The Worlds Longest ‘Unknown’ War

Posted December 17, 2014 by admin in Analysis

That audacious armada of the religion of Hijaz –
Whose insignia reached every corner of the world
Which learnt no obstruction from any fear
Which felt no hesitation in Persian Gulf or faltered in the Red Sea
Which valiantly crossed all the seven oceans
Oh, drowned was that armada (of Islam), when it reached the mouth of Ganga!

–  Mawlana Khwaja Altaf  Husain


It’s argued that if the Muslim conquerors had practised such systematic, extensive, and continued terror against Hindus and Hinduism as has been recorded by the Muslim historians of medieval India, Hindus could not have survived as an overwhelming majority at the end of the long spell of Muslim rule.

The logic here is purely deductive (formal). Suppose a person is subjected to a murderous assault, but he survives because he fights back. Deductively it can be concluded that the person never suffered a murderous assault because otherwise he could not have been alive! But this conclusion has little relevance to the facts of the case.

My question, therefore, is: Did Hindus survive as a majority in their own homeland because the Islamic invaders did not employ sufficient force to kill or convert them, or because, though defeated again and again by the superior military skill of the invaders, Hindu princes did not give up resistance and came back again and again to reconquer their lost kingdoms, to fight yet another battle, yet another day, till the barbarians were brought to book?

Before I answer this question, I should like to warn against a very widely prevalent though a very perverse version of Indian history. In this popular version, Indian history has been reduced to a history of foreign invaders who were able to enter India from time to time – the so-called Aryans, the Iranians, the Greeks, the Parthians, the Scythians, the Kushanas, the Hunas, the Arabs, the Turks, the Pathans, the Mughals, the Persians, the Portuguese, the Dutch, the French, and the British. The one impression which this version of Indian history leaves, is that India has always been a no-man’s land which any armed bandit could come and occupy at any time, and that Hindus have always been a ‘meek mob’ which has always bowed before every ‘superior’ race.

Muslims in India and elsewhere have been led to believe by the mullahs and Muslim historians that the conquest of India by Islam started with the invasion of Sindh by Muhammad bin Qasim in 712 AD, was resumed by Mahmud Ghaznavi in 1000 AD, and completed by Muhammad Ghuri when he defeated the Chauhans of Ajmer and the Gahadvads of Kanauj in the last decade of the 12th century. Muslims of India in particular have been persuaded to look back with pride on those six centuries, if not more, when India was ruled by Muslim emperors. In this make-belief, the British rulers are treated as temporary intruders who cheated Islam of its Indian empire for a hundred years. So also the ‘Hindu Banias’, who succeeded the British in 1947 AD. Muslims are harangued every day, in every mosque and madrasah, not to rest till they reconquer the rest of India which, they are told, rightfully belongs to Islam.

The academic historians also agree that India was ruled by Muslim monarchs from the last decade of the 12th century to the end of the 18th. The standard textbooks of history, therefore, narrate medieval Indian history in terms of a number of Muslim imperial dynasties ruling from Delhi – the Mamluks (Slaves), the Khaljis, the Tughlaqs, the Sayyids, the Lodis, the Surs, the Mughals. The provincial Muslim dynasties with their seats at Srinagar, Lahore, Multan, Thatta, Ahmedabad, Mandu, Burhanpur, Daulatabad, Gulbarga, Bidar, Golconda, Bijapur, Madurai, Gaur, Jaunpur, and Lucknow fill the gaps during periods of imperial decline.

It is natural that in this version of medieval Indian history the recurring Hindu resistance to Islamic invaders, imperial as well as provincial, looks like a series of sporadic revolts occasioned by some minor grievances of purely local character, or led by some petty upstarts for purely personal gain. The repeated Rajput resurgence in Rajasthan, Bundelkhand and the Ganga-Yamuna Doab; the renewed assertion of independence by Hindu princes at Devagiri, Warrangal, Dvarasamudra and Madurai; the rise of the Vijayanagara Empire; the farflung fight offered by the Marathas; and the mighty movement of the Sikhs in the Punjab – all these then get readily fitted into the framework of a farflung and enduring Muslim empire. And the Hindu heroes who led this resistance for several centuries get reduced to ridiculous rebels who disturbed public peace at intervals but who were always put down.

But this version of medieval Indian history is, at its best, only an interpretation based on preconceived premises and propped up by a highly selective summarisation, or even invention, of facts. There is ample room for another interpretation based on more adequate premises, and borne out by a far better systematisation of known facts.

What are the facts? Do they bear out the interpretation that India was fully and finally conquered by Islam, and that the Muslim empire in India was a finished fabric before the British stole it for themselves by fraudulent means?


The so-called conquest of Sindh first.

Having tried a naval invasion of India through Thana, Broach, and Debal from 634 to 637 AD, the Arabs tried the land route on the north-west during AD 650-711. But the Khyber Pass was blocked by the Hindu princes of Kabul and Zabul who inflicted many defeats on the Arabs, and forced them to sign treaties of non-aggression. The Bolan pass was blocked by the Jats of Kikan. AI Biladuri writes in his Futûh-ul-Buldãn: ‘At the end of 38 H. or the beginning of 39 H. (659 A.D.) in the Khilafat of Ali”Harras’ went with the sanction of the Khalif to the same frontier’ He and those who were with him, saving a few, were slain in the land of Kikan in the year 42 H. (662 A.D.). In the year 44 H. (664 A.D) and in the days of Khalif Muawiya, Muhallab made war on the same frontier’ The enemy opposed him and killed him and his followers’ Muawiya sent Abdullah’ to the frontier of Hind. He fought in Kikan and captured booty’ He stayed near the Khalif some time and then returned to Kikan, when the Turks (Hindus) called their forces together and slew him.,

Next, the Arabs tried the third land route, via Makran. Al Biladuri continues: ‘In the reign of the same Muawiya, Chief Ziyad appointed Sinan’ He proceeded to the frontier and having subdued Makran and its cities by force, he stayed there’ Ziyad then appointed Rashid’ He proceeded to Makran but he was slain fighting against the Meds (Hindus)’ Abbad, son of Ziyad then made war on the frontier of Hind by way of Seistan. He fought the inhabitants’ but many Musulmans perished’ Ziyad next appointed Al Manzar. Sinan had taken it but its inhabitants had been guilty of defection’ He (Al Manzar) died there’ When Hajjaj’ was governor of Iraq, Said’ was appointed to Makran and its frontiers. He was opposed and slain there. Hajjaj then appointed Mujja’ to the frontier’ Mujja died in Makran after being there a year’ Then Hajjaj sent Ubaidullah’ against Debal. Ubaidullah being killed, Hajjaj wrote to Budail’ directing him to proceed to Debal’ the enemy surrounded and killed him. Afterwards, Hajjaj during the Khilafat of Walid, appointed Mohammad, son of Qasim’ to command on the Sindhian frontier.’ That was in 712 AD.

Now compare this Arab record on the frontiers of India with their record elsewhere. Within eight years of the Prophet’s death, they 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. No historian worth his salt should have the cheek to say that the Hindus have always been an easy game for invaders.

Muhammad bin Qasim succeeded in occupying some cities of Sindh. His successors led some raids towards the Punjab, Rajasthan, and Saurashtra. But they were soon defeated, and driven back. The Arab historians admit that ‘a place of refuge to which the Muslims might flee was not to be found’. 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.’ (emphasis added). So much for Islamic monotheism of the Arabs and their military might. They, the world-conquerors, failed to accomplish anything in India except a short-lived raid.

It was some two hundred years later, in 963 AD, that Alptigin the Turk was successful in seizing Ghazni, the capital of Zabul. It was his successor Subuktigin who seized Kabul from the Hindu Shahiyas shortly before he died in 997 AD. His son, Mahmud Ghaznavi, led many expeditions into India between 1000 and 1027 AD. The details of his destructive frenzy are too well-known to be repeated. What concerns us here is the facile supposition made by historians in general that Mahmud was not so much interested in establishing an empire in India as in demolishing temples, plundering treasures, capturing slaves, and killing the kãfirs. This supposition does not square with his seizure of the Punjab west of the Ravi, and the whole of Sindh. The conclusion is unavoidable that though Mahmud went far into the heartland of Hindustan and won many victories, he had to beat a hasty retreat every time in the face of Hindu counterattacks. This point is proved by the peril in which he was placed by the Jats of the Punjab during his return from Somnath in 1026 AD.

The same Jats and the Gakkhars gave no end of trouble to the Muslim occupants of Sindh and the Punjab after Mahmud was dead. Another 150 years were to pass before another Islamic invader planned a conquest of India. This was Muhammad Ghuri. His first attempt towards Gujarat in 1178 AD met with disaster at the hands of the Chaulukyas, and he barely escaped with his life. And he was carried half-dead from the battlefield of Tarain in 1191 AD. It was only in 1192 AD that he won his first victory against Hindus by resorting to a mean stratagem which the chivalrous Rajputs failed to see through.


Muhammad Ghuri conquered the Punjab, Sindh, Delhi, and the Doab upto Kanauj. His general Qutbuddin Aibak extended the conquest to Ajmer and Ranthambhor in Rajasthan, Gwalior, Kalinjar, Mahoba and Khajuraho in Bundelkhand, and Katehar and Badaun beyond the Ganges. His raid into Gujarat was a failure in the final round though he succeeded in sacking and plundering Anahilwar Patan. Meanwhile, Bakhtyar Khalji had conquered Bihar and Bengal north and west of the Hooghly. He suffered a disastrous defeat when he tried to advance into Assam.

But by the time Muhammad Ghuri was assassinated by the Gakkhars in 1206 AD, and Aibak assumed power over the former’s domain in India, 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.

Aibak’s successor, 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.’

Jalaluddin Khalji failed to reconquer any land which had been lost by Muslims during the earlier reign. Alauddin was far more successful. His generals, Ulugh Khan and Nusrat Khan, were able to conquer Gujarat in 1298 AD. But they were beaten back from Ranthambhor which Alauddin could reduce only in 1301 AD. His conquest of Chittor in 1303 AD was short-lived as the Sisodias retook it soon after his death in 1316 AD. So was his conquest of Jalor in Rajasthan. His own as well Malik Kafur’s expeditions against Devagiri in Maharashtra, Warrangal in Andhra Pradesh, Dvarasamudra in Karnataka, and Madurai in Tamil Nadu, were nothing more than raids because Hindu princes reasserted their independence in all these capitals soon after the invaders left. And the Khalji empire collapsed as soon as Alauddin died in 1316 AD. Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq had to intervene in 1320 AD to save the remnants from being taken over by Hindus from Gujarat who had been nominally converted to Islam.

Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq was successful in conquering south and east Bengal.  But he could not completely subdue Tirhut in Bihar. His son Jauna Khan suffered defeat in 1321 AD when he tried to reconquer Warrangal, and had to mount another attack in 1323 AD before he could reduce it.  But by 1326 AD Prataparudra was back in power. In 1324 AD Jauna Khan had been beaten back from the borders of Orissa. He was more successful when he came to power as Muhammad Tughlaq. He consolidated his hold over Devagiri, conquered the small kingdom of Kampili on the Tungbhadra, and forced Dvarasamudra to pay tribute to the imperial authority of Delhi. Madurai also came to be included in his empire. He transferred his capital to Devagiri in order to keep a close watch on Hindu resurrection in the South, and for establishing another centre of Islamic power in India. But at the very start of his reign he had been defeated by Maharana Hammir of Mewar, taken prisoner, and released only after he ceded all claims to Ajmer, Ranthambhor and Nagaur, besides payment of 50 lakhs of rupees as indemnity. And his empire south of the Vindhyas was lost to Delhi in his own life-time, and Delhi’s hold over large areas even in the North disappeared soon after his death in 1351 AD.

Firuz Shah Tughlaq was able to keep together the rump for some time. His expedition to Orissa was nothing more than a successful raid. And he had to lead annual expeditions against the Katehar Rajputs north of the Ganges. Ms successors could not keep even the rump in the north. It broke down completely after Timur’s invasion in 1399 AD. Meanwhile, the great Vijayanagara Empire had consolidated Hindu power south of the Krishna. Rajasthan was ruled by defiant Rajput princes led by Mewar. Orissa had fully recovered from the devastation of Firuz Shah Tughlaq’s raid.

The Sayyids who succeeded the Tughlaqs were hardly an imperial dynasty when they started in 1414 AD. Their hold did not extend beyond Etawah (U.P.) in the east, and Mewat (Haryana) in the south. Khizr Khan tried to restore the empire in the north but without success. Mubarak Shah was able to recover the Punjab and Multan before the Sayyids were supplanted by the Lodis in 1451 AD.

Bahlol Lodi reduced the Muslim principality of Jaunpur in 1457 AD. But Sikandar Lodi failed to subdue Gwalior, Rajasthan, and Baghelkhand. He removed his capital to Agra in order to plan a conquest of Malwa and Rajasthan. But it bore no fruit. The Lodi ’empire’ more or less broke down under Ibrahim Lodi. By this time, Mewar under Rana Sanga had emerged as the strongest state in North India. Orissa stood its ground against Muslim Bengal to its north and the Bahmanis to its south. The power of Vijayanagara attained its acme under Krishnadevaraya (1505-1530 AD).

The situation during the 14th and the 15th centuries has been summed up by Dr. R.C. Majumdar in the following words: ‘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.’



Babur won some renowned victories but hardly established an empire. Humayun lost to Sher Shah Sur, and failed to win back most of what Babur had won. Sher Shah added Ranthambhor and Ajmer to his empire in north India. But the fierce fight he faced in Marwar made him confess that he had almost lost an empire for a handful of millet. His rule lasted only for a brief span of five years (1540-1545 AD). The Sur ’empire’ became a shambles soon after, so much so that the Hindu general Himu was able to crown himself as Hemachandra Vikramaditya at Delhi in 1556 AD.

The Mughal empire founded by Akbar in 1556 AD proved more stable, and endured for 150 years. It also expanded in all directions till by the end of the 17th century it covered almost the whole of India except the extreme south. But the credit for Mughal success must go largely to Akbar’s recognition of power realities, and reconciliation with the Rajputs by suspension of several tenets of a typically Islamic state. It was the Rajput generals and soldiers who won many of the victories for which the Mughals took credit. The Rajput states in Rajasthan and Bundelkhand were vassals of the Mughal emperor only in name. For all practical purposes, they were allies of the Mughals who had to keep them in good humour. And Mewar kept aloft the flag of Hindu defiance throughout the period of effective Mughal rule.

The Mughal empire started breaking up very fast when Aurangzeb reversed Akbar’s policy of accommodating the Hindus, and tried to re-establish a truly Islamic state based on terror, and oppression of the ‘non-believers’. Rajasthan and Bundelkhand reasserted their independence during his life-time. So did the Jats around Bharatpur and Mathura. The Marathas dug Aurangzeb’s grave when they made imperial seats such as Ahmadnagar and Aurangabad unsafe in spite of large Mughal garrisons, and invaded imperial territory as far as Khandesh and Gujarat. This Hindu resurgence shattered the Mughal empire within two decades of Aurangzeb’s death in 1707 AD.



Amongst the provincial Muslim principalities established by rebels and adventurers after the break-up of the Tughlaq empire, those of Bengal, Malwa, Gujarat, and the Bahmanis were notable. Hindu Orissa battled against Bengal till both of them were taken over by the Mughals. The Sisodias of Mewar engaged Gujarat and Malwa, and almost overcame them in the reign of Rana Sanga. Gujarat recovered for a short time only to be taken over by the Mughals. The Vijayanagara Empire contained the Bahmanis from southward expansion in a fierce struggle spread over more than two centuries, in which fortunes on both sides waxed and waned. The destruction of the metropolis at Vijayanagara did not lead to the destruction of the Vijayanagara Empire. It barred the path of Bijapur for another seventy years. Meanwhile, the Marathas had come to control large parts of South India as nominal vassals of Ahmadnagar and Bijapur even before Shivaji appeared on the scene. And they were soon to deliver death blows to the remnants of the Bahmani empire which the Mughals hastened to incorporate in their own empire.


“Let us transcend the barren Deccan and conquer central India. The Mughals have become weak, insolent, womanizers and opium-addicts. The accumulated wealth of centuries in the vaults of the north, can be ours. It is time to drive from the holy land of Bharatvarsha the outcastes and the barbarians. Let us throw them back over the Himalayas, back to where they came from. The saffron flag must fly from the Krishna to the Indus. Hindustan is ours”. Peshwa Bajirao 1st

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.

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.

By Sita Ram Goel

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