Early Medieval Period in India:SSC,RRB NTPC,UPSC Note PDF

Early Medieval Period in India: SSC, RRB NTPC, UPSC Note PDF

The term ‘early medieval’ refers to the intermediate timeline between the ‘ancient and the medieval Indian History. This period is characterised by political fragmentation along with an absence of strong revenue infrastructure and a standing army. The early medieval history of India is from the genesis of the Pushyabhuti dynasty. Let’s learn.

Let’s discuss the topic by the division of timelines of the Early Medieval Period in India for better understanding.

Timeline of Early Medieval Period in India
Timeline of the Early Medieval Period in India

Although India was politically fragmented during this period, this era introduced different and supreme Cultural elements in the fields of art, language and literature. It should be noted that the period also introduced some epic specimens of temple architecture.

Sources of Early Medieval India

  • The biography of Harsha Vardhana written by Harsha’s court poet Banabhatta.
  • Travelogues of the Chinese pilgrim Hsuan Tsang/Xuanzang.
  • Nausasi copper plate inscription.
  • Aihole Inscription by Ravikirti.
  • Ajanta Caves depiction.
  • Copper plate inscriptions at Nagarjunakonda.
  • Khalimpur copper plate Inscription.

Early Medieval period in India Map

Map of Early Medieval period in India
Map of Early Medieval period in India

Pushyabhuti Dynasty of Thaneswar

  • Also known as Vardhana Dynasty.
  • The dynasty that gained dominance after the fall of the Gupta was that of the Pushyabhutis, who had their capital at Thanesar (near Kurukshetra, Haryana).
  • Pushyabhutis are the feudatories of the Guptas.
  • There is no enough information about the first three kings of the dynasty and most likely the dynasty came into prominence with the accession of Prabhakar Vardhana.
  • Prabhakar Vardhana defeated the Hunas and became stronger in the region of Punjab and Haryana.
  • Prabhakar Vardhana actually laid the foundations of the Pushyabhuti dynasty.
  • He established several marital alliances with the Maukharis of Kanyakubja/Kannauj (their neighbours to the east) by marrying his daughter Rajyashri to the Maukhari ruler Grahavarman.
  • After his death, his elder son Rajya Vardhana became the king but he was killed by Shashanka, the king of Gauda (Bengal and Bihar).
  • Harsha Vardhana (606-647 CE) was the last great Hindu king of India, who was originally a worshipper of Shiva but also supported Buddhism to a great extent.

The Empire of Harshavardhana/ Harshavardhana Dynasty

  • Harsha Vardhana undertook his throne at the age of 16 years under the constant rivalry from the rulers of Malwa, Devagupta and Shashanka, the ruler of Gauda.
  • Shashanka had imprisoned Harshavardhana’s sister Rajyashri and killed her husband Grahavarman.
  • Shashanka also cut the Bodhi tree and occupied Kannauj.
  • Harshavardhana rescued his sister Rajyashri and captured Kannauj, which came under the sovereignty of Pushyabhutis.
  • Later he also defeated Shashanka and took control over the parts of Gauda.

Achievements of Harshavardhana

  • Harsha won many military conflicts and he brought most of north India under his control.
  • He brought the area of Punjab, Kannauj, Bengal, Orissa, Mithila and assumed the title of ‘Siladitya‘.
  • Chinese traveller Xuanzang (Hsuan Tsang) mentioned Harshavardhana as ‘Siladitya’.
  • He also defeated the ruler of Sindh and also defeated the Vallabhi king, Dhruvasena II.
  • Harsha was defeated by Pulkesin II, the Chalukyan King of Badami on the banks of Narmada and proclaimed the title of “Sakalauttarapathanatha” or “Lord of the entire north”.
  • Harshavardhana dynasty included Thaneswar, Kannauj, Shravasti, and Prayag, and Magadha and Orissa of the East.
  • The capital of Harshavardhana was originally at Thaneswar but later shifted it to Kannauj.
  • The Narmada river was the southern boundary of his empire.
  • The king of Kamrupa, Bhaskaravarman and Dhruvabhata accepted his overlordship in the east.
  • The king of Vallabhi of the West also accepted his overlordship.
  • The forest tribes of the Vindhyas helped Harshavardhana with proving military support.
The Chinese pilgrim Hsuan Tsang, the author of Si- Yu-Ki, visited India during 629-644 CE, during Harsha’s reign and earned Harsha’s friendship and provided a detailed account of the prosperity of Kannauj. He also mentioned a detailed description of a grand assembly held at Kannauj in 643 CE. Xuanzang (Hsuan Tsang) described that the grand conclave was also attended by various subordinate kings including those of Vallabhi and Assam. A tower with a golden statue of the Buddha was constructed during the occasion. The statue was later worshipped by Harshavardhana himself.
  • Harshavardhana was a great patron of the arts and learning.
  • He also used to celebrate a solemn festival at Prayag at an interval of five years.
  • Harshavardhana wrote three dramas Priyadarshika, Ratnavali (both romantic comedies), and Nagananda (based on Bodhisattva Jimutavahana).
  • Harshavardhana composed the text of the two inscriptions Madhuban and Banskhera.
  • He was skilled in calligraphy.
  • According to Banabhatta, he was also an accomplished flute player.
  • He established a large monastery at Nalanda.
  • Banabhatta (author of Harshacharita and Parvatiparinay), Mayura (author of Mayurashataka), renowned grammarian Bhartrihari (author of Vakapadiya), and Matanga Divakara were the accomplished writers at his court.
  • He had diplomatic relations with China.

Administration of Harshavardhana

  • The army consisted of infantry, cavalry, chariots, and elephants.
  • The power shifted to military camps known as skandhavaras.
  • People were taxed lightly.
  • He used to have frequent tours of inspection around his kingdom.
  • Under the influence of Buddhism, the severity of punishment was mitigated and criminals were punished for life.
  • The Brahmanas and Kshatriyas used to lead a simple life, but the nobles and priests led a luxurious life.
  • The Shudras were mainly agriculturists and their status improved as compared to Guptas. Earlier, they were obliged to serve the other three varnas only, but they were allowed for agriculture independently.
  • Nalanda emerged as a great centre of Buddhist studies and had a huge monastic establishment. Nalanda University was supported by the revenues of 200 villages.

Early Medieval period in India and Political transition

Deccan and South India

Chalukyas of Badami

  • The Satvahanas was succeeded by the Vakatakas and the Vakatakas were replaced by the Chalukyas who became the primary power at the beginning of the 6th century CE.
  • The Chalukyas were a formidable maritime power and their capital was at Vatapi or Badami.
  • Pulkeshin I (c. 535-566 CE) founded the kingdom with capital at Vatapi (Badami, Karnataka).
  • Pulkeshin II (c. 610-642 CE) was the most powerful king of this dynasty, who won many military confrontations.
  • Ravikirti wrote the eulogy of Harshavardhana in the Aihole Inscription, which describes his victories over the Kadambas, Alupas and Gangas of Mysore. Ravikirti was the court poet of Harshavardhana.
  • He was Contemporary of Harsha Vardhana and defeated him on the banks of river Narmada.
  • He acquired the title of ‘Dakshinapatheshvara’ (lord of the south).
  • Pulkeshin II sent an embassy to Persian king Khusro II (the reception of this embassy is depicted in the Ajanta Caves).
  • Hsuan Tsang visited his kingdom.
  • Pulkeshin II was Hindu, still, he was soft towards Buddhism and Jainism.
  • He had a series of conflicts with the Pallavas of Kanchi. His first confrontation against the Pallavas, under Mahendravarman I, was a complete success. However, when he engaged with the Pallavas in the second time, it became a failure as the King Narsimhavarman I of the Pallava dynasty killed Pulkeshin II and adopted the epithet of Vatapikonda.
  • The Badami of Chalukya dynasty did fall after the death of Pulakeshin II due to internal feuds.
  • Badami was occupied by the Pallavas for a period of 13 years. The time was marked as the long-drawn political struggle between the Pallavas and Chalukyas.
  • Vikramaditya I (c. 655-680 CE) of Chalukya dynasty became successful in pushing the Pallavas out of Badami and re-established authority of Chalukya kingdom.
  • Vikramaditya I not only defeated successive Pallava rulers but also captured their capital Kanchi.
  • Vikramaditya I acquired the title ‘Rajamalla‘ or ‘the Sovereign of the Mallas’ or Pallavas.
  • Later, Vikramaditya I  also defeated the Cheras, Cholas and Pandyas.

Art and Culture of Chalukya

  • The Chalukyan dynasty is famous for the growth of art and architecture in Deccan.
  • Their style of architecture is called Chalukyan architecture.
  • They developed Deccan or Vesara style of temple-building, which reached its culmination under the Rashtrakutas and the Hoyasalas.
  • A large number of rock-cut monuments are found in the Malaprabha river basin in modern Bagalkot district of northern Karnataka.
  • They mostly used locally found reddish-golden sandstone in their monuments.
  • A maximum number of Chalukyan temple-building activity was found in a relatively small area of Aihole, Badami, Pattadakal and Mahakuta in modern Karnataka state.
  • Prominent cave temples have been found. These were characterised by Vedic, Jaina, and Buddhist tradition.
  • These cave temples at Badami is characterised by plain exterior but an exceptionally well-finished interior.
Badami Cave temple
Badami Cave temple
Chalukyas Temple Architecture UPSC Note

  • The Lad Khan Temple is featured by its magnificent art of perforated stone at windows and sculptures of river goddesses.
  • The Durga Temple shows the northern Indian style tower.
  • Other Dravida style temples from this period are the Banantigudi Temple, the Naganatha Temple at Nagaral, and the Mahakutesvara Temple.
  • Badami Chalukyan architecture includes the structural temples at Pattadakal, which were built in the 8th century and presently designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • There are ten temples at Pattadakal, among which, six are of southern Dravida style and four in the northern Nagara style. Some famous temples are the Sangamesvara Temple, Mallikarjurna Temple etc.
  • The famous Virupaksha Temple of Karnataka which contains a lot of representations from the epic the Mahabharata.
The Political structure of South India was dominated by two major powers i.e the Pallavas of Kanchi and the Pandyas of Madurai

The Pallavas of Kanchi

  • The local tribes in the eastern part of the Krishna-Guntur region emerged as the Pallavas.
  • The word ‘Pallava’ means ‘creeper‘, in the Sanskrit language and ‘Pallava’ means ‘robber‘ in Tamil literature.
  • The Pallavas had ther capital at Kanchi (modern Kanchipuram)
  • Simhavishnu laid the foundation of the Pallava empire.
  • Under Mahendravarman I (c. 590-630 CE). the conflict between the Chalukyas of Badami and the Pallavas increased and he was defeated by Pulekshin ll at Pullalur (near Kanchi) who annexed the northern part of the Pallava kingdom.
  • He was a great patron of arts.
  • Mahendravarman I was a Jain follower bu later he adopted Shaivism under the influence of Appar.
  • He was a poet and musician. He wrote the Mattavilasa Prahasanna.
  • Mahendravarman I started the construction of the famous cave temple at Mahabalipuram.
Mahabalipuram cave temple
Mahabalipuram cave temple
  • Narasimhavarman I (630-668 CE) not only defeated Pulkeshin II but also invaded the Western Chalukyan kingdom and captured Badami with the help of the Sri Lankan prince, Manavarma.
  • He is also known as Mahamalla or Mamalla.
  • He came out as victorian over Chalukyas as well as over the Cholas, Cheras and the Kalabhras.
  • He had navy force.
  • He constructed the port of Mamallapuram.
  • He also ordered the construction of the rathas at Mahabalipuram. Hence, in the honour of Narasimhavarman I the Mahabalipuram temple is also called Mamallapuram.
Rathas in Mahabalipuram
Rathas in Mahabalipuram

The Pandya Dynasty of Madurai

  • The Pandyas had their capital at Madurai i.e in present Tirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu.
  • Rajasimha of Pandya dynasty defeated the Pallavas and expanded the Pandya empire.
  • The Pandyas were completely overpowered by the Cholas in the 10th century.
Chalukya, Chola and Pnadya Dynasty in Map
Chalukya, Chola and Pnadya Dynasty in Map

The Chola Dynasty of Tanjore

  • The Cholas dynasty (850-1200 CE) came to power after overthrowing the authority of the Pallavas in South India
  • The Cholas was famous for its local self-government.
  • The Cholas dynasty developed a formidable navy and involved in sea trade in the Indian Ocean.
  • They also conquered Sri Lanka and the Maldives Islands.
  • They also had conflicts with Malaya, Java, and Sumatra through sea route.
  • The founder of the Chola dynasty was Vijayalaya (9th century CE).
  • He extended his kingdom from Tanjore to the lower Kaveri.
  • Rajaraja I (c.985-1014 CE) was the greatest Chola ruler, made the Chola dynasty the largest dominion in South India till the 13th century.
  • He destroyed the Chera navy and captured Madurai but also annexed northern Sri Lanka and renamed it as Mummadichola mandalam.
  • He also conquered the Maldives islands. He led a naval conflict with the Sailendra Empire.
  • Also involved in trade with China.
  • He also won over the Western Chalukyas, the Rashtrakutas, later Chalukyas.
  • He constructed the Rajarajeshwara or Brihadesvara temple. The temple is dedicated to Shiva at Thanjavur (Tanjore).
  • This temple is also known as the Rajaraja temple.
    Brihadisvara temple
    Brihadisvara temple
  • Rajendra I took complete control over Ceylon.
  • He defeated the Pala ruler Mahipala I and acquired the title of ‘Gangaikondachola’ or ‘the Chola conqueror of Ganga’.
  • The classic Tamil writer Kamban belonged to the Chola dynasty. He translated the Ramayana into the Tamil language.

Culture and Heritage of Early Medieval Period in India: The Chola Art and Architecture

The Chola Art and Architecture UPSC note.

  • The temple architecture in south India achieved its acme under the Chola Dynasty.
  • The Dravida style of Temple architecture with the concept of garbhagriha came into light. The style focuses on the building of storey upon storey above the chief deity room (garbhagriha).
  • The temple had a pillared hall called mandapa. The halls are featured with elaborately carved pillars and a flat roof. These halls were mostly used as an audience hall and ceremonial dances by devadasis were performed within.
  • The temple, apart from serving as a place of worship, also functioned as the hub of social and cultural life.
  • The temple had lofty and elaborate gates called gopurams. A fine example of Dravida style architecture is the 8th-century temple of Kailashnatha at Kanchipuram Similarly, the Brihadeswara temple at Tanjore is another fine specimen of Dravida style.
  • It is pertinent to note that after the fall of Cholas, temple building activity continued under the Chalukyas of Kalyani and the Hoysalas.
Kailashnath temple
Kailashnath temple
Virupaksha Temple
Virupaksha Temple
Shravanabelagola statue
Shravanabelagola statue

The giant statue of Gomateshwara at Shrvanbelgola is the finest example of sculpture.

The metal sculpture of the dancing figure of Shiva which is known as Nataraja was produced during the Chola dynasty.

Nataraja Bronze Idol
Nataraja Bronze Idol


The period from 750CE to 1000 CE in Northern India

The time can be defined as the tripartite struggle between Rashtrakuta, Pratiharas and Palas over the control of Kannauj.

The Pratihara Dynasty

  • The Pratiharas were also known as the Gurjara-Pratiharas.
  • The dynasty was founded by Harichandra in Jodhpur, Rajasthan.
  • There was a significant development of the Gurjara-Pratihara style of temple building. The Khajuraho temple is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was established during this era.
  • The Gurjara-Pratiharas were successful in containing Arab armies.
  • The Gurjara-Pratiharas came to prominence during the reign of Nagabhatta I.
  • Nagabhatta I (c. 730-760 CE)  was a very famous and prominent Pratihara king, who successfully prevented Arab’s entrance.
  • He was defeated by the Rashtrakuta king, Dhruva.
  • Vatsaraja (c. 780-800 CE) was the successors of Nagabhatta I, who extended his rule over to a large part of North India and made Kannauj in western U.P his capital.
  • Vatsaraja’s policy of expansion brought him into conflict with Dharmapala, the Pala King of Bengal and Bihar and also the Rashtrakuta king Dhruva, thus began what is known as the ‘tripartite struggle’. The tripartite conflict continued for another 350 years under various succeeding kings. The Pratiharas, however, were able to keep their hold over Kannauj till the last. 
  • Mihir Bhoja was the most successful ruler in Pratihara dynasty.
  • Yashpala was the last ruler of the dynasty.
Tripartite struggle between Rashtrakuta, Pratiharas and Palas
The tripartite struggle between Rashtrakuta, Pratiharas and Palas

The Pala Dynasty of Bengal

  • The Palas dynasty was from eastern India.
  • Pala’ means “the protector” in the ancient Prakrit language.
  • The Pala kingdom included Bengal and Bihar including the cities of Pataliputra, Vikrampura, Monghur (Munger), Tamralipti and Jaggadala.
  • The Pala kings were the followers of Buddhism, especially Mahayana schools of Buddhism.
  • Gopala laid the foundation of Pala dynasty.
  • Dharmapala founded the Vikramshila monastery in Bihar and revived Nalanda University.
  • Kannuaj became the central point of his administration. His rule was also accepted by the rulers of the west and south India such as those of Punjab, western hill states, Rajputana, Malwa and Berar.
  • Devapala also included Pragjyotishpura from Assam, some parts of Orissa (Utkala) and modern Nepal.

The empire became weaker during the 11th century and the Pala Dynasty was destroyed by the Sena dynasty. The Sena dynasty, under Vijaysena, dethroned the Pala Empire in the 12th century, ending the reign of the last major Buddhist imperial power in the subcontinent. The Pala period is considered one of the golden time in Bengal history. The Palas brought stability and prosperity to eastern India primarily in Bengal and created outstanding works of art and architecture.

They built eminent temples and monasteries, including the Somapura Mahavihara, and patronised the great universities of Nalanda and Vikramashila. The earlier version of the present Bengali language was developed under Pala rule as they laid the basis for the Bengali language. The Palas were elite diplomats and military conquerors. Their army was featured by the vast war elephant cavalry. The Pala kingdom was also known for its strong Navy, which was used for both defence and mercantile purposes. The empire enjoyed trade relations with various other kingdoms like the Srivijaya Empire, the Tibetan Emp the Arab Abbasid Caliphate.

The Rastrakuta Dynasty

  • The Rashtrakutas were the controller of Deccan between c.753 and 975 CE.
  • Rashtrakuta‘ means the chief of a Rashtra or a division or kingdom.
  • Dantidurga (c. 733-756 CE) who was the feudatory of the Chalukya king, Kirtivarman II, established the Rashtrakuta kingdom by taking control of the Chalukya empire in c.733 CE.
  • Krishna I (c.756-774 CE) brought the Rashtrakuta dynasty to the Karnataka and Konkan under his control.
  • He defeated Pallavas in multiple occasions.
  • The magnificent rock-cut Kailashnatha Temple at Ellora which is found near Aurangabad, Maharastra was constructed under Krishna I. The temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva and it is a monolithic masterpiece.
  • Rashtrakuta kingdom had the capital at Malkhed and which was burnt into ashes after the death of Krishna III.
  • Rashtrakuta rule lasted in the Deccan for almost 200 years.
  • They patronised not only Shaivism and Vaishnavism but Jainism as well.

Trade and Commerce in Early Medieval Period in India

  • The trading activity came to stagnation during this period of time.
  • The flourishment in trade was the trade between the kingdoms of south India and the South-east Asian countries increased during this period.
  • Travel across the salt seas was also considered as the act of polluting sea routes, thus sea travelled was banned.
  • Although this ban was not implemented strictly by Indian rulers and many Indian merchants, philosophers and craftsmen used to visit Baghdad and other Muslim towns in west Asia during this period.
  • After the 10th century, foreign trade and commerce were revived with the emergence of the extensive Arab empire in West Asia and North Africa.
  • The demand for quality Indian fabrics incenses and spices among the wealthy Arab rulers increased, hence the trade flourished again and Malwa and Gujarat emerged as major trade points in India.

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MCQ on the Early Medieval Period in India

Attempt Quiz on Early Medieval Period in India

Where is the famous Virupaksha temple located?
Where is the famous Brihadeswar temple located?
The Ankorvat temple of Combodia is built by which ruler?
What was the capital of Later Chalukya Kingdom?
Who was the founder of the Chola dynasty?
Which ruler built the famous Jagannath temple?
Which ruler is known as the 'Ashoka of the South'?
The famous Mahabalipuram Rath temple was built under which ruler?
Harshacharita was written by which writer?
Hien Tsang (Original name is Xuanzang) became a friend of which Indian king?
Which of the following drama is not written by Harshavardhana?
With reference to the economic history of India, the term 'Araghatta' refers to
Gita Govinda a theme of love between Radha and Krishna was written by which writer?
Rajtarangini, a vivid account of Kashmiri kings, is written by which writer?

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Early Medieval Period in India is very important from the exam point of view. Hence, the article is a comprehensive note of the Early Medieval period in India UPSC, SSC RRB NTPC and many other competitive government job examinations.

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