Dr Manzur Ejaz writing for The Friday Times’ series entitled: People’s history of the Punjab
Punjab’s fate started changing in the 11th century when Abu Mansur Sebüktegin, a slave king of Ghazni, began invading Raja Jaypal’s Punjab empire which stretched from Kabul eastwards, covering most of northern India. After two inconclusive wars between Jaypal and Sebüktegin, the latter died and his son Mahmud (971-1030) ascended the throne in Ghazni. It was during Mahmud’s several incursions into the Punjab that Muslim rule was established and Lahore became the province’s capital.
Ghazni and areas around it mainly depended upon trade of various goods as well as slaves for its commerce. Renowned from Ghazni to Central Asia these slave markets dealt mainly in slaves captured in remote parts of Central Asia and Russia and later, most numerously, in India. Mahmud’s father, Sebüktegin was himself a Turk slave captured when he was 12 and sold to Alaptigin. When he grew up, his talents were recognized and he married Alaptigin’s daughter and became his general and then his successor. Ghazni and its adjoining areas needed abundant agricultural products and slaves to prosper. This was one of the main reasons why the Punjab, with its rich resources and large population of would-be-slaves, was such an attractive target for the Ghaznavids.
Legend has it that Jaypal, to uphold his honour, burned himself on a pyre after Mahmud defeated him twice (and according to some thrice). Some Hindutva historians maintain that Jaypal and his family were enslaved and taken to Ghazni but the great Raja committed suicide before he was put on the market. However, this is probably not true because after Jaypal, his son Anandpal took over the reins of the empire and continued resisting Mahmud. Eventually, Anandpal was overwhelmed and Mahmud established a government in Lahore.
Mahmud did not only overwhelm Punjab’s Hindu dynasty, he also attacked Multan’s Muslim state in the same manner. Muslim apologists who consider Mahmud a but shikan (an idol destroyer) and great preacher of Islam forget to mention his destruction of Muslim rulers in Multan and elsewhere. And hardline Islamists go further, and vigorously support his invasions because Multan was ruled by Shias and Ismailis whom they do not consider to be real Muslims. Present-day Taliban are following this same tradition.
Sultan Mahmud may have been made a grandiose Muslim icon by the later historians of the Slave Dynasty to legitimize their own rule in India. Similarly, Hindu nationalists exaggerated his killing and plundering to support their own agenda. Muslim historians claim he looted unbelievably large amounts of gold, silver and diamonds from Hindu temples (as in the alleged two hundred maunds of gold from Nagarkot mandir). Hindu nationalists take the same exaggerated numbers and give it their own spin. Muslims call Sultan Mahmud an iconoclast because of his destruction of Somnath temple while Hindus take it as the greatest insult to their religion. However, Romila Thapar, the renowned historian of antiquity, after examining Persian, Gujrati and Sanskrit texts and manuscripts from the temple itself argues that Somnath may never have been attacked by Mahmud or his attack was of little significance. It was the British House of Commons that brought it to life by demanding that the gates of Somnath be brought back from Ghazni. The funny thing is that when these gates arrived from Ghazni in India it was found that they were made in Turkey. The gates were then put in storage for white ants to feast upon!
Sultan Mahmud’s character may have been idealized or demonized by opposing ideologues but it is clear that he targeted Hindu temples that were known for hoarding wealth. Hindu temples were known as depositories of accumulated wealth because they levied high taxes on worshippers and invested heavily in trade, reaping profits from, in most cases, Arab Muslim traders who had settled in the coastal cities of India much before Mahmud was born. In addition, Mahmud’s conquest of Punjab provided multitudes of slaves for Ghazni’s slave market. These slaves were used for private pleasure and for different craft industries manufacturing for the Silk Route trade.
Mahmud’s duels with Indian rulers and elites were very interesting. High caste Hindus, ready to be co-opted or to spy for him, were left alone to stick to their own religion. Many high caste Hindus opportunistically converted to Islam: we have seen the same phenomenon of opportunism during the Muslim rule that followed and even during the Sikh Raj in the Punjab. Therefore, by and large, the same ruling elite retained power after Mahmud established his writ in the Punjab. Nonetheless, many scholars and skilled and talented people ran away towards the south. Al-Beruni, Mahmud’s chronicler wrote: “Mahmud utterly ruined the prosperity of the country …This is the reason too why Hindu sciences have retired far away from parts of the country conquered by us and have fled to places, which our hand cannot yet reach, to Kashmir, Benaras and other places.”
Al-Beruni also notes the change in gender relations after Mahmud’s conquest of the Punjab. According to his observation, Punjabi men always used to consult their wives about important matters. However, in Central Asian male chauvinistic society, women were not considered worthy of advice or consideration in important matters. After Mahmud’s occupation of Punjab, women began to lose their previous important status.
Most of all, the Hindu peasants, artisans and those belonging to lower castes bore the brunt of Mahmud’s invasions. After every conquest, most of the fighting men were killed and women and children were taken as slaves to be sold in the Ghazni market. Keeping in mind his talent for exaggeration, the famous historian Continue reading