(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. No Indian force drove the Muslims out of the Sind. 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. The Muslims left on their own accord, but soon they returned.  Aziz al-Habbari, semi-independent but loyal to the Abbasid caliphate in Baghdad, began his rule and a dynasty in the Sind in 841.

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 Brahminism. 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 Dow and one's self were the same.

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

In the late 900s, Mahmud, the Sunni Muslim Turkish sultan who ruled the Ghaznavid Empire (across Iran and centered at Ghazni in what today is Afghanistan) 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 to the Mahmud. 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 the areas that he raided. He shattered the economy of northeastern India. The precious metals taken from India's temples went into circulation. And much as Alexander's conquests had freed the gold of Darius III and had stimulated the economy in Alexander's time, the riches taken from India's temples gave rise to economic activity in Mahmud's empire. 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 Central Asia.

In 1024 he defeated the Habbari Dynasty in the Sind and annexed it. In 1025 he invaded Somnath and looted its temple on the coast of Saurashtra. He died at 59 in 1030, His sultanate passed to one of his sons, who fought a brother, and eventually the empire collapsed.

By 1151, civll war had left Ghazni in ruins. In Afghanistan 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. And by 1202 the Ghurids had conquered the larger kingdoms along the Ganges River.

The Ghurid invaders were Muslims and unimpressed by Indic civilization. They did not adopt culturally as had invaders prior to Islam. 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 was ineffective in diminishing that faith.  The Hindus were too numerous for them. Only on the fringe of Hindu society were people attracted to Islam.

Muslim rulers 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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