SWAT VALLEY AND THE CURSE OF GOD UPON IT.
Date: 19 May 2009
Swat Valley: A Paradise Lost
Swat valley in the North-Western part of the Indian-subcontinent (within the present day Pakistan ) was predominantly a Buddhist area that was famous for its natural beauty. Indeed, the ancient name for the valley is Udyana (garden in Sanskrit). It is a valley that was blessed by none other than The Enlightened One himself. It is said that one can see Buddha's footprint in Swat as well as the rock on which he dried his clothes. Swat valley was an important stop for Buddhist monks travelling from Nalanda (the famous university in Bihar) to the silk route in central Asia . Just before the Islamic invasion, it is estimated that there were around 500 monasteries with more than 6,000 golden images of Buddha in the Swat valley.
Swat was ruled by both Hindu and Buddhist kings until the beginning of 11th century. By that time, Islam had conquered Afghanistan and had destroyed Hindu-Buddhist places of worship all over Afghanistan . Having annihilated the political power centers of infidel rulers in Afghan highlands, it was now time for the ruler of Afghanistan, Mahmud of Ghazni, to turn his attention on India . His intentions were two fold. His first goal was material gain as he was attracted to the fabled riches of India .. His second goal was, however, spiritual. As a devout Muslim, he was determined to destroy Hindu and Jain temples and Buddhist monasteries that worshipped "idols". After all, idolatry was considered an affront to God in Middle Eastern religions and Islamic rulers considered Hindu temples and Buddhist monasteries as symbols of "false" religions.
["So when the sacred months have passed away, then slay the idolaters wherever you find them, and take them captives and besiege them and lie in wait for them in every ambush, then if they repent and keep up prayer and pay the poor-rate, leave their way free to them; surely Allah is Forgiving, Merciful" - Holy Quran, Sura 9.5].
Over the next two decades Mahmud of Ghazni, a holy warrior par excellence, raided India countless times, destroying magnificent temples and monasteries. One of his early conquests was the Swat valley, and the entire Swat valley was soon converted into a Muslim region. Non-Muslims were either killed or forced to submit to the will of Allah, Most Gracious and Most Merciful.
Mahmud´s subsequent military expeditions into the Indian heartland destroyed numerous Hindu and Jain temples in Multan , Kanauj, Varanasi , Ujjain , and Dwaraka. But his most famous act was the destruction of Lord Shiva´s temple in Somnath. An account of that fateful day is recorded by a thirteenth century Arab scholar Al Kazwini.
[Somnath: celebrated city of India , situated on the shore of the sea, and washed by its waves. Among the wonders of that place was the temple in which was placed the idol called Somnat. This idol was in the middle of the temple without anything to support it from below, or to suspend it from above. It was held in the highest honor among the Hindus, and whoever beheld it floating in the air was struck with amazement, whether he was a Musulman (Muslims) or an infidel. The Hindus used to go on pilgrimage to it whenever there was an eclipse of the moon, and would then assemble there to the number of more than a hundred thousand. They believed that the souls of men used to meet there after separation from the body, and that the idol used to incorporate them at its pleasure in other bodies, in accordance with their doctrine of transmigration. The ebb and flow of the tide was considered to be the worship paid to the idol by the sea. Everything of the most
precious was brought there as offerings, and the temple was endowed with more than 10,000 villages. There is a river (the Ganges ) which is held sacred, between which and Somnat the distance is 200 parasangs (approximately 400 miles). They used to bring the water of this river to Somnat every day, and wash the temple with it. A thousand Brahmins were employed in worshipping the idol and attending on the visitors, and 500 damsels sung and danced at the door-all these were maintained upon the endowments of the temple. The edifice was built upon fifty-six pillars of teak, covered with lead. The shrine of the idol was dark that was lighted by jeweled chandeliers of great value. Near it was a chain of gold weighing 200 mans (around 8,000 pounds). When a portion (watch) of the night closed, this chain used to be shaken like bells to rouse a fresh lot of Brahmins to perform worship.
When the Sultan Yaminu-d Daula Mahmud Bin Subuktigin (official name for Mahmud of Ghazni) went to wage religious war against India , he made great efforts to capture and destroy Somnat, in the hope that the Hindus would then become Muhammadans (Muslims). He arrived there in the middle of Zi-l k´ada, 416 A.H. (December, 1025 A.D.).
The Indians made a desperate resistance. They would go weeping and crying for help into the temple and issue forth to battle and fight till all were killed. The number slain exceeded 50,000.
The king looked upon the idol with wonder, and gave orders for the seizing of the spoil, and the appropriation of the treasures. There were many idols of gold and silver and vessels set with jewels, all of which had been sent there by the greatest personages in India . The value of the things found in the temples of the idols exceeded twenty thousand thousand (million) dinars. When the king asked his companions what they had to say about the marvel of the idol, and of its staying in the air without prop or support, several maintained that it was upheld by some hidden support. The king directed a person to go and feel all around and above and below it with a spear, which he did but met with no obstacle. One of the attendants then stated his opinion that the canopy was made of loadstone, and the idol of iron, and that the ingenious builder had skillfully contrived that the magnet should not exercise a great force on any one side - hence the idol was
suspended in the middle. Some coincided others differed. Permission was obtained from the Sultan to remove some stones from the top of the canopy to settle the point. When two stones were removed from the summit the idol swerved on one side, when more were taken away it inclined still further, until at last it rested on the ground.]
After reading Al Kazwani´s narrative, a troubling set of questions arise within the human conscience. What good did all these holy wars bring Afghanistan or the province of Ghazni ? Did all the riches that were looted from India bring any long term good for those holy warriors and their descendants? Sadly, holy wars are nothing but genocides that are sanctioned by the religion. There is nothing to be gained either material, or spiritual, from these acts of terror. Indeed, the province of Ghazni is the ultimate proof of travesty of holy wars. Present day Ghazni is an impoverished province with constant battles raging between the Taliban and the NATO forces. It is a land where schools are constantly attacked by the Taliban holy warriors with women and children fearing for their lives day in and day out.
It is interesting to note that every time the Somnath Temple was destroyed Hindus would rebuild the temple only to be destroyed by another Muslim ruler. The last ruler to destroy the rebuilt temple was Aurangzeb, the sixth Mughal Emperor. The present day Somnath Temple structure was rebuilt from those ruins and opened in 1951. Dr. Rajendra Prasad, the first President of India, who took part in the opening ceremony of the new temple said, "The Somnath Temple signifies that the power of creation is always greater than the power of destruction. "
Today, Swat Valley is being terrorized by the descendents of Mahmud under the all familiar banner of Taliban. Armed with a "peace" deal with the Government of Pakistan, Taliban has established the Sharia Law in the valley. There is considerable angst among world powers including US that this is a prelude to Taliban overtaking Pakistan . It is only a matter of time before India along with the rest of the world will be facing a nuclear-armed Mahmud of Ghazni and his holy warriors.
But there is always hope. A hope that some day human race will rise above the absurdity of holy wars.