Sunday, March 05, 2006

The Mongols in India

After destroying the jehadis of Bamiyan, Chingiz Khan chased the valiant Turk prince Jelal-ud-din into India. Trapped by the rapidly maneuvering Mongols in a bend of the Indus River the Turks turned at bay to fight—to prevent his men from fleeing and “living to fight another day”, Jelal-ud-din had all their boats destroyed. The two sides had around 60,000 men each, but victory went to the contestant who deployed the right numbers at the right time and place.

Chingiz had force-marched his army over days and nights to catch up with the Muslim Turks, hence the exhausted Mongol soldiers were on the defensive the next morning. Jelal-ud-din sensed their discomfort and immediately launched his right wing along the banks of the Indus. These men drove the Mongol squadrons back—the Muslim left wing being protected by cliffs and ridges, no cavalry action was expected there and the Turk prince detached men from this left wing and sent them to propel the right forward.

In that cramped field maneuvering and mobile archery were difficult …the contest was between swords. Anticipating victory Jelal-ud-din took more men from his left wing and rammed his center into the Mongols opposite him. He was searching for Chingiz but the Mongols stubbornly fought on and did not expose their Khan to danger. Chingiz immediately saw the weakness of the Turk left and sent his general Bela to somehow scale the cliffs and hit that weak section. In clambering over the craggy ridges and crawling past deep chasms, many lives were lost and much time was taken, but in the end a small force managed to descend on the Turks. Just as Jelal-ud-din was carving through the Mongol center and could see the Mongol camp in the distance, despairing cries rose up behind him.

At this moment Chingiz, instead of repulsing the momentum of the Turk center, swerved away with 10,000 horsemen and attacked the victorious Turks of the right wing in the flank. The Khan’s tactic worked—his men trounced the Turk right wing and sent the Muslims fleeing in all directions. Chingiz restrained his cavalry from galloping after them. Instead, in another masterly move, he commanded them to now tackle Jelal-ud-din’s center, which was almost victorious over the fast depleting Mongol lines. The iron discipline of the Mongol Khan ensured that his men kept their squadrons intact and turned as one mass into Jelal-ud-din’s center from the right flank—this surprise attack broke the forward momentum of that important formation and scattered the Turk cavalry.

Defeated in each wing of the battle the baffled prince bravely discarded his armor and jumped into the swift river with his horse. Some of his men followed him across but many others were taken prisoner or died fighting the Mongols. The two armies were of equal size and carried similar equipment but the remarkable discipline and loyalty of the Mongols—who parted with their lives but did not flee—gave them a splendid victory.

Watching Jelal-ud-din from the other bank Chingiz exclaimed in generous admiration to his own sons, “This is one whom you may indeed call a man!” But he would not spare the brave enemy[1]—the work of chasing Jelal-ud-din and his remaining followers was assigned to Bela and his division. They marched up along the left bank of the Indus for some time and crossed over into mainland India at a suitable ford. It was here that Chingiz learned of the death of his general Muqali in China and of the rebellion of the Kingdom of Hia—the kingdom lay to the east of Tibet and Chingiz decided to cross over the Himalayas and surprise the rebellious king by launching his army from this unusual path. The towering range deterred such an adventurous crossing and the Khan wisely returned to Central Asia in the winter of 1222.

Meanwhile Bela had chased the Turk prince throughout the Punjab plains, had attacked outlying towns like Bhera and Multan and had even sacked the outskirts of Lahore. The October heat put a stop to their operations and the Mongols returned to Chingiz, confident that Jelal-ud-din could never again be a threat to them. Survivors from the Battle of the Indus however were also wandering through the Punjab at that time and these eventually formed the nucleus of a small army for the Turk prince. Jelal-ud-din though met with a cruel disappointment when his request for an alliance, or even an asylum, with the Muslim rulers in India was turned down.

While in other parts of the world the wave of Islamic conquests had swept on with amazing speed, the stout opposition of the Hindus had battered down this wave in India, so that after centuries of invasions the Muslims effectively ruled only in some of the cities and towns. Resistance to Islam was strongest at the hands of the Rajput clans, which had adapted to the Turkish method of warfare and now maintained compact units of cavalry sheltered in strong forts to oppose the invaders. Because of their opposition even the common Hindus had refused to convert to the religion of the invaders who ruled over them. In this situation where their own hold over India was so feeble, the Muslim rulers of the Delhi Sultanate naturally shrank from provoking the mighty Mongols and refused an alliance with their fellow Muslims of Khwarazim.

Jelal-ud-din fought against the local rulers in the Punjab, who sported titles like Rana and Rai, and usually defeated them in the open but could not occupy their lands. At last he proposed an alliance with the Gakkhar chieftain of the Salt Range and married his daughter—the Gakkhar Rai’s son joined the Turk army with his clansmen and received the title of Katlagh Khan. Jelal-ud-din’s Turk soldiers were under his officers Uzbek Pai and Hassan Qarlugh.

While fighting against the local Turk governor of Sindh, Jelal-ud-din heard of an uprising in the Kirman province of southern Iran and he immediately set out for that place, passing through southern Baluchistan on the way. Jelal-ud-din was also joined by Turk forces from Ghor and Peshawar—belonging to the Khalji, Turkoman, and Ghori tribes. With his new allies the Turk prince marched on Ghazni and defeated a Mongol division under Turtai, which had been assigned the task of hunting out Jelal-ud-din. The victorious allies quarreled over the division of the captured booty and the Khalji, Turkoman, and Ghori tribes deserted Jelal-ud-din and returned to Peshawar.

At this time Ogdai had become Kha-Khan—a Mongol general named Charmaghan sent by him attacked and defeated the Turk prince and ended his rebellion forever. Another Mongol general named Pakchak attacked Peshawar and defeated the army of the Turkish tribes who had deserted Jelal-ud-din but were still a threat to the Mongols. These men, mostly Khaljis, escaped to Multan and were recruited into the army of the Delhi Sultans.

When the striking power and reach of the Mongol armies had been displayed so graphically, the ambitions of the Turkish chiefs within the Delhi Sultanate were fired. One Delhi prince traveled all the way to Kara Korum to seek the assistance of Mangu Kha-Khan for seizing the throne from his elder brother. In 1257 the governor of Sindh offered his entire province to Hulagu Khan of Persia and sought Mongol protection from his overlord in Delhi—the Mongol Khan sent a strong force under Sali Bahadur into Sindh.

But Hulagu refused to sanction a grand invasion of the Delhi Sultanate and a few years later diplomatic correspondence between the two rulers confirmed the growing desire for peace. Hulagu after all had many other areas of conquests to take care of. Large-scale Mongol invasions of India ceased and the Delhi Sultans used the respite to recover the frontier towns like Multan, Uch, and Lahore…and punish the local Ranas and Rais who had joined hands with either the Khwarazim Turks or the Mongol invaders[2].

Large numbers of Turk tribes that took shelter in the Delhi Sultanate as a result of the Mongol Cataclysm changed the balance of power in North India. The Khalji tribe firstly usurped power from the older Turk Sultans and began to rapidly project their power into other parts of India. At about this time the Mongol raids into India were also renewed.

The Chagtai Khanate

The second son of Chingiz Khan, Chagtai, inherited the lands of Central Asia. His descendant Duwa Khan (1276-1306) sanctioned wars of territorial expansion and material gain into India. These invasions were led by either various descendants of Chingiz or by Mongol divisional commanders—the size of such armies was always between 10,000-30,000 cavalry although the Muslim chroniclers of Delhi exaggerated the number to 100,000-200,000 cavalry (!), which was their norm in describing enemy forces.

In 1292, only two years after the Khaljis usurped power at Delhi, a Mongol force under the grandson of Hulagu invaded the Sultanate. Their advance guard under Ulghu was defeated and taken prisoner by the Khalji Sultan—but he was intimidated by the main Mongol army and bought off their attacks for a price. The 4000 Mongols of the advance guard converted to Islam and came to live in Delhi as “new Mussalmans”—the suburb they lived in was appropriately named Mughalpura[3].

[1] Jelal-ud-din’s family and property were taken by the Mongols who massacred all the males to extinguish the royal line of their enemy.
[2] Leading to their eventual conversion to Islam. In this conversion process the earlier campaigns of Jelal-ud-din, later the invasion of Timur in the 14th Century and of Babur in the 16th Century also played their part. Although nowadays the people of this area (Pakistan) claim that they were converted by Muslim saints.
[3] Mongol in the Persian language was written and pronounced Mughal and this is how all Muslims knew the world conquerors. The contemporary Europeans called them Tartars but all this changed when the modern Europeans first wrote the history of Chingiz and began using the correct word Mongol.

In early 1298 a Mongol division under Kadar reached the environs of Lahore and later in the same year Saldi led a similar force into southern Punjab. Both these divisions plundered the countryside but were eventually defeated by the Khaljis. Towards the end of 1299 a larger force under Qutlugh Khwaja reached the very outskirts of Delhi. The Khalji Sultan Ala-ud-din led his entire army to give battle to the Mongols—he engaged the Mongol center while his left wing broke the Mongol formation opposite them and penetrated into their rear lines. This created panic in the rest of the army and the Mongols retreated from Delhi.

In the meantime the Mongols settled in Delhi had also created problems for the Khaljis. Sent in a mixed Turk-Mongol army against the stalwart Rajput Kings, these “new Muslims” quarreled with the Turk commander and killed his brother in an argument over the distribution of captured wealth. The wives and children of these Mongols were treated with ferocious cruelty and they escaped to the forts of the Rajputs.

Ala-ud-din moved against these forts with his entire army—Mongol and Rajput fought shoulder-to-shoulder against the Turks to the bitter end[4]. And while the Khalji Sultan’s military strength was drained away in these fierce battles the Chagtai Khanate saw its chance and sent a force under Targhi in 1303, which blockaded Ala-ud-din in Delhi for two months and then returned to Central Asia with plunder.

Two years later Targhi returned with a larger force (50,000 cavalry) joined by the divisions of Ali Beg and Tartaq—avoiding the now strong fortifications of Delhi they looted the fertile basin of the River Ganga. Targhi was killed in this raid while the rest of the army was soon defeated; Ali Beg and Tartaq were taken prisoner, were brought to Delhi and were then executed.

In 1306 another formidable force under Kabak, Iqbal, and Tai Bu invaded the Sultanate to take revenge for the deaths of their generals. This time they formed into two separate armies and ravaged the plains all the way to Delhi and Nagaur in the southwest. The Khalji monarch allowed them to enter deep into his kingdom and then set his armies on them—already laden with plunder the Mongols were out-maneuvered and defeated by the Turks. In that very year their monarch Duwa Khan died and in the unending dispute over his succession this spate of Mongol raids into India ended.

The remaining Muslim Mongols living in Delhi were denied high posts in the Turk army and were also discriminated against in the matter of land grants. They attempted to kill Ala-ud-din while he was out hawking in the outskirts of Delhi. The attempt failed and Ala-ud-din ordered a general massacre of these Mongols and their women and children.

The next major Mongol invasion took place after the Khaljis had been replaced by the Tughlaq tribe in the Sultanate. In 1327 the Chagtai Mongols under Tarmashirin sacked the frontier towns like Lamghan and Multan and besieged Delhi—the Tughlaq ruler paid him a large ransom to spare his Sultanate from further ravages.

Tarmashirin was a Buddhist who later converted to Islam. The religious tensions in the Chagtai Khanate dissipated its strength and no more large-scale invasions or even raids took place in India. However small groups of Mongol adventurers were hiring out their swords to the many local powers in the northwest—and by this time the Turk attempt to conquer India had finally ended in failure. Their short-lived empire had broken up with some generals declaring their own independent kingdoms and other regions becoming powerful under the indigenous Indian rulers[5].

[4] At one of these forts, named Ranthambhor, two Mongol brothers Kehbru and Alaghu fought alongside the Rajput Rana Hammir Dev. Alaghu was captured by the Turks and was offered a high post in the Muslim army with his followers. Alaghu spurned the offer because after fighting alongside the highborn Hindu leader he was not willing to serve under the lowly Khaljis who were once the servants of the all-conquering Mongols. See
[5] In particular Rajputana in the north and the Vijaynagar Empire in the south.

Ironically the Chagtai Khanate had also split up by this time and an ambitious Turk chieftain named Timur had brought Central Asia and the regions beyond under his own control. He followed the twin policies of Turkification and Islamization, shifting various Turk tribes to different parts of his empire and giving primacy to the Turks in his own army. Timur also reinforced the Islamic faith over the Chagtai Khanate and after a long gap put the laws of the Koran over Chingiz Khan’s secular laws. He invaded India in 1398 to make war on the mostly infidel rulers and to plunder the wealth of the country.

Timur’s empire broke up and his descendants failed even to hold on to Central Asia, which split up into numerous principalities where also ruled the Mongol Khans. The descendants of the Mongol Chagtais and the descendants of the Turk Timur lived side by side, occasionally fighting and occasionally inter-marrying—one of the products of such a rare marriage was Babur the Turk. His mother belonged to the family of the Mongol Khans of Tashkent, who in the 16th Century were more powerful than Babur’s Turk family, and Mongol soldiers initially formed the bulk of his army.

But Babur was a true descendant of Timur and shared his fanatical beliefs—he grudgingly admitted to the good rules and regulations of Chingiz even though as he remarked, “they had no divine authority.” And even though his own mother was a Mongol, Babur hated the Mongol race[6] and wrote a stinging verse in his autobiography:

Were the Mughals an angel race, it would be bad,
Even writ in gold, the Mughal name would be bad

When Babur occupied Kabul and began invading the Indo-Gangetic plains, he was called a Mughal like all the earlier invaders from the Chagtai Khanate had been. Even the invasion of Timur had been considered a Mongol invasion since the Mongols had ruled over Central Asia for so long and had given their name to its people. Timur of course had returned home but Babur[7] stayed. In a lasting irony his empire got the name of the people he detested the most—the Mughal Empire[8].

The military heritage of the Mongols, unlike their secular laws, had no conflict with the question of religion. Hence both Timur and Babur continued the military system of Chingiz Khan—one part of this system was the name Ordu used for the collective of tents that formed the military camp—it was now pronounced Urdu. In all their campaigns in India the Mughal camp was called the urdu and this word became current in the languages of the various soldiers that formed the body of this camp.

In course of time these Indian and foreign languages mingled together in the urdu and a new language of that name was born. This language of the military camp survived in some of the North Indian cities after the fall of the Mughal Empire. Ironically the Urdu that passed through all these centuries of political changes ultimately became the language of poetry, of music, and of other forms of cultural expression—today it is recognized as one of the national languages of modern India.

[6] There were few inter-marriages between Turk and Mongol tribes—those between their ruling families were meant to be hard-nosed political alliances.
[7] In the documents of the Mughal Empire Babur’s family were always referred to as the Chagtai Turks.
[8] The Mughalpura suburb of Delhi was once again peopled by these Central Asians although now most of them were actually Turks. Today this suburb is known by the more accurate name of Mongolpuri.

The primary source for the Mongol Cataclysm posts is the book by Harold Lamb, "Genghis Khan: Emperor of all men". However it contains some minor mistakes relating to places and names, and the movements of the Mongols in the Khwarazim Empire. The original works, "Tarikh-e-Rashidi" and "Tarikh-e-jahan-kusha" have also been used while a slew of Mongol and Turkic websites provide the correct names and pronunciations and other minor details of the Mongol campaigns and the aftermath.