Glory, Even Amidst Ruins – The Lessons Of Some Previous Historic Resistances To Foreign Dominions

[Author’s Note: This piece was originally intended for India’s 2022 Independence Day observances. However, ill-health and fatigue on my part meant that it could not be completed in time. I therefore present the finished half today – and shall follow up with the subsequent portion and conclusion as and when it is ready.]

And so we come to it again. Indian Independence Day. The (Re-)Birth of a Nation. 

Now, it has become popular in certain circles to endeavour to present this as something ‘novel’. And, in a sense, I suppose that this is true. 

Yet the better, ‘deepa’ perspective is that if it is ‘new’ – then it is simply something old, archaic, ancient, and enduring coming back around again. 

Many are seeking to look back upon the Past today. The prominent theme is, after all, “India at Seventy Five”.

Yet we wish to go further. Back, indeed, toward an onsetting ‘Twilight’ as the Shades of Night gathered a thousand years and more ago. 

Our purpose in so doing is both an act of remembrance – and also to act as a guide, an act of ‘inspiration’ to those of us here today who are in one sense or another an ‘inheritor’ to the struggle (a ‘Swaraj Struggle’ we may truly say) for which it stands. 

Because it is easy to conjure energy and vigour to the righteous cause when it is seeming-young, things are on the up, and one is winning. Much more difficult to do so – and much more vitally necessary to engage in such – when we find ourselves at the decided ‘other end of the process’. And when things are somewhat ‘uncertain’ or perceptibly ‘infirm’ – well, it is good to be able to draw from the more steely reservoirs of the latter rather than having to await the conjurings as to the former. 

This brings us to the focus for today’s devotional tribute (a)arti-cle in earnest:

Our subject is the long and drawn out ‘decline and fall’ of Hinduism in Afghanistan following the arrival of a certain competing force – most particularly that which occurred under the Hindu Shahi whose collapse enabled Mahmud of Ghazni to raid with such infernally intrepid impunity all the way to Somnath. 

Yet this should in no way be read as any condemnation of the Hindu Shahi – quite the opposite, in fact. They faced a seeming-inevitable ending … and yet fought with an unmatched vigour and heroism for the best part of three hundred years to forestall this sad fate. Mahmud and his antecedents would have gotten a lot further and done an incalculable swathe more damage had they not been forestalled in such a manner. Somnath was, after all, his ‘high water mark’ – the place where his ‘wave’ finally broke and began to ‘roll back’.

But that is ‘Nightfall’. Let us go back further, to when ‘Evening’ had just begun to loom insidiously upon the horizon.

[][] Dharma Unprotected, Does Not Protect In Earnest [][]

The earthly end of Muhammad in 632 AD was not the end of the wars of conquest waged by Muhammad’s successors. As the Reverend Rolinson has occasionally observed – almost exactly a century later in 732, Muslim armies were poised to strike within a hundred miles of Paris. In the East, the situation was little different.

In 665, Kabul was lost. At the time it had been under the rulership of the Nezak Shahi – a polity which, contrary to what you might read in various places with revisionist agendas, had a significantly Hindu saliency. Indeed, per the travelogue of the Chinese pilgrim Hsuan-Tsang (also anglicized Xuanzang, Hiuen Tsang, etc.), shortly before this time Hinduism was actually making quite the resurgence amongst the people in relevant areas. 

The Islamic occupancy of Kabul was not a permanent thing, however, and within a few years, the Turk Shahi under Barha Tegin had managed to not only reconquer Kabul – but also liberate significant swathes of other territory as well.

Indeed, to cast things in rather harsh relief against the pop-prevalent narrative of ‘unstoppable’ Islamic armies surging forth in one unbroken line of conquest … the next near half-century or so is in fact dominated by Arab-marshalled armies of the Caliphate being defeated and driven back. Not in every case – and there are also (often-temporary) successes by the invader which then drain time, treasure, and manpower to forcibly dislodge. 

Nobody told them, in other words, that their defeat was supposed to be ‘inevitable’. 

Yet the ensuing tale of the Turk Shahi is a rather sad one – as a little more than a century following their recapture of Kabul, the Turk Shahi ruler of the day was forced to submit to the Abbasid Caliph. And then, following a rather disastrous backfiring of an attempted power-play, a subsequent Turk Shahi regent some 35 years later in 815 was forced to convert to Islam himself.

What’s interesting is that these significant further reversals appear to have been somewhat coterminous with the increasing Buddhist orientation of the regime – something which we can tell due to the nature of the ‘tribute’ sent by that last Turk Shahi king back to Mecca. Namely, a singularly impressive Buddha depiction – in keeping with the custom enforced upon various converts to the earlier era of Islamic religion whereby they would consciously disavow their previous faith through iconoclasm and/or sending its major devotional focus to be displayed as a trophy at the Ka’aba in Mecca.

Now I do not seek to suggest that it was because the Turk Shahi had moved away from Hinduism and become increasingly Buddhist that they suffered such reversals of fortune – but however it came about, it is demonstrably the case and demonstrably sad that they wound up bereft of the Gods of their forefathers in the end.

And we shall return to Afghanistan in a moment for the climax of our piece. 

[][] The Situation of Sindh [][]

Yet speaking of a ‘differential’ between Buddhist and Hindu responses to the incipient Umayyad expansionism of the day – my mind turns to Derryl N. Maclean’s “Religion and Society in Arab Sind”. We shan’t re-tread over all of his observations and conclusions here, but suffice to say Maclean addeuced something of a pattern in how various different communities of Sindh responded to the Arab invasion in 712 AD. 

On one level, and in the immediate sense – the Buddhist communities tended to choose to collaborate with the invaders (and often pointedly before it had become apparent that the Muslims would be the ‘winning side’); the Hindus chose to fight. 

Now, to be fair and sure, this pattern was not absolute across the entire conflict – as things wore on and organized military resistance became less and less viable, various Hindu communities did start to capitulate (although as has been pointed out, various Hindu communities on the periphery really did keep fighting to, even beyond the end), and it is certainly possible that there may have been Buddhists who resisted in such a manner as well. Yet in the main, this was the general typology in evidence.

As Maclean puts it – “Where the primary sources refer to religious affiliation, Buddhist communities (as opposed to individuals) are always (there is no exception) mentioned in terms of collaboration. Conversely, Hindu communities rarely collaborated until after the conquest of Brahmanabad, and even then only sparingly. […] [With a single possible exception it appears] every Buddhist named in the sources was a collaborator. On the other hand, while the names of numerous Hindus have been preserved, only one individual definitely collaborated before the death of Dahir. […] The crucial point is not that some Hindus collaborated, but that there is not one example in the sources of an individual Buddhist (with the possible except of Bhandawir [who may, in fact, have been a Hindu]) or a group of Buddhists who did not collaborate with the Arabs. Furthermore, Buddhists generally collaborated early on in the campaign before the major conquest of Sind had been achieved and even before the conquest of towns in which they were resident and which were held by strong garrisons.” 

Maclean then goes on to further flesh out the situation, showing how various of these Buddhist efforts were not merely “opportunistic” or entirely consistent with ‘self-preservation’ – instead going “out of their way to aid the Arabs in conditions of considerable personal jeopardy.” Which, as one may presume, presents quite a trenchant difference to the active Hindu resistance in evidence right the way through. 

Why did this occur? Well, it would be tempting to ascribe this overt difference in response to religious differences. Yet I’m not sure that’s quite the case. Instead, it seemed to significantly come down to more ‘worldly’ motivations. 

Various Buddhist communities appear to have felt that the Muslims would act as a breaker for the power and ascendancy of Hinduism in the region. These communities also appear to have been significantly mercantile – and felt that War and Resistance were ‘bad for business’ (at least partially because the consequences of losing meant having your valuables looted by the victors), whilst collaboration with the Arabs could potentially unlock lucrative trading opportunities via the Muslim world’s expanding mercantile networks. The latter suite of economic motivation also appears to have run directly into a different preference on the part of prominent Brahmin groups running and ruling the area, who were more interested in economic self-sufficiency rather than trade – something which had also influenced the antipathy from some of those Buddhist groupings against them in the first instance. 

The rather distasteful irony inherent in notionally Buddhist communities choosing to prioritize material considerations (in particular, the continued possession of storehouses of trade-goods and future lucrative opportunities to exchange these for further advancement down the track) does go some way towards demonstrating that it is unlikely to be truly ‘religious’ thinking which drove their decision-making at the time. And therefore, that the occurrent situation in Sindh at that time was not due to some failing inherent in Buddhism the religion … so much as failings inherent in Buddhists the particular adherents in question. 

Yet we are not here to ‘point fingers’ at this or that religious community of more than a millennium and a quarter’s antiquity for what had then ensued. There should be precious little point in seeking to do so. 

Instead, we have invoked the situation of Sindh in order to draw attention to another element entirely. Namely – what happened next.

Maclean observes another rather resounding salient differential between the Buddhist and Hindu communities of Sindh in the wake of the Arabic invasion and occupation. To phrase it directly – the fact that at various points subsequent there still very much were Hindu communities in Sindh, and an almost disconcerting lack of Buddhist communities to be found through the same period and area. 

As Maclean puts it – ” despite the numerous Muslim travellers passing through the area […] There is not a single reference to Buddhists actually in Sind subsequent to the initial Thaqafite conquest. Even such an astute scholar as Biruni, who actually visited Sind, was unable to find any Buddhist informatns for his encyclopaedia on Indian religions (“I have never found a Buddhistic book and never knew a Buddhist from whom I might have learned their theories”) […] Moreover, none of the surviving Buddhist structures in Sind were built after the Muslim conquest […] In consequence, it is reasonable to conclude that Buddhism died out in Sind during the course of Arab rule.”

He goes on to detail the exact opposite situation occurring for the Hindus – namely, that more than two and a half centuries following the invasion, the Hindu population, Hindu temples, and other signifers for saliency remained inveterately strong in the area. How salient? Well, Maclean also notes the concern of Muslim authorities at the time of Maqdisi in the late 10th century that Muslims were converting to Hinduism – with the potent Temples of the region acting as quite the “temptation” to take up the native faith. 

Indeed, even almost a thousand years subsequent to that (exactly 1,200 years later, in fact, in 1911 and by then under British rule) – the Hindu population of Sindh remained noteworthy and strong. A situation persistent (on at least one side of the present Indo-Pakistani border) to the present day. And utterly without parallel for the Buddhist communities that once existed therein. 

Maclean devotes a considerable proportion of his thesis to seeking to explicate just how and why this most remarkable difference of tangible outcome could have occurred. We shall not go into most of that here. Suffice to say he considers various possibilities for what became of Sindh’s previous Buddhist population and observes that the number of Buddhists who left Sindh for elsewhere within the Dharmosphere appears to have been very limited. He also draws upon the documentary animosity of the major currents of Buddhism toward Hinduism (to the point of burning scriptures and iconoclasm) in the immediate prior situation to argue that conversion to Hinduism (Or ‘Hinduised Buddhism’) also did not likely account for a hugely significant quotient of the ‘missing’ Buddhists of Sindh in the prolongued wake of the invasion. 

Instead, the major explanation which the evidence appears to point to is also quite a simple one: The Buddhist population of Sindh did significantly convert … just not to Hinduism. But rather to Islam. Motivated, in part, it should seem via the mercantile benefits that could thusly accrue to them through so doing.

In short, this entire Sindh scenario has been invoked to demonstrate two essential truths:

First, that the people who place great value in money and expediency will often find that all other values they may happen to profess will sink into the mire of history with little trace.

And second – that the people who are prepared to actively fight to defend that which they value will often have those values endure.

[Brief addendum: If you’re wondering why I went with the particular choice of image for page-header / illustration … you can find more upon it here]

One thought on “Glory, Even Amidst Ruins – The Lessons Of Some Previous Historic Resistances To Foreign Dominions

  1. Pingback: Glory, Even Amidst Ruins – The Lessons Of Some Previous Historic Resistances To Foreign Dominions – Glyn Hnutu-healh: History, Alchemy, and Me

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