IV. The Early Modern Period, 1500–1800 > D. South and Southeast Asia, 1500–1800
  The Encyclopedia of World History.  2001.
(See 1498) (See South Asia, 1000–1500) (See 1490) (See 1284)
D. South and Southeast Asia, 1500–1800
1. India, 1500–1800
Early modern India continued to be marked by the pattern of alternation between larger, inclusive (imperial) states and smaller states or kingdoms based on regional power bases and linguistic/cultural formations. New in this period was a dramatic increase in urbanization and a greater commercialization of agriculture and trade—results of the expanded imperial system, which fostered integration of localities into larger economic networks both within the subcontinent and between South Asia and other imperial centers. Very little speculation has been put forward regarding demographic changes before the 19th century; the regions of greatest population density when censuses began to be taken are presumed to be the same as those during this earlier period as well (with the rice-growing areas of the eastern Gangetic Basin and the east coast having the highest population). The increasing size and number of urban centers established in the early modern period have been presumed to foster as well as absorb the population increases in the subcontinent.  1
Initially in the north and ultimately over much of the South Asian subcontinent, the Mughal Empire emerged in this period to tie India to the larger Islamic world. Beyond economic integration with this larger system, the Mughals encouraged further integration through the opportunities offered to military and administrative elite migrating from Persia and the Arabic areas of the Middle East. Still, faced with the necessity of creating a shared political culture that would tie the immigrant ruling class to indigenous power structures, the Mughals fashioned a new Indo-Persian cultural system that created a shared elite culture focused on the emperor. Particular values—including Indian notions of good rule, Indian aesthetics, and hierarchical conceptualizations of the relationship between community and state—became incorporated within the ruling ethos.  2
At the same time in the south, the Vijayanagara Empire consolidated around a state ideology fashioned from Hindu theories of kingship and new claims to power by soldier-merchant groups. The elaboration of this state made clear the similarities of economic and political processes faced by both the empires. Key to success were the administrative and ideological ties established between the state and its constituent communities; the nature of these ties indicated that while one empire is called Islamic and the other Hindu, the Mughal and Vijayanagara rulers built their respective politico-cultural systems on the basis of many similar cultural assumptions that may be seen as typically South Asian in nature.  3
Toward the end of this period, the imperial systems in both the north and the south began to break apart. Across the subcontinent successor states arose, solidifying political and cultural coherence around regional identities expressed in local vernacular languages and literary works. The political and economic opportunities presented to local elite claimants enabled them to direct cultural patronage to solidify these regional cultures and identities. The ferment provided by the new political formations, and the contestations that naturally accompanied new claims to power, provided a period of great flux and creative reinvention of political forms and legitimations.  4
Into this flux moved a variety of European actors, brought to the subcontinent by their interest in trade and their new organization at home as commercial monopolies (the East India Companies of the English, the Dutch, and the French). These monopolistic enterprises facilitated the financing of ambitious pursuit of trade overseas. Still “bit” players in the unfolding drama, Europeans tried to ally themselves with different Indian princes absorbed by their internecene warfare, hoping to capitalize on the victories won by their allies.  5
By 1500
THE VIJAYANAGARA EMPIRE developed, in its second half, into what is known as the nayaka state-system, in which administrative and political relations differed significantly from what had gone before. While the Vijayanagara rulers continued to hold ultimate power over a broad belt of territory, they shared authority locally with a number of military chiefs, or nayakas. Originally part of the great Telugu migrations southward into the Tamil country in the 15th and 16th centuries, Balija merchant-warriors who claimed these nayaka positions rose to political and cultural power and supported an ethos that emphasized nonascriptive, heroic criteria in legitimizing political power. The Balijas were proud of their Sudra status, in a world previously dominated by a classical Sanskritic varna scheme that insisted that kings had to be Kshatriya (two castes higher than Sudras). The new egalitarian ethos made it easier for claimants from a variety of communities to succeed to political control.  6
Kaikkolas (weavers) and kanmalas (smiths) increased in power during the 15th and 16th centuries: set privileges were granted to them by nayakas and their subordinate local magnates. Indeed, the diversity of artisan and merchant communities in this period shows the increased importance of these professions in the emerging socioeconomic structure.  7
Spread of the Sikh faith in Bengal. Founded by Nnak (1469–1538), who merged Hinduism with Muslim egalitarianism. Later turned militant under persecution by the Mughals.  8
Yusuf Adil Shah of Bijapur, having annexed Gulbarga, established the Shi'ite form of Islam under state patronage, despite protest from many Sunnis.  9
The Portuguese, under Francisco de Almeida, at Diu destroyed an Egyptian-Indian fleet that had, in the previous year, defeated a Portuguese squadron at Chaul.  10
The Portuguese acquired Goa as headquarters, in place of Cochin.  11
Golconda became independent (till 1687).  12
Bahadur, the last active sultan of the “sultanate state” period, with the aid of Khandesh captured Mandu and annexed Malwa (1531), after which he captured Chitor (1534).  13
To 1550s
In the heyday of the Vijayanagara Empire, the center retained full control of the nayaka chiefs, receiving a third of the revenues collected in the territories assigned to the chiefs. The nayakas had only limited lordship over territory and had to maintain from their income armed forces for the king.  14
1526–1761 (1857)
The MUGHAL EMPIRE in India was founded by Babar (1483–1530), descendant of Timur-I Lang in the fifth generation, who had seized Kabul (1504) and Lahore (1524) as compensation for loss of Ferghana and Samarkand. Decisive victory at Panipat over Ibrahim Shah Lodi gave him Delhi and Agra, which he defended in the Battle of Khanua (1527) against Rana Sanga of Chitor, chief of a Rajput confederacy.  15
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.