Saturday, October 27, 2012

Hindu bravery

One hears it all too often: ‘Hindus are cowards, they only deserve what they are suffering.’ Mahatma Gandhi said it clearly enough: ‘The Muslim is a bully, the Hindu a coward.’

But Hindus are by no means cowards. Hindus as such have their problems, but lack of bravery is not one of them. Look at the Bangladesh war of 1971. The Pakistani Army was brave enough as long as its job consisted in raping Bengali women, but as soon as the Indian Army appeared on the scene, all they could do was to flee and to surrender. The Hindu-Sikh Army liberated the oppressed Muslims and the persecuted Hindus of Bangladesh. Or look at the Kargil war of 1999. Though the politicians forbade the Indian soldiers from taking the war into enemy territory by crossing the Pak border, the Indian Army besieged the Kargil mountain which the Pak invaders had taken, and reconquered it.

Let us look at the historical record. First off, the Vedas and the Hindu epics, like most ancient writings, extolled bravery. The Bhagavad-Gita also underpins its plea for bravery on the battlefield with a typically Hindu (at least very un-Christian and un-Islamic) philosophy, namely the belief in reincarnation. Cicero and Caesar had noted the Gallic men’s battlefield bravery and its connection to their belief in reincarnation. This was equally true of the Hindu warriors: they were not afraid of death.

Then, Hindus stopped Alexander the Great. To be sure, this is old history, we have a paucity of reliable sources about what really happened, and the map shows that Alexander’s soldiers were uniquely far from home and understandably unwilling to go farther even if they could. But fact is: the great Alexander was satisfied with the Iranian provinces of India’s frontier and declined to enter India proper. That was no mean achievement of the Hindus.

Then the Shakas, Kushanas and Hunas managed to gain a foothold in India’s Northwest. The Shakas were defeated, the Vikram calendar begins with this victory. These conquering foreigners were not fully expelled, but at least they were absorbed. There is no distinct Shaka, Kushana or Huna community today, much less do they demand minority privileges.

The Muslims entered Indian history with a naval attack north of present-day Mumbai in 636, only four years after Mohammed’s death. It was repelled. Then for half a century they sent a number of expeditions from Mesopotamia to Sindh. Each expedition was defeated. While conquering North Africa was a cakewalk, there was a Caliph who expressed his reluctance to send another army to Sindh, because those expeditions only cost the lives of so many good Muslims. But of course, if you keep trying, you will break through one day, so eventually, Mohammed bin Qasim occupied Sindh in 712. But even then, his successor was soon defeated.

Meanwhile, the Muslim armies conquered Central Asia and their next attack was through Afghanistan and the Khyber pass. Afghanistan was ruled by the Hindu Shahiya dynasty, which gave them a long-drawn-out fight. But towards the year 1000 the Muslims finally won through, and the Shahiya king killed himself when he found himself unable to defend his subjects. From Afghanistan, Mahmud Ghaznavi entered India proper for what his court chroniclers described as raids. In fact, he would have been happy enough to occupy India permanently, but the Hindus were still too strong for that.

But what the Hindus had in bravery, they lacked in alertness. They didn’t realize that Islam was a new type of enemy, much more difficult to digest than the earlier invaders. In the peripheral Kashmir region, the king acted “secular” and gave Muslims positions of power and confidence, which gave them the opportunity to take steps towards the Islamization of the region. This would be repeated many times, down to the present. Thus, the kings of the Vijayanagar empire showed off their broad-mindedness (now mistermed “secularism”) by hiring Muslim troops, only to find in the battle of Talikota that their Muslim armies defected to the Muslim opponent camp and inflicted defeat on their erstwhile Hindu overlord.

Meanwhile, Mahmud’s nephew Salar Mahmud Ghaznavi made a successful foray into the Ganga basin. The Hindu kings in the neighbourhood got together to stop him. Led by Sukhadeva and including the famous philosopher-king Raja Bhoja, they defeated Ghaznavi in the battle of Bahraich near Ayodhya in 1033. (It is a different matter that sentimental Hindu sleepwalkers of later years joined their Muslim neighbours in worshipping at Salar Masud Ghaznavi’s grave, not appreciating the bravery and foresight of the Hindu kings and soldiers who defeated him; there are certain things very wrong with the Hindu mentality, but again, lack of bravery is not among them.) For more than a century and a half, the people of the Ganga basin considered Islamic invasion a thing of the past.  

But then, the breakthrough came. It was not due to Hindu cowardice, but to Hindu magnanimity and overconfidence. A year after being defeated by Prithviraj Chauhan, who spared him, Mohammed Ghori did battle again and took his erstwhile victor captive. After blinding and executing Prithviraj, he and his generals conquered the entire Ganga plain, using newer battlefield strategies. From there, they would extend their power southwards to cover almost the whole subcontinent in due course. But for five centuries and a half, the Hindus had prevented this, while West Asia, North Africa and Spain had fallen within eighty years.

The age of Muslim expansion was again marked by endless Hindu resistance. Wise Muslim rulers opted for a compromise with this unbeatable foe (misinterpreted by secularists as “secularism”), but more zealous rulers depleted their forces in endless wars. In this endeavour, they were helped by a stream of West-Asian adventurers and African slave-soldiers who came to India to increase the Delhi Sultanate’s large standing armies. The Muslim states were totally geared to warfare, something unseen in Hindu history. For this reason, we can say with the comfort of hindsight that the Muslims could finally have conquered all of the subcontinent had they remained united. Even Hindu bravery could not have prevented it, any more than the brief acts of North-African bravery could stop the Islamization of North Africa. But fortunately, Muslim states or Muslim ethnic lobbies within a state also fought each other, which gave Hindus a chance to regroup and to mount another attack.

Also, some Hindu kings did what they thought best under the circumstances, viz. they surrendered without war, paid tribute, and retained sufficient autonomy to house rebels from other areas (like Guru Govind Singh’s asylum with the Hill Rajas) or become rebellious themselves once circumstances allowed this. It was important for a come-back to have these free territories (just like the reconquista of Spain was only possible because its Asturian region had managed to remain free since the beginning). Their collaboration was not cowardice but a ruse to gain time.

All the same, this meant that Hindus enlisted in the armed force of sagacious Muslim rulers. Akbar, who had consolidated his power by defeating the Hindu ruler Himu, was smart enough to keep enough of the Hindus on his side to overpower rival Muslim claimants and to fight Hindu  freedom fighters. Famously, the rebellious Rana Pratap was countered by Man Singh, who wielded the sword of the Moghul empire. Hindu bravery was employed by Muslim rulers.  

Finally, in the 17th century, a rebellious Shivaji, born in a family of collaborators, would arise and restore Hindu sovereignty. Where his Maratha army appeared, defeat of their enemies was a certainty. The Moghul empire became a mere shadow of its former self, while the military power rested with the Marathas. In 1817, the Peshwas, who had taken over the Maratha confederacy, were terminally defeated by the British. But again this was not for Hindus’ lack of bravery. They fought like lions, and on the other side, other Hindu divisions fought like lions for the British, who could conquer and rule India without doing too much fighting themselves.

 If something can be held against the Marathas and their Peshwa successors, it is not a lack of bravery or military prowess, but lack of proper ideological motivation. This is why they spilled their energies in predatory raids against other Hindu populations, it is why their leader prostrated before the powerless Moghul emperor in 1771, it is why some Peshwa descendents could be enticed into a Hindu-Muslim or Moghul-Maratha cooperation (which was really a case of mutual deception) in the Mutiny of 1857. They lapsed from Shivaji’s sense of mission as the liberator of the Hindus.

One constant for at least 8 centuries was that Hindus didn’t use their brains to update their warfare. They didn’t learn from their enemies’ successes. Also, they were sentimental and too overly attached to the person of their leader. They could bravely fight all they wanted, but if the leader was killed, there was no second person, much less a collective plan, to take his place. When you look at today’s Hindu politicians and internet warriors, you find exactly the same defects.

In a hostile sense too, Hindus are too focused on persons. They have wasted their energies attacking Sonia Gandhi and her family, and failed to dismantle the secularist dispensation established by her grandfather-in-law, Jawaharlal Nehru, and given a Marxist slant  by her mother-in-law, Indira Gandhi. They haven’t emulated the techniques by which the secularists, like the British of yore, exercise power totally out of proportion to their numbers. They haven’t figured out how to stop the phenomenon of “Hindus wielding the sword of Islam”, in which Akbar exulted, but which has become so commonplace under the guise of secularism. For that, an analysis of all the factors in the field is necessary. This is not too difficult, it only takes a normal degree of involvement and will. But so far, Hindus have not mustered the will to win.



Virendra said...

Respected Elst,

I am quoting below from the 13th paragraph of your blog post:
"Famously, the rebellious Rana Sanga was countered by Man Singh, who wielded the sword of the Moghul empire."
I believe it must be Rana Pratap and not Sanga. Can you please check again on your sources and correct this.


ramesh said...

Its a factual error. Also, salar masud's raid happened much before vijaynagar came into existence. Otherwise, a wonderful article. Sri Aurobindo had also noted that Hindu's suffered from -- among other things -- a meaningless "sentimentality." Not to mention a COMPLETE lack of political foresight. Despite centuries of Islamic tyranny and treachery, we still have instances of the Hindu queen of Bhopal getting involved with a Muslim adventurer who ultimately formed the Nawab state of Bhopal sometime in the 18th century, or the Hindu rajputs of Rampur (UP) loosing their kingdom to afghan muslims, again in the late mughal period etc. Hindus never learnt. Our survival is a combination of determined resistance and sheer bloody good luck, as Mr. Elst points out.

Vivek said...

Thanks for a very nice article Dr Elst. Just on the issue of Shivaji, I had to add something. In 1674, Shivaji was crowned as a Hindu monarch. However, no brahmin was there to coronate Shivaji. Therefore Shivaji had to send for Gagga Bhatta (the notable Brahmin from Benares) to falsely declare that Shivaji's ancestor's were truly Kshatriyas who descended from the solar line of the Ranas of Mewar. So I am not sure how the system of birth based varna was useful in this case. If they had their way, Shivaji would not be able to lead the way. It needed a story (like the story for Rajput acceptance into kshatriya caste) to work it out.

Capt. Ajit Vadakayil said...


i had penned a blog post , which you can read by punching into google search --


a white christian american vandalised the comments column , by alluding that hindus are cowards and PUSSIES.

forcing me to put a counter comment


about indians being PUSILLANIMOUS--

when you fight you get cuts and bruises with some dead.

when indians really get really pissed off --




capt ajit vadakayil

Rita Narayanan said...

Most of the extreme secular crowd are very highly educated, well networked persons-who no matter which desert they reside in shuttle between Stanford,Schumacher and India.

Hindus don't have a linguistic ethnic commonality and often the Hindu politicos cannot compete with the articulate & aesthetic crowd.

Democracy to me without a comprehensive base has sounded the death knell Hinduism.

partition has created more philosophical problems and not lessened the burden.

Most other faiths despite diversity have a sense of symmetry, whcih Hinduism lacks(due to the problems of social disintegration after 1947) which then results in too much diffusion without a mandala like schema.

Lakshmipriya palamadai Subramanian said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Ram Sekhar said...

Great article.

You alluded to certain things wrong with the Hindu mentality and also briefly expounded on issues with strategy in a couple of paragraphs.

Where do you trace them back to? The Vedas? Too many examples like Ashoka who shunned violence after the Kalinga war? What could it be ?

Most Indians in the current age blame Gandhi for it. Certainly, from the evidence that you present, it has to go much further back in history.

I have been struggling with this for a long time.

windwheel said...

I think Dr. Elst is pointing to Hindu valorization of 'balanced games'- i.e. courage is a virtue if the odds of success in battle are equal or in the other party's favor. From the soteriological point of view, I can't disagree but it is a bad military doctrine. A 'cowardly' general who refuses to attack except where he has the overwhelming advantage is actually a true hero of the Nation. An example is 1962- the Army wanted to fight where they had the advantage. For purely frivolous reasons they were forced to play into the enemy's hands. They may have shown gallantry but the outcome was a military debacle. What was truly shameful was Nehru's broadcast to Assam & NEFA abandoning them to their fate in an abject manner.

There is a big free-rider problem in Hinduism which arises from a 'jajmani' mentality. Let me give an example- the French Governor is nagged by his wife to pull down the Temple and the Mosque so the Cathedral's glory is unobstructed. The Muslims say 'over our dead body'- so the Governor spares the mosque. The priests of the temple go to the 'dubash', Ananda Ranga Pillai, and request his help. He refuses. He says 'look, you people constantly make extortionate demands. Once we give you something, instead of showing gratitude you just demand more and more without limit. Why should we help you?'. The priests quietly packed up their sacred idols and went off to set up somewhere else. If they were smart enough to get a powerful shebait (i.e. profit taking protector or Temple proprietor) then, no doubt, they would survive in their new location. Alternatively, if they had trained their own sons and retainers in martial arts, they could have posed a countervailing threat. However, the best course, viz. popular support- a big feature in building Maratha identity and power- through the pious devotion of Poet Saints is the best course.
Unfortunately, the comprador of dubash element will always be there. Some people from elite backgrounds will always feel that allying with the invader and denigrating the indigenous culture is a short-cut to power and influence.
There are plenty of professional 'Secularists' who use their ill gotten gains to pay big money for special ceremonies for themselves. The Communist or DMK or other 'Secularist' is notorious for jumping the queue at popular Temples and getting special 'bundobust' to satisfy their own selfish desires.
The fact is, whoever has ruled India has relied on Hindu bravery to bolster their power. In the case of the British, after 1857, they went to great lengths to preserve Religious identity of soldiers under their command. This continued even after 1947, in the case of the Gurkhas. Thus, the fact that Hindu Religion inculcates courage and martial qualities has been proved even by non-Hindu commanders. Indeed, when their Rule is under threat, either from within or without, even the 'Secularists' suddenly re-discover the ancestral religion.
Currently, Rahul Gandhi seems to have remembered that he is of Brahmin ancestry while Tarun Gogoi is laying stress on his parties greater reliance on Hindu votes in Upper Assam.
Bravery can be a handicap if it means only waiting till the odds are against you so that only extraordinary Courage can make up the deficit. What is required is the will to win based on the confidence that a better regime can be instituted such that everybody is won over.

ysv_rao said...

Most Indians in the current age blame Gandhi for it. Certainly, from the evidence that you present, it has to go much further back in history.

I have been struggling with this for a long time."

I dont think you need to go too further back.

In order to analyze Hindu bravery (or lack thereof) we have to see why indeed people are brave and feel the need to fight for their family,community and country.

Culture to a great degree dictates how warlike a people would be.This notion of warlike vs effeminate races is a load of horse manure.
Human being are malleable enough(but not as malleable as Marxists and other statists prefer them to be) to be either depending on the circumstance.

One important aspect of a fighting spirit is morale.Now for centuries even though Hindus have successfully fought off Muslim invaders and finally won back much of their land from the Muslims,their morale took a terrible beating.All those destruction of temples,slaughtering of priests,abduction and rape of women and children.The term "Hindu" becoming synonymous with slave in Central Asia as well the constant barrage of Hindu inferiority by the Muslim ruling elite takes its toll.
This was one of the reasons why the Marathas fail to declare themselves Hindu emperors when they annexed Delhi but ended up as vassals to Mughals and one Peshwa even kissed Bahadur Shahs feet!

Long story short-inspite of ultimate Hindu victory-there as enough Hindu defeats,degradations and humiliations over a millenia to work its magic on Hindu psyche.

The most pernicious I think were British who started the trend of considering Hindus cowardly and Muslims as brave.And their effectively ending the Mughal Empire was a serious PR error on part of the Hindus as the Marathas and Sikhs couldve finished off Bahadur Shah III themselves.
One is reminded of when the scoundrel and poser Charles De Gaulle wanted to enter Paris before the American troops even though he was more of a hindrance than help in the liberation of France according to Eisenhower.And yet due to symbolic display of victory, Charles De Gaulle's status remains unsullied in the eyes of the French to this day.

And the current Hindu is in a state of confusion and ignorance.Part of it is due to the secular misinformation and partly due to his own insular culture which forbids aggression and conflict and instead insists of bookish pursuits.

A part of Hindus admiration for Israel is that like Hindus ,Jews who were victims of Muslims and Christians were spat upon as a bookish and timid lot but built themselves in one of the worlds most macho and competent societies.

ysv_rao said...

Further forgot to add, look what happened to the courageous, expansionist Europeans who for 400 years dominated the world and fearlessly traversed across the globe perhaps not looking for trouble but enjoying it when they found it!

After WWI,their spirits of Continental Europeans were pretty much squashed and reverted to pacifism.Of course an exception to this Germany but it too was devastated by WWII and is now a peacenik.Ditto for Japan.

European militaries are a joke.Even the top notch ones.In Libya, what wouldnt have taken a week for Napolean or Welligton alone took 6 months for Britain and France and that too with U.S support!

U.S troops laugh at the beureacratic timidity of NATO warriors.

Hindus who feel bad about their supposed cowardice can console themselves that European militaries today will most likely not acquit themselves well against Indians

Vashisht Asrani said...

Great article overall, I was just saying this to a friend of mine a few months back. We were discussing India's history and the conquest by muslim invaders. And we agreed on pretty much what you have stated here. Hindu failures were not due to lack of bravery. We have had brave people in this great land since thousands of years. But the lack of political unity, foresight and planning. The lack of updating battle techniques and methods. These things were the flaws that enabled muslim armies who were ever ready to fight, to succeed. And how often have brave, worthy Hindu warriors been used against other hindus? Makes me shake my head in disgust, for instance the battle of haldighati where, as the Rajput clan allied with mughals (Raja Man Singh's army) fought Maharana Pratap's army, the Mughal commander said 'shoot at will, any one who dies is one less hindu'. Hindus need to give up the pandering, diplomatic secular crap. Should we treat minorities well? ofcourse! But should our hindu culture, heritage or rights be threatened, we need to unite and fight for them. The HINDU needs to WAKE UP and realise that the protection of the indigenous culture and traditions is in his/her hands and it needs to be protected with a firm, stern attitude (and to some extent in the hands of the sikhs, jains and buddhists too).

Table Les said...

In past, present and future whenever we talk about bravery, daring and country worship then always we remember some name like Maharana Pratap, Guru Gobind Singh Ji, Shivaji, Sambhaji, Prithviraj Chauhan, Bajirao, Mangal Pande, Chandra Shekhar Azad, Bhagat Singh and many more. All are Hindus and Sikhs. No single Muslim in list.
We don't need any certificate for proof our bravery.
Vande Matram

sr devraj said...

one of the best site... article was good. from hanuman chalisa team