In the early medieval age India was on the threshold of phenomenal changes in the domains of polity, economy, society and culture.
The impact of these changes is visible even today influencing the growth of India as one nation.
The regional lineage-based territorial kingdoms that arose in different parts of India promoted regionalism based on script and language.
The cultural traits, art and architecture, and the temple-centred devotional movement under Alvars and Nayanars, in peninsular India of Tamil Nadu were creating a new social ethos in the stratified Indian social organization. At that juncture a new power born on the Arabian soil professing a different faith, Islam entered India as a political power in the 8th century AD. Arabia was the birthplace of Islam.
Prophet Muhammad of Arabia was the founder of Islam. He was born in AD 570 at Mecca in Arabia and passed away in AD 632. S. Abid Hussain is of the view that Islam, the new message of hope and faith, which the Prophet of Arabia delivered to the world, was not a new religion. The original source of the teachings of Islam is the Quaran. It states, “There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is the Prophet of Allah”.
While regionalism was taking deep roots on the Indian soil, many significant events were taking place in Europe and Asia in the post-Harsha era, which directly and indirectly influenced the course of our history. In AD 711 the ruler of Sindh, Raja Dahir was attacked by Mahammed Bin Kasim and Sindh was occupied by the Arabs for a short time. Thus, with the Arab conquest of Sindh began the impact of Islamic forces on India and its culture.
Just as Buddhism enabled India to develop links with East Asia, the encounter with Islam forged new links with West Asia. A protracted debate and dialogue is going on about the impact of Islam on India. While some emphasize that this encounter enriched the Indian culture, some others vehemently condemn this encounter as having destroyed the original creative spirit of the Indians, and characterize this period a Dark Age. The truth lies between these two extremes.
The rise of Islam acted as an instrument in forging unity among the warring tribes of Arabs into a powerful political entity and started a new movement of expansion. It is erroneously believed that Islam entered India in the 8th century whereas the Arabs had been carrying on trade and commerce with the Malabar Coast for a long time prior to the conquest of Sindh.
In 636 AD Osam Sakifi, the governor of Bahrain sent a fleet to India but the policy of armed intervention was abandoned with the advice of Khalifa. By AD 711 the Arabs captured Gibralter and started their conquest of Spain. By AD 712, Bukhara in Central Asia succumbed to the Islamic conquerors and by that time Sindh was already in Arab control.
The invasion of Sindh took place on the pretext of a very insignificant event. The king of Sri Lanka dispatched a group of Muslim orphans in a ship to the Governor of Iraq. On the way, sea pirates captured the ship. The ruler of Iraq demanded that the Raja of Sindh, punish the pirates, “Even the king refused to yield to the demand, Muhammad Bin Kasim, the son-in-law of the Governor of Iraq came with army and conquered southern Sindh. This invasion and conquest of Sindh was supported by the Khalifa. The new Khalifa ordered the execution of Kasim but this did not put an end to the conquest. In AD 725 the Arabs again invaded and occupied Kathiawar and Gujarat as far as southern Rajasthan.
The Arab’s thirst for further conquests was put to an end by the valiant efforts of the Chalukyas and Rashtrakutas in western India, while the Guijara Pratiharas stopped their conquests in northern India. Masudi, a Muslim traveller who visited India in AD 915 testifies to the efforts of the Gujara Pratiharas by keeping a large army to stall the invasions of the Arabs. Sulaiman, another Muslim traveller also mentions the Rashtrakutas as one among the four mightiest rulers of the world.
Till AD 861, Sindh along with Punjab was under the direct control of the Khalifa but in that year the rulers declared their independence and lived in peace with the Hindus. A large number of Arab traders settled outside the Muslim occupied territories on the coastal region from Sindh to Gujarat and Kathiawar. As a result of this harmony, contacts developed between the Hindus and the Arabs.
The Arab occupation of Sindh did not last long and the first chapter of Muslim occupation of Sindh comes to an end with the death of Muhammad Bin Kasim. Politically this was not a great event and yet it left an impact on the Arab culture. Satish Chandra aptly observes, “Unfortunately, we have only limited knowledge of India’s economic and cultural relations with the Arab world during the period and of India’s scientific contributions to it”.
The Arab conquest of Sindh in the 8th century did not lead to the establishment of close cultural relations between Arabs and the rest of India. Between AD 757 and 774, during the reign of Khalifa Mansur, some Hindu scholars visited Baghdad and brought with them Brahmagupta’s Brahmasiddhanta and Khandakdhayaka which Al-Fazani translated into Arabic. During the time of Harun many Sanskrit books were translated into Arabic and this process continued as long as the Abbasids held control over Baghdad.
We are fairly certain that Indian mathematics and works on astronomy were translated into Arabic and definitely Aryabhata’s Suryasiddhanta is one of such translated works into Arabic. Indian traders and merchants continued to explore the markets of Iraq and Iran while Indian physicians and master craftsmen were welcomed by the Khalifa at Baghdad. It is no exaggeration to suggest that Panchatantra was translated into Arabic and formed the basis of Aesop’s fables in the West.
Further, Masudi, a Muslim traveller who visited India in the 10th century observes that the Hindu king of Cambay was interested in religious discourses and exchanged ideas with Muslims and other peoples who visited him. On the whole, the relations were neither very hostile nor very cordial between the Arabs and the Indians. By their secularization of Hindu religious knowledge, the Arabs laid foundation of Western experimental science, which has often appropriated the credit of discoveries which actually belong to the Buddhist and Hindu India.
The Ghaznavid Turks:
After the Arab penetration into Sindh, it was the Turks who once again made inroads into India in the 11th century. After the decline of the Abbasid power, Samanid dynasty ruled from AD 874-999. Later Ghaznavids came to power in AD 962 and ruled till AD 1186. Alaptagin, a Turkish slave of the Samanid king Abdul Malik founded the Ghaznavid dynasty. He occupied Ghazni in Afghanistan and made it his capital. Alaptagin ruled till AD 969. He was followed by his son-in-law Sabaktagin who was the ruler of Ghazni in AD 997.
Jaipal, the ruler of Lahore in the Punjab was defeated at Lamghan by Sabaktagin. Sabaktagin was followed by his son Ismail, who was overthrown by Muhammad, his brother in AD 998, who became famous in history as Muhammad of Ghazni, the capital of a state corresponding to what is now called Afghanistan together with a part of Iran.
Availability of the finest horses and iron useful for the manufacture of arms-making, made the Turks strong and adventurous and the growing Ghazni spirit in West Asia enticed the newly converted Turks to attack India. In AD 999 Mahammad ascended the throne of Ghazni and took a vow to organize every year a raid into India. After the successful initial raids, in 1001 he marched against the Shahis and reached Waihind or Peshawar and defeated Jayapala. Again in 1006, Muhammad conquered the upper Indus region, which gave him access to the Punjab.
In 1009, Muhammad defeated Anandapala and occupied the fort of Bhimnagar or Nagarkot and accepted Anandapala as his feudatory. Once again in AD 1015 Muhammad plundered Lahore but his attempt to conquer Kashmir in the same year ended in failure, due to inclement weather.
This happens to be the first defeat of Muhammad’s armies in India. By now, the way was open for the Turkish advance into the Gangetic plains. By the end of 1015, Muhammad defeated a local Rajput ruler at Baran or Bulendashar but at Mathura he had to face the stiff opposition of Kalachuri Kokala II. But Mohammad was successful in this raid which was considered to be the most spectacular and profitable one in the Gangetic valley.
Again in AD 1019 and 1021, he undertook two raids into the Gangetic valley and in 1025 he attacked Somanath, the famous holy town and shrine and after destroying and plundering it, he returned to Ghazni. This successful expedition demonstrated their capacity of swift movement over unknown and hostile territory and a spirit of daring enterprise rare even among the Turkish nomadic tribes of the times. Thus, ended the 17 raids of Mohammad Ghazni who captured places as far apart as Saurashtra of Gujarat and Kanauaj, the capital of the Gurjara Pratiharas.
Looting of holy places in Thaneswar, Mathura and the loss of 50,000 people defending Somanath temple and destruction of the Shiva Linga with his own hands made the Hindus hate him as a fanatic Muslim. It is difficult to explain the motive for these wanton destructions, when he never wanted to establish his empire in India. Even if we agree that he looted the wealth of India to enrich his power base in central Asia, the question that defies explanation is his wanton destruction of temples. Mohammad was greatly honoured by the Khalifa for his successful feats in India.
None can dispute the military capabilities of Muhammad Ghazni. Undoubtedly, he was a bold and brave warrior and a born leader of men who single-handedly carved out one of the biggest empires in west and central Asia as described by Satish Chandra. He beautified his capital Ghazni with magnificent buildings with the wealth of plunder of the Indian territories. He patronized Firadausi, the author ofShahnarrm and Alberuni, the author of Hindu ul kitab.
We may conclude with the statement of Satish Chandra “thus, despite his political and military achievements Muhammad is remembered in India as a ruthless plunderer and even did not earn a good name among his contemporaries outside India”. By the end of the tenth century the Muslims had only touched the periphery of Indian culture but were far away from its centre.
The real and meaningful contact between the Hindu and Muslim cultures did not begin with the occupation of the Punjab and Multan in the 11th century. It had to wait till the beginning of the Delhi Sultanate. The Ghazani rule lasted for a hundred and fifty years over Peshawar and a large part of western Punjab.
After Muhammad’s death, India experienced temporary peace for more than a century before Muhammad Ghori descended upon the plains of India from Afghanistan. There was a gap of nearly a century and half before Ghori invaded India again and this was a period of great flux in northern India. Unfortunately, Indians did not learn any useful political lesson from Ghazni’s raids and they failed to develop foresight necessary to meet the new challenge. Instead, they indulged in constant internecine warfare between the various Rajput principalities, which ultimately weakened all the Rajput states.
In spite of the weakening of the power of Ghazni, the successors of Muhammad continued their raids into the Doab as far as Benaras and yet the Rajputs never realized the need for sustained united effort to drive away the Muslims invaders. It is Muhammad Ghori, who once again initiated raids into the Indian soil to expand his territory into India at the end of the 12th century.
Towards the middle of the 12th century, another group of Turkish tribesmen, who were partly Buddhist and partly Pagan, rose to prominence and of such the Ghurid kingdom based at Ghor in north-west Afghanistan was the most important. The Ghurids were the vassals of Ghazni and taking advantage of the weakness of Ghaznis, Ghurid Sultan Allauddin destroyed their power. As the Ghurids had to face the enmity of the Khwarizmi kingdom, who were also contenders for central Asia, the Ghurid, decided to move towards India.
In AD 1163, Ghiyasuddin Muhammad became the ruler of Ghor and appointed his brother Shihabuddin or Muizzudin Muhammad as the governor of Ghazni in AD 1173-74. This Shihabuddin is well known in history of India as Muhammad Ghori and he laid the foundations of the Muslim rule in India. With a view to bring back the Muslim provinces of India under his control, in AD 1175 he took Multan and next he occupied the fortress of Uch. His raid against Anihilwara in 1177, failed but gradually he overcame all his Muslim rivals in India. In 1182, he conquered Sindh and Punjab.
In the first battle of Tarain that took place in 1191, he attacked and captured the fortress of Tabarhinda which was strategically important for the defence of Delhi. In this battle, Prithviraj Chauhan defeated Muhammad Ghor. Prithviraj, however, appears to have underestimated his enemy and within one year Muhammad Ghori once again attacked Prithviraj at the same battle ground of Tarain in AD 1192.
The second battle of Tarain of 1192 is well known as one of the turning points in Indian history. There is a difference of opinion between Minhaj Siraj, a contemporary chronicler and Ferishta, a later dated chronicler regarding the strength of the army of both. Muhammad Ghor overthrew Prithviraj Chauhan and his allies and killed Prithviraj. Muhammad conquered Ajmer and the Hindu states of that kingdom. After massacring the inhabitants and selling the remaining as slaves, Muhammad advanced to Delhi. In AD 1193, Qutubuddin Aibak, his general captured it, and it remained the capital throughout, till the British shifted the capital to Calcutta.
In AD 1194 Muhammad defeated Jayachandra at Benaras and Kanauj. After the death of his brother Ghiyasuddin, Muhammad became the ruler of a vast empire in West Asia as well as India. Muhammad appointed Qutubuddin Aibak as his viceroy in Delhi and it was he who extended the influence of Muhammad over many Rajput states of Gwalior, Ajmer and Anhilwara, the capital of Gujarat. Muhammad Bhaktiyar Khilji, a general of Muhammad Ghori brought eastern India under the sway of Muhammad Ghori. Bhaktiyar Khilji captured Bihar, destroyed the University of Nalanda, in AD 1202, and defeated Lakshmana Sena of Bengal.
It is said that Bhaktiyar Khilji ruled autonomously but not as a subordinate. By 1206, the year of the death of Muhammad Ghori, the Turks extended their sway up to Laknauti in Bengal, Ajmer and Ranathambhor in Rajasthan, upto the boundaries of Ujjain in the south, and Multan and Uch in Sindh. In 1206, after Muhammad Ghori’s death, Aibak declared independence and laid the foundation of Delhi Sultanate.