Why did the Sultan of Ghazny attack Somnath Temple?

Many reasons have been given to explain the reason for the attack on the Somnath Temple by the Sultan of Ghazny. The Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan recently claimed that the Sultan attacked the temple in order to rescue Hindus from Brahmin oppression. It has also been suggested that the Sultan did not plunder the temple. What is the truth? I have posted below excerpts of a description of a Muslim historian of at least one attack. I leave it to the reader to decide the truth about the reason for the attack.

The celebrated temple of Somnat, situated in the province of Guzerat, near the island of Dew, was in those times said to abound in riches, and was greatly frequented by devotees from all part of Hindoostan. These infidels not only believed that souls after death went before Somnat, who transposed them into other bodies according to their merits in their former state, but also pretended that the ebb and flow of the tides represented the obeisance paid by the ocean to this shrine. Mahmood [Sultan of Ghiznevy] marched from Ghizny in the month of Shaban A.H. 415 (sept. A.D. 1024), with his army, accompanied by 30,000 of the youths of Toorkistan and the neighbouring countries, who followed him without pay, for the purpose of attacking this temple.

Somnat, which gives its name to the city, is situated on the sea-shore, and is to be seen in the district of Dew, now in the hands of Europeans [Portuguese]. Some historians affirm that the idol was brought from Mecca, where it stood before the time of the Prophet, but the Brahmins deny it, and say that it stood near the harbour of Dew since the time of Krishn, who was concealed in that place about 4000 years ago.

In the middle of the month of Rumzan, 415, (October 1024), the Mahomedan army reached the city of Mooltan; and as a great desert lay before them, the King gave orders for the troops to provide themselves with several days’ water and provisions, as also with provender for their horses, besides which, 20.000 camels laden with supplies. ….. Mahmood, taking the same precautions as before, by rapid marches reached Somnat without opposition. Here he saw a fortification on a narrow peninsula, washed on three sides by the sea, on the battlements of which appeared a vast host of people in arms, who, making a signal for a herald to approach, they proclaimed to him that their great idol, Somnat, had drawn the Mahomedans thither to blast them in a moment, and to avenge the destruction of the gods of India. In the morning, the Mahomedan troops advancing to the walls, began the assault. The battlements were in a short time cleared by the archers, and the Hindoos, astonished and dispirited, crowded into the temple, and prostrating themselves in tears before the idol, prayed for assistance. The Mahomedans, having seized this opportunity, applied their scaling ladders and mounted the walls, shouting aloud, “Alla Akbur!”. The Hindoos, urged by despair, returned to the defence of the works, and made so spirited a resistance, that the Mahomedans, unable to retain their footing, and wearied with fatigue, fell back on all sides, and were at length obliged to retire. Next morning the action was retired, but as fast the besiegers scaled the walls, so fast were they hurled down headlong by the besieged, who now seemed resolved to defend the place to the last. Thus the labours of the second day proved even more unsuccessful than those of the first. On the third day an army of idolaters having arrived to reinforce the garrison, presented itself in order of battle in sight of the Ghizny camp. Mahmood determined to prevent this attempt to raise this siege, and having ordered a party to keep the garrison in check, himself engaged the enemy in the field.

The battle raged with great fury: victory was long doubtful, till two Indian princes, Brahma Dew and Dabishleem, with other reinforcements, joined their countrymen during the action, and inspired them with fresh courage. Mahmood at this moment perceiving his troops to waver, leaped from his horse, and, prostrating before God implored his assistance. Then mounting again, he took Abool Hussun, the Circassian (one of his generals), by the hand, by way of encouragement, advanced on the enemy. At the same time he cheered his troops with such energy, that, ashamed to abandon their king, with whom they had so often fought and bled, they, with one accord, gave a loud shout and rushed forward. In this charge the Moslems broke through the enemy’s line, and laid 5000 Hindoos dead at their feet. The rout became general. ….Having now placed guards round the walls and at the gates, Mahmood entered Somnat accompanied by his sons and a few of his nobles and principal attendants. On approaching the temple, he saw a superb edifice built of hewn stone. Its lofty roof was supported by fifty-six pillars curiously,carved and set with precious stones. In the centre of the hall was Somnat, a stone idol, five yards in height, two of which were sunk in the ground. The King, approaching the image, raised his mace and struck of its nose. He ordered two pieces of the idol to be broken off and sent to Ghizny, that one might be thrown at the threshold of the public mosque, and the other at the court door of his new palace. These identical fragments are to this day (now 600 years ago) to be seen at Ghizny. Tow more fragments were reserved to be sent to Mecca and Medina. It is a well authenticated fact, that when Mahmood was thus employed in destroying this idol, a crowd of Brahmins petitioned his attendants, and offered a quantity of gold if te King would desist from further mutilation. His officers endeavoured to persuade him to accept the money; for they said that breaking one idol would not do away with idolatry altogether; that, therefore, it could serve no purpose to destroy the image entirely; but that a sum of money given in charity among true believers might be a meritorious act. The King acknowledged there might be reason in what they said, but replied, that if he would consent to such a measure, his name would be handed down to posterity as “Mahmood the idol-seller,” where as he was desirous of being known as “Mahmood the destroyer”; he therefore directed the troops to proceed in their work. The next blow broke open the belly of Somnat, which was hollow, and discovered a quantity of diamonds, rubies and pearls, of much greater value than the amount which the Brahmins had offered.


Among the spoils of the temple was a chain of gold, weighing 200 muns [400 pounds], which hung from the top of the building by a ring; it supported a great bell, which called the people to worship. Besides 2000 Brahmins, who officiated as priests, there belonged to the temple 500 dancing women, 300 musicians, and 300 barbers to shave the devotees before being admitted to the sanctum; …… Besides the great idol above mentioned, there were in the temple some thousands of small images, wrought in gold and silver, of various shapes and dimensions.

Mahmood, having secured the wealth of Somnat, prepared to chastise the Indian Prince Brahma Dew, the Raja of Nehrwala, who had assisted his countrymen during the siege, and who had cut off above 3000 of the faithful. ………

History of the Rise of the Mahomedan Power in India Till the Year 1612 A.D.

 Translated from the Original Persian of Mahomed Kasim Ferishta by John Briggs




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One Reply to “Why did the Sultan of Ghazny attack Somnath Temple?”

  1. M K Ferishta has not minced words and has given a factual account both of the purpose and the manner of the desecration and destruction venomously wrought on one of our holiest shrines by the Ghizny invader. Yet there are people who do not mind spinning benevolent tales about the heinous acts of intolerance, not only in Pakistan but even among our own intellectuals!

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