THE GRIEVOUS SAGA OF BAKHTIYAR KHALJI’s catastrophic devastation of the Nalanda University is well-known despite sustained attempts to whitewash it. What is lesser known is his catholic ravaging of the ancient city of Gaur — one of the original names of today’s Bengal (including Bangladesh).
After plundering Navadvipa (Nadia), Bakhtiyar set his target on Gaur — also known as Lakshmanavati or Lakhnauti (in Muslim chronicles).
Gaur was the historic nerve-centre of the Gauda-Desha (Bengal) from very ancient times. For several centuries, it had prospered as the “metropolis of Bengal under its Hindu kings.” When the colonial British surveyed it in the second half of the nineteenth century, local tradition had retained the civilisational memory of the city: it was known variously as:
(1) Adisur: named after Adishura, the ancient king of Bengal
(2) Ballal Sen: named after Ballalasena, one of the great kings of the Sena dynasty
(3) Lakshman: named after Lakshmanasena, the son of Ballasena. Hence the name, Lakshmanavati or Lakhnauti. Lakshmanasena was also Bakhtiyar Khalji’s maiden infidel victim in Bengal.
Whether the luminaries of Gaur had brought such prestige to the city, or the city itself produced such generational luminaries is difficult to say. But the doubtless fact remains, that from undated antiquity, Gaudiya Brahmanas have played a resplendent role in the spread and preservation of the best of the Sanatana philosophical, spiritual and cultural traditions. In fact, the repeated mass migrations of Gaudiya Brahmanas merit an independent study. Their descendants today are scattered along the western coast in Goa, Maharashtra and Karnataka. Their generational memory survives in their general appellation: Gauda Sarasvata Brahmanas.
GAUR WAS ALSO THE HISTORIC SITE of the renowned Five Kulin Brahmanas of Bengal. The aforementioned King Adisura had invited five distinguished Brahmanas from Kanyakubja (Kanauj) in order to perform a grand Yajna. The most distinguished among them was Bhatta Narayana, author of the renowned Sanskrit play, Venisamhara.
Over time, they made Gaur their home. Like its Buddhist counterparts at Nalanda and Odantapura, Gaur too, was the exalted nucleus of Sanskrit learning and literature. The only battles it had witnessed so far were debates that took place among its scholars, where the ultimate victor was knowledge.
And Gaur too, met with the same fate as Nalanda. Here too, Bakhtiyar Khalji implemented the same vicious template that had worked so spectacularly in his blood-drenched career. The renowned historian, Acharya Jadunath Sarkar describes how Bakhtiyar began the assault: “… like the warriors of the steppe and the desert in every age operating in a civilised country, the army of Bakhtiyar also first ravaged the open country without making [a direct] attempt on Gaur…”
This open country roughly corresponds to a vast tract — a rich alluvial expanse of the earth lying between the main channels of Ganga and Brahmaputra.
Bakhtiyar’s devastation of Gaur was worse than that of Navadvipa. He started by wasting and capturing this tract and then moved directly into the metropolis of Gaur.
It didn’t stand a chance.
Bakhtiyar’s holy Islamic warriors slaughtered all the infidels they encountered and destroyed the “idol temples of the infidels and erected masjids and other buildings.”
The obliteration was so exhaustive that Gaur was physically erased from existence. Nothing remained there to indicate the traces of its flourishing Sanatana past.
The devastation of Gaur was the pinnacle of Bakhtiyar Khalji’s career of plunder and fanatical genocide of Hindus. It had finally enabled him to acquire the independent empire he had so desperately craved for when he had set out from Afghanistan.
A NEW EMPIRE NEEDED A NEW CAPITAL. Bakhtiyar built it a few miles from the ruins of Gaur. He named it, unimaginatively, Lakhnauti (a corruption of Lakshmanavati). He settled down to consolidate his fairly extensive conquests, for the next couple of years.
A cardinal administrative measure of this consolidation involved the demolition of the few “idol-temples” that had still remained standing. In the typical fashion of all victorious Islamic invaders, he built mosques and madrassas on their ruins using their debris and in record time, the entire region was bursting‡ with masjids, madrassas, mazhars and khanqahs.
His amirs followed his lead by sponsoring and building more Islamic seminaries and colleges. These “praiseworthy endeavours” thoroughly endeared him to the Islamic clergy. They saw in these institutions the proof of Bakhtiyar’s zeal for Islam, for converting the infidels, for Islamising the whole of Hindustan.
Throughout Bakhtiyar’s dominions, the Khutba and the Azaan replaced the mellow and soothing Vedic Mantras that had continuously sanctified these erstwhile Sanatana realms. For centuries, these divine hymns—the musical expressions of the grandest spiritual realisation of the Rishis—had flowed throughout this region, like the subterranean Vedic Saraswati River.
The Muslim chronicler Badauni extolls Bakhtiyar’s pious devastation of this idol-worshipping infidelity in a heartfelt couplet:
Here, where was heard before, the clamour and uproar of the Kaffir
Now, here is heard resounding the shouts of “Allaho Akbar!”
For the next three centuries, Bengal would firmly remain in the Islamic thrall and would never regain its lost Sanatana character. At various points, the fortunes and the very nomenclature of Gaur underwent several upheavals. But the Islamic character that Bakhtiyar had imposed on it was permanently imprinted into the region.
This essay is an excerpt from Invaders And Infidels: The Khalji Devastation of Infidel Devagiri (Book 2) by Sandeep Balakrishna.
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