THE CAMBRIDGE HISTORY OF INDIA - III - Turks and Afghans

CHAPTER I

THE ARAB CONQUEST OF SIND

 

 

India before the islamic conquest

 

THE rise of Islam is one of the marvels of history. In the summer of AD 622 a prophet, without honor in his own country, fled from his native city to seek an asylum in the town of Yathrib, since known as Madinat-un-Nabi, ‘the Prophet’s City’, rather more than two hundred miles north of Mecca, the town which had cast him out. Little more than a century later the successors and followers of the fugitive were ruling an empire which extended from the Atlantic to the Indus and from the Caspian to the cataracts of the Nile, and included Spain and Portugal, some of the most fertile regions of southern France, the whole of the northern coast of Africa, Upper and Lower Egypt, their own native Arabia, Syria, Mesopotamia, Armenia, Persia, Afghanistan, Baluchistan and Transoxiana. They threatened Christendom almost simultaneously from the east and the west, besieging Constantinople three times and advancing into the heart of France, and but for the decisive victory of Theodosius III before the imperial city in 716 and the crushing defeat inflicted on them near Tours in 732 by Charles the Hammer, the whole of Europe would have passed under their sway. The battle of Poitiers decided whether the Christians' bell or the muezzin's cry should sound over Rome, Paris and London, whether the subtleties of the schoolmen and later, the philosophy of Greece, or the theology and jurisprudence of the Koran and the Traditions should be studied at Bologna, Paris, Oxford and Cambridge.

By the beginning of the eighth century of the Christian era the Arabs had carried their arms as far as the western confines of India and bore sway in Mekran, the ancient Gedrosia, that torrid region extending inland from the northern shore of the Sea of Oman. Immediately to the east of this province lay the kingdom of Sind, ruled by Dahir, son of the usurping Brahman Chach.

An act of piracy or brigandage, the circumstances of which are variously related, brought Dahir into conflict with his formidable neighbors. The King of Ceylon was sending to Hajjaj, viceroy of the eastern provinces of the caliphate, the orphan daughters of Muslim merchants who had died in his dominions, and his vessels were attacked and plundered by pirates of the coast of Sind. According to a less probable account, the King of Ceylon had himself accepted Islam, and was sending tribute to the Commander of the Faithful. Another author writes that Abdul Malik, the fifth Umayyad, and father of Walid, the reigning Caliph, had sent agents to India to purchase female slaves and other commodities, and that these agents, on reaching Debul, Dahir’s principal seaport, had been attacked and plundered by brigands.

It is the results rather than the details of the outrage that are important. Hajjaj sent a letter through Muhammad bin Harun, governor of Mekran, demanding reparation, but Dahir replied that the aggressors were beyond his control, and that he was powerless to punish them. Hajjaj then obtained from Walid permission to send an expedition into Sind and dispatched Ubaidullah against Debul, but he was defeated and slain and Budail, who followed him, shared his fate. Hajjaj, deeply affected by these two failures, fitted out a third expedition, at the head of which he placed his cousin and son-in-law, Imaduddin Muhammad, son of Qasim, a youth of seventeen years of age.

 

The Fall of Debul (Debal, Dewal, Daybul-near modern Karachi, Sindh, Pakistan. In Arabic, it was usually called Daybul (Dīwal,Dībal). According to the British historian Eliot, parts of city of Thatta.)

Mekran=Makran, was an autonomous princely state of both British India and Pakistan, which ceased to exist in 1955. It was located in the extreme southwest of Pakistan, an area occupied by the districts of Gwadar, Kech and Panjgur. The state did not include the enclave of Gwadar which was under Omani rule until 1958 .On 17 March 1948, Makran acceded to Pakistan and on 3 October 1952 it joined Kalat, Kharan and Las Bela to form the Baluchistan States Union. The state was dissolved on 14 October 1955 when most regions of the western wing of Pakistan were merged to form the province of West Pakistan. When that province was dissolved in 1970, the territory of the former state of Makran was organised as Makran District and later Makran Division of the province of Baluchistan (later changed to Balochistan).

Muhammad, with 6000 Syrian horse, the flower of the armies of the Caliphs,a camel corps of equal strength, and a baggage train of 3000 camels, marched by way of Shiraz and through Mekran towards Sind, crossing the frontier at Annan, probably not far from the modern Darbeji. On his way through Mekran he had been joined by more troops and the Arabs appeared before Debul, then a seaport situated about twenty-four miles to the south-west of the modern town of Tatta, in the autumn of 711. His artillery, which included a great balista known as “the Bride”, worked by five hundred men, had been sent by sea to meet him. The town was protected by strong stone fortifications and contained a great idol temple, from which it took its name. The siege had continued for some time when a Brahman deserted from the temple and informed Muhammad that the garrison consisted of 4000 Rajputs and that 3000 shaven Brahmans served the temple. It was impossible, he said, to take the place by storm, for the Brahmans had prepared a talisman and placed it at the base of the staff of the great red flag which flew from the steeple of the temple. Muhammad ordered Jawiyyah, his chief artillerist, to shorten the foot of “the Bride”, thus lowering her trajectory, and to make the flagstaff his mark. The third stone struck it, shattered its base, and broke the talisman. The garrison, though much disheartened by the destruction of their palladium, made a sortie, but were repulsed, and the Arabs, planting their ladders, swarmed over the walls. The Brahmans and other inhabitants were invited to accept Islam, and on their refusing their wives and children were enslaved and all males of the age of seventeen and upwards were put to the sword. The carnage lasted for three days and Muhammad laid out a Muslim quarter, built a mosque, and placed a garrison of 4000 in the town. The legal fifth of the spoil and seventy-five damsels were sent to Hajjaj, and the rest of the plunder was divided among the army.

Dahir attempted to make light of the fall of Debul, saying that it was a place inhabited by mean people and traders, and as Muhammad advanced towards Nerun, about seventy-five miles to the north-east and near the modern Haidarabad (Hyderabad), ordered his son Jai Singh to leave that fort, placing a priest in charge of it, and to join him in the strong fortress of Brahmanabad. The Arabs, after seven days' march, arrived before Nerun early in 712, and the priest left in charge of the place surrendered it to Muhammad, who, placing a Muslim governor there marched to Sehwan, about eighty miles to the north-west.

This town, populated chiefly by priests and traders, who were anxious to submit at once to the invaders, was held by Bajhra, son of Chandra and cousin of Dahir, who upbraided the inhabitants for their pusillanimity and prepared, with the troops at his disposal, to defend the place, but after a week's siege lost heart, fled by the north gate of the city, crossed the Kumbh, which then flowed more than ten miles to the east of Sehwan, and took refuge with the Jats of Budhiya, whose raja was Kaka, son of Kotal, and whose capital was at Sisam, on the bank of the Kumbh. The inhabitants of Sehwan then surrendered the town to Muhammad, who granted them their lives on condition of their remaining loyal and paying the poll-tax leviable from non-Muslims.

Sir William Muir has observed that the conquest of Sind marks a new stage in Muhammadan policy. The Islamic law divides misbelievers into two classes, “the People of the Book”, that is Christians and Jews, as the possessors of inspired Scriptures, and idolaters. The first, when conquered, are granted, by the authority of the Koran, their lives, and may not lawfully be molested in any way, even in the practice of the rites of their creeds, so long as they loyally accept the rule of their conquerors and pay the jizya or poll-tax, but a rigid interpretation of the Koran, subsequently modified by commentators and legislators, allows to idolaters only the choice between Islam and death.

By a legal fiction which placed the scriptures of Zoroaster on a level with the Old and New Testaments as a divine revelation the Magians of Persia had often obtained the amnesty which was strictly the peculiar privilege of Christians and Jews, but Hajjaj, a bitter persecutor, knew nothing of the lax interpretation which tolerated idolatry on payment of tribute, and in Central Asia idolaters were rooted out. In India Muhammad granted the amnesty to idolaters, and in many cases left their temples standing and permitted their worship. At Debul he had behaved as an orthodox Muslim, but his subsequent policy was toleration except when he met with obstinate resistance or his troops suffered serious losses. Thus we find the zealous Hajjaj remonstrating with the young soldier for doing the Lord's work negligently and Muhammad consulting his cousin on the degree of toleration permissible. His campaign in Sind was not a holy war, waged for the propagation of the faith, but a mere war of conquest, and it was undoubtedly politic in the leader of a few thousand Arabs to refrain from a course which might have roused swarms of idolaters against him.

The endeavor to follow in detail the movements of Muhammad after the fall of Sehwan bristles with difficulties. The unsatisfactory attempts of historians to reproduce in a script utterly unsuited to the purpose the place names of India, the corruption of their versions of those names by copyists who had never heard and could not read them, and above all the constant changes in the face of the country due to the repeated shifting of the courses of the great rivers which traverse it, combine to confound the student. The general course followed by him may, however, be traced.

From Sehwan he marched to Sisam on the Kumbh, defeated the Jats, who attacked his camp by night, and captured their stronghold in two days. Bajhra, Dahir’s cousin, and his principal followers were slain, but Kaksa submitted, and afterwards joined the Muslims.

In accordance with orders received from Hajjaj, Muhammad returned towards Nerun, there to make preparations for the passage of the Mihran, the main stream of the Indus, which then flowed some distance to the east of Nirfmun and between it and his objective, the strong fortress of Brahmanabad, where Dahir was prepared to oppose his further advance into the country. He halted on the western bank of the river, opposite to a fortress called Baghrur by the Arab chroniclers, but was delayed there for some months by scurvy, which broke out among his troops, by a malady which carried off a large number of his horses, and by the impossibility of obtaining boats. Hajjaj sent him sage advice as to the best means of effecting the passage of the river and, what was more to the purpose, two thousand horses and a supply of vinegar for his suffering troops. This last was transported in a concentrated form. Cotton was saturated in it and dried and the operation was repeated until the cotton would hold no more; the essence could then be extracted by the simple process of soaking the cotton in water. In June, 712, Muhammad crossed the river with his troops without serious opposition from the Hindus.

 

Kumbh-riverbank

 

The Death of Dahir

Dahir had meanwhile assembled an army of 50,000 horse, and marched from Brahmanabad to Rawar to meet the invader. The armies lay opposite to one another for several days, during which some skirmishing took place, and on June 20 Dahir mounted his elephant and advanced to the attack. The battle was sustained with great valor on both sides, but an Arab succeeded in planting an arrow, to which burning cotton was attached, in Dahir's elephant, and the terrified beast turned and fled towards the river, pursued by the Arabs. The driver arrested his flight in midstream and induced him once more to face the enemy, and the battle was renewed on the river bank. Dahir charged the Arabs, and did great execution among them until he was struck by an arrow and fell from his elephant. He contrived to mount a horse, but an Arab cut him down, and the Hindus fled from the field, some towards Aror, the capital, and others, with Jai Singh, to Bahmanabad, while Dahir’s wife, Rani Bai, and her handmaids immolated themselves at Rawar, to avoid falling into the hands of the strangers.

The remnant of the Hindu army rallied at Brahmanabad and offered such a determined resistance that 8000 or, according to another account, 26,000 of them were slain. Jai Singh, loth to sustain a siege in Brahmanabad, retired to Chitrur and Muhammad captured Brahmanabad, and with it Rani Ladi, another wife of Dahir, whom he afterwards married, and Suryadevi and Parmaldevi, Dabir’s two maiden daughters, who were sent through Hajjaj to the Caliph.

After the capture of Brahmanabad he organized the administration of Lower Sind, placing governors in Rawar, Sehwan, Nirun, Dhaliya, and other places, and on October 9th set out for Aror (or Alor), receiving on his way the submission of the people of Muthalo and Bharur, and of the Sammas, Lohanas, and Sihtas.

Aror was held by a son of Dahir, called by Muslim chroniclers Fufi, whose conviction that his father was yet alive and had but retired into Hindustan to collect an army encouraged him to offer a determined resistance. Muhammad attempted to destroy his illusion, which was shared by the people of Alor, by sending his wife Ladi to assure them that her former husband had indeed been slain and that his head had been sent to the Caliph's viceroy, but they repudiated her with abuse as one who had joined herself to the unclean strangers. Fufi was, however, at length convinced of his father's death, and fled from Alor by night. Muhammad, on learning of his flight, attacked the town, and the citizens, deserted by their leader, readily submitted to him.

Bridge on the Ravi River

He appointed a governor and a judge to Alor and marched towards Multan. On his way thither he first reached a fortress to which Kaksa, a cousin of Dahir, had fled from Alor. Kaksa submitted to him, was taken into his confidence and became one of his most trusted counselors. Continuing his march north-eastwards he came to a fortress of which the name has been so corrupted that it cannot be identified, but it lay on the northern bank of the Beas, as it then flowed. It was bravely defended for seven days, but was then deserted by its governor, a nephew of the ruler of Multan, who took refuge in Sika, a fortress on the southern bank of the Ravi. The people, left to themselves, surrendered the fortress and were spared, but the garrison, to the number of four thousand, was put to the sword, and their wives and children were enslaved. After appointing an Arab governor Muhammad crossed the rivers and attacked Sika, the siege of which occupied him for seventeen days and cost him the lives of twenty-five of his best officers and 215 men. When the commander of the fortress fled to Multan and the place fell, he avenged the death of his warriors by sacking it and passed on to Multan. The Hindus were defeated in the field and driven within the walls but held out until a deserter pointed out to Muhammad the stream or canal which supplied the city with water, and this was destroyed or diverted, so that the garrison was obliged to surrender. In the great temple were discovered a golden idol and such quantities of gold that the Arabs named the city ‘The House of Gold’. The fighting men were put to the sword and their wives and children, together with the attendants of the temple, numbering six thousand souls in all, were enslaved, but the citizens were spared. Amir Daud Nasr was appointed to the government of the city and another Arab to that of the province, and Arabs were placed in charge of the principal forts.

There is a conflict of authority regarding Muhammad's movements after the capture of Multan in 713, which laid at his feet upper Sind and the lower Punjab. According to one account he became involved in hostilities with Har Chandra, son of Jhital, raja of Qinnauj, not to be confounded with the great city of Kanauj in Hindustan, and marched to meet him at Odipur, fourteen miles southward of Alwana, on the Ghaggar, and according to another he returned to Aror, but his career of conquest was drawing to a close, his sun was setting while it was yet day.

Fate of Muhammad bin Qasim (c. 31 December 695–18 July 715) .

The romantic story of his death, related by some chroniclers, has usually been repeated by European historians, but is devoid of foundation. It is said that when the Caliph Walid sent for Suryadevi and Parmaldevi, the daughters of Dahir, he first selected the elder for the honor of sharing his bed, but the damsel protested that she was unworthy, for Muhammad had dishonored both her and her sister before sending them to his master. Walid, transported with rage, wrote with his own hand an order directing that the offender, wherever he might be when the message reached him, should suffer himself to be sewn up in a raw hide and thus dispatched to the capital. When the order reached the young hero it was at once obeyed. He caused himself to be sewn up in the hide, the contraction of which as it dried would crush him to death, enclosed in a box and sent to Damascus. The box was opened in the presence of the Caliph and Suryadevi, and Walid pointed proudly to the corpse as evidence of the obedience which he was able to exact from his servants. Suryadevi, having read him a homily on the duty of investigating all complaints made to him before issuing orders on them, confessed that her accusation was false, that Muhammad had scrupulously respected her honor and that of her sister, but that she had had no other means of avenging her father’s death. Walid condemned both sisters to a horrible death. We need not stop to inquire whether they were immured alive, or whether they were dragged through the streets of Damascus by horses until they expired. Both accounts are extant, but the end of the young conqueror, though tragic enough, was not due to an act of romantic and quixotic obedience to a distant and ungrateful master.

 

Fall of the Umayyads

Walid died in 715 and was succeeded by his brother Sulaiman; to whom Hajjaj had given great offence by encouraging Walid in the design of making his son rather than his brother his heir. Hajjaj was beyond the reach of mortal vengeance, for he had died before Walid, but the new Caliph’s hand fell heavily on his family and adherents. Yazid, son of Abu Kabshah, was appointed governor of Sind and Muhammad was sent a prisoner to Mesopotamia, where he was imprisoned at Wasit by Salih. He could not have fallen into worse hands, for Adam, Salih’s brother, had been one of the numerous khariji heretics put to death by the bigoted and brutal Hajjaj. His murder was now expiated by the gallant young conqueror of Sind and his relations, who were tortured to death by Salih's orders.

Yazid died eighteen days after his arrival in Sind, and Sulaiman appointed Habib, son of Muhallab, to succeed him. Habib adopted a conciliatory policy, and allowed the princes expelled by Muhammad to return to their states, so that Jai Singh, son of Dahir, established himself at Brahmanabad, Aror being retained as the capital of the viceroy, whose only warlike operation appears to have been the reduction of a refractory tribe to obedience.

Sulaiman died, after a reign of no more than two years, in 717, and was succeeded by his cousin, the pious and zealous Umar II, to whom the toleration of idolatry, even on the fringe of his empire, was painful. He wrote to the princes of Sind, urging them to embrace Islam and earn the temporal as well as the eternal blessings which would follow their acceptance of the true faith. Many, among them Jai Singh, responded.

Junaid, governor of Sind under the Caliph Hisham (724-743), was active and energetic, but unscrupulous. He prepared to invade the territory of Jai Singh, now a Muslim and a feudatory of the Caliph, but when Jai Singh protested against the aggression reassured him. Jai Singh responded by sending to him assurances of his loyalty to the Caliph and the tribute due from his state. Hostilities nevertheless broke out, and Jai Singh was defeated and slain. Each has been accused of perfidy, but Junaid is convicted by his subsequent conduct. When Chach, Jai Singh’s brother, fled to Mesopotamia to complain against him “he did not cease to conciliate him until they had shaken hands, and then he slew him”.

Junaid afterwards carried the Muslim arms further into India, but the places which he captured or menaced cannot now be satisfactorily identified. He was afterwards promoted to the viceroyalty of the eastern provinces of the Caliphate, and was succeeded in Sind by Tammim, son of Zaid-ul-Utba, a feeble ruler distinguished chiefly by his lavish generosity, whose successor, Hakam, found Islam languishing and the people, for the most part, relapsed into idolatry, and was obliged to build for the Muslims two strongholds to serve as cities of refuge, al Mahfuzah, “the guarded”, and Man­surah, long the capital of the Muhammadan province of Sind, lying a few miles to the north-east of Bahmanabad. He and his lieutenant Amu, son of the unfortunate Muhammad, laboured to recall the people to the faith of Islam and to restore the military reputation of the Muslims, and their successors “continued to kill the enemy, taking whatever they could acquire and subduing the people who rebelled”.

 

The Abbasids

In 750 the Abbasids overthrew the Umayyads and sent officers to expel those who had held offices under them in the provinces. Mansur, who now held Sind, resisted with some success the adherents of the new line of Caliphs, but was at length defeated and driven into the desert, where he perished miserably of thirst. Musa, who expelled him, repaired the city of Mansurah and enlarged the mosque there.

Al-Mansur (754-775), the second Abbasid Caliph, sent to Sind Hisham, who reduced Multan, still in arms against the new dynasty, and captured Qandail, which may be identified with Zihri in Baluchistan, about fifty-seven miles south-west of Gandava; and Kandharo, on the south-western border of the present Bahawalpur State.

Governor was regularly appointed to succeed governor until Bashar, son of Daud, rebelled against the Caliph al-Mamun, who reigned from 813 to 833, and Ghassan, who was sent to suppress his rebellion, carried him to Baghdad, and left as his own deputy in Sind, Musa, son of Yahya, son of Khalid, son of Barmak. Musa the Barmecid, an active and energetic ruler, died in 836, but before his death ventured on a step which clearly indicated that the hold of the Caliphs on Sind was relaxing. He nominated his son Amran as his successor, and the significance of the measure was hardly diminished by the formality of obtaining al-Mutasim’s recognition of the appointment. When provincial governments in the east begin to become hereditary they are in a fair way to becoming kingdoms.

Amran made war upon the Jats, whom he defeated and subjugated. He also defeated and slew a fellow Muslim, Muhammad, son of Khalil, who reigned at Qandail, and attacked the Meds of the sea coast of Cutch. Of them he slew three thousand and advanced as far as Adhoi, in eastern Cutch.

The later history of Islam in Sind is obscure, but the religion flourished, and retained its dominion over idolatry. The authority of the Caliphs in the province was virtually extinguished in 871, when two Arab chiefs established independent principalities at Multan and Mansurah. The former comprised the upper valley of the united Indus as far as Aror; the latter extended from that town to the sea, and nearly coincided with the modern province of Sind. Little is known of the details of the history of these dynasties, but they seem to have left the administration of the country largely in the hands of natives and to have tolerated freely the Hindu religion. Their power was maintained by an Arab soldiery supported by grants of land, and though they were in fact independent they retained the fiction of subordination to the Caliphate, for as late as the beginning of the eleventh century, when Mahmud of Ghazni was wasting northern India with fire and sword, the Muslim governor of Sind professed to be the Caliph’s representative.

Of the Arab conquest of Sind there is nothing more to be said. It was a mere episode in the history of India and affected only a small portion of the fringe of that vast country. It introduced into one frontier tract the religion which was destined to dominate the greater part of India for nearly five centuries, but it had none of the far-reaching effects attributed to it by Tod in the Annals of Rajasthan. Muhammad b. Qasim never penetrated to Chitor in the heart of Rajputana; the Caliph Walid I did not render tributary all that part of India on this side the Ganges; the invader was never on the eve of carrying the war against Raja Harchund of Kanouj, much less did he actually prosecute it; if Harun-ur-Rashid gave to his second son, al-Mamun, Khorassan, Zabulisthan, Cabulisthan, Sind and Hindusthan, he bestowed on him at least one country which was not his to give; nor was the whole of northern India, as Tod maintains, convulsed by the invasion of the Arabs. One of these, as we have seen, advanced to Adhoi in Cutch, but no settlement was made, and the expedition was a mere raid; and though the first news of the irruption may have suggested warlike preparations to the princes of Rajasthan their uneasiness cannot have endured. The tide of Islam, having overflowed Sind and the lower Punjab, ebbed, leaving some jetsam on the strand. The rulers of states beyond the desert had no cause for alarm. That was to come later, and the enemy was to be, not the Arab, but the Turk, who was to present the faith of the Arabian prophet in a more terrible guise than it had worn when presented by native Arabians.