romila Thapar, Somnatha: Many Voices of History (New Delhi: Penguin India, 2004); Brajadulal D. Chattopadhyaya, Representing the other? Sanskrit sources and the Muslims (eighth to fourteenth century) (Delhi: Manohar, 1998); Finbarr B. Flood, Objects of Translation: Material Culture and Medieval ‘Hindu—Muslim’ Encounter (Ranikhet: Permanent Black, 2010); Amin, Conquest (see note 20); Asif, Book (see note 17).

[22] Jacques Pouchepadass, “Itinerant Kings and Touring Officials,” in Society and Circulation, Mobile People and Itinerant Cultures in South Asia, 1750–1950, eds. Claude Markovits, Jacques Pouchepadass, and Sanjay Subrahmanyam (Delhi: Anthem Press, 2006): 240–274, 241.

[23] The word nobility is used interchangeably for the ruling classes/groups in these states. Sunil Kumar discusses the implications of such usage in “Bandagi and Naukri: Studying Transitions in Political Culture and Service in North Indian Sultanates, Thirteenth to Sixteenth Centuries”, in After Timur Left: Culture and Circulation in Fifteenth Century North India, eds. Francesca Orsini and Samira Sheikh (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2014): 60–110.

[24] William H. Moreland, Agrarian System of Moslem India (Delhi: Kanti Publications, Reprint, 1988, first published 1929).

[25] Major works on the history of Delhi Sultanate: Mohammad Habib and Khaliq A. Nizami, Comprehensive History of India, vol. V (New Delhi: People’s Publishing House, 1970), a large part of M. Habib’s body of work; Peter Jackson, The Delhi Sultanate: A Political and Military History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999); a number of articles by Irfan Habib; Sunil Kumar, The Emergence of Delhi Sultanate (Ranikhet: Permanent Black, 2007); Sunil Kumar, The Present in Delhi’s Past (New Delhi: Three Essays Press, 2002). Historiography on the Mughal state is vast so I will selectively name the major works: JN Sarkar’s corpus of work; Ibn Hasan, The Central Structure of the Mughal Empire (Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 1970, first published 1936); Parmatma Saran, The Provincial Government of the Mughals (Bombay: Asia Publishing House, 1973); Ram P. Tripathi, Rise and Fall of Mughal Empire (Allahabad: Central Book Depot, 1956); Irfan Habib, The Agrarian System of Mughal India (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1999); Iqtidar A. Khan, Gunpowder and Firearms: Warfare in Medieval India (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2004); Harbans Mukhia, Historians and Historiography During the Reign of Akbar (New Delhi: Vikas Publishing House, 1976); Muzaffar Alam and Sanjay Subrahmanyam, eds., The Mughal State, 1526–1750 (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1998); Shireen Moosvi, The Economy of the Mughal Empire c. 1595: A Statistical Study (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2016); John F. Richards, Mughals in Golconda (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975); Muzaffar Alam, Crisis of Empire in Mughal North India: Awadh and Punjab (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2013, first published 2001); Stephen Blake, Shahjahanabad: The Sovereign City of Mughal India, 1639–1739 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007); M. Athar Ali, Mughal Nobility under Aurangzeb (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2001); M. Athar Ali, Apparatus of the Empire: Awards, Ranks, Offices and Titles of Mughal Nobility, 1574–1768 (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1985).

[26] Pouchepadass, “Itinerant,” (see note 18), 241.

[27] See Hermann Kulke, ed., State in India, 1000–1700 (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1995); Farhat Hasan, State and Locality in Mughal India: Power Relations in Western India, c. 1572–1730 (Cambridge, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004); Alam & Subrahmanyam, Introduction to the Mughal State, 1998; Alam & Subrahmanyam, 2000; Sanjay Subrahmanyam, “The Mughal state—Structure or process? Reflections on recent western historiography”, 1992, Indian Economic & Social History Review, 29 (3), 291-321.

[28] See the work of Allison Busch, Poetry of Kings: Classical Hindi Literature of Mughal India (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2011); Orsini and Sheikh, After Timur (see note 19); Tanuja Kothiyal,  Nomadic Narratives: A History of Mobility and Identity in the Great Indian Desert (New Delhi: Cambridge University Press, 2016); Sheldon Pollock, Literary Cultures in History (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003); Pankaj Jha, “Beyond the local and the universal: Exclusionary strategies of expansive literary cultures in fifteenth century Mithila,” The Indian Economic and Social History Review 51, no. 1 (2014): 1–40. See Sunil Kumar, 2014. In this particular piece he draws upon the Persianate chronicles and other kinds of texts from the court as well as writings of Vidyapati, in Sanskrit, Maithili etc.

[29] Asif, Book (see note 17), 5.

[30] Asif, Book (see note 17), 5.

[31] This is now a rich corpus of historiography. A really small selection on new kinds of work: BD Chattopadhyaya, The Making of Early Medieval India (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1996); BP Sahu, The Changing Gaze: Regions and the Constructions of Early India, (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2013); Carla Sinopoli, ‘From the Lion Throne: Political and Social Dynamics of the Vijayanagar Empire’, Journal of Economic and Social History of the Orient, 43 (3), 364-398, 2000, Philip Wagoner & Richard Eaton, Power, Memory, Architecture: Contested Sites on India’s Deccan Plateau, 1300–1600 (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2014); Samira Sheikh, Forging a Region: Sultans, Traders, and Pilgrims in Gujarat, 1200–1500 (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2010); Aditya Behl and Wendy Doniger, Love’s subtle magic: An Indian Islamic literary tradition, 1379–1545 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), Pankaj Jha, A Political History of Literature (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2019).

[32] For a discussion on the Dogra period with the political and intellectual history of Kashmir see Mridu Rai, Hindu rulers, Muslim subjects : Islam, rights, and the history of Kashmir (Princeton, N. J.: Princeton University Press, 2004); Chitralekha Zutshi, Kashmir’s Contested Pasts (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2013).

[33] Whitney Cox, “Literary register and historical consciousness in Kalhaṇa: A hypothesis,” The Indian Economic and Social History Review 50, no. 2 (2013): 131–160; Shonaleeka Kaul, The Making of Early Kashmir: Landscape and Identity in the Rajatarangini (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2018).

[34] Anonymous, Baharistan i Shahi, British Library MS OR 16,706.

[35] Muhammad I. Khan, Perspectives on Kashmir: Historical Dimensions (Srinagar: Gulshan Publishers, 1983): 67.

[36] MI Khan, Perspectives on Kashmir (see note 35): 67.

[37] MI Khan, Perspectives on Kashmir (see note 35): 67—68.

[38] Kathleen Davis, Periodization and Sovereignty: How Ideas of Feudalism and Secularization Govern the Politics of Time (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008): 5.

[39] Abul Fazl Allami, The Akbarnama of Abul Fazl, vol.III, trans. by H. Beveridge (Delhi: Low Price Publication, 1988, first published 1902–39).

[40] Baharistan i Shahi (see note 30), a text written in Kashmir in early seventeenth century, describes the defeat of Kashmiri armies and the forces and the nobility. This text rings an elegiac note. The modern Kashmiri histories build upon the account in the Baharistan.

[41] Prem N. Bazaz, Kashmir in the Crucible (Delhi: Pamposh Publication, 1967): 21.

[42] Prem N. Bazaz, Kashmir in the Crucible (Delhi: Pamposh Publication, 1967); Prithivi M. K. Bamzai, Cultural and Political History of Kashmir (New Delhi: MD Publications Pvt Ltd., 1994); Ghulam M. D. Sufi, Kashir, Being a History of Kashmir from the Earliest Times to Our Own, 2 vols. (Srinagar: Light & Life Publishers, 1949).

[43] Abdul M. Mattoo, Kashmir under the Mughals (Srinagar: Golden Horde Enterprises, 1988): 230.

[44] Mattoo, Kashmir under the Mughals (see note 43): XV.

[45] Mattoo, Kashmir under the Mughals  (see note 43): 230.

[46] Davis, Periodization and Sovereignty (see note 38): 3.

[47] Davis, Periodization and Sovereignty (see note 38): 3.


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2 Responses

  1. emstolberg says:

    In section 8: ….This schema of periodization reinforced the idea of ancient/hindu India as a coherent temporal, spatial and social entity.
    Which role does Hindu religion play in this context?

  2. emstolberg says:

    The aspect of historical sensibility mentioned in section 1 is very intriguing. Please specify it in the context of periodization, how was it developed in historiography on the Indian nation? Generally speaking, conquest and cultural subjugation are highly sensitive issues. In how far could periodization be a product of such a historical sensibility?

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