Wednesday, June 1, 2022

On the Early Arab Invasions of India

“The conquest of Sindh was the first and the last great achievement of the Arabs in India.” ~ R. C. Majumdar in The Classical Age (Chapter 10, “Northern India During AD 650-750”)

The Arabs attained great military success in most parts of the world—in the Middle East, North Africa, Western Europe, and Transoxiana—but almost all of their attempts to invade Indian soil ended in a failure. The invasion of India was not easy for the Islamic forces. Here’s a brief look at the major Arab attempts to invade India in the seventh and the early eighth centuries: 

The first Arab attack on Indian soil occurred in 636 AD, when the governor of Bahrain and Oman sent out ships to invade Thane, near modern-day Mumbai. This attack was repulsed. Between 636 and 643, two more naval invasions were attempted—in the region of Barwas (Broach) and Debal, an ancient port near modern-day Karachi. These invasions were also defeated. 

After 643, the Arabs repeatedly attempted to invade India through the Khyber Pass. Wars went on for years but the Arabs could not defeat the Hindu kingdoms of Kabul and Zabul. For a brief period, between 700-714, the Arabs took control of Kabul, but after that the Hindu kings regained control. Afghanistan remained a Hindu kingdom for another three hundred years. 

In 660, an Arab army made an attempt to invade India through the Bolan Pass (in the mountainous region of Kikan). They were defeated by the local Jats and Meds. According to the Chach Nama, in 663, the commander of a large Arab force was killed, along with most of his soldiers. In the next twenty years, six Arab armies attempted to Invade India through the Bolan Pass. All of these armies were repulsed by the Jats and the Meds, and the Bolan Pass remained sealed to the invaders. 

After more than eight decades of failed invasions, the Arabs managed to conquer some parts of Sindh in 708. R. C. Majumdar notes in his book that the Arabs won in the battle for Sindh because they were helped by the “Buddhist fifth-columnists,” not because of their military superiority. The Buddhists were averse to slaughter and bloodshed. They did not want to wage wars against the invaders. They thought that they could appease the invaders by offering them tribute and power.

The Arab success in Sindh was short-lived. They were decisively defeated by the powerful Hindu states of Kashmir and Kanauj in the north, and by the Pratiharas and the Chalukyas in the south. Eventually they lost control of Sindh as well.

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