If we may start by asking an intriguing question: What is common between Chalukya Pulakeshin II, Pratihara Nagabhata II and the former American president George W Bush? The answer is – the “Al Faw Peninsula” of Iraq. This peninsula is the only outlet to the sea to modern Iraq and has historically been one of the most coveted and strategic regions of the world. The control over Al-Faw decided control over the Middle East.
Around 1400 years ago, Islam was established in the Arabian desert. In the early 7th century, conflict loomed between the mighty Sassanian empire of Persia and the newly set up First caliphate of Islamic history – the Rashidun. One of the first regions outside Arabia, the Caliphate focused on conquering was the Al Faw peninsula. The Peninsula remained hotly contested down the centuries. In the 20th century, The Peninsula was bitterly contested in the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980’s due to its strategic location bordering on the disputed Shatt al-Arab waterway. Large scale battles were witnessed during this time. The Iranian Pasadaran (Revolutionary Guard) led an offensive that captured the peninsula in February 1986. In April 1988, a massive counteroffensive by the Iraqi army which involved allegations of use of sarin gas recaptured the peninsula after 35 hours of bloody fighting. This was such a great achievement that Saddam Hussein, the then ruler of Iraq declared the day of victory as a national holiday.
The Al Faw was also a key objective of the American invasions of Iraq later. During the 1991 Gulf War, the Western allied forces bombarded the Al Faw Peninsula to shut down all Iraqi shipping and access to the sea. Later during the 2003 invasion of Iraq under “Operation Enduring Freedom”, under the aegis of POTUS George W Bush, the British 3 commando brigade and US SEAL team 8 led two fierce offensives to the Umm Qasr port and the Mina Al Bakr Oil terminals in the peninsula. Fierce fighting ensued for days before the Iraqi forces were put down. An Anglo-American camp called Camp Driftwood was established here.
The reason for the bloody battles of control throughout history has been many fold. The Al Faw Peninsula lies at the head of the Persian Gulf. It provides the easiest access to the sea from the key agricultural and commercial centers of the ancient Mesopotamian region. It houses the largest ports in the region which were crucial for trade between Europe and the East. In modern times it has multiple Oil terminals and plays a key role in the Global Oil trade.
But other than all these reasons, there is another important reason. The Peninsula is in the immediate vicinity of one of the most historic and greatest commercial centers of the Middle East – Basra. Basra, a metropolis of over 1.4 million inhabitants is present day Iraq’s economic capital and one of the most prominent cities in Islamic history. It is the principal city of the Basra Governorate which is home to Iraq’s ports and will soon house one of the largest sea-port complexes in the world under the Grand Faw project. Modern Basra lies at the banks of the Shatt al-Arab, a waterway connecting the Persian Gulf with the confluence of the Tigris and the Euphrates – the great rivers of Middle Eastern civilization. The old historic quarter of Basra is today one of the suburbs of the ever-expanding city and its first settlements lay 15 kms inland from the Shatt Al-Arab.
Given all this history, It may seem surprising to many in Bharat today that this Peninsula was called “Ard-i-Hind” or “Land of India” at the dawn of Islamic history. The city of Basra was established, as per early Arabic records, due to the express intention of providing protection against attacks in Iraq or the navy of Al-Hind or Bharat.
Al-Faw of Iraq or “Ard-I-Hind” (Land of India):
Multiple early Arabic records including a letter from Caliph Umar to Utba Ibn Ghazwan refer to Al-Faw peninsula as “Ard-i-Hind” or “Land of India”. There are various theories on the reason for this by present-day historians. But the most logical and corroborated reason is that due to massive ancient Indian economic influence, merchants from Bharat had established a colony along with their culture in this peninsula in order to facilitate East-West trade routed through or originating from the subcontinent.
It was this “pravasi bharatiya” diaspora that was at severe risk from the marching contingents of the Rashidun Caliphate and the nervous Sassanian wardens in the first half of the 7th century. From Arabic, Pehlevi and Indian records between 7th and 10th centuries, we can piece together a narrative of these tense years. The merchants appealed to help to the most powerful ruler of Bharatvarsha at that time: Satyashraya Pulakeshin Parameshwara of the Vatapi Chalukya dynasty. The emperor of Bharat dispatched a naval fleet to protect the Indians of Al Faw.
Chalukya Pulakeshin’s Exploits in Iraq:
In year 12 of the Islamic calendar, the Caliphate general Khalid Ibn Al -Walid witnessed the garrison of the port of Al-Ubulla in the peninsula being under attack from the sea by “navy of Al-Hind”. The Chalukyan naval intervention was so effective that three years later around 636 CE, Caliph Umar (as recorded by Al-Tabari), was afraid of Naval attacks of the “King of Al-Hind”. Tabari mentions the name of the “King of Al Hind” in another account dated just a few years earlier as “Furumisha”. The latter is translated as either “Parameshwara” or “Pulakeshin”. Either way, both names refer to the same contemporary Chalukyan monarch- Pulakeshin II or Immadi Pulakeshin.
The fierce naval attacks of the Chalukyas of Bharat to protect the Indian diaspora forced the Arabs to retreat nearly 80 kms inland. So frightened were they by the Indian navy that they also retreated 15 kms away from the closest waterbody to set up their main garrison. Caliph Umar, as per Arabic accounts, expressly told his commanders to build a fortified city – Basra- to protect Iraq from an allied Indian-Umani invasion.
It appears from Arabic records, that Pulakeshin attempted forming a unique non-Abrahamic alliance between Persia, Uman and Bharat against the Caliphate’s advance. Unfortunately, the military intervention of Bharat in Iraq ended in a few years due to the reverses to the Chalukya emperor at the hand of the Pallavas in Bharat. Subcontinental politics diverted attention and resources away from the overseas conflict. Yet the fact remains that the only world power which remained undefeated at the hands of the Rashidun Caliphate in its palmiest years were the Chalukyas of Bharat.
Inspired by Ramayana, the Pratiharas strike in Al Faw:
The legacy of the Chalukyas was picked up nearly two centuries later by another great dynasty of Bharat – the Gurjara-Pratiharas. With his capital at Kanyakubja or Kannuaj, Pratihara Nagabhata II resolved to deter invasions from Arab forces in Sindh by launching a counter offensive. To cut supply lines between Iraq, Arabia and Iran to the Arab positions in Sindh, a daring plan was worked out. As per a Sanskrit inscription – the Gopadri prashasti – the plan was inspired by the Ramayana. Just like Lord Rama led the Vanaras across the Oceans to wipe out Adharma, the Pratihara naval fleets under crown prince Ramabhadra would cross the oceans to set fire to the Lanka of their enemies.
The Pratihara offensive involved naval guerrilla raids on key ports of the Persian Gulf comprising sites in modern day UAE, Oman, Iraq and Iran. Their most lethal strike was in the Al Faw peninsula and we have a telling Arabic eye witness account in the siras of Ibadi missionaries from Basra dated to c 815-816 CE.
The Pratihara offensive achieved its objective and paralyzed sea lanes of the Arabs. Consequently, isolated from their home bases, the Arabs in Eastern Sindh were overrun and the region annexed to the Pratihara empire.
An “Ard-i-Hind” cultural complex in modern Iraq?
The ruthless alien invasions of Bharat from the 11th century CE, pushed most Indian dynasties into the defensive with respect to the Western theater. A war of resistance had to be fought for existence and this diverted the focus away from overseas conquests. That heroic resistance led to the preservation of the ancient Sanatana Dharma.
Today as we look back at the glorious periods of Indian victories and influence in the Al Faw peninsula of Iraq, we may well ask the question – is it possible that we can revive the memory of these age-old ties? For example, can we under “Project Mausam” set up an “Ard-i-Hind” cultural complex in the Al Faw peninsula? The complex could house a museum highlighting the ancient trade and cultural contacts between Bharat and the Middle East and the role played by the Indian merchant colonies of Iraq. It could house various cultural and educational events and courses on Bhartiya culture. Finally, it could house massive statues of Satyashraya Pulakeshin Parameswahra, Pratihara Nagabhata II and Ramabhadra – the great Chakravartis of Bharat who are intimately associated with this historic strategic peninsula thousands of kms away from the Indian coast.
Full details on the Conquests of the Chalukyas and Pratiharas in Al Faw Peninsula, Iraq are contained in the book – “Bharat’s Military Conquests in Foreign Lands” – written by the same author: Venkatesh Rangan. The book is available at https://subbupublications.com
Image sourced from internet.
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