Sunday, April 30, 2006

Punjabi society

It has been held by the colonial historians that at this time of Islamic invasion the inhabitants of Punjab were descended from earlier groups of foreign invaders—the leftist historians faithfully reproduced these wild theories. The compulsions of both sets of historians have been described earlier. In the case of Punjab they claim that the region was under the rule of Indo-Greeks, the Sakas and Kushans, and finally the Huns in the 6th Century CE. From this they conclude that the poorer sections of these invaders “became” the agricultural classes while the upper section “became” Rajputs.

Now the evolution of the word Rajput and its connection with the resistance against the Islamist onslaught has already been shown previously. The theory of foreigners conveniently “becoming” an Indian community has no basis in fact, since neither the colonial nor the leftist historians bothered to back their claims with actual evidence.

To compare the invaders-becoming-Indian theory with later times we find that the centuries of Islamic invasion left behind a 20% Muslim population in India with a mere 3% claiming definite foreign origin. Moreover according to this theory the earlier invaders adopted the Indian religions and customs and did not forcibly convert Indians to their own customs or ideology; hence their numbers when compared to the Muslim population would be lower still.

The position of the Gujjar and Jat agricultural classes as Indian infantry has been shown above—it seems that after the Islamic invasions they evolved a separate identity from the dominant cavalier Rajputs. The colonial historians added their usual racist twist to this natural development—they claimed that the word Gurjara does not indicate a province but a people. However there are several ancient references to Gurjara as a province covering southwestern Rajasthan and Gujarat. The class divisions among this people gave rise to the latter-day Rajputs, Gujjars, Jats, etc—once again this version does not account for the evolution of the word Rajput from the Vedic texts.

It has been shown above how the Pratihars of Gurjar defended the region from the Arab invaders, captured Kannauj, and later moved into Punjab. The colonial historians reversed this trend, claiming that the foreign-origin Gurjars “moved in” with the Huns[1] and first settled in Punjab before “moving down” into Rajasthan! As evidence they point to the Gujjar cattle-herders living in Punjab and the neighboring regions but speaking their own Gojri language, which has great similarities to Rajasthani.

The language similarity actually proves the Gurjar expansion from Rajasthan, for otherwise the Rajasthani language should have been prevalent in Punjab where these alleged “foreigners” first settled. The oral traditions of the Gujjars also oppose this theory. What really happened is that the Gurjara-Pratihara Empire disintegrated, leaving behind the Parihar Rajput settlements around their old strongholds. They also left behind the name Gurjar in Punjab where their one surviving kingdom was finally dissolved in the conflict with Kashmir. After the Muslim invasions, landowners manning the elephants and cavalry portion of Indian armies were slaughtered or converted, while the infantry portion recruited from villages were mostly left alone[2] if they did not fight—in the case of the former Gurjar Kingdom these retained their language and culture and became the ancestors of the latter-day Gujjar and allied agricultural classes.

A similar story is told of the Jats. The colonial historians claim them to be a foreign race also found in Iran and Central Asia, from whence they “moved in” to Sindh. Later as the Islamic invaders captured Punjab and the Gangetic plains, the Jats are said to have “moved in” behind them thus accounting for their large numbers. However the presence of Chauhan Jats, and of Jats sporting other Rajput clan-names, who emerged from the bloody conflict of Kannauj and Ajmer with Muhammad Ghori negates this theory. Jat appears to be an occupational rather than tribal term—applied to both farmers and infantry soldiers in the northern India of that period.

In fact the only foreign-origin segment of the northwestern society were the Shahi rulers of the Kabul valley, who were either descendants of the Kushan monarch Kanishka (reigned nine centuries before the Shahis) or belonged to a family of Buddhist Turks from Tibet (who had ruled that region for sixty generations). The long period of rule or actual origin of these foreigners is not important. What is really important is that though these foreigners adopted Indian customs and religions, inter-married with Indian royalty, and ruled for so many centuries—yet they were still regarded as being of foreign origin!

This fact, clearly and repeatedly mentioned in contemporary literature, finds a resonance with the stories of other foreign immigrants to India who have not forgotten their ancestry in all this time[3]. It puts into perspective the modern myths of the colonial historians who claimed that Saka, Kushan, and Hun invaders, after a few generations were conveniently absorbed into the Indian population, forgot their own origins (!), and began claiming an Indian ancestry (!)—to top it all the rest of India also somehow suffered a universal attack of amnesia at this same time and tamely accepted their claims. The damage done to Indian History writing by the colonial and leftist historians will take time and effort to repair.

The evolution of the word Rajput from Vedic texts has been shown previously and its emergence in the ferocious resistance to the Islamic invaders has also been discussed. In the books of Muslim historians the word occurs only from the 14th Century—in Timur's autobiography. Up until then the leaders of the local resistance in Kannauj and Ajmer and other places were termed “Ranas and Rais”—the same terms are used when describing the local resistance in Punjab. But Timur, who traversed through Punjab and dealt with the local powers, only uses the word Rajput for Hindu warriors who faced him in the approach to Delhi and not in the Punjab.

In the Mughal texts of a later age the word Rajput is used only for Hindu warriors of noble birth—it is never used for converts. The following documents from the Ain-i-Akbari will make this clear: the first page describes the Forts, towns, and the military castes in the region between the Rivers Indus and Jehlum. Here are mentioned the Awan, Gakkhar, Janjua, and Afghan tribes—none of the former three are called Rajput. In fact beyond the Ravi River the word Rajput is not used for any community in any of the Mughal documents.

But in the second document, which deals with regions south of the Ravi, i.e. Forts, towns, and the military castes in the region between the Rivers Beas and Ravi (also including a portion of the Kangra hills) the word Rajput appears several times. These forts are found in the hills of Himachal Pradesh, which has retained its traditional Hindu character to this day. Interestingly Rajput is found in conjunction with Sombanshi, which is a version of Chandravanshi, the lunar family of warrior clans mentioned in the Vedic texts.

In all the Mughal texts, when referring to these northwestern regions, the word Rajput is only used for Hindu warriors usually from the hill-states of Uttaranchal, Himachal, and Jammu—those that remained staunch defenders of the Hindu faith.

Punjabi Muslims not connected with the three main phases of Rajput History

Descended from the older clans that fought the Saka and Kushan invaders, Rajput identity formation begins with the victory over the Arab invaders, and the formation of the Chhattis Rajkul confederacy. The 36 clans of this confederacy were located in Western and Central India, like the Imperial Pratiharas, Chauhans, Guhilots and Paramaras. The number of clans multiplied into the hundreds in subsequent centuries, but they all trace their ancestry to the clans mentioned in the Chattis Rajkul. The Punjabi tribes are neither mentioned in this muster roll of clans nor do they partake in the victory over the Arabs. Indeed Sindh and lower Punjab remain under Arab rule.

The next phase of Rajput history is the fiery resistance to the Turk invaders in the period 1192 to 1326. The Rajputs gave their lives to protect temples, Brahmins and cows, representing the cultural, intellectual, and agricultural wealth of the country respectively. Punjabi Muslims have no part in this resistance.

The third phase is the period of Rajput dominance from 1326 to 1527, when the Maharanas of Mewar were hailed as the Hindupat (head of the Hindu nation) and all the Rajput clans universally adopted the Singh surname. Rajput identity is incomplete without all three phases of this history, and the Punjabi Muslims cannot stake claim to even one of these. In fact there are communities like the Marathas and Jats, who share Rajput clan names but are not part of these phases of Rajput history either. These communities would still be closer to the Rajputs than the Punjabi Muslims simply because they have retained their ancestral faith.
The case of Kashmir

Unlike Punjab, the Kashmir region of India is protected on all sides by towering mountain ranges. The armies of Mahmud Ghaznavi failed to penetrate this massive barrier. But foreign influence was critical in converting the inhabitants of the fertile valley to Islam.

The internal politico-military framework was already suffering from severe shortcomings as described in the contemporary historical work, the Rajatarangini. Real power lay with groups of military classes called Tantrins (infantry soldiers) and Ekangas, and landowners called Damaras. Their origin and organization is unknown for no other authority describes the history of Kashmir with such detail as the Rajatarangini.

While grappling with these groups, the king did not have any clan (his own armed kinsmen) to rely on, unlike in Ajmer or Kannauj or even in the neighboring regions of Jammu and Kangra. There were frequent changes of dynasties and ministers or even revenue officials could be chosen to become kings while the above-mentioned groups exercised the real power. The only way for a king to establish his authority was to launch military expeditions into neighboring regions (Darads of the Kishenganga valley, Poonch, Punjab)—but ultimately the structure of the kingdom remained socially fractured.

But the worst sin of numerous Kashmiri rulers was their reliance on foreign mercenaries who they allowed to settle down in the valley. From Vajraditya in the 8th Century, who is said to have introduced practices beneficial to Mlechchas, to Rinchan in the 14th Century, who relied on Muslim mercenaries for his power and ultimately passed on this power to them. Again and again the Rajtarangini bemoans the entry of Turushkas and Mlechchas into Kashmir.

In 1301 Kashmir was invaded by Dulucha leading a 60,000 strong army of Turushka, Tajik, and Mlechcha horsemen, who killed and looted the inhabitants of the valley and carried away thousands of slaves. At about that time a Tibetan prince named Rinchan also invaded the unhappy land and easily usurped power—he took the support of the Muslim mercenaries in Kashmir. One of these named Shah Mir later became the first Sultan of Kashmir—his descendant Sikandar forcibly converted the inhabitants of Kashmir to Islam.

The lack of a clan-system of warriors meant that there was no continuing resistance to this change. But such a system was not lacking in the Punjab as will be seen in the next post.

[1] Hence called the Hun-Gurjar theory.
[2] The following is a quote from the Mirat-i-Masudi, a history of Masud Ghaznavi, which describes how there were one set of rules for the Hindu rulers and warriors and another set of rules for the farmers. “As soon as Saifu-d dín and Miyán Rajab reached Bahráích, they sent back word that there were no supplies to be obtained there, and that their army stood in danger of perishing, unless help was afforded them. Mas'úd ordered the chaudharís and mukaddims of the pargannahs to be brought before him, and those of seven or eight of the pargannahs were brought. He then called to his presence Bípás, Chaudharí of Saddahur, and Narharí, Chaudharí of Amíthí, and encouraged them in every way, exhorting them to en­courage the cultivation of the lands, which would be advantageous both to them and to their ryots.”
[3] Refer to the history of the Parsi and Jewish immigrants.
Read More......

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

The Punjab problem

200 years before Muhammad Ghori’s invasion of Ajmer and Kannauj had occurred the invasions of Mahmud Ghaznavi. From his base of Ghazni this Turk invaded the neighboring Kingdom of the Shahi dynasty in Punjab, and carried out cavalry raids deep into other parts of North India. Mahmud’s descendants made the town of Lahore their base—just as the lieutenants of Ghori later made the town of Delhi their base.

The Sultans of Delhi remained locked in battle with the Rajput chieftains for centuries, as described in previous posts, and couldn’t convert the local people by force or persuasion. In Punjab too the Ghaznavid rulers were in conflict with local powers but managed to convert large numbers of Punjabis to Islam. Why was it so? From epigraphic records it appears that the kingdoms of this region had the same political and administrative organization as in regions south of the Sutlej River—and yet the inhabitants of the Punjab plains did not (or could not) resist the converting zeal of Islam.

The problem gets worse when we consider later events. In the 19th Century when the British rulers first carried out a census of the Indian people, the landowning classes in the Punjab laid claim to being Rajputs! To accommodate these claims the British rulers coined the oxymoronic term Mussalman Rajput. The ferocious resistance of the early Rajaputra families and the willingness of their descendants to die rather than abandon their ancestral faith negates the use of such a term.

The conflicts of the Ghaznavid rulers with the Indians in Punjab are known only in superficial form—it is not clear what military changes the Indians made to resist this menace as they did later in Ajmer and Kannauj. Unlike these kingdoms, the region of Punjab in an earlier period was divided into numerous small powers, with an all-powerful overlord in the shape of the Shahi dynasty. But a cursory glance is needed at the regions of Sindh and Afghanistan to put the history of Punjab in perspective.

Kannauj, Kashmir, and Sindh

The Pratihar rulers of Gurjara province defeated the Arab invaders from Sindh in the 8th Century CE. After they had captured Kannauj, the Pratihars advanced north and captured a large portion of Punjab—they left a representative of their clan to consolidate this conquest. This conquered region acquired the name Gurjarat (Gurjar-rashtra) since its rulers had their original home in the region of Gurjar[1] (south western Rajasthan and northern Gujarat).

The ruling dynasties of Kashmir (Karkota and Utpala) had their periods of rise and fall. Lalitaditya of the Karkota dynasty defeated an Arab raid into Punjab—the later dynasty of Utpala fought against the neighboring chieftains of Darvabhisara (modern Poonch) and Trigart (modern Kangra). The chief of Gurjarat[2] Alakhan was defeated and his territories reduced in extent while his allies, the Shahis of Kabul, subsequently faced an Utpala invasion. Their history will be related later.

The Pratihar campaigns reduced the Arabs in Sindh to the status of tributaries and confined their power to small states like Mansurah and Multan. When driven to desperation by a Pratihar invasion the Arabs in Multan would threaten to demolish an ancient Sun Temple, which was frequented by thousands of Indian pilgrims and the Pratihars would immediately retire.

The Arab administration included a large number of Hindus and they tolerated their religious practices and temples. But the Turks, who were new converts to Islam, and who eventually captured the regions west of Kabul had none of this toleration.

The Shahis

A dynasty of Buddhists, with the title Shahi, had been ruling over Kabul and the adjoining Swat valley—they were described as being of foreign origin. At the time of the Arab expansion into what is now called Afghanistan there was a Kingdom of Zabul to the west of Kabul. For almost 200 years these two kingdoms resisted the Arabs—some parts of their kingdoms were annexed but most of the time they would pay tribute and maintain their independence.

Finally at the close of the 9th Century Zabulistan and the Kabul valley were conquered by the Arabs—the king of Zabulistan was killed and his people were converted to Islam. Who this king was and what was the ethnic make-up of his people remains a mystery since information on this region comes only from Arab historians. Unlike in other parts of India no coins or inscriptions have survived and no member of the ruling family (like the Rajaputras in India) could carry on the resistance.

At the time of its conquest the Shahi family ruling Kabul had been overthrown by their Brahmin minister named Lalliya. The new ruler continued with the title of Shahi and founded a new capital on the banks of the Indus called Udabhand (modern Ohind)—he also continued the fight against further Arab expansion. Lalliya further became drawn into the politics of the regions to the east where a power vacuum had developed.

The ruling dynasty of Kashmir had become debased through internal conflicts and their recent acquisition of Punjabi land from the Pratihars was now lost. The branch of the Pratihar family ruling over Gujrat (in Punjab) had earlier lost their power in the conflict with Kashmir and a new ruling family had founded the town of Lohur (modern Lahore) and had control over the central Punjab under their chief Bharat. Further to the east were the Kingdoms of Durgar (modern Jammu) and Trigart (modern Kangra), which latter kingdom may (or may not) have included the adjoining region of Jalandhar.

Through the course of the 10th Century CE the Shahis extended their power over this politically fractured region. Coins and inscriptions of Lalliya’s grandson Bhim and the later rulers like Jaipal and Anandpal have been found mostly in the mountains of the northwest. Other literary and epigraphic evidence suggests that they had imposed tributary claims over the rest of Punjab and had matrimonial alliances with the ruling families in the neighboring regions.

At about this time the empire of the Pratiharas passed, although their descendants continued to rule Kannauj till 1019 CE. Their place was taken by the rising new clans like the Chauhans, Parmars, Gahadvals, and Chaulukyas. To the west of the Shahi lands the Samanid dynasty of Transoxiana, and their Turk slaves, unseated the Arabs from Zabulistan and captured their capital of Ghazni. Jaipal Shahi sent an army to aid the Arabs in fighting these Turks but the allies were defeated and eventually the Turk slave Sabuktigin established his rule over Ghazni and became independent of the Samanids.

Before the long conflict between the Shahis and the Ghaznavids is described a comparable summary of the political situation in the Punjab is necessary.

The Kingdom of Ajmer represented the steady rise of a single clan over the course of several centuries—the chieftains and inhabitants of this region thus had the necessary self-belief, unity of purpose, and determination to fight the alien interloper. Similarly the Kingdom of Kannuj had an imperial tradition, established by Harshvardhan in the 7th Century and continued by the Pratihars and Gahadvals, for its warriors and civilians alike to take inspiration from—successive generations continued to challenge the foreigners well into the 15th Century[3].

Punjab, and the northwest, contained a hotchpotch of clans and kingdoms that had no imperial tradition to speak of. Almost a thousand years earlier the foreign Kushans had created an empire from this region but their capital had shifted to Mathura—and in time these foreigners were overthrown by the indigenous clans. Imperial claims on Punjab were made by rulers from Kannauj, Kashmir, and Sindh. Only with the rise of the Hindu Shahis did a semblance of an empire emerge after a long gap—but by then the powerful Ghaznavids were already breaking through their western frontiers.

The Ghaznavid-Shahi struggle

Sabuktigin died in 997 CE and out of paternal affection left the throne to his younger son. His eldest son Mahmud defeated this younger brother and the very next year also crushed the power of the Samanids—in 999 CE Mahmud was recognized by the Arab Khalifa as the ruler of a vast dominion covering Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and parts of Central Asia.

The resources of Mahmud had increased greatly, particularly in the number of horsemen recruited from these countries, and these were now employed in making further expansion of the Ghaznavid lands. In the year 1000 Mahmud captured some frontier forts and amassed his army at Peshawar—Jaipal advanced to fight him but was defeated and taken prisoner along with his grandsons. Mahmud advanced on the Shahi capital of Ohind and defeated another army of the Shahis—subsequently Jaipal was succeeded by his son Anandpal.

In 1005 when Anandpal refused to grant Mahmud passage to attack the Ismaili rulers of Multan, another battle was fought near Peshawar with the inevitable result. The ruler of Multan also submitted and paid tribute—to govern these new conquests Mahmud left behind the captured grandson of Jaipal, named Nawasa Shah (real name Sukhpal), who had been converted to Islam. While Mahmud was involved in subduing other Turkish enemies in Khurasan, Nawasa Shah embraced his ancestral faith once again and declared independence—the Ghaznavids had to return to finish his power.

In 1008 Mahmud once again attacked Anandpal and defeated him—two years later he also defeated the Ismailis and captured Multan. Subsequently Anandpal concluded a treaty with Mahmud and the latter agreed not to invade his lands. On the death of Anandpal the conflict between the neighboring powers resumed—in 1013 from their new capital of Nandan on the Salt Range the Shahis defied the attacks of the Turks. Emboldened by their success, and on the reported arrival of allied armies, they came out of the rugged hills and were defeated in the open plain. Their ruler Trilochanpal escaped to Kashmir but was followed by the enemy who captured many slaves from the valley.

In 1015 Mahmud returned to these hills to subdue a revolt and attempted to conquer Kashmir but the winter snow blocked the passes and foiled his object. In 1021 Trilochanpal, from his new capital at Sarhind, made an alliance with the Chandellas of Kalinjar and fought against Mahmud but was defeated and killed. All his lands were annexed by the Turks and his son Bhimpal also died a few years later without a royal title to his name. Mahmud subsequently campaigned in the hills around Peshawar to kill or convert the inhabitants to Islam.

Before his death in 1030 CE Mahmud had decided to divide his empire among his sons to prevent a fratricidal struggle—the decision actually created the conditions for that inevitable conflict. The Ghaznavids, while fighting each other, also attempted to imitate Mahmud’s cavalry raids to accumulate resources but were not successful and the empire fell apart. They lost Ghazni to the Turk rulers of Ghor and had to shift their capital to Lahore in the Punjab. A continuous conflict is described with the local powers and many cities and towns changed hands repeatedly between Hindu and Muslim. The Ghaznavid lands south of the River Sutlej were conquered by the Chauhan clan, as described above, while the Ghori Turks took Peshawar.

The Ghaznavid ruler Khusro Malik continued the fights of his forefathers with the local powers—one of these was with the ruler of Jammu, in which the Gakkhars of Potohar sided with the Muslims. The Raja of Jammu made a pact with Muhammad Ghori who was preparing to invade Punjab—after three campaigns the Ghaznavid dynasty of Lahore was finally extinguished. The Jammu chief had to continue the alliance against the Chauhans and was killed in the first Battle of Tarain.

Muhammad Ghori became Amir in 1202 CE—his defeat three years later by the Khwarazim Turks prompted a revolt by the Gakkhars who plundered both Multan and Lahore. Subsequently Qutb-ud-din Aibak from Delhi and Muhammad Ghori from Ghazni converged on the Gakkhars and defeated them in a battle fought between the Jhelum and Chenab Rivers. Large numbers of Gakkhars were taken prisoner and those that escaped into a dense forest were burnt alive when the Muslims shot flaming arrows into the trees.

Muhammad first settled the administration at Lahore and returned to Ghazni—but on the way he was stabbed to death while camping on the banks of the Indus by some Gakkhars (or by Shia Ismailis from Khurasan).

What was the composition of the armies following the Shahis and what tactics did they use? Who were their generals and allies? What amount of control did they have over the eastern Punjab and how did they shift capitals with such ease? And most importantly why couldn’t the inhabitants of the Punjabi forts continue to resist the Muslim invaders as the Rajputs later did in Ajmer, Kannauj, and other parts of India?

These questions will be tackled after the composition of Punjabi society has been fully discussed in the next post.

[1] The claim that Gurjar was the name of a foreign race and that the modern day pastoral Gujjars are their descendants will be discussed in the next post.
[2] The remains of this kingdom is the modern city of Gujrat in Punjab.
[3] Refer to the history of the Rajput kingdoms like Etawa. Read More......

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Limitations of Rajputs

The previous posts have described a brief history of the Chauhan clan, the rise of the Chauhan Rajaputras, and the evolution of the word Rajput from the Vedic texts. These posts have also described the development of Rajput military tactics (the cavalry charge) and the ferocious response to the converting zeal of Islam (the tactic of jauhar).

The later conflict between Turks and Rajputs, which ended with the formation of Rajputana and the fall of the Turk empire, has been described in an earlier article (guerrilla warfare). The later history of the Rajput states and armies in the Mughal Empire and of the princely states in the British Raj is fairly well known.

The Rajaputra families naturally traced their own history back to the origin of their individual clans, which in turn were branches of older clans, going back to the Vedic era. They carry the historical baggage of several millennia down to the 20th Century and today all the positives and negatives from this long span of Indian History are applied to them.

However since the positives of the Rajputs (relating to their resistance to the Islamist onslaught) have been described here only after the actual rise of the Rajaputra families, it’s only fair to also look at the negatives, but from this later period alone.

Failure to form an empire

The Rajput state was formed by one dominant clan. If that particular clan was successful and managed to extend its territories, other clans came under its rule—but even then the structure of the state was dominated by the original ruling clan. This prevented most Rajput states from extending their kingdoms into large empires—the Rajput state that came closest to forming an empire was the Kingdom of Mewar in the 16th Century[1].

The ruling Sesodia clan was served by Hadas, Rathors, and Jhalas; other ruling clans that had been devastated by the Turk invasion were left to their lot as common farmers. The Sesodias remained in the dominant positions of the state and in the army—but as the state expanded further, the population of the ruling clan could never be able to keep pace and would soon become a minority even in the combined Rajput population! This prevented Rajput clan-states from staking claims to empire unless they commanded a coalition of other states—the limitations of such coalitions are given below.

Command and control of coalitions

Like every other community of clans and states, the Rajputs have formed coalitions to fight off a common threat. Some of these coalitions have failed, like the Chaulukya-Parmar union against Qutb-ud-din Aibak, but others have been successful, like the Chaulukya-Guhilot alliance against Sultan Balban. In the earlier case the clans assembled at one place and fought as one unit…but in the latter instance the allies fought separately from their own bases (which were hundreds of miles distant) and only coordinated their movements against the Turks.

Camping in one place, marching together, and forming for battle brings up issues of the command and control of the different clan-armies[2]. This invariably gives rise to jealousy and can lead to quarrels that break up the order of the allied army—this is also seen in military campaigns of other cultures. In the 13th Century the allied Russian princes, similarly camping and marching together to the Battle of Kalka River, began quarreling and soon lost that fight to the Mongols.

Such jealousies and quarrels are far more magnified in the Rajput clans but for a very sound reason. In their ferocious response to the Islamist aggression, when they saw their cherished faith being uprooted, the Rajputs clung desperately to their clan-identity. They even gave up their lives for it. This caused a heightened sense of clan purity, which in turn led to ideas of clan supremacy (over the Muslim invader and over other Rajput clans), laced with the steely determination of not submitting to others.

Related to this is the ability to raise a large army at short notice. The Turk invaders, and even the Marathas and Sikhs, commanded large armies on the strength of their ability to pay these soldiers. An ambitious chieftain, when initially successful in a military campaign, could then attract other soldiers to his side and command them into battle for the sake of money. But a Rajput chieftain had to be dependent only on his clan—even if successful he could not recruit soldiers from other clans since the whole notion of clan supremacy would then be overthrown. The only way for a Rajput commander to recruit other Rajput clans was by negotiating with their chieftains—this was how the Mughal Empire under Akbar brought the Rajput clans into their army. But even when fighting together in these armies, the clans were driven purely by self-interest as illustrated in the Battle of Dharmat.

Preference for legend and romance

The bard (bhat) was the most crucial member of every Rajput army. He sang out loud the valiant deeds of their forefathers to inspire the warriors into making the fiercest exertions in battle. The bard was also an observer of events but he did not make a historical record…rather such events were related in poems, which were passed down through generations of bards by word of mouth.

Legendary and romantic stories are easier to relate in poetic form hence Rajput history is full of these stories, which today have been faithfully reproduced in the Amar Chitra Katha series. But even in an earlier age myth and legend managed to unseat bland historical fact—the evolution of the Agnikund legend will illustrate this point.

The Parmar clan ruled from Dhar (in modern Madhya Pradesh) in the 10th Century…their earliest epigraphic record is the Harsola grant, which relates that these Kings were born in a family of the Rashtrakutas (in the Deccan). But sometime later, as the power of the clan increased, the poet Padmagupta Parimal created a legendary story for his patrons:

The Vedic sage Vasishtha had a wish-fulfilling cow called the Kamadhenu, which was stolen by his rival, the sage Vishvamitra. To recover it Vasishtha made offerings to a sacrificial fire on the heights of Mt. Abu while chanting holy verses…a warrior emerged from the fire and recovered the cow for his creator. In acknowledgement of his immense service Vasishta named this warrior Paramar, which means enemy-slayer (para-maar).

This legend, being so exciting to hear and read, was now inscribed on all subsequent Parmar records. Their original statement of belonging to the Rashtrakuta family was lost for a long time until the said Harsola grant was recovered and translated in the 19th Century. But before that the legend went through another twist in the 16th Century…by this time the power of the Parmars had gone and new clans (Sesodias and Rathors) dominated the landscape of that region. In this period the Prithviraj Raso of Chand Bardai related another version of this legend which gave pride of place, not to the Parmars but to the Chauhans (and which subsequently became the most popular legend):

Vasishtha kindled a fire-pit (agnikund) at Mt. Abu to create warriors for fighting off the demons. The first to emerge was the Pratihar; he was placed to guard[3] the sacred site
. A second emerged from the chullu (palm) of the sage and was called the Chaulukya. The third warrior eagerly sought out the demons but could not prevail over them—he was called the Pra-maar (first-striker), which evolved later into Parmar. The fourth warrior carried weapons in four arms and destroyed the demons—he was called the Chauh-maan because of this.

In another version of this story the sage Vishvamitra is substituted for Vasishtha suggesting that the root of this story is derived from the earlier legend of the Parmars. The origins of the names of the four clans that are given in this legend, are not based in history or accurate linguistics. Unfortunately such legends became the stuff of Rajput history.

Interestingly the colonial historians, who normally rejected legendary stories in their works, immediately latched on to this legend. But in their version they substituted Vasishtha with “the Brahmins” and the demons with “Saka and Hun invaders”. They also suggested that the warrior clans emerging from the fire were Hinduised foreigners…ignoring the basic fact that the earlier legends were created merely to glorify that particular clan and the date of the even the earliest legend was 500 years too late to tally with the Hun invasions!

So the Rajput preference for legend and romance, which can be seen in other examples, has dropped a shroud over their actual history and has been used by their modern detractors to discredit and manipulate their origins.

[1] The other examples are Marwar (also in the 16th Century), Jaipur (in the 18th Century), Bundelkhand (17th Century), and lastly J&K and Nepal (both in the 19th Century).
[2] In the Battle of Khanua (1527) between Rana Sanga and Babur the fighting on the Rajput side was done mostly by the clans in the Kingdom of Mewar. When no progress could be made against Babur’s defense works the other clans in the coalition left for their own homes without taking part in the battle.
[3] This is the implied origin of their clan-name since the word Pratihar means ‘guard’. However there are other stories for this word becoming a clan-name: the Imperial Pratiharas originated in the Gurjara province and defended it from the invaders and are hence called Gurjara-Pratihar by some historians, although only one inscription uses this particular phrase, and that inscription is of a feudatory of the Imperial Pratiharas.

next: the problem of Punjab's conversion to Islam Read More......

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Rajaputra - origin and evolution

In the earliest Indian text (the Rig Veda dating back several millennia) the word jan refers to a tribe/people while the ruler or protector of that tribe is called the Ra-jan. The Rajan’s wife is called the Rajani and his brothers, cousins, and nephews are called Rajanyas (also pronounced Rajanka). These Rajanyas provided the armed strength to protect the jan while the Rajan was their leader in war and an administrator/judge in times of peace.

In later times Rajan evolved into Raja (King), Rajani into Rani (Queen), and Rajanya into Rana (chieftain). Such changes were of course more immediate in the spoken languages like Prakrit or Apabhramsa and slower in the classical language of Sanskrit. As an illustration, the Pratihara clan have recorded an inscription near modern Jodhpur (dated 837 CE), which refers to their queen as the Maharajni (great queen)…this rajni would be an Apabhramsa word from the original Sanskrit rajani. A second example, this time from the east, will further illustrate this process of word evolution. The Bhanja dynasty in Orissa issued copper-plate grants in the 9th Century that mention princes with the title of Ranak…again an Apabhramsa word between the Rajanka[1] of ancient times and the Rana of a later age[2].

As populations grew and tribal territories expanded into monarchies, the Rajanyas must have become landowners/rulers in their own right with the word Rana becoming a hereditary title. And when these Rajanyas became chieftains another word was needed for the mass of ordinary soldiers and nobles who were not chiefs—this new word was Kshatriya or warrior[3]. It is in this later Vedic age that we read for the first time of the word Rajaputra (the Raja’s son).

This is the right place to mention the historical personalities associated with the word Rajaputra. The famous founder of Buddhism, Siddharth, was a prince who left his family to contemplate the meaning of life. Since he never returned to become king after his father’s death, he was always called Rajaputra Siddharth in all Buddhist texts. This was in the 7th Century BCE—more than eighteen centuries before the Turk-Rajput wars!

The second historic personality is Harshvardhan, the younger brother of Rajyavardhan, in the Kingdom of Thanesar. The elder brother became ruler of Kannauj in the 7th Century CE while Harshvardhan, as the junior prince, was called the Rajaputra Siladitya. Even after becoming king Harsh continued with the designation of Rajaputra until his position on the throne was secure...all this happened 600 years before the Turk-Rajput wars. In fact Rajaputras as the upper or royal segment of kshatriyas are mentioned repeatedly in Bana's Harshacharita. The two sons of the king of Malava who took shelter in Thanesar, Kumaragupta II and Madhavagupta, are called Malava Rajaputra. The Madhavgupta of this passage is identical with a king of that name mentioned in the Aphsad inscription as having allied with Harshavardhana.

The break-up of the Maurya Empire in northwest India and the intrusion of foreign powers like the Yavans, Sakas, and Kushans, led to some interesting changes in the use of titles, which is described in this post.

So while the big powers began using high-sounding titles, this also had its impact on the clan-states that were subject them (or resisted them). The map displays the location of these clans (all in small fonts) against the major powers (in big fonts) can be seen clearly they are mostly located in the western and northern parts of India while the northwest is under foreign rule.

This is beautiful silver coin of the Kuninda warrior clan, located in modern Himachal Pradesh. The legend in Prakrit (Brahmi script): "Rajnah Kunindasya Amoghabhutisya Maharajasya". Amoghabhuti was the ruler of the Kuninda warrior clan, and had taken the high-sounding personal title of Maharaja. However he continued with his traditional rank of being the head of the clan...which is Rajan. His leading clansmen would've been called Rajanyas, which as we know evolved into the title of Rana in the plains.

But in the Himalayan territories, where these republics survived for a longer period than in the plains, Rana has been preserved as a surname for a section of the Rajput population from Himachal to Nepal.

Land ownership

When discussing warriors and wars it is important to also understand the economics of war, particularly related to the changing ideas of land usage and ownership. In the republican age of the Rajan and his Rajanyas land was owned and protected by the entire community. In the age of monarchies and empires, land was privately owned but there was still a centrally organized government that could re-assign such land to others.

The break-up of the Maurya Empire and the intrusion of foreign powers in the northwest resulted in the growth of small-state mindedness (miscalled feudalism), or the loyalty of a clan only to its own kingdom. These ruling clans, which long resisted the foreigners and kept their old democratic setup intact, were eventually dissolved and emerged into kingdoms. Even so the small-state mindedness had become so entrentched in the northwestern and western (Rajasthan-Gujarat-Malwa) regions that its efffects were felt down the centuries.

In a later age (Guptas down to Pratihars) land grants by ruling clans to sub-clans also became hereditary and armies eventually became clannish. This was particularly true for the region covered by modern Rajasthan—the earliest Pratihar kings and their Chauhan, Parmar, Chaulukya, and Guhilot feudatories had clan-based armies. In any case hereditary ownership of lands by a hierarchy of chieftains prevented the formation of a centrally organized army as in the case of the Mauryas.

But this very hierarchy gave strength and stability to the local defense, which proved crucial in preserving the independence of Rajasthan throughout the period of Islamic invasions. For these two reasons Rajput history is counted as beginning from the reign of the Pratihars. See the Rawal[4], and Rao[5].

While the word Rajaputra was known from ancient times, it's use in the administration of the big powers began with the Gupta Empire as described here. Their successors across North and Central India continued titling their royal princes as "Rajaputra" and sending them to govern the provinces. And since land ownership, and even administrative posts, had become hereditary by then, many of the younger Rajaputras became feudal chieftains. With the Islamic invasions, and the destruction of the big kingdoms, these chieftains became the leaders of the resistance against the foreigners, and the word Rajput became a symbol of the unconquerable spirit of India's traditional warrior clans.
RajaputraIn this image "Rajaputra Kirtipala (1160 AD)" is the Chauhan ruler of Nadol, a branch of the main line at Ajmer. See Chauhan Rajaputras.

Late in the 12th Century CE, while the Turk invasions were taking place in the north, the rulers of Jaypura (in modern Bihar) also left inscriptions that mention one of their princes who pre-deceased his father as Rajaputra Krishnagupta. The Lalrai inscription is dated "on the 3rd of the bright half of Vaisakha in the [Vikrama] year 1233", and speaks of the Chauhan princes (Rajaputra) Lakhanapala and Abhayapala as the rulers of that territory in south Rajasthan.

Hemchandra (1088-1172 CE) used the word Rajaputrakiah in the sense of Rajputs. The Mount Abu inscription dated 1230 CE, speaks of "all the Rajaputras of the illustrious Pratihara clan". Merutunga in Prabandhachintamani (1305 CE) speaks of "five hundred Rajaputras of the Paramara clan". The term although used in many parts of India gained currency in Western India (Rajasthan-Gujarat-Malwa) as the name for Kshatriyas of royal lineage.

Military Developments

Due to the Turk invasions Rajaputra could not evolve into another title, because the numerous Rajaputra chieftains were at the forefront of resisting these invasions. It evolved into the term Rajput, which was used for those warriors that owned land and protected their people from strong forts. These Rajaputras, from their experience at Tarain and other battles, relied more on cavalry…hence it can be also said that the cavalry portion of the old Hindu armies were now classed as Rajputs[6].

The infantry portion[7], as was common in other parts of the world, was formed of agricultural classes like the Jats, Gujjars, Ahirs etc. Even today there are many Chauhans in Haryana and UP that are classed as Jats…these are probably descended from the infantrymen of Prithviraj Chauhan. These agricultural classes did not have the resources to fight against the Turks of that period, moreover converting them was not a priority since the first target of every Islamic onslaught around the world have been the rulers and warriors. So as long as they paid land revenue these agricultural classes were left alone, accounting for their relatively higher population in those regions today when compared to the Rajputs.

Brahmin ancestors of certain Rajput clans?

In the early inscriptions of the Pratihara clan, they describe their ancestor Harichandra as a Brahmin, but in those same inscriptions assert that he was born in the family of the Ikshvaku prince Lakshmana. Similar contradictions are seen in the inscriptions of the Guhilot Rajputs of Mewar. In the inscriptions two of their early rulers are termed vipra, which means Brahmin, and yet the oldest inscription of the clan at Naravahana (971 CE) asserts that their ancestry was Raghuvamsa-Kirtipisunah (in the lineage of Rama of the suryavanshi line). Any of three possibilities can explain these contradictions:
1) These truly were Brahmin clans that took up the profession of arms and acquired Rajput status.
2) These were Rajputs some of whose rulers also studied the scriptures and gained the additional recognition of "Brahmin".
3) As heads of state, these rulers were also protectors of dharma, and were sometimes required to perform priestly functions.

What is most significant about these inscriptions is that only some of the individual rulers, and not the entire clan, are described as Brahmins, which strengthens the case of the second and third possibilities.

Colonial myths on Rajputs

This post can be concluded with a cursory glance at the theories propounded by colonial and leftist historians to account for the emergence of the word Rajput in Indian History. To be fair to the colonial historians they worked under certain limitations. Many of them believed, quite passionately, that the world had been created in 4004 BCE by an old man in white robes called God—much of their study of history was colored by this mistaken belief. Secondly archaeological remains were at that time not fully excavated, inscriptions had yet to be translated, coins of several rulers had not been found…for these reasons they cannot be faulted for creating modern myths to explain developments of Indian History.

The leftists did not have these limitations—they deliberately disregarded material evidence to continue the myth-making of the colonial historians. With regard to the Rajputs their methodology is to look, not at the evolution of word as shown in literature and inscriptions, but to study the clans that were first called Rajput. Since many of these clans emerged after the time of Harshvardhan of Kannauj these historians insist that these clans were Hinduised foreigners—particularly Sakas and Huns.

Now new clans have emerged in the ancient times and they continued to emerge in very late periods also—but in these cases no one pointed out any foreign connection. More importantly neither the colonial historians nor the leftists provide any material evidence to back their claims—in the shape of literature, inscriptions, coins etc. It would be tiresome to list the various versions of this hypothesis: the upper class of foreigners were called Rajputs the others became Gujjars, Jats etc (!), the Brahmins converted the foreigners for protection against Sakas (!), the Muslim rulers[8] called them Rajputs, and so on.

Why should the word Rajput be applied or adopted out of the blue to or by foreigners? But more importantly if they did adopt this word, or were called so, why did it only emerge several centuries later? What did they call themselves until then? In the light of the facts presented in the previous posts these ideas appear to be quite weird and have no basis in fact. The postulation of the foreign-origin theory for Rajputs came out of the same process, which saw the postulation of the Aryan Theory in the same period and by the same colonial historians. In the latter case too the leftists faithfully reproduced and defended the myth-making by the colonial historians.

[1] The Kadambas of South India have also left inscriptions with this title Ranak in this same age.
[2] In this period the kings used superlative title like Maha-raja (great-king) and Maha-raj-adhi-raja (great-king-of-kings). Their sons could not be less great than their fathers; hence they were titled Maha-rajputras. In any case the word evolution process in these cases would knock-off the prefix maha.
[3] The other classes were Brahmins, Vaishyas, and Shudras.
[4] Rawal has evolved from Rajkula (meaning of the royal family) in this manner: Rajkula>>>Rajula>>>Raola>>>Rawal.
[5] Rao is a variant of Rawal as is shown in the footnote above.
[6] Strikingly enough this was reflected late into the modern age. Up until the 19th Century it was considered most degrading for Rajputs to fight on foot. Only those Rajputs too poor to buy or maintain horses were condemned to employment as infantrymen.
[7] Again in the 19th Century these classes emerged as infantry fighters armed with the new weapons (firearms), particularly the Jats in this region.
[1] In all early Muslim texts the Hindu resistance is said to be led by Ranas and Rais—the word Rajput had to first become current within the Hindu community before it could be used by foreigners. In these foreign texts the word Rajput emerges first in the writings of Timur the lame who mispronounces the name of his opponents as the Rajjipous.

other posts on Rajputs:

Hindu defeats or Hindu vicotries?

Rajputs in school textbooks


next: Limitations of Rajputs
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Friday, April 14, 2006

Muhammad Ghori's blunder

Students of Indian History have often expressed their angst over Prithviraj Chauhan’s mistake after the first Battle of Tarain—he did not try to liberate Punjab when he had the best opportunity. Well, he certainly had the opportunity, but it is equally certain that he lacked the means to grab that opportunity.

As has been shown in the earlier post, the different formations of the Hindu army (elephants, infantry, cavalry) prevented them from chasing down and destroying Ghori’s army. It can be speculated that they should have avoided besieging Sarhind, to first cross the Sutlej and liberate Punjab from Muslim occupation, while Shihab-ud-din was running home to Ghazni. But then the 1200 Turk cavalry in Sarhind fort would not have sat idle—they would’ve swooped down to raid the Chauhan Kingdom and cut-off Prithviraj’s communication links until their master returned from Ghazni with a fresh army. Alternatively they could have followed the Chauhan army into Punjab and harassed them with cavalry maneuvers for several months until the return of Muhammad Ghori.

In either case the Chauhans would have been trapped and destroyed in that alien land. Punjab had been under Muslim occupation then for under 200 years…many of its towns and forts had small garrisons of Turks and many converted Hindus. Such a land could not be liberated in one campaign. Secondly the Chauhans needed to protect their own borders in the south and east from their ambitious neighbors…focusing exclusively on the north would have meant the eventual loss of their kingdom to their other neighbors. With these circumstances it appears that Prithviraj did the right thing in going step-by-step by first liberating Sarhind and acquiring a base for future operations in the north.

The second mistake of Prithviraj is also shared by other Hindu kings of that period (and also of an earlier age). It is often asked why he couldn’t organize counter-raids into the enemy lands just as the Turks raided deep into Indian Territory for loot and slaughter? Again this was possible in theory…the Chauhan infantry and elephants could have blockaded the Turk garrison in Sarhind while their cavalry carried out these raids. They had adequate cavalry (between 5000-10,000 horse) for not only looting Punjab but also going further to attack the unprotected population living around the forts in Ghazni and Ghor.

But the Turks attacked civilians to either sell them as slaves or convert them to Islam…there was no slave-trade in India and what would the Hindus convert the enemy civilians to? But more importantly what was there to loot in the lands under Turk occupation? Punjab, Sindh, and Afghanistan had been turned into economic wastelands by the Islamist onslaught as described by the eyewitness Al-Beruni centuries ago. The Chauhan cavalry would have gained nothing for all their exertions. On the other hand the Turk-Islamic state survived primarily on raiding and robbing their wealthy neighbors…their economy was geared permanently towards war and they did little for the civilian population living under their protection.

These are the so-called mistakes of Prithviraj Chauhan, which should be seen in the light of the prevailing circumstances…but there were some crucial mistakes committed by Muhammad Ghori. Yes, the victorious Muhammad Ghori!

Consider this. After Tarain II, according to the graphic accounts of the Muslim chroniclers, the Chauhan army was not only defeated but also destroyed. So it is surprising that Muhammad Ghori was unable to capture either Ajmer or Delhi. The Chauhan military strength had evaporated, morale was devastatingly low, and only small garrisons sat fearfully in these places while the huge Turk army ranged through the land—and yet Ghori failed to carry this fight to the finish.

If the accounts of Prithviraj’s captivity are true, they would indicate Shihab-ud-din’s desire to get money for his war expenses. Or perhaps he did not have the time to besiege these cities—just as Prithviraj had conflicts with his Indian neighbors, the Turks of Ghor had enemies like the Ghuzz Turks and the Khwarazim Turks. After each Indian campaign Ghori had to return to his post in Ghazni to watch over them and support his elder brother.

Whatever the reason, it proved to be a blunder of monumental proportions. As is shown in the earlier post the Chauhan Rajaputras quickly recovered their spirit and took the initiative in counter-attacks on the Turks—all the efforts of Ghori’s lieutenants to crush them ultimately went in vain and the spirit of resistance spread throughout the Kingdom of Ajmer. But this monumental blunder also affected the Muslim expansion into other regions.

The Rajaputras of Kannauj

From Delhi Aibak attacked the neighboring principalities, which paid tribute to the rulers of Kannauj, and thus acquired a base to invade that kingdom. In 1193 Muhammad Ghori came from Ghazni with 50,000 cavalry and joined his lieutenant to follow the course of the Yamuna River for invading Kannauj. Jaychand too advanced to fight the invader at Chandwar—throughout the head-on clash the Gahadval army prevailed until Jaychand was killed. The leaderless forces lost their momentum and unity of command—they were defeated and chased by the Turks who captured many towns and forts at a gallop.

Once again Ghori returned to his home to watch over the Turks of Khwarazim while Aibak was diverted by the attacks of the Chauhan Rajaputras on Delhi—these should have been mopped up immediately after Tarain II when they were at their weakest. But the invaders made matters worse by repeating this mistake in the east. The force left behind in Kannauj was in no position to mop up the local resistance in that newly-conquered land—the Rajaputra Harishchand defeated these Muslims and recovered his father’s domain. Ghori’s initial mistake had created the situation for committing that same mistake in the east, and the later Sultans would live to regret these repeated mistakes.

The tributaries of the Gahadvals, the Rathors of Badaun and the Bhor chieftains, also recovered their lands and resisted future attacks. The same story was repeated in the lesser principalities like Bayana, Gwalior, and Narwar. In each case at the very moment of their triumph against a particular fort, the Turks would be called away to fight Rajaputra chieftains in another place and the same cycle would be repeated endlessly. All this was the result of Muhammad Ghori’s inability, or a lack of will caused by overconfidence, to crush the power of the Chauhan Rajaputras when it was extremely weak—a blunder of monumental proportions.

In 1202 Muhammad Ghori’s became the Amir of Ghor on the death of his elder brother—Qutb-ud-din Aibak became his deputy with the title of Sultan. The new Amir did not long enjoy his exalted position. In 1205 the Ghori Turks were crushed at Andkhui by the Turks of Khwarazim—when this news reached India several rebellions broke out. In crushing these rebellions Amir Muhammad Ghori met his end in circumstances that will be related in the section on Punjab.

First the word Rajaputra, its meaning and origin, and its mention in literature and inscriptions will be related in the next post.
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The Chauhan Rajaputras

The Rajput kingdoms are called "clan monarchies" by historians. While little is known about the older clans, beyond coins and inscriptions, that fought the Saka and Kushan invaders, the Rajput clan system is illustrated with the Imperial Pratiharas. While their original kingdom was Mandor, the Pratihara princes (Rajaputras) established separate kingdoms in other parts of Rajasthan, Gujarat, and Madhya Pradesh. This method of expansion was repeated with the Chauhans who already had a 600-year history when the twin Tarain battles were fought. In all these years, as the population of the clan increased, ambitious Rajaputras of the Chauhan clan led their followers to capture fresh territories. In this way Nadol (near modern Jodhpur) was founded in the 10th Century—in the 12th Century the Chauhan King of Nadol and his younger brother played a crucial part in defeating Muhammad Ghori in his invasion of Gujarat. In the flush of victory this younger brother captured the principality of Jabalipura (modern Jalor) while one of his junior descendants similarly created the Kingdom of Devada (modern Deora) in the 13th Century. A fourth principality was founded by a Nadol prince at Satyapura (modern Sanchor).

These southern branches gradually acquired independence from the parent kingdom once they were able to muster greater resources. But in the north the Chauhan expansion remained under the direct control of the Kings of Ajmer—the ambitious Rajaputras were employed in the administration at the capital or were deputed to hold frontier forts and towns. One example of the former in the reign of Prithviraj was the Rajaputra Govindraj who, for some reason, was banished from the court. He founded the important fort of Ranthambhor, which commands the road to Madhya Pradesh—the story of his family will be related later.

After the second Battle of Tarain in 1192, begins the second of the three main phases of Rajput History, namely the fiery resistance to the Turk invaders. Delhi, Hansi, and Sarhind were governed by Rajaputra princes who died fighting with their King at Tarain. Muhammad Ghori was unable to capture the Chauhan capital and had to settle for some tribute from the Rajaputra Hariraj. In the south-east the chief of Ranthambhor, who as related above had been inimical to Prithviraj, agreed to be on the side of the victorious Turks. Delhi was attacked next but was stoutly defended by the Rajaputra Chandraraj and here too Muhammad Ghori had to be content with the promise of tribute—he left his slave Qutb-ud-din Aibak to watch over these recent conquests and returned to Ghazni.

But some of the lesser chieftains and soldiers of the Chauhans were not so fortunate. The prisoners from Tarain, the landowners who lay in the path of the advancing Turk army, and those now under the sway of Ghori’s lieutenants in the conquered region were converted to Islam. The men and their male children underwent circumcision, their women were forced to observe new rules of conduct, and they were all robbed of their ancient traditions and were taught strange new modes of worship in a foreign language. But, as will be explained in later posts, they were not given equality of status with the Turks.

Some families were converted at a later period and for differing reasons. But whatever the mode, their descendants have today evolved into large tribes inhabiting northern Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana, and UP—these are the Kaimkhanis, Sarwanis, and Lowanis among others. The complete alteration in the way of living of these early converts must have left a deep impression on the minds of the Chauhans who remained true to their ancestral culture. They were determined not to let such a calamitous fate fall on their own progeny.

Immediately after Ghori’s departure Hariraj raised a fresh army and attacked Ranthambhor. Aibak rushed down to the scene and forced Hariraj to retreat but was not able to fight or capture him. Govindraj of Ranthambhor did not allow the Muslims to enter his fort and persuaded Aibak to retire for a money consideration. In his absence Chandraraj had made a bid for independence and Aibak laid siege at, and finally won, the fort in Delhi—this town now became the base of operations for the Turks against the rest of the Kingdom of Ajmer.

Prithviraj’s general Skanda joined hands with Hariraj and helped him to declare his independence. The two energetic men even attacked Delhi, defeated some Turkish units and looted their equipment. This audacious attack prodded Qutb-ud-din to collect his entire army and chase after the Chauhans who were cut-off near Ajmer. Aibak next besieged the Chauhan capital—having lost his best generals and soldiers but determined not to suffer the fate of the other converted Hindus, Hariraj and his family burnt themselves on a funeral pyre. And so in 1194, Ajmer was occupied by the Turks along with all the wealth of the dead Hariraj and his family.

The dejected followers of Skand and Hariraj traveled to Ranthambhor and took up service with Govindraj. This Rajaputra chieftain, who was not present at the Tarain battles, was deeply affected by the fate of his kinsmen and by the stories of Turkish brutality and the conversions of prisoners. He and his son accumulated wealth and power and declared their independence in 1215—it was only a decade later that Sultan Iltutmish of Delhi could launch an all-out attack on Ranthambhor. The fort was garrisoned for the first time by the Muslims but a few years later Vagbhatta Chauhan, the grandson of Govindraj, defeated the Turks and recaptured his ancestral fort.

This ruler captured many outlying towns and forts and stationed large infantry forces in them to ward off an attack on his capital. The strategy worked and Sultan Balban’s two invasions of Ranthambhor were definite failures. The next ruler Jaitrasimha and his son Hammira continued strengthening their army. They had now raised a compact force of cavalry to plunder the neighboring kingdoms and thus accumulate more wealth and resources. With these actions the Chauhans of Ranthambhor repulsed several Turk invasions, increased the size of their kingdom, and became a major thorn in the side of the Delhi Sultanate.

Further south the other Chauhan princes had felt the weight of the invaders' army. They had allied with the Chaulukyas of Gujarat to repel the Turks, and though severely weakened, had managed to preserve their independence. Here too the manner of fighting of their kinsmen at Tarain, and the stout defence of Ranthambhor, left a deep impression on the minds of these Rajaputra families. They too began making changes to their fortifications, the composition of their armies, and the manner of cavalry warfare to match the Turks blow for blow.

The future battles of these kingdoms with the Turks have been described here. What was common in all these conflicts at the end was the immolation on a massive funeral pyre of the warrior families, the destruction of all their wealth, and the final death ride of the warriors into the heart of the enemy forces. They were determined to prevent their capture and conversion to Islam. In addition these Rajaputras now instituted certain rules to preserve the purity and independence of their ancestral culture. All those who converted to Islam were expelled from society and were deprived of their clan identity—this deterred the Turks from gaining any new converts. The fanatical force of Islam was met by the immovable object of a solid and vigorous Hindu society.

The valiant defence by these Rajaputra families and their refusal to submit and convert to an alien creed placed the word Rajput (modified through repeated use of Rajaputra) at the forefront of North Indian society—it practically replaced the word Kshatriya. This will be explained at length in later posts.

The lessons of the battles at Tarain were also learnt quickly by the Rajputs. The only way to defeat the mobile archery-wielding Turk cavalry was to ride into them at full gallop. This deprived the Turks of the room to maneuver and shoot arrows from long range, as was illustrated so clearly in the first Battle of Tarain. The tumultuous charge on horseback remained the proud preserve of the Rajputs till the 18th Century—this was wrongly attributed to their “reckless bravery” in later times. From the Tarain example it is clear that the Rajputs wished to fight the Turks on terms that were advantageous to them, which was a contest of sword-against-sword in a packed field—the heavily-armored Turks would be unable to ply their swords with the same energy and ferocity as the Rajputs.

The use of elephants also changed. Previously a large corps of elephants formed the center of the Hindu armies, while the cavalry manned the wings. But now the number of elephants was reduced and placed in the vanguard, in the manner of the Turks. These elephants would be sent ahead to create gaps in the enemy formations—the main body of cavalry would then come charging through and complete the rout of the enemy[1].

The Rajputs in addition adapted to the use of catapults and ballistae of the Turks along with the changed construction of their forts. It is suggested that when Iltutmish took Ranthambhor he left it to be garrisoned jointly by the Turks and some of the Chauhan soldiers. Later when Vagbhatta besieged it the Rajputs inside the fort threw their Turk comrades over the walls and opened the gate for the son of their former King. The new techniques in building forts would have been learnt by these Rajputs in this time.

The next post will conclude this story by examining the Rajaputras of Kannauj.

[1] Refer to the Battle of Khanua (Rana Sanga and Babar) and the Battle of Khajwa (Shuja and Aurangzeb). In the latter the charging elephants nearly did the trick but the rest of Shuja’s army was too small to claim a victory.
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Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The Chauhan clan

More than 1400 years ago Kshatriyas belonging to the Chauhan[1] clan established a small kingdom around the town of Sambhar[2]. In the 9th Century, as tributaries of the Imperial Pratihars of Kannauj, the Chauhans fought the Palas of Bengal (in the east) and the Arabs of Sindh (in the west). As their power grew, younger sons of each Chauhan Raja, known as Rajaputras[3], established their own strongholds and principalities around the parent kingdom.

The Chauhans did not suffer any loss during the 11th Century invasions of Mahmud Ghaznavi but they had several fights with his successors who established their rule in the neighboring region of the Punjab. In the early 12th Century Ajayraj Chauhan built a fort near the Holy Town of Pushkar. The site commanded a strategic gap in the Aravalli hills—to the west was Sambhar and the trade routes leading to the southern ports, while to the east was the fertile basin of the River Ganga and its tributaries. This hill-fort was named Ajay-meru[4] (Ajay’s hill), which with the passage of time was pronounced Ajmer, and which became the site for a new capital city for the Chauhans.

The descendants of Ajayraj captured the then small town of Delhi[5] from the Tomars and southern Punjab from the Ghaznavi Turks. At the close of the 12th Century Prithviraj III ruled from Ajmer with ambitions in the south (other kingdoms mostly of his own clansmen in southern Rajasthan and Gujarat), in the north (Punjab and the hill-chiefs of Himachal Pradesh[6]), and the south-east (northern Madhya Pradesh).

Further in the west the Turkish Sultan of Ghor captured Ghazni and deputed his brother, Shihab-ud-din Muhammad, to rule there. The elder brother then turned his energies against other Turk tribes of Iran and Central Asia while the younger led expeditions into India. Passing through Baluchistan Muhammad captured Multan and Uch and then sent a proposal to Prithviraj asking for a joint campaign against the ruler of Gujarat. This proposal was rejected since the Chauhans had enough resources to tackle the Chaulukyas of Gujarat on their own.

Muhammad Ghori went ahead with his invasion in 1178 but the Chaulukyas, in alliance with the Chauhans of southern Rajasthan, defeated him. Prithviraj, who at that time was a teenager, had resolved to fight the Turk invader first, but his minister Kadambvas suggested that the Ghori - Chaulukya conflict would exhaust both these enemies and leave the field clear for the Kingdom of Ajmer. A few years later Prithviraj embarked on digvijay (conquest in all four directions) and won victories—but no major territory.

Muhammad Ghori rebuilt his armed strength and captured Peshawar from the Ghaznavi Turks—continuing his operations against his fellow Muslims Ghori finally ended the Ghaznavi dynasty in 1186 and came into direct contact with the Kingdom of Ajmer. For a few years he probed the defences of the northern region through cavalry raids—finally in 1190 Muhammad Ghori attacked and captured the frontier fort of Sarhind[7]. While he was busy garrisoning the fort and arranging for his return to Ghazni, Muhammad learnt to his consternation that Prithviraj was already marching against him.

Muhammad Ghori resolved to strike the first blow and marched south to intercept the Chauhan army. At Tarain, near modern Thanesar, the two armies met in 1191. In the head-on fight the Hindu cavalry charged and enveloped the two wings of the Turk army—the favorite maneuvers and mobile archery of the Turks were impossible in that cramped position. The superior swordsmanship of the Chauhans gave them a rapid victory and the two routed wings of Muhammad Ghori fled for their lives. In the center the Hindu elephants and infantry came up to the contest—a javelin struck Muhammad Ghori in the shoulder and a Khalji soldier carried the swooning Sultan away to safety. When their commander fled the rest of the Muslim center too broke down and fled after him.

The combined arms (elephants, cavalry, infantry) force of Prithviraj chased after the enemy but the Turkish cavalry easily outpaced them. The Chauhans surrounded the important fort of Sarhind—after 13 months when the food supply ran out the Turk garrison surrendered. Prithviraj returned to his capital, while his generals returned to their forts and towns to rest their army and replenish their equipment, elephants, and horses. They also needed to keep a watch on their neighbors who had taken advantage of the recent battle to encroach on Chauhan lands.

In all this time Muhammad Ghori collected a fresh army and returned to the Punjab. Once again he captured the bone of contention Sarhind and sent a message to Prithviraj to submit and convert to Islam. The Chauhans were then involved in some other battles but Prithviraj boldly collected an army and marched to Sarhind—Muhammad Ghori again intercepted him at Tarain. Prithviraj had by then learnt of the loss of Sarhind and of the large cavalry with Ghori—he used diplomacy to buy time so that his other generals could join him with their forces. He told Muhammad to be content with Sarhind and withdraw his army to Ghazni.

Shihab-ud-din went along since the earlier defeat at this same place was heavy on his mind. He pointed out that his brother was the real ruler and without consulting him Muhammad could not take any major political decision—he too was playing for time and for information on the enemy. The two armies camped in sight of each other—one night Muhammad Ghori left the campfires burning and took his army by a roundabout route to attack the Chauhans. But once again the cavalry of Prithviraj met them in a headlong clash and repulsed the Turks.

Muhammad Ghori’s plan had failed and he retired to his own camp but he now had a correct estimate of Prithviraj’s army and had realized how weak it was. Forming his cavalry into four divisions of 10,000 he sent them to harass the Chauhans from all sides. The Turks were now in their element with hit-and-run cavalry maneuvers and horse archery—the combined arms of the Hindus could not chase after one and repel another division simultaneously. The order of the Chauhan army broke down, along with the communications between its various elements, and Ghori charged with his main division and finally defeated Prithviraj. The Chauhan King was either killed or captured according to the different accounts.

Why spend so much time discussing this one clan you may ask?

Because they straddled the gap between the ancient and medieval India and were witness to a momentous turning point in Indian History…also because they were part of an important battle, which changed Indian society and military tactics for the next few centuries. Comparison is also needed with the story in Punjab, Sindh, and Afghanistan, all of which fell earlier and more completely to the assault of Islam. This comparison will come later.


The most popular accounts about Prithviraj were written centuries later by a Muslim (the book Gulshan-i-Ibrahimi by Ferishta) and by a Hindu (the book Prithviraj Raso by Chand Bardai). Both of these are full of exaggerations and myth.

According to Ferishta Prithviraj had an army of 300,000 cavalry (!), 3000 elephants (!), and innumerable infantry (what could be more innumerable after 300,000 horsemen? The entire population of the Kingdom of Ajmer?). Later Rajput Kingdoms (when cavalry had become the most important formation in the army) of a similar large size had at the most 20,000 cavalry. By this comparison Prithviraj could not have had more than 10,000 horsemen.

Chand Bardai states that after the first Battle of Tarain Prithviraj fell in love with, carried away, and married Sanyogita, daughter of Jaychand Rathor of Kannuaj. His love for her caused the defeat in the second battle, which is not borne out by the facts related above. According to contemporary literature, inscriptions, and coins the rulers of Kannauj were Gahadvals…the Rathors of Badaun were their tributaries. There is no record of a conflict between Ajmer and Kannauj for the simple reason that they did not have a common border.

Tarain I was fought in early 1191, for thirteen months after this Prithviraj was busy in the siege of Sarhind (early 1192); Tarain II was fought only a few months later. When did Prithviraj have the time to correspond with a princess, admit his love to her, and make arrangements to carry her away from a place hundreds of miles in the east[9]?

The more contemporary, and accurate, account is the Prithviraj-vijay written by Jayank. This man was a Kashmiri who had settled down in Ajmer and was a poet in Prithviraj’s court. The names of the Chauhan Kingdom’s ministers and generals are given here—interestingly one of these generals, named Udayraj, was from Bengal. The Prithviraj-vijay also describes the early communications between Ghori and the Chauhans, and the advice given to Prithviraj by the minister Kadambvas.

There are two other books that mention these events in passing. The Prabandha-chintamani by Merutunga Acharya claims that Prithviraj was taken prisoner but was restored to the throne of Ajmer by Ghori. On a visit to Ajmer the Turk chief happened to see a wall painting in the palace that showed the Muslim soldiers being crushed by a charging horde of wild boar[8]. The humiliated Ghori had Prithviraj killed.

The Viruddhavidhi-vidhvamsa by Laksmidhar describes the absence of the main Chauhan general Skanda in another battle (the enemy is not described). But it goes on to say that Prithviraj was killed by the Turushkas[10] and his brother, the Rajaputra Hariraj became King.

The Hammir-Mahakavya of Nayachandra Suri is a later work but it was written on commission from the Chauhans of Ranthambhor (who will be described in later posts). It has many internal details of the Chauhan clan but exaggerates Prithviraj’s victory (it claims several victories) over Ghori by describing the repeated capture and release of the Turk chief. The Hammir-Mahakavya also claims that Prithviraj was taken prisoner but to Delhi—the Bengali general Udayraj attacked Delhi to rescue his master but Prithviraj died in captivity and Udayraj was killed in battle. This work confirms that the Rajaputra Hariraj became the next King of Ajmer.

[1] Original pronunciation is Chahaman.
[2] Originally Sakambhari, the town is near a salt lake of the same name. In those days it was a wealthy city located on important trade routes.
[3] Literally King’s (Raja) son (putra). The history of this word and its modification into Rajput will be described in another post.
[4] Meru is a Sanskrit word for hill. Sumeru was the good or blessed (Su) hill (meru) of the Vedas.
[5] Known in those times as Dhillika. After its capture by Muslims it was also called Yoginipura, the city of witches.
[6] According to the Prithviraj-raso Kangra and its mountain chiefs were allies of the Tomars of Delhi.
[7] The Muslim historians call this place Tabarhind or Tarrhind.
[8] The wild boar is regarded as the bravest animal in Rajasthani lore.
[9] The Prithviraj Raso in complete departure from all other accounts states that the Chauhan King was taken to Ghazni. When he refused to lower his eyes in front of Shihab-ud-din the latter had him blinded. While demonstrating his skill in archery the blind Hindu King shot an arrow into the throat of Muhammad Ghori and killed him. After this the author of the Raso and Prithviraj killed each other.
[10] The ancient word for the Turks. According to Indian tradition one of the sons of Bharat, named Turvasu, had migrated to Central Asia and his descendants (Turvasu-ka) became the Turks. This remains mere conjecture and speculation since there is no material evidence to back this story—somewhat similar to the speculations of the Aryan Theory.

next: The Chauhan Rajaputras
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