“Medieval Period”, the period between Punjab’s ancient history and its early modern history, brought to the state multiple dynasties of diverse origins such as Arab and Iranian. Several significant eras occurred during this time period such as the Arab conquest, the Hindu Shahis, the Ghaznavids, and the Delhi Sultanate.
The Arab Conquest of Punjab
At the beginning of the 8th century CE, Arab armies of the Umayyad dynasty, the first great Muslim dynasty to rule the empire of the caliphate (an Islamic state) penetrated South Asia. A series of battles took place between the Umayyad Caliphate and the Indian kingdoms to the east of the Indus river. It was in the year 712 CE that the Umayyads conquered Sindh and parts of southern Punjab including Multan.
The Arab conquest of Sind is one of the most notable conquests that the Umayyad dynasty undertook. During Caliph Walid’s rule (705-715) when Hajjaj Bin Yousuf was the governor of the Eastern part of the Umayyad Empire, an army was sent to conquer Sindh. The conquest became easy because Makran (now the coastal region of Balochistan) was already under the Arabs which made the land route safe. Both Makran and Sindh were part of the Mauryan Empire during the period.
After this conquest, the Arabs set up their settlements in different parts of Sindh. New cities were founded, and social and cultural relations with the Arab world became strong. Various tribes like Jats, Meds, and Soomro, who were earlier nomads, converted to Islam and later on adopted agriculture as their profession, which made Sindh a prosperous region. However, the Arab rule remained confined only to Sindh and Arabs did not make any attempt to attack other parts of India.
The Umayyad rule was later replaced with the Abbasid rule, the third caliphate in 750 CE. However, soon in the mid 800s, Abbasid authority in Sindh weakened and five independent principalities emerged. In southern Punjab, the Banu Munnabih (also known as the Banu Sama), who claimed descent from one of the tribes of Prophet Muhammad came to rule Multan and established themselves here. The Banu Munnabih later gave allegiance to the Abbasid caliphate, and therefore remained unchallenged for over a century. Nevertheless, between 982–5 CE, the power of the Banu Munnabih began to erode, and consequently, Multan was conquered by the Fatimid caliphate, which was based in Egypt.
The Hindu Shahis in Punjab
After Punjab’s episode with several Arab conquests, the state, and its surrounding areas came under the control of the Hindu Shahis, also known as Kabul Shahis. The Shahis were a Hindu dynasty that held sway over the Kabul valley Gandhara, and western Punjab during the early medieval period in the Indian subcontinent.
In the mid 9th century, the Hindu Shahi dynasty supplanted the Buddhist Turk Shahi dynasty in Kabul (Afghanistan). The last Turk Shahi ruler, Lagaturman, is said to have been imprisoned by his Brahmin Vizier, Kallar, who went on to establish the Hindu Shahi dynasty.
In the beginning, Hindu Shahi rule extended from Kabul to the Chenab river in Punjab. However, king Kallar was displaced from there by the local Saffarid dynasty, a Persian dynasty. At the time, due to the ongoing conquests of the local Saffarids and an Iranian empire known as Samanids, the Hindu Shahis had to move from Kabul in 870 CE, later re-establishing their capital at Udabhandapura. The capital was retained at Udabhandapura until 1001 CE. Later, the Hindu Shahis shifted to Lahore, which served as the capital of Punjab during this time under King Anandapala of the empire.
The rule of Ghaznavid in Punjab
Nevertheless, stability didn’t last much longer for the Hindu Shahis. The Shahis came into conflict with the Ghaznavids, a Persianate Muslim dynasty that ruled over vast areas of Afghanistan, Iran, and the Northwest Indian subcontinent. In 977 CE, Sabuktigin, the Samanid governor of Ghazni, established an independent kingdom in western Afghanistan with Ghazni as its capital. The conflict of Hindu Shahis with the Ghaznavids led the former to form an alliance with Rajput rulers in Punjab to check the Ghaznavid expansion.
Sabuktigin’s son Mahmud of Ghazni succeeded his father in 997 CE and began a series of raids into northern India. In 1001 CE, the conflict between the Ghaznavids and the Hindu Shahis, at last, resulted in a battle. The Battle of Peshawar in Punjab was a deadly encounter between the Ghaznavid army and the Hindu Shahi ruler, Jayapala. It was the first of many major battles in the expansion of the Ghaznavid Empire into the Indian subcontinent by Mahmud of Ghazni.
The Ghaznavids defeated the Shahis and seized the latter’s territory north of the river Sindh. Ruler Jayapala’s son and grandson, Anandapala and Trilochanapala respectively, resisted Mahmud for another quarter of a century but by around 1021 CE the Ghaznavids controlled most of Punjab, including Multan which was taken over in 1006 CE. The Ghaznavids dynasty and Mahmud’s battles against the Hindu Shahi between 1001-1026 CE were significant in establishing Muslim political dominance in Punjab.
The Delhi Sultanate and Punjab
In 1173 CE, the Ghaznavids were replaced by the Ghurid dynasty, an Iranian origin empire in Punjab as well as in the rest of India. Muhammad Ghori, the Sultan of the Ghurid dynasty along with his brother Ghiyath-ad-Din Muhammad invaded India. Their first invasion was the conquest of Multan and Punjab in 1175 CE, after which they advanced towards Delhi. It was in 1186 CE, Ghori along with Ghiyath, ended the Ghaznavid dynasty after having captured Lahore, the Ghaznavid capital, and executed the Ghaznavid ruler Khusrau-Malik.
This Ghurid dynasty was the initiation of a significant period in Indian history, known as the Delhi Sultanate (1206-1526 CE). A total of five dynasties existed, the Slave/Ghurid dynasty (1206-90), Khilji dynasty (1290-1320), Tughlaq dynasty (1320-1413), Sayyid dynasty (1414-51), and Lodhi dynasty (1451-1526). Although it majorly was limited to Delhi and its surroundings, Punjab and its region also saw their own fair share of conquests and impact under them. The Tughlaq dynasty was founded by Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq, the governor of Punjab during Ala-ud-Din-Khilji’s reign. After the Tughlaq’s, under the Sayyid dynasty, Punjab, Dipalpur, and parts of Sindh came under the rule of the Sultanates. The rule of the Sayyid dynasty was characterized by frequent revolts by the Hindus of the various Punjabi doabs.
On this account, the medieval period in Punjab’s history brought multiple foreign dynasties to the state, which clearly amounts to the diversity and richness we see in Punjab today.
Also Read: History of Punjab: 550 BCE – 185 BCE