(INDIA from 501 to 1200 -- continued)

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INDIA from 501 to 1200 (2 of 3)

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Islam Arrives, 711 to 1200

Pirate raids by Indians against Muslim shipping on the Indian Ocean were followed by a reprisal invasion of the Sind – near the Indus River delta. The first Muslim state in India was founded there in 711. The conquered area was not rich enough in agricultural potential to induce the Arabs to establish themselves there permanently, and they left on their own accord. But Arabs returned. The Habbari family acquired an agricultural estate in the village of Baniya, which later became an important town. The Habbari family engaged also in commerce and achieved a prominent status among the Arab settlers. The Habbari family began to rule in the Sind in 841, creating a semi-independent state loyal to the Abbasid caliphate in Baghdad.

The Hindu Scholar Shankara

In the 800s, Hindu intellectuals were aware of Muslim criticism of their faith. Led by a philosopher named Shankara (788-850), a few Hindu thinkers set out to defend Hinduism, especially against the Muslim charge that Hinduism was idolatrous. Shankara systematized the intellectual tradition of the Upanishads. Defenders of Hinduism claimed that, properly understood, Hindu rites helped simple folk along the path to a pure and transcendent belief in one God and to an absolute truth beyond sensory experience. Shankara gave a new impetus to orthodox Brahmanism. He traveled about India, founding many religious schools, and he became a most revered Hindu leader. He imagined a unified reality and described Hinduism as about the realization of a single god in all things. He claimed that salvation came through philosophical speculation and meditation leading to the realization that God and one's self were the same.

The Ghaznavid Incursions

However much Shankara brought unity to Hindu ideology, politically India remained disunited. India was without an army capable of defending against Muslim invasions. Here and there were little armies, but nothing like the force that existed when India was united by the Gupta Empire.

In the late 900s, Mahmud, the Sunni Muslim Turkish sultan ruled the Ghaznavid Empire, an empire across Iran and what today is Afghanistan. From Ghazni he began sending men on horseback through the Khyber Pass. They raided temple towns in northwest India. These Muslims terrorized Hindus and carried back as much booty as they could, much of it from temples. The raiding stopped around 1010 after the Hindus agreed to pay tribute. Here was the traditional act of submission, the Indians sending to Ghazni annual trains of elephants laden with gifts.

The agreement between the Muslims and the Indians broke down and raiding resumed, the Muslims believing they were wielding the sword of Muhammad. They smashed more Hindu temples. They slaughtered or enslaved thousands, leaving survivors shocked and disappointed that they were not being protected from harm by their god Shiva.

Mahmud broke the power of the local rulers in areas that he raided. He shattered the economy of northeastern India. Precious metals taken from India's temples went into circulation (much as Alexander's conquests had freed the gold of Darius III and stimulated the economy in his time). With his new wealth, Mahmud erected buildings and magnificent mosques in Ghazni. He turned Ghazni into a world center of Islamic culture, and he financed more military campaigns.

In 1024 he defeated the Habbari Dynasty in the Sind and he annexed that area. In 1025 he invaded Somnath and looted its temple on the coast of Saurashtra.

The Ghurids

In the year 1030 Sultan Mahmud died, at age 59, and his sultanate passed to one of his sons, who fought a brother. The sultanate had the instability common to other dynastic systems. By 1151 Ghazni was in ruins, and in 1187 the Ghaznavid Empire collapsed. In its place a new Turkish dynasty arose: the Ghurids. With the Hindu reputation for weakness, a Ghurid army invaded India and fought its way to Delhi, reaching that city in 1193, overwhelming fierce Hindu opposition along the way. By 1202 the Ghurids had conquered the larger kingdoms along the Ganges River. The Ghurid invaders were Muslims and unimpressed by Indic civilization.

Coming across Buddhism, they saw it as debased idol worship and tried to destroy it. They sacked Buddhism's major centers – including the center of learning, Nalanda, at Bihar – slaughtering many, destroying Buddhism in northern India and sending Buddhists fleeing to Nepal and Tibet, where Buddhism was to flourish.  

The Ghurids despised Hinduism, but their slaughter and enslavement of Hindus and the ruination of Hindu holy places were ineffective in diminishing that faith.  The Hindus were too numerous for them, and only on the fringe of Hindu society were people attracted to Islam.

Muslims in northern India refused to allow Hindu temples to be rebuilt, and without temples Hindu ceremonies became more public and plebeian. Ceremonies were often performed in a town's public square, with amassed worshipers passing along the town's streets. Without temple ritual, communion with God through ecstasy increased, and Sanskrit remained a language of a learned few – the language of the Brahmins.


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