Frustration of the Ghaznavids
The standard text-books of Indian history taught in our schools and colleges do not highlight at all the stupendous failure of the Islamised Arabs in the face of heroic Hindu resistance. What they highlight instead is the series of successful raids made by Mahmud Ghaznavi into the heartland of India, and the subsequent crumbling of Hindu kingdoms in North India before the determined onslaughts of Muhammad Ghuri. The two Islamic invaders are presented as the rulers of a small sultanate in Afghanistan as against the powerful Hindu kingdoms of the Shahiyas, the Gurjara-Pratiharas, the Parmaras, the Rashtrakutas, the Chandellas, the Chaulukyas, the Chauhans, the Gahadvads, and the Senas. The impression that is left at the end of it all is that northern India was more or less a walk-over for the ‘warriors of Islam.
Dr. Misra however, cites solid facts, recorded mostly by Muslim historians of medieval India, which tell an entirely different story. That is what makes Chapters 4 and 5 of his book a most rewarding reading. The Ghaznavids and the Ghurids in this story are not rulers of small principalities; they are formidable powers with the resources of vast empires at their disposal. The perspective is thus restored once again.
Myths About Mahmud Ghaznavi
Muslim historians have floated two myths about Mahmud Ghaznavi who had succeeded his father, Subuktigin, in AD 997, and who became famous for his 12 or, according to another count, 17 invasions of India. The first myth is that he was interested primarily in demolishing Hindu temples, breaking Hindu idols, capturing prisoners of war, and amassing wealth by plunder, and that he did not harbour any serious intention of building an empire in India. But the very fact that he had annexed to his empire - spread over Khorasan, Iran, Iraq, and most of Central Asia - the Shahiya domain in the North-West and the Punjab as also Multan, which was a Muslim principality at that time, goes to prove that he would not have hesitated in doing the same to other parts of northern and western India, had he found it feasible. He failed in this design not because he lacked the intention but because he met a very stiff resistance in these parts. It is true that his superior military might and skill as a commander succeeded in defeating, in the initial encounters, most of the Hindu princes he met on the field of battle. But the rising tide of resistance in the wake of every victory threatened to engulf him soon after, with the result that he had to content himself with plunder and prisoners of war, and relinquish the coveted territories.
The second myth, which has been built up to bolster the first, presents India as if it was an open country which he could enter and leave as and when he pleased. But this myth also is not supported by the facts of recorded history. Dr. Misra observes: ‘The contemporary Muslim historians seem to imply that Mahmud’s armies easily vanquished the infidel armies and there was no opposition worth the name. But a closer scrutiny of all available sources, contemporary and later, reveals a different story.1
The Shahiya Struggle With Mahmud
Mahmud led his first invasion against the Shahiyas of Udbhandapur in AD 1001 when he advanced upon Peshawar. Raja Jayapala was caught unawares, and could not mobilise all his forces in time. The lack of a standing army was to prove the undoing of many Hindu princes in days to come. In contrast, the Muslim militarists always maintained their armed hordes in a permanent state of mobilisation. Even so, the Hindus fought an obstinate battle in the face of overwhelming odds. They, however, depended upon slow moving elephants which proved a poor match for the highly mobile Muslim cavalry. They were defeated and Jayapala himself was made captive. But Mahmud did not dare annex any Indian territory. He released Jayapala in exchange for fifty elephants. He had had a taste of Hindu heroism, and beat a hasty retreat. On the other hand, Jayapala thought himself unworthy of the throne he occupied, and burnt himself on a funeral pyre to which he set fire with his own hands. This was a demonstration of the Hindu sense of honour, which no defeated Muslim marauder could ever match.
Jayapala’s successor, Anandapala, proved equally valiant. He refused passage to Mahmud’s armies on their way to Multan in AD 1005-06. This led to a battle which Anandapala lost. His son, Sukhapala, was taken prisoner and converted to Islam. Mahmud had to rush back to Ghazni to meet an attack from the west. He left his Indian possessions in the hands of Sukhapala who, however, soon returned to the Hindu fold. Here was an opportunity for Anandapala to attack the Sultan from the east. But Anandapala proved too magnanimous to take advantage of the difficulty in which his adversary was placed. Instead, he offered to go to the aid of Mahmud with a sizable force. ‘Anandapala thus lost the only chance of crushing an enemy and was soon to pay the penalty.2
Mahmud invaded India again in AD 1008. According to Firishta, quoted by Dr. Misra, Anandapala ‘sent ambassadors on all sides inviting assistance of other princes of Hindustan, who now considered the expulsion of Mohammadans from India as a sacred duty. Accordingly the Rajas of Ujjain, Gwalior, Kalinjar, Kanauj, Delhi and Ajmer entered into a confederacy and collecting their forces advanced towards Punjab. The Indians and Mohammedans, remained encamped [at Waihind] for forty days without coming into action. The Hindu women, on this occasion, sold their jewels and melted down their gold ornaments to furnish resources for the war. Mahmud ‘ordered six thousand archers to the front to endeavour to provoke the enemy to attack his entrenchments. The Khokhars ‘penetrated into Mohammadan lines where a dreadful carnage ensued and 5000 Mohammadans in a few minutes were slain. Utbi admits that ‘the battle lasted from morning till evening and the infidels were near gaining victory.3 Firishta reports that Mahmud ‘saw his plight and sent some of his elite warriors to attack the elephant on which Anandapala was sitting and directing the contest. The elephant took fright from ‘the naptha balls and flights of arrows and turned and fled.4 That broke the morale of the Hindu army. It was neither the first nor the last occasion on which the Hindu army became an uncontrollable rabble and suffered defeat and slaughter simply because the elephant carrying its commander turned tail. The Muslim armies were more disciplined.
The Shahiya dynasty now established a new capital at Nandana in the Salt Range. They contested every inch against subsequent raids of Mahmud. The next battle took place in AD 1013. Trilochanapala who had meanwhile succeeded Anandapala, retired into the hills of Kashmir where the Prime Minister of that kingdom came to his help with a large army. KalhaNa has described this battle in glowing terms in his RajatarañgiNi. Utbi writes that ‘the action lasted for several days without intermission, and that the Hindus lost it only when they ‘were drawn into the plain to fight, like oil sucked up into the wick of the candle. Kalhana concludes: ‘Even after he had obtained his victory, the Hammira did not breathe freely, thinking of the superhuman prowess of the illustrious Trilochanapala.5
The Shahiya king with his son, Bhimapala (known as Nidar Bhima), now established a new seat at Lohara (Lohkot) on the border of Kashmir. Mahmud tried to storm it in AD 1015. Firishta tells us that ‘this was the first disaster that the Sultan suffered in his campaigns against India. After some days he extricated himself with great difficulty from his peril, and reached Ghazni without having achieved any success.6 For obvious reasons, comments Dr. Misra, the contemporary Muslim historians do not mention this particular expedition.
The Shahiyas were no longer in a position to arrest the forward march of Mahmud. Nor was Mahmud in a position to dislodge them from Lohara so long as a single scion of the dynasty remained alive. ‘Trilochanapala was killed in A.D. 1021, and his son Bhimapala five years later (A.D. 1026), fighting Mahmud all along at different places and in league with different Hindu princes. Years later, Alberuni wrote: ‘The Hindu Shahiya dynasty is now extinct, and of the whole house there is no longer the slightest remnant in existence. We must say that, in all their grandeur, they never slackened in the ardent desire of doing that which is good and right, that they were men of noble sentiment and noble bearing. Dr. Misra observes: ‘The Shahis fought with valour and tenacity for nearly fifty years. They ultimately collapsed against the repeated onslaughts of the Turks, led by one of the greatest generals their race has produced but not before three generations of the Shahi kings had sacrificed themselves on the battlefield.7
Mahmud Fails Against the Chandellas
The next Hindu dynasty to offer resolute resistance to Mahmud Ghaznavi was that of the Chandellas of Kalanjar and Khajuraho. The Chandella contemporary of Mahmud was Raja Vidyadhara. He had fought and killed Rajyapala, the Gurjara-Pratihara ruler of Kanauj, for abjectly ‘surrendering his territories to the Musalmans. Trilochanapala and his son, Bhimapala had joined him along with several other Hindu princes in order to stem the tide of Islamic invasion. The Ghaznavi marched against Vidyadhara in AD 1018. ‘He sent a messenger to Nanda (as Vidyadhara was called by the Muslims) asking him to become a Muslim and save himself from all harm and distress. Nanda returned the reply that he had nothing to say to Mahmud except on the battlefield.8 Mahmud ascended an elevated spot to survey the Hindu host. According to Nizamuddin Ahmad, a medieval historian, ‘Then when he saw what a vast host it was, he repented of his coming and, placing the forehead of supplication on the ground of submission and humility, prayed for victory.9 Fortunately for him, the Hindus did not engage him in battle immediately; they made a strategic retreat. Mahmud also promptly ‘set out for Ghazni. He had obtained neither plunder, nor prisoners of war. Hindus could have destroyed him had they pursued him in his retreat. But that was a vision which Hindus had lost. Pursuit of a retreating enemy was contrary to the Rajput code of honour.
The Hindu confederacy also seems to have dispersed soon after. So Mahmud did not have to face a united Hindu host when he again invaded Chandella territory in AD 1022. He laid siege to the fort of Gwalior to start with but ‘failed to take it after investing it for forty days and nights. Next he advanced on Kalanjar. ‘This time also Mahmud failed to force a conclusion and the campaign ended in mutual gifts and compliments. Later Muslim historians have tried to represent this exchange of complimentaries as tribute. Evidently, Mahmud had to be satisfied with only a verse and A few elephants.10 He never paid another visit to Chandella territory.
Subsequent to the Raid on Somanath
Dr. Mishra has also given a detailed account of Hindu heroism in defence of Somanath which Mahmud had attacked in AD 1026. According to Firishta, ‘The battle raged with great fury, victory was long doubtful.11 According to another Muslim account, ‘Fifty thousand infidels were killed round about the temple. Dr. Misra comments: ‘The like of this faith which inspired these fifty thousand sons of the soil to embrace death will be hard to find in the annals of any other land.12
Mahmud succeeded in demolishing the sacred image, and plundering the temple treasury. But the rallying of Hindu forces from far and near frightened him into beating a hasty retreat. He dared not return by the road he had traversed on his way to Somanath. Gardizi writes: ‘Param Dev, Badshah of the Hindus, stood in his way disputing his path. Mahmud decided, therefore, to leave the right road back to Ghazni from fear lest this great victory of his should turn into defeat. He left by way of Multan and Mansurah. Many of the soldiers of Islam lost their lives in this way.13 The Hindu king under reference was either Chaulukya Bhimadeva I of Gujarat or Paramara Bhoja of Malwa ‘who was known to be a sturdy champion of Hinduism. Dr. Misra has reconstructed the military manoeuvers of this king which make an interesting study. Also the story of two guides who led the Muslim army into a desert trap at the cost of their lives.
The Jats of Sindh had ‘molested his army during his retreat from Somanath. So Mahmud’s next expedition was organised against them. The Jats were very powerful and, according to one Muslim account, ‘They had invaded the principality of Mansura and forced its Musalman Amir to abjure his religion.14 Mahmud is reported to have mobilized a large number of boats to fight the Jats who had taken to the river. But the whole account, says Dr. Misra, ‘smacks of unreality. Girdizi mentions only ‘one camp of refugee families whom the Muslim army robbed. This amounts to an admission that the expedition ended in failure.
Successors of Mahmud
Muslim generals under Masud, Mahmud’s successor, led some raids into farther India from their base in the Punjab. One of them was Ahmad Nialtigin. He surprised Benares, stayed there for a day, and returned with plunder. Another general, Salar Masud who was a son of Mahmud’s sister, reached up to Bahraich in north U.P. where he and his large army were surrounded by Hindu princes, and destroyed. Hindu princes now took the offensive against the Muslim invaders. Dr. Misra cities Firishta as follows: ‘In the year A.H. 435 (A.D. 1043) the Raja of Delhy, in conjunction with other Rajas took Hansy, Thanesur, and other dependencies from the governors to whom Modood (the successor of Masud) had entrusted them. The Hindus from thence marched towards the fort of Nagarkota [Kangra] which they besieged for four months and the garrison being distressed for provisions and no succour coming from Lahore was under the necessity of capitulating. The Hindus according to their practice erected new idols. The successor of the Raja of Delhy gave such confidence to the Indian chiefs of Punjab and other places that, they put on the aspect of lions. Three of these Rajas advanced and invested Lahore.15 In the final round, Hindus failed to take Lahore. But they kept their hold over other places in the Punjab for quite some time.
The Muslims renewed their raids after Prince Mahmud, the son of Sultan Ibrahim of Ghazni, was appointed governor of Lahore in AD 1075. Meanwhile, Bhoja Paramara had died in AD 1055 and Raja Karna Kalchuri in AD 1072. Both these princes were dreaded by the Muslims. Prince Mahmud was defeated and driven away by Lakshmadeva, the Paramara ruler of Ujjain. Mahmud also tried to take Kalanjar. But the Chandellas again proved more than a match for the army of Islam. Muslim historians record only his safe return from Hindustan, and thank Allah!
Ibrahim’s successor, Masud III (AD 1099-1115), fared no better. The armies of Islam were defeated repeatedly by Govindachandra, the Gahadavad ruler of Kanauj. Inscriptions of Hindu princes around this period ‘speak again and again of the rout of Turushka armies. These may refer either to the failure of feeble attempts which might have still been made by the Yamini (Ghaznavid) kings to extend their dominions in India or to the extermination of isolated pockets of Muslim domination beyond the Punjab.16
One of the worst defeats suffered by the Muslims was at the hands of Arnoraja, the Chauhan ruler of Ajmer (AD 1133-1151). ‘The Muslim commander fled before the Chauhans. Muslim soldiers died of exhaustion and an equal number perished from thirst. Their bodies lay along the path of retreat and were burnt by the villagers. A Chauhan prasasti of Ajmer Museum, line 15, states: ‘The land of Ajmer, soaked with the blood of the Turushkas, looked as if it had dressed itself in a dress of deep red colour to celebrate the victory of her lord.’17
A Hindu counter-attack was launched after Vigraharaja (AD 1153-1164), the successor to Arnoraja, conquered Delhi and Hansi from the Tomaras. ‘His repeated victories led him to the claim of ‘having rendered Aryavarta worthy of its name by the repeated extermination of the Mlechhas.’ All territories south of the river Sutlej seem to have been freed from Muslim rule.18