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A place to settle
Aryans and Alexander
Mauryans and Guptas
11th - 16th century
     Muslims from Ghazni
     The sultanate of Delhi

16th - 17th century
18th century
To be completed

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Muslims from Ghazni: 10th - 11th century

The long-standing threat to India from Muslim invaders is renewed when an aggressive Turkish dynasty wins power in Ghazni, southwest of Kabul. On several occasions Subuktigin, the first of these Ghazni rulers, makes raids on the region around Peshawar. Under his son, Mahmud, expeditions into India become a regular policy. During a 33-year reign, the number of his campaigns in the subcontinent is somewhere between twelve and seventeen.

Many of them are sorties for plunder and booty among the riches of India, sometimes as far down the Ganges as Kannauj. But Mahmud's most famous undertaking, in 1025, is different in kind. It is undertaken in a mood of religious zeal as much as for plunder.


India is the first place where invading Muslims are confronted with a highly developed cult of idolatry. The Hindu profusion of sculpted gods and goddesses, often provocative or weird in the disposition of their limbs, is well calculated to outrage any attentive reader of the Qur'an - with its prohibitions against idols and graven images. Mahmud's strenuous effort in marching an army across the desert south from Multan, in 1025, has a holy purpose.

His destination is the great temple at Somnath, where Shiva's linga is washed daily in water brought by runners from the Ganges.


The temple has 1000 Brahmin priests and 600 musicians, dancers and other attendants. Countless pilgrims bring it vast wealth (the removal of which adds to the pleasure of pious indignation). When Mahmud arrives to destroy the place, it is said that 50,000 Hindus die in defence of it. No trace is allowed to remain of the building or its sacred contents.

In the annals of Muslim India, Mahmud acquires a heroic status for this act of destruction. It is the first in the long series of sectarian outrages which have marred the 1000-year relationship between Muslims and Hindus.


Since most of Mahmud's expeditions have been in the nature of raids, he and his heirs never extend their control beyond the Punjab - the territory closest to Afghanistan. But this foothold beyond the Khyber Pass gives easy access to the rich north Indian plain. In leaving the door ajar, Mahmud creates an opening for countless Muslim adventurers from central Asia.

This northwest region of the subcontinent will never again be Hindu. For the next five centuries, Muslim marauders push eastwards through the Punjab to find their fortunes in India. Some of them (in particular the Moghuls) settle down as the most spectactular of India's rulers.


The sultanate of Delhi: 13th - 16th century

The descendants of Mahmud are expelled first from Ghazni and then from the Punjab by another Afghan dynasty, from Ghor. With their Turkish slave army, this second wave of Muslim invaders presses further east and captures Delhi in 1193. In 1211 a member of the Turkish army sets himself up as an independent sultan.

His dynasty, known as the Slave kings, lasts only until 1290. But the sultanate of Delhi survives much longer, in four successive dynasties (Khalji 1290-1320, Tughluq 1320-1413, Sayyid 1414-51, Lodi 1451-1526), until replaced in the 16th century by the Moghul emperors.


The power of the Delhi sultanate grows during the Khalji period and reaches its greatest extent under the Tughluqs, when most of the rulers in the subcontinent accept the sultan as their overlord.

Delhi itself is devastated by the violent arrival of Timur in 1398. Thereafter the sultanate is little more than one power among many in the north Indian plain - a situation which makes possible the surprisingly rapid success of Babur in 1526.


Vijayanagara: 14th - 16th century

During the declining years of the Delhi sultanate, a great Hindu empire is established in the south. Founded in about 1336 with its capital at Vijayanagara (meaning 'city of victory'), it is a worthy successor to the empire of the Cholas and controls much the same area (the whole of India south of the Krishna and Tungabhadra rivers).

The site of Vijayanagara is at Hampi - now just a village surrounded by a ruined city of temples and palaces. Deserted in 1565, after a catastrophic defeat by a coalition of neighbouring Muslim rulers in the Deccan, the full extent of this great Hindu city has only been rediscovered in the 20th century.


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