The Sultanate of Delhi had become smaller and weaker. This gave many chiefs a chance to set up kingdoms of their own. The result was that the map of the country was once again broken up into many patches.
Bengal had its own Nawab. So did Jaunpur, in what is now eastern Uttar Pradesh. If you have travelled in western India you must have seen or heard of the lovely cities of Mandu and Dhar. These were the capitals of Malwa, another powerful kingdom of this time. There was Gujarat from where beautifully woven silk and gold thread came. Kashmir too had its own Sultans. Many of them were patrons of learning.
THE SISODIAS OF MEWAR
In the foothills of the Himalayas, Rajputana and the hilly tracts of central India ruled hardy Rajput chiefs. The Muslim kings of Delhi had defeated most of the Rajput families. But some still remained who refused to bow down to the conqueror. The strongest of these were the Sisodias of Mewar. Their chief was the great Rana Kumbha. He fought many wars. Once he defeated the king of Malwa. To celebrate his victory, he built a tower at Chittor. This tower still stands and is one of the things that you must see when you go to Rajasthan. Rana Kumbha was not only a fine soldier. He was also an artist. He wrote plays and and loved good music.
The greatest of the Sisodias of Mewar was Rana Sangram Singh. He was popularly called Rana Sanga. All the clans of Rajasthan loved him, and looked upon him as their leader. He was a brave warrior. People spoke about him with respect and fear. They said he had eighty scars on his body from wounds he got in battles. He had lost an arm and an eye. And his leg had been red by a cannon ball. He fought and defeated the Afghans eighteen times. But when he fought Babar, he lost the battle. The Mughal cavalry proved too quick his slow elephants. After him, the greatness of Mewar passed away.
THE BAHMANI KINGDOM
South of the Vindhyas, there were two very important kingdoms the Bahmani kingdom and the kingdom of Vijayanagar.
The Bahmani kingdom lasted for about two hundred years. Under Sultan Firoz Shah, it stretched right across the Deccan from the Arabian Sea to the Bay of Bengal. Among the Bahmani kings, there were many wise and good rulers. Artists and poets came to their court from Persia and from other lands. These kings put up many fine buildings.
Urdu is one of the important Indian languages today. The word Urdu means camp. The language was given that name because it was first spoken by soldiers in camps. A large number of very good Urdu books were written at the time of the Bahmani kings.
The last of the Bahmani kings was a very weak man. After his death the provincial governors set up five separate sultanates. These were the kingdoms of Ahmadnagar, Berar, Bijapur, Bidar and Golconda.
THE KINGDOM OF VIJAYANAGAR
South of the river Tungabhadra, near the big new dam is a small town called Hampi. Visitors go there today to see the ruined buildings that lie scattered all over. These buildings are all that remain of what was once the capital of a very wealthy and powerful kingdom. It has a long story, because it lasted for more than two hundred years.
When Vijayanagar was at the height of its glory, it included the whole country south of the river Krishna. Travellers came from Italy, Portugal, Persia, Samarkand and many other lands to see the wonders of the court. The beautiful temples and palaces, by the fine horses and elephants, and the well-laid-out city, struck them. One of the greatest kings of Vijayanagar was Krishnadeva Raya. Like many other Vijayanagar kings, Krishnadeva Raya loved beautiful things. He was very kind to artists and poets. Writers of Telugu and Sanskrit were given all the help they wanted. Some of the best buildings of Vijayanagar were put up by Krishnadeva. An important thing happened while he was on the throne. The Portuguese took Goa. About this we will hear more later on.
Almost from the very beginning there was frequent fighting between the Vijayanagar Empire and the Bahmani Kingdom. Even after the five separate Sultanates were formed, the two rival sides never became friends.
After Krishnadeva Raya, Vijayanagar had a ruler called Rama Raya. He once insulted one of the Sultans. This Sultan persuaded all the other sultans to join together against Vijayanagar. A great battle was fought near Talikota on the banks of the Krishna. The forces of Vijayanagar were badly defeated.
After this defeat the capital of the empire was looted and burnt. It became a deserted, broken city. Power in the Deccan passed into the hands of the sultans, but they in their turn were to lose it to the Mughals.
THE BHAKTA SAINTS
Tthe Muslims who came not to loot but to settle in India and made it their home. They mixed with the Hindus, and learnt some of their ways. That is why many marriage ceremonies and festivals are celebrated in the same way by both Hindus and Muslims. The Hindus too learnt many things from the Muslims. For instance they learnt how to make paper. They also learnt the Persian Ianguage. Hindustani was a mixture of the languages of the Hindus and the Muslims.
When the Hindus and the Muslims began living together, something new, something that was neither Muslim nor Hindu but a mixture of the two, was born. The monuments built in India at this time had something Persian or Central Asian about them because Persia and Central Asia were the home of some of the early Muslim conquerors. They also had something of the old Hindu style. That is why this style of building is called Indo-Muslim architecture. This mingling of the two streams, the Muslim and the Hindu, could be seen in everything in the way of thinking and living, in the books that were written, in music and in the religious beliefs of the people.
You have been reading of kings and kingdoms. Now let us learn something about the ordinary people, farmers and artisans. There was a lot of difference between the rich and the poor. The poor did not bother about who ruled because they believed that their condition would remain the same, no matter who became king. When great battles were being fought, only a few miles from the battlefield farmers were seen quietly doing their work, not caring who won or lost.
The caste system had become very strict and people of the lower castes were treated badly. They did not feel that they had anything in common with the upper classes.
Then something remarkable happened. It started with a simple idea and a new way of looking at religion and God. When you are older you will understand that ideas can be so powerful that they change the lives of people. This new way was the way of the Bhaktas. It grew and spread until it had the whole country in its spell. Bhakti simply means devotion or love. The path of Bhakti brought the Hindus and the Muslims closer together. The saints who preached it are called the Bhaktas. They bound all parts of the country in a common bond and brought new hope to the poor people of India. This is how it started.
When the Muslims were beginning to settle down in India, a great man was born at Sriperumbudur, a small place near Madras. His name was Ramanuja. When he grew up, he saw that the Hindus had become very narrow-minded. The higher castes did not want to have anything to do with the lower ones. To most Hindus, religion meant only a long round of meaningless ceremonial and prayers which they did not understand. Ramanuja believed that the only way to reach God was to forget oneself and to love Him with perfect devotion. This was Bhakti. Ramanuja taught this lesson at Kanchi, then the centre of Sanskrit learning. What Ramanuja said was not new. It had been written in the Upanishads and in the Gita. But this was the first time anyone had tried to spread the message of Bhakti among the common people, in their own language. A large number of people became followers of Ramanuja.
Ramanuja had a pupil called Ramananda. Ramananda took the message of his teacher to Banaras. Soon a number of followers collected round him. These followers were not Brahmins. They came from all castes. Some of these were rich, but most were poor. Even a Muslim weaver was among them.
Perhaps you have already guessed who the weaver was. He was Kabir, the great saint whose songs have been sung all over the country ever since they were written. "God is one, whether we worship him as Allah or Rama," said Kabir. Fasting or telling the beads of a rosary were of no use without true devotion. God was not to be found in a stone image, or in holy books. He only lived in a heart that was full of love. Thousands of people, both Hindus and Muslims, became disciples of Kabir. When he died, the Hindus and the Muslims started quarrelling over his body. The Hindus wanted to burn it, and the Muslims to bury it. There is a legend that when the sheet over him was lifted, his followers found not a body but a heap of rose petals which they divided between themselves. Even today there are many people who follow the religion of Kabir. They are called Kabir Panthis.
After Kabir, another great saint was born near Lahore on the banks of the Ravi. He was Guru Nanak. All his life he tried to bring the Hindu religion and Islam closer together, to find a common bond between the two. Like Kabir, he believed that all men were equal in the eyes of God, no matter what their caste or religion. "God will not ask a man his tribe or sect, but what he has done," said Nanak. He wanted to teach this to as many people as possible. He went with his message to Muslim mosques and Hindu temples; he went on pilgrimages to Mecca as well as Banaras, Hardwar and Puri. He, too, had a very large number of disciples. Guru Nanak's followers are called Sikhs. The word Sikh comes from the Sanskrit word Shishya, which means disciple.
Another famous Bhakta was a lady called Mirabai. She was a Rajput princess, and married into the royal family of Mewar. But she cared for neither fine clothes, nor bright jewels. Her thoughts were only for the Lord Krishna, whom she loved. She worshipped him, and composed songs for him. She sang these songs all the time. These bhajans of Mirabai are sung all over India even today.
The message of Bhakti spread like fire. In every part of the country saints arose. In Bengal there was a saint called Chaitanya. In Maharashtra were Jnaneswar, and Tukaram about whom you will read more later on. In Gujarat there were Dadu and Narsi Mehta. All these saints spoke and wrote the language of the ordinary people. They declared that the poorest and lowest of them could reach God without the help of priests, and without performing ceremonies, if only they would fill their hearts with love. Bhakti itself became a new religion.