Who was Mahmud of Ghazni?

The name is easily familiar to those who read about early medieval India. Though not an Indian figure, the persona of Mahmud of Ghazni (997 – 1030 CE) is of immense importance to the contours of Indian history.

Mahmud of Ghazni started out in the world as a constant war companion to his father, Abu Mansur Sabuktigin. He thus inherited his father’s spirit as well as his martial ability. Succeeding the throne at the age of 30, Mahmud of Ghazni launched a number of raids on the Indian subcontinent. The primary aim of these raids was to acquire wealth, to finance the campaigns in central Asia and to strengthen the empire.

He conducted a total of as many as 17 raids in northern India between the years 1001 and 1027 CE. He thereby established a hold on what is the modern-day Punjab. Mahmud of Ghazni was the first Muslim conqueror to rule Afghanistan with an empire ranging from what in the present day would be north east of Iran, Afghanistan and north India.

India became for Ghazni a target in particular, famous for its apparent wealth and splendour. What were raided specifically were temple towns of northern and western parts of India. The plundering and looting of wealth seem to have been the main aim instead of conquest at this stage.

After a number of raids, all held in close succession to each other, there appeared to have been a further motive: to go beyond the Punjab area and reach the heart of the subcontinent. In 1017 CE, a raid was held and led to the city of Mathura. Known then as a vaishnavite city, the city’s wealth was looted and shrines plundered. The conquest, so to speak, went in further and took Kannauj as well.

There are many stories associated with him, his most famous raid was on the Somnath temple in Gujarat, where among things to be conquered was the mighty Thar desert. His last exploits took place around 1027 CE against Jats who had attacked the army on return from Somnath.

Ghazni died finally in 1030 CE, due to a prolonged ilness, after a life strewn with war, plunder and weariness.