SULTAN MAHMOOD OF GHAZNI Biography

A formidable force of Hindu warriors drawn from different parts of India had arrayed themselves on the plains of Kathiawar against a small Muslim army led by Mahmood of Ghazni. The large Hindu army led by hundreds of war elephants was characterized by massive pomp and pageantry. On the other hand, Mahmood’s troops hardly one-tenth of the opposing force, who trekked through a trackless desert, were too tired and, therefore, hesitated to meet such a powerful enemy. But Mahmood was too steadfast and valiant to lose heart. He prayed for Divine assistance against the infidels who, in the past, had broken many pledges and treaties made with the Muslims and he had come to punish them for their treachery. He made a memorable speech before his weary soldiers which steeled their determination to crush the enemy. A loud cry of Allah-o-Akbar (God is Great) rent the air, and the Muslims, led by Mahmood, made a desperate charge on the serried ranks of the perfidious infidels. They fought like heroes in a sea of men, which swarmed and closed in upon them from all sides to devour them. The occasional cries of “Allah-o-Akbar” raised by them above the din of the battle proclaimed their existence.

At last, an irresistible charge by Mahmood won him the day; the Hindus were routed with terrible losses. They fled, leaving behind a large number of dead on the battlefield. They had to pay a heavy price for their treachery and broken pledges.

The famous temple of Somnath lay before the Conqueror from Ghazni. The inmates of the temple offered an extremely high price to save their idols but Mahmood declined their offer, saying: “I want to be known in history as the destroyer of idols and not an idol seller”. He struck the biggest idol with his staff. Its interior was found filled with invaluable precious stones which gushed forth and strewed the floor.

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Sultan Mahmood was a great conqueror, builder, and patron of art and literature. According to the noted chronicler, Farishta, “he was endowed with all the qualities of a great prince”. “The real source of his glory”, says Elphinstone, “lay in his combining the qualities of a warrior and a conqueror with a zeal for the encouragement of literature and arts, which was rare in his time, and has not yet been surpassed”.

Mahmood, the eldest son of Subuktagin, was born in 969 A.C. His father, posted as Governor of Khorasan by King Nuh Il of Bukhara, appointed Mahmood as his Deputy. He took Neshapur from the Ismails and made it his Capital. On the death of his father in 997 A.C. Mahmood seized Ghazni from his brother and ascended its throne in 999 A.C.

Sultan Mahmood proved himself a capable and enlightened ruler, who was great both in war and peace. He was an invincible conqueror, a successful administrator, and a great builder. The Abbaside Caliph of Baghdad, Al-Kadir Billah, recognized Mahmood as the ruler of Ghazni and Khorasan and conferred on him the title of “Amir-al-Millat“ and later “Yameen-ud-Dawala”.

During the last 30 years of his life, he made 17 invasions of India. In 1001, he defeated and captured Raja Jaipal I of Punjab. He was later released on the promise of paying tribute. But he soon broke it and was later punished by the Sultan. Mahmood invaded Multan and besieged its ruler Dawood who had adopted the Carmathian creed. Later he captured Ghur.

The Princes of India made a confederacy against Mahmood. A number of Rajas who had promised to pay tribute to him also joined them. When he crossed the Indus in 1008 he was met at Und by a great Hindu army composed of the troops of Anand Pal and the Rajas of Ujjain, Gwalior, Kalanjar, Kanauj, Delhi, and Ajmer. The Sultan routed the Hindus after a hotly contested battle. The Hindus fled from the battlefield littered with their dead bodies. The Rajas later lost faith in each other and the confederacy was dissolved. Mahmood pressed on and the fortress of Bhavan and the temple of Kangra fell to him.

In 1009, the Sultan again invaded Punjab to punish Anand Pal who had broken his pledge to pay tribute. In 1011, he captured the temple of Thanesar. In 1014 Mahmood defeated the Hindu Princes in the Mangla Pass, captured the fortress of Naudana, and pursued them into Kashmir.

In 1018 the Sultan set out on an expedition to punish the treacherous Hindu Rajas who had broken their pledges and taken up arms against him. He crossed the Jamuna, received the submission of the Raja of Basan, defeated Raja Kulchand of Mahaban, and captured Mathura and Bindraban. He marched with his picked force on Kanauj, guarded by seven forts built on the Ganges. The Raja of Kanauj fled, leaving behind his Capital city to Mahmood.

The Rajas of Kalanjar and Gwalior murdered the Raja of Kanauj for his cowardice and formed a confederacy against the Sultan who broke it by inflicting a crushing defeat on them in 1022. The Rajas promised to pay him an annual tribute.

In 1023, the Sultan invaded Transoxiana to establish his authority there. In 1025, he set out on his expedition against Somnath, and there in January 1026, he defeated and routed a combined force of Hindu Rajas.

In 1027, the Sultan launched his last expedition to India to punish the rebellious and treacherous Jats. He collected a flotilla of boats at Multan and defeated them in a bloody naval battle fought on river Indus.

In the remaining period of his life, he devoted his attention to consolidating the Western provinces of his vası Empire. He wrested Iraq, Rayy, and Isfahan from the Buwayhids and invested his son Masood with the Government of the newly conquered territories.

Great in war, Mahmood was greater in peace. Whenever he got a respite from his long-drawn-out campaigns, he devoted himself to the peace and prosperity of his people.

He built Ghazni into a magnificent Capital, the Queen of the East. The Grant Mosque of Ghazni, known as the “Bride of Heaven”, built by him, was a wonder of the East in those times. Besides this, Mahmood adorned his Capital with a museum, a library, and a university as well as beautiful mosques, porches, fountains, reservoirs, aqueducts, and cisterns.

The Sultan also constructed many dykes and aqueducts for his subjects which gave an unprecedented impetus to agriculture. His far-flung dominions were connected with good roads, dotted with caravansarais, and protected under a strict Administration which ensured a flourishing trade in his Empire. Among his great public works, the Sultan’s dyke is still extant and is used even up to the present day. The dyke was constructed at the mouth of a pass, 18 miles from Ghazni, 25 feet above the water level of the Nawar. It is 200 yards long.

Historians are all praise for Mahmood’s Capital, Ghazni. “The civilization and grandeur possessed by the Samianids of North-Western Persia”, says Sir John Marshal, “were handed down to Ghaznavids, as if by right of inheritance ….. Under Malinood the Great, and his immediate successor, Ghazni became famous among all the cities of the Caliphate for the splendor of its architecture (Cambridge History of India)”. “The splendor of its courtiers’ palaces“, writes Lane Poole in his Mediaeral India “vying with his own, testified to the liberal encouragement of the arts which raised Ghazni — from a barrack of outlaws to the first rank among the many stately cities of the Caliphate”. Another historian, Marshman has described it as “the grandest in Asia” (Cambridge History of India).

Sultan Mahmood was one of the greatest patrons of art and learning that the world has seen. He gathered around him in his Court a galaxy of intellectual luminaries hardly ever seen in a Royal court of the Medieval times. The Sultan loved the society of learned men. “This restless adventurer“, says Lane Polle, “after sweeping like a pestilence for hundreds of miles across India, or pouncing like a hawk coursing south to Hamadan almost within call of Baghdad itself, would settle down to listen to the songs of poets and the wise conversation of divines”.

The Sultan stands unrivaled even up to the present times in his munificence and expenditure to the cause of education and learning. He founded a university equipped with a vast collection of books on different subjects and in different languages. A museum of natural curiosities was attached to the university.

“He showed so much munificence to individuals of eminence”, says Elphinstone, “that his Court exhibited a greater assemblage of literary geniuses than any other monarch in Asia has ever been able to produce” (Cambridge History of India). The number of poets alone attached to his Court was more than 400.

The Sultan, himself being a poet and scholar of repute, enjoyed the Company of intellectual luminaries who adorned his Court. Iran immensely benefited from Mahmood’s patronage of learning. “It is to Sultan Mahmood,” writes Elphinstone, “that the (Iran) is indebted for the full expansion of her national literature”. According to Professor M. Habib “among the patrons of Persian renaissance, he (Mahmood) is the most remarkable”.

Amongst the brightest intellectual luminaries which illuminated the Court of the Sultan was the encyclopaedist Abu Rehan Biruni, the philosopher, musical theorist Farabi, the philosopher-linguist Ansari, the witty poet Manuchehri, the celebrated poet Asjadi and the great epic poet Firdausi, whose Shahnama ranks amongst the greatest epic poems of the world.

The Sultan’s boundless generosity to these men of letters has been recorded in history. The story of his paying sixty thousand silver coins instead of the gold ones to Firdausi as settled with him is a fiction that has been contradicted by modern historical research.

The great Sultan breathed his last at Ghazni on April 30, 1030, A.C. at the age of 63, being worn out by the labors of 40 years rule.

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