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Somanatha: The Many Voices Of A History By Romila Thapar

2160 words - 9 pages

It was during the year 1026 that Mahmud of Ghazni raided the Somanatha temple for its wealth, leading to the destruction of its many idols. In Somanatha: The Many Voices of a History, Romila Thapar explores the distinct narratives that were written at the time by placing them into the historical context of the period. Her goal, through this monograph, was not to reestablish how we perceive the history of the raid, but to instead study the diverse perspectives and views represented in the various sources collected on the topic. Historical interpretations range from the Turko-Persian narratives of the period to the Colonial writings long after the raid. Through the investigation of the sources one would hope to point out the variations in the texts, and then analyze why these deviations in the story came to be. Thapar’s findings would assist any historian in determining the nature of these sources and the way they are currently used. One must remember that any and all sources could be of significant importance when looking at the attitudes of the individuals of the time.
The Turko-Persian narratives contain a multitude of different versions of the raid on the Somanatha temple by Mahmud of Ghazni. Persian scholar Al-Biruni provides historians with the most realistic version of the events surrounding the raid. He believed that because the Somanatha temple was constructed of stone and placed in an area surrounded by sea on three sides it had to be guarding wealth. Mahmud was in fact able to conquer the Somanatha temple for its wealth, subsequently taking pieces back to Ghazni. Turkish raids to India were originally focused on obtaining animal herds, but the reason for them now was to loot urban treasuries and capture prisoners of war. Mahmud’s Indian campaigns, specifically, came to attract groups of Indians, including the ghazis, who joined in search of riches. The loot was also able to finance Ghazni’s cultural aspects by bringing in a variety of scholars and litterateurs, one of which was Al-Biruni. Along with stolen literature, Mahmud also brought in artisans and craftsmen to beautify the city and the homes of the elite (Thapar 36-43). The citizens Ghazni at the time would have seen Mahmud as an amazing individual, prompting scholars and litterateurs to praise him in their writings, something they may have even been forced to do anyways.
Another reason for the raid of Mahmud of Ghazni, as described by Farrukhi Sistani, deals more with the religious aspects surrounding the event. A major poet of the eastern Islamic world, Farrukhi Sistani wrote that the idol of the Somanatha temple was not a Hindu deity but actually a pre-Islamic goddess. Some believed that the Somanatha idol was Manat, which the prophet Muhammad forbade the worship of. Mahmud of Ghazni had the ability raid the Somanatha temple and destroy the idol in order to align his power and rule with that of Muhammad. He would be carrying out the orders of the prophet, while also gaining...

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