Girish Shahane Gets it Mostly Wrong

So here’s a certain Girish Shahane criticizing Lonely Planet’s guide to India. He calls it “The Lonely Planet Misguidebook” but when he sets out to “prove” that it is indeed a “misguidebook,” he runs into several problems: history and reasoning being two prominent ones. The reason he embarks on this exercise because he finds its “misguided take on India’s history and culture deeply troubling.”

Now when someone talks about the history and culture of a country, one expects the author to give at least a bird’s eye view of the entire history and culture from the time the country was, so to say, founded. With a country like India, that means going back roughly, to 5000 years. But Girish picks and chooses the parts he finds objectionable.

So let’s start from where he starts and examine the precise points he finds objectionable, misrepresented, misguided and all of the above.

How to Get History Wrong

Girish Shahane opens his historical examination with the standard disclaimer accepted as Gospel Truth in the context of writing Indian history.

India’s a tricky place for travel writers because history here often comes encrusted with legends as difficult to pry loose as barnacles on a ship’s hull…. I discovered the writers had done a dreadful job of separating fact from fiction.

A host of histories written by Hindus do exaggerate but India is not alone in this. Most ancient civilizations recorded their histories by interspersing them with legendary elements: the Norse and Chinese histories are just two examples. To illustrate this better, consider this:

Legend=When a certain powerful king is titled as “Ruler of the World,” “Immortal,” and “Protector and Shelter-giver of the World.”
Historical Fact=That such a king actually existed and that these were mere exaggerated titles given to glorify him.

Now we leave it to Girish’s intelligence to separate the history from the legend. Blowing a minor architectural-dimensional inaccuracy out of proportion–his note on the Brihadeeshwara temple–makes a case for exaggeration (as I noted above) and legend, and not something one would find “deeply troubling.” Any visitor of the Brihadeeshwara temple will not cease to be amazed at its massive architectural splendour–things like its exact measurement, amount of stone used, and whether ramps were used don’t really matter unless you are its Architectural Auditor. To be fair, he does say “these sorts of errors bothered me far less…” So let’s see what bothers him more. In his own words,

“… than the constant highlighting of atrocities, often fictional ones, by Muslim rulers.”

I haven’t read the LP India book so I need to rely on exactly how many “fictional ones” it lists. Counting the ones listed in his piece yields us exactly five.

Girish Shahane’s Fictional History

Of these five, here’s the first that Girish talks about:

The massive Sun Temple was constructed in mid-13th century…[I]n use for maybe only three centuries, the first blow occurred in the late 16th century when marauding Mughals removed the copper over the cupola. This vandalism may have dislodged the loadstone leading to the partial collapse of the 40m-high sikhara.

Kalaphad (or Kalapahar) was a feared Muslim general of the Sultan of Bengal, Sulaiman Khan Karrani. The Afsanah-i-Shahan of Shaikh Kabir Batni records Kalaphad’s invasion of Orissa in these terms:

[Kalapahad] destroyed Konark temple, as well as a number of Hindu temples in Orissa. The Madala Panji of Puri Jagannath temple describes how Kalapahad attacked Orissa in 1568. Including Konark temple, he broke most of the images in most of the Hindu temples in Orissa. Though the stone walls are of 20 to 25 feet (7.6 m) thick, he somehow managed to displace the Dadhinauti (Arch stone) and thus caused the tower to collapse. He also damaged most of the images and other side temples of Konark. Due to displacement of the Dadhinauti, the tower gradually collapsed and the roof of the Mukasala was also damaged, due to the stones falling down from the temple top.

Sulaiman Khan Karrani ruled Bengal as a vassal of Akbar by paying tributes to the Mughal emperor. LP’s note about “marauding Mughals” is therefore accurate. However, Girish Shahane dismisses this historically-validated fact with something he heard in childhood about a lodestone atop the temple and calls LP’s version as “absurd.” Sure, there are several theories vis a vis the collapse of the Sun temple: its construction was incomplete, the lodestone theory, etc but we also have the account of the destruction from the horse’s mouth: i.e. the Afsanah-i-Shahan. Here’s some related reading (published by the Orissa government, no less) on the deeds of Kalapahad.

What follows next is supported with an insinuation that wants us to somehow dismiss that Muslims did destroy Hindu temples on a massive scale both when they won a war against Hindus as well as when their rule was absolute–i.e in times of peace.

Temples, even grand ones can collapse from natural causes, as evidenced by the recent fall of the 500 year old gopuram of the Srikalahasti temple.

Sure. Everybody accepts that. I don’t think LP or anybody in India has ever disputed the fact that temples are buildings, too, and can collapse due to natural causes. That however, is irrelevant in this context. The Konark Sun temple and thousands like it were actually destroyed by Muslims. But then mentioning this fact is inconvenient to the insinuation that follows:

In India, however, any damage to old Hindu religious structures is reflexively attributed to ‘the Muslims’. That phrase itself is objectionable, in my view. Lonely Planet never clubs the British and Portuguese together as ‘the Christians’, so why place rulers from varied ethnic backgrounds and historical eras into a hold all category such as ‘the Muslims’?

Very mildly, this exposes many gaps in reasoning. Muslims first knocked the borders of India in the 7th Century A.D. History shows us that the Christians who came earlier (300 A.D) had no conquest plans in mind unlike the armies of Islam. The only records we have that show similar iconoclastic and brutal conversion behavior made explicitly in the name of Christ is what the Portuguese did in Kerala, Goa and parts of coastal Karnataka. None of the other “Christians” who came to India first to trade and then to take over were Christians in the true sense of the term–the Dutch, British, and French didn’t launch Christian wars and/or crusades or Inquisitions given the fact that by then Church power was itself facing a steady decline in Europe. Goa was an aberration in the history of European incursions in India where temples were destroyed during the horrid Portuguese Inquisition. However, ever since it established itself in India, almost every single Muslim Badshah, Sultan, and Nawab explicitly destroyed Hindu temples even in peace time and said he was doing it to earn religious merit and left behind plenty of literary, archeological and epigraphic evidence proclaiming the same. We need to unearth a similar “Christian” inscription from either the Portuguese, Dutch, French or British who quote verses from the Bible. Additionally, Girish needs to show us exactly one temple that the British destroyed–this after assuming that they came to India owing to religious motives. Either way, his history is inaccurate and his logic is shoddy.

And then he cites the example of a Brajeshwari temple to further bolster his case:

The Sun Temple isn’t the only instance of Lonely Planet inventing acts of Muslim vandalism. The entry for Himachal’s Brajeshwari Temple states, “Famous for its wealth, the temple was looted by a string of invaders, from Mahmud of Ghazni to Jehangir”. Mahmud did, indeed, loot the Brajeshwari temple. But Jehangir was neither an invader, having been born and bred in India, nor a plunderer of holy sites. He loved that region of the country, and did much to improve it.

Note the logic. The first sentence talks about LP “inventing acts of Muslim vandalism.” In the third, he admits that Mahmud “did, indeed, loot the Brajeshwari temple.” How is this an invention of vandalism? I don’t have historical data to show if Jehangir actually destroyed and/or looted that temple. On the “invader” bit, a little later. Girish says that Jahangir was not a plunderer of holy sites. Let’s see what history says:

Jahangir…persecuted the Jains of Gujarat…[because]…they were accused of having put up temples…when Jahangir visited Ajmer in the eighth year of his reign, the temple of Bhagwat was destroyed….he sent Murtaza Khan to Kangra for reducing that city of temples (ed: Kangra is in Himachal Pradesh that Girish praises Jahangir for improving). The siege lasted for 20 months at the end of which [Jahangir] himself went to Kangra for slaughtering cows in that sacred place of Hindus, and building a mosque where none had existed before. (Pp 183, 194, The History and Culture of the Indian People: The Mughul Empire, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan).

After temples, Girish Shahane turns his focus to the Sikh Golden Temple at Amritsar and says,

…but another Mughal, Ahmad Shah Durani, sacked Amritsar in 1761 and destroyed the temple.” Durrani was, of course, not a Mughal at all. But hey, these guys are all Muslims, right? Mughal, Turk, Afghan, big difference.

Sure. LP got that wrong. But he gets one thing right: that these guys are all Muslims. Actually come to think of it: there’s no big difference. Everyone of them starting with the 7th Century laid entire lands waste, massacred and/or converted hundreds of thousands of non-Muslims, and obliterated the glorious pre-Islamic Persian civilization. This is history, too. Here’s the thing: something has to explain why every single Muslim ruler in India–irrespective of race, nationality, or ethnicity–embarked on a temple destruction spree and slaughtered cows and forcibly converted Hindus. Unless Girish Shahane is ignorant, that something has to do with the ideology that mandated them to do so. Put a Google search for these terms: “Shirk,” and “mushirk.” Oh and here’s also what Ahmad Shah Durrani or Ahmad Shah Abdali did to Amritsar:

…he attacked the Golden Temple in Amristar and filled its sarovar (sacred pool) with the blood of slaughtered cows and people. Ahmad Shah captured Amritsar (1757), and sacked the Harmandir Sahib popularly known as the Golden Temple.

Following the same “logic,” Girish Shah asserts that

Chittor’s first defeat occurred in 1303 when Ala-ud-din Khilji, the Pathan king of Delhi, besieged the fort, apparently to capture the beautiful Padmini, wife of the rana’s (king’s) uncle, Bhim Singh. Actually, misidentifying a Turko-Afghan as a Pathan is a minor error. The big howler in the sentence is LP’s propagation of the myth of Rani Padmini. Back in the early 14th century, Khilji was on a campaign in Rajputana, capturing one fort after another, and Chittor was on his list. He didn’t need a special reason to besiege it. The great poet and mystic Amir Khusro, who chronicled Khilji’s campaign, made no mention of any Padmini. The story was dreamt up much later to contrast the treachery and lasciviousness of the Muslim ruler against the bravery and chivalry of his Hindu Rajput antagonists.

Admittedly, the whole Padmini tale is something that the wandering minstrels of Rajasthan thought up over time and if LP has mentioned it, it needs to be corrected. However, that really doesn’t make a dent of a difference to Ala-ud-din Khilji’s character. Here are two samples:

#1 …it should be remembered that Ala-ud-din’s lust for a Hindu queen is proved by the known instances of Queen Kamala Devi of Gujarat and the daughter of King Ramachandra of Devagiri… [O]n the whole, it must be admitted that there is no inherent impossibility in the kernel of the story of Padmini devoid of all embellishments and it should not be totally rejected off-hand as a myth. (Pg 27, The History and Culture of the Indian People: The Delhi Sultanate, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan).

#2 Kamala Devi was captured in the sack of Gujarat (1299), and married by Alauddin Khalji. According to the Islamic law, kafir women could be married to Muslims even while their husbands were alive, for marriage is annulled by captivity. Later on her daughter Deval Devi was also captured in another campaign (1308) and brought to Delhi. There she was married to Alauddin’s son Khizr Khan who had fallen in love with her. After the assassination of Khizr Khan in the politics of succession, she was married by Qutbuddin Mubarak Khalji (1316-20) against her Will. With the murder of Qutbuddin at the hands of Khusrau Khan she was taken into the latter’s harem. In short, this princess was treated as nothing more than a chattel or transferable property in the Khalji ruling house.

I highly recommend that Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan’s section chronicling Ala-ud-din’s life and times. If anything, it’d be a fitting response to Girish Shahane’s ill-informed and highly arrogant utterances such as this:

The story was dreamt up much later to contrast the treachery and lasciviousness of the Muslim ruler against the bravery and chivalry of his Hindu Rajput antagonists. I feel like saying to the Rajputs, “Guys, Khilji won, you lost, get over it.”

And now to examine the one word that so vexes Girish Shahane: invaders. He takes objection to LP repeatedly using the word “invader” as a suffix used for Muslims.

In Lonely Planet’s version of India, ‘the Muslims’ are never locals. They are by definition invaders: “Over the centuries Madurai has come under the jurisdiction of the Cholas, the Pandyas, Muslim invaders, the Hindu Vijayanagar kings, and the Nayaks, who ruled until 1781.” Their invader status must be emphasised even when positive contributions are being enumerated: “India’s Muslim invaders contributed their own architectural conventions, including arched cloisters and domes.” Not once in the 1200 plus pages is the word ‘invaders’ associated with anybody but Muslims.

Let’s look at the definition of the word.

invader (n): Someone who enters by force in order to conquer; to enter and affect injuriously or destructively, as disease; to enter as if to take possession

We accept that it’s bad practice to use a word out of context. Let’s apply this word to Hindus in the same historical context and see what we get. Hindu kings invaded each other over hundreds of years. Their invasion was marked by conquest of territory and extracting of tributes. Let’s apply this word to Muslim kings. In addition to conquest of territory, almost every Muslim king killed the defeated Hindu king, imposed Islam on the defeated populace, destroyed temples, converted and/or killed Hindus, and imposed Jeziya. In other words, Muslim kings annihilated an entire culture. This is called cultural invasion. Now, Girish Shahane needs to show us exactly one instance where a victorious Hindu king imposed his religious beliefs on the defeated populace. Let it also not be forgotten that Muslim kings entered India as alien invaders: they were not from this land originally and had nothing in common with India or culture. They became locals over the course of some centuries. Girish Shahane also needs to answer the question as to why say, the Kushanas aren’t mentioned as invaders. The answer: assimilation.

As the piece grows, so does Girish’s frantic attempts to whitewash more forcefully.

Strangely, LP smuggles in references to Islamic destructiveness even when describing intact sites. “Khajuraho’s isolation helped preserve it from the desecration Muslim invaders inflicted on idolatrous temples elsewhere.” How can the authors be so sure Khajuraho was unknown to Muslim warriors, or that it would certainly have been desecrated otherwise?

The most logical answer is: precedent. Perhaps LP needs to reword “Khajuraho’s isolation” but given Islam’s 800-year record of temple destruction whatever part of India it occupied, this is a fair reasoning. Here’s a minute list of the sweep of India’s geography that witnessed large scale and repeated temple destructions at the hands of Muslim kings: Bukhara, Samarkhand, Khotan, Balkh, Bamiyan, Kabul, Ghazni, Kandahar, Begram, Jalalabad, Peshawar, Charsaddh, O Hind, Takashila, Multan, Mir Pukhaas, Nagar Parkar, Sialkot, Srinagar, Kanauj, Shravasti, Ayodhya, Varanasi, Saranath, Nalanda, Vikramashila, Vaishali, Rajagir, Odantapuri, Churhut, Champa, Paharpur, Jagdal, Jaajnagar, Nagarjuna Konda, Amaravati, Kanchi, Dwarasamudra, Devagiri, Bharauch, Valabhi, Gimar, Khambhat, Patan, Jalor, Chandravati, Bhinmal, Didwan, Nagore, Osean, Ajmer, Bairat, Gwalior, Chanderi, Mandu, Dhaar. Several of these are not in India now. I recommend that Girish Shahane looks them up in the map. A lone Khajuraho doesn’t prove much.

Oh and then he cites the example of Aurangzeb who

…had serious iconoclastic tendencies, camped in the vicinity of Ellora for years, and toured the site at least once, and the place still looks dandy.

Girish’s ignorance shines through at two levels: Aurangzeb didn’t destroy Ellora simply because he didn’t know it existed. It was rediscovered in 1819 by one Mr. John Smith, a British army man belonging to the Madras Regiment. Because Girish mentioned it, here’s what Aurangzeb did when he camped there:

In 1690 AD, he ordered destruction of temples at Ellora, Trimbakeshwar, Narasinghpur, and Pandharpur. In 1698 AD, the story was repeated at Bijapur. According to Mirãt-i-Ahmadî: “Hamid-ud-din Khan Bahadur who had been deputed to destroy the temples of Bijapur and build mosques there, returned to court after carrying out the order and was praised by the Emperor.” As late as 1705 AD, two years before he died, “the emperor, summoning Muhammad Khalil and Khidmat Rai, the darogha of hatchet-men… ordered them to demolish the temple of Pandharpur, and to take the butchers of the camp there and slaughter cows in the temple.”

Update: The general area of Ellora alluded to during that period includes the prominent cities and towns of Daulatabad, Grishneshwar, and Ajantha among others. Ellora is not to be confused with what it is mostly known for today–as the place of the grand temple complex, a UNESCO World Heritage site. This temple complex was built by the Rashtrakutas and other rulers who followed them. It was subsequently lost to mankind because thick forests grew around it and then became inaccessible. It was rediscovered by a British army man, John Smith in 1819. It was this temple complex that I referred to when I said that Aurangzeb didn’t know that it existed. However, it is equally true that he ordered the destruction of about thirty six temples that existed in the areas (mentioned above) surrounding Ellora.

And then Girish turns his attention to Goa and chides LP for not mentioning the dreadful Inquisition but mentioning the fact that it was invaded by Muslims. Which is where I kind of agree with Girish. Not for any other reason but the Portuguese Inquisition of Goa is a story that merits more attention than it has gotten so far.

And in a grand finale, Girish Shahane says this about the Vijayanagar Empire.

It catalogues battles between the Bahmani Sultanate and the Vijaynagar kingdom, opening with a fabrication and going downhill from there: “Founded as an alliance of Hindu kingdoms banding together to counter the threat from the Muslims, the Vijayanagar empire rapidly grew into one of India’s wealthiest and greatest Hindu empires.” I have no idea where Lonely Planet got the idea that Vijayanagar was founded as a confederacy of Hindu leaders aligning on religious lines against Muslims.

One wonders where Girish gets his history from. Anybody talking about the Vijayanagar Empire must have at the least, read Robert Sewell’s masterly Rise and Fall of the Vijayanagar Empire. In Sewell’s own words (Pg 10):

With the accession in 1325 of Muhammad Taghlaq of Delhi things became worse still. Marvellous stories of his extraordinary proceedings circulated amongst the inhabitants of the Peninsula, and there seemed to be no bound to his intolerance, ambition, and ferocity. Everything, therefore, seemed to be leading up to but one inevitable end — the ruin and devastation of the Hindu provinces; the annihilation of their old royal houses, the destruction of their religion, their temples, their cities… Suddenly, about the year 1344 A.D., there was a check to this wave of foreign invasion — a stop — a halt –then a solid wall of opposition; and for 250 years Southern India was saved. The check was caused by a combination of small Hindu states — two of them already defeated, Warangal and Dvarasamudra — defeated, and therefore in all probability not over-confident; the third, the tiny principality of Anegundi. The solid wall consisted of Anegundi grown into the great empire of the Vijayanagar. To the kings of this house all the nations of the south submitted.

The dawn of the Vijayanagar Empire witnessed extreme consternation mixed with terror at the horror the maraduing forces of Tughlaq was capable of doing. For the first time perhaps warring Hindu kings in the general region of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu realized that they were on the brink of destruction. Robert Sewell, after culling several legends, folklore, and firsthand accounts of foreign travellers surrounding the birth of the Vijayanagar Empire arrives at this:

Perhaps the most reasonable account would be one culled from the general drift of the Hindu legends combined with the certainties of historical fact; and from this point of view we may for the present suppose that two brothers, Hindus of the Kuruba caste, who were men of strong religious feeling, serving in the treasury of the king of Warangal, fled from that place on its sack and destruction in 1323 and took service under the petty Rajah of Anegundi. Both they and their chiefs were filled with horror and disgust at the conduct of the marauding Moslems, and pledged themselves to the cause of their country and their religion. The brothers rose to be minister and treasurer respectively at Anegundi. In 1334 the chief gave shelter to Baha-ud-din, nephew of Muhammad of Delhi, and was attacked by the Sultan. Anegundi fell, as narrated by Batuta, and the Sultan retired, leaving Mallik as his deputy to rule the state. Mallik found the people too strong for him, and eventually the Sultan restored the country to the Hindus, raising to be rajah and minister respectively the two brothers who had formerly been minister and treasurer. These were Harihara I. (“Hukka”) and Bukka I. (Pg 17)

Additionally, the more popular theory behind the founding of the Vijayangar Empire by Madhava (Vidyaranya) also lends credibility to the fact that the Vijayangar Empire indeed, initially comprised a confederation of small Hindu kings. Madhava after inspiring Harihara and Bukka to establish a strong Hindu bulwark against Mohammadean aggression, spent the better part of his life visiting Hindu king after Hindu king and trying to unify them and he largely succeeded. When he finally donned the asectic robes, he was at least sixty five years old. Then we have Ballala Deva, Rudra Deva (of Warangal), his son Krishna Naik with a combination of Hindu kings of the Malabar and Canara regions united the whole of the Telangana region, fought a series of wars and wrested Warangal from Imad-ul-Mulkh. Subsequently, they freed the entire Deccan from Mohammadean clutches (Pp 19-20). One wonders what part of the “confederacy of Hindu leaders” is a fabrication by LP. And then he talks about something that would sound funny if it was not said in all seriousness:

A few lines later, there’s an account of Mohammad Shah, the Bahmani king, slaughtering half a million ‘infidels’. This number of deaths is based on the account in Ferishta’s history of India. Ferishta was generally true to events in his own lifetime, but is known to have made up or embellished stories of the past. In the case of the Mohammad Shah episode, he was writing about events that happened 225 years earlier, and was therefore not a credible source.

Since Girish Shahane is so keen about talking numbers, let’s look at Mohammad Shah’s record. He opened his campaign against Vijayangar in Jan-Feb of 1366. Here’s the eye-witness account of Mullah Daud of Bidar, a seal-bearer to Sultan Muhammad. Mohammad Shah took the following oath:

till he should have put to death one hundred thousand infidels, as an expiation for the massacre of the faithful, he would never sheathe the sword of holy war nor refrain from slaughter…

And in the battle that followed:

Towards the dawn he arrived at the roy’s camp, and the alarm being given, so great was the confusion, that the infidels fled with the utmost precipitation towards the fortress of Oodnee, leaving everything behind them. Mahummud Shaw entered the camp of their market and baggage, putting all to death without any distinction; and it is said that the slaughter amounted to seventy thousand men, women, and children.

And in another battle at Anegondi on July 23 1366,

The sultan gave orders to renew the massacre of the unbelievers. They were executed with such strictness that pregnant women, and even children at the breast, did not escape the sword…The Muhammadans made a sudden and unexpected night-attack. Bukka (called, as before, “Kishen”) was off his guard, having indulged in wine and the amusements provided by a band of dancing-women. The slaughter was terrible, and the Raya fled to Vijayanagar, ten thousand of his troops being slain; — “But this did not satisfy the rage of the sultan, who commanded the inhabitants of every place round Beejanuggur to be massacred without mercy.”

(Pp 20-23, same book)

It is clear that at the end of the war, more than a lakh people were massacred by Mohammad Shah, Ferishta’s embellishments notwithstanding. Besides, what exactly does Girish Shahane intend to convey here: that the death toll of anything less than a specific number somehow makes things okay? And credible source of what? Of the numbers killed, or of his telling of history? Discrediting primary sources as not being “credible” is one of the favourite devices used elsewhere by our Marxist historians. If we accept Girish’s contention that Ferishta is not a credible source, should we also reject Sewell’s massive book whose research notes and bibliography runs into 40 pages? Even assuming that Ferishta was not a credible source, perhaps Girish Shahane would like to tell us who he thinks is a credible source.

But the final sentence reveals why Girish Shahane wrote this piece. His beef with LP seems to be that

That obviously doesn’t matter to Lonely Planet’s authors, who appear intent on creating a narrative in which genocidal Muslim invaders threaten the soul of India, which is preserved by Hindu kings.

This is really interesting because Girish Shahane doesn’t show a single shred of evidence to back up his wild assertions in the name of “showing errors” in Lonely Planet but ends up attributing anti-Muslim bias to Lonely Planet. Going by the parts of the LP guide he has quoted, there’s nothing that says anything about “genocidal Muslim invaders” who “threaten the soul of India, which is preserved by Hindu kings.” Those LP quotes merely recount from history, which is for the most part accurate as I’ve shown. One wonders how Girish Shahane could stretch this to mean “creating a narrative” biased against Muslims.


Perhaps Girish Shahane forgets that the Lonely Planet Guides are travel guides, not works of a nation’s history. A travel guide is

…book for tourists or travelers that provides details about a geographic location, tourist destination, or itinerary. It is the written equivalent of a tour guide.

As such, the purpose of a travel guide to provide tidbits of information about specific tourist destinations and/or attractions. While glaring historical inaccuracies and distortions are definitely unforgivable, the LP India travel guide suffers from no such defect. Every single line that Girish Shahane has written–barring really nitpicky things like architectural dimensions, materials used, etc–in support of his contention that Lonely Planet is biased against Muslims is not backed up with any evidence. Even worse is the self-righteous tone of the piece.

But the clincher is the fact that Girish Shahane relies on an older version of the LP guide (2007). LP’s Asia Pacific Publisher in her response (see one by Janet) to Girish says:

I acknowledge that there are minor inaccuracies in our books, and we make efforts to correct these with every update. Some of the ‘inaccuracies’ Shahane point out aren’t actually inaccuracies, but some of them are. He’s quite right in saying that Durani was not a Mughal, for example, and it will be corrected in the next edition. He’s also right that the dome of the Brahishwara Temple was not constructed from a single piece of granite; that’s a common misconception which did appear in previous editions – but not in our current edition.

We try to make each edition of our guidebooks better than the last, and the next edition of India will be no exception. But there’s no anti-Islamic agenda here, just some very selective reading on the part of Mr Shahane.

Girish’s “dissection” is like saying that the newly-painted house is not the same house. In his “response” to Janet, he compounds matters by saying the same things again but this time making his bias apparent:

Lonely Planet’s India guide is much more insidious in its Islamophobia. It’s possible to read all the history in the book without realising its slant, unless you are attuned to debates surrounding rule by Muslim kings in India.

Islamophobia? That’s a strong word. Pity that Girish can’t see history like it is: there is no debate over the fact that Muslim kings destroyed and looted Hindu temples on a massive scale throughout the medieval period and slaughtered millions of Hindus. No amount of whitewashing will make this go away. This is the truth. Two words accurately describe a mindset that calls this Islamophobia: Intellectual Dishonesty.

Postscript: Here’s an open invitation to Girish Shahane to engage me in debate on any platform: web, phone, chat, in person.

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83 comments for “Girish Shahane Gets it Mostly Wrong

  1. Sarah
    February 26, 2011 at 1:30 PM

    I don’t have a dog in this fight but I thought Shahane made some interesting points. The LP does repeatedly refer to Mughuls as invaders, even if they had been there a while. And that point is debatable. But if you are going to call the Mughuls invaders, then the Portuguese and the British certainly were as well–no matter who has a better record with regard to Hindu temples. Shouldn’t the Mughuls transition at some point to “colonialists” or “imperialists”? Inconsistencies are revealing and, whether or not Shahane overstated his case, the LP has revealed itself. As has Sandeep, who overstates his case at least as much as Shahane does.

    I hear a lot of anti-Muslim sentiment traveling around India. Rarely do I hear the analagous from Muslims.

  2. Varun
    November 9, 2010 at 10:52 PM

    My take on few policy issues —

  3. Sanathan
    November 9, 2010 at 5:50 AM

    great reply !
    religion is like politics ,it is mis interpreted in many ways and then leads to violence.
    what ever we have gone through the last 1000 + years can never be reverted , lets make sure this won’t be repeated and i am sure will not.

  4. Sid
    November 9, 2010 at 3:48 AM

    Shri Girishji is married to a muslim lady; you expect him to be objective?
    And how the hell is he still Hindu? ….. Aaaahhhh, my bad. As obvious from Sandeep’s analysis, he is not. :)

  5. A
    November 5, 2010 at 11:59 AM

    Shri Girishji is married to a muslim lady; you expect him to be objective?

  6. Rathore
    November 5, 2010 at 9:08 AM

    BTW there is a throntree thread on this at the Lonely planet site and Girish and a few others have weighed in – folks from here should provide a counter opinion.

  7. cricfan
    November 4, 2010 at 9:29 AM

    >> Why do you care what Obama does and does not visit in India?

    Relax @Ava. i have a mild interest for various personal reasons. Otherwise, he is a democratic foreign head of state visiting the world’s largest democracy. Thats about it. After all, there are more ‘pop’ or ‘famous’ Mughal tombs typically visited by foreign politicians. If there one who is knowledgeable enough to want to specifically visit Dara’s tomb – that is interesting (assuming this is true), wouldn’t u agree?

    Wonder why Obama’s PR team does not say “Obama will visit Dara Sikoh’s resting place”? A simple answer may be that well, Obama actually likes Humayun and doesnt know Dara. Or it could be that Dara was punished for his good deeds by being killed for being an apostate of Islam, and thus an explicit visit would hurt pseudo-secular (yes!) sentiments and not look good on Al-Jazeera ??

  8. Ava
    November 4, 2010 at 5:17 AM

    That would indeed be a good gesture.

    Why do you care what Obama does and does not visit in India? Judging from his foreign policy initiatives, it is clear he does not attach importance to India at all and he does not have much regard for India. It is normal for Americans to try to glean something out of India to show there has been success on some front as far as foreign policy is concerned and the interest is in the money to be made in deals for deleloping infrastructure in India. Indians have to stop the habit of waiting for the approval of others for self-esteem. They all too readily pick the crumbs Americans drop on them and get excited when Obama pays a visit. I wish they would develop in accordance with that is important to their needs without the approval of others. But that takes strong national character in a peoples…

  9. Sri
    November 3, 2010 at 11:07 PM

    “For Girisjh i Just Pity him, to call truth as untruth is a serious disease ……….”.

    For people like him, to call truth as untruth is also a business.

  10. cricfan
    November 3, 2010 at 8:28 PM

    Obama is visiting Humayun’s tomb. Seems puzzling at first. Why? Perhaps one could argue that of all Mughal emperors he has no massacre of natives directly attributable to him. Not his fault – he slipped and died before causing any significant damage. However, it is more interesting to note that Dara Sikoh is buried in the same compound. Among the Mughals, he probably most deserved the title of ‘The Great’. One hopes that Obama actually wants to visit the noble Dara’s grave. That would indeed be a good gesture.

  11. Rashmi
    November 3, 2010 at 4:33 PM

    I want to add to all comments and say to Girish at least research on his own about Mohmmad, Babur who demolished Babri masjid, for his ease i am giving links:-

    What does islamic text say about mohammad -

    Babur who committed countless atrocities on Hindus and bharatvarsha-His biography is Baburnama which is translated into many languages.YouEnglish translation by Annette Susannah Beveridge published in 1922. This translation was done directly from whatever portions of original Turkish manuscript were available. These suffice to establish the true character of Babur. You can download a scanned copy from
    For secular Tipu Sultan – to discover how much secular truly he was i refer to Haindava Keralam articles or on Voice of Dharma at Read the book Tipu sultan villain or Hero and decide .
    For Girisjh i Just Pity him, to call truth as untruth is a serious disease which we indians are suffering since last 1400 years due to inferiority complex. The sooner we get rid of it the better it is. We all have heard of a story of a frog in well isn’t It?

  12. Hindupriya
    November 2, 2010 at 10:03 PM

    One could argue the British civil service also was heavily biased in favour of white Englishmen. But at least theoretically, anybody could be a part of the civil service after the charter act of 1833.

  13. Hindupriya
    November 2, 2010 at 9:59 PM

    Actually, I have read LP and there are several instances in which the book is definitely lopsided secular stuff

    Anyway, this citation will do the job for you. You can clearly Jahangir destroyed temples, was a bigot, and even a Sadist (read Gascoigne). If he did not destroy the Jwala temple, it was because of a so called miracle gratified him. Or perhaps, the incident of iconoclasm was covered up by some native sympathetic author. Anyway, the citation is by Mukhia, a very secular guy

    This Shahane also blabbers about Ayodhya verdict. He is also into art history but I wonder if he knows anything about Hindu art.

    Sewell is outdated source. I would suggest quoting Kulke instead. Why dont u ask this Shahane why he doesn’t mention Firuz Tughlaq’s iconoclasm recorded in his own words in the case of Jajnagar in Orissa.

    Let LP mentions the details of Akbar’s genocide of 30,000 Hindu prisoners of war, Aurangzeb’s rabid iconoclasm, Mahmud’s deprecations, Firuz Tughlaq’s bigotry, Sikandar Lodi’s mindset. All of them are also irrefutable facts of history

    All mughals were conscious of their foreigner identity. At any time, they had more CENTRAL ASIAN turkish administrators in their nobility than natives (including Muslim converts) What further proof does he need

  14. Jooske
    November 2, 2010 at 1:08 PM

    Girish Shahane does not need to retire.He needs to be reeducated like a lot of Indians who have been to the Romilla Thapar Marxist School of Indian History.

    He also need to read a few history books mentioned above and by Sandeep in previous posts.

    Education is the key.

  15. 2bornot2b
    November 2, 2010 at 12:16 PM

    Well done, Sandeep. We need more people like you. In South Indian schools, they taught us ‘akbar planted trees on the sides of the road’ and “aurangazed marshalled his troops 17 times to plunder temples’. but, never do they mention the whole truth. The government would be glad to use girish’s article in school text books.

  16. jai
    November 2, 2010 at 5:01 AM

    Where is that coward Girish Shahane hiding now? Easiest way for intellectually dishonest fool who nobody knows to become popular is to support Islam and bash Hinduism. What Girish Shahane actually suffers from is truth-phobia. A phobia is an irrational fear. Fearing Islam is not irrational considering it’s historical record. The word Islamophobia itself is a dishonest word.

  17. November 1, 2010 at 10:32 PM

    Very good post !!
    Its time for Girish Shahane to retire 😉

  18. Malavika
    November 1, 2010 at 10:19 AM

    A S Sanju said:

    ” It was something that the conquerors/rulers had been doing since time immemorial. Isn’t the fear of the conqueror that made the women of defeated kings jump into fires in ancient India?”

    No, It was the well founded fear of ISLAMIC MARAUDERS that Hindu princess killed themselves. When two Rajputs or two Hindu kings fought the defeated kings women and subjects were left alone. So there was no need for mass suicide.

    When Sri Krishna Devaraya, the the great Vijayanagar King defeated the Bahamani Sultans the captured women Muslim women were restored to their families unharmed. When a beautiful Muslim woman was brought to Chatrapati Shivalji, he too sent her back to her family unharmed. This chivalrous behavior is completely at odd with the behavior of Islamist Kings. The behavior of Muslim rulers was firmly based on Sharia, Koran and the precedent set by the Prophet himself. This ideological link between Islam and the atrocious behavior of Muslims is something Islamist apologists like you deny without any evidence.

    “I would like to engage you in a discussion, but first you must understand what I am trying to say here. I have never justified the excesses committed by the Muslim rulers. All I said was that this is something that all the conquerors, irrespective of their nationality and religion, has been doing. If you are willing, I am ready to engage you on a discussion on this point.”

    You made a lot of assertions here, without any backup evidence. Show some evidence of Hindu kings behaving like Ghori’s, Gazni’s or Timur.

    B.t.w you are rationalizing the atrocious behavior of Islamic genociders by comparing them with ordinary ‘conquerors’ in spite of your usual disclaimer that “I have never justified the excesses committed by the Muslim rulers”.

  19. Sid
    October 31, 2010 at 11:51 AM

    Give that poor guy a break, will ya all!!! The secular genius has learned to write recently and thought that world will be impressed as he is with himself. If this is not happening then is this his fault? It is the fault of those who can not take his writing. If all the Hindu temples in North India got destroyed naturally, how is this the fault of the Muslim …. er…. Turk/Mongol/Arab rulers? Now archeologists and structural experts may say that they were destroyed, but do not we know that those who blame followers of Islam are Islamophobes? Those historians who accepted the proof of these experts are communal too. Even those Islamic authors who has described the accounts of destruction of temples are communal too. OK, I just committed the blasphemy of calling Islamic writers communal, but the main point is that this Shahane dude needs a break.

  20. cricfan
    October 30, 2010 at 7:09 PM

    i first saw a link to this debate in a different blog. it is a must see. it is instructive to note how the speakers dissect the topic “is islam a religion of peace”. Apparently most ‘big shot’ male Islamic scholars refused to share a debate platform with a lady, Ayaan Hirsi Ali?

    It’s time to terminate the word ‘islamophobia’ with extreme prejudice.

    I also wish to see Sri. Sandeep and other truth-seekers given a fair chance to participate in such open debates and open the eyes of more people.

  21. Smith JM
    October 30, 2010 at 4:18 PM

    The videos on Ayan Hirsi Ali vs others, debates are excellent. The for ” peace side” has admitted that they are scared that they may be attacked. This silence due to fear is not good. They must muster in large numbers to show their disgust. If they do not do, there silence will be like the church ( there were very few padres who were against the Nazis) which kept silent during WWII , when Nazis did all to the Jews.

  22. cricfan
    October 30, 2010 at 10:21 AM

    On Girish’s and other pseudo-secular’s knee-jerk use of the phrase ‘Islamophobia’, it would be instructive for these chaps to note that Douglas Murray has labeled ‘Islamophobia’ a “nonsense term”, as “there are a considerable number of reasons to be fearful of some – though certainly not all – aspects and versions of Islam.

  23. Jooske
    October 30, 2010 at 6:08 AM

    Please use the word pseudo secularist. Do not shorten it to p-secularists.
    The prefix pseudo is used to mean to say something as false or fraudulent or trying to be or pretending to be something it is not. Yo need to emphasis it.

    It is amazing that pseudo secularist have no shame or guilt about what they say and do.
    The look on their faces as if to ask you what is wrong with what I am saying or doing is mind baffling.

    Their mentality and behaviour is astounding.
    In this case their writing.Join the Girish Shahane Club
    Only in India!

  24. Sharada Bhonsle
    October 30, 2010 at 4:02 AM

    To Mr. A. S. Sanju

    There is an article on dharmaveer (another blogger) which deals with this question quite directly. Namely, was the behavior of muslim rulers towards their Hindu subjects (and more generally, towards the Hindu civilization) a result of Islamic doctrine, or just “the way conquerors always behave.” I suggest you take a look. Here is the link:

  25. David
    October 29, 2010 at 2:54 PM

    I came across your site via Lonely Planet and as someone who has traveled extensively around the world (including Pakistan, Iran, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Burma and India) I find it more than amusing to read an article by Grish Shane that accuses LP of Islamophobia! Hahaha!!! I reckon he wants a plum job with them so tried to look like the Indian History professor. LP is the only guidebook I use and I was especially impressed with one they wrote to Aboriginal Australia. It gives such a different view of Australian history – using the word ‘invasion’ many times, for the Anglos that tricked and killed off the indigenous Aboriginies – so there is no doubt in my mind that they are fair when it comes to history. These Mughals did a lot of damage to Indian monuments, from what I saw in India.

    But I have to say, when in India I came across some similarly ridiculous articles as Shanes. So from that point of view, his didn’t surprise me. But it’s more surprising that editors let these sorts of unethical pieces make it to print in the first place. Why so?


  26. Arif
    October 29, 2010 at 2:25 PM

    I have commented on Lonely Planet’s site and wanted to say, as a Muslim, I am very disappointed to see Mr Girish Shahane use the religion so misleadingly. I have a copy of the LP India guidebook and it is very well written and fairly represents all religions in India. He has taken sentences out of context. It is clear to see.

    The book has promoted the culture of India and its people so well and I have many foreign friends who use it when they come here. This is how I came to know of it in the first place. I wish people like Mr Shahane would not make trouble for us by writing such bias and inflammatory articles. And I hope the people at Lonely Planet don’t pay attention to such writers who use my religion so irresponsibly.

    I am interested in reading the historical views and have to commend this site and others for sharing details of history I previously did not know about.

    Arif Khan

  27. Harsha
    October 29, 2010 at 2:14 PM

    Excellent Sandeep. The way you nail these sick P-secularists with historical facts and clear-cut logical conclusions is truly commendable .

  28. Sri
    October 29, 2010 at 11:56 AM

    To A S Sanju,

    What I said was philosophy of Islam was directly behind such inhumanity. Islam as a religion and ideology is at the core of what happened.

    Did every ruler and occupier behave in same manner? I do not think. Compare British rule and Islamic rule in India. You will find many differences if your brain was capable of thinking beyond that has been fed by establishment.

    Take even French occupation of Algeria.

    You want the latest. You can look at what is happening right now in Islamic countries albeit slowly.

    My points are: 1. Islam was the driving force behind such acts. 2. Islam is capable of doing it again. 3. Islam can never co-exist with any one. 4. Islam is political; it is expansionist and fascist in nature.

    Above are my points; I stated them in that post itself. You are trying broaden the argument to such a level where anyone will not make any impact.

    I already stated my position that History should be studied as it happened not because we should try to reverse it. But we should learn from it about mistakes.

    You put your words very conveniently to avoid answering to awkward questions by saying you do not endorse what happened. But indirectly you are doing it by attributing what happened to political reasons without understanding what is politics and nation building.

    I will narrate a simple example: British tolerated impostor like Gandhi with his sathyagraha. But when Hindus took to sathyagraha as a protest to exorbitant Jizya taxes, Aurangzeb trampled them with elephants. Islam will neither tolerate Gandhis nor produce Gandhis.

    Finally, I am not validating your points; I have nothing but contempt for people like you and your arguments.

  29. Jooske
    October 29, 2010 at 11:48 AM

    Religious leanings or religious sounding references or deity on the cover is not the criteria.

    Do not judge the book by its cover.

    What is important is the content.Just like here, what Sandeeps writes is important and not the label that people give him.

  30. Jooske
    October 29, 2010 at 11:42 AM

    I love the labels and the name calling and the piss and shoot school that Girish Shahanee belongs to.

    May I suggest this book to him. It is written by a non Indian so he may enjoy reading it. It might also help to improve his history writing. It might also stop him of whitewashing of historical records.

    Rewriting Indian History by Franois Gautier

    and here is an excellent book review

  31. Suhas
    October 29, 2010 at 4:41 AM

    Ayan Hirsi Ali in top form in a debate in US
    7 parts are there , please go thru all. Great gutsy lady.

  32. Sandeep
    October 29, 2010 at 12:55 AM


    Very succinctly put! Good one.

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