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The Ghazavids – Mahmud of Ghazni

Ghaznavids were an Islamic dynasty of Turkish slave origin (366-582/977-1186), which in its heyday ruled in the eastern Iranian lands, briefly as far west as Ray and Jebāl; for a while in certain regions north of the Oxus, most notably, in Kārazm; and in Baluchistan and in northwestern India. Latterly, however, its territories comprised eastern Afghanistan, Baluchistan, and northwestern India, with its last rulers reduced to the Punjab only.

The genesis of the Ghaznavids lay in the process which took place in the middle decades of the tenth century, whereby Turkish slave commanders made themselves in effect autonomous on the southern fringes of the Samanid Empire.

After the death of the Amir ʿAbd-al-Malek, the Turkish slave general of the Samanid army in Khorasan withdrew to Ḡazna after an attempted coup to place his own candidate on the throne had failed. He dispossessed an indigenous family who had ruled in Ḡazna, the Lawīks and he, and following him a series of slave commanders, ruled there as nominal vassals of the Samanids; they struck coins but placed the names of the Samanids on them.

The fifth of these commanders was Sebüktigin, who governed Ḡazna for twenty years till 997 with the title of Al-Hājeb Al-Ajall (most noble commander).

In fact, he laid the foundations of what was speedily to become a fully independent power when the Samanids went into terminal decline in the 990s.

Mahmud of Ghazni

 In 998 AD, the Turkish conqueror, Mahmud of Ghazni, succeeded his father, and established a huge empire in Central Asia, with capital at Ghazni, the present-day South Kabul. He was 27 years old then and the first ruler to get the title as “Sultan”, which means authority, thereby implying his power and strength.

For 17 times, he attacked India during the period between 1000 and 1027 AD, a significant event in the history of India.

Mahmud of Ghazni had started his invasions in India during the period when the Rajput power had declined. The two main reasons that led to the conquest of India by Mahmud Ghazni was firstly, to accumulate the vast amount of wealth that existed in India, and secondly, to spread Islam. Another reason was that he wanted to transform Ghazni, his capital city, into a region of formidable power in the entire Central Asia’s political scenario.

He raided India for the first time in 1000 AD. After that, he is said to have conquered India 17 times, till his death. He was resisted by King Jaipal and then by his son Anandpal but both of them were defeated.

Between 1009 AD and 1026 AD, the places that Mahmud of Ghazni invaded were Kabul, Delhi, Kanauj, Mathura, Kangra, Thaneshwar, Kashmir, Gwalior, Malwa, Bundelkhand, Tripuri, Bengal and Punjab. He died in 1030 AD, and before his death, his last invasion of India was in 1027 AD.

In 1027 AD, he invaded the Somnath temple in Gujarat, on the coast of Saurashtra or Kathiwar. This was supposed to be his biggest invasion as he had looted all treasures and precious items of the fortified temple.

Mahmud Ghazni’s invaders were more of fast moving cavalry, while the Indian armies were mainly of elephants. The army of Rajputs, no doubt, evolved during the Mughal rule, which was also appreciated by the Mughals. But this expansion and evolution of the Rajput’s army was nothing in comparison to the Turkish invaders and could not keep pace with the military tactics and troops of Mahmud Ghazni.

Obviously the clear winner was Mahmud Ghazni. It is said that he always attacked India during the hot summer seasons and with the onset of monsoons, would go back to Ghazni, the reason being, he wanted to avoid the flooding rivers of Punjab, so that his forces won’t get trapped there. In all his 17 invasions, a number of dynasties were conquered by him.

In 1027, he attacked the Somnath temple. The brave Hindu Rajputs tried to defend the temple when the enemy tried to get inside it. The Hindus fought very bravely and initially the enemies could not damage the temple. However, after 3 days of fights, Mahmud Ghazni’s troops were successful in plundering the Somnath temple, in which the sacred idol, Linga was destroyed. Ghazni looted all the treasures of the temple, which was at that time worth 20-million Dinars, more than eighty times of what he had collected in his first invasion. Around 5000 Hindus died during this last invasion.


  1. Mahmud’s invasions of India were no doubt bloody. He was a ruthless raider and plunderer of wealth.
  2. In each invasion of an Indian dynasty, he carried back vast wealth with him.
  3. Places like Mathura, Kanauj, Thaneshwar were transformed into ruins.
  4. The demolition of the Shiva temple at Somnath earned him tremendous hatred of many Hindus.
  5. He looted the wealth of the temples and then destroyed them completely at various places such as Jwalamukhi, Maheshwar, Narunkot and Dwarka.
  6. Though his invasions did not show any systematic effort to conquer the subcontinent, they led to the foundation of the Turkish rule in India and his conquest opened the gates of India to be conquered from the Northwest.
  7. Mahmud Ghazni built a large empire covering Samarkand in the north, Gujarat in the south, Punjab in the east and Caspian sea in the west. His empire included Persia, Afghanistan, Trans-oxyana, and Punjab.
  8. He was considered a great Islamic Hero.
  9. The 17 invasions of India undertaken by Ghazni, one after the other, revealed the Indian rulers’ military weakness.
  10. These invasions also disclosed how the Rajput rulers had no political unity among themselves.
  11. These conquests proved that the Muslims were superior to Hindus in the field of war, discipline and duty.
  12. With Ghazni’s invasions, the economic condition of India weakened.
  13. Huge wealth was looted out of the country.
  14. The resources of India were drained out by his repeated conquests and India was deprived of her manpower, which also adversely affected the future political scenario of the country.
  15. There was a huge setback to Indian arts, architecture and sculpture due to the demolition of idols and temples.
  16. Islam also gained a major foothold in India after the attacks.
  17. The conquests also led to a growing hatred and fear among the Hindus and the Muslims.
  18. However, these conquests also led to the coming of the Sufis or the Muslim saints for more Hindu-Muslim interaction.
  19. Ghazni’s conquests, especially the inclusion of Punjab and Afghanistan in his kingdom, made the Indian frontiers weak. This made easier for other Afghan and Turkish rulers to enter India into the Gangetic valley at any time. One special mention is of Muhammad Ghori’s invasion of India.

Mahmud Ghori

Sultan Mahmud was undoubtedly one of the greatest military leaders, the world has ever seen. It is true that he never faced any defeat. It is, however, equally true that he never tried to consolidate his position. He came like “a wind and went back like a whirl wind.”

Unlike Mahmud, Ghori was not a great general and had to suffer humiliating defeats several times. He was defeated by Mularaja II, the ruler of Gujarat; by Prithviraj Chauhan in the first battle of Tarain and by Khwarizam Shah, the ruler of Persia. In fact, he was killed in his own camp by his Khokar enemies.

But the greatness of Ghori was that none of these defeats could weaken his spirits or check his ambitions. He took his every failure as a valuable experience. He improved upon his weaknesses, removed them and ultimately got success.

The conquests of Ghori brought about more permanent results than the conquests of Mahmud. Mahmud was contented to plunder the wealth of India and did not think of establishing his empire. Mahmud kept himself busy in invading and looting but Ghori attempted to build -up an empire which lasted for centuries.

Wealth, not territory, extirpation of idolatory and not conquest, were the objects of Mahmud’s raids, and when these were accomplished, he cared nothing for the myriad people of India. “He was no religious knight-errant of Islam like Mahmud of Ghazni but a practical conqueror. The objects of his distant expeditions were not temples but provinces.”

Ghori as a practical statesman who took the fullest advantage of the rotten political structure of India. Ghori gave proof of his statesmanship while dealing with different Rajput rulers.

After his victory over Prithviraj, instead of annexing Delhi and Ajmer to his territories, he handed over the administration of Delhi and Ajmer to the relatives of Prithviraj. Ghori did not change the status of those Hindu chiefs who accepted his suzerainty and did not interfere in their administration. Of course, he established forts in these territories.

This Hero of three stupendous defeats at Andh-khud, Tarain and Anhilwara had to his credit the establishment of one of the greatest empires of the Middle Ages and in this he definitely rises above Mahmud of Ghazni.

Ghori had the art of selecting the best men for his services. He trained generals and administrators like Qutab-ud- din Aibak, who proved quite competent to maintain his empire.

Ghori appointed governors of the provinces he conquered. These governors consolidated the position of Turks and they suppressed rebellions. After the death of Ghori, Qutub-ud-din Aibak, his most able military commander founded the Slave Dynasty that ruled India for about one hundred years.

Thus it becomes quite clear that though Mahmud was a great military commander and always a victor but he did not try to establish his kingdom in India. There is no doubt that he paved the way for the establishment of Turkish empire. Ghori also accumulated vast wealth without any scruples but his main objective always remained the founding of an empire and he was successful in that aim.

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