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Medieval history in India often begins with Mohammed Bin Qasim’s invasion of Sindh in 712 AD and quickly jumps to Mahmud of Ghazni’s invasion of 1001 AD. What happened in the intervening 300 years? Why did a power which had completely overwhelmed West Asia and North Africa in a matter of 70 odd years not make much headway in India for nearly three hundred? The answer lies in the successive defeat of Arab invasions by several Indian rulers. From Kashmir’s Lalitaditya to the Chalukyan king Vikramaditya II in today’s Karnataka, an arc of resistance kept the invaders at bay for centuries. It is unfortunate that while a similar event in Europe (The Battle of Tours — 732 AD) is widely known and celebrated, hardly anyone has heard of Nagabhata I, Bappa Rawal, Pulakesiraja, Lalitaditya or Yashovarman.
But first a bit of background. Mohammed Bin Qasim had annexed Sindh in 712 AD but died a few years later. His work was carried forward by Junaid Ibn Marri who proceeded as far as today’s Ujjain and Bharuch. It seemed as if the story of Arab conquest would continue here too. But as the ninth century Gwalior prashasthi inscription of the king Mihirabhoja tells us, things turned out very differently for the invading party. The inscription mentions the Gurjara Pratihara ruler Nagabhata I, who successfully led an alliance of various other chieftains against the Arabs. That this event is specifically mentioned hundred years later by Mihirabhoja shows its importance.
Nagabhata thus can be credited with saving Gujarat and Malwa from the invading party.
Several rulers from Kashmir to Karnataka rose to the common challenge and ensured that the Arabs did not advance beyond the Indus. The Arabs tried to enter via the Bharuch route too, but here they met with stiff resistance from Pulakesiraja, who allied with a Gurjara ruler named Jayabhat IV. Together, Nagabhat I, Pulakesiraja and Jayabhat IV inflicted severe defeats on the invading Arabs at Vallabhi and Navsari.
In fact, Vikramaditya II, the Chalukyan king who ruled from Badami, has eulogised his governor Pulakesiraja as a “solid pillar of Dakshinpath” and “defeater of those who cannot be defeated”. Another feudatory of the Chalukyas — the Rashtrakuta ruler Dantidurga is also mentioned in some sources as having aided Pulakesiraja. Thus, the tide of invasion in Gujarat was successfully stemmed by 738 AD and any incursion to the South was also decisively halted.
Various small states in today’s Rajasthan had also been overrun and it was at this stage that Chittor, then called Chitrakuta, was taken by a young warrior named Kalbhoja, more popular as Bappa Rawal. The Guhilot dynasty, to which he belonged, would go on to be one of the most powerful of Mewar in later years. A lot of legends surround him. But what is certain is that he rallied various small states in today’s Rajasthan and Gujarat and successfully pushed back the Arab invasion, which had threatened everything including Chittor. The Solankis also helped in this battle, and coinciding as it did with the battles fought by Chalukyas and Gurjara Pratiharas, dealt a body blow to the Arab invasion — who retreated to the west bank of the Indus.
“Not a place of refuge was to be found”, rues a contemporary Arab chronicle. Some attempt was made via the Punjab route, by Junaid Ibn Murri and Tamin, only to face an alliance led by Lalitaditya Muktapida of Kashmir and Yashovarman of Kannauj. In doing so, a vast swathe of India, from the Karakoram to the Gangetic doab became a part of this history. It is interesting to note that prior to and after defeating the Arabs, they opposed each other.
Lalitaditya’s and Yashovarman’s campaigns coincided with Bappa Rawal, Nagabhata and Pulakesiraja. Chronicles of both ancient Kashmir and Kannauj talk about this glorious chapter, which now lie forgotten.
The (unsuccessful) invasion of Al Hind or India was in complete contrast to the string of victories the new power had enjoyed across West Asia and North Africa. Having fought off the invaders, the Gurjara Pratiharas grew to be the dominant power in India, governing over half the subcontinent. Their presence and that of other powers ensured that no foreign power could step on Indian soil for nearly three hundred years.
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