Parama Bhattaraka Maharajadhiraja Sri Jayapaladeva: An Introduction to the Forgotten Last Frontier Hero of Bharatavarsha

A forgotten episode from ancient Indian history about Maharaja Jayapala Deva, the last Hindu King who ruled North-Western India
Ruins of the Aditya Temple at Multan
Ruins of the Aditya Temple at Multan

In a sense, Bharatavarsha lost her independence the day one of her most sacred cities, the ancient Tirtha-Kshetra, Mulastāna brutally got the taste of what a pious Jihad looked like on the ground. Woe betide the city, town, village, and locality that undergoes a name change like how Mulastāna became Multan. Here is a glimpse of what happened to Mulastāna when Muhammad bin Qasim barged into its gates in the early part of the eighth century. This is what Al-Baladhuri, the Muslim chronicler writes.

Muhammad bin Qasim massacred the men capable of bearing arms, but the children were taken captive, as well as the Purohits of the temple, to the number of six thousand. The Musulmans found there much gold in a chamber ten cubits long by eight broad, and there was an aperture above, through which the gold was poured into the chamber. Hence they call Multan “the Frontier of the House of Gold,” for farj means – “a frontier.” The Budd (temple) of Multan received rich presents and offerings, and to it the people of Sind resorted as a place of pilgrimage. They circumambulated it, and shaved their heads and beards. They conceived that the image was that of the prophet Job—God’s peace be on him!

The temple is question was the fabled Aditya Mandir that occupied the prime spot in the list of the most sacred Surya Kshetras in Bharatavarsha. The extraordinary concentration of wealth that Qasim found in just this temple dwarfed even his wildest imagination. Following the Quranic injunction of war and war spoils, he plundered the entire wealth and confiscated the wealthy and substantial offerings that Hindu pilgrims made to this Deity on a daily basis, and usurped the temple management. From then on, all the offerings would be directly deposited to the Muslim ruler there, a practice followed till Jalam bin Shayban, the leader of the Ismaili-Shia Karmatians destroyed the grand temple, slaughtered the Brahmin priests en masse and converted it into a Jami Masjid in the mid tenth century.

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Ruins of the Aditya Temple at Multan

Before Muhammad bin Qasim departed from Multan, he faithfully implemented another Islamic diktat related to conquests in Kaffir lands:

Wherever there is an ancient place or famous or famous town or city, mosques and pulpits should be erected there; and the Kutba should be read, and the coin struck in the name of the Caliph’s government. And as you have accomplished so much with this army by your good fortune…be assured that to whatever place of the infidels you proceed it shall be conquered.

Muhammad bin Qasim erected a massive Jama Masjid and some minarets, thus planting the victorious flag of Islam in Multan. The original Mulastāna was largely a thing of the past. This ancient sacred Kshetra whose air was made mellifluous by the incessant chants of the Veda and other Sanatana hymns is today fabled for a proliferation of mosques, minarets, and a vast collection of Islamic structures. It is also home to the largest collection of Sufi shrines in a single place, a telling and living proof of the true nature of the “mysticism” of the Sufi tradition.

As a cruel footnote to the barbaric history of the tragedy the Aditya Mandir suffered, its ruins today lie next to the grave of the unvarnished Sunni bigot and Sufi poet, Bahauddin Zakariya. Here is how a Muslim describes the current state of the Aditya Temple.

The Sun Temple now only exists in ruins, overshadowed by the well-preserved Muslim sites located in its vicinity. Evidence of the presence of an ancient grand temple at this location now only exists in history books. A centuries-old place of worship, that has been praised in several historical narratives,1 now exists as a ghost of the past, overlooked and completely neglected by the authorities and public alike. The site where the grand temple once existed now suffers from encroachment. It is put to use very rarely, for the purpose of pitching tents for the Muslim pilgrims that come to Multan for the Urs (death anniversary) of the saints in the surrounding shrines. Major portions of the temple have been demolished, the roof the temple has caved in, all the idols are gone, and nothing indicates presence of a majestic spiritual site that once existed here in all its glory. The centuries-old Sun Temple has been forever lost to posterity.

An Enduring Civilisational Impasse

However, Muhammad bin Qasim’s destructive raid on Multan was a civilisational impasse as far as Sanatana Dharma was concerned, but an enduring one at that. The city permanently was transformed as a strong outpost of Islam on the frontiers of Bharatavarsha. The successive waves of Muslim invasion in the general region of both Punjab and Sindh were singularly ineffective and short-lived. The moment the Muslim hold slackened, the Hindu kings and chieftains either reconquered their previously-held territories or drove away the Muslim garrisons there or both. Jayasimha (or Jaisimha), the indomitable son of the foolish and imprudent Raja Dahir (or Dahar) presents a great illustration of this historical fact. Under Muslim duress, he converted to Islam but when the Muslim weaned, he beat them back and returned to his Matru-Dharma.

For the next two and half centuries, this phenomenon would manifest itself like a recurring nightmare for the alien Muslim occupiers in the general region. In this period, a legion of extraordinary kings and doughty warriors including the Chalukyan “Avanijashraya” Pulikeshi, Yashovarman of Kanauj, Lalitaditya Muktapida of Kashmir, and the Pratihara Nagabhata harassed the “cow-eating Mlecchas” so horribly, so splendidly that

The Musulmans have retired from several parts of India and abandoned…their positions…The people of Hind returned to idolatry…and a place of refuge to which the Muslims might flee was not to be found.

Islamic Power Reaches its Nadir in Bharatavarsha

A careful reading of the non-Romila Thapar and non-Irfan Habib school of history reveals that these Hindu kings achieved their victories with breathtaking ease. And among them, the extent of the geography that each ruled was a fraction of the overall spread of Bharatavarsha’s landmass. But their real achievement becomes immediately clear only by way of a contrast with the geopolitical situation of the period.

By the end of the eighth century, the might, prestige, and spread of Islam, which had reached untrammelled heights of triumph across a vast swathe that sliced across the Middle East, North Africa, Portugal, Spain and was knocking on the doors of France, had reached its nadir in Al-Hind. This abysmal fate suffered by Islam continued for nearly two more centuries. Arab travelers of the tenth century record how this nadir was symbolized by two tiny principalities: Multan and Mansurah. And Multan itself was kept in Muslim hands with a simple, psychological trick: blackmail. The fearless Pratihara kings waged an unremitting war against the Arab ruler here to wrest the ancient, sacred city back into the Hindu fold. However, it was the selfsame and the much-reviled Aditya Budd, the Vigraha, that ironically saved the Arab ruler whose cowardly threat to the Pratiharas was simple: “go back or else I’ll smash this idol to pieces!” Perhaps Allah’s blessings were in short supply to this chieftain when compared to what he had bestowed upon Muhammad bin Qasim. Needless, the threat worked and Multan remained in Muslim hands. The interested reader is referred to Dr. S.L. Bhyrappa’s first historical novel, Saartha for extraordinary insights on this topic.

The late historian and scholar Dr. Ram Gopal Misra makes the following blunt but accurate observation about this state of affairs at Multan:

Thus after three centuries of unremitting effort, we find the Arab dominion in India limited to the two petty states of Multan and Mansurah. And here, too, they could exist only after renouncing their iconoclastic zeal and utilizing the idols for their own political ends. It is a very strange sight to see them seeking shelter behind the very budds, they came here to destroy.

The Inimitable Conception and Spirit of Brahma-Kshatra

What does that tell us about how the Sanatana civilisation, culture, society and traditions were preserved? And how, even to this day, Hindus form the majority in Bharatavarsha? Clearly, it was not magic or voodoo that sustained it but something that was rooted in the Sanatana DNA: the superb, original and inimitable fusion of the evocative and inspiring spirit of Brahma and Kshatra that played out so gloriously on battlefield after battlefield for centuries on end until the barbaric sword of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi’s soul-snuffing and civilisation-shattering nonviolence killed it.

In practical terms, the chief reason for the repeated pounding that the Arab Muslim armies received in India owes to the incredibly sturdy and enduring foundations of the Sanatana-Dharmic state and military organisation and might of Hindu kingdoms. This well-oiled military organisational superstructure with its invisible and subterranean links of loyal obedience and nuanced coordination down to the last village headman who was responsible for maintaining his own army, was a direct inheritance from the time of Chandragupta Maurya. This brilliant, farsighted vision emanating from the genius of Chanakya-Kautilya was wisely and vigorously retained intact and expanded and greatly improved by the Gupta Empire. In turn, the successors of the Gupta Empire too, had preserved the same. This significant but overlooked fact of Indian history becomes clearer when we contrast it with most other nations of the period, which encountered the armies of Islam. It was the same story everywhere from Damascus to Jerusalem to Egypt: large scale massacres of Christians and other non-Muslims, industrial scale plunder, mass conversions to Islam, monumental slave-taking, desecrations of their religious places, and enforcing the Zimmi (or Dhimmi) status upon non-Muslims whose numbers were too great to slaughter.

Bharatavarsha was the only exception.

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Ruins of the Aditya Temple at Multan

The Vulnerable Remnants of the Kannauj Empire

However, as we have observed in an earlier essay, by the end of the tenth century, the spirit pulsating behind and giving energy to this Brahma-Kshatra fusion was largely forgotten. The last vestiges of this Aryavarata Consciousness were slowly getting extinguished with the Gurjara-Pratiharas, Rashtrakutas, and Palas busy trying to slash one another’s throats. However, the downfall of the magnificent and overwhelming Empire of Kanauj ripped the protective military rug that had for over 150 years, safely ensconced the entire north-western region of Bharatavarsha. With that, the cover of what is known as the Hindu Shahi kings was fatally blown. The Hindu Shahi kings were the last, vulnerable remnants of the wreckage of the Kanauj Empire. The vast region including the Kabul Valley, Gandhara, Laghman, Kashmir, Sirhind, and Peshawar ruled by these kings was now ripe for the picking by the holy barbarians at the borders. Roughly the size of three mid-sized European nations. It was the beginning of an irreversible civilisational rout that spread over several centuries.

Yet, to his everlasting credit, the last of the Hindu Shahi Kings ensured that he would proactively eject these barbarians from their lair at nearby Ghazni. He spent his entire life strategizing, liaising, and when opportunity afforded itself, harassing these Mlecchas at the outskirts. Undaunted by repeated losses, he regrouped and re-attacked and left behind a great legacy of valour that outlasted him for about three generations.

His name was Parama Bhattaraka Maharajadhiraja Sri Jayapaladeva, the forgotten last frontier hero of Sanatana Bharatavarsha mentioned in our ungrateful and deracinated history textbooks simply as “Jaipal.”

To be continued

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