III. The Postclassical Period, 500–1500 > C. South and Southeast Asia, 500–1500
  The Encyclopedia of World History.  2001.
(See South Asia, 72 B.C.E.–500 C.E.) (See 477–495+)
C. South and Southeast Asia, 500–1500
1. South Asia, 500–1199
Through invasions, immigration, and related changes, South Asia was increasingly drawn in this period into what would be characterized by the end date as an Islamicate world system. As representatives of Islam (soldiers as well as merchants and Sufi mystics) spread across the known world, the global community shared for the first time a set of understandings about legal premises, state structures, and the model of the ideal ruler, as well as the accepted attributes of a cultured person and the resulting criteria for poetic and artistic production. Of course the interaction of these Islamicate understandings with local cultures led to a range of variations on the Islamicate theme.  1
At the same time, regional cultures within the South Asian subcontinent were beginning to emerge (primarily around linguistic bases). At least five distinctive regional cultures eventually emerged: Punjab in the northwest, home to both settled agriculture and pastoralists; the agriculturalist Gangetic Plain; deltaic Bengal in the east; the Deccan plateau in the middle, encompassing several cultural zones; and Dravidian South India.  2
a. North India
The White Huns or Hephthalites, a branch of the Mongol Juan-juan who dominated central Asia (407–553), had occupied Bactria (425) and, after defeat by Sassanid Bahram Gor (428), Gandhara. Victory over Sassanid Peroz (484) freed them for raids from the Punjab into Hindustan.  3
c. 500–502
Toramana ruled as far as Eran.  4
502–c. 528
Mihirakula from Sialkot controlled Gwalior and Kashmir. Bhanugupta probably expelled him from Eran (510). Yasodharman of Mandasor (?) boasts (533) of victory over him. Although the Huns in central Asia were crushed by Turks and Sassanians (553–67), their chiefs kept rank in the Punjab and Rajputana till the 11th century.  5
From the decline of the Guptas until the rise of Harsha, the area was characterized by a confused political scene and the large-scale displacement of peoples. The dramatic movement of populations (especially from the Punjab and Rajasthan, where the impact of the Huns was felt most acutely) and the resulting new ethnic combinations of people did much to underscore the confusion and insecurity of the period.  6
HARSHA, fourth king of Thanesar, north of Delhi (new era Oct. 606), succeeded his brother-in-law as king of Kanauj (royal title 612), and quickly conquered an empire across northern India, to which he left no heir. Although Harsha aspired to a closely integrated empire following the Mauryan model, all he managed to achieve was a large kingdom in the north only loosely connected through feudal ties. Decisions of policy as well as pragmatic practice were made locally. Because commercial activities did not provide as large an income to the state as they had earlier, revenue came mainly from the land (in the form of a variety of taxes). Autonomous guilds continued to serve as the major institutions organizing manufacture and trade, with textiles being the most important industry (meeting both internal and foreign demand). The Buddhist church, or sangha, was now rich enough to act as banker, lending money on interest and renting out land, as well as performing mercantile functions.  7
Harsha received an embassy (643) from Emperor T'ang T'ai-tsung. A poet and dramatist, he patronized men of letters. He is well known through Bana's poetic romance Harshacharita, and by the Hsi vü chi (Record of Western Lands) of his guest, the pilgrim Hsüan-tsang, whose exact observations in India (630–43) have given priceless guidance to modern archaeology.  8
Tantrism meanwhile sought to secure for its adepts in magic arts, through esoteric texts (tantra) and charms, rapid attainment of Buddhahood or at least supernatural powers. Partial syncretism with Saivism led to a cult of Vairochana and various new divinities, largely terrible or erotic. Spells (dharanis) appear early (Chinese trans. 4th century), but the Panchakrama is in part the work of Sakyamitra (c. 850). Tantrism seems to have flourished chiefly along the northern borderland. Buddhism, however, progressively disappeared from India from the 9th century, lingering in Bengal and Bihar until the Muslim conquest (1202). It was largely absorbed by Hinduism.  9
A second Chinese embassy, under Wang Hsüan-tse, having been attacked by a usurper on a local throne (Tirhut, north of Patna?), secured 7,000 troops from Amsuvarman, king of Nepal, and 1,200 from his son-in-law, Srong-tsan-sgampo, king of Tibet; captured the malefactor; and haled him to Ch'ang-an (648).  10
c. 730–c. 740
YASOVARMAN, king of Kanauj, an author, patronized the Prakrit poet Vakpatiraja and Bhavabhuti, a Sanskrit dramatist ranked by Indian criticism next to Kalidasa.  11
c. 725–1197
The Pala Buddhist kings ruled Bengal (till c. 1125) and Magadha. Leading rulers: Dharmapala (c. 770–c. 883), and Devapala (c. 881–c. 883), who endowed a monastery founded at Nalanda by Balaputradeva, king of Sumatra.  12
c. 1125–c. 1225?
Senas from the Carnatic gradually advanced from North Orissa into Bengal.  13
c. 1169–c. 1199
Lakshmanasena patronized Jayadeva, whose Gitagovinda, mystic call to love of Krishna, is considered a Sanskrit masterpiece. Tightening of caste restrictions was accompanied in some areas by the origin of kulinism: the prohibition of marriage of any girl below her own caste, which led to female infanticide; and the rise in caste by marriage to a man of higher caste, which led to polygamy of high-caste husbands to collect dowries.  14
The Encyclopedia of World History, Sixth edition. Peter N. Stearns, general editor. Copyright © 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Maps by Mary Reilly, copyright 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.