The world famous historian, Will Durant has written in his Story of Civilisationthat “the Mohammedan conquest of India was probably the bloodiest story in history”.
India before the advent of Islamic imperialism was not exactly a zone of peace. There were plenty of wars fought by Hindu princes. But in all their wars, the Hindus had observed some time-honoured conventions sanctioned by the Šãstras. The Brahmins and the Bhikshus were never molested. The cows were never killed. The temples were never touched. The chastity of women was never violated. The non-combatants were never killed or captured. A human habitation was never attacked unless it was a fort. The civil population was never plundered. War booty was an unknown item in the calculations of conquerors. The martial classes who clashed, mostly in open spaces, had a code of honour. Sacrifice of honour for victory or material gain was deemed as worse than death.
Islamic imperialism came with a different code - the Sunnah of the Prophet. It required its warriors to fall upon the helpless civil population after a decisive victory had been won on the battlefield. It required them to sack and burn down villages and towns after the defenders had died fighting or had fled. The cows, the Brahmins, and the Bhikshus invited their special attention in mass murders of non-combatants. The temples and monasteries were their special targets in an orgy of pillage and arson. Those whom they did not kill, they captured and sold as slaves. The magnitude of the booty looted even from the bodies of the dead, was a measure of the success of a military mission. And they did all this as mujãhids (holy warriors) and ghãzîs (kãfir-killers) in the service of Allah and his Last Prophet.
Hindus found it very hard to understand the psychology of this new invader. For the first time in their history, Hindus were witnessing a scene which was described by KãnhaDade Prabandha (1456 AD) in the following words: “The conquering army burnt villages, devastated the land, plundered people’s wealth, took Brahmins and children and women of all classes captive, flogged with thongs of raw hide, carried a moving prison with it, and converted the prisoners into obsequious Turks.” That was written in remembrance of Alauddin Khalji’s invasion of Gujarat in the year 1298 AD. But the gruesome game had started three centuries earlier when Mahmud Ghaznavi had vowed to invade India every year in order to destroy idolatry, kill the kãfirs, capture prisoners of war, and plunder vast wealth for which India was well-known.
MAHMUD GHAZNAVI AND SON
In 1000 AD Mahmud defeated Raja Jaipal, a scion of the Hindu Shahiya dynasty of Kabul. This dynasty had been for long the doorkeeper of India in the Northwest. Mahmud collected 250,000 dinãrs as indemnity. That perhaps was normal business of an empire builder. But in 1004 AD he stormed Bhatiya and plundered the place. He stayed there for some time to convert the Hindus to Islam with the help of mullahs he had brought with him. In 1008 AD he captured Nagarkot (Kangra). The loot amounted to 70,000,000 dirhams in coins and 700,400 mans of gold and silver, besides plenty of precious stones and embroidered cloths. In 1011 AD he plundered Thanesar which was undefended, destroyed many temples, and broke a large number of idols. The chief idol, that of Chakraswamin, was taken to Ghazni and thrown into the public square for defilement under the feet of the faithful. According to Tãrîkh-i-Yamînî of Utbi, Mahmud’s secretary, “The blood of the infidels flowed so copiously [at Thanesar] that the stream was discoloured, notwithstanding its purity, and people were unable to drink it. The Sultãn returned with plunder which is impossible to count. Praise he to Allah for the honour he bestows on Islãm and Muslims.”
In 1013 AD Mahmud advanced against Nandana where the Shahiya king, Anandapal, had established his new capital. The Hindus fought very hard but lost. Again, the temples were destroyed, and innocent citizens slaughtered. Utbi provides an account of the plunder and the prisoners of war: “The Sultãn returned in the rear of immense booty, and slaves were so plentiful that they became very cheap and men of respectability in their native land were degraded by becoming slaves of common shopkeepers. But this is the goodness of Allah, who bestows honour on his own religion and degrades infidelity.”
The road was now clear for an assault on the heartland of Hindustan. In December 1018 AD Mahmud crossed the Yamuna, collected 1,000,000dirhams from Baran (Bulandshahar), and marched to Mahaban in Mathura district. Utbi records: “The infidels… deserted the fort and tried to cross the foaming river… but many of them were slain, taken or drowned… Nearly fifty thousand men were killed.” Mathura was the next victim. Mahmud seized five gold idols weighing 89,300 miskals and 200 silver idols. According to Utbi, “The Sultãn gave orders that all the temples should be burnt with naptha and fire, and levelled with the ground.” The pillage of the city continued for 20 days.
Mahmud now turned towards Kanauj which had been the seat of several Hindu dynasties. Utbi continues: “In Kanauj there were nearly ten thousand temples… Many of the inhabitants of the place fled in consequence of witnessing the fate of their deaf and dumb idols. Those who did not fly were put to death. The Sultãn gave his soldiers leave to plunder and take prisoners.” The Brahmins of Munj, which was attacked next, fought to the last man after throwing their wives and children into fire. The fate of Asi was sealed when its ruler took fright and fled. According to Utbi, “the Sultãn ordered that his five forts should be demolished from their foundations, the inhabitants buried in their ruins, and the soldiers of the garrison plundered, slain and captured”.
Shrawa, the next important place to be invaded, met the same fate. Utbi concludes: “The Muslims paid no regard to the booty till they had satiated themselves with the slaughter of the infidels and worshippers of sun and fire. The friends of Allah searched the bodies of the slain for three days in order to obtain booty… The booty amounted in gold and silver, rubies and pearls nearly to three hundred thousand dirhams, and the number of prisoners may be conceived from the fact that each was sold for two to ten dirhams. These were afterwards taken to Ghazni and merchants came from distant cities to purchase them, so that the countries of Mawaraun-Nahr, Iraq and Khurasan were filled with them, and the fair and the dark, the rich and the poor, were commingled in one common slavery.”
Mahmud’s sack of Somnath is too well-known to be retold here. What needs emphasising is that the fragments of the famous Šivaliñga were carried to Ghazni. Some of them were turned into steps of the Jama Masjid in that city. The rest were sent to Mecca, Medina, and Baghdad to be desecrated in the same manner.
Mahmud’s son Masud tried to follow in the footsteps of his father. In 1037 AD he succeeded in sacking the fort of Hansi which was defended very bravely by the Hindus. The Tãrîkh-us-Subuktigîn records: “The Brahmins and other high ranking men were slain, and their women and children were carried away captive, and all the treasure which was found was distributed among the army.” Masud could not repeat the performance due to his preoccupations elsewhere.
MUHAMMAD GHURI AND HIS LIEUTENANTS
Invasion of India by Islamic imperialism was renewed by Muhmmad Ghuri in the last quarter of the 12th century. After Prithiviraj Chauhan had been defeated in 1192 AD, Ghuri took Ajmer by assault. According the Tãj-ul-Mã’sîrof Hasan Nizami, “While the Sultan remained at Ajmer, he destroyed the pillars and foundations of the idol temples and built in their stead mosques and colleges and precepts of Islãm, and the customs of the law were divulged and established.”
Next year he defeated Jayachandra of Kanauj. A general massacre, rapine, and pillage followed. The Gahadvad treasuries at Asni and Varanasi were plundered. Hasan Nizami rejoices that “in Benares which is the centre of the country of Hind, they destroyed one thousand temples and raised mosques on their foundations”. According to Kãmil-ut-Tawãrîkh of Ibn Asir, “The slaughter of Hindus (at Varanasi) was immense; none were spared except women and children, and the carnage of men went on until the earth was weary.” The women and children were spared so that they could be enslaved and sold all over the Islamic world. It may be added that the Buddhist complex at Sarnath was sacked at this time, and the Bhikshus were slaughtered.
Ghuri’s lieutenant Qutbuddin Aibak was also busy meanwhile. Hasan Nizami writes that after the suppression of a Hindu revolt at Kol (Aligarh) in 1193 AD, Aibak raised “three bastions as high as heaven with their heads, and their carcases became food for beasts of prey. The tract was freed from idols and idol-worship and the foundations of infidelism were destroyed.” In 1194 AD Aibak destroyed 27 Hindu temples at Delhi and built the Quwwat-ul-Islãmmosque with their debris. According to Nizami, Aibak “adorned it with the stones and gold obtained from the temples which had been demolished by elephants”. In 1195 AD the Mher tribe of Ajmer rose in revolt, and the Chaulukyas of Gujarat came to their assistance. Aibak had to invite re-inforcements from Ghazni before he could meet the challenge. In 1196 AD he advanced against Anahilwar Patan, the capital of Gujarat. Nizami writes that after Raja Karan was defeated and forced to flee, “fifty thousand infidels were despatched to hell by the sword” and “more than twenty thousand slaves, and cattle beyond all calculation fell into the hands of the victors”. The city was sacked, its temples demolished, and its palaces plundered. On his return to Ajmer, Aibak destroyed the Sanskrit College of Visaladeva, and laid the foundations of a mosque which came to be known as ADhãî Din kã JhoMpaDã. Conquest of Kalinjar in 1202 AD was Aibak’s crowning achievement. Nizami concludes: “The temples were converted into mosques… Fifty thousand men came under the collar of slavery and the plain became black as pitch with Hindus.”
A free-lance adventurer, Muhammad Bakhtyar Khalji, was moving further east. In 1200 AD he sacked the undefended university town of Odantpuri in Bihar and massacred the Buddhist monks in the monasteries. In 1202 AD he took Nadiya by surprise. Badauni records in his Muntakhãb-ut-Tawãrîkh that “property and booty beyond computation fell into the hands of the Muslims and Muhammad Bakhtyar having destroyed the places of worship and idol temples of the infidels founded mosques and Khanqahs”.
THE SLAVE (MAMLUK) SULTANS
Shamsuddin Iltutmish who succeeded Aibak at Delhi invaded Malwa in 1234 AD. He destroyed an ancient temple at Vidisha. Badauni reports: “Having destroyed the idol temple of Ujjain which had been built six hundred years previously, and was called Mahakal, he levelled it to its foundations, and threw down the image of Rai Vikramajit from whom the Hindus reckon their era, and brought certain images of cast molten brass and placed them on the ground in front of the doors of mosques of old Delhi, and ordered the people of trample them under foot.”
Muslim power in India suffered a serious setback after Iltutmish. Balban had to battle against a revival of Hindu power. The Katehar Rajputs of what came to be known as Rohilkhand in later history, had so far refused to submit to Islamic imperialism. Balban led an expedition across the Ganges in 1254 AD. According to Badauni, “In two days after leaving Delhi, he arrived in the midst of the territory of Katihar and put to death every male, even those of eight years of age, and bound the women.” But in spite of such wanton cruelty, Muslim power continued to decline till the Khaljis revived it after 1290 AD.