The period on the eve of the Turkish invasion on India is usually called the Rajput period in the history of India.
There were several big and small Rajput states in different parts of India. Almost all these states vied each other for supremacy.
The result was that there emerged no central authority to face any foreign invasion.
Following were the chief features of the political condition of India that were primarily responsible for the political un-stability of India:
(1) Political disunity.
(2) Mutual distrust and acrimony.
(3) Auto-cratic and self-willed rulers.
(4) Feudal system.
(5) Absence of border defence policy.
(6) Old military organisation.
(7) Old military strategy.
(8) Traditional high ethical norms in fighting i.e. protection to refugees and vanquished enemies, not attacking the unarmed enemies; adhering to lofty moral conventions in-spite of being harmed several times.
(9) False sense of pride.
General conditions of the people:
Feudalism was the dominating feature of the society. There was a great disparity in the standard of living of the people. The ministers, officials, feudal chiefs, and those having the opportunity to accumulate wealth lived in luxury and splendor. They adorned their bodies with costly clothes, Chinese silk, jewels and ornaments of gold and silver. They lived in imposing houses of several storeys competing with the grandeur of palaces.
A train of servants attended to their needs and comforts and a large number of women in their household glorified their super status. The ordinary people had to remain contended with rice and wild vegetables that they could procure. The peasants were burdened with the land revenue and other taxes levied at the whims of the feudal lords. Besides they had to render forced labour.
During this period the disabilities which the lower castes suffered increased. Most of the workers like weavers, fishermen, barbers, etc. as well as tribal were treated very harshly. Rajput’s as a new caste had appeared on the scene. In course of time all ruling families belonging to various castes were classified as Rajput’s.
Condition of women:
Women suffered from several handicaps although their honour was very dear to the Rajput’s. They continued to be denied the right to study the Vedas. However families of higher families received higher education. They followed higher ideals. They gladly immolated themselves along with the dead bodies of their husbands.
This practice later degenerated and ‘Satipratha’ emerged; earlier there was the ‘Johar’ ceremony. The womenfolk immolated themselves ‘en-masse’ on a burning pyre. There was no ‘purdah’ system. ‘Swayamvar’ type of marriage was in vogue in several royal families. Infanticide and early marriage of girls came into practice.
Specific characteristics of the Rajput’s:
Rajput’s were great fighters. Fighting was their ‘Dharma’. They valued specific qualities and ideals. They were large-hearted and generous. They took pride in their descent. They were brave and self respecting. They gave shelter to the refugees and their vanquished foes. They were very loyal. They were somewhat haughty and emotional.
Earlier the Hindu society had an enormous capacity to absorb into its fold several foreign races like the Greeks, the Shakes and the Huns etc. But now the Rajput society, by and large, did not possess this capacity to absorb foreign elements. Perhaps it was also on account of the fact that the Muslims had some distinctive elements in their religion.
Education and science:
Education was confined to a small section— Brahmans and some sections of upper classes. Nalanda in Bihar was the famous centre of higher learning. Other important centres were Vikramasila and Uddandapura. Several Saiva centres of learning flourished in Kashmir. Religion and philosophy were the popular subjects for study and discussion.
On the whole, growth of the knowledge of science slowed down. Since society became increasingly rigid, thinking was mostly confined to traditional philosophy and India developed an insular attitude cut off from the main currents of scientific thought outside India. Science did not get proper scope or opportunity to develop.
Hinduism remained the dominant religion in India. It was patronised by most of the rulers. The prevalent forms of Hinduism were either Vaishnavism or Saivaism. Buddhism had lost its popularity. It had a great patronage under the Palas of Bengal. Jainism was patronised by the Chalukyan rulers of Karnataka.
Art and architecture:
The Rajput’s were great patron of art and architecture. They built several canals, dams, forts, palaces, temples and towers. The palaces of Jaipur and Udaipur and forts of Chittor, Mandu, Jodhpur and Gwalior are the fine specimens of palace and fort architecture.
The Lingaraj Temple at Bhubaneswar and Surya (Sun) Temple at Konark exhibit the excellence of temple architecture. Khajuraho has several famous temples including the Kandariya Mahadeva Temple. Among the many Jain temples, two at Dilwara at Mount Abu are exemplary.
Several Rajput rulers patronized scholars and their literary works. Among the historical works, Kalhana’s ‘Rajtarangini’ a history of Kashmir and Chandbardoi’s ‘Prithviraj Raso’ dealing with the exploits of his patron Prithviraj Chauhan may be mentioned.
Agriculture as the main occupation:
Agriculture was the mainstay of the people. The Rajput rulers dug out canals and tanks and collected rain water in artificial lakes for purpose of irrigation. Dams were also raised. Irrigation facilities improved agriculture and the economic condition of the cultivators though they sometimes had to suffer at the hands of some autocratic feudal chiefs.
Land revenue was the chief source of income and it was determined under a set formula depending upon the fertility of the soil, irrigation facilities etc. Land revenue was paid mainly in farm produce and a part in cash. Gifts, fines, minerals, forests and leased-out lands were additional sources of income.
Although there were several types of industries, on the whole, the state of industry declined during the period.
Important industries were:
(i) Cotton cloth making,
(ii) Woolen cloth,
(iii) Weapon industry,
(iv) Manufacture of salt
(v) Carving high quality artistic pieces,
(vi) Statues making from ‘Ashtadhatus’ (eight metals),
(vii) Pottery making,
(viii) Ornament making,
(ix) Other industries were: ‘gur’ making, sugar, oil and liquor etc.
Trade and commerce:
Internal as well as external trade declined. The balance of trade did not remain so much favourable to India.
Along with seaborne trade, India also had foreign trade through land.
On account of the decline of the Roman empire, seaborne trade of India suffered.
India imported several condiments from south-east Asian countries probably to meet the demand of the Eastern countries. From Central Asia and Western countries India imported horses of high breed and high quality wine, Chinese silk, grapes from Cambodia and some other articles.
India’s exports consisted of sandalwood, camphor, cloves, indigo, ivory, coconut, herbs of many types, black pepper, cardamoms, hides, ‘tusar’, and woolen clothes.