For nearly 300 years, Muslim conquerors from Baghdad and Turkey tried to overtake Kashmir, then a strong Hindu kingdom. Kashmir’s Hindu lords once defeated Caliph’s Sindh general and weather prevented Mehmud Gaznavi from entering Kashmir twice, writes Sara Wani


Ruins of Parihaspora in Srinagar outskirts: The governance city that Laltadatiya built at the peak of his rule. A KL Image: Bilal Bahadur

The first mosque that came up for Muslim prayers in the Indian subcontinent was set up in 629 AD at Methala Kodungallur Taluk in Kerala. Sindh, the other port spot that Arabs frequented had its first mosque at Bhanbore in 727 AD. Though Kashmir historically remained intertwined with the rest of the subcontinent, the first mosque in J&K was set up by Rinchana, a Buddhist convert in Srinagar who eventually ruled Kashmir, somewhere around 1320.

The difference of nearly 700 years between the two mosques is a long story about how Islam reached Kashmir. Seemingly, the high mountains surrounding Kashmir were the main obstacle preventing the ‘soldiers of faith’ from taking over the seat of power in Srinagar. But the tortuous passes did not prevent individual Muslims from getting in or the influences they indelibly left in immediate surroundings.

Interestingly, the first Muslim whom history has recorded coming close to Kashmir is none other than Mohammad bin Qasim, the teenage warrior credited for firmly establishing Islam in the subcontinent. His advances into the region were in reaction.

It was during the reign of Caliph Walid (705-713 AD) that Muslim traders were looted and captured by pirates in the Indian Ocean. Baghdad governor Hajjaj ibn Yusuf took up the issue with King of Sindh Raja Dahr. He failed to oblige them saying he lacked any authority over the pirates. It provoked Baghdad Governor who sent his nephew, Mohammad bin Qasim, then 17, with a huge army to subdue the king.

Mohammad bin Qasim led army took the land route through Baluchistan as its arsenal arrived by sea. He took-over Sindh in 712 and marched to the Indus, conquering all the territories up to Multan. Consolidating his control over Sindh, the young Muslim general wrote to kings of India asking them to surrender and accept Islam as their new faith. After dispatching a cavalry of 10,000 against Kanuaj, Mohammad bin Qasim personally led an army to the prevailing frontier of Kashmir called Punj Mahiyat, Persian word suggesting five waters and presumably indicates some spot where Jhelum meets other rivers in the plains, according to Chechnama, the Persian translation of an old Arabic history of the Arab conquest of Sindh. Written by an unknown Arab historian in seventh century, it was translated into Persian by Mohammad Ali bin Hamid Abu Bakr Kufi, later.

Eminent Arab historian Albalazari in his Futhul-i-Baldun, however, identifies the spot as Al Kiraj. It is considered to be somewhere around Kangra valley of Himachal Pradesh. He did not advance further. Instead, he demarcated the border of Kashmir afresh which was earlier delimited by Rai Chach Salayman, Raja Dahr’s father, by sowing saplings of Deodar and poplars on the bank of Panj Mahiyat.

In his magnum opus Kashmir under the Sultans, historian Muhibbul Hassan notes that the Arab General reached the borders of the Kashmir kingdom but avoided an invasion. But its visit to the border was a massive threat to the Hindu kingdom.

Then, Kashmir was ruled by Karkota king Candrapida who had ascended the throne in 713 AD. Kalhana in his Rajatarangni has recorded him as “noble” with a “high sense of justice”, even going against the clergy and his own administration in support of his subjects. But to neutralize the threat on his border, Candrapida sought Chinese help by sending an envoy to the ruling Thang dynasty. However, no help came forth.

By then, however, there was a change of guard in Damascus that resulted in Qasim’s recall to Baghdad. He was imprisoned by the new governor and tortured to death.

By the time Caliph Hisham (724-60) appointed Junaid as Sindh’s governor, Islam had made definite inroads in the region. Even Raja Dahr’s son Jai Siah had converted. Later, when he apostatized, he was killed by Juniad. Soon, Juniad headed an army threatening Kashmir.

A possible reason for the new threat could have been a letter. Chechnama has detailed Raja Dahr writing a threatening letter to Qasim from Nuran (Hyderabad, Sindh) after fleeing from Dubial (Karachi). Detailing his allies, Dahr had especially showered praises on the King of Kashmir. Terming him the “great monarch” before whom the kings of India from Makran to Turan willingly bow, the letter said the “valiant soldier” was the proud owner of 100 elephants and was riding a “white elephant”. “If the brave king initiates an attack (against you), my subjects would not suffer the difficulties inflicted by the Arab army,” Chechnama quotes the letter saying.

With Qasim not around, Junaid was Kashmir bound. Then, Kashmir was ruled by another Karkota dynasty king, Lalitaditya Muktapida (724-60). Remembered as the Alexander of Kashmir, Kalhana calls him Digvijay, the universal monarch.

Ruling perhaps the greatest Kashmir ever, the boundaries of his kingdom extended to Bengal in the east, to the Indian Ocean in the south, besides Delhi, and Kanauj, and Kashgar was his last central Asian outpost. He ruled for 36 years and, Kalhana says, most of his reign passed in expeditions abroad. Ruling from Parihaspora in the city outskirts, and credited for setting up the famous Martand sun temple at Mattan – the oldest, strongest and the most imposing structure that Kashmir still boats of, Laltadatiya had, by the end of his reign, evolved peculiar statecraft that he had written. This treatise had cautioned his subjects against internal dissensions and against neglecting their forts in repair and provisions. His statecraft suggested that cultivators should have a lower lifestyle than those living in the city.

Lalitaditya defeated Junaid and overrun his kingdom. Following his predecessors, Lalitaditya as well sent an ‘embassy’ to Chinese emperor Hiuen-Taung (713-755) invoking his help, according to Rajtarangini. Again, no help came from Thangs. “The victory was, however, not decisive for the Arab aggression did not cease,” Muhibbul Hassan records. “That is why the Kashmir ruler, pressed by them from the south and by the Turkish tribes and the Tibetans from the north, had to invoke the help of the Chinese emperor and to place himself under his protection.”

In his battle against Tibetans, Laltadatiya had offered the Chinese a base on the banks of Wullar Lake (then Mahapadma) for 200 thousand soldiers.

Kashmir’s Chinese connections did not cease Muslim attacks. In the era of Caliph Mansur (754-75), Sindh governor Hisham bin Amr at Taghlibi mounted another attack on Kashmir. His army reached the southern slopes of the Himalayas, which were subject to Kashmir but failed to enter Kashmir.

That was the last attempt by Arabs to take over Hindu Kashmir. For around 200 years, the Kashmir kingdom did not face any threat from the Muslim world which had gradually expanded from one corner of the world to another.

Sun Temple of Martand: The oldest, strongest and most imposing structure that Kashmir still boasts about was built by King Laltadatiya. KL Images: Bilal Bahadur

Tensions later emerged from the Turkish Sultan, Mahmud Ghaznavi. In 1002 AD, Ghaznavi defeated the king of Waihind, Jaipal in 1002 A D who committed suicide by burning himself alive. Post-defeat, his son, in 1009, took refuge in Kashmir Mountains paving way for the succession of his son Trilocanpal. Eventually, they sought help from Kashmir Durbar.

Then, Kashmir was ruled by Sangramaraja (1003-28), the nephew of great queen ruler Didda (950-1002) who “sacrificed” everything to keep the Kashmir state intact. Acceding to the request of a king in distress, Sangramaraja sent a large army under his Army Chief Tunga, the Poonch shepherd whom Didda made her Chief Minister and the army chief.

Tunga’s army joined Trilocanpal and the two attacked Gaznavi’s army in a valley which leads to Kashmir from the neighbouring Jehlum, apparently on the west bank of river Jehlum (now in Pakistan), and inflicted a defeat on them. It was Mahmud’s reconnaissance mission. Thus, emboldened Tunga marched forward despite Trilocanpal’s advice, who was accustomed to Gaznavi’s military tactics. Mahmud advanced in-person routing both in 1004 and took control of the area.

In his Zain-ul-Akhbar, thirteenth-century Persian historian-geographer Abu Syed Gardezi states that Gaznavi ordered the demolition of Kashmir’s all captured forts. His army, Gardezi records, recovered immense riches from them and proselytized all non-Muslims of the captured area. In the same year, Sultan ordered the building of mosques in all the areas evacuated by the non-Muslims. Besides, scholars and preachers were employed to teach non-Muslims the Islamic way of life.

Provoked by Sangramaraja’s conduct, Gaznavi ordered an invasion of Kashmir. He marched to Jehlum and then tried to enter Kashmir by the Tossamaidan pass, Muhibbul Hassan records. The fort at Loharkot that guarded the track halted his advances. Loharkot, now called Lohrian, is a village almost 30 km from Poonch and is usually termed as ‘gateway to Kashmir’. Ruins of the fort still exist in the village.

The siege that supposedly took place in the 1015 autumn continued for a month but the fort was impregnable. “Mahmud raised the siege as heavy snowfall had cut off his communication network compelling him to retreat,” records Abul Qasim Farishta in Tarikh-i-Farishta. “While leaving the Valley frontier Sultan lost his way, many of his soldiers perished while he himself escaped with difficulty.” Hassan terms it “his first serious reverse in India”. Interestingly, Arab chronicler al-Birouni was witness to the siege.

Gaznavi, according to Iranian chronicler Abbas Parvez in Tareekh-e-Diyal-mi-Gaznavian, had left a spy, Tilak, son of a barber in the Kashmir court to keep him informed. Nursing a grudge, he eventually set off with his army to conquer Kashmir in the autumn of 1021 AD. He traversed the earlier route in September and again Loharkot Fort came in his way. The Fort remained besieged without any success. With approaching winter and heavy snowfall Gaznavi left home.

That was the last bid by any Muslim to conquer Hindu Kashmir.

(This is the first of the four-part series on the advent of Islam in Kashmir).


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