The last article in this series had covered the specter of Hindu intolerance in ancient India. In this part, we will see how Hindu intolerance manifested itself between 1000 CE-1500 CE approx.
1. The rise of Islam
Islam was born in Arabia in the 7th century and within a century of Muhammad’s death, spread beyond its borders. Vast swathes of world from Europe to Africa to Middle East came under the control of Arab armies. Muhammad Bin Qasim in the 8th century conquered Sindh, thereby ushering in Islam in the Indian subcontinent. Parallely, Arab seafarers introduced Islam in the Malabar coast. At this time, Indian civilization was entering a phase of relative decline. Attachment to rituals, rigid social hierarchies, multiplicity of rulers and lack of unity etc. had a stultifying effect on the Indian civilization. This combined with the energy, dynamism and confidence of Arab conquerors produced a grave challenge to the Indian civilization.
2. Early skirmishes- Fall of Sind, Battle of Rajasthan, stalemate
Arab push into Sindh had been going on since the fall of Persia to Muslim armies. However, early moves were either complete failures or only partially successful. The first real Islamic thrust into India came with the fall of Sindh to Muhammad bin Qasim in 8th century. Sindh, at this time had a substantial Buddhist population that was averse to bloodhshed even at the cost of capitualtion. Qasim captured the town of Debal which fell after the invaders breached its temple cum citadel. A choice was given to the inhabitants to accept Islam and those who refused were slaughtered. The women and children were captured and taken away and the temples were demolished. Raja Dahir of Sindh, then decided to confront the invaders before they could reach the strategic town of Brahmanabad. Dahir, however was killed in the battle. Brahmanabad fell soon thereafter, where thousands were killed. Qasim then proceeded to demolish the town of Multan and its famous Sun temple. Qasim’s invasions set a pattern for future Islamic invasions- inhabitants were given an option to embrace Islam or be killed, treasure, animals, women and children were carted away and temples were destroyed.
Soon thereafter, there were battles between Arabs and Indian armies in what is called the Battle of Rajasthan. In fact, there were a series of battles in the Western part of India, fought by various native rulers. Arabs, in general faced defeat in these battles and failed to consolidate their conquest in Sindh. These battles should be seen as political battles and not as “Hindu retribution”, as most Indian rulers fought locally and chiefly for territories and there was no war cry to save Hinduism from the Mlechha yet. For the next couple of centuries, a stalemate ensued.
3. The scourge of Mahmud of Ghazni
Three centuries after Qasim’s forays into Sind, Islam had become established as a political player in the subcontinent. In the 11th century arose Mahmud of Ghazni who in 30 years of his reign raided India at least 17 times and succeeded in extending his pillaging raids till Gangetic plains. To the caliph in Baghdad, Mahmud pledged to undertake at least one campaign every year against the idolaters of India. Fired up by a belief in Jihad against the Kaffirs, Mahmud spared no effort to rid India of the heathens. Temples at Mathura, Kannauj, Somnath, Thaneshwar that stood in his way were levelled, their deities broken and the loot collected was transported. Those who came in way of Mahmud’s Jihad were brutally killed and their women and children were captured as slaves. There are apocryphal tales of the mountain range of Hindu Koh (mountain of the Hindu) being renamed as Hindu Kush (slayer of Hindu) as so many enslaved Hindus perished while crossing the mountains into modern Afghanistan. Additionally, there are multiple accounts of streams running red with blood of the slain. On Mahmud’s raids, Al Biruni says“Mahmud utterly ruined the prosperity of the country, and performed those wonderful exploits, by which the Hindus became like atoms of dust scattered in all directions, and like a tale of old in the mouth of the people”
The tepid response of Indian Kings to Mahmud’s raids was shocking. In fact in many cases, towns were vacated before Mahmud’s armies proceeded to capture and destroy them.
4. From Ghazni to Ghori and the Delhi Sultanate era
150 years after Mahmud of Ghazni, Muhammad Ghori undertook the conquest of India. In spite of early reversals at the hands of Prithviraj Chauhan, Ghori persevered and finally succeeded in establishing an empire in Northern India. In-fighting among Indian Kings helped Ghori’s cause, whose capture and desecration of Varanasi stuck terror in the heart of natives. Ghori left behind his slave Qutb-ud-Din Aibak who laid the foundation of Delhi Sultanate that endured for 3 centuries, when they were supplanted by the Mughals.
The Delhi Sultanate phase of Indian history is one of wanton carnage and devastation. The first mosque in Delhi, Quwwat ul Islam was built after the demolition of Hindu temples, as was the Qutb Minar. Hindu priests who refused to accept Islam were tortured and killed. Open practice of Hindu religion would invite swift retribution. Jizya was levied according to Quranic prescriptions. The Mamluks, Khiljis, Tughlaqs, Sayyids and Lodhis treated natives as inferior heathens who deserved no rights. Temples were demolished, idols were desecrated and natives forced to flee. Khilji raids reduced the great Universities at Nalanda, Vikramshila and other places to ghostly ruins. In fact, these and countless other raids hastened the end of Buddhism in India. Timurlang’s Indian campaign during the same time, reduced Delhi to a pile of heap, with only death and desolation everywhere.
Islamic invaders fought the natives claiming divine sanction. They claimed scriptural support for their right to demolish temples, to desecrate idols and to carrying away slaves. Claiming Quranic sanction, they treated natives as second class citizens. On the other hand, the natives fought with limited means for political control. There was still no concept of a Dharm Yuddh to unite the Hindus to oust the invaders and counter their Jihad. History records very few instances of native resistance against the invaders, in fact, hardly any of them succeeded enough to make an impact on the political scene in the country.
As Islam marched ahead, Hinduism retreated inwards. There was no philosophical response from the religious leaders to tackle the onslaught of Islam. That would soon change. Bhakti movement that had germinated in Southern India in the 7th century would soon spread Northwards and revitalize a rotting religion. On the whole, during this period, it is safe to assume that the consciousness of Hinduism being a distinct religion had not sufficiently dawned and the native response to the pillaging raids of Mlechha was tepid and muted.
In the next part of this series, we will cover Hindu communalism during the Mughal era.
Age of Wrath- A history of Delhi Sultanate