A Tribute to unsung heroes- The Shahi rulers of Kabul
Author: Chetan Shirasi
The fierce resistance given by Rai’s of Sindh compelled the invading Arabs to venture northwards towards the region Kabul and Zabul in AD643.Here they met an equally formidable enemy: The Shahi rulers of Kabul.
Origin of the Shahi rulers
The Shahi (Devanagari शाही), Sahi, also called Shahiya dynasties ruled one of the Middle kingdoms of India which included portions of the Kabulistan and the old province of Gandhara (now in northern Pakistan). It ruled began with the decline of the Kushan Empire in the third century and continued till the early ninth century.
In AD 645, Chinese pilgrim Hiuen Tsang visited the kingdom of Kabul Shahi. He mentioned that it’s captal is Kapisa and this kingdom dominates over 10 neighboring states comprising of Lampaka, Nagara, Gandhara and Varna (Bannu) and probably also Jaguda.
The Shahis of Kabul/Gandhara are generally divided according to two eras into the so-called Buddhist-Shahis and Hindu shahis .The Buddhist kingdom was known as “Kabul Shahi” it reigned between 565 and 879 AD and had Kapisa and Kabul as their capitals.
With the change-over thought to have occurred sometime around AD 870 the kingdom adopted Hinduism and thus began to be known as Hindu-Shahis, In AD 880 they moved their capital to Udbhandapur.
Note: Shahis is the title adopted by the dude to the popular usage of the name in the region. The term Hindu Shahi was a royal title of this dynasty and not its actual clan or ethnological name. Al-Biruni used the title Shah for many other contemporary royal houses in his descriptions as well.
These fierce warriors were of Kshatriya origins with Turkish influences. The theory of them being of Turkish origin, penned by Alberuni has been disapproved by western and Indian Scholars alike.
Islamic armies had started attacking Zabul (an area of Shahi Dominace) and Kabul soon after they annexed Khorasan in AD 643.. The Islamic army suffered heavy losses and were driven out.
It was only in AD 653 An Arab general, Abdul Rahman, was able to conquer Zabul and levy tribute from Kabul. The king of Kabul, however, proved desultory in paying regularly what the Arabs thought to be their due. Finally, another Arab general, Yazid ibn Ziyad who had been the governor of Seistan for some time, attempted retribution in AD 683. This time king of Kabul has managed to get aid from other kshatriya kings of India. Yazid ibn Ziyad was killed, and his army was put to flight with great slaughter. The Arabs lost Seistan also, and had to pay 5,00,000 dirhams to get one of their generals, Abu Ubaida, released.
But the Arabs, inspired as they were by an imperialist ideology, did not give up. They recovered Seistan some time before AD 692. Its new governor, Abdullah, invaded Kabul. The Shahis trapped the Arab army in the mountain passes after allowing it to advance unopposed for some distance. Abdullah agreed to cease hostilities, and the king of Kabul agreed to renew payment of an annual tribute. But the treaty was denounced by the Caliph who dismissed Abdullah.
The war against Kabul was renewed in AD 695 when Hajjaj became the governor of Iraq. In AD 697 He sent an army under Ubaidullah, the new governor of Seistan. Ubaidullah was defeated by Ratanpal the king of Kabul and was forced to retreat after leaving his three sons as hostages and promising that “he shall not fight as long as he was governor”.Once again, the treaty was denounced by the Caliph, and another general, Shuraih, tried to advance upon Kabul. He was killed by the Shahis, and his army suffered huge losses as it retreated through the desert of Bust. Poor Ubaidullah died of grief. That was the third round won by the kingdom of Kabul.
After some more attempts,Hajjaj had to make peace according to which the Shahis were entitled to keep their kingdom in exchange for an annual tribute. However this payment was stopped in AD 717owing to which resulted in to a constant struggle . Due to these onslaughts the Shahis shifted their capital from Kapisa to Kabul in AD 794. Shahis continued to hold ground 70 more years i.e till AD 867.
The Caliphate had failed once again to conquer a small Hindu principality, in spite of their being the mightiest power on earth. The struggle had lasted for more than two hundred years now.
The second half of the 9th century was of great turmoil to the in the Arab world. The central authority of the caliphate was being challenged by many authorities. At the end of the eighth century the Caliphate found they could no longer keep a huge polity from Baghdad. Morocco and Egypt along with few others had already set up their own Emirates. In the East as well, governors decreased their ties to the center. The Saffarids of Herat and the Samanids of Bukhara had broken away from the Caliphate by the 870s.Hence two new Challenges started to emerge in the afghan region for the Shahis to face.
The kingdom of Kabul suffered a temporary eclipse in AD 870 when the Turkish adventurer, Yaqub bin Layth, who founded the Saffarid dynasty of Persia, treacherously killed the king of Kabul but was unsuccessful in conquering the kingdom.
Around this time there was a change of religious thought in the court of the Shahis. They denounced Buddhism and became an adherent of Hindu faith. Hence the first Hindu Shahi dynasty was founded in AD 870 by Kallar .Kallar is well documented to be a Brahmin. In AD 879 an army led by Yaqub bin Layth, invaded the Hindu kingdoms of both Kabul and Zabul. The king of Kabul was killed in the battle, and the population was converted to Islam by force. That was a permanent loss to India. The kingdom was bounded on the north by the Hindu kingdom of Kashmir, on the east by Rajput kingdoms, on the south by the Muslim Emirates of Multan and Mansura, and on the west by the Saffarid Empire.
- In AD 890 The succeeding Hindu king of Shahi Kallar,a Brahmin had transferred his capital to Udbhandapur on the Indus. He was succeeded by his son by his son Kamaluka (895–921).
Meanwhile The Saffarids were gradually overthrown by samarids and in return samarids were replaced by ghazanvid dynasty founded by the slave Alptigin in AD 962. Alptigin was succeeded by his son-in-law Sabuktgin in AD 977.
In AD 964 after the death of Bhima, the rule of Hindu Shahi was assumed by the Maharajadiraja Jayapala Janjua, son of Rai Asatapala Janjua. He was the cheif of the Rajupt warrior clan called Janjua.
Maharajadhiraj Jayapal (964 to 1001 AD):
Jayapal was one of greatest rulers and most well known among the Shahi Rulers . He is celebrated as a hero for his struggles in defending his kingdom from the Turkic rulers of Ghazni.
Jayapala and Sabukgin:
The ownership of Kabul Ghaznavid dynasty was passed on to Sabuktgin. Jayapala long wanted to conquer Kabul and kapisa,their homeland. Hence Hindus made a bold bid to recapture Kabul. In AD 986-987, a confederate Hindu army to which the Rajas of Delhi, Ajmer, Kalinjar and Kanauj has contributed troops and money, advanced into the heartland of the Islamic kingdom of Ghazni. According to Utbi, the battle lasted several days and the warriors of Subuktigin, including prince Mahmood, were reduced to despair. But a snow-storm and rains upset the plans of Jayapala who opened negotiations for peace. But the peace thus concluded proved temporary. The Muslims resumed the offensive and the Hindus were defeated and driven out of Kabul.
Sabuktgin died in AD 994 and the lordship of Ghazanavid Empire fell in to the hands of the most notorious plunderer and a ferocious warrior of Islamic world: Mahmud of Ghazni.
Jayapala and Mahmud of Ghazni:
Mahmud led his first invasion against the Shahiyas of Udbhandapur in AD 1001 when he advanced upon Peshawar. Raja Jayapala was caught unawares, and could not mobilise all his forces in time. The lack of a standing army was to prove the undoing of many Hindu princes in days to come. In contrast, the Muslim militarists always maintained their armed hordes in a permanent state of mobilisation. Even so, the Hindus fought an obstinate battle in the face of overwhelming odds. They, however, depended upon slow moving elephants which proved a poor match for the highly mobile Muslim cavalry. They were defeated and Jayapala himself was made captive along with his family and chief men of his kingdom.
Hodivala gives details of the humiliation of Jaipal at the hands of Mahmud.
He writes that Jaipal was publicly exposed at one of the slave-auctions in some market in Khurasan, just like the thousands of other Hindu captives.He was paraded about so that his sons and chieftains might see him in that condition of shame, bonds and disgrace inflicting upon him the public indignity of commingling him in one common servitude. Such humiliation smashed his morale. He was released by Mahmud in exchange for fifty elephants.Jaypala’s territories were not annexed by Mahmud as great damage was inflicted on his army and he suffered great loss which made him incapable of ruling the Hindu lands. On the other hand, Jayapala thought himself unworthy of the throne he occupied, and burnt himself on a funeral pyre to which he set fire with his own hands. This was a demonstration of the Hindu sense of honour, which no defeated outside marauder could ever match.
” ( Jaypala) was perhaps the last Indian ruler to show such spirit of aggression, so sadly lacking in later Rajput kings.”R.G. Misra
Indian Resistance to Early Muslim Invaders Up to 1206 AD,
Jayapala’s successor, Anandapala, proved equally valiant. He refused passage to Mahmud’s armies on their way to Multan in AD 1005-06. This led to a battle which Anandapala lost. His son, Sukhapala, was taken prisoner and converted to Islam. Mahmud had to rush back to Ghazni to meet an attack from the west. He left his Indian possessions in the hands of Sukhapala who, however, soon returned to the Hindu fold.
Mahmud invaded India again in AD 1008. According to Firishta, quoted by Dr. Misra, Anandapala sent ambassadors on all sides inviting assistance of other princes of Hindustan, who now considered the expulsion of Mohammadans from India as a sacred duty. Accordingly the Rajas of Ujjain, Gwalior, Kalinjar, Kanauj, Delhi and Ajmer entered into a confederacy and collecting their forces advanced towards Punjab. The Indians and Mohammedans remained encamped [at Waihind] for forty days without coming into action.The Hindu women, on this occasion, sold their jewels and melted down their gold ornaments to furnish resources for the war. Mahmud ordered six thousand archers to the front to endeavour to provoke the enemy to attack his entrenchments. The Khokhars penetrated into Mohammadan lines where a dreadful carnage ensued and 5000 Mohammadans in a few minutes were slain. Utbi admits that the battle lasted from morning till evening and the infidels were near gaining victory.Firishta reports that Mahmud saw his plight and sent some of his elite warriors to attack the elephant on which Anandapala was sitting and directing the contest. The elephant took fright from the naptha balls and flights of arrows and turned and fled.That broke the morale of the Hindu army. It was neither the first nor the last occasion on which the Hindu army became an uncontrollable rabble and suffered defeat and slaughter simply because the elephant carrying its commander turned tail. The Muslim armies were more disciplined.
The Shahiya dynasty now established a new capital at Nandana in the Salt Range. They contested every inch against subsequent raids of Mahmud. The next battle took place in AD 1013. Trilochanapala who had meanwhile succeeded Anandapala, retired into the hills of Kashmir where the Prime Minister of that kingdom came to his help with a large army. KalhaNa has described this battle in glowing terms in his RãjatarañgiNî. Utbi writes that the action lasted for several days without intermission, and that the Hindus lost it only when they were drawn into the plain to fight, like oil sucked up into the wick of the candle. Kalhana concludes: Even after he had obtained his victory, the Hammira did not breathe freely, thinking of the superhuman prowess of the illustrious Trilochanapala.
The Shahiya king with his son, Bhimapala (known as Nidar Bhima), now established a new seat at Lohara (Lohkot) on the border of Kashmir. Mahmud tried to storm it in AD 1015. Firishta tells us that this was the first disaster that the Sultan suffered in his campaigns against India. After some days he extricated himself with great difficulty from his peril, and reached Ghazni without having achieved any success. For obvious reasons, comments Dr. Misra, the contemporary Muslim historians do not mention this particular expedition.
The Shahiyas were no longer in a position to arrest the forward march of Mahmud. Nor was Mahmud in a position to dislodge them from Lohara so long as a single scion of the dynasty remained alive. Trilochanapala was killed in A.D. 1021, and his son Bhimapala five years later (A.D. 1026), fighting Mahmud all along at different places and in league with different Hindu princes. He was the last Emperor of the famed dynasty.
His sons Rudrapal, Diddapal, Kshempala, and Anangpala served as generals in Kashmir. They gained prominence in the Kashmiri royal court where they occupied influential positions and intermarried with the royal family.The succeeding generations continued to take part in campaign against Ghazni and later against Ghor dynasty until they faded in obscurity.
Years later, Alberuni wrote:
The Hindu Shahiya dynasty is now extinct, and of the whole house there is no longer the slightest remnant in existence. We must say that, in all their grandeur, they never slackened in the ardent desire of doing that which is good and right, that they were men of noble sentiment and noble bearing.
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