Categories Medieval India

West and Central Asia between the 10th and 12th centuries, Turkish advance towards India,The Ghurian invasions

West and Central Asia between the 10th and 12th centuries, Turkish advance towards India,The Ghurian invasions

  • West and Central Asia are connected to India geographically across mountain barriers which demarcate India from Central and West Asia but do not pose an insurmountable barrier, like the Himalayas to the north. In consequence, nomadic and semi-nomadic hordes have constantly tried to enter India through these mountain passes, attracted by :
  1. India’s well watered plains with fertile soil
  2. its rich flourishing cities and ports
  3. its fabulous wealth generated by the hard working peasants and skillful artisans, and experienced traders and financers.


  • The rise of Islam, its conquest of West Asia and Iran, and its slow expansion into Khurasan (north east of Persia and covering also parts of Central Asia and Afganistan) and Central Asia, particularly the fertile tract called Transoxiana or Mawara-un-Nahar (“transitional zone” between Central Asia and the lands of ancient civilizations in East Asia i.e. between the rivers Oxus and Syr Darya) led to a gradual contraction of India’s cultural and political influence in the area, which was largely Buddhist and effected India’s over-land trade with China and West Asia ,trade from the sea-ports.
Observe places like Bamiyan, Samarqand, Bukhara, Herat, Kandhar, Ghazni, Nishapur.
  • However, the rise of Arab sea traders revived India’s sea trade, both with West Asia and with the countries of south-east Asia and China.
  • Indian traders were not displaced from this sea trade, or did not keep themselves away on account the sentiment in some quarters that travel across the salt-seas or beyond the areas where the munj grass grew would lead to the loss of one’s caste. Thus, Indian traders lived in the areas around the Persian Gulf and beyond, and of Indian Vaids and craftsmen being welcomed at the court of the Abbasid Caliph at Baghdad. Arab traders settled down in Malabar. The Rashtrakuta rulers who dominated western India, Malwa and parts of south India upto the 10th century welcomed the Arab traders, and even permitted them to build mosques for worship.
  • The Abbasid empire, which reached its zenith in the 9th century, comprised at its height the areas from Constantinople and Egypt to Central Asia and the Arabian peninsula. From the end of the 9th century when the Abbasid empire disintegrated, and a series of aggressive, expansionist states arose. These states were independent in all but name, but they accepted the nominal suzerainty of the Caliph who legitimized their position by granting them a formal letter or manshur. In course of time, the rulers of these states began to be called Sultans. Most of these sultans were Turks. The Turks who were nomads and lived in areas now known as Mongolistan and Sinkiang had, since the 8th century, been infiltrating into the region called Transoxiana.
  • The Iranian rulers of the area, and the Abbasid Caliphs, brought in the Turks as mercenaries and slaves, and recruited them as palace guards Turkish immigrants became Islamized and Persianised. They assimilated the Iranian language and culture which was dominant in the region. Even earlier, both Arabic and Persian had been the languages of the ruling classes, and Persian culture and administrative practices had influenced the Abbasids. Turks fought the Turkish tribes which had not converted, and later expanded into India. 
  • Dynasties after the fall of the Abbasids Samanid dynasty (874-999) ,Ghaznavids (962-1186), Seljukids, Khwarizmi.
  • The Khwarizmi empire was destroyed by the Mongol, Chengiz Khan, in the 13th century. These empires fought each other, as also smaller potentates in the region whom they tried to subordinate. 
  • In the fierce battle for survival in West and Central Asia, military, efficiency was considered the most valuable asset. This led to the growth of a militarism which spelt immediate danger to India and its outlying areas—Zabulistan and Afghanistan which till, then, had not been converted to Islam.

The aggression of the newly Islamized Turks was added to by a number of factors:

  1. Finest horses in the world in the steppes of Central Asia bred by the Turks who were considered hardy warriors and skillful horsemen. These horses were imported into Arabia and India from time immemorial. Horses bred in India could not match the Central Asia horses in swiftness, nor could the Indians match the Turkish horsemen in their skill and speed of maneuver. Developments in West and Central Asia limited the import of these horses into India
  2. The mountains around Ghur were rich in metals, particularly iron, and there was a tradition of production of war materials.
  3. Growth of the ‘ghazi’ spirit in West Asia at that time. Iranian rule in Transoxiana and its neighbouring areas was being gradually replaced by Turks, including the nomadic Turks who were called Turkmen. Iranian and Turkish Muslim rulers of the area had to face the continuous pressure of the nomadic, non-Muslim Turkmens, such as the Guzz and other tribes. Turkish rulers were making continuous raids into the Turkmen held Central Asian steppes for capturing slaves who were in high demand in the slave-markets of Samarqand and Bokhara. The responsibility of this defensive-offensive warfare devolved in part on the volunteers who were fired by the spirit of defending and spreading Islam. These volunteers were not paid regularly, and made up for their pay by plunder. These were the ‘ghazis’. The ghazi spirit which was first used for fighting against the non-Islamic Turks was later used against the “unbelievers” in India. Amongst the figures most closely associated with this movement, the first was Mahmud Ghazni.
  4. Some institutional factors helped in the growth of Turkish military power in Khurasan and Iran like “iqta” system. The iqta was a territorial assignment which gave to the holder the right to collect from the peasants the land revenue and other taxes due to the state. It did not, however, imply the holder interfering with the existing land rights, or granting them any rights over the person, wealth, wives and children of the cultivators. In return, the holder was under the obligation of maintaining a fixed number of troops, and to furnish them to the sultan at his call. This institution suited the Turkish sultans because it implied that the existing rights of the Iranian land holders, called dehkans, would not be interfered with. Nor would the Turkish military leaders develop any hereditary rights in land, but would be completely dependent on the sultan. It was this highly mobile military force, dependent for its sustenance upon the backing and support of the ruler, which became the main instrument for further expansion of Muslim power.
The Turkish advance towards India: The Hindushahis
  • It was only a question of time before these hardy, highly mobile, centralized predatory forces turned their attention towards rich India. In 963  the commander of the Samanid rulers in Khurasan, marched to Ghazni in south Zabulistan, and set himself up as an independent ruler. The Hindu ruler (Shahi) of Afghanistan, who are called Hindu-Shahis, tried to meet this emerging threat on their border by allying themselves with the former Samanid Governor of Ghazni, with the Bhatti rulers who dominated the area near Multan, as also with the Muslim amir of Multan across the Bolan pass. These rulers were willing to join Jayapal, the Hindu Shahi ruler, because they had been harassed by slave raids into their territories by the rulers of Ghazni. However, Jayapal’s invasion of Ghazni failed, and suffered a decisive defeat.
  • The 17th century historian, Ferishta, tells us that Jayapal was assisted in this battle by the Rajput rulers of Delhi, Ajmer, Kalinjar, and Kannauj. However, modern historians are doubtful of the veracity of this statement because it is not mentioned by any contemporary historian. Nor was Delhi an important state at that time. Ajmer had not been founded, and the rulers of Kannauj were in decline. Thus, Ferishta’s account was to exaggerate the scale of the Ghazanavid victory.
  • Following the battle, the provinces of Kabul and Jalalabad were annexed to Ghazni. By the end of the 10th century, the outer bastions of India, Zabulistan and Afghanistan, had been lost. An invasion of proper India was, therefore, the next likely step. In preparation for such an invasion the Yamini rulers of Ghazni had improved the road communications from Ghazni to Kabul and Jalalabad.
  • Meanwhile, Jayapala had tried to make up for the loss of territory in the west by extending his kingdom towards the east. In 999, Lahore was annexed to the Shahi kingdom which now extended from Peshawar to the river Beas.
  • In 999, Mahmud ascended the throne at Ghazni, and vowed to conduct operations in India every year. In 1001 he marched against the Shahis. In a furious battle which was fought near Peshawar, Mahmud’s forces consisted a large corps of ‘ghazis’, and Afghans. Jayapala was defeated and Mahmud advanced to Shahi capital Waihind (Udbhanda or Peshawar).Jayapala felt his defeat to be a great humiliation, and entered the funeral pyre a few years later. He was succeeded by his son, Anandpala.
  • Despite this set back, the Shahis were strong enough to pose a serious obstacle to Mahmud’s further advance into India. In a hard fought battle in 1006 near the Indus, Mahmud conquered the upper Indus region. This gave him access to the Punjab.Over-running Nandana in the Salt Ranges (to which the Shahis had shifted their capital from Waihind (Peshawar), after their earlier defeat), captured fort of Bhimnagar or Nagarkot (to be distinguished from Nagarkot in Kangra). For some time, Anandapal was allowed to rule over the Punjab as a feudatory. But in 1015, Mahmud advanced upto Lahore and plundered it. Soon the Ghaznavid empire extended upto the river Jhelum. Multan was also overrun. An attempt to conquer Kashmir in 1015 failed, due largely to inclement weather. (first defeat of Mahmud in India).
  • Thus, the period from 990-91 to 1015 was a period of protracted struggle during which Afghanistan, and then Punjab and Multan were lost to the Ghaznavids. The way was now open for Turkish advance into the Gangetic plains.

Origin of Rajputs and Rajput Kingdoms in North India (10th—12th centuries) and the Ghaznavids

Origin of Rajputs

  1. Theory of Kshatriya origin of the Rajputs: The Rajputs trace their origin to the legendary Solar and Lunar dynasties. Some of them claim to be lineal descendants of the Kshatriyas of Vedic fame. The word Rajaputra is mentioned in the Puranas. The term `Rajput’ seems to have been derived from the Sanskrit word Rajaputra. Bana uses the term to denote a high-born Kshatriya. These points lead to the conclusion that the term Rajaputra or Rajput was known in early times. But this tradition is rejected on historical ground.
  2. Theory of foreign origin of the Rajputs: Modern view is that noble rajput sects are descended from the Sakas, Huns, Kushanas and the Gurjaras or other foreigners , who became hinduized. The absorption of foreigners in hindu society was not a novel phenomenon when rajputs emerged from obscurity. Sakas entered into matrimonial relations with hindus. For instance, a satvahana prince married a Rudradaman’s daughter. Again, Huns, Gurjaras and others poured into India during 5th and 6th centuries.
  3. The position of these foreigners in social structure was determined by their occupation. Those families who carved out principalities for themselves were called Kshatriyas or rajputs.
  4. Change of occupation led to change of caste. For ex: Guhilots of Mewar were originally Brahmins but became rajputs when they gained political power and obtained kshatriya wives.
  5. Foreign origin of some rajput clans are proved by epigraphic evidence. Gurjara-Pratihara sprung from Gurjara lineage.
  6. Theory of Agnikula origin: Late legends, like the poet Chand Bardai in his poetical work `Prithviraj Raso’ has recorded a legend that the Rajputs of Parmar, Chauhan, Pratihara and Chalukya (or Solanki) clans sprang from Vasishta’s sacrificial fire pit at Mount Abu. This was probably a hint at purificatory rites performed for removing the impurity of foreigners and absorbing them in hinduism. (
  7. Some rajputs are descended from the aboriginal of India. Chandellas were hinduised gonds.
  8. The diversity of the cults and beliefs among rajputs indicates diversity of origin. For ex those devoted to worship of sun may be of foreign origin and those worshiping Naga (serpent) as aboriginals.

Political condition of North India

  • The middle of the 10th century saw the decay of two of the most powerful Rajput states which had dominated north and central India during the two preceding centuries (Gurjar-Pratihar, capital at Kannauj, and the Rashtrakuta empire, capital at Manyakhet). After death of Harsha and before Muslim invasion, India was not politically united.
  • In the meantime, a number of kingdoms rose up, the Chandels of Kalinjar and Mahoba, the Chauhans of Sakambhari in Rajasthan, the Paramars of Malwa, and the Chalukyas of Gujarat. These had many feudatories which some times helped their overlords, but more often conspired to be independent.
  • Kashmir was under the powerful queen, Didda. [Didda was ruler of Kashmir from 958 AD to 1003 AD, first as a Regent for her son and various grandsons, and thereafter as sole ruler in her own right. Most knowledge relating to her is obtained from the Rajatarangini, a work written by Kalhana in the twelfth century. Didda was a daughter of Simharaja, the king of Lohara. Lohara lay in the Pir Panjal range of mountains. She married the king of Kashmir, Ksemagupta, thus uniting the kingdom of Lohara with that of her husband. Even prior to becoming Regent Didda had considerable influence in state affairs, and coins have been found which appear to show both her name and that of Ksemagupta. With Rudrama Devi of the Kakatiya dynasty, she is one of the very few queens in Indian history. After death of Kshemgupta and succession by his son, Abhimanyu II, her first task was to rid herself of troublesome ministers and nobles, whom she drove from office only to have them rebel against her. The situation was tense and she came close to losing control, but having asserted her position with support from others, including some whom she bribed, Didda displayed a ruthlessness in executing not only the rebels who had been captured but also their families. The statesmanlike instinct and political ability which we must ascribe to Didda in spite of all the defects of her character, are attested by the fact that she remained to the last in peaceful possession of the Kashmir throne, and was able to bequeath it to her family in undisputed possession.]
  • Didda had an old standing rivalry with the Shahis and hence forbore to give them any help in their struggle with Mahmud. Nor did any of the other Rajput rajas help Anandpal in his struggle against Mahmud, despite Ferishta’s statement to the contrary.

Expeditions of Mahmud Ghazni

  • After over-running the Punjab, Mahmud undertook three expeditions into the Ganga Valley. The purpose of these raids was to acquire wealth for his Central Asian campaigns, as also to destabilize the states in the area so that no coalition of powers against him could emerge.
  • Towards the end of 1015, Mahmud, aided by feudatory rulers, crossed the Yamuna and defeated a local Rajput ruler at Baran (Bulandshahr) in modern western U.P. Moving towards the pilgrim centre, Mathura, he was opposed by the Kalachuri ruler Kokkala II, who was defeated due slow moving forces by rapidly moving cavalry forces. After plundering Mathura and Vrindavan, Mahmud moved toward Kannauj, the capital of the Pratihara (who fled) and sacked it. Then Mahmud returned to Ghazni. This was the most spectacular and profitable forage into the Ganga valley made by Mahmud. He had by now also triumphed over his Turkish enemies in Central Asia, and extended his control over Iran. The Khalifa at Baghdad received his envoy, bearing tidings of his Indian victories, with marks of special honour.
  • The next two invasions of the Ganga valley by Mahmud, in 1019 and 1021, did not lead to any special gains.
  • At the instance of the powerful Chandela ruler of Bundelkhand, the Pratihara ruler of Kannauj had been displaced for his failure to resist Mahmud. (
  • The Rajput ruler of Gwaliyar had joined, and help been provided to Trilochanpala, the displaced Shahi ruler of Punjab. Moving rapidly, Mahmud defeated the Shahi ruler Trilochandpal, and the Chandel protege at Kannauj, also named Trilochandpal. He then turned against the Chandel ruler, Vidyadhara. Despite skirmishes, no decisive engagement took place. In 1021 , Mahmud again over-run Gwaliyar, but an engagement with the Chandel ruler near Kalinjar was avoided.
  • These expeditions did not lead to the expansion of Mahmud Ghazni’s territories beyond the Punjab, but they did succeed in making the upper part of the Ganga doab as a kind of a neutral territory in which no powerful king could establish himself. The expeditions also ended, once for all, the attempt of the Shahis to recover their lost dominions.In 1025 Mahmud plundered across Rajasthan to Somnath.

Mahmud Ghazni

  • Mahmud Ghazni was a bold warrior and leader, who almost singly carved out one of the biggest empires in West and Central Asia. With the riches plundered from India he adorned his capital, Ghazni, with magnificent buildings. He also gave patronage to literary men and poets, such as Firdausi, and carried forward the Persian renaissance which had begun with the Samanids. But he built no lasting institutions which could outlive him. Moreover, his rule outside Ghazni was tyrannical. He levied heavy tax in Khurasan.
  • Mahmud is remembered in India as a plunderer, and did not earn a good name for himself even outside India among his contemporaries.

After death of Ghazni

  • The period of 150 years between the death of Mahmud Ghazni in 1030 to the beginning of Ghurid Invasion ,there was constant internecine warfare between the various Rajput principalities of the region, without any one of them emerging as a dominant power.
  • Following the raids of Mahmud on Kannauj, the Pratihar power had collapsed, with the rise of small feudatories.
  • Towards the end of the 11th century that a new dynasty, the Gahadvalas (seat of power was the Varanasi area), rose to power in the doab, constantly fought with the Palas of Bengal, and the Tomars of Delhi.
  • Another dynasty, the Chahman or Chauhan arose in Rajasthan who constantly fought with the Chaulkyas of Gujarat, and with the Paramaras of Malwa.
  • Another powerful dynasty was the Chandelas of Khajuraho whose rivals were both the Paramaras of Malwa and the Gahadvalas of Kashi.
  • Although the Gahadvalas over-ran Kannauj and also established their over-lordship over Delhi, the Rajput states, individually or as a group, were unable or unwilling to join hands to expel the Ghaznavids from the Punjab, despite the rapid decline of Ghaznavid power in West and Central Asia following the death of Mahmud. On the other hand, the successors of Mahmud were able to continue making debilitating raids into the doab as far as Varanasi. In consequence, the flow of bullion continued to keep the economy of the Ghaznavid empire buoyant. Despite these plundering raids, the Ghaznavids were in no position to expand their territories in India. (
  • The south was also divided in small kingdoms like the Cholas, Cheras, Pallavas, Chalukyas, Pandyas etc.
  • This process began with another turn in West and Central Asia politics, and the rise of the Ghurids.

The Rise of Ghurids and their advance into India:

Rise of Ghurids

  • The rise to power of the Ghurids at Ghur, a small isolated area located in the mountain between the Ghaznavid empire and the Seljukids, was an unusual and unexpected development. The area was so remote that till the 11th century, it had remained a pagan enclave surrounded by Muslim principalities. It was converted to Islam in the early part of the 12th century after Mahmud raided it, and left teachers to instruct the Ghurids in the precepts of Islam. Even then it is believed that paganism (a variety of Mahayana Buddhism) persisted in the area till the end of the century.
  • The Shansbanis (originally a family of petty chiefs among many in Ghur) played a principal part in firmly planting Islam in the area, and by a policy of ruthlessness made themselves supreme there. By the middle of the 12th century they felt strong enough to intervene in Herat when its Governor rebelled against the Seljukid ruler.
  • The Ghaznavids felt threatened and Bahram Shah captured the brother of the Ghurid ruler, Alauddin Husain Shah, and had him poisoned. In retaliation, Alauddin defeated Bahram Shah and captured Ghazni. The city was turned over to plundering and destruction, with some of the finest buildings being razed to the ground. This earned for Alauddin Husain Shah the title of Jahan soz or “world burner”, and marked the final decline of the Ghaznavids and the emergence of Ghur as the strongest power. The Ghurids were no longer content to be tributaries of the Seljukids, but assumed like them the title of al-sultan al-muazzam.
  • Like their predecessors, the Ghurids constantly fought with the Seljukids for control of the prosperous areas of Khurasan and Merv. Like Ghaznavids, the Ghurids too were unpopular in Khurasan on account of their financial levies, and found it difficult to maintain their authority there. This, and the perpetual conflict with the Seljukids and the Turkish tribes across the Oxus were factors which impelled the Ghurids towards India.
  • In 1163, Ghiyasuddin Muhammad assumed the throne of Ghur. Recalling a Turkish tribal tradition, he appointed his younger brother, Muizzuddin Muhammad, ruler at Ghazna. This enabled Muizzuddin, to engage all his energies for the conquest of India, and Ghiyasuddin to concentrate on Central and West Asian problems.

Political situation in North India

  • Meanwhile, in north India, the Chauhans were trying to expand towards Gujarat and also towards Delhi and Mathura. As such, they had to bear the brunt of the plundering raids of Mahmud Ghazni’s successors. The greatest of the Chauhan rulers was, perhaps, Vigraharaj who captured Chittor. It seems that he captured Delhi from the Tomar rulers in 1151, and extended his sway upto the Siwalik, However, the Tomars were allowed to continue to rule as feudatories.
  • The reign of Vigrahraj Chauhan is known as the golden era of of Sapadalaksh. He is also known as Bisaldev and Kavi (Poet) Bandhav. He was a patron of poets and scholars, and himself wrote a Sanskrit drama like Harkeli. His Courtier Somdev wrote Lalit Vigrahraj (Play). He also built many magnificent temples, including a Sanskrit College at Ajmer, (where probably Kutub ud din Aibak constructed Dhai din ka Jhopda. ) and the Anasagar lake there.
  • The most famous Chauhan ruler was Prithviraj III who ascended the throne at Ajmer at the age of eleven, in 1177. He took the reigns of administration in his hands at the age of 16, and immediately commenced a vigorous policy of expansionism at the cost of smaller states in Rajasthan. The most famous expedition, however, was the one against the Chandelas of Khajuraho and Mahoba. Chandelas constituted the most powerful state in the region, and which had a history of resistance against the Ghaznavids. The fight in which the famous warriors, Alha and Udal, died fighting to save Mahoba has been immortalised in the Hindi epics, Prithviraj-raso and Alha-Khanda. (
  • Prithviraj gained a significant victory against the Chandelas acquiring considerable booty but no extra territory.
  • Between 1182 and 1187, Prithviraj turned his attention towards his ancient rivals, the Chaulukyas of Gujarat. The Gujarat ruler, Bhima II, who had earlier beaten off the Ghurid ruler, Muizzuddin, defeated Prithviraj also.
  • This forced Prithviraj to turn his attention towards the Ganga Valley and the Punjab. This led to tussle between him and the Gahadvalas of Kannauj, who had the most extensive kingdom in the area. (Prithviraj’s abduction of Sanyogita, the daughter of the Gahadvalas ruler, Jai Chand, at her svayamvara and Jai Chand’s subsequent defeat in battle).
  • By leading expeditions against all his neighbours, Prithviraj had isolated himself politically. This cost him dear when he had to face the Turkish armies of Muizzuddin Muhammad later.

Muizzuddin’s early expeditions against India

  • Muizzuddin’s first expedition against India was launched in 1175 when he attacked and captured Multan which was under the Karamatis whose religious ideas formed a half-way house between Islam and Buddhism. The following year Muizzuddin captured Uchch.
  • In 1178-79, he marched through Multan and Uchch to Neharwala in Gujarat. However, the Gujarat ruler inflicted a crushing defeat on Muizzuddin near Mt. Abu. The Chaulukyas had requested Prithviraj for help. However, his ministers declined to help, considering both the Gnurids and the Chaulukyas to be enemies of the Chauhans. Since Prithviraj was barely twelve at the time, he can hardly be blamed for the decision.
  • After the failure of his Gujarat expedition, Muizzuddin changed his whole plan of operations. Conquering Peshawar from the Ghaznavids in 1179-80, he marched on Lahore in 1181. The Ghaznavid ruler, Khusrau Malik, surrendered. He was allowed to rule at Lahore while Muizzuddin continuously expanded his control over the Punjab, including Sialkot, and also consolidated his control over Sindh upto the coast. Finally, in 1186, Muizzuddin removed the Ghaznavid ruler.
  • The stage was now set for the conflict between the Gurids and the Rajput rulers of north India.

The first battle of Tarain ,1191

  • After consolidating his position in Sindh and Punjab, in 1191 Muizzuddin attacked and captured the fortress of Tabarhinda which was strategically important for the defence of Delhi. Realising its importance, and without giving the Turks time to consolidate, Prithviraj immediately marched towards Tabarhinda. In the battle, Prithviraj attained a complete victory, Muizzuddin being saved by a Khalji horseman.
  • After his victory, Prithviraj did not try to pursue the dispirited Ghurid army, either because he did not want to venture into hostile territory far away from his base, or because he thought that, like the Ghazanavids, the Ghurids, too, would be satisfied to rule over the Punjab. Thus, he treated the siege of Tabarhinda only as a frontier fight and was satisfied with capturing it. After his victory he made little preparations for a future contest with the Ghurid chief. The Prithviraj Raso accuses Prithviraj of neglecting the affairs of the state.

The second battle of Tarain,1192

  • 1192 is regarded rightly as one of the turning points in Indian history. Muizzuddin had made careful preparations for the contest, disgracing many amirs who had not stood firm in the field of battle earlier. According to the information of the contemporary chronicler, Minhaj Siraj, the army of Muizzuddin had 120,000 men fully equipped with steel coats and armour. The seventeenth century historian, Ferishta, places Prithviraj’s forces at 3,000 elephants, 300,000 horsemen, and considerable infantry. These figures appear to be grossly exaggerated. However, we may conclude that the forces fielded by Prithviraj were larger.
  • Ferishta also states that on an appeal from Prithviraj, all the leading ‘Rais of Hind’ joined his banners. But its not correct as Prithviraj had alienated all his powerful neighbours by his militaristic policies. Nor does Ferishta name any of the prominent Rais. Perhaps, Prithviraj’s forces included many of his feudatories including Govindraj, the ruler of Delhi. This was a source of weakness rather than strength because these feudal levies lacked any central direction or leadership, unlike the armies of Muizzuddin.(
  • The battle of Tarain was more a war of movement than of position. The lightly armed mounted archers of Muizzuddin kept harassing the slow moving forces of Prithviraj, and attacked from all sides when they had created confusion in his ranks. Prithviraj suffered a complete defeat and fled, but he was pursued and caught near Sarsuti or modern Sirsa in Hissar district. The historian Minhaj Siraj says that he was executed immediately. But according to another contemporary writer, Hasan Nizami, he was taken to Ajmer and allowed to rule. This is supported by numismatic evidence, showing coins of Prithviraj, with the words Sri Muhammad Sam’ on the reverse. He rebelled after sometime, and was executed. His son succeeded him, and continued to rule for sometime as a feudatory.
  • Prithviraj is remembered as a great fighter and as a patron of poets and pandits. As a general, he had many victories to his credit. But his conduct on the battle field in the second battle of Tarain is a blot on his generalship as well as statesmanship.

Turkish Expansion into the Upper Ganga Valley

  • After the victory at Tarain the entire Chauhan dominion lay at the feet of the Ghurids. However, Muizzuddin adopted a cautious policy. He annexed the whole Siwalik territory, i.e. the area up to Ajmer, and Hissar and Sirsa in modern Haryana. He placed Hissar and Sirsa under his trusted slave, Qutubuddin Aibak. Govindraj, the Tomar chief of Delhi, had died in the battle at Tarain. His son was, however, installed at Delhi as a vassal. Prithviraj was reinstated at Ajmer. Muizzuddin then returned to Ghazni.
  • If the Turks were to expand into the upper Ganga valley, Delhi was too strategic to be left in alien hands. Rebellions both at Ajmer and Delhi decided the issue. To quell the rebellions in Ajmer against the son of Prithviraj who had accepted Turkish vassalage, Aibak pressed on to Delhi in 1192, and occupied it. Delhi now became the main base of Turkish operations in India.
  • Ajmer was also occupied after defeating Hari Raj, the brother of Prithviraj, who had been leading the Rajput resistance. A Turkish governor was now placed in charge of Ajmer. Govind, the son of Prithviraj, was displaced and forced to move to Ranthambhor.

Battle of Chandawar,1194

  • Having consolidated their position in the Delhi region, the Turks were now poised for attack on the Gahadvalas of Kannauj, reputed to be the most powerful kingdom in the country. In 1194, Muizzuddin returned to India. The areas of Meerut, Baran (modern Buland-shahr) and Koil (modern Aligarh) in the upper doab which had been under the control of the Dor Rajputs, had been occupied by the Turks shortly after the battle of Tarain. Although the Dors had offered stiff resistance, and the area had great strategic value, Jai Chand, the Gahadvala ruler, had not come to their help. Earlier, in a false sense of security, he had rejoiced at the defeat of Prithviraj at the hands of Muizzuddin.
  • In 1194, Muizzuddin advanced towards Kannauj and Banaras. The battle was fought at Chandawar in the modern Etawah district. Jai Chand suffered a disastrous defeat. The fort of Asni (Fathehpur district) which contained the Gahadavala treasure-house was plundered. Varanasi, which was the early capital of the Gahadavalas, was also plundered, and temples destroyed. Kannauj was finally captured in 1198.
  • The battles of Tarain and Chandawar laid the foundations of Turkish rule in the Ganga valley. There was no large scale resistance in the area to Turkish rule. However, it took the Turks another fifty years to consolidate their hold over the area. To protect their southern and western flanks, as also to provide future bases of operations, the Turks tried to conquer the strategic forts between Delhi and Malwa. Thus, in 1195-96, Muizzuddin occupied Bayana fort (In Bharatpur district of Rajasthan). Gwaliyar, which was a most powerful fort, was captured after long siege.
  • A little later, Kalinjar, Mahoba and Khajuraho were wrested from the Chandel rulers of Bundelkhand who were the most powerful rulers of the area after the Gahadvalas.
  • Efforts at expansion beyond the upper Ganga valley and eastern Rajasthan were made in two directions—Gujarat in the west, and Bihar and Bengal in the east. In the west, Muizzuddin’s slave invaded Anhilwara in Gujarat, the Rai was defeated and Anhilwara occupied, but the Turks could not hold it for long. This showed the limits of Turkish power in India—they were still not strong enough to keep hold of places far away from their base of operations, Delhi.(
  • The conquest of Bihar and Bengal by Muhammad-bin-Bakhtiyar Khalji was more successful.
  • Muizzuddin suffered a sharp reversal in 1204 when he was defeated in west Asia and lost control of Merv and most of Khurasan. Rumours of Muizzuddin’s death led to a rebellion by the Khokhars in the Punjab. Muizzuddin marched to India to suppress it. On his way from the Punjab, Muizzuddin was killed on the banks of the river Indus (1206) by a band of Karamatias which were a fanatical sect which had absorbed many features of Hindu/Buddhist beliefs and which Muizzuddin had persecuted in his life time.

Comarison between Muizzuddin Muhammad bin Sam and Mahmud Ghazni:

  • It has been argued that Mahmud Ghazni was a better general than Muizzuddin because, unlike the latter, he never suffered a military defeat. However, the fact that Muizzuddin could recover and take lessons from his defeats, and change his entire approach showed both a dogged tenacity of purpose and a grim sense of political realism. Thus, after his defeat at Anhilwara in Gujarat, he changed his entire approach towards India, shifting the axis of attack from Rajasthan to the Punjab. The speed and skill with which he recovered from his defeat at the hands of Prithviraj in the first battle of Tarain showed his mettle.
  • Both used religion for their essentially secular purposes, when it suited them to do so.
  • For both, the wealth gathered from India was important for furthering their Central and West Asian ambitions.
  • It was Mahmud who breached the outer defences of India and provided a secure base for future Turkish expansion into India. Thus, Mahmud laid the foundations on which Muizzuddin built. However, both worked in completely different circumstances.
  • Both enriched their capitals with fine buildings, and patronised poets and learned men.
  • Both were unpopular in Khurasan for their financial rapacity and exactions.
  • Muizzuddin had no time to form any new administrative system in India. Perhaps, he made little change in the existing administrative system, leaving his commanders to levy tribute or taxes through the existing channels as best as they could.

Causes of the defeat of the Rajputs:

  • The causes of the defeat of the Rajputs and the success of the Turks should not be seen merely in the context of the events following the succession of Muizzuddin bin Sam at Ghazni in 1173, or his first entry into the north western parts of India (Peshawar) in 1181. The success of Muizzuddin was “the consumption of a process which extended over the whole of the 12th century”. In fact, the reconnoitering activities to obtain a foot-hold in Hindustan outside Sindh had begun at least a century earlier, with the rise of Mahmud Ghazni.
  • The conquest of Afghanistan and the Punjab by Mahmud Ghazni breached the outer defences of India.
  • Rajput states of the area showed a singular lack of understanding or strategic insight. Thus, no effort was made by them to join together to oust the Ghaznavids from the Punjab even after the death of Mahmud, when the outbreak of internal struggles among his successors led to the loss of their control over most of West and Central Asian territories.
  • On the other hand, even in their weakened conditions, the successors of Mahmud remained tactically on the offensive, raiding Indian territories in Rajasthan upto Ajmer and beyond, and the Gangetic areas upto Kannauj and Varanasi. All the credit that the Rajput rajas of the period could take was their success in repelling the raids of hammira (Amir) (An inscription of Prithviraj records the fortification of Hansi to check progress of Hammira who had become “the cause of anxiety to the world.”)
  • This lack of strategic consciousness may be explained by lack of political unity, or by the absence of a dominant power in northwest India.In terms of size and resources, many of the Rajput principalities of the time were superior, both in terms of population and revenue resources, to almost any of the successor states which arose in West and Central Asia after the downfall of the Abbasid empire.(
  • Except a few fertile regions such as Khurasan, Transoxiana, Khwarizm, much of the terrain in the region was mountainous or arid and inhospitable.Moreover, it had been thoroughly plundered for long by the Ghuzz tribes across the Oxus. On the other hand, the tracts under the control of the Rajputs, outside Rajasthan and Bundelkhand, were very fertile and productive.
  • In terms of human resources or population, too, the Rajput-held areas were in an advantageous position. Thus, it would be misleading to think that on account of the working of the inequitous caste system, the Rajput rajas were not able to find sufficient soldiers to man their armies. Rajput armies consisted not only of Rajputs. Warrior groups such as the Jats, Meenas or groups called “kuvarna” (lower castes) in later sources, were not excluded from the armed forces of the Rajputs.
  • Nor was the defeat of the Rajputs due to their lack of a martial spirit, courage or bravery as compared to the Turks. War was a sport for the Rajputs, and their prolonged resistance to Turkish inroads, as compared to the easy defeat of another ancient civilization.
  • Nor is there any reason to think that the Turks had weapons which were superior to those of the Rajputs. Turks used iron-stirrups which enabled them to use spears without the rider being thrown off the horse as a result of the impact. However, the use of the iron-stirrup which is supposed to have come for China or Korea, was spreading in India from the 8th century.
  • The Central Asian horses were superior to those born or bred in India. Since ancient times, there had been a lively trade in horses, both by sea and land, between India and the countries of West and Central Asia. The trade in horses had not stopped with the rise of Islam. In fact, colonies of Muslim horse-traders had existed in distinct places in north India during the 12th century. That is why, Muhammad bin Bakhtiyar Khalji was able to proceed all the way upto Purnea, pretending to be a horse-trader, before he attacked the Sena ruler, Lakshman Sena.

The question arises, what then were the factors responsible for the defeat of the Rajputs and the victory of the Turks?

  • Rajput forces were inferior in terms of organisation and leadership. They did not have a unified command, being brought to the field and led by their own feudatory rulers. It was difficult to manoeuvre such hetrogenous forces.
  • Moreover, the Rajputs gave greater weight to men than to mobility. The Turkish warriors were used to quick movements, of rapid advance and retreat, and of shooting arrows while mounted. The Rajput forces tended to be a heavy, slow moving mass, centred on their elephants. They were beaten by swift cavalry forces which attacked their flanks and rear. While elephants themselves were not a source of weakness, what mattered was how they were used. They provided stability, and were most effective when combined with skilled and highly mobile cavalry.
  • The Turks were the most skillful horsemen in the world. Also, they were used to manoeuvre together because the Turkish sultans were accustomed to maintaining large standing armies. The troops were either paid in cash, or by means of the iqta system.
  • Many of the Turkish commanders were slaves who had been brought up by the sultans and trained for warfare. This was specially so among the Muizzi sultans of Ghur. Slavery provided the Turkish sultans with a body of commanders who were totally loyal.
  • There was a sharp decline in the number of soldiers in the standing armies maintained by individual Rajput rulers due to the growth of “feudalism”, or a process by which administrative authority, including the collection of land-revenue and maintenance of the army, was delegated more and more to a body of hereditary land-holders, called samanta. These samantas were difficult to control, and were always eager to set themselves up as independent rulers whenever a suitable opportunity arose.
  • The social structure of the Turks was different. However, among the Turks tribal loyalties were an ever present source of danger, and there were constant attempts on the part of local commanders setting themselves up as independent rulers. That is how both the Ghaznavid and the Ghurid, and others, such as the Seljukid and Khwarizmi empires arose. But as long as any of these empires existed, they were more highly centralised than any of the Rajput states. This, again, was on account of the working of the iqta system, each commander or amir being not hereditary but dependent on the will of the sultan for his position.
  • It has been suggested that on account of the caste system,and the working of the feudal system which was hierarchical in nature, the Indian people watched with “sullen indifference” the fate of the Indian governing classes, and that in consequence, the towns fell like ripe fruits, that only the forts put up some resistance, but they felt helpless when the enemy controlled the countryside. This is based on a misunderstanding of the nature of medieval polity in India and elsewhere.
  • Among the states in West and Central Asia at the time, patriotism was an unknown virtue. All the sultan expected of his subjects was that they should pay their taxes and pray for his welfare, while they expected from him security and justice. The state did not demand, or receive, the loyalty of the common man.(
  • The situation in India was little different. Loyalty was accorded to caste, clan, village or city, and to the defence of hearth and home. As far as forts or fortified towns were concerned, their defence, again, had to be combined with a mobile cavalry force which was a deficiency with the Rajputs. Rajputs depended on their feudatories for armies at the time of wars.The number of soldiers in the army was not certain and they lacked team spirit.
  • Rajputs possesed no good recruiting ground as states were small and also people didnt take interest in joining army. Muslims had many good centres from where they can raise army new armies easily and in large number. Muslims also had immense resourses.
  • Islam did provide a strong bond of unity between different groups and sections, and imbued them with a strong sense of a mission and fighting spirit. In their operations in India, this was combined with an equally strong spirit of gain through plunder. The Islamic spirit of equality and brotherhood was certainly a positive point, but it did not extend to the social sphere. Both the Turkish and Rajput societies were hierarchical, one based on racial and family superiority, and the other on clan. Among both of them, power and office were the monopoly of narrow sections. However, on balance, there was greater social mobility among the Turks than among the Rajputs.
  • The Hindu concept of untouchability, banning a section of the people from entiring temples were source of weakness. It is true that Hindu society had developed other methods of bringing the “outscaste” sections into the stream of Hindu religions consciousness, viz. through wandering sadhus, and brahmans who presided over their religious rituals. However, these could not bridge the gap between the Rajput ruling classes and the masses.
  • Finally, the lack of a strategic perspective on the part of the Rajputs which put them tactically on the defensive, and which led to long term disadvantages has to be seen in the perspective of the prevailing Indian cultural ethos. Al-Biruni, the noted scientist and scholar, who spent ten years in India and interacted with the brahmans and studied Sanskrit, noted the deep insularity of the Indians, remarking “The Hindus believe that there is no country but theirs, no nation but theirs, no kings like theirs, no science like theirs. They are haughty, foolishly vain, self -conceited and stolid. Their haughtiness is such that if you tell them of any science or scholar in Khurasan or Persia, they think you both an ignoramus and a liar.”
  • It was this sense of insularity which restricted the Indians from going to West and Central Asia, and bring back knowledge of its sciences, its peoples and governments. We do not find an Al-Biruni among Indians to study foreign lands. The kali varjya, or ban on the Hindus travelling in countries where the munj grass did not grow or crossing the salt seas, though disregarded in practice, was an index of this attitude of growing insularity. After the break-up of the Kushan empire, and the gradual decline of Buddhism in West and Central Asia, India became more and more inward looking. This neglect and ignorance of the outside world, and loss of a strategic perspective, led to long term repercussions of which the Turkish conquest was, perhaps, the first, but not the last consequence. (
  • Thus, the defeat of the Rajputs by the Turks have to be seen in a long-term perspective. It was the result not only of weakness in their military organisation and leadership, and of a defective understanding of military tactics. It was rooted also in the defective social organisation which led to the growth of states which were structurally weak as compared to the Turkish states. Finally, the Rajput sense of insularity which was rooted in the Indian cultural ethos, did not enable them to develop a strategic perspective whereby, through military and diplomatic means, potential invaders could be kept away from the natural defence parameter of India.


Chandbardai and Prithviraj Raso:

  • Chand Bardai was a the court poet of the Indian king Prithviraj III Chauhan, who ruled Ajmer and Delhi from 1165 to 1192. He had mastery of grammar, literature, astrology and the Puranas. He accompanied the king during wars. In the second battle of Tarain.
  • Chand Bardai composed the Prithviraj Raso, an epic poem in Hindi about the life of Prithviraj. Over time, the Prithviraj Raso was embellished with the interpolations and additions of many other authors.
  • The Prithviraj Raso is a semi-historical, semi-legendary account that depicts the bravery of Prithviraj Chauhan. The legend exaggerates the historical events for dramatic effects. Its historicity is considered unreliable by historians. Many events and battle details narrated in Prithviraj Raso do not agree with other contemporary accounts found in both Hindu and Muslim sources.
  • While not strictly history, the Prithviraj Raso is a source of information on the social and clan structure of the Kshattriya communities of northern India. (

Firdawsi and Shahnama:

  • Firdawsi, was a highly revered Persian poet and the author of the epic of Shahnamah (the Persian “Book of Kings”), which is the world’s longest epic poem created by a single poet, and the national epic of Iran and the Persian-speaking world.
  • Having drafted the Shahnameh under patronage of the Samanid and the Ghaznavid courts of Persia, Ferdowsi is celebrated as one of the most influential Persian poets of all time.
  • Shahnamah tells mainly the mythical and to some extent the historical past of the Persian Empire from the creation of the world until the Islamic conquest of Persia in the 7th century. It is also important to the contemporary adherents of Zoroastrianism.

Ferishta and Tarikh-i Firishta:

  • Ferishta (1560 – 1620) was a Persian historian. While Firishta was still a child, his father was summoned away from his native country into Ahmadnagar, Hindustan, to teach Persian to the young prince Miran Husain Nizam Shah, with whom Firishta studied.
  • In 1587 Firishta was serving as the captain of guards of King Murtuza Nizam Shah when Prince Miran overthrew his father and claimed the throne of Ahmadnagar. Prince Miran spared the life of his former friend, who then left for Bijapur to enter the service of King Ibrahim Adil II in 1589.
  • Having been in military positions until then, Firishta was not immediately successful in Bijapur. Further exacerbating matters was the fact that Firishta was of Shia origin and therefore did not have much chance of attaining a high position in the dominantly Sunni courts of the Deccan sultanates.
  • In 1593 Ibrahim Shah II ultimately implored Firishta to write a history of India with equal emphasis on the history of Deccan dynasties.
  • The work was variously known as the Tarikh-i Firishta and the Gulshan-i Ibrahim. In the introduction, a resume of the history of Hindustan prior to the times of the Muslim conquest is given, and also the victorious progress of Arabs through the East. The first ten books are each occupied with a history of the kings of one of the provinces; the eleventh book gives an account of the Muslims of Malabar; the twelfth a history of the Muslim saints of India; and the conclusion treats of the geography and climate of India. It also includes graphic descriptions of the persecution of Hindus during the reign of Sikandar Butshikan in Kashmir.
  • Firishta relied upon the works of Barani and Sarhindi, and that his work cannot be relied upon as a first hand account of events, and that at places in the Tarikh he is suspected of having relied upon legends and his own imagination.
  • On the other hand, Tarikh-i-Farishti is said to be independent and reliable on the topic of north Indian politics of the period, ostensibly that of Emperor Jehangir where Firishta’s accounts are held credible because of his affiliation with the south Indian kingdom of Bijapur.

One thought on “West and Central Asia between the 10th and 12th centuries, Turkish advance towards India,The Ghurian invasions”

  1. you are doing an amazing work sir..thanks for that..just a little doubt,,,i think “in the early part of the 12th century after Mahmud raided it” it should be 11th century..Mehmud raided in 1011 in Ghur afaik.

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