In this article we will discuss about:- 1. The Causes of the Invasions of Mahmud 2. The Condition of India at the Time of the Invasions of Mahmud 3. An Estimate of Mahmud’s Character and Achievements 4. Successors.

The Causes of the Invasions of Mahmud:

Various reasons have been given by historians which resulted in repeated attacks of Mahmud on India.

1. Mahmud desired to establish the glory of Islam in India. Professor Muhammad Habib has contradicted this view. He says that he did not possess religious zeal; he was not a fanatic; he was not prepared to follow the advice of Ulema; he was purely a man of this world; and his barbaric deeds, instead of raising the prestige of Islam, destroyed its image before the world.

Jafar supports him and so is the case with Professor Nazim and Havell. Jafar opined that he attacked Hindu temples not because of his religious zeal but because he desired to get their wealth. Nazim contends that if he troubled the Hindu kings and looted their wealth, he repeated the same story with Muslim rulers of Central Asia. Prof. Havell expressed the view that he could loot Baghdad the same way as he looted Indian cities if he could get wealth from there.


Thus, these historians have maintained that the primary motive of the invasions of Mahmud was not religious but economic. According to them, he desired to possess the wealth of India. But Utbi, the court historian of Mahmud, described the attacks of Mahmud in India as Jihads (holy wars) to spread Islam and destroy idol-worship.

Viewing from the circumstances of that age and the religious zeal of the Turks who were new converts to Islam, it is quite possible also. Besides, Mahmud not only looted the wealth of Hindu temples but destroyed them and the idols of Hindu gods. Therefore, it is mostly accepted that one aim of Mahmud was to propagate Islam and to establish its glory in India.

2. Another aim of Mahmud was to loot the wealth of India. No historian has contradicted this view. Mahmud desired wealth for the sake of wealth. Besides, he needed it also to continue his policy of expansion of the empire in Central Asia. Therefore, the wealth of India was alluring for him and he repeated his attacks to acquire more and more wealth from India.

3. Besides, Mahmud had a political purpose also. The Ghaznavids and the Hindushahis were fighting against each other since the reign of Alptigin and the Hindushahi rulers had attacked Ghazni thrice. It was necessary for Mahmud to destroy this aggressive and powerful neighbour. Therefore, he himself pursued an aggressive policy against it. The success against the Hindushahi kingdom encouraged him to penetrate deeper into India.


4. Like all other great rulers of his age. Mahmud also desired to get fame by his conquests and victories and that also constituted one reason of his attacks on India.

5. Dr A.B. Pandey has opined that another aim of Mahmud was to procure elephants from India which could be utilised in wars against his enemies in Central Asia.

The Condition of India at the Time of the Invasions of Mahmud:

Politically, India was divided. There were many kingdoms which constantly fought against each other for fame and extension of their territories. Many of them were quite extensive and powerful but, because of their internal conflicts, none of them could utilise its complete resources nor they could unite themselves against Mahmud which constituted their primary weakness. Multan and Sindh constituted the two Muslim states of India.

In the north-west was the Hindushahi kingdom whose contemporary ruler was Jayapala. Kashmir was also an independent state and it had family relations with the Hindushahis. The Pratiharas ruled at Kannauj. Rajyapala was the ruler of Kannauj at that time. Mahipala I ruled over Bengal but his kingdom was weak. There were independent kingdoms in Gujarat, Malwa and Bundelkhand as well. In the south, the later Chalukyas and the Cholas had their powerful kingdoms.


Socially, the division of the Hindus into castes and sub-castes had created sharp differences between different sections of the society and, therefore, had weakened it. Besides, the traditional four castes there was a large section of the people called Antyaja. The hunters, the weavers, the fishermen, the shoe­makers and the people engaged in like professions belonged to this section. Their position was lower than the Sudras.

Yet lower in social status were Hadis, Doms, Chandalas, Badhatu etc. who were engaged in the work of maintaining cleanliness but were forced to live outside cities and villages. They were outcastes and untouchables. The position of lower castes in the society can simply be imagined when we are told that even the Vaisyas were not allowed to study religious texts. Al Beruni wrote that if anyone dared to attempt it, his tongue was cut off.

Thus, the position of the lower castes, including the Vaisyas had lowered down very much and the caste-system had become very rigid as well. Such state of affairs had divided the society into several antagonistic groups. The position of woman too had deteriorated much and she was regarded simply as an article of pleasure and enjoyment for man.

Child marriages, polygamy and the practice of Sati among women of higher castes were becoming quite widespread while marriages of widows were not permitted. All this had weakened the Hindu society. That is why Islam could get here a large number of converts.

There was deterioration in religion and morals as well. Both Hinduism and Buddhism suffered from ignorance and corruption. The people, particularly the rich and upper classes, engaged themselves in corruption, lost the true spirit of religion or, rather, made it an instrument for the fulfillment of their worldly desires.

The temples and the Buddhist monasteries became centres of corruption. The practice of keeping devadasis in the temples was also a mode of corruption in temples. Even educational institutions did not remain free from corruption.

The prevalent corruption in social and religious institutions was both a cause and the result of the corruption prevalent in the Indian society in general. Probably, the common people were yet free from that. But, corruption in the educated and ruling class was sufficient to weaken the country. Such a society lacked the desire and the capacity to resist a strong invader.

The deterioration in society and religion led to deterioration in culture as well. The literature and the fine arts also suffered. The temples of Puri and Khajuraho and the books like Kutini-Matama and Samaya-Matraka (the biography of a prostitute) represent the taste of the people of that time.

The Hindus had not attempted to improve their arms and the methods of warfare. They largely depended on their elephants. Sword was still their chief weapon and their policy was yet defensive. They neither cared to build forts in the north-west nor adopted any other means to defend their frontiers. Thus, militarily too India was weak.

Politically, socially and militarily India was, thus, weak at the time of the invasions of Mahmud. The one primary cause of the weakness of the Indians was that they did not try to know, understand and learn from what was happening or improvements made in neighbouring countries in political, military, social, religious and cultural fields. They, therefore, became ignorant and also developed a false pride.

The statement of Al Beruni helps us in understanding the contemporary attitude of the Indians about themselves. He wrote- “The Hindus believed that there is no country like theirs, no nation like theirs, no king like theirs, no religion like theirs, no science like theirs.” Such attitude was the very negation of progress.

He also wrote- “The Hindus did not desire that a thing which has once been polluted should be purified and thus recovered.” Such attitude exhibited the narrow vision of life of the Indians at that time. Thus, by that time, the Indians had lost their vigour and intelligence. They were not in a position to improve themselves nor they desired to learn from others.

However, the one thing that India possessed as yet was its wealth. Its agriculture, industries and trade were in good condition and it had amassed wealth which was concentrated in the hands of upper classes and in temples. India’s wealth was a temptation for a foreign aggressor. The wealth of India was like the wealth of a weak person which could tempt any strong man to possess it. Mahmud did the same.

An Estimate of Mahmud’s Character and Achievements:

Mahmud was a courageous soldier and a successful commander. He ranks among those successful generals of the world who have been regarded born commanders. He possessed the qualities of leadership and knew how to utilise his resources and circumstances in the best possible way. He was a good judge of human nature and assigned work and responsibility to others according to their capabilities.

His army consisted of the people of different nationalities like the Arabs, the Turks, the Afghans and even the Hindus. Yet, it became a unified powerful force under his command. Thus, Mahmud possessed many virtues. Mahmud was equally ambitious as well. He always attempted to win glory and extend his empire. He had inherited from his father only the provinces of Ghazni and Khurasan.

He converted this small inheritance into a mighty empire which extended from Iraq and the Caspian Sea in the west to the river Ganges in the east and which was certainly more extensive than the empire of Khalifa of Baghdad at that time. It would be wrong to say that Mahmud had succeeded only against the weak and divided Rajput rulers. He had achieved the same success against his enemies in Iran and Central Asia. Therefore, Mahmud ranks among the greatest commanders and empire-builders of Asia.

Mahmud was an educated and cultured person. He was a patron of scholarship and fine arts. He gathered at his court scholars of repute. Al Beruni, the scholar of Turki, Sanskrit, Mathematics, Philosophy, Astrology and History was at his court. Similarly, Utbi, Farabi, Baihaki, the Iranian poet Ujari, Tusi, Unsuri, Asjadi, Farrukhi and Firdausi who were scholars of repute of his age were all at his court.

Of course, each of them was a capable person but there is no doubt that the patronage of Mahmud had certainly helped them in enhancing their capabilities. Mahmud established a university, a good library and a museum at Ghazni. He also patronized artists. He invited all sorts of artists from all parts of his empire and even from foreign countries and engaged them in beautifying Ghazni.

He constructed many places, mosques, tombs and other buildings in Ghazni. During his rule, Ghazni became not only a beautiful city of the East but also the centre of Islamic scholarship, fine arts and culture.

Mahmud was a just ruler. He killed his nephew with his own hands when he found him guilty of keeping sexual relations with the wife of another person. He forced prince Masud to present himself in the court and accept the judgement because the prince had failed to pay back the debt of a trader. Many similar stories are known about his sense of justice. Mahmud was successful in maintaining peace and order, protect trade and agriculture and safeguard the honour and property of his subjects within the boundaries of his empire.

Mahmud was a fanatic Sunni Musalman and what to say of Hindus, he was intolerant even to the Shias. There are many historians like Muhammad Habib who have tried to exonerate him of this charge. But we should also keep in view the opinions expressed by contemporary historians.

Al Beruni had criticised his intolerant religious acts. The contemporary Muslims regarded him as the champion of Islam and he was titled as Ghazi (slayer of infidels) and the destroyer of images. The Khalifa honoured him after his successful loot and plunder of the temple of Somanath.

The contemporary Islamic world recog­nized Mahmud as the destroyer of infidels and the one who established the glory of Islam at distant places like India. It has been upheld by many scholars that Mahmud destroyed Hindu idols and temples primarily because of economic reasons. Of course, his one reason was definitely economic. But equally tenable is the view which was expressed by his contemporaries that Mahmud engaged himself in these acts because of his religious zeal.

Mahmud desired to acquire wealth or, rather, loved it; but, at the same time, spent it also generously. He had agreed to pay Firdausi, his court poet, a golden dinar for every verse composed by him. But when Firdausi presented before him the Shahnama which consisted of one thousand verses, he offered him one thousand dinars of silver which Firdausi refused to accept. Of course, he sent one thousand dinars of gold to him afterwards but, by then, Firdausi had died.

Professor Brown has observed:

“Mahmud tried to acquire wealth by every possible means. Besides that, there was nothing wrong in his character.”

But Mahmud’s greatest weakness was that he was not an able administrator. He did little beyond giving his dominions peace and order. He failed to form a stable empire. His empire existed only during his own lifetime. As soon as he passed away, his empire was shattered to pieces under his successors. He, thus, failed to establish his empire on certain permanent institutions.

Lane- Poole wrote- “Mahmud was a great soldier and possessed tremendous courage and untiring mental and physical capacity. But, he was not a constructive and far-sighted statesman. We find no laws, institutions or administrative system whose foundations were laid down by him.” He did nothing to consolidate his Indian conquests as well. Thus, Mahmud was, certainly, not a good administrator.

Yet, Mahmud was a great Muslim ruler. The Muslim chroniclers regarded Mahmud as one of their greatest kings. In fact, in the history of Islam he was the first ruler who justly deserved the title of Sultan. He ranks among the great rulers of Central Asia. Professor Muhammad Habib writes of him-“Mahmud’s pre-eminence among his contemporaries was due to his ability and not due to his character.”

Mahmud established an extensive empire, brought peace and prosperity within its boundaries, helped in its cultural progress and established the glory of Islam at distant places. Ghazni became the seat of power of Islam and the centre of its progress in culture including education, scholarship and fine arts. It was all due to the success and achievements of Mahmud.

But, in the history of India, Mahmud was a fanatic Sunni Muslim, a barbaric foreign bandit, a plunderer and wanton destroyer of fine arts. In fact, Mahmud was the ruler of Ghazni and not that of India. Punjab, Sindh and Multan which formed parts of his empire served the purpose of bases for his invasions deeper into India. He did not care to administer them well. While penetrating deep into India, he simply desired loot, plunder and conversion.

In his every invasion, wherever he went, he looted whatever he could, destroyed what he could not, took along with him the wealth of Hindu temples, forced lakhs of people to accept Islam otherwise killed them, took thousands of beautiful women to Ghazni while thousands others were dishonoured here, burnt hundreds of villages and beautiful cities and destroyed fine pieces of arts. Thus, to the Indians of his days Mahmud was a veritable devil incarnate.

It has been said by many scholars that Mahmud left no permanent impact on India. He came like a great storm and destroyed everything and then passed off. The Indians soon forgot his raids and atrocities and rebuilt their temples, idols and cities. Of course, the Indians forgot his invasions and, therefore, paid a heavy price later on. But, it would be wrong to accept that Mahmud left no permanent mark on Indians and Indian history.

Mahmud broke up the economic and military strength of the Indians and also their morale to resist Muslim invaders. Mahmud never met a serious challenge in India and his constant success against the Indians created fear and a defeatist attitude among the Indians that the Turks were invincible.

This fear persisted for long. The inclusion of Punjab, Multan and Sindh in the Ghaznavid empire made easier the advance of later Turk invaders in India. Muhammad of Ghur first entered into India to snatch away these places from his enemy Ghaznavid ruler. And, the most important achievement of Mahmud was the destruction of the Hindushahi kingdom -of Afghanistan.

It paved the way for the conquest of India by the Turks. Dr D.C. Ganguly writes:

“The inclusion of the Punjab and Afghanistan in the kingdom of Ghazni made the Islamic conquest of India comparatively easy process. It was no longer a question of whether, but when, that mighty flood would overwhelm the country as a whole.”

The Successors of Mahmud

After the death of Mahmud a war of succession ensued between his two sons, Muhammad and Masud, in which Masud emerged victorious and ruled between 1030-1040 A.D. He was defeated by Seljuq Turks and the throne was offered by his nobles to his brother Muhammad. But, soon after, a son of Masud displaced Muhammad and his son from the throne and occupied it himself.

The Ghaznavid power started to break up during his rule because of the constant pressure of the Seljuq-Turks. Besides, there rose two new powers in Central Asia, viz., the Khwarijms and the Ghurs. Ultimately the Ghurs captured Ghazni from the hands of weak Ghaznavids and forced their last ruler Khusrav Shah to seek shelter in Panjab.

Muhammad was from this family of the Ghurs who repeated the adventure of Mahmud of Ghazni in the twelfth century and laid the foundation of the Turkish rule in India.