Published On: Mon, Feb 13th, 2017

The Mongol Invasion: Timur Lang in India

By: Poornima Venigalla

By the late 1300’s, invasion and conquest were not foreign concepts to India. She had already suffered at the brutal hands of the Delhi Sultanate years before. Raids, looting, destruction, plunder, desecration. However, the attacks did not stop there. The Mongol invasions superseded the reign of the Delhi Sultanate. The initial invasion was led by the callous Turko-Mongol conqueror, Timur Lang or Tamerlane. His quest to restore the glorified Mongol Empire of Genghis Khan was ruthless. Much like his predecessors, he was violent in his attack against India, targeting specifically Hindus.

Timur Succeeds where Genghis Khan Failed!

Genghis Khan was the original founder of the Mongol Empire. He was a nomad from Northeast Asia and after unifying the nomadic Mongol tribes, he began his conquests of Eurasia. He was notorious for his brutality and genocide. At the height of his empire, he had reign over most of the Middle East and Central Asia. However, he was never able to conquer India. In 1222, he had considered it in order to complete his empire, but India’s geography and climate provided the perfect protection against the invader. The heat and humidity were too much to bare for the Mongol warriors, who were accustomed to the cold, dry climate of the mountains. Furthermore, because the weapons were not designed for the weather, the bows were ineffective in the moist air. Realizing these complications, Genghis Khan and his warriors retreated back into the safety of the mountains, leaving India relatively untouched by the Mongol empire, until Timur Lang came to power.

Targeted Attack on Hindus

Though Timur Lang was not a direct descendent of Genghis Khan, he considered himself a successor of his empire. During his rule, he expanded the empire to Persia, Mesopotamia, and Asia Minor. After occupying Afghanistan, he moved onto India. Like many before him, he was attracted to India because of her riches. However, according to his autobiographical memoirs, Malfuzat-i-Timuri, his “great objective in invading Hindustan had been to wage a religious war against the infidel Hindus.” Though the Delhi Sultanate had already established Islamic rule in India, they were beginning to falter. Timur Lang felt they were not harsh enough on the ‘infidels’. He claimed that he received an omen from the Koran with the verse “O Prophet, make war upon infidels and unbelievers, and treat them with severity.” With these, he set out to wage a war on the Hindus.

Relentless Loot & Plunder

Timur Lang set out on a mission to desecrate and exterminate all the ‘unbelievers’ in India, sparing only the Muslims. In one incident, he pursued Hindus who sought refuge in the mountains after hearing of his campaign. After reaching them, he murdered all the men and imprisoned all the women and children, pillaging their property. He ordered that his notorious tower of skulls be constructed using their heads. He plundered the cities and took Hindu prisoners everywhere he went. He recounts in his autobiography:

“My entire army, no longer under control, went off to the city and thought of nothing but killing, plundering, and making prisoners. The sack was general during the whole day, and continued throughout the following day, Saturday, the seventeenth (Dec. 27), the spoil being so great that each man secured from fifty to a hundred prisoners, men, women, and children, while no soldier took less than twenty. There was likewise an immense booty in rubies, diamonds, garnets, pearls, and other gems; jewels of gold and silver; gold and silver money of the celebrated Alai coinage; vessels of gold and silver; and brocades and silks of great value. Gold and silver ornaments of the Hindu women were obtained in such quantities as to exceed all account.”

“Food for the Sword”

Throughout his time in India, he had taken over a 100,000 prisoners and looted the cities and women of all their riches. However, he could not continue to bring the prisoners along into battle and “it would be entirely opposed to the rules of war to set these idolaters and foes of Islam at liberty, so that no course remained but to make them all food for the sword.” In one day, his men slayed the 100,000 Hindu prisoners egregiously. In the eyes of Timur Lang, this was a righteous act in the name of God. His invasions triggered the founding of the Mughal Empire in India and continued the crimes against Hindus.

“My object in the invasion of Hindustan is to lead an expedition against the infidels that, according to the law of Muhammad (upon whom and his family be the blessing and peace of God!), we may convert the people of that country to the true faith and purify the land itself from infidelity and polytheism, and that we may overthrow their temples and idols and become conquerors and crusaders before God.”

Historians Marginalize the Horror

Current historians claim that the theory of Islam being a religion of the sword is outdated and inaccurate. Richard Eaton states that there is never any mechanism of conversion laid out and it is debatable that you can force someone to change their religious identity simply with the threat of death. While it may be true that this method was ineffective, it does not negate the fact that many conquerors employed this tactic, particularly Timur Lang, as can be seen above. He initially offered a choice between conversion and death to the Hindus. Only with complete submission would he spare them. Many would agree and purport their allegiance to Allah.

Brutality – “God’s Grace”

Timur Lang truly believed that he was carrying out the word of God by persecuting the ‘infidels.’ He thought he was assuring God’s grace with his brutality against the Hindus. To claim that Islam was not a religion of the sword invalidates the atrocities committed by Muslim invaders on the Hindu population throughout history. While they may have been fruitless in their mission, their treatment of ‘unbelievers’ was merciless and cannot be ignored.


  1. Malfuzat-i Timuri Or Tuzak-i Timuri: The Autobiography of Timur
    The history of India, as told by its own historians by Henry Miers Elliot
  2. The Mulfuzat Timury; or, Autobiographical memoirs of the Moghul Emperor Timur by Timur, 1336-1405; Abu Talib, al-Husaini; Stewart, Charles, 1764-1837
  3. The History of Mongol Conquests by J.J. Saunders
  4. The Legacy of Jihad by Andrew G. Bostom
  5. Crimes Against India: and the Need to Protect its Ancient Vedic Tradition by Stephen Knapp
  6. Approaches to the Study of Conversion to Islam in India by Richard M. Eaton

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