Sunday, February 11, 2007

Rajputs and Invasions of India

Rajputs and Invasions of India

The Rajputs suffered the brunt of the aggression from various Mongol-Turkic-Afghan warlords who repeatedly invaded the Indian subcontinent, then known as Hindustan. Hindustan was one of the most economically prosperous regions in the world till 18-th century and had grabbed the attention of several neighbouring Islamic kingdoms.

Organization of Indian kingdoms during invasions

Rajputana Agency and Ajmer-Merwara province, 1909

William Wilson Hunter describes in Chapter X of his book, The Indian Empire, Its People, History And Products, the organization of Indian kings and how they fought these invaders.

Within a hundred years after his (Muhammad's) death, his followers had invaded the countries of Asia as far as the Hindu Kush. Here there progress was stayed and Islam had to consolidate itself during three more centuries before it grew strong enough to grasp the rich prize of India. But almost from first the Arabs had fixed eager eyes upon that wealthy country. Fifteen years after the death of prophet, Usman sent a sea expedition to Thana and Broach on the Bombay coast (647 ? AD). Other raids towards Sindh took place in 662 and 664 with no results.
The armies of Islam had carried the crescent from the Hindu Kush westwards, through Asia, Africa and Southern Europe, to distant Spain and Gaul, before they obtained a foothold in Punjab. This long delay was due, not only to the daring of individual tribes, such as Sindh Rajputs, just mentioned but to the military organization of the Hindu Kingdoms.
Each of these groups of kingdoms, alike in the north and in the south, had a certain power of coherence to oppose to a foreign invader; while the large number of groups and units rendered conquest a very tedious process. For even when the overlord or central authority was vanquished, the separate units had to be defeated in detail, and each state supplied a nucleus for subsequent revolt. We have seen how the brilliant attempt in 711, to found a lasting Muhammedan dynasty in Sindh, failed. Three centuries later, the utmost efforts of two great Musalman invaders (Mahmud of Ghazni and Mohammed Ghori) from the north-west only succeeded in annexing a small portion of the frontier Punjab Province between 977 and 1176 A.D. The Hindu power in Southern India was not completely broken till the battle of Talikot in 1565; and within a hundred years, in 1650, the great Hindu revival had commenced which under the form of Maratha confederacy, was destined to break up the Mughal Empire in India. That Empire, even in the north of India, had only been consolidated by Akbar's policy of incorporating Hindu chiefs into his government(1556-1605). Up to Akbar's time, and even during the earlier years of his reign a series of Rajput wars had challenged the Muhammadan supremacy. In less than two centuries after his death, the successor of Akbar was a puppet in the hand of the Hindu marathas at Delhi.
The popular notion that India fell an easy prey to the Musalmans is opposed to the historical facts. Muhammadan rule in India consists of a series of invasions and partial conquests, during eleven centuries, from Usman's raid, circ.647, to Ahmad Shah's tempest of invasion in 1761 A.D.
At no time was Islam triumphant throughout the whole of India. Hindu dynasties always ruled over large areas. At the height of the Muhammadan power, the hindu princes paid tribute, and sent agents to the Imperial court. But even this modified supremacy of Delhi lasted for little over a century (1578-1707). Before the end of that brief period the Hindus had begun the work of reconquest. The native chivalry of Rajputana was closing in upon Delhi from the south; the religious confederation of the Sikhs was growing into a military power on the north-west. The Marathas had combined the fighting powers of the low-castes with the statesmen ship of the Brahmans, and were subjecting the Muhammadan kingdoms throughout all India to tribute. So far as can now be estimated, the advance of the English power at the beginning of the present century alone saved the Mughal Empire from passing to the Hindus.
Corroborating Hunter, Jahangir, son of Akbar, bemoans in his memoirs (Memoirs of the Emperor Jahangueir written by himself, trans. David Price, Oriental Translation Committee, London 1829: republished Calcutta 1904.):
And here I am compelled to observe, with whatever regret, that notwithstanding the frequent and sanguinary executions which have been dealt among the people of Hindustan, the number of turbulent and disaffected never seems to diminish; for what with the examples made during the reign of my father, and subsequently of my own, there is scarcely a province in the empire [there were about 14 subahs at the time] in which .... in battle ..... five and six hundred thousand human beings have not, at various periods fallen victims to this fatal disposition to discontent and turbulence. Ever and anon, in one quarter or another, will some accursed miscreant spring up to unfurl the standard of rebellion; so that in Hindustan never has there existed a period of complete repose.
This excerpt from Jahangir shows very clearly that Muslims, including Akbar, were always considered alien invaders by rajputs and other Hindus in India.

Professor Herman Kulke in his book "A History of India, ISBN: 0415154820, Publisher: Routledge; 3rd edition (March 1998)" records:
Ala-ud-din was also quite realistic when he mentioned that his order would be obeyed only upto a distance of about 100 miles from Delhi; beyond that limit military intervention was required if he wanted to impose his will on the people.
This shows that even at the height of power, Khilji barely controlled the outskirts of Delhi and rest of India was not under his control. Hunter and Kulke capture the conditions in India at the time of invasions quite well. Kulke's excerpt also explains the high density of Muslim population in capitals of Muslim rulers, like Hyderabad, Rampur, Lucknow, Delhi etc because in areas where there orders were accepted the Muslim rulers tried to convert as many Hindus as they could by sword, Jiziya or religious persecution (by breaking Hindu temples and psychologically pushing the Hindus into believing that there's was a weak God). For details on how Jiziya was used as a weapon to do conversions please scroll below and see the section on Protection of Hinduism.

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