ISLAM ARRIVES IN SOUTH ASIA
Islam arrived in present-day Pakistan and India from the south and north. Between 711 and 1526 various Muslim armies—Arabs, Turks, Afghans and Mughals—conquered northern Indian from the west while Islam was absorbed more peacefully in the south through the efforts of maritime traders and missionaries from the Middle East and Iran. At this time the center of Muslim power was moving eastward from the Mediterranean as the second Damascus-based caliphate declined and a new one rose on Baghdad. The Baghdad rulers also expanded into Persia, Central Asia.
Islam was propagated by the Prophet Muhammad during the early seventh century in the deserts of Arabia. Less than a century after its inception, Islam's presence was felt throughout the Middle East, North Africa, Spain, Iran, and Central Asia. Arab military forces conquered the Indus Delta region in Sindh in 711 and established an Indo-Muslim state there. Sindh became an Islamic outpost where Arabs established trade links with the Middle East and were later joined by teachers or sufis, but Arab influence was hardly felt in the rest of South Asia. [Source: Library of Congress]
According to one story, piracy prompted Muslim-Arab expansion into northern India. Pilgrims traveling from Ceylon to Mecca in A.D. 711 were abducted from their ship and taken to the port of Daybul on the Indus delta and imprisoned by a local raja, who controlled a kingdom of Buddhists and Hindus that was centered around present-day Karachi. . A viceroy in Iraq was outraged. He engaged a 17-year-old general, Mohammed Bin Qasim of Arabia, who led an army of 6,000 Syrian Arabs on a 1,500 mile march across the deserts of Baluchistan and Sind. They army stormed Daybul and killed the raja and expanded into the Indus Valley. Bin Qasim led his army northwards, accompanied by 4,000 Jat soldiers, and conquered Multan, where they claimed an ancient golden temple dedicated to a sun god that was filled with gold.
Islam Takes Hold in South Asia
The Muslim -Arab stronghold in the Sind endured until Turkic tribes arrived in the 11th century from Central Asia and set up a sultanate near Delhi but Islam didn’t make serious inroads into India until the arrival of the Ghaznavids from Afghanistan in the 10th century and didn’t really take hold until the Mughals established a sultanate in Delhi in the 16th century. Muslim rule lasted more or less until the British took over in the 18th century.
By the end of the tenth century, dramatic changes took place when the Central Asian Turkic tribes accepted both the message and mission of Islam. These warlike people first began to move into Afghanistan and Iran and later into India through the northwest. Mahmud of Ghazni (971-1030), who was also known as the "Sword of Islam," mounted seventeen plundering expeditions between 997 and 1027 into North India, annexing Punjab as his eastern province. The invaders' effective use of the crossbow while at a gallop gave them a decisive advantage over their Indian opponents, the Rajputs. Mahmud's conquest of Punjab foretold ominous consequences for the rest of India, but the Rajputs appear to have been both unprepared and unwilling to change their military tactics, which ultimately collapsed in the face of the swift and punitive cavalry of the Afghans and Turkic peoples. [Source: Library of Congress]
Early Muslim invaders sought to impose their Muslim religion and culture upon India, and they were partially successful. Muslims and Hindus operated in different spheres. Much of the conversions of the local population was done by Persian Sufi holeymen. Muslims were a more cosmopolitan people, interested more in trade and politics than agriculture, as had traditionally been the case with Hindus.
Islamic Rule in South Asia
Islam took hold quickly in India and was especially popular with the lower castes. This is not surprising. It was egalitarian and accepted everyone whereas Hinduism and its caste system mostly benefitted the upper castes. Taxes for non-Muslims were abolished for anyone who converted. Those who chose not to convert were allowed to practice their religion and were even permitted to make idols of their gods and worship them. Local leaders were encouraged to convert by giving them the power to collect taxes. Brahmans were discouraged from rebelling by letting them keep their power. Links with Bagdad were maintained through governors. The Arabic language was spread through South Asia and Indian philosophy, science, medicine mathematics and astronomy made their way to the Middle East.
The Muslim intrusions into India had two profound impacts on India and South Asia: 2) the development of trade economy along the coast; and 2) the defining of Hindu religion and culture based on its contrast to monotheistic Islam. Muslim conquest is in South Asia and the establish of a trade network throughout Southeast Asia and the east Indies made the Indian ocean an "Arabic-speaking Mediterranean." The Dutch historian Andre Wink wrote created "a world economy in and around the Indian Ocean—with India at its center and the Middle East and China as it dynastic poles.
Both the Quran and sharia (Islamic law) provided the basis for enforcing Islamic administration over the independent Hindu rulers, but the sultanate made only fitful progress in the beginning, when many campaigns were undertaken for plunder and temporary reduction of fortresses. The effective rule of a sultan depended largely on his ability to control the strategic places that dominated the military highways and trade routes, extract the annual land tax, and maintain personal authority over military and provincial governors. Sultan Ala-ud-Din made an attempt to reassess, systematize, and unify land revenues and urban taxes and to institute a highly centralized system of administration over his realm, but his efforts were abortive. Although agriculture in North India improved as a result of new canal construction and irrigation methods, including what came to be known as the Persian wheel, prolonged political instability and parasitic methods of tax collection brutalized the peasantry. Yet trade and a market economy, encouraged by the free-spending habits of the aristocracy, acquired new impetus both inland and overseas. Experts in metalwork, stonework, and textile manufacture responded to the new patronage with enthusiasm. [Source: Library of Congress]
Ghaznavids, Ghurids and Gauri
The Ghaznavids, a Central Asian dynasty, was founded by the Karluk Turks in the 10th century. Named after the their ancient Afghan city, Ghazni, they established a kingdom in Afghanistan and helped establish Islam on the Indian subcontinent by conquering much of India in the name of Islam. Ghazni is not far from Kabul.
The Turks that became the Ghaznavids established themselves in Afghanistan in the late 9th century and created the first Afghan state. In A.D. 962, one of their leaders Alaptagin became the ruler of Ghazni. In 977, the first loya jirga (a form of government still found in Afghanistan) was convened. It chose the freed Tatar slave Naziruddi to head the Ghaznavid Empire, By 1001, the Ghaznavids, had extended its rule into the northwestern region of India.
The Ghaznavids made a fortune as raiders and slave traders. Mass conversions to Islam began at this time and Sufism introduced by Muslim saints such as Ali Makdum al Hujwiro was widely embraced. Ghazni and Lahore became centers of Islamic culture. The Punjab, Sindh and Balochistan were absorbed and became integral parts of the Ghaznavid empire.
Mahmud of Ghazni (971-1030), a Ghaznavid ruler, launched the Islamic conquest of India. He led seventeen raids against the Rajput kingdoms in northern India—looting, pillaging and bringing back everything thye could carry—under the pretext of bringing Islam to Hindus. He founded the slave kingdom of Delhi and rampaged across northern India, smashing many Hindu idols. Historians think he used religion as pretext to loot and steal.
The Ghaznavids battled with the Karakhanids, a rival empire that stretched from Kazakhstan to western China until they were subdued by the Seljuk Turks and were ousted by the Iranian Ghurids (1148-1206), who conquered Delhi in 1193 and extended Turkish rule to Bengal. Gauri was a 12th century Muslim invader who conquered parts of northern India. Pakistan has named a missile after him. Gauri defeated a Hindu ruler named Prithvi. India has a missile named after him.
India in Year 1000
In the year 1000, India was ruled by several regional kingdoms and was home to about 50 million people. It was isolated by high mountains from its northern neighbors and was linked to Africa, the Middle East, Southeast Asia and Indonesia by maritime routes that relied on the monsoon winds. Spices it produced were it great demand around the known world, It also exported gems, gold, cotton and timber. It imported Islamic silver and Chinese silk.
Largest cities in the world in the year 1000 (estimated population): 1) Cordoba, Spain (450,000); 2) Kaifeng, China (400,000); 3) Constantinople (300,000); 4) Angkor, Cambodia (200,000); 5) Kyoto, Japan (175,000); 6) Cairo (135,000); 7) Baghdad (125,000); 8) Neyshabur, Persia (125,000); 9) Al Hasa, Arabia (110,000); 10) Anhilvada, India; 11) Rayy, near modern-day Tehran (100,000); 12) Isfahan, Persia (100,000); 13) Seville, Spain (90,000); 14) Dali, China (90,000); 15) Thanjavur, India (90,000).
In the early 13th century, a Turkish slave dynasty defeated the Ghuids in India and established the Sultanate of Delhi. It ruled the whole of the Ganges Valley, consolidated Turkish power and lasted for 300 years until the arrival of the Mughals. The sultanate expanded southward, absorbing many Hindu kingdoms, including the powerful Yadavas dynasty.
The Delhi Sultanate refers to the various Muslim dynasties that ruled in India (1210-1526). It was founded after Muhammad of Ghor defeated Prithvi Raj and captured Delhi in 1192. In 1206, Qutb ud-Din, one of his generals, proclaimed himself sultan of Delhi and founded a line of rulers called the Slave dynasty, because he and several of the sultans who claimed succession from him were originally military slaves. [Source: Glorious India <>]
Shams-ud-Din Iletmish (or Iltutmish; r. 1211-36), a former slave-warrior, established a Turkic kingdom in Delhi, which enabled future sultans to push in every direction; within the next 100 years, the Delhi Sultanate extended its sway east to Bengal and south to the Deccan, while the sultanate itself experienced repeated threats from the northwest and internal revolts from displeased, independent-minded nobles. Iltutmish (1210-35) and Balban (1266-87) were among the dynasty's most illustrious rulers. [Source: Library of Congress]
Delhi Sultanate Rule
The sultanate was in constant flux as five dynasties rose and fell: Mamluk or Slave (1206-90), Khalji (1290-1320), Tughluq (1320-1413), Sayyid (1414-51), and Lodi (1451-1526). Constantly faced with revolts by conquered territories and rival families, the Slave dynasty came to an end in 1290. Under the Khalji dynasty (1290-1320), Ala-ud-Din (r. 1296-1315) succeeded in bringing most of South India under its control for a time, although conquered areas broke away quickly. Both the Quran and sharia (Islamic law) provided the basis for enforcing Islamic administration over the independent Hindu rulers, but the sultanate made only fitful progress in the beginning, when many campaigns were undertaken for plunder and temporary reduction of fortresses.
Power in Delhi was often gained by violence--nineteen of the thirty-five sultans were assassinated--and was legitimized by reward for tribal loyalty. Factional rivalries and court intrigues were as numerous as they were treacherous; territories controlled by the sultan expanded and shrank depending on his personality and fortunes. [Source: Library of Congress]
India was more centralized than before under Turkish rule. The Delhi sultans ruled based on institutions used by the Abbasid Empire. They established a large army and civil administration that relied on village headmen to collect taxes. Justice was meted out through magistrate justices. Poetry, classical dance and music blossomed and was enjoyed by ordinary people as well as courtiers. Islam was spread by Sufi mystics and Shiite Muslims established significant communities in the Deccan plateau in southern India.
The effective rule of a sultan depended largely on his ability to control the strategic places that dominated the military highways and trade routes, extract the annual land tax, and maintain personal authority over military and provincial governors. Sultan Ala-ud-Din made an attempt to reassess, systematize, and unify land revenues and urban taxes and to institute a highly centralized system of administration over his realm, but his efforts were abortive. Although agriculture in North India improved as a result of new canal construction and irrigation methods, including what came to be known as the Persian wheel, prolonged political instability and parasitic methods of tax collection brutalized the peasantry. Yet trade and a market economy, encouraged by the free-spending habits of the aristocracy, acquired new impetus both inland and overseas. Experts in metalwork, stonework, and textile manufacture responded to the new patronage with enthusiasm. [Source: Glorious India <>]
Decline of the Delhi Sultanate
The greatest challenges to the Delhi sultanate came from the north. Genghis Khan reached the Indus in 1212 but didn’t penetrate as deeply into India as he did elsewhere. In 1398-9, Timur (Tamerlane), the great Turkish conqueror, overran Delhi and its adjoining areas. He didn’t stay long and the Turkish sultanate managed to return to power after he left.
Early in the reign of Muhammad Tughluq, founder of the Tughluq dynasty (1325-98), the power of Delhi was acknowledged even in the extreme south of India. His eccentric rule and ferocious temperament provoked a series of revolts, notably that of the Hindu Vijayanagar kingdom in the south, and a steady loss of territory; by his death (1351) the Hindu south had recovered its independence and the Deccan had become a separate Muslim state, the Bahmani kingdom. Under Tughluq's successors the sultanate of Delhi began to disintegrate into several small states. With the sack of Delhi by Timur in 1398, the once great sultanate fell, although local rulers lingered on at Delhi until the invasion of Babur and the Mughal conquest. [Source: Glorious India <>]
Southern Dynasties in India During the Period of Muslim Rule in the North
The failure of the Delhi sultans to hold securely the Deccan and South India resulted in the rise of competing southern dynasties: the Muslim Bahmani Sultanate (1347-1527) and the Hindu Vijayanagar Empire (1336-1565). Zafar Khan, a former provincial governor under the Tughluqs, revolted against his Turkic overlord and proclaimed himself sultan, taking the title Ala-ud-Din Bahman Shah in 1347. [Source: Library of Congress *]
The Bahmani Sultanate, located in the northern Deccan, lasted for almost two centuries, until it fragmented into five smaller states in 1527. The Bahmani Sultanate adopted the patterns established by the Delhi overlords in tax collection and administration, but its downfall was caused in large measure by the competition and hatred between deccani (domiciled Muslim immigrants and local converts) and paradesi (foreigners or officials in temporary service). The Bahmani Sultanate initiated a process of cultural synthesis visible in Hyderabad, where cultural flowering is still expressed in vigorous schools of deccani architecture and painting. *
Political rivalry between the Bahmani and the Vijayanagar rulers involved control over the Krishna-Tunghabadhra river basin, which shifted hands depending on whose military was superior at any given time. The Vijayanagar rulers' capacity for gaining victory over their enemies was contingent on ensuring a constant supply of horses--initially through Arab traders but later through the Portuguese--and maintaining internal roads and communication networks. Merchant guilds enjoyed a wide sphere of operation and were able to offset the power of landlords and Brahmans in court politics. Commerce and shipping eventually passed largely into the hands of foreigners, and special facilities and tax concessions were provided for them by the ruler. Arabs and Portuguese competed for influence and control of west coast ports, and, in 1510, Goa passed into Portuguese possession. *
The Vijayanagar Empire, based in Vijayanagar, near Hampi, in Karnataka, India. It was founded by two Hindu princes, who were kidnapped by Muslims and returned to power. They were expected to create Muslim kingdoms but instead founded Hindu ones. The kingdom was eventually conquered by rival local kingdoms and they in turn were defeated by the Mughals.
The establishment of the Vijaynagar empire was one of the most significant event in the history of medieval India. It lasted for three centuries and successfully prevented the extension of Muslim sultanetes in south. The history of Vijaynagar empire is characterized by a series of bloody wars with Bahamani and other Muslim rulers. [Source: Glorious India <>]
Founded in 1336, the empire of Vijayanagar (named for its capital Vijayanagar, "City of Victory," in present-day Karnataka) expanded rapidly toward Madurai in the south and Goa in the west and exerted intermittent control over the east coast and the extreme southwest. Vijayanagar rulers closely followed Chola precedents, especially in collecting agricultural and trade revenues, in giving encouragement to commercial guilds, and in honoring temples with lavish endowments. Added revenue needed for waging war against the Bahmani sultans was raised by introducing a set of taxes on commercial enterprises, professions, and industries. [Source: Library of Congress*]
The city of Vijayanagar itself contained numerous temples with rich ornamentation, especially the gateways, and a cluster of shrines for the deities. Most prominent among the temples was the one dedicated to Virupaksha, a manifestation of Shiva, the patron-deity of the Vijayanagar rulers. Temples continued to be the nuclei of diverse cultural and intellectual activities, but these activities were based more on tradition than on contemporary political realities. (However, the first Vijayanagar ruler--Harihara I--was a Hindu who converted to Islam and then reconverted to Hinduism for political expediency.) The temples sponsored no intellectual exchange with Islamic theologians because Muslims were generally assigned to an "impure" status and were thus excluded from entering temples. When the five rulers of what was once the Bahmani Sultanate combined their forces and attacked Vijayanagar in 1565, the empire crumbled at the Battle of Talikot. *
The ruins of Vijaynagar city can be seen today near Hampi in Karnataka which realisticly reflects the splendour and opulance during the reigns of Rayas of Vijaynagar.This so called battle of Talikota was one of the decisive battles in the history of India. It destroyed the Hindu supremacy in southern India until rise of Marathas in seventeen century. In spite of the tremendous damage, Vijaynagar did survive but the old grandeur was lost. Coalition muslim forces did not gain much in spite of all out victory. Alliance was soon dissolved and brother of Rama Raya took this opportunity and tried to bring back the old glory to the kingdom. [Source: Glorious India <>]
Two brothers Harihara and Bukka laid the foundation of the Vijaynagar city on the southern bank of Tungabhadra river near Anegundi fortress. The sage Madhav Vidyaranya and his brother Sayana (whose commentary on the Vedas is famous) were the inspirational source for the foundation of this Hindu empire. Bukka sent a delegation to China in 1374 and after his death was succeded by Harihara II. Harihara II extended this newly founded kingdom by conquoering almost whole of southern India, including Mysore, Kanara, Chingalpet, Trichinopally and Kanchivaram. Harihara II was devotee of Virupaksha (Shiva) but was tolerant to all other religions. He was the first King of Vijaynagar empire who assumed the title of Maharajadhiraj Rajaparmeshwara. In 1486,Vir Narasimha of Chandragiri took control of the Vijaynagar empire. This led to the direct rule of the Tuluva dynasty over the Vijaynagar empire. [Source: Glorious India <>]
Krishanadev Raya, the younger son of Vir Narasimha of Chandragiri, is regarded as the greatest ruler of Vijaynagar and one of the most famous kings in the history of India. He was gallant warrior and, like Vikramaditya, he was always successful in the wars which he waged throughout his reign. He was a fine statesman and treated the defeated enemy with honour. First, in 1511-1512, he captured southern Mysore, Shivasamudram fortress and Raichur. In 1513, he humbled the king of Orissa Gajapati and in 1514 he captured Udaigiri. Eventually he captured Vishakapatnam and completely abolished the authority of King of Orissa. His greatest and most celebrated military achievement was crushing defeat of Ismail Adil Shah on 19th March 1520. This ended the muslim dominance in south and made him master of whole of south India. <>
During his last days, Krishanadev Raya devoted all his attention in organization of his empire and improving the administration. He maintained friendly relationship with Portugese and granted some concessions to governer Albuquerque. Reign of Krishanadev Raya reached to its zenith not only in terms of expanse of the empire, but also in terms of growth and development of literature, music, art and culture. Raya himself was an accomplished poet, musician, scholar and was fluent in Sanskrit, Telugu and Kannada (and perhaps Tamil too!). He wrote a immensely important (both historically and religiously) book Amuktamalyada in Telugu. He patronized many poets which includes Ashtadigajas (eight elephants, the great poets of Telugu) and scholars like Tenalirama. His reign also saw the remarkable development in art and architecture. The famous Hazara temple built during his reign is one of the most perfect example of Hindu Temple architecture. Vithalswami temple is another fine example of the Vijaynagar style of architecture. Krishandev Raya and all other rulers of this empire were pious Hidus and were devoted to Dharma, but they had very liberal outlook for other religions. According to Barbosa, a historian and many contemporary travellers, `the Kings allows such freedom that every man would live without suffering and annoyance, whether he is a Christian, Jew, Moor or Hindu'. <>
Achyut Raya succeeded Krishanadev Raya as the ruler of the Vijaynagar empire but soon lost control to his brother-in-law Tirumala. Eventually, the power was trasferred to prime minister Ram Raya who seized the throne for himself. Finally, three muslim sultanetes of Deccan, Bijapur, Ahmadnagar and Golkonda formed a coalition and met the massive Vijaynagar Army near village Tagdi on 23rd January 1565. Vijaynagar lost the war to the allied forces. A group of muslim soldiers separated the elephant of Ram Raya from his army in a swift move. He was at once beheaded by Husain Nizam Shah. What followed was one of the greatest plunder and destruction in the history of India. According to historian, Sewell `After victory, muslims reached capital and for next five month they destroyed and plundered relentlessly. Nothing seemed to escape them. They burned magnificent buildings, pavillions and finally the beautiful Vithalswami temple near the river. With swords, crowbars and axes they smashed exquisite stone sculptures. Never perhaps in history of the world such havoc has been wrought on so splendid city, teeming with a wealthy and industrious population. City was seized, pillages and reduced to ruins, amid scenes of savage massacre and horrors beggaring description'. <>
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Ministry of Tourism, Government of India, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.
© 2008 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated June 2015