Sunday, January 3, 2016

Mahmud of Ghazni was a Great Soldier and Conqueror

Mahmud of Ghazni is a much reviled character in Hindu literature, while Muslims bring out the fact that he defeated the " Hindus", the Hindu  writers portray him as a destroyer of temples. No wonder the Pakistanis have named one of their missiles as Ghaznavi.  Truth however can be strange  and Mahmud of Ghazni was not really such a bigoted ruler as made out. His army also had many Hindus, but as a military strategist he was par excellence.
Mahmud of Ghazni along with Mohammed of Ghor, remain two of the greatest invaders of North India. Ghazni was born in 971 AD and his real name is so long that he is known only  as Mahmud of Ghazni. If I recollect his name is Yamin Abdul Kasim Mahmud Sabuktagin. Historically nothing much is known about his early years, but he was the ruler of Afghanistan. He seized power in his native state by defeating and imprisoning his brother for life and then set out to establish his rule. He established the Ghaznavid empire which lasted till 1187.
When Ghazni ascended the throne he was 27 years old and in a short time he defeated all his opponents and established his control over what is modern Afghanistan. As his treasury was depleted he needed revenue and so he planned invasion of the  fertile plains of North India. At that time  North India was under the sway of the Rajputs, who were fiercely independent but fractious. They were not united and as such failed miserably against Ghazni. It also had a lot to do with military strategy. A reading of Montgomery's classic on " History of Warfare" reveals that Ghazni believed in mobility. His army consisted of hordes of mounted archers with long bows, that had tremendous range. In contrast the Rajput army was a slow moving affair with elephants. In repeated battle the forces of Ghazni would encircle the Hindu army and harass it till a exhausted Hindu force would be bewildered and forced to retreat.
Mahmud of Ghazni led  nearly 11 expeditions into India and won every one of them. Some historians put his invasions at 8, but 8 or 11 is immaterial as all his invasions show he was the master and at one stage his empire spanned an area right from Kabul to Somnath in Gujarat. When he died in 1030, he was just 59 years old, but had left his imprint as one of the great conquerors of Central Asia.
The ruler of this vast empire needed a big army and he recruited Hindus and Ismailis into his force. He allowed people to carry on their religion, so long as they did not threaten his rule. The large army needed finance and that is the time he turned his attention to Hindu temples, which had large reserves of gold and silver. Ghazi launched invasions and attacks on Hindu temples and looted them of all gold and silver.  His attack on the temple of Somnath is famous. He looted the temple of its gold and carried it away to Kabul.

Many people think that Ghani was a man interested only in war. Yes, war was his love, but he was also a man of letters. He set up a great library at Kabul which rivaled the library of the Abbasid caliph of Baghdad.  He also got a university and palace of great beauty built at Kabul. He was a man who loved  books and art and his palace became a virtual museum.
Mahmud thought that one of his missions in life was to fight the infidels namely the Hindus, Jains and Ismailis. He was particularly severe on the Ismailis, who he considered to be heretic. But there is no record of any mass scale massacre of Hindus by him and in many places he did not interfere with their life. 
Mahmud of Ghazni remains one of the great conquerors  and he followed the principles of war namely mobility, offense, cooperation, strategy and aim. For this alone his place in  world military history remains enshrined for ever.