Temple desecration and destruction were acts of conquests and establishment of authority and rarely acts of pure theocratic zeal. Local rulers would invest their authority in a royal temple—one that housed an image of the state deity, or rastra-devata. When the ruler was defeated, the temple would be destroyed and the deity carried away as a physical act to negate the political and ruling authority of the defeated ruler. And as much as the modern day historical iconoclasts would like to explain this through some belief in the invader’s theocratic convictions, particularly if they were Muslim invaders, the act of attacking royal temples and carrying off state deities as booty or prize was a pattern established well before the arrival of Muslim armies in India.

 

These are essential points in Romila Thapar’s work Somanatha: The Many Voices of a History. They are elaborated in great detail in a fascinating essay by the historian Richard M. Eaton in a chapter titled ‘Temple Desecration and Indo-Muslim States’ that appears in Gilmartin and Lawrence’s Beyond Turk And Hindu: Rethinking Religious Identities in Islamicate South Asia….

 

From the essay In Garbs Foreign: Temple Desecrations and Acts of Conquest by Asim Rafiqui

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