When an Indian naval power defeated Arab naval invasions twice and saved India.

776 A.D. Hathim the governor of Sindh under the command of Caliph Al Mahdi assembles a large naval force. As the newly appointed governor in one of the frontier provinces, the stakes are high for Hathim especially considering twenty years ago a similar naval invasion had ended up in failure. The Arab sources are silent on the size of the fleet but its target was Barda coast not far from the modern city of Porbander.

The Arab invasion was well-timed. The mighty Chalukya empire had ceased to exist two decades earlier and their successors the Rastrakutas had not yet come into prominence. It appeared that the Arabs might finally succeed in expanding from Sindh into India proper after waiting for nearly a century. We do not know how the invasion was planned or executed but we know the result.

Like the invasion of Gujarat two decades earlier, this new one too failed and it failed in such a spectacular manner that Caliph Al Mahdi forbade any future naval invasions permanently. Arab historians claimed that the invasion’s failure was due to a pandemic that had swept through their navy. That explanation however fails to sufficiently explain Caliph Al Mandhi’s later injunction against all future amphibious invasions of India.

In 1936, while digging on the roadside in Ghumli, six grants inscribed in 12 copper plates were discovered. It contained genealogy and history of an obscure dynasty that ruled over Saurashtra during this time.

He showed the greatness of Varaha when he easily rescued his country which was being drowned in an ocean of naval force sent by powerful enemies” claimed the inscription of Saindhava king Agguka. In the same inscription, Agguka assumed the title Apara Samudradhipati which meant master of western seas to denote his naval prowess. Historians were initially curious about this boast and the identity of the mysterious enemy. Yet it did not take them long to tie Agguka’s victory to the failed Arab invasion which had occurred during this period.

The Saindhavas, also known as the Jayadrathas claimed their descent from the mythical Jayadrata of Mahabharata. Historians have speculated that they were originally natives of Sindh who fled the Arab invasion into Saurashtra where they established their own kingdom. Their own inscriptions confirm this hypothesis. The capital of Saindhavas was at Bhutamabilika, modern Ghumli. Their emblem was fish, the sign of Varuna as an indication of their naval supremacy. The Saindhavas ruled as feudatories of Maitrakas initially and later the Solankis of Gujarat.

SOURCE: https://archive.org/stream/epigraphia-indica/epigraphia-indica-vol-26#page/n269/mode/2up

The dynasty gained its prominence during the reign of Krishnaraja and his son Agguka. While they still ruled as feudatories of the powerful Maitrakas, the successful repulse of the Arab invasions first under Krishnaraja and the second under Agguka granted the Saindhavas great fame. While the reasons for the failure of the two Arab invasions are still debated by historians but their failure halted the Arab expansion into India.

Ruined Saindhava temple at Ghumli Source: Burgess, James, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

After Agguka, the Saindhavas went into steady decline finally vanishing from historical records by 920 A.D. The Saindhavas were a minor regional power when compared to the great empires who came before or after them but by repulsing the Arab invasions, they ensured that expansion of Islam into India was delayed by another three centuries and when it happened, it would be under the Turkic rulers of Gazni and Ghor.

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Abhijeeth Hiliyana

Writer, History buff, software engineer. I am fascinated with Indian History especially the early and late Medieval India.