India: Peeps at History - Beatrice Home

How the Mohammedan Armies Invaded India

We must now pass very rapidly over a period of several hundred years, because as the Hindu people were left to themselves once more there were no trustworthy writers to tell us of what happened. All the stories of those times are full of wars, invasions, and the wonderful deeds of Indian heroes, nearly all of which are fables and romances. We do not get a flash of real truth until the Mohammedan armies burst into the county in the year 712 A.D. These, like Alexander, brought with them historians and chroniclers who, although by no means perfect, were really anxious to record facts rather than to invent fables.

They converted to their religion all the races to the north and north-west of India, but in India itself they only remained for forty years, and did not return to the country until over two hundred years later. Then, in the year 997, when Sweyne and Canute were ruling England, there lived at Ghazni, a place in Afghanistan, a fierce Mohammedan sultan called Mahmud. Hating the Hindus because they did not belong to his religion, he determined to attack them and plunder their country.

Twelve times he invaded India, and each time the Hindu armies were defeated. And although he did not remain in the country, he plundered the cities of immense treasure, broke open the temples and cast down all the idols he found in them.

There is an interesting story of his last invasion which is worth telling. Mahmud of Ghazni heard that the Hindus had a great temple which he had not yet seen. It stood on the sea-coast in western India, and was called the Temple of Somnath.

Now the temple contained a great idol, and Mahmud, who hated idols, determined to invade India again in order to destroy it. Another thing which may also have influenced him a little was that the temple was said to contain immense riches, which had been accumulated there for very many ages. Possibly Mahmud thought it would be just as well for him to carry off the treasure at the same time. Whatever were his motives, he led an army into India again for the twelfth and last time.

Ghazni Warrior


None of the Indian princes were strong enough to stop him. But a large number of Hindu warriors threw themselves into the great temple. This was surrounded by powerful walls and fortifications, and behind these the brave garrison made a desperate resistance to all Mahmud's attempts to storm the place. But at last, finding that they could not hold out any longer against the great Afghan army, the defenders escaped to their boats one dark night and got away by sea.

The next day, when Mahmud's forces advanced once more to attack the walls, they found no one to defend them, and when a little later Mahmud and his generals rode through the great gate, the whole place was deserted and as silent as the grave. Then carefully they searched every corner of the huge temple, but failed to discover any sign of the vast treasures they had heard of. The defenders, they supposed, must have carried them away.

At all events, Mahmud was determined to destroy the great idol which stood in the central hall of the temple. But as he entered this place with his great battle-axe in his hand a number of priests of the temple rushed from a secret hiding-place and implored him to spare their god. The treasure of the temple, they said, had been removed, just as Mahmud himself had suspected, but they promised to pay him a great sum of money if only he would not injure the figure of the god which stood before them.

But Mahmud refused to listen to their cries, and said, "Away with you. I have come here to destroy idols, not to sell them." And, lifting his heavy battle-axe, he struck the stone god a mighty blow, which resounded throughout the temple. To the astonishment of Mahmud and his generals the idol broke into two pieces, for it was hollow and the stone was thin. But that was not all, for out of the interior poured an immense stream of rubies, diamonds, and precious stones without number. It was the secret treasure of the temple. For generations it had been the custom of the priests to store all their richest and most valuable gems within the huge idol itself, and had it not been for the battle-axe of Mahmud it would never have been discovered by the Afghan invaders.

Mahmud at once started his homeward march, carrying with him this great heap of treasure and the magnificent sandal-wood gates of the temple. But he had hard work to get back to his mountains, for Hindu armies attacked him by night and day, and Hindu priests, pretending to be guides, led him astray into the wild deserts of Scinde, where thousands of his soldiers went mad from heat and thirst. So no more than a few feeble and worn-out remnants of his great army ever got back to the city of Ghazni.

From that time until 1176 the history of India continued to be a story of constant fighting and bloodshed without any definite result. But in 1176 an important event took place. A great Afghan chief, called Mohammed Ghoti, conquered the greater part of Hindostan. He was not contented, like Mahmud of Ghazni, with destroying idols and carrying away plunder, but set up a Mohammedan kingdom in India, and made the Hindus serve him just as William the Conqueror treated the Saxons after the Battle of Hastings. For the first time there was something like a strong government in India, but on Mohammed Ghori's death the kingdom broke up, and once more a long period of fighting ensued between various Mohammedan sultans, all of them striving to obtain supreme power, as in Saxon England before and during the Heptarchy, while now and then Hindu princes made themselves independent. For the most part, however, the Hindu people were from this time treated as an inferior race and endured terrible oppression.

It will be easier to understand those cruel times from the following story. Awful as it seems, it is only one of many quite as terrible which happened in India at that period. In England the first of our Edwards was on the throne.

Just then the Sultans of Delhi were the greatest power in India, and the one then reigning was Ala-ud-deen. In the "Arabian Nights " the same name is written Aladdin. This ruler was determined to take the splendid city of Chitor, the capital of the Rajputs, a brave Hindu race of warriors who had made for themselves an independent kingdom in the south-west of Hindostan.

Ala-ud-deen assembled a vast army and, marching into Rajputana, laid siege to Chitor. The city was built on a huge rocky hill, from which its palaces and temples looked out over all the surrounding country, and its fortifications, enclosing great masses of building, still frown from the summit of the heights on which they were raised.

As long as their food supplies lasted the Rajputs held out, and beat off every attack of the Moslem host which surrounded them on all sides. But the fatal day came at last when there was no more food in Chitor, and a solemn council was held to decide what should be done. It had to be one of two things—surrender or death. The proud Rajputs did not hesitate. They chose the latter, and their women, being told of the decision, agreed that it was best.

So they planned a great ceremony of self-sacrifice which, terrible as it was, was not uncommon in those desperate times. Great piles of timber and inflammable materials, upon which were piled all their treasures, were raised upon one of the hills within the fortress. When everything was ready, the queen and all the women, to the number of one thousand three hundred, assembled in a great funeral procession, a funeral in which all were to die, and proceeded with solemn rites to the place where the huge dark masses of timber awaited their coming.

Battle of Peshawar


Around the pile stood the Rajput warriors, clad in saffron-coloured raiment, their bright swords in their hands and flaming torches in readiness to complete the awful sacrifice of their wives and daughters. As soon as the women were all standing upon the great altar of timber the fire was applied, and as the flames and smoke leapt up from this horrible furnace the Rajputs threw open the gates of Chitor and, rushing forth sword in hand, threw themselves upon their enemies in a last desperate charge.

Most of them were cut to pieces, but some escaped into the Aravalli mountains. The flames and smoke of the terrible sacrifice within the city were still rising above the piles of female victims as Ala-ud-deen led his army through heaps of slain into the great rock-fortress of Chitor. So that, after all, the Sultan of Delhi won nothing but the empty walls of the Rajput city. Horrible as the story is, it gives us a graphic peep at the history of India in those earlier times before the more settled government which followed the coming of the Moghuls in 1526.

Until then we find a state of almost ceaseless warfare between the various Mohammedan sultans, princes, and generals, each and all striving for supreme power and the possession of the great city of Delhi. But all this internal warfare was suddenly smothered in 1398 by the mighty invasion of Tamerlane, who broke into India with hordes of fierce Tartar warriors. He swept everything before him like a devastating pestilence, and filled the land with slaughter and destruction. The great cities like Delhi, which had been the centres of government, were sacked and burnt. It was just as though everything had to begin all over again, and for a hundred and fifty years after Tamerlane had gone there was no supreme power in India. In fact, there followed a great blank for the space of a century and a quarter, i.e. from the reign of Richard II of England to that of Henry VIII.

Then for a long time we hear of Mohammedan governors and generals who set themselves up as independent potentates, while they fought one another and oppressed their Hindu subjects. At last, amidst the general confusion, the Lodi kings of Delhi made themselves more powerful than any other rulers, and seized the territories of all their less powerful neighbours. But the time was now approaching for the arrival of a new and greater conqueror than India had yet seen. Away over the great mountains of the north in Kabul, Baber, the Moghul, was watching events in India with an eager eye, watching and waiting for a chance to lead his army into the Indian plains. Presently it came.