In this article we will discuss about:- 1. Caste System in Hindu Society on the Eve of Turkish Invasion 2. Position of Women in Hindu Society on the Eve of Turkish Invasion 3. General Position of Women 4. Economic Condition of Women 5. Contribution of Women 6. Dress and Food Habits 7. Untouchability and Slavery.


  1. Caste System in Hindu Society on the Eve of Turkish Invasion
  2. Position of Women in Hindu Society on the Eve of Turkish Invasion
  3. General Position of Women in Hindu Society on the Eve of Turkish Invasion
  4. Economic Condition of Women in Hindu Society on the Eve of Turkish Invasion
  5. Contribution of Women in Hindu Society on the Eve of Turkish Invasion
  6. Dress and Food Habits in Hindu Society on the Eve of Turkish Invasion
  7. Untouchability and Slavery in Hindu Society on the Eve of Turkish Invasion

1. Caste System in Hindu Society on the Eve of Turkish Invasion:

The Hindu society on the eve of the Turkish invasion was based on caste system, intact the Hindu society has been divided into varnas on the oasis of division of labour since the ancient times. The four varnas into which the Hindu society was divided were Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Sudras.


Though initially the caste system was evolved for the harmonious working of the society as a single social unit, but in course of time caste became more ramified and rigid, it was given a religious tinge. H. G. Rawlinson has rightly said “Caste for the Hindu is part of Divine Order of Universe; a man’s caste is determined by his conduct in previous existence.”

To the Muslims the institution of caste was something new. Islam with its faith in equality and brotherhood of man did not make any distinction between man and man. Naturally this insti­tution aroused great curiosity among the early Muslim intellectuals who came to India. The caste system gained further rigidity under Muslim domination.

The Hindu population as a whole could not reconcile to the idea of mixing with the Muslim invaders and tried to isolate themselves from the Muslims with scrupulous determina­tion to save their religion and social system. The Hindus treated the early Muslims as ‘melechchas, with a social status much lower than that of the Sudras.

Al Biruni has also observed:


“All their fanaticism is directed against those who do not belong to them—against all foreigners. They call them melechcha, i.e. impure, and forbid having any connection with them, be it by inter-marriage, or any other kind of relationship, or by sitting, eating, and drinking with them, because thereby they think they would be polluted.”

However, with the passage of time this attitude of exclusiveness on the part of the Hindus underwent a change. A large number of low caste Hindus embraced Islam because it promised them better treatment and more economic facilities.

Even the high caste Hindus reconciled with the changed situation and started mixing with the Muslims and the descendants of the Muslim immi­grants came to be regarded as Indians. Even the Muslims started feeling greater affinity with the new land. For example Amir Khusrau, who hailed from a Turkish family and settled down in India, acknowledged the superiority of India over his native country.

With the coming of the Muslims the position of the Brahmans underwent a great change. The Brahmans who earlier enjoyed exemption from all sorts of taxes and were given a privileged treat­ment, were deprived of this favoured position. This naturally imp­lied a change in the traditional duties of the Brahmans.


As they could not earn enough by scholarly pursuits they took to agriculture through hired labour. Sometimes they themselves cultivated the fields. As a result the Brahmans could not devote themselves wholly to the Vedic studies and spiritual pursuits as they used to do earlier.

This, according to Prof. A. L. Srivastava was “a frank admission of the decline of Vedic studies during the Sultanate period (1206 —1526) and with it of that in the importance of the Brahman caste”. This effected the caste system in another way too. The Brahmans now came to hold the view that even the Sudras could listen to the recitations of the Puranas and take to certain trades which were earlier forbidden to them.

Quite a few Brahmans took to the study of Persian and acquired high official positions. The caste system of the Hindus had some influence on the Muslims too. Like the Hindus they also came to be divided into four classes —Sayed, Sheikh, Mughal and Pathan.

The Sayeds claimed descent from Fatima, daughter of the prophet. The Sheikhs were of pure Arab descent. Even the Hindu converts to Islam claimed to belong to this category. The Mughals hailed from the Mongol race and were further sub-divided into Persian and Chagtai.

The Pathans were the fourth class and they spoke a distinct language known as Pashto, a language which is even now current near Peshawar in Pakistan. Titus has rightly remarked in his famous book ‘Indian Islam’, “In the social sphere the influence of Hinduism on Islam his nowhere left a more definite mark than in the creation of caste distinctions, which indicates social status as clearly as they do in Hindu society.”

Prof. Mohammad Iqbal, the great Muslim leader also admits of the existence of caste system amongst the Muslims.

He says “Religious adventurers set up different sects and fraternities ever quarrelling with one another; and there are castes and sub-castes like the Hindus. Surely we have out-Hindued the Hindu himself, we are suffering from double caste-system the religious caste system, sectarianism and the social caste system, which we have either learn­ed or inherited from the Hindus.”

2. Position of Women in Hindu Society on the Eve of Turkish Invasion:

Women enjoyed an honoured position in the Vedic age and participated in various social, intellectual and spiritual activities on equal terms with men. In the post Vedic period there was a gradual deterioration of their position and their freedom was to a large extent curtailed, although it was quite sub­stantial as yet.

With the coming of the Muslims the position of the Indian women greatly deteriorated, although it was retrieved to some extent during subsequent centuries. One of the immediate impact of Islam on the condition of women was the introduction of Pardah system.

Pardah or veiling of women was a common practice among the Muslims and it was adopted by the Hindu women also under the stress of circumstances Prof. R. C. Majuradar says Hindus adopted pardah as a protective measure to save the honour of their women—folk and to maintain the purity of their social order.

Pro­bably the tendency to imitate the ruling class was also a contributory factor for the adoption of pardah by the Hindu families.

The system of pardah was particularly prevalent among high class families of both the communities. The women rarely went out and whenever they had to go out they moved in covered palanquins. Usually the practice of high class Muslim ladies discarding the pardah was not favoured, but there are instances of queens like Nurjahan not observing purdah and going out in public without pardah.

Muslim women of middle class families also observed pardah.

It may be noted that the Hindu women belonging to the middle or lower classes did not observe pardah that strictly and could move out without much restriction. They only used dopatta to cover their head when they went out. Women of the poor families had to hold their menfolk on the fields and other pursuits and con­sequently did not observe any pardah.

There are certain scholars like Prof. Ashraf who are of the opinion that even in ancient India there was a partial exclusion of women and they observed a curtain ‘veil’ (or what even now goes under the name of ghoonghat). But even he admits that “the present elaborate, and institutionalised form of pardah dates from the time of the Muslim rule.”

No doubt some sort of pardah in the shape of ghoonghat was observed in India even before the advent of the Muslims but the present elaborate and institutiona­lised form of pardah emerged with the Muslims. The chief reason for the adoption of pardah by the Hindu women was to protect beautiful young Hindu girls from the ill-designs of rich nobles.


Though Quran permits the Muslim to have four wives at a time, the common practice among the Muslims of the lower stratum of society was to have monogamy. Only rich Muslims took to polygamy and maintained three to four wives at a time. As it was not possible for a single husband to keep his wives happy in every respect usually polygamy lead to domestic unhappiness and immorality.

The Hindus by and large restricted themselves to monogamy (one wife). It is only a very small number of princes and wealthy persons who married more than one wife. Hindus with ordinary means usually married second time only if their wife proved to be barren. This was also done with the consent of the Brahmans.

Early Marriage:

As a general rule girls were married at an early date in both the communities usually girls of middle and lower classes were not given much education. They were mere given training in domestic affairs, needlework, embroidery, cocking etc.

In view of the prevailing circumstances girls were married at an early age of 7 or 8 years, viz. even before the age of puberty. This naturally implied that the selection of the bride or bridegroom was made by the parents and there was no custom of seeing the girls before settling the marriage.

Sometimes the betrothals took before the actual birth of the children. The girls of the Rajput families enjoyed greater freedom in matters regarding the selection of their husband. The selection of bridegroom was made on the basis of gallantry.


Divorce was not a common practice among the Hindus, although it was an important social feature of Islam. The divorce amongst the Shias was more regulated than amongst the Sunnis. In matters of divorce the husband enjoyed absolute and unquestioned powers, while the wife was denied the same. There was also provision for re-union after divorce.

Widow remarriage was permitted amongst the Muslims but the widows were given the status of a second rate wife. Amongst the Hindus widow-remarriage was almost non-existent. A widow had two alternatives—to live a life of celibacy for the rest of the life or burn herself on the funeral pyre of the dead husband. Alberuni says that usually they chose the latter alternative.


The practice of Sati was in full swing during the medie­val times. According to this practice the wife burnt herself on the funeral pyre of her husband. This practice was particularly ‘found among the noble castes of Rajahs and was considered to be a proof of wife’s attachment and love for the dead husband.

A woman refusing to perform sati was considered to be less loyal and devoted to her late husband. Abul Fazal has recorded numerous instances where the reluctant women were forced to perform sati due to pressure from relatives or public opinion.

An effort was made to check this element of compulsion during the Sultanate period. No widow could burn herself without permission from the authority. Steps were take a during the Mughal period to curb this evil practice.

Humayun is said to have banned the burning of widows who were capable of child-bearing. During the times of Akbar the practice was further discouraged and a reluctant widow could not be forced to burn herself.


Another evil practice prevalent amongst the Hindus, particularly the Rajputs was Jauhar. Usually Jauhar was perfor­med by the Rajput ladies when attacked by the foreigners and there was no hope of victory. According to this practice the Rajput ladies would apply Tilak on the fore-heads of their husbands, touch­ed their feet and burnt themselves.

This was done primarily to escape dishonour at the hands of the enemy in case of defeat. The Rajput ladies cared more for their chastity than their life. A number of examples of Jauhar during the medieval period have been recorded by scholars.

For example Hamir Deva, the Chauhan warrior of Ranthambhor, committed Jauhar when he found that Sultan Ala-ud-Din Khilji was likely to win victory. In fact the code of Rajput warfare did not know of surrender, and could not recon­cile them to a defeat. It guided only to victory or annihila­tion.

3. General Position of Women in Hindu Society on the Eve of Turkish Invasion:

According to Prof. Ashraf “The functions and the position of a woman were distinctly subordi­nate and in the long run came to be understood as the service of the male and dependence upon him in every stage of life. As a daughter, a woman lived under the wardship of her father, as a wife under the tutelage of her husband and as a widow (that is, if she was permitted to survive her husband) under the care of her eldest son. In a word her life was a state of perpetual wardship and the social laws and customs stamped her with a sort of mental de­ficiency.”

Right from the time of her birth a girl was considered to be a liability. The birth of a daughter was received with disappoint­ment and was not celebrated like that of the sons. A wife which gave birth to a number of girls in succession was also despised. Amongst certain sections of Rajputs there existed even the custom of infanticide viz. killing the girls at the time of their birth.

Accor­ding to Todd “The Rajputs resorted to this practice due to the scar­city of suitable matches due to the prohibition of inter-marriage between families of the same clan and continuous wars and feuds with the remote tribes together with the sentiment that an unworthy match lowers the prestige of the bride’s father.”

As a child much attention was not paid to the education of the girls and they were given some training of the household activities like cooking, needle work etc. Girls of the higher families were however given education. But as compared to the sons the daughters were not that well looked after.

The girls were married away at an early age to get rid of their burden. As noted earlier, they were usually married at the age of 7 or 8 that is much earlier than the age of puberty.

As a wife also the women was supposed to work according to the commands and directions of the mother-in-law. In case she failed to find favour with the mother-in-law her life became miser­able.

Amongst the Muslims if the wife failed to pull on properly with the mother-in-law it often led to divorce. In short the wife had to win over all the members of the household by dedicated service to secure her position in the family.

However, usually in course of time these women got over the influence of the mother-in-laws and assumed large power of management of the household. She not only looked after the general management of the household but also enjoyed control over expenditure.

A woman on family way was given great respect by the relatives as well as other inhabitants of the area. However, when a woman actually delivered the child she was not touched by anyone except the mid-wife attending on her.

The position of a woman in relation to her husband was one of honorable subordination. Though the find word on most of the matters rested with the husband, her counsels were given due weight.

No social function could be performed by Hindu men without the presence of the wife, whom they described as the half of man. In other words we can say that though wives were subordinate to the husband they were given due importance.

During the medieval times widow remarriage was almost non­existent. The widows had therefore either to live a life of fidelity after the death of their husbands or commit sati on the funeral pyre of their husbands. In case a widow did not burn herself with the dead husband they were looked down upon.

They were not per­mitted to wear long hair or to put on ornaments. They were consi­dered as unfortunate creatures and were despised. They were made to do the ordinary menial jobs in the family. A widow who remarried was turned out of her caste and community. Such ladies usually took to other religions. It may be noted that amongst the Muslims of all classes widow remarriage was practiced.

Though the position of a woman as a girl, bride and widow was quite miserable, she enjoyed a position of great respect as a mother. In almost all the sections of Hindu society the mothers and other elderly women were given utmost respect and their commands were invariably carried out.

The Rajputs showed maximum regard to their mothers, and never dared to go against their wishes, howso­ever unreasonable they might have been. There are instances of Rajput rulers like Rana Sangram Singh II of Mewar taking his meals only after paying respects to his mother.

The Muslims also showed great regard to mothers. There are quite a few instances when the ladies acted as successful mediators. For example it is well known that the differences between Akbar and his rebel son Jahangir were settled mainly through the interven­tion of Salima Begum. Similarly, it was at the instance of Jahanara that Aurangzeb was pardoned by Shahjahan and restored to the dignities and emoluments

4. Economic Condition of Women in Hindu Society on the Eve of Turkish Invasion:

Economically the position of Muslim women was much better than that of the Hindu women. The Muslim ladies were entitled to a definite share in the inheritance and were free to dispose of the same as they liked. This right was retained by them even after their marriage.

According to the Muslim law the ladies retained a right to her husband’s parents The Hindu ladies did not have any share in the property although they possessed movable property like ornaments, jewellery etc.

5. Contribution of Women in Hindu Society on the Eve of Turkish Invasion:

Though the women were not given a position of pride in the social structure of the nation, yet certain talented women made a mark in different spheres. These women mainly belonged to the higher well-to-do classes Gulbadan Begum and Jahanara produced works which are not only of great historical importance but are considered as outstanding works.

Similarly Mira Bai, Salima Sultana, Nur Julian, Zeb-un-Nisa (daughter of Aurangzeb) were other literary figures who produced works of distinction The other important women literary figures of the medieval times were Ramabhadramba, Tirumalamba Aka Bai, Kena Bai etc.

Women also played an important role in the administration of the state. Maham Anaga, the chief nurse, of Akbar, controlled the affairs of state for full four years from 1560—64. Chand Bibi was another brilliant ruler of Ahmednagar.

Rani Durgavati, a Chandel princess also governor the country with great courage. Similarly, it is well known that Nur Jahan was the real power behind the throne of Jahangir. The influence of Nur Jahan on state affairs was so strong that it is said that Jahangir had sold the empire for “a bottle of wine and a piece of meat.”

Tara Bai, widow of the Maratha king Raja Rain, also displayed great qualities of administration and became the chief source of inspiration for her son Shivaji II.

6. Dress and Food Habits in Hindu Society on the Eve of Turkish Invasion:

The dress of the people during the medieval period differed from place to place and from class to class. The dress of the Hindus generally consisted of two pieces of broad cotton cloth, one of which was folded round the waist, reaching half of the leg. The other was cast gracefully over the shoulders, with a turban or a shawl or handkerchief tied round the head. It appears the Hindu of low. classes did not use sewn clothes.

Meadows Taylor has also said “Until after the Muhammadan conquest, no clothes, cut out and sewn together appear to have been worn by Hindus, and by many such are still esteemed unlawful. But for the most part male Hindus now wear tunics or upper garments, with the dhoti or waist cloth beneath. Others have adopted the Muhammadan fashion of loose and tight drawers and trousers and can only be distinguished from them by the fastening of the tunic or vest being on the right side, while those of the Mummadans are on the left.”

However the Hindus of the higher classes dressed like the Muslim nobility. The Brahmans usually went bare above the waist and used sacred thread. In the Sultanate period the nobles wore ‘Kulah’ or the tall tartar cap as head dress.

There are also instances when they used turban. For example Jalal-ud-Din is reported to have worn a turban. For coating they used tunic or qaba made of muslin or fine wool according to climate. During the extreme cold whether some­times an overcoat known as Dagla was also used.

The Muslims with religious bent of mind usually avoided silks, velvets, brocade and coloured garments and used simple clothes of material like linen in accordance with the Shariat. They used ordinary shirt and drawers as well as turban.

There are certain scholars like Moreland who have expressed the opinion on the basis of the contemporary evidence that the people went naked.This opinion is not acceptable to Prof. Yusuf Husain. He says there is simple material found in the narratives of foreign visitors about the dress of the people of India and that the opinion of Moreland Is only partially true.

Dress of Women:

The women usually used two types of garment. First a, along chadar or line sheet of muslin (like the modern sari) and a bodice or chola with short sleeves. The grown up ladies and women used an additional garment known Angiya Usually it was of a dark colour. The women covered their heads with the hem of the chadar.

The other variety consisted of a lahanga or a long and very loose skirt and a chola. For covering the head a long scarf or rupatia was also used. The Muslim ladies of the upper classes also used loose drawers, a shirt and a long scarf. As regards the colour the women of both the communities preferred bright colours and prints on the cloth of the Muslim women however took to the sewn garments in place of draped costumes.

Pietro Delia Valle, who visited India during times of Jahangir has given following account of the dress of women. He says, “The Mohammedan women go clad likewise all in white either plain or wrought with gold flowers. Their upper garment is short, more beseeming a man than a woman.Sometimes they wear a turban too upon their heads.

Their clothes are often times red of the same rich and fine linen and their drawers are also either white or red, and often times of sundry sorts of silk stuff striped with all sorts of colours….The Indian gentile women commonly used no other colour but red…And for the most part they use no garment, but wear only a close waistcoat, the sleeves of which reach not middle of the arms, the rest whereof to the hand is covered with bracelets of gold or silver or ivory. From the waist downwards they wear a long coat down to the foot (Lahanga); when they go abroad they cover themselves with clock of ordinary shape, like a sheet which is also used by the Mohamedans.”

Cosmetics and Ornaments:

The leisured and rich classes paid great attention to the physical adornment. The Hindu men when they went out to meet some one usually applied tilak on the forehead, some flower or other scent in his hair and chewed betel-leaf. The Muslim men combed their beards and applied scents, apart from using costly dresses.

The women paid greater attention to their physical charm than men. They spent most of their time to enhance their physical charm. They used antimony for the eyes, vermillion for making the parting of the hair, musk for the breast and betel-leaves for the lips. They also used black powder for the eye-brows.

The ornaments were used both by men and women. The wearing of ornaments was considered to be a sign of noble birth. The Rajput warriors used side whiskers and ear-rings. The Banias of Gujarat were fond of ear-rings and other rings on fingers.

The other ornaments of men consisted of beautiful swords, daggers and other arms. The women had a special weakness for ornaments. For the married women wearing of ornaments all over the body was a symbol of suhag. The widows did not use ornaments or jewellery and wiped out scarlet line of vermillion from the head.

It is difficult to enumerate the various items of ornaments used by the people. Abul Fazl has mentioned thirty-seven kinds of different ornaments used by the women of India. These ornaments were made either of plain metal such as gold or silver or studded with jewels.

People used the ornaments and jewellery according to their means. Abul Fazal has also mentioned sixteen items of female toilet which were considered a must for the ladies of respectable families.

These included a bath, an oil massage, dressing of hair, putting an ornament on forehead together with sandal-wood paste, a suitable dress, a caste-mark, antimony for the eyes, pendants for the ears, a pearl of gold nose-ring, some ornaments for neck, henna for the hands, girdle for the waist, some ornaments for the feet, chewing of betel-leaf, and grace of manners.


Although the people in general were vegetarian, meat eating and drinking were also common. However, women of Brahman, Kshatriya and Vaishya castes were not permitted drink. In actual practice the ladies of the royal family and courtesans took drinks on special occasions.

The Brahmans abstained from meat. The normal food of the masses was ‘kirichri’, prepared with rice and pulses. The people of the South were mainly rice eaters. The Guajarati’s mainly depended on rice and curd. The chief food of the people of northern India was chapati (roti) made of wheat atta. The Muslims took kebab and roti.

Spices and butter were used in plenty by the people of well-to- do families .They also used a great variety of achare (pickles). Amongst the sweet dishes halwa and sweet samosas were most common. Dry fruit was also taken in plenty. Though during the Sultanate period iced water was not known, it began to be used during the times of Akbar, at least in the royal house-hold.

An average man usually took three meals a day. In the morning he took breakfast; in the mid-day he took lunch; and a dinner in the early evening. In the break-fast the Hindus mostly took Khichri or boiled rice and pulses; while the Muslims took bread and kebab. During the lunch as well as various types of vegetables were used by the Hindus. Puri and Luchi were taken only on special occasions.

The use of ghee, butter and cheese was made by the people of various classes according to their economic status. The Muslims took the meat of sheep, goat, fish and other birds, and prepared the same in various kinds of spices.

Talking of the food habits of the Muslims in medieval India Mandelso has said “They freely took beef, mutton fish, flesh of goats, sheep and other beasts and birds of prey”. However the Muslims did not take pork and other flesh of animals not properly slaughtered, as ordained by their religion.

7. Untouchability and Slavery in Hindu Society on the Eve of Turkish Invasion:

The two most outstanding evils prevalent in the Hindu society of medieval age were untouchability and slavery. The untouchables were popularly known as chandals and the members of any other higher castes did not mix with them.

If a chandal touched a member of any other caste he was considered to have been defiled and had to purify himself by taking bath with his clothes. A person could get defiled in a number of ways viz. if he carried on conversation with the chandals, joined him on a journey, or took water from a well or pond owned by the chandal, took chandals food, or lived in his house for some time.

For this defilement the person had to undertake various kinds of penances under the directions of the Brahmans.

Another social evil which was fairly common in the medieval society was slavery. The slaves were freely distributed amongst friends and relatives by the nobles and members of royal family, We have numerous instances where Hindu women were enslaved and were sent as presents to the Emperor of China by Muhammad bin Tughlaq.

In Hindu empire of Vijayanagar also slavery was preva­lent. It may be noted that slavery was less common amongst the Hindus.