(Ghazanavi to Amir Timur)
The world famous historian, Will Durant has written in his Story of Civilization that “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 Sastras. 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 honor. Sacrifice of honor 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 mujahids (holy warriors) and ghazls (kafir-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 Kanhadade 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 l298 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 kafirs, capture prisoners of war, and plunder vast wealth for which India was well-known.
MAHMUD AND MASOOD GHAZNAVI
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 dinars 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 Tarikh-i-Yamini of Utbi, Mahmud’s secretary,
“The blood of the infidels flowed so copiously [at Thanesar] that the stream was discolored, notwithstanding its purity, and people were unable to drink it. The Sultan returned with plunder which is impossible to count. Praise he to Allah for the honor he bestows on Islam 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 Sultan 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 honor 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 1,000,000 dirhams 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 missals and 200 silver idols. According to Utbi, “The Sultan 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 Sultan 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 Sultan 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 worshipers 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 emphasizing is that the fragments of the famous Sivalinga 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 Tarikh-us-Subuktigin 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 GHORI AND HIS LEUTENANTS
Invasion of India by Islamic imperialism was renewed by Muhmmad Ghori in the last quarter of the 12th century. After Prithiviraj Chauhan had been defeated in 1192 AD, Ghori took Ajmer by assault.
According the Taj-ul-Ma’sir of 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 Islam, 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 Kamil-ut-Tawarikh 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.
Ghori’s lieutenant Qutbuddin Aibak was also busy meanwhile. Hasan Nizami writes that after the suppression of a Hindu revolt at Kol (modern day 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-lslam mosque 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 reinforcements 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 dispatched 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 ‘Adhai Din ka Jhompada’.
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 Muntakhab-ut-Tawarikh 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 in his ‘Muntakhab-ut-Tawarikh’:
“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. Balkan 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. Balkan 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.
Jalaluddin Khalji led an expedition to Ranthambhor in 1291 AD. On the way he destroyed Hindu temples at Chain. The broken idols were sent to Delhi to be spread before the gates of the Jama Masjid. His nephew Alauddin led an expedition to Vidisha in 1292 AD. According to Badauni in Muntakhab-ut-Tawarikh, Alauddin “brought much booty to the Sultan and the idol which was the object of worship of the Hindus, he caused to be cast in front of the Badaun gate to be trampled upon by the people. The services of Alauddin were highly appreciated, the jagir of Oudh (or Avadh – Central U.P.) also was added to his other estates.”
Alauddin became Sultan in 1296 AD after murdering his uncle and father-in-law, Jalaluddin. In 1298 AD he equipped an expedition to Gujarat under his generals Ulugh Khan and Nusrat Khan. The invaders plundered the ports of Surat and Cambay. The temple of Somnath, which had been rebuilt by the Hindus, was plundered and the idol taken to Delhi for being trodden upon by the Muslims. The whole region was subjected to fire and sword, and Hindus were slaughtered en masse. Kampala Devi, the queen of Gujarat, was captured along with the royal treasury, brought to Delhi and forced into Alauddin’s harem. The doings of the Malik Naib during his expedition to South India in 1310-1311 AD have already mentioned in earlier parts.
Muslim power again suffered a setback after the death of Alauddin Khalji in 1316 AD. But it was soon revived by the Tughlaqs. By now most of the famous temples over the length and breadth of the Islamic occupation in India had been demolished, except in Orissa and Rajasthan which had retained their independence. By now most of the rich treasuries had been plundered and shared between the Islamic state and its swordsmen. Firuz Shah Tughlaq led an expedition to Orissa in 1360 AD. He destroyed the temple of Jagannath at Puri, and desecrated many other Hindu shrines. According to ‘Sirat-i-Firoz Shahi’ which he himself wrote or dictated,
“Allah who is the only true God and has no other emanation, endowed the king of Islam with the strength to destroy this ancient shrine on the eastern sea-coast and to plunge it into the sea, and after its destruction he ordered the image of Jagannath to be perforated, and disgraced it by casting it down on the ground. They dug out other idols which were worshipped by the polytheists in the kingdom of Jajnagar and overthrew them as they did the image of Jagannath, for being laid in front of the mosques along the path of the Sunnis and the way of the ‘musallis’ (Muslim congregation for namaz) and stretched them in front of the portals of every mosque, so that the body and sides of the images might be trampled at the time of ascent and descent, entrance and exit, by the shoes on the feet of the Muslims.”
After the sack of the temples in Orissa, Firoz Shah Tughlaq attacked an island on the sea-coast where “nearly 100,000 men of Jajnagar had taken refuge with their women, children, kinsmen and relations”. The swordsmen of Islam turned “the island into a basin of blood by the massacre of the unbelievers”.
A worse fate overtook the Hindu women. Sirat-i-Firuz Shahs records: “Women with babies and pregnant ladies were haltered, manacled, fettered and enchained, and pressed as slaves into service in the house of every soldier.”
Still more horrible scenes were enacted by Firuz Shah Tughlaq at Nagarkot (Kangra) where he sacked the shrine of Jvalamukhi. Firishta records that the Sultan “broke the idols of Jvalamukhi, mixed their fragments with the flesh of cows and hung them in nose bags round the necks of Brahmins. He sent the principal idol as trophy to Medina.”
THE PROVINCIAL MUSLIM SATRAPS
In 1931 AD the Muslims of Gujarat complained to Nasiruddin Muhammad, the Tughlaq Sultan of Delhi, that the local governor, Kurhat-ul-Mulk, was practising tolerance towards the Hindus. The Sultan immediately appointed Muzzaffar Khan as the new Governor. He became independent after the death of the Delhi Sultan and assumed the title of Muzzaffar Shah in 1392 AD. Next year he led an expidition to Somnath and sacked the temple which the Hindus had built once again. He killed many Hindus to chastise them for this “impudence,” and raised a mosque on the site of the ancient temple. The Hindus, however, restarted restoring the temple soon after. In 1401 AD Muzaffar came back with a huge army. He again killed many Hindus, demolished the temple once more, and erected another mosque.
Muzaffar was succeeded by his grandson, Ahmad Shah, in 1411 AD. Three years later Ahmad appointed a special darogah to destroy all temples throughout Gujarat. In 1415 AD Ahmad invaded Sidhpur where he destroyed the images in Rudramahalaya, and converted the grand temple into a mosque. Sidhpur was renamed Sayyadpur.
Mahmud Begrha who became the Sultan of Gujarat in 1458 AD was the worst fanatic of this dynasty. One of his vassals was the Mandalika of Junagadh who had never withheld the regular tribute. Yet in 1469 AD Mahmud invaded Junagadh. In reply to the Mandalika’s protests, Mahmud said that he was not interested in money as much as in the spread of Islam. The Mandalika was forcibly converted to Islam and Junagadh was renamed Mustafabad. In 1472 AD Mahmud attacked Dwarka, destroyed the local temples, and plundered the city. Raja Jaya Singh, the ruler of Champaner, and his minister were murdered by Mahmud in cold blood for refusing to embrace Islam after they had been defeated and their country pillaged and plundered. Champaner was renamed Mahmudabad.
Mahmud Khalji of Malwa (1436-69 AD) also destroyed Hindu temples and built mosques on their sites. He heaped many more insults on the Hindus. Ilyas Shah of Bengal (1339-1379 AD) invaded Nepal and destroyed the temple of Svayambhunath at Kathmandu. He also invaded Orissa, demolished many temples, and plundered many places. The Bahmani sultans of Gulbarga and Bidar considered it meritorious to kill a hundred thousand Hindu men, women, and children every year. They demolished and desecrated temples all over South India.
The climax came during the invasion of Timur in 1399 AD. He starts by quoting the Quran in his Tuzk-i-Timuri: “O Prophet, make war upon the infidels and unbelievers, and treat them severely.”
He continues: “My great object in invading Hindustan had been to wage a religious war against the infidel Hindus…[so that] the army of Islam might gain something by plundering the wealth and valuables of the Hindus.” To start with he stormed the fort of Kator on the border of Kashmir. He ordered his soldiers “to kill all the men, to make prisoners of women and children, and to plunder and lay waste all their property”. Next, he “directed towers to be built on the mountain of the skulls of those obstinate unbelievers”. Soon after, he laid siege to Bhatnir defended by Rajputs. They surrendered after some fight, and were pardoned. But Islam did not bind Timur to keep his word given to the “unbelievers”. His Tuzk-i-Timuri records:
“In a short space of time all the people in the fort were put to the sword, and in the course of one hour the heads of 10,000 infidels were cut off. The sword of Islam was washed in the blood of the infidels, and all the goods and effects, the treasure and the grain which for many a long year had been stored in the fort became the spoil of my soldiers. They set fire to the houses and reduced them to ashes, and they razed the buildings and the fort to the ground.”
At Sarsuti, the next city to be sacked, “all these infidel Hindus were slain, their wives and children were made prisoners and their property and goods became the spoil of the victors”. Timur was now moving through (modern day) Haryana, the land of the Jats. He directed his soldiers to “plunder and destroy and kill every one whom they met”. And so the soldiers “plundered every village, killed the men, and carried a number of Hindu prisoners, both male and female”.
Loni which was captured before he arrived at Delhi was predominantly a Hindu town. But some Muslim inhabitants were also taken prisoners. Timur ordered that “the Musulman prisoners should be separated and saved, but the infidels should all be dispatched to hell with the proselytizing sword”.
By now Timur had captured 100,000 Hindus. As he prepared for battle against the Tughlaq army after crossing the Yamuna, his Amirs advised him “that on the great day of battle these 100,000 prisoners could not be left with the baggage, and that it would be entirely opposed to the rules of war to set these idolators and enemies of Islam at liberty”. Therefore, “no other course remained but that of making them all food for the sword”.
“I proclaimed throughout the camp that every man who had infidel prisoners should put them to death, and whoever neglected to do so should himself be executed and his property given to the informer. When this order became known to the ghazis of Islam, they drew their swords and put their prisoners to death. One hundred thousand infidels, impious idolators, were on that day slain. Maulana Nasiruddin Umar, a counselor and man of learning, who, in all his life, had never killed a sparrow, now, in execution of my order, slew with his sword fifteen idolatrous Hindus, who were his captives.”
The Tughlaq army was defeated in the battle that ensued next day. Timur entered Delhi and learnt that a “great number of Hindus with their wives and children, and goods and valuables, had come into the city from all the country round”.
He directed his soldiers to seize these Hindus and their property. Tuzk-i-Timuri concludes:
“Many of them (Hindus) drew their swords and resisted…The flames of strife were thus lighted and spread through the whole city from Jahanpanah and Siri to Old Delhi, burning up all it reached. The Hindus set fire to their houses with their own hands, burned their wives and children in them and rushed into the fight and were killed…On that day, Thursday, and all the night of Friday, nearly 15,000 Turks were engaged in slaying, plundering and destroying. When morning broke on Friday, all my army …went off to the city and thought of nothing but killing, plundering and making prisoners….The following day, Saturday the 17th, all passed in the same way, and the spoil was so great.that each man secured from fifty to a hundred prisoners, men, women, and children. There was no man who took less than twenty. The other booty was immense in rubies, diamonds, garnets, pearls, and other gems and jewels; ashrafis, tankas of gold and silver of the celebrated Alai coinage: vessels of gold and silver; and brocades and silks of great value. Gold and silver ornaments of Hindu women were obtained in such quantities as to exceed all account. Excepting the quarter of the Saiyids, the Ulama and the other Musulmans, the whole city was sacked.”
Contributed by Rajiv Varma