Yamīn-ud-Dawla Abul-Qāṣim Maḥmūd ibn Sebüktegīn more commonly known as Mahmud of Ghaznialso known as Mahmūd-i Zābulī was the most prominent ruler of the Ghaznavid Empire. He conquered the eastern Iranian lands and the northwestern Indian subcontinent (modern Afghanistan and Pakistan) from 997 to his death in 1030. Mahmud turned the former provincial city of Ghazna into the wealthy capital of an extensive empire which covered most of today’s Afghanistan, eastern Iran, and Pakistan, by looting the riches and wealth from the then Indian subcontinent.
He was the first ruler to carry the title Sultan (“authority”), signifying the extent of his power, though preserving the ideological link to the suzerainty of the Abbasid Caliphate. During his rule, he invaded and plundered parts of Hindustan (east of the Indus River) 17 times.
Early life and origin
Mahmud was born on Thursday, 10 Muharram, 361 AH/ November 2, 971 CE in the town of Ghazna in Medieval Khorasan (modern southeastern Afghanistan). His father Sabuktigin was a Turkic Mamluk who founded the Ghaznavid dynasty. His mother was the daughter of a Persian aristocrat from Zabulistan.
Sultan Mahmud was born on 2 November 971 CE in Ghazni to first Ghaznavid Sultan Sebüktigin, Yusuf Sebüktigin being his younger brother. He was married to a woman named Kausari Jahan and had twin sons Mohammad and Ma’sud, who succeeded him one after the other, while his grandson by Mas’ud, Maw’dud Ghaznavi was also ruler of the empire. His sister Sitr-i-Mu’alla was married to Dawood bin Ataullah Alavi also known as Ghazi Salar Sahu, whose son was Ghazi Saiyyad Salar Masud
Mahmud’s companion was a Georgian slave Malik Ayaz and his love for him inspired poems and stories.
In 994, Mahmud joined his father Sabuktigin in the capture of Khorasan from the rebel Fa’iq in aid of the Samanid Emir, Nuh II. During this period, the Samanid Empire became highly unstable, with shifting internal political tides as various factions vied for control, the chief among them being Abu’l-Qasim Simjuri, Fa’iq, Abu Ali, the General Bekhtuzin as well as the neighbouring Buyid dynasty and Kara-Khanid Khanate.
Mahmud took over his father’s kingdom in 998 after defeating and capturing Ismail at the Battle of Ghazni. He then set out west from Ghazni to take the Kandahar region followed by Bost (Lashkar Gah), where he turned it into a militarised city.
Mahmud initiated the first of numerous invasion of North India. On November 28, 1001, his army fought and defeated the army of Raja Jayapala of the Kabul Shahis at the battle of Peshawar. In 1002, Mahmud invaded Sistan and dethroned Khalaf ibn Ahmad, ending the Saffarid dynasty. From there he decided to focus on Hindustan to the southeast, particularly the highly fertile lands of the Punjab region.
Ghaznavid campaigns in Indian Subcontinent
Following the defeat of the Indian Confederacy, after deciding to retaliate for their combined resistance, Mahmud then set out on regular expeditions against them, leaving the conquered kingdoms in the hands of Hindu vassals annexing only the Punjab region.He also vowed to raid and loot the wealthy region of northwestern India every year.
The last four years of Mahmud’s life were spent contending with the influx of Oghuz and Seljuk Turks from Central Asia and the Buyid dynasty. Initially the Seljuks were repulsed by Mahmud and retired to Khwarezm but Togrül and Çagrı led them to capture Merv and Nishapur (1028–1029). Later they repeatedly raided and traded territory with his successors across Khorasan and Balkh and even sacked Ghazni in 1037. In 1040 at the Battle of Dandanaqan, they decisively defeated Mahmud’s son, Mas’ud I resulting in Mas’ud abandoning most of his western territories to the Seljuks.
Sultan Mahmud died on 30 April 1030. His mausoleum is located in Ghazni, Afghanistan.
Attitude towards religious freedom
Following Mahmud’s recognition by the Abbasid caliphate in 999, he pledged a jihad and to raid India every year.In 1005 CE, Mahmud conducted a series of campaigns during which the Ismailis of Multan were massacred.
However, modern historians, such as Thapar, Richard M. Eaton etc have portrayed a different view of Mahmaud as far as his religious policy is concerned.
“Of the mercenaries, not an insubstantial number were Indians and, presumably, Hindus. Indian soldiers under their commander, referred to as Suvendhary, remained loyal to Mahmud. They had their own commander, the sipasalar-i-Hinduwan, lived in their own quarter in Ghazni and continued with their religion. When the Turkish commander of the troops rebelled, the command was given to a Hindu, Tilak, and he is commended for his loyalty. Complaints are made about the severity with which Muslims and Christians were killed by Indian troops fighting for Mahmud in Seistan.”
Mohammad Habib states that there was no imposition of Jizya on “non-Muslims” during the reign of Mahmud of Ghazni nor any mention of “forced conversions”:
“[H]is (Mahmud’s) expeditions against India were not motivated by religion but by love of plunder.”
Attack on the Somnath Temple
In 1024, Mahmud raided Gujarat, plundering the Somnath temple and breaking its jyotirlinga. He took away a booty of 2 crore dinars.Historians expect the damage to the temple to have been minimal because there are records of pilgrimages to the temple in 1038, which make no mention of any damage to the temple.However, powerful legends with intricate detail had developed regarding Mahmud’s raid in the Turko-Persian literature, which “electrified” the Muslim world according to scholar Meenakshi Jain.
Mahmud of Ghazni, under his reign the region broke away from the Samanid sphere of influence. While he acknowledged the Abbasids as caliph as a matter of form, he was also granted the title Sultan as recognition of his independence.
By the end of his reign, the Ghaznavid Empire extended from Ray in the west to Samarkand in the north-east, and from the Caspian Sea to the Yamuna. Although his raids carried his forces across the South Asia, only a portion of Punjab and Sindh in modern-day Pakistan, came under his semi-permanent rule; Kashmir, the Doab, Rajasthan and Gujarat remained under the control of the local Hindu dynasties.
Modern view of Mahmud
The military of Pakistan has named its short-range ballistic missile in the honour of Mahmud of Ghazni, the Ghaznavi Missile.In addition to this, the Pakistan Military Academy, where cadets are trained for becoming Officers of the Pakistan Army also gives tribute the Mahmud of Ghazni by naming one of its twelve companies; Ghaznavi Company.
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