A.D. 700 TO A.D. 1001
These, as has been said, are the Dark Ages of Hindustan. She has ever
been the prey of personality, the willing victim of vitality. From the
year B.C. 620, when her real history begins, until now, that history
has been that of individuals who have either risen from her ranks, or
appeared on her horizon; who have dominated her imagination, and left
her too often at their
death confused, helpless, to fall back into the
bewildering anarchy of petty princedoms.
The light shines clearly for a few years, reflected by one man's keen
sword, or keener eyes; and then the strong arm falls, the vision
fails, and India sinks back into the Great Apathy concerning things
sublunary which is ever her most salient characteristic.
And these three hundred years give us no personality striking enough
to be seen through the mist which settled down like a pall over India
after the death of Harsha. This death, says Mr Vincent Smith,
"loosened the bonds which restrained the disruptive forces always
ready to operate in India, and allowed them to produce their normal
result: a medley of petty states with ever-varying boundaries, and
engaged in unceasing internecine war."
No new thing this in the past history of India; it will be no new
thing in the future, for Hindustan will always need some strong,
centralising, magnetic force to hold together its innumerable atoms.
It is true that in literature some few names hover doubtfully about
the eighth century, and that round the outskirts of India, in Kashmir,
Nepaul, Madras, Ceylon, we hear every now and again of events which
arrest the attention for a moment. The reassertion of Chinese
influence along the northern borderland, though brief, was noteworthy,
and in Kashmir the names of several kings and one queen stand out from
the general posse. Amongst them that of Laladitya, who built the
famous Temple of the Sun at Martand, not far from Bawun in Kashmir. A
magnificent ruin this, standing out sharply against both the rising in
the east and the setting in the west; set high on one of those lofty
karewas, or tablelands, which are so marked a characteristic of
Kashmir. Fringing the mighty mountains, they stretch like promontories
into the rice and saffron fields, still showing by their precipitous
sides the force of the mighty flood which at some time must have swept
through the valley, lowering its levels, and leaving these landmarks
to tell of its passage.
Then we have two names--rather painfully reminiscent of comic
opera--Avanti-varman and Sankara-varman, good and bad boys of Kashmir
history. The former remembered for his beneficent schemes, his kindly
patronage; the latter for his ingenuity in squeezing the last drop of
blood-tax from his oppressed subjects, and his aptitude in stealing
Finally, and alas! we have a queen called Didda. The less said of her
the better. It is sufficient to record that she was the Messalina, the
Lucrezia Borgia of Kashmir for close on half a century.
A long time this! Could she by chance have had the secret of youth
like Ninon d'Enclos?
Her death, however, brings us to A.D. 1003, and in A.D. 1001 Mahmud,
so-called of Ghuzni, was to begin his first raid into India, and so
bring a new factor--Islamism--to its welter of creeds and castes.
Here, therefore, ends the Hindu period of Indian history. There
follows on it the Mahomedan age from A.D. 1001 to 1858, when the
English formally took over the entire charge of Government.
Now as in this Mahomedan age the new faith of the conquerors had much
to say to the general trend of events, it may be as well to occupy
this empty chapter by a brief exposition of what that faith is, and
how it inspired those constant invasions of India which make the next
few hundred years the record of an almost continuous campaign. Before
doing this, however, let us take still briefer stock of this past
It was an age of growth, of renaissance, of decadence.
The natural vigour of the Vedas grew to the more complex, more
artificial energy of the Epics, and out of this arose strangely the
quietism of the Buddhist. War and Peace, Glory and Dishonour, Riches
and Poverty, all faded away to nothingness before the hope of
Nirvana--of escape from Desire. Thus Asoka becomes the dominating
figure, and even after his death the names of Kanishka and Hushka and
Harsha faintly echo his fame.
But they failed to keep it alive. The Brahmans, rising to power,
thrust out alike the simplicity of the Vedas and the nescience of
Buddha. So came the Renaissance.
An epoch marked, as such epochs generally are, by a curious cult of
the emotions in all things. The Indians of the Gupta empire were
emphatically fin de siecle, so they did not survive. King Harsha,
Mithraist, Buddhist, Hindu, worshipping his several deities by giving
in alms even "his bright head-jewel," pictures the time. A time when
the court panegyrist Bana, writing of his dying master, can so juggle
with words as to describe his agony thus:--
"Helplessness had taken him in hand; pain had made him its province,
wasting its domain, lassitude its lair ... broken in utterance,
unhinged in mind, tortured in body, waning in life, babbling in
speech, ceaseless in sighs."
Of a truth, there is no wonder that the Indian world also had come to
"the tip of death's tongue," to "the portal of the Long Sleep."
It was becoming neurotic, hyper-aestheticised. It needed a rest and a
Mahomedanism was to give it the latter, and the founder of this faith
had been born at Mecca on the 10th November A.D. 570. By a curious
coincidence, the date on which he began his teaching and that of King
Harsha's coronation are very nearly synchronous.
Mahomed was an Arab, but was in every way unlike his race. A
posthumous son, he had "inherited from his mother a delicate and
extremely impressionable constitution, and an exaggerated
sensibility." He was melancholy, silent, fond of desert places,
solitude, and dreamy meditations.
Nature appealed to him. The sight of the setting sun inspired him with
vague restlessness, and he would weep and sob like a child at slight
His religious excitability was of the most acute character, and passed
at times into attacks of epilepsy.
A true revivalist this! Small wonder if, having in his mountain
solitude seen, or thought he had seen, a vision of the Great Unity
which men call God, he should have claimed inspiration, and claimed it
militantly. The time was ripe for a revival. Religion was being
discussed on all sides, and Mahomed having, it is said, gained nine
converts by his first vision, set to work to gain more. Ere he died
all Arabia frankly followed his teaching. This, however, was not the
result of what Asoka advocated as the only legitimate method of a
mission, for "example, tolerance, gentleness and moderation in speech"
have never found much place in Mahomedan proselytising; the rather
fire and sword, a sharp blade held to the throat that hastily gabbles
the Kalma or Mahomedan creed.
And yet it is a faith which has held, which still holds, its own, and
which was to be responsible for much in the future history of India.
Like all faiths, however, it has gone far beyond its founder, and it
is doubtful for how much of the Mahomedanism of to-day the seer-prophet
of A.D. 610 is really responsible. Within six years of his death his
successors had carried their version of the dreamer's thoughts to Syria
and Egypt. Ere Harsha died the whole of Persia as far east as Herat was
added to the Arab empire. Thence in the slow centuries it drifted
towards India; for the lust of personal and temporal power amongst the
leaders checked its progress much. The great dispute as to the rightful
succession to the Prophet provoked almost instant schism; while the
assassination of Ali, the fourth kalifa--he was son-in-law of the
Prophet--and the subsequent murders of his two sons Hussan and Hussain,
was productive of a strife which lasts to the present day between the
rival sects of Shiahs and Sunnis.
So, while the Dark Age of India drifted on, the Awakener was creeping
closer to the border, and in A.D. 976 one Sabaktagin, a Turkish slave
who had married the Governor of Khorassan's daughter, began the
invasion by sweeping the western bank of the Indus, and retiring laden
[Map: India to A.D. 1000]