The end of Muslim rule in India was as spasmodic as its beginning. It took five hundred years for its establishment (712-1206) and one hundred and fifty years for its decline and fall (1707-1857). The benchmarks of its establishment are C.E. 712 when Muhammad bin Qasim invaded Sind, 1000 when Mahmud of Ghazni embarked upon a series of expeditions against Hindustan, 1192-1206 when Prithviraj Chauhan lost to Muhammad Ghauri and Qutbuddin Aibak set up the Turki Sultanate at Delhi, and 1296 when Alauddin Khalji pushed into the Deccan.
The stages of its downfall are 1707 when Aurangzeb died, 1739 when a trembling Mughal Emperor stood as a suppliant before the Persian invader Nadir Shah, 1803 when Delhi was captured by the British, and 1858 when the last Mughal ruler was sent to Rangoon as a prisoner of the ‘Raj’.
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For five centuries-thirteenth to seventeenth-however, most parts of India were under Muslim rule, though with varying degrees of effectiveness in different regions of the country. But at no single point in time was the whole country ruled exclusively by the Muslims. On the other hand, the five hundred years long Muslim rule did not fail to influence Indian political and cultural life in all its facets. Muslim rule apart, Muslim contact with India can be counted from the seventh century itself.
Naturally, the interaction of Muslim culture with the Hindu way of life, backed by the superimposition of Muslim rule in India, gave rise to a sort of a common Indian culture. But only a sort of, there is a superficial veneer about it. On the face of it the influence of Islam on Indian culture is to be seen in all spheres of life, in architecture, painting, music, and literature; in social institutions like marriage ceremonies, in eating habits, in gourmet and cuisine, sartorial fashions and so on.
In actual fact, Hindus and Muslims lead their own lives, mostly in isolation from one another’s, except for personal friendships. Even living together for a thousand years has not welded Hindus and Muslims into one people. Why is it so?
Because Islam believes in dividing humanity into believers and Kafirs, the Muslim community (Ummah) is enjoined not to cooperate on the basis of equality or peaceful coexistence with Kafirs. To them, it offers some alternatives-conversion to Islam, or death, or slavery. At the most, it allows survival on payment of a poll-tax, Jiziyah, and acceptance of second class status, that of Zimmi. As a matter of fact, Muhammadans invaded India to turn it into a land of Islam and spread their culture.
Islamic culture is carrier culture, borrowed from exotic streams. The main contribution of Islamic culture is the Quran and Hadis. It invaded Indian culture not to co-exist with it but to wipe it out. Its declared aim was Islamization through Jihad. But in spite of repeated endeavors through invasions and centuries of Muslim rule, India could not be turned into a Muslim country. Had India been completely converted to Islam, its people, like those of Iran or Libya, would have taken pride in organizing Islamic revolutions, spearheading pan-Islamic movements, and espousing right-or-wrong Islamic causes.
Or, had Hindus the determination and the wherewithal to throw out Islam from India as was done by the Christians in some countries like Spain, there would have been no Muslim problem in India today. But here Muslims stay put, and yet a thousand years of Muslim contact failed to Islamize India. India, therefore, provides a good study to evaluate the achievements and failures, atrocities and beneficences, fundamentalism, and ‘secularism’ of Muslim rule and Muslim people. In the appraisement of Muslim rule, Muslim religion also cannot escape scrutiny, for the former was guided by the latter, the one being inseparable from the other.
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This makes the assessment of the legacy of Muslim rule in India an extremely controversial subject. Its contribution comprises of both bitterness and distrust on the one hand and on the other a composite common culture. We shall take up the common culture first.
So much has already been written about the development of Indo-Muslim composite culture, its ‘give and take’ and its heritage, that it is neither necessary nor possible to touch upon all its aspects. Therefore only a few areas may be taken up-like music and architecture-in which Muslims have made special and substantial contributions. In other branches of fine arts like painting, the story too is familiar. Many Mughal paintings bear the touch of Ajanta or its regional variations, while Rajput and Pahari Qalam adopted a lot from Muslim miniature style and art of portraiture. Equally important is the Muslim contribution in the sphere of jewelry, textiles, pottery, etc. In the fields of sport and athletics, again, Muslim participation has been both extensive and praiseworthy.
It is in the domain of music in particular that the contribution of Muslims is the greatest. It is, however, difficult to claim that it is really Muslim. What they have practiced since medieval times is Hindu classical music with its Guru-Shishya parampara. The Gharana(school) system is the extension of this parampara or tradition. Most of the great Muslim musicians were and are originally Hindu and they have continued with the tradition of singing an invocation to Goddess Saraswati or other deities before starting their performance.
Be that as it may, all Muslim rulers and nobles had musicians – singers and players on instruments – in their courts. They patronized the meritorious by giving them high salaries and rich rewards. They got a number of books on music translated from Sanskrit into Persian. Some of them used to get so much involved in poetry and music that sometimes it was done at the cost of state work. There are many reasons for this phenomenon. The Indian system of notation is perhaps the oldest and most elaborate. There are ragas meant to be sung in winter, in summer, it rains, and in autumn.
There are month-wise ragas meant to be sung during the twelve months of the year (baramasa). There are ragas meant for singing in the morning, early noon, afternoon, and in the evenings. There are ragas, it is claimed, that can light a lamp or bring about a downpour of rain. Then there are ragas and raginis designated for dance. Dance in its art form is as elaborate as music and is based on Hindu Natya-Shastra. Sculptures of dancers and musicians carved on ancient and medieval temples, now mostly surviving in south India, bear testimony to their excellence, popularity, and widespread practice.
In such a situation Muslims could add little to this art from outside. Officially music and dance are banned in Islam. Muslim ruling classes therefore could only patronize Hindu classical music in its original form. Some rulers were patrons of artists, others practiced it themselves, many others collected musicians from all over the country. That is how Mian Tansen could earn so much renown. Amir Khusrau is also credited with composing songs some of which are popular to this day.
Under the Khaljis there were concerts and competitions arranged between Hindustani and Karnatak musicians. Indian classical music flourished throughout the medieval period, although classical Indian dancing drifted from the aesthetic and religious sphere into the salons of courtesans and dancing girls.
Abul Fazl writes about the Mughal emperor Akbar that ‘His Majesty pays much attention to music and is the patron of all who practices this enchanting art’. About Tansen, he says that a singer like him had not been in India for the last one thousand years’. Tansen was originally a Gaur Brahman of Gwalior and he had been trained in the school established by Raja Man Singh Tomar of Gwalior (C.E. 1486-1518). The Raja was the author of a treatise on music entitled Man Kutuhal.
He also got the Ragadarpan translated into Persian. Similarly, during the reign of Firoz Tughlaq (1351-88) was composed Ghunyat-ul-Munya by a Muslim scholar of Gujarat. Under the patronage of Sikandar Lodi was written the Lahjat-i-Sikandar Shahiby one Umar Yahiya. Yahiya was a scholar of Arabic, Persian, and Sanskrit, and his work is based on many Sanskrit treatises like Sangit Ratnakar, Nritya Ratnakar, Sangit Kalpataru, and the works of Matang.
Most Muslim rulers, nobles, and elite passionately patronized Indian classical music and dance and therefore there is no need to mention their names or those of their musicians. But Vincent Smith aptly notes that
“The fact that many of the names are Hindu, with the title Khan added, indicates that the professional artists at a Muhammadan court often found it convenient and profitable to conform to Islam”. 7
There is another interesting fact noticeable. The Indian classical music which became ‘national’ music about the time of Akbar in Agra holds the field even to this day. Political or religious barriers have failed to divide musicians and lovers of music into narrow or antagonistic camps, as the Hindu classical music remains the common legacy of both Hindus and Muslims.
But if music unites, many monuments of the medieval period revive bitter memories in the Hindu mind. These are found almost in every city, every town, and even in many villages either in a dilapidated state or under preservation by the Archaeological Survey of India. Many of these have been converted from Hindu temples and now are extant in the shape of mosques, Idgahs, Dargahs, Ziarats (shrines) Sarais, and Mazars (tombs) Madrasas, and Maktabs.
Throughout the Muslim rule destruction of Hindu shrines and construction of mosques and other buildings from their materials and at their very sites went on as a normal practice. From the Qawwal-ul-Islam mosque in Delhi built out of twenty-seven Hindu and Jain temples in the twelfth century to the Taj-ul-Masajid built from hundreds of Hindu and Jain temples at Bhopal in the eighteenth century, the story is the same everywhere.
For temples were not broken only during the war, but in times of peace too. Sultan Firoz Shah Tughlaq writes:
“I destroyed their idol temples, and instead thereof raised mosques where infidels and idolaters worshipped idols, Musalmans now, by God’s mercy, perform their devotion to the true God”.9
And so said and did Sikandar Lodi, Shahjahan, Aurangzeb, and Tipu Sultan. Shams Siraj Afif writes that some sovereigns like Muhammad Tughlaq and Firoz Tughlaq were
“Specially chosen by the Al-mighty from among the faithful, and in the whole course of their reigns, whenever they took an idol temple, they broke and destroyed it”.11
Why did Muslim conquerors and rulers break temples? They destroyed temples because it is enjoined by their scriptures. In the history of Islam, iconoclasm and razing other peoples’ temples are central to the faith. They derive their justification and validity from the Quranic Revelation and the Prophet’s Sunna or practice. Shrines and idols of unbelievers began to be destroyed during the Prophet’s own time and, indeed at his behest. Sirat-un-Nabi, the first pious biography of the Prophet, tells us how during the earliest days of Islam, young men at Medina influenced by Islamic teachings used to break idols. However, desecration and destruction began in earnest when Mecca was conquered.
Umar was chosen for destroying the pictures on the walls of the shrine at Kabah. Tarikh-i-Tabari tells us that raiding parties were sent in all directions to destroy the images of deities held in special veneration by different tribes including the images of al-Manat, al-Lat, and al-Uzza. Because of early successes at home, Islam developed a full-fledged theory of iconoclasm. India too suffered terribly.
Thousands of Hindu shrines and edifices disappeared in northern India by the time of Sikandar Lodi and Babur. Since the wreckage of Hindu temples became scarcer and scarcer to obtain, from the time of Akbar onwards many Muslim buildings began to be constructed, not from the debris of Hindu temples, but from materials specially prepared for them like pillars, screens, etc.
Alauddin Khalji’s Alai Darwaza at Delhi, Akbar’s Buland Darwaza at Fatehpur Sikri, and Adil Shah’s Gol Gumbaz at Bijapur are marvels of massive elegance, while Humayun’s tomb at Delhi and Taj Mahal at Agra is beauteous monuments in stone and marble. Any people would be proud of such monuments, and the Indians are too. But for an if. If there was no reckless vandalism in breaking temples and utilizing their materials in constructing Muslim buildings that lie scattered throughout the country, the Hindu psyche would not be hurt. Will Durant rightly laments in Story of Civilization that
“We can never know from looking at India to-day, what grandeur and beauty she once possessed.”
Thus in the field of architecture, the legacy is a mix of pride and dejection. With impressive Muslim monuments, there is a large sprinkling of converted monuments which are an eye-sore to the vast majority of the population.