Reclaiming Hindu Temples: Episodes from an Oppressive Era
Reclaiming Hindu Temples: Episodes from an Oppressive Era by Chandni Sengupta is a detailed, academic look at the Sultanate period, or the early medieval period, which marked the imposition of Islamic fundamentalism in India
From the 13th Century to the arrival of the Mughals in the 16th Century, several dynasties ruled from Delhi, called Sultans – like the Slave dynasty, the Khaljis, the Lodhis, etc – and created havoc in the areas within and around Delhi. They were specifically enthused by their holy war, and indulged wantonly in destroying Hindu temples, killing Hindus, capturing their women to be sold later, and imposing taxation and other methods to torture the Hindus and alienate them from the normal body-politic; besides effecting mass conversions at sword-point.
Sengupta quotes copiously from the sources like the court historians of these barbaric rulers, which expose the glee with which they carried out such pogroms. In doing so, the author has systematically exploded the oft-repeated line from historians, who claimed that this period spawned synthesis of syncretic culture, under the influence from the Sultanate rulers. “This period did not have a single moment of peace for the Hindus,” says the author.
The Deadly Destruction of Sind and Multan
From Kurukshetra to Somanatha
Foundation of the Dark Age
Temples Destroyed by the Ilbari Turks
The Wrath of the Khaljis
The Bigotry of the Tughlaq Dynasts
Temple Desecration in Regional Sultanates
The Story of ‘But Shikan’—The Slayer of Idols
The Lamentable Iconoclasm of the Lodis
-Advocate Monika Arora
Senior Advocate, Supreme Court of India National Convenor, Group of Intellectuals and Academicians (GIA)
The Islamic conquest of Bharat is perhaps the bloodiest part of Indian history. This tale of terror is marked by numerous instances of plunder, genocide, loot, rape, and all kinds of atrocities that can possibly be imagined by the human mind.
May everyone be happy, may everyone be free from all diseases, may everyone see goodness and auspiciousness in everything. May none be unhappy or distressed. Om peace, peace, peace!
“Those who believe, fight in the cause of Allah, and those who disbelieve, fight in the cause of Taghut. So, fight against the allies of Satan. Indeed, the plot of Satan has ever been weak.”
-Surah An-Nisa, 4:76
“Fight them until there is no [more] fitnah and [until] worship is [acknowledged to be] for Allah”
-Surah Al-Baqarah, 2:193
The Muslim invaders who ravaged our temples and looted our idols were imbued with a spirit of iconoclasm, a natural phenomenon which was part and parcel of their socialization.
They were taught, through the injunctions of their faith, that idolators need to be put to the sword and that Islam needed to be established in all the lands that they set out to conquer. There was, therefore, something inherent in their faith which made them so vehemently opposed to the people of other faiths.
Their opposition was not restricted only to the idolators but also the people of all other religious denominations, and numerous churches and synagogues were destroyed by the Islamic expansionist armies in the middle east and other parts of the world. It is interesting to note that Christianity and Judaism are also Abrahamic faiths but even they were not spared by the invading armies of Islam. In Iran, they persecuted the fire worshippers, who were then forced to flee. In Bharat, they mounted serious injury on the socio- religious fabric, which was greatly altered as a result of their advancement into the mainland. It is, therefore, important to analyze the history of Islam and its downright denunciation of other belief systems.
The condemnation of idolatry was propagated by the Prophet of Islam. The pre-Islamic Arab society consisted of idol worshippers who were polytheists. Allah was the supreme God, but every household had their own deities, and every region was associated with the worship of a deity and, at Mecca, the most important deity was Hubal, an idol made of red cornelian. In pre-Islamic Arabia, there also existed the practice of goddess worship, and the three daughters of Allah – Al-Lat, Al-Uzza and Al-Mannat – were worshipped by the people of Mecca. The people of Yathrib (later known as Medina) also had their own deities, both household and community ones. Apart from the deities worshipped by the tribes, other religious denominations also found a place within the religio-cultural structure of Arabia. There were Jews and Christians. In fact, Medina had a large Jewish population, and in eastern Arabia, Christian influence was immense. In the pre-Islamic period, Arabia was, therefore, a cosmopolitan region with diverse communities and religious influences.
The socio-cultural fabric of Arabia was overturned by Muhammad (570-632 CE) who claimed to have received a revelation from Gibreel (Archangel Gabriel) in 610 CE after which he began professing a new faith and started winning over adherents. Muhammad, who belonged to the Banu Hashim Clan of the Quraysh Tribe, claimed to be the “messenger of God or Allah” and within a few years, he had acquired the complete loyalty of a small group of Meccan followers who had accepted his religious ideas, which were centred around the belief in one God and the rejection of all deities and idol worship (But Parasti). The established religious norms of Arabia were condemned as Shirk (idolatry and polytheism) by Muhammad. This group of adherents to the new faith, established by Muhammad, came to be known as ‘Muslim,’ that is, those who had submitted to Allah, and the religion came to be known as Islam which meant ‘submission’. Scholars have tried to portray Muhammad as someone who wanted to “unify” the divergent tribes, but this “unification” was accompanied by gross bloodshed of those who did not want to abjure their faith.
The religious beliefs of Muhammad were opposed by the tribal chieftains at Mecca who considered these beliefs to be outrageous and implausible. Muhammad’s own tribe, the Quraysh, was opposed to his religious ideas. The situation in Mecca had become unfavourable for Muhammad who decided to shift to Medina with his band of followers in 622 CE. In Medina, he became an arbitrator of tribal disputes and gained some popularity. Within a couple of years, he began waging wars against his own tribe who he now considered to be “pagan idol worshippers”. The Battle of Badr (624 CE) and the Battle of Uhud (625 CE) were wars fought by Muhammad in order to convert Arabia into the “Land of Islam”. Later, Muhammad entered Mecca, destroyed all the idols housed in the Ka’ba and established his rule over the region. The destruction of idols was a key feature in the aggressive campaign led by Muhammad.
As Islamic conquests spread beyond Arabia, the decimation of idolatry became a prime objective of the armies of Islam. Under the Rashidun Caliphate (Caliphate of the “Rightly Guided” as all these caliphs had been associates of Muhammad), significant territorial gains were made by the Arabs, including Persia, Egypt, Iraq, and Syria. The indigenous religions of all these regions were ousted and Islam was established by force in these areas. Under Caliph Umar, the second Rashidun Caliph, inroads were made into Bharat and the region of Balochistan was Islamized. Usman, the successor of Umar, wished to take over more territories in the region which was referred to as ‘Al-Hind’ by the Arabs. The Islamic Caliphs were, therefore, always on the lookout for territorial expansion, and Bharat, which was a land of spiritualism, enormous resources and wealth, became an obvious target.
As advised by their Prophet, the Muslims had to kill the polytheists (Mushriks) and bring an end to Shirk. The Arabs, who invaded Sind, and the Turks, who later invaded the Indian mainland and devastated our country, were imbued with the iconoclastic spirit of their Prophet. The Arab conquerors overran Sind in the 8th century perpetrating heinous acts of violence against the Hindus and Buddhists of the region. After the Arab episode, Bharat had to again face the wrath of the Islamic marauders in the 10th-11th centuries. This was followed by the establishment of Islamic rule in India in the 12th century. The entire period of Islamic rule witnessed enormous death and depredation. This phase of Islamic dominance was an era marked by the presence of regressive practices, prudery, and incomprehensible hatred towards the Hindus. Scholars in the past have tried to legitimize Islamic hegemony over Bharat by trying to project these Sultans are progenitors of “useful” institutions and harbingers of “change”.
The kind of narrative that has dominated the historical discourse over the years has shrouded the imagination of most people with regard to the actual nature of Islamic rule in Bharat. The initial phase of history writing witnessed the influence of the Colonial School of Thought and the Nationalist historians. While most of the colonialists tried to project everything associated with Bharat as backward and degenerate, some of them were absolutely correct in their assessment of India’s glorious ancient past, followed by a period of Dark Age. A section of the colonial historians, who espoused Orientalist beliefs, emphasized the need to delve into the ancient past of India, and they also attempted to create a link between Sanskrit and Classical European languages. They definitely had a larger colonial agenda in mind, but what these Orientalists also ended up doing was to revive our interest in our own ancient past. They also presented a systematic critique of the Islamic rule in India which, according to them, had plunged India into an era of doom and devastation.
The colonial historians were followed by historians belonging to the Nationalist School of Thought who presented a correct narrative on Indian history. They analyzed the ancient and medieval periods and highlighted the striking contrasts between the two. Scholars like R.C. Majumdar presented the unerring picture of Islamic rule in Bharat. These nationalist historians did not shy away from calling a spade a spade, and they did not gloss over the crimes and injustices of the Sultans and later the Mughal rulers. The nationalist historians rightly considered the Muslim rule in Bharat to be a foreign, alien rule, which was a period of degeneration and oppression for the Hindus.
However, some historians like Tara Chand and Mohammad Habib focussed all their energies on trying to project a cultural synthesis that had, according to them, occurred during the medieval period as a result of the Islamic invasions. The works of these historians tended to justify the Islamic rule in India. Habib went as far as claiming that the Turks initiated the process of urbanization and provided opportunities of “upward social mobility” to the menial castes, particularly the artisans and labourers. Habib and those who followed his analysis focussed on the inherent problems within the Hindu social order which enabled the Turks to win over converts to Islam, thereby, diminishing the idea of forced conversions. The theory postulated by Habib served as a background for the Marxists who used his analysis of “upward social mobility” to assert their fundamental belief that the Islamic rule over India was actually a good one.
In the 1950s and 1960s, the Marxist School of Thought gained momentum, and a host of Marxist historians began to present their views on Indian history. Many of these historians began to write about the Sultanate and Mughal periods, and their analysis was marred by a lopsided narrative of presenting the Islamic rulers as messiahs of “justice and righteousness”. Historians like Satish Chandra attempted to justify Islamic rule in India by trying to highlight some institutions that were set up by the Sultans and the Mughals. He also focussed on the measures adopted by some of these rulers; for instance, the Market Regulations of Alauddin Khalji, in order to legitimize their rule in Bharat. According to Chandra, the Muslim rulers gave Bharat what the Hindu Rajas could not. He also harped upon the presence of Hindus in the courts of Sultans and Mughal emperors, thereby attempting to present a picture of “secularism” and “tolerance” during the medieval period.
Working within the Marxist framework, some historians became popular for their analysis on destruction of temples. Romila Thapar was one such historian whose work on the desecration of the Somanatha Temple became the textbook for next generation Marxists. Discounting the accounts of chroniclers and other works as exaggerated, Thapar tried to turn the attention on the wealth of Gujarat, which, according to her, was the prime mover for Mahmud of Ghazni. She, however, did not present any logical and conclusive argument on why the temple was destroyed if only looting of wealth was the purpose of the invader. He could have as well raided the docks where items of trade were stocked. After all, they were the actual sources of wealth. For Thapar, the Turks were not iconoclasts, neither were they invaders. They only came to India in search of wealth. Her erroneous theory did not, however, provide any answer for the rampant desecration of temples, forced conversions, and massacre of Hindus. The agenda-driven histories written by Thapar and her ilk tried to present the Islamic invaders as mere adventurers who plundered and raided places in order to obtain reserves of wealth. What these historians, however, purposely did not look were the gruesome brutalities perpetrated by these marauders on the indigenous inhabitants of Bharat.
Western scholarship has also been dominated by the Marxist narrative, and scholars like Richard Eaton have presented a false theory of only eighty temples being destroyed during the entire Islamic rule. Eaton also focussed on the “protection” provided by some Muslim Sultans to temples as well as the reconstruction of a few during the Muslim period. His argument is largely based on a pre- conceived notion of Muslim rulers being