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Tuesday, March 21, 2023

An Overview of the History of Hinduphobia: Part 1

Over the last few years, the term “Hinduphobia” has gained some traction and is increasingly being used to refer to the incidents, statements or ideologies that reek of hostility toward the Hindu religion, culture and history. The term is thus a hyponym for any and all kinds of anti-Hindu activities. It is noteworthy that the word “phobia” characterises fear, often irrational and unreasonable, of a particular thing—name, place, ideology, situation &c. And not surprisingly, the critics of Hindutva politics dismiss “Hinduphobia” as merely an invention of the “Hindu Nationalists” and a mendacious propaganda to further the “majoritarian agenda” under the garb of victimhood.

It is, quite frankly, not an uphill task to establish, once and for all, the actuality of the anti-Hindu cast of mind that has been rampant for centuries. One has only to take a glance at Katherine Mayo’s Mother India to appreciate the degree of bias against the Hindu culture. Or even Churchill’s speeches with regard to India would do. The cherry on the top is of course Churchill’s remark in private to Leo Amery, the Secretary of State: “I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion.” [1] Nevertheless, this anti-Hindu mindset is not confined to the West and is certainly not a product of mere “racism.” It is relevant to cite Queen Victoria’s letter, dated February 9, 1860, to Sir Charles Wood: “The Queen concurs in the view that honours cannot well be made hereditary amongst Hindoos and Mussulmans, but where Princes (as we may hope will be the case sometimes hereafter) have become Christians, the hereditary nature of honors should not be withheld.” [2] To give an example from medieval India, Shah Waliullah, the Islamic scholar of Delhi, wrote in a letter to the Afghan ruler Ahmad Shah Abdali: 

In this age there exists no king, apart from His Majesty [Ahmad Shah], who is a master of means and power, potent for the smashing of the unbelievers’ army, far-sighted and battle-tested. Consequently, a prime obligation upon His Majesty is to wage an Indian campaign, break the sway of the unbelieving Marathas and Jats, and rescue the weaknesses of the Muslims who are captive in the hand of the unbelievers.[3]

The fact that an Islamic scholar from Delhi invited a foreign co-religionist to subjugate his “unbeliever” (Hindu) fellow inhabitants speaks volumes about the deep-rooted Hinduphobia of the medieval times. And therefore, it becomes important to trace the historical roots of this Hinduphobia, which is precisely the purpose of this series. It will take the readers through some of the landmark events, of the last thirteen hundred years of Indian history, that are symptomatic of Hinduphobia of medieval India.

Within eight years of the death of Prophet Muhammad, Syria and Egypt were conquered by the Islamic army. The Persians too fell almost at the same time, and by the end of AD 642, the entire Persia was annexed to the Arab empire. Meanwhile, India was no stranger to the Islamic offensive. During the reign of the Umar Caliphate, India warded off at least three naval expeditions of Islamic army: at Thane, near present-day Mumbai; at Barwas (Bharuch) in present-day Gujarat; and at Debal in Sindh. The subsequent attacks on India came by land, and the kingdoms of Kabul, Zabul and Sindh were the first to bear the brunt of it. [4]

The Eighth Century Sindh

Al-Hajjaj, the Umayyad governor of Iraq, sent a couple of expeditions for the conquest of Sindh, both of which were miserable failures. In the third attempt, he sent his nephew and son-in-law Muhammad bin Qasim, laden with a mammoth army, arms and ammunition. Al-Baladhuri, the ninth-century Middle Eastern historian, described Qasim’s conquest of Debal in the following manner:

The idolaters advanced to the combat, but were put to flight; ladders were then brought and the Musulmans escaladed the wall…The town was thus taken by assault, and the carnage endured for three days. The governor of the town, appointed by Dahir, fled, and the priests of the temple were massacred. Muhammad [bin Qasim] marked out a place for the Musulmans to dwell in, built a mosque, and left four thousand Musulmans to garrison the place. [5]

The “lofty temple” of the town was converted into a prison. [6]Qasim’s army met the forces of Dahir, the Brahmin king of Sindh, in a fierce battle at Raor. Dahir was seated on an elephant, and an arrow struck him in the chest, leaving him mortally wounded. His son retreated to Brahmanabad, while the widowed queen put up a firm resistance, before immolating herself along with the other ladies to escape the fate of “infidel” women that fell into the Arab hands. The queen had assembled all the women and proclaimed:

Jaisiya [Dahir’s son] is separated from us, and Muhammad Kasim is come. God forbid that we should owe our liberty to these outcast cow-eaters! Our honour would be lost! Our respite is at an end, and there is nowhere any hope of escape; let us collect wood, cotton, and oil, for I think that we should bum ourselves and go to meet our husbands. If any wish to save herself she may.[7]

Nearly thirty thousand were taken as prisoners, of which around thirty were the daughters of the chiefs, including Dahir’s niece. Dahir’s severed head, the captured women and the “property” were subsequently sent to Hajjaj. Hajjaj, in turn, forwarded the plunder and the prisoners to Al-Walid, the Umayyad Caliph. Walid “praised Almighty God”; he sold some of the captured women, while granting the rest “as rewards.” He was particularly enchanted by the beauty of Dahir’s niece and started to “bite his finger with astonishment.” The Caliph’s nephew too desired her, and so the Caliph told him: “O my nephew! I exceedingly admire this girl, and am so enamoured of her, that I wish to keep her for myself. Nevertheless, it is better that you should take her to be the mother of your children.” [8]

Jayapala’s Defeat

The Kabul Valley came under the rule of Turk Shahis (initially non-Muslim) in the seventh century. However, in the eighth century, they were forced to convert to Islam, following the defeat at the hands of the Arabs. In the second-half of the ninth century, Kallar, a Brahmin minister of the Turk Shahi king Lagaturman, overthrew the ruler and established the Hindu Shahi. [9]

Sabuktigin, the founder of the Ghanzavid dynasty, made several expeditions into the Western boundaries of India, in the “prosecution of holy wars,” as Al-Utbi mentioned in his work on Sabuktigin. [10] Al-Utbi wrote further that

he [Sabuktigin] conquered forts upon lofty hills, in order to seize the treasures they [Hindus] contained, and expel their garrisons. He took all the property they contained into his own possession, and captured cities in Hind, which had up to that time been tenanted only by infidels, and not trodden by the camels and horses of Musulmans.[11]

Jayapala, the ruler of the Hindu Shahi (not to be confused with Jayapala of the Pala dynasty), was alarmed by the rapid expansion of the Ghanzavids and subsequently charged atSabuktigin. When Sabuktigin learnt of Jayapala’s approach, he “girt up his loins to fight, and collecting his vassals and the Muhammadan forces whose duty it was to oppose infidels, he advanced from Ghazna against Jaipal.” [12] The battle spanned over several days, but owing to the terrible weather, Jayapala decided to entreat peace. Sabuktigin would consent, but for Mahmud, son of Sabuktigin, who told Jayapala’s emissaries that he would not retreat until “he [Mahmud] should obtain a complete victory suited to his zeal for the honour of Islam and of Musulmans, and one which he was confident God would grant to his arms.” [13]Jayapala then sent the following message:

You have seen the impetuosity of the Hindus and their indifference to death, whenever any calamity befalls them, as at this moment. If, therefore, you refuse to grant peace in the hope of obtaining plunder, tribute, elephants and prisoners, then there is no alternative for us but to mount the horse of stern determination, destroy our property, take out the eyes of our elephants, cast our children into the fire, and rush on each other with sword and spear, so that all that will be left to you, is stones and dirt, dead bodies, and scattered bones.[14]

This time, Sabuktigin agreed to withdraw, in exchange for tribute. Jayapala would later defy him however, and it would set the stage for Sabuktigin’s next invasion of Hind. Al-Utbi chronicled:

The Sultan [Mahmud] therefore sharpened the sword of intention in order to make an incursion upon his [Jayapala’s] kingdom, and cleanse it from impurity and from his rejection of Islam…he went on till he arrived with his troops in the country of Hind, and he killed every one who, on the part of Jaipal, came out to oppose him. The Amir [Sabuktigin] marched out towards Lamghan, which is a city celebrated for its great strength and abounding in wealth. He conquered it and set fire to the places in its vicinity which were inhabited by infidels, and demolishing the idol-temples, he established Islam in them. He marched and captured other cities and killed the polluted wretches, destroying the idolatrous and gratifying the Musulmans. [15]

Jayapala, determined to avenge the plunder and the massacre, assembled an army of a hundred thousand; meanwhile, Sabuktigin got the intel, and he advanced toward Jayapala. Al-Utbi wrote:

…he [Sabuktigin] again advanced to fight him [Jayapala], and ascended a lofty hill from which he could see the whole army of the infidels, which resembled scattered ants and locusts, and he felt like a wolf about to attack a flock of sheep. He urged the Musulmans upon the uncircumcised infidels, and they willingly obeyed his orders.[16]

Jayapala’s army was defeated, and the Hindus fled to the nearby forests. Jayapala lost a major part of his territory, in addition to the tribute he had to pay.

The Battle of Peshawar, AD 1001

            Mahmud ascended the throne in AD 998 and resolved to “a holy war against Hind.” [17] He marched toward India “in full reliance on the aid of God.” [18] As he reached Peshawar, he received an intel that Jayapala was planning to requite his defeat. What followed, of course, was “plundering, seizing, and destroying; at all which the Hindus, being greatly alarmed, began to kindle the flame of fight.” [19] Jayapala’s army was routed. As Al-Utbi described:

Noon had not arrived when the Mussulmans had wreaked their vengeance on the infidel enemies of God, killing 15,000 of them, spreading them like a carpet over the ground, and making them food for beasts and birds of prey.[20]

Jayapal and his family, on whose faces “the fumes of infidelity are evident, who are covered with the vapours of misfortune, will be bound and carried to Hell” [21], were taken prisoners. According to Al-Utbi:

The necklace was taken off the neck of Jaipal—composed of large pearls and shining gems and rubies set in gold, of which the value was two hundred thousand dinars; and twice that value was obtained from the necks of those of his relatives who were taken prisoners, or slain, and had become the food of the mouths of hyenas and vultures. God also bestowed upon his friends such an amount of booty as was beyond all bounds and all calculation, including five hundred thousand slaves, beautiful men and women. The Sultan returned with his followers to his camp, having plundered immensely, by God’s aid, having obtained the victory, and thankful to God, the lord of the universe. For the Almighty had given them victory over a province of the country of Hind, broader and longer and more fertile than Khurasan.[22]

Mahmud ordered that Jayapala, the “polluted infidel”, be paraded so that “his [Jayapala’s] sons and chieftains might see him in that condition of shame, bonds, and disgrace; and that the fear of Islam might fly abroad through the country of the infidels.” [23] After paying tribute to Mahmud, in exchange of which Mahmud released the hostages, Jayapala immolated himself.

            Mahmud proceeded to Waihind, where he learnt about the Hindus hiding in the passes of hills and forests, contemplating an attack on him. He promptly dispatched his army against the Hindus. Al-Utbi recorded:

The army fell upon them [Hindus], and committed such slaughter that their swords were covered with blood. Those who escaped death fled away like mountain goats, having seen the swords flashing as bright as stars at noonday, and dealing black and red death around them. Thus did the infidels meet with the punishment and loss due to their deserts. The standards of the Sultan then returned happy and victorious to Ghazni, the face of IsIam was made resplendent by his exertions, the teeth of the true faith displayed themselves in their laughter, the breasts of religion expanded, and the back of idolatry was broken.[24]

Mahmud, by and by, reached the city of Bhatia, which was “as wealthy as imagination can conceive in property, armies, and military weapons.” Biji Rai, its ruler, defended the city for three days, but was defeated on the fourth. Mahmud had, on the fourth day, ordered “a general charge to be made upon the infidels. The friends of God advancing against the masters of lies and idolatry with cries of ‘God is exceeding great!’ broke their ranks, and rubbed their noses upon the ground of disgrace.” [25]Biji Rai stabbed himself in the chest, so as to avoid the dishonour of being caught alive. Interestingly, Al-Utbi proclaimed that Biji Rai “went to the fire which God has lighted for infidels and those who deny a resurrection, for those who say no prayers, hold no fasts, and tell no beads.” [26] The slaughter of the Hindus continued. Mahmud stayed at Bhatia till he “cleansed it [Bhatia] from pollution, and appointed a person there to teach those who had embraced Islam, and lead them in the right way.” [27]

            Mahmud got to know, a while later, that Nawasa Shah, a governor that Mahmud had appointed, had shed Islam and was “again apostatizing towards the pit of plural worship.” [28] In other words, Nawasa Shah had re-embraced his native faith. Mahmud could hardly tolerate it, and he “cut down the harvest ofidolatry with the sickle of his sword and spear.” [29]

Demolition of Somnath, AD 1026

In 1026, Mahmud demolished the temple of Somnath—one of the holiest sites for Hindus. Mahmud had, just as his predecessors did, a long history of demolishing the temples of the “infidels.” But this time, it was more of a challenge, a gauntlet that he had taken up, to destroy the holiest site of the “infidels.” Zakariya al-Qazwini, the Persian physician, described this event thus:

When the Sultan Yaminu-d Daula Mahmud bin Subuktigin [Mahmud Ghazni] went to wage religious war against India, he made great efforts to capture and destroy Somnat, in the hope that the Hindus would then become Muhammadans…The Indians made a desperate resistance. They would go weeping and crying for help into the temple, and then issue forth to battle and fight till all were killed. The number of the slain exceeded 50,000. [30]

Firishta, the Persian historian, narrated the demolition of Somnath with graphic details:

Having now placed guards round the walls and at the gates, Mahmood entered Somnat accompanied by his sons and a few of his nobles and principal attendants. On approaching the temple, he saw a superb edifice built of hewn stone. Its lofty roof was supported by fifty-six pillars curiously carved and set with precious stones. In the centre of the hall was Somnat, a stone idol, five yards in height, two of which were sunk in the ground. The King, approaching the image, raised his mace and struck of its nose. He ordered two pieces of the idol to be broken off and sent to Ghizny, that one might be thrown at the threshold of the public mosque, and the other at the court door of his own palace. These identical fragments are to this day to be seen at Ghizny. Two more fragments were reserved to be sent to Mecca and Medina. It is a well authenticated fact, that when Mahmood was thus employed in destroying this idol, a crowd of Bramins petitioned his attendants, and offered a quantity of gold if the King would desist from further mutilation. His officers endeavoured to entered Somnat accompanied by his sons and a few of his nobles and principal attendants. On approaching the temple, he saw a superb edifice built of hewn stone. Its lofty roof was supported by fifty-six pillars curiously carved and set with precious stones. In the centre of the hall was Somnat, a stone idol, five yards in height, two of which were sunk in the ground. The King, approaching the image, raised his mace and struck of its nose. He ordered two pieces of the idol to be broken off and sent to Ghizny, that one might be thrown at the threshold of the public mosque, and the other at the court door of his own palace. These identical fragments are to this day to be seen at Ghizny. Two more fragments were reserved to be sent to Mecca and Medina. [31]

Learning that Mahmud’s intentions were to destroy the moorti(idol), a group of Brahmins approached his officers and offered a large amount of gold if Mahmud would spare the idol from “further mutilation.” Mahmud’s officers thought it a reasonable offer and tried to persuade Mahmud. They said to him that “breaking one idol would not do away with idolatry altogether” and that “it could serve no purpose to destroy the image entirely; but that such a sum of money given in charity among true believers [Muslims] would be a meritorious act.” Mahmud, in turn, replied that “there might be reason in what they [the officers] said” but if he were to “consent to such a measure, his name would be handed down to posterity as ‘Mahmood the idol-seller,’ whereas he was desirous of being known as ‘Mahmood the destroyer.’” [32] According to Firishta’s account:

The next blow broke open the belly of Somnat, which was hollow, and discovered a quantity of diamonds, rubies, and pearls, of much greater value than the amount which the Bramins had offered.[33]

A decade earlier, Mahmud had ransacked Mathura and had demolished the grand temple. He invaded India seventeen times in total, and his campaigns involved destruction of temples, plunder of the scales that defy description, towns set to fire and a massacre of the natives. At times, he “spared” the natives and imprisoned them instead, only to be sold as slaves later. Will Durant, the celebrated American historian, noted:

…he [Mahmud] sacked another opulent city of northern India, Somnath, killed all its fifty thousand inhabitants, and dragged its wealth to Ghazni…Sometimes he spared the population of the ravaged cities, and took them home to be sold as slaves; but so great was the number of such captives that after some years no one could be found to offer more than a few shillings for a slave. Before every important engagement Mahmud knelt in prayer, and asked the blessing of God upon his arms.[34]

It is worth mentioning here that when Mahmud had donned the Khilat, the ceremonial robe of honour, sent by the Khalifa, he had vowed that “every year he would undertake a holy war against Hind.” [35]It was only the beginning of the millennium-long clash of civilisations, brimful of iconoclasm, conversions and genocides—Hinduphobia, in short.

Notes and References

  1. Alex von Tunzelmann, Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Empire, p. 79
  2. Benson and Esher, The Letters of Queen Victoria, Vol 3, p. 387
  3. Pritchett et al., Sources of Indian Traditions: Modern India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, p. 7
  4. R.C. Majumdar, ed., The History and Culture of the Indian People, Vol 3, p. 167
  5. Elliot and Dowson, The History of India as Told by its Own Historians, Vol 1, p. 120
  6. Ibid., pp. 120-121
  7. Ibid., p. 172
  8. Elliot and Dowson, op. cit., Vol 1, p. 173
  9. R.C. Majumdar, ed., op. cit., Vol 4, p. 112
  10. Elliot and Dowson, op. cit., Vol 2, p. 173
  11. Ibid., p. 19
  12. Ibid., p. 19
  13. Ibid., p. 21
  14. Ibid.
  15. Ibid., p. 22
  16. Ibid., p. 23
  17. Ibid., p. 24
  18. Ibid., p. 25
  19. Ibid., p. 25
  20. Ibid., p. 26
  21. Ibid.
  22. Ibid.
  23. Ibid., p. 27
  24. Ibid., p. 28
  25. Ibid., p. 29
  26. Ibid., p. 30
  27. Ibid., p. 30
  28. Ibid., p. 33
  29. Ibid., p. 33
  30. Ibid., Vol 1, p. 98
  31. John Briggs, History of the Rise of the Mahomedan Power in India till the Year A.D. 1612, Vol 1, pp. 71-72
  32. Ibid., p. 72
  33. Ibid., p. 73
  34. Will Durant, The Story of Civilization, Vol 1, p. 460
  35. Elliot and Dowson, op. cit., Vol 2, p. 24

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