The Muslims


The  riches of India have always attracted covetous eyes, the rulers of India had learned to live with the perpetual threat of invasion. Numerous invasions, both great & small, followed, among them those of Darius the Persian, circa 500 BC, and Alexander the great two centuries later.

When the Turko-Afgans invaded India, the religious fervour of Islam had largely dissipated, the motive of their conquest was essentially political, not religious and this had a moderating influence on Muslim theocracy in India. The Turko-Afgans were, on the whole, careful not to push Hindus beyond endurance. Though Muslim rulers setting out against an infidel or heretic kingdom habitually spoke of their campaign of holy war, it was often just a convenient ruse to cover the shame of naked aggression. The pursuit of power & plunder, not the propagation of faith, was the motive force of military and political action by the Muslim invaders in India.


 In 1004 Mahmud of Ghazni mahmud_ghaznicrossed the Indus and after a hotly contested battle, took the city of Bhatia (near Jhelum). The following year he determined to attack Multan, whose Amir, though a Muslim, was now a heretical Ismili Shiah. Anadapala, the Shahi king of Afganisthan refused Mahmud safe passage through his domains and duly felt ‘the hand of slaughter, imprisonment, pillage, depopulation and fire’. Then Multan fell. ‘Heresy, rebellion, and enmity were suppressed’, and Mahmud’s fame occasioned comment as far away Egypt. In fact al-Utbi boasted that it now ‘exceeded that of Alexander’. The raids continued. In 1008 Anadapala suffered the Shahi’s most crushing defeat as Mahmud overran the whole of Panjab and then took the great citadel and temple of Kangra (in Himachal Pradesh), in whose vaults had been stored the Shahi’s accumulated wealth. Here the gold ingots hauled away by Mahmud weighed 180 kiols and the silver bullion 2 tonnes, while the coins came to seventy million royal dirhams. Also included was a house, in kit form and fashioned entirely from white silver. The Ghaznavid’s appetite for dead Indians, desirable slaves and portable wealth was whetted, but not satisfied. In 1012 it carried him to Thaneswar. Thaneswar duly fell, and ‘the Sultan returned home with plunder that is impossible to recount’. ‘Praise be to God, the protector of the world for the honour upon Islam and Musulmans’ wrote al-Utbi.



In 1018 it was the turn of Mathura, the land of Lord Krishna as well as the source of so much Gupta culture. Here the main temple, a colossally intricate stone structure, impressed even Mahmud. Already busy endowing Ghazni with stately mosques and madrassas, he reckoned that to build the like of the Mathura temple would take at least two hundred years and cost a hundred million dirhams. According to al-Utbi, the building was simply ‘beyond description’-though not desecration.After tonnes of gold, silver and precious stones had been prised from the images, it shared the fate of the city’s countless other shrines, being ‘burned with naptha and fire and levelled to the ground’. Kanauj was sacked as Mahmud a last reached the Ganga. The Pratihara ruler seems to have left his capital, with its ‘seven forts and ten thousand temples’. From this campaign Mahmud returned with booty valued at twenty million dirhams, 50,000 slaves and 350 elephants. There followed expeditions even further afield into what now Madhya Pradesh to chastise the Chandela Rajputs. These were less rewarding.

somnath-templeBut in 1025 Mahmud targeted Somnath, another temple-city and place of pilgrimage. It was new territory, and this was his most ambitious raid. But taking only cavalry and camels, Mahmud swept across the desert of Rajasthan taking his would be enemies by surprise, and reached Saurashtra coast with scarcely a victory to record. Somnath’s fort looked more formidable. It seems, though, to have been defended not by troops but by enormous complement of Brahmans and hordes of devotees. Ill-armed, they placed their trust in blind aggression and the intercession of the temple’s celebrated lingam. With ladders and ropes Magmud’s disciplined professionals scaled the walls and went about their business. Such was resultant carnage that even the Muslim chroniclers betray a hint of unease. What one of them calls ‘the dreadful slaughter’ outside the temple was yet worse.

‘Band after band of the defenders entered the temple of Somnath, and with their hands clasped round their necks, wept and passionately entreated him [the Shiva lingam]. Then again they issued forth until they were slain and but few were left alive….The number of the dead exceeded fifty thousand’.

Additionally twenty million dirhams-worth of gold, silver and gems was looted from the temple. But rankled even more than the loot and the appalling death-toll was the satisfaction which Mahmud took in destroying the great gilded lingam. somnath-lingamAfter stripping it of its gold, he personally laid into it with ‘sword’ – which must have been more like a sledgehammer. The bits were then sent back to Ghazni and incorporated into the steps of its new Jami Masjid, ther to be humiliatingly trampled and perpetually defiled by the feet of the Muslim faithful. Mahmud’s forces, better led than those of his adversaries, and much better mounted thanks to their access to Central Asian bloodstock, enjoyed a definite tactical superiority. They were powerfully motivated by religious zeal, plus the prospect of booty and women in this world or something agreeable in the next. The Indian forces, on the other hand, betrayed an understandable reluctance to engage. The most they could expect from battles with these rough riding ghazis from the wilds of central asia was perhaps a fleeter horse and a slim chance of survival. Victory, were it ever attained, promised only reprisals, and for the Hindus no particular merit attached to the massacre of Mlechccha. In fact  the superior prospects on offer to the champions of Islam induced some Hindus from the north-west frontier to switch both religion and allegiance and to fight for the Ghaznavids.

Muslim immigrants and missionaries seem to have enjoyed the freedom of north India much as Hindus did that of Sind and the Punjab. Writing of the Varanasi region, Ibn Asir, contemporary scholar of 12th century insists that ‘there were Mussalmans in that country since the days of Mahmud of Ghazni, who continued faithful to the law of Islam, and constant in prayer and good work. Numerous other examples of pre-Ghorid  Muslim communities in India have been noticed, and so has the existance of  Turuska tax. This could have been a levy to meet tribute demands from the Ghaznavids, but seems more probably to have been a poll-tax on Muslims resident in India and so Hindu equivalent of Muslim Jizya. To what extent religion was uppermost in the mind of either Prithviraj Chauhan or Muhammad of Ghor when first they met is debatable.

Mohammad-GhoriIn 1191 Muhammad of Ghor took the offensive by storming a fort in the Punjab near Patiala or Bhatinda. The fort was taken, but Prithviraj hastened to its rescue and, at place called Tarain near Thaneswar(about 150 km from Delhi) he was intercepted by the main Ghorid army. The ensuing battle turned out to be personal contest between Muhammad of Ghor and Govinda-Raja of Delhi, who was Pritviraj’s vassal. Govinda lost his front teeth to the Ghorid’s lance but then took fearful revenge with a spear that struck the latter’s upper arm. Barely able to keep his seat Muhammad was saved by a ‘lion-hearted warrior, a Khalji stripling’ who lept up behind him in the saddle and piloted him from the battlefield. Had the chauhan’s forces taken advantage of the situation, it might have become a rout. But Prithviraj, fresh from the ritualistic manoeuvres of a conventional digvijay, mistook retreat for an admission of deafeat. The Muslim forces were allowed to withdraw in good order. Muhammad withdrew to Ghazni to convalasce and assemble more troops. The Ghorid forces included Afgans, Persians and Arabs,but the most numerous and effective contingents were of Turkic stock. By mid-1192 Muhammad was back in the Punjab at the head of 120,000 horse and with an uncompromising ultimatum for the king of Ajmer, apostasise or fight. Prithviraj returned a ‘haughty answer’ he would not capitulate nor would embrace Islam but,if Muhammad was having second thoughts, he was willing to consider a truce.

Pritviraj who was then in his mid-twenties, according to Ferishta Muhammad, allegedly responded to Prithviraj’s suggestion of a truce with a letter couched in terms sufficiently ambiguous to give the Indians cause to celebrate. The letter produced the intended effect, for the enemy, conceiving that Muhammad was intimidated, spent the night in riot and revelry, while he was preparing to surprise them. When they awoke, late and in urgent need of ablutions, they found Ghori forces already entering their lines. The battle thus began amidst great confusion. Only Muhammad had a plan like the great Mahmud of Ghazni he would launch wave after wave of mounted archers, but not try to force the force the Indian position, and in fact withdraw as the Indian’s elephant-phalanx advanced.  Prithviraj, happy with this apparent success, duly advanced. But the buffeting assaults of the Turkish horse took  their toll of the all-night revellers, sore Rajput heads began to droop, and the scent of morning soured as the day wore on. By sunset Muhammad was ready to strike back.


 Putting himslef at the head of 12,000 of his best horse, whose riders were covered with steel armour, and making one desperate charge, carried death and destruction through the Hindu ranks.  The Hindus panicked the Muslims, committed such havoc that Prithviraj’s prodigious army, once shaken, like a great building tottered to its fall and was lost in ruins.  In all 100,000 are said to have been sent to their death. Prithviraj was taken prisoner and would soon join them. The 1192 rout of the Rajputs at the Tarain is arguably the most decisive battle in the history of India. The ‘key to Delhi gate’, indeed to the whole arya-varta, now belonged to Muhammad of Ghor and his victrious Turks. Scenes of devastation, plunder, and massacre commenced, which lasted through the ages, during which nearly all that was sacred in religion or celebrated in art was destroyed by these ruthless and barbarous invaders.

Muhammad Ghor’s Turkish commander Qutub-ud-din Aibak later became first Sultan of Delhi and so began the minority Muslim rule over the majority Hindu population for the next 900 years. Till 1857.

TheMuslim invaders consisted of armies of men, very few of whom brought their women with them. They married Hindu wives, and the mixed race thus formed intermarried further with the natives, and each generation became more and more Indian. Islam commended itself to the Indian intellect as a more congenial faith & the disorder and corruption of Mohammedan government were not distasteful to a people who were already well acquainted with it.


1. Indians had witnessed the successive inroads of horde after horde of invading foreigners, and had incorporated some part of each new element into their ancient system. They had obeyed the  king whether Aryan, Hun, Greek, Persian, Rajput, Turk, Afgan, Mongol or English, with the same inveterate resignations, contended or at least not very discontented with their immemorial village system and district government. Whatever King might have ruled,the Indian would resignedly argue-there would still be plague and famine and constant but not energetic labour, and so long as the rice and millet grew and salt was not too dear, life was as much the same and the Gods might be propitiated. The difference caused in the ryot’s life by a good or bad king was too slight to have been worth discussing. The good and the ill were alike things of the day, they passed away as the life passed when the king decreed a death or massacred a village, but others followed and the world went on, and the will of God was eternal.

2.  The Hindoo Rules of War:

The rules of war are simple; and, being drawn up by Brahmins, they show nothing of the practical ability for which the Indians are often distinguished at present. The plan of a campaign resembles those of Greek republics or the early days of Rome; and seems suited to countries of much less extent than those which now exist in India.

Armies were composed of cavalry and infantry. The great weapon of both was probably the bow, together with the sword and target. Elephants were much employed in war; and chariots seem still to have formed and important branch of the army.

The laws of war are honourable and humane. Poisoned and mischievously barbed arrows, and fire arrows, are all prohibited. There are many situations in which it is by no means allowable to destroy the enemy. Among those who must always be spared are unarmed or wounded men, and those who have broken their weapon, and one who asks his life, and one who says, “I am thy captive.” Other prohibitions are still more generous: a man on horseback or in a chariot is not to kill one on foot; nor is it allowed to kill one who sits down fatigued, or who sleeps or who flees, or who is fighting with another man.

With such humane rules can you win a war? No wonder the vicious Muslim invaders time and again ravaged our country!!

3.The native Indians, under their government, are, to speak without prejudice, a far better people than the Mahometans, or than those who by living under Mahometans, become the depressed subjects, or the corrupted instruments of tyranny, they are of far milder manners, more industrious, more tractable, and less enterprising.” —Edmund Burke

4. One thing that is undeniable is that still today, we carry on the legacy of the Muslim rule in India. In our dress, food habits and even in matters of administration. The poor of this country are still treated as badly as they were under the minority muslim rulers.



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3 Responses to “The Muslims”

  1. indiaexplored Says:

    The inoffensive character of the Hindus seemed to invite an invader. Moreover, the division of the Hindus was in the invaders favour; the downfall of one raja only removed a rival from the prince who was next behind; and the invader diminished his numbers, and got further from his resources….

  2. indiaexplored Says:

    The undiscovered regions of India presented a wider field for romantic enterprise. The great extent of our country, the rumours of the accumulated treasures, the fertility of the soil, and the peculiarity of various productions, raised our land into land of fable, in which the surrounding nations might indulge their imagination without control.

    The adventures to be expected in such a country, derived fresh luster form their being the means of extending the Mohammedan faith, the establishment of which among a new people was in those times the most glorious exploit that a king or conqueror could achieve.

  3. indiaexplored Says:

    Thanks for passing by llnair.

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