Were Indian armies really helpless against Central Asians ?

Chimaji Appa

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It has come to my attention that many people believe that nomadic armies were almost always dominant over sedentary ones. We see proof of this with the Mongols conquering the world, in the Battle of Manizkert, and Mahmud Ghaznis 17 successful raids in India. What is always forgotten, however, is sedentary armies always coming back, like the Byzantines reconquering half of Anatolia, or the Song being able to beat back 2 Mongol campaigns and leading successful re-conquests under the Ming, Yashodharman repulsing the Alkhon Huns or the Hans launching succsesful campaigns into Xiongnu territory.

In India, Central Asian armies did succeed, but not without many failures and repulsions. Indian armies have beaten back many nomadic armies of the Hephtalites, Ghaznavids, Arabs, Ghurids, and the Mughals at the end. Indians were not nomads, which is why they did not go about conquering half the world, but that does not mean that they did not have a strong martial culture. This post is going to be mainly about the successes that the Indians achieved against the Ghaznavids and early Ghurids.

To start Indians have a respectable record against nomadic armies:
1. Guptas under Skandagupta beat back the 1st wave of Huna/Hephtalite invasions, and when the Hunas can finally break through in the late 5th century, they get defeated and driven out by the Guptas and their ex feaudatories led by Yashodharman who nearly destroyed the Huna Empire and reduced it to Gandhara and Panjab.
2. Indian armies repulsed 2 Arab invasions in 726 and 738.
3. The Yaudheyas and other tribal republics successfully gain independence from the Kushans.

Now on to the Ghaznavids, I understand that Mahmud of Ghazni launched successful raids into India, but these were against minor kingdoms like a local Bhatinda Raja, or the declining Pratihara king. Mahmud was no pushover, this man could defeat the Seljuks and repulse them from Nishapur, while scoring several impressive victories over the Hindu Shahis. Mahmud of Ghazni is said to have met some trouble in Kashmir and against the Chandellas, but there is not enough evidence to say that he was decisively defeated in India. He conquered Gandhara, parts of Himachal, Punjab, Haryana, vassalized Delhi and sacked Somnath in Saurashtra, Gujarat. However, in the 1040s, a Hindu coalition led by the king of Delhi (most probably the declining Pratiharas) successfully reconquered Haryana and Himachal (Thanesar, Hasni, Nagarkot, etc..). This coalition would later besiege Lahore, a major Ghaznavid city itself, but would be repulsed. The Later Ghazanvids were much less luckier.

I have compiled a list of Hindu victories before 1192, organized into different kingdoms:

Gahadavalas:
-In the 1090s/Early 1110s, Masud III of Ghazni leads an expedition into India, and captured the Gahadavala king, who is later recovered by a constant war from Govindacandra, who “forces the Hammira to lay aside his emminity”. A treaty was concluded and Govindachandra retakes his kingdom.
-Govindachandra also seems to have repulsed a Ghaznavid invasion as a sovereign, as his courtier states that he killed a Hammira. His wife, Kumaradevi, praises him from “protecting Varanasi against the ‘wicked Tururska’. This is probably a reference to him being vigilant in general against the Turks, who may have fought or the frontier of the kingdom.
-Vijayachandra also seems to have repulsed a Ghaznavid invasion pre- 1164, when Khusrau Malik invaded India with pressure on the western front from the newly formed Ghurids, but was repulsed. Gahdavala records also praise him for this feat.
-Jayachandra Gahadavala fought the Turks at Chandawar, and muslim sources make it clear that he was carrying the day and the Turks were loosing morale, but a straw arrow that hit Jayachandra decided the ultimate fate of UP's history for the next 500 years,
Against the Chahamanas:
-Bahram Shah invades and captures Nagaur, and starts raiding into Chahamana territory, but gets repulsed by Anoraja, as attested by the Prithviraja Vijaya and several other inscriptions.
- Ajayraja fights and routs the Ghaznavids out of Nagaur.
- Prithviraj’s frontier generals repulse several skirmishes of the Ghurids and crush the 1191 invasion.
Solankis:
- Rout the army of Muiz al din/ Muhammad of Ghor near Mt. Abu.

Summary of Indo-Turkic conflicts pre 1192:
Bahram Shah launched multiple “Holy wars” into India (as indicated by 13th century Muslim chronicler Minaj). The first one may have been an attempt at the Indo Gangetic plains, which was repulsed by Govindacandra. The second was probably directed towards the Chahamana kingdom, after achieving some success, they get repulsed completely. Khusrau Malik also attempted another shot at India, following his defeat but he and his Turkic army were repulsed by the Gahadavalas. This would make sense as Bahram Shah was a Seljuk vassal and could focus on extending his domains into India. The Ghurid rebellion and the Ghazanvid loss of Ghazni forced Khusrau Malik to operate out of Lahore, where he tried one last shot or raid in India, but was repulsed by Vijayachandra. In 1186, Muhammad of Ghor finished off the Ghazanvids for good and burned Lahore to the ground; it can be expected that his troops began raiding into Chahamana territory, as the Ghurids were ambitious about conquering India since 1178. While Hindu sources have magnified these raids into large battles, the Muslim sources have chosen to forget about these events altogether.
There are 2 parts to this post, one will be about the victories achieved by Indians, while the other will be about the causes of Turkic success in India.

Sources:
Early Chauhan Dynasties by Dasharatha Sharma
Peter Jackson: The Delhi Sultanate a political and military history
Sailendra Nath Sen: Ancient Indian history and civilization
Mahesh Singh: Bhoja Paramar And his times
R. C. Majumdar: The history and culture of the Indian peoples : The Delhi Sultanates
History of the Gahdavalas by Roma Niyogi and RC Majumdar
Ashok Kumar Majumdar: Chaulukyas of Gujarat
 

Varun2002

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K.M Munshi in his book "Somnath the shrine eternal" is pretty certain that Mahmud of Ghazni did suffer a defeat in the Gujarat region against a local powerful king( maybe named Mandalika, I will dig up the book somewhere in my place). Also, it is known that someone from one of many cities Mahmud raided( probably Gujarat again) deliberately guided him and his army out of India through a very difficult route, causing huge losses. That can be counted as a setback to Mahmud as well.
 

Chimaji Appa

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K.M Munshi in his book "Somnath the shrine eternal" is pretty certain that Mahmud of Ghazni did suffer a defeat in the Gujarat region against a local powerful king( maybe named Mandalika, I will dig up the book somewhere in my place). Also, it is known that someone from one of many cities Mahmud raided( probably Gujarat again) deliberately guided him and his army out of India through a very difficult route, causing huge losses. That can be counted as a setback to Mahmud as well.
A naddula Chahamana also claimed victory over Mahmud Ghazni. Dashratha Sharma speculates that he defeated one of his generals, but others claim he was part of some Confederacy that was organized by Bhoja.

It makes me laugh when people bring up Mahmud to show some kind of inferiority as it were priests + some rajputs who kept his army at bay for 3 days in somnath. Imagine what a proper trained army would have done.
 

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