Rebel Sultans – Empires of the Deccan (Medieval India)


Meets once a week for 8 weeks
4 – 9 learners, ages 13-18

In 1707, when Emperor Aurangzeb went to his grave, the Mughal empire began to crack into a hundred fractured pieces. It was the lure of the Deccan that drained this conqueror’s energies, putting him on a course of collision with his most threatening adversaries. After all, the Deccan was a land that inspired wonder. Its treasures were legendary, and its kings magnificent.


It was a horizon of rousing adventure, attracting talent from beyond oceans. A traveler here might encounter bands of European snipers available for military hire or forbidding fortresses where African nobles scaled the heights of power. Diamonds and pearls lay heaped in the Deccan’s bazaars, while in its courts thrived Persians and Marathas, Portuguese and Georgians, presiding over a world of drama and betrayal. A thousand fortunes were made in the Deccan, drawing the formidable envy of generations of Mughal emperors.

Histories of the Deccan often begin with the story of Shivaji. But in this course, Shivaji appears only at the end. In 1630, when the Maratha noblewoman Jijabai brought forth the second of her two sons, little did she imagine that the boy would grow up to shatter forever the might of the Mughal empire. But the Deccan into which Shivaji arrived was already a fascinating place, populated by remarkable men and women who all claimed for themselves the esteem of posterity. In that very century, for instance, it had seen the daughter of an African slave become queen to a local potentate, cheerfully conspiring to murder a more favored Persian wife.

A few decades later, in another corner of the plateau, an ill-fated Brahmin minister curried favor with Aurangzeb, delivering to that emperor cartloads of mangoes, while plotting covertly to thwart His Majesty’s imperial designs. The Deccan was that land where a Muslim prince warded off hysterical interventions by the orthodoxy when it was discovered that he exalted Hindu gods over the teachings of the Prophet. Saints and divines too solicited their share in this world of fortune, worshippers of Shiva descending every year upon a celebrated Muslim shrine.

There were splendid palaces with golden thrones and forbidding fortresses with thunderous guns. Fine horses bred in Iraq trotted along the Deccan’s roads, even as the region’s elite succumbed to the sartorial fancies of their friends in Iran. Travelers from lands as diverse as Burma and France descended upon the Deccan’s dusty plains, while its harems bewildered European doctors who encountered begums with skin as pale as their own.

The Deccan, to the world, was uniquely Indian; to India, however, it was a mirror of the world.

Polyhistoria classes emphasize critical thinking, analyzing, evaluating, and creating. We believe that students learn history best by doing what professional historians do.

(Read more about our approach to history.)

Our approach to academics helps learners view traditional disciplines in unconventional ways. With immersive classes that cross disciplines, learners stretch themselves both within and beyond conventional academic pathways, while small classes encourage close collaboration between learners and instructors. Today, Polyhistoria is the only comprehensive online learning platform teaching in-depth, cutting-edge social science scholarship to teenagers.

(Read more about our teaching philosophy.)

Learning is not a spectator sport. Interaction and intellectual exchanges involving all students and the instructor enrich learning for all. Studying history involves an accumulation of knowledge about the past. But it also requires that we communicate that knowledge to others. You must be ready to share your views in class. A worthwhile course depends upon active participation by all students in class discussions.

The goal here is to advance an intelligent conversation from which we all learn. The most obvious way to do that is to say smart things and say them clearly. But that is not the only meaningful way to participate. Asking a question, connecting something already on the table to another thing, clarifying something that someone else has said, and offering evidence from the text under discussion are also all valuable. Bonus points are awarded for contributions that draw on what others have said. Other things to keep in mind: aim for clarity, keep in mind the value of an amicable classroom environment, and try not to monopolize the conversation.

1) Students’ cameras and microphones must be turned on during the class.
2) This class requires the continuous use of logical thinking & hypothetical reasoning skills to critically and creatively analyze the topics covered in the class. These cognitive functions are generally not sufficiently developed until a student is 13+ years old. Students must have the ability to think critically and logically to analyze the topics covered in the class.

This class is taught with cliffhanger storytelling techniques designed to develop critical thinking skills and initiate lots of learner interaction.

Assignments will be posted on the classroom wall each week for learners who are interested in exploring the topic further and may include reading, researching, and watching videos. It will also include participation in the threaded discussions on the classroom wall.

1 hour per week in class, and an estimated 0 – 1 hour per week outside of class.

Meets once a week for 8 weeks
4 – 9 learners, ages 13-18