In the seventh century CE when the Arabs embarked on their world conquest, they were faced with the Hindu resistance in Bharat. The tiny principalities of Kabul and Zabul put up a prolonged fight lasting for more than two centuries. The invading Turkish hordes were held at bay by the ruling Hindu Shahi dynasty of these kingdoms who should as a defensive wall guarding the north-western gates of Bharat over the next one and three-quarters of a century. In this article, we shall learn about the three generations of Shahi kings who faced the Turkish onslaught.
Early resistance by the three Hindu kingdoms
When the Arabs set out to ‘conquer the world’, three Hindu kingdoms of Sindh, Kabul (Kapisha), and Zabul (Jabala) or Zabulistanwere ruling the north-western boundary of Bharat. Naturally, they were the first to face the brunt of the invading Islamic Arab forces.
Kabul was ruled by the Hindu dynasty known as Shahi/Sahi (Turk-Shahi of Tibetan origin), believed to be originally the Little Yueh-Chi rulers, that held sway over the region extending from the river valley of Kabul (Kubha) to the Upari-Syena (Hindukush) mountains as early as 4th century CE. The Prayagraj (Allahabad) prasasti of Maharajadhiraja Samudragupta composed by his court poet Harisena refers to the kings of this dynasty as “Daivaputra-Sahi-Sahanusahi-Saka-murundahi”.
South of the Kabul principality was the kingdom of Jabala comprising the upper valley of Helmand River and included Seistan (Sakastan). The Hindu king of this kingdom bore the title of Shah or Shahia. Historian RC Majumdar says “In the seventh century AD, these two kingdoms formed part of India both politically and culturally, being Indian in language, literature, and religion and ruled over by kings who bore Indian names”.
The epic struggle of the Hindu kings of Kabul and Zabul against the powerful Arabs lasted for more than two centuries from 650-860 CE. The same line of Bharatiya rulers, who were known as Ranbal or Ratbil to the Arabs, continued to rule over Kabul despite repeated attempts by successive Caliphs to subdue the two Hindu principalities. The ninth century saw the Shahis (Sahis) caught in a two-fold struggle being threatened by the Arabs on one side and Karkotas of Kashmir (631-855 CE) on the other.
Except for Karkota ruler Raja Lalitaditya Muktapida (713-750 CE) no ruler of the dynasty was far-sighted enough to recognize the threat posed by the Arabs. Arab raids on the southern dominions of Karkotas had convinced Lalitaditya that it was the Islamic invaders who posed a common danger to Bharatiya states and subsequently he lent support to the Shahi princes and conferred high offices to them his court but his successors failed to continue this policy.
The Shahi (Turk-Shahi) dynasty was supplanted by the Hindu-Shahi dynasty founded by the Brahmin Vazir Kallar alias Lallya of the last Shahi ruler Lagaturman. The Hindu states of Kabul and Zabul succumbed to Turkish leader Yaqub Ibn Layth, who later founded the Saffarid dynasty in Persia, in 867 CE. Zabul was permanently lost to the Hindus after 870 CE following Layth’s invasion as Zabulistan’s ruler was killed and the people converted to Islam. Henceforth, Zabul ceased to belong to Bharat both politically and culturally.
Kabul, however, regained independence and formed a part of the Hindu-Sahi kingdom after briefly succumbing to Layth. Persian Samanids, who supplanted the Saffarid dynasty, made no efforts to extend their authority over Kabul which regained some of its lost glory under the Hindu-Shahis.
The following verse from Kalhana’s Rajatarangini provides testimony to the strength of the Shahi princes.
Hindu Sahis – guardians of Bharat’s north-western gates
They transferred their capital to Udabhandapura after the loss of Kabul and continued to remain the defenders of the north-western gates of Bharat even in the tenth century when the next wave of the Islamic invasion in the form of Turkish hordes threatened Bharat. The Hindu-Shahis came to be known as the Rais of Hindustan. The Shahis had succeeded in recreating their kingdom in the land of the five rivers taking advantage of the weakening of the powers of the Kashmir kings, Multan Amirs, and Gurjara-Pratiharas of Kannauj.
Jaipal or Jayapala, who ascended the throne in the last quarter of the eleventh century CE, was the first of the later Hindu-Shahi rulers who had to face the fresh tide of Turkish invaders. Frequent raids into Jayapala’s territories were undertaken by Sabuktigin who ascended the throne in 977 CE. Such was the frequency of the raids that according to Utbi “Jayapala saw no remedy except in beginning to act and to take up arms”.
Jayapala, unfortunately, happened to go on the offensive by organizing two raids against the territory of Ghazni. The first of these attacks took place around 986-87 CE. It was a long-drawn battle lasting several days in which Sabutigin’s army including his son Mahmud was reduced to despair. If it were not for a snowstorm and rains that forced Jayapala to open negotiations for peace, the Islamist army would surely have been completely routed.
Utbi quotes Raja Jayapala’s message to Sabuktigin: “You have heard and know the nobleness of Indians they fear not death or destruction. In affairs of honor and renown, we would place ourselves upon the fire like roast meat and upon the dagger-like the sunrays”.
The peace was, however, short-lived as Sabuktigin soon after raided the Shahi kingdom’s flourishing and populous town Lamghan. Following this attack, Jayapala appealed to other Hindu kings for help against the Muslim aggressor. According to Firishta, though not corroborated by any other contemporary authority, neighboring Rajas, particularly those from Kalinjar, Kannauj, Ajmer, and Delhi supplied men and monetary aid to the Shahi ruler.
It is possible that the Tomars, Chahamanas, and Chandellas did aid the Hindu-Shahis having realized the threat posed by the Islamists. This final attempt by Jayapala to crush the rising power of Ghazni ended in the former’s defeat but not before a fierce and valiant fight was put up by the Hindu troops. Sabuktigin annexed the province of Lamghan following his victory. After his defeat, Jayapala didn’t launch any other offensive against the Ghaznavids.
The accession of Mahmud in 998 CE revived hostilities between the Ghaznavids and the Hindu-Shahis. Jayapala gathered his troops to offer resistance to Mahmud in 1001 CE when the latter managed to advance up to Peshawar. Before Jayapala could fully mobilize his army, Mahmud launched his attack and after a stiff fight, Mahmud achieved victory taking Jayapala and his family captive. Though Jayapala was later released in exchange for fifty elephants, his son was held hostage to ensure there was no breach of the treaty. Jayapala is said to have set himself afire on a funeral pyre prepared on his orders as he considered himself unworthy of the throne after his captivity at the hands of the Muslims.
Jayapala was succeeded by his son Anandapala who engaged Mahmud in a battle near Peshawar in 1005-1006 CE. Shortly after this, Mahmud was forced to return to Ghazni to face an attack on his kingdom by Turkish leader Ilak Khan leaving his Bharatiya territories under the charge of Anandapala’s son Sukhapala who had been converted to Islam and given the name Nawasa Shah. After Mahmud’s return, Sukhapala returned to the Hindu fold.
Anandapala in an unnecessary show of magnanimity not only failed to exploit the situation to his advantage but even went on to offer help to Mahmud against Ilak Khan. Anandapala didn’t even aid his son who was soon taken captive and imprisoned for life following his rebellion. Anandapala’s ‘magnanimity’ was returned by Mahmud by launching an attack on the former in 1008 CE. Anandapala’s elephant became unruly and fled the battlefield leaving the Hindu army in disarray. Mahmud made incursions into the dominions of the Shahis but failed to advance due to his apprehension of the Raja of Lahore Anandapala.
Mahmud’s nobles impressed upon him the need to completely eliminate the Hindu-Shahis if he wished to advance into Bharat. Accordingly, Mahmud marched against Trilochanapala, who had succeeded Anandapala, in 1013. Trilochanapala and his son Bhimapala (known as Nidar Bhima) retired to the Kashmir hills where they took up a position within a narrow and inaccessible pass. Kashmir’s ruler Sangramaraja responded to Trilochanapala and sent his prime minister Tunga with a large army to aid the Hindu-Shahi ruler.
Kalhana gives a vivid account of the epic struggle of the Hindu-Shahis that created a profound impact on the Muslim psyche.
Kalhana gives testimony of Trilochanapala’s bravery as also his intelligence that was visible in his advice to Tunga. It wasn’t until the Hindu armies were drawn into the plains for a fight that the Muslim armies managed to decimate them. Even so, Trilochanapala and his son Nidar Bhima carried on the struggle for a few more years from Kashmir’s hilly district of Lohara where they had retired after their loss.
The curtains were drawn on the Hindu-Shahis with the killings of Trilochanapala in 1021 CE and his son Nidar Bhima in 1026 CE who fought the invaders up to their last breath. No doubt they made some tactical errors but they truly stood as guardians of Bharat’s north-western gates exhibiting great bravery and tenacity. In the words of Dr. Mishra, “they ultimately collapsed against the repeated onslaughts of the Turks, led by one of the greatest generals that their race has produced, but not before three generations of the Shahi kings had sacrificed themselves on the battlefield”.