dynasties indian subcontinent

Written by Muhammad Bilal Farooq 12:23 pm Pakistan Unveiled

A Glimpse of History (III): Ancient Dynasties — From Nandas to Khiljis

Muhammad Bilal Farooq chronicles some of the important dynasties that established their empires in the Indian subcontinent. These ancient dynasties include Nanda, Mauryan, Ghaznavid, Ghurid, Mamluk, and Khilji.
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Mr. Bilal is an agronomist student at the University of Agriculture, Faisalabad. He has been writing blogs on national and international politics and international relations since 2017.

The final part of the Glimpse of History series concludes with a summary of a few ancient dynasties of the Indian subcontinent.

Nanda Dynasty (343-322 B.C)

Magadha, present northern India, had an Empire reportedly huge enough to scare the already exhausted Alexander the Great’s army to the point of revolt. Founded by Mahapadma (Ugrasena) by overthrowing the Shishunaga dynasty, the Nanda Empire had 200,000 infantry, 20,000 cavalries, 2000 chariots, and 3000 elephants when Alexander decided to cross the Beas river but couldn’t.

Buddhist text Maha Bodhi Vamsa names kings as follows: Ugrasena, Panduka, Pandugati, Bhutapala, Rashtrapala, Govishanaka, Dashasiddhaka, Kaivarta, and Dhana mentioning them as brothers while Puranas take rest as sons of Ugrasena. 

Belonging to a lower caste, Nandas who are also said to be irreligious, built an administrative system to rule over a large area, introduced weight standards, and gave special value to art and scholarship. Taxes were given huge importance in the revenue structure which explains their mythological richness, special interest in the commercial and industrial development of the kingdom as well as the building of canals.

It is said that during the reign of the last king Dhana Nanda, the empire had extended to Bengal, Sindh, and Punjab. Although their splendor was concealed by the succeeding Mauryan Dynasty, Mauryans’ success couldn’t have been possible without the administrative efforts of Nandas.

Mauryan Dynasty (322-185 B.C)

Around 322 B.C, Chandragupta Maurya established an empire wrapping nearly the whole sub-continent up to Deccan & Karnataka along parts of modern Iran. Chandragupta erected an efficient bureaucracy and military with the help of his all-time famous Prime Minister Chanakya, a scholar from Taxila University and the author of Arthashastra, an extensive work dealing with economics, military strategy, and politics.

Chandragupta went into conflict with Seleucus, the Greek commander who succeeded the remains of Alexander’s kingdom, over the eastern territories. The dispute ended in a treaty, with Chandragupta giving 500 elephants to Seleucus and getting his rule recognized over Gandara, Arachosia (Kandhar), and Gedrosia (Balochistan).

Bindusara, Chandragupta’s son, held the throne from 300-272 B.C and isn’t known to be involved in military campaigns. He, however, preserved his kingdom by maintaining friendly relations with the West Asian Empire of Seleucus. Ashoka, Bindusar’s son, who ascended to the throne in 272 B.C is the most celebrated ruler of the Mauryan Empire as he left a mark in the form of engraved inscriptions and pillar edicts on selected sites throughout his kingdom.

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In 261 B.C, he marched upon Kalinga (Odisha and northern Andhra Pradesh) but the carnage and bloodshed shadowing the victory made him abandon the violence forever and convert to Buddhism, building 84,000 stupas in his realm to enshrine Buddhist artifacts and dispatched religious envoys to Egypt, Macedonia, and Syria.

He built several edict pillars one of which exists in Lauria Nandangarh, Bihar, a 32 ft tall structure with a seated lion. With the Capital of Patna, Bihar, and four regional administrative units, Mauryans maintained a huge military might as well as a spy network depicting a strong revenue structure based on the flourishing agriculture of northern India and extraction of resources from mines and forests.

Ashoka constructed hospitals, banned animal slaughtering, put together an efficient water supply by digging wells, planted trees, and laid out rest houses. Owing to Indo-greek conquests and a lack of qualified successors, the Mauryan empire collapsed less than 50 years after Ashoka died in 238 B.C

Ghaznavid Dynasty (977-1186 A.D)

Alp-Tegin, a Turkish slave, traveled across Hindukush to take over the diminishing Samanid Empire and conquered the strategic fort of Ghazni located on the Silk Road. He also laid foundations of a city that American historian Meredith L. Runion described as ‘the most dazzling capital in the Islamic world’. Alp-Tegin’s son-in-law, Sebuktgin, who ruled for 20 years, stretched the kingdom east of the Indian border, evoking prince Jaypala of Waihand who struck Ghazni twice but was defeated.

His son Mahmud decapitated his brother Esmāʿīl for succession, extended the reign into Khorasan with continued successful campaigns, and secured validation of sovereignty from the Abbasid Caliphate. Although he spent most of his time in military campaigns, Sultan Mahmud still kept strong vigilance in state affairs and misconducts of his notables for which officers faced punishment without any distinction.

Ghaznavids were originally Turkish but became substantially Persian owing to their interaction with Samanid Emire. Ghazni was the place of decorated architecture and lavish ceremonies with the royal court hosting poets, scientists, and Sufis such as Abul-Qasim Firdawsi, the Khwarazmian scientist al-Biruni, the mystic Abu’l Majd Majdud bin Adam (Sana’i al Ghaznavi).

One such Sufi Sheikh Ali Makhdoom or later known as Hazrat Data Ganj Bakhsh traveled to Lahore with Mahmud’s son and brought a large number of inhabitants to Islam. Ghaznavids served Lahore parallel to Ghazni and for the first time in its history, Lahore became the hub of art and culture, a legacy that lasted till the Mughals.

Crafty Ghaznavids invented technologies like the windmill and a device of five connected elephants with ram and battering to use against walls in warfare. Already existing split deepened due to Massoud’s (Mahmud’s son) hatred for his brother Muhammad’s loyalists and his Injustice in strategically Important areas of Khwarizm and Khorasan.

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With the death of Masʿūd III in 1115 A.D, war erupted among the successors. Victorious Bahrāmšāh then battled Seljuks and Ghurids but his last left descendant too was executed in the siege of Lahore by Ghurids in 1186 A.D.

Ghurid Dynasty (1150-1215 A.D)

Ghurids of Turkish origin living in Ghur were utilized as slaves in Muslim armies who accepted Islam as a result of Mahmud Ghaznavi’s conquests of Ghur, and stayed as Ghaznavid’s vassals. However, in 1149 A.D, Ghurid Sultan Ala al-Din Husayn leveled and burned the city of Ghazni which entitled Ala al-Din as ‘Jahan-Soz’ (World Burner).

His nephew Mu’izz ad-Din Muhammad Ghori became the first Turk invader in India in 150 years and captured Multan and the last Ghaznavid capital Lahore (1186) and expanded the empire to Khorasan in the west and Bengal in the east in northern India where he defeated Hindu Rajputs like Prithviraj embedding Islamic rule on the throne of Delhi permanently for later dynasties.

Ghurids promoted art and literature as Ghaznavids did and besides backing the Persian literary heritage of Khorasan, Sultan Ala al-Din was an eminent poet in Afghanistan and northern India. They played a key role in transferring Persian art and culture to India where it dominated till the 19th century.

Although the literary work of Ghurids couldn’t endure the hardships of the time, some of their architectural wonders did. The Great Mosque of Herat, the Tomb of Sadan Sharif near Muzaffargarh, Ribat (Fortified Garrison) in Kabirwala, and the acclaimed Qutb Minar are a few examples. Ghurids introduced an efficient ‘Iqta System’ of succession in which tactically vital areas were designated to slave generals who were allowed to keep revenue, enough for their armies and themselves with surplus placed into royal tressure.

Muhammad Ghori served his brother Ghiyas-ud-din and remained faithful to him until he died in 1202 and then ruled till his assassination in 1206. Territories of Delhi, Multan, and Ghazna declared their independence under Qutb-ud-Din Aibek (1206), Nasir-ud-Din Qabacha (1210), and Tajuddin Yildoz respectively.

Mamluk Dynasty (1206 – 1290 A.D)

Earth has also witnessed the days when Mamluks (turkish slaves) inducted in the crumbling Abasside Caliphate happened to rule Egypt, Levant, Iraq, and India. According to Ibn-e-Khuldon, the term ‘slavery’ wasn’t derogatory from an Islamic perspective. Qutb-ud-Din Aibek was Muhammad Ghori’s most devoted slave general, who established the Delhi Sultanate, the first Islamic rule in India.

He moved the capital from Lahore to Delhi but couldn’t rule much and died by accident in 1210. His son Aram Shah got defeated by Sultan Ilttumsih in a year, who consolidated the empire and its governmental apparatus with a reign that stretched till 1236 A.D. He probably also waded off the destructive war machine of Genghis Khan in 1221 by not giving shelter to Khwarazm Shah, Jalal al-din whom Mongols then never pursued across the Indus river.

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Iltumish spent almost his entire reign in a tussle for Punjab and Sindh with Nasir-ud-din Qabaccha, Khokhars of Salt Range, and Jalal al-din. Iltumish, with his appointed governors of Multan and Lahore securing the fort of Nandana from Khokhars, annexed north-western and central Punjab. Iltumish completed the construction of Qutb Minar and mosques of Delhi and Ajmer, introduced two coins of silver and copper, and established mosques and waterworks in Delhi to make it better suited as capital.

Ghiyasuddin Balban brushed off each potential threat to his rule, including his cousin Sher Khan. To counter the frequent Mongol plundering of Punjab, he erected strong military cantonments at Lahore, Diplapur, and other strategic points in the northwestern frontier. After his death in 1287 A.D and his son’s demise due to a stroke, Mamluk rule was ended by Jalal ud-Din Firuz Khalji in 1290 A.D.

Khilji Dynasty (1290 – 1320 A.D)

Jala ud-Din Khilji overthrew an infant Mamluk successor and established the second dynasty in Delhi Sultanate. His ascension faced resentment in Delhi as they were considered less Turk due to the long time spent in Afghanistan. Jalal desired to rule without violence but had to crush the rebellion of Malik Chhajju (Balban’s nephew) and defeat the Mongol invasion of 150,000 under Halaku Khan’s grandson at Sunam in 1292 A.D.

After assassinating his uncle Jala ud-Din in 1296 A.D, tyrannical but revolutionary Alau ud-Din Khilji became the second and greatest Khilji Sultan. Alau-ud-Din who had already sieged and vanquished Chittorgarh also conquered Deccan and Devgari, clutching 17250 pounds of gold, and thousands of pounds of pearls and silver.

He commanded the land measurements and a department Diwani Riyasat was established which had records of all traders and commodities annually allowed to them with regulations for price control with harsh punishments, imprisonments, and expulsions from markets. Alauddin built Alai Darwaza, Jamat Khana, Ukha Masjid and even a city named Siri.

Alau ud-Din’s death in 1215 A.D left the kingdom in chaos. His General Malik Kafur, who reportedly poisoned him, was slain by Khusrau Khan who seized the throne from the corrupted Qutb Mubarak. Khusrau Khan too was murdered by Ghiyas-ud-din Tughlak in 1320 A.D, the founder of the Tughlak Dynasty.


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