Part 55 KHILJI MILITARISM Section III Ala ud-Din Khilji – Military Conquests

Canberra, 12 March 2017

 

In medieval times a kingdom’s foreign policy was inextricably intertwined with both offensive and defensive military expeditions. This was the universal truth. Ala ud-Din was one of the most ambitious rulers to have sat on the throne of Delhi. Therefore, it is not surprising that after successfully establishing himself as the undisputed master of the existing Delhi sultanate, he started to dream of conquest. This dream was not any ordinary dream, but one of world conquest. In his megalomania, he started to compare himself to Alexander of Macedonia who had by this time passed on to legend and folklore. He assumed the title Sikandar Sani, meaning ‘Alexander the Second’, and also had coins minted with this title.

The nobles of the court were far too scared of the sultan to voice their concern regarding these grandiose dreams. It was left to Ala-ul-Mulk, a loyal noble from the times before Ala ud-Din assumed the apparition of the exalted sultan, to point out to him the extreme impossibility of achieving his dreams and gently bring him down to earth. Ala-ul-Mulk suggested that the sultan undertake the difficult but desirable task of conquering India before embarking on a campaign of world conquest. Ala ud-Din had the grace to accept the advice, an indication of the status of Ala-ul-Mulk in the court, and set himself the task of subduing the Hindu states of the sub-continent.

Accordingly, he laid down the fundamental objective of his foreign policy as the subjugation of all independent Hindu kings and chieftains within the ambit of the sultanate. True to his style of functioning, he did not create any pretexts or wait for any cause to initiate the invasion of neighbouring states. Almost all wars that Ala ud-Din fought as a sultan were unprovoked invasions aimed at achieving the ultimate goal he had set for himself—the conquest of the entire region. However, before embarking on his ambitious conquest, he had to deal with the Mongol threat emanating from the north-west in order to consolidate the kingdom. The conflict with the Mongols to secure the sultanate was carried out simultaneous to other military expeditions that were initiated to subdue and annex the kingdoms of North India. This demonstrated the increasing strength and power of the sultanate.

Dealing with the Mongol Threat

The presence of the restive Mongols, called in Persian and Indian sources as ‘Mughals’, on the north-western borders of the kingdom was a major concern for almost all Delhi sultans. Defending the kingdom from the depredations of the Mongols across the north-west region was not only a necessity to secure the nation but was also a continuous drain on central resources. During the first eight years of Ala ud-Din’s reign there were five major Mongol incursions into the territory of the sultanate. These Mongol invasions were constant threats to Punjab, Multan and Sindh. One Mongol expedition came up to Delhi, looting some parts of the capital itself and went on to threaten the Ganga-Yamuna doab. Similar attacks by the Mongols had so consumed the energies of Balban in repelling them when he was the sultan that he was unable to mount any other military expeditions to further the territorial extent or the holding wealth of the kingdom.

The Mongol invasions had always been purely plundering and pillaging raids, similar to the numerous raids of Mahmud of Ghazni, and not aimed at territorial conquest or annexation. The only area that they captured and held was Western Punjab in order to ensure that the Khyber Pass, the gateway to India, remained under their control. The Mongols were a mountain people, essentially restless and turbulent by nature, who could not stand the heat, dust and humidity of Delhi. From a Mongol perspective, India was a fabulously wealthy country that was to be periodically plundered but not desirable for conquering with a view of permanent occupation and rule. Therefore, the Mongols habitually fled back to Afghanistan when confronted by a good size army, not out of cowardice, but to protect and take back the loot that had been collected till then. They would not risk their booty to give battle with an uncertain outcome. Therefore, they very seldom stood their ground and fought. The Turkish chronicles of the time claim many decisive victories of the sultanate forces over the Mongols, which are definitely exaggerations and highly unbelievable. These ‘victories’ could only have been the Turkish armies chasing after the ‘fleeing’ Mongols, not traditional victories over Mongols who had been defeated in battle.

The first Mongol invasion took place in late 1296, only a few months after Ala ud-Din had installed himself on the throne. Ala ud-Din’s best friend, Zafar Khan, led the Muslim army to counter the invasion. The Mongols were met at Jalandhar and driven away without great difficulty. The second incursion took place the very next year. The initial advance was driven away. However, the Mongol army under Amir Daud, the king of Transoxiana, numbering about 100,000 (in some accounts the figure is 200,000) crossed the River Indus and advanced into the sultanate. Ulugh Khan drove the Mongol army out, inflicting heavy losses on them. However, the Mongol hordes returned almost immediately under the leadership of a chief called Saldi and captured the fort at Siri near Delhi. Zafar Khan once again marched against the invaders, captured the Mongol leader and 2000 companions and send them to Delhi in chains. The survivors fled back to Afghanistan. However, on the approach of the Mongol army, the people in the outer suburbs of Delhi had panicked and fled into the city for refuge. This had led to an acute shortage of food and provisions and an almost complete collapse of civic order.

Two years later, in 1298 (some records mention the year as 1299) the Mongols came back under the command of Qutlugh Khwaja and advanced towards Delhi. This was the most serious Mongol invasion that had been witnessed so far, and the sultan was forced to summon a war council to discuss the defences of the kingdom. Once again, Zafar Khan and Ulugh Khan led the defences with Ala ud-Din himself taking to the field at the head of 12,000 ‘volunteers’. Although his old mentor Ala-ul-Mulk advised against attacking the Mongols immediately, Ala ud-Din did just that. Zafar Khan leading the advance guard defeated the Mongols and pursued the fleeing enemy. In the fray, he became isolated from the majority of his force, was surrounded and killed by the Mongol rear-guard. Zafar Khan was one the greatest warriors and military commanders of the time who had repeatedly safeguarded the empire. Moreover he was the sultan’s most trusted aide. However, Ala ud-Din did not take the loss of such a valiant commander and his closest friend too seriously. It is possible that Ala ud-Din had started to view his friend and army commander as becoming too powerful and influential, who could turn out to be a potential threat to his fledgling kingship. This is yet another instance of the demonstration of Ala ud-Din’s cunning and calculating nature and his ruthlessness in pursuing his own power and stature.

The next major Mongol invasion happened when Ala ud-Din was involved in the siege of Chittor. The Mongols led by Taghri reached near Delhi and plundered some of the suburbs of Delhi itself. The sultan was forced to take refuge in the fort at Siri. However, after two months of pillage, for some inexplicable reason the Mongols retreated of their own accord. The only reason that could be conceived for this withdrawal is that they were sated with plunder.

Ala ud-Din, for ever the cautious sultan and an avid student of military campaigns, realised the danger that the Mongols posed to the well-being of the sultanate—after all they had reached the gates of Delhi twice in quick succession. They had become a direct threat to the authority of the sultan. Ala ud-Din came to the conclusion that it was not enough to drive back the Mongol invasions or raids but that it was necessary to take strong deterrent measures to stop the raids completely. Accordingly, he initiated effective steps to protect the frontier. He repaired old forts in Punjab, Multan and Sindh and built new ones at strategic points. All the forts were garrisoned with powerful army contingents while additional army units were positioned at the borders. To oversee these improvements and command the frontier forces, he appointed a special governor titled ‘Warden of the Marches’.

The Mongols were not deterred by these measures. In 1305, a large Mongol force under the joint command of Ali Beg and Khwaja Tash marched into India. They avoided the frontier garrisons, marched north of Lahore and skirted the Siwalik Hills, bypassed the strongly defended Delhi and thrust directly into the Doab—the tongue of land between the Rivers Ganga and Yamuna. The Mongols penetrated as far as Amroha, burning, butchering and pillaging everything in their path. Ala ud-Din send an army under Malik Kafur and Ghazi Malik to intercept them. This force encountered the Mongols on their return journey, encumbered by the huge plunder and loot that they had collected. In the ensuing battle the Mongols were defeated and their leaders taken prisoners. More than 8000 Mongols were ruthlessly slaughtered and their severed heads were cemented into the walls of the fort at Siri as a warning to future invaders.

The Mongol mindset was subsumed in irreversible blood lust, which was a powerful motivating force to continue repeated invasions even in the face of some of the most gruesome slaughter. The repeated invasions are also indicative of the fact that the Mongols never considered themselves ‘defeated’ in any of the previous encounters. Their perception was that losses were inescapable in war and the aim of going to war was the achievement of the primary aim—in this case plunder and pillage, which was always achieved. Therefore, unmindful of the awful carnage that was visited on them earlier, the Mongols invaded again in the very next year. At this stage, Ala ud-Din had appointed a veteran commander, Ghazi Malik (also mentioned as Ghazi Tugluk) as Warden of the Marches. He was successful in defending the frontier throughout Ala ud-Din’s reign.

The Mongol army now crossed the River Indus near Multan and proceeded towards the Himalayan foothills, plundering and burning their way forward as was customary. Ghazi Malik barred their way and routed them in battle. It is reported that 50,000 Mongols, including their leader Kabk, were taken prisoner and then put to death while their women and children were sold into slavery. It is highly possible that the numbers were exaggerated in later-day recounting of the defeat. A tower of the severed heads was built at the Badaun gate of Delhi, ‘in order that it may serve as a warning…to future generations’. According to later chroniclers this tower could be seen even after two and one-half centuries, during the reign of Akbar.

There was only one more minor Mongol incursion during Ala ud-Din’s rule. Even though disdainful of the loss of life, the Mongols were evidently deterred by the ruthlessness and severity of the reprisals. A contributory factor could have been that by this time the Mongols were riven by internal dissentions in Central Asia. After this raid, the sultanate remained immune to Mongol depravity for a period of time. In facing the Mongols, Ala ud-Din had used a combination of static defences combined with reliable and proven forces with the capacity to manoeuvre. Even though temporary, Ala ud-Din’s success in pushing back repeated Mongol incursions were convincing demonstrations of the military efficacy of fast manoeuvring Turkish cavalry combined with the solidity of the Indian elephant corps as its phalanx centred around well-manned forts.

Conquests in North India

Gujarat

While the Mongol invasions were being thwarted in the north-east very early in his rule, Ala ud-Din send an army under Ulugh Khan and Nasrat Khan to conquer Gujarat. Gujarat was a prosperous kingdom and although raided many times by the Islamic forces, had never been conquered by the Turks. Even Ala ud-Din’s primary aim was plunder with conquest and annexation being a secondary objective, to be accomplished only if possible. The aim of conquest was further restricted to the commercially important regions of the kingdom.

The area was ruled by the Vaghela king Karan with his capital at Anhilwara, modern-day Patan. The Muslim army besieged the capital and captured it without much of a battle. The king escaped along with his daughter Deval Devi and sought refuge with King Rama Chandra of Devagiri in the Deccan. However, his queen Kamala Devi and a number of other children were captured and send to Delhi. Gujarat was successfully occupied by the Khilji army. The Muslim army then advanced to Somnath and sacked the Shiva temple there—the same temple that Mahmud of Ghazni had ransacked in the 11th century and had been subsequently rebuilt. The idol from the temple was send back to Delhi, where it was broken up and the fragments laid on the entrance to the Friday mosque for the faithful to tread upon. The army then moved on to the port city of Khambat (later Cambay) whose rich merchants were plundered and a vast booty obtained.

Nasrat Khan send the extraordinary booty that had been collected in Gujarat back to the sultan in Delhi in the hands of a Hindu slave eunuch named Kafur. Kafur was exceptionally talented and handsome, being nicknamed ‘Hazar Dinari’ (Thousand Dinars worth), which was the original price that had been paid for him. This youth converted to Islam, became a favourite of Ala ud-Din and went on to play a central role in the history of the sultanate for the next two decades.

The invasion of Gujarat, like most of the other enterprises that Al ud-Din attempted, was remarkably successful and the kingdom was annexed to the growing territorial holdings of the sultanate. However, on its return journey to Delhi, the army suffered an internal mutiny. It is said to have been the result of the generals insisting that the soldiers hand over one-fifth of the personal spoils that they had gathered during the campaign in Gujarat, as per long established norms of distribution of booty within an Islamic army. The mutineers were primarily the ‘New Muslims’ who were the Mongols who had settled in and around Delhi. Obviously, their allegiance to the new religion that they had adopted did not run deep enough for them to adhere to its rules and give up hard won plunder on the campaign trail. The mutiny was easily quelled, but the ringleaders managed to escape. However, their families paid a high price for the rebellion of their menfolk.

Retribution on Families

Even though the leaders of the mutiny managed to escape, Ala ud-Din had the families of these officers imprisoned, irrespective of their age. This was the beginning of the reprehensible practice of seizing women and children as hostages for the misdeeds of the men of the family.

Nasrat Khan, who had lost a brother to the mutineers was particularly harsh in his treatment of the families of defaulting soldiers. He dishonoured the women, had the infants killed in front of their mothers and then turned the women into street prostitutes. All contemporary chroniclers deplore the treatment meted out to the women and evenly proclaim that these punishments were neither sanctioned nor practised in any religion of creed.

Ranthambhor

Ranthambhor with its strong fortress was next on Ala ud-Din’s list of kingdoms to be conquered. Rajasthan was not an attractive place to invade, both because of the harshness of the terrain and the scarcity of riches that were conducive to plunder. However, there were three fundamental reasons for Ala ud-Din’s decision to target Ranthambhor as the next kingdom for invasion. First, Ranthambhor was strategically important to control the route south from Delhi into Central and Peninsular India. Second, the Rajputs, always turbulent in their attitude towards the foreign invaders, had started to become very active and hostile in the vicinity of Delhi. There was an urgent need to curb their activities. Third, Ranthambhor with its almost impregnable fort would serve well as a security outpost for Delhi. The geo-strategic reasoning for the invasion was unquestionably correct and the ministers and generals concurred with Ala ud-Din’s decision. However, at this stage the sultan held complete sway over the court and the concurrence of the courtiers would have been a mere rubber stamp of approval for an unprovoked invasion.

Qutb ud-Din Aibak had captured the fort, but held it only for a brief period of time and although further efforts were made to capture the fort, the successes had been short lived. In effect, the fort remained in Rajput hands. In the 1290s, Ranthambhor was ruled by Rana Hamir Deva, a Rajput prince who was the descendant of the legendary Chauhan king, Prithviraja III. Ala ud-Din personally led the campaign against Ranthambhor, his forces ravaging Malwa and Dhar on the march. The advanced force led by the sultan’s favoured commander Nasrat Khan reached Ranthambhor firs and attacked the fort. Unfortunately Nasrat Khan was killed in a freak strike of a stone that was launched from a catapult from the fort and Rana Hamir managed to drive the sultanate forces back. The sultan now took personal command and a protracted siege ensued. When the situation became critical within the fort, Rana Hamir and his followers performed the rite of ‘Jauhar’. Jauhar is the ceremony by which all women and children throw themselves into a pyre and self-immolate after which the warriors would storm out of the fort and fight to the death—to kill and be killed. The capitulation of the fort under these dire circumstances was made possible by the defection of Rana Hamir’s Prime Minister Ran Mal, who was seduced by Ala ud-Din with the promise of power and wealth. The exact nature of his traitorous act is not clearly mentioned in any chronicle. Although the fort was captured, the sultanate army suffered heavy casualties.

The death of Rana Hamir is described in the poem, Hamir-Mahakavya. Although the details are slightly different from those recorded in the Islamic chronicles, it confirms the story of the capture of Ranthambhor. In the poem there is no mention of the fort committing the rite of Jauhar. It however confirms that the defeat was because of the defection of Ran Mal and also mentions two generals, Ratipal and Krishnapal, as having been defectors. Rana Hamir was badly wounded in battle and finding that he had no chance to avoid being captured, is said to have struck off his own head. The Rana preferred death to the ignominy of capture in the true tradition of a proud Rajput.

A Tale of Loyalty

At the end of the last battle when Ranthambhor had fallen, Ala ud-Din saw Mir Muhammad Shah, a Mongol general in the service of Rana Hamir Deva, lying wounded on the battlefield. Ala ud-Din asked the general what he would do if the sultan ordered his treatment and saved his life. In scornful pride the Mongol general replied, ‘If I recover from my wounds, I would have thee slain and raise the son of Hamir Deo upon the throne’.

Ala ud-Din had Muhammad Shah killed by being trampled by an elephant. However, he gave the general a decent funeral befitting his status. The sultan was left to reflect on the fidelity and loyalty of even Muslim generals to the Rajput king and compare it to the intrigue and disunity that prevailed in his own court.

Ranthambhor was captured in July 1301 and Ulugh Khan was placed as the governor. Characteristically, Ala ud-Din had Ran Mal, the traitorous Prime Minister, executed immediately after the fort was captured. He had absolute disdain for people who betrayed their masters for wealth or position. This was such a contradictory stance, considering his own betrayal of his uncle to come to power in Delhi.

Internal Rebellions

Even though his military campaigns were successful, Ala ud-Din’s court was teeming with intrigue and plots. On the way to take command of the campaign against Ranthambhor, Ala ud-Din halted at Tilpat, close to Delhi, to engage in his favourite pastime of hunting. One day, during the excitement of the chase, he was separated from his escorts. Seeing an opportunity, Akat Khan, the son of his brother, attacked the sultan with some troops. Ala ud-Din defended himself vigorously, although after some time the sultan collapsed from fatigue. However, some loyal troops arrived at the nick of time and saved him. Akat Khan, believing Ala ud-Din to be dead, went back to the camp and after announcing the death of the sultan proceeded to assume power. Akat Khan was young and rash, and had not ensured that the sultan was dead by severing his head form his body. When the sultan, now revived and safe, returned to the camp, Akat Khan panicked and fled. He was pursued, captured and immediately beheaded and all his supporters put to death.

The sultan’s long absence from the capital and the seat of power provided the impetus for some malcontent courtiers to hatch a conspiracy plot against him to usurp the throne. They made his sister’s sons Amir Umar and Mangu Khan the figurehead leaders and rebelled in Badaun and Awadh. The loyal governors of these provinces easily quelled the rebellion and having captured both the princes, send them to Ala ud-Din in Ranthambhor. The sultan had them blinded in his presence and then imprisoned.

The most serious rebellion was perpetuated by a group of discontented officers led by Haji Maula who was the son of a slave of the kotwal of Delhi. He forged a formal royal order, collected a mob around him and after securing the city gates, took over the royal treasury. He placed an Alawi (descendent of Ali), who was related to Iltutmish from his mother’s side, on the throne to ensure legitimacy of the uprising. He then went on to divide the royal treasure among his followers. Ala ud-Din’s foster brother, Malik Hamid ud-Din led an army to Delhi and the rebels were defeated in a fierce battle at the Badaun gate. Haji Maula was beheaded in battle. Ulugh Khan also arrived in Delhi at this stage and put to death all supporters of Haji Maula. The sons of the kotwal, an acknowledged supporter of Ala ud-Din, were also executed for complicity although they had no knowledge of the rebellion.

The Attack on Chittor (Chittorgarh)

After a respite of nearly two years, Ala ud-Din returned to Rajasthan. Chittor was strategically important to safeguard the route to the Deccan and was the stronghold of the kingdom of Mewar. The fort was naturally fortified—situated on top of a hill and made impregnable by being cut out of a huge rock. Further, the kingdom of Mewar itself was secluded and protected by a long chain of mountains and impervious forests. No Muslim ruler had so far managed to penetrate far into Mewar or capture Chittor. Nonetheless, Ala ud-Din besieged the fort.

The Romanticised Legend of Rani Padmini

There is another version of the reason for Ala ud-Din’s invasion of Mewar and Chittor, which is best understood as a story of Rajput valour embellished with colourful frills with every retelling. It is said that Ala ud-Din was drawn to Chittor after having heard about the enchanting beauty of Padmini (also called Padmavati in some accounts), the queen of Rana Ratan Singh of Mewar. The fact is that Ala ud-Din Khilji was the first of the Delhi sultanate rulers to have nurtured expansionist ambitions and who followed through with resolute action. The territorial expansion started with the capture of Gujarat and Malwa and the plan was then to spread towards Maharashtra and the Deccan. Ala ud-Din’s invasion of Mewar and the siege of Chittor has to be understood within this political and military strategy aimed at bringing southern kingdoms under his control.

The first mention of Rani (Queen) Padmini is found in an epic poem Padmavat, written by the Sufi poet Malik Muhammad Jayasi in Awadhi language in 1540, two centuries after the battle for Chittor. The poem is definitely based on few historical facts, such as Ala ud-Din’s invasion of Chittor that is authenticated by several independent sources. However, the poem is wreathed in fantasy and recounts imaginary events that cannot be considered to have any historical authenticity. There is also no contemporary records that mention the name or acknowledge the existence of a queen called Padmini/Padmavati. However, the fact that Ala ud-Din invaded and conquered Chittor is not debatable. Contemporary accounts written by Amir Khusrao who accompanied Ala ud-Din on the campaign does not mention the story of the queen but confirm the invasion.

The Story as given in the Padmavat

The poem starts with a fanciful description of the kingdom of Simhala-Dvipa, modern day Sri Lanka, where a princess of exquisite and unparalleled beauty, Padmini, lived. The poet calls her ‘the perfect woman’. Padmini had a talking parrot, Hira-mani, who on being berated by the king of Simhala-Dvipa flew away to Chittor. There the parrot informed Raja Ratansen of the beauty of Padmini. The king was completely smitten and managed to marry Padmini after overcoming many obstacles and fighting and winning many dramatic battles.

In the kingdom of Chittor, where Ratansen and Padmini lived, there was a sorcerer named Raghav Chaitanya. He invoked dark spirits to the court and as a punishment was banished by king Ratansen. Chaitanya travelled to Delhi and described Padmini’s beauty to Ala ud-Din who was aroused with desire to an extent that he wanted to possess her. He therefore invaded Chittor to obtain Padmini. However, valiant Padmini opted to kill herself rather than submit to a Muslim. She and the other Rajput women committed Jauhar before the warriors led by the king were killed and Chittor was captured.

It is also important to note here that Amir Khusrao does not mention a Jauhar being held, unlike in his description of the fall of Ranthambhor few years back. There is a curious relationship between historical facts and literary stories broadly based on a particular historical event. With the passage of time and numerous recounting of the stories, there comes a moment when it becomes difficult to distinguish between the real event and the embellished derivative. The story of Rani Padmini of Chittor is a stellar example of this process of osmosis. Today Padmini is considered to have actually existed and carried out the deeds ascribed to her, becoming a character of historic pride to a large number of Indians, rather than the heroine in an ancient literary work.

There are also few variations in the details of the historic legend of Padmini. Considering the importance being given to this fictionalised heroine in modern day India and the myths being perpetuated by biased believers as the truth, the available versions are given below in very broad terms to avoid this narrative being declared an equally biased opinion piece. After the fortress was besieged, Ala ud-Din demanded to see Padmini, but the virtuous queen spurned his advances. However, considering the peril to the kingdom from the Muslim onslaught, she agreed to be seen by the sultan through an intricate arrangement of mirrors. There are two further divergent versions of the story after this point.

The first version is that Ala ud-Din was further inflamed with desire for the queen after the fleeting glimpse that he had, which led to the inevitable battle between the armies. The Rajput army fought valiantly, but the Turkish army proved superior and the Rajputs were forced to retreat to the fort. Once the Rajput warriors had entrenched themselves in the fort, the ladies led by Padmini, performed the rite of Jauhar. The Rana and his warriors then opened the gates of the fort and the Rajput army sallied forth for the last time and joined battle with the much larger Muslim army till every Rajput warrior had perished in battle.

The second version is even more romanticised. After the mirror viewing of the queen, when the Rana was escorting Ala ud-Din to the outer gates of the fort—a gesture that was customarily shown towards honoured guests—he was treacherously captured by the Muslim army and imprisoned. Thereafter Ala ud-Din send word to Padmini that the Rana would be freed only if she agreed to enter Ala ud-Din’s harem. The Rajput courtiers were greatly disconcerted by this demand and decided to send poison to the Rana so that he could end his life and break the stalemate. At this juncture, the Rana’s daughter intervened with the suggestion of another strategy to free the Rana while preserving the honour of the family and the clan. According to this plan, Padmini send word to Ala ud-Din that she was prepared to come to his camp. The besotted sultan permitted her to come in a procession befitting her status, rank and dignity as a queen. 700 covered litters containing Rajput warriors accompanied the queen. On arriving at the Muslim camp, these warriors rescued the Rana and fled back to Chittor, hotly pursued by Ala ud-Din’s forces. There was a deadly battle at the outer gates of the fortress. Rajput heroes, Gora and Badal, leading a small contingent of fierce warriors resisted the Muslim onslaught valiantly, but were ultimately overcome. Their bravery at the last stand is part of the Rajput lore that bards still sing about. When the outer defences were at last broken, the ladies in the fort committed Jauhar and the warriors went into their last battle to kill and be killed.

‘The fair Padmini closed the throng, which was augmented by whatever of female beauty or youth could be tainted by Tartar lust. They were conveyed to the cavern, and the opening closed upon them, leaving them to find security from dishonour in the devouring element.’

Lt Col James Tod,

Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan, Edited by William Crooke, Vol I, p. 311.

As quoted in Ishwari Prasad,

History of Medieval India, p. 200

 

‘It is clear, too, that Tod’s rajputs gave a good account of themselves, with the great hill-forts of Ranthambhor, Jalor and Chitor, withstanding long sieges, occasioning heavy casualties, and inspiring posterity with their legendary jauhars. These hara-kiri rituals had been practiced by other doughty patriots ever since Sind was first invaded in the eighth century, but the rajputs of Rajasthan now made them peculiarly their own. When all was lost, when the last scrap of food had been eaten, the last arrow fired, the last water-skin emptied, a pyre was lit and, as the womenfolk hurled themselves into the flames, the men rode out in a still brighter blaze of glory to kill until they were killed. Fanaticism was not an exclusively Islamic prerogative. The Khalji forces marvelled that principalities so agriculturally disadvantaged and forts so poorly endowed with treasure should occasion such passionate resistance.’

John Keay

India: A History, pp. 256-57

The Facts – Gleaned from Reliable Sources

The story of Padmini has been told and retold over the years with additional and legendary frills being attached with each recounting. It has indelibly passed on to the bardic history of Rajasthan, so much so that to deny that the episode ever happened is to invite the wrath of the self-righteous practitioners of the Hindu religion in modern India. [Founded on the concept of extreme tolerance, the Hindu religion—referred to by philosophers as more a way of life than a practice as a religion—has been hijacked and in modern India has morphed into an intolerant religion fully controlled by narrow-minded practitioners who could be called religious fundamentalists.]

Even at the risk of offending the fringe elements in the Hindu religion, it has to be stated that there are no records in contemporary chronicles to substantiate the story of the beautiful queen of Chittor and the sultan’s obsession with her. In fact these records state that the fort was conquered fairly rapidly, although after ferocious fighting. Amir Khusrau states that 30,000 Hindus were slaughtered after Chittor was captured and a large number of temples destroyed. This statement specifically excludes any mention of the rite of Jauhar having been conducted, in which case there would not have been so many Hindus to kill after the fort had fallen; they would have been killed in the last battle before the capture of the fort. However, there are counter-arguments that the mirror episode did indeed take place and that the Rana was treacherously imprisoned after that. The reason given for this episode being ignored in contemporary writings is that it was omitted from the records because of the fear of Ala ud-Din’s reprisal to anyone who wrote about him in a moralistic bad light.

The story does not match Ala ud-Din’s known character, which was that of a hard-headed and pragmatic monarch, highly unlikely to have been swayed by romantic entanglements that would have proven to be a vulnerability. There is, of course, a slight possibility that a tiny kernel of truth did exist to the story, which was embellished in later years to its current state of a legend, taught as credible history in schools across India. Most modern historians discount the story as a later-day concoction. The one undeniable fact is that Chittor fell into Muslim hands for the first time, and was renamed Khizrabad after Prince Khizr Khan, the eldest son of Ala ud-Din.

Conquest of Malwa

Malwa had been subjugated when Ala ud-Din was the governor of Kara-Manikpur but had gradually reasserted its independence. In 1305, Ain ul-Mulk Multani was ordered to capture Malwa and bring it under sultanate rule. The Raja of Malwa, whose name is contested with different sources naming him Harnanda or Mahalak Deo, fought valiantly against the Muslim army, but was defeated and killed on the battlefield. Malwa was placed under a Mulsim governor. Soon after, the cities of Mandu, Ujjain, Dharmagiri and Chanderi were also annexed and brought under the control of the Delhi administration.

The Conquest of Jalor

Jalor was ruled by Raja Kanera Deva who had sworn allegiance to Ala ud-Din in 1305 and had promised annual tribute. However, he later reneged on his promise and also boasted that he would best the sultan in the battlefield. On hearing this, an enraged Ala ud-Din send an army under command of a female servant Gul-i-Bihist, to subdue him. A low ranking female was chosen as the commander specifically to humiliate the raja.

Jalor was besieged, but Gul-i-Bihist died before the hard pressed raja could be defeated. The Rajput forces also managed to kill Gul-i-Bihist’s son in battle. Ala ud-Din send additional forces under the command of Kamal ud-Din Gurg, who managed to defeat the raja after a protracted siege and battle. Raja Kanera Deva was killed on the battlefield.

With the fall of Jalor, almost the entire North India was under Ala ud-Din’s control, except for Kashmir, Nepal, Assam and parts of North-West Punjab. These conquests cleared the way for the invasion of Peninsular India, which was the ultimate aim of the victorious sultan. The invasion of the south was also facilitated by the end of the Mongol threat that enabled the sultan to move several divisions of the army from the North-Western borders of the sultanate. Further, there were no significant threats of provincial rebellion making the situation conducive to pursuing the burning expansionist ambition that Ala ud-Din harboured. South India beckoned the sultan whose avarice knew no bounds and he answered in characteristic style.

The marauding conquests of the Muslim army should not be taken as an indication that none of their campaigns suffered any setbacks. They did suffer severe resistance and casualties, but most of the setbacks were glossed over by contemporary Muslim chroniclers. Only very limited records of the Hindu kingdoms and principalities have survived the pillage that was visited on most conquered palaces and temples. The available local records are in the vernacular and later-day British historians, the main source of the translations of medieval history chronicles, have not given sufficient importance to them. The British historians famously discounted the local records as being flights of fancy because of their ignorance regarding the manner in which Hindu records were maintained and the Hindu way of recounting time and space. This led to a biased retelling of events, which in turn has resulted in some of the modern-day historians even postulating that the Hindus ‘welcomed’ the Muslim invasion. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Each and every intervention, intrusion and invasion was vigorously opposed with great determination by the local raja or rana and the invading army made to suffer heavy and at times crippling losses. That these local armies were ultimately defeated is a matter for analysis and discussion, and not a result of the lack of courage or the will to fight and die for their kingdom on the part of the Hindus.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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About Sanu kainikara

Sainik School Kazhakuttam (Kerala), National Defence Academy 39/A, 108 Pilot's Course IAF, fighter pilot, QFI, FCL, psc, HACC, Voluntary Retirement as Wing Commander. Canberra-based Defence Analyst specialising in air power and national security. PhD in International Politics from University of Adelaide Adjunct Professor, University of New South Wales, Distinguished Fellow Institute For Regional Security (IFRS) Distinguished Fellow Centre for Air Power Studies (CAPS)

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