The twelfth century was a turbulent time in Indian history. The three great dynasties that would shape the future of the Indian subcontinent were in their ascendancy: the Ganges-Kosi lineage of the Hindu Rajputs, the Paramara of Dhar and Malwa, and the Chalukyas of Kalyani. But by the middle of the century, the Chalukyas, who had once ruled nearly all of India, had been eclipsed by the imperial might of the Paramaras and the Ganges-Kosi. The Rajputs, long the most powerful of the clans that would later form the Indian nation, were on the defensive.
Prithviraj Chauhan was the last Hindu Emperor of India. He ruled over the region of Northern India from 1342 to 1377, during a period of political instability and foreign invasions that came to be known as the Delhi Sultanate. The Chauhan kings were famous for their valor and martial skill, which was displayed prominently during the invasions of the Delhi Sultanate. Yet one of the most enduring legacies of the Chauhan dynasty was their extensive genealogical records, which were compiled during the reign of Prithviraj and which were later preserved by the royal family of Jaipur.
In 1498, a fleet of three Portuguese ships commanded by Vasco de Gama reached India for the first time, sailing down the west coast of the African continent and through the Strait of Malacca. The following year, de Gama sailed into the Indian Ocean and reached Calicut on the Malabar Coast, where he traded for pepper and other spices. He was followed by other European traders, among them the French and the English, who began to establish trading outposts on the Indian Ocean coasts. These outposts functioned as transit stations on the route between Europe and the Indian Ocean, which was becoming a key trade route as the Indian Ocean became the dominant trading sea between Europe and Asia.
The first European to reach India by sea was the Portuguese explorer Vasco de Gama, who in July 1497 arrived at the port city of Calicut on the Malabar Coast. At the time, the Zamorin, the powerful Hindu monarch of Calicut, refused to welcome de Gama and his men, assuming that they were Muslim pirates. But de Gama’s credentials as a powerful Portuguese ally were enough to win him entrance to Calicut, and he was greeted by the city’s ruler with great pomp and ceremony. The Malabar region of South India had been a significant trading center since ancient times, and de Gama’s arrival marked the beginning of a period of intense Portuguese activity.
The early Mughals, who began to rule over a population that was two-thirds Hindu, ruled with a firm hand yet also displayed a certain degree of tolerance towards the Indian populace. When the Mughals began to invade India, their primary goal was to rule over a people who were part of the same cultural group and whose religious beliefs were similar to their own.