Asaru-l Bilad 

Asaru-l Bilad of Zakari’ya Al Kazwini (b. in Kazwin, Persia; written c. 1270 CE)
In 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. 10, pp.129-136.

  1. Overview

The full title of this work is Asaru-l Bilad wa Akhbaru-l’ Ibad, “Monuments of Countries and Memoirs of Men.”  It was written by Zakariya bin Muhammad bin Mahmud, Al Kazwini.  He is named after the town of Kazwin or Kazbin where he was born.  He is also the author of the work ‘Ajaibu-l Makhlukat wa Gharaibu-l Maujudat, “Wonders of Things Created and Marvels of Existing Things”.

It is generally considered that Zakariya was not a traveler, but relied on the works of others, such as Istakhri, Ibn Haukal and others, whom he regularly cites as his authorities.  His works were written just after the middle of the thirteenth century, in 661 H. (1263 CE) according to Casiri, or in 674 H. (1275 CE) according to Haji Khalfa.  He was known as the “Pliny of the East”, due to the wide range of material covered in his work.  The excerpt here is translated from a privately held manuscript.

Zakariya, in his Asaru-l Bilad, wrote a significant amount about major sites India, including the city/temple complex of Somnat, relaying as usual upon earlier works.  He describes here the raid of Sultan Mahmud upon Somnath, his last and best known raid undertaken in December 1023 CE, with the fort taken in 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.

  1. Excerpt

[bottom p. 133]

SOMNAT.  A 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 honour among the Hindus, and whoever beheld it floating in the air was struck with amazement, whether he was a Musulman 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 [p. 134] 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.  They used to bring the water of this river to Somnat every day, and wash the temple with it.  A thousand brahmans 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, but was lighted by jewelled chandeliers of great value.  Near it was a chain of gold weighing 200 mans.  When a portion (watch) of the night closed, this chain used to be shaken like bells to rouse a fresh lot of brahmans to perform worship.  When the Sultan Yaminu-d Daula Mahmud bin Subuktigin 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.  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 then issue forth to battle and fight till all were killed.  The number of the 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 [p. 135] exceeded twenty thousand thousand 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 proper 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 skilfully contrived that the magnet should not exercise a greater force on anyone 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.