Noted historian Sita Ram Goel did pioneering work by bringing out a two volume publication “Hindu Temples: What happened to them(Vol.I and Vol.II)”. Both the volumes chronicle the destruction of Hindu temples over the last 1200 years. Here are excerpts from Volume I:-
“Some Historical Questions
Why did Islamic invaders continue to destroy Hindu temples and desecrate the idols of Hindu Gods and
Goddesses throughout the period of their domination? Why did they raise mosques on sites occupied earlier
by Hindu places of worship? These questions were asked by Hindu scholars in modern times after the
terror of Islam had ceased and could no more seal their lips.
In India – and in India alone – two explanations have come forth. One is provided by the theology of Islam
based on the Quran and the Sunnah of the Prophet. The other has been proposed by Marxist professors and
lapped up by apologists of Islam. We shall take up the second explanation first.
The credit for pioneering the Marxist proposition about destruction of Hindu temples goes to the late
Professor Mohammed Habib of the Aligarh Muslim University. In his book, Sultan Mahmud of Ghaznin,
first published in 1924, he presented the thesis that Mahmud’s destruction of Hindu temples was actuated
not by zeal for the faith but by lust for plunder. According to him, India at that time was bursting with
vast hoards of gold and silver accumulated down the ages from rich mines and a prosperous export trade.
Most of the wealth, he said without providing any proof, was concentrated in temple treasuries. “It was
impossible”, wrote the professor, “that the Indian temples should not sooner or later tempt some one
strong and unscrupulous enough for the impious deed. Nor was it expected that a man of Mahmud’s
character would allow the tolerance which Islam inculcates to restrain him from taking possession of the
gold, when the Indians themselves had simplified his work by concentrating the wealth of the country at a
few places.” (p. 82).
Professor Habib did not hide any of the salient facts regarding destruction of Hindu temples by Mahmud,
though the descriptions he gave were brief, sometimes only in footnotes. He also narrated how
Mahmud’s exploits were celebrated at Baghdad by the Caliph and the populace and how the hero was
compared to the companions of the Prophet who had achieved similar victories in Arabia, Syria, Iraq and
Iran. Only the conclusion he drew was radically different from that drawn by Mahmud’s contemporaries
as well as latter-day historians and theologians of Islam. “Islam,” he wrote, “sanctioned neither the
vandalism nor the plundering motives of the invader; no principle of the Shariat justifies the uncalled for
attack on Hindu princes who had done Mahmud and his subjects no harm; the wanton destruction of places
of worship is condemned by the law of every creed. And yet Islam, though it was not an inspiring motive
could be utilised as an a posteriors justification for what was done. So the precepts of the Quran were
misinterpreted or ignored and the tolerant policy of the Second Caliph was cast aside in order that Mahmud
and his myrmidons may be able to plunder Hindu temples with a clear and untroubled conscience.” (Pp.
83-84, Emphasis in source).
This proposition of Mahmud’s guilt and Islam’s innocence appealed to the architect of India’s
secularism, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. In a letter dated June 1, 1932, he wrote to his daughter, Indira
Gandhi, that “Mahmud was hardly a religious man”, that he was “a Mohammedan of course, but that
was by the way” and that Mahmud would have done what he did “to whatever religion he might have
belonged.” (Glimpses of World History, 1982 Reprint, p. 155). In fact, Pandit Nehru went much farther
than Professor Habib. The latter had written how Mahmud gave orders to burn down thousands of temples
at Mathura after he had admired their architectural excellence. Pandit Nehru narrated how Mahmud
admired the temples but omitted the fact that they were destroyed by him (Ibid., Pp. 155-156). Thus a
determined destroyer of Hindu temples was transformed into an ardent admirer of Hindu architecture! This
portrayal of Mahmud remained unchanged in his Discovery of India which was published in 1946 (1982
Reprint, p. 235).
In days to come, Professor Habib’s thesis that lust for plunder and not the Islamic theology of iconoclasm
occasioned the destruction of Hindu temples, became the party line for Marxist historians who, in due
course, came to control all institutions concerned with researching, writing and teaching of Indian history.
This was extended to cover all acts of Muslim iconoclasm in medieval Indian history. It became a crime
against secularism and national integration even to mention Islam or its theology in this context. Any
historian who dared cite facts recorded by medieval Muslim historians was denounced as a “Hindu
communalist.” Three Marxist professors wrote a book attacking Dr. R.C. Majumdar in particular, simply
because the great historian was not prepared to sacrifice truth at the altar of Communist politics. The book
was printed by a Communist publishing house and prescribed for graduate and post-graduate courses in
What was more, the Marxist professors discovered a political motive as well. Hindu temples were seen as
centres of political conspiracies which Muslim sultans were forced to suppress. And if the temples got
destroyed in the process, no blame could be laid at the door of the sultans who were working hard in the
interest of public order and peace. In a letter published in the Times of India on October 21, 1985, twelve
Marxist professors rallied in defence of Aurangzeb who had destroyed the Keshavdeva temple at Mathura
and raised an Idgah in its place. “The Dera Keshava Rai temple,” they wrote, “was built by Raja Bir
Singh Bundela in the reign of Jahangir. This large temple soon became extremely popular and acquired
considerable wealth. Aurangzeb had this temple destroyed, took its wealth as booty and built an Idgah on
the site. His action might have been politically motivated as well, for at the time when the temple was
destroyed he faced problems with the Bundelas as well as Jat rebellion in the Mathura region.”
The climax was reached when the same Marxist professors started explaining away Islamic iconoclasm in
terms of what they described as Hindu destruction of Buddhist and Jain places of worship. They have
never been able to cite more than half-a-dozen cases of doubtful veracity. A few passages in Sanskrit
literature coupled with speculations about some archaeological sites have sufficed for floating the story,
sold ad nauseam in the popular press, that Hindus destroyed Buddhist and Jain temples on a large scale.
Half-a-dozen have become thousands and then hundreds of thousands in the frenzied imagination suffering
from a deep-seated anti-Hindu animus. Lately, they have added to the list the destruction of “animist
shrines” from pre-Hindu India, whatever that means. And these “facts” have been presented with a
large dose ofsuppressio veri suggestio falsi. A few instances will illustrate the point.
A very late Buddhist book from Sri Lanka accuses Pushyamitra Sunga, a second century B.C. king, of
offering prizes to those who brought to him heads of Buddhist monks. This single reference has sufficed
for presenting Pushyamitra as the harbinger of a “Brahmanical reaction” which “culminated in the age
of the Guptas.” The fact that the famous Buddhist stupas and monasteries at Bharhut and Sanchi were
built and thrived under the very nose of Pushyamitra is never mentioned. Nor is the fact that the Gupta
kings and queens built and endowed many Buddhist monasteries at Bodh Gaya, Nalanda and Sarnath
among many other places.
A Pandyan king of Madura is reported to have been a persecutor of Jains. This is mentioned in a book of
the Saiva faith to which he belonged. But the source also says that before becoming a convert to Saivism,
the king was a devout Jain and had persecuted the Saivites. This part of the story is never mentioned by the
Marxist professors while they bewail the persecution of Jains.
According to the Rajatarirgini of Kalhana, King Harsha of Kashmir plundered Hindu and Buddhist temples
in his lust for the gold and silver which went into the making of idols. This fact is played up by the Marxist
professors with great fanfare. But they never mention Kalhan’s comment that in doing what he did
Harsha “acted like a Turushka (Muslim)” and was “prompted by the Turushkas in his employ.”
This placing of Hindu kings on par with Muslim invaders in the context of iconoclasm suffers from serious
shortcomings. Firstly, it lacks all sense of proportion when it tries to explain away the destruction of
hundreds of thousands of Brahmanical, Buddhist and Jain temples by Islamic invaders in terms of the
doubtful destruction of a few Buddhist and Jain shrines by Hindu kings. Secondly, it has yet to produce
evidence that Hindus ever had a theology of iconoclasm which made this practice a permanent part of
Hinduism. Isolated acts by a few fanatics whom no Hindu historian or pandit has ever admired, cannot
explain away a full-fledged theology which inspired Islamic iconoclasm. Lastly, it speaks rather poorly of
Marxist ethics which seems to say that one wrong can be explained away in terms of another.1
Coming to the economic and political motives for the destruction of Hindu temples, it does not need an
extraordinary imagination to see that the Marxist thesis is contrived and farfetched, if not downright
ridiculous. It does not explain even a fraction of the facts relating to the destruction of Hindu temples as
known from literary and archaeological sources. Even if we grant that Hindu temples in India continued to
be rich and centres of political unrest for more than a thousand years, it defies understanding why they
alone were singled out for plunder and destruction. There was no dearth of Muslim places of worship
which were far richer and greater centres of conspiracy. The desecration of Hindu idols and raising of
mosques on temple sites is impossible to explain in terms of any economic or political motive whatsoever.
Small wonder that the Marxist thesis ends by inventing facts instead of explaining them.
Professor Habib cannot be accused of ignorance about the theology or history of Islam. The most that can
be said in his defence is that he was trying to salvage Islam by sacrificing Mahmud of Ghaznin who had
become the greatest symbol of Islamic intolerance in the Indian context. One wonders whether he
anticipated the consequences of extending his logic to subsequent sultans of medieval India. The result has
been disastrous for Islam. In the process, it has been reduced to a convenient cover for plunder and
brigandage. The heroes of Islam in India have been converted into bandits and vandals.
It is amazing that apologists of Islam in India have plumped for Professor Habib’s thesis as elaborated by
succeeding Marxist scribes. They would have rendered service to Islam if they had continued admitting
honestly that iconoclasm has been an integral part of the theology of Islam. Their predecessors in medieval
India made no bones about such an admission. Nor do the scholars of Islam outside India, particularly in
What we need most in this country is an inter-religious dialogue in which all religions are honest and frank
about their drawbacks and limitations. Such a dialogue is impossible if we hide or supress or invent facts
and offer dishonest interpretations. Mahatma Gandhi had said that Islam was born only yesterday and is
still in the process of interpretation. Hiding facts and floating fictions is hardly the way for promoting that
1.It is intriguing that the Marxist professors never mention the destruction of Buddhist and Jain
establishments in Transoxiana, Sinkiang, Seistan and India which on the eve of the Islamic
invasion included present-day Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Every historian and
archaeologist of that period knows that the vast Buddhist and Jain establishments at Bukhara,
Samarkand, Khotan, Balkh, Bamian, Begram, Jalalabad, Peshawar, Takshasila, Mirpur-Khas,
Nagar-Parkar, Sringar, Sialkot, Agroha, Mathura, Hastinapur, Kanauj, Sravasti, Ayodhya, Sarnath,
Nalanda, Vikramsila, Vaishali, Rajgir, Odantpuri, Bharhut, Paharpur, Jagaddala, Jajnagar,
Nagarjunikonda, Amaravati, Kanchi, Dwarasamudra, Bharuch Valabhi, Palitana, Girnar, Patan,
Jalor, Chandrawati, Bhinmal, Didwana, Nagaur, Osian, Bairat, Gwalior and Mandu were
destroyed by the swordsmen of Islam. Smaller establishments of these faiths, which met the same
fate, add up to several hundred.