Trisha Shetty (Editor)

Umayyad campaigns in India

Updated on
Share on FacebookTweet on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on Reddit
Start date  738 AD
Location  Rajasthan
Umayyad campaigns in India

Result  Decisive Indian victory, Arab expansion checked
Similar  Battles of Tarain, Battle of Mandalgarh and Banas, Siege of Chittorgarh, Siege of Ranthambore, Tripartite Struggle of Later Anc

In the first half of the 8th century CE, a series of battles took place between the Umayyad Caliphate and the Indian kings to the east of the Indus river.


Subsequent to the Arab conquest of Sindh in 712 CE in what is today Pakistan, Arab armies engaged kings further east of the Indus. Between 724 and 810 CE, a series of battles took place between the Arabs and the north Indian Emperor Nagabhata I of the Gurjara-Pratihara dynasty, the south Indian Emperor Vikramaditya II of the Chalukya dynasty, and other small Indian kingdoms. In the north, Nagabhata of the Pratihara Dynasty defeated a major Arab expedition in Malwa. From the South, Vikramaditya II sent his general Pulakesi, who defeated the Arabs in Gujarat. Later in 776 CE, a naval expedition by the Arabs was defeated by the Saindhava naval fleet.

The Arab defeats led to an end of their eastward expansion, and later manifested in the overthrow of Arab rulers in Sindh itself and the establishment of indigenous Muslim Rajput dynasties (Soomras and Sammas) there.


After the reign of Emperor Harshavardhana, by the early 8th century, North India was divided into several kingdoms, small and large. The Northwest was controlled by the Kashmir-based Karkota dynasty, and the Hindu Shahis based in Kabul. Kanauj, the de facto capital of North India was held by Yashovarman, Northeast India was held by the Pala dynasty, and South India by the powerful Chalukyas. Western India was dominated by the Rai dynasty of Sindh, and several kingdoms of Gurjara clans, based at Bhinmal (Bhillamala), Mandor, Nandol-Broach (Nandipuri-Bharuch) and Ujjain. The last of these clans, who called themselves Pratiharas were to be the eventually dominating force. Altogether, the combined region of southern Rajasthan and northern Gujarat was called Gurjaratra (Gurjara country), before it got renamed to Rajputana in later medieval times. The Kathiawar peninsula was controlled by several small kingdoms dominated by Maitrakas at Vallabhi.

The third wave of military expansion of the Umayyad Caliphate lasted from 692 to 718 CE. The reign of Al-Walid I (705–715 CE) saw the most dramatic Marwanid Umayyad conquests, in a period of barely ten years, as North Africa, Spain, Transoxiana, and Sindh were subdued and colonised. Sindh, controlled by King Raja Dahir of the Rai dynasty, was captured by the Umayyad general Muhammad bin Qasim. While Sindh, now a second-level province of the Caliphate (iqlim) with capital Al Mansura, was a suitable base from where excursions into India could be launched, after bin Qasim's departure most of his captured territories were recaptured by the Indian kings.

During the reign of Yazid II (720 to 724 CE), the fourth expansion was launched to all the warring frontiers, including India. The campaign lasted from 720 to 740 CE. During Yazid's times, there was no significant check to the Arab expansion. However, the advent of Hisham ibn Abd al-Malik (r. 691–743 CE), the 10th Umayyad Caliph, saw a turn in the fortune of the Umayyads which resulted in eventual defeat on all the fronts and the complete halt of Arab expansionism. The hiatus from 740 to 750 CE due to military exhaustion, also saw the advent of the third of a series of civil wars, which resulted in the collapse of the Umayyad Caliphate.

Campaign by Muhammad bin Qasim (712–715)

Muhammad bin Qasim, an Umayyad general and the nephew of the governor of Iraq Al-Hajjaj, conquered Sindh in 712 CE. Then he marched up the Indus river and conquered all the territory up to Multan. After taking full control of Sindh, he wrote to `the kings of Hind' calling upon them to surrender and accept the faith of Islam. He dispatched a force against al-Baylaman (Bhinmal), which is said to have offered submission. The Mid people of Surast (Maitrakas of Vallabhi) also made peace. Bin Qasim then sent a cavalry of 10,000 to Kanauj, along with a decree from the Caliph. He himself went with an army to the prevailing frontier of Kashmir called panj-māhīyāt (in west Punjab). Nothing is known of the Kanauj expedition. The frontier of Kashmir might be what is referred to as al-Kiraj in later records (Kira kingdom in Kangra Valley, Himachal Pradesh), which was apparently subdued.

Bin Qasim was recalled in 715 CE and died en route. Al-Baladhuri writes that, upon his departure, the kings of al-Hind had come back to their kingdoms. The period of Caliph Umar II (r. 717–720) was relatively peaceful . During the caliphates of Yazid II (r. 720–724) and Hisham (r. 724–743), the expansion policy was resumed. Junayd ibn Abd ar-Rahman al-Murri (or Al Junayd) was appointed the governor of Sindh in 723 CE.

Campaign by Al Junayd (723–726)

After subduing Sindh, Junayd sent campaigns to various parts of India. The justification was that these parts had previously paid tribute to Bin Qasim but then stopped. The first target was al-Kiraj (possibly Kangra valley), whose conquest effectively put an end to the kingdom. A large campaign was carried out in Rajasthan which included Mermad (Maru-Mala, in Jaisalmer and north Jodhpur), al-Baylaman (Bhillamala or Bhinmal) and Jurz (Gurjara country—southern Rajasthan and north Gujarat). Another force was sent against Uzayn (Ujjain), which made incursions into its country (Avanti) and some parts of it were destroyed (the city of Baharimad, unidentified). Ujjain itself may not have been conquered. A separate force was also sent against al-Malibah (Malwa, to the east of Ujjain), but the outcome is not recorded.

Towards the North, Umayyads attempted to expand into Punjab but were defeated by Lalitaditya of Kashmir. Another force was dispatched south. It subdued Qassa (Kutch), al-Mandal (perhaps Okha), Dahnaj (unidentified), Surast (Saurashtra) and Barus or Barwas (Broach).

The kingdoms weakened or destroyed included the Bhattis of Jaisalmer, the Gurjaras of Bhinmal, the Mauryas of Chittor, the Guhilots of Mewar, the Kacchelas of Kutch, the Maitrakas of Saurashtra and Gurjaras of Nandipuri. Altogether, Al-Junayd might have conquered all of Gujarat, a large part of Rajasthan and some parts of Madhya Pradesh. Blankinship states that this was a full-scale invasion carried out with the intent of founding a new province of the Caliphate.

In 726 CE, the Caliphate replaced Al-Junayd by Tamim ibn Zayd ibn Hamal al-Qayni (Tamim) as the governor of Sindh. During the next few years, all of the gains made by Junayd were lost. The Arab records do not explain why, except to state that the Caliphate troops, drawn from distant lands such as Syria and Yemen, abandoned their posts in India and refused to go back. Blankinship admits the possibility that the Indians must have revolted, but thinks it more likely that the problems were internal to the Arab forces.

Governor Tamim is said to have fled Sindh and died en route. The Caliphate appointed al-Hakam ibn Awana al-Kalbi (Al-Hakam) in 731 who governed till 740.

Al-Hakam and Indian resistance (731–740)

Al-Hakam restored order to Sindh and Kutch and built secure fortifications at Al-Mahfuzah and Al-Mansur. He then proceeded to retake Indian kingdoms previously conquered by Al-Junayd. The Arab sources are silent on the details of the campaigns. However, several Indian sources record victories over the Arab forces.

The Gurjara king of Nandipuri, Jayabhata IV, documented, in an inscription dated to 736 CE, that he went to the aid of the king of Vallabhi and inflicted a crushing defeat on a Tājika (Arab) army. The Arabs then overran the kingdom of Jayabhata himself and proceeded on to Navsari in southern Gujarat. The Arab intention might have been to make inroads into South India. However, to the south of the Mahi River lay the powerful Chalukyan empire. The Chalukyan viceroy at Navsari, Avanijanashraya Pulakesi, decisively defeated the invading Arab forces as documented in a Navsari grant of 739 CE. The Tājika (Arab) army defeated was, according to the grant, one that had attacked "Kacchella, Saindhava, Saurashtra, Cavotaka, Maurya and Gurjara" kings. Pulakesi subsequently received the titles "Solid Pillar of Deccan" (Dakshināpatha-sādhāra) and the "Repeller of the Unrepellable" (Anivartaka-nivartayitr). The Rashtrakuta prince Dantidurga, who was subsidiary to Chalukyas at this time, also played an important role in the battle.

The kingdoms recorded in the Navsari grant are interpreted as follows: Kacchelas were the people of Kutch. The Saindhavas are thought to have been emigrants from Sindh, who presumably moved to Kathiawar after the Arab occupation of Sindh in 712 CE. Settling down in the norther tip of Kathiawar, they had a ruler by the name of Pushyadeva. The Cavotakas (also called Capotaka or Capa) were also associated with Kathiawar, with their capital at Anahilapataka. Saurashtra is south Kathiawar. The Mauryas and Gurjaras are open to interpretation. Blankinship takes them to be the Mauryas of Chittor and Gurjaras of Bhinmal whereas Baij Nath Puri takes them to be a subsidiary line of Mauryas based in Vallabhi and the Gurjaras of Broach under Jayabhata IV. In Puri's interpretation, this invasion of the Arab forces was limited to the southern parts of modern Gujarat with several small kingdoms, which got terminated when it reached the Chalukya empire.

Indications are that Al-Hakam was overstretched. An appeal for reinforcements from the Caliphate in 737 is recorded, with 600 men being sent, a surprisingly small contingent. Even this force was absorbed in its passage through Iraq for quelling a local rebellion. The defeat at the hands of Chalukyas is believed to have been a blow to the Arab forces with large costs in men and arms.

The weakened Arab forces were driven out by the subsidiaries of the erstwhile kings. The Guhilot prince Bappa Rawal (r. 734–753) drove out the Arabs who had put an end to the Maurya dynasty at Chittor. A Jain prabhanda mentions a king Nahada, who is said to have been the first ruler of his family at Jalor, near Bhinmal, and who came into conflict with a Muslim ruler whom he defeated. Nahada is identified with Nagabhata I (r. 730–760), the founder of the Gurjara Pratihara dynasty, which is believed to have started from the Jalor-Bhinmal area and spread to Avanti at Ujjain. The Gwalior inscription of the king Bhoja I, says that Nagabhata, the founder of the dynasty, defeated a powerful army of Valacha Mlecchas (foreigners called "Baluchs") around 725 CE. Even though many historians believe that Nagabhata repulsed Arab forces at Ujjain, there is no authentic information about where precisely he encountered them.

Baij Nath Puri states that the Arab campaigns to the east of Indus proved ineffective. However, they had the unintended effect of integrating the Indian kingdoms in Rajasthan and Gujarat. The Chalukyas extended their empire to the north after fighting off the Arabs successfully. Nagabhata I secured a firm position and laid the foundation for a new dynasty, which would rise to become the principal deterrent against Arab expansion. Blankinship also notes that Hakam's campaigns caused the creation of larger, more powerful kingdoms, which was inimical to the caliphate's interests. Al-Hakam died in battle in 740 CE while fighting the Meds of north Saurashtra (Maitrakas, probably under the control of Chalukyas at this time).


The death of Al-Hakam effectively ended the Arab presence to the east of Sindh. In the following years, the Arabs were preoccupied with controlling Sindh. They made occasional raids to the sea ports of Kathiawar to protect their trading routes but did not venture inland into Indian kingdoms. Dantidurga, the Rashtrakuta chief of Berar turned against his Chalukya overlords in 753 and became independent. The Gurjara-Pratiharas immediately to his north became his foes and the Arabs became his allies, due to the geographic logic as well as the economic interests of sea trade. The Pratiharas extended their influence throughout Gujarat and Rajasthan almost to the edge of the Indus river, but their push to become the central power of north India was repeatedly thwarted by the Rashtrakutas. This uneasy balance of power between the three powers lasted till the end of the caliphate.

List of major battles

The table below lists some of the major military conflicts during the Arab expeditions in Gujarat and Rajasthan.

( Color legend for victor)


Umayyad campaigns in India Wikipedia