by Moin Ansari
There are a lot of myths about the temple at Somnath and a lot of myths about Mahmud of Ghazni who destroyed it in the 11th century. Yogi Siskand a regular contributor to our site has researched the attacks on the Somnath temple and his research informs the world that attacking Somnath was not simply a Muslim past time in the 11th century and onwards. He describes many raids on Somnath made by other local Hindi and Jain rajas.
Somnath, she notes, is first mentioned in the Mahabharata as a place for pilgrimage which did not have a temple until much later. The Shaivite temple at Somnath actually dates to the late ninth or early tenth century. Somnath was then a thriving port, a great centre of trade with Muslim
Arabia and Iran. A sizeable portion of the income that the temple earned from pilgrims was invested in the lucrative West Asian trade. Thapar tells us that well before Mahmud appeared on the scene, several local Hindu rajas, such as the Chudasamas, Abhiras and Yadavas, would regularly attack pilgrims on their way to Somnath and loot them of the money and valuables that they intended to donate to the temple. In other words, Mahmud was certainly not the first of the raiders attracted to Somnath by the legendary tales of its fabulous wealth.
A different picture emerges from the Jain accounts of this period. Dhanapala, an eleventh century Jain poet, attached to the Paramara court in Malwa and a contemporary of Mahmud, writes in his Satyauriya Mahavira Utasha, that Mahmud had been unable to damage the idols of Mahavira in the Jain temples. Dhanapala saw this as proof of the ‘superior power’ of Jainism over its historical rival, Shaivism. Hemachandra, the early twelfth century Jain author of the Dvayashraya Kavya, writes that the Hindu Chalukya king of Gujarat was greatly angered by the destruction of temples by the rakshsas, daityas and asuras [demons]. Curiously, he identifies these vandals not as Muslims or Turks but as local Hindu rajas. The Chalukya king, he tells us, then went on a pilgrimage to Somnath and found the temple in a state of neglect and disrepair, and apparently felt that ‘it was a disgrace that the local [Hindu] rajas were plundering the pilgrims’. Accordingly, he ordered the temple to be repaired. Interestingly, this very same. Yodi Siskand
Somnath, Idol of, “a mere mass of coarse crockery,” says Jepherson Brick, an imaginary friend of Carlyle’s, “not worth five shillings, sat like a great staring god, with two diamonds for eyes, which one day a commander of the Faithful took the liberty to smite once as he rode up with grim battle-axe and heart full of Moslem fire, and which thereupon shivered into a heap of ugly potsherds, yielding from its belly half a waggon-load of gold coins; the gold coins, diamond eyes, and other valuables were carefully picked up by the Faithful; confused jingle of potsherds was left lying; and the idol of Somnath, once showing what it was, had suddenly come to a conclusion.” Definition taken from The Nuttall Encyclopædia, edited by the Reverend James Wood (1907)
The destruction of the Somnath temple has been described as a raid, and the most profound attack on “India” in the 11th century. Mahmud’s attack decimated the power of the area eliminating the stratfied structure of the society in the area. Here is a dscription of the temple on temples on IloveIndia.
It is a pilgrimage centre held in great reverence throughout India. Situated 79 kilometres from Junagadh and 25 kilometres from Chorwad, the legendary shore temple of Somnath is one of the twelve most sacred Shiva shrines in India. According to the legend, Somnath is as old as creation, built by none other than the Moon God himself.
It is believed that he had built this temple with gold. Later it was built by Ravana in silver, then Lord Krishna in wood and Bhima in stone. Legend has it that the Kalabhairava shivalinga at Prabhasa was worshipped by the moon and hence, the Lord is called as Somnatha. The Somnath temple also houses the remains of the ancient Sun temple.
Towards the east of the town is the Bhalka Teertha. This is where, Lord Krishna is believed to have been injured by a tribal arrow. Somnath was destroyed and rebuilt several times. Mehmud of Gazni having heard of its fabulous treasure, raided it in 1026 and carried away camel loads of jewels and gold. Lunch is available here in the simple dining hall in the temple compound, north of the main gate. One cannot get the cameras inside.
The temple is located by the beautiful blue waters of the Arabian Sea. The Somnath beach is a fascinating sight. The fresh blue waters, humming waves and the cool sands, gives you a feeling of having landed in a paradise. Nearby is the Prabhas Patan Museum, which houses the 11th century version of the Somnath temple with 5 domes and many pillars.
HISTORY OF THE DESTRUCTION OF THE TEMPLE: THE RAJPUT ERA ENDS
The end of the Rajput era created the beginning of the Muslim era in India. Dr. Smith says that this became so prominent that the centuries from the death of Harsha to the Mohammedan conquest of Hindustan, extending in round numbers from the middle of the seventh century to the close of the twelfth century, was the Rajput era . This is 500 years of Hindu rule. This is one of the few periods of history when Hindus ruled India.
On the eve of the Arab invasion of Sind (712 A.D: Quaid-e-Azam said that this is the day the Pakistan movement began in India), Chandrapida, the grandson of Durlabhavardhan was the ruler of the Korkot (Kashmir ) kingdom The most powerful king was Muktipida Lalitadya, brother and successor of Chandrapida. He was a great conqueror, and is said to have conquered Punjab, Dardistan and Kabul.
The conception of a monolithic and pathologically Muslim response to the image, which substitutes essentialist tropes for historical analysis, elides the distinction between different types of cultural practices. It not only obscures any variation, complexity, or sophistication in Muslim responses to the image but also a priori precludes the possibility of iconoclastic “moments” in Islamic history, which might shed light on those complex responses. (6) To use a European analogy, it is as if the destruction of pagan images by Christians in late antiquity, the mutilation of icons in ninth-century Byzantium, the iconoclastic depredations of the Reformation, and the events of the French Revolution could all be accommodated under the single rubric Christian iconoclasm.
The methodological problems stemming from the naturalization of historical acts need hardly be highlighted, and they are compounded by three further aspects of traditional scholarship on Islamic iconoclasm. The first is the idea that Islamic iconoclasm is the product of a specific theological attitude, with only secondary political and no aesthetic content. A second, closely related assumption is that the iconoclastic acts of medieval Muslims were primarily directed at the (religious) art of the non-Muslim “other.” (7) The third, and most striking, peculiarity of the existing discourse on iconoclasm in the medieval Islamic world is that, remarkably for a practice that concerns the physical transformation of material objects, such discussions are almost always confined to texts, making only passing reference to surviving objects, if at all. Moreover, the dominance of the text has been marked by the essentialist approach to Islam and the image referred to previously, with a corresponding failure to interrogate or problematize the vocabulary of iconoclasm. Despite the abundant material evidence, there is, as yet, not a single systematic survey (textual or material) of what precisely was done in any region of the medieval world to images by Muslims who objected to them. As a result, rhetorical claims of image destruction have often been taken at face value, even when not borne out by archaeological or art historical evidence. (8) Between Cult and Culture: Bamiyan, Islamic Iconoclasm, and the Museum. by Finbarr Barry Flood
Mahmud Ghanznavi (translated: Mahmud of Ghazni) was not, according to some, like future Muslim invaders of India, a religious proselytizer. Indeed, with the exception of Punjab, which he needed as his “forward operating base” for his Indian expeditions, he made no attempt to rule any of his conquests. His intent was economic and political. It has been said that the destruction of Somnath is mentioned only in Muslim texts, whose authors had the habit of exaggeration. This view goes as far as to say in the opinion of some, the Ghaznivad empire fell apart because of Mahmud’s excessive reliance on Hindu soldiers and generals.
Others, however, have argued the reverse: he may have wanted the money, but also wanted to spread Islam and did his best to destroy temples even when offered large sums to leave the temples alone. The Indian historian Romila Thapar  takes a middle view: Mahmud needed money for his wars; India’s temples were known to contain fabulous treasures; we need not look for more complicated explanations. Thapar said he was undoubtedly an iconoclast, and hardly averse to destroying temples to gain favor when he went to heaven. Nonetheless, he warred equally with other Islamic sects, because he was a Sunni. The secondary purpose of his raids may have been tied up with his need to convert Shias to Sunni beliefs. Mahmud Ghaznavi’s 17 Invasions of India Ravi Rikhye
The most famous and terrible invasion launched by Mahmud was his sixteenth, against the Somnath Temple in Gujrat, western India. This was an immense distance from Ghanzni, but one supposes by now he was so feared that he had easy passage.
The Somnath temple was very famous for its treasures. There were one thousand priests to serve the temple. Hundreds of dancers and singers played before its gate. There was famous Linga, a rude pillar stone, adorned with gems embroidered with precious like stars, which decorated the shrine.
The brave Hindu Rajputs came forward to defend the temple. Shouting ‘Allah hu Akbar’, the enemy tried to entered into the temple. The Hindus fought very bravely and the invaders ..After three days, the invaders succeeded and entered into the Somnath temple.
Mahmud ordered his men to destroy the sacred idol, Linga. He looted the treasures of the temple. It is said that he got wealth worth 20-million Dinars, eighty times the already huge sum he had gained on his first invasion. Mahmud Ghaznavi’s 17 Invasions of India Ravi Rikhye
Somnath, an ancient maritime town of Oujarat, India, in the SW. of the peninsula of Kathiawar; has interesting memorials of Krishna, who, it is alleged, is hurled in the vicinity; close by is a famous ruined Hindu temple, despoiled in the 11th century of its treasures, sacred idol, and gates; in 1842 Lord Ellenborough brought hack from Afghanistan gates which he thought to be the famous “Gates of Somnath,” but doubt being cast on their authenticity, they were eventually placed in the arsenal of Agra. Population (circa 1900) given as 7,000. Definition taken from The Nuttall Encyclopædia, edited by the Reverend James Wood (1907)
Alptigin, one of the Turkish slaves of the Samanid ruler, Abdul Malik, rose to the status of Governor of Khurasan. However, when his patron died, he was striped of his title and forced to leave the land. He captured a small area in Afghanistan and established his rule in the city-state of Ghazni in 962 with the aim of conquering his own land, a desire that remained in the hearts of his successors. After his death in 977, his son-in-law, Subuktigin, succeeded him. Under Subuktigin, Ghazni started emerging as a political and military power of the region. Alarmed at the rising power in the neighborhood, the Hindu Shahi Raja Jaipal attacked Ghazni. Jaipal was defeated. In order to save his life, he promised to pay tribute. But after going back home, he not only defaulted but also took support from other Hindu Rajas of the region and again attacked Subuktigin in 991. His fate was not different this time. He was defeated and had to pay a heavy ransom besides giving away the areas of Lamghan and Peshawar.
Meanwhile, Subuktigin died and his son Mahmud ascended the throne in 998. Jaipal took advantage of the situation, and to avenge his defeat at the hands of Subuktigin, organized an army of twelve thousand horsemen, thirty thousand foot soldiers and three hundred elephants. This movement forced Mahmud, who was preparing to invade Central Asia, to turn his attention towards India. The battle against Jaipal was the beginning of a long series of attacks by Mahmud against South Asia. According to most historians, Mahmud invaded India seventeen times to crush the power of the Hindu Rajas and Maharajas who were always busy planning conspiracies against him. After defeating Tarnochalpal in 1021, Mahmud formally annexed Punjab. After the fall of Punjab, the Hindu think tank assembled at Somnath – which was more of a political center than a temple – to plan a big war against Mahmud. He took all the Rajas and Maharajas by surprise when he attacked Somnath and crushed the Hindu headquarter of political intrigue. With the destruction of Somnath he broke the backbone of the Hindus in the region and thus had no need to attack India again. Mahmud also obtained formal recognition of his sovereignty from the Abbasid Khalifah, al-Qadir Billah, who also conferred upon him the titles of Yamin-ud-Dawlah and Amin-ul-Millah. He spent his last five years in dealing with the affairs of Ghazni and in making plans to conquer Central Asia. Story of Pakistan
Mahmud of Ghazni made two attempts between 1015-1021 to conquer Kashmir, but was unsuccessful. Mahmud of Ghazni attacked temples in the subcontinent because the temples were the seats of political power. The Brahaman priests kept all knowledge to themselves. They kept all knowledge away from the population, locked up in temples (including the knowledge to build the temple). To destroy the political and military power of the city, the temple had to be destroyed. Since the high priest controlled the populations, they had to be defeated. The temples also contained all knowledge of the area. Mohammed Ghauri was the founder of the Muslim empire in India (1173 A.D). The slave dynasty lasted from 1206-1290. The Khilji dynasty lasted from 1290-1320. The Tughlaq dynasty lasted from (1320-1412). In 1304 Ibin-e-Batuta visited visited China through Kashmir. The Syed and Lodhi dynasty lasted from 1413-1526. During the reign of the sultans of Delhi the Khokars had established themselves between Lahore and Ghazni on the Southern border of Kashmir.
The most important impact of Mahmud’s expeditions was the conquest of Punjab for the first time by Muslims and the establishment of Muslim rule and society in the region. Along with Muslim warriors came Muslim saints and Sufis, who promulgated Islam in India. The most important amongst them was Sheikh Ali Hajweri, popularly known as Data Ganj Baksh. He was a renowned Sufi who not only spread the message of Allah in Lahore but also in other parts of Punjab. His book in Persian titled Kashaful-Mahjub is considered as the first authentic book on Sufism.
The establishment of Muslim rule in Punjab is a significant event in the history of Islam in Sub-continent. Muslims gained their first foothold in Northern Indian. The conquest of Punjab also paved the way for other conquerors like Muhammad Ghuri. After the death of Mahmud, the Ghaznavid dynasty lost much of its vigor; yet during the days of his son Masud and grandson Mahmud, Lahore remained an important province of the Ghaznavid Empire. Later, the Ghaznavid rulers moved their headquarter from Ghazni to Punjab and ruled Peshawar, Lahore and Multan till the last half of 12th century when Muhammad Ghuri defeated them. Story of Pakistan
Chalukyan king also ordered the construction of a mosque at Cambay, which was later torn down in an attack by the Hindu Paramaras of Malwa, who are also known to have looted and destroyed many Jain temples built by their Chalukyan rivals. As Thapar perceptively notes, it would seem that places of worship were seen in this game of politics as ‘a statement of power [because of which] they could become a target of attack, irrespective of religious affiliations’.
Since the temple of Somnath was a store-house of great wealth, the Chalukyan kings of Gujarat took strong measures to prevent it from being looted by, among others, the local rajas, all of whom happened to be Hindus. A twelfth century inscription tells us that the Chalukyan king Kumarapala appointed a governor at Somnath to protect the temple ‘against the piracy and looting of the local rajas’. In another inscription dating a century later, the Chalukyan kings are portrayed as protecting the site from being looted by the Hindu rajas of Malwa. The Prabhaspattana inscription of 1169 speaks of the appointment of one Bhava Brihaspati as the chief priest of the temple, who reportedly persuaded the Chalukyan king Kumarapala to repair the temple because ‘it was an old structure, much neglected by the officers’. Curiously, there is no mention of Mahmud’s attack on the temple. Thapar says that this is perhaps because ‘the looting of a temple was not such an extraordinary event’, since it had been a frequent occurrence since well before Mahmud’s invasion.
The historical evidence that Thapar puts together convincingly demolishes the thesis that Mahmud’s attack on Somnath was motivated by a fiery religious zeal and that it sowed the seeds of a never-ending Hindu-Muslim antagonism. She points to a long legal document in Sanskrit dating back to 1264, which talks of a Muslim trader from Hormuz, in Iran, one Khaja Nuruddin Feroz, acquiring a large plot of land on the outskirts of Somnath in order to build a mosque. The land was acquired from Sri Chada, the local Hindu raja, and this deal had the approval of two local bodies. The first of these was the panchakula, consisting of local Hindu notables, including priests, officers and merchants, and headed by none other than the chief priest of the Somnath temple, one Purohit Virabhadra. The other body, the jamatha, consisted of Iranian traders from Hormuz as well as some local Muslims. Interestingly, the land given to build the mosque was part of the large estate of the Somnath temple itself. ‘The tone and sentiment of the inscription is amicable’, notes Thapar, and clearly suggests that Mahmud’s attack was not seen as an instance of alleged ‘Islamic vandalism’ but simply as one among many instances of looting that Somnath had long witnessed, starting well before the first Muslims appeared on the scene.
To further buttress her argument, Thapar refers to a fifteenth century Sanskrit inscription from Somnath which, curiously, begins with the standard Islamic invocation, Bismillah-ir- Rahman- ir-Rahim [‘In the name of Allah, the Most Merciful, the Most Compassionate'. It is dedicated to a Muslim resident of Somnath, one Vohra Farid, son of the Arab Vohra Muhammad, and says that when Somnath was attacked by the Turks [Turushkas], he joined in the defence of the town and fought against them on behalf of the local raja Brahmadeva. Clearly then, Mahmud’s attack on the town can in no sense be seen as a ‘Muslim war against the Hindus’. Yogi Siskand
Northern India had ceased to attract Mahmud, for the spoils of its most wealthy temples were already in his treasury. But the rich and prosperous province of Gujarat was still untouched, and on October 18, 1025, he started from Ghazni with his regular troops and thirty thousand volunteer-horsemen for the temple of Somnath, situated at the distance of a bow-shot from the mouth of the Saraswati, by the side of which the earthly body of Lord Krishna had breathed its last.
The temple of Somnath
“The people of Hind”, says Ferishta (following Ibn-i Asir) “believed that souls after separating from their bodies came to Somnath, and the god assigned to each soul, by way of transmigration, such new body as it deserved. . . . Somnath was the king, while other idols were merely his door-keepers and chamberlains. A hundred thousand people used to collect together in the temple at the time of the solar and lunar eclipses. . . The princes of Hindustan had endowed it with about ten thousand villages. A thousand Brahmans worshipped the idol continuously. . .”
Battle of Somnath
. . . [After a fierce and close battle] Mahmud entered the temple and possessed himself of its fabulous wealth. `Not a hundredth part of the gold and precious stones he obtained from Somnath were to be found in the treasury of any king of Hindustan.’ Later historians have related how Mahmud refused the enormous ransom offered by the Brahmans, and preferred the title of `Idol-breaker’(But-shikan) to that of `Idol-seller’ (But-farosh). He struck the idol with his mace and his piety was instantly rewarded by the precious stones that came out of its belly. Sultan Mahmud of Ghazni by Mohammad Habib
The most irksome and fearsome thing, that the Hindu can conjure, in his mind is a repeat of the fall of ”Somanath” which happened a thousand years ago at the hands of Mahmud of Ghazni.
Somanath was a religious city, in the heartland of the new faith called, Brahmanism, in the lands of the naghar’ Brahmans. The Brahmans were the creators of the Devanagri script though modified from our Indus script, taken from our universities of Taxila. The city of bahman nih,
mis called, Brahmanabad was located in the Kathiwar peninsula near the sea shore. The Hindu Brahmans lived off its bounty. The shrine was endowed with the income of ten thousand villages. This income wealth was not enough for them, so they had convinced the poor, pagan, and primitive people of the lands of Hindh that the idol of Somanath had the power to transmigrate their souls when they died, in a better, and richer, person, when they were re born. So everyone in his or her lifetime had to contribute way beyond their meansto please the idol with gold and jewels which the idol loved the best.
The edifice was built, and stood on 56 pillars of teak wood in a huge compound, with the entrance gates made of solid sandal wood. The teak wood was inlaid with lead. The inner hall of the dome was massive. It was dark inside to create the required aura and awe in the minds of the primitive . For light effect bejewelled chandeliers hung in the right places and gave it the right look.
Near the idol was a chain of solid gold weighing (as per the Brahmans 200 maunds) which was connected with the bells. The chain was pulled at times to awake the sleeping Brahmans to come to duty a thousand at a time.
During the ongoing and continuous show 500 of the most beautiful damsels well versed in all manner of things danced in shifts. The number of 500 female dancers remained constant who danced to the musicians around the clock. All this was done to please the idol made out of stone and hung in space with a magnetic field all around it. This was the ultimate magic.
All this pomp and show ended when Sultan Mahmud came and took away the gates as well as the idol with him. Though the idol was broken in four pieces. The first piece was sent to Mecca to be placed under the entrance door of the Kaaba. The second piece was placed under the entrance to the prophets mosque in Medina. The third at the entrance of the great mosque of Ghuzznih, and the last piece at the entrance of the royal palace in Ghuzznih (Ghazni).
According to ‘Romila Thapar, an Indian historianin her book, “the history of India; vol i, on pages 232-233, she writes:
“the effects of destruction of somanath are etched in the generations of all Hindu Brahmanic, mindset. They shudder from the day when the a revival of Islam takes place. All efforts for the Hindu is focused on this endevour. The bud whenever it grows must be crushed before it blossoms into a flower and the aroma leads the Muslim on a new ”jihad’
The most irksome and fearsome thing, that the Hindu can conjure, in his mind is a repeat of the fall of the idol worshipers so any trick or treachery is not unlawful for them, as long as the end is justified. The eventual fate of the Brahman idol worshipper rests with Allah. Do what they may ‘Time’ is an infinity before ”’ALLAH”, a fact which the limited mind of the Brahman fails to perceive.
History of Idol of Somnath.
The Idol of Manat was a famous figure in pre Islamic Arabia. During 10th Hijri Makka was conquered and idols of Lat, Habal and Uza were defaced, Manat was smuggled to India by ship. (There is evidence of relations between Idol worshipers both regions). Up on his arrival he was renamed as somnat (a common tradition in Sanskrit to add “So = good” before names for ex, bhagia & sobhagia). Mahmood Ghaznavi’s 17 attempts were all vectored towards Kathiawar after defacing somnat he never came back to India, his action of sending remains of Idol to Arabia also signifies his intentions. (Submitted by Rupee News Reader Ozair)
According to many traditions one of the idols was “Nath”. “Som” means “Son of”. SomNath means son of Nath.
If this is actually the case, then, one might ask, how is it then that in Hindutva discourse and even in ordinary Indian school text-books Mahmud’s attack on Somnath came to symbolise a never-ending Hindu-Muslim antagonism? Thapar tells us that the first mention of a so-called ‘Hindu trauma’ in connection with Mahmud’s attack on Somnath was made in the debates in the British House of Commons in 1843. A year earlier, Lord Ellenborough had issued his controversial ‘Proclamation of the Gates’, whereby he ordered the British army in Afghanistan to return via Ghazni, Mahmud’s capital, and to bring back with them the sandalwood gates from Mahmud’s tomb there which, he claimed, had actually been looted by Mahmud from Somnath. He asserted that this would symbolise the British control over Afghanistan despite their poor showing in their battles against the Pathans and that it would also serve to assuage the alleged bruised pride of the Hindus. The 1843 debates in the House of Commons over the ‘gates of Mahmud’ raised a storm of controversy. Lord Ellenborough was accused of seeking to appease the Hindus or to set the Hindus against the Muslims. It was even pointed out that no historian had mentioned any such gates in any of the several accounts of Mahmud’s attack and that the story of the gates ‘could only be an invention of folk tradition’. However, Lord Ellenborough’s supporters managed to prevail in the end, arguing that bringing the gates to India would ‘remove the feelings of degradation from the minds of the Hindus’ and would ‘relieve that country, which had been overrun by the Mohammedan conqueror, from the painful feelings which had been rankling amongst the people for nearly a thousand years’, because, allegedly, ‘the memory of the gates had been preserved by the Hindus as a painful memorial of the most devastating invasions that had ever desolated Hindustan’. As in the case of the Babri Masjid at Ayodhya, here, too, we clearly find British administrators concocting their own versions of ‘history’ in order to set Hindus against the Muslims and help strengthen colonial rule.
The controversy that the British sought to raise over the ‘gates’ had a curious end, however. A set of gates was uprooted by the British army from Mahmud’s tomb in Ghazni and brought back to India in triumph. On arrival, however, it was discovered that the wooden gates were of Egyptian, rather than Indian, workmanship and not associated in any way with Somnath! So, they were placed in a store-room in a dark chamber in the Red Fort at Agra, and by now have probably rotted away into oblivion! Revisioning the History of Hindu-Muslim Relations By Yoginder Sikand
Somnath was not demolished by Mahmud Ghaznavi