Enjoying the privilege of a being a capital of diverse dynasties, Delhi, has evolved as a museum showcasing the royalty of the ruling elite's and their monumental heritage.

Indian State History

India - Delhi - Lal Kot or Qila Rai Pithora

Lal Kot or Qila Rai Pithora

After that rather sensational start Delhi remained musing and silent for a long time. Much water was to flow down the Yamuna before it was settled as a city again. It happened in what the historians call the ‘early medieval’ period of India – about the 11-12th century AD when the much travelled Rajputs were floating restlessly around looking for a home, before finally finding shelter in the Rajputana area. Here again the strategic location of Delhi came to play – it was the doorway to both the fertile Punjab, the fabled land of the fiver rivers and the fertile Ganges valley.

Lal Kot¤ Foundation of Lal Kot City

The first Rajputs to hit Delhi were the Tomaras. The second city of Delhi, Lal Kot (the Red Fortress), was built in 1060AD by Raja Anang Pal one of the earliest Tomara rulers to settle in Delhi. The popular tourist resort, Surajkund near Delhi was also built by an earlier Tomara ruler, Raja Suraj Pal, around 736AD. You can still see parts of Lal Kot scattered around the Mehrauli and in the Qutub Minar complex. However the Tomara rule was pretty short-lived. Soon the Chauhan Rajputs under the generalship of Prithviraj Chauhan seized control of Lal Kot in the 12th century. Prithviraj had massive ramparts built around the city called the Qila Rai Pithora. This was the third city of Delhi. At one time it had thirteen gates (which probably proved to be its undoing). Now only fragments survive of that immense structure – the Hauz Rami, Barhka and Budaun gates.

All this was happening against a very troubled backdrop in Delhi history. There was no clear central authority in sight and each petty ruler was daring to dream the mad dream of ruling all over the country – which at that point in time meant basically the Gangetic plains and the Deccan. This is the main reason why no ruler was able to hold Delhi long enough to establish a kingdom here and also, the principle reason why the Arabs and Turks didn’t exactly have to sweat to the bone to stamp their authority all over them.

¤ The Great Invasions of Mahmud of Ghazni Into India

Since 1000AD, Mahmud of Ghazni (Afghanistan) had made invasions into India almost an annual feature. and this when the politics of Afghanistan were in main centered around close ties with Central Asia rather than India. From Mahmud’s point of view, his incursions into India were merely detours and of no lasting political significance. What with no strong central power, looting the wealth of India to replenish the coffers of Ghazni must have been as easy as finding it. For Mahmud it made much more sense to hold Khvarazm and Turkestan, as the Ghaznavids did for some years, than northern India since Ghazni had long-standing lucrative trade links with China and the Mediterranean.

The speed with which Mahmud turned from campaigns in India to others in central India was quite remarkable. Obviously his armies were both mobile and effective otherwise these annual offensives in widely separate areas would not have been successful; much careful planning must have gone into this. To give you an example, the arrival of the Afghan armies in India always coincided with the harvest thus eliminating the necessity of lugging around provisions and improving the army’s mobility.

¤ The Death of Mahmud

Perhaps India did not regret Mahmud's death in 1030 AD, but then Indians never got to see him for the erudite cultured aristocrat that he really was. It must have been poor consolation for the people of northern India to know that the money he looted from here went into making enormous libraries, fabulous museums and spectacular mosques in Ghazni. Incidentally, Mahmud was also the patron of the famous historian and scholar Alberuni, whom he brought back with him from a campaign to Khvarazm. Alberuni’s Tehqiq-i-Hind contains observations about India, which celebrated contemporary historian Romilla Thapar describes as ‘remarkably incisive and acute’.

Lal kot, Delhi¤ The Rulers Were Further Relaxed

One would think that after this drubbing the rulers of northern India would have had the sense to form a confederacy to save themselves from a retun of such raids occurring from another source. However, the significance of Mahmud’s raids as forerunners for others to follow was never quite grasped. His death further relaxed any chances of such a mutual consensus being reached among the rulers. The Rajput clans were almost constantly at war among themselves in the 11th and 12th centuries. It had become a matter of pride to use every supposed slight as an excuse for war and the prevailing chivalric code allowed no place for long-sightedness, clear thinking and strategy. The stage was set for another foreign invasion from the country round the corner.

It was around this time that Prithviraj had married the daughter of the king of Kanauj Jaichand – in true Lochinvar style, by carrying her away in the middle of her wedding. But this couple did not go walking happily ever after into the sunset. Their happiness was marred by the second invader from the northwest.

¤ Next- Shihab-ud-din Muhammad Ghuri Invaded India

But then Shihab-ud-din Muhammad Ghuri or Mohammad of Ghur (between Ghazni and Herat) was no mere invader. He wanted to establish a kingdom here. He was shrewd enough to realize that the richer parts of northern India – and also the areas that he would be able to control – were the upper Indus valley and Punjab, which he therefore planned to conquer.

The Rajputs at first ignored his forays into India by mistaking him to be yet another mlechchha (foreigners, who were perceived to be lowly creatures as they had no caste) in search of gold. In 1185AD Muhammad sent the Rajputs abuzz by taking Lahore. Now that he was almost breathing down their necks there could be no doubt that the unwelcome stranger was here to stay. The rulers of north India then half-heartedly threw in their lot with the ruler of Delhi, Prithviraj and were actually able to defeat Ghuri in the Battle of Tarian in 1191AD. Unfortunately, here is where the foolhardiness of the Rajput code of honour came into play. Prithviraj had Ghuri captured but when the latter appealed to his better nature, he made the grand gesture of actually setting Ghuri free.

¤ Prithviraj Captured

If he’d imagined that Ghuri would be grateful for ever more, Prithviraj must have been very disappointed because the Afghan simply sent for reinforcements and launched another attack the very next year. The battle of 1192 was fought at Tarain too, but this time Ghuri crushed the Rajputs clinically and effectively, as only the Central Asians could. and when he captured Prithviraj, Ghuri didn’t do any such fool thing as letting him go.

The difference in the psychological approach to war, more than anything else, was the undoing of Indian rulers. The Afghans and Turks regarded war as serious business, a matter of life and death – it is said that after the initial defeat at the hands of Prithviraj Chauhan, Ghuri ‘never slumbered in ease nor waked but in sorrow and anxiety’. In striking contrast, Indian princes (mostly Rajputs) took war as a form sport, with its own rules of gallantry and chivalry, to show off their bravery and skill. Man to man, no doubt, the Rajputs were better warriors, but when it came to using their resources and devising strategy, the Afghans were superb. The Rajputs, unfortunately, were more concerned with the loss of ‘honour’. If they lost they preferred to die in battle, thus effectively depleting the strength of their armies. The Rajputs scorned strategic retreat, which was the strength of the Afghans and Turks. The more patient Afghans were willing to give away a battle to win the war. Anyhow, Delhi and Ajmer passed on to Muhammad of Ghur, who returned home after leaving Qutubuddin Aibak as his viceroy in Delhi.

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