Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Lessons for the civil administration and political leadership

(courtesy: http://www.esri.com/news/arcnews/spring05articles/spring05gifs/p2p2-lg.jpg)

The 26 December earthquake occurred at the junction of the India, Burma, and Australia continental plates. The main movement was of the Indian plate pushing under the Burma plate—the two plates form a rough north-south junction and India’s Andaman & Nicobar Island chain lies along this junction


For this reason the massive energy released by the 9.0 magnitude quake spread up and outward in an east-west direction, first lashing the A&N Islands and the Aceh province of Indonesia. Due to the east-west direction, the waves lashed Sri Lanka and went on to cause damage as far west as the African coastline. But closer regions in the north, like the Indian states of Orissa and West Bengal, and the neighboring country of Bangladesh, barely felt any ripples.

Due to a technical snag in their computers, India’s meteorological department, which had detected the quake on time, could not properly analyze its data. But even if they had analyzed and transmitted this data through the bureaucratic chain, it would not have made any difference due to the lack of understanding about Tsunamis, which had been practically non-existent in the Indian Ocean.

Report of the quake first came from the Indian Air Force (IAF) base at the A&N Islands and was relayed to the government by the IAF chief at 7:30 a.m. While the unified Andaman and Nicobar Command (ANC) engaged in search and rescue, no one either in the armed forces or the government expected the quake to generate giant tidal waves. According to one government official, “The word Tsunami just did not exist in our vocabulary.”

So both the government machinery and the people living in the coastal districts were blissfully unaware of the destructive force hurtling towards them.

  1. Response Mechanism: the National Disaster Management Group, which comes under the Home Ministry and works with a network of relief commissioners in the states, is the agency tasked with the distribution of relief material. The National Crisis Management Committee (NCMC), comprising various department heads and the three defence chiefs, meets to face the challenges of a nationwide disaster or fallout, and plan an emergency response. The Crisis Management Group, comprising secretaries from six strategic ministries (power, telecom, home, defence, shipping, and rural development) and headed by the Cabinet Secretary, converts this plan into action. This unwieldy structure is normally geared to respond to natural calamities on land that are limited to one state. Add to this the general ignorance about Tsunamis and the destruction of communication links, and we had an unforgivable delay in the dispatch of rescue mission and relief material, which could have saved countless lives in the crucial first day of the Tsunami disaster.
  2. Policy: the vast Indian landmass experiences a variety of natural calamities——earthquakes, floods, and cyclones. And yet there is no defined policy or organization to deal with these disasters. This is not entirely due to apathy but also because of sensitivities in center-state relations, legal issues, and lack of implementation. After the terrible Gujarat earthquake of 2001, the NDA government had set up the Sharad Pawar Committee to formulate a disaster management plan. The committee presented its recommendations, accepted in full by the government, in June 2003——the unstated premise under which it worked was that disasters would be limited to one state. This has been the case in the past for each disaster and, in any case, most Indian states are as large as south-east Asian and European countries. The implementation of the committee recommendations were thus left to the states, most of whom did not even respond to the center’s directions. On other points, like the raising of 144 battalions paramilitary dedicated purely to search and rescue, only six states had trained and raised a mere 8 battalions! Even on the question of setting up state-level Disaster Management Authorities there was no implementation. And it was only in 2005 that the recommended National Disaster Management Act was put in place by the center.
  3. Decision Making: but even this committee failed to recommend a National Emergency Response Authority, which has still not come about to date even after the experience of the Tsunami. Its members would be dedicated purely to the task tackling national emergencies; unlike the present members of the NCMC whose members (bureaucrats and military officers) are already burdened with their existing jobs. The contrast with the unified command of the armed forces shows clearly in the prompt damage assessment, search and rescue, and provision of relief.
  4. Early Warning System: the 26-nation Tsunami Warning System has been in place in the Pacific Ocean since 1965, due to the frequent Tsunamis in that region. The two isolated Tsunamis in a century were so distant from public, and even scientific, memory that the word itself was absent from the lexicon of countries in the Indian Ocean region. With an advance warning of two or three hours, people from the coastal districts in countries like India, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives, could have been evacuated to safety. The UNESCO finally set up a Tsunami Warning System in 2005, of which India is also a part. But India has also chosen to upgrade its own warning systems, communication links, and infrastructure——speaking in the Rajya Sabha the Minister for Science and Technology, Kapil Sibal, declared that the early warning system would only be operational in September 2007. The tide measuring gauges and bottom pressure recorders would transmit data via satellite in real time with the efforts of the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO).

Conclusion: some of the other lessons emerging from the response to the crisis are: the construction of homes built with RCC; the protection and creation of coastal swamps, mangroves, and embankments to absorb the force of the tides; facility for localized electricity supply (through biomass or solar power); subsidies to private hospitals (which had to turn away excess patients while the armed forces set up temporary hospital facilities from their own resources); relief sensitivities (the clothing and food delivered to fishermen was discarded because these self-reliant people wished to first restore their homes and boats). A telling remark on how officialdom does not keep pace with the times was the website for the Prime Minister’s Tsunami Relief Fund, which did not have a facility for online payment for the first three days (!) of the Tsunami crisis——after complaints this was finally set up in conjunction with Citibank and the online web portal Sify.

1. In fact after the first major quake at 6:28:53 a.m. there was another quake on the Andaman and Nicobar islands at 9:53 a.m. of the magnitude of 7.5 on the Richter scale.

2. Interestingly the state of Andhra Pradesh was prompt in delivering aid to people in its coastal districts in the Tsunami crisis, precisely due to this fact. Since these coastal districts suffer annually from cyclones, there is already a disaster response mechanism in place, and the officials are practiced in the provision of aid and rehabilitation.

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Monday, December 25, 2006

Military aspects of the post-Tsunami relief operations (2004-05)

It’s been two years to the day when an ocean-floor earthquake near the coast of Sumatra, set off giant Tsunami waves in the Indian Ocean. These killer waves, traveling with the terrifying speed of jumbo jets, lashed the coasts of countries in the Bay of Bengal and Indian Ocean variously between 15 minutes and 7 hours from the time of the 9.0 magnitude earthquake.

Powered by energy equivalent to five megatons of TNT, the Tsunami waves reached heights of 10-50 ft near the coast, killing and maiming over 150,000 people, uprooting entire families, and destroying their homes and cities.

The militaries of the affected countries, and others based in the region, were best suited to carry out large-scale relief operations due to their organized structure, deployable assets, and unity of command. The sheer scale of the calamity enabled these militaries to carry out warlike operations and establish areas of influence by providing aid and assistance far beyond their territorial boundaries.

This and the following posts are drafts for a paper to be published in the Bharat-Rakshak online journal. While the focus is on the study of the military operations, and their geo-political significance, it should not detract our attention from the tragedy that the Tsunami was for hundreds of thousands of human beings. And it should neither eclipse the role played by heroic individuals (military and civilian), fishing communities, fire services, NGOs, police, and paramilitary personnel in these rescue and relief operations.

<!--[if !supportLists]-->· <!--[endif]-->Lessons for the civil administration and political leadership.

<!--[if !supportLists]-->· <!--[endif]-->Military response and inter-service cooperation.

<!--[if !supportLists]-->· <!--[endif]-->Inter-military cooperation and comparisons.

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Friday, December 22, 2006

India and Asia


Jehangir S. Pocha

While planning dinner one night, an American colleague asked if I'd like something Indian. "No thanks," I replied, "I'd rather have something Asian." She looked quizzically at me before asking: "Well, isn't Indian Asian?"

Let's face it, we Indians have never really thought of ourselves as 'Asian'. Cartographers and imperialists may have decided to lump Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, the Philippines and Mongolia in the same continent. But to us, membership in Asia is merely a geographical fact, not a reality we live in. With a subcontinent to call our own and countless cultures and landscapes to relish, we Indians have always thought of ourselves as something apart from the rest of the continent.

But now, new political and economic realities are pulling all of Asia closer. And both Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh, wily readers of the global tea-leaves, have put in place the building blocks that, when complete, will reconnect India to both East and West Asia and fulfil Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru's ideal of turning India into the glue that integrates the two halves of Asia.

One thing Iran's philosopher-president Mohammad Khatami and Singapore's suave ex-Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong have in common is that they have both been guests of honour at India's Republic Day celebrations. It is no coincidence that these leaders, from two radically different nations, were invited to India's most conspicuous national event. It is, in fact, the most emphatic statement, within the limits of the diplomatic code, on where India is placing its long-term bets.

Until very recently, India was most noted in Asia for its absence. "I'm not sure why India was so half-hearted about Asia. It removed itself from its own sphere of influence," says Shi Yinhong, professor of International Relations at People's University in Beijing.

But now things are changing. India, chaperoned by Singapore, has become a summit-level partner in Asean, and plans to sign a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with Asean by 2010. And during Khatami's visit to New Delhi in 2003, he and Vajpayee had signed a landmark strategic co-operation agreement. These are the first in a series of moves that promise to change the tenor of India's relations with the rest of Asia.

Economists estimate that India's FTA with Asean could raise bilateral trade to over $50 billion by 2010. With China, Japan and South Korea also working to establish their own foreign trade agreements with Asean, India could become part of the world's largest free trade zone - with 2.7 billion people and $2 trillion in trade.

However, when seen in the light of the strategic co-operation agreement signed with Iran, India's eventual accession into Asean takes on new meaning. India has downplayed its accord with Teheran, but the agreement's astounding implications could redraw the political and economic map of South-Central Asia.

"Currently there is a gap between Asean and the EU (European Union)," says Siyavash Yaghoubi, Iran's ambassador to India. "If India and Iran can start a partnership to fill this gap, in the long run we can hope to create an economic bloc of India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and maybe all of Central Asia."

Iran has agreed to supply India with oil and gas worth about $20 billion over the next 25 years. Indian firms will also be granted exploration concessions in Iranian energy fields. The possibility of constructing a $4-billion gas pipeline from Iran to India, via Pakistan, is also being explored.

In return, India will help modernise Iran's armed forces by providing advanced software and upgrading its MiG-29 fighters and Kilo-class submarines. Jane's and other defence analysts report that Iran has secretly agreed to give India access to its military bases in the event of a war with Pakistan.

More significantly, India and Iran will construct a new sea-rail trade link to get their goods into Europe, through either Turkey or Russia. There are already direct air links between Teheran and New Delhi, and India has started constructing a new port in Chabahar in Iran.

A South-Central Asian trading bloc centred on India and Iran, the region's biggest powers, could bring not only prosperity but also stability to the region. But the ultimate goal of the trading bloc is to become the pivotal link in a seamless trade-and-transit system that extends from Bangkok to Berlin.

India is moving to improve its air and road links with Asean and has opened its skies to Asean airlines. New Delhi is also anchoring its growing Asean trade and transit ties with military agreements. India and Singapore already have an agreement on defence-related technology transfers and co-operation between their air forces and navies.

Riding a bumpy rickshaw along Phnom Penh's idyllic French colonial-era streets is reminiscent of touring some Indian cantonment town. Frayed movie posters are pasted over each other on the walls. And from under palms, women in brightly coloured dresses delicately slice open the sweetest coconuts you will ever taste. "This is a country Indians would find easy to operate in," says the head of a Cambodian non-governmental organisation. "Political ties between our countries have been very close and the business environment and culture here is very similar to India's."

During a landmark visit to Cambodia in 2002, Vajpayee had peppered his speech with allusions to the historic ties between the two countries and announced a range of steps to boost bilateral trade, including a $10-million line-of-credit. But the Indian embassy in Phnom Penh, when asked how many Indian businesses were taking advantage of this opening, brusquely replied: "We have no investments here."

At the highest levels, India's government and business have shown themselves capable of conceiving grand strategies. The trouble shows up when the rubber hits the road. India's ability to execute a link between Asia and Europe is far from assured. For one, it is not something to which India has an exclusive claim. Russian President Putin, during his visit to South Korea last year, brought up the idea of a rail link from Seoul to Europe via North Korea and Russia. China is also said to be working on a direct trade link to Europe. It is a race the best diplomats and fastest implementers will win.

Stalled projects, failed agreements and unresponsive diplomacy have given India a dubious reputation in diplomatic circles. "Starting in the early 1990s, we had very high hopes from India," says a Southeast Asian diplomat. "Many countries, including Singapore, Vietnam and Indonesia, wanted it in Asean as a balance against China. Though we kept trying to woo India and placed some big bets, things moved so slowly that we lost hope."

Efforts to create national confidence by pumping India up on good news and burying realities such as the deepening caste and religious rifts and high levels of poverty do not, however, obscure these facts from outsiders.

"China has some desperately poor people too," says Deepak Bhattasali, until recently the World Bank's chief economist in Beijing. "But it is a 'brown poverty'. If you look at China's map, you will see vast areas get no water. Here people are poor because they cannot grow anything on their land. India has a green poverty. There is enough rain, but people are poor because of the unequal distribution of land. China's problem is rooted in nature; India's in distribution. It could be solved with a stroke of the pen, but this has not happened."

In a region where success is cherished and modernity respected, India's continuing poverty, worsening governance and decaying infrastructure baffles and alienates many.

"India is seen as a distant, poorer cousin, not really a brother," says an investment banker in Hong Kong. In the gulf states of West Asia too, India, neither Islamic nor wealthy, remains an outsider. Though India's trade with the UAE is worth over $5 billion, people on the street still see India as a country more interested in receiving remittances from its blue-collar workers than in making serious investments.

In most of Asia, democracy, independent courts and deep capital markets - once India's trump cards - are not unique anymore. Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines, Taiwan and South Korea, all once authoritarian, have become constitutional democracies with all the attendant institutions. One-party fiefdoms such as Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam and even China are also becoming more open.

Amartya Sen, the Nobel Prize-winning economist, says that this gives the lie to India's argument that its democracy is the cumbersome, if wonderful, weight that is slowing its road to development. Many democracies are progressing much faster than India. The gurus of India's economic and political establishment would like to claim that China's economic boom is rooted in its authoritarianism. But then, they cannot explain why other authoritarian states such as North Korea, Pakistan and Myanmar are economic basket cases.

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman writes in his book, The Lexus and the Olive Tree, that the dividing lines of the 21st century are not based on politics, ethnicity or history, but on speed. Success, he says, will come to those who are fast and adaptable. And what India lacks when compared to the East Asian tigers and the rapidly modernising Islamic states such as Iran, the UAE and Qatar is their speed and sense of purpose.

It is not just the thinking and practices of the Indian government that remain caught in a time warp. East Asian businessmen privately complain about the long delays in getting responses to emails and faxes from private Indian companies, and about their hierarchical and bureaucratic nature.

The same hesitancy and sluggishness runs through India's diplomatic machinery, too. The biggest gap in India's Asia policy remains its inability to accurately understand China and establish a measured working relationship with it.

Europe's union has pressed Asia into the realisation that race, culture and history do matter. Try as they might to deny it under the euphemisms of 'common heritage' and 'shared past', the EU is, by definition, a fortress designed to enclose and protect the interests of one set of people from others.

The failed WTO round at Cancun made this abundantly clear. Both the EU and the US refused to halt their $500-billion farm subsidies which protect just 8 million European and American farmers while denying market access to hundreds of millions of poor farmers from developing countries. To add insult to injury, the EU and the US insisted that the developing world further open up its financial and services markets.

If Asia is to overcome its recent history and win a place of dignity on world stage, it has only itself to rely on. If shared security is the stick that drives Asia together, shared success is the carrot. Asians know they can enrich each other, and that this is the best way to straighten the listing ship of many Asian states.

This is not a bitter realisation, but a calm one. The future does not promise to be one of a world dedicated to universal causes and development. More likely, it will be a world where relationships between nations grouped along ethnic and cultural lines will fluctuate from the co-operative to the contentious in an unpredictable and chaotic manner.

Read More......

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Guerrilla Warfare-III (horses and swords)

There are three things you must never ask of a Rajput; his horse, his mistress, and his sword

The Government of India today recognizes five breeds of horses indigenous to India---three of these are Himalayan ponies while only two are full-sized horses (see http://nrce.nic.in/eqindia.htm and http://www.horseindian.com/indianhorse.htm). Only the Marwari and the Kathiawari horses are present in sufficient numbers to be classed as breeds. This is a remarkable change from the days when the landscape of India was covered with centers of horse breeding and trade in horses was critical to the militaries of all Indian powers.

This change did not come overnight---at least from the 18th Century onwards the futility of charging cavalry against disciplined flintlock-wielding infantry had become apparent and was brilliantly illustrated in the classic Battle of Merta. Since they had little use in war the demand for horses fell sharply and several local breeds veered towards extinction. As Lt. Colonel James Tod noted in 1832, "The Rathor cavalry was the best in India. There were several horse-fairs...but the events of the last twenty years appear to have dried up every source of supply. The breeding studs...are almost extinct."

Another problem was that few records were maintained (or have survived) about horse breeding and only passing remarks in other texts are guides to the state of horses in India. Thus the ancient Vedic texts state that the best horses are bred in the lands around the Saraswati River (northern Rajasthan). Early medieval texts mention Vanayu (Arabia and Persia), Kamboja (Afghanistan), and Turushka (Central Asia) horses as the best and local breeds of Trigartta (Punjab-Himachal), Gurjara (Gujarat-Rajasthan), Avanti (Madhya Pradesh), and Saurashtra (Gujarat) as being inferior. This indicates the change from the use of horses in chariots (ancient period) where the small local breeds were used and as pure cavalry (medieval period) where tall and strong horses were preferred.

As has been explained above, when the Rajput clans began resisting the Turk invaders, they found cavalry to be the most effective and practical means of making war. Horses were useful for making sharp raids into enemy territory and for speedily carrying away all the looted wealth. With their cavalry the Rajputs could intercept trade caravans and small convoys of Muslim soldiers carrying the tribute of distant provinces to Delhi---examples of these are fairly numerous in the period under review. If the Turks retaliated in strength or managed to occupy or destroy the fort of the Rajput clan the latter would escape to remote regions with their cavalry and continue a harassing guerrilla war until the enemy was forced to withdraw.

Thus the Rajputs developed a touching devotion to their horses; from giving them personal names and including them in ritual worship, to mourning their death as one would for a member of the family and building fine cenotaphs and statues in their memory[33]. So important were these horses to the Rajputs that they prohibited other communities from owning these fine animals (the Marwar breed in particular). This was not due to caste hatred---since horses were so important for medieval warfare their purchase for other purposes would have increased the demand and driven up the prices of these vehicles of war. This would have in turn bankrupted the finances of the Rajput states.

[33]Rana Pratap's horse Chetak, of the Kathiawari breed, whose cenotaph is called 'Chetak ka chabutra' and is located at Jharol, north of Udaipur. The Marwari horse of Durgadas Rathor was named Arbud who helped the Rathor patriot in the war against Aurangzeb. The favorite horse of Rao Ummed Singh Hada of Bundi was an Iraqi stallion named Hanja; his cenotaph is in the central square of Bundi town. Lt. Colonel James Tod was gifted a Marwari horse named Bajraj; on this stallion he roamed through Rajputana translating bardic tales and deciphering inscriptions and manuscripts. The cenotaph of Bajraj is located in Kotah. In a more ancient period the horse of the legendary Gugga Chauhan was named Javadia---this name continues to be popular for Rajasthani horses to this day.

After the Turk invasion there was a sudden spurt in this love and desire for horses among the local Rajputs---since few historical records have survived from that period we are indebted to the bards for the numerous anecdotes that describe this phenomenon. For example Rana Hammir cited lack of horses and money to his inability to take Chittor and seeking divine assistance made a pilgrimage south to Dwarka (in Gujarat)---at that place a Charan lady, Barbari Devi, told him that her son Baru would give him five hundred horses and the same number of gold coins. Horses were being delivered to the ports of Gujarat by this time for the Turk invaders and this story may indicate that the Sesodia Rana forcibly acquired such valuable horses with the assistance of the Charans.

In a more mythological account another Rana pleaded to Asapuri Devi that he had no horses whereupon the Goddess told him that on a particular day horses from a caravan would come to him on their own. On the promised day no less than thirteen thousand horses let loose to graze from a (Muslim?) caravan wandered their way to the Rana's side! Another story about the Bhaatis of Jaisalmer states that Rawal Jeth Simha waylaid a caravan carrying the tribute of Tattah (Sindh) and Multan to Delhi. He slaughtered the Turk and Afghan escort and carried away fifteen hundred horses and a large treasure to Jaisalmer. One of his successors, Rawal Dudu, carried away the valuable Arab studs of "Piroja" from the Annasagar Lake near Ajmer.

The Chanda Rau Jethsi Ro, describing the victories of the Rathore Rajputs over the Turks in western Rajasthan, has a lengthy description of horses and their value to the Rajputs: "In swiftness they vie with the wind and enable the rider to catch the neck of the fleeing deer between the bow and its string. And as for their training, well, they are so used to the bustle of battle that at the first beat of the warlike drums they are off with such impetus that no one would think of detaining them; going straight for the enemy, they dash against the points of the spears and carry their rider so close to the adversary that he can fight him with a knife!"

Typical horse of the Marwar breed in the grasslands of western Rajasthan from http://nrce.nic.in/eqindia.htm"

The Marwar breed of horses is practically inseparable from the Rathor clan and is said to have originated in the Mallani district, from which place the breed spread out to other parts of Marwar. Other centers of horse-breeding were found in the relatively dry Northern and Western regions of India. Thus Multan and the Lakhi Jungle in Punjab, Mewar and Malwa covering Eastern Rajasthan, Kutch and Kathiawar in modern Gujarat, and the Pune district of Maharasthra were regarded to be famous for their breeds of horses.

Such is the paucity of our knowledge about the period that almost nothing is known about the origins of these horses---whether they were derived from the same horses described in the ancient Vedic texts or whether they had infusions of blood from Arab or Turk horses. No genealogical records were maintained by the horse breeders, instead all these horses were taken to annual animal fairs in different parts of India to be sold or traded, as they still are. But as a Rajput justifiably retorted to Lt. Colonel Tod on the question of written records of history, "when our princes were at war, driven from hold to hold, and forced to dwell in the clefts of mountains...was that a time to think of historical records?"

What was true for records of human history is doubly true for the history of the horse in India!

The Talwar

A similar paucity of records has left us with inadequate knowledge on the most important weapon of the period---the slender curved sword called the Talwar. Such has been the impact and popularity of this type of sword that in most of the Indian continent talwar has become the only word for the sword! Ironically, for such an extraordinary blade, almost nothing is known of its origins and history---even the meaning of the word is not entirely clear[34]. All surviving specimens of the talwar are from the 17th Century onwards and they have been obtained mostly from the Rajput states of Rajasthan[36]. In the Mughal texts the talwar is practically a Rajput sword and in describing a victory gained by a Rajput general over Afghan rebels it is stated that, "the Afghan army's sword broke under the Rajput talwar."[37] However from Rajput tradition it becomes clear that an older and more typical Rajput sword is the Khanda[38]---the double-edged straight blade that seems to be similar to ancient specimens depicted in sculptures and wall paintings.
[35]Tal-war; war or vaar means "strike" as in "strike a blow".
[36]One of the best versions of the talwar is the Sirohi, manufactured at the town of that name in south-western Rajasthan. The Sirohi is lighter and more slender than other versions. The state of Sirohi was founded in 1405.
[37]From "A History of Jaipur" by Jadunath Sarkar.
[38]The blade of the khanda tapers outwards and is broader near the tip than at the hilt.

The hilt of the talwar is similar to the hilt of the khanda while the slender curved blade appears to be similar to that of the Persian shamshir---it is thus concluded that the talwar is the result of the Rajputs mixing the best of the new sword with their traditional khanda. However such a conclusion is hasty and ill informed because the curved sword was known in India much before the birth of Islam.

Rajput princess wields a tulwarRajput princess with a talwar fights a foot soldier armed with a khanda. Scene in a miniature painting from Bundi.

At the start of the Common Era the Sakas (Scythians) and Kushans (Yeuh-chi) from Central Asia had established their kingdoms in northwestern India. These Saka-Kushans were the ancestors of the Turks and they used the composite bow, the spear, and the broad sword. The Indian warrior clans, ancestors of the Rajputs, adopted these new weapons and eventually overthrew the invaders from different parts of North India[39]. Inscriptions and statues from that period depict warriors astride horses carrying these weapons while paying homage to their clan-goddess.

The slender curved sword was eventually born in Persia and Arabia. This specimen was then reproduced in India when the first Islamic invasions began. Another reason to ascribe an older origin to the talwar is that steel was exported from India to Arabia and Persia from the earliest times[40] and the technologies of sword-manufacturing in all three places could not have been isolated from each other.

[39]According to European historians of the 19th Century the Rajputs were descended from these same Sakas and Kushans! However they did not cite actual evidence to back these claims.
[40]The famous wootz steel used to make the damscus sword. The word wootz is said to be derived from 'ukku' the Kannada word for steel.

Whatever its origins the talwar became the archetypal Rajput sword for the same reason that cavalry became the primary military formation of these people. With the curved sword a soldier could strike repeated blows without the danger of the blade getting stuck in bone or armor. This was especially important while attacking at a furious pace on horseback---the Rajputs could slash madly on all sides and quickly cut through enemy formations. Additionally the talwar had a spike below the hilt so that while grappling at close quarters and with no room to maneuver that spike could be used to stab the opponent---at other times the spike could also be used for gripping the talwar with both hands[41].

Just as the horse became so closely enmeshed into Rajput traditions and customs the sword too became an inseparable part of their culture. Thus it was used to invest subordinate chiefs with titles of nobility and was bestowed on others as a mark of honor. In case a groom could not attend his wedding due to war or illness his personal sword was sent to the bride's house and represented him in the wedding rituals. The talwar was worshipped by the Rajput warriors along with their other weapons[42] and was used to swear an oath of allegiance to the head of their clan---dhal talwar ki aan (by the honor of my sword and shield)!

A Rajput shield from the National Museum New Delhi

[41]It is said that in this period the khanda became the sword of last resort. When a Rajput warrior lost his horse and was surrounded by the enemy he would pull out the double-edged khanda and fight to the last while swinging it over his head and taking down as many of the enemy as he could.
[42]Weapons were worshipped to ensure that they would never be misused.

The Age of Imperial Kanauj - Bharatiya Vidya Bhawan
The Struggle for Empire - Bharatiya Vidya Bhawan
The Delhi Sultanate - Bharatiya Vidya Bhawan
Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan - Lt. Colonel James Tod
A History of Jaipur - Sir Jadunath Sarkar
Muslim Saints and Hindu Rulers: The Development of Sufi and Ismaili Mysticism in the Non-Muslim States of India - Dominique-Sila Khan
Read More......

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 http://www.4to40.com/discoverindia/places/index.asp?article=discoverindia_places_godwad

[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.
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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Guerrilla Warfare-III (formation of Rajputana)

Fall of the Turks

There were no Turk possessions in Mewar now but the situation was different in Marwar---Nagaur, Mandor, Siwana, and Jalor were under Muslim governors. To their west were the Bhaatis of Jaisalmer and the Rathors of Kher---the latter were now acquiring a prominent place in the resistance against the foreign invaders. Three generations of their Raos were said to have fought and died against the Muslims in a short period. To the south of Siwana and Jalor were the Chauhan strongholds of Sanchor and Devada, which seem to have been attacked unsuccessfully by the army under Ala-ud-din in 1310. During the Khalji Sultan's illness and death at Delhi the Turk governors were at that city busy in the conspiracies and counter-conspiracies that followed---in these Alp Khan, governor of Gujarat, was murdered and his followers in that region revolted. Then Kamal-ud-din Gurg, governor of Jalor and Siwana, who was sent to crush this rebellion died at the hands of the rebels in 1316. Subsequently Ain-ul-Mulk from Devagiri and Ghazi Tughlak from Delhi converged on Gujarat from two directions and destroyed the rebel army. In this period (1318-20) Luntiga Chauhan stormed the fort of Siwana and slaughtered its Muslim garrison---no Sultan of Delhi tried to recover this fort.

Perhaps this was due to the fact that Ghazi Tughlak and his son Jauna were then preparing to overthrow the Khalji administration---in this attempt they sought the support, among others, of the governor of Jalor who declined to join the rebellion. But in 1320 the Tughlaks seized Delhi and Malik Ghazi Tughlak became Sultan Ghiyas-ud-din Tughlak. It was probably in this period (1320-26) that the Sesodias wrested the fort of Chittor from the Chauhans who were paying tribute to Delhi---here again no attempt was made to recover the fort by any of the Sultans[1]. Rana Hammir followed up this success by tightening his hold on the rebellious Bhil and Mina tribes dwelling in the hills and forests of Mewar and the neighboring Malwa plateau. In this latter place he deputed the Hada Rajput clan who founded the important fort of Bundi (seen below) in 1342.
the hill-fort of Bundi ruled by the Hada Rajput clan

By this time Sultan Muhammad Tughlak (1325-51) had come and gone. His most momentous decision was to change the Turk capital from Delhi to Devagiri in the south (1327-37). Most of the army and much of the civilian population were dragged south via the Muslim base of Malwa---bypassing the regions of Marwar and Mewar. Ironically these two regions, which had been attacked for their open roads to the south, were now avoided by the Turks. Guerrilla warfare by the Rajput clans had made Mewar and Marwar impassable for Muslim armies and caravans[2]. If the Sultan had made this move to better control the southern regions his hopes were crushed---in 1336 Harihar and Bukka had founded the city of Vijaynagar, Bengal broke away in 1338, and rebellions erupted in Gujarat and Daulatabad[3] after 1345. It was probably in this period that the fort of Jalor was conquered by the Chauhans from the Turks. The later Tughlak rulers were engrossed in rebellions and civil wars that came to involve the Rajputs[4] in the hills north of Delhi---Kangra, Sirmaur, and Kumaon---while rebellions of Rajput and Jat chieftains broke out in east Punjab and throughout the Gangetic plains.

In 1382 Aibak Khan the Muslim governor of Mandor, who had been practically independent of Delhi, increased the taxes on grain and fodder. The local Parihars, some of them enrolled in the Turk army, broke out in revolt and invited the powerful Rathors to their aid. The Rathors slaughtered the Turk governor and his garrison but occupied Mandor for themselves, making it their new capital. In Mewar Rana Kshetra Simha defeated the Turks of Malwa in 1389 and pushed the boundaries of his kingdom further south and east---all these possessions of the Sesodia clan were called the Kingdom of Mewar. Similarly the Rathors had triumphed over the Bhaatis, Turks, Parihars, and Chauhans[5] to form the large Kingdom of Marwar.
  1. However Rajput bards claim that Maldev's son Jeso sought the assistance of the Delhi Sultan against Hammir. Hammir defeated the Sultan and forced him to part with some money and important forts like Ranthambhor and Ajmer---this story is not corroborated by Muslim records. A Jain temple inscription however mentions Hammir's victory over "a Muslim army."
  2. Marwar and Mewar remained closed even to armies of the Mughal Empire. The royal road passed from Malwa to Agra and then to Delhi, bypassing Rajputana. It was only with the British Raj and the subsequent independence that these routes were once again opened to connect Northern and Western India.
  3. Devagiri was renamed Daulatabad, which translates to abode of wealth, as this former kingdom had certainly proved to be for the Turks.
  4. As described in GW-I ambitious princes and rebellious nobles of the plains always sought shelter and military aid from the hills. What was true for Sikhs and Mughals ranged against the Afghan invaders was equally true for the Delhi Sultans and their dependants in an earlier age.
  5. These descendants of former ruling families were reduced to the status of Thakurs under the Rathors. Some of them suffered an even worse fall to the ranks of common cultivators.

Formation of Rajputana

These two large and powerful kingdoms embarked on a vigorous military expansion and subdued lesser Rajput clans, Turks, Jats, Minas, and Bhils; thus covering a huge swathe of land between Delhi and Gujarat, which came to be called Rajputana. Branches of Rathors and Sesodias formed states in Gujarat, Malwa, and further south into the Indian peninsula. All around Rajputana indigenous powers overthrew the Turk rule and created their own petty kingdoms. In the east small Rajput states proliferated throughout Bihar and Uttar Pradesh and bogged down the Sultanate of Jaunpur in never-ending local conflicts---these later supplied the best infantry, called Purbias, to the Mughal, Maratha, and British armies. In the west the Sumras overthrew the Turks in Sindh while the Lankhas expelled the Turks from Multan. In the north the Gakhars sacked Lahore while the Rajas of Kangra plundered the neighboring plains of the Punjab.

The broken remnants of the Turk power in the south fared better. The ports of Gujarat and of the Bahmani Sultanate had opened up new routes for the movement of men and horses to India while creating an economy based on trade for these Sultanates. But here again the formation of Rajputana blocked the expansion of at least two of these Sultanates. Parts of the Malwa plateau had been occupied by the Kingdom of Mewar even when strong rulers sat on the throne of Delhi. When the local Muslim governors declared independence their energies were drained in fighting the vigorous Sesodias. Similarly a power based in Gujarat normally expands north into the Marwar region---the two areas were together called Maru-Gurjar in the past. But Marwar was now under the powerful Rathor clan while the Sultanate of Gujarat had to constantly fight against the local Rajput principalities like Champaner, Idar, and Girnar. Even in Malwa Rajput principalities like Chanderi and Raisen revolted against the local Sultan. The survival of these Rajput principalities was due in part to the Rajput Kingdom of Mewar that exhausted the military capacities of the two Sultanates in constant battles and raids.

Rajputana left its mark even on future events. While Malwa and Gujarat were forcibly incorporated into the Mughal Empire, and their ruling families were extinguished, the powerful states in Rajputana were handled with greater diplomacy by Akbar. Aurangzeb's bigotry however ended the diplomatic approach and truly created the conditions for the destruction of the Mughal Empire. The numerous states in Rajputana continued to exist down to the 20th Century and were finally merged into independent India in 1947.
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Monday, December 11, 2006

Guerrilla Warfare-III (Rajput resistance)

Routes to the South

Ala-ud-din promoted his four chief followers to lead the vast Turk army and gave them the titles of Ulugh Khan, Zafar Khan, Nusrat Khan and Alp Khan[6]. Prior to the Mongol invasion of Turan and Iran few Muslims bore the title or surname of Khan and it seems that this Mongol title was adopted by the Muslims since Chingiz Khan's Mongols had come to symbolize unmatched power and strength. Ulugh Khan and Zafar Khan made good their elevation to power by defeating a Mongol raid into Punjab that very year. Next Ulugh Khan and Nusrat Khan were sent south towards Gujarat.

It was the wealth of the southern kingdoms that gave Ala the throne of Delhi and more of that wealth was needed to sustain his position on that throne. In his raid on Devagiri the Khalji chief had used the route through the plateau of Malwa---while the raid was successful the army's passage was made slow and difficult because of the ravines and thick forests. The more open and traditional roads to the south passed through the regions of Marwar and Mewar but these paths were flanked by numerous Rajput forts. Thus on the way to Gujarat Ulugh Khan conquered Jaisalmer (1298) and along with Nusrat Khan attacked Chittor where they were either defeated or bought off. That same year Zafar Khan had defeated the Mongol raiders at Siwastan and had returned to Delhi with many prisoners who were converted to Islam.

Ulugh Khan and Nusrat Khan conquered the cities and ports of Gujarat, slew thousands of civilians, broke and polluted temples, and took innumerable prisoners. On their way back some of the newly converted Mongol soldiers revolted and escaped to the shelter of Rajput forts like Chittor and Ranthambhor. The two generals returned to Delhi in time to join the fight against a massive retaliatory invasion by the Mongols that had reached the outskirts of the city---Zafar Khan was killed in this battle (1299). In 1300 Ulugh Khan and Nusrat Khan attacked Ranthambhor but here Nusrat Khan's luck ran out---a stone launched from a Rajput catapult smashed the Turk chief to a bloody death. At that critical moment the Rajputs opened the gates of the fort and attacked the disheartened Turks who broke formation and fled back to Delhi.

Ala-ud-din now attacked Ranthambhor in person and conquered the fort in 1301---encouraged by the Sultan's difficulties at that fort numerous revolts broke out against his authority. On his return to Delhi Ala centralized his government to an unprecedented level and attempted to find new routes to the south. This time a Tughlak chief, Jauna Khan[7], led an attack on the fort of Warangal through the incredibly roundabout route via Bengal and Orrisa---the attempt (1302) was a colossal failure. Ala-ud-din now concentrated his resources on the fort of Chittor, south of Ranthambhor, and thus sought to open a short route to Malwa and Gujarat. After a long siege the fort was finally won in 1303 but the Mongols took advantage of this conflict to launch another attack on Delhi that year. The invaders plundered the city unopposed for two months and then returned to Central Asia with all their plunder, unchecked by the frontier Turk garrisons.

To replace the deceased Nusrat Khan and Zafar Khan Ala-ud-din elevated some new generals to lead the army. Ain-ul-mulk was sent to conquer the Kingdom of Malwa (1305) via Ranthambhor and Chittor. In that year a Mongol horde attacked the Gangetic plains, bypassing the now strong defences of Delhi, but were defeated and forced to retreat. The next year they again attacked the Delhi Turks in a massive double invasion from the north and the west. They were eventually overcome by Ghazi Malik Tughlak[8] and a new general named Malik Naib Kafur[9]. This was the last Mongol invasion of North India for some time. The Mongol Khan of Turkestan, Duwa Khan, died in 1306 and his successors quarreled among themselves for several years leaving the Khanate weak and impoverished.

Thus relieved on the northern frontier the Khalji Sultan organized a massive invasion of rebellious Devagiri in 1307---Malik Naib Kafur from Delhi was joined on the way by Ain-ul-mulk of Malwa and Alp Khan of Gujarat. In 1309 Malik Kafur invaded Warangal and in 1310-11 the same general plundered the Hoysala and Pandya Kingdoms of South India. In 1313 Kafur finally conquered and annexed the Kingdom of Devagiri to the Sultanate. In 1315-16 the illness and death of Ala-ud-din Khalji brought all his main nobles to conflict at Delhi but long before that the Turkish rule had been challenged and overthrown in several places of Marwar and Mewar.
[6]Ulugh Khan was Ala-ud-din's younger brother while Alp Khan was Ala's brother-in-law.
[7] The future Muhammad Tughlak; son of Malik Ghazi Tughlak.
[8] The future Sultan Ghiyas-ud-din Tughlak. The Tughlaks came as refugees from Central Asia and are either of the Qaraunah tribe or the Taghlik tribe. Some writers believe that Tughlak was the Malik's personal name and that is why his son was described as Muhammad-bin-Tughlak.
[9] Translates to the chief (ennobled by his master on conversion to Islam) deputy (of the Sultan) infidel (describes his origins). He was a Gujarati lad who was captured by the Turk invaders, converted to Islam, and taken to serve Ala-ud-din.

Rajput Resistance

The region of Mewar was known in an earlier period as Medpat. An important road connecting the city of Mathura with the southern Kingdom of Gujarat passed through Mewar and went on to join the highway (dakshinapath) to Southern India---this road was guarded by the mighty fort of Chittor (Chitrakut) that stood like a colossus in an otherwise plain countryside. To the west of that fort rise the Aravalli hills and in the east are the ravines and jungles of Malwa. The Marwar region extends to the west of the Aravallis. On its western and northern fringes are stretches of desert while the bulk of the region is a flat plain marked with scattered hillocks. The Marwar region had extensive grasslands, shrubs and deciduous forests---ideal country for breeding horses.

To the north lay the Muslim colonies of Ajmer and Nagaur, which were surrounded by petty Rajput holdings. The early Sultans of Delhi failed to expand from these bases and their attempts at entering Marwar and Mewar were also marked by repeated setbacks. Thus Sultan Iltutmish passed through Marwar on his way to invade Gujarat relying on the support of the Chauhans of Jalor with whom he had an alliance---however the Rajputs brought out their army in support of their compatriots of Gujarat instead. Trapped between two Hindu armies the Sultan was defeated (1226) and forced to retreat to Delhi. Similarly the army of Sultan Balban was routed (1285) when caught between the Guhilas of Chittor and the Chaulukyas of Gujarat who had made a hurried alliance against the common enemy.
The Ranthambhor fort of the Chauhan RajaputrasThe Chauhans of Ranthambhor defied the Delhi Sultans for nearly one century

Concentrated attacked on individual Rajput forts did not bring any result either. In these cases the Rajputs would stock their forts with provisions and military stores, move the civilian population into these strongholds, and burn all crops and grasses around to starve the besieging army. In the Marwar and Mewar regions these Rajput chieftains had units of cavalry that would make counter-attacks on the invaders, destroy their supply columns, and loot caravans carrying their wares to Delhi.

With the advent of the Khaljis these forts eventually succumbed to the long and severe periods of blockade by their much larger armies. However the loss of these forts was only the beginning of the dogged Rajput resistance, which eventually overcame the invaders and threw them out of their motherland.

Up to this point the saga of Khalji expansion has been provided by the information drawn from books and chronicles written by contemporary Muslim writers---these individuals never traveled with the army or saw the situation with their own eyes. They got all their information second-hand and thus their accounts are full of exaggerations and poetic flourishes. However they are important in describing the personal details of Turk rulers and generals and in giving an outline of their movements and campaigns.

The Rajput version is provided by a few books written by Hindu writers of a later period but the most important sources of information are the songs and tales of the bards of each Rajput clan. These songs were passed down orally from generation to generation in the same tradition as the Vedas of ancient India---they were finally put down in writing by European historians in the 19th Century[10]. The bards sang praises of their patrons but saw events with their own eyes on the battlefield---they provide interesting stories and details that are absent in official chronicles. These songs also relate the chronology of Rajput kings and the time periods of their rule. Where the bard's version falters is in the pronunciation of Muslim names and titles[11].

The most accurate sources of information are the inscriptions found within temples, mosques, and forts. These provide the correct dates and names of the different rulers who constructed these buildings and dominated the surrounding area. The inscriptions also lack the exaggerations of Muslim chroniclers and the colorful stories of the Rajput bards. It is these inscriptions that give us the correct dates when the Turk invaders were defeated and driven away from the Rajput forts---how they were defeated is an interesting tale gleaned from all the sources put together.
[10] Lieutenant Colonel James Tod and Dr. LP Tessitori are prominent among them.
[11] Amir becomes Hammira, Sultan is Surtrana, Firuz becomes Piroja etc.


In the same year that Ala-ud-din was planning his raids into the southern kingdoms his uncle the Sultan lead an army to Marwar against the fort of Mandor ruled by Parihar Rajputs. Jalal-ud-din Khalji finally won the fort after a long siege (1292) but could not prevent the ruling family from escaping to the shelter of the fort of Jaisalmer. The latter fort belonged to the Bhaati Rajputs and stood in the middle of a desert tract but it was besieged by the Turks for several years and as related above it was finally won by Ulugh Khan in 1298. However this time there was no means of escape for the inhabitants. It is said that the Bhaati Rawal consulted his chieftains on what was to be done next---they advised him the following, "Immolate the women and children, destroy all wealth by fire and water, open wide the gates of the fort and sword in hand rush open the enemy and thus attain Swarga."

Jaisalmer Fort of the Bhaati Rajputs

The Turks entered the fort (above) to find only ashes---there was nothing to loot and no one to convert. The Islamic wave that had risen from the sands of Arabia more than six hundred years ago and had swept across west and central Asia, sweeping up everything in its path, finally came crashing down in front of forts like Jaisalmer. But more than finding converts to Islam the Turks were faced with the immediate problem of starving in their new home---the scorched earth tactics of the Rajputs had left nothing for the invaders in that desert kingdom. For a year provisions from Delhi and Ajmer attempted to feed the occupying army but these long supply lines were disrupted by attacks from the remainder of the Rajput clan who lived in smaller forts around Jaisalmer. In 1299 the Turks were forced to abandon the fort[12].

This mass sacrifice of lives and wealth acquired the name jauhar[13] and was repeated at Ranthambhor in 1301 and at Chittor in 1303. Unlike Jaisalmer these forts were surrounded by a fertile countryside that was home to a large civilian population. In the case of Ranthambhor the Chauhan Rajputs had been a fighting a ceaseless war of attrition against the earlier Sultans for nearly a century. Jalal-ud-din Khalji had conquered the outlying portion of the kingdom by sacking Jhain so when his nephew took the capital there was no one left to continue the resistance. However in the final sacrifice of jauhar the Chauhans destroyed all their hoarded wealth and ensured that Ranthambhor never became a prominent stronghold of Islam---it fell later to neighboring Rajputs from Mewar[14].

The fort of Chittor[15] too did not become a base for the Turks---even though Ala-ud-din put his own son Khizr Khan in charge of the fort with a large garrison and renamed it Khizrabad. The Turks were unable to conquer the surrounding Mewar region where the mantle of resistance now came to the brows of the Sesodia clan (in the clan hierarchy they were a branch of the Guhilots). The Sesodias had shed their best blood in defending Chittor and the remnants of the clan had fled to the shelter of the Aravalli hills. From this secure base they began fighting a guerrilla campaign against the invaders---raiding the villages that paid tribute to the Turks, plundering supply columns and trade caravans, and disrupting the communications of the Chittor garrison[16].
Chittorgarh dominates the plains between the Aravalli Hills and the Malwa PlateauThe massive fort-city of Chittor dominates the landscape of eastern Mewar

In Marwar also the resistance was growing stronger especially from the Chauhan strongholds of Siwana and Jalor. These chieftains had allowed the Muslim armies safe passage on their way to attack Gujarat but once the pressure was removed they returned to their old ways---accordingly the Turks besieged Siwana but were unable to take the fort. This failure prompted the return of Ala-ud-din Khalji to Marwar---it should be noted that at this time the southern campaigns had been practically left in the hands of Malik Kafur. The Turks now took Siwana (1308) and Jalor (1310) but trouble broke out in other places even as the Sultan was returning to his capital. The Bhaatis of Jaisalmer and the Rathors of Kher took advantage of the Turk preoccupation at the Chauhan forts to increase their own plundering raids. In Mewar the Sesodias under Rana Hammir made a strong attack on the villages around Chittor.

Ala-ud-din is said to have been bewildered by these harassing raids and first tried force to settle the issue. Accordingly Jaisalmer was attacked once again while another force was sent to assist Khizr Khan at Chittor---but there were just too many enemies on all sides and these attempts did not decrease the troubles of the Sultan. At last Ala bowed to the inevitable and tried diplomacy where force had failed---Jaisalmer seems to have been delivered to the descendants of the ruling family, two young brothers secretly smuggled out at the time of the jauhar of 1298, who had now reached manhood[17]. The Sultan then took Rao Maldev, the brother of the dead ruler of Jalor, and put him in charge of Chittor---Maldev was expected to keep better control over that fort since his mother had been a Guhila princess of Chittor. Ala took his own son Khizr Khan out of Chittor and with his Turk soldiers returned to Delhi---this was his last military campaign. It was also the last time that a Delhi Sultan led his army into the region of Mewar.
[12] After the Turk withdrawal the fort was occupied by the Rathors from the south. However the remnants of the Bhaati clan collected together and ejected the usurping Rathors. They elected one Dudu to be their Rawal.
[13] Jauhar or Johar is said to mean salute in Sanskrit, the word could be derived from the jatugriha (house of lac) in the Mahabharat. However Jauhar is also the Persian word for ink and is used to indicate valor in that language!
[14] The Muslim governor of Ranthambhor could not declare independence unlike the governors of Malwa or Mandor. The fort was targeted by Rajputs of Mewar and Turks of Malwa and Delhi and the local governors survived by playing these overlords against each other. Eventually Ranthambhor fell to the Ranas of Mewar and was garrisoned by their subordinates, the Hada Rajputs.
[15] Chittor was the capital of the Guhila clan whose chiefs bore the title of Rawal. When attacked by Ala-ud-din all branches of this clan in the Mewar region came to the aid of the Guhilas. Prominent among these were the Sesodias whose chiefs bore the title of Rana.
[16] Time and again these Aravalli hills of Western Mewar proved to be an unassailable base from where later Ranas maintained their independence and fought strategic campaigns---Rana Kumbha against the allied Sultans of Gujarat and Malwa, Rana Pratap against Akbar, Rana Amar Singh against Jehangir, and Rana Raj Singh against Aurangzeb.
[17] They were Ghadsi and Kanar, smuggled out by Nawab Mahbub Khan who had also arranged for the funeral of his Rajput friends. They were brought up in Delhi by his Brahman servants and are said to have impressed the Sultan with their fighting skills at the time of a Mongol invasion (1306?). On returning from Siwana Jaislamer was invested again by Ala's men and the jauhar performed by Dudu Rawal following which Ghadsi finally liberated Jaisalmer. The local chronicle says that Ghadsi expelled the Muslims from Jaisalmer, and if true, suggests that Alauddin tried to keep the fort for himself despite promising it to Ghadsi.
With the liberation of Chittorgarh, a new era dawns on the history of Mewar, of Rajasthan, and indeed of India. This is the third of the three main phases of Rajput History, where Mewar (collectively with the neighboring Rajput kingdoms) becomes the dominant power in Western India for the next two centuries.
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Sunday, December 10, 2006

Guerrilla Warfare-III (Turks and Rajputs)

The success of Sikh guerrilla warfare in the 18th Century and of Maratha guerrilla warfare in the 17th Century led to the establishment of defined states that entered into a feverish activity of political expansion. In the 14th Century the guerrilla warfare by Rajput clans southwest of Delhi also had a similar result---unlike the former two stories conventional history bypasses the success and expansion of the Rajput clan-kingdoms. This is because other events, like the break-up of the Delhi Sultanate (1350-1400), the formation of the Vijaynagar Empire (1336), and the invasion of Timur (1398) disturb the historian's vision.

This article will view these other events through the perspective of the newly established Rajput states. It will describe the two combating groups and will follow the growth of the Turk power, particularly under the tribes pushed out of their homes by the Mongol invasion. The resistance of the Rajput clans will be studied in detail. The success of that resistance, the formation of strong states, and the impact of both on later history will be described at length. Some myths and misconceptions of that period, which have arisen in the modern writing of Indian History, will then be demolished.

The ancestors of the Turks and the ancestors of the Rajputs first came into contact at the beginning of the Common Era. Five hundred years later the Turks had embraced Islam and were competing for power in the ruins of the Sassanian Empire of Iran along with other groups like the invading Arabs, native Persians, the Kurds, and the Baloch. In these wars Turkish men, women, and children were taken as slaves to be traded in the markets under the control of Muslim Arabs---this is how many Turks may have been converted to Islam. Even so the Turks eventually emerged as the dominant group in the region due to certain military factors. Their skill in archery and their strong horses that could bear the weight of armored soldiers marked out the Turks from the other groups. These factors would prove to be an even bigger advantage when these Turkish chiefs began expanding their power into India.
Turk horses
The ancient Indians had preferred local breeds of horses for the task of pulling chariots and carts but their medieval counterparts noted the better performance of foreign horses in cavalry operations---Indian empires had thus begun importing these horses from central and western Asian lands[1]. The establishment of strong Turk states increased the demand for horses within the armies of those lands and simultaneously the smaller kingdoms that succeeded the Indian empires could not afford the now high-priced foreign breeds. A vast gulf thus appeared between Indian and Turk armies at least on the question of mobility. The Turks could avoid pitched battles with Indian armies and simply raid the rich cities and return to their mountainous homes without fear of being caught. Their attempts to conquer Indian kingdoms however were slow and bloody and were marked by dogged resistance in a succession of battles.

The destruction of the old Hindu kingdoms in North India also cleared the way for a new phenomenon that would dominate Indian history for the next six hundred years---the Rajputs. The word Rajput (raajpoot) is the Apabhramsa form of the ancient Sanskrit Rajaputra (Sanskrit putra>>>Prakrit paotra-putta>>>Apabhramsa pot-poot).....a term found in ancient Sanskrit texts and given to princes since the days of the Gupta Empire.
Marwari horse
The history of the Rajputs really begins with the rise of the Pratihars and allied clans (8th Century CE) in the Rajasthan-Gujarat-Malwa region. These clans formed a defined hierarchy (miscalled feudalism) with hereditary claims to lands and titles——a great change from the past centuries of organized empires and centrally distributed ranks and estates. This feudal system, which eroded the unity of the nation but actually strengthened the local defenses, spread out to modern UP by the time of the Islamic invasion and was a major reason why these particular regions maintained their local independence and religious identity in the face of continuous war and forced conversions. Centrally organized areas like Punjab (Hindu Shahis), Bengal (Senas), and Kashmir, on the other hand were completely crushed and lost their ancient culture and identity to Islam.

New clans were continually being formed by migrations and the grant of separate hereditary estates to the younger sons (Rajaputras) in a large kingdom. With titles of Rana, Rai, or Rawal these Rajaputra [2] families also controlled the outlying forts in the old kingdoms---in Ajmer the Rajaputras were all Chauhans while in Kannauj they belonged to various clans that had formerly ruled that kingdom or had migrated there from other parts of India. The name Rajaputra, which is found in inscriptions and the literature of an earlier period, now evolved into Rajput and replaced the word Kshatriya as a designation for the independent Hindu warriors. With the simultaneous demise of those two kingdoms and their ruling families these Rajputs now became the first line of defense against further Muslim expansion after 1192.
[1]In an interesting parallel the Chinese Empires also imported horses from Central Asia (ferghana)---the native Chinese horses were of a short stature and were used in the ancient times for pulling chariots.
[2]Literally King's son i.e. Prince, this title was known since ancient times; the Buddha was called a Rajaputra; Harshvardhan of Thanesar called himself a Rajaputra before succeeding his brother on the throne of Kannauj. The other words for princes in North India were Rajanya, Rajkumar and Yuvraj but by the time of the Pratihars (Circa 8th Century) Rajaputra had also come to designate an administrative office in several Northern and Central Indian dynasties. For more see evolution of Rajaputra.

This Muslim expansion---namely completing the conquest of Ajmer (above) and Kannauj by occupying the forts and towns of those kingdoms---was a failure and the Rajput resistance was successful. Ruling small fiefs and collecting limited revenue the Rajput chiefs could not afford to raise large armies comprising a mass of infantry, supporting cavalry, and dozens of elephants as in the old Hindu kingdoms. Moreover their small armies were now organized purely on a clan basis---thus these Rajputs found it convenient to maintain compact units of cavalry. From their experience of fighting the Turk invaders the Rajputs made other numerous changes in their military organization and equipment.

The successful Rajput resistance turned the initially spectacular Muslim invasion of India into a gritty and long-drawn affair. The Turks were now bogged down in certain towns and districts of North India surrounded by innumerable Rajaputra chieftains. The two sides fought each other repeatedly over the next century with sometimes the Turkish Sultans and sometimes the Rajputs emerging victorious---however the end result was that there was absolutely no change in the territories dominated by the two sides. This balance of power was altered by certain events that took place outside India in that same period.

Turkestan and Turan were the medieval terms for Central Asia and as the names suggest that vast region was the homeland of the Turks. Soldiers, slaves and horses from this region streamed out south and west into the kingdoms set up by their brethren who were by then the dominant peoples among the converts to Islam. At the beginning of the 13th Century that dominance of the Turks suddenly ceased to exist---the Turkish Shah and his soldiers had been crushed into defeat and were on the run, their cities and forts had been ransacked, and even the Amirzadas[3] had been ejected from their strongholds. This massive and sudden upheaval was caused by the Mongol army of the mighty Chingiz Khan. To escape this fierce invasion and the subsequent conquest Turkish tribes like the Khaljis[4] and the Tughlaks moved en masse to the safety of India. There had been Khalji soldiers in the armies of early Islamic invaders of India but now a flood of refugees poured into the outlying towns and strongholds of the Delhi Sultanate. Initially the Khalji leaders occupied subordinate positions in the army of the Sultanate but the numerical superiority of these new arrivals made the rise of their chiefs inevitable. In 1290 the main Khalji chief, with the typically Turkish name of Malik[5] led a coup to ascend the throne at Delhi---after becoming the Sultan he adopted the Arabic, and hence more Islamic, title of Jalal-ud-din.

The new ruler continued the aggressive policy of the former Sultans but with their vastly increased army the Khaljis were able to thwart the Mongol raids and launch simultaneous attacks on the Rajput forts. While Jalal-ud-din was exerting himself in the western portion of the Sultanate his ambitious nephew Ala-ud-din was busy scheming in the eastern regions. Rather than exhaust his army in the difficult task of collecting revenue from rebellious peasants or in launching bloody campaigns against the sturdy Rajputs, Ala set his eyes on the rich Hindu kingdoms of the south, which had remained mostly untouched by Turk armies.

After carefully obtaining his uncle's permission Ala-ud-din raided the Kingdom of Malwa (1292) and returned with much wealth looted from the town of Bhilsa. With that wealth he raised a larger army and in 1296 attacked the Kingdom of Devagiri south of Malwa and returned not only with gold but also with the allegiance of the Devagiri ruler. This time he had misinformed the Sultan about his plans but with his larger army and all the looted wealth Ala had no scruple in murdering his uncle and buying the loyalty of the other nobles. Ala-ud-din Khalji thus became Sultan of Delhi in 1296.
[3]Literally King's son, this title was the precursor of Mirza. Just like the Rajaputras in India these Amirzadas held outlying forts and villages in the Turkish Empire but in this instance they failed to hold the line against the foreign Mongol invaders.
[4]These were Turks who had been living in the Khalj district of Afghanistan for some time and had thus acquired the surname of Khalji. Due to their early migration from Turkestan orthodox opinion in Delhi suspected them to be of non-Turk descent.
[5]Malik was the Turk title for chief.

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