Invasions and migrations had long shaped the Indian subcontinent, contributing to its diverse cultures. Centuries after the rise of Islam in the Middle East, Muslim invaders conquered much of northern India. The arrival of Islam brought changes to India as great as those caused by the Aryan migrations 2,000 years earlier. As Muslims mingled with Indians, each civilization absorbed elements from the other.
Akbar's tolerance of different Indian cultures and his willingness to include them in government was one of his strengths as a ruler.
After the Gupta empire fell in about 550, India again fragmented into many local kingdoms. Rival princes battled for control of the northern plain. Despite power struggles, Indian culture flourished. Hindu and Buddhist rulers spent huge sums to build and decorate magnificent temples. Trade networks linked India to the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and China.
Although Muslims conquered the Indus Valley in 711, they advanced no farther into the subcontinent. Then around 1000, Muslim Turks and Afghans pushed into India. They were fierce warriors with a tradition of conquest. Sultan Mahmud of Ghazni pillaged much of the north, but he did not settle there.
In the late 1100s, the sultan, or Muslim ruler, of Ghur defeated Hindu armies across the northern plain and made Delhi his capital. From there, his successors organized a sultanate, or land ruled by a sultan. The Delhi sultanate, which lasted from 1206 to 1526, marked the start of Muslim rule in northern India.