Wednesday, 28 March 2018

The Kanyakubja Chronicles V


The Revival of Kannauj under the Gahadavala dynasty (1080 – 1200 AD)


The fall of the Pratiharas and the invasions of Sultan Mahmud of Ghazni destroyed the glory of Kannauj. In the ensuing political vacuum of the state, the Chedis, the Paramaras and the Cholas also attacked, destroyed and looted the city of Kannauj, until Chandradeva, a valiant Gahadavala prince of Rajput lineage, defeated them and established sovereignty over Kannauj and the neighbouring areas. From the historical chronicles of the times, it is quoted as follows, that Chandradeva…“by the valour of his arm acquired the matchless sovereignty over the glorious Kanyakubja”.

Chandradeva was the first in the Gahadavala dynasty who ruled over Kannauj and made the city the capital of his empire. In yet another verse, Chandradeva of the Gahadavalas is said to be the “Maharajadhiraja and the protector of the holy places of Kasi, Kanyakubja, Uttarkosala and Indrasthana…” (Kasi being Benaras and Kanyakubja being Kannauj, we may understand that Uttarkosala referred to the vicinity of Ayodhya; and Indrasthana was perhaps Indraprastha – which we know today as Delhi).

Inscriptions from his time shows that Chandradeva was a staunch follower of the Brahminical Hindu religious traditions and that the state of the Kanyakubja Brahmins began to regain their former glory and position under his patronage. One such inscription and record describes Chandradeva as “an ardent and philanthropic Brahamanist, giving land-grants and Tuladhanas to Brahmins for upkeep and propagating the Hindu religion. He restored many of the Hindu temples in Kannauj and other cities, broken during the invasion by Mahmud.” (Tuladhana was a practice of the king weighing himself against gold and silver and then donating the same for charitable work).

Chandradeva was succeeded by his son Madanapala who more or less ruled peacefully over the large kingdom left to him by his father. There were still some occasional raids and attacks by Ghaznavid invading Muslims, and it was during one of those that Madanpala led a successful campaign as the leader of a joint army and restricted the invaders from entering his kingdom near Indraprastha (Delhi). He was ably assisted by his son, Govindachandra, the ‘yuvaraj’ of Kannauj, who seemed to be calling most of the shots on behalf of his father already. Inscriptions found in the Rahan plates cite the tale of his valour like this:

“The Yuvaraja of Kannauj, again and again by the play of his matchless fighting drove back the mlechchas and compelled the Hammira (the Amir) to lay aside his enmity.”

[As translated from the original Sanskrit, in the works of Vincent Smith’s ‘Early History of India’.]

It was after Govindachandra ascending the throne of Kannauj in 1114 AD, that the Gahadavala Empire saw real success once again. Inscriptions found in Sarnath, refer to Govindachandra’s military exploits in detail and shower eloquent praise on the young king:

“Maharajadhiraja Govindachandra, it seems is an incarnation of Hari (Lord Vishnu), who has been commissioned by Hara (Lord Shiva) to protect Baranasi (Benaras) from the wicked Turuska (Turkish) warriors, as the only one who is able to protect the earth.”

These invasions by the later Ghaznavid Sultans (Mahmud’s descendants), and the one where the invasion of Benaras and Kannauj were repulsed by Govindachandra, is well corroborated in the chronicles of the ‘Diwan of Salman’ as an expedition sent by the Ghaznavid Sultan Massud III in 1115 AD (509 Hijri calendar year)  reported as: “against Kannauj, the capital of Hind,… the Kaaba of the Shamans and the Kibla of the kafirs,… where treasures of Hind were collected just as all rivers flow into the sea.”

The ‘Tabaqat-i-Nasiri’ further testifies that during the reign of Massud III, “the Hajib Tughatigin crossed the river Gang (Ganges?), in order to carry on jihad (holy war) in Hindustan and penetrated to a place where none except Sultan Mahmud had reached so far with an army before.”

[The Tabaqat-i-Nasiri was composed in 1260 AD by Minhaj-i-Siraj for Sultan Nasir-ud-din Mahmud of the Ghurid dynasty in Ghazna, and is an elaborate history of the Islamic world written in Persian. Though the major part of the book is devoted to the Ghurid dynasty, it also contains details of exploits by the earlier Ghaznavid dynasty Sultans.]

We are aware in history that Mahmud did not advance in the plains beyond Kannauj, hence the reference in the Tabaqat-i-Nasiri is to the war that Massud III’s army waged against Benares and Kannauj, which was successfully repulsed by Govindachandra. The success of the King of Kannauj is written in bold as “in consequence of his valiant prowess and the mlechchas vanquished, that there was never any talk of the Hammira coming back to the banks of the river of the Gods.”

Govindachandra’s military exploits did not stop with only defending Kannauj and his kingdom from the invading Muslims, but he made successful campaigns against Magadh (Bihar), Gauda (Bengal), and the Rashtrakutas (central-south India) and made them vassals of the Kannauj empire. The inscription plates further state that Govindachandra was a devout Shaivite and held the Brahmins in his kingdom in very high esteem. Thus his patronage of the Kanyakubja Brahmins was expansive and large-hearted. There were found texts of huge land grants, in many instances clusters of villages, to Brahmins, for building ashramas, temples and propagation of Shaivite Hinduism across the land. Thus it is evident that the Kanyakubja Brahmins once again had days of glory and importance under Govindachandra and the Gahadavala dynasty.

Govindachandra’s reign was also marked by the rise of literary efforts in Sanskrit, by the Brahmins in his court. His minister for law-and-war, Lakshmidhara and another Brahmin minister Raghunandana are credited for authoring the very famous Sanskrit work “Kalpadruma”, a collection of works on law and societal procedures. The chief volumes (khandas) of the Kalpadruma are:

  • Kritya Kalpataru (related to different types of work)
  • Vyavahara Kalpataru (related to different types of behaviours)
  • Vivada Kalpataru (related to types of argument and logic)
  • Dana Kalpataru (related to charity)
  • Rajdharma Kalpataru (related to governance of the state)


The Kalpadruma and many other such literary gems are said to have been authored by the eminent Kanyakubja Brahmins of that time, under the direct patronage of King Govindachandra. The king himself, holding a great literary taste and reverence for Sanskrit education, has been referred to in some inscriptions as “vividha-vidya-vichaara-vachaspati” (an exponent well versed in variety of studies and discourses).

Govindachandra ruled for forty years and re-established the glory and magnificence of Kannauj as the capital of the empire, and was succeeded by his son Vijayachandra in 1154. Vijayachandra too like his father stood like a bulwark against the Muslim invaders, and ensured that they were not successful in their designs of capture, plunder and loot. From the chronicles of history it may be observed that during the period of Vijayachandra’s reign there was no major Muslim invasion or conquest into the Doab region. There is a reference to a conflict between the Vijayachandra of Kannauj and the army of Amir Khusrau and later Khusrau Malik, who having been driven out of the Ghaznaid Empire by Ala-ud-din Ghori had come to occupy Lahore and were trying to make inroads into the other Indian states at that time. However, the Indian states being well equipped and militarily stronger than before were able to successfully repulse the efforts of Khusrau and Malik. However, it was soon that the Ghori Sultans themselves overran the entire North-west provinces and conquered Lahore, Multan and the region of the Indus.

While Vijayachandra may have withstood the occasional onslaughts of the Muslim invaders successfully, he did not have much success with his neighbour kings, for he soon lost the Delhi region to the King Kumarapala and even the south-central regions of his kingdom. Thus when his reign ended in 1170 AD, the Kannauj Empire covered the entire of modern-day Uttar Pradesh and Bihar regions. Towards the end of Vijayachandra’s reign, we find the elaborate mention of the “Yuvarajyabhishekham” of his son Jayachandra, on the banks of the Ganges at Benaras on 16th June 1168 AD, in an ornate ceremony conducted by Mahapurohita Prahlada Sarman, who was later gifted an entire village as land-grant in appreciation of his services.

Jayachandra finds important mention in the history of Kannauj and that of India for two incidents that marked the period of his reign. First, the make-believe romantic legend of Prithviraj Chauhan storming into Jayachandra’s celebratory event at Kannauj and carrying off his not-unwilling daughter Samyukta for marriage. Second, Jayachandra’s valiant resistance of Muhammad Ghori’s invasions and his final defeat which led to the destruction of Kannauj by the invading Muslims.

 Jayachandra led a huge army and as per the bards of his court, it was on the strength of his army that he subjugated kingdoms far and wide and expanded his territories. Jayachandra is also credited with victories against Muhammad Ghori’s invasions a few times before his final engagement with him. The Purusapariksa of poet Vidyapati describes Jayachandra:

“Yavanesvara Sahavadin (referring to Sihabuddin Ghori) fled several times after sustaining defeat at the hands of King Jayachandra, the ‘nikhila-yavana-ksayakarah’ (destroyer of all Yavanas – infidels).”

Referring to Jayachandra, the Muslim historian Ibn Asir says in his Kamil-ut-Tawarikh: “the King of Kannauj was the greatest in Hind and possessed the largest territory, extending lengthwise from the borders of China to the province of Malwa, and breadthwise from the sea to within ten days journey from Lahore.”

Despite his exploits and military valour, Jayachandra had a bitter rivalry with the King of the Chamanas (Chauhans), Prithviraja III, against whom he was in constant skirmish on territorial annexations of each other’s’ kingdoms. The Sanskrit poetic work ‘Prithviraja Raso’ states that Prithviraja III ruled from his capital in Ajmer and had by this time annexed Delhi with the intention to encroach more into Jayachandra’s kingdom. The much recited romantic legend of Prithviraj and Samyukta is almost a popular folklore in India, however, it is important to note that the venue for Jayachandra’s celebratory ‘rajasuya yagna’ (ceremony of universal supremacy of an emperor) which was to culminate in the ‘swayamvara’ (self-selection of the groom by the bride) of his daughter Samyukta, was the magnificent capital city of Kannauj.

[On a side note, it may not be irrelevant to point out to the readers that Kanyakubja or Kannauj had been the venue for two of the most talked about ‘swayanvaras’ in Indian mythology and history:

First, the swayamvara of Draupadi in the Mahabharata, where Arjun won her hand by his archery skills. Draupadi’s father King Drupad was the ruler of Panchal Pradesh and had his capital at Kampilya, which is the city of Kanyakubja temporarily known by another name.

Second, the swayamvara of Samyukta, daughter of Jayachandra, King of Kannauj, where bride was carried off by her father’s arch rival Prithviraj Chauhan, the uninvited King of the Chauhans of Ajmer.]


The second Muslim conquest of Kannauj (1194 AD)


Kannauj was swept away and eventually destroyed during the Muslim conquest of Hindustan by the repeated invasions of Sultan Sihabuddin Muhammad Ghori (a.k.a Mu’izz-ud-din Muhammad) and his Turkic generals. However, the seeds of these conquests were sown as early as 1175 AD, when Sihabuddin had moved from Ghor and conquered and taken Ghazni to avenge the death of his ancestor Ibn Suri at the hands of Mahmud of Ghazni.

[On an unrelated but interesting side note, the famous Muslim historian, Baihaqi, of the time of Mahmud of Ghazni have placed on record that the small kingdom of Ghor (in present-day Afghanistan) was a Buddhist kingdom with a Buddhist king named Amir Suri. The Ghorids were a collection of many Pashtun tribes of Afghanistan who had mixed tribal lineages with Turkic races; they had been scattered from their native settlements in the mountains by the Mongols and later by the Ghaznavids. Whilst their tribes bore Islamic names, viz., Suri, Lodhi, Niazi, etc., many of the tribes came under the Hindu and Buddhist influences during the Hindu Shahi kingdom rule in and around Kabul region, and adopted those religions. The Suri’s for instance, were followers of the Mahayana Buddhist traditions and so were the entire population of their tribe in Ghor.

Historian Bahaqi also writes that Mahmud of Ghazni and the neighbouring Islamic kingdoms considered the native Ghorids as ‘pagans’ and were determined to wage ‘jihad’ against them to bring them forcibly under the Islamic religious influence in the region. Thus Mahmud of Ghazni had attacked Ghor in 1011 AD and taken the Suri king (Ibn Suri – son of Amir Suri) as prisoner and brought him to Ghazni along with his son. While the Suri king killed himself by consuming poison to prevent being converted to Islam by Mahmud, his son (later renamed as Abu Ali Ibn Muhammad) was forcibly converted and placed back on the throne of Ghor as a subjugated feudatory to the throne of Ghazni. Thus the Ghurids and the population of their tribe was forcibly converted to Islam by Mahmud and thence they became an Islamic dynasty. Their tribe name of Suri was replaced by the name of their feudal kingdom Ghor and the dynasty came to be called ‘Ghori’.]


Sihabbudin Muhammad Ghori, having established himself in Ghazni, then looked towards the alluring North-west provinces of Hindustan, which by then were in control of the later Ghaznavid dynasty rulers and vassals. In 1175 he marched against the Qarmatian Ismaili kings of Multan and wrested the city from their control. This was followed by the annexation of Uch and Peshawar in 1179 and finally Lahore in 1186. Khusrau Malik, the last vassal of the Ghaznavids ruling Lahore was captured and executed by Muhammad Ghori, thus completely overthrowing the reign of the Ghaznavid dynasty. If Mahmud of Ghazni was a religious knight-errant of Islam and took pride in forcibly converting the populace of conquered lands and desecrating the shrines of other religions, Muhammad Ghori was a practical conqueror. Apart from plundering and enjoying the spoils of war, he ensured that he left behind his slaves or generals to control and continue the administration in the lands conquered by him, thus effectively making them vassal and feudal states in his sultanate.

By 1191, Muhammad Ghori devoted his attention and strategies to continued invasions of Hindustan, and amassing a huge army, stormed the fortress of Bhatinda in Punjab. The fortress of Bhatinda was within the territories of Prithviraj Chauhan, who assisted by other Rajput princes, marched with a mighty army to defend his territory. The two armies met on the plains of Tarain (near Thanesar) and after a bloody engagement, Ghori’s forces were completely overwhelmed by the Hindu army. The Sultan himself would have been killed in the battle, if not for a Khilji retainer who courageously saved him from the charge of the Chauhans. Muhammad Ghori, being one not to leave a score unsettled, returned the following year (1192) with a mightier army and better stratagem against the Rajput Hindu confederacy and once again met Prithviraj Chauhan on the same historic battle-field of Tarain.

As soon as Prithviraj Chauhan had the intelligence of the advance of Ghori’s army, he had sent out messages to his fellow Rajput chieftains and also the neighbouring kings, so that an enormous army of Hindustan could be amassed to repulse the invaders. As described in historian Firishta Muhammad Qasim Shah’s expansive work ‘Tarikh-i-Firishta’, many chiefs and kings answered to Prithviraj’s appeal, as the Rajputs ‘having sworn by the water of the Ganges that they would conquer their enemies or die martyrs to their faith’. Some historians point out that while kings of many neighbouring kingdoms joined Prithviraj’s army against the ‘yavana Sahavadin’ (infidel invader Sihabuddin Ghori), the King of Kannauj, Jayachandra remained withdrawn. They surmise that probably Jayachandra would have thought that Ghori would put an end to Prithviraj and leave Hindustan, after which it would be easy for Jayachandra to take control of the entire northern India regions. However, fate had a different design as we shall soon see. With the turn of events that followed, Prithviraj Chauhan’s mighty army was defeated and scattered by Muhammad Ghori and Prithviraj himself was killed in the battle.

The victorious invading army soon captured the forts and cities of Sarsuti, Samana, Kahram, Hansi and Ajmer and Sihabuddin Ghori became the master of almost entire north India up to the precincts of Delhi. Ghori returned to his capital in Ghazni, but the command of furthering the Muslim conquest into the Ganga-Yamuna Doab was entrusted to his slave general Qutubuddin-Aibak, who continued the unfinished task left to him by his Sultan. In 1193, Delhi fell, followed by similar successes by Aibak over Meerut and Aligarh. These victories paved the way for the Muslims to now advance against Kannauj, one of the most prominent and magnificent cities of Hindustan.

Muhammad Ghori returned in 1194 and with the aid of his slave-general Qutubuddin Aibak, marched towards Kannauj with a very large army. King Jayachandra met Ghori on the plains of Chandwar (a place between Kannauj and Etawah) where a pitched battle took place. The tidings of the battle were gradually favouring Jayachandra’s army when a freak arrow hit Jayachandra in the eye and pierced his skull, killing him instantly. Seeing their leader dead, the Hindu army scattered directionless and within no time the battle was won by Muhammad Ghori.

As the victorious Sultan reached the outskirts of Kannauj, in the words of a historian of that time, “the Sultan there saw an imperial city which raised its head to the skies, and which in strength and structure might justly boast to have no equal. The city was surrounded by strong walls and deep ditches and was washed by the Ganges on its eastern face.”

Ghori quickly plundered and pillaged Kannauj, killing the Hindu populace and breaking the gorgeous temples and shrines while amassing enormous amount of booty. However, having finished with the capital, Ghori soon turned his target to the holy city of Benaras, which was also an important treasury centre for the Gahadavala kingdom. There he plundered all the temples and enslaved the people, taking immense war-spoils including elephants.

After Ghori’s exit, Qutubuddin Aibak continued to consolidate the conquered cities by vanquishing the remnants of the Hindu armies in those places. The Rajput resistance however continued in sporadic efforts in different areas in an attempt to throw off the Turkic yoke. In Kannauj, especially, Jayachandra’s nineteen year old son, Harishchandra, succeeded in pushing back Aibak’s armies and liberated Kannauj once again in 1197 AD, a respite which was destined to be only too short-lived.


The Final Decimation (1211 – 1215 AD)


Post the sudden assassination of Sihabuddin Ghori by the Khokhar Hindu tribes at Dhamiak near the banks of the Jhelum River in 1206 (present-day Sohawa in Pakistan), and the death of Qutubuddin Aibak in 1210, the entire expanse of North India was in political chaos and rebellion. Though Iltutmish, the son-in-law of Qutubuddin Aibak ascended the throne of Delhi and proclaimed himself the next ruler of Hindustan, it took a lot of effort on his part to squash the rebellions and impose his suzerainty over the kingdoms of Hindustan. The Chauhans had liberated Ajmer and the other Hindu chieftains who were discontented with their loss of independence had also liberated their kingdoms of Gwalior, Benaras, Kalinjar and Ranthambore. Even the Muslim governors who had been appointed by Qutubuddin Aibak had revolted and declared themselves as Sultans of their own regions, viz., Nasir-ad-in Qabacha in Uch and Multan and Ali Mardan Khilji in Bengal and Lakhnauti.

In his attempt to put to rest all rebellions and bring not only these feudal kingdoms but also the still independent and recently liberated Hindu kingdoms under his Islamic rule, Iltutmish started his campaign with the kingdoms situated in the vicinity of Delhi and the Ganga-Yamuna Doab region. Ranthambore was taken after a bloody war and so was Ajmer, once again defeating the Rajput army convincingly. He personally led the military campaign against Awadh, Badaun and Siwalik and having captured these cities, established his own men as generals to rule these kingdoms as feudatories.

Iltutmish’s son, Nasir-ud-din Mahmud, a ferocious warrior in his own right, waged a terrible battle against Kannauj, Benaras and Rohilkhand. The battle of Kannauj saw the complete end of the Gahadavala dynasty with the ruling King Harishchandra and his son being driven out of the city, and the establishment of Nasir-ud-din’s Turkic generals as administrators of Kannauj. It is said that in Kannauj and Benaras alone, over one thousand temples and shrines, including a famous six-hundred year old Shiva temple of King Harsha’s times, were demolished and mosques were built in their places. In the pillage, plunder and massacre that ensued in the days of the war, Kannauj was completely destroyed and razed to the ground. The Hindu populace scattered to neighbouring areas and once again a mass exodus of the Kanyakubja Brahmins were seen in the aftermath of the battle. As Nasir-ud-din and his troop of Turkic generals decimated the city and its remaining people, Kannauj with its heritage and soul of Hindu imperialist tradition, culture and learning were lost forever.

Kannauj thereafter was governed under Nasir-ud-din Mahmud who was appointed as the Governor of Awadh region. The city could never throw off the yoke of Islamic rule and its prolonged influence gradually robbed Kannauj of the remnants of its glorious Vedic and Hindu imperial past. The magnificent city which over the centuries had held pre-eminence in North India and was regarded as the seat for many a proud dynasty, ceased to exist as an independent state and slowly sank into insignificance.

The following stanza from Bhartrihari’s composition ‘Vairag yasataka’ (volume 36), is a fitting adieu and lament for Kanyakubja; the epitaph of its glories:

“Alas brother… the mighty kings, the train of barons and witty court at his side, the damsels with faces like the moon’s orb, the haughty troop of princes, the minstrels and the tales… by whose will all this hath passed into mere memories… as homage to Time.” [Sanskrit: sarvam yasya vasadagat smritipadam Kalaya tasmai namah…”]


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Coming soon …. The Escape to Nowhere

While Series I - Kanyakubja Chronicles, depicting the history of the ancient city of Kanyakubja, comes to a close with the decimation of the city, we will return in the next part of our series with the story of the Kanyakubja Brahmins who managed to escape the decimation at the hands of the invaders and conquerors and fled to different parts.

Stay tuned for new episodes in our Series II – The Migration.

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