The Myth of Muslim Empire in India

Resistance and Revival in Perspective

Reviewed as a whole, the period between the last decade of the 12th century and the first quarter of the 18th – the period which is supposed to be the period of Muslim empire in India – is nothing more than a period of long-drawn-out war between Hindu freedom fighters and the Muslim invaders. The Hindus lost many battles, and retreated again and again. But they recovered every time, and resumed the struggle so that eventually the enemy was worn out, defeated, and dispersed in the final round which started with the rise of Shivaji.

As we read the history of medieval India we find that only a few Hindu princes made an abject surrender before the proved superiority of Muslim arms. Muslim historians cite innumerable instances of how Hindus burnt or killed their womenfolk, and then died fighting to the last man. There were many instances of Muslims being defeated decisively by Hindu heroism. Many of the so-called Muslim conquests were mere raids which succeeded initially but the impact of which did not last for long. The account which Assam, Rajasthan, Bundelkhand, Orissa, Telingana, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Maharashtra, and the Punjab gave of themselves in successive waves of resistance and recovery, has not many parallels in human history.

It is, therefore, a travesty of truth to say that Islam enjoyed an empire in India for six centuries. What happened really was that Islam struggled for six centuries to conquer India for good, but failed in the final round in the face of stiff and continued Hindu resistance. Hali was not at all wrong when he mourned that the invincible armada of Hijaz which had swept over so many seas and rivers met its watery grave in the Ganges. Iqbal also wrote his Shikwah in sorrowful remembrance of the same failure. In fact, there is no dearth of Muslim poets and politicians who weep over the defeat of Islam in India in the past, and who look forward to a reconquest of India in the future. Hindus have survived as a majority in their motherland not because Islam spared any effort to conquer and convert them but because Islamic brutality met more than its equal in Hindu tenacity for freedom.


1. Within eight years of the Prophet’s death, the Muslims had conquered Persia, Syria, and Egypt. By 650 AD, they had advanced upto the Oxus and the Hindu Kush. Between 640 and 709 AD they had reduced the whole of North Africa. They had conquered Spain in 711 AD. But it took them 70 long years to secure their first foothold on the soil of India.

2. By the middle of the 8th century they controlled only the highly garrisoned cities of Multan and Mansurah. Their plight in Multan is described by AI Kazwin in Asr-ul-Bilãd in the following words: The infidels have a large temple there, and a great idol. The houses of the servants and devotees are around the temple, and there are no idol worshippers in Multan besides those who dwell in those precincts. The ruler of Multan does not abolish this idol because he takes the large offerings which are brought to it. When the Indians make an attack upon the town, the Muslims bring out the idol, and when the infidels see it about to be broken or burnt, they retire. So much for Islamic monotheism of the Arabs and their military might.

3. Muslim historians have floated two myths about Mahmud Ghaznavi who had succeeded his father, Subuktigin, in AD 997, and who became famous for his 12 or, according to another count, 17 invasions of India. The first myth is that he was interested primarily in demolishing Hindu temples, breaking Hindu idols, capturing prisoners of war, and amassing wealth by plunder, and that he did not harbour any serious intention of building an empire in India. But the very fact that he had annexed to his empire – spread over Khorasan, Iran, Iraq, and most of Central Asia – the Shahiya domain in the North-West and the Punjab as also Multan, which was a Muslim principality at that time, goes to prove that he would not have hesitated in doing the same to other parts of northern and western India, had he found it feasible. He failed in this design not because he lacked the intention but because he met a very stiff resistance in these parts. It is true that his superior military might and skill as a commander succeeded in defeating, in the initial encounters, most of the Hindu princes he met on the field of battle. But the rising tide of resistance in the wake of every victory threatened to engulf him soon after, with the result that he had to content himself with plunder and prisoners of war, and relinquish the coveted territories.The second myth, which has been built up to bolster the first, presents India as if it was an open country which he could enter and leave as and when he pleased.

4. How Mahmud of Ghaznavi was tormented :
a. Mahmud led his first invasion against the Shahiyas of Udbhandapur in AD 1001 when he advanced upon Peshawar. Raja Jayapala was caught unawares, and could not mobilise all his forces in time. The lack of a standing army was to prove the undoing of many Hindu princes in days to come. In contrast, the Muslim militarists always maintained their armed hordes in a permanent state of mobilisation. ( I have explained earlier the motivation for both )

b. Mahmud invaded India again in AD 1008. According to Firishta, Anandapala sent ambassadors on all sides inviting assistance of other princes of Hindustan, who now considered the expulsion of Mohammadans from India as a sacred duty. Accordingly the Rajas of Ujjain, Gwalior, Kalinjar, Kanauj, Delhi and Ajmer entered into a confederacy and collecting their forces advanced towards Punjab, The Indians and Mohammedans remained encamped [at Waihind] for forty days without coming into action. The Hindu women, on this occasion, sold their jewels and melted down their gold ornaments to furnish resources for the war. Mahmud ordered six thousand archers to the front to endeavour to provoke the enemy to attack his entrenchments. The Khokhars penetrated into Mohammadan lines where a dreadful carnage ensued and 5000 Mohammadans in a few minutes were slain. Utbi admits that the battle lasted from morning till evening and the infidels were near gaining victory.

Firishta reports that Mahmud saw his plight and sent some of his elite warriors to attack the elephant on which Anandapala was sitting and directing the contest. The elephant took fright from the naptha balls and flights of arrows and turned and fled. That broke the morale of the Hindu army. It was neither the first nor the last occasion on which the Hindu army became an uncontrollable rabble and suffered defeat and slaughter simply because the elephant carrying its commander turned tail. The Muslim armies were more disciplined.

c. The Shahiyas continued to fight battles and kings like Trilochanapala terrified the invaders. However, they lost when they were drawn into the plains.

d. The Shahiya king with his son, Bhimapala (known as Nidar Bhima), now established a new seat at Lohara (Lohkot) on the border of Kashmir. Mahmud tried to storm it in AD 1015. Firishta tells us that this was the first disaster that the Sultan suffered in his campaigns against India. After some days he extricated himself with great difficulty from his peril, and reached Ghazni without having achieved any success.

e. The next Hindu dynasty to offer resolute resistance to Mahmud Ghaznavi was that of the Chandellas of Kalanjar and Khajuraho. The Chandella contemporary of Mahmud was Raja Vidyadhara. The Ghaznavi marched against Vidyadhara in AD 1018. Mahmud ascended an elevated spot to survey the Hindu host. According to Nizamuddin Ahmad, a medieval historian, Then when he saw what a vast host it was, he repented of his coming and, placing the forehead of supplication on the ground of submission and humility, prayed for victory.  Fortunately for him, the Hindus did not engage him in battle immediately; they made a strategic retreat. Mahmud also promptly set out for Ghazni. He had obtained neither plunder, nor prisoners of war. Hindus could have destroyed him had they pursued him in his retreat. But that was a vision which Hindus had lost. Pursuit of a retreating enemy was contrary to the Rajput code of honour.

The Hindu confederacy also seems to have dispersed soon after. So Mahmud did not have to face a united Hindu host when he again invaded Chandella territory in AD 1022. He laid siege to the fort of Gwalior to start with but failed to take it after investing it for forty days and night

f. Resistance at Somnath :

Dr. Mishra has also given a detailed account of Hindu heroism in defence of Somanath which Mahmud had attacked in AD 1026. According to Firishta, The battle raged with great fury, victory was long doubtful. According to another Muslim account, Fifty thousand infidels were killed round about the temple. Dr. Misra comments: The like of this faith which inspired these fifty thousand sons of the soil to embrace death will be hard to find in the annals of any other land.

Mahmud succeeded in demolishing the sacred image, and plundering the temple treasury. But the rallying of Hindu forces from far and near frightened him into beating a hasty retreat. He dared not return by the road he had traversed on his way to Somanath. Gardizi writes: Param Dev, Badshah of the Hindus, stood in his way disputing his path. Mahmud decided, therefore, to leave the right road back to Ghazni from fear lest this great victory of his should turn into defeat. He left by way of Multan and Mansurah. Many of the soldiers of Islam lost their lives in this way. The Hindu king under reference was either Chaulukya Bhimadeva I of Gujarat or Paramara Bhoja of Malwa who was known to be a sturdy champion of Hinduism. Dr. Misra has reconstructed the military manoeuvers of this king which make an interesting study. Also the story of two guides who led the Muslim army into a desert trap at the cost of their lives.

Delhi, Punjab and Ajmer freed :

One of the worst defeats suffered by the Muslims was at the hands of Arnoraja, the Chauhan ruler of Ajmer (AD 1133-1151). The Muslim commander fled before the Chauhans. Muslim soldiers died of exhaustion and an equal number perished from thirst. Their bodies lay along the path of retreat and were burnt by the villagers. A Chauhan prasasti of Ajmer Museum, line 15, states: The land of Ajmer, soaked with the blood of the Turushkas, looked as if it had dressed itself in a dress of deep red colour to celebrate the victory of her lord.

A Hindu counter-attack was launched after Vigraharaja (AD 1153-1164), the successor to Arnoraja, conquered Delhi and Hansi from the Tomaras. His repeated victories led him to the claim of having rendered Aryavarta worthy of its name by the repeated extermination of the Mlechhas. All territories south of the river Sutlej seem to have been freed from Muslim rule.

Mohammad Ghori’s Tormentors :

Mahmud Ghaznavi’s successful raid on Somanath, one hundred and fifty years earlier, had encouraged Ghuri to imagine that Gujarat was an easy prey. He was dreaming of reaching Somanath.M uhammad Ghuri advanced upon Gujarat in AD 1178 with a large army. Merutuñga writes in his Prabandha-chintãmaNi that the mother of young Mularaja, queen Naikidevi, the daughter of Parmardin of Goa, taking her son in her lap, led the Chaulukya army against the Turushkas and defeated them at Gadararaghatta near the foot of Mount Abu. Mularaja II was a minor at that time. Firishta records that the king of Gujarat advanced with an army to resist the Mohammedans and defeated them with great slaughter. They suffered many hardships before they reached Ghazni. Muhammad Ghuri did not lead another expedition against a Hindu prince for the next 12 years.

t was only in AD 1191 that Muhammad Ghuri caused the forces of Islam to be organised and advanced against the fortress of Tabarhindah (Sirhind) and took that stronghold. This was a frontier fortress held by a Chauhan feudatory. Prithviraja now advanced with his own army and met Muhammad Ghuri at Tarain. Before the onslaught of the Chahmana army, the right and left flanks of the Muslim army broke down and took to flight. The Sultan might have fallen off his horse had not a Khalji youth recognised him and carried him out of the field of battle. The Muslim army, not seeing their leader, fled headlong from the battlefield and did not draw rein till they had reached a place considered safe from pursuit. The Sultan was also brought there in a litter of broken spears. From there, they returned to their own dominion. The Rajputs did not press their advantage to a final conclusion. They were satisfied with Sirhind which was recovered soon after.

Dr. Misra observes: Prithviraja could have now easily consummated his victory by chasing and annihilating his routed enemy. But, instead, he allowed the defeated Muslim army to return unmolested. ( This is what Savarkar calls as Sadguna vikruti. These acts of chivalry ensured the Muslim invaders to win some of the subsequent battles ).

4. How Prithviraj Lost to deceit

Mahmud Ghori tried his stratagem and wrote a letter to Prithviraj :

 I have marched into India at the command of my brother whose general I am. Both honour and duty bind me to exert myself to the utmost but I shall be glad to obtain a truce till he is informed of the situation and I have received his answer.

The Hindus fell into the trap. Firishta records The Sultan made preparations for battle and when the Rajputs had left their camp for purposes of obeying calls of nature, and for the purpose of performing ablutions, he entered the plain with his ranks marshalled. Although the unbelievers were amazed and confounded, still in the best manner they could, they stood the fight. The battle raged upto afternoon, when the Hindus found themselves tired and exhausted. They had not eaten even a breakfast. The fight was finished when Ghuri threw in his reserve division constituted by the flower of his army. The Rajputs were defeated, and suffered great slaughter.


Muhammad Ghuri was subsequently assassinated by the Gakkhars in 1206 AD. Aibak assumed charge. Kalinjar had been reconquered by the Chandellas, Ranthambhor had renounced vassalage to Delhi, Gwalior had been reoccupied by the Pratihars, the Doab was up in arms under the Gahadvad prince Harishchandra, and the Katehar Rajputs had reasserted their independence beyond the Ganges. The Yadavbhatti Rajputs around Alwar had cut off the imperial road to Ajmer. Aibak was not able to reconquer any of these areas before he died in 1210 AD. Iltutmish, succeeded in retaking Ranthambhor and Gwalior, and in widening his base around Ajmer. But he suffered several defeats at the hands of the Guhilots of Nagda, the Chauhans of Bundi, the Paramars of Malwa, and the Chandellas of Bundelkhand. Beyond the Ganges, the Katehar Rajputs had consolidated their hold which the Sultan could not shake. The Doab was still offering a very stiff resistance. His grip on Ajmer had also started slipping by the time he died in 1236 AD

The Sultanate suffered a steep decline during the reigns of Razia, Bahrain, Masud, and Mahmud of the Shamsi dynasty founded by Iltutmish, though its dissolution was prevented by Balban who wielded effective power from 1246 AD onwards. The Muslim position in Bengal was seriously threatened by Hindu Orissa. Another Muslim invasion of Assam ended in yet another disaster in which the Muslim general lost his life and a whole Muslim army was annihilated, Hindu chieftains now started battering the Muslim garrison towns in Bihar. Near Delhi, the Chandellas advanced up to Mathura. The Rajputs from Alwar made raids as far as Hansi, and became a terror for Muslims even in the environs of Delhi. Balban�s successes against this rising tide of Hindu recovery were marginal. He suffered several setbacks. The Sultanate was once more reduced to rump around Delhi when Balban died in 1289 AD.

Dr. R.C. Majumdar has summed up the situation so far in the following words:

India south of the Vindhyas was under Hindu rule in the 13th century. Even in North India during the same century, there were powerful kingdoms not yet subjected to Muslim rule, or still fighting for their independence. Even in that part of India which acknowledged the Muslim rule, there was continual defiance and heroic resistance by large or small bands of Hindus in many quarters, so that successive Muslim rulers had to send well-equipped military expeditions, again and again, against the same region. As a matter of fact, the Muslim authority in Northern India, throughout the 13th century, was tantamount to a military occupation of a large number of important centres without any effective occupation, far less a systematic administration of the country at large.

He further writes

The Khalji empire rose and fell during the brief period of twenty years (A.D 1300-1320). The empire of Muhammed bin Tughlaq broke up within a decade of his accession (A.D. 1325), and before another decade was over, the Turkish empire passed away for ever Thus barring two every short-lived empires under the Khaljis and Muhammad bin Tughlaq there was no Turkish empire in India. This state of things continued for nearly two centuries and a half till the Mughals established a stable and durable empire in the second half of the sixteenth century A.D

Hindu resistance did not cease. The Muslims had occupied the big cities and the fortified towns. But they had no hold on the countryside which was seething with revolt.Mher Rajputs around Ajmer, Chaulukya ruler of Gujarat , , Bhimadeva II, the Chaulukyan king, recovered the whole of his kingdom from the invaders. Blocked by the Senas from East Bengal, Bakhtiyar Khalji advanced into Assam. But his army was destroyed by the king of Kamarupa. He was able to escape with his own life and about a hundred followers. But his army was slaughtered so that he fell sick due to excessive grief and died. he Musalman invasion of the Brahmaputra valley was repeated on several occasions during the next five centuries of Muslim rule over north India, but most of these expeditions ended in disaster and Islam failed to make any inroads into the valley.

Beginning with the first Arab expedition against Thana near Bombay in A.D. 636 the Muslims only succeeded in establishing the Delhi Sultanate in AD 1206, that is, after prolonged and relentless efforts lasting as many as 570 years. The magnitude of the resistance offered by Indians can be easily comprehended if we remember that the duration of the effective Muslim rule over northern India, not to speak of the whole of India which was much less, if ever, lasted only 500 years (upto the death of Aurangzeb in AD 1707 ).

Nor is it anywhere near the truth to say that the British empire in India replaced an earlier Muslim empire. The effective political power in India had already passed into the hands of the Marathas, the Jats, and the Sikhs when the British started playing their imperialist game. The Muslim principalities in Bengal, Avadh, South India, Sindh, and the Punjab were no match for the Hindu might that had resurged. The Mughal emperor at Delhi by that time presented a pitiful picture of utter helplessness. The custodians of Islam in India were repeatedly inviting Ahmad Shah Abdali from across the border to come and rescue Islam from the abyss into which it had fallen.

The above are excerpts from the books below : 

The myth of Muslim empire in India

Heroic Hindu Resistance to Muslim Invaders


One thought on “The Myth of Muslim Empire in India

  1. Pingback: The Myth of Muslim Empire in India | santzp

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