Mahmud was the third important Turkish ruler who is said to have invaded India seventeen times—the first being in 1000 A.D. on the frontier towns of India and the last being the most important invasion at Somnath Temple in 1025 A.D.
Historians have given divergent views regarding the nature and objects of Mahmud’s invasion.
Greed for Wealth:
Mahmud was very greedy as is corroborated by his behaviour towards the famous poet Firdausi whom he refused to pay the promised amount for writing the epic ‘Shahnama’. It is said that Mahmud asked Firdausi to write the epic for which he promised to pay Firdausi a gold ‘mohar’ for every couplet but later on went back on his word and wanted to pay him 60,000 silver coins.
No historian has contradicted this view. Havell has rightly remarked, “Mahmud would have sacked Baghdad (an important place of Muslims) with a little compunction as he plundered Somnath if the undertaking had seemed as profitable.”
Nizamuddin and Ferishta tell us about the state of Mahmud’s mind when he was about to die in these words, “Mahmud not only ordered all his wealth to be placed under his eyes but also grieved his separation from it and sighed bitterly but did not give the smallest thing to anybody.”
Prof. Habib is of the view that getting wealth of India was the real motive and other motives were subsidiary. According to him, it was not unusual that like the Catholic Church of Europe, the Hindu temples attacked powerful invaders to loot the wealth contained therein.
Some historians like Utabi, a contemporary of Mahmud are of the view that his chief objective was to spread Islam in India and to break the idols of non-believers. Mahmud’s invasions have been termed as ‘Jihad’-crusade to spread Islam in India. According to Mahmud’s contemporary historians, he had vowed at the beginning of his reign that he would carry out an annual invasion on India to propagate Islam.
Several modern historians also share their views and hold that because of this motive, he carried out seventeen invasions on India; important invasions being on important temples. They argue that had wealth been the only objective, Mahmud would not have broken idols. He forced non- Muslims to embrace Islam.
Historians like Habib, Khalik Ahmad Nizami and Zaffar vehemently disapprove of this objective. They argue that there is no principle of Islamic law which supports the acts of temple destruction or encourages them. Prof. Habib points out,” Islam sanctions neither vandalism nor plundering motives of the invader.” Mahmud destroyed temples of Hindus not because he wanted to crush idolatry. It was because these temples were storehouses of wealth.
Again whatever conversions took place in India, they were incidental and not deliberate. According to Dr. Nazimi, “It was due to the invader’s fury that some people left their religion and embraced Islam.” Again he emphasizes that it should be remembered that if “he harassed the Hindu rajas of India, he did not spare the Muslim sovereigns of Iran and Trans Oxians.”
Similar views have been expressed by S.M. Jaffar when he observes “To say that he invaded India time and again for the spread of his religion is historically incorrect and psychologically untrue.” Dr. Ishwari Prasad is very emphatic that “wealth and not territory, extirpation of idolatry and not conquest were the objects of his raids.”
Taking into account several factors, the views of Utbi, the court historian of Mahmud carry more weight. Keeping in view the situation of that age and the religious zeal of the Turks who were new converts to Islam, it is quite possible that Mahmud invaded India for the spread of his religion. Rational thinking is hardly a match against fanatical zeal.
It is also argued by some historians that Mahmud’s objective was to conquer India. But this view does not hold ground when it is seen in the context of his seventeen successful victories. The question arises; what prevented Mahmud from annexing the conquered territories to his empire? However, he did annex the Punjab. According to Lane Poole, “Mahmud did not aim at permanent conquest. Time had not yet come when Turks could think seriously living in India.”
It is said that like all ambitious rulers, Mahmud wanted to have name and fame by his conquests.
Acquisition of artisans:
Some scholars are of the opinion that one object of Mahmud was acquisition of skilled artisans from India as he was very fond of constructing beautiful buildings. He carried with him several skilled artisans. To sum up, it may be said that there were several reasons for Mahmud’s invasion over India. All historians agree that wealth was certainly an important reasons. Regarding his religious motive, opinions differ.