India and the Indian Ocean Basin summary



India and the Indian Ocean Basin summary


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India and the Indian Ocean Basin summary


Chapter 16: India and the Indian Ocean Basin

During the postclassical period there emerged in India no long-lasting imperial authority, as there were in China and the Islamic world. Regional kingdoms were the norm. Nevertheless, Indian society exerted a profound influence on the cultures of south and southeast Asia. Through the extensive trade networks of the Indian Ocean basin, Indian forms of political organization, religion, and economic practices spread throughout the region. Several developments in India during this era gradually spread throughout the larger culture zone.

  • Dramatic agricultural growth fueled population growth and urbanization. These phenomena, combined with specialized industrial production and trade, resulted in unprecedented economic growth for the region.
  • India's central position in the Indian Ocean basin resulted in it becoming a major clearinghouse for products of the voluminous maritime trade network that encompassed east Africa, Arabia, Persia, southeast Asia, and Malaysia as well as the entire Indian subcontinent.
  • Islam originally appeared in India through a variety of conduits, and it eventually became the primary religion of one quarter of the population. From India, Islam, along with Hinduism and Buddhism, spread to southeast Asia and the nearby islands.



                India, just as did Greece, Rome, Constantinople, and China, played an influential role in shaping neighboring societies, in this case south and Southeast Asia.  The great difference between the situation in India and that of the other states was that no Indian state would develop to rival the political authority of the Tang or Roman states.  Nevertheless, India’s distinctive political, cultural, and religious traditions continued to evolve and influence its neighbors.  For example, Indian merchants carried Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam to Southeast Asia.




Islamic and Hindu Kingdoms


                Centralized political rule in India collapsed in 451 C.E. when the Guptas were overrun by White Huns from Central Asia, and it would not return until the sixteenth century.  Internal wars and frequent invasions by Turkish-speaking nomads left northern India chaotic and politically fragmented.  Brief reunification in the seventh century by the scholarly Buddhist emperor Harsha did little in the long run to change the political pattern in the north.  This lack of political unity in the north made foreign incursion easy, and in 711 the Sind was incorporated into the Umayyad empire.  The region eventually passed to the Abbasids and remained, although often only marginally, under their control into the thirteenth century.  Islam also came into India via Muslim merchants and Turkish-speaking migrants from central Asia.  Mahmud of Ghazni launched seventeen major invasions of India in the early eleventh century.  The main goal of Mahmud was plunder, so he won very few converts to Islam.  However, his invasions proved disastrous for Buddhism.  A more stable Islamic state would eventually rise in Delhi in the thirteenth century.  The Delhi Sultanate (1206–1526) restored order in northern India and was much more successful at spreading the Islamic faith.


                While remaining politically divided, the smaller Hindu kingdoms of southern India were generally spared the constant invasions that tore apart the north.  The Chola kingdom (850–1267) became rich from sea trade and eventually became powerful enough to extend marginal control over much of southern India.  At its height the Chola kingdom controlled Ceylon as well as most of the area from the South China Sea to the Arabian Sea.  The kingdom of Vijayanagar (1336–1565) dominated southern India after the collapse of the Chola kingdom.  Harihara and Bukka, ironically two converted Muslim emissaries from the Delhi sultan, returned to their Hindu roots and carved off their own southern kingdom.  Neither state could rival the power of the earlier Mauryan or Gupta empires.


Production and Trade in the Indian Ocean Basin


                Trade within and beyond the Indian Ocean basin increasingly forged links between India and other societies.  Once farmers mastered sophisticated irrigation techniques, such as the reservoir at Bhopal, the agricultural foundation for expanded trade was in place.  This food production helped India’s population double between 600 and 1500 (53 million to 105 million), which in turned fueled a corresponding urban expansion.  By the fourteenth century, Delhi, with a population of over four hundred thousand, had become the second biggest Islamic city in the world.  Increasingly specialized agricultural (i.e., cotton) and manufacturing production (i.e., high-carbon steel) followed.  The locations of Ceylon and southern India ensured that these areas would benefit tremendously from the trading market.  Temples served as financial, social, and agricultural centers and facilitated trade.  The changing patterns of the monsoon seasons made India’s central location a perfect place to construct emporia.  The east African kingdom of Axum benefited from Indian Ocean trade and eventually replaced Kush in significance. The caste system itself underwent a transformation as guilds became incorporated into its complex structure.  Trade also helped to spread the caste system into southern India.


The Meeting of Hindu and Islamic Traditions


                The postclassical age brought profound religious change in India.  The popularity of Buddhism and Jainism decreased dramatically while Hinduism and the late-arriving Islam came to dominate society to a greater extent than ever before.  Although several powerful Indian emperors had tried to make Buddhism the main religion of India over the centuries, it had never seriously competed with the more firmly entrenched Hinduism.  The sacking of the Buddhist center of Nalanda in 1196 by Islamic forces was the beginning of the end for Buddhism in India.


                The continued evolution of Hinduism, especially the growth of devotional cults dedicated to Vishnu and Shiva, helps to explain its growing popularity during these years.  Worship of Vishnu, the Hindu preserver god, and Shiva, a god of both fertility and destruction, would bring salvation.  The ninth-century Shiva devotee Shankara proposed that only through disciplined logical reasoning could an individual grasp the ultimate reality of the world spirit.  Ramanuja, a later Vishnu devotee, mistrusted a coldly logical attempt to understand the reality of Brahman and instead recommended a path of intense devotion in order to reach union with the deity.


                In its early centuries in India, Islam did not have the same appeal, mainly because it was the religion of the conquerors.  Plus, leading positions in society inevitably fell to Muslims, causing even greater Hindu anger.  By 1500, however, about one-fourth of India’s population had converted to Islam.  The classic Islamic notion of the equality of all souls was very appealing to the members of lower castes.  As was the case in many other areas of the growing dar al-Islam, in India Sufi mystics, because of their emphasis on a personal and emotional connection to Allah, became the most successful missionaries.  Another explanation for Islam’s growing success was that it became less exclusionary.  The bhakti movement worked to eliminate the distinction between Hinduism and Islam. Guru Kabir, a Sufi thinker, proposed that Shiva, Vishnu, and Allah were all manifestations of a single deity.


The Influence of Indian Society in Southeast Asia


                The islands and mainland of southeast Asia were influenced so profoundly by Indian thought that they are sometimes referred to as “Indianized states.”  Religious concepts―Hindu, Buddhist, and Islamic―were brought to southeast Asia by merchants and missionaries.  At the same time Indian political and cultural traditions shaped neighboring societies.  Funan, a wealthy trading kingdom along the Mekong River from the first to the sixth century, called their king a raja, wrote in Sanskrit, and worshipped Shiva and Vishnu.  The Sumatran kingdom of Srivijaya (670–1025) dominated a sea trade route from China to India.  A myriad of kingdoms followed, as complex as the Indian civilization from which they borrowed.  Angkor in Cambodia displayed Hindu influences in its capital at Angkor Thom and Buddhist influences in its later capital at Angkor Wat.  The powerful trading state of Melaka became Islamic.

Post-Classical India and the Indian Ocean Basin


Study Questions

  1. What factors led to the collapse of unified, imperial rule in India before and after the reign of Harsha?
  2. When and how did Islam enter northern India?
  3. How did Indian agriculture improve in the post classical era? What was the impact of these improvements on the population of the subcontinent?
  4. What were some of the significant trade goods produced in southern India?
  5. What was the function of the Hindu temple within Chola society?
  6. How did the seasonal monsoons affect the trade of the Indian Ocean?
  7. What were some of the specialized goods and manufactures to emerge from India into the world markets at this time?
  8. How is it that Buddhism declined after the Muslim invasions while Hinduism survived?
  9. To what extent did Indian culture penetrate Southeast Asia before the arrival of Muslim traders in the eighth century?
  10. When and how did Islam reach Southeast Asia? Where did Islam take root?

Connections: in fifty words or less explain the relationship between these two:

  • Monsoons and Dhows
  • Caste and Islam
  • Angkor and Buddhism
  • Cotton and Silk


Discussion Questions

Section I:

  1. Compare India’s Post-Classical challenges to those in China.


  1. Discuss political organization in Northern India prior to Islamic intrusion.


  1. What characteristics do Ashoka and Harsha have in common?


  1. Why was Harsha unable to centralize rule in India?


  1. Discuss the differences between conquering Muslims and Hindus.


  1. Discuss the three ways Islam entered into India.


  1. Why was the conquest of Mahmud of Ghazni a setback for indigenous Indian religions?


  1. Discuss the scope of the Delhi Sultanate.


  1. How did Muslims and Hindus coexist during the Delhi Sultanate?


  1. How can the Delhi Sultanate be compared to the Roman Empire’s Barracks Emperors period?


  1. Discuss the differences between Northern and Southern India.


  1. Discuss the foundations of the Chola Kingdom.


  1. Discuss the foundations of the Vijayanagar kingdom.


  1. Why was each ultimately unsuccessful?


Section II:

  1. Why did agriculture change so dramatically in Post-Classical India?


  1. What impact did these changes have on the demography of Post-Classical India?


  1. Why does India see a resurgent urban culture?


  1. Discuss regional specialization in Post-Classical India?


  1. Discuss the Christian view of economic and social diversity in Southern Indian kingdoms.


  1. What roles did the temple play in Post-Classical India?


  1. What were the challenges of Maritime trade in Post-Classical India and how were they overcome?


  1. What challenges did Post-Classical India bring to the caste system?


  1. How was the caste system impacted by migration?


  1. Discuss the relationship between caste and guild?


  1. Discuss the relationship between caste and temples in Post-Classical India?


Section III:

  1. Why did Jainism and Buddhism endure a state of decline in Post-Classical India?


  1. What are devotional cults and why did they grow so fast?


  1. What was the appeal of these devotional cults in Post-Classical India?


  1. Why did Siva (Shiva) and Vishnu grow in popularity?


  1. How do India and China compare in their expansion of religious and philosophical traditions?


  1. Discuss the impact of Shankara and Ramayuna and how might they compare to the neo-confucianists of Post-Classical China?



  1. Discuss the meaning of the Bhagvata Purana.


  1. Why did Islam spread so slowly in Post-Classical India?


  1. What are the areas of common ground Hindus and Muslims found in Post-Classical India?


  1. What is the Bhakti movement and how did Guru Kabir represent the teachings of the movement?


Section IV:

  1. Compare Post-Classical India and Post-Classical China’s respective contributions to their respective regions?


  1. How did Funan absorb Indian influences yet remain independent?


  1. How did Angkor, Singosari, and Majaphit include Indian traditions?


  1. Compare the influence of Islam to that of Hinduism throughout SE Asia?


  1. How did SE Asian Islam differ from its arab counterparts?


  1. What commonalities can be seen between Post-Classical India and her Post-Classical counterparts in:
    1. Byzantium


    1. Islamic world


    1. China


Post Classical Era of Human History: Focus on India and China


Timeframe: 500-1000 CE



  • Turbulence and instability to classical civilizations
  • Political Change
  • Social Change
  • Economic Change
  • Cultural Change



  • Restoring political order: centralization?
  • Economic Restructuring amidst zealous advancements in trade.
  • Biological advancement: new crops, spreading wide
  • Technological advancement: irrigation, navigation
  • Population explosion: advancements in farming make cultivation easier more fruitful.
  • Social order: enhanced diversification of society based on economic complexity, commerce, and invasion.
  • Religious development: syncretism development of faiths, preserving of ancient faiths, and developing toleration.
  • Cultural development: with the advancement of religious and literary traditions, the explosion of new cultural trends.
  • Cultural diffusion: spreading ideas to other regional entities.


India during the Post Classical Age:


  • Restoring political order: centralization?  Harsha, Vijayangar, Chola, Islamic conquest into Sind, Mahmud of Ghazni, Dehli Sultanate.
  • Economic Restructuring amidst zealous advancements in trade. Merchants and Islam, development of Emporias, spread to Funan, Srivijaya,  Angkor, Sumatra, and beyond.  Interest in Indian spice, metallurgical goods, and natural resources.
  • Biological advancement: new crops, sugar, cotton, etc…
  • Technological advancement: dealing with the monsoon winds, irrigation, dams, reservoirs, and canals in south.  Dhows and Junks, Indian commerce. 
  • Population explosion: advancements in farming make cultivation easier more fruitful. 600 CE=53 million.1000 CE=80 million.
  • Social order: enhanced diversification of society based on economic complexity, commerce, and invasion. Evolution of Caste, Jati, and Guilds. Economic specialization. 
  • Religious development: syncretism development of faiths, preserving of ancient faiths, and developing toleration.  Hinduism, Islam, Buddhist decline and Bhakti.  Vishnu and Shiva (Siva) development.  Shankara and Ramanuja.  Missionary works of Sufi Muslims.
  • Cultural development: with the advancement of religious and literary traditions, the explosion of new cultural trends. Book of Wonders,


Key Events:

  • Guptas overthrown

  •  by Huns
  • Turkish invasions of the 7th-11th centuries
  • Umayyad then Abbasid control of Northern India.
  • Conversions to Islam by Indians in the North
  • Mahmud of Ghazni launches 17 invasions into India, to pillage.
  • Establishment of the Dehli Sultanate
  • Establishment of the Chola kingdom
  • Establishment of the kingdom of Vijayanagar
  • Agricultural innovations (cotton)
  • Population doubling between 600 and 1500 (105 million)
  • Technological innovations (steel)
  • Leaders in the Indian Ocean trade routes
  • Buddhist decline
  • Destruction of Nalanda
  • Restoration and ascension of Hinduism
  • Diversity between North and South
  • Rise of Bakhti movement and Sufi missionaries
  • Establishment of Funan kingdom in Vietnam
  • Establishment of Srivijaya
  • Rise of Angkor Kingdom
  • Rise of Melaka


Key People and Terms

  • Buzurg ibn Shahiyar
  • Harsha
  • Mahmud of Ghazni
  • Shankara
  • Raminuja
  • Guru Kabir
  • Sind
  • Sultanate of Dehli
  • Chola Kingdom
  • Vijayanagar
  • Monsoons
  • Dhows and Junks
  • Axum
  • Caste System
  • Vishnu
  • Shiva
  • Sufis
  • Bhakti
  • Funan
  • Srivijaya
  • Angkor
  • Melaka


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