Kurukshetra, Part Four

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BY: SUN STAFF - 20.12 2018

Akbar Watches the Rival Groups of Sannyasis in Battle at Thanesar 
Mughal, North India, c. 1590

From "A Tour in the Punjab", a report by Alexander Cunningham, published in Calcutta (1882) for the Archaeological Survey of India.

After the capture of Thanesar by Mahmud of Ghazni and the destruction of the famous shrine of Vishnu called Chakra Swami, the only mention that I can find of the place for several centuries is the recovery by the Raja of Delhi in A.D. 1043, during the reign of Modud, after which it probably remained in the hands of the Hindus until after the final battle between Prithi Rij and Muhammad Bin-Sam, when the forts of Sarsuti, Samina, Kohram, and Hansi submitted to the conquerors.

This took place in A.H. 588, or A.D. 1192, and from that date down to the time of Sikandar Lodi, I have not been able to find any notice of Thanesar or Kurukhet. It was no doubt completely ruined by the early Muhammadan kings, and I see no reason to doubt the statement of the Hindu Mahatmyas, that it remained desolate for several centuries. It must, however, have been restored before the time of Sikandar Lodi, as that bigoted Prince proposed during his father's life-time to make a raid upon Thanesar for the purpose of putting to death all the pilgrims who had assembled to bathe at Kurukhet. The story related in the Tarikh-i-Daudi is as follows:

"Before his accession, when a crowd of Hindus had assembled in immense numbers at Kurukhet, he wished to go to Thanesar for the purpose of putting them all to death. One of his courtiers represented to him that it would be better to consult the learned before doing this. Sultan Sikandar caused the doctors to assemble and questioned the chief of them, whose name was Mian Abdulla, of Ajodhan.

This Maliku-l-Ulama asked the king what there was in that place (Thanesar). He replied: 'There is a tank in which all the infidels are accustomed to bathe.' The Maliku-1-Ulama said: 'Since when have they been in the habit of doing so? ' Nizam Khan replied that it was an ancient custom. Mian Abdulla asked what the Muhammadan sovereigns who had preceded him had been in the habit of doing. The Sultan answered that up to this time they had left the Hindus unmolested. The Maliku-1-Ulama then assured the king that it would be very improper for him to destroy an ancient idol-temple, and that he ought not to forbid the accustomed rite of performing their ablutions in the tank.

When this conversation had lasted a short time, the Sultan placed his hand on his dagger, and exclaimed: "You side with infidels. I will first put an end to you, and then massacre the infidels at Kurukhet!' Mian Abdulla said: 'Every one's life is in the hand of God — no one can die without His command: whoever enters the presence of a tyrant must beforehand prepare himself for death, let what may happen ! When you asked me, I gave you an answer in conformity with the precepts of the Prophet; if you have no reverence for them, what is the use of inquiring?'

Sultan Sikandar's wrath was slightly appeased, and he said: 'If you had permitted me to do this, many thousands of Musalmans would have been placed in easy circumstances by it.'" [1]

Here we have the Muhammadan doctrines of the propagation of religion and the plunder of infidels, or God and Mammon joined together in the most naked and unblushing way.

From that time down to the reign of Akbar, the holy field of Kurukshetra was frequented by thousands of pilgrims from all parts of India. According to Abul Fazl, Thanesar then possessed a brick fort; and a very curious account is given in the Tabakat-i-Akbari of the assemblage of pilgrims on the bank of the lake in A.H. 974, or A.D. 1567. [2]

"When the Emperor arrived at Thanesar, there was an assemblage of Jogis and Sannyasis on the banks of a lake called Kurukhet. This is a sacred place of the Brahmans, and on occasion of eclipses the people of Hindustan flock thither from all parts to bathe. There was a great assemblage there on this occasion, and the people were bestowing their gifts of gold and silver, and jewels and stuffs, upon the Brahmans. Many of them threw themselves into the water, and the Jogis and Sannyasis were gathering a rich harvest from their charity.

In consequence of a feud which existed between these two sects, they came to the Emperor, seeking permission to settle it by fighting. The Sannyasis were between 200 and 300 in number, and the Jogis, who wear only rags, were over 500, When the adversaries stood ready to begin the fray, by the Emperor's order some soldiers smeared their persons with ashes, and went to support the Sannyasis, who were the weaker party. A fierce fight ensued, and many were killed. The Emperor greatly enjoyed the sight. At length the Jogis were defeated, and the Sannyasis were victors."

At a later date the holy shrines of Kurukshetra are said to have been desecrated by order of Aurangzeb, who built a castle on the island in the lake called Mughalpara, from which his soldiers could fire upon any venturesome pilgrims who came to bathe. But with the decline of the Mughal empire, and the ascendancy of the Sikhs, many of the old shrines have been restored, and new shrines have been built, to which thousands of pilgrims resort at all times of the year. But the great gatherings take place at the time of eclipses. One of these I witnessed on the 22nd March 1879, when the roads leading to Thanesar were thronged with people just like the streets of a city.

 

FOOTNOTES:

[1] Elliot's Muhammadan Historians, by Dowson, Vol. IV, pp. 439-40

[2] Idem, Vol. V, p. 318