Table of Contents
Somanatha and Mahmud
Mahmud of Ghazni's raid on the Somanatha temple in 1026 did not create
a Hindu-Muslim dichotomy. Indeed a rigorous historical analysis of five different
narratives or representations of what happened yields surprising new
MAHMUD'S raid on the temple of Somanatha and the destruction of the idol
has become an event of immense significance in the writing of Indian history
since the last couple of centuries. According to some writers, it has been
seminal to antagonistic Hindu-Muslim relations over the last thousand years.
Yet a careful investigation of the representation of this event and related
matters in various sources of this thousand year period suggests that this
conventional view is in itself a misrepresentation of the reading of the
event in terms of Hindu-Muslim relations.
In 1026, Mahmud of Ghazni raided the temple of Somanatha and broke the idol.
Reference is made to this in various sources, or reference is omitted where
one expects to find it. Some of the references contradict each other. Some
lead to our asking questions which do not conform to what we have accepted
so far in terms of the meaning and the aftermath of the event. An event can
get encrusted with interpretations from century to century and this changes
the perception of the event. As historians, therefore, we have to be aware
not just of the event and how we look upon it today, but also the ways in
which the event was interpreted through the intervening centuries. An analysis
of these sources and the priorities in explanation stem, of course, from
the historian's interpretation.
I would like to place before you five representations of this and other events
at Somanatha, keeping in mind the historical question of how Mahmud's raid
was viewed. They cover a wide span and are major representations. The five
are the Turko-Persian chronicles, Jaina texts of the period, Sanskrit
inscriptions from Somanatha, the debate in the British House of Commons,
and what is often described as a nationalist reading of the event.
Let me begin with a brief background to Somanatha itself. It is referred
to in the Mahabharata as Prabhas, and although it had no temple until
later, it was a place of pilgrimage.1 As was common to many parts
of the subcontinent there were a variety of religious sects established in
the area - Buddhist, Jaina, Shaiva and Muslim. Some existed in succession
and some conjointly. The Shaiva temple, known as the Somanatha temple at
Prabhas, dates to about the 9th or 10th century A.D.2 The Chaulukyas
or Solankis were the ruling dynasty in Gujarat during the 11th to 13th centuries.
Kathiawar was administered by lesser rajas, some of whom were subordinates
of the Chaulukyas.
SAURASHTRA was agriculturally fertile, but even more than that, its prosperity
came from trade, particularly maritime trade. The port at Somanatha, known
as Veraval, was one of the three major ports of Gujarat. During this period
western India had a conspicuously wealthy trade with ports along the Arabian
peninsula and the Persian Gulf.3 The antecedents of this trade
go back many centuries.
Arab raids on Sind were less indelible than the more permanent contacts based
on trade. Arab traders and shippers settled along the West coast married
locally and were ancestral to many communities existing to the present. Some
Arabs took employment with local rulers and Rashtrakuta inscriptions speak
of Tajika administrators and governors in the coastal areas.4
The counterparts to these Arab traders were Indian merchants based at Hormuz
and at Ghazni, who, even after the 11th century, are described as extremely
The trade focused on the importing of horses from West Asia and to a lesser
extent on wine, metal, textiles and spices. By far the most lucrative was
the trade in horses.6 And in this funds from temples formed a
sizable investment, according to some sources.7 Port towns such
as Somanatha-Veraval and Cambay derived a handsome income from this trade,
much of it doubtless being ploughed back to enlarge the profits. Apart from
trade, another source of local income was the large sums of money collected
in pilgrim taxes by the administration in Somanatha. This was a fairly common
source of revenue for the same is mentioned in connection with the temple
WE are also told that the local rajas - the Chudasamas, Abhiras, Yadhavas
and others - attacked the pilgrims and looted them of their donations intended
for the Somanatha temple. In addition, there was heavy piracy in the coastal
areas indulged in by the local Chavda rajas and a variety of sea brigands
referred to as the Bawarij.9 As with many areas generating wealth
in earlier times, this part of Gujarat was also subject to unrest and the
Chaulukya administration spent much time and energy policing attacks on pilgrims
Despite all this, trade flourished. Gujarat in this period experienced what
can perhaps be called a renaissance culture of the Jaina mercantile community.
Rich merchant families were in political office, controlled state finances,
were patrons of culture, were scholars of the highest order, were liberal
donors to the Jaina sangha and builders of magnificent temples.
This is the backdrop, as it were, to the Somanatha temple which by many accounts
suffered a raid by Mahmud in 1026. There is one sober, contemporary reference
and this comes, not surprisingly, from Alberuni, a central Asian scholar
deeply interested in India, writing extensively on what he observed and learnt.
He tells us that there was a stone fortress built about a hundred years before
Mahmud's raid within which the lingam was located, presumably to safeguard
the wealth of the temple. The idol was especially venerated by sailors and
traders, not surprising considering the importance of the port at Veraval,
trading as far as Zanzibar and China. He comments in a general way on the
economic devastation caused by the many raids of Mahmud. Alberuni also mentions
that Durlabha of Multan, presumably a mathematician, used a roundabout way
involving various eras to compute the year of the raid on Somanatha as Shaka
947 (equivalent to A.D. 1025-26).10 The raid therefore was known
to local sources.
Not unexpectedly, the Turko-Persian chronicles indulge in elaborate myth-making
around the event, some of which I shall now relate. A major poet of the eastern
Islamic world, Farrukhi Sistani, who claims that he accompanied Mahmud to
Somanatha, provides a fascinating explanation for the breaking of the
idol.11 This explanation has been largely dismissed by modern
historians as too fanciful, but it has a significance for the assessment
of iconoclasm. According to him, the idol was not of a Hindu deity but of
a pre-Islamic Arabian goddess. He tells us that the name Somnat (as it was
often written in Persian) is actually Su-manat, the place of Manat. We know
from the Qur'an that Lat, Uzza and Manat were the three pre-Islamic
goddesses widely worshipped,12 and the destruction of their shrines
and images, it was said, had been ordered by the Prophet Mohammad. Two were
destroyed, but Manat was believed to have been secreted away to Gujarat and
installed in a place of worship. According to some descriptions, Manat was
an aniconic block of black stone, so the form could be similar to a
lingam. This story hovers over many of the Turko-Persian accounts,
some taking it seriously, others being less emphatic and insisting instead
that the icon was of a Hindu deity.
THE identification of the Somanatha idol with that of Manat has little historical
credibility. There is no evidence to suggest that the temple housed an image
of Manat. Nevertheless, the story is significant to the reconstruction of
the aftermath of the event since it is closely tied to the kind of legitimation
which was being projected for Mahmud.
The link with Manat added to the acclaim for Mahmud. Not only was he the
prize iconoclast in breaking Hindu idols, but in destroying Manat he had
carried out what were said to be the very orders of the Prophet. He was therefore
doubly a champion of Islam.13 Other temples were raided by him
and their idols broken, but Somanatha receives special attention in all the
accounts of his activities. Writing of his victories to the Caliphate, Mahmud
presents them as major accomplishments in the cause of Islam. And not
surprisingly, Mahmud becomes the recipient of grandiose titles. This establishes
his legitimacy in the politics of the Islamic world, a dimension which is
overlooked by those who see his activities only in the context of northern
BUT his legitimacy also derives from the fact that he was a Sunni and he
attacked Isma'ilis and Shias whom the Sunnis regarded as
heretics.14 It was ironic that the Isma'ilis attacked the temple
of Multan and were, in turn, attacked by Mahmud in the 11th century and their
mosque was shut down. The fear of the heretic was due to the popularity of
heresies against orthodox Islam and political hostility to the Caliphate
in the previous couple of centuries, none of which would be surprising given
that Islam in these areas was a relatively new religion.
Mahmud is said to have desecrated their places of worship at Multan and Mansura.
His claims to having killed 50,000 kafirs (infidels) is matched by
similar claims to his having killed 50,000 Muslim heretics. The figure appears
to be notional. Mahmud's attacks on the Hindus and on the Shias and Isma'ilis
was a religious crusade against the infidel and the heretic.
majestic Somanatha temple for backdrop, Bharatiya Janata Party leader L.
K. Advani begins his rath yatra on September 25, 1990.
But interestingly, there were also the places and peoples involved in the
highly profitable horse trade with the Arabs and the Gulf. Both the Muslim
heretics of Multan and the Hindu traders of Somanatha had substantial commercial
investments. Is it possible then that Mahmud, in addition to religious
iconoclasm, was also trying to terminate the import of horses into India
via Sind and Gujarat? This would have curtailed the Arab monopoly over the
trade. Given the fact that there was a competitive horse trade with Afghanistan
through north-western India, which was crucial to the wealth of the state
of Ghazni, Mahmud may well have been combining iconoclasm with trying to
obtain a commercial advantage.15
In the subsequent and multiple accounts - and there are many in each century
- the contradictions and exaggerations increase. There is no agreement on
the form of the image. Some say that it is a lingam, others reverse
this and describe it as anthropomorphic - a human form.16 But
even with this there is no consistency as to whether it is a female Manat
or a male Shiva. There seems to have been almost a lingering wish that it
might be Manat. Was the icon, if identified with Manat, more important perhaps
to Muslim sentiment?
THE anthropomorphic form encourages stories of the nose being knocked off
and the piercing of the belly from which jewels poured forth.17
Fantasising on the wealth of the temples evoked a vision of immense opulence,
and this has led a modern historian to describing the Turkish invasions as
a "gold-rush".18 One account states that the image contained twenty
man of jewels - one man weighing several kilograms; another,
that a gold chain weighing two hundred man kept the image in place.
Yet another describes the icon as made of iron with a magnet placed above
it, so that it would be suspended in space, an awesome sight for the
worshipper.19 The age of the temple is taken further and further
back in time until it is described as 30,000 years old. One wonders if Somanatha
was not becoming something of a fantasy in such accounts.
MORE purposive writings of the 14th century are the chronicles of Barani
and Isami. Both were poets, one associated with the Delhi Sultanate and the
other with the Bahmani kingdom of the Deccan. Both project Mahmud as the
ideal Muslim hero, but somewhat differently. Barani states that his writing
is intended to educate Muslim rulers in their duties towards
Islam.20 For him, religion and kingship are twins and the ruler
needs to know the religious ideals of kingship if he claims to be ruling
on behalf of God. Sultans must protect Islam through the shar'ia and
destroy both Muslim heretics and infidels. Mahmud is said to be the ideal
ruler because he did both.
Isami composes what he regards as an epic poem on the Muslim rulers of India,
on the lines of the famous Persian poet Firdausi's earlier epic on the Persian
kings, the Shah-nama. Isami argues that kingship descended from God,
first to the pre-Islamic rulers of Persia - in which he includes Alexander
of Macedon and the Sassanid kings - and subsequently to the Sultans of India,
with Mahmud establishing Muslim rule in India.21 Interestingly
the Arabs, who had both a political and economic presence in the subcontinent
prior to Mahmud, hardly figure in this history. That there is a difference
of perception in these narratives is important to a historical assessment
and requires further investigation.
The role of Mahmud, it would seem, was also undergoing a change: from being
viewed merely as an iconoclast to also being projected as the founder of
an Islamic state in India, even if the latter statement was not historically
accurate. Presumably, given his status in Islamic historiography, this was
a form of indirectly legitimising the Sultans in India. The appropriation
of the pre-Islamic Persian rulers for purposes of legitimacy suggests that
there may have been an element of doubt about the accepted role models of
Muslim rulers. The Sultans in India were not only ruling a society substantially
of non-Muslims, but even those who had converted to Islam were in large part
following the customary practices of their erstwhile caste, which were often
not in conformity with the shar'ia. Is there then a hint of an underlying
uncertainty, of a lack of confidence, in the insistence on taking Islamic
rule back to Mahmud, a champion of the Islamic world? Can we say that these
accounts had converted the event itself at Somanatha into what some today
would call an icon?
LET me turn now to the Jaina texts of this period. These, not unexpectedly,
associated a different set of concerns with the event, or else they ignore
it. The 11th century Jaina poet from the Paramara court in Malwa, Dhanapala,
a contemporary of Mahmud, briefly mentions Mahmud's campaign in Gujarat and
his raids on various places, including Somanatha.22 He comments,
however, at much greater length of Mahmud's inability to damage the icons
of Mahavira in Jaina temples for, as he puts it, snakes cannot swallow Garuda
nor can stars dim the light of the sun. This for him is proof of the superior
power of the Jaina images as compared to the Shaiva.
In the early 12th century, another Jaina next informs us that the Chaulukya
king, angered by the rakshasas, the daityas and the
asuras who were destroying temples and disturbing the rishis
and brahmanas, campaigned against them.23 One expects the
list to include the Turushkas (as the Turks were called) but instead mention
is made of the local rajas. The king is said to have made a pilgrimage to
Somanatha and found that the temple was old and disintegrating. He is said
to have stated that it was a disgrace that the local rajas were plundering
the pilgrims to Somanatha but could not keep the temple in good repair. This
is the same king who built at Cambay a mosque which was later destroyed in
a campaign against the Chaulukyas of Gujarat by the Paramaras of Malwa. But
the Paramara king also looted the Jaina and other temples built under the
patronage of the Chaulukyas.24 It would seem that when the temple
was seen as a statement of power, it could become a target of attack,
irrespective of religious affiliations.
Various Jaina texts, giving the history of the famous Chaulukya king Kumarapala,
mention his connection with Somanatha. It is stated that he wished to be
immortalised.25 So Hemachandra, his Jaina minister, persuaded
the king to replace the dilapidated wooden temple at Somanatha with a new
stone temple. The temple is clearly described as dilapidated and not destroyed.
When the new temple on the location of the old had been completed, both
Kumarapala and Hemachandra took part in the ritual of consecration. Hemachandra
wished to impress the king with the spiritual powers of a Jaina
acharya, so on his bidding Shiva, the deity of the temple, appeared
before the king. Kumarapala was so overcome by this miracle that he converted
to the Jaina faith. The focus is again on the superior power of Jainism over
Shaivism. The renovating of the temple, which is also important, takes on
the symbolism of political legitimation for the king. It does seem curious
that these activities focussed on the Somanatha temple, yet no mention is
made of Mahmud, in spite of the raid having occurred in the previous couple
of centuries. The miracle is the central point in the connection with Somanatha
in these accounts.
SOME suggestion of an anguish over what may be indirect references to the
raids of Mahmud come from quite other Jaina sources and interestingly these
relate to the merchant community. In an anthology of stories, one story refers
to the merchant Javadi who quickly makes a fortune in trade and then goes
in search of a Jaina icon which had been taken away to the land called
Gajjana.26 This is clearly Ghazna. The ruler of Gajjana was a
Yavana - a term by now used for those coming from the West. The
Yavana ruler was easily won over by the wealth presented to him by
Javadi. He allowed Javadi to search for the icon and, when it was found,
gave him permission to take it back. Not only that but the Yavana
worshipped the icon prior to its departure. The second part of the narrative
deals with the vicissitudes of having the icon installed in Gujarat, but
that is another story.
This is a reconciliation story with a certain element of wishful thinking.
The initial removal of the icon is hurtful and creates anguish. Its return
should ideally be through reconciling iconoclasts to the worship of icons.
There are other touching stories in which the ruler of Gajjana or other Yavana
kings are persuaded not to attack Gujarat. But such stories are generally
related as a demonstration of the power of the Jaina acharyas.
The Jaina sources therefore underline their own ideology. Jaina temples survive,
Shaiva temples get destroyed. Shiva has abandoned his icons unlike Mahavira
who still resides in his icons and protects them. Attacks are to be expected
in the Kaliyuga since it is an age of evil. Icons will be broken but wealthy
Jaina merchants will restore the temples and the icons will, invariably and
miraculously, mend themselves.
The third category of major narratives is constituted by the inscriptions
in Sanskrit from Somanatha itself, focussing on the temple and its vicinity.
The perspectives which these point to are again very different from the earlier
two. In the 12th century the Chaulukya king, Kumarapala, issues an inscription.
He appoints a governor to protect Somanatha and the protection is against
the piracy and the looting of the local rajas.27 A century later,
the Chaulkyas are again protecting the site, this time from attacks by the
Malwa rajas.28 The regular complaint about local rajas looting
pilgrims at Somanatha becomes a continuing refrain in many inscriptions.
In 1169, an inscription records the appointment of the chief priest of the
Somanatha temple, Bhava Brihaspati.29 He claims to have come from
Kannauj, from a family of Pashupata Shaiva brahmanas and, as the
inscriptions show, initiated a succession of powerful priests at the Somanatha
temple. He states that he was sent by Shiva himself to rehabilitate the temple.
This was required because it was an old structure, much neglected by the
officers and because temples in any case deteriorate in the Kaliyuga. Bhava
Brihaspati claims that it was he who persuaded Kumarapala to replace the
older wooden temple with a stone temple.
AGAIN no mention is made of the raid of Mahmud. Was this out of embarrassment
that a powerful icon of Shiva had been desecrated? Or was the looting of
a temple not such an extraordinary event? The Turko-Persian chronicles may
well have been indulging in exaggeration. Yet the looting of the pilgrims
by the local rajas is repeatedly mentioned. Was Kumarapala's renovation both
an act of veneration for Shiva and a seeking of legitimation? Was this, in
a sense, an inversion of Mahmud seeking legitimation through raiding the
temple? Are these then counter-points of legitimation in viewing the past?
In 1264, a long legal document was issued in the form of an inscription with
both a Sanskrit and an Arabic version and concerns the acquisition of land
and the building of a mosque by a trader from Hormuz.30 The Sanskrit
version begins with the usual formulaic symbol - the siddham - and
continues with invoking Vishvanatha, a name for Shiva. But there is also
a suggestion that it was a rendering into Sanskrit of Allah, the Lord of
the Universe. We are told that Khoja Nuruddin Feruz, the son of Khoja Abu
Ibrahim of Hormuz, a commander of a ship, and evidently a respected trader
- as his title Khoja/Khwaja would indicate - acquired land in Mahajanapali
on the outskirts of the town of Somanatha to build a mosque, which is referred
to as a dharmasthana. The land was acquired from the local raja, Sri
Chada, son of Nanasimha, and reference is also made to the governor of Kathiawar,
Maladeva, and the Chaulukya-Vaghela king, Arjunadeva.
THE acquisition of this land has the approval of two local bodies, the
panchakula and the association of the jamatha. The
panchakulas were powerful administrative and local committees,
well-established during this period, consisting of recognised authorities
such as priests, officers, merchants and local dignitaries. This particular
panchakula was headed by purohita Virabhadra, the Shaiva Pashupata
acharya most likely of the Somanatha temple, and among its members
was the merchant Abhayasimha. From other inscriptions it would seem that
Virabhadra was related to Bhava Brihaspati in a line of succession. The witnesses
to his agreement of granting land for the building of the mosque are mentioned
by name and described as the "the big men". They were the thakuras,
ranakas, rajas and merchants, many from the Mahajanapali. Some of these
dignitaries were functionaries of the estates of the Somanatha and other
temples. The land given for the mosque in Mahajanapali was part of these
THE other committee endorsing the agreement was the jamatha, consisting
of ship-owners, artisans, sailors and religious teachers, probably from Hormuz.
Also mentioned are the oil-millers, masons and Musalmana horse-handlers,
all referred to by what appear to be occupational or caste names, such as
chunakara and ghamchika. Were these local converts to Islam?
Since the jamatha was to ensure the income from these endowments for
the maintenance of the mosque, it was necessary to indicate its membership.
The inscription lists the endowments for the mosque. These included two large
measures of land which were part of the temple property from adjoining temples
situated in Somanatha-pattana, land from a matha, income from
two shops in the vicinity, and an oil-mill. The measures of land were bought
from the purohita and the chief priests of the temples and the sales
were attested by the men of rank. The shops and the oil-mill were purchased
from the local people.
The tone and sentiment of the inscription is amicable and clearly the settlement
had been agreed to on all sides. The building of a substantial mosque in
association with some of the properties of the Somanatha temple, not by a
conqueror but by a trader through a legal agreement, was obviously not objected
to - neither by the local governor and dignitaries nor by the priests, all
of whom were party to the decision. The mosque is thus closely linked to
the erstwhile properties and the functionaries of the Somanatha temple. This
raises many questions. Did this transaction, 200 or so years after the raid
of Mahmud, not interfere with the remembrance of the raid as handed down
in the minds of the priests and the local 'big men'? Were memories short
or was the event relatively unimportant?
Did the local people make a distinction between the Arab and West Asian traders
on the one hand, often referred to as Tajika, and the Turks or Turushkas
on the other? And were the former acceptable and the Turks much less so?
Clearly they were not all homogenised and identified as Muslims, as we would
do today. Should we not sift the reactions to the event by examining the
responses of particular social groups and situations? Hormuz was crucial
to the horse trade, therefore Nuruddin was welcomed. Did the profits of trade
overrule other considerations? Were the temples and their administrators
also investing in horse trading and making handsome profits, even if the
parties they were trading with were Muslims and therefore of the same religion
In the 15th century, a number of short inscriptions from Gujarat refer to
battles against the Turks. One very moving inscription in Sanskrit comes
from Somanatha itself.31 Although written in Sanskrit, it begins
with the Islamic formulaic blessing, bismillah rahman-i-rahim. It
gives details of the family of the Vohara/Bohra Farid and we know that the
Bohras were of Arab descent. We are told that the town of Somanatha was attacked
by the Turushkas, the Turks, and Vohara Farid who was the son of Vohara Muhammad,
joined in the defence of the town, fighting against the Turushkas on behalf
of the local ruler Brahmadeva. Farid was killed and the inscription is a
memorial to him.
It would seem from these sources that the aftermath of the raid of Mahmud
on the temple of Somanatha took the form of varying perceptions of the event,
and different from what we have assumed. There are no simplistic explanations
that would emerge from any or all of these narratives. How then have we arrived
today at the rather simplistic historical theory that the raid of Mahmud
created a trauma in the Hindu consciousness which has been at the root of
Hindu-Muslim relations ever since? Or to put it in the words of K. M. Munshi:
"For a thousand years Mahmud's destruction of the shrine has been burnt into
the collective sub-conscious of the (Hindu) race as an unforgettable national
INTERESTINGLY, what appears to be the earliest mention of a 'Hindu trauma'
in connection with Mahmud's raid on Somanatha comes from the debate in the
House of Commons in London in 1843 on the question of the gates of the Somanatha
temple.33 In 1842, Lord Ellenborough issued his famous 'Proclamation
of the Gates' in which he ordered the British army in Afghanistan to return
via Ghazni and bring back to India the sandalwood gates from the tomb of
Mahmud. These were believed to have been looted by Mahmud from Somanatha.
It was claimed that the intention was to return what was looted from India,
an act which would symbolise British control over Afghanistan despite their
poor showing in the Anglo-Afghan wars. It was also presented as an attempt
to reverse Indian subjugation to Afghanistan in the pre-British period. Was
this an appeal to Hindu sentiment, as some maintained?
The Proclamation raised a storm in the House of Commons and became a major
issue in the cross-fire between the Government and the Opposition. The question
was asked whether Ellenborough was catering to religious prejudices by appeasing
the Hindus or was he appealing to national sympathies. It was defended by
those who maintained that the gates were a 'national trophy' and not a religious
icon. In this connection, the request of Ranjit Singh, the ruler of the Punjab,
to the king of Afghanistan, Shah Shujah, for the return of the gates, was
quoted. But on examining the letter making this request, it was discovered
that Ranjit Singh had confused the Somanatha temple with the Jagannatha temple.
It was also argued that no historian mentions the gates in the various accounts
of Mahmud's raid, therefore the story of the gates could only be an invention
of folk tradition.
The historians referred to were Gibbon, who wrote on the Roman empire, Firdausi
and Sa'adi, both Persian poets, and Firishta. The last of these was the only
one who, in the 17th century, had written on Indian history. Firishta was
well-known because Alexander Dow had translated his history into English
in the late-18th century. Firishta's account of the sack of Somanatha was
as fanciful as the earlier accounts, with obvious exaggerations such as the
huge size of the idol and the quantity of jewels that poured out when Mahmud
pierced its belly. Members of the House of Commons were using their perceptions
of Indian history as ammunition in their own political and party hostilities.
Those critical of Ellenborough were fearful of the consequences: they saw
the fetching of the gates as supporting a native religion and that too the
monstrous Linga-ism as they called it; and they felt that its political
consequences would be violent indignation among the Mohammadans. Those supporting
Ellenborough in the House of Commons argued equally vehemently that he was
removing the feeling of degradation from the minds of the Hindus. It would
"... relieve that country, which had been overrun by the Mohammadan conqueror,
from the painful feelings which had been rankling amongst the people for
nearly a thousand years." And that, "... the memory of the gates (has been)
preserved by the Hindus as a painful memorial of the most devastating invasions
that had ever desolated Hindustan."
Did this debate fan an anti-Muslim sentiment among Hindus in India, which,
judging from the earlier sources, had either not existed or been marginal
and localised? The absence in earlier times of an articulation of a trauma
The gates were uprooted and brought back in triumph. But on arrival, they
were found to be of Egyptian workmanship and not associated in any way with
India. So they were placed in a store-room in the Agra Fort and possibly
by now have been eaten by white ants.
From this point on, the arguments of the debate in the House of Commons come
to be reflected in the writing on Somanatha. Mahmud's raid was made the central
point in Hindu-Muslim relations. K.M. Munshi led the demand for the restoration
of the Somanatha temple. His obsession with restoring the glories of Hindu
history began in a general way with his writing historical novels, inspired
by reading Walter Scott. But the deeper imprint came from Bankim Chandra
Chatterji's Anandamatha, as is evident from his novel, Jaya
Somanatha, published in 1927. And as one historian, R. C. Majumdar, puts
it, Bankim Chandra's nationalism was Hindu rather than Indian. "This is made
crystal clear from his other writings which contain passionate outbursts
against the subjugation of India by the Muslims."34 Munshi was
concerned with restoring the Hindu Aryan glory of the pre-Islamic past. Muslim
rule was viewed as the major disjuncture in Indian history. Munshi's comments
often echo the statements made in the House of Commons debate as is evident
from his book, Somanatha: The Shrine Eternal.
MUNSHI made the Somanatha temple the most important symbol of Muslim iconoclasm
in India. But prior to this, its significance appears to have been largely
regional. Consistent references to it as a symbol of Muslim iconoclasm are
to be found largely only in the Turko-Persian chronicles. Possibly the fact
that Munshi was himself from Gujarat may have had some role in his projection
of Somanatha. Prior to this, in other parts of the country the symbols of
iconoclasm, where they existed, were places of local importance and knowledge
of the raid on Somanatha was of marginal interest.
On the rebuilding of the Somanatha temple in 1951, Munshi, by then a Minister
of the central government, had this to say: "... the collective subconscious
of India today is happier with the scheme of the reconstruction of Somanatha,
sponsored by the Government of India, than with many other things we have
done or are doing."35 Nehru objected strongly to the Government
of India being associated with the project and insisted on its being restored
as a private venture.36 That the President of India, Rajendra
Prasad was to perform the consecration ceremony was unacceptable to him.
This introduces a further dimension to the reading of the event, involving
the secular credentials of society and state.
The received opinion is that events such as the raid on Somanatha created
what has been called two antagonistic categories of epic: the 'epic of conquest'
and the 'counter-epic of resistance'.37 It has also been described
as epitomising "the archetypal encounter of Islam with Hindu
idolatry."38 We many well ask how and when did this dichotomy
crystallise? Did it emerge with modern historians reading too literally from
just one set of narratives, without juxtaposing these with the other narratives?
If narratives are read without being placed in a historiographical context,
the reading is, to put it mildly, incomplete and therefore distorted. Firishta's
version, for example, was repeated endlessly in recent times, without considering
its historiography: neither was this done within the tradition of the
Turko-Persian chronicles nor in the context of other narratives which can
be said to impinge on the same event.
We continue to see such situations as a binary projection of Hindu and Muslim.
Yet what should be evident from the sources which I have discussed is that
there are multiple groups with varying agendas involved in the way in which
the event and Somanatha are represented. There are differentiations in the
attitudes of the Persian chronicles towards the Arabs and the Turks. Within
the Persian sources, the earlier fantasy of Manat gradually gives way to
a more political concern with the legitimacy of Islamic rule in India through
the Sultans. Was there, on the part of the Persian chroniclers, a deliberate
playing down of the Arab intervention in India? And if this be so, can it
be traced to the confrontations between the Persians and the Arabs in the
early history of Islam? The hostility between the Bohras and the Turks,
technically both Muslims, may have also been part of this confrontation since
the Bohras were of Arab descent and probably saw themselves as among the
settled communities of Gujarat and saw the Turks as invaders.
Biographies and histories from Jaina authors, discussing matters pertaining
to the royal court and to the religion of the elite, focus on attempts to
show Mahavira in a better light than Shiva. The agenda becomes that of the
competing rivalry between the Jainas and the Shaivas. But the sources which
focus on a different social group, that of the Jaina merchants, seem to be
conciliatory towards the confrontation with Mahmud, perhaps because the trading
community would have suffered heavy disruptions in periods of raids and
FROM the Veraval inscription of 1264, cooperation in the building of the
mosque came from a range of social groups, from the most orthodox ritual
specialists to those wielding secular authority and from the highest property
holders to those with lesser property. Interestingly, the members of the
jamatha were Muslims from Hormuz and it would seem that local Muslim
participation was largely from occupations at the lower end of the social
scale. As such, their responsibility for the maintenance of the mosque would
have required the goodwill of the Somanatha elite. Did the elite see themselves
as patrons of a new kind of control over property?
These relationships were not determined by the general category of what have
been called Hindu interests and Muslim interests. They varied in accordance
with more particular interests and these drew on identities of ethnicity,
religious sectarianism and social status.
I have tried to show how each set of narratives turns the focus of what Somanatha
symbolises: the occasion for the projection of an iconoclast and champion
of Islam; the assertion of the superiority of Jainism over Shaivism; the
inequities of the Kaliyuga; the centrality of the profits of trade subordinating
other considerations; colonial perceptions of Indian society as having always
been an antagonistic duality of Hindu and Muslim; Hindu nationalism and the
restoration of a particular view of the past, contesting the secularising
of modern Indian society. But these are not discrete foci. Even when juxtaposed,
a pattern emerges: a pattern which requires that the understanding of the
event should be historically contextual, multi-faceted, and aware of the
ideological structures implicit in the narratives.
I would argue that Mahmud of Ghazni's raid on the Somanatha temple did not
create a dichotomy, because each of the many facets involved in the perception
of the event, consciously or subconsciously, was enveloped in a multiplicity
of other contexts as well. These direct our attention to varying representations,
both overt and hidden, and lead us to explore the statements implicit in
these representations. The assessment of these facets may provide us with
more sensitive insights into our past.
1. Vana parvan 13.14; 80.78; 86. 18-19; 119.1
2. B. K. Thapar, 1951, 'The Temple at Somanatha: History by Excavations,'
in K. M. Munshi, Somnath: The Shrine Eternal, Bombay, 105-33; M. A.
Dhaky and H. P. Sastri, 1974, The Riddle of the Temple at Somanatha,
3. V. K. Jain, 1990, Trade and Traders in Western India, Delhi.
4. Epigraphia Indica XXXII, 47 ff.
5. Muhammad Ulfi, 'Jami-ul-Hikayat,' in Eliot and Dowson, The History
of India as Told by its own Historians, II, 201. Wasa Abhira from Anahilvada
had property worth ten lakhs in Ghazni; impressive, even if exaggerated.
6. Abdullah Wassaf, Tazjiyat-ul-Amsar, in Eliot and Dowson, The
History of India as Told by its own Historians, III, 31 ff. Marco Polo
also comments on the wealth involved in the horse trade especially with southern
India. Prabandhachintamani, 14; Rajashekhara, Prabandhakosha,
Shantiniketan, 1935, 121.
7. Abdullah Wassaf, Eliot and Dowson, op. cit. I, 69; Pehoa Inscription,
Epigraphia Indica, I. 184 ff.
8. A. Wink, 1990, Al-Hind, Volume 1, Delhi, 173 ff; 184 ff; 187 ff.
9. Alberuni in E. C. Sachau, 1964 (reprint), Alberuni's India, New
10. Ibid., II.9-10, 54.
11. F. Sistani in M. Nazim, 1931, The Life and Times of Sultan Mahmud
of Ghazni, Cambridge.
12. Quran, 53. 19-20 G. Ryckmans, 1951, Les Religions Arabes
13. Nazim, op.cit.
14. A. Wink, 1990, Al-Hind, I, Delhi, 184-89; 217-18.
15. cf. Mohammad Habib, 1967, Sultan Mahamud of Ghaznin, Delhi.
16. Ibn Attar quoted in Nazim, op. cit.; Ibn Asir in Gazetteer of the
Bombay Presidency, I, 523; Eliot and Dowson, II, 248 ff; 468 ff. al Kazwini,
Eliot and Dowson, I, 97 ff. Abdullah Wassaf, Eliot and Dowson, III, 44 ff;
17. Attar quoted in Nazim, op.cit., 221; Firishta in J. Briggs, 1966 (reprint),
History of the Rise of the Mohammadan Power in India, Calcutta.
18. A. Wink, Al-Hind, Volume 2, 217.
19. Zakariya al Kazvini, Asarul-bilad, Eliot and Dowson, op.cit.,
I, 97 ff.
20. Fatawa-yi-Jahandari discussed in P. Hardy, 1997 (rep), Historians
of Medieval India, Delhi, 25 ff; 107 ff.
21. Futuh-al-Salatin discussed in Hardy, op.cit., 107-8.
22. Satyapuriya-Mahavira-utsaha, III.2. D. Sharma, 'Some New Light
on the Route of Mahamud of Ghazni's Raid on Somanatha: Multan to Somanatha
and Somanatha to Multan,' in B. P. Sinha (ed.), 1969, Dr. Satkari Mookerji
Felicitation Volume, Varanasi, 165-168.
23.Hemachandra, Dvyashraya-kavya, Indian Antiquary 1875, 4, 72 ff,
110 ff, 232 ff, 265 ff; Ibid., 1980, 9.; J. Klatt, 'Extracts from the Historical
Records of the Jainas', Indian Antiquary 1882, 11, 245-56; A.F.R.
Hoernle, Ibid. 1890, 19, 233-42.
24. P. Bhatia, The Paramaras, Delhi, 1970, 141.
25. Merutunga, Prabandha-Chintamani, C. H. Tawney (trans.), 1899,
Calcutta, IV, 129 ff. G. Buhler, 1936, The Life of Hemachandracharya,
26. Nabhinandanoddhara, discussed in P. Granoff, 1992, 'The Householder
as Shaman: Jaina Biographies of Temple Builders,' East and West, 42,
27. Praci Inscription, Poona Orientalist, 1937, 1.4.39-46.
28. Epigraphia Indica II, 437 ff.
29. Prabhaspattana Inscription, BPSI, 186.
30. Somanathapattana Veraval Inscription, Epigraphia Indica, XXXIV,
31. D.B. Disalkar, 'Inscriptions of Kathiawad,' New Indian Antiquary,
1939, I, 591.
32. Somanatha: The Shrine Eternal, 89.
33. The United Kingdom House of Commons Debate, 9 March 1943, on,
The Somnath (Prabhas Patan) Proclamation, Junagadh 1948. 584-602, 620, 630-32,
34. British Paramountcy and Indian Renaissance, Part II, History and
Culture of the Indian People, 1965, Bombay, 478.
35. Munshi, op.cit., 184.
36. S. Gopal (ed.), 1994, Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru, Vol.
16, Part I, Delhi, 270 ff.
37. Aziz Ahmed, 1963, 'Epic and Counter Epic in Medieval India,' Journal
of the American Oriental Society, 83, 470-76.
38. Davis, op.cit. 93.
This is an edited version as published in Seminar, March 1999 (Number
475), of the second of two lectures given as the D. D. Kosambi Memorial Lectures
for 1999 at the University of Bombay. The author is grateful to the Head
of the Department of History for giving permission to publish this version.
The complete text of both lectures will be published by the University of
Bombay with the title, Narratives and the Making of History.