The accession of Mahmud of Ghazni brought regular Islamic raids into Bharat. Even though most contemporary Muslim historians have painted a picture of the ‘infidel armies’ being easily vanquished and there being no opposition worth the name, a different story emerges when we scrutinize all available contemporary and later sources which testify that Mahmud’s march didn’t go unchallenged.
One of the campaigns for which Mahmud has received lavish praise from Muslim historians is his 1026 CE raid of Somnath. Not only was it a 3-day long struggle but also one where fifty thousand Hindus sacrificed themselves protecting their Bhagwan. Importantly, Mahmud was challenged by Paramdeo, who has been identified with either Bhoja Paramara (1011-1055 CE) or Bhima I Chalukya (1022-64 CE), in addition to being put through hardships by Hindus during his return journey.
The difficulty of the campaign can be judged by the elaborate preparations made by Mahmud. 30,000 camels were loaded with provisions including corn and water as the Islamist armies left for Anhilwara. The Ghaznavid ruler also chose a less taken route to Anhilwara that passed through a barren desert, “where there were neither inhabitants nor food” note several contemporary historians.
Dr. Mishra opines “It is wrong to accuse Bhima of cowardice. Anhilwara had no natural defenses, and situated as it was on a flat sandy surface, could prove easy meat for Mahmud’s Turkish cavalry. There might have also been an element of surprise in Mahmud’s attack since he did not follow the usual route from Multan to Gujarat”.
The march of the Islamic invaders did not go unchallenged despite the surprise attack. When the Ghaznavid army reached Modhera, located around 18 miles (about 28-29 kilometers) south of Anhilwara, it was met with an army of 20,000 Hindu soldiers who put up a brave resistance. However, the Hindu force was overwhelmed. Historian AK Majumdar believes that the famous temple at Modhera was constructed to commemorate this gallant action. He cites an inscription dated to Vikram Samvat 1083 (1026-27 CE) in his support of his view.
The resistance at Modhera was a peek into the kind of Hindu resistance that the Islamist army would be facing at Somnath. The siege at Somnath was met with a fightback Mahmud would hardly have expected. Attesting to the presence of a fort guarding the temple in his book Kitab-Ul-Hind, Alberuni says “The fortress which contained the idol and its treasures was no ancient, but was built only about a hundred years ago”.
The struggle for Somnath raged on for three full days where despite their backs to the wall, Hindus were inspired by their zeal to protect their deity and temple with all their might. The spirited resistance wore out the Mahomedans who were unable to retain their footing and had to retire on the first day so that they could resume the action the next day. The efforts of the Mahomedans on the second day were even more futile than that on the first day. The Hindus were so determined to defend their place that the Islamists who scaled the walls were hurled down headlong by the former.
On the third day, reinforcements arrived to relieve the besieged Hindus. Mahmud not wanting to relent ordered a party to hold the siege while he himself entered the battlefield to engage the Hindu troops that had come to rescue their brethren. It is worth quoting the graphic account of Firishta here who says “The battle raged with great fury; victory was long doubtful till two Indian princes with other reinforcements joined their countrymen during the action and inspired them with fresh courage”.
The two princes referred to by Firishta could mean that Bhima and one other prince arrived with reinforcements to free the besieged. The relief forces were, however, had to retreat following a bitter struggle. The collapse of the organized Hindu defense in fact pushed them to resolve to die defending their faith.
“Band after band of the defenders entered the temple to Somnath, and with their hands clasped around their necks, wept and passionately entreated him. Then again they issued forth to fight until they were slain, and but few were left alive”, notes Ibn-Ul-Asir testifying the faith displayed by the Hindus.
Khond Mir also seconds this view when he says “those ignorant men ran in crowds to the idol temple, embraced Somnath, and came out again to fight until they were killed. Fifty thousand infidels were killed round about the temple”.
Mahmud left Somnath as quickly as he could after gathering the loot for fear of Paramdeo. The Hindu forces were preparing to meet the retreating Ghaznavid army. Gardizi says that Mahmud returned to Multan by way of Mansura instead of taking the right road back to Ghazni; “for Param Dev, Badshah of the Hindus, stood in his way disputing his path” he writes.
As far as the identity of Paramdeo is concerned, Dr. PL Bhatia is of the opinion that Gardizi was referring to Paramara Bhoja who was known to be a sturdy champion of Hindu Dharma. He believes such a strong action could hardly be expected from the young and inexperienced Bhima I Chalukya.
Several historians have attested that soldiers of Islam were made to suffer many hardships on their return journey. Hindus, who were keen to avenge the desecration of their sacred Somnath shrine, are said to have led Mahmud’s army astray in the Kutch desert resulting in the death of many Mohammedan soldiers. The Jats of Sind also harassed the returning Islamist forces.
It is hard, nay impossible, to find the kind of faith that inspired fifty thousand men to give up their lives in defense of their religion and Bhagwan in the history of any other nation of the world!