Medieval Period

The first Turkish conqueror was Sultan Mahmud of Gazni (997-1030) who led as many as seventeen invasions into India. He who took his forces across the Indus, the formidable barrier to the rich plains of the Hindustan, and eventually his sway extended to the Ganges. The second Turkish invader was Shahabuddin Ghori. In 1190, having advanced to Tarain near Delhi, his outnumbered Army was defeated by King Prithviraj. Prithviraj did not follow up the victory and, after eighteen months Ghori was able to conquer the northern plain of India, thus establishing the Delhi Sultanate. As invaders of the earlier waves settled and became Indians, they in turn were swamped by other succeeding waves. This sequence of invasions and conquests would carry on for eight centuries.

The invading Turks were found to have had tremendous energy, alacrity and resilience. They also had faster mobility, being mounted on fast, tough Turkoman and Arabian horses. Their armies were in fact hordes of mounted archers functioning in the old and effective traditions of Parthians, Huns and Mongols. Their composite bow was as good a weapon as any of the defenders, but being good riders they used it to better effect. The long period of anarchy following the invasion and plunder of northern India by Timur in 1392 AD attracted the attention of Babur, a king of Kabul who descendent upon India with his Mughal Army in 1525. He defeated the Sultan of Delhi, Abraham Lodi at Panipat and was the first to use canons in Indian warfare.

Babur’s dominions extended from Afghanistan to the frontiers of Bengal, and from the Himalayas to Gwalior in Central India. He laid the foundation of the Mughal Empire that was to be consolidated by this grandson – Akbar (1542 –1605). Akbar is widely considered the greatest of the Mughal emperors. He took two decades to consolidate and bring parts of northern and central India into his realm. During his reign he reduced external military threats from the Afghans, solidified his rule by pursuing diplomacy with the powerful Rajputs, but his most lasting contributions were to the field of arts. He initiated a large collection of literature, including the Akbar-nama and the Ain-i-Akbari, and incorporated art from around the world into the Mughal collections. He also began a series of religious debates after which he founded his version of a common religion - the Din-i-Ilahi, or ‘Divine Faith’.

It was during Akbar’s reign that Maharana Pratap (1540- 1597), a Rajput ruler of Mewar, showed his mettle. The Maharana never accepted Akbar as ruler of India, and fought Akbar all his life. The two armies met at Haldighati, near Udaipur, on June 21, 1576.

This battle, a historic event in Rajputana, lasted only four hours. In this short period Pratap's men essayed many brave exploits on the field. However, the numerical superiority of the Mughal army and their artillery began to tell. Seeing that the battle was lost, Pratap's generals prevailed upon him to flee so as to be able to fight another day.

To facilitate Pratap's escape, one of his lieutenants donned Pratap's distinctive garments and took his place on the battlefield. He was soon killed. Meanwhile, riding his trusty albeit grievously wounded steed Chetak, Pratap escaped to the hills. The empire would now fall into the hands of Jhahangir and Shahjahan, leaving behind great monuments like the Taj Mahal being one of rare, outstanding beauty. After Shahjahan, however, the Mughal Empire had begun to crumble and various Princely States and smaller kingdoms began to assert themselves in various fields.

The last of the Mughals was Aurangzeb (1658-1707) who seized the throne by killing all his brothers and imprisoning his own father. During his fifty-year reign, the empire reached its utmost physical limit but also witnessed the unmistakable symptoms of decline. Mughal rule prevailed over India for 300 years, fusing the country in many diverse fields like the arts, craft, music, architecture, literature and culture. The advent of gunpowder based firearms now changed the pattern of warfare, as did the deployment of soldiers. Incendiary substances had long been known in India but not been effectively used or developed. Rockets, for example, was an old Indian weapon and remained in use in the Mughal and Maratha Armies. Though gradually the technique of manufacture of guns greatly improved, the weakness of the invaders persisted in the tactical deployment of troops.