Somanatha and Mahmud
Mahmud of Ghazni's raid on the Somanatha temple in 1026 did not create
a Hindu-Muslim dichotomy. Indeed a rigorous historical analysis of five
different narratives or representations of what happened yields surprising
MAHMUD'S raid on the temple of Somanatha and the destruction of the idol
has become an event of immense significance in the writing of Indian history
since the last couple of centuries. According to some writers, it has been
seminal to antagonistic Hindu-Muslim relations over the last thousand years.
Yet a careful investigation of the representation of this event and related
matters in various sources of this thousand year period suggests that this
conventional view is in itself a misrepresentation of the reading of the
event in terms of Hindu-Muslim relations.
In 1026, Mahmud of Ghazni raided the temple of Somanatha and broke the
idol. Reference is made to this in various sources, or reference is omitted
where one expects to find it. Some of the references contradict each other.
Some lead to our asking questions which do not conform to what we have
accepted so far in terms of the meaning and the aftermath of the event. An
event can get encrusted with interpretations from century to century and
this changes the perception of the event. As historians, therefore, we have
to be aware not just of the event and how we look upon it today, but also
the ways in which the event was interpreted through the intervening
centuries. An analysis of these sources and the priorities in explanation
stem, of course, from the historian's interpretation.
I would like to place before you five representations of this and other
events at Somanatha, keeping in mind the historical question of how Mahmud's
raid was viewed. They cover a wide span and are major representations. The
five are the Turko-Persian chronicles, Jaina texts of the period, Sanskrit
inscriptions from Somanatha, the debate in the British House of Commons, and
what is often described as a nationalist reading of the event.
Let me begin with a brief background to Somanatha itself. It is referred
to in the Mahabharata as Prabhas, and although it had no temple until
later, it was a place of pilgrimage.1 As was common to many parts
of the subcontinent there were a variety of religious sects established in
the area - Buddhist, Jaina, Shaiva and Muslim. Some existed in succession
and some conjointly. The Shaiva temple, known as the Somanatha temple at
Prabhas, dates to about the 9th or 10th century A.D.2 The
Chaulukyas or Solankis were the ruling dynasty in Gujarat during the 11th to
13th centuries. Kathiawar was administered by lesser rajas, some of whom
were subordinates of the Chaulukyas.
SAURASHTRA was agriculturally fertile, but even more than that, its
prosperity came from trade, particularly maritime trade. The port at
Somanatha, known as Veraval, was one of the three major ports of Gujarat.
During this period western India had a conspicuously wealthy trade with
ports along the Arabian peninsula and the Persian Gulf.3 The
antecedents of this trade go back many centuries.
Arab raids on Sind were less indelible than the more permanent contacts
based on trade. Arab traders and shippers settled along the West coast
married locally and were ancestral to many communities existing to the
present. Some Arabs took employment with local rulers and Rashtrakuta
inscriptions speak of Tajika administrators and governors in the coastal
areas.4 The counterparts to these Arab traders were Indian
merchants based at Hormuz and at Ghazni, who, even after the 11th century,
are described as extremely prosperous.5
The trade focused on the importing of horses from West Asia and to a
lesser extent on wine, metal, textiles and spices. By far the most lucrative
was the trade in horses.6 And in this funds from temples formed a
sizable investment, according to some sources.7 Port towns such
as Somanatha-Veraval and Cambay derived a handsome income from this trade,
much of it doubtless being ploughed back to enlarge the profits. Apart from
trade, another source of local income was the large sums of money collected
in pilgrim taxes by the administration in Somanatha. This was a fairly
common source of revenue for the same is mentioned in connection with the
temple at Multan."8
WE are also told that the local rajas - the Chudasamas, Abhiras, Yadhavas
and others - attacked the pilgrims and looted them of their donations
intended for the Somanatha temple. In addition, there was heavy piracy in
the coastal areas indulged in by the local Chavda rajas and a variety of sea
brigands referred to as the Bawarij.9 As with many areas
generating wealth in earlier times, this part of Gujarat was also subject to
unrest and the Chaulukya administration spent much time and energy policing
attacks on pilgrims and traders.
Despite all this, trade flourished. Gujarat in this period experienced
what can perhaps be called a renaissance culture of the Jaina mercantile
community. Rich merchant families were in political office, controlled state
finances, were patrons of culture, were scholars of the highest order, were
liberal donors to the Jaina sangha and builders of magnificent
This is the backdrop, as it were, to the Somanatha temple which by many
accounts suffered a raid by Mahmud in 1026. There is one sober, contemporary
reference and this comes, not surprisingly, from Alberuni, a central Asian
scholar deeply interested in India, writing extensively on what he observed
and learnt. He tells us that there was a stone fortress built about a
hundred years before Mahmud's raid within which the lingam was
located, presumably to safeguard the wealth of the temple. The idol was
especially venerated by sailors and traders, not surprising considering the
importance of the port at Veraval, trading as far as Zanzibar and China. He
comments in a general way on the economic devastation caused by the many
raids of Mahmud. Alberuni also mentions that Durlabha of Multan, presumably
a mathematician, used a roundabout way involving various eras to compute the
year of the raid on Somanatha as Shaka 947 (equivalent to A.D. 1025-26).10
The raid therefore was known to local sources.
Not unexpectedly, the Turko-Persian chronicles indulge in elaborate
myth-making around the event, some of which I shall now relate. A major poet
of the eastern Islamic world, Farrukhi Sistani, who claims that he
accompanied Mahmud to Somanatha, provides a fascinating explanation for the
breaking of the idol.11 This explanation has been largely
dismissed by modern historians as too fanciful, but it has a significance
for the assessment of iconoclasm. According to him, the idol was not of a
Hindu deity but of a pre-Islamic Arabian goddess. He tells us that the name
Somnat (as it was often written in Persian) is actually Su-manat, the place
of Manat. We know from the Qur'an that Lat, Uzza and Manat were the
three pre-Islamic goddesses widely worshipped,12 and the
destruction of their shrines and images, it was said, had been ordered by
the Prophet Mohammad. Two were destroyed, but Manat was believed to have
been secreted away to Gujarat and installed in a place of worship. According
to some descriptions, Manat was an aniconic block of black stone, so the
form could be similar to a lingam. This story hovers over many of the
Turko-Persian accounts, some taking it seriously, others being less emphatic
and insisting instead that the icon was of a Hindu deity.
THE identification of the Somanatha idol with that of Manat has little
historical credibility. There is no evidence to suggest that the temple
housed an image of Manat. Nevertheless, the story is significant to the
reconstruction of the aftermath of the event since it is closely tied to the
kind of legitimation which was being projected for Mahmud.
The link with Manat added to the acclaim for Mahmud. Not only was he the
prize iconoclast in breaking Hindu idols, but in destroying Manat he had
carried out what were said to be the very orders of the Prophet. He was
therefore doubly a champion of Islam.13 Other temples were raided
by him and their idols broken, but Somanatha receives special attention in
all the accounts of his activities. Writing of his victories to the
Caliphate, Mahmud presents them as major accomplishments in the cause of
Islam. And not surprisingly, Mahmud becomes the recipient of grandiose
titles. This establishes his legitimacy in the politics of the Islamic
world, a dimension which is overlooked by those who see his activities only
in the context of northern India.
BUT his legitimacy also derives from the fact that he was a Sunni and he
attacked Isma'ilis and Shias whom the Sunnis regarded as heretics.14
It was ironic that the Isma'ilis attacked the temple of Multan and were, in
turn, attacked by Mahmud in the 11th century and their mosque was shut down.
The fear of the heretic was due to the popularity of heresies against
orthodox Islam and political hostility to the Caliphate in the previous
couple of centuries, none of which would be surprising given that Islam in
these areas was a relatively new religion.
Mahmud is said to have desecrated their places of worship at Multan and
Mansura. His claims to having killed 50,000 kafirs (infidels) is
matched by similar claims to his having killed 50,000 Muslim heretics. The
figure appears to be notional. Mahmud's attacks on the Hindus and on the
Shias and Isma'ilis was a religious crusade against the infidel and the
With the majestic Somanatha temple
for backdrop, Bharatiya Janata Party leader L. K. Advani begins his rath
yatra on September 25, 1990.
But interestingly, there were also the places and peoples involved in the
highly profitable horse trade with the Arabs and the Gulf. Both the Muslim
heretics of Multan and the Hindu traders of Somanatha had substantial
commercial investments. Is it possible then that Mahmud, in addition to
religious iconoclasm, was also trying to terminate the import of horses into
India via Sind and Gujarat? This would have curtailed the Arab monopoly over
the trade. Given the fact that there was a competitive horse trade with
Afghanistan through north-western India, which was crucial to the wealth of
the state of Ghazni, Mahmud may well have been combining iconoclasm with
trying to obtain a commercial advantage.15
In the subsequent and multiple accounts - and there are many in each
century - the contradictions and exaggerations increase. There is no
agreement on the form of the image. Some say that it is a lingam,
others reverse this and describe it as anthropomorphic - a human form.16
But even with this there is no consistency as to whether it is a female
Manat or a male Shiva. There seems to have been almost a lingering wish that
it might be Manat. Was the icon, if identified with Manat, more important
perhaps to Muslim sentiment?
THE anthropomorphic form encourages stories of the nose being knocked off
and the piercing of the belly from which jewels poured forth.17
Fantasising on the wealth of the temples evoked a vision of immense
opulence, and this has led a modern historian to describing the Turkish
invasions as a "gold-rush".18 One account states that the image
contained twenty man of jewels - one man weighing several
kilograms; another, that a gold chain weighing two hundred man kept
the image in place. Yet another describes the icon as made of iron with a
magnet placed above it, so that it would be suspended in space, an awesome
sight for the worshipper.19 The age of the temple is taken
further and further back in time until it is described as 30,000 years old.
One wonders if Somanatha was not becoming something of a fantasy in such
MORE purposive writings of the 14th century are the chronicles of Barani
and Isami. Both were poets, one associated with the Delhi Sultanate and the
other with the Bahmani kingdom of the Deccan. Both project Mahmud as the
ideal Muslim hero, but somewhat differently. Barani states that his writing
is intended to educate Muslim rulers in their duties towards Islam.20
For him, religion and kingship are twins and the ruler needs to know the
religious ideals of kingship if he claims to be ruling on behalf of God.
Sultans must protect Islam through the shar'ia and destroy both
Muslim heretics and infidels. Mahmud is said to be the ideal ruler because
he did both.
Isami composes what he regards as an epic poem on the Muslim rulers of
India, on the lines of the famous Persian poet Firdausi's earlier epic on
the Persian kings, the Shah-nama. Isami argues that kingship
descended from God, first to the pre-Islamic rulers of Persia - in which he
includes Alexander of Macedon and the Sassanid kings - and subsequently to
the Sultans of India, with Mahmud establishing Muslim rule in India.21
Interestingly the Arabs, who had both a political and economic presence in
the subcontinent prior to Mahmud, hardly figure in this history. That there
is a difference of perception in these narratives is important to a
historical assessment and requires further investigation.
The role of Mahmud, it would seem, was also undergoing a change: from
being viewed merely as an iconoclast to also being projected as the founder
of an Islamic state in India, even if the latter statement was not
historically accurate. Presumably, given his status in Islamic
historiography, this was a form of indirectly legitimising the Sultans in
India. The appropriation of the pre-Islamic Persian rulers for purposes of
legitimacy suggests that there may have been an element of doubt about the
accepted role models of Muslim rulers. The Sultans in India were not only
ruling a society substantially of non-Muslims, but even those who had
converted to Islam were in large part following the customary practices of
their erstwhile caste, which were often not in conformity with the
shar'ia. Is there then a hint of an underlying uncertainty, of a lack of
confidence, in the insistence on taking Islamic rule back to Mahmud, a
champion of the Islamic world? Can we say that these accounts had converted
the event itself at Somanatha into what some today would call an icon?
LET me turn now to the Jaina texts of this period. These, not
unexpectedly, associated a different set of concerns with the event, or else
they ignore it. The 11th century Jaina poet from the Paramara court in Malwa,
Dhanapala, a contemporary of Mahmud, briefly mentions Mahmud's campaign in
Gujarat and his raids on various places, including Somanatha.22
He comments, however, at much greater length of Mahmud's inability to damage
the icons of Mahavira in Jaina temples for, as he puts it, snakes cannot
swallow Garuda nor can stars dim the light of the sun. This for him is proof
of the superior power of the Jaina images as compared to the Shaiva.
In the early 12th century, another Jaina next informs us that the
Chaulukya king, angered by the rakshasas, the daityas and the
asuras who were destroying temples and disturbing the rishis
and brahmanas, campaigned against them.23 One expects the
list to include the Turushkas (as the Turks were called) but instead mention
is made of the local rajas. The king is said to have made a pilgrimage to
Somanatha and found that the temple was old and disintegrating. He is said
to have stated that it was a disgrace that the local rajas were plundering
the pilgrims to Somanatha but could not keep the temple in good repair. This
is the same king who built at Cambay a mosque which was later destroyed in a
campaign against the Chaulukyas of Gujarat by the Paramaras of Malwa. But
the Paramara king also looted the Jaina and other temples built under the
patronage of the Chaulukyas.24 It would seem that when the temple
was seen as a statement of power, it could become a target of attack,
irrespective of religious affiliations.
Various Jaina texts, giving the history of the famous Chaulukya king
Kumarapala, mention his connection with Somanatha. It is stated that he
wished to be immortalised.25 So Hemachandra, his Jaina minister,
persuaded the king to replace the dilapidated wooden temple at Somanatha
with a new stone temple. The temple is clearly described as dilapidated and
not destroyed. When the new temple on the location of the old had been
completed, both Kumarapala and Hemachandra took part in the ritual of
consecration. Hemachandra wished to impress the king with the spiritual
powers of a Jaina acharya, so on his bidding Shiva, the deity of the
temple, appeared before the king. Kumarapala was so overcome by this miracle
that he converted to the Jaina faith. The focus is again on the superior
power of Jainism over Shaivism. The renovating of the temple, which is also
important, takes on the symbolism of political legitimation for the king. It
does seem curious that these activities focussed on the Somanatha temple,
yet no mention is made of Mahmud, in spite of the raid having occurred in
the previous couple of centuries. The miracle is the central point in the
connection with Somanatha in these accounts.
SOME suggestion of an anguish over what may be indirect references to the
raids of Mahmud come from quite other Jaina sources and interestingly these
relate to the merchant community. In an anthology of stories, one story
refers to the merchant Javadi who quickly makes a fortune in trade and then
goes in search of a Jaina icon which had been taken away to the land called
Gajjana.26 This is clearly Ghazna. The ruler of Gajjana was a
Yavana - a term by now used for those coming from the West. The
Yavana ruler was easily won over by the wealth presented to him by
Javadi. He allowed Javadi to search for the icon and, when it was found,
gave him permission to take it back. Not only that but the Yavana
worshipped the icon prior to its departure. The second part of the narrative
deals with the vicissitudes of having the icon installed in Gujarat, but
that is another story.
This is a reconciliation story with a certain element of wishful
thinking. The initial removal of the icon is hurtful and creates anguish.
Its return should ideally be through reconciling iconoclasts to the worship
of icons. There are other touching stories in which the ruler of Gajjana or
other Yavana kings are persuaded not to attack Gujarat. But such stories are
generally related as a demonstration of the power of the Jaina acharyas.
The Jaina sources therefore underline their own ideology. Jaina temples
survive, Shaiva temples get destroyed. Shiva has abandoned his icons unlike
Mahavira who still resides in his icons and protects them. Attacks are to be
expected in the Kaliyuga since it is an age of evil. Icons will be broken
but wealthy Jaina merchants will restore the temples and the icons will,
invariably and miraculously, mend themselves.
The third category of major narratives is constituted by the inscriptions
in Sanskrit from Somanatha itself, focussing on the temple and its vicinity.
The perspectives which these point to are again very different from the
earlier two. In the 12th century the Chaulukya king, Kumarapala, issues an
inscription. He appoints a governor to protect Somanatha and the protection
is against the piracy and the looting of the local rajas.27 A
century later, the Chaulkyas are again protecting the site, this time from
attacks by the Malwa rajas.28 The regular complaint about local
rajas looting pilgrims at Somanatha becomes a continuing refrain in many
In 1169, an inscription records the appointment of the chief priest of
the Somanatha temple, Bhava Brihaspati.29 He claims to have come
from Kannauj, from a family of Pashupata Shaiva brahmanas and, as the
inscriptions show, initiated a succession of powerful priests at the
Somanatha temple. He states that he was sent by Shiva himself to
rehabilitate the temple. This was required because it was an old structure,
much neglected by the officers and because temples in any case deteriorate
in the Kaliyuga. Bhava Brihaspati claims that it was he who persuaded
Kumarapala to replace the older wooden temple with a stone temple.
AGAIN no mention is made of the raid of Mahmud. Was this out of
embarrassment that a powerful icon of Shiva had been desecrated? Or was the
looting of a temple not such an extraordinary event? The Turko-Persian
chronicles may well have been indulging in exaggeration. Yet the looting of
the pilgrims by the local rajas is repeatedly mentioned. Was Kumarapala's
renovation both an act of veneration for Shiva and a seeking of legitimation?
Was this, in a sense, an inversion of Mahmud seeking legitimation through
raiding the temple? Are these then counter-points of legitimation in viewing
In 1264, a long legal document was issued in the form of an inscription
with both a Sanskrit and an Arabic version and concerns the acquisition of
land and the building of a mosque by a trader from Hormuz.30 The
Sanskrit version begins with the usual formulaic symbol - the siddham
- and continues with invoking Vishvanatha, a name for Shiva. But there is
also a suggestion that it was a rendering into Sanskrit of Allah, the Lord
of the Universe. We are told that Khoja Nuruddin Feruz, the son of Khoja Abu
Ibrahim of Hormuz, a commander of a ship, and evidently a respected trader -
as his title Khoja/Khwaja would indicate - acquired land in Mahajanapali on
the outskirts of the town of Somanatha to build a mosque, which is referred
to as a dharmasthana. The land was acquired from the local raja, Sri
Chada, son of Nanasimha, and reference is also made to the governor of
Kathiawar, Maladeva, and the Chaulukya-Vaghela king, Arjunadeva.
THE acquisition of this land has the approval of two local bodies, the
panchakula and the association of the jamatha. The panchakulas
were powerful administrative and local committees, well-established during
this period, consisting of recognised authorities such as priests, officers,
merchants and local dignitaries. This particular panchakula was
headed by purohita Virabhadra, the Shaiva Pashupata acharya
most likely of the Somanatha temple, and among its members was the merchant
Abhayasimha. From other inscriptions it would seem that Virabhadra was
related to Bhava Brihaspati in a line of succession. The witnesses to his
agreement of granting land for the building of the mosque are mentioned by
name and described as the "the big men". They were the thakuras, ranakas,
rajas and merchants, many from the Mahajanapali. Some of these dignitaries
were functionaries of the estates of the Somanatha and other temples. The
land given for the mosque in Mahajanapali was part of these estates.
THE other committee endorsing the agreement was the jamatha,
consisting of ship-owners, artisans, sailors and religious teachers,
probably from Hormuz. Also mentioned are the oil-millers, masons and
Musalmana horse-handlers, all referred to by what appear to be occupational
or caste names, such as chunakara and ghamchika. Were these
local converts to Islam? Since the jamatha was to ensure the income
from these endowments for the maintenance of the mosque, it was necessary to
indicate its membership.
The inscription lists the endowments for the mosque. These included two
large measures of land which were part of the temple property from adjoining
temples situated in Somanatha-pattana, land from a matha,
income from two shops in the vicinity, and an oil-mill. The measures of land
were bought from the purohita and the chief priests of the temples
and the sales were attested by the men of rank. The shops and the oil-mill
were purchased from the local people.
The tone and sentiment of the inscription is amicable and clearly the
settlement had been agreed to on all sides. The building of a substantial
mosque in association with some of the properties of the Somanatha temple,
not by a conqueror but by a trader through a legal agreement, was obviously
not objected to - neither by the local governor and dignitaries nor by the
priests, all of whom were party to the decision. The mosque is thus closely
linked to the erstwhile properties and the functionaries of the Somanatha
temple. This raises many questions. Did this transaction, 200 or so years
after the raid of Mahmud, not interfere with the remembrance of the raid as
handed down in the minds of the priests and the local 'big men'? Were
memories short or was the event relatively unimportant?
Did the local people make a distinction between the Arab and West Asian
traders on the one hand, often referred to as Tajika, and the Turks or
Turushkas on the other? And were the former acceptable and the Turks much
less so? Clearly they were not all homogenised and identified as Muslims, as
we would do today. Should we not sift the reactions to the event by
examining the responses of particular social groups and situations? Hormuz
was crucial to the horse trade, therefore Nuruddin was welcomed. Did the
profits of trade overrule other considerations? Were the temples and their
administrators also investing in horse trading and making handsome profits,
even if the parties they were trading with were Muslims and therefore of the
same religion as Mahmud?
In the 15th century, a number of short inscriptions from Gujarat refer to
battles against the Turks. One very moving inscription in Sanskrit comes
from Somanatha itself.31 Although written in Sanskrit, it begins
with the Islamic formulaic blessing, bismillah rahman-i-rahim. It
gives details of the family of the Vohara/Bohra Farid and we know that the
Bohras were of Arab descent. We are told that the town of Somanatha was
attacked by the Turushkas, the Turks, and Vohara Farid who was the son of
Vohara Muhammad, joined in the defence of the town, fighting against the
Turushkas on behalf of the local ruler Brahmadeva. Farid was killed and the
inscription is a memorial to him.
It would seem from these sources that the aftermath of the raid of Mahmud
on the temple of Somanatha took the form of varying perceptions of the
event, and different from what we have assumed. There are no simplistic
explanations that would emerge from any or all of these narratives. How then
have we arrived today at the rather simplistic historical theory that the
raid of Mahmud created a trauma in the Hindu consciousness which has been at
the root of Hindu-Muslim relations ever since? Or to put it in the words of
K. M. Munshi: "For a thousand years Mahmud's destruction of the shrine has
been burnt into the collective sub-conscious of the (Hindu) race as an
unforgettable national disaster."32
INTERESTINGLY, what appears to be the earliest mention of a 'Hindu
trauma' in connection with Mahmud's raid on Somanatha comes from the debate
in the House of Commons in London in 1843 on the question of the gates of
the Somanatha temple.33 In 1842, Lord Ellenborough issued his
famous 'Proclamation of the Gates' in which he ordered the British army in
Afghanistan to return via Ghazni and bring back to India the sandalwood
gates from the tomb of Mahmud. These were believed to have been looted by
Mahmud from Somanatha. It was claimed that the intention was to return what
was looted from India, an act which would symbolise British control over
Afghanistan despite their poor showing in the Anglo-Afghan wars. It was also
presented as an attempt to reverse Indian subjugation to Afghanistan in the
pre-British period. Was this an appeal to Hindu sentiment, as some
The Proclamation raised a storm in the House of Commons and became a
major issue in the cross-fire between the Government and the Opposition. The
question was asked whether Ellenborough was catering to religious prejudices
by appeasing the Hindus or was he appealing to national sympathies. It was
defended by those who maintained that the gates were a 'national trophy' and
not a religious icon. In this connection, the request of Ranjit Singh, the
ruler of the Punjab, to the king of Afghanistan, Shah Shujah, for the return
of the gates, was quoted. But on examining the letter making this request,
it was discovered that Ranjit Singh had confused the Somanatha temple with
the Jagannatha temple. It was also argued that no historian mentions the
gates in the various accounts of Mahmud's raid, therefore the story of the
gates could only be an invention of folk tradition.
The historians referred to were Gibbon, who wrote on the Roman empire,
Firdausi and Sa'adi, both Persian poets, and Firishta. The last of these was
the only one who, in the 17th century, had written on Indian history.
Firishta was well-known because Alexander Dow had translated his history
into English in the late-18th century. Firishta's account of the sack of
Somanatha was as fanciful as the earlier accounts, with obvious
exaggerations such as the huge size of the idol and the quantity of jewels
that poured out when Mahmud pierced its belly. Members of the House of
Commons were using their perceptions of Indian history as ammunition in
their own political and party hostilities.
Those critical of Ellenborough were fearful of the consequences: they saw
the fetching of the gates as supporting a native religion and that too the
monstrous Linga-ism as they called it; and they felt that its political
consequences would be violent indignation among the Mohammadans. Those
supporting Ellenborough in the House of Commons argued equally vehemently
that he was removing the feeling of degradation from the minds of the
Hindus. It would "... relieve that country, which had been overrun by the
Mohammadan conqueror, from the painful feelings which had been rankling
amongst the people for nearly a thousand years." And that, "... the memory
of the gates (has been) preserved by the Hindus as a painful memorial of the
most devastating invasions that had ever desolated Hindustan."
Did this debate fan an anti-Muslim sentiment among Hindus in India,
which, judging from the earlier sources, had either not existed or been
marginal and localised? The absence in earlier times of an articulation of a
trauma remains enigmatic.
The gates were uprooted and brought back in triumph. But on arrival, they
were found to be of Egyptian workmanship and not associated in any way with
India. So they were placed in a store-room in the Agra Fort and possibly by
now have been eaten by white ants.
From this point on, the arguments of the debate in the House of Commons
come to be reflected in the writing on Somanatha. Mahmud's raid was made the
central point in Hindu-Muslim relations. K.M. Munshi led the demand for the
restoration of the Somanatha temple. His obsession with restoring the
glories of Hindu history began in a general way with his writing historical
novels, inspired by reading Walter Scott. But the deeper imprint came from
Bankim Chandra Chatterji's Anandamatha, as is evident from his novel,
Jaya Somanatha, published in 1927. And as one historian, R. C.
Majumdar, puts it, Bankim Chandra's nationalism was Hindu rather than
Indian. "This is made crystal clear from his other writings which contain
passionate outbursts against the subjugation of India by the Muslims."34
Munshi was concerned with restoring the Hindu Aryan glory of the pre-Islamic
past. Muslim rule was viewed as the major disjuncture in Indian history.
Munshi's comments often echo the statements made in the House of Commons
debate as is evident from his book, Somanatha: The Shrine Eternal.
MUNSHI made the Somanatha temple the most important symbol of Muslim
iconoclasm in India. But prior to this, its significance appears to have
been largely regional. Consistent references to it as a symbol of Muslim
iconoclasm are to be found largely only in the Turko-Persian chronicles.
Possibly the fact that Munshi was himself from Gujarat may have had some
role in his projection of Somanatha. Prior to this, in other parts of the
country the symbols of iconoclasm, where they existed, were places of local
importance and knowledge of the raid on Somanatha was of marginal interest.
On the rebuilding of the Somanatha temple in 1951, Munshi, by then a
Minister of the central government, had this to say: "... the collective
subconscious of India today is happier with the scheme of the reconstruction
of Somanatha, sponsored by the Government of India, than with many other
things we have done or are doing."35 Nehru objected strongly to
the Government of India being associated with the project and insisted on
its being restored as a private venture.36 That the President of
India, Rajendra Prasad was to perform the consecration ceremony was
unacceptable to him. This introduces a further dimension to the reading of
the event, involving the secular credentials of society and state.
The received opinion is that events such as the raid on Somanatha created
what has been called two antagonistic categories of epic: the 'epic of
conquest' and the 'counter-epic of resistance'.37 It has also
been described as epitomising "the archetypal encounter of Islam with Hindu
idolatry."38 We many well ask how and when did this dichotomy
crystallise? Did it emerge with modern historians reading too literally from
just one set of narratives, without juxtaposing these with the other
narratives? If narratives are read without being placed in a
historiographical context, the reading is, to put it mildly, incomplete and
therefore distorted. Firishta's version, for example, was repeated endlessly
in recent times, without considering its historiography: neither was this
done within the tradition of the Turko-Persian chronicles nor in the context
of other narratives which can be said to impinge on the same event.
We continue to see such situations as a binary projection of Hindu and
Muslim. Yet what should be evident from the sources which I have discussed
is that there are multiple groups with varying agendas involved in the way
in which the event and Somanatha are represented. There are differentiations
in the attitudes of the Persian chronicles towards the Arabs and the Turks.
Within the Persian sources, the earlier fantasy of Manat gradually gives way
to a more political concern with the legitimacy of Islamic rule in India
through the Sultans. Was there, on the part of the Persian chroniclers, a
deliberate playing down of the Arab intervention in India? And if this be
so, can it be traced to the confrontations between the Persians and the
Arabs in the early history of Islam? The hostility between the Bohras and
the Turks, technically both Muslims, may have also been part of this
confrontation since the Bohras were of Arab descent and probably saw
themselves as among the settled communities of Gujarat and saw the Turks as
Biographies and histories from Jaina authors, discussing matters
pertaining to the royal court and to the religion of the elite, focus on
attempts to show Mahavira in a better light than Shiva. The agenda becomes
that of the competing rivalry between the Jainas and the Shaivas. But the
sources which focus on a different social group, that of the Jaina
merchants, seem to be conciliatory towards the confrontation with Mahmud,
perhaps because the trading community would have suffered heavy disruptions
in periods of raids and campaigns.
FROM the Veraval inscription of 1264, cooperation in the building of the
mosque came from a range of social groups, from the most orthodox ritual
specialists to those wielding secular authority and from the highest
property holders to those with lesser property. Interestingly, the members
of the jamatha were Muslims from Hormuz and it would seem that local
Muslim participation was largely from occupations at the lower end of the
social scale. As such, their responsibility for the maintenance of the
mosque would have required the goodwill of the Somanatha elite. Did the
elite see themselves as patrons of a new kind of control over property?
These relationships were not determined by the general category of what
have been called Hindu interests and Muslim interests. They varied in
accordance with more particular interests and these drew on identities of
ethnicity, religious sectarianism and social status.
I have tried to show how each set of narratives turns the focus of what
Somanatha symbolises: the occasion for the projection of an iconoclast and
champion of Islam; the assertion of the superiority of Jainism over Shaivism;
the inequities of the Kaliyuga; the centrality of the profits of trade
subordinating other considerations; colonial perceptions of Indian society
as having always been an antagonistic duality of Hindu and Muslim; Hindu
nationalism and the restoration of a particular view of the past, contesting
the secularising of modern Indian society. But these are not discrete foci.
Even when juxtaposed, a pattern emerges: a pattern which requires that the
understanding of the event should be historically contextual, multi-faceted,
and aware of the ideological structures implicit in the narratives.
I would argue that Mahmud of Ghazni's raid on the Somanatha temple did
not create a dichotomy, because each of the many facets involved in the
perception of the event, consciously or subconsciously, was enveloped in a
multiplicity of other contexts as well. These direct our attention to
varying representations, both overt and hidden, and lead us to explore the
statements implicit in these representations. The assessment of these facets
may provide us with more sensitive insights into our past.
1. Vana parvan 13.14; 80.78; 86. 18-19; 119.1
2. B. K. Thapar, 1951, 'The Temple at Somanatha: History by Excavations,'
in K. M. Munshi, Somnath: The Shrine Eternal, Bombay, 105-33; M. A.
Dhaky and H. P. Sastri, 1974, The Riddle of the Temple at Somanatha,
3. V. K. Jain, 1990, Trade and Traders in Western India, Delhi.
4. Epigraphia Indica XXXII, 47 ff.
5. Muhammad Ulfi, 'Jami-ul-Hikayat,' in Eliot and Dowson, The History
of India as Told by its own Historians, II, 201. Wasa Abhira from
Anahilvada had property worth ten lakhs in Ghazni; impressive, even if
6. Abdullah Wassaf, Tazjiyat-ul-Amsar, in Eliot and Dowson, The
History of India as Told by its own Historians, III, 31 ff. Marco Polo
also comments on the wealth involved in the horse trade especially with
southern India. Prabandhachintamani, 14; Rajashekhara,
Prabandhakosha, Shantiniketan, 1935, 121.
7. Abdullah Wassaf, Eliot and Dowson, op. cit. I, 69; Pehoa Inscription,
Epigraphia Indica, I. 184 ff.
8. A. Wink, 1990, Al-Hind, Volume 1, Delhi, 173 ff; 184 ff; 187
9. Alberuni in E. C. Sachau, 1964 (reprint), Alberuni's India, New
10. Ibid., II.9-10, 54.
11. F. Sistani in M. Nazim, 1931, The Life and Times of Sultan Mahmud
of Ghazni, Cambridge.
12. Quran, 53. 19-20 G. Ryckmans, 1951, Les Religions Arabes
13. Nazim, op.cit.
14. A. Wink, 1990, Al-Hind, I, Delhi, 184-89; 217-18.
15. cf. Mohammad Habib, 1967, Sultan Mahamud of Ghaznin, Delhi.
16. Ibn Attar quoted in Nazim, op. cit.; Ibn Asir in Gazetteer of the
Bombay Presidency, I, 523; Eliot and Dowson, II, 248 ff; 468 ff. al
Kazwini, Eliot and Dowson, I, 97 ff. Abdullah Wassaf, Eliot and Dowson, III,
44 ff; IV. 181.
17. Attar quoted in Nazim, op.cit., 221; Firishta in J. Briggs, 1966
(reprint), History of the Rise of the Mohammadan Power in India,
18. A. Wink, Al-Hind, Volume 2, 217.
19. Zakariya al Kazvini, Asarul-bilad, Eliot and Dowson, op.cit.,
I, 97 ff.
20. Fatawa-yi-Jahandari discussed in P. Hardy, 1997 (rep),
Historians of Medieval India, Delhi, 25 ff; 107 ff.
21. Futuh-al-Salatin discussed in Hardy, op.cit., 107-8.
22. Satyapuriya-Mahavira-utsaha, III.2. D. Sharma, 'Some New Light
on the Route of Mahamud of Ghazni's Raid on Somanatha: Multan to Somanatha
and Somanatha to Multan,' in B. P. Sinha (ed.), 1969, Dr. Satkari Mookerji
Felicitation Volume, Varanasi, 165-168.
23.Hemachandra, Dvyashraya-kavya, Indian Antiquary 1875, 4, 72 ff,
110 ff, 232 ff, 265 ff; Ibid., 1980, 9.; J. Klatt, 'Extracts from the
Historical Records of the Jainas', Indian Antiquary 1882, 11, 245-56;
A.F.R. Hoernle, Ibid. 1890, 19, 233-42.
24. P. Bhatia, The Paramaras, Delhi, 1970, 141.
25. Merutunga, Prabandha-Chintamani, C. H. Tawney (trans.), 1899,
Calcutta, IV, 129 ff. G. Buhler, 1936, The Life of Hemachandracharya,
26. Nabhinandanoddhara, discussed in P. Granoff, 1992, 'The
Householder as Shaman: Jaina Biographies of Temple Builders,' East and
West, 42, 2-4, 301-317.
27. Praci Inscription, Poona Orientalist, 1937, 1.4.39-46.
28. Epigraphia Indica II, 437 ff.
29. Prabhaspattana Inscription, BPSI, 186.
30. Somanathapattana Veraval Inscription, Epigraphia Indica,
XXXIV, 141 ff.
31. D.B. Disalkar, 'Inscriptions of Kathiawad,' New Indian Antiquary,
1939, I, 591.
32. Somanatha: The Shrine Eternal, 89.
33. The United Kingdom House of Commons Debate, 9 March 1943, on,
The Somnath (Prabhas Patan) Proclamation, Junagadh 1948. 584-602, 620,
630-32, 656, 674.
34. British Paramountcy and Indian Renaissance, Part II, History
and Culture of the Indian People, 1965, Bombay, 478.
35. Munshi, op.cit., 184.
36. S. Gopal (ed.), 1994, Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru, Vol.
16, Part I, Delhi, 270 ff.
37. Aziz Ahmed, 1963, 'Epic and Counter Epic in Medieval India,'
Journal of the American Oriental Society, 83, 470-76.
38. Davis, op.cit. 93.
This is an edited version as published in Seminar, March 1999 (Number
475), of the second of two lectures given as the D. D. Kosambi Memorial
Lectures for 1999 at the University of Bombay. The author is grateful to the
Head of the Department of History for giving permission to publish this
version. The complete text of both lectures will be published by the
University of Bombay with the title, Narratives and the Making of History.