Atrocities and excesses by Muslim rulers in India gave rise to the Bhakti movement. Among all the Hindu cults that sprang up from the Bhakti movement, Sikhism earned displeasure and enmity of the Muslim rulers, including the Mughal Emperors, as it contained an element of militancy to save the Hindus from Muslim atrocities and also taking revenge for the same.

Muslim rule in India

Regarding the Muslim rule in India, renowned American historian Will Durant writes: “The Mohammedan Conquest of India is probably the bloodiest story in history. It is a discouraging tale, for its evident moral is that civilization is a precarious thing, whose delicate complex of order and liberty, culture and peace may at any time be overthrown by barbarians invading from without or multiplying within. The Hindus had allowed their strength to be wasted in internal division and war; they had adopted religions like Buddhism and Jainism, which unnerved them for the tasks of life; they had failed to organize their forces for the protection of their frontiers and their capitals, their wealth and their freedom, from the hordes of Scythians, Huns, Afghans and Turks hovering about India's boundaries and waiting for national weakness to let them in. For four hundred years (600–1000 AD), India invited conquest and at last it came.”[1]

Belgian historian Koenraad Elst in his Negationism in India writes: “The Muslim conquests, down to the 16th century, were for the Hindus a pure struggle of life and death. Entire cities were burnt down and the populations massacred, with hundreds of thousands killed in every campaign, and similar numbers deported as slaves. Every new invader made (often literally) his hills of Hindus skulls. Thus, the conquest of Afghanistan in the year 1000 was followed by the annihilation of the Hindu population; the region is still called the Hindu Kush, i.e. Hindu slaughter. The Bahmani sultans (1347-1480) in central India made it a rule to kill 100,000 captives in a single day, and many more on other occasions. The conquest of the Vijayanagar Empire in 1564 left the capital plus large areas of Karnataka depopulated. And so on.”[2]

Ruins of Shiva Temple at Somnath

Invader Mahmud of Ghazni sacked the Somnath Temple in 1026, looted it of gems and precious stones and destroyed the famous Shiva lingam of the temple. Regarding this invasion and slaughter of the Hindus, Mahmud’s secretary al-Utbi writes in his Tarikh-i-Yamini, “The blood of the infidels flowed so copiously at Thanesar that the stream was discoloured, notwithstanding its purity, and people were unable to drink it. The Sultan returned with plunder which is impossible to count.”[3] (Later the rebuilt temple was demolished by Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb.)

On the oppression the native Hindus suffered during the Muslims rules, French historian Fernand Braudel notes: "The levies it had to pay were so crushing that one catastrophic harvest was enough to unleash famines and epidemics capable of killing a million people at a time. Appalling poverty was the constant counterpart of the conquerors' opulence."[3]

Prof. K.S. Lal, suggests a calculation in his book Growth of Muslim Population in Medieval India which estimates that between the years 1000 AD and 1500 AD the population of Hindus decreased by 80 million. Even those Hindus who converted to Islam were not immune from persecution, which was illustrated by the Muslim Caste System in India as established by Ziauddin al-Barani in the Fatawa-i Jahandari[3] wherein they were regarded as "Ajlaf" caste and subjected to severe discrimination by the "Ashraf" castes.[3]

A similar account has been given by historian Ganesh Ram, who gave an estimate of 80 million Hindus being killed by the Muslim invaders and rulers during the Muslim rule in India.[4]

The Hindu sage Padmanabha described in his 1456 treatise, Kanha Dade Prabandha, the story of the Muslim assaults of Gujarat in 1298 AD: “The conquering army burnt villages, devastated the land, plundered people’s wealth, took Brahmins and children and women of all classes captive, flogged with thongs of raw hide, carried a moving prison with it, and converted the prisoners into obsequious slaves.”[2]

Muslim conquest of the Indian subcontinent by the Arabs began during the early 8th century, when the Umayyad governor of Damascus, Hajjaj mobilized an expedition with 6,000 cavalry under the command of Muhammad bin-Qasim in 711 AD. Records from the campaign recorded in the Chach Nama record mass executions of resisting Sindhi forces and the enslavement of their dependents. This action was particularly extensive in Debal (today’s Karachi). According to an order from Hajjaj all able-bodied men were killed, and that their underage sons and daughters were imprisoned and retained as hostages. In the town of Brahminabad, the defending forces were mass massacred. Hajjaj reportedly advocated a hardline military strategy, saying "Henceforth grant pardon to no one of the enemy and spare none of them.”[2]

It has been mentioned earlier that there is no records to tell how many Hindus were killed during the Muslim rule in India. According to K S Lal, the figure is 80 million. In this regard, Swami Vivekananda wrote in 1898 AD: “When the Muslims first came to India, there were, according to their historical records, sixty crores (600 million) Hindus in India. This calculation suffers rather from underestimation than exaggeration, for lots of people perished solely through the persecution of the Muslims. Therefore it is obvious that the number of the Hindus was even higher than sixty crores – on no account less than that. But today the same Hindus have dwindled into twenty crores.”

So, according to Swami Vivekananda, the foreign Muslim invaders slaughtered more than 40 crore (or 400 million) Hindus. Not only that, we have to add the number of Hindus who were born within that period.[5] (Rules and Regulations of the Ramakrishna Math: 1897–1898)

Islamic Barbarism in India

Before 1192, Muslim invaders came to India to plunder its wealth and riches. The other motive of their invasions was to please Allah by killing Hindu kafirs, and to earn the title of Ghazi and hence to secure a coveted place in jannat-ul-ferdaus, the highest place in the Islamic Paradise. Only in 1192, Muhammad Ghori succeeded to establish a Muslim political power in India by defeating Samrat Prithwiraj Chauhan, the Emperor of Delhi and Ajmir in the Second Battle Tarain. He defeated the Muslim invader Shahabuddin Muhammad Ghori in the First Battle of Tarain in 1191 and set him free as a gesture of mercy. But Ghori attacked for a second time the next year, and Prithwiraj was defeated in the said Second Battle of Tarain and captured. Ghori took Prithviraj to Ghazni, blinded him and killed him.

After this incident the Muslim invaders launched barbaric Islamic jihad and the brutality of jihad began to take place with horrible acts of cruelty, mass massacre and bloodshed. A few examples will be sufficient for the reader to understand the horridness of those acts. In 1194 AD, Mohammad Ghori launched a military campaign against Raja Jaichand of Benaras. On their way to Benaras, they occupied the fortress at Asni and to describe the Incident, Hassan Nizami in his Taj-ul masir writes, “By the edge of the sword they (more than 50,000 Hindus) were despatched to the fire of Hell. Three bastions were raised, as high as heaven, with their (slain) heads and their carcasses became the food of the beasts of prey. …They destroyed nearly one thousand temples and raised mosques on their foundations”.[6]

In 1196 AD, Qutubuddin Aibak invaded the fort at Gwalior. To describe the incident, Minhaz-us-Siraj in his Tabakat-I-Nasiri writes, “In compliance with the divine (i.e. Koranic) injunction of holy war (jihad), they drew out their blood-thirsty swords before the enemies of religion (i.e. Hindus)”.[7] To describe the same incident, Hassan Nizami in his Taj-ul-masir writes, “The army of Islam was completely victorious and one lackh (100,000) Hindus were swiftly dispatched to the hell of fire. … He (Qutubuddin) destroyed the pillars and foundations of idol temples and built their stead mosques, colleges and precepts of Islam”.[8]

In 1197, Qutubuddin invaded the fort at Naharwala in Gujrat. On the way a battle was fought with the king Karan Singh. Describing the incident, Minhaj-us-Siraj in his Tabakat-I-Nasiri writes, “Nearly fifty thousand infidels (Hindus) were dispatched to the hell by the sword and from the heaps of the slain, hills and the plain became one level”.[9] Regarding the capture of the Kalinjar Fort by Kutubuddin in 1202, Minhaz writes, “… fifty thousand men came under the collar of slavery and the plain became as black as pitch with the blood of Hindus”.[10]

After capturing the fort of Chitor, emperor Akbar ordered general massacre and Vincent Smith, to describe the incident, writes, “The eight thousand Rajput soldiers who formed the regular garrison, having been jealously helped, during the siege, by forty thoussand peasants, the emperor ordered general massacre, which resulted in the death of 30,000”.[11] Abul Fazl in his Ain-I-Akbari wrote that on that day 40,000 Hindus were killed. But it was an impossible task to count the dead bodies and hence to ascertain the exact number of victims. So the emperor commanded his soldiers to collect the scared threads of the dead Hindus. When the sacred threads were accumulated they weighed 74 and 1/2 maunds (nearly 2.8 metric tons). So it becomes evident that more than 200,000 Hindus were massacred on that day.[11]

In 1360 AD, Firoz Shah Tughlaq invaded Orissa and desecrated the temple of Lord Jagannath at Puri and threw the idol in the Bay of Bengal. On his return journey, when he was passing through Jajnagar, the then capital of Orissa, it was brought to his knowledge that nearly 120,000 Hindus had taken shelter at an offshore island. Firoz Shah then went to that island with his men and butchered those 120,000 Hindus on a single day.

Ulugh Khan (later on became Sultan Ghiasuddin Balban), when he was serving sultan Nassiruddin (brother of Sultana Rizia) as a commander, went to the Gahrwal region and promised his men that he would reward them with one rupee for bringing the head of a slain Hindu and two rupees for bringing a Hindu alive. Like hungry dogs his army set out for the hunt of kafir Hindus. The massacre went on for three long weeks and several hundreds of thousands of Hindus were slain. Ulugh Khan then built three high-rise bastions with the heads of the slain Hindus.

When Maharana Sangram Singh was defeated in the battle of Khanua, Babar ordered general massacre, and his chief commander Mohammadi and other commanders massacred 100,000 Rajput prisoners of war and another 1,00,000 civilian Hindus. Such killings of Hindus went on unabated during the entire period of Muslim rule that lasted for about 700 years.

When the Muslim invaders came to India, our Hindu rulers took into account their military might alone. To fight this new enemy they followed the same strategy their ancestors used to follow—the eternal rules and traditions handed down to them from the days of Mahabharata, and they failed to discover the element of jihad, the kafir-killing motives of theses barbaric new invaders. Being guided by their age-old civilized tradition that prisoners of war were to be set free and not harmed, Hindu kings after winning a victory over the Muslim army used to set the captured Muslim soldiers free. But on the contrary, victorious Muslim rulers, being guided by their kafir killing doctrine of jihad, used to massacre the entire regiment of Hindu prisoners of war.

It was unthinkable for our Hindu kings to cause slightest harm to innocent civilians even during a war. So they became astonished to see killings of civilians, innocent farmers, burning of their standing crops in fields by the Muslims and most importantly, dishonoring and harming the women and children. There are umpteen instances where their civilized heritage was responsible for their defeats. For example, being guided by the civilized Hindu tradition, Prithviraj Chauhan, after the First Battle of Tarain in 1191, set Mohammad Ghori, and his army prisoners of war, free. But this civilized behavior later on brought his defeat and death.

Apart from this torturing and slaughtering the Hindus, the barbaric Muslim invaders indulged in another violent and horrific thing and that was mass conversion of Hindus to Islam through violence at the point of sword. Hindu Dharma does not preach to convert non-Hindus to Hinduism and hence Hindus never tried to convert other people to Hinduism. So, the Hindus were terrified and panicked to see the forced conversion of the Hindus by the Muslim invaders turned rulers.

It should be mentioned here that in the eye of Islam, Hindus were despicable species of infidels or kafirs. Hindus were not simply kafirs but of the worst kind as because they created partners of Allah (shirk) by worshipping the idols of Hindu gods and goddesses. Thus were mushriks, fit to be killed whenever the opportunity arrives. Conquering India and establishing political power here provided the Muslims the golden opportunity to earn the title of Ghazi (slayer of infidels) and hence to secure a place in Jannat-i-Ferduse, or the highest quarters in the Islamic paradise.

Emergence of Bhakti Movement

The above mentioned indiscriminate killing and torturing the Hindus, and their mass conversion to Islam panged the hearts of the Hindu religious leaders and gurus. Most importantly, they were alarmed by the forced conversions of the Hindus to Islam. The South Indian Guru Ramanuja, born in the twelfth century, at Sriperumbudur near modern Chennai, is considered the earliest preacher of the Bhakti movement. According to him the ways of Moksha lies through Karma, Jnan and Bhakti. Madhavcharya may be considered the torch bearer of Ramanuja and his view was that the final aim of man is the direct perception of Hari which leads Moksha or release from cycles of birth.

Regarding this Bhakti movement the Wikipedia says, “The Bhakti movement originated in ancient Tamil Nadu. The Nayanmars and the Alvars played a major role in the Bhakti movement. The Bhakti movement began to spread to the north during the late medieval ages when north India was under Islamic rule. Unlike in the south, where devotion was centered on both Shiva and Vishnu (in all his forms), the northern devotional movement was centered on Rama and Krishna, both of whom are believed to be incarnations of Vishnu. Despite this, the sects of Shiva or of Vishnu did not go into decline. In fact, for all of its history, the Bhakti movement co-existed peacefully with the other movements in Hinduism. It was initially considered unorthodox, as it rebelled against caste distinctions and disregarded Brahmanic rituals, which according to Bhakti saints were not necessary for salvation. In the course of time, however, owing to its immense popularity among the masses (and even gaining royal patronage) it became 'orthodox' and continues to be one of the most important modes of religious expression in modern India.” [12]

Most of these proponents of the Bhakti cult denounced existing rituals in worshipping of God, rigidity of the caste system, pilgrimage and emphasized the fundamental unity of man, taking part in formal worship. He didn’t consider it necessary to abandon the life of normal at household for the sake of saintly life. He also denounced caste system and emphasized the fundamental unity of man. Followers of Kabir are called Kabir panthis. Guru Nanak from whose teaching the Sikh religion derived was born in Khatri household in village of Talwandi in 1469 AD. Nanak laid emphasis on oneness of God. His concept of God was Nirguna and Nirakkar. He composed hymns and sang them to the accompaniment of the rabab. He advocated the middle path in which spiritual life could be combined with the duties of householder.

In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, Ramananda, Kabir and Nanak remained great apostles of the Bhakti cult. The prominent Hindu Saints, who propagated the Bhakti movement in northern India, were Mirabai, Kabir, Tulsidas, Nanak and Chaitanya. Among all the Saints mentioned above we shall put special emphasis, in this article, to Guru Nanak and his teachings.

Guru Nanak, the founder of the new Hindu cult called Skhism, was born in Talwandi near Lahore.  He denounced caste distinctions and rituals like bathing in holy rivers. His conception of religion was highly practical and sternly ethical. He also denounced the importance of the Sanskrit religious scriptures as well as the Sanskrit language. He wrote all his teachings in He asked people to give up selfishness, falsehood and hypocrisy and to lead a life of truth, honesty and kindness. ‘Abide pure amidst the impurities of the world’ was one of his famous sayings. So, historically the Sikhism came into being simply a special Bhakti cult of Hinduism. But many authors, including the Western ones, wrongly project it as a separate religion. The followers of Guru Nanak are known as Sikhs. (a corrupt of Sanskrit Shisya – disciple).

To highlight the contribution of the Bhakti movement, an author writes, “The importance of the Bhakti movement was very great. Various preachers spoke and wrote in the regional languages. So, the Bhakti movement provided an impetus for the development of regional languages such as Hindi, Marathi, Bengali, Kannada, etc. Through these languages they made direct appeal to the masses. As the caste system was condemned by the Bhakti saints, the lower classes were raised to a position of great importance. The importance of women in society was also increased because the Bhakti movement gave equal importance to them. Moreover, the Bhakti movement gave to the people a simple religion, without complicated rituals. They were required to show sincere devotion to God. The new idea of a life of charity and service to fellow people developed.” [13]

Among all the Hindu cults that sprang up as a result of the Bhakti cult, Sikhism earned displeasure and enmity of the Muslim rulers, including the Mughal Emperors, as Sikhism contained an element of militancy to save the Hindus from Muslim atrocities and also taking revenge of the same.



[1] Story of Civilization, Vol. 1, 459;




[5] Rules and Regulations of the Ramakrishna Math: 1897 – 1898

[6] H. M. Elliot and J. Dowson, The History of India: As Told by its Own Historians (8 Volumes), Delhi (1996), II:224.

[7] H. M. Elliot and J. Dowson (ibid), II:227.

[8] H. M. Elliot and J. Dowson (ibid), II:215.

[9] H. M. Elliot and J. Dowson (ibid), II:230.

[10] H. M. Elliot and J. Dowson (ibid), II:231.

[11] V.A. Smith, Akbar The Great Mogul, Oxford Clarendon Press, pp-76.




(to be continued)

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