Until the arrival of Alauddin Khilji (1250-1316), no foreign ruler had looted southern India of its wealth which had accumulated for centuries. According to contemporary travellers like Marco Polo and historians such as Shihabuddin Abul Abbas Ahmed, gold had been arriving in India for centuries and was never exported. In the numerous kingdoms of the south, princes would not touch the treasures left behind by their fathers but preferred to earn treasures on their own. This was the wealth Khilji coveted most.
The unbelievable quantity of wealth that fell into Khilji’s lap from peninsular India is only matched by the staggering unpreparedness of the Indian rulers to defend it. In 1296 when Alauddin’s army arrived outside the capital of the Yadava kingdom of Devagiri (in modern day Maharashtra), the ruler Rama Deva was several miles outside his fort. His intelligence system was non-existent. In fact, one of his vassals named Kanhan had fought a pitched battle with the Turkic army and had almost defeated it before Alauddin’s superior tactics helped him overcome the tiny feudatory. And yet the news of this battle did not reach Devagiri.
At any rate, the king was in no position to challenge the invader because his army, commanded by his son, was away on a distant military campaign.
In fact, so detached were Indians from affairs outside their own kingdoms, and so insular had they become that Henry Miers Elliot writes about Devagiri in his epic work ‘The History of India as Told by Its Own Historians (Vol III): “The people of that country had never heard of the Musulmans.” He adds: “The Maratha land had never been punished by their armies. No Musulman king or prince had penetrated so far.”
In fact, Devagiri had neglected the most basic commodity required to survive a siege – food. The towering fort perched on top of a mountain had a capacity to store a three year supply, but when Khilji attacked, the defenders were shocked to discover the thousands of sacks stored in the granary contained not grain but salt. After a couple of battles, Rama Deva threw in the towel and emptied his treasury for Khilji. The invader took away:
- 2400 kilos of gold
- 4,000 kilos of silver
- 28 kilos of pearls
- 8 kilos of precious stones including rubies, sapphires, diamonds and emeralds
- 4,000 pieces of silk and other valuables
And typical of Muslim rulers who coveted Hindu women – especially from royal families – Alauddin asked for the hand of Jyeshthapalli, the daughter of Rama Deva. With his family, people and land being held hostage, the Yadava king had no other option. This was another paradigm shift in wars in the Indian subcontinent; as well as incredible barbarity, the new arrivals from Central Asia and Arabia had also brought with them their misogynistic values. Unlike Hindu rulers, who would not even gaze in the direction of the enemy’s womenfolk, to the Mohammadens the enemy’s women were war booty. These foreign invaders introduced a highly detestable element of coveting, capturing and raping women – whether in the aftermath of war or its prelude.
Seige of Warangal: Treasures of paradise
Needless to say, the avaricious Khilji wasn’t going to stay satisfied for long. He was a mere freebooter with just 8000 troops when he defeated Devagiri. Now he had murdered his uncle and father-in-law Jalaluddin and become the sultan. And like all illegitimate rulers, he needed loads of cash to pay off the nobles and buy the loyalty of his soldiers.
The army (which was led by his eunuch sex slave Malik Kafur) next turned towards the Kakatiya kingdom of Warangal. This ancient kingdom was ruled by Pratap Deva who lived in an impregnable stone fortress surrounded by a much larger mud fortress which in turn was ringed by a moat.
The sultanate army was bolstered by a contingent of soldiers from Devagiri and other vassal states. The Devagiri king Rama Deva had provided fodder, food and supplies for this massive army all the way from the doorstep of his fort to the border of Warangal. Critical intelligence about Warangal’s defences and treasures may well have been provided by the Devagiri king.
In ‘A Social History of the Deccan, 1300-1761: Eight Indian Lives, Volume 1’, Richard M. Eaton writes: “The Telegu warriors defending Warangal’s citadel had to face the deadliest and most advanced military technology to be found anywhere in the world – a new sort of siege equipment that had already been introduced to north India from the Iranian plateau. The implements deployed by the northerners include huge stone throwing engines (technically counter trebuchets), smaller siege engines (or tension-powered ballistas), wooden parapets, stone missiles, great boulders used as missiles, small machines for hurling stones…”
The fort at Warangal was extremely difficult to conquer because of its layered defences. Plus, unlike Devagiri, the defenders put up a strong fight. Also, very unlike other sieges in India, where no outside help arrived, at Warangal a small but determined Hindu force arrived at night to attack the besieging army. However, attack itself wasn’t very well directed and wily Kafur’s forces cut down this band of soldiers before they could create further panic in the Sultanate army.
Catherine B. Asher and Cynthia Talbot point out in ‘India Before Europe’ (page 40) that during the four month siege, Kafur had to erect high fences to shield his army from the stones being thrown from the citadel, suggesting that the defenders too weren’t lacking in technology.
Unable to scale the fort’s ramparts because the Hindu defenders were picking them off with arrows, spears and stones, Kafur ordered his soldiers to start digging at the base of the fort’s wall. Although countless men must have perished in this seemingly suicidal approach, the diggers managed to create a cavity large enough which was packed with explosives to blow up a section of the massive mud wall. The breach was enough for the Muslim army to pour inside where they met fierce resistance. In the meantime, the rest of the defenders retreated into the stone citadel.
At this point the Raja offered to negotiate. In many sieges in the past the normal Muslim policy was to spurn all truce offers and go in for the kill because the Hindu was not to be negotiated with. (It was a policy that would be enacted in the future as well.) However, Alauddin had instructed his generals, especially the remorseless Kafur, that since Muslim armies were unfamiliar with southern India and since vast distances separated it from Delhi precluded any immediate help from the sultanate, he was to appear to show leniency towards the people as well as the kings.
According to noted historian K.S. Lal, the sultan knew the only way to enter the densely forested and rocky territories of south India was through alliances. He planned to use each defeated kingdom as a stepping stone for the conquest of the neighbouring ones. A massacre of the royals or the defenders would only have resulted in even more stubborn resistance in future wars. Having his hands full dealing with the dangerous Mongols and the fierce Rajputs in the north, he did not want to fight wars of attrition in the south.
The truce offer was thus accepted. Serious negotiations commenced, at the end of which Rudra Deva agreed to offer 100 elephants, 12,000 horses and every item of value in his treasury. Further, he would offer an annual tribute of a similar number of elephants and horses to the Sultan.
In Khazainul Futuh or ‘The Campaigns of Alauddin Khilji’, Alauddin’s court poet Amir Khusrau describes the incredulous faces of the assembled Maliks (chiefs), mostly natives of central Asia and Afghanistan, as the war booty was paraded: “The Maliks sat while the elephants passed; you could have thought the planets had become stationary while the constellations had begun to move….And when they move together in a row, there is an earthquake…”
After the elephants had passed, the treasures they carried on their backs were displayed. “The boxes were full of valuables and gems, the excellence of which drove the onlookers mad. Every emerald sparkled in the light of the sun, or rather the sun reflected back the light of the emerald. The rubies dazzled the eye of the sun and if a ray from them had fallen on a lamp of fire, the lamp would have burst into flames. The cat’s eye was such that a lion after seeing it would have looked with contempt at the sun; and the cock’s eye were so brilliant that cat’s eye was afraid to look at it. The lustre of the rubies illuminated the darkness of the night and mine, as you might light lamp from another. The emeralds had a fineness of water that could eclipse the lawn of paradise. The diamonds would have penetrated into an iron heart like an arrow of steel, and yet owing to their delicate nature, would have been shattered by the stroke of a hammer. The other stones were such that the sun blushed to look at them. As for the pearls you could not find the likes of them even if you kept diving into the sea through all eternity. The gold was like the full moon of the twelfth night; it seemed that in order to ripen it, the alchemist the sun, had lighted its fire, and the morning had blown its breath, for years.”
Among this mountain of treasure was the legendary Koh-in-Noor diamond (which now sits in the crown of the English queen.) Describing the jewel, the philosophical ambassadors said: “By the God, who has created man, the finest of substances, each of these jewels is of a kind of which no man can calculate the value. And among them is a jewel, unparalleled in the whole world, though according to perfect philosophers such a substance cannot exist.”
Khusrau adds, “When the horses were brought, the prestige of all that the ambassadors had previously displayed flew away like the wind. Lest the struggle should be further prolonged, every horse in the Rai’s palace and stables had been brought; even the wind of them was not in his hands. The sight of these fleet-footed animals captivated every heart – the heart of the Mussalman was broken, and the soul of the Hindu flew away from his heart; for the horses were such as their eyes had never seen.”
The treasures were carried off on the back of thousands of animals and carts to Delhi. On the day of Muharram in 1310, Alauddin invited the kings and princes of Arabia and Persia who were treated to this unprecedented display of loot. A massive black pavilion was erected which Khusrau describes as appearing “like the Ka’ba on the navel of the earth” and the “day looked like a second Id for the people”.
Alauddin’s next expeditions were targeted at the Hoyasalas who ruled from Dwarasamudra and the ancient Pandya kingdom of Madurai. The motive of the expedition appears to be the same – the possession of treasures and elephants, but Khusrau says “now with a sincere motive” the Sultan thought of sending an expedition to the south “so that the light of the sharia may reach there”.
On November 25, 1310 Kafur set out at the head of a large army. At Devagiri (which had now become a staging base for the Khilji army) he was provided 23 elephants as well as spears, arrows and other weapons of war. Rama Deva deputed one of his commanders, Parasuram Deva, to help the Muslim army on its southward march.
As usual, military intelligence – or the lack of it – played a critical role in the outcome of the invasions. Ballala Deva, the Hoyasala king, should have realised that with the Muslim sultanate launching regular predatory raids deeper and deeper into southern India, the need of the day was unity among the Hindu kingdoms, consolidation of one’s own territories, building of defensive forts, training one’s army, creation of reserve forces, equipping his forts for lasting out extended sieges and a coordinated military strategy to prevent Islamic inroads south of the Vindhyas.
Instead, Ballala Deva was in the midst of an invasion of the Pandya kingdom when he came to know that the Khilji army was moving towards his kingdom. The king raced back to Dwarasamudra with 10,000 of his best horsemen. At the fort, the war council was of the unanimous decision that the Hoyasalas should attack the enemy, but when the king saw the size of the army outside his fort and realised Kafur also had the backing of Devagiri and Warangal, he decided to negotiate.
As per the terms of the treaty, the Hoyasalas would pay a yearly tribute and give Kafur all the treasures of the fort. The entire night was spent clearing out the treasures, and by morning it was loaded on 53 elephants.
Despite Ballala Deva’s submission, Amir Khusrau writes that after overpowering the raja of the Carnatic, the army “plundered his country, broke the temples and seized all idols which were set with pearls”. They also built a small mosque using stone and plaster. Ironically, while Dwarasamudra in now under the sea, the mosque still stands. Khusrau says without an iota of gratefulness that “the infidels out of respect due to a house of God, have refrained from destroying the mosque”.
The misery didn’t end for the king. K.S. Lal explains: After the settlement of the peace terms, Kafur stayed at Dwarasamudra for a week after which he asked Ballala Deva to lead him on the way towards Pandya kingdom, a way with which the sultanate army was completely unacquainted. “The defeated Hoyasala chief had but to agree to what the victorious general said, and prepared to lead Kafur towards the destruction of a sister state.”
Wild chase in the Pandya kingdom
The Khilji army entered the Pandya kingdom in March 1311. According to Khusrau, in the Pandyan kingdom too, Kafur “broke the temples and seized the cash and jewels which the Rais had hoarded for thousands of years”.
Having seen the fate of other kingdoms, Vira Pandya, the young king, employed a different strategy. He refused to give battle, and with his loyal followers kept moving from place to place, often through dense forests. The Turks and Afghans, who were completely out of place in this environment, and were unable to keep up with Vira Pandya.
Kafur had a stroke of luck when 20,000 Muslim soldiers who were employed in the Pandyan army deserted the Hindus to his side. K.S. Lal says these Muslims were descendants of Muslims who had settled in south India as traders long before they had entered the north as invaders. Information provided by these disloyal soldiers led Kafur to Kannanur near Srirangam but Vira Pandya gave him the slip. The enraged Kafur ordered general massacre of the town’s civilian population.
Kafur then marched towards Madurai, where he was told Vira Pandya was staying. But by the time Muslim army arrived there in April 1311, the king and his family had left with the royal treasures. This infuriated Kafur who set fire to the Sokkanatha (Shiva) Temple. At another temple, the Muslim army destroyed a large temple in order to dig out its golden foundations.
Vira Pandya may not have won any battle laurels but he achieved something improbable – he had worn down Kafur and his army. Chasing the quick moving Pandyan king while carrying an immense booty may have also unnerved the Muslim chiefs, who only wanted to reach the safety of Delhi.
Kafur decided that he had acquired enough wealth to last generations, and ordered the army to march back to Delhi. Before the army set off, he ordered all the spoils to be arranged and classified. His loot consisted of 512 elephants, 5000 Arabian horses and 2000 kilos of gold and jewels. (Another account says the quality of gold was 384,000 kilos but this may well have been a later day embellishment.) Muslim chroniclers comment that two generations (approximately 50 years) after Alauddin’s death, the Delhi treasury still had remnants of this booty.
Gujarat: A royal family tragedy
In 1299 Alauddin despatched a large army for the invasion of Gujarat. All the contemporary Persian writings as also the Jain account of Chandra Prabha agree on the point that the sack of Gujarat was thorough. The Khilji army destroyed hundreds of towns in the wealthy and industrious kingdom, including the capital Anhilvada, Naharwala, Asaval, Vanmanthali, Surat, Cambay and Somnath. The temples were broken, wealth looted and large numbers of captives of both sexes captured, including the famous Malik Kafur (who was then a Hindu child).
The expedition was launched “with a view of holy war, and not for the lust of conquest”, points out Persian historian Wassaf in his book Tarikh-i-Wassaf, adding: “They went by daily marches through the hills, from stage to stage, and when they arrived at their destination at early dawn they surrounded Kambayat (Cambay) and the idolaters were awakened from their sleepy state of carelessness and were taken by surprise, not knowing where to go, and mothers forgot their children and dropped them from their embrace.”
“The Muhammadan forces began to ‘kill and slaughter on the right and on the left unmercifully, throughout the impure land, for the sake of Islam,’ and blood flowed in torrents. They plundered gold and silver to an extent greater than can be conceived, and an immense number of brilliant precious stones, such as pearls, diamonds, rubies, and emeralds, etc. as well as a great variety of cloths, both silk and cotton, stamped, embroidered, and coloured.” (‘The History of India as Told by its Own Historians, Vol III, by Henry Miers Elliot.)
According to ‘The Legacy of Jihad: Islamic Holy War and the Fate of Non-Muslims’ (edited by Andrew Boston), during the sack of Somnath, the Muslim army “took captive a great number of handsome and elegant maidens, amounting to 20,000, and children of both sexes… and the Muhammedan army brought the country to utter ruin, and the destroyed the lives of inhabitants, and plundered the cities and captured their offspring….”
The Persian Wassaf describes the destruction of Somnath. “The Muhammadan soldiers plundered all those jewels and rapidly set themselves to demolish the idol. The surviving infidels were deeply affected with grief, and they engaged to pay a thousand pieces of gold as ransom for the idol, but they were indignantly rejected, and the idol was destroyed, and its limbs, which were anointed with ambergris and perfumed, were cut off. The fragments were conveyed to Dehli, and the entrance of the Jami Masjid was paved with them, that people might remember and talk of this brilliant victory. ‘Praise be to God, the Lord of the worlds. Amen’.”
The supposedly tolerant Amir Khusrau writes: “So the temple of Somnath was made to bow towards the Holy Mecca, and as the temple lowered its head and jumped into the sea, you may say the building first said its prayers and then had a bath. The idols, that had fixed their abode midway to the House of Abraham (Mecca) and waylaid stragglers, were broken to pieces in pursuance of Abraham’s traditions. But one idol, the greatest of them all, was sent by the maliks to the Imperial Court, so that the breaking of their helpless God may be demonstrated to the idol worshiping Hindus.”
With Alauddin’s army setting his kingdom on fire, the Vaghela ruler Rai Karan sought refuge in a fort. However, his ministers advised him to leave the kingdom until the invaders left.
Meanwhile, the Khilji army had captured one of Rai Karan’s queens named Kamala Devi and forced her into Alauddin’s harem. As she was led away, the queen had to abandon her infant daughter Devala Devi.
After the Khilji army returned to Delhi, Rai Karan came back to claim his kingdom. Little did he know that his former wife would be the cause of his and his family’s misfortune.
Eight years after being inducted into Alauddin’s harem, Kamala Devi requested Alauddin to get her daughter Devala Devi from Gujarat. Alauddin ordered his army to invade Gujarat for a second time.
Knowing that the Khilji army had come for the young princess, Rai Karan sent her off to Warangal escorted by 300 soldiers. Unfortunately, a group of Turkic soldiers ran into this escort quite by accident and attacked it. They abducted Devala Devi and triumphantly took her to Delhi, where she was married to Khizr Khan, the eldest son of Alauddin. The princess was just 10 years old.
Eight years later Khizr Khan was executed by his brother Qutb ud din Mubarak Shah, and Deval Devi was taken into the latter’s harem. In 1320, Mubarak was murdered by Khusro Khan (the last ruler of the Khalji dynasty), and his followers. Devala Devi was then married to Khusro Khan.
Devala Devi’s story, of a high-born Hindu Rajput princess being passed from hand to hand among a series of brutal, fratricidal Muslim invaders, is the final denouement of Alauddin’s supposed greatness. It is also a resounding slap on the face of leftists, liberals and feminists who slam the thousands of Hindu women who preferred to perform jauhar rather than submit to a fate similar to Devali Devi’s.
The royal family’s tragedy was complete with the demise of Rai Karan. The Jain writer Kakka Suri, in his Nabhi-Nandana-Jinoddhara-Prabandha (1336), says the king “fled away in all haste and having wandered about in many kingdoms died the death of a pauper”.
Rajasthan: The bloodiest battles
Alauddin was seized by the idea of world conquest. K.S. Lal says this stupid idea came into his head after he came to know about Alexander the Great. The Sultan liked to be called Alexander Sani (or the Second Alexander) and even issued coins in that name. However, a close advisor told him that it was better to subdue the remaining parts of India before venturing outside the country.
Since Rajasthan had the country’s most chivalrous and bravest fighters and also its most ancient hereditary monarchies, Alauddin thought subduing the area would add to his prestige. His very first attack, on Ranthambor, indicated that Rajasthan was going to be difficult. During the prolonged siege, Raja Hammir fought fire with fire, with Rajput missiles killing Nusrat Khan, one of Alauddin’s top generals. As the Muslim army mourned, Hammir’s forces led a night attack, putting the besiegers to flight.
When Alauddin heard about the defeat, he personally arrived at Ranthambor. His leadership in war being exemplary, the sultan was able to rally his troops who had become mortally afraid of the Rajputs. Still, the Khilji army could not break through the fort’s defences. It was only due to the treachery of two Rajput officers that Ranthambor’s doom was sealed. While the women performed jauhar, Hammir and his men tied saffron sashes on their heads and rode out to certain death, but despatching countless Turks to the netherworld. K.S. Lal says not a single member of the royal family was captured by Alauddin.
On January 28, 1303, Alauddin marched to Chittor with a large army. Amir Khusrau, who accompanied the army, says that their siege engines were useless against the city’s massive stone walls. The siege went on for nearly eight months, which suggests that the defenders put up a strong resistance. When the fort garrison finally ran out of food, the womenfolk, numbering around 7,000, performed jauhar. It is not sure whether the legendary Rani Padmini is indeed a historical figure because she is not mentioned in Khusrau’s accounts.
After the heartrending wails of their women had died down, the men rode out in a kamikaze style attack on the Muslim army, with each Rajput killing at least three enemy soldiers.
Alauddin entered the fort on August 26, 1303. The heroic resistance of the Rajputs had exasperated the sultan who ordered a general massacre of the population. In a single day, says Khusrau, some 30,000 Hindus were “cut down like dry grass”. James Todd writes in “Annals of Rajasthan” that after this inhuman massacre the callous Sultan “remained in Chittor for some days” and “committed every act of barbarity and dilapidation which a bigoted zeal could suggest, overthrowing the temples and other monuments of art”.
Policy towards Hindus
Alauddin once summoned Kazi Mughisuddin of Bayana and asked him: “How are Hindus designated in the law, as payers of tribute or givers of tribute?”
The Kazi replied: “They are called payers of tribute, and when the revenue officer demands silver from them, they should without question and with all humility and respecr, tender gold. If the officer throws dirt into their mouths, they must without reluctance open their mouths wide to receive it. By doing so they show their respect for the officer. The due subordination of the zimmi (tribute payer) is exhibited in this humble payment and by this throwing of dirt into their mouths. The glorification of Islam is a duty….God holds them in contempt, for he says, ‘Keep them in subjection.’ To keep the Hindus in abasement is especially a religious duty, because the Prophet has commanded us to slay them, plunder them, and make them captive, saying, ‘Convert them and spoil their wealth and property.’ No doctor but the great doctor (Hanifa) to whose school we belong, has assented to the imposition of the jaziya (poll tax) on Hindus. Doctors of other schools allow no other alternative but ‘Death or Islam’.”
Alauddin remarked: “Oh doctor, thou art a learned man, but thou hast had no experience; I am an unlettered man, but I have seen a great deal; be assured then that the Hindus will never become submissive and obedient till they are reduced to poverty. I have therefore given orders that just sufficient shall be left to them from year to year, of corn, milk and curds but that they shall not be allowed to accumulate hoards and property.”
K.S. Lal offers a glimpse of two sides of Alauddin’s attitude towards Hindus. In ‘The Legacy of Muslim Rule in India’ he says the sultan started by raising the land tax to 50 per cent. Under the previous sultans Iltutmish and Balban, the rate was one-third of the produce. “This measure automatically reduced the chiefs practically to the position of peasants. The king also levied house-tax and grazing tax. According to the contemporary chronicler Ziyauddin Barani, all milk-producing animals like cows and goats were taxed. According to Farishtah, animals up to two pairs of oxen, a pair of buffaloes and some cows and goats were exempted. This concession was based on the principle of nisab, namely, of leaving some minimum capital to enable one to carry on with one’s work. But it was hardly any relief, for there were taxes like kari, charai and jiziyah.”
Barani quotes Maulana Shamsuddin Turk, a religious scholar from Egypt, who is happy to learn that Alauddin had made the wretchedness and misery of the Hindus so great and had reduced them to such a despicable condition that Hindu women and children went out begging at the doors of the Musalmans. “Such a submission on the part of the Hindus has neither been seen before nor will be witnessed hereafter,” Barani crows in Fatawah-i-Jahandari.
All classes of Hindus were made destitute. The zamindars, who had been accustomed to a life of comfort and dignity, were reduced to a deplorable position. The poor peasants suffered the most because the Sultan had left to them bare sustenance and had taken away everything else in taxes. In general, says Lal, the Hindus were impoverished to such an extent that there was no sign of gold or silver left in their houses, and the wives of (noblemen) used to seek sundry jobs in the houses of the Muslims, work there and receive wages.
At the same time, when it came to diplomacy, Alauddin was an entirely different person. Lal writes in ‘History of the Khaljis’: “Alauddin was the first Muslim ruler who left Hindu kings in their positions provided they paid tribute.” In this respect he was a forerunner of Akbar – the only other Muslim ruler who incorporated Hindu kingdoms in his empire instead of attempting to destroy the ancient royal lineages of India.
In fact, after Alauddin’s death a joint Khilji-Tughlak army marched south, stormed Warangal and erased the Kakatiya dynasty from the map, heralding a new era of Islamic fundamentalism.
Muslim rule in India was a period of constant, wanton and destructive wars. Hindu kings were just as warlike as the Muslims, but they never touched temple treasures nor did they destroy property. Ordinary civilian life continued as it had for thousands of years. Kings changed but taxes, laws, gods and festivals remained the same; slavery was almost non-existent.
It all changed with the very first successful Muslim invasion, of Sindh, in 712 by the Arabs. Since then, every Muslim ruler of India owned tens of thousands of slaves and exported millions of Hindu captives to the slave markets of Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Central Asia. K.S. Lal points out that Alauddin had 50,000 slave boys in his personal service and 70,000 slaves worked continuously on his buildings. It is also true that male slaves – in particular good looking, clean shaven young boys – fetched a higher price than female slaves. Malik Kafur was known as hazardinari, implying that he had been bought for 1000 dinars, probably because he was extremely good looking and only 11 years old when he was abducted and castrated. Alauddin had one look at the youth and fell in love with him, raising him to the status of a commander. Unlike Rani Padmini, who is not recorded in contemporary sources, Khilji’s love affair with his male sexual slave is well attested.
Many of these boys – children rather – were purely sex slaves. It is ironical that Alauddin was murdered by Malik Kafur and Alauddin’s son and successor Sultan Qutb ud din Mubarak Shah was murdered by his long time sex slave Khusro Khan, ending the Khilji dynasty in 1320.
Although Alauddin did not indulge in temple destruction on the scale of, say, Aurangzeb, it is nevertheless true that like the apple he did not fall far from the tree. Like nearly all Muslims rulers, he was engaged in ceaseless and brutal wars that required him to mercilessly tax the people. And like most Muslims who arrived from Central Asia, Turkey, Iran, Arabia and Afghanistan, he detested the indigenous people. His court poets frequently referred to the “night-faced Hindus” who were deemed inferior in comparison with the light skinned Turks. The frequent rebellions and wars of resistance he encountered in India made him even more unfavourably disposed towards the Hindus.
After Padmaavati, in which Alauddin is apparently portrayed as a barbarian, a cabal of Muslim historians and leftist intellectuals is trying to whitewash his crimes and present the sultan as an efficient ruler, a “socialist” and nominally religious person who did not care to offer prayers on Friday. They point to the extremely low rate of crime in his empire. In particular, leftist rags such as The Wire are publishing articles, saying he was a brilliant commander who actually saved Hindus from being massacred by defeating the fierce Mongols.
Such arguments prove without any doubt that leftists are Islam’s useful idiots. Yes, crime was low during Alauddin’s time but it was because his punishments were hellish and disproportionate. Shopkeepers who underweighed goods had their flesh sliced off to the extent they had cheated; people caught drinking had their hands turned into the equivalent of mashed potato, using heavy mallets; petty thieves were impaled; tax evaders were thrown into ‘wells’ that contained poisonous snakes and rodents. It is worth mentioning that today only the Islamic State awards such barbaric punishments.
Social interaction disappeared from the empire during the 25 years of his rule because Alauddin had a spy system that rivalled the Stasi. Because there were so many informers, people were afraid to talk lest someone rat them out.
The darling of the left, Joseph Stalin, also had a crime-free Soviet Union but that was only because one of the greatest criminals of the 20th century was ruling that dystopian country. Stalin is decribed as an atheist but he was opportunistic and invoked the Russian Orthodox Church when the Germans arrived at the outskirts of Moscow. Likewise, Alauddin did not care much for Allah or ulemas because he wanted to create his own religion in which he was to be the only god. At the same time, when the opportunity came he smashed statues of Hindu gods and defiled temples.
As for being a socialist, he shared some qualities with the likes of notorious socialists Pol Pot, Mao and Stalin. When a section of newly converted Mongols – who had settled in Delhi’s Mongolpuri area, rebelled, the sultan slaughtered all 30,000 of them in a single day. Most of them had their head sawed in half. Their womenfolk were given to the city’s scavengers and their children aged five or younger were snatched from their mother’s arms and turned out on to the streets where they starved to death.
What is undeniable is that he was a brilliant – and lucky – military commander. He made sure his army had the best equipment – an area in which Hindu kingdoms were woefully lacking. (Curiously, the modern Indian Army continues to suffer from equipment and ammunition shortages.) Alauddin built strong fortresses on his empire’s borders which ensured that the Khiljis were not caught napping. He defeated the Mongols on three occasions although it is fact they were no longer a united force and the armies they despatched to India were a pale shadow of Genghis Khan’s army.
But Alauddin was only protecting himself, his vast treasures and his territory; he wasn’t protecting Hindus per se. At any rate, the mostly pagan Mongols were the biggest enemy of the Muslims and it was the dream of Hulagu Khan, the Mongol general despatched to the Middle East, to stamp out Muslim rule.
Only a few decades ago, Hulagu Khan’s Golden Horde had laid waste to Arabia and Persia, killing millions of Muslims in a frenzy of violence unprecedented in history. The sack of Baghdad rivals the sack of Vijayanagara, and in a 13 day period lasting from 29 January to 10 February 1258, Hulagu’s soldiers massacred two million Muslims and flattened the world’s most glorious Islamic city. The siege is considered to mark the end of the Islamic Golden Age, during which the caliphs had extended their rule from Spain to Sindh.
So no thanks, please don’t thank Alauddin for saving Hindus. In fact, it is highly likely that the sky worshiping Mongols would have spared the Hindu population. There is a precedent for this. Genghis Khan, for all his fearsome reputation and his army’s ability to flatten 1000 year old cities in the space of a few hours, was extremely tolerant in religious matters as would be expected of a pagan sky worshiper. There was absolutely no reason for him to destroy India except perhaps Muslim strongholds such as Multan and Delhi. The rest of India would have been just fine and would have welcomed the Mongols as liberators.
The Muslim era – and in particular the Sultanate period (roughly 1200-1526) – was without a doubt the most apocalyptic period in India’s history during which a massive genocide was perpetrated on the Hindus. In such an era, if Alauddin appears less bigoted compared with the likes of Mahmud Ghazni, Mohammed Ghori and Aurangzeb, it is because the other rulers were an order of magnitude more brutal and fanatic than him.
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Rakesh is primarily a defence analyst. His articles have been quoted extensively by universities and in books on diplomacy, counter terrorism, warfare, and development of the global south; and by international defence journals.
Rakesh’s work has been cited by leading think tanks and organisations that include the Naval Postgraduate School, California; US Army War College, Pennsylvania; Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Washington DC; State University of New Jersey; Institute of International and Strategic Relations, Paris; BBC Vietnam; Siberian Federal University, Krasnoyarsk; Centre for Air Power Studies, New Delhi; Institute for Defense Analyses, Virginia; International Center for Not-for-Profit Law, Washington DC; Stimson Centre, Washington DC; Foreign Policy Research Institute, Philadelphia; and Institute for Strategic, Political, Security and Economic Consultancy, Berlin.
His articles have been published by the Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi; Foundation Institute for Eastern Studies, Warsaw; and the Research Institute for European and American Studies, Greece, among others.