In this article we will discuss about the causes of the defeat of Rajputs against the Turks in India during the eleventh and twelfth 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 Indians of those days deserve 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 Europe by its might. But once their defence in the north-west was broken, the Indians failed bitterly against the Turks.
The defeat of the Indians against Mahmud of Ghazni in the eleventh century A.D. and against Muhammad of Ghur in the twelfth century A.D. was shameful and surprising. Of course, the Indians 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 Indians or we say the Rajput kingdoms who 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 the 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 opinions and if they have agreed on some they have differed in 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 Minha-us-Siraj say nothing about them while Adubul Harb of Fakhr-i-Mudabbir is only of some help in this respect.
The historians of medieval age did not try to explore these reasons seriously and are silent about them. Therefore, modern historians have been left with no other alternative except to probe these causes mostly with their common sense, 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 Rajput 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 throughout 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 Turkish soldiers were primarily responsible for the success of the Turks.
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 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 assigned the responsibility of the defeat of the Hindus on their lack of contact with the outside world and their declined culture.
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 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 out-dated military skill were primarily responsible for the defeat of the Hindus.
Dr A.L. Srivastava has described that the absence of political unity, social divisions, rise of Brahamanism, moral degeneration of the Indians 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 to the success of the Turks against the Rajputs and, if we sum them up all, 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 subcontinent. 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 to the Turk 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 themselves 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 that 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 has 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 cooperation impossible in resisting foreigners.
2. The then prevalent social conditions had also weakened India. Caste system, practice of untouchability, gross social inequality and distinctions and inequitable position of Indian women contributed to the main weaknesses of the Indian society. Political instability and absence of consolidation of India even under some strong unified states also 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 crept in 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 efforts 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 pointed out that the caste system weakened the Rajputs militarily because the responsibility of fighting was left to a particular section of the society, i.e., the Kshatriyas.
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, those who became Muslim once always remained Muslim Therefore, Dr K.A. Nizami says that the caste system and the idea of physical pollution among the Indians were responsible not only for the success of the Turks but also for their continued hold over the land.
He writes- “The continuance of Turkish rule in India for a long period and the almost continuous expansion of its sphere of political influence is inexplicable except in terms of the acceptance and acquiescence of the Turkish rule by the Indian people. Had the Indian masses resisted the establishment of their rule, the Ghurids would not have been able to retain even an inch of Indian territory.”
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 the 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 Brahamanas 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 idol 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 culture and, thereby, one country.
4. The Indians did not try to know and learn from the 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 the Turks 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 regarded cultural degeneration as the foremost cause of the defeat of Rajputs. Dr A.L. Srivastava also described 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 Tantrika literature and some other literary books too 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 Rajputs neglected the security of north-west frontier of India and that too was a cause of their defeat. Even after successful invasions of Mahmud of Ghazni, they neither attempted to safeguard the north-west frontier nor tried to snatch away Punjab from the hands of later weak Ghaznavid-rulers. It, therefore, made the task of Muhammad of Ghur easier in capturing Punjab which provided a solid base for-him to penetrate deep in 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. The then prevalent economic inequality has been regarded by certain scholars as one inherent weakness of the Indians.
Of course, it was. 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 its 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.”
8. 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 with the fate of the 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 cooperation 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. Therefore, some temples and images built at Khajuraho and Puri on the basis of 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 some books on romance and sex are no proof of deterioration in literature.
The Rajtarangini of Kalhan, the Gita-Govinda of Jayadeva and the literary works of Halayudha, Hemchandra, Ganesha, Sridhara, Devana Bhatt 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 the Indian society and culture had been at the last stage of decline and was responsible for the defeat of the Indians against the Turks. Dr Ghoshal accepts the political and cultural weakness of India but he contends that it has been grossly exaggerated and, therefore, it cannot 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 causes of its defeat. The same way, it would be wrong to assume that culturally India had reached at 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.
Therefore, 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 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 to 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 of the enemy or adopt such methods to win the battle. On the other hand, the Turks fought to win the battle 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 equipments as compared to other countries and, therefore, they were out-classed 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 than an asset particularly in cases of their fleeing away from the battlefield.
The main weapons of the Rajputs were their swords which were useful only in close battle. As compared to them, the Turks depended on their swift-moving cavalry and archers. R.C. Smail writes- “They used the bow from the saddle and 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 Turkish cavalry was the best in the whole of Asia. The Rajputs did not possess machines like Manjonika and Arrada which were used by the Turks for capturing forts. That is why while Muhammad of Ghur could capture the fort of Bhatinda without much difficulty, Prithvi Raj Chauhana took thirteen months to recapture it.
The fighting tactics of the Rajputs also proved inferior to 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 in 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 adopted an aggressive policy in order to break the power of the Turks at their base itself. “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 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 foresight and planning. India produced no remarkable military commander in the hour of 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 the lack of any emotional ideal for fighting. The Rajputs fought for no higher purpose than that of safety to their rulers and their kingdoms. Safety of their religion, honour and culture must have inspired them to a certain extent but definitely these 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, the sources of inspiration for the Turks. But, the view that religion was also an important element cannot be refuted. Dr A.L. Snvastava 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 the twelfth centuries. It resulted in the establishment of Turkish rule in India which added a fresh chapter to the Indian history.