SETTING THE STAGE
India is one geographical entity. Yet throughout her long and chequered history, she never achieved political homogeneity. From the earliest times, spasmodic attempts were made to bring about her consolidation. A pioneering effort in this direction was made by the Magadhan kings, Bimbisara and Ajatasatru, in the sixth century B.C. But it was not till about three centuries later that under the Mauryas, and particularly Asoka, a large portion of India came under the sway of one emperor. The Mauryan empire lasted only for about a hundred years and after its disruption the country again lapsed into numerous kingdoms. Nearly five centuries later, Chandragupta, and his more illustrious son Samudragupta, brought the major part of the country under their suzerainty; and Harsha, in the seventh century, was able to make himself the undisputed master of north India. These and later attempts at political consolidation failed again and again for one chief reason : the empires were held together almost entirely by the personality and might of the emperor. The whole edifice crumbled when a line of ‘supermen’ came to an end.
Even under these emperors, a diversity of autonomous states constituted the mosaic of an empire. The emperor claimed suzerainty over these rulers, who offered allegiance to him; subordinated their foreign policy to his diplomatic moves; usually served him in war, and offered him tribute; but who, in other respects, retained their sovereignty. Whenever the authority of the emperor weakened, the subordinate rulers asserted their independence. There was a perpetual struggle for supremacy. Mutual jealousies and conflicts made the country an easy prey to an organized invasion.
The Muslims were thus able to vanquish the Hindu kingdoms in north India. The first Muslim conquest was in the eighth