It was in these circumstances that Mahmud of Ghaznl, in the early years of the eleventh century, carried out his seventeen raids on India; but though the Turkish raiders ransacked and destroyed palaces and temples, and returned to their headquarters in Afghanistan with immense caravans of riches and slaves, India resumed her traditional political ways as if nothing had happened.
The Turks overwhelmed the Sahi Kingdom, which had controlled a large area of the north-west, from Kabul to Lahore the rulers of this realm, had also been Turks, but Turks who had adopted Hindu traditions, and who offered no serious threat to their neighbours to the east.
The Ghaznavids also conquered the Muslim kingdoms of Sind, occupied by the Arabs early in the eighth century, whose chiefs had long ceased to trouble the Hindu kingdoms on their frontiers. Thus the Hindu states of the Gangetic basin and Rajasthan now had on their borders a young aggressive kingdom with new methods of warfare and with a religious ideology which might be expected to encourage aggression.
The most remarkable feature of the situation was that, as far as surviving records show, nobody whatever in Hindu India recognized the menace of the Turks. The Ghaznavids made a few further raids, but these were far less impressive than those of Mahmud.
The Turks were soon torn by internal strife and, though they continued to hold the Panjab, it must have seemed to the Hindu politicians of the time that, like the Arabs before them, they would be contained indefinitely. Having no real historical tradition, the Indian memory of earlier conquerors coming from the north-west-Greeks, Sakas, Kushanas, and Hunas-was so vague that it was quite ineffectual as a warning to the rulers of the time.
In the involved situation arising from Mahmud’s raids, five larger kingdoms shared most of northern India between them, the Chahamanas (Chauhans) of Rajasthan, the Gahadavalas (Gahrwals) of Kanyakubja (Kanauj) and VaranasI (Banaras), the Chaulukyas or Solankis of Gujarat, the Paramaras (Parmars) of Malwa, and the Chandellas (Chandels) of Bundelkhand, to the south of the Ganga. These dynasties bore names which are among the best- known of the thirty-six Rajput clans.
Their kings had already acquired something of the traditional Rajput character-gallant, extremely sensitive to points of honour, glorifying war, but war of a gentlemanly kind, intensely devoted to tradition, and quite incapable of serious co-operation one with another. The Palas, who governed Bihar and Bengal, had been quite untouched by Mahmud’s invasions.
Early in the twelfth century they were replaced by the Sena Dynasty, which reversed the Palas’ traditional support of Buddhism and encouraged Hindu orthodoxy. They seem to have played little or no part in the politics of the western part of India, where the five major kingdoms and numerous lesser tributary realms fought honorably among the themselves, basing their strategy and tactics on principles inherited from epics.
In 1173 Ghazni was captured by Ghiyas-ud-din, whose headquarters were Ghur in Afghanistan. From his new capital Ghiyas-ud-din turned his attention to India. His brother, Muhammad bins Sam, occupied the Panjab and deposed the last ruler of the line of Mahmud.
Then in 1191 Muhammad bin Sam attacked Prithvlraja, king of the Chahamanas, the Hindu ruler on his eastern frontier. Prithvlraja, fighting on his own ground with a larger army, defeated Muhammad at Tarain, and he retreated. In the following year, 1192, Muhammad came again with stronger forces, and on the same field of Tarain Prithvlraja lost the day, and the Ganga valley was open to the invaders. Before the century was over Turkish control was established along the whole length of the sacred river.
It is easy to suggest reasons why the Hindus were unable to resist the Turks, and many such suggestions have been put forward. In dealing with the question it must be remembered that the invasion of the Turks was only one of numerous attacks through the north-western passes which took place in historical times. The Aryans, by a process not fully known to us, gained control of the Panjab from the decadent Harappans.
The Achaemenians of Iran occupied part at least of the Indus valley; Alexander’s troops reached the Beas, but were compelled to retreat; in the second century B.C. the Greeks from Bactria occupied the Panjab; they were followed in the next century by the Sakas or Scythians; in the first century A.D. came the Kushanas, and in the fifth the Hunas. Mahmud’s raids in the early eleventh century were precursors of the even stronger Turkish attacks of Muhammad bin Sam, which led to the protracted domination of most of India by Muslim rulers.
These were not by any means the last attacks from the north-west, however. Soon after the Turkish occupation, Mongol hordes swept into India and occupied much of the territory west of the Indus. In 1398 Timur, the great Mongol conqueror, sacked Delhi and, raged through western India, causing tremendous carnage and destruction.
In 1526 Babur the Mughal defeated the Afghan rulers of Delhi and occupied the country. In 1555 his son, Humayun, reconquered it from his base in Afghanistan during the eighteenth century Persians and Afghans raided India in turn, both sacking Delhi before returning to their homelands.