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Battle of Rasil


Prophet Muhammed died in 632 C.E. Just twelve years later, a Hindu king was defeated by Muslim armies, thus changing the history of the Indian subcontinent. The name of this Hindu king — Chach of Alor — is not often heard. So let us go to modern day Baluchistan, where currently the  natives are fighting “colonial exploitation, denial and violation of human rights.”

During the time of Muhammed’s death, the regions of Makran and Sindh belonged to India culturally and politically; Muslims knew the area as the frontier of al-Hind. Though the tendency is to consider Indus as the Western border of India, people from Pliny the Elder  (23 – 79 C.E) to  Nicolo de Conti (1385 – 1469) thought that it was Gedrosia or Makran.

At this time Harsha (590 – 647 C.E.) was the ruler of Northern India; the Gupta empire had come to end following the invasion of the White Huns. While Harsha ruled over the Gangetic plain, Punjab, Gujarat, Bengal and Orissa, the other side of the modern border was ruled by the Hindu Rai dynasty with the capital in Alor (modern day Sukkur).

Founded by Rai Dewaji in 485 C.E, just a decade after Rome fell to the Visigoths, the Rai kingdom extended  all way from Kashmir to Makran and from the mountains of Kurdan to Karachi. Within this empire some parts of Makran was controlled by Persians and Indians alternatively. 

Makran was barren then, as it is now. According to Caliph Uthman, “water is scanty, dates are bad, robbers are bold; a small army would be lost there, a large army would starve”; two emperors, Alexander and Cyrus, would agree. Though mostly barren, there were few fertile areas like the Kij Valley and Buleda which had date palms and orchards. The region was important strategically since one of the major trade routes from India to Persia ran through this region; the other route was through Kabul valley.

The Chinese traveler Xuanzang (Hsüan-tsang) visited the region during the time of the Rai dynasty. Makran at that time had a large Buddhist population; there were towns like Armabil which were ruled by Buddhists who were originally agents of the Rais.  Xuanzang saw 80 Buddhist convents with 5000 monks, several hundred Deva temples and one temple of ‘Maheswara Deva’ which was richly adorned. 

Sindh too was part of al-Hind. This was a time when the Buddhist influence was strong, but was in the decline due to rise of Hinduism and the influence of the Gupta empire. By this time, according to  Xuanzang , Buddhism in Sindh was in decline and Takshashila was in ruins. There was a Brahmin migration to Sindh and many cities were founded by them. Buddhists and Brahmins blended in a unique way without any dispute which the Arab invaders could exploit.

The Rai dynasty which ruled for 137 years ended with the death of Rai Sahasi II in 622 C.E. It is following the death of Rai Sahasi that events get interesting. When the King was about to die, the Queen Suhandi conspired with the Brahmin minister Chach and imprisoned all the rivals to  the throne. Chach became the viceroy and this started the Brahmin dynasty. The first thing that Chach did when he came to power was to put guards on the road of Makran.

Meanwhile in Arabia,  following the death of Muhammed, the Rashidun Caliphate, comprising the first four caliphs in Islam’s history was formed. Abu Bakr became the first  Khalifa Rasul Allah (Successor of the Messenger of God) and in 634 C.E. he was succeed by Caliph Umar. It was during Umar’s time that the Arabs entered Makran resulting in the Battle of Rasil.

Chach of Alor, the king of Sindh concentrated huge armies from Sindh and Balochistan to halt the advance of Muslims. Suhail was reinforced by Usman ibn Abi Al Aas from Persepolis, and Hakam ibn Amr from Busra, the combined forces defeated Chach of Alor at a pitch Battle of Rasil, who retreated to the eastern bank of River Indus. Further east from Indus River laid Sindh, which was domain of Rai kingdom. Umar, after knowing that sindh was a poor and relatively barran land, disapproved Suhail’s proposal to cross Indus River.For the time being, Umar declared the Indus River, a natural barrier, to be the eastern most frontier of his domain. This campaign came to an end in mid 644. [Battle of Rasil]

The defeated Chach was pushed back to the Indus river. When the Caliph was asked for permission to go furthur to Sindh, he refused permission. He asked the soldiers to sell the elephants they had captured and take the money. The next caliph, Uthman, also  denied permission to conquer Sindh, which eventually happened during the caliphate of Muawiya. 

Chach of Alor had a natural death in 671 C.E.

References & Notes:

  1. Andre Wink, Al Hind: The Making of the Indo Islamic World, Vol. 1, Early Medieval India and the Expansion of Islam, 7th-11th Centuries, 2nd ed. (Brill Academic Publishers, 1990).
  2. Gobind Khushalani, Chachnamah Retold : An Account Of The Arab Conquest Of Sindh (Bibliophile South Asia, 2006).
  3. Wikipedia entries for Battle of Rasil, and Umar
  4. The year Chach took office is in dispute. According to one source it is 643 C.E. while according to one translation of Chachnama, it was 622 C.E.
  5. Image via Wikipedia
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Communists do a Nehru

In election posters dead people are mandatory. But in Kerala, the featured dead people are Saddam Hussein and Yasser Arafat. India’s ties with Israel is the biggest crisis facing Kerala right now according to the campaign speeches. The previous crisis – if the library of Alexandria was burned by Arabs — was somehow amicably resolved.

India’s deal with Israel is a big issue for the Communists because of the recent Indo-Israeli missile deal, which will protect India from, to borrow the Prime Minister’s words, “neighboring countries.” Now the Communists have become more Nehru than Nehru himself .

Nehru’s opposition for the creation of Israel, did not stand his way of asking their help during the 1962 war with China. Nehru asked David Ben-Gurion for help and Israelis sent military equipment. During the 1965 and 1971 wars too Israel sent mortar rounds, while our so called friends did pretty much nothing. India also demanded that while Israel sent ammunition, they remove any Israeli markings from it. The ammunition was obtained regularly as demanded and India condemned them in public and always supported the Palestinian cause.[Einstein, Nehru and Israel]

One way to be a Nehru is to oppose Israel while asking for help. (There are other ways too which is left as an exercise to the reader). This is exactly what the Communists did.

While the party is against Israel, one of their ministers, C. Divakaran of CPI, wanted to import Israeli bulls to impregnate Malayali cows; the Kerala bulls were only good for calling hartals. The goal of this exercise was to combine business and pleasure – for the Israeli bulls. The Israeli bulls were expected to do their magic and many mooos later milk production was to increase by 20%. Even the farmers unions were enthusiastic about this: they identified the hill station of Mattupetti for the bulls to sing songs.

C. Divakaran was not setting up new standards in Nehruvian school of geo-politics; he was just following the path of Jyothi Basu. During his tenure as the person in charge of taking Bengal to stone age, Basu wanted an industrial tie up with Israel. It also turns out that we blogged about this in 2003.

Thus we have Nehrus all around us, replicating rapidly, like Agent Smith in Matrix Reloaded. There is no problem with that, but if only they stopped dumping the other stuff which the bull produces on us.

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The Death of Chanakya

In Episode 2 of The Story of India, Michael Wood, journeys from Patna to Sravanabelagola following the footsteps of Chandragupta Maurya. According to Jain tradition, after a teacher warned Chandragupta about an impending famine, Chandragupta made Bindusara the king, took a begging bowl and walked to Deccan. Even now there is a cave with a carving of a stone foot, where the Mauryan emperor is believed to have starved to death (See from 35 min onwards)

But what about Chanakya? While most popular accounts of Chanakya end with coronation of Chandragupta Maurya’s coronation, Visakshadutta’s Mudrarakshasa is about events after the coronation where Chanakya tries to get the deposed minister of the Nandas, Amatya Rakshasa, to serve as the Emperor’s minister. We don’t know what happened after that.

The only information I could find about Chanakya’s life after this period is in the book The Lives of the Jain Elders by the Jain monk Hemacandra. This narration talks not just about the death of Chanakya, but also about the birth of Bindusara and associated palace intrigues.

According to Hemacandra, while Chanakya served as the Prime Minister of Chandragupta Maurya, he started adding small amounts of poison in the Emperor’s food so that he would get used to it; railway meals was not available then. This gourmet cuisine was prepared to prevent the Emperor from being poisoned by enemies.

One day a pregnant queen Durdha shared the food with the Emperor. Since poisoned food was not her staple diet, she died. Chanakya decided that the baby should not die; he cut open the belly of the queen and took out the baby. A drop (bindu) of poison had passed to the baby’s head, and hence Chanakya named him Bindusara.

After Chandragupta abdicated the throne, Chanakya stayed as the Prime Minister of Bindusara. One person who did not like this was Bindusara’s minister Subandhu who revealed to Bindusara that Chanakya was responsible for the murder of his mother.

On hearing that the Emperor was angry with him, Chanakya thought he had nothing to lose but his life. He donated a his wealth to the poor, widows, and orphans and sat on a dung heap, prepared to die by total abstinence from food and drink. Bindusara, meanwhile heard the full story of his birth from the nurses and rushed to beg forgiveness of Chanakya. But Chanakya would not relent. Bindusara vent his fury on Subandhu, who asked for time to beg for forgiveness from Chanakya.

Subandhu, who still hated Chanakya, wanted to make sure that he did not return to the city – alive. He arranged for a ceremony of respect, but unnoticed by anyone, slipped a smoldering charcoal ember inside the dung heap. Aided by the wind, the dung heap was on fire and the man behind the Mauryan Empire and the author of Arthashastra was burned to death.

R.C.C. Fynes writes in the introduction to the translation of The Lives of the Jain Elders that the stories told by Hemacandra are legend and not history. He has a point since there are no other sources to verify this story. Also it is told entirely from a Jain perspective which adds its own bias. But then most legends have a kernel of truth to them, only sometimes that kernel is hard to find.

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Advice for Peace Missions to Pakistan

After the Mumbai massacre, 13 Indians went to Pakistan to promote peace and friendship.

The delegation includes eminent Indian personalities like former Indian diplomat and journalist Kuldip Nayar, renowned filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt, social activist Swami Agnivesh, historian and academician Prof KN Panikar, former diplomat Salman Haider, human rights activist Prof Kamal Mitra Chenoy, journalist Seema Mustafa, Sandeep social activist Pandey, social scientist Kamla Bhasin, etc. [Indian delegation in Pakistan to promote peace ]

The same set of people, in various permutations and combination, have been holding candles at Wagah for peace since India was a floating landmass in Pangea. Sometimes they forgot the candles, but people forgave them; there are not many stand up comics in India.

These peace missions tell us that Pakistanis too are mango men (aam aadmi) like us, thirsting for peace. These peace missions also tell us that we need more P2P (people to people) contact. But if such P2P contacts happen a lot, it would violate the first law of P2P which states that the total amount of Peace in the universe must be constant. To maintain equilibrium, alternate P2P events like the Mumbai Massacre and Kupwara happen.

Besides increasing entropy, there is another problem with P2P missions. The candle holders on this side meet candle holders on the other side. Over a platter of Kabab and Rooh Afza, they agree on everything, except on whether they should use scented candles or not.

What they should do instead is visit some mango men from Mohammad Ajmal Amir Kasab’s village. Then chat about a few things: weather, water issues, candles, and maybe, if time permits, on what they think of terrorist training camps.

Mohammad Ajmal Amir ‘Kasab’ could have been inspired by the high regard shown to him by the people in his village.

Police sources have indicated that when Ajmal returned home from his training camp, he saw that he had risen in stature in the eyes of his fellow villagers and that they respected him.

So, when a group of trained cadre was allegedly presented the option of becoming fidayeen, seven youths raised their hands; Ajmal was among them. These seven, joined by three others who had already been part of combative action, came to Mumbai on November 26, 2008. [What motivated Ajmal ]

Looks like that Rooh Afza is not always sweet.

(Hat tip: Ranjith)

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Two Fiction Writers

1863:

In 1863, six years before the birth of Mahatma Gandhi, Mark Twain was working as a journalist in Virginia City, Nevada. Mr. Clemens had adopted a new pen name and according to his own words was, “the most conceited ass  in the Territory.”

Ron Powers’ new biography, Mark Twain: A Life, narrates what happened in October when he published a newspaper report  titled,”A Bloody Massacre near Carson .” It was a the description of the murderous rampage of one Philip Hopkins of Ormsby County, who after killing nine children and his wife, killed himself as well. It shocked people due to the graphic description of the corpses and was reprinted in newspapers from Sacramento to San Francisco.

There was one problem though: the Hopkins family did not exist. In his defence, Mark Twain said that he had invented the story to expose a system of companies tricking investors into buying overpriced stock. He also explained that the only way to get such a story into San Francisco newspapers was through some tragedy.

2002:

In the May 6th, 2002 edition of Outlook, novelist Arundhathi Roy, wrote about the murder of Congress MP Iqbal Ehsan Jaffri in Gujarat. According to Roy, the mob stripped Jaffri’s daughter’s and burned them alive as well.

Nicole Elfi asks:

Wait a minute. Jaffri was burned alive in the house, true — is it not awful enough? Along with some other 41 people. Not enough? But his daughters were neither “stripped” nor burnt alive.Nobody knew my father’s house was the target (Asian Age, May 2nd, Delhi ed.), felt obliged to rectify:

There we are, reassured as regards Ehsan Jaffri’s children. He had only one daughter, who was living abroad. No one was raped in the course of this tragedy, and no evidence was given to the police to that effect. [GODHRA: THE TRUE STORY]

Then

The Gujarat Government sued Outlook magazine. In its May 27th issue, Outlook published an apology  to save its face. But in the course of its apology, the magazine’s editors quoted aclarification from Roy, who withdrew her lie by planting an even bigger one: the MP’s daughters were  not among the 10 women who were raped and killed in Chamanpura that day! From Smita Narula to Arundhati Roy, four or five girls had swollen to “ten women, equally anonymous and elusive.[GODHRA: THE TRUE STORY]

Finally

The police investigations revealed that no such case, involving someone called Sayeeda, had been reported either in urban or rural Baroda. Subsequently, the police sought Roy’s help to identify the victim and seek access to witnesses who could lead them to those guilty of this crime. But the police got no cooperation. Instead, Roy, through her lawyer, replied that  the police had no power to issue summons.[6][GODHRA: THE TRUE STORY]

1863:

When he found that people were outraged over his fictional news reports, Mark Twain published a brief byline, “I take it all back.”

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