Tabakat-i Akbari by Nizamu-d din Ahmad
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 Tabakat-i Akbari, “The Annals of Akbar”, is also known as Akbar Shâhî and Târîkh-i Nizâmi (“Nizâm’s History”) is a history of India down to the 39th year of Akbar’s reign, i.e. 1002 H. (1593-4 CE).  It narrates external historical events and ignores complex issues such as Akbar’s religious explorations.  It is generally considered reliable, although its chronology is defective with regard to Akbar’s reign, in which there is confusion between the regnal and Hijrî years.   Later historians such as Firishta used it as a source.

The book was composed by Khwâja Nizâmu-d dîn Ahmad.  He held the high office of First Bakhshî under Akbar, and died at Lahore in October 1594, the same year the book was completed.

The topic of the excerpt cited here is Sultan Mahmud’s raids of Kanauj and Mathura, conducted during 409 H., i.e. during the fall of 1018 CE.  This is the twelfth of his sixteen major raids into India.  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.  Ghaznivite 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.

The event described in this excerpt, Sultan Mahmud’s raid on Kanauj and Mathurâ, commensed when Sultan Mahmud crossed the Jumna on 2 December 1018.  He first attacked the fort of Baran, whose king, Haridatta, submitted.  He then proceeded to Mathurâ, which was abandoned and which he sacked.  In January 1019 CE he approached capital city of Kanauj.  The king of Kanauj, Râjyapâla Pratihâra, retreated and left the city undefended.  Mahmud captured in one day the seven forts which guarded the city, and proceeded to sack the city.  He retreated then to Ghaznî with a huge spoil and over fifty thousand captives.

  1. Excerpt

Twelfth Expedition – Kanauj, Mathura
[bottom p. 38]

“In A.H. 409, Sultan Mahmud marched at the head of his army with the resolution of conquering the kingdom of Kanauj. When, having crossed seven dreadful rivers, he reached the confines of that kingdom, the governor of the place, whose name was Kora, submitted to him, sought his protection, and sent his presents.

“The Sultan then arrived at the fort of Barna. The governor, whose name was Hardat, left the fort [p. 39] under the care of his tribe and relations, and sought to conceal himself elsewhere.  The garrison, finding themselves unable to defend the fort, capitulated in a few days, agreeing to pay a thousand times a thousand (1,000,000) dirhams, which is equal to 250,000 rupees and also to present him with thirty elephants.

“The Sultan marched thence to the fort of Mahawan, on the banks of the river Jumna.  The chief of the place, whose name was Kulchandar, mounted his elephant with the intention of crossing over the stream and flying away, but the Sultan’s army pursued, and when they approached him he killed himself with his dagger.

“To live in the power of an enemy
Is much worse than to die.”

“The fort was captured, and eighty-five elephants, besides much other booty, fell into the hands of the victors.

“Proceeding from this place, the king arrived at Mathura, which was a very large city full of magnificent temples. It is the birth-place of Krishn (or) Basdeo, whom the Hindus venerate as an incarnation of God.  When the Sultan reached the city no one came out to opposed him.  The Sultan’s army plundered the whole city and set fire to the temples. They took immense booty, and by the Sultan’s order they broke up a golden image which was ninety-eight thousand three hundred miskals in weight; and there was also found a sapphire weighing four hundred and fifty miskals.

“It is said that Chandar Rai, who was one of the, Rajas of Hindustan, possessed a very powerful and famous elephant. The Sultan desired to purchase it at a very large price, but could not get it. When the [p. 40] Sultan was returning from Kanauj, this elephant one night broke away from the other elephants, and went’ without any driver to the Sultan’s camp, who took it, and being much pleased, he called it Khudadad (the gift of God).

“When he returned to Ghaznin, he had the value of the spoil counted.  It was found to consist of 20,000,000 dirhams, 53,000 captives, and 350 elephants.” -Tabakat-i Akbari.