TRADITIONAL INDIA

[Excerpted from Surjit Mansingh, "Historical Setting", in India: A Country Study. Richard F. Nyrop, ed. Washington, D.C.: Department of the Army, 1985. Pp. 14-23]

The Gupta Dynasty and the Classical Age

The classical age refers to the two centuries after about A. D. 320 when North India was reunified under the Gupta Dynasty. Writers of the early twentieth century looked on this period as some kind of utopia and fitted the reign of Harsha-vardhana of Kanauj (A.D. 606-47) in the same mold. More realistic assessments have been made in recent decades, and attention has shifted to the plentiful source materials of the post-Gupta period. If not utopian, the Gupta age was certainly a golden one, in which Hindu culture and polity matured and prosperity was widespread. When displacement occurred at the core, peripheral regions perpetuated the classical Hindu model, especially in South India.

The rise and expansion of the Gupta Dynasty from their home base in Magadha was similar to that of the Mauryas. The victorious campaigns of Samudragupta from Kashmir to the Deccan, which are commemorated on an Asokan pillar at Allahabad, and the matrimonial alliances of his.son, Chandragupta II, show that the kings and local chieftains of the entire subcontinent were either uprooted, made tributary, or won to friendly compliance by the Gupta emperors, who assumed exalted imperial titles. Their direct control, however, was confined to the Ganges Valley, and their relationships with other kings and chieftains had a feudal cast. The Gupta style of administration was less centralized than the Mauryan and was carried out through provincial, district, subdivisional, and village offficials rather than by centrally appointed personnel.

It is evident from excavations and from the contemporary literature that the standard of living in Gupta India was high for most people. The Chinese pilgrim Fa-Hsien, who visited India between A.D. 399 and 414, remarked on the prosperity of the people, the smoothness of administration, and the leniency of punishment compared with China. Another Chinese pilgrim, Hsuan-Tsang, who traveled in the area in the seventh century, made similar comments, but he also reported on the existence of landless labor and the practice of untouchability.

The concentration of formal education was on grammar, rhetoric and composition, logic and metaphysics, medicine, mathematics, and astronomy. Aryabhata's expositions on astronomy in A. D. 499 give calculations of the solar year and the shape and movement of astral bodies with an accuracy anticipating modern science. Astronomy and its unscientific but popular cousin, astrology, were based on an active study of mathematics. The numerals and decimal system routinely used in classical India were borrowed by the Arabs and so passed on to the European world, where they supplanted the Roman system.

Lexicons of the Sanskrit language introduced by Panini and Patanjali in the first century of the Christian Era continued. The great literary genius of Gupta times, however, was Kalidasa. His dramas also throw light on emerging social practices. For example, there was a difference between aristocratic males, women, and servants, not only in behavior and speech patterns but also in actual language. The former spoke Sanskrit, the language of the elite. The latter two categories spoke Prakrits, the vernacular of the common people. Prakrits were less rigid and developed rich regional varieties that grew into the many different languages of North India. Kalidasa and other religious writers of the period indicate that the status of women was being lowered. Early marriage for girls and perpetual celibacy for widows was advocated. Sanction was given to the voluntary immolation of a widow as a pious act; the first record of the practice is a pillar inscription of 510. Women who opted out offamily life by becoming courtesans, performing in theaters, or joining Buddhist nunneries enjoyed a larger measure of freedom than their married sisters.

The last of the imperial C;uptas was Skandagupta (455-67), grandson of Chandragupta II. Skandagupta was preoccupied with warding off the predatory Huns on the northwest borders of the subcontinent. Subsequent Hun invasions shattered the unity of North India, which was only briefly restored by Harsha-vardhana of Kanauj. The Huns were gradually absorbed by the same process of legitimization and Hinduization as the Sakas had been, and their descendants gave rise to the Rajputs. The classical patterns of civilization realized under the Guptas were sustained by their successors in the middle Ganges Valley and in the kingdoms that emerged from the breakup of the Gupta Empire. Thus the decline and fall of the Gupta Empire coincided with considerable progress and prosperity in the outlying regions. South India, particularly, was in ascendance.

South India had its own territorial and interdynastic conflicts, some of which had significance for a wider area. For example, the Chalukyas of the western Deccan played an important connecting role between south and north for more than two centuries. Their main rivals for supremacy in the strategic and prosperous area of the Krishna-Tungabhadra doab were the Pallavas of Kanchi (near present-day Madras). Both the Chalukyas and the Pallavas were orthodox in their performance of Vedic sacrifices and their support of Brahmans. Both dynasties left innumerable and enduring architectural monuments in beautifully carved stone temples. Perhaps the most accessible monuments dating to the seventh century stand on the sandy shore of Mahaballipuram, near Madras.

The Pallavas maintained the maritime traditions oftheir Pandya predecessors and enjoyed close trading and cultural relations with Southeast Asia. The art, architecture, literature, and social customs of the kingdoms of Kamboja and Champa (present-day Indochina), Pegu and Moulmein (Burma), and Srivijaya (Malaysia and Indonesia) show the strong influence of the Sanskrit language, Brahman teachers, and Buddhist beliefs. Angkor Wat in Kampuchea and Borobudur in Indonesia immortalize HinduBuddhist mythology and the skill of stone craftsmen. The nature of the relationship between India and what some European scholars deemed "Greater India" has not been precisely determined. Colonization, in the modern sense of that term, seems unlikely. The peoples of Southeast Asia appear to have been attracted to specific aspects of Indian civilization and to have borrowed heavily from it, but they did so in accordance with their own cultural and social needs.

A more assertive outward thrust was made by the Chola Dynasty, which overthrew the Pallavas in the ninth century and proceeded to overrun most of Peninsula India. Chola rulers Rajaraja (98S1014) and Rajendra I (101844) also invaded and annexed parts of Sri Lanka and Maldives. They sent several naval expeditions against the Srivijaya Empire, which controlled the sea route to China. Chola trade with China is well documented although it was characteristically referred to in Chinese chronicles as "tribute." The Chola navy was the strongest fleet in the region for some time, and the Bay of Bengal became a Chola lake lauded by Tamil bards. The Chola armies were large, usually consisting of one wing each of elephants, horse cavalry, and infantry They fought incessantly on the Peninsula, sacking, plundering; and massacring where they conquered. Thereafter, Chola ascendancy was maintained less by force than by a system of legitlmizing local chieftains in their domains in return for recognition of Chola ritual sovereignty.

The Chola Empire flourished through the thirteenth century. The rich Cauvery Basin formed its core. The rest of the empire was divided into semiautonomous provinces and districts. These were connected by royal roads and watered by well-designed irrigation systems. Taxes were high, amounting to onethird of the produce, but appear to have been spent mostly within the area taxed instead of being siphoned off to a central treasury. Offficials were usually paid with grants of land carrying revenue, not in cash.

The center of Chola social and economic life was the temple. Large temples, such as those at Tanjore and Srirangam, took many years to build and enjoyed huge annual incomes from land, commerce, and the offerings of devotees. Temples were run then, as today, as multipurpose institutions. They provided schooling, employment, and assembly halls. They acted as moneylenders to the cultivators and often financed commercial enterprises abroad. Temples maintained large male and female staffs. Devadasis (female servants of the deity) were originally venerated as dedicated dancers of the Bharata Natyam, akin to the vestal virgins of Greece or Rome. But the system was abused, and in many temples devadasis were reduced to prostitution. In Chola and post-Chola times, a distinctive style of temple architecture evolved. This was characterized by a series of stories built above the shrine of the chief deity, a pillared hall placed in front of the main sanctum, and an enclosed courtyard in which the complex stood. Later, the sculptured tiers constructed over the gateways, called gopuram, came to dominate the entire structure. The stone decoration of temples became more and more elaborate as their size and functions increased, until they came to resemble palaces housed in miniature cities. Chola sculptures, in bronze and in stone, are among the artistic masterpieces of the world. The image of the dancing Siva, Nataraja, is world famous.

Sanskrit was the language of theology and learning in South India, as it was in North India. At the same time, a flourishing popular literature was growing in the Dravidian languages, often borrowing Sanskrit themes and vocabulary. The classic Tamil Ramayana of Kamban was composed in the twelfth century. Devotional hymns composed in Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, and KannadaÑthe four Dravidian languages of South IndiaÑgained wide circulation as the bhakti movement filtered northward. By the early medieval period an all-India cultural synthesis had taken place, notwithstanding political fragmentation.

The Coming of Islam and the Delhi Sultanate

Islam is a revealed religion propagated by the Prophet Muhammad in the early seventh century. Islam gave the Arab tribes unity and zeal for moral purpose in a burst of military expansion. By the end of the eighth century the Arabs had extended their sway westward into North Africa and Spain and eastward into Iran and Central Asia. An Arab expedition entered Sind and Baluchistan (in present-day Pakistan) in 711 and gained a potential foothold, but this had slight effect elsewhere on the subcontinent. Arab traders, who had long been familiar on the west coast, were now supplemented by Muslim teachers and saints, known as Sufis, whose influence was to grow over the centuries. Only at the end of the tenth century did Muslim forces enter northwest India and find a base for the thirteenth-century conquest of Delhi and the Indo-Gangetic Plain.

Coming into India over a period of 500 years in different guises and at different places, therefore, Islam had a varied impact. This depended as much on local conditions as on the character of its bearers. It is not surprising then that no uniform or simple answer can be given to the question most often posed in the twentieth century about Islam in India, i.e., were Muslims Indian or alien? On the one hand, Islam gave the Central Asian and Afghan tribes a faith radically different from the beliefs of the Hindu-Buddhist world and thus prevented them from being assimilated, as had all previous invaders or immigrants. Indeed, members of the Muslim aristocracy underlined their foreign lineage. On the other hand, they quickly became part of a typically Indian checkerboard where religious identity was only one factor in the politico-military game. The new ruling class was sustained in India by Indians, both Muslim and Hindu. The majority of the Muslim populationÑwhich was never more than a fraction of the totalÑconsisted of converts from Hinduism and Buddhism and their descendants. A cultural synthesis working in both directions was clearly visible by the fourteenth century and flowered in the Mughal Empire. During the thousand years dominated by the Rajputs, Turks, Afghans, and Mughals, there was no concept of India as a single political entity. Earlier patterns of interregional and supraregional ambition and interaction with Central Asian neighbors continued to prevail.

The death of Harsha-vardhana in 647 ended the age of imperial unity in North India. Many dynasties jostled for status and territory. Most of them were Rajputs, whose legendary origins, heroism, and chivalry gave rise to a romantic body of literature and folklore. Rajput propensities for warfare led to the construction of impressive fortresses. Rajputs, men and women alike, treated war as a grand pageant or a seasonal sport. Death on the battlefield was the highest honor for a warrior; women preferred immolation by fire to dishonor or capture. Rajput rulers paid scant attention to commerce, which declined, or to agriculture. They were maintained by a quasi-feudal system of distributing agricultural produce that increased the number of beneficiaries at the expense of the peasant-cultivator. Neither the Rajputs nor their Brahman advisers were interested in the world beyond the circle of their dynastic rivalries. Al Biruni, a brilliant Arab visitor of the eleventh century, summed up his impressions thus: "The Indians believe that there is no country but theirs, no nation like theirs, no king like theirs, no religion like theirs, no science like theirs."

Cultural introversion was united with geopolitical and strategic unawareness. The Rajputs failed to comprehend the revolutionary significance of Islamic advances that were slowly but steadily pushing eastward. Ultimately, a small chieftain in the Punjab was left alone to face a new and formidable power based in Ghazni (in contemporary Afghanistan) without benefit of allies. Mahmud of Ghazni (979-1030) was lured by the proverbial wealth of India to lead a series of destructive raids against Hindu temples. Having replenished his treasury, he campaigned in Central Asia with equal brilliance, but he turned again to India for gold, slaves, and builders. Mahmud's attacks on the temples of Mathura, Thanaswar, Kanauj, and the renowned Somnath fused iconoclasm with greed and left a permanent imprint of terror on the Hindu psyche . Although a patron of learning, he was remembered only as a symbol of the unclean barbarian (mlechcha) . Historically, Ghazni's conquest of the Punjab provided a base for the more serious efforts of Muhammad of Ghor two centuries later. The Rajput rulers meanwhile appeared to have learned nothing. Their military tactics were unchanged, and they succumbed to the swift horsemanship of the Afghans and Turks.

A new Muslim sultanate was established at Delhi by Iltutmish (1206-36). Delhi commanded a strategic spur in the North Indian plains. The urge to conquer outward from Delhi was strong, and within 100 years the sultanate had extended its sway east to Bengal and south to the Deccan. It was subject to continued pressure from the northwest, however, as well as from displaced rulers and independent-minded nobles.

The sultanate period was one of continuous flux. There were five dynasties: Slave (1206-90); Khalji (129s1320); Tughlaq (1320-1413); Sayyid (1414-51); and Lodi (1451-1526). Each gained the throne by violence. The territories controlled by the sultans expanded and contracted. The sultans of Delhi based their laws on the Quran and sharia (Islamic law) and demanded payment of a special protection tax from their non-Muslim subjects but they did not attempt to change or abolish Hindu law or to interfere with customary social practices. The centers of their rule were urban; military camps and trading posts provided the nuclei for towns.

The rural countryside saw little of the new rulers save in military campaigns, but the peasants were required to sustain yet another set of revenue collectors. One sultan made an attempt to systematize and unify the land tax as well as urban taxes and to institute a centralized bureaucracy over his domains, but his effort was abortive. Agriculture in North India had improved as a result of new irrigation methodsÑincluding what came to be known as the Persian wheelÑand a few canals were constructed. Prolonged political instability and the brutalization of the peasantry were not conducive to prosperity, however. The depletion of the land became a conspicuous feature of nineteenth-century India. In partial compensation, perhaps, the sultanate period saw an impetus given to trade and industry by the free-spending habits of the new aristocracy and their links with the larger Islamic world. Native artisans skilled in metalwork and stonework, as well as textiles, took to the new patronage with alacrity. Entire jatis of craftsmen sometimes converted to Islam in the process of being employed in state factories. Coins from this period are plentiful and indicate a remonetarization of the economy.

One historic achievement of the sultanate was to protect the Indian subcontinent from the devastations of the Mongols. Through the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries the western marches of the sultanate held firm against the progeny of Genghiz Khan. The sack of Delhi in 1398 by Timur (Tamerlane) provided the one bitter taste of what was suffered in large parts of Asia and Eastern Europe. The Mongols, for their part, provided an indirect service to the subcontinent by cutting offthe flow of Central Asian and Afghan freebooters. Thereafter, an increasing number of the nobility were of Indian birth. This facilitated a cultural renaissanec a cross-fertilization of Rajput and Muslim arts. The results are visible today in architecture, as at the Quwwat-ul Islam Mosque in Delhi; in Hindustani classical music, both vocal and instrumental, as performed in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh; in language, as Hindi, Urdu, Punjabi, and Bengali literature testify; and in painting, as the introduction of paper and illuminated manuscripts from Persia transformed Rajput and Jain depictions.

Popular religions were also influenced by the uncompromising monotheism, the simple rituals, the devout faith, and the social equality of Islam. Bhakti cults originating with the Tamil saints gained followers in the north. SuSi pirs, or teachers, merged into the prevailing pattern of itinerant holy men. Certain individual Sufis, such as Nizamuddin Auliya, who tried to perform the service of conscience to the crown, continued to be venerated in the twentieth century. A number of casteless sects arose, notably those named after Kabir and Nanak Dev. If not self-consciously syncretists, both men expressed a profound cultural trend when they asserted that God is One, irrespective of whether He is addressed as Allah by Muslims or Ram by Hindus.

Generally speaking, however, Islamic ideology was posited as being in irreconcilable conflict with Brahmanic thought. The evangelical and intolerant attitudes of the ulama led them to advocate far more harshness in dealing with feudatories, merchants, and cultivatorsÑwho were usually HinduÑthan the sultan might find politically expedient. No political science evolved to enable a sultan simultaneously to obey Quranic injunctions, to be equally just to all his subjects, and to administer a settled population effficiently. He was bound to antagonize one or another section of those on whose loyalty his rule depended. Equally important, no system of peaceful succession or legitimization of force evolved. Every strong man was a potential ruler or rebel. By the early sixteenth century, North India was once again a congeries of kingdoms, ruled by Turks, Afghans, and Rajputs. The Muslim ruling class looked down on its infidel subjects, and the old Hindu ruling class despised the new conquerors as barbarians.

A similarly multifaceted interaction between new and old, Muslim and Hindu, took place in South India. Ambitious sultans of Delhi waged war in the Deccan and briefly established superiority. In 1347 a military governor broke away to create the Bahmani kingdom, which subsequently devolved into five states that had mixed Turkish and Indian Muslim ruling classes. They initiated a process of cultural synthesis visible today in the city of Hyderabad. (The state of Hyderabad was the residual successor of the Bahmani kingdom and continued to exist as a princely state in subordinate alliance with the British until 1948, when it was annexed by India.) Cultural flowering in the medieval period was expressed in vigorous schools of Deccani architecture and painting. The military and revenue-collecting institutions of the Bahmani kingdom were similar to those of the sultanate. Efforts to gain more booty or territory led to constant disputes with the powerful Vijayanagar Empire to the south over control of the fertile Doab between the Krishna and Tungabhadra rivers.

Vijayanagar was founded in northern Karnataka by two Andhra princes in 1336. They rapidly expanded their domains southward to include Madurai and westward to include the port of Goa. They were unable to control the whole of the east coast or the extreme southwest coast, both of which were dotted with Hindu and Muslim principalities. The Vijayanagar Empire encouraged trade. Its capacity to wage war depended on a constant supply of horses imported from abroad and the maintenance of internal roads and communications. Its merchant guilds enjoyed a wide sphere of operation and counterbalanced the power of landowners and Brahmans in court politics. Among the most enterprising of the merchant castes were the Chettis, whose operations throughout South India and Southeast Asia carried forward a tradition from Chola times that is noticeable today. But India 's commerce and shipping eventually passed largely into the hands of foreigners, and special facilities for foreign traders were provided by the emperor. Arabs and Portuguese jostled for influence and control of Indian ports, and in 1510 Goa passed into Portuguese hands.

The rulers of Vijayanagar were also great temple builders. Scholars estimate that over 2,000 temples dedicated t'o a variety of deities were constructed in Peninsula India between 1300 and 1700. The greatest among them was the Sri Venkateshwara Temple at Tirupati, which in the mid-1980s continued its wide-ranging activities. Temples received shares of revenue from villages as well as gifts of money and kind. Temples invested their funds in irrigation works, trade, and even in foreign enterprises. They became major landowning and land-managing institutions and were partially responsible for the considerable extension of cultivation in new lands that took place. Socially and intellectually, however, the temples were a conservative force. They sponsored no debate with the vital new religion, Islam. Nor were temples the initiators of the bhakti movement, which attracted adherents all over India. It was not the South Indian temples but the seven sacred sites of Hindu pilgrimage that served to diffuse common beliefs and common life-styles throughout the subcontinent.

Less by design than by circumstance, the Vijayanagar Empire became a bridge between south and north, old and new, Hindu and Muslim. Its methods of recruiting armies, administering districts, and collecting revenues through sets of intermediaries were similar to those of the Bahmani kingdoms and the sultanate. That is, they all had institutions of a feudal nature supporting garrison states. Military rivalry between the Vijayanagar and Bahmani states long absorbed their energies. When the five Muslim kingdoms united to defeat Vijayanagar at the decisive Battle of Talikota in 1565, the Peninsula was opened to the new power of the northÑthe Mughals.

[Excerpted from Pakistan: A Country Study. Peter Blood, ed. Washington, D.C.: Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress, 1994.]

The age of the imperial Guptas in northern India (fourth to seventh centuries A.D.) is regarded as the classical age of Hindu civilization. Sanskrit literature was of a high standard; extensive knowledge in astronomy, mathematics, and medicine was gained; and artistic expression flowered. Society became more settled and more hierarchical, and rigid social codes emerged that separated castes and occupations. The Guptas maintained loose control over the upper Indus Valley.

Northern India suffered a sharp decline after the seventh century. As a result, Islam came to a disunited India through the same passes that Indo-Aryans, Alexander, Kushans, and others had entered.

The initial entry of Islam into India came in the first century after the death of the Prophet Muhammad. The Umayyad caliph in Damascus sent an expedition to Balochistan and Sindh in 711 led by Muhammad bin Qasim (for whom Karachi's second port is named). The expedition went as far north as Multan but was not able to retain that region and was not successful in expanding Islamic rule to other parts of India. Coastal trade and the presence of a Muslim colony in Sindh, however, permitted significant cultural exchanges and the introduction into the subcontinent of saintly teachers (Sufi). Muslim influence grew with conversions.

Almost three centuries later, the Turks and the Afghans spearheaded the Islamic conquest in India through the traditional invasion routes of the northwest. Mahmud of Ghazni (979-1030) led a series of raids against Rajput kingdoms and rich Hindu temples and established a base in Punjab for future incursions. Mahmud's tactics originated the legend of idol-smashing Muslims bent on plunder and forced conversions, a reputation that persists in India to the present day.

During the last quarter of the twelfth century, Muhammad of Ghor invaded the Indo-Gangetic Plain, conquering in succession Ghazni, Multan, Sindh, Lahore, and Delhi. His successors established the first dynasty of the Delhi Sultanate, the Mamluk Dynasty (mamluk means "slave") in 1211 (however, the Delhi Sultanate is traditionally held to have been founded in 1206). The territory under control of the Muslim rulers in Delhi expanded rapidly. By mid-century, Bengal and much of central India was under the Delhi Sultanate. Several Turko-Afghan dynasties ruled from Delhi: the Mamluk (1211-90), the Khalji (1290-1320), the Tughlaq (1320-1413), the Sayyid (1414-51), and the Lodhi (1451-1526). As Muslims extended their rule into southern India, only the Hindu kingdom of Vijayanagar remained immune, until it too fell in 1565. Although some kingdoms remained independent of Delhi in the Deccan and in Gujarat, Malwa (central India), and Bengal, almost all of the area in presentday Pakistan came under the rule of Delhi.

The sultans of Delhi enjoyed cordial, if superficial, relations with Muslim rulers in the Near East but owed them no allegiance. The sultans based their laws on the Quran and the sharia and permitted non-Muslim subjects to practice their religion only if they paid jizya or head tax. The sultans ruled from urban centers--while military camps and trading posts provided the nuclei for towns that sprang up in the countryside. Perhaps the greatest contribution of the sultanate was its temporary success in insulating the subcontinent from the potential devastation of the Mongol invasion from Central Asia in the thirteenth century. The sultanate ushered in a period of Indian cultural renaissance resulting from the stimulation of Islam by Hinduism. The resulting "Indo-Muslim" fusion left lasting monuments in architecture, music, literature, and religion. The sultanate suffered from the sacking of Delhi in 1398 by Timur (Tamerlane) but revived briefly under the Lodhis before it was conquered by the Mughals.

[Excerpted from Bangladesh: A Country Study. James Heitzman and Robert Worden, eds. Washington, DC: Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress, 1988]

The first great indigenous empire to spread over most of present-day India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh was the Mauryan Empire (ca. 320-180 B.C.), whose most famous ruler was Asoka (ca. 273-232 B.C.). Although the empire was well administered and politically integrated, little is known of any reciprocal benefits between it and eastern Bengal. The western part of Bengal, however, achieved some importance during the Mauryan period because vessels sailed from its ports to Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia. During the time of the Mauryan Empire, Buddhism came to Bengal, and it was from there that Asoka's son, Mahinda, carried the message of the Enlightened One to Sri Lanka. After the decline of the Mauryan Empire the eastern portion of Bengal became the kingdom of Samatata; although politically independent, it was a tributary state of the Indian Gupta Empire (A.D. ca. 319-ca. 540).

The third great empire was the Harsha Empire (A.D. 606-47), which drew Samatata into its loosely administered political structure. The disunity following the demise of this short-lived empire allowed a Buddhist chief named Gopala to seize power as the first ruler of the Pala Dynasty (A.D. 750-1150). He and his successors provided Bengal with stable government, security, and prosperity while spreading Buddhism throughout the state and into neighboring territories. Trade and influence were extensive under Pala leadership, as emissaries were sent as far as Tibet and Sumatra.

The Senas, orthodox and militant Hindus, replaced the Buddhist Palas as rulers of a united Bengal until the Turkish conquest in 1202. Opposed to the Brahmanic Hinduism of the Senas with its rigid caste system, vast numbers of Bengalis, especially those from the lower castes, would later convert to Islam.

ISLAMIZATION OF BENGAL, 1202-1757

The Turkish conquest of the subcontinent was a long, drawn-out process covering several centuries. It began in Afghanistan with the military forays of Mahmud of Ghazni in 1001. By the early thirteenth century, Bengal fell to Turkish armies. The last major Hindu Sena ruler was expelled from his capital at Nadia in western Bengal in 1202, although lesser Sena rulers held sway for a short while after in eastern Bengal.

Bengal was loosely associated with the Delhi Sultanate, established in 1206, and paid a tribute in war elephants in order to maintain autonomy. In 1341 Bengal became independent from Delhi, and Dhaka was established as the seat of the governors of independent Bengal. Turks ruled Bengal for several decades before the conquest of Dhaka by forces of the Mughal emperor Akbar the Great (1556-1605) in 1576. Bengal remained a Mughal province until the beginning of the decline of the Mughal Empire in the eighteenth century.