The myth of “1000 years of Hindu slavery”
M. R. Vaghela
Hindu Voice UK, 26 September 2009
One thousand years of slavery. Millennia of defeat and domination caused by a dogmatic adherence to the doctrine of ahimsa, preventing an effective resistance to foreign domination. This is what most Hindus are brought up to believe about their history.
These and other such theories are happily put forward as history of Hindus for the past 14 centuries and postulated by self proclaimed scholars from both within and without the Hindu fold. It was something I have heard from my youth and accepted without question.
However some thoughts rankled in my mind. If the Hindus were truly slaves for a thousand years plus, then how have we survived to this day with dignity and honour and with a spiritual tradition stretching back to the mists of time and beyond? Many other cultures, civilisations and spiritual traditions have been reduced to museum pieces, but the words of the Holy Vedas are recited in an identical fashion today as they were thousands of years ago when first revealed to the Rishis. This is no mean achievement. How did Hindus survive and manage to maintain a civilisational identity stretching into the dawn of human history? How was Sanatana Dharma kept alive as a living presence in the world, and indeed regenerated over time if the Hindus were slaves for so long? This impelled me to look for the truth myself, and undertake a study of the history of the Hindu people.
The beginning of Hindus’ “thousand years of slavery” is supposed to have begun with the overrunning of India by Muslims of Arab and Turkish origin. It is popularly believed that Hindus put up a feeble defence and that the Islamic armies had a cake walk through India. If we examine at what actually happened, however, we see that Hindus put up a huge struggle, which was eventually victorious.
Following the death of their founder, Muhammad we see the Arab Khilafat expand swiftly over the Middle and Near East, pouring over the deserts of North Africa and crossing the waters to begin a six century occupation of Spain and beyond. The combined might of Christian Europe struggled again and again to reclaim the ‘holy lands’ to end in bitter failure with the rise of the Ottoman Empire, who ruled over a large part of Eastern Europe for centuries.
On the other side, the lands of Iran, home of the ancient and historical Persian civilisation fell to the yet undefeated Arab warriors and within a short period the indigenous culture becoming extinct or expelled, today being largely the confine of museums and relics. The Arab hordes then pushed into the Indian Subcontinent, land of the Hindus, overwhelming the small desert region of Sindh and then attempted to push and conquer the existing Hindu kingdoms. Here however their advance was stopped. With the inspiration of Sant Gorakhnath the warrior clans of the Rajputs united under their legendary king Bappa Rawal and in a series of Battles known collectively as the Battle of Rajashtan inflicted a heavy defeat on the Arab invaders in 738 CE. Any further advances by the Arabs were repelled, impelling the formation of large organised Hindu states in the centre and west of India. Frustrated by their failures in India the Arabs turned northwards shortly after defeating the Chinese Empire in the Battle of Talas in 751 CE opening the gate for the Islamisation of Central Asia. India remained unaffected for another three hundred years. (the “thousand years of slavery theory” was beginning to shake)
The Islamisation of Central Asia began to grow apace and one by one the ancient Buddhist kingdoms began to totter and fall as tribe after tribe joined the ranks of the growing Muslim religion. The destruction of Buddhism and its centers in the region prompted an exodus towards India, and the conversion of the remaining clans to Islam. The Muslim armies were expanded, filled with the zeal and energy of new converts, who were sent spiraling towards the Middle East to fight the advancing Crusaders under the leadership of Saladin. Another wave of attacks poured towards India resulting in large scale damage and loot from the subcontinent under the leadership of Mahmud of Ghazni around 1000 CE.
Two further centuries passed as further advances were resisted until a breakthrough around 1200 CE allowed the invaders access to the North Indian plains. The remaining Buddhists were slaughtered or converted in an unprecedented orgy of violence and horror. The majority Buddhist regions of Afghanistan, Kashmir and West Punjab joined the crescent banner of Islam. However the conversion of Hindus was slower and the resistance was more fierce. Hindu warrior clans kept up a relentless resistance fighting from the deserts, the mountains and the forests. The heavy cavalry of the Muslim Turks which had proved fatal to the Crusaders of Western Europe were victorious on the plains of North India but this did not prevent an endless cycle of attack and counter attack by the Hindus.
It took nearly another hundred years under the leadership of the infamous Aladdin Khilji for the Muslims Empire firmly established itself in India. This mantle was inherited by the Tughlaqs only to lead to a revival from the Hindu population.
The religious traditions of India had been severely mauled by the endless bloodletting over the past two centuries. Many important institutions and temples were destroyed. Prosperity suffered, as it tends to in times of continuous war. This created a certain weakening of Hindu society. Religion became preserved in rituals which were less and less understood. Sanskrit learning was on the decline. Caste became more rigid.
However, a religious renewal took place in the form of the “Bhakti movement”. A simplified form of Hinduism particularly suitable to the times emerged. A new wave of spiritual teachers preaching that simple devotion and love of God and love of all people and creatures is the simplest root to salvation. A message of defiance and brotherhood from saints and rishis from all corners of India emerged. From Tukram and Namdev from the west of India, from Nanak in Punjab, from Chaitanya in the east and Kabir in the north plus many others, the message of dharma revived itself in the teeth of an implacable enemy. The fearless postulating of the brotherhood of all mankind defied the savagery raging around them as the Turks endeavoured to convert the entire subcontinent to Islam and the Hindus fighting tooth and nail to resist. The Muslim empire seemed to rest on specified military encampments and cities surrounded by a sea of hostile Hindus usually left to their own devices. Hundred of Rajahs and Maharajahs dotted the nation living in virtual independence from the central authorities in which traditions of culture and religion were maintained unchanged through the centuries.
Other larger organised resistance emerged in the Vijaynagara Empire of South India around 1336 CE which consolidated Hindu resistance for over two centuries. In the north the revival of the Rajput kingdoms and the defiance of kings like those of Orissa under the Gajapati Kings, the hills of Punjab under Jasrath Khokhar and the rise of neo Hindu kingdoms in the north east of India along with the entire hill region signaled the revival of Hindu rule over vast tracts of India.
A steady period of Hindu growth then ensued until by the dawn of the 1500’s the southern region of India was dominated by the mighty king of the Vijaynagara Empire, Krishnadevarya and the north by the revival of the valiant Rajputs under the charismatic leadership of Rana Sanga (grandfather of the equally illustrious Rana Pratap).
The tides of history however turned again – with the influx of cannons and other artillery utilised by Babur the Mughal entered into the Indian subcontinent against which the wild charges of the Rajputs and Pathans had no answer. The reckless disregard of their own lives in the defence of dharma saw a series of battles in which the Hindu forces fought quite literally to the last man woman and child, most famously the siege of Chhitor in 1567.
The utter refusal of the Hindus to surrender in the century old tussle with Islam for political control over the subcontinent was a lesson not lost by the new Emperor Akbar. He instead moved away from the tenets of Islam to a new faith of the Din i Ilahi. By following the age old traditions of religious toleration in India he endeared himself to the majority population and through a period of compromise and alliance brought a brief period of peace to the troubled land.
This tenuous alliance was shattered by his descendant Aurangzeb who in his zeal for the establishment of an Islamic state caused an upheaval which left the Mughal Empire fall beyond all hope of repair.
The renewal of the civilisational Hindu-Islam conflict saw the rise of a generation of Sants and holy men inspiring the people for the defence of dharma which saw the might of the Mughals humbled by Rajputs, Marathas, Jats, Satnamis, Ahoms, Sikhs, Bundelas and others. In a cataclysmic wave of defiance the Mughal Empire lay broken and on its ruins rose a number of Hindu states competing for space in the subcontinent.
The inspirational rise of the Maratha king Shivaji and his bold defiance of the Mughal empire in the noontide of its realm is an apt example.
Who did the British wrest control of India from?
When the British came on the Indian scene, it is thought or assumed by many people that he British took control of India from the Mughals. This is not true. In fact, by the time that the British emerged as a major force in India, the Muslim political power in the subcontinent had been virtually cast down.
The situation is best defined by a British author, H.G.Keene
The idea, however, that the British have wrested the Empire from the Mohamadans is a mistake. The Mohamadans were beaten down — almost everywhere except in Bengal — before the British appeared upon the scene; Bengal they would not have been able to hold, and the name of the “Mahratta Ditch” of Calcutta shows how near even the British there were to extirpation by India’s new masters. Had the British not won the battles of Plassey and Buxar, the whole Empire would ere now have become the fighting ground of Sikhs, Rajputs, and Mahrattas and others. Except the Nizam of the Deccan there was not a vigorous Musalman ruler in India after the firman of Farokhsiar in 1716; the Nizam owed his power to the British after the battle of Kurdla in 1795), and it was chiefly British support that maintained the feeble shadow of the Moghul Empire, from the death of Alamgir II. to the retirement of Mr. Hastings. Not only Haidarabad but all the other existing Musalman principalities of modern India owe their existence, directly, or indirectly, to the British intervention.
The march of western civilisation ended the Hindu revival at a time when Hindus exercised control over almost the entire subcontinent. But it took Three wars with the Marathas, Two wars with the Sikhs, two wars with the Gurkhas, war with the Jaats, also smaller ranging wars with the Santhals, Sanyasis and many others – all Hindu rebellions.
Hindus unwillingness to surrender culminated in the huge uprising from the predominantly Hindu sepoys in 1857 which almost brought the British Indian Empire to a swift conclusion being the largest anti colonial uprising in history. The end result was 90 years of imperialist rule. This was matched by a concerted disarming of the population by the British rulers, leaving only select regions free from the disarming which were perceived as loyal to the British under the flawed marital race theory. This theory propagated by the forerunners of the concepts of eugenics and Nazism believed the Indian races could not match the British combination of physical and mental facilities. Thus a large percentage of Hindu population, despite holding sway of almost all of the Indian subcontinent were delegated into the non martial section by the British. Other sections believed to be of sufficient physical abilities (but not mental development) were delegated by the Imperialists as ‘martial races’
This flawed theory was propagated as an absolute truth (still followed by some) and together with the disarming of the population led to the diminishing of the martial spirit amongst Hindus.
However the theories propagated by the British found challengers from the Hindus. Spurred by a revaluation of their history and the knowledge of western theories a new revival began to take fruit. From the universal preaching of Swami Vivekananda to the guns of the Anushilan Samiti the Hindus were at the forefront of a growing anti colonial challenge to the most powerful empire in the world. Finally finding control of the subcontinent untenable in the teeth of endless opposition the British Indian Empire collapsed in a wave of unprecedented bloodshed which has seen a slow and steady spread and reach of the Hindu world.
So again, I was stumped by this ‘thousand years of slavery’ theory. I was even more surprised to find this postulated by otherwise very earnest Hindus in the mistaken belief of their own history.
When examining our history I saw a spirit of defiance stretching over a thousand years in the face of implacable and merciless enemies, who put an end to many other cultures and civilisations. The same forces which had overcome virtually every indigenous civilisation in the world had thrown their entire might against India – and failed.
Attack after attack was defeated. Horrific massacres did not force the people to abandon their religion and identity. The destruction of holy places did not see dharma die but rise again and overcome their opponents with the power of truth. The banner of freedom was raised generation after generation despite the best attempts of some vested parties to blur the truths and sacrifices made again and again.
So 150 years of effective rule by the Muhamadans and 90 years of British rule was suddenly expanded into ‘one thousand years of slavery’ an utterly absurd contention is being bandied about like an absolute truth but has failed to hide the facts that remain unaltered in history.
Ancient faiths like Buddhism and Zoroasterism were almost obliterated from the Middle East, Central Asia and India but the Hindus rose in defiance to emerge even stronger at the end of the blood soaked millennia.
Even well wishers of Hindus, lost in their Victorian outlook on India have propagated the same absurdities in total insult of the enduring Hindu spirit. The spirit is best exemplified by the renowned historian Sir Jadunath Sarkar when talking of the legendary Maratha king Shivaji:
He [Shivaji] has proved that the Hindus can still produce not only clerks and soldiers but rulers of men. (…) Shivaji proved that the tree of Hinduism is not really dead – that it rose from the seemingly crushing load of centuries of attack and put forth new leaves and lifted its head to the skies.