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Tarikh-i Alfi

Tarikh-i Alfi. Maulânâ Ahmad et al., eds.
Selections translated in “History of Ghazni”, The History of India as Told by its own HistoriansThe Posthumous Papers of the Late Sir H. M. Elliot. John Dowson, ed. 1st ed. 1867. 2nd ed., Calcutta: Susil Gupta, 1956, vol. 14.

  1. Overview

The Tarikh-i Alfi, “Thousand Year History”, is an historical work compiled by a committee appointed by Akbar in 990 H., 1582 CE.  Its expressed purpose was to be a history of the first Muslim millennium.  The committee was headed by Maulânâ Ahmad, and they proceeded with their work by drawing upon earlier Persian histories.  Surviving manuscripts of the work are rare, and all are incomplete.

The excerpt included here describes Sultan Mahmud of Ghazni’s sack of Somnath, which is the last and best known raid undertaken by him.  Sultan Mahmud began the raid December 1023 CE, and did not reach the fort until March 1024 CE.  This resulted in the destruction of the celebrated temple complex, and the accruement of a vast amount of wealth  by Sultan Mahmud.  Mahmud succeeded his father to throne of Ghaznî, in what is now Afghanistan, in 997 CE, and ruled until his death in 1030 CE.  His numerous incursions into India were largely raids designed to capture spoil in material wealth, slaves and livestock.  He is portrayed as a zealous Muslim eager to destroy “idol temples”, but this was probably justification for pillage, since these activities contravened the earlier Arab policy of granting Hindus and Buddhists protected dhimmi status.  These raids generally were not conquests resulting in annexation of territory, with the exception of the Punjab, most of which he did annex.  Ghaznivid control even of the Punjab passed away with Mahmud.  His incessant raiding over the course of almost thirty years, however, clearly destabilized Northern India and paved the way for the Muhammad Ghûrî’s invasion of northern India in 1175 CE, which led to the establishment of the Delhi sultanate.

  1. Excerpt

[p. 53]

“It is said that the temple of Somnat was built by one of the greatest Rajas of India.  The idol was cut out of solid stone, about five yards in height, of which two were buried in the earth.  Mahmud, as soon as his eye fell on this idol, lifted up his battle-axe with much anger, and struck it with such force that the idol broke into pieces.  The fragments of it were ordered to be taken to Ghaznin, and were cast down at the threshold of the Jami’ Masjid’, where they are lying to this day.  It is a well-authenticated fact that when Mahmud was about to destroy the idol, a crowd of Brahmans represented (to his nobles) that if he would desist from the mutilation they would pay several crores of gold coins into his treasury.  This was agreed to by many of the nobles, who pointed out to the Sultan that he could not obtain so much treasure by breaking the image, and that the proffered money would be very serviceable.  Mahmud replied, “I know this, but I desire that on the day of resurrection I should be summoned with the words, ‘where is the Mahmud who broke the greatest of the heathen idols’ rather than by these: ‘Where is that Mahmud who sold the greatest of the idols to the infidels for gold?’ ”  Then Mahmud demolished the image, he found in it so many superb jewels and rubies, that they amounted to, and even exceeded as hundred times the value of the ransom which had been offered to him by the Brahmans.

“According to the belief of the Hindus, all the other idols in India held the position of attendants and deputies of Somnat. Every night this idol was washed with ‘fresh’ water brought from the Ganges, although that river must be more than two hundred parasangs [p. 54] distant.  This river flows through the eastern part of India, and is held very sacred by the Hindus. They throw the bones of their dead into it.

“It is related in many authentic historical works that the revenue of ten thousand populated villages was set apart as an endowment for the expenses of the temple of Somnat, and more than one thousand Brahmans were always engaged in the worship of that idol.  There hung in this temple a golden chain which weighed two hundred Indian mans.  To this were attached numerous bells, and several persons were appointed whose duty it was to shake it at stated times during day and night, and summon the Brahmans to worship. Amongst the other attendants of this temple there were three hundred barbers appointed to shave the heads of the pilgrims.  There were also three hundred musicians and five hundred dancing-girls attached to it; and it was customary even for the kings and rajas of India to send their daughters for the service of the temple.  A salary was fixed for every one of the attendants, and it was duly and punctually paid.  On the occurrence of an eclipse multitudes of Hindus came to visit this temple from all parts of Hindustan. We are told by many historians that at every occurrence of this phenomenon there assembled more than two hundred thousand persons, bringing offerings.  It is said in the history of Ibn Asir and in that of Hafiz Abru that the room in which the idol of Somnat was placed was entirely dark, and that it was illumined by the refulgence of the jewels that adorned the candelabra.  In the treasury of this temple there were also found numberless small idols of gold and silver.  In short, besides what fell into the hands of his army from the plunder of the city, Mahmud obtained so much wealth in gold jewels, and other [p. 55] valuables from this temple, that no other king possessed anything equal to it.

“When Mahmud had concluded his expedition against Somnat, it was reported to him that Raja Bhim, chief of Nahrwara, who at the time of the late invasion had fled away, had now taken refuge in the fort of Kandama,1 which was by land forty parasangs distant from Somnat.  Mahmud immediately advanced towards that place,2 and when his victorious flags drew near the fort, it was found to be surrounded by much water, and there appeared no way of approaching it.  The Sultan ordered some divers to sound the depth of the water, and they pointed him out a place where it was fordable.  But at the same time they said that if the water (the tide) should rise at the time of their passing it would drown them all.  Mahmud, having taken the advice of religious persons, and depending upon the protection of the Almighty God, proceeded with his army, and plunged with his horse into the water.  He crossed over it in safety, and the chief of the fort having witnessed his intrepidity, fled away.  His whole property, with numerous prisoners, fell into the hands of the army of Islam. All men who were found in the fort were put to the sword.3

“After this conquest, Mahmud proceeded to invade the territory of the Bhatis, whose chief, being apprised of his intentions, proffered his obedience and submission. [p. 56] The king left him in possesstion of his dominions, and returned to his own capital of Ghaznin.” –Tarikh-i Alfi


  1. Firishta saysGandaba, which Briggs conceives to beGandavi.  Some copies read Khadaba or Khandava.  Ibn Asir has Kandahat, see Kamilu-t Tawarikh.  It is probably Khandadar in Kathiwar.
  2. The MS. I have used breaks off abruptly here.-Ed.
  3. The statements in this paragraph are taken from theRauzatu-s Safa.