Mahmud of Ghazni: Merciless Tyrant Obliterated Hindu Temples and Conquered Territories Through Plunder and Slaughter
God be merciful to both father and son! Mahmud utterly ruined the prosperity of the country [India], and performed wonderful exploits, by which the Hindus became like atoms of dust scattered in all directions, and like a tale of old in the mouth of the people, writes Iranian scholar Al-Biruni.
While some say Mahmud was a moderate leader who respected the free will of those he conquered, historical evidence suggests quite the opposite. He was a bloodthirsty and greedy ruler, who launched Jihad on Hindus, and through invasion and plunder, created an enormous empire that stretched from Iran to India.
Yamin ad-Dawlah Abdul-Qasim Mahmud ibn Sabuktegin, more commonly known as Mahmud of Ghazni, was the third ruler of the Ghaznavid Empire, which, at its greatest extant, ruled over Afghanistan, a large part of Transoxiana and Iran, as well as the north-western part of the Indian subcontinent. Mahmud of Ghazni is often regarded to be the greatest ruler of the Ghaznavid Empire. Apart from that, he is also remembered for being the first person in history to use the title ‘Sultan’.
Sultan Mahmud of Ghazni (Mahmud Ghaznawi) was the powerful ruler of the Ghaznavid Empire in Afghanistan (Public Domain)
Rise to Power and Claiming the New Authority of ‘Sultan’
Mahmud of Ghazni was born in AD 971 in the town of Ghazni, Khorasan (which is today in the south-eastern part of Afghanistan). His father, Abu Mansur Sabuktegin, was a Mamluk warrior slave of Turkic origin, and the founder of the Ghaznavid Empire. In AD 977, Sabuktegin succeeded his father-in-law, Alptigin, as the governor of Ghazna. Like his predecessor, Sabuktegin recognised the nominal authority of the Samanid Empire over his domains. This, however, would change when his son Mahmud came to power.
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Sultan Mahmud of Ghazni (Public Domain)
In AD 997, Sabuktegin died of an illness and was succeeded by one of his sons, Ismail. Mahmud was not satisfied with this arrangement, and rebelled against his younger brother. In AD 998, the battle of Ghazni was fought between the two brothers, with Mahmud emerging as the victor, and thus the new ruler of the Ghaznavid Empire. Mahmud decided to break away from the Samanid Empire, which was disintegrating at that time. In addition, the new ruler was a fervent Muslim, and adopted the title ‘Emir’ in deference to the Abbasid caliph, who in turn legitimised Mahmud’s rule. Mahmud also adopted the title ‘Sultan’, which means ‘authority’ in the Arabic language. The adoption of this title was meant to symbolise his power, and also to show his independence from the Samanids.
Mahmud of Ghazni first success from Hutchinson's story of the nations (Public Domain)
Protecting the Empire
Mahmud’s first task as sultan was to secure the northern borders of his empire. He first attacked the Qarakhanid Empire, but was defeated. He was more successful diplomatically, and by this means managed to protect his northern borders. The other threat to this part of Mahmud’s empire came from the weakening Samanids. In AD 999, however, the Samanids were definitively defeated by Mahmud and the kingdom was divided between its neighbors. Khorasan became part of the Ghaznavid Empire, whilst the former Samanid capital, Bukhara, was captured by the Qarakhanids.
Success in India
Mahmud then turned his attention to the south-eastern border of his empire. This is also the north-western part of the Indian subcontinent, and Mahmud’s first major campaign here was against a Hindu ruler of the Punjab by the name of Jaipal. In AD 1000 / 1001, Jaipal was defeated by Mahmud, and was captured by the Ghaznavids. Jaipal was eventually released, but the proud king was not able to accept his defeat. Therefore, he abdicated in favour of his son, Anandpal, and then courageously got onto his own funeral pyre, and perished in the flames.
In AD 1008, Anandpal, with the help of other Hindu rulers, managed to raise a large army against the Ghaznavids. At the beginning of the battle, both flanks of the Ghaznavid army were taking a heavy beating from the ferocious Khokar tribesman. This gave Anandpal an advantage over Mahmud, though this was soon lost when a stray arrow caused the king’s elephant to panic, and to flee from the field. As the soldiers thought that their leader was taking flight from the battle, their morale broke, and they began to run away as well. Thus, the battle ended in victory for the Ghaznavids.
Mahmud of Ghazni’s last success from Hutchinson's story of the nations (Public Domain)
Filling the Coffers
Mahmud decided to teach the Hindu rulers a lesson for joining forces against him by invading their territory and obliterating their precious temples and monuments. He soon realized that these rulers were exceptionally rich, and that their great wealth was being stored in their temples. According to the some historians, the 17 campaigns that Mahmud conducted in the following years were raids, and were aimed at carrying the wealth of the Hindu rulers back to his capital. Others, however, argue that this view fails to take into consideration the fact that the campaigns also had a dimension of holy war to them. This, for instance, can be found in the writings of Utbi, Mahmud’s secretary.
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Mosque and Tomb of the Emperor Soolta Mahmood of Ghuznee by Lietenant James Rattray.circa 1839 (Public Domain)
The Sultan’s Legacy
Mahmud of Ghazni died in AD 1030. At the time of his death, the Ghaznavid Empire stretched from Iran all the way to north-western India. Whilst the Ghaznavid Empire would last till AD 1187, it was already beginning to disintegrate even before Mahmud’s death. For instance, the last four years of the sultan’s life was spent fighting against nomadic tribes that were making incursions into the northern part of his empire.
Top image: A miniature from the Rashid al-Din’s Jami‘ al-Tawarikh showing Mahmud of Ghazni receiving a richly decorated robe of honour form the Abbasid caliph in 1000 AD. (Public Domain)
By Wu Mingren
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