India Invented – Ep9 Islam comes to Hindustan

Posted By on December 4, 2019


With the second largest population of Muslims in the world, India is as Islamic a country as any other. Conventional wisdom has it that Islam first came to India with the conquest of Sindh
by Mohammed Bin Qasim in the early years after 800 A.D. Ironically, both North Indian historians and their Pakistani counterparts
subscribe to this theory. The fact is that the oldest mosque in India
was built on this site in Kerala. Even before the advent of Islam, the Arabs had established several trading settlements
along the Malabar Coast. After the Arabs had converted to Islam,
their faith was imported into India along with their merchandize; dissimilar cargos brought in aboard sea-faring-Dows,
of the kind that are still made in this region. The Arabian trading communities
gradually established themselves and their religion. The Muslim community on the Malabar Coast, a result of a marriage
between the Arabs and the local population, are called the Moplas. The term is derived from ‘Mapilla’
meaning ‘bride-groom’ or ‘child’. The echos of the Arab influence on the culture of the Moplas
can be heard in the music of A.R.Rahman. It is continuities like this
that make up India’s cultural mix. The very name India is derived from the name of the river Sindhu
(also known as Indus). The West at various points of time refered to the land
as ‘Ind’, ‘Indya’, or ‘Hindustan’. The Sindhu river has also given its name to the region that forms its most important hinterland, Sindh. A century after Islam arrived on the Malabar Coast,
another wave of Islam reached Sindh and in due course,
spread from there to other parts of the sub-continent. Around the same time,
Islam was also taking root in different areas of the world and its effects varied from region to region. Kosambi comments on the spread of Islam – “Barely a 100 years after the Prophet’s death,
Islam spread from Europe to Asia. In Europe, it liberated the peasants
from exactions of the Church and the kings. In Persia, Islam liberated the peasants
from exactions of the kings and nobles.” In India, Kosambi compares the coming of Islam
with the coming of the Aryans and says that Islam brought in new technology
and freed forces of production. But this is not exactly true because
while the Aryans brought huge areas under the plow, Islam did not do so. What the muslims did was
they brought in a lot of technology. They brought in Chinese porcelain,
tea, silk and gun-powder. But they did not really change the forces of production
in a drastic sense. However, what they did was,
they did liberate the peasants to a certain extent and provided force. That Force rather than religion
became the basis of the State. Delhi was the theater
where the State manifested itself most forcefully. And it is here that much of the action took place
during what is known as the Delhi sultanate. Along with the Roman Empire,
this is the only example where a long period of imperial system
is not known so much by dynasties but the locus of power, the capital,
Delhi. And that names it Delhi Sultanate. The second thing is that
‘Sultanate’ gives clearly the indication that this imperial system was not based on any ideology, not any creed, not any basic principle,
but purely on naked brute force. The word Sultanate is derived from… its origin is “Sult”
and the dictionary meaning of Sult is ‘power’. Away from the seat of power,
the peasant at the bottom of the heap continued to toil much as his forefathers had done
in the centuries before Islam. The Persian wheel was one of the technological innovations
of that period. But for the common man,
the wheel of time turned much as it always had. Ancient beliefs and ways of life persisted. The remains of the Buddhist Stupa
over the ruins of Mohenjodaro are a reminder of
pre-Islamic Buddhist presence in Sindh. In fact, the first Muslim raids in Sindh and elsewhere
under Mohammed Bin Qasim were made easier by the hostility between Buddhist peasants and the Brahmins,
who had overthrown Buddhist rule. After they had conquered Sindh,
the aim of the muslims was to secure an outlet to the sea
via the Indus river. This took 200 years to accomplish, not such a long period in a land where
time takes its own monumental pace to become history. History has many methods of inventing itself
and re-inventing itself. And monuments have many meanings. Sometimes, these meanings are deliberate. Monuments are built and then rebuilt. On the other hand,
many monuments have people just move into them and give meanings which are very different
from the ones originally intended. Take the case of monuments
associated with Mohammed Ghazni. Mahmood Ghazni raided India around 1000 A.D. and it is well known
that he went up to Somnath temple and destroyed it. Centuries after his time,
the Somnath temple was rebuilt. It is not so well known that Mahmood ghazni also destroyed a large number of Ismaili settlements
and mosques on his way, suggesting in fact, that his raids had more to do with plunder
than with religion. Mahmood Ghazni’s raids
are vivid in popular memory. But in reality,
they did not have a lasting effect. Later incursions by the muslims
were more significant. They tended to move into previously inhabited sites
as the recent archaeological findings at LalKot near Mehrauli show. Earlier,
PrithviRaj Chauhan is said to have ruled from the fort here. Later, Delhi was to have many incarnations here
and elsewhere. At Kara, near Allahabad, a tale is still told of the bitter enmity
between the chivalrous PrithviRaj chauhan and his unwilling father-in-law Jaichand. [Raja Jaichand used to live here. The conflict over Sanjukta
resulted in the attack and capture of this place by Mohammed Ghori. It happened thus- When Prithviraj took away Sanjukta,
Jaichand invited the Muslims to attack Prithviraj. After defeating Prithviraj, the Muslims turned back
and attacked Kara and defeated and captured Jaichand. So, Prithviraj Chauhan came here
and he took Sanjukta away on horse. That is the only instance on record
of Kara being disgraced in such a manner. It was Mohammed Ghori who consolidated the Muslim rule
by defeating the feudal Rajput rulers of North India. The various dynasties that followed Mohammed Ghori
built up on that foundation. Qutbuddin Aibak, Ghori’s slave as well as one of his generals, founded what is today called the Slave dynasty. Qutbuddin began the construction of one of India’s
recognizable monuments, the Qutb Minar at Delhi. It’s not clear what its original purpose was although it was evidently built with material
taken from Hindu and Jain temples. This structure
has intrigued visitors for centuries. Was it a symbol of the imperial aspirations
of Qutbuddin and his successor iLtutmish? Did the mighty tower
seek to convey the same message of imperial might as the nearby iron pillar had done for centuries? And what does it stand for today when both space and time
have acquired new dimensions? Situated within the labyrinths
of what is now known as old delhi, this humble grave is just as eloquent in its way
as the most flamboyant of the monuments of the Delhi sultans. The grave is that of Razia Sultan,
daughter of iLtutmish and the first woman ruler in India. Razia met a tragic end. A victim of patriarchy and of the Palace intrigues,
which were an endemic feature of the Sultanate. This placid setting on the Gangetic delta, or Doab,
was the unlikely launching pad for one of the master intriguers of this period. Alauddin Khilji began somewhat humbly
from Kara (near Allahabad) where his life had been made most miserable
by his nagging wife and his mother-in-law. Possibly to escape them,
he proceeded to Devgiri (Aurangabad) in the Deccan and conquered the formidable Yadava fort there. Returning North with the massive booty
from his Deccan campaign, Alauddin plotted to kill his uncle,
the King Jalaluddin. Jalaluddin met his untimely end
in the waters of the Ganga at Kara. Alauddin Khilji then established himself
as a ruthless ruler at Delhi. He took on the the invading Mongol hordes
from the fort he built at Siri. Today, its crumbling remains share the skyline of south Delhi
with brash pretenders. At nearby Haus Khas, children play in the shadow of a once
sinister monument from the times of Alauddin Khilji. The Chor-Minar is a very interesting structure. It was built by Alauddin Khilji,
possibly to strike terror in the hearts of thieves and perhaps even of the Mongols
who raided Delhi. Their severed heads
used to be stuck to poles and the poles used to be stuck
to the holes on the wall of the Minar. This obviously put the fear of God or at least the fear of the Sultan
into the heads of wrong-doers. Alauddin Khilji established an empire
which was based more or less on the principles of the ArthShastra which prescribed a centralized rule which would be carried out through the enforcement
of very strict discipline in many spheres. One of the things which he carried out
was price control. Alauddin used to send little boys
from his court to various shop-keepers and asked them to buy things to examine whether the shop-keepers
had short-changed or short-weighed the goods. If it was found
that the shop-keepers had short-weighed, then the soldiers used to be sent in order to cut off equivalent amounts of meat
from the haunches of the shop-keepers. There were many cases of over-weighing
in Sultan Alauddin Khilji’s time. In a way, Alauddin tried to recreate the centralized empire
that the Mauryans had built more than 1500 years earlier. This is the imperial phase. Almost the whole of India right up to Madurai
is brought under one single political system which, in the background of the political fragmentation
and small petty states warring against each other, was definitely a very significant step. The second thing is that this centralization
also results in a different kind of thing. And that is that now the Government goes down
to the level of the villages, the countryside, and establishes authority. This is done through the revenue system. The entire revenue is collected
through the intermediaries (no doubt about it). Then it goes back to the center and from the center, again,
it gets back in terms of commission on wages to the officers. I compare this system to the modern electrical grid system. Earlier you had local powerhouses generating electricity
for local consumption. Now what happens is that a person sitting there
is controlling the distribution, collection and generation. So that is where you find that
in terms of the structure of the Government, this was a very fundamental development. The other thing is bureaucracy. Paper, as you know, came into India very late,
with the Turks. And yet we find in the description that, say,
Parsh gram or any small kind of snacks, shopkeepers were selling it in wrapped paper
which is astounding. all this from the raddi (trash)
that was being disposed off by the bureaucracy, so much paper comes in. So this is another thing where you find the records
and officers and clerks and Ummaas, and other people sitting down, jotting down notes, and giving instructions –
paperwork goes on. Ironically, the bureaucracy in Alauddin’s time provided the Sultan
with an efficient system of revenue collection which made the empire extremely prosperous. In a fashion similar to that of the Mauryans, Alauddin decreed
that there was to be one rule for the payment of tribute. This became applicable to all –
from the chieftains to the scavenger. The heaviest tribute was ‘NOT’ to fall on the poorest. All cultivation was to be carried on
by measurement at a certain rate for every unit. Half the produce was to be paid
and this rule was to apply without the slightest distinction. Another rule
related to buffaloes, goats and other milk-giving animals. A tax for pasturing at a fixed rate was to be levied on every house
so that no animal however wretched could escape the tax. Quite obviously, Alauddin did not go out of his way
to court popularity. The revenue that Alauddin accumulated
enabled him to begin the construction of a tower, the Alai Minar,
which was to be so tall that it would dwarf the Qutb Minar. It remained unfinished
and stands perhaps as an appropriate symbol of Alauddin’s reign. The Tughlaqs who followed the Khiljis
also had a chequered history. The Tughlaqabad fort on the outskirts of Delhi
is a reminder of the reign of Ghiyasuddin tughlaq. His rule came as a welcome relief to the class of feudal land-holders
who had dreaded Alauddin’s exactions. Alauddin had whipped the nobility into shape. But Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq once again tried to strengthen his hand
by making concessions to the feudal aristocracy and the land-holders. There is an interesting story
about the construction of the Tughlaqabad fort. The saintly sheikh Nizamuddin Auliya
was in the middle of a project to provide the people with a tank to collect rainwater when Sultan Ghiyasuddin announced
his plan to build the massive fort. All laborers working on private projects
were ordered to report immediately to the king’s works. The Sheikh requested the Sultan to spare a few men for his Baoli
but was refused. Upon this,
Nizamuddin is said to have cursed the fort – “या रहे उजड़, या बसे गुज्जर” (यातो किला उजड़ जाए
या यहां चरवाहे रहें) “It will either remain uninhabited
or will be occupied by the wild Gujjars.” As it happens,
the prophecy did come to pass. When Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq was in Bengal, he was told that Sheikh Nizamuddin Auliya
was questioning the king’s authority. The Sultan decided to come to Delhi
to punish Nizamuddin. At which point,
Nizamuddin is supposed to have said, “हुनूज दिल्ली दूर अस्त” (“दिल्ली अभी दूर है।) “Delhi is still far away.” What actually happened was that
when the Sultan reached the borders of Delhi, his son,
who later went on to be known as Sultan Mohammed Bin Tughlaq, erected a massive welcome arch and precisely at the moment when Pappa dear
was under the arch and the son was not, the arch came collapsing down
killing Ghiyasuddin. The reign of Ghiyasuddin lasted only 5 years. The martial and arrogant sultan
lies buried in this tomb at Tughlaqabad. And the fort to this day lies abandoned;
Overgrown and frequented only by Gujjars and their herds. Ghiyasuddin’s son and successor
was not just an inventive parricide. Mohammed Bin Tughlaq did many other things
some of which were fairly significant. Everytime you handle a currency note for instance… think of Mohammed Bin Tughlaq. It was he who started token currency in India. Mohammed Bin Tughlaq
did not like the fort that Ghiyasuddin had built. And he moved away from here
all the way to Daulatabad in the center of India. The reason was that he was afraid
that the Mongols who were coming down the hills and through the plains of Punjab would attack delhi,
which was fairly vulnerable. He wanted also to place the capital
in an area which was central to the whole of India. Already, the concept of India was emerging;
the concept of India as one geographical entity with a center. And the center was the geographical center
which Mohammed Bin Tughlaq chose. The shifting of the capital to this fort at Devgiri,
which Aluddin Khilji had conquered earlier, was perhaps the supreme act
of imperial arrogance in this period. The entire population of Delhi
was given just 3 days to make the move. The Daulatabad fort as it was renamed
represents the state-of-the-art security measures of the period. But no amount of theoretically uncrossable moats,
labyrinthine secret passages and mazes could prevent the fort from being repeatedly breached. Naturally, the method used was not brute force
but treachery and deceit. Daulatabad fell
and did so repeatedly. It fell precisely because
the nature of feudalism which sustained it was over-elaborate. It did not have the support of its peasantry nor did it have such devotion among the courtiers
that they would ‘NOT’ betray it to the enemy. Mohammed Bin Tughlaq’s successor Feroz Shah built yet another
Delhi and named its central fortress after himself. The Feroz Shah Kotla was the capital from which
the new Sultan reinforced the Feudal hierarchical order. Feroz shah dug 2 canals from the Jamuna and the Sutlej
both via Karnaal into Delhi and had many lesser waterworks built. He is also responsible for imposing the Jaziya poll tax on hindus thereby instigating religious discrimination,
a feature that showed up time and again in India, Yet, what this Muslim Sultan is best known for today is the care with which
he transported two Ashokan Pillars to delhi. He had them re-erected there
as symbols of imperial concern for the ancient and wondrous artifacts of Indian civilization. If Islam had taken firm roots in India by this time, it was not just due to the efforts of Kings and soldiers. Among its greatest popularizers
were the sufis like Khwaja Moinuddin chisti, whose durgah at Ajmer is venerated equally till today
by hindus and muslims alike. What Sufism achieved was
the synthesis of several strands of religious thought and it sought to popularize this
through the language of the common people. In India itself,
several ‘Silsilas’ (traditions of Sufi thinking) flourished. The most enduring was the Chistiya silsila. The branches at Chist near Hirat have not survived. But the Silsila founded by Khwaja Moinuddin in India
flourishes until today. The Dargah of Sheikh Nizamuddin Auliya is a shrine dedicated to the most famous successor
of Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti. Nizamuddin’s teachings draw from Islamic, hindu,
Buddhist and Christian traditions. The most famous disciple of Nizamuddin Auliya
was the great poet, musician, courtier and historian Amir Khusro. He is said to have invented the Sitar
and in his verses, he raised the status of the Hindavi language
which drew from Sanskrit, Arabic and Persian. Sultans came and went but It is Amir Khusro who best represents the period
when India further evolved its composite culture. The relationship between the spiritual seers and the secular state reached its high point 200 years later
under Akbar the Great who built the Buland Darwaza at the feet of his Sufi mentor
Sheikh Salim Chisti.

Posted by Lewis Heart

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