Campaigns Of The Crescent

A.D. 1001 TO A.D. 1200

Part I

For close on these two hundred years the northern plains of India were

a battle-field. Winter after winter, as the sun's power declined, and

the curious second spring began of cold-weather crops and fruits and

flowers, which to this day make the Punjab seasons hover between the

tropics and the temperates, there debou
hed from the snow-clad hills,

all along the western and north-western frontier of India, long files

of wild-looking horsemen, followed by camels, by foot soldiers; and

somewhere, in their midst always, was the green flag of the Prophet,

with its over-riding, overbearing crescent, telling its tale of rising

power; the crescent which is an apt symbol of a fighting faith.

What tempted these hardy northern folk into the wide plains of India?

Was it, indeed, zeal for Souls? Hardly. By the way, as a sort of salve

to conscience, such zeal was good to break an idol or two, or an

idolater's head; but au fond, the money bags outweighed all other

reasons for these recurring raids.

For during those three centuries of Chaos, during the dark ages of

degeneracy, India had grown rich-inordinately rich. Overlaid, and yet

again overlaid with finikin fanciful ornamentations, almost incoherent

in their diffuse discursive details, the temples were perfect mines of

wealth; in some cases of useless, buried treasure, since in the

gradual downfall OF the Hindu nation at large, the privileged class of

Brahmans had closed their grip even on the power of the princes. The

only thing which remained comparatively untouched, as in India it has

ever remained untouched, being the slow-moving mass of the peasantry,

who, willing bondsmen to Mother Earth, took no heed of anything save


The first swoop for plunder was made by one Mahmud, King of Ghuzni, in

November A.D. 1001. He must have entered India by the Khyber Pass, for

on the 27th of that month, near Peshawar, he met and defeated King

Jaipal of Lahore. One can imagine the contest. The long-nosed,

long-curled, long-bearded Ghuznivites, rough and ready in their

skin-coats, their burly bosoms aflame with covetousness for creed and

gold, their guttural throats resounding with the war-cry of Islam:

"Kill! Kill! For the Faith!" And on the other side, the clean-shaven,

oiled, scented Hindus lax with long centuries of ease, yet still full

of pride, full of high courage.

It was a foregone conclusion, despite the mailed elephants and the

elaborate old War Office dispositions and compositions of corps and

cadre which had come down, we may be sure, from Chandra-gupta's

days. For once the East gets hold of a thing, it sticks to it.

It was new blood against old--a new faith against one so ancient

that it had almost been forgotten. Almost, not quite, as the story

shows of what Jaipal did, when the Mahomedan conqueror, driven back to

the cool by the approach of a new summer, carelessly gave the royal

prisoner--whom he had dragged about with him in his victorious raid--a

contemptuous freedom. But ere this time came, Mahmud of Ghuzni had to

set one of his many marks--he invaded India no less than twelve

times--as far south in the Punjab as Bhattinda, a town in the Patiala

State. A marvellous place this even nowadays, set as it is amid

deserts of sand, patched with green grain-fields. The low,

insignificant city seems lost in the old fort; a perfect mountain of a

place, visible for miles and miles, a rose-red mass of sun-scorched

bricks with white-edged, crenulated parapets so quaintly stern, so

still more quaintly fragile-looking in its suggestion of some huge

iced cake.

Here, doubtless, in the half-desert land, it was the sound of the

koel knelling his sonorous note in the kikar trees, or the sudden

transformation, mayhap, of the uncanny, witchlike, gnarled thickets of

the low dhak trees into coral-pink stretches, showing like sunset

clouds on the gold of the sun-saturate sands, that warned Mahmud he

must be up and away from the oncoming of the heat.

As he passed up the Peshawar valley, laden to the last limit with

loot, the peach gardens must have been a-blossom; and, being a man

with the odd strain of imagination in him, which all have had who have

left their mark on India, he must, despite his plunder, have regretted

leaving so much beauty behind him.

But he left tragedy also; for Jaipal, the beaten king, went straight

back to Lahore, and having formally proclaimed himself unworthy to

reign after having suffered defeat at the hands of the unclean,

mounted a funeral pyre, and burnt himself in sight of his people,

leaving his son Anang-pal to reign in his stead.

Truly Indian history is provocative of picture-making. We have one

here which would tax most painters' power. Yet the look which must

have been on the proud king's face, as, remembering his name, "The

Guardian of Victory," he defied defeat, defied disgrace, by defying

death, is worth recording, worth recalling in these later days when

the primitive virtues are somewhat overclouded.

So there was peace for three years. Apparently the plunder was

sufficient unto the day until 1004, when Mahmud again appeared with

the return of the wild birds from Lake Mansarawar, on the Siberian

Steppes; but this was more a primitive campaign against a tributary

chief on the western side of the Indus, than a real raid.

The following year, however, things were organised on a larger scale,

and he was opposed by Anang-pal, who met no better fate than his

father, and fled incontinently to Kashmir. But Mahmud's progress

southward was checked by the news of revolt in Ghuzni, and he had to

return in order to count scores with his pet converted Hindu, one Sek

Pal, who, left governor, had resumed his Brahmanical thread, and was

in full swing of conspiracy with his fellows in India.

It took the burly Mahomedan short time to settle his shrift, and send

him to cells for life, so that the next fall of the leaf found Mahmud

ready for his fourth invasion of India.

A real invasion, a real resistance this time. For the Rajas of Lahore,

Delhi, Gwalior, Ujjain, Ajmir, Kanauj, had joined confederacy to rout

the Unclean Stranger. It was a holy war: women sold their jewels, and

men sent their hoards to furnish forth its munitions.

To no purpose. It is true that at the outset Mahmud suffered a

reverse. The Ghakkars, Scythic warrior race of the Salt Range, laughed

at the invader's entrenched camp amongst their bare hills, bore down

on it, overpowered his outposts, and accounted for some four thousand

of his army.

But even that failed to stop these big, burly men, bent on plunder,

bent on proselytising at the sword's point. The result of this raid

was the destruction of Nagar-kot, ancient town hard by the temple

called Jawala-Mukhi, or Flame's Mouth, where, since the beginning of

Time, the jets of combustible gas issuing from the ground amongst the

dark shadows of the sheltering spire have burnt bravely as emanations,

manifestations, of the Goddess Durga, that Fury of Womanhood.

According to native historians Mahmud's returning army must have been

a perfect caravan, for it carried with it about seven thousand pounds

weight of gold coins, six thousand of gold and silver plate, fifteen

hundred of golden ingots, a hundred and twenty-eight thousand of

unwrought silver, and more than a hundred and fifty pounds weight of

pearls, corals, diamonds and rubies.

But the combustible gas must have remained to be re-lit in honour of

Mai Durga, and so have remained to help the memories of the

iconoclasts! A fine trade this, that of smashing golden idols in the

name of the Prophet, and carrying the bits and the diamond and

sapphire eyes away in the name of Mammon!

It found its apotheosis in the twelfth and last expedition to India,

when Mahmud directed all his energy towards Som-nath, a temple

renowned throughout India, set proudly on a peninsula in Guzerat,

surrounded on all sides save one by the sea.

The intervening seven excursions were all marked by noteworthy

incidents, all full to the brim of reckless romance, and each left

India the more helpless, the more ready to let the invader pass to

fresh, more southern conquests. Indeed, a certain suzerainty was

acknowledged by many Hindu rajahs, and on one occasion Mahmud's march

was ostensibly to the relief of a feudatory.

But it would take too long to follow in detail events which were in

general so alike. Swift marching, utter unpreparedness, almost pitiful

submission, and then "a halt at some sacred city, during which the

town was plundered, the idols broken, the temples profaned, and the

whole fired." Yet, as the ravaging raids touched Rajputana, resistance

became more spirited. At one place the garrison rushed out through the

breaches in true Kshatriya fashion to do or die, whilst the women and

children burned themselves in silence in their houses. Not one, we are

told, survived. This is the first mention in history of the johar,

or great war-sacrifice of the Rajputs. It is not the last.

So let us turn to Som- or Soma-nath. Now "Soma" is the Moon-God,

"Nath" is Lord. We have, therefore, a simple Temple to the Moon by

name; but in reality Som-nath, or Som-eswara, is one of the forms of

the God Siva--his self-existing form.

The crescent moon on the forehead with which the God always is

portrayed alludes to this, and to the intimate relation between the

phases of the planet as a measure of time, and the upright stone or

lingam, which as all know is worshipped as a symbol of material Life.

It is customary to condemn this nature or phallic worship in India as

unclean, almost obscene; it is not so, anyhow, in spirit.

Som-nath, then, was a shrine of Life. The idol in its holy of holies

bore no semblance of created beings. It was the symbol of Creation

itself, a tall, rounded, black monolith of stone, set six feet in the

ground, rising ten feet above it. One of the twelve lingams believed

by the Hindus to have descended from Heaven, it was unexpressedly

holy, marvellously mighty in miracle. Small wonder, then, with a

priesthood of clutching hands, that Som-nath stood renowned as the

richest shrine in India.

It must have been fine to see this temple, with its fifty-six pillars

set in rows, all carven and inlaid with gems, its gilded spires above

the dark, unlit sanctuary, where the great bell swung on a solid gold

chain which weighed some fifteen hundred pounds.

Steps led down from it to the sea--that sea which was a miracle in

itself to the ignorant, up-country pilgrim, accustomed to parched

deserts, unwitting of such natural phenomena as tides; for did it not

bow, did it not rise and fall incessantly in constant adoration of the

Great Lord of Life? So, at any rate, said the priests, and the pilgrim

went back to his parched desert with empty pockets, to dream for the

rest of his life of the solemn, ceaseless adoration of the sea. Aye!

even when it raged black with monsoon winds, and spat white with fury

at the temple walls, yet still in subservience, still as a slave.

This was not a place to be yielded up of the Brahmans without a

struggle. So we read of a three days' battle, of scaling ladders,

of heavy reinforcements of the "idolatrous garrison," of an

"idolatrous"--surely there is no better word in the language with

which to fight a foe!--array in the field which withdrew Mahmud's

personal attention. And then there is the crucial moment: Mahomedan

troops beginning to waver, their leader leaping from his horse,

prostrating himself on the ground before the Lord God of Battles, and

imploring aid for the True Faith.

To speak trivially, it did the trick. One wild, cheering rush, and

"the Moslems broke through the enemy's line and laid five thousand

Hindus dead at their feet; so the rout became general." So general

that the garrison of four thousand, abandoning the defence, escaped by

the sea in boats.

Nothing left, then, but to enter the temple in pomp. A goodly

procession of warriors! Mahmud, his sons, his nobles; all, no doubt,

spitting profusely, while keeping their weather eye open on the gems

starring the heavy, carven pillars. Darker and darker! The pillars

close in. No light now, save,--high up in the shadows--one pendent

jewelled lamp, reflected in the glistening stones, showing dimly the

huge, massive golden chain, the swinging bronze bell.

And what more? Only a roughly-polished, black marble, upright boulder,

hung round, doubtless, as such lingams are to-day, with faded

champak chaplets and marigold wreaths.

Was it disappointment which made Mahmud strike at it with his mace?

One could imagine it so, but that he had had experience of the idle

objects of which men make idols. Perhaps the backward swing of the

mace-head hit the bell and sent its last hollow boom of appeal--which

so many worshippers had raised--straight to the ears of the Lord of


It is a rare picture this, of one faith defying another. It does not

need the amplification which legend brings to it, in order to grip


That legend runs thus. When Mahmud had ordered two fragments to be

hewn off the idol, one for the threshold of the mosque at Ghuini,

another for the threshold of his own palace, some of the two thousand

priests of Baal in attendance offered untold gold to arrest further

destruction; an offer viewed with favour by the king's sons, and the

attendant nobles. Smashing one idol out of millions was but mildly

meritorious, whereas the money thus gained might be given to the poor

But the Judas argument failed.

"The King"--to quote the text--"acknowledged there might be reason in

what they said, but replied that if he should consent to such a

measure his name would be handed down to posterity as 'Mahmud the

idol-seller,' and he wished it to be 'Mahmud the idol-breaker.' He

therefore directed the troops to proceed in their work. The next blow

broke open the belly of Som-nath, which was hollow, and discovered a

quantity of diamonds, rubies, and pearls of much greater value than

the amount which the Brahmans had offered."

Very dramatic, no doubt, but, unfortunately, none of these lingams are

hollow. It is possible, however, that the story found base in the

discovery of sacred vaults.

Be that as it may, Mahmud, "having secured the wealth of Som-nath,"

apparently fell in love with the country round about it; so much so

that he proposed remaining there and sending his son Masud back to

reign at Ghuzni. It needed pressure on the part of his officers to

induce him to stir; but after some difficulty in securing a Governor

for Guzerat, he started to march direct towards Ghuzni by way of the


This same difficulty gives us another picture.

Apparently there were two cousins Dabeshleems--fateful name, of what

nationality or family absolutely uncertain--one a hermit, the other a

rajah. The hermit was made governor, the prince became pretender.

Mahmud, ere leaving, reduced the latter, and handed him over prisoner

to the former. To this the hermit objected. But one course, he said,

was open to him, since by the tenets of his religion no king could be

put to death; he must build a vault under his throne and place the

unfortunate gentleman therein for life. This would be inconvenient,

therefore he prayed the conqueror to carry the rajah back with him to


So Mahmud, his army, and his vast loot, set out for the desert, set

their faces for the last time away from the wealth and idolatry of

India. Set them, as it turned out, very nearly away from all wealth,

all faiths; for in the desert the whole army was misled for three days

and three nights by a Hindu guide, "so that many of the troops died

raving mad from the intolerable heat and thirst." A Hindu guide who,

under torture, confessed exultantly that he was one of the priests of

Som-nath, and so died, satisfied with his measure of revenge.

Mahmud, however, had only to prostrate himself once more, and lo! a

guiding meteor, and after a long night-march, water! Water, even

though it must have been the Great Salt Lake.

After this, time passed in comparative uneventfulness, until on the

23rd of April A.D. 1030, in the sixty-third year of his age, "this

great conqueror gave up his body to death and his soul to immortality

amid the tears of his people."

One of his last recorded remarks was his exclamation when, in answer

to his enquiry, the Lord High Treasurer told him that before becoming

extinct, the last dynasty had accumulated seven pounds weight of

precious stones. "Thanks be to Thee, All-Powerful Being!" cried

Mahmud, prostrating himself yet once more. "Thou hast enabled me to

collect more than a hundred pounds."

What did he do with all the vast wealth which in the course of his

missionary work he managed to annex? We know that he built a

magnificent mosque at Ghuzni called "The Celestial Bride"; but that

could not have absorbed it all.

Indeed we know much of it was still in the treasury; for two days

before his death he ordered all the gold and the caskets of precious

stones to be brought before him, and "having seen them, he wept with

regret, ordering them to be carried back, without exhibiting his

generosity at that time to anybody."

Gold had evidently gripped at the heart and soul of this middle-aged,

well-shaped, ugly man, who was strongly pitted with the smallpox. His

was not a lovable personality in any way. Gifted with a touch of

genius, gifted above all things with that marvellous vitality which is

always as magic to the Indian, he was just, curiously callous, and

absolutely sceptical.

He openly doubted if he was really the son of his father, and scoffed

at the idea of a future state. Certainly annihilation would be a

kinder fate than the one which the poet Sa'adi gives to him in the

Gulistan, and which may be paraphrased thus:--

"The King of Khurasan saw in a dream

Mahmud the son of Subaktigeen,

Dead for this hundred years or more,

His head and his heart, his arms and his thighs

Dissolved to dust, and only his eyes

Moved in their sockets and saw

His gold, his empire, everything

He loved in the hands of another King."