First Battle of Tarain 1191 AD⚔️ The First Islamic Conquest of India

First Battle of Tarain, 1191 AD ⚔️ The First Islamic Conquest of India

The battle of the Talas River was a decisive moment for the history of Central Asia, even-though its’ effects were not immediately apparent.

The Abbasid victory not only stopped China’s westward expansion but also determined the religious path of a region that is at the crossroads of Asia.

The ensuing centuries saw the gradual conversion of local populations to Islam, among which were the warlike Turkish tribes, nomadic warriors that were especially gifted horse archers.

Their mastery of horsemanship hadn’t gone unnoticed by the Muslim Caliphates, who recruited them to serve as an elite arm of their own armies.

However, in the wake of the breakup of the Abbasid Caliphate into smaller states and sultanates, these elite Turkish warriors emerged as the power brokers in the region.

One of the first breakaway sultanates was founded by Mahmud of Ghazni

Under the leadership of Mahmud of Ghazni, the Ghaznavids became a significant power and he was among the first to adopt the title of “Sultan”.

Mahmud was able to inflict a series of military defeats on the Hindu Shahis and for the first time penetrate the heartland of India.

He launched 16 large scale raids, targeting the wealthy religious centers, with the ultimate goal of amassing fame and wealth within the Islamic world.

However, he did not try to retain a permanent foothold in the area and the locals were able to recover from Ghaznavid raids.

But… with the death of Mahmud began a gradual decline, and by the mid-12th century, one of his former vassals, the Ghurids, a dynasty of Tajik origin, gradually asserted their authority in the Ghor region, methodically expanding their power base, until they eventually sacked the city of Ghazni in 1149, thereby emerging as an independent power.

First Battle of Tarain, 1191 AD ⚔️ The First Islamic Conquest of India

What followed was a period of expansion that would lead to the formation of the Ghurid Empire, under the leadership of two brothers, Ghiyath al-Din and Mu’izz al-Din, also known as the Muhammad of Ghor.

During the 1170s and 1180s, they embarked on a series of successful campaigns against the neighboring Seljuks and other pretenders to the Ghurid throne.

Ghiyath al-Din concentrated on the western domains of the empire, while Muhammad, after helping his brother to secure the west, looked southwards to India.

But, unlike the Ghaznavids that came before, Muhammad aimed at carving out an empire in India, and the nearby Rajput kingdoms appeared ripe for the taking…

In India, this was the time of the Rajput kingdoms.

Rajputs were a loose grouping of patrilineal clans found in the Indian sub-continent.

After the dissolution of the Pratihara Empire, their former feudatories established decentralized power bases all over central and western India.

Many kingdoms sprang into existence, all culturally and ethnically indistinguishable from one another, yet mutually antagonistic.

Between 1000 and 1200 AD, the Rajput kingdoms’ had to face constant incursions and invasions from Turkish tribes.

During the times of Muhammad of Ghor, northern India was divided into 3 main power centers, the Solanki Chalukyas of Gujarat, the Gahadavalas under Jaichandra at Kannauj, and the Prithviraj Chauhan of Ajmer and Delhi.

The most prominent of these Kingdoms was that of Prithviraj Chauhan.

By 1178, Muhammad was intent on attacking India and his main invasion route led directly through Prithviraj’s domain.

His first intended target was the Chalukya Solanki kingdom.

Subsequently, he sent an envoy to the court of Prithviraj, attempting to persuade the Indian King to come to a peaceful agreement.

First Battle of Tarain, 1191 AD ⚔️ The First Islamic Conquest of India

According to the terms presented by the envoy, Muhammad would agree to provide passage and divide the Solanki kingdom with Prithviraj.

Also, he demanded that Prithviraj convert to Islam and accept Ghurid suzerainty.

Prithviraj rejected but failed to send reinforcements to the neighboring kingdom that was about to be attacked.

Undeterred, the Ghurid ruler amassed a mobile army of Turkish horse warriors and marched on a circuitous route through the Thar Desert and into the outskirts of Chalukya territory.

After many days of marching through inhospitable and hostile territory, he was eventually confronted by a large Chalukya army on a valley near Mount Abu.

Muhammad’s army, tired and dehydrated from the long march, and unable to use the mobility of its cavalry within the narrow valley, was forced into a close quarter’s frontal battle against the Rajputs and was eventually routed.

However, the fleeing Ghurid army was not decisively pursued by the Chalukyas and thus avoided destruction.

Nevertheless, the invading army suffered heavy casualties during the battle and the subsequent retreat back across the desert.

Despite this setback, Muhammad was not a man to be disheartened by adversities, and during the following decade he set out to rebuild his forces and expand his territories into Peshawar.

He then advanced with his army and took Sialkot and by 1187 he conquered Lahore, executing its ruler, thus ending the last remnants of the Ghaznavids.

Now… his realm bordered Prithviraj’s domain, and between 1187 and 1190, a series of minor and medium probing incursions were launched.

First Battle of Tarain, 1191 AD ⚔️ The First Islamic Conquest of India

The situation escalated rapidly, and in 1190, Muhammad concentrated a large force of horse warriors and advanced against the important border fortress of Bathinda.

After a brief siege, he was able to capture the stronghold and placed a garrison there, under the command of one of these generals.

News of Bathinda falling to the enemy soon reached Delhi.

The shock of the loss of this significant stronghold galvanized Prithviraj into action.

He called upon his feudatories, quickly amassing a large army, and marched out to meet the invaders.

Upon learning of the king’s approach, Muhammad set out with his mounted army to intercept him…

The two armies met on the fields of Tarain, some 150 km north of Delhi.

While exaggerated contemporary accounts place the size of Prithviraj’s army at around 200,000 troops, modern historians estimate that the Rajput army did not exceed 50,000 min.

The Rajputs of the period were ferocious warriors who excelled in close combat, which they generally favored.

Indian metallurgy and weapons were renowned for their quality and generally enjoyed a reputation as the best in the world, a fact that gave them a further edge in close-quarters fighting.

On the other side of the field, the size of Muhammad’s army was similarly exaggerated, with sources claiming that around 100,000 troops arrayed on the field, while the actual size of the Ghurid force was around 15,000 cavalry, which included camels, but their exact number is unknown.

Although substantially outnumbered, Muhammad’s mounted force was comprised of professional Mamluk slave troops, agile and fast-moving horse archers, who were superior to their feudal counterparts.

The two armies represented opposite ends of the military spectrum.

On one side, a feudal force of slow-moving, undisciplined but courageous warriors, with little to no experience in dealing with complicated cavalry maneuvers, and on the other side, a swift and fast-moving mounted army of professional soldiers, almost exclusively composed of steppe cavalry that excelled in mobile warfare.

The Ghurid army deployed in a standard Turkic battle formation, with an advance guard, a strong center, and two wings.

A relatively small reserve of elite Ghulam lancers was kept in the rear.

Across the field, Prithviraj deployed his army in a linear formation, with two wings and a center.

The large force of elephants was deployed in front of the mainlining.

The battle began with a probing attack ordered by Muhammad.

The horse archers of the vanguard galloped towards the huge bulk of the Indian army and began peppering their formations with arrows.

Prithviraj’s response to this was immediate.

He ordered an all-out frontal assault!

This surprised the Ghurids, who weren’t accustomed to the Rajput style of warfare.

Muhammad’s vanguard retreated toward their mainline, but the Rajputs unexpectedly moved so rapidly that the Ghurids were unable to respond accordingly.

Before Mohammed could maneuver and adapt to this general charge, his vanguard’s retreat was blocked by the men behind them and the Rajputs were quickly closing in!

Incredibly, the Ghurid warriors held off the massive charge, their experience and professionalism paying dividends, as they cut down wave after wave of enemy attacks.

But with the Indian cavalry striking the Ghurid flanks, Muhammad’s entire line was dislodged, and the Muslim commander could see that his army will be overwhelmed.

The fierce melee slowly began to turn in favor of the Rajputs who were able to display their prowess in close quarters, and the sheer weight of their numbers became a decisive factor, as the Ghurid flanks were gradually driven back and cut off from their center.

Unable to withstand the pressure of the Indian onslaught, Muhammad’s troops on the flanks broke and fled.

Meanwhile, the war elephants and cavalry of Prithviraj’s center that had driven back the Ghurid vanguard onto their frontline, kept the Turkish center under sustained pressure.

Here too, the light horsemen were outside of their element, hemmed in by the immense pressure of the relentless Rajput advance, and unable to use their mobility they began to waver.

Muhammad now understood that the battle had reached its critical point.

Seeing his flanks routing and his center on the verge of collapse, he charged into the fray attempting a personal last-ditch effort to reverse the course of battle.

The Ghurid general soon came face to face with the commander of the Rajput center, Govind Rai, who was mounted on an elephant, personally charging his front lines.

As soon as Muhammad spotted him, he hurled his spear at him.

First Battle of Tarain, 1191 AD ⚔️ The First Islamic Conquest of India

Govind Rai was able to block the projectile with his shield, but the impact broke a few of his front teeth.

In turn, Govind threw his own spear, critically wounding Muhammad, almost knocking him u nconscious!

Unable to defend himself, Muhammad of Ghor was saved by the heroic actions of one of his bodyguards, who was able to lift the Sultan onto his horse and spirit him away from the battlefield.

The remaining leaderless Ghurid army, seeing their general carried off the battlefield, broke and routed.

The Rajputs pursued the retreating army of Muhammad for almost 40 km, but they couldn’t match the pace of the fast moving steppe mounts of their enemy.

Muhammad underestimated the strength and ferocity of the Rajput frontal assault and their ability in close combat.

Prithviraj’s audacity and explosiveness caught the Ghurids off guard and forced them to an engagement that played into his own strengths.

The Indian commander, took the initiative early in the battle and retained it throughout the engagement, forcing his enemies to react to his actions and rendering them unable to employ their advantages in mobility and firepower.

The ultimate salvation of the Ghurids was the fact that the Indian army was incapable of completely pinning them down and destroying them during their retreat.

And although Muhammad of Ghor was now retreating, he would live to fight another day…


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AUTHORNishant Chandravanshi

Nishant Chandravanshi is a YouTuber, Indian News Personality, Political Commentator & Activist. Nishant Chandravanshi is the founder of Chandravanshi & The Magadha Times.


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