The Rajput Resistance
A.D. 1176 TO A.D. 1206
More than a hundred years had passed since Mahmud of Ghuzni's strong
grip had relaxed on India. During that time she had reverted, as she
always will revert, to those ideals of life which suit her dreamy yet
The fierce on-sweep of the Moslem scimitar had mowed down the tangle
of petty chiefships which had grown up in the Dark Ages, an
room for the spreading of four great kingdoms, Delhi, Ajmir, Kanauj,
Guzerat, which were all held by the representatives of certain Rajput
Now the Rajputs are born soldiers. They represent the second, or
military (called the Kshatriya) caste of ancient Vedic time; they have
provided India for long centuries with her warriors, her nobles, her
monarchs. Raj-putra means, in fact, a king's son. Their history is a
magnificent one. They have faced and fought every enemy which Fate has
brought to their native land in the past; they are ready still to face
and fight whatever may come to it in the future. They are the Samurai
of India, each clan led by a hereditary leader, and forming a separate
community, bound by the strongest ties of military devotion and pride
They claim to have sprung from the sun, or from the moon, or from the
fire; and between them lies ever the faint jealousy of a different
origin. Thus the Tomaras or Tuars of Delhi claimed the kinship of
flame with the Chauhans of Ajmir, while the Rathors of Kanauj stood by
their distant sun-cousins of Guzerat. For to this day the pride of
ancestry is the Rajput's most cherished inheritance. Often he has
little else; but he stills scorns to turn his lance into a
For the rest there is no people in the world whose history yields more
pure romance. The chivalry of Europe seems strained and artificial
beside the stern, straight-forward code of honour by which the early
Rajputs regulated their dealings alike with women and with other men;
and no roundel of troubadour or challenge of knight-errant could have
roused more enthusiasm than did the wild love and war songs of the
These, then, were the people whose resistance Mahomed Shahab-ud-din of
Ghor had to overcome, when, after an ineffectual attempt to reach the
heart of India through the sandy deserts of Multan and Guzerat, and a
further swoop on the country about Lahore (in which, by treacherous
stratagem, he seized on the persons who still prolonged the dying
Ghuznevide dynasty and sent them northwards to imprisonment and
death), he finally marched on Hindustan proper in the year A.D. 1191.
And here once more the pink-and-white mass of the huge fort of
Bhatinda heaves into view as our mise en scene. The flowers of the
dakh trees had long since been picked as dye-stuff by the village
women, when once more the hosts of hardy horsemen swept over the
horizon. For, as ever, the Toovkhs--as the peasantry learned to call
these wild raiders--came with the flights of winter birds. The fort
gave in at once to the fierce attack of the Mahomedans. The filagree
sugar-work on its battlements seems, indeed, to have infected the mass
of stone beneath it with frailty, for despite its apparent strength,
Bhatinda has been taken and retaken ofttimes. So, leaving a garrison
there, Shahab-ud-din commenced his return; for the hardy horsemen
always seem to have been more afraid of melting in the heat of India
than meeting the onslaught of her armies.
Ere he had gone far, however, news of recall came to him. The great
Prithvi-Raj, conjoint King of Delhi and Ajmir, with many other Indian
princes, two hundred thousand horse, and three thousand elephants was
Here was challenge indeed! The heat was forgotten; he faced round to
the relief of the garrison he had left, and boldly passing Bhatinda,
paused to give battle on that wild plain between Karnal and Delhi,
where half the struggles for the possession of India have been fought
to the bitter end.
He must have awaited his enemy with anxiety, for the fame of
Prithvi-Raj had spread even amongst Mahomedans. To the Hindus he was a
demi-god: the personification of every Rajput virtue, the pattern of
all Rajput manhood. A bold lover, a recklessly brave knight-errant,
the story of his exploits, as told by his bard, Chand, fills many
books, and is still listened to of winter nights beside the smoke-palled
fires by half the men and women in India. It will be sufficient to
recount one here to show what manner of man he was, and how he comes
still to hold the admiration, not only of the romantic Rajputs, but of
Prithvi-Raj, then, was of the Chauhan, Fire-born race. Rajah of Ajmir
only, by father-to-son descent, the kingship of Delhi had come to him
by the death of his maternal grandfather without male issue.
But the Rajah of Kanauj was also grandson, and elder grandson, of the
dead king by another daughter. Hence arose envy and strife between the
cousins; the more so, because the sixteen-year-old Prithvi carried all
things before him with an elan not to be imitated. It was all very
well to match the young hero's Great Horse sacrifice (the last one, it
is believed, in India), with which he claimed empire, by instituting a
Sai-nair, accompanied by a Self-choice (also the last), for one's only
daughter, the Princess Sunjogata of Kanauj. Now the ceremony of
Sai-nair is a most august one. It is virtually a claim for universal
supremacy, for divine honour. Every one concerned in it, even the
scullion in the kitchen who helps to cook the feast, must be of royal
blood. So all India's princes were bidden to take their part in it,
excepting Prithvi-Raj, and in his place an image of clay was made and
set to the lowest job--that of door-keeper.
Thus the Rajah of Kanauj strove to save his dignity, for the rites
were equally old, equally honourable; but what man, even though he
were king, could calculate on what a young girl, just blossoming into
womanhood, would say or do?
As a matter of fact, the young Princess Fortunata (a literal
translation of the name) did a very distressing thing. No doubt
as she entered the splendid arena (decorated, possibly, in imitation
of the celebrated one, described in the Mahabharata as the scene
of Draupadi's Swayambara), where all the assembled princes of
India--excepting, of course, her wicked cousin, Prince Prithvi--were
eagerly awaiting her choice, she looked very sweet and innocent--quite
entrancing, briefly, in her fresh young beauty, about which every one
was raving; but who would have dreamed of the mischief which was
lurking behind the eyes down-dropped as she stood hesitating, the
marriage garland--which every prince longed to feel, even as a yoke,
round his neck--in her dainty little hands.
And then? Hey presto! Her dainty little feet sped determinedly over
the Court to the door, and there was the garland, not round any living
man, but be-decorating the misshapen image of clay which Jai-Chand,
her father, had caused to be put in absent Prithvi's place!
There must have been wigs on the green in the women's apartments that
fateful day, with papa cursing and mamma upbraiding, while all the
little culprit's female relations held up pious hands of horror. But
the deed was done, and there in broad daylight, on the wings of fierce
love and pride, awakened by the tale of that maiden garland on cold
clay, was the twenty-one-year-old Prince Prithvi himself, the flower
of Rajput chivalry, followed by youthful heroes, ready, like their
chief, for soft kisses or hard blows. The last came first in that
desperate five-days-running fight all the way back to Delhi, with
willing Princess Fortunata in their midst, her cheek paling but her
eyes dry, as one by one the dear, brave lads fell out from her cortege
dead or dying.
But the bravest, the dearest, the best, held her close, unharmed, and
so the soft kisses came at last.
For Prince Prithvi, though he lost some friends--lost, as the
historians put it, "the sinews of India"--kept his prize, and gained
for himself immortal memory in the hearts of all Rajput maidens even
to the present day.
This, then, was the paladin who took the field against the bearded,
middle-aged Mahomed Shahab-ud-din, and deftly outflanking his wings,
drove them back and back until the whole Mahomedan army showed a
circle surrounded by the enemy. In the centre the great general
himself, mad with passion at the counsel sent to him by his
subordinates to save himself as best he could. His reply was to cut
down the messenger, and calling on all who would to follow him, rush
out on the enemy, dealing reckless, almost futile death. To no
purpose. Prithvi's younger brother, marking down his quarry, drove his
elephant full against the burly-bearded leader of the desperate sally;
but Mahomed Ghori lacked no courage, and the charge was met half-way,
horse against leviathan, lance couched to lance.
And the honours lay with the Moslem, for Chawand Rao took the
lance-head full in his mouth, to the destruction of many teeth. But
Prithvi was in support of his brother, and a well-aimed arrow twanged
and quivered in the northerner's scimitar arm; he reeled in his saddle
and would have fallen, had not a faithful servant, taking advantage of
the wild, swift closing in of rescue for the wounded monarch, leapt up
behind him in the saddle, and turning the horse's head to the open,
carried the almost fainting king from the field. He was followed by
his whole army, harassed for full 40 miles by the victorious Hindus.
Princess Fortunata's kisses must have been sweet that night to her
victorious hero. But Mahomed Shahab-ud-din's calm had gone. Smileless,
he waited for the healing of his wound at Lahore, then, returning to
Ghor, publicly disgraced every officer who had not followed his
forlorn hope, by parading them round the city like horses or mules,
their noses in "nose-bags filled with barley, which he forced them to
eat like brutes," and afterwards flinging them into prison. So two
years passed in moody anger and sullen disgrace, crushed into
forgetfulness by reckless pleasure and festivity. Then, taking heart
of grace, he got together a picked force of 120,000 Toorki and Afghan
cavalry recruits, for the most part men of his own class and calibre,
whose helmets were encrusted with jewels, their cuirasses inlaid with
gold; and so off Peshawur ways.
"Since the day of defeat," he said to an old sage, "despite external
appearances, I have never slumbered with ease, or waked but in sorrow.
I go, therefore, to recover my lost honour from these idolaters, or
die in the attempt."
"My king," replied the wise old man, kissing the ground, "wherefore
should not those whom you have so justly disgraced likewise have
opportunity of wiping away the stain of their defeat?"
The plea struck him by its justice. He issued orders for the disgraced
officers' freedom, and gave leave for those desirous of redeeming
their character to follow his example. A picked force this, indeed,
with a vengeance!
And on the other side was haughty defiance, marked still by the
chivalrous sense of honour which, to such as Prithvi-Raj, was dearer
A proud acceptance of the issues met the curt declaration of war
should the Indians refuse to embrace the true faith, which the
Mahomedan general sent to Ajmir by accredited ambassador. A 'cute move
this; one to enhance the martial ardour of his men; perhaps to still
further inflame his own determination to turn past defeat to present
victory. Then ensued a pause for parley, in which the Princess
Fortunata had her share--a worthy share, as the following extracts
will show. Till then her kisses had lulled Prithvi-Raj to
forgetfulness of sterner things; now they were to rouse him from
his dream. For this was her reply when her husband, leaving his
War-Council to deliberate, sought wisdom where he had so often found
"What fool asks woman for advice? The world
Holds her wit shallow.... Even when the truth
Comes from her lips men stop their ears and smile.
And yet without the woman where is man?
We hold the power of Form--for us the Fire
Of Shiv's creative force flames up and burns:
Lo! we are thieves of Life and sanctuaries
Of Souls. Vessels are we of virtue and of vice,
Of knowledge and of utmost ignorance.
Astrologers can calculate from books
The courses of the stars, but who is he
Can read the pages of a woman's heart?
Our book has not been mastered; so men say
'She hath no wisdom' but to hide their lack
Of understanding. Yet we share your lives,
Your failures, your successes, griefs and joys.
Hunger and thirst, if yours, are ours, and Death
Parts us not from you; for we follow fast
To serve you in the mansion of the Sun.
Love of my heart! Lo! you are as a swan
That rests upon my bosom as a lake.
There is no rest for thee but here, my lord!
And yet arise to Victory and Fame.
Sun of the Chauhans! Who has drunk so deep
Of glory and of pleasure as my lord?
And yet the destiny of all is death:
Yea even of the Gods--and to die well
Is life immortal---- Therefore draw your sword,
Smite down the foes of Hind; think not of self--
The garment of this life is frayed and worn,
Think not of me--we twain shall be as one
Hereafter and for ever.--Go, my king!"
So the fiery cross sped round Rajputana, and ere long Prithvi-Raj
could confront the enemy with an army of 300,000 horse, 3,000
elephants, and a large body of infantry. They encamped opposite and
within sight of each other on the old battle-field, with the river
Saraswati, which was soon to lose itself in the desert sands beyond,
running between the opposing armies. Despite the disparity in numbers
the forces were not ill-matched, for the Indians were hampered by a
thousand old traditions, old accoutrements, old scruples. The
Mahomedans, on the other hand, were full up with desire for gold, for
souls. But it was a holy war on both sides. The Hindus had sworn on
Ganges water to conquer or die, the Moslem had sworn likewise on the
Koran; so heads were bowed in humble prayer to the Lord of Hosts, and
human hearts beat high with murderous hope. Quaint conjunction when
all is said and done!
Thus far, well. Now comes Mahomed Shahab-ud-din's diplomatic
strategy, which some might call by another name, even though the
account of what occurred comes to us through the pen of an ardent
Mahomedan, and cannot, therefore, but put the best face on what
happened. Prithvi-Raj, then, facing his foe, so much smaller in
numbers, so altogether insignificant beside the splendid lavishness of
the Rajput camp, wrote a letter to Mahomed Shahab-ud-din. Whether
dictated by mere pride or martial honour, by contemptuous pity,
religious dislike to take life, or, as the Mahomedans aver, by mere
brag, the terms of it are worth reading:--
"To the bravery of our soldiers we know you are no stranger: and to
our great superiority in numbers, which daily increases, your eyes
bear witness. If you are wearied of your own existence, yet have pity
on your troops who may still think it a happiness to live. It were
better, then, you should repent in time of the rash resolution you
have taken, and we shall permit you to retreat in safety."
Not an undignified appeal, this first recorded attempt at peace with
honour. Its reply was, as the historian puts it, "politic." It
consisted in Mahomed Shahab-ud-din's assertion that he was only the
general of his brother's forces; that therefore he dare not retreat
without orders, but he would be glad of a truce until such time as
information could be sent to Ghuzni and an answer received.
A simple and admirable adjunct to the night-attack which followed, and
which found the Rajputs unprepared, in fancied security.
About the false dawning, when even the noise of revelry in the
opposite camp had quieted down to sleep, the Mahomedan army forded the
river in silence, and drew up in order on the sands beyond. Some
portion of it was actually within the Hindu lines ere the alarm was
Even so, the Rajput cavalry was to the front immediately, and checked
For what followed, Mahomed Shahab-ud-din deserves unstinted praise. It
was good general-ship.
He formed his bowmen into four divisions, and placing them one behind
the other, ordered the first to come into fighting line, discharge
their arrows, and wheel to the rear, thus giving place to the second
fighting line, the whole army to retreat slowly, giving ground
whenever hard pressed.
All that day he fought, biding his time with such patience as he and
his twelve thousand steel-armoured horsemen could muster. The sun was
just setting when, judging the delusion of victory had done its work
in the hot heads of the Rajputs, he gave the orders for one desperate
It did its work!
"Din! Din! Fateh Mahomed!" once and for all overcame the Hindu war-cry
of, "Victory, Victory!" In the years to come success and failure were
to attend both; but only in detail. The great issue between Brahmanism
and Mahomedism was fought out on the vast Karnal battle-plain in A.D.
1193, when, as the chronicler of Islam says,
"one desperate charge carried death and destruction throughout the
Hindu ranks. The disorder increased everywhere, till at length the
panic became general. The Moslems, as if they now only began to be in
earnest, committed such havoc, that this prodigious army once shaken,
like a great building tottered to its fall, and was lost in its own
How many thousand pagans "went below?" Who knows? But one is sure that
Mahomed Shahab-ud-din duly praised God from whom all blessings flow.
His subsequent atrocities prove that he must have relied on something
which he deemed Divine Guidance; mere humanity could never have been
Half Rajput chivalry lay dead under the stars, but the flower of it
was hiding in the sugar-cane brakes, stealing his way back to Delhi,
to the Princess Sunjogata his wife, who, as she had watched him go
forth, lance in rest, his sword buckled on by her own steady hands,
had said with foreboding courage to her maidens: "In Yoginapur (Delhi)
I shall see him no more: we will meet in Swarga." The tale of what
happened is almost beyond telling.
Prithvi Rajah was murdered in cold blood, murdered ignominiously. The
Princess Fortunata escaped a like, or a worse, fate by a funeral pyre,
and Delhi was given over to such hideous devils work as even that
long-suffering city has never seen before or since. The followers of
the Prophet wiped out their own and their God's disgrace in torrents
of blood, filled their pockets by the way, went on to Ajmir, enacted a
like tragedy, and so returned northwards when the pink clouds of the
low-lying groves of dakh trees began to blossom about the
battle-field where the sun of the Hindus had set for ever.
But Mahomed Shahab-ud-din left his pet Turki slave Kutb-din-Eibuk
behind him at Delhi, and he, assuming almost regal honours, "compelled
all the districts around to acknowledge the faith of Islam."
How many murders go to the making of a Moslem is a question which
might fairly be asked. Converts, however, hardly came in fast enough
for Shahab-ud-din's zeal, so the next year saw him back again to help
his slave in crushing the Rajah of Kanauj, who, doubtless, had not
been of Prithvi-Raj's host. Thence he marched to Benares, in which
hot-bed of idolatry he thoroughly enjoyed himself by smashing the
idols in a thousand temples, which he subsequently purified by prayer
and purgation, and thereinafter consecrated to the worship of the true
This was his last real outing, for Fate--can it have been that she
dissociated herself from his doubtful use of the white flag--began to
play him false. His slave-viceroy showed inclination to plunder on his
own behalf, and though the master once more returned to India, it was
but a flying visit, apparently to check independence. To no avail, for
Kutb-din-Eibuk, "ambitious of extending his conquests, led an army
into Rajputana, where, having experienced severe defeat, he was
compelled to seek protection in the fort at Ajmir."
For the fighting spirit in the Rajput was not to be quenched by blood,
or burned out by fire. It was to flame up fiercely for many a century
to come, until the wisdom of Akbar won it over to his side.
Mahomed Shahab-ud-din's hands were, however, too full to permit of his
giving much attention to India. His brother, Ghiass-ud-din, the mere
figure-head of a king, died in A.D. 1202, and though Shahab-ud-din was
crowned in his stead without any opposition, bad luck seemed to attend
him afterwards. His army was literally cut down to a mere body-guard
of a hundred troopers in Khorassan, and though his fortunes were
recovered in some measure, his time seems to have been taken up in
quelling the rebellions of his favourite slaves whom he had promoted
In India, Kutb-din, it is true, remained faithful in name, though his
power and prestige rose above his master's, and he was virtually king,
Finally, in A.D. 1206, the leader of the last real raid of the
Crescent into India was assassinated by the Ghakkars of the Salt Range
upon the banks of the Indus.
"The weather being sultry, the King had ordered the screens which
surround the royal tents to be struck in order to give free admission
to the air. This afforded the assassins an opportunity of seeing into
the sleeping apartments. So at night time they found their way up to
the tents and hid themselves, while one of their number advanced
boldly to the tent door. Challenged by a sentry, he plunged his dagger
in the man's breast, and this rousing the guard, who ran out to see
what was the matter, the hidden assassin took that opportunity of
cutting a way into the King's tent.
"He was asleep, with two slaves fanning him. They stood petrified with
terror as the Ghakkars sheathed their daggers in the King's body,
which was afterwards found to have been pierced by no fewer than