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Synopsis

The Delhi Sultanate has captured the political imagination ever since its inception at the end of the twelfth century. In various way, both direct and indirect it sets the tone of life in the modern day Indian polity; especially in terms of the questions it raises regarding the relations betweens religious identities (Hindu and Muslim), and how these shape the fortunes of the Indian nation to this day.

It can be argued that one of the reasons why the Delhi Sultanate and subsequent Muslim ruled polities in India have raised so much acrimony, is due to the notion that the establishment of these often violent polities and their development represented a sense of abrupt change from pre-Islamic India; making these polities look like an unnatural intrusion into the civilizational landscape of India; an intrusion that ended the 'Hindu' period of Indian history, a chronological and cultural categorization which many accept to this day.

However the establishment of the Delhi Sultanate was not a simplistic intrusion. Instead it can be argued that the Delhi Sultanate represented a form of continuity in that it enhanced a warrior culture that was already prevalent in Northern India; a culture that valued military capability as a sign of innate authority, and used this authority for formulating a political hierarchy; where warrior identity and religious values were seen as deeply intertwined, and at times conflated. In a military environment like this the Sultanate as a polity had much to offer as it consisted of individuals and groups, who back in their Central Asian homeland were themselves in a process of social and cultural mobilization within the ambit of a warrior identity; a mobilization that was closely linked to Islamicization. Hence, the Delhi Sultanate operated in a geographical space where both forms of warrior identities came in to dialogue; a dialogue that involved both violence and co-operation.

It will argued here that the Delhi Sultanate was a dynamic which involved the interaction of an Iranic warrior identity, which was closely linked to Islamicization in Central Asia and an Indic warrior identity closely linked to social and cultural processes in India; and it was not primarily a religious conflict, based on doctrinal difference. Religion did play a part, but not in the manner that has normally been envisaged in the popular imagination and mainstream historiography to this day.

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