Muhammad Ghori's blunder

Credits: Original Post by Airavat Singh on his blog, "Horses and Swords"

Prithviraj Chauhan III

Students of Indian History have often expressed their angst over Prithviraj Chauhan’s mistake after the First Battle of Tarain—he did not try to liberate Punjab when he had the best opportunity. Well, he certainly had the opportunity, but it is equally certain that he lacked the means to grab that opportunity.

As has been shown in the earlier post, the different formations of the Hindu army (elephants, infantry, cavalry) prevented them from chasing down and destroying Ghori’s army. It can be speculated that they should have avoided besieging Sarhind, to first cross the Sutlej and liberate Punjab from Muslim occupation, while Shihab-ud-din was running home to Ghazni. But then the 1200 Turk cavalry in Sarhind fort would not have sat idle—they would’ve swooped down to raid the Chauhan Kingdom and cut-off Prithviraj’s communication links until their master returned from Ghazni with a fresh army. Alternatively, they could have followed the Chauhan army into Punjab and harassed them with cavalry maneuvers for several months until the return of Muhammad Ghori.

In either case, the Chauhans would have been trapped and destroyed in that alien land. Punjab had been under Muslim occupation then, for under 200 years…many of its towns and forts had small garrisons of Turks and many converted Hindus. Such a land could not be liberated in one campaign. Secondly, the Chauhans needed to protect their own borders in the south and east from their ambitious neighbors…focusing exclusively on the north would have meant the eventual loss of their kingdom to their other neighbors. With these circumstances, it appears that Prithviraj did the right thing in going step-by-step by first liberating Sarhind and acquiring a base for future operations in the north.

The second mistake of Prithviraj is also shared by other Hindu kings of that period (and also of an earlier age). It is often asked why he couldn’t organize counter-raids into the enemy lands just as the Turks raided deep into Indian Territory for loot and slaughter? Again this was possible in theory…the Chauhan infantry and elephants could have blockaded the Turk garrison in Sarhind while their cavalry carried out these raids. They had adequate cavalry (between 5000-10,000 horse) for not only looting Punjab but also going further to attack the unprotected population living around the forts in Ghazni and Ghor.

But the Turks attacked civilians to either sell them as slaves or convert them to Islam…there was no slave-trade in India and what would the Hindus convert the enemy civilians too? But more importantly, what was there to loot in the lands under Turk occupation ? Punjab, Sindh, and Afghanistan had been turned into economic wastelands by the Islamist onslaught as described by the eyewitness Al-Beruni centuries ago. The Chauhan cavalry would have gained nothing for all their exertions. On the other hand, the Turk-Islamic state survived primarily on raiding and robbing their wealthy neighbors…their economy was geared permanently towards war and they did little for the civilian population living under their protection.

These are the so-called mistakes of Prithviraj Chauhan, which should be seen in light of the prevailing circumstances…but there were some crucial mistakes committed by Muhammad Ghori. Yes, the victorious Muhammad Ghori!

Consider this. After Tarain II, according to the graphic accounts of the Muslim chroniclers, the Chauhan army was not only defeated but also destroyed. So it is surprising that Muhammad Ghori was unable to capture either Ajmer or Delhi. The Chauhan military strength had evaporated, morale was devastatingly low, and only small garrisons sat fearfully in these places while the huge Turk army ranged through the land—and yet Ghori failed to carry this fight to the finish.

If the accounts of Prithviraj’s captivity are true, they would indicate Shihab-ud-din’s desire to get money for his war expenses. Or perhaps he did not have the time to besiege these cities—just as Prithviraj had conflicts with his Indian neighbors, the Turks of Ghor had enemies like the Ghuzz Turks and the Khwarazim Turks. After each Indian campaign, Ghori had to return to his post in Ghazni to watch over them and support his elder brother.

Whatever the reason, it proved to be a blunder of monumental proportions . As is shown in the earlier post the Chauhan Rajaputras quickly recovered their spirit and took the initiative in counter-attacks on the Turks—all the efforts of Ghori’s lieutenants to crush them ultimately went in vain and the spirit of resistance spread throughout the Kingdom of Ajmer. But this monumental blunder also affected the Muslim expansion into other regions.

The Rajaputras of Kannauj

From Delhi, Aibak attacked the neighboring principalities, which paid tribute to the rulers of Kannauj, and thus acquired a base to invade that kingdom. In 1193 Muhammad Ghori came from Ghazni with 50,000 cavalries and joined his lieutenant to follow the course of the Yamuna River for invading Kannauj. Jaychand too advanced to fight the invader at Chandwar—throughout the head-on clash, the Gahadval army prevailed until Jaychand was killed. The leaderless forces lost their momentum and unity of command—they were defeated and chased by the Turks who captured many towns and forts at a gallop.

Once again Ghori returned to his home to watch over the Turks of Khwarazim while Aibak was diverted by the attacks of the Chauhan Rajaputras on Delhi—these should have been mopped up immediately after Tarain II when they were at their weakest. But the invaders made matters worse by repeating this mistake in the east. The force left behind in Kannauj was in no position to mop up the local resistance in that newly-conquered land—the Rajaputra Harishchand defeated these Muslims and recovered his father’s domain. Ghori’s initial mistake had created the situation for committing that same mistake in the east, and the later Sultans would live to regret these repeated mistakes.

The tributaries of the Gahadvals, the Rathors of Badaun and the Bhor chieftains , also recovered their lands and resisted future attacks. The same story was repeated in the lesser principalities like Bayana, Gwalior, and Narwar. In each case at the very moment of their triumph against a particular fort, the Turks would be called away to fight Rajaputra chieftains in another place and the same cycle would be repeated endlessly. All this was the result of Muhammad Ghori’s inability, or a lack of will caused by overconfidence, to crush the power of the Chauhan Rajaputras when it was extremely weak—a blunder of monumental proportions.

In 1202 Muhammad Ghori’s became the Amir of Ghor on the death of his elder brother—Qutb-ud-din Aibak became his deputy with the title of Sultan. The new Amir did not long enjoy his exalted position. In 1205 the Ghori Turks were crushed at Andkhui by the Turks of Khwarazim—when this news reached India several rebellions broke out. In crushing these rebellions Amir Muhammad Ghori met his end in circumstances that will be related in the section on Punjab.

First, the word Rajaputra, its meaning and origin, and its mention in literature and inscriptions will be related in the next post.