There is a widespread myth about Indian history that the Islamic invaders from central Asia descended upon Afghanistan, then part of the Indian civilization had sort of a free pass in capturing it, that the native rulers were such dumb puppets that they gave no resistance and were also not given support by the rulers of mainland India.
But, when one looks through the history, such accusations prove to be baseless. Indeed, Hindu rulers of Afghanistan did loose to the Islamic invaders. But, that was the result and a lot happened before the unfortunate conclusion of this struggle. Neither it was a free pass to the Islamic hordes, nor the Hindu rulers were supported less from their peers from mainland India. This is a short account of the Hindu Shahi King Maharaja Jaipal, who ruled the present south-eastern Afghanistan and parts of Pakistan from 964 to 1001 CE and encountered numerous Islamic invasions.
Today’s Afghanistan was very much a part of the Indian civilization. Around the early medieval period, the territory had two regional names i.e. Kabul and Zabul, the northern and southern regions respectively. In the late seventh century, both these regions had faced the Islamic armies sent by the Caliph Al- Hajjaj in which though sometimes defeated by them, in the end, the native rulers had emerged victorious and as a result, the Kabul and the Zabul kingdoms remained independent and unmolested for almost 150 years.
This part of history needs special attention as the kingdoms not only defeated the Arab armies but also kept two important passes (Khyber and Gomal) secured for a long time. But for the time being, let us take our attention towards the eighth century Kabul which was governed by a Buddhist dynasty.
In 865 CE, the last Buddhist ruler, Lagaturman was deposed by a Brahmin called Lalliya by Kalhana, the Kashmiri historian. Zabul, on the other hand, was ruled by the Rajput rulers of Bhatti clan.
Though securing the country for almost two centuries, Zabulistan fell to an Arab named Yaqub ibn Lais, the founder of Saffrid dynasty during 867-870 CE. He even snatched fort of Kabul from Lalliya in 871 CE. He also reportedly laid the foundation of Ghazni. But, the Kabul valley was still under the control of Hindu Shahis.
Alptagin, the Turkish general conquered Ghazni from the Arab Abu Bakr Lawik in 962 CE. Alptagin and his successors became a source of constant nuisance for Maharaja Jaipal. An important point to note is that throughout history, such attacks on the Indian civilization were always unprovoked and the Kingdom of Hindu Shahis was no exception to this rule.
Piretagin, one of the successors of Alpatagin was the one to launch the first organised attack on the Hindu Shahis in 977 CE. And when Sabuktagin became the ruler of Ghazni, he plundered Kabul valley and amassed a huge booty.
Jaipal quite understood what was happening and was very much worried about the events. He knew Ghazni was growing in power. The constant raids by the Islamic barbarians into the Lamghan/ Laghman area had alerted him. Now, in order to take the offensive, Jaipal made a huge organized attack on Ghazni in 986-987 CE. Though the step was very strategic but without much planning and also to his bad luck, his army suffered due to sudden hailstorm and heavy rainfall.
Knowing what he had to do to survive, he sued for peace on very unfavourable conditions but went back on it after reaching his dominion. This didn’t go down well with Sabuktagin and he launched another raid on Lamghan. Jaipal immediately called for help from the Indian rulers and many rulers provided the same. This fact is usually overlooked but needs to be popularised that when needed, the mainland rulers of India didn’t disappoint. Including the armies of Chauhans of Ajmer, Chandelas of Kalinjar and the Pratiharas of Kannauj, a total of almost 100,000 troops marched on Ghazni. But alas, the army was defeated and Jaipal was taken, prisoner.
The Maharaja secured his release by giving up a large part of his territory up to the banks of Indus. Under immense pressure, he even had to shift his capital from Kabul to Udabhandapur (Waihand, near Peshawar) in 995 CE. In the meantime, Sabuktagin was succeeded by his son Mahmud who was later, probably the first time in history even, given the title of ‘Sultan’ by the Caliph Al Qadir Billah. Mahmud took a vow to wage jihad and annually commit raids on the kafirs.
Maharaja Jaipal during this time tried to construct pathways and roads in the eastern border of his kingdom. After suppressing a revolt in Khurasan, in 1000-1001 CE, Mahmud descended upon the Indian territory and invaded by crossing the Khyber pass. He even reached near Peshawar and snatched some fortresses. Mahmud quite smartly garrisoned the pass and after some time, marched on the Hindu Shahis. He had with himself 15,000 strong cavalry and almost 10,000 ghazis, ready to wage Jihad. Maharaja Jaipal, on the other hand, had only 12,000 cavalries, 30,000 infantry and almost 300 elephants. Jaipal crossed the Indus, met the invader and a huge battle ensued on 27 November 1001 CE. But, the Hindu Shahis were defeated.
Almost all of our army lay dead on the ground. The Maharaja was taken prisoner along with his kinsmen and chief nobles. Andrew Bostom tells us from the account of Utbi that Jaipal, the Hindu Shahiya king of Kabul “his children, his grandchildren, his nephews and the chief men of his tribe and his relatives, were taken prisoners and being strongly bound with ropes were carried before the Sultan like common evil-doers…Some had their arms forcibly tied behind their backs, some were seized by the cheek, some were driven by blows on their neck.”
Bostom continues from the writings of Hodivala about details of humiliation of Jaipal by Mahmud, “publicly exposed at one of the slave auctions in some market in Khurasan, just like thousands of other Hindu captives….(He) was paraded about so that his sons and chieftains might see him in that conditions of shame, bond and disgrace…inflicting upon him the public indignity of commingling him in one common servitude.”
Anandpal, son of Jaipal still took matters in his hand and was successful in securing the release of his father and some of the relatives by giving a heavy ransom. But Jaipal couldn’t bear it. He lit a pyre and burnt himself to death. A. Bostom says that “no wonder Jaipal immolated himself for such humiliation was inflicted deliberately to smash the morale of the captives.” The prisoners of Islamic barbarians once captured, “young or old, ugly or handsome, princes or commoners could be flogged, converted, sold for tuppence or made to work as menials”. But, from here on, a lot more fighting was yet to happen and the resistance was continued by Anandpal. Mahmud, on the other hand, amassed a huge booty and took it to Ghazni.
Here, there are certain points to keep in mind. As mentioned above, the rulers of our frontiers need to be given the credit that they fought and kept the Islamic hoards at bay for a very long time. At a time when entire kingdoms and civilizations were falling like dominoes in front of the Islamic attack, our rulers including the Chalukyas, the Pratiharas, the Hindu Shahis etc kept fighting them.
The Caliphate had started to attack firstly from the sea and were successfully repulsed. Even when Sindh Rajputs succumbed under the attack of Muhammad bin Qasim, it was a combination of good military strategy mixed with a lot of treachery on part of Qasim and even some natives. So, sometimes we successfully defeated them and sometimes we were defeated by better military skills with a zealous attitude of a new religion whose believers were hell-bent on spreading it by the sword.
Despite that they were fighting since the seventh century, 637 CE to be precise when the first expedition was sent by the Caliphate to Thane and was repulsed by our rulers. With the exception of Sindh, the gap is of almost five centuries when India came under Islamic rule by the end of the twelfth century.
But, we also have to accept that despite giving a tough fight, we were defeated and a huge part was played by our lack of military strategy. Our over-dependence on elephants also contributed as elephants were very unpredictable and our sub-par cavalry in front of the Islamic hoards from Central Asia was a bane. Our insistence on following the morals of knightly fighting when none was followed by our enemy has always been our disadvantage. Its better that we learn from history, all the pros and all the cons of our conduct.
- The History of India as told by its Historians by Elliot and Dowson.
- Advanced Study in the History of Medieval India, Vol.I by J.L.Mehta.
- The Legacy of Jihad: Islamic Holy War and the Fate of Non-Muslims by Andrew G. Bostom.