In this article we will discuss about the causes of the defeat of Rajputs against the Turks in India during 11th-12th Centuries.
The Indians checked the rising power of Islam successfully for nearly three hundred years on its north-west frontier of Afghanistan. The Arab invasion had remained limited to Sindh and Multan while the conquest of Afghanistan and Punjab was not easy for the Turks.
The Hindus of those days deserved respect for this achievement that they could fight out and resist for a long duration the power of Islam which had overwhelmed a large part of Asia, Africa and Eurupe by its might. But once their defence in the north-west was broken, the Hindus failed miserably against the Turks.
The defeat of the Hindus against Mahmud of Ghazni in the eleventh century A.D., and again against Muhammad of Ghur in the twelfth century A.D., was shameful and surprising. Of course, the Hindus continued to resist and tried to defend their culture against the onslaughts of the invading and firmly entrenched Islam in India but their defeat against the Turks evokes curiosity.
Many Rajput kingdoms which fought against the Turks were quite extensive, did not lack material and military resources, could put up large armies in battles against their enemies, did not lack strength as well as is clear from the defeat of Muhammad in the battle of Anhilwara and the first battle of Tarain and Rajput soldiers neither lacked courage and chivalry as compared to the Turks.
Yet, the Rajputs were defeated. Historians who have tried to investigate the causes of the defeat of the Rajputs are not unanimous in their opinion and if they have agreed on some they have differed on their emphasis.
There is one practical difficulty as well. Contemporary historians did not throw much light on the causes of the defeat of the Rajputs or that of the success of the Turks. Hasan Nizami and Minhajus Siraj say nothing about them, while the Adabul Harb of Fakhr-i-Mudabbir is only of some help in this respect. It simply gave a hint that feudal organisation of the armies of the Rajputs and the mobility of the Turkish cavalry were responsible for the success of the Turks.
The historians of medieval age did not try to explore these reasons seriously and therefore, are silent about them. Therefore, modern historians have been left with no other alternative except to probe these causes mostly with their commonsense, logic and interpretation of the then circumstances. As such, it is quite natural that their opinions should differ from each other. British historians such as Elphinstone, Lane-Poole and Vincent A.
Smith have ascribed the Indian defeat to the superiority of the Turks who came from the cold climate of the north, were meat-eaters and had experience of fighting against the Seljuk-Turks, while their Hindu opponents were mostly vegetarians, inoffensive and gentle.
But this view is not acceptable. The theory that tells that the non-vegetarian people or people belonging to cold climate are better fighters does not stand the test of scientific examination. The Indian soldiers have proved their courage and strength all through the course of Indian history.
Sir Jadunath Sarkar is of the view that complete equality and social solidarity, fatalism that sprang from an absolute reliance on God and freedom from drunkenness of Muslim soldiers were primarily responsible for the success of the Turks. But the view has not been accepted by modern scholars because the three virtues which he has assigned to the Turks were not present in them in a perfect form.
Professor K. A. Nizami has expressed the view that, “the real cause of the defeat of the Indians lay in their social system and the invidious caste distinctions, which rendered the whole military organization rickety and weak.” Mr Romesh Chandra Dutt has observed that the Hindus had reached the last stage of their political, social and religious decline at that time and therefore, became an easy prey to the invading Turks.
Sardar K.M. Panikkar has assigned the responsibility of the defeat of the Hindus to their lack of contact with the outside world and their culture which had declined. Dr R.C. Majumdar has emphasized on the internal weakness of India and assigned the primary responsibility to the caste-system, revival of Brahamanism and the degraded status of women in Hindu society.
Dr K. S. Lai has observed that social divisions and rivalry between different groups which primarily arose because of the lack of political unity in the country, the absence of an efficient spy -system and defective and outdated military skill were primarily responsible for the defeat of the Hindus. Dr A.L. Srivastava had opined that the absence of political unity, social divisions, rise of Brahamanism, moral degeneration and the superiority of the Turks in military skill, organization and resources were responsible for the success of the Turks.
Thus, we find that various scholars have assigned different reasons for the success of the Turks against the Rajputs and if we sum them up all, then we can accept the following reasons for the success of the Turks:
1. Political weakness was certainly one cause of the defeat of the Indians. Of course, lack of unity of India, or that of even north India under one rule, had been its weakness. But it was not its primary weakness. India could not be united under one rule after Emperor Asoka. Even the mighty Guptas had failed to achieve it. The attempts to unite India under one rule failed even during medieval times. India is a sub-continent.
It was not possible to unite it under one rule till modern times. Besides, though India was divided politically, yet there were many Rajput states at that time which were far more extensive and powerful in material resources in comparison with Muslim invaders. Thus, the division of India into many states cannot be accepted as a valid reason of its defeat.
The primary cause of the weakness of India was that Rajput-states were engaged in constant fighting against each other for power and glory and failed to unite against a common enemy even in the greatest hour of danger to their country, its culture and religion.
Further, the Rajputs failed to foresee the consequences of the success of the Turks in India. Besides, it is also surprising that even a series of crises of foreign invasions failed to produce a single leader of sufficiently commanding political and military talents to unite the Indians of his time.
Some scholars have put the blame of the failure of the Indians on their corrupt bureaucracy. But this view is, mostly, not accepted. The Indian bureaucracy of that time was neither ideal nor totally corrupt.
Besides, we find no treachery on the part of the Indian bureaucracy. If somebody had to be blamed on this account, then, it was not the bureaucracy but the Hindu lower castes who were dissatisfied with the prevalent inequality in Hindu society and the Buddhists.
Another reason of the political weakness of India was the existence of feudalism which, according to Mr R.C. Dutt, “took India in the last stage of her political decline.” Feudal-system of the Rajputs encouraged mutual conflicts and weakened them militarily.
The army of a Rajput king was constituted by assembling the armies of his feudal chiefs. Such an army lacked cohesion, unity of command and military skill. Besides, feudalism mixed with the inequality of casteism, created a strong wedge between the rulers and the ruled, which made their co-operation impossible in resisting foreigners.
2. The prevalent social conditions had also weakened India. Caste system, practice of untouchability, gross social inequality and distinctions and inequitable position of Indian women were the main weaknesses of the Indian society. Political instability and absence of consolidation of India even under a few strong unified states led to its social degeneration.
The revival of Brahamanism further strengthened social inequality. The Rajputs also encouraged it as they were accepted as Kshatriyas because of the support of the Brahamanas. The caste- system became very much rigid and divided the society into antagonistic groups. The position of lower castes and women was reduced to its lowest ebb. Many social evils cropped up under such conditions.
Child marriage, female infanticide, Devadasi system and the practice of Sati among higher castes came in vogue while marriage of widows became nearly impossible. Such a society was incapable of resisting any foreign invader, as the majority of the people became indifferent to the fate and politics of the country.
Dr R.C. Majumdar writes, “No public upheaval greets the foreigners, nor are any organised effort made to stop their progress. Like a paralysed body, the Indian people helplessly look on, while the conquerors march on their corpse.”
Dr K. A. Nizami has also pointed out that the caste system weakened the Rajputs military because the responsibility of fighting was left to particular section of the society i.e. the Kshatriyas.
He writes, “The real cause of the defeat of the Indians lay in their social system and their invidious cast distinctions, which rendered the whole military organisation rickety and weak. Caste taboos and discriminations killed all sense of unity — social or political.”
Dr K.S. Lai also writes that “it was very much easy for the Muslims to get traitors from a society which was so unjustly divided.
This was one of the reasons why all important cities of north India were lost to the invader (Muhammad of Ghur) within fifteen years.” The Muslims, no doubt, faced strong resistance in battles but once a battle was won the rest was easy because there was nobody to challenge them in cities and villages.
He contends that once a city was taken by the Muslims, it was very much difficult for the Hindus to recapture it because the majority of the population preferred to remain under Muslim rule as compared to Hindu rule which was based on unjust social distinctions. Besides, the Hindus did not accept those people in their society who were forced to accept Islam once. Thus, a person who became a Muslim once always remained a Muslim.
3. The deterioration in religion was also responsible for the defeat of the Indians. According to Hinduism, religion truly means duty which makes an individual useful for society and humanity. That is why Hinduism is not based on one prayer, one religious text, one place of worship or even one god, which are usually the primary necessities of practically every popular religion.
This liberalism of Hindus was its greatest strength but, afterwards, became its greatest weakness as well when it had to compete with Islam and Christianity. Besides, the monopoly of the Brahmanas over religion and the Sanskrit language excluded the common people from the knowledge of true religion. It led to the division of Hinduism in different sects and also ignorance about religion among the populace.
That is why true religion was lost, Tantric sects flourished and ritualism and image worship became popular. It demoralised the society and broke up its unity. Therefore, the Hindus failed to accept the challenge of foreign invaders in the name of one religion, one culture and, thereby, one country.
4. The Indians did not try to know and learn from progress achieved in other countries in different fields. The statement of Al Beruni that “The Indians regarded their religion and culture as the best” indicates the attitude of the Indians at that time. Because of this attitude, the Indians remained indifferent towards the politics, military tactics and progress in armaments of the neighbouring countries.
They could not understand the impact of the conquest of India by Islam and neglected the defence of their north-west frontier. Virtually, it meant that the Indians had marred the way of their progress by their attitudes. This weakened them in every field and, thus, became a major cause of their defeat.
5. Indian culture and morality could also not remain immune to these Circumstances and there was all-round degeneration in every field. Dr K M. Panikkar regards cultural degeneration as the foremost cause of the defeat of the Rajputs. Dr A.L. Srivastava also describes it as one important cause of the defeat of the Rajputs.
The growing popularity of Tantric philosophy, the presence of Devadasis in the temples and the corruption existing in the monasteries and viharas were symptoms of growing immorality in religion. The literature and fine arts of this age also suggest the same. The temples and images built then at Puri, Khajuraho, and even in certain temples of Udaipur and Chittor are proofs of it.
Most of them depict the scenes of sexual acts between men and women. The Tantric literature and some other literary books, to, are also of the same nature. That is why, many scholars have described this age as that of cultural degeneration in India and accepted it as one cause of the defeat of the Rajputs.
6. The neglect of the Rajputs towards safeguarding the north-west frontier of India from possible invasions was also one of the causes of their defeat. Even after successful raids of Mahmud of Ghazni, they neither tried to snatch away Punjab from the hands of weak Ghaznavids nor tried to defend the frontier. That gave Muhammad of Ghur an easy access to Punjab which became his firm base to penetrate deeper into India.
7. Economically, India was a rich country. Its agricultural produce, trade and commerce and foreign trade with the countries of the West and South-East Asia had helped in making it rich. The wealth in India, however, was unevenly distributed. Mostly it was concentrated in temples, members of royal families and trading class. This economic inequality then prevalent has been regarded by certain scholars as one inherent weakness of the Indians.
Of course, it was so, but more than that, the cause of the weakness of the Indians had been that they had failed to utilise that wealth to build up their military strength which alone could provide safety to their wealth. Instead, they stored that wealth in temples and palaces of kings, which tempted foreign invaders and also became their easy victims.
Therefore, the political, social, religious, moral and cultural weakness of the Indians and also their increased prosperity in their own way, constituted the causes of their defeat against the Turks.
Dr R.C. Majumdar is very much right when he writes, “The utter and precipitate prostration of such a vast and ancient land endowed with resources far superior and greater to those of her invaders, can be the result mainly of internal decay and not merely of external attacks, which were its effects rather than the cause.”
Dr U.N. Ghoshal has analysed all these causes of the defeat of the Rajputs critically and has observed that many of them have been exaggerated or interpreted adversely. He contends that lack of political unity has been unnecessarily exaggerated and so is the case with the indifference of the people to the fate of this country. The Rajputs fought the Turks stubbornly and resisted them even when the Turks were firmly entrenched here.
It could not be possible without power and co-operation of the people. The same way the deterioration in religion, society, morals and culture, too, has been emphasized out of proportion. Tantric religion, instead of demoralizing people, gave them a popular religion and strengthened their determination to fight against foreign invaders. The Devadasi system in the temples was also not new.
The caste system, though it led to social divisions and distinctions, was yet responsible largely for defending the Hindu culture and society from the inroads of the foreigners. It is wrong to say that the period preceding foreign invasions witnessed deterioration in literature and fine arts. On the contrary, it was a period of progress, particularly in the field of architecture.
The forts, palaces and temples built during the Rajput age surpass all those in number, beauty and strength which preceded them. A few temples and images built at Khajuraho and Puri on the basis of the Kamasutra cannot be accepted as sufficient proofs of deterioration in Indian art. On the contrary, architecture, sculpture, painting, music and dance developed during the Rajput age.
The same way a few books on romance and sex are no proof of deterioration in literature. The Rajatarangini of Kalhan, the Gita-Govinda of Jayadeva and the literary works of Halayudha, Hemchandra, Ganesha, Sridhara, Devana Bhat, etc. were attempted during this age. The degeneration in morals was also nothing new.
It is always there in a prosperous society. Therefore, Dr Ghoshal argues that it is wrong to suggest that Indian society and culture had been in the last stage of decline and was responsible for the defeat of the Indians against the Turks. Ghoshal accepts the political and cultural weakness of India but he contends that it has been grossly exaggerated and therefore, it can not be accepted as the primary cause of the defeat of the Rajputs against the Turks.
The above view of Dr Ghoshal is quite reasonable. Of course, feudal system, division of India and more than that, constant fighting among rival Rajput states were responsible for the weakness of India but these alone did not constitute the primary cause of its defeat.
The same way, it would be wrong to assume that culturally India had reached the last stage of decay and therefore, had no strength to resist foreign invasions. Indian culture, of course, was not in a position of strength but, at the same time, it had not lost its vigour entirely. Otherwise, the resistance of the Hindus against the Muslims could not be possible afterwards which the Hindus certainly maintained even for centuries to come.
8. Therefore, he contends that there was yet another reason of the defeat of the Rajputs. The fate of India was decided by a few battles. Therefore, the primary cause of the defeat of the Rajputs was their military weakness. It is another point as to what reasons led to their military weakness.
All historians agree that the Turks proved far superior as compared to the Rajputs in military organisation, fighting skill, arms and leadership and these constituted the primary reasons of their success in India. Mahmud of Ghazni remained undefeated in India while Muhammad of Ghur, after initial failures, succeeded in defeating all Rajput chiefs whom he fought.
Various reasons have been assigned for the military weakness of the Rajputs. As soldiers, the Rajputs were not inferior to the Turks in any way. But their ideal and the purpose of fighting battles was different from that of the Turks which formed their weakness. The Rajputs observed certain Hindu traditions of warfare and did not mind whether they were able to win the battle or not.
It was against their morality to mix poison in water, to attack suddenly or from behind the enemy, to destroy the agricultural fields in order to check the supply to the enemy or adopt other such methods to win the battle. On the other hand, the Turks fought to win battles and adopted all means, fair or foul, for that purpose.
The same way, the Rajputs prided themselves on their swordsmanship and looked upon a battle as a tournament to display their skill, bravery and chivalry. This attitude went against their success. Professor A.B.M. Habibullah writes, “Rajput recklessness has an element of romance in it but is of little practical wisdom.”
The same way, Dr U.N. Ghoshal has commented, “The Rajputs, in particular, although they were remarkable for their bravery and contempt of death, were inspired by a high sense of chivalry and military honour which made them often unfit for practical success in warfare.” The army organisation of the Rajputs was also based on worn out conceptions.
The Indians did not try to improve their weapons, tactics and other equipment’s as compared to other countries and therefore, they were outclassed in weapons and outmanoeuvred in tactics. The feudal organisation of the Rajput army was also its weakness. While the Turks fought under one command as one unit, the Rajputs failed to achieve that sort of unity in planning and fighting.
The Rajputs, irrespective of all their efforts, could not build up a strong cavalry because, mostly, good horses were to be imported from foreign countries and therefore, depended on their war-elephants both for defence and offence. But, very often, elephants proved a liability rather than an asset, particularly in case of their fleeing from the battlefield. The main weapon of the Rajputs was their sword which was useful only in close battle.
As compared to it, the Turks depended on their swift-moving cavalry and archers. R.C. Smail writes, “They used the bow from the saddle while moving. This gave them an added advantage over the heavy and slow moving Rajput armies.” Professor K. A. Nizami has also pointed out the advantage which the Turks enjoyed because of their cavalry.
He writes, “Mobility was the key-note of Turkish military organisation at this time. It was the ‘age of horse’ and a well-equipped cavalry with tremendous mobility was the great need of the time.” Dr Jadunath Sarkar has also accepted that the Turkish cavalry was the best in the whole of Asia. The fighting tactics of the Rajputs also proved inferior to those of the Turks.
The Rajputs divided their armies into three traditional parts, viz., right, centre and left and they almost invariably made a frontal attack on the enemy, whereas the Turks had two additional parts, viz., the Advance Guard and the Reserve. The Advance Guard was sent to test the strength and find out the weaknesses of the enemy. The Reserve was kept in readiness and thrown into the battle-fray when the enemy had exhausted himself and, thus, played a decisive role in the battle.
The shock tactics viz., the sudden raid followed by the equally swift victorious return home, which was frequently resorted to by both Mahmud and Muhammad was also very much responsible for the success of the Turks as it largely contributed to disheartening and demoralising the Indian people. The Rajputs mostly fought defensive battles.
Except the Hindushahi king Jayapala, no Rajput ruler adoped an aggressive policy in order to break the power of the Turks at their base itself. That “Offence is the best policy,” did not occur to them and that remained their weakness. The Rajputs did not take advantage of their successes also as they could particularly, after the battle of Anhilwara and the first battle of Tarain.
One great weakness of the Rajputs was that they lacked capable leadership. Mahmud faced no military commander of repute, and though Prithviraja was a chivalrous and daring ruler, yet he was no match to Muhammad of Ghur in foresightedness and planning. India produced no remarkable military commander in the hour of the greatest danger to its society and culture.
Dr U.N. Ghoshal writes: “In truth, it was not for their social and geographical aloofness but for their want of leaders with sufficient talents that the Indians of the eleventh and twelfth centuries failed to adopt their time-honoured system of warfare (as Shivaji, the Maratha, was destined to do in the seventeenth century) to the requirement of the new situation.” The Rajputs also did not maintain a good spy- system which could help them in knowing the strength, movements, fighting tactics etc. of their enemies and thus, prepare themselves to face them in advance.
9. Yet, another important factor of the defeat of the Rajputs was lack of any emotional ideal for fighting. The Rajputs fought for no higher purpose than that of the safety of their rulers and their kingdoms. Safety of their religion, honour and culture must have inspired them to a certain extent but, it definitely played no major part in provoking their best spirits.
On the contrary, the Turks were inspired by the ideal of bringing glory to their newly accepted faith, viz., Islam. Dr K.A. Nizami has refused to accept this view. He writes, “It would be unhistorical to seek an explanation of this Turkish success in the religious zeal of the Musalmans.” But, there are many others who regard Islam as the primary source of inspiration for the Turks.
Of course, wealth, fame and the desire to extend the empire were, certainly, sources of inspiration for the Turks. But the view, that religion was also an important element, cannot be refuted. Dr A.L. Srivastava writes. “Mere physical strength and military weapons do not constitute the total equipment of an army. An inspiring ideology is as essential as military training and equipment.”
Medieval age was the age of chivalry, romance and religion. In modern times, these have lost their importance. But, then, we have to understand the actions of the people of the medieval age from their attitudes and values of life.
During that age, religion was always an inspiring source for all people, whether they were Hindus, Muslims or Christians. If the Turks too were inspired by their religious zeal then it was neither uncommon nor undesirable. Islam contributed to their success not only in India but elsewhere as well.
Dr U.N. Ghoshal writes, “Another and a still more potent cause of the military superiority of the Turks was, as has been rightly pointed out, their mighty enthusiasm, a sentiment which, it is well to remember, was derived as much from the prospect of plunder of the colossal treasures stored in the Indian temples and palaces as from zeal for their newly acquired religion. That this was the greatest single factor in enabling the Turks to conquer most of the country after a hard struggle of more than three centuries is proved by the parallel example of the Seljuk-Turks of the eleventh and the Ottoman-Turks of the fifteenth century who succeeded in despoiling and eventually destroying the Byzantine Empire in spite of the immunity from the characteristic weaknesses of the Indian political and social system.”
Thus various factors led to the defeat of the Rajputs against the Turks in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. It resulted in the establishment of Turkish rule in India, which added a fresh chapter to Indian history.