Doniger begins by introducing yet another example of a common theme that occurs throughout the book: Hinduism having not one historical center, but drawing from multiple peripheries. The example in chapter 16 is no exception and ties the idea to two groups that fought to be the historical center: The Delhi Sultanate and the Mughal Empire.
In these times, people were distinguished (roughly) by their ethnicity instead of religion. Islam in India began peacefully at first, with Muslims entering as merchants. Then around 710-713, Muhammad ibn Qasim (whose people didn’t regard non-Muslims as heathens) invaded, with his soldiers intermarrying and introducing Muslim teachers and mosques. Three centuries later, from 1001–1018, three invasions occur under the command of the Turkish Mahmud of Ghazni (who came away with 53,000 slaves and 350 elephants), with the sites becoming huge Turk communities and areas of immigration. The next 400 years following these invasions introduced a large selection of kings and dynasties. Generally, the Sultans didn’t try to convert Hindus, although many Hindus did convert–especially low caste Hindus; some even fought for the Ghaznavids. As Hindus started to convert, Islamic figures and concepts began to be added to Hindu values, sometimes even replacing or eliminating the Hindu versions.
Horses still played a central role in activities in India, but were now accompanied by elephants which were far better suited for the environment. Both animals were used as essential military equipment and luxury status items. India eventually had a sort of horse crisis, in that the need to import them became even worse due to horses dying from inappropriate diets.
Sufism, a mystical branch of Islam, proclaimed that Muslims, Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians, and Hindus were all striving toward the same goal, and was regarded by many Hindus as “Islam Lite.” Kabir, one of the most famous bhakti Sants, preached in the vernacular and produced a religion of his own that distanced itself from both Islam and Hinduism–focusing on liberation on a spiritual level rather than an economic or political. During his life, both Hindus and Muslims criticized and attacked him; yet after his death, both tried to claim him.
In terms of temples and mosques, Muslim and Hindu kings competed in a sort of architectural monumentalism, with Muslims building forts, cities, and mosques, and Hindus building temples, complexes, and temple cities. Additionally, it has been recognized that Hindus were able to develop their most elaborate architecture (which included Persian and Turkic techniques), partially due to the Muslims tearing down the initial temples. As temple desecration became a problem with the new Islamic presence, it should be noted that not all was due to bigotry, although some was motivated by religious fanaticism. Regardless of motivation, temples were raided for either their wealth, or for their political or economic power. Interestingly, most Jaina temples were left intact (possibly due to their resemblance of a mosque). It was the norm of this period that the invading army destroy other people’s religious monuments and steal their treasures.
One aspect that appears to be rather confusing is the absence of reference to the Mughal Empire after its first mention. Doniger makes it appear that the chapter is going to be about a “rivalry” between the Delhi Sultanate and the Mughal Empire, as described on page 446. Yet, after this first reference to the Mughal Empire, it is never mentioned again; many times throughout the chapter Doniger refers to the Delhi Sultanate. After this initial mention of what the reader would assume to be the rivalry that the title suggests, it becomes confusing as to what the real rivalry is. Unless the Mughal Empire comes later in the story–as in later in time, and a later chapter, it’s unclear as to why Doniger claimed there was a competition between it and the Delhi Sultanate.
It is clear that the Hindus could’ve either obeyed or disobeyed the various Sultan rulers that occupied their land, dependent on the Sultan’s ideals and values. Depending on the Sultan in charge at the moment, the climate could’ve been rather neutral, or quite tyrannical. Doniger adds that the “Turks” had more power over the “Hindus.” (457) Does this mean that the Hindus in the area had no choice but to obey, otherwise face consequences? When she talks about fusion, is she referring to times where the Sultan was more neutral and didn’t have as much against the Hindus? It seems more likely that Muslims and Hindus would fuse their cultures during more neutral and inviting times, rather than times where Hindus were being enslaved and their temples being destroyed by Muslims. Additionally, what sorts of Hindus and Muslims were intermingling? Was it only the lower castes of both religions, or did more powerful and respectable castes also merge?
If it is true that during this period, people were more often distinguished by ethnicity than religion, then why at times is ethnicity being put up against religion? Most of the time Doniger refers to the opposing group as Muslims in association with the Sultanate, yet at times, she says that Turks in particular were more powerful than the Hindus. Considering areas that were heavily populated by Turks, Doniger implies specifically that Turkish Muslims were more powerful than Hindus. On the other hand, does this also insinuate that Muslims who weren’t Turkish did not have power over the Hindus? If so, why did a Turkish ethnicity equal power?
Lastly, Doniger’s mentioning of horses during this period was a nice reference to the changing of times. She seems to incorporate the theme of horses in nearly every chapter, and this chapter was no exception. Elephants and their roles in the landscape are also introduced to the period, but make the reader wonder if elephants were much better suited for the environment, why weren’t they considered until now?
- Why do you think both Muslims and Hindus claimed Kabir after his death, despite condemning him during his life?
- Why do you think low caste Hindus converted to Islam during the brutal time of Mahmud of Ghazni?
- How would you explain the evolving relationship between Muslims and Hindus during this time of Islamic power?