Sources of Medieval Indian History

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Sources of Medieval Indian History

  • Literary Works of the Medieval and Archaeological Remains are the Sources of Medieval Indian History.
  • The literary works of the medieval periods which include the Delhi Sultanate and the Mughal Empire.
  • Archaeological remains of Delhi Sultanate and Mughal Empire.

Introduction of Literary Works

The cultural contact produced a huge amount of historical texts and archaeological evidence that comprise important sources for research on medieval India. The Muslim Monarchs employed chroniclers, diaries, and court historians who maintained records of their activities. Very often it is recorded in a systematic and chronological order. The educated among the rulers and nobility kept both memoirs and maintained personal diaries. The end result was that there was a vast treasure of literature that is used by scholars to shed light on Medieval Indian History.

Historiography and Medieval Indian History

Historiography is the study of historical writing. It flourished in all of its forms during the Sultanate period. The age produced a number of professional historians, chroniclers, and men of letters who left behind to posterity a rich treasure of historical literature.

Some of the literary works of the medieval period were as follows:


This work deals with the history of the indigenous ruling dynasty of Sind, on the eve of the Arab invasion in the 8th century CE. All the records were written in Arabic by an anonymous author who was possibly a camp follower of Muhammad Bin Qasim.


Al Biruni was a prominent Muslim ideologist and one of the greatest intellectuals of the 11th Century. He was a theologian, philosopher, mathematician, astronomer, etc. He accompanied Mahmud of Ghazni on his expedition to India. Besides, he travelled the land, studied the languages of India, religion, and philosophy of the Hindus. He wrote the classic account of the country and its people in Arabic, entitled “Tarikh-ul-Hind”, which was later translated into Persian. This work serves as an important source of information on the socio-religious condition of India during the time of Mahmud of Ghazni.


Hasan Nizami deals primarily with the history of Qutbuddin-Aibek. He has migrated to Delhi and joined service under Qutbuddin. His work deals with the invasion of Muhammad-Ghori as well as the military exploits of Qutbuddin Aibek.

The work is written in Arabic as well as in Persian. It basically deals with the beginning of Muslim rule. Like other Medieval works, his work too serves as an important source of information on Medieval Indian History.


This work was written by Minhaj al-Siraj was a 13th Century exceptional historian. He produced an elaborate history of the Islamic world in 23 small but compact volumes or books entitled “Tabaqat-i-Nasiri. This work is brief and straight forward. It deals with the birth of Islam, the history of the Caliph and Muslim rulers of various countries and periods.

Amir Khusrau (13th-14th Centuries)

Khusrau was an Indian scholar. He has to his credit about half a dozen historical works. Amir adorned the courts of all the Sultans from Balban to Ghiasuddin Tughlaq as the poet laureate. Also, he was more popularly known as Tuti-e-Hind (The parrot of India).

Some of his works are as follows:


It describes the achievements of Allaudin Khilji and Tughlaq Nama which is a valuable source of the history of Ghiasuddin Tughlaq.

Ziauddin Barani (13th-14th Centuries)

Barani is the greatest of all the contemporary historians of early medieval India. In fact, Barani was famous as the elites of the Delhi Sultanate. His work, Tarikh-i-Firoze Shahi preserves the history of the Delhi Sultanate for one full Century (from the 1250s-1350s). His other work Fatawa-i-Jahandari is contemporary volume to the earlier work and it deals with subjects like functions and powers of the state religion, politics, etc.

Firoz Tughlaq Autobiography

Sultan Firoz Shah Tughlaq has left a brochure of about 32 pages in autobiographical writing called Futuhat-i-Firoz Shahi. This work gives a brief summary of his military campaign. Some of which failed to produce the desired results. It also explains the concepts of his kingly duties which were based on religion in India, humanitarian, and moral obligations.

Tarikh-i-Firoz Shahi

Afif wrote three books on the life history, military expeditions, and administrative achievements of the three Tughlaq rulers such as Ghiasuddin Tughlaq, Muhammad Bin Tughlaq, and Firoz, of which only Tarikh-i-Firoz Shahi has survived.

Apart from dealing with the activities of the ruler, the book also describes the life and condition of the people at large which makes it quite unique and different from other sources.


Amir Timur who took Delhi by Strom in 1398-1399 also left an account of medieval sources of information. It is said that Tuzuk-i-Timuri was written originally in Chaghatai (Turki) and was translated into Persian during the reign of Shah Jahan. The work was not written by Timur himself, instead, he got it written under his personal direction and supervision.

Tarikh-i-Mubarak Shahi

This was the work of Ahmad Sirhindi, it is an important source of the Sayyid Dynasty during the 15th Century. It gives a brief account of the earlier Sultan of Delhi. It mainly deals with the military and political activities of the Sayyid rulers. Like other sources, it too serves as an important source of information of medieval Indian History.

Travelogues and Medieval Indian History

The descriptions of social life provided by travelers who visited India enhance our knowledge of the past. Besides, such people traveled for many reasons such as trade, war, religion, adventures, etc.

Travelers who traveled to India and provide sources of information on Medieval Indian History are:

Ibn Battuta (14th Century)

Among the travelers of Medieval India, Ibn Battuta occupied a premier position. Before coming to India, he had traveled to many other places which included East Africa.

He was an adventurer and a traveler from Morocco. He came to Delhi during the time of Muhammad Bin Tughlaq. Ibn meticulously recorded his observation about new cultures, people of India, beliefs, values, etc. His book of travels called Rihla written in Arabic provides extremely rich and interesting details about the social and cultural life in the Sub-continent in the 14th Century.

Abdur Razzak

He was another traveler who came to India (Vijaynagar) in the 15th Century. He was a Persian (Iran) ambassador and stayed in the Deccan region for about two years. His account is one of the primary sources of the history of the Vijaynagar Kingdom of the Medieval Period.

European Travellers

Among the many travelers of India in the Medieval Periods, there were also European Travellers whose accounts of the region served as important sources of information. Some of the more prominent travelers from Europe were Marco Polo, Nicolo Conti, Duarte Barbosa, and Domingo’s Peas.

Marco Polo

He was a native of Venice. He entered into the service of Kublai Khan, the Mongol Emperor of China in the 13th Century. On his way back, he visited the Andaman Island and also traveled on the Eastern and Western sea costs of India. In the process, he witnessed the lifestyle of the people and kept an account of what he saw.

Nicolo Conti

He visited Southern India during the 15th Century. He belonged to the same place as Marco Polo. His narrative gives some idea of the royal court of Vijaynagar and throws light on the socio-economic condition of Southern India in general.

Two other Portuguese travelers, Duarte Barbosa and Domingos Peas also visited Southern India, particularly Vijaynagar, and left behind the vivid account of the era. Apart from their accounts, there were other merchants and Arab geographers who left behind accounts as useful information about the country in the Medieval Period.

Indigenous Literature and Medieval Indian History

Indigenous Literature forms a significant part for sources of Medieval Indian History. A vast repository of literary texts such as chronicles, ballads, songs, and verses, etc. composed in the Medieval India period offers rare insights into the lives, beliefs, and customs of the times.

Indigenous Literature on early Medieval History includes the Rajatarangini of Kalhana. It describes the history of Kashmir from the earliest times to about 1149 CE. Kalhana’s impact on later historians and chroniclers is evident in the works of some Sanskrit historians who carried on with the tradition of recording the events of the rulers of their times.

Historical romances such as Chand Bardai, composed by Prithviraj Raso provide details on the heroic exploits of Prithiviraj Chauhan, the struggles between the Rajputs and Muhammad of Ghori. It also provides details on the political, military, and socio-economic structure of the Rajputs.

Sewell and Medieval Indian History

Sewell was the first modern historian who produced a comprehensive history of the Vijaynagar Kingdom under the title “A Forgotten Empire”. He was able to produce an important source of information by making use of the indigenous sources in Sanskrit and Telegu languages. Indigenous literature also helps in providing information about regional specificities. The Indigenous Literature of Medieval India, therefore, offers a complex and rich field of study and is an all-encompassing source for reconstructing the history of the period concerned.

Mughal Literature Sources of Medieval Indian History

It could be stated that the peak of Medieval Indian Historiography was during the Mughal period. Many Mughal rulers possessed refined literary taste and they encouraged the production and multiplication of literary works.

The Mughal Monarch employed chroniclers, diarists, and court historians who maintain records of the royal performances in a systematic and chronological order. Some of the rulers even wrote memoirs or personal diaries.

During the Mughal era, a number of contemporary records were written. The records explain current events as well as the social, economic, and cultural trends followed by royalty and nobility. Most of these texts form important sources for researching the Mughal Dynasty.

Mughal Rulers which provides significant information on the Medieval Indian History are:


Babur found the Mughal Empire. Therefore, there are some sources of information for his period. His autobiography, the Baburnama, and the Tarikh-i-Rashidi by Mirza Muhammad Haidar remain the most popular texts for studying his reign.

The Babrnama is known as Tuzuk-i-Baburior the “Memoirs of Babur”, written in his mother tongue, Chaghatai (Turki) and it gives an account of his own career and the history of his times. The other work Tarikh-i-Rashidi deals not only with Babur’s reign but also with Humayun’s rule.


Humayun half-sister, the daughter of Babur, wrote this book. Other books written about Humayun’s period include the Qanun-i-Humayuni by Khondamir and the Tarikh-i-Humayuni of Jauhar. Even though these works suffer from many defects yet it cannot be denied that they serve as important sources of information of the concerned period.


Many people consider Akbar to be the real founder of the Mughal Empire and the greatest monarch of Medieval Indian History.

The contemporary writers have presented the character and achievements of the great monarch in widely different colors:

  1. Abul Fazl – He was the court historians of Akbar and wrote about him in the spirit of eulogizing everything about him. Akbarnama, the first official history of the Mughal court was commissioned by Akbar and written by Abul Fazl. It contains three volumes:
  2. The first volume contains an account of Akbar’s ancestors which include Babur and Humayun.
  3. The second volume devotes exclusively to the treatment of Akbar’s reign in chronological order.
  4. The third volume has been given a subtitle-Ain-i-Akbari (an administrative and statistical record of Akbar government). It also deals with household administration, court ceremonials. Coinage, salaries, ranks, and intellectual lives. Thus it is one of the most significant sources of Akbar’s reign.

There is another important source of Akbar’s times and that is in the form of three-volume work or Muntakhab-ut-Tawarikh. This was the work of Badauni and is considered to be a comprehensive account of Muslim rule in India from the Ghaznavids to Akbar. Besides, Badauni was a severe critic of Akbar’s policies and that he wrote this text in secrecy.

Nevertheless, this work provides useful information about the religious and political life in Akbar’s Time.


Miza Uddin Ahmad was a courtier of Akbar and he wrote Tabaqat-i-Akbari. This work offers a more objective account of Akbar’s reign. Thus, as compared to the Akbarnama and Muntakhab-ut-Tawarikh texts, it is more objective in nature. Therefore, it is one of the most reliable sources.


The first primary source of Medieval Indian History of Jahangir’s reign is the autobiography of the emperor himself known as Tuzuk-i-Jahangiri. It gives detailed accounts of wars, rebellions, and conquests, etc. It also describes the economic condition of the country in general.

Another source of information Jahangir’s time comes from Iqbal Nama-i-Jahangiri (Mutamad Khan’s is the author), it describes the general history of the Mughals in India. It also gives detailed accounts of the reign of Jahangir and the accession of Shah Jahan to the throne.


It is a contemporary account that deals with the early career of Jahangir. This work was prepared at the request of Shah Jahan.

Shah Jahan

There are many works available on the life history of the emperor in the form of official documents and records. Many contemporary historiographers have written an account of Shah Jahan’s reign under the popular title “Padshah-Nama”.

Abdul Hamid Lahori prepared a detailed account of Shah Jahan’s reign in two volumes bearing the same title i.e. Padshah-Nama. There is another work that gives a biographical account of Shah Jahan know as Shah Jahan-Nama.

Foreign Accounts and Medieval Indian History

The discovery of the sea-route to India by Vasco Da Gama in 1498 resulted in many changes in India. The region was now accessible to merchants, Christians, missionaries, travelers, and adventurers from Europe. Out of these, some people have left a valuable description of their observations and experiences all of which shed more light on the contemporary history of the Mughal period.

In general, the accounts of foreigners can be classified into three categories:

  1. Records of European factors
  2. Travelogues of the merchants and adventurers
  3. Accounts of the Christian missionaries.

Archaeological Sources of the Delhi Sultanate

Various archaeological sources provide a substantial amount of information about Medieval India. Archaeological sources are in the form of coins, seals, monuments, and inscriptions. Such kinds of sources help supplement the information gathered from the literary accounts.

The Delhi Sultanate did not leave behind many epigrams and evidence of historical significance but the monumental evidence of the Sultanate period does provide an insight into the cultural trends of the times.

The different monuments and buildings of the Delhi Sultanate show the intermingling of Hindu and Muslim architectural traditions and structural designs. Such archaeological structures also reveal the lifestyles, faiths, beliefs, and socio-cultural outlook of the sovereign and nobility of their age.

Out of all the archaeological sources of the period, the coins of the Delhi Sultans have proved to be very useful. The coins help in fixing the chronology of events and correcting or ascertaining the genealogical tables of the rulers. In addition, the coins also help in finding out about the economic conditions of the Delhi Sultanate.

The silver coins of Mahmud of Ghazni have his name inscribed on them. The coins of Iltutmish describe him as a lieutenant of the Khalifa. Fine coins of silver called Tanka were also issued by Balban, while the rulers of the Khilji Dynasty issued many coins with Pompous titles. The coins of the Tughlaq’s were quite superior in design as compared to the Khilji’s. By the time of the Lodis, the coins were mainly in copper.

The different provinces were also in the practice of striking coins. The kingdom of Vijaynagar had evolved a coinage system of difficult metrology and design which was to remain as a standard for the region, influencing the designs of coins till as late as the 19th Century.

Mughal Empire sources of Medieval Indian History

The Mughal Empire also witnessed the minting of coins under different rulers. Such coins provide general information about the chronology, the economic condition, rulers, etc. The coins during Babur’s reign, however, were largely regarded only for their monetary value. They lacked in the beauty and elegance of his successors, Akbar and Jahangir.

Mughal coins of different rulers depicted the portraits of the rulers, despite the prohibition imposed by Islam on display the images of humans or animals. Both Akbar and Jahangir minted coins with their portraits. Jahangir’s coins had the impression of the queen, Nur Jahan on one side with Jahangir’s image on the other side – Indicating the sharing of power between the emperor and his queen.

Scholars have also studied the various inscriptions of the medieval period. They are published mostly in epigraphy Indica and other antiquarian journals. Besides, V.S Bendrey explains the entire inscription in “A study of Muslim Inscription”. Researches on art and architecture give us an insight into the cultural trends of the times.

In this way, archaeological sources play a significant role in supplementing literary sources for the reconstruction of Medieval Indian History.

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