Eclipse of the Hindu Shahis

By Slapstik 15 Comments

This is an updated version of an old article of mine on the decline of Hindu Shahis from the Kashmiri POV. The primary source of this account is the rājataraṅgiṇī (lit. river of kings) by kalhaṇa the Sanskrit chronicle of Kashmir’s history written in the mid 12c CE, which also set the standard for all later Sanskrit and Muslim histories of the region.

The events described in this account occurred over a period of 50 years in the first half of the 11th century CE, as Turkic Ghazi hordes started their expansion into the Indian Subcontinent. The backdrop of Kashmiri politics paints a very vivid picture of the pre-Islamic society during this tumultuous time.

In the laukika year 4089 (1013 CE) the ruler of kaśmīra-maṇḍala (kingdom of Kashmir) was saṅgrāmarāja – great grandson of kubheśa (lord of Kabul) bhīma śāhi of the great śāhīyaḥ dynasty. King saṅgrāmarāja had inherited the throne after a long series of succession intrigues interspersed with violence in the court of Kashmir through his maternal aunt (and erstwhile queen) diddā, sister of saṅgrāmarāja’s illustrious father udayarāja and grand-daughter of bhīma śāhi.

One of the principal architects of these court intrigues was a certain khāśa (Khakha) rājaputra (Rajput) from parṇotsa (Poonch) by the name tuṅga, who had gained importance in the court of Kashmir partly due to his political machinations but also due to his infamous affair with queen diddā. Queen diddā had elevated tuṅga to sarvādhikārin (prime ministership) of the country while she was alive. However, she was forced by the Kashmiri ḍāmara-s (feudals) and brāhmaṇa-s (priests) to choose the successor king from the royal family and udayarāja’s son was the obvious choice. While the relations between saṅgrāmarāja and tuṅga were never good, queen diddā – on her deathbed – had made both of them take kośa (oath by sacred libation) that they would not harm each other.

While these intrigues were going on in the court of Kashmir, the related śāhi dynasts of ūdabhāndapura (Hund) were zealously trying to keep the turuṣka vāhini-s (ṭurkic armies) at bay. Therefore, in the month of mārgashīrṣa (mid November – mid December) of laukika 4089, king saṅgrāmarāja dispatched sarvādhikārin tuṅga to ūdabhāndapura, country of his illustrious second cousin śāhi trilocanapāla who has asked for help against the turuṣka mleccha-s (barbarians, often used as an epithet for Muslims in the rājataraṅgiṇī).

A large army followed the sarvādhikārin. In attendance was his own son kandarpasiṃha, many rājaputras from dvigarta (modern-day Jammu region cf Dogra),  jālaṃdhara (kingdom spanning modern-day region of Kangra in Himachal to Jalandhar in N Punjab), chief councillors of the court and sāmanta-s (feudal lords) — lāvanya-s (cf modern day Lones) and ḍāmara-s. Other officers of high rank: the mahāsaṃdhivigraha (the chief minister of foreign affairs), mahāsādhanabhāga (chief administrator) and mahāśvaśāla (lord of the horse cavalry) also followed him. It is as if the himavat shook at the sight of them all.

Prime minister tuṅga and his son were hospitably received and treated with great respect by the śāhi suzerain. However, trilocanapāla noticed that even after a week of initial hospitalities, tuṅga gave little thought to night watches, posting of scouts, cavalry charge exercises and other proper preparations for the turuṣka attack. Prime minister tuṅga acted with a lot of over-confidence in his ability to marshal the substantial army of Kashmir and other rājaputra-s to reduce the turuṣka-s, which trilocanapāla advised against. King trilocanapāla’s repeated counsel to tugṅa was to post himself in a defensive position on the scarp of a hill near the bank of tauṣi (seasonal snow-melt stream; cf tuṣāra, lit “snow”) – reference to a tributary of vitastā (Jehlum) – and not engage the enemy early. The plan was for tuṅga to watch and get acquainted with the turuṣka warfare tactics, which trilocanapāla himself had much experience of. Yet the sage advice fell on deaf ears. Even after repeated instructions of the wise and battle-hardened trilocanapāla, the arrogant tuṅga did not accept this wise counsel and remained with his troops eagerly looking out for a fight at the earliest instance. [At this point Kalhana repeats an old Sanskrit phrase for tuṅga that is still in common currency today: vināshakāle viparītaḥ buddhiḥ, lit. the mind does not think straight when the end is nigh]

Thus, on the cold morning of the end of the first week of mārgashīrṣa, laukika 4089 (~25 Nov 1013), tuṅga left his fortified position with a detachment to cross the tauṣi and defeated a small corps that the turuṣka chief, hamīra (cf Mahmud Ghaznavi’s title, amir-ul momineen), had sent for reconnaissance and thus the fateful battle commenced. Later in that morning came in fury and full battle array the leader of the turuṣka army himself, hamīra, skilled in battle stratagem. The small cavalry of tuṅga could not hold the line and dispersed immediately. The śāhi’s force, however, joined the battle at this point. Also bringing in the flanks of the Kashmirian army were the brave lāvanya lord, jayasiṃha, and the ḍāmara lords, vibhramārka (related to king saṅgramarāja) and śrīvardhana. These valiant men, fighting on the terrible field of battle that resounded with the tramp of horses and the clash of metal, preserved the honour of their country (Kashmir) from being totally lost on account of tuṅga’s actions.

Who can describe the sheer bravery of trilocanapāla, whom numberless turuṣka-s could not subdue in battle? [Here Kalhana refers to trilocanapāla as simply trilocana – the three-eyed one – a common epithet of lord śiva, and uses that metaphor explicitly]. Valiant trilocana causing floods of blood to pour forth from the mleccha in battle verily resembled lord śiva sending forth the fire that burns the world at the end of kalpa (cf “Armageddon” in Hindu mythology). Even after fighting a sea of armour-clad soldiers in battle tirelessly, trilocana remained singularly committed to fight unto his death rather than retreat. The battle see-sawed and even when trilocana was losing, he resolutely tried to marshal his force of elephants to press on for victory. When finally trilocana passed away, the whole country of gandhāra was over-shadowed by hordes of these cāṇḍāla-s (barbarians) like a cloud of rapacious locusts. Yet hamīra did not breathe freely having witnessed the bravery of the illustrious trilocana and his troops.

The defeat was a calamity for the civilised world and the royal glory and opulence of the śāhis had all but vanished. That śāhi kingdom whose greatness on earth was unmatched stood utterly ruined. [Here Kalhana ironically remarks if the Shahi kings, ministers and court really did exist, or were they a object of his fancy?]

After having brought about the descent of turuṣka-s on the face of earth by his false pride and cowardly defeat, tuṅga marched back slowly to his own country. The king recalled his kośa to his departed aunt and did not put him out of the way in spite of his terrible defeat. At least not immediately. King saṅgrāmarāja continued to be repeatedly instigated by various courtiers to remove tuṅga. The king was wary of the power tuṅga had over the army and feared an open rebellion. So he waited for a chance to corner tuṅga and his son, and tried to turn tuṅga’s ambitious brother nāga against him.

Within six months of tuṅga’s defeat the saṅgrāmarāja got just the opportunity he was looking for. He summoned tuṅga and his son kandarpasiṃha to the royal palace at the pretext of a parley. After a brief meeting with the king as tuṅga proceeded with a retinue of few attendants to the council of ministers, unbeknownst to him many of king’s courtiers (including the ḍāmara lord, parvaśarkaraka, loyal to the king) followed him and struck him and his son with savage sword blows.

The king feared that army commanders loyal to tuṅga may think he was imprisoned inside the palace rather than dead and a coup d’état could be imminent. So he had tuṅga and his son kandarpasiṃha decapitated and their heads displayed outside the palace to give courage to his own men and break the spirit of troops loyal to tuṅga.

This, however, wasn’t the end of king’s troubles. One of the powerful feudal chiefs of kramarājya (cf K. kamrāz, appellation for the administrative region in the Valley to the North of Srinagar), a brāhmaṇa named bhujaṅga, attacked the king inside the palace. He broke into the assembly hall of the palace with his men and killed twenty of the king’s tantriṇa-s (king’s praetorian guard, cf. modern-day “tantray” surname among Kashmiris) and a few other courtiers including the treasurer trāilokyarāja and king’s cousin abhinava, but could not manage to get hold of the king.

The civil war continued inside the capital for four days until the troops loyal to the king prevailed. Many brave ekāṅga-s (bodyguards) of tuṅga perished in the fighting in the courtyard of his residence. Other tuṅga-loyalists also perished, like candra (who fancied himself to be a good fighter), darada chief named arjuna and the ḍāmara lord helā of the cakra family (cf Kashmir’s native “chak” dynasty removed by Akbar in 16c).

King saṅgrāmarāja ensured that tuṅga‘s residence and estates were plundered and his treasures confiscated. He gave the post of the commander-in-chief of the Kashmirian army to tuṅga’s brother, nāga, who had helped in the conspiracy to murder his own brother. Days after the coup was put down, tuṅga’s daughter-in-law (śāhi princess and kandarpasiṃha’s widow) bimbā, entered the immolation fire as sati, and tuṅga’s widow, maṅkhanā left Kashmir for good. She took up residence at rājapurī (cf modern-day Rajouri in Jammu division) with her surviving sons mātṛsiṃha and vicitrasiṃha.

Having settled the score with tuṅga, king saṅgrāmarāja again sent out an expeditionary force to fight off the turuṣka mleccha-s along the northern marches. But these too turned and fled like cowards back to the safety of Kashmir. King saṅgrāmarāja died on the first day of āṣāḍha in the laukika year 4104 (1028 CE) having had his son harirāja consecrated.

King harirāja himself died within a month of taking oath under mysterious circumstances and his child-son ananta was quickly made king. Hearing the news harirāja’s uncle vigraharāja, a pretender to the throne, tried to march from lohāra fort (likely situated in the vicinity of modern-day Rajouri district SW of Srinagar across the Pir Panjal range) into the capital to wrest the kingdom by force. He managed to breach the kārkoṭa-draṅga pass (modern day Drang in Gulmarg district) and enter the Kashmir valley but was defeated and killed-in-action by the troops sent by ananta’s mother, queen śrīlekhā and other sāmanta loyalists of the new child-king.

King ananta grew into adulthood with the śāhisūnu-s (śāhi scions, grandchildren of trilocanapāla, who came as refugees to Kashmir): rudrapāla, diddāpāla and anaṅgapāla. Of them śāhi rudrapāla was an especially close favourite of the king. He also became the king’s co-brother-in-law, when rudrapāla and ananta married sister princesses āśāmati and sūryamati (especially famed for their beauty) – daughters of king inducandra of jālaṃdhara (modern-day Kangra-Jalandhar region).

It was in ananta’s reign that the turuṣka-s once again raised their armies against Kashmir in the hope to win the coveted prize. A confederation of mleccha-s including acalamaṅgala, the king of darada-s along with seven turuṣka princes marched on to Kashmir in the manner hamīra had 40 years earlier. [The close alliance between the darada-s and Turks suggests that the darada-s of Chilas / Astor NW of Kashmir had converted to Islam by the 11th century and the rājataraṅgiṇī refers to all of them as mleccha, i.e. Muslim chiefs]

However, this time the Kashmirian army was led by the valiant rudrapāla śāhi, who met the darada and his turuṣka allies at the village of kṣīrapṛṣṭha (likely modern-day Khuyrut village south of the Kishanganga valley in kamrāz, which is connected via several passes to Chilas and Astor on the Indus). Prince rudrapāla was eager to do battle with the turuṣka-s to avenge the defeat of his pitṛ-s.

The two armies camped on the opposite banks of a small lake (nāga > K. nāg) called piṇḍāraka and agreed to fight at dawn the next day [Kashmiri myth associates lakes with serpent-people nāga-s, whose sight can be a portent. At this point Kalhana indicates that acalamaṅgala had a vision of the lake nāga, and decided to go into battle earlier than expected].

When ananta’s commanders saw acalamaṅgala rushing forth on his horse, they sensed he was breaking the agreement and ordered to ride into the enemy camp with full force. Thus began the battle that was like a feast in which valourous men were wedded to apsarā-s (heavenly maidens) and the clash of swords seems to kindle rows of sparkling fires.

With bravery reminiscent of his forebears, rudra attacked acalamaṅgala in person, warding off his unerring arrows with his sword. [Here Kalhana again uses the śiva-metaphor and refers to rudrapāla as rudra-bhairava, a common epithet of Lord śiva]. Prince rudra, whose sword became covered with flesh and blood of the mleccha-a until it looked like a club, rode about in battle like bhairava and made the earth shake under the hooves of his horse.

In that great concourse of warriors, the head of the darada lord was severed from his body by rudrapāla. Some of the turuṣka chiefs were slain on the battle field and others captured as slaves. The king of Kashmir obtained gold, jewels, furs and other treasures from wretched cāṇḍāla-s. As promised rudrapāla śāhi brought before his lord (king ananta) the head of the darada king, the dripping blood from which was purified by the water-like glitter of pearls on its crest ornaments.

Epilogue: Thwarting the invasion of Kashmir by acalamaṅgala and his Turkic Muslim allies was the last major battle which the Hindu Shahis led and won on the Indian subcontinent. The Hindu Shahi princes died within or immediately after Ananta’s reign, which ended with his death in 1063 CE and their descendants were totally absorbed into Kashmiri and other N Indian royal lineages (of Jammu, Himachal, Malwa etc) so that by the chronicler Kalhana’s own time in mid 12c (i.e. a century after the events described above) Shahis did not exist as a distinct royal line.

Having successfully defeated the Turks to the North, king Ananta continued to consolidate the southern marches of Kashmir and went on successful military expeditions against Champa (Chamba in Himachal), Uraśa (Hazara region of N Punjab) and Ballavar in Jammu region, in some cases installing local satraps aligned to Kashmir. Nonetheless the Turks remained a constant threat to the Kashmir kingdom, leading to an increasingly common policy of recruiting Turks in the Kashmirian army.

This policy accelerated under Ananta’s son Kalaśa and grandson Harṣa (leading to Kalhana’s own time). The combination of high-ranking Turks in the Kashmiri army with the intrinsic institutional instability of the kingdom (i.e. regular succession wars and constant tension between the king and ḍāmara-s) resulted in power being eventually seized by a turuṣka general śāhmīra (Shahmiri dynasty) in early 14c CE.

This began the 480 years of Muslim rule, in which Shahmiris were overthrown by local Chak sultans (ḍāmara feudal family who had converted to Islam) who in turn gave way to Moghals and ultimately Durrani Afghans in late 18c CE. The Islamic rule in Kashmir finally came to an end with the invasion of Kashmir by Khalsa cavalry under general Hari Singh Nalwa on the 5th of July 1819 CE.


PS: As usual I am pretty brutal when it comes to comment deletion. Please be respectful and constructive.


15 Replies to “Eclipse of the Hindu Shahis”

  1. The “vinaash kaale vipreeth buddhi” applies to modern day tussle between trads and hindutvavadis. Hang together or be hanged separately but looks like 2nd time is going to be a farce.

    1. There is no tussle. On one hand u are seeing the last vestiges of dying tradition, on the other a rise of comparatively modern ideology.

      There is no contest.

  2. Superb piece; I concur with Emissary – truly fascinating stuff
    Slapstik, do you archive your older pieces somewhere else? I couldn’t find any on BP; please share them if you don’t mind- I would love to read.

  3. Thanks for the super interesting article!

    1] Did all the damara lords convert on or after the Rinchen-Shahmir transition, or did a Hindu damara community survive and just get absorbed into larger Kashmiri Pandits of the late medieval and modern times?

    2] What were the demographics of Kashmir like when Rinchen Shah took over? [In case there have been any attempt to estimate them]

    1. 1) I don’t think there’s any record of ḍāmara-s being absorbed into KPs. What is more likely is that once some Pandits converted, they lost caste and probably married into the rest of the converted population. I know for a fact families of converted Brahmins (one of my mother’s friends), who even kept the yajnopavita threads preserved for like 3 centuries because throwing them was ill omen. And the non-brahmin origin daughter-in-law in their family being weirded out by it.

      2) I think kashmiri society started getting Islamised at the edges by Harsa’s time (i.e. in Kalhana’s own time there are references to mleccha-s in various positions of power). Some certainly were foreigners but not all. To a brahmin at the time, a Muslim would have been modelled as a cultural foreigner but not in the same sharply-defined boundary terms as we do today (with the benefit of knowledge and hindsight, and bias).

      Mini-Rajataranginis (like rajavalipataka etc) continued to be written – in progressively bad Sanskrit – until Akbar’s invasion of Kashmir. So we have a lot more source material on pre-Moghal Islamic ruled Kashmir, and more material still from Moghal sources (and some minor Persian histories which actually depend on Skt sources, like baharistan-i shahi). I will do posts on those too.

      My own estimation comparing Ain-i Akbari vs later Rajataranginis is that Kashmir likely became Muslim majority before Moghals took over, i.e. by end of 15c / early 16c. The fact that Kashmir had already reverted to a local dynasty (Chaks), except Muslim in religion, is a major indicator of this.

      1. @Slapstik Thanks for the elaborate answer! Interesting [and sad] anecdote about the yajnopavit indeed…

        2) Wow… that’s as early as 800s itself! What in your opinion was the critical point in this transition (I don’t mean the seizure of power by Rinchen, but the most obvious policy oversight, other shift which was indicative of the long term future)?

        Really look forward to the mini-Rajtaramgini posts!!

        Leaving aside damaras, are there significant records of any other caste groups staying Hindu or merging into wider KP community [or migrating southwards]?

        1. Most people don’t know this but there’s a second group of non-Brahmin Kashmiri Hindus who are not Pandits, and traditionally KPs did not inter-marry with them.

          They are known as böhö’r < Skt bahiṣkṛta (turned out, expelled) in Kashmiri. These are the reverts from Islam back into Hinduism – from the Sikh period. Some of them moved southwards to Jammu too, but many families stayed in Kashmir. Our neighbours in Srin were böhö’r. The Bollywood actor Sanjay Suri is one of them. Many have over decades intermixed with the Jammu population. (Though so have KPs of late)

          Finally, the natives of regions around Kashmir valley – badervah, kashtvar, rajouri etc are Hindus, and many of them have over years moved into Jammu proper and also N Punjab / Himachal.


          In the end, we are all just slightly different versions of N Indians of the hills and even today I am surprised to find similar cultural motifs as Kashmir in Himachalis, Nepalese etc.

          1. Talking of reverts from Islam, I read somewhere that during Ranjit singh period many Kashmir valley Muslims wanted to come back to HInduism , but KPs refused their offer. Is it true?
            It is a sad state of Hinduism that reverts are called bohors . In contrast, after converting Kalash in Kafiristan to Islam , with much coercion I read, , Afghans called it Nuristan. Talk of reframing identities , bohors were left in Trishanku swarga.

  4. What cultural dynamics specifically gave rise to rājataraṅgiṇī-like histories in Kashmir? Why didn’t it go the way of other regions and produce purāṇa-like efforts that persisted down to the modern era in those places?

    1. But it did go that way! Kashmir has nilamata purāṇa too, which was cited by kalhaṇa in his work. So the purāṇa clearly predates him and is extant today.

      Secondly, rājataraṅgiṇī is in classical kāvya style, and can on occasion contain all the embellishments of Sanskrit poetry. Though sometimes that style does negatively affect the content and I wish he had taken more liberties with that poetic/metrical form of writing. However, he was a man of his times and had a fantastic classical education, and maybe he also wanted to show off a bit.

    1. @VijayVan

      The lesson from RT as it is from history generally is that history is long winded, human identities are fluid and to a large extent based on human choices.

      Your kids will think differently from you and their kids differently still, and they will culturally speciate away from each other. It has happened before numerous times and will happen again to you. And it is ok.

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