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What is the truth about the Somnath temple and Mahmud of Ghazni?

Indian history is a mountain of complexity. Not only does it relate to a HUGE number of kingdoms and rulers but all kinds of interpretations, which only a professional historian can unravel. I am no professional historian, but each time I attempt to take India forward India blocks the way by asserting PRIMITIVE hatred amongst the two religions of Islam and Hinduism.

India likes to remain a medieval nation, and no amount of prodding it to become a modern nation shows signs of being actualised. The BJP, which is in power today, is ENTIRELY there because of its ability to strengthen the Hindu-Muslim divide. People in India feed off the Hindu-Muslim divide.

India seems to be a lost cause.

I don't know whether there is anything of value in my trying to enter this deep and dirty water of the history of India's communal past.

EVEN IF there was the greatest bigotry in the past, that doesn't mean modern India should have anything to do with it. There was the most vicious hatred and internecine killings amongst Christians in Europe, in the past. That doesn't mean modern USA or Europe are obliged to do anything about these ancient killings, apart from have historians study it for the record.

However, there distorted histories cause deep confusions. It is possible that by picking up this topic, I'll merely add to the confusion. I hope not to add to the confusion but to increase clarity. At least the history should be known properly, in all its complexity.

Once again, please be aware that my interest in looking at this issue is not political but objective. It doesn't matter what happened. None of that justifies any hatred/crime today.

Even historians fear to grapple with this issue. It is worthwhile, however, to look at it, to increase one's knowledge.

THIS IS A PLACEHOLDER BLOG POST re: Somnath Temple. I've not formed any view, nor am I in a hurry to do so. I'll keep adding references till one fine day I've got enough information to form a view. Please provide any SCHOLARLY links/ evidence that you are aware of. If not to me, hopefully this info will be of use to beginning students of history in schools and colleges.


Rebuilding by public (NOT government) funds in mid-20th century:

"Patel also pledged the reconstruction of the ancient but dilapidated Somnath Temple in Saurashtra — he oversaw the creation of a public trust and restoration work, and pledged to dedicate the temple upon the completion of work (the work was completed after Patel's death, and the temple was inaugurated by the first President of India, Dr. Rajendra Prasad" [Source]

Romila Thapar's view on the complex history of the temple

Somanatha and Mahmud

Ram Puniyani's views

 Mahmud Gazni on way to Somanth encountered the Muslim ruler of Multan (Abdul Fat Dawod), with whom he had to have a battle to cross Multan. In the battle the Jama Masjid of Multan was badly damaged. Further on way he struck compromise with Anandpal, the ruler of Thaneshwar who escorted his army towards Somanth with due hospitality. Gazni’s army had a good number of Hindu soldiers and five out of his 12 generals were Hindus (Tilak, Rai Hind, Sondhi, Hazran etc). Before proceeding to damage the temple he took custody of the gold and jewels, which were part of the temple treasury. After the battle he issued coins in his name with inscriptions in Sanskrit and appointed a Hindu Raja as his representative in Somnath. [Source]


Notes by Manmit Madan on FB

Various historical sources such as Martin Ewans, E.J. Brill and Farishta have recorded the introduction of Islam to Kabul and other parts of Afghanistan to the conquests of and Mahmud:

The Arabs advanced through Sistan and conquered Sindh early in the eighth century. Elsewhere however their incursions were no more than temporary, and it was not until the rise of the Saffarid dynasty in the ninth century that the frontiers of Islam effectively reached Ghazni and Kabul. Even then a Hindu dynasty the Hindushahis, held Gandhara and eastern borders. From the tenth century onwards as Persian language and culture continued to spread into Afghanistan, the focus of power shifted to Ghazni, where a Turkish dynasty, who started by ruling the town for the Samanid dynasty of Bokhara, proceeded to create an empire in their own right. The greatest of the Ghaznavids was Muhmad who ruled between 998 and 1030. He expelled the Hindus from Gandhara, made no fewer than 17 raids into northwestern India,[20]

He encouraged mass conversions to Islam, in India as well as in Afghanistan[20]

Attack on 'Kafiristan':

Another crusade against idolatry was at length resolved on; and Mahmud led the seventh one against Nardain, the then boundary of India, or the eastern part of the Hindu Kush; separating as Firishta says, the countries of Hindustan and Turkistan and remarkable for its excellent fruit. The country into which the army of Ghazni marched appears to have been the same as that now called Kafirstan, where the inhabitants were and still are, idolaters and are named the Siah-Posh, or black-vested by the Muslims of later times. In Nardain there was a temple, which the army of Ghazni destroyed; and brought from thence a stone covered with certain inscriptions, which were according to the Hindus, of great antiquity.[21]

Mahmud, according to several contemporary accounts, considered himself a Ghazi who waged jihad on the Hindus. His plunder of Hindu temples and centers of learning is noted later in the article. Al-Biruni writes:

In the interest of his successors he constructed, in order to weaken the Indian frontier, those roads on which afterwards his son Mahmud marched into India during a period of thirty years and more. God be merciful to both father and son! Mahmud utterly ruined the prosperity of the country, and performed there wonderful exploits, by which the Hindus became like atoms of dust scattered in all directions, and like a tale of old in the mouth of the people. Their scattered remains cherish, of course, the most inveterate aversion towards all Muslims. This is the reason, too, why Hindu sciences have retired far away from those parts of the country conquered by us, and have fled to places which our hand cannot yet reach, to Kashmir, Benares, and other places. And there the antagonism between them and all foreigners receives more and more nourishment both from political and religious sources.[19]


Ayodhya and Somnath: Eternal Shrines, Contested Histores, Social Research, Vol. 59, No. 1, Religion and Politics (SPRING 1992), pp. 85-109 [JSTOR]


Sanjeev Sabhlok

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23 thoughts on “What is the truth about the Somnath temple and Mahmud of Ghazni?
  1. Alex C.


    > My interest in looking at this issue is not political but objective.

    What are you trying to find? I believe everything there is to discuss regarding this topic has already been done to death (short of a time machine).

  2. Sanjeev Sabhlok

    I often start off placeholder blog posts on issues that interest me. This one has come up repeatedly in discusssions by Hindutva groups, so it would be good to know what actually happened. If you know anything I’ll be grateful if you can share. 

  3. Alex C.

    You would know the basic accepted facts, I believe. Regardless of the origin of the temple itself, it was an ancient site of pilgrimage and commerce, so there would likely have been a temple, but the wooden construction leaves no traces—we can only state surety about the later stone temple. Mahmud Ghazni did indeed loot and sack the temple—that much is non-controversial. He also did indeed break the idol (whose identity the invading Muslim barbarians may have confounded with Al-Manat, of Satanic Verses fame). He was hailed as a “Ghazi” or Champion of Islam and considered his invasions as holy Al-Jihad. He was felicitated and anointed “Sultan” (of Ghazni) by the Muslim Pope (Caliph). All this is historical fact, attested to by Mahmud’s own chroniclers.

    I believe this, by itself, presents a damning case against the Looter from Ghazni. If Hindutvawadis claim this, they’re right. Read, for example, Romila Thapar’s balanced account in Frontline magazine (her account is used by, for example, UPSC). You have a link to it.

    The main “controversy” is/was created by ignoramuses like Shri KM Munshi or Hindu supremacists like Shri Rajendra Prasad. Even Sardar Patel and Gandhiji were wise enough to let bygones be bygones and keep government out of religion. Munshiji’s claim that Somnath temple destruction was a landmark of iconoclasm in India is greatly exaggerated, if not outright wrong. Many Hindus in Awadh feel more strongly about Ram Temple/Babri Masjid, hence it may be Munshiji, Patelji and Gandhiji’s Gujarati bias showing. At the time, THERE WAS NO INDIA!

    Simultaneously, Muslim apologists point of the “fact” that temple-destruction and looting was a common practice even among Hindu and Jain Kings. This is very likely true. Since temples were the seat of wealth and power, it made sense to destroy a rival’s temples to prove ascendancy of one’s own patron god (and, by implication, the King whose patron that god was). Jain chroniclers seem almost pleased, and gloat, at any rate, that Mahavira was a superior god to Shiva as the latter was not able to protect “his” temple. Before Islam “compressed” the Indian pantheon into “Hinduism,” a disagreement about the primacy of Vishnu or Shiva could have very well led to bloody war! However, I do not see how any of this is even remotely connected to Ghaznavi Lootera’s greed and iconoclastic “Ghazified” zeal. This seems like whataboutery ( to me. The fact that there may be other looters and murderers among Gujaratis does not decrease the guilt of the one in question. Ghaznavi’s motives were NOT solely greed or political power—he was the first encounter of (what is now) India with militant Islamification.

    The earlier Muslim population in Gujarat and Kerala (mostly Arab and Persian traders and businessmen) were a peaceful bunch, and local Hindus also paid respect to their God Al-lah, even going as far as giving temple land for Masjids—which were recognised places of worship by Hindu/Jain Kings and accorded all privileges available to temples. This tradition of not only respecting gods one knows about, but also gods of other people, is not unique to India, but was surely evident on a large scale in India. The excellent business reputation of Arabs and moreso Persians also served to bolster their position in Indian society, despite their smaller numbers, and they serve as the basis of ancient Muslim clans in India (like Bohras). Seeing this to be the case, I would say that Mahmud was definitely not a product of his times. Muslims were already present in India and had excellent social relations. Many such Muslims might even have fought the invaders alongside their Hindu neighbours (Romila Thapar gives a poignant example). What Muslim apologists today forget is that in contemporary chronicles, Mahmud is lauded for murdering as many MUSLIM “heretics” (50000 or so), as Hindus (Kafirs). One only wonders what his definition of “heresy” was, but I hazard a guess that Shias, Ismailis and Sunni Arabs who peacefully lived in Gujarat bore the brunt of his purge. His fanaticism was of the Taliban/Al Qaeda variety, i.e., willing even to kill Muslims who didn’t agree completely with his Islam, and surpassed only by his greed.

    To summarise, the destruction of Somnath temple is greatly exaggerated by the Gujarati bias of Munshiji, and should be taken together with a general study of iconoclasm under Muslim rulers (which would include in-famous Mughal cases). At the same time, it is impossible to find a more contemptible villain in medieval history than Mahmud of Ghazni, who slaughtered Muslim and Hindu alike in his lust for power and gold.

  4. Sanjeev Sabhlok

    Thanks for this, Alex. I have no doubt that Ghazni – like many Islamic criminals today – took refuge in a crude interpretation of Islam. My curiosity has been piqued by Puniyani’s statement that 5 of Ghazni’s generals were Hindu. What’s that about? Any thoughts on that?

  5. Alex C.

    I am very much inclined to distrust Dr. Puniyani’s theses, considering that not only does he not have any academic credentials regarding medieval history, but he has not published these views in any academic publications also. Amusingly, though I hold antagonistic views towards Ms. Thapar’s communism, while I’m sympathetic towards Dr Puniyani’s message of anti-communalism, yet here I respect Ms. Thapar’s capabilities as a historian, where Dr. Puniyani intends to sacrifice truth at the altar of communal harmony (as Govt of India has been doing for decades).

    With that out of the way, I now take Dr. Puniyani’s claim at face value. I’m not the least surprised if Hindu Kings and mercenaries actually let Mahmud pass or even actively fought among his armies for money. At that time, suppose you were a worshipper of Vishnu and had a mortal enmity with blasphemous followers of Shiva—thus when bandit followers of Lah (a more remote, western god) raise an army to destroy the abhorrent Shaivites and cast their false idol on the ground, you would enthusiastically support them! Especially if you got rich in the bargain! It should be understood that there was no “India” at that point, so questions of “Indian” unity or betrayal do not arise. Also, I again say, that Hindus considered Lah to be yet another god worshipped by other people. There would have been any number of Hindus willing to align with followers of a lesser-known god to destroy and loot followers of a god who was a known enemy and rival of one’s own patron god, especially if there was a lot of gold to be made. Since this phenomenon has been seen even in British times (“Indians” fired upon their “brothers” in Jallianwala Bagh), I’d not be surprised if it was true in Mahmud’s times as well. Again, NONE OF THIS EXONERATES MAHMUD, or lessens his guilt. Even if he was a part of a marauding Hindu mob of bandits, HE HIMSELF WAS STILL A BANDIT AND MURDERER. Differently from any Hindus with him, and also from Muslim residents of Gujarat, he was ALSO A MILITANT ISLAMIST (GHAZI), which the Hindus with him were not, neither were the Muslims living in Gujarat.

    HOWEVER, I do not know of any reliable history sources for these claims, and as I said earlier, I’m inclined to distrust Dr. Puniyani’s theories as simple attempts to camouflage the hard truth to appeal to Mahmud’s Muslim fans (mostly in Pakistan, many in India; just like Hitler has Hindutvawadi “fans”).

    The sheer fabrication he repeats regarding Kashi Vishwanath temple “rape case” greatly lessens whatever small credibility he has with me. Such an extraordinary claim requires STRONG historical evidence from SEVERAL sources (like there exists for Ghazni), while he cites who but Dr. Pattabhi Sitarammiah, who has near zero chops as a historian. An alleged “rape” DOES NOT “POLLUTE” A SHIVA TEMPLE SO THAT IT MUST BE DESTROYED.

    He again lapses into Whataboutism regarding Hindu Kings destroying each others’ temples, Jain and Buddhist Kings struggling with Hindu rulers, Muslim rulers destroying each others’ mosques, etc. NONE OF THIS HAS ANYTHING TO DO WITH THE MILITANT ISLAM OF MAHMUD AND THE FANATICISM OF AURANGZEB. Standing in a band of murderers DOES NOT absolve one of murder.

    Then again, claims about Shivaji respecting Muslim worship and even sponsoring mosques have no bearing on the issue. Hindu Kings, being protectors of religion in their realm, had been known to do this, even offering temple-lands for the purpose, even before the time of Mahmud’s looting expedition. An average (non supremacist) Hindu, even today, has no problems with paying obeisance at various mazaars and Churches. Neither are (non supremacist) Muslims offended by this.

    While discussing the conversion of predominantly working classes to Islam (while the landed and priestly classes remained Hindu), Dr. Puniyani omits the major role of Jaziya, which disproportionately affected poor folk who would thus have to convert. In discussing the horrible state of women and untouchables in Manu’s Hinduism, he conveniently omits the EVEN MORE HORRIBLE state of women in Islam, and the PERPETUATION OF UNTOUCHABILITY AND CASTE in Muslims. Barani, in his Fatwa-e-Jahandari, gives a description of Muslim castes in medieval India (before and around the rule of Firuzshah Tughlaq). Do you know what Halalkhor and Lalbegia are? THESE ARE MUSLIM SHUDRAS. Their job is to clean the shit of the Mullahs so that they can lead the other Muslims to jannat. Read Dr Ambedkar’s views on the problems in Muslim society here: Some dalits (Hindu/Buddhist) are more equal than others (Muslim), eh?

    All considered, Dr. Puniyani’s work appears little more than Muslim apologist fluff, but I’ll give him benefit of the doubt if he can produce historical evidence to back up his claims and refrain from bringing up the poor status of women and untouchables, which is not exclusive to “Hindu” society.

  6. JAVED

    Alex C. Re:THESE ARE MUSLIM SHUDRAS. Their job is to clean the shit of the Mullahs so that they can lead the other Muslims to jannat.
    They must be Brahman converts, who couldn’t leave their practices suddenly. That’s the beauty of Islam, those people who wanted to change Islam have been vanished but Islam remained unchanged. Still advocating absolute equality.

  7. YSV Rao

    Plundering temples among rival Hindus was far more common in the south than in the North. Especially amongst Tamils whether the “temple” in question was the main tree of a sacred or an elaborate structures that dominated medieval India of the later Cholas.
    The reason for this was that South Indians were considered Vratyas by rest of the country ie ethnically Kshatriyas but degraded in status for disagreeing and or revolting against Brahmincal strictures.

    We see similar activities by the Marathas during their Reconquista of India and their plundering of temples under Tipu’s reign gave Islamist apologist/hyper secularists such as Girish Karnad the cover they needed . Especially since Tipu Sultan offered to repair said temples and chastised the Marathas for committing such heinous acts.

    Keep in mind at this time, Marathas were in the process of expanding their empire and finishing off any remaining vestiges of Muslim tyranny as was the case of Tipu Sultan. And Tipu was getting increasingly desperate with Napolean’s defeats to English(Tipu was allied with the French while Hyder ali , his father. had sent a token regiment to the Americas to fight the British there!). So Tipu was trying his best to make amends with as many potential allies as possible.

    And again Marathas per Shastras were considered South Indian.

    Coming to the Somnath case, the existence of which was a bone of contention to pious Muslims since the days of Prophet Mohammed. It was considered a sort of sister temple to Kaaba in pre Islamic times and it was believed by Muslims and Hindus that some of dieties that were uprooted by Mohammed escaped and took refuge in Somnath.
    The temples large treasury was also a juicy target. So from a material and Islamic POV, Somnath was doomed.

    As Mahmoud having Brahmin generals(I believe his name was Tilak) , this was not unique. Tipu Sultan’s ablest generals were Tamil Brahmins. THe backbone of Mughals elite core were Rajputs.

    But then again Shivaji and later Marathas also had Muslim generals. There are good number of American Muslims working in CIA,the armed forces and FBI who are proudly fighting Islamic extremism in U.S and abroad.

    As with economics it is with war- a question of incentives. To those Hindus serving Muslims and vice versa the notion of being loyal to a mythical Hindu rashtra or Muslim umma was highly unrealistic when their own immediate lives and property was at stake.

    Keep in mind, self consciously Hindu Shivaji,Vijayanagar Empire, Maharana Pratap et al arose due to particulary bigoted and tyrannical rulers who loathed Hinduism and wanted to uproot it from the country and turn it into a Islamic despotism.
    There were hardly any rebellions against englightened folks such Sher Shah Suri or Akbar who pursued a live and let live policy.

  8. YSV Rao

    Javed, please spare us the Islam is equality rubbish.

    From day 1, there was a clear distinction between Arab Muslims and non Arab Muslims (mawaali). The latter is an abusive word to this very day.

    I don’t know if you ever lived in the Middle East. In a way Im glad for the racism of the even the most egalitarian minded Arab Muslims. It is where the delusions of Indian Muslims go to die.
    Im sure you are aware of Sayyid,Ashraf and Arzal castes, Im sorry categories in Indian Islam. What are they…
    Sayyid descendents of prophet Mohammad
    Ashraf are those of Arab, Persian,Pushtun,Turk blood
    Arzal are the native Indian converts
    In that order. I ask you why this self hatred and groveling to Arabs?
    Either way when you go and tell Arabs of your Arab ancestry ,they just laugh and call you a mawaali
    When tell them how religious you are Ali, they see your assimilation of Hindu society as proof that you are kaafir and mushrik!
    So I ask you what is the point of your lecture? You are only fooling yourself!

  9. JAVED

    YSV Rao, behave like a gentleman. There is no harm in responding politely. Calling any faith as ‘rubbish’ shows your status of thinking. Anyway, I meant to say the same thing you are telling that some people have adopted the faith, but not the teachings completely.
    I’m living in Saudi Arabia since 21 years, never came across of any Sayyid/Sayyed among Arabs. They use Alsayyed السيد as the prefix to any name while addressing somebody as we use Mr. Xyz. Even they’ll call you with the same prefix.
    Although, in South East Asia (sp. India, Pakistan or Bangladesh) some of the elite converts started using “Sayyed” as their identity for superiority claiming that they’re the descendants of the Prophet PBUH. While, the truth is that there is no descendant of the prophet, since his male children didn’t survive for inheritence. So, these foolish nuts relate them to Bibi Fatima, eldest daughter of prophet married to Ali. This way they are the inherits of Ali not the prophet. Even though, they couldn’t gain the superiority in the community for which they are dying of. No superior treatment is given to any of them anywhere.
    I didn’t see any of Ashrafs or Arzals.
    For further clarification please go thru Last Sermon given by the Prophet PBUH. An excerpt:
    ” All mankind is from Adam and Eve.  An Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab, nor does a non-Arab have any superiority over an Arab; a white has no superiority over a black, nor does a black have any superiority over a white; [none have superiority over another] except by piety and good action.”
    For complete Sermon please visit:
    You can observe this phenomenon in every Mosque, even in the most sacred places of Makkah and Madina, where nobody is given priority for his color, nationality, region or wealth. The imam who leads the prayer in Makkah or Madina could be a black from Africa or a Bangali or a Burmese. All Arabs would follow him. Likewise, everywhere in the world. There are the examples of Mahmud (Emperor) and Ayaz (servant) always use to pray side by side, shoulder to shoulder.

  10. JAVED

    Re: Either way when you go and tell Arabs of your Arab ancestry ,they just laugh and call you a mawaali
    When tell them how religious you are Ali, they see your assimilation of Hindu society as proof that you are kaafir and mushrik!
    These are all your allegations, never observed by anybody in the ME. Rather the facts in my previous comment prove you wrong. No doubt there are few among Muslims who could be called as mushrik, those who go to Dargahs (tombs), where any saint is buried with the intention that those saints will recommend to God and will provide their wishes.

  11. Subhodeep Mukhopadhyay

    An interesting post and some very spirited discussion in the comments.

    As you rightly said, “Indian history is a mountain of complexity … only a professional historian can unravel”. I am not a historian, I am not as erudite as gentlemen in this forum – but in my non-expert non-nuanced non-academic reading of Islamic-Persian texts, Mahmud of Gahzni was nothing but a bloodthirsty genocidal maniac who would be labeled a war-criminal or terrorist in today’s age. I base this on English translations of works by Al-Biruni, Minhaj-i-Siraj and Ishtakhri. His only softer side was his deep love for his slave-boy Malik Ayaz, the founder of Lahore.

    I have talked about the destruction of Somnath Temple by various Muslim warlords in a detailed note here.
    Destruction of Somnath Temple

    Would love to here your views on this.

  12. Sanjeev Sabhlok

    Rajesh, I’ve not read your link, but there is absolutely no question of India being a country in the modern sense of the word till 1947. It was a disparate collection of kingdoms, with people who spoke widely different languages, and had no idea about each other. Yes, there was a common culture, but no, there was no India in the modern sense of a nation.

  13. Rajesh

    really, no idea of each other? is that why Ramayana has version in every language? Is that why pilgrimages happen from Varnasi to Rameshwaram to Kanyakumari to Amarnath? Is that why no one tells any of the lakhs of people to go to Kumb mela but people automatically go from all over the country? Do you read any of the literature in the ancient times? Tamil poem puranaanuru which was written in the BCE clearly gives the demarcation between Kashmir to Kanyakumari.. same with many other literature..

    Bhakti movement spread from the south to the north. If people did not know each other why all these happen? Nation state in the political sense like democracy, passport and visa regime is new but nationhood in the cultural and people sense was always there.. certain cultural symbols and practices can be seen throughout the country in a similar form.. you read the article, there are many other proofs as well.. recently found cities like Lothal are also example of that..

  14. Sanjeev Sabhlok

    Yes, there was a cultural overlay, and trade, but being politically entirely different, there was no common country. Till TV came in, the vast majority of North Indians considered the whole of South India “Madras”. There was no clue about other languages/ detailed culture. Most North Indians don’t understand that Brahmins in many parts of the country eat meat. And that Brahmins in many parts of India eat beef.

  15. Rajesh

    Are you serious? This the reason for ‘not being a country’ ? I travel to Europe extensively. People have no clue about how others live just 200 Kms away in the same country and they dont even understand the same language well.. North Germans find the bavarian German strange.. but Austrians have it in common because of geography. That is the key: GEOGRAPHY..

    To say that “politically entirely different” means it is the same everywhere else.. was China united ‘politically’ ? NO. was Europe united? No.. even a small country like Czechoslovakia has to split into Czech and Slovak.. USA became united only 300 years back.. then we are waving in empty space..

  16. ARS

    Romilla Thapar starts her essay with saying that she presents five different narratives on Somnath. But even according to her, at least three of those narratives are not anywhere near serious pieces of evidence. How can such folklores be allowed to contradict and confuse other evidences?

  17. RAMJI

    India did not exist? So did Britain exist or UK? France? Brussels? Germany? Austria? Czeckhoslovakia? Did they all speak the same language? Britain is still an Island one-fifteenth the size of India. That is the scale! It is a sub continent. Do all Australians understand Creole? Does people in London speak like people in Coventry? Pakistan is still trying unsuccessfully to impose Urdu on Sindhis, Baluchis and Punjabis. That is hardly the way for sane argument based on logic for defining nation state. Saurabh where are you from? Rajesh had given the exact answer for this… This tutored, memorised, oft repeated incantations that are so overpoweringly colonial in nature asking to prove the definition of this Nation that was as big as it is now- extending across Asia spanning great mountain systems and rivers for millenia… Which remained like that through out the periods spanned by the Kushanas, Mauryas, Guptas, Marathas, Vijayanagara, Chalukyas, Pallavas (who ventured into far east and established a kingdom as far as Khambhoj(Cambodia). All of them followed one culture, one philosophy or the derivatives of that philosophy which essentially repeated one and the same thing. If till recently people were ignorant about other states and provinces it was because of the lack of communication and lack of infrastructure for which erstwhile govts are responsible. If India was jugaad nation state, responsible leaders should have tried to unite and bond loose ends at the earliest. Isn’t that so? Instead of arguing about the “idea of India”. India is not just an idea. It may be for certain people who have a different idea of what is India? People whose entire generations were born and had survived in this multifarious society knows exactly what India is. It is a living, functioning, real entity. This notion that BJP is creating a Pan Hindu mindset is the most stupidest and weak argument which is another regurgitation of oft repeated narrative of storm in a tea cup Jholawaalas. Brahmins in many part of the country eat beef? Show me one Brahmin or a written account of any Brahmin eating beef willfully as a permitted act as part of his religious belief and especially from a previous generation… In the present generation there might be many who may be doing so. It is like saying that just because few Muslim youngsters might eat pork, or many Muslims consume liquour, they are a discordant lot. No muslim worth his name ever eats pork wilfully and in public. Likewise the Brahmins will not. Even then, if the young do consume beef when the Brahmin community is oh! so orthodox, how would they get the courage to do so? That itself speaks volumes for the liberal attitudes and change in that particular community. So are other communities becoming better and better in out look and attitude. But forcing someone to eat something that is associated with deep rooted aversion and fear of the unknown is surely not of any progressive nature. Where do you hear or see these things? The only instance I had heard is when Jawaharlal Nehru (Kashmiri Pandit) visited a congress leader’s(Christian) home in Kerala where he was supposed to have lunch and beef was prepared due to a special request by his entourage. But to the host’s dismay Nehru refused to eat the beef. When the host persisted, he admitted that even though he had consumed beef earlier during his student days in London, he has given word to Gandhiji that he would not eat beef anymore and since Gandhiji’s death, this is the only word he has been able to keep to sustain his fond memories.

  18. Apar Dholakia

    One thing I don’t understand as a Hindu that the God who couldn’t protect his temple or his followers during Muhammad Gazni and other rulers’ attacks is worshipable?

  19. nishit

    Unlocking the ancient secret of the levitating Shiva-lingam of the Somnath Temple –
    The forgotten crowning achievement of ancient Indian Scientific Thought.

    Dr Nishit Sawal.
    D.M.[Neurology]-AIIMS, New Delhi.

    The Hindu Shiva temple of Shri Somanath located in the Prabhas Kshetra near Veraval in Saurashtra on the western coast of Gujarat, India, is the first among the twelve Jyotirlinga shrines of the God Shiva. The temple is considered very sacred among the Hindus due to the various legends connected to it. Somnath means “Lord of the Soma”, an epithet of Shiva 1. The very mention of this ancient , revered Jyotirlinga brings vivid in the memory of every Indian the infamous raid of Mahmud of Ghazni on the famous temple. Mahmud of Ghazni , taking advantage of the bitter , internecine fighting among the Indian Kingdoms at that time , managed to defeat the Indian Kings and storm Somnath , looting the temple and breaking the famous idol in 1025–1026 A.D2. History chiefly remembers Mahmud of Ghazni for this nefarious deed and even the textbook history of the ancient Somnath temple usually centers around this infamous looting raid.
    However another forgotten aspect of the Somnath temple was the floating Shiva-linga in the temple. About it , the famous Persian geographer Zakariyah Al Kazvini wrote the following interesting account 3–
    “ Somnath is a celebrated city of India, situated on the shore of the sea and washed by its waves. Among the wonders of the place was the temple in which was placed the idol called Somnath. This idol was in the middle of the temple without anything to support it from below, or to suspend it from above. It was regarded with great veneration by the Hindus, and whoever beheld it floating in the air was struck with amazement, whether he was a Mussulman or an infidel. The Hindus used to go on pilgrimage to it whenever there was an eclipse of the moon, and would then assemble there to the number of more than a hundred thousand. They believed that the souls of men used to meet there after separation from the body, and that the idol used, at its pleasure, to incorporate them in other bodies, in accordance with their doctrine of transmigration. The ebb and flow of the tide was considered to be the worship paid to the idol by the sea. Everything that was most precious was brought there as offerings, and the temple was endowed with the taxes gathered from more than ten thousand villages. There is a river, the Ganges, which is held sacred, between which and Somnath the distance is two hundred parasangs. They used to bring the water of this river to Somnath every day, and wash the temple with it. A thousand Brahmans were employed in worshipping the idol and attending on the visitors, and five hundred damsels sang and danced at the door – all these were maintained upon the endowments of the temple. The edifice was built upon fifty-six pillars of teak, covered with lead. The shrine of the idol was dark, but was lighted by jewelled chandeliers of great value. Near it was a chain of gold weighing two hundred mans. When a portion, or watch, of the night closed, this chain used to be shaken like bells to rouse a fresh lot of Brahmans to perform worship. When Sultan Mahmud, the son of Sabuktagin, went to wage religious war against India, he made great efforts to capture and destroy Somnath, in the hope that the Hindus would then become Mohammedans. He arrived there in the middle of Zu-l-ka’da, 416 A. H. (December, 1025 A.D.). The Indians made a desperate resistance. They kept going in to the temple weeping and crying for help; and then they issued forth to battle and kept fighting till all were killed. The number of the slain exceeded fifty thousand. The king looked upon the idol with wonder, and gave orders for the seizing of the spoil and the appropriation of the treasures. There were many idols of gold and silver, and countless vessels set with jewels, all of which had been sent there by the greatest personages in India. The value of the things found in the temples of the idols exceeded twenty thousand thousand dinars.
    When the king asked his companions what they had to say about the marvel of the idol, and of its staying in the air without prop or support, several maintained that it was upheld by some hidden support. The king directed a person to go and feel all around and above and below it with a spear, which he did, but met with no obstacle. One of the attendants then stated his opinion that the canopy was made of loadstone, and the idol of iron, and that the ingenious builder had skillfully contrived that the magnet should not exercise a greater force on any one side – hence the idol was suspended in the middle. Some inclined toward this explanation, others differed from it. Permission was obtained from the Sultan to remove some stones from the top of the canopy to settle the point. When two stones were removed from the summit, the idol swerved on one side; when more were taken away, it inclined still further, until at last it rested on the ground.’

    Fig 1. – Photograph of Somnath Temple in 1869.(Photo by permission of
    British Library Board – No. 1587)

    Thus we see that there the story of floating Shiva-linga of Somnath was true and not merely a writer’s imagination as Al Kazvini , himself a Muslim historian , had described it in detail. History is usually dictated by the victors and the achievements of the vanquished are usually skipped or underplayed. That Al-Kazvini described it in such detail is a testimony to the degree to which this achievement of the vanquished Indians was held in admiration even by the victorious army from Ghazni.
    So now we are left to the arduous task of guessing how ancient Hindus had devised such a system which could keep a Shiva-Linga floating in air without the aids of modern science or magnetic superconductors . For this , first we have to understand the origin of the Shiva-linga of Somnath .
    The ancient text detailing the war between the various Vedic age Aryan tribes , the Mahabharata , the core kernel of which has been dated by the noted historian Pargiter to around 950 BC , refers to the Prabhasa Kshetra and the legend of the moon worshipping Shiva 2 . Although no temple at Prabhasa is mentioned in the Mahabharata , it is mentioned as a place of pilgrimage . According to a legend narrated in the Shiva Purana (10-11th Century AD ) 4, once Lord Brahma and Lord Vishnu had an argument in terms of supremacy of creation. To test them, Shiva pierced the three worlds as a huge endless pillar of light, the jyotirlinga. The Jyotirlinga shrines are places where Shiva is supposed to have appeared as a fiery column of light . Applying scientific logic , it is clear that the Jyotirlinga shrines are temples where the Shiva-linga is actually a meteorite which appeared as a fiery column of light.
    The Skanda Purana (7-10th Century AD ) 5 describes the Sparsa Linga of Somnath as one bright as the sun, the size of an egg, lodged underground. Now this description of size of the Shiva –Linga at Somnath , it being bright as the sun and being lodged underground all tally with it being a meteorite. Meteorites usually appear in a very bright flash as they traverse the atmosphere – hence being compared to the sun in its brightness and since most of the bulk of a meteorite is vaporized in the atmosphere , it’s size would have been comparable to an egg , albeit probably slightly bigger as per testimony of other historical accounts about the floating Shiva-linga. When meteorites crash on earth , most of the meteorite disintegrates with force of impact into dust . Rarely fragments from iron-nickel meteorites survive this fiery journey through the earth’s atmosphere and can be found intact. These fragments may get embedded in the ground 6,7 – probably that is what the Skanda-Purana alludes to when it says that the Sparsa-Linga of Somnath was lodged underground.
    Thus a plausible guess would be that the Shiva-Linga of meteorite origin was being worshipped in the Prabhas region by 900 BC and probably it was improvised upon to become the floating Shiva-Linga of Somnath by some ancient genius at a later date.
    There is more evidence contained in the historical accounts itself about the Somnath Shiva-linga clearly pointing it to being a Iron-nickel meteorite remnant .The Arab Historian Abulfeda, who wrote at the commencement of the thirteenth century , in his description of the raid of Mahmud Ghazni on the Somnath temple writes that Mahmud lighted a fire around the Somnath Shiva-linga to split it on account of hardness of stone 1. Iron-Nickel meteorites are very hard , harder than common rocks found on earth’s surface and strongly magnetic. Farrington in his article on the constituents of meteorites in the Journal of Geology writes that Nickel-iron meteorites are strongly magnetic , have a specific gravity between 7.6 and 7.9 and are harder than steel 8. Thus during his raid on Somnath , Mahmud must have tried to smash the Shiva-linga using hammers or stones but being very hard , it resisted those efforts. Being in hostile enemy territory with time running short 1, Mahmud would have then turned to the age-old technique of rock splitting using fire and water which worked .
    Also the Arab historian Farrukhi Sistani , contemporary of Mahmud Ghazni , wrote that the idol at Somnath was not of an Hindu deity but of a pre-Islamic Arabic Goddess Manat 9. According to other historical descriptions of the idol of Manat , it was aniconic block of black stone . Historians have found no evidence for this and this claim of Farrukhi Sistani is now seen as an effort to enhance Mahmud’s prestige in the Islamic world. However one can glean from this that the Shiva-Lingam at Somanath was also made of black stone, hence the effort of Farrukhi Sistani to refer to it as the idol of Manat. Nickel – iron meteorites with high metallic content are black and strongly magnetic as shown in the picture below.

    Fig 2 – Fragment of the nickel-iron meterorite that landed in Sikhote-Alin in Russia in 1947. Note the Black colour.( Photo courtesy H. Raab )

    Iron-Nickel meteorites were worshipped in other parts of world too in earlier times . Partly this was because of the fact that the meteorite crashes to the earth in a very spectacular fashion , a bright flash of light streaking across the sky followed by loud noise and a small cloud of dust and vaporized meteor material. The Willamette meteorite In USA has for long been venerated and worshipped by the Clackamas tribe of native American Indians 10.

    As to how the ancient Hindu craftsmen had managed to devise a system through which they could keep the Shiva-linga afloat in air without support , one has to understand the following things-
    The mechanism used for making the Shiva-linga float was a magnetic levitation mechanism .However magnetic levitation is not an easy task and was probably never achieved in pre-modern world except at Somnath . A glance at a few basics of magnetism can make us realize the obstacles faced by the architects of the levitating Shiva-linga at Somnath. Earnshaw’s theorem prohibits the stable levitation of one magnet by other(s)11. So if one tries to make one magnet ‘hover’ using the magnetic attraction of another, the ‘hover’ magnet will either sits limply on the tabletop or snap quickly to the other one. It is not possible to make a bar magnet levitate in a stable position only through the use of other bar magnets as stipulated in Earnshaw’s theorem.
    If we pretend we have a collection of bar magnets arranged in a square, another bar magnet placed in the center of the square will not be in a stable position, and will be pulled (and twisted around) out of the center, and likely towards one of the other magnets:

    (It would be best to imagine the bar magnets standing up, i.e. the north pole of the magnet pointing out of the paper/monitor). Using vector calculus, one can show that a levitation device composed of any set of point charges/fixed magnets will have a ‘leak’ and the magnetic levitation will be unstable.

    Because of this instability when using static fields, one can only create magnetic levitation with permanent magnets if the magnetic fields are time-varying or the levitating magnet is spinning. This latter possibility is used in the modern toy called the Levitron 12. Magnetic levitation trains which rely on permanent magnets use dynamic feedback to keep the train stable and running. However none of this was probably available at the time when Somnath was built , then how the Shiva-linga at Somnath was kept levitating?
    The answer to this lies in their clever use of bismuth as diamagnets . Diamagnets can be levitated in stable equilibrium in a magnetic field, with no power consumption. As to how use of diamagnets allowed the artisans of Somnath to violate the Earnshaw’s theorem , the following points are illustrative. Returning to our square arrangement of magnets, let us now replace the bar magnets in the corners with diamagnets. When the permanent magnet is right in the center of the square, the diamagnets all have ‘effective bar magnets’ of equal strength induced by it:

    (Remember: Our bar magnets are still pointing out of the paper/monitor) .When we move the bar magnet from the center, its magnetic field will be weaker in the diamagnets it moves away from and stronger in the diamagnets it moves towards. For instance:

    The net result is that the diamagnets closest to the bar magnet push it away very strongly, while the diamagnets far away push it very weakly. This increasing and slackening of force keeps the magnet stably near the center of the system. The ‘leak’ that we had found earlier in our four point charge/bar magnet system has been ‘sealed’ by the varying strength of the diamagnetic response.

    In the diagram below , a strong collection of permanent magnets are supported by a wooden frame above the ‘levitation’ area, and provide the ‘lift’ for the levitating magnet. The levitating magnet itself is supported between a pair of plates made of bismuth which — and this is in fact the key point — is a strongly diamagnetic material .13 ( Data from,
    We can now understand the configuration of the magnets and the diamagnetic material in the ancient Somnath temple in the diagram below . The stack of permanent magnets [ the loadstone canopy as described by Al Kazvini] provided the lifting anti-gravity force to the levitating magnet [ the levitating iron-nickel meteorite Shiva-linga ] , while the diamagnetic plates [ Bismuth ] maintained the position of the levitating magnet and provide its stability. The diamagnetic plates act very much like a pair of fellows escorting a drunk friend home: whenever their friend ‘wobbles’ in their direction, they apply some gentle pressure to direct him back upright!

    Fig. 3 – Diagrammatic representation of how bismuth and magnets were used to levitate the Shiva-linga at Somnath temple( Courtesy,

    Al-Kazvini specifically mentions in his description of the Somnath temple – “The edifice was built upon fifty-six pillars of teak, covered with lead”. That Al Kazvini’s account of Somnath was accurate is also verified by other sources. Al Kazvini described that the original temple stood on teak pillars covered with lead . This is also corroborated by Jaina Texts which mention Hemachandra , the trusted minister of Chaulukyan (Solanki) King Kumarapala (1143-1172 AD) advising Kumarapala to replace the dilapidated wooden temple at Somanath with a stone made one to attain salvation14.
    In no other ancient or modern Hindu temple has the usage of lead been described except Somnath . Al-Kazvini specifically stated that the temple stood on pillars coated with lead . Now one may say that probably lead was used to protect the wood from pests , termites etc but Somnath does not have a tropical climate where such measures would be required and even if a protective metal encasing for the teak pillars was required , lead would hardly be the metal of choice. Brass, silver etc would have been the preferred choices. Then why lead was used in the Temple of Somnath . The answer to this is that what Al-Kazvini described was not lead but bismuth. Bismuth is physically similar to lead and is as heavy as lead – hence the confusion between the two in ancient times was very common 15,16,1718,19.
    Now as to why Bismuth was used in the Somnath temple , one has to realize that Bismuth is the most strongly diamagnetic metal – a property that was essential for making the Shiva-linga levitate. Although Bismuth and lead may physically be alike , they differ greatly in their diamagnetic properties. Bismuth has a magnetic susceptibility value of -16.6 x 10-5 and lead has a magnetic susceptibility value of -1.8 x 10-5. Magnetic susceptibility value is a measure of the diamagnetic strength of a material , hence bismuth is almost 10 times more strong a diamagnet than lead 20,21.
    One also has to keep in mind that since bismuth is a bit brittle , hence the use of teak pillars in the ancient Somnath temple as an internal support for the bismuth and also the fact that bismuth was not as plentiful as other metals and hence not readily available in ancient times . Using teak pillars as internal struts along with bismuth would have cut down the amount of bismuth required for making the Shiva-linga levitate. Another interesting point is that even Ibn Zafir as quoted in M Nazim’s “ The life and times of Sultan Mahmud of Ghazna” 9 says that the floor of the Somnath temple was also made of planks of teak, the interstices being filled with lead . Again this was not lead but bismuth .
    Unlike other metals like silver , it would have been impossible to make the floor of the shrine itself from Bismuth as bismuth is very brittle. Hence the clever builders of the Somnath temples used teak planks for making the floor of the shrine but since they needed more diamagnetic force for levitating the Shiva-Linga , they filled the gaps deliberately left between the teak planks with pieces of bismuth.
    Also for making the Shiva-linga levitate , as illustrated in the simplified diagram above , bismuth would be required above as well as below the Shiva-linga. No account is given by Al-Kazvini of the use of lead [ bismuth actually] above the Shiva-linga but one can surmise that either the parasol [ Chattr – a type of ornamental umbrella constructed above the idols of chief deities in Indian temples ] of the Shiva-linga was of bismuth or a perforated low roof made of bismuth [ or more likely of teak covered with bismuth] was employed for providing the diamagnetic force above the Shiva-linga. The Arab historians probably thought it insignificant as they were dazzled with the floating Shiva-Linga and hence it is not mentioned.
    Having understood how the builders of the ancient Somnath temple had used the magnetic properties of the iron-nickel meteorite Shiva –linga and the diamagnetic properties of bismuth in making the ancient wonder of the levitating Shiva-linga at Somnath , one now turns to answer the question as to how the Builders of Somnath acquired bismuth – a metal which was known since ancient times but not used very frequently on a large scale in the ancient world. For this we have to understand the high skills of the ancient Indians in the field of metallurgy .
    Ancient Indian Metallurgists were way ahead of their time . The process of making Zinc was known to them since 2nd century AD . Nagarjuna [ 166-203 AD] in his book Rasratnakar describes in detail the method of Zinc extraction from its ore. Zawar, Udaipur district, Rajasthan, is now considered to be the oldest site of industrial zinc production in the world. Radiocarbon age determinations of launder wood from the old lead-zinc mines of Zawar Mala yielded an age of 2180+/- 35 years. The method of zinc smelting independently developed and patented by William Champion in 1738 was almost identical to the one used by ancient Indian Zinc smelters 22,23.

    Fig 4 – Ancient zinc smelting furnace and a spent retort from Zawar .(Photo courtesy of Geological Survey of India) .

    Another testimony of the metallurgical skills of ancient Indians was the “wootz “ steel used in making the fabled Damascus swords 24,25. This riddle has still not been cracked yet with modern scientists just knowing that the ancient Indians used a technique which involved incorporating a high carbon content in the steel and forging and hammering it at a relatively low temperature but the exact process employed by the master ancient steel makers still eludes us.
    Thus we see that ancient Indians had attained a very high level of proficiency in their metallurgical skills. Now as to how and where the bismuth used in the ancient Somnath temple was procured , it is pertinent to know the following facts.
    Bismuth as a metal is rarely mined and extracted from bismuth ore . The only mines which use bismuth ore as a source of bismuth are the Tasna mines in Bolivia and a few mines in China . Bismuth has always been produced as a by-product of lead smelting from its ore . Crude lead can contain up to 10% of bismuth. Lead has been smelted and used by Indian metallurgists since times immemorial. The open cast lead mine at Rampura-Agucha in Bhilwara district in Rajasthan which are geographically near to Somnath provide evidence of being worked in Mauryan times [3rd century BC] . Bismuth too was known in ancient India , It is mentioned as Capala in the Sanskrit alchemical text Rasa-Ratna-Samuccaya [ 12th-13th century AD] 26, although it is likely that was known much before this date . Concentrated Bismuth-lead deposits are also found at Narda, Neem-ka-Thana tehsil , Sikar district which is not very far from Somnath. It is likely that the builders of Somnath procured the bismuth used in the temple from either of these two ancient mines . Bismuth was probably produced as a by-product of lead smelting by ancient Indian metallurgists. Bar magnets were common in ancient India , being used as toys and in games as well as for other purposes. Susruta – the famous ancient Indian Surgeon who lived around 4th century AD used magnets for removing metallic splinters from wounds. Probably some miners or someone living in the vicinity of lead-bismuth mines made the serendipitous discovery that a bar magnet could be stably levitated using the diamagnetic properties of bismuth. Then they transmitted this information to the priests of Somnath either during a pilgrimage to Somnath or when someone living near the mines and knowing this principle of diamagnetic levitation sought employment at Somnath. Ancient temples in India served as centers of spiritual, administrative and commercial activity providing employment to thousands. The priests at Somnath who must have become aware of the magnetic properties of the iron-nickel meteorite Shiva-linga while handling it during the daily pooja and other ceremonies recognized that using the diamagnetic properties of bismuth , they could make their revered Shiva-linga levitate like a magnet bar . They must have thought it to be a method to honor their chief deity by making his main Siva-linga idol float in the air .
    Having enormous financial and other resources at their disposal , they procured the bismuth from the sources mentioned above and thus was made one of the greatest wonders of pre-modern history which had no parallel at that time.
    Even its conquerors and the ones who destroyed it stood in awe of this man-made marvel and their historians too transmitted this legend down the generations. History has not given this ancient marvel it’s just due. The ancient architects of Somnath and the justifiably wonder stuck Shiva Devotees who had witnessed and worshipped the amazing spectacle of the Somnath Shiva-linga floating in air are a lot to be envious of.

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  20. anukul

    I started reading the original article. Judging by the few opening remarks, I was quite sure the author is going to quote Romila Thapar. That is the ilk. When you want to project a page from history, the author would do well to select excerpts from diverse extracts. To choose from a selected coterie of historians who have a similar belief in History and then say this is “apolitical” reeks of the reverse.

    Mahmud must be turning in his hellish grave!!

  21. Ejaz Ahmad

    Seeing the things according to already held notions doesn’t lead to truth.If the territory which was invaded by Mahmud Ghaznavi would’ve been dwelled by some people with superior statecraft, if there would’ve been no internecine wars, Mahmud would never have been successful. We didn’t exist in those days so we shouldn’t see the past in the light of today’s parameters and paradigms. Study of history should be a secular project. The Hindu civilisation was in a state of decline in those days and the Islamic civilisation was in a state of fresh start. The civilisation which is in decline is in a state of split, it has no moorings, it is actually like a rock falling from the top of a mountain-nothing can stop it. Same was the situation of Islamic society when Western colonialism started and one can see that all the Muslim countries crumbled in the hands of Western powers like sand and mud. There were infiltrations from rising Muslim civilisation into the declining Hindu body at the time of Mahmud which ultimately culminated in uniting India under Mughals- Mughal empire was formed which actually was a Hindu universal state- last effort by any declining society. The heydays of Hindu society had already passed when Muslim society was rising. History is a story of conflicts between different narratives in space and time
    Now there is awareness in both Islamic and Hindu societies for revival and there is intermingling in terms of space in Subcontinent. Both should understand this otherwise non of the two will be able to revive. Such questions and situations have been successfully handled by the western Society-we should learn from them. The foremost task is not to use history to settle today’s scores.


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