Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Guerrilla Warfare-III (modern myths)

Modern Myths

Lack of unity: Modern writers maintain that disunity or infighting among the Rajput clans led to their defeat and enslavement by foreigners. This lack of unity was also considered to be the bane of the larger Hindu society. The most glaring example these writers use to illustrate this hypothesis is the conflict between the Chauhan Kingdom of Ajmer and the Gahadvala Kingdom of Kannauj that led to both being defeated by Shihabuddin Muhammad of Ghor in 1192-94---it is further claimed that had these two Hindu kingdoms united their armies against Shihabuddin there would have been no Muslim invasion of India. Leaving aside the fact that contemporary records do not indicate any such conflict (Kannauj and Ajmer did not have a common border) only people ignorant of medieval warfare would make the last claim[23].

In line with this hypothesis it is also held that impolitic chivalry and a spirit of tolerance made the Rajput clans subservient to the less cultured foreign marauders[24]

Alauddin Khalji's mosque converted into an armoury by the Rajputsthe Topkhana at Jalore. Ala-ud-din's mosque converted into a cannon armory by the Rajputs. From

[23]Two large armies would have exhausted the water, food, and fodder supply wherever they marched; the Turks would have easily immobilized and slaughtered such masses of men and animals. Indian armies were weak in cavalry and this deficiency was only repaired under the Rajputs as explained above.
[24]However Ala-ud-din's mosque at Jalor was converted into a topkhana (artillery store) and late in the 18th Century Aurangzeb's mosque at Merta was used to store opium. Those mosques were not demolished since their builders and owners had been defeated and driven away---there was no political merit in destroying these buildings. However inscriptions reveal that the mosque of the Sultans of Nagaur was repeatedly demolished as a political act by the Ranas of Mewar and by the Raos of Marwar. In the same way mosques were demolished during the invasions of the Gujarat and Malwa Sultanates by Rajputs of Mewar---these Sultans were not driven away hence the destruction of their mosques was a way of signifying Rajput dominance over their Sultanates. This was an act of retaliation on the Sultans who had made a practice of destroying the main temple of a Hindu Kingdom to signify their dominance/victory. But unlike the bigoted Muslim rulers the Rajputs did not destroy mosques for religious aims and there was never any attack on the religious practices of Muslim civilians in a Rajput state.

The disunity and infighting hypothesis does not explain the formation of Rajputana. The Rajput clans continued to fight one another during the expansion of Turk power and yet the end result was that the Turks were defeated and their short-lived empire was broken up. How did this happen? How was the expansion of the Turks stopped and replaced by the expansion of the powerful new Rajput clans?

All the members of a Rajput clan are descended from a common ancestor[25]---the chieftain and his immediate family reside in the main fort while other distant relations are granted estates in the surrounding districts where they build their own small strongholds. In times of danger the clan collects together to fight the enemy. As the population of a clan increases more and more land is required to sustain the newer members and this creates conflict with the neighbors of that clan[26]. Thus while the Turks sought to kill or convert their Rajput enemies the latter fought in defense of their own lands or made aggressive attacks on the lands of their neighbors---be they Turks, Rajputs or forest-dwelling tribes.

The magnificent Kumblagarh FortKumbalgarh marked the frontier between the Rathor and Sesodia clans

For the sake of the lack of unity hypothesis let's assume that instead of such warfare the Rajput clans had come together and decided, "We will not attack one another but will only fight against the foreign invader. All the land and wealth we gain shall be distributed equally among each clan." With this understanding the Rajput clans would have driven away the Turks from Mewar and Marwar much earlier and more effectively but that would've been the limit of their success. Since the two regions would now be pockmarked with tiny estates distributed equally among each clan there would have been no Rajputana---the Delhi Sultans would've invaded these politically fractured regions with ease and the entire saga of jauhar and resistance would have been repeated endlessly!

But as it was this "lack of unity" and "infighting" ensured the emergence of two powerful states that altered the course of history not only for the surrounding regions but also for the Indian continent as a whole.
[25]Ek baap ke bete or sons of one father, and Bhayyad meaning the brotherhood are phrases used to describe a Rajput clan.
[26]Sometimes junior branches of a clan will travel to distant parts of India and will either set up their own kingdoms or take up military service in kingdoms already existing there.

Myths about Jauhar

Modern interpreters of Indian History describe Jauhar as a rite, a custom or a practice, which is performed to preserve the women of a Rajput clan from pollution and captivity. Since the jauhar was performed only against a Muslim enemy it cannot be called a custom or a rite---Rajputs fought one another with ferocity but there is no record of jauhar taking place on those occasions. In later history the Marathas invaded Rajputana and besieged several forts but here too there is no record of any jauhar being performed.

According to the songs of the bard even children perished in the flames of jauhar and this is confirmed by at least one eyewitness---Timur the lame of Central Asia. The Turk marauder carried fire and sword through the North Indian plains in 1398 fighting mostly against the Rajputs and Jats along the way. At a place called Loni Timur remarks, "Many of the Rajputs placed their wives and children in their houses and burned them; then they rushed to battle and were killed." For this reason the jauhar was also called sakha, or general massacre, in Rajput tradition.

The history of Islam's growth among the Arab tribes and expansion among Kurds, Persians, and Turks indicates that the conversion of infidel rulers and warriors was a pre-requisite for the triumph of Islam in their infidel lands[28]. Thus the captivity of Rajput families would have meant their conversion to Islam---Rajput warriors were haunted by visions of their children growing up wearing strange clothes, speaking a foreign language, and performing alien rituals. The customs and traditions of their own ancestors, which had been performed for millennia by each succeeding generation, would come to a calamitous halt. Such a fate was considered worse than death.

In the period under review there was an instance of jauhar in Southern India where the word Rajput was unknown till at least the 15th Century. In 1327 the forces of Muhammad Tughlak besieged the Raja of Kampili and his chief followers in the fort of Hosadurg. When the provisions in the fort ran out the royal ladies and the families of the warriors performed jauhar and the men rushed out to die fighting against the Turks[29]. This indicates that jauhar was not exclusive to Rajputs but was common to all ruling classes of India when faced by the prospect of losing their cherished faith and forgetting the traditions of their ancestors.

This also explains why other communities like the Jats are not known to have performed jauhar. For the most part they were quiet farmers who picked up arms against the Turks only under grave provocation. However wherever the Jats became rulers they approximated their customs to those of the Rajputs[30]. One of the other features of jauhar mentioned by the bards is the desire to destroy all wealth. Diamonds were crushed to dust, gold and silver ornaments were burnt, and in the words of the bard, "whatever could not be burnt or destroyed in water was buried[31]." The rationale for this was to deprive the conqueror of any wealth with which he could establish himself in the fort. With all this anecdotal evidence it would be more appropriate to call jauhar a military tactic rather than a mere custom---it would be an extension of the scorched-earth warfare of the Rajputs when facing a Turk invasion.

Jauhar also explains why the Turks made no significant attempt to recover Rajput forts like Chittor or Siwana even when they could carry out military campaigns in faraway southern India. A conquest where they gained no wealth or converts was as good as a defeat for the Muslim Turks.
[28]The conversion of the rest of the population was considered to be a matter of time. As per the laws of the Hanafi school the civilian population was to pay jaziya and not build new temples or even repair old temples. Seeing their temples whither away and forced to pay money annually just to practice their faith the civilian population would in time, it was calculated, accept Islam. Such laws were enforced under bigoted rulers like Firoz Tughlak, Sikandar Lodi, and Aurangzeb.
[29]Some of the men, including the famous Harihar and Bukka, were however captured wounded and were later converted to Islam.
[30]See the histories of the Jat rulers of Bharatpur and Ranjit Singh of Lahore.
[31]At Jaislamer an ancient collection of Jain scriptures survived the two jauhars and the one-year Turk occupation at that fort. These valuable books may have been among the items buried in secret places.

The myth of Muslim empire

The Mongol conquest of Turan and Iran forced Turk tribes like the Khaljis and Tughlaks to escape south into India where these tribes seized power and created short-lived empires in the Indian continent. The same Mongol cataclysm ejected the Kayi tribe of Turks west into Anatolia (Sultanate of Rum) where a dynasty of Seljuk Turks had been ruling for some time. The Kayis were led by Ertugrul and, just like the Khaljis and Tughlaks did in the Sultanate of Delhi, these new arrivals first took up service in the frontier towns and forts of the Sultanate of Rum.

By 1300 Ertugrul's son Osman had overthrown the Seljuks and had begun a rapid expansion of his power across the Mediterranean region. Osman assumed the Islamic title of Fakhr-ud-din while the Mongol title of Khan also became current with his followers and descendants (in interesting parallels with the Khaljis described above). But here the similarities end for the Kayis and the Seljuks mingled together and assumed the corrupted name of their leader---Osman to Othman and finally to Ottoman---while the larger population of Anatolia converted to Islam and called themselves Turks.

This Ottoman Sultanate survived many challenges to its existence and formed an Empire straddling three continents. This fact gives rise to an important question...why couldn't the Turks form such a powerful and long-lasting empire in India? Apart from the striking similarities in their origins and early history the Turks in Anatolia and the Turks in Delhi both had a distinct military superiority over their infidel neighbors. And yet after the initial expansion the Khalji and Tughlak possessions went into the hands of the indigenous powers or broke away under rebellious governors.

It has become a fashion, since the time the first Britons wrote India's history, to attribute the fall of the Delhi Sultanate to a number of causes. Instead of studying them in isolation, as is usually the practice, it would be better to juxtapose these causes on the contemporary Ottoman Sultanate to see if they hold any weight.
  • Size of the Sultanate: It is said that the under the Khaljis and Tughlaks the Delhi Sultanate had become too big to be administered by the central authority. This is especially significant for the medieval era where communication links were poor and many days journey intervened between important provincial towns. However the Ottoman Sultanate was much bigger and additionally their communications were hampered by long stretches of desert and the sea---and yet these Turks did not appear to have any difficulty in holding their vast domain together.
  • Mongol invasions: The invasions organized from the Mongol Khanate of Transoxiana are said to have bled the military strength of the Delhi Turks and to have ruined the economic basis of their Sultanate. In fact the economic basis of the Delhi Sultanate was in the Gangetic plains from Delhi to Bengal and not in the Punjab, which in the medieval era was an unproductive land covered with tracts of jungle and scrub (see GW-I). But even in Punjab the Turks placed frontier garrisons at Dipalpur, Multan, Uch, and Samana to thwart the invaders and make counter-attacks on their armies. The Ottomans too had to deal with the Mongol Khans---in 1243 the Sultanate of Rum was forced to pay tribute and was eventually destroyed by the Mongol invaders. At the same time the Ottomans had to face wars of aggression carried out by the powers of Western Europe eager to liberate Asia Minor and the Holy Land from the grasp of the Turks. Even with two external enemies breathing down their neck the Ottomans did not lose hold over their empire.
  • Constant rebellions and infighting: There was constant infighting within the royal families of the Khaljis and Tughlaks---son killing father and brother killing brother. Such infighting also involved their numerous followers and allies and thus generated an internal conflict, which encouraged distant provinces to rebel and declare their independence. However the Royal House of Osman was also afflicted by this phenomenon and closer to home even the Rajput clans had instances of family wrangles and rebellions---yet in both cases the structure of the state remained unaffected in the long term. Hence this cannot be a major cause for the fall of the Turk power.
  • Decisions and policies of individual Sultans: It is held that the change of capital by Muhammad Tughlak and his over-ambition, and the revival of the jagir system by Firuz Tughlak each in their own way contributed to the disintegration of the Delhi Sultanate. Without going into the details of these policies and numerous acts of other Sultans it should be noted that the Turk power was challenged as early as in the reign of a strong ruler like Ala-ud-din. Besides the Ottomans too had their share of colorful characters, some weak and others vigorous, they too changed their capital, but the Sultanate did not disintegrate.
  • Timur's invasion: The Turk Amir Timur invaded North India in 1398. His brutal campaign, up to the city of Delhi, is said to have ended the Tughlak dynasty and weakened the position of the Muslims in India. This contention does not hold any water as the lands of the Delhi Sultanate by that time were dominated by Rajput and Jat chieftains---this is confirmed by Timur's own words. He actually fought against fellow Muslims only outside the gates of Delhi. On the way through Multan and Bhatner, he mostly fought Rajput and Jat chieftains, and on his return by the northern route battled against the Rajputs of the Jammu and Kangra hills. Far from weakening the Muslim position Timur actually saved them from being overwhelmed by the indigenous powers---it was due to his massacres that the Punjab saw the subsequent rise of Muslim dynasties like the Sayyids and the Lodis and not the indigenous powers. Moreover the Ottoman Turks also faced the hordes of Timur! In 1402 Amir Timur ravaged the territory of Anatolia and captured the Ottoman Sultan Bayezid after a bloody battle---after his release Sultan Bayezid committed suicide[32] in his capital city and Ottoman power was only revived under his successors.

When the same problems afflicted both Sultanates and when their origin and background were so similar what was the factor that caused the cataclysmic downfall of one? It is natural to attribute the fall of the Turks in India to the indigenous resistance. This fight covers the political and military resistance of the independent Rajput clans and the southern kingdoms; the rebellions of the peasantry of the Gangetic plains; and the cultural resistance of the subject population within the Delhi Sultanate, which unlike the population of Anatolia, held fast to its traditions and refused to be assimilated into the culture and ideology of its rulers.
32]One account suggests that he committed suicide due to his humiliating treatment by Timur. Apparently Bayezid was kept in a cage while his wife was stripped naked and was made to serve drinks to Timur in that shameful state.