Jostling of Iron and Earthern Pots

Jostling of Iron and Earthern Pots

After Harsha died, in A.D. 646 or 647, five centuries follow in which no great kingdom takes the eye and few events of magnitude. South India, which is the India of the picture-books, just as the United Provinces and Western India are the India of the student of history, was being studded with the magnificent tiered temples which are among the chief architectural glories of India. We have recovered much of the history of the peoples who built these temples, at Madura, Tanjore, Sriringam, and elsewhere; the various dynasties, the Chalukyas, Pallavas, Rashtrakutas, Cheras, Cholas, and Pandyas, are neither the ghosts nor the tangle that they were. The Chola, a Tamil kingdom, had certainly existed from at least the beginning of the Christian era, and Megasthenes knew of the Pandya realm. To North India these Dravidian dynasties were still in the region of fable that they occupied when the story of Rama and his animal allies warring with Ceylon/Sri Lanka first show the Aryan civilization aware of them. Hercules, says Megasthenes, had put the South under the rule of his daughter Pandaia – that is, the Pandya family claimed to be descended from the God Krishna, and to be the rightful overlords of the peninsula. The Cholas finally attained to supremacy, and about A.D. 1000 not only overran most of South India, but the Kalinga country (Orissa), which brought them to the borders of North India; and sent fleets to Ceylon/Sri Lanka, the Maldives, and Laccadives. War between Tamil kings, of one dynasty or another, and Ceylon/Sri Lanka, had been incessant for centuries. Twenty years after these conquests, Chola fleets and armies captured Pegu in Burma, and the Andaman and Nicobar islands, and defeated the Pal kings of Bengal. About A.D. 1300 the Chola power declined.

In North India the Rajput kingdoms were rising in importance. Their picturesque, chivalrous, chivalrous, terrible story, which will deepen in tragedy as our record proceeds, has been told by an Englishman in one of the world’s most fascinating books. For the present, we need only note that Mewar (Udaipur), Jodhpur, Jaipur, Bikanir, and other states were being built up in this rocky, half desert land, by Scythian invaders.

In the rest of India, from Assam to the Panjab, there were countless kingdoms. They have left an endless field for historical research, so that, if a man wishes for the satisfaction of adding to knowledge, he can do nothing better than turn to India. Their records are ruined forts and irrigation works, and their memory survives in legends and in such ballads as Bengal has kept of the deeds of its Pal kings.

Under these conditions another vigorous invasion was bound to sweep far. In 712 the mohammadans had conquered Sind; they were also pushing down steadily from Central Asia, and before the tenth century ended were raiding the Panjab. In A.D. 1002 Sultan Mahmud of Ghazni, in Afghanistan, turned his attention to India; from 1009 onwards he is said to have raided it seventeen times. He came to loot and to massacre, doing both with immense efficiency and exuberant sense of good work accomplished. He was the first of a succession of merciless bigots, who from their hill-perches marched down in the cold weather, to which they must have looked forward as a shooting man does to the Twelfth, butchered as many Hindus as they could catch and then, collecting slaves and treasure, returned. He makes a picturesque appearance in Omar Khayyam, as “The mighty Mahmud, the Victorious Lord, That all the misbelieving and black Horde  Of Fears and sorrows that infest the Soul Scatters and slays with his enchanted Sword.”

Moslem writers are enthusiastic about “the Image-Breaker”; and it is to him, and to his many equally zealous co-religionists, that we owe it that North India’s temples are so few and poor beside those of South India.

Mahmud not only raided India eastward to the Jumna and southward to Kathiawar, but annexed the Panjab. In the twelfth century another raider, Mohammad Ghori, after seventeen years of increasing successful attacks, routed the Hindus and took Delhi. The Hindu leader, the Rajput Prithviraj, was put to death; his wife, no less renowned in story, mounted his pyre.

This victory followed much indecisive fighting. The Rajput resistance had been stiffening, and, though Prithviraj was killed, the battle cleared the stage for the combatants who were to fight for India during the next four hundred years. the vast, disorganized mobs of Hindus rajas were scattered and ground to powder whenever they met the fierce Moslems; but the Rajputs, driven southward to their rugged forts and defiles, gained by separation from the people of the plains, and a warlike vigour gathered which kept Mohammadan belief and institutions from overrunning India. When in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the Sikhs and Marathas took up the battle that left the Rajputs exhausted, the Moslem power itself was disintegrating. Behind that double barrier, of “the belt” and the valorous clans that kept it, Hinduism had been preserved intact, in spite of raids beyond that frontier and of smaller Mohammadan kingdoms that had been established south of it.