Muhammad bin Bakhtiyar Khalji

Turkic military general of Qutb al-Din Aibak

Ikhtiyār al-Dīn Muḥammad Bakhtiyār Khaljī also known as Malik Ghazi Ikhtiyar 'l-Din Muhammad Bakhtiyar Khalji or Muhammad Bakhtiyar Khalji or simply Bakhtiyar Khalji (died 1206), a military general of Qutb al-Din Aibak who conquered Bengal. His invasions are believed to have severely damaged the Buddhist establishments at Nalanda, Odantapuri, and Vikramashila.

The image, in the chapter on India in Hutchison's Story of the Nations edited by James Meston, depicts the Bakhtiyar Khalji's massacre of Buddhist monks in Bihar, India. Khaliji destroyed the Nalanda and Vikramshila universities during his raids across North Indian plains, massacring many Buddhist and Brahmin scholars.
Ruins of ancient Nalanda


  • The Mussalman invaders sacked the Buddhist universities of Nalanda, Vikramshila, Jagaddala, Odantapuri to name only a few. They razed to the ground Buddhist monasteries with which the country was studded. The monks fled away in thousands to Nepal, Tibet and other places outside India. A very large number were killed outright by the Muslim commanders. How the Buddhist priesthood perished by the sword of the Muslim invaders has been recorded by the Muslim historians themselves. Summarizing the evidence relating to the slaughter of the Buddhist Monks perpetrated by the Musalman General in the course of his invasion of Bihar in 1197 AD, Mr. Vincent Smith says, "The Musalman General, who had already made his name a terror by repeated plundering expeditions in Bihar, seized the capital by a daring stroke... Great quantities of plunder were obtained, and the slaughter of the 'shaven headed Brahmans', that is to say the Buddhist monks, was so thoroughly completed, that when the victor sought for someone capable of explaining the contents of the books in the libraries of the monasteries, not a living man could be found who was able to read them. 'It was discovered,' we are told, 'that the whole of that fortress and city was a college, and in the Hindi tongue they call a college Bihar.' "Such was the slaughter of the Buddhist priesthood perpetrated by the Islamic invaders. The axe was struck at the very root. For by killing the Buddhist priesthood, Islam killed Buddhism. This was the greatest disaster that befell the religion of the Buddha in India....
    • B. R. Ambedkar, "The decline and fall of Buddhism," Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar: Writings and Speeches, Vol. III, Government of Maharashtra. 1987, p. 232-233
  • Khilji’s starring role in the destruction of Indian Buddhism is well-documented in contemporaneous Muslim sources and cannot be shifted to unnamed Hindu bogeys so cavalierly.
    • Elst, K. The argumentative Hindu (2012)
  • The fame of his bravery and news of his plundering raids spread abroad, attracting to his standard a body of Khalji warriors then found hanging about all over Hindustan. His exploits were reported to Qutbuddin Aibak, who sent him a robe of honour and appointed him to invade Bihar as the Sultan’s general in 1202 C.E.15 Ikhtiyaruddin Bakhtiyar Khalji conquered extensively in Bihar and Bengal but then died unhonoured and unsung.
    • Lal, K. S. (1994). Muslim slave system in medieval India. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan. Chapter 4
  • Khalji’s military exploits in the east also resulted in conversions to Islam. About the end of the twelfth or the beginning of the thirteenth century, he marched into Bihar and attacked the University centres of Nalanda, Vikramshila and Uddandapur, erecting a fortress at the site of Uddandapur or Odantapuri. The Buddhist monks in these places were massacred and the common people, deprived of their priests and teachers, turned some to Brahmanism and some to Islam. Buddhism did not die out immediately or completely in Bihar. But Bakhtiyar’s raid on Bihar did deliver a shattering blow to Buddhism and its lost followers were gained mainly by Islam.
    • Lal, K. S. (2012). Indian muslims: Who are they.
  • A free-lance adventurer, Muhammad Bakhtyar Khalji, was moving further east. In 1200 AD he sacked the undefended university town of Odantpuri in Bihar and massacred the Buddhist monks in the monasteries. In 1202 AD he took Nadiya by surprise. Badauni records in his Muntakhab-ut-Tawarikh that “property and booty beyond computation fell into the hands of the Muslims and Muhammad Bakhtyar having destroyed the places of worship and idol temples of the infidels founded mosques and Khanqahs”.
    • Muntakhab-ut-Tawarikh, quoted from Goel, Sita Ram (2001). The story of Islamic imperialism in India. ISBN 9788185990231 Ch. 6
  • “In short, Muhammad Bakhtiyar assumed the canopy, and had prayers read, and coin struck in his own name and founded mosques and Khãnkahs and colleges, in place of the temples of the heathens.”
    • About Ikhtiyãru’d-Dîn Muhammad Bakhtiyãr Khaljî (AD 1202-1206) Bengal The Tabqãt-i-Akbarî translated by B. De, Calcutta, 1973, Vol. I, p. 51. Tabqãt-i-Akharî by Nizamuddin Ahmad.
  • “Muhammad Bakhtiyar sweeping the town with the broom of devastation, completely demolished it, and making anew the city of Lakhnauti… his metropolis, ruled over Bengal… and strove to put in practice the ordinances of the Muhammadan religion… and for a period ruling over Bengal he engaged in demolishing the temples and building mosques.”
    • Ikhtiyãru’d-Dîn Muhammad Bakhtiyãr Khaljî (AD 1202-1206) Lakhnauti (Bengal) Riyãzu’s-Salãtîn: Riyuz-us-Salatin, translated into English by Abdus Salam, Delhi Reprint, 1976, pp. 63-64.
  • Mohammed Ghori had the Hindu temples of Ajmer demolished and ordered the construction of mosques and Quran schools on their ruins…He plundered Kanauj and Kashi and destroyed their temples... [While his generals] destroyed in passing the remaining Buddhist communities of Bihar and destroyed the universities of Nalanda.... Bakhtiar Khilji “established a Muslim capital in Lakhanauti (Gaur) on the Ganga and destroyed, in 1197, its basalt temples. In Odantpuri, in 1202, he massacred two thousand Buddhist monks....
    • Louis Frederic, L'Inde de l'Islam, p. 42-49, (quoted from: Decolonizing the Hindu Mind - By Koenraad Elst p. 328)
  • Hindu learning in general was suppressed since Hindu and Buddhist schools were attached to temples and monasteries. These were regularly destroyed from the very beginning and with them schools of learning. Qutbuddin Aibak razed the Sanskrit College of Vishaldeva at Ajmer and in its place built a mosque called Arhai din ka Jhonpra. In the east Ikhtiyauddin Bakhtiyar Khalji sacked the Buddhist university centres in Bihar like Odantapuri, Nalanda and Vikramshila between 1197-1202. ... Demolition of schools and temples was continued by most Muslim rulers right up to the time of Aurangzeb, both at the centre and in the provinces. Aurangzeb was one of the enthusiastic sort in this respect, although he was no exception.... I have resided in Delhi, Bhopal and Hyderabad (Deccan) for many years. In all these places I could hardly locate any temples left of the medieval period. Hindu learning was dependent on schools and Brahman teachers, and both were attached to temples mostly in urban areas. And all the three - schools, teachers and temples - were systematically destroyed.
    • Lal, K. S. (1999). Theory and practice of Muslim state in India. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan. Chapter 7
  • There could be little doubt, however, that the person who was directly responsible for the destruction of the Odantapuri and Vikramasila monasteries was Ikhtiyar-ud-din Muhammad bin Bakhtiyar Khalji...
    • Quoted from [1] [2] H. Mukhia, in Taranatha’s History Of Buddhism In India, English translation.
  • “…In the second year after this arrangement Muhammad Bakhtyar brought an army from Behar towards Lakhnauti and arrived at the town of Nudiya, with a small force; Nudiya is now in ruins. Rai Lakhmia (Lakhminia) the governor of that town… fled thence to Kamran, and property and booty beyond computation fell into the hands of the Muslims, and Muhammad Bakhtyar having destroyed the places of worship and idol temples of the infidels founded Mosques and Monasteries and schools and caused a metropolis to be built called by his own name, which now has the name of Gaur.
    There where was heard before
    The clamour and uproar of the heathen,
    Now there is heard resounding
    The shout of ‘Allaho Akbar’.”
    • About Ikhtiyaru’d-Din Muhammad Bakhtiyar Khalji (AD 1202-1206) Navadvipa (Bengal) Muntakhabu’t-Tawarikh, translated into English by George S.A. Ranking, Patna Reprint 1973, Vol. I, p. 82-83
  • In the lofty nine-storied temple at Buddha Gaya, which was formerly called the Mahagandhola (Gandhalaya), the images of the past Buddhas were enshrined. The nine-storied temple called Ratandadhi of Dharamganja (university) of Nalanda was the repository of the sacred books of the Mahayana and Hinayana Buddhist Schools. The temple of Odantapuriihara, which is said to have been loftier than either of the two (Buddha Gaya and Nalanda) contained a vast collection of Buddhist and Bratiminical works, which, after the manner of the great Alexandrian Library, was burnt under the orders of Mohamed Ben Sam, general of Bakhtyar Kihilji, in 1212. A.D.
    • Rai Bahadur Sarat Chander Dass, The Hindustan Review for March, 1906 p. 187 (Universities in Ancient India). quoted in Har Bilas Sarda , Hindu Superiority (1922), p 138

Tabaqat-i-Nasiri by Minhaj-i Siraj Juzjani

Unless noted, translation from the extracts of Tabaqat-i-Nasiri in pp 259-384 of Elliot and Dowson The History of India, as Told by Its Own Historians. online. (The portions of the Tabakat-i Ndsiri which relate to India have also been printed in the Bibliotheca Indica, under the superintendance of Major Lees, in a volume of 450 pages. This contains the 11th and the 17th to the 22d Tabakats or books.) Another translation of Tabaqat-i-Nasiri is by H G Raverty, Calcutta, 1881.
  • It is related that this Muhammad Bakhtiyar was a Khilji, of Ghor, of the province of Garmsir. He was a very smart, enterprising, bold, courageous, wise, and experienced man… Being a bold and enterprising man, he used to make incursions into the districts of Munir (Monghir), and Behar, and bring away much plunder, until in this manner he obtained plenty of horses, arms, and men. The fame of his bravery and of his plundering raids spread abroad, and a body of Khiljis joined him from Hindustan. His exploits were reported to Sultan Kutbu-d din, and he sent him a dress and showed him great honour. Being thus encouraged, he led his army to Behar and ravaged it. In this manner he continued for a year or two to plunder the neighbourhood, and at last prepared to invade the country.
    • Tabakat XX. [3]
  • It is said by credible persons that he went to the gate of the fort of Behar with only two hundred horse, and began the war by taking the enemy unawares. In the service of Bakhtiyar there were two brothers of great intelligence. One of them was named Nizamu-d din and the other Samsamu-d din. The compiler of this book met Samsamu-d din at Lakhnauti in the year 641 H. (1243 A.D.), and heard the following story from him. When Bakhtiyar reached the gate of the fort, and the fighting began, these two wise brothers were active in that army of heroes. Muhammad Bakhtiyar with great vigour and audacity rushed in at the gate of the fort and gained possession of the place. Great plunder fell into the hands of the victors. Most of the inhabitants of the place were Brahmans with shaven heads. They were put to death. Large numbers of books were found there, and when the Muhammadans saw them, they called for some persons to explain their contents, but all the men had been killed. It was discovered that the whole fort and city was a place of study (madrasa). In the Hindi language the word Behar (vihar) means a college….
    • [4]
    • Different translation :
      He [Bakhtiyar Khalji] used to carry his depredations into those parts and that country until he organized an attack upon the fortified city of Bihar. Trustworthy persons have related on this wise, that he advanced to the gateway of the fortress of Bihar with two hundred horsemen in defensive armour, and suddenly attacked the place. There were two brothers of Farghanah, men of learning, [Nizamu-ud-Din and Samsam-ud-Din] in the service of Muhammad-i-Bakhtiyar, and the author of this book [Minhajuddin] met with at Lakhnawati in the year 641 H and this account is from him. These two wise brothers were soldiers among that band of holy warriors when they reached the gateway of the fortress and began the attack at which time Muhammad-i-Bakhtiyar, by the force of his intrepidity, threw himself into the postern of the gateway of the place, and they captured the fortress and acquired great booty. The greater number of inhabitants of that place were Brahmans, and the whole of those Brahmans had their heads shaven; and they were all slain. There were a great number of books there; and, when all these books came under the observation of the Musalmans, they summoned a number of Hindus that they might give them information respecting the import of those books; but the whole of the Hindus were killed. On becoming acquainted (with the contents of the books), it was found that the whole of that fortress and the city was a college, and in the Hindui tongue, they call a college Bihar.
    • Tabaqat-i-Nasiri, tr. H G Raverty, Calcutta, vol 1, 1881, pp.551-52. also [5]
  • After receiving a robe from the Sultan he returned to Behar. Great fear of him prevailed in the minds of the infidels of the territories of Lakhnauti, Behar, Bang (Bengal), and Kamrup... It is related by credible authorities that mention of the brave deeds and conquests of Malik Muhammad Bakhtiyar was made before Rai Lakhmaniya, whose capital was the city of Nudiya…
    Next year Muhammad Bakhtiyar prepared an army, and marched from Behar. He suddenly appeared before the city of Nudiya with only eighteen horsemen, the remainder of his army was left to follow. Muhammd Bakhtiyar did not molest any man, but went on peaceably and without ostentation, so that no one could suspect who he was. The people rather thought that he was a merchant, who had brought horses for sale. In this manner he reached the gate of Rai Lakhmaniya’s palace, when he drew his sword and commenced the attack. At this time the Rai was at his dinner, and golden and silver dishes filled with food were placed before him according to the usual custom. All of a sudden a cry was raised at the gate of his palace and in the city. Before he had ascertained what had occurred, Muhammad Bakhtiyar had rushed into the palace and put a number of men to the sword. The Rai fled barefooted by the rear of the palace, and his whole treasure, and all his wives, maid servants, attendants, and women fell into the hands of the invader. Numerous elephants were taken, and such booty was obtained by the Muhammadans as is beyond all compute. When his army arrived, the whole city was brought under subjection, and he fixed his headquarters there.
    Rai Lakhmaniya went towards Sanknat and Bengal, where he died. His sons are to this day rulers in the territory of Bengal. When Muhammad Bakhtiyar had taken possession of the Rai’s territory, he destroyed the city of Nudiya and established the seat of his government at Lakhnauti. He brought the surrounding places into his possession, and caused his name to be read in the Khutba and struck on the coins. Mosques, colleges, and monasteries were raised everywhere by the generous efforts of him and his officers, and he sent a great portion of the spoil to Sultan Kutbu-d din.
    • [6] [7]
    • Invasion of Bihar and Bengal, Minhaju-s Siraj Elliot and Dowson, vol. II, page 305 ff. The History of India, as Told by Its Own Historians also quoted in Jain, M. (editor) (2011). The India they saw: Foreign accounts. New Delhi: Ocean Books. Volume II Chapter 11
  • When several years had elapsed, he received information about the territories of Turkistan and Tibet, to the east of Lakhnauti, and he began to entertain a desire of taking Tibet and Turkistan. For this purpose he prepared an army of about ten thousand horse. Among the hills which lie between Tibet and the territory of Lakhnauti, there are three races of people.
    The one is called Kuch (Kuch Behar), the second Mich, and the third, Tiharu. They all have Turki features and speak different languages, something between the language of Hind and that of Tibet. One of the chiefs of the tribes of Kuch and Mich, who was called Ali Mich, had been converted to Muhammadanism by Muhammad Bakhtiyar, and this man agreed to conduct him into the hills. He led him to a place where there was a city called Mardhan-kot. It is said that in the ancient times when Gurshasp Shah returned from China, he came to Kamrud (Kam-rup) and built this city. Before the town there runs a stream which is exceedingly large. It is called Bangamati [Brahmaputra]. When it enters the country of Hindustan it receives in the Hindi language the name of Samundar. In length, breadth, and depth, it is three times greater than the Ganges. Muhammad Bakh-tiyar came to the banks of this river, and Ali Mich went before the Muhammadan army. For ten days they marched on until he led them along the upper course of the river into the hills, to a place where from old times a bridge had stood over the water having about twenty (bist o and) arches of stone. When the army reached the bridge, Bakhtiyar posted there two officers, one a Turk, and the other a Khilji, with a large force to secure the place till his return. With the remainder of the army he then went over the bridge. The Rai of Kamrup, on receiving intelligence of the passage of the Muhammadans, sent some confidential officers to warn Bakhtiyar against invading the country of Tibet, and to assure him that he had better return and make more suitable preparations. He also added that he, the Rai of Kamrup, had determined that next year he also would muster his forces and precede the Muhammadan army to secure the country. Muhammad Bakhtiyar paid no heed to these representations, but marched on towards the hills of Tibet.
    • page 309 ff [8]
    • Desires to take Turkistan and Tibet, worsted in Kamrup, Minhajus Siraj . Elliot and Dowson, vol. II, The History of India, as Told by Its Own Historians, also quoted in Jain, M. (editor) (2011). The India they saw: Foreign accounts. New Delhi: Ocean Books. Volume II Chapter 11
  • One night in the year 641 (1243A.D.) he halted at a place between Deo-kot and Bangawan, and stayed as a guest in the house of Muatamadu-d daula, who had formerly been an equerry in the service of Muhammad Bakhtiyar and had lived in the town of Lakhnauti. From this man he heard that after passing over the bridge, the road lay for fifteen stages through the defiles and passes of the mountains, and at the sixteenth stage level land was reached. The whole of that land was well populated, and the villages were flourishing. The village which was first reached had a fort, and when the Muhammadan army made an attack upon it, the people in the fort and the surrounding places came to oppose them, and a battle ensued. The fight raged from morning till the time of afternoon prayer, and large numbers of the Muhammadans were slain and wounded. The only weapons of the enemy were bamboo spears; and their armour, shields and helmets, consisted only of raw silk strongly fastened and sewed together. They all carried long bows and arrows. When night came on, the prisoners who had been taken were brought forward and questioned, and it was then ascertained that at five parasangs from that place there was a city called Karam-batan, and in it there was about three hundred and fifty thousand brave Turks armed with bows. The moment the horsemen of the Muhammadans arrived, messengers went to report their approach, and these messengers would reach their destination next morning. When the author was at Lakhnauti, he made enquiries about that place, and learnt that it was a pretty large city. The ramparts of it are built of stone. The inhabitants of it are Brahmans and Nunis, and the city is under the sway of the chief of these people. They profess the Buddhist religion. Every morning in the market of that city, about fifteen hundred horses are sold. All the saddle horses which come into the territory of Lakhnauti are brought from that country. Their roads pass through the ravines of the mountains, as is quite common in that part of the country. Between Kamrup and Tibet there are thirty-five mountain passes through which horses are brought to Lakhnauti.
    • page 310 ff [9]
    • Desires to take Turkistan and Tibet, worsted in Kamrup, Minhajus Siraj . Elliot and Dowson, vol. II, The History of India, as Told by Its Own Historians, also quoted in Jain, M. (editor) (2011). The India they saw: Foreign accounts. New Delhi: Ocean Books. Volume II Chapter 11
  • In short, when Muhammad Bakhtiyar became aware of the nature of the country, and saw that his men were tired and exhausted, and that many had been slain and disabled in the first day’s march, he consulted with his nobles, and they resolved that it was advisable to retreat, that in the following year they might return to the country in a state of greater preparation. On their way back there was not left on all the road a single blade of grass or a bit of wood. All had been set on fire and burnt. The inhabitants of the valleys and passes had all removed far away from the road, and for the space of fifteen days not a sir of food nor a blade of grass or fodder was to be found, and they were compelled to kill and eat their horses.
  • When, after descending the hill of the land of Kamrup, they reached the bridge, they found that the arches of it had been demolished. The two officers who had been left to guard it had quarreled, and in their animosity to each other had neglected to take care of the bridge and the road, so the Hindus of Kamrup had come there and destroyed the bridge. When Muhammad Bakhtiyar with his army reached the place, he found no means of crossing. Neither was there a boat to be found, so he was greatly troubled and perplexed. They resolved to fix on some place where to encamp, and prepare rafts and boats to enable them to cross the river.
  • In the vicinity of this place was perceived a temple, very lofty and strong, and of beautiful structure. In it there were numerous idols of gold and silver, and one very large golden idol, which exceeded two or three thousand miskals in weight. Muhammad Bakhtiyar and the remnant of his army sought refuge in that temple, and set about procuring wood and ropes for constructing rafts to cross the stream. The Rai of Kamrup was informed of the distress and weakness of the Muhammadans, and he issued orders to all the Hindus of his territory to come up, levy after levy, and all around the temple they were to stick their bamboo spears in the ground and to plait them together so as to form a kind of wall. Then the soldiers of Islam saw this they told Muhammad Bakhtiyar that if they remained passive they would all be taken in the trap of the infidels and be made prisoners; some way of escape must be sought out. By common consent they made a simultaneous sally, and directing their efforts to one spot, they cleared for themselves a way through the dangerous obstacle to the open ground. The Hindus pursued them to the banks of the river and halted there. Every one exerted his ingenuity to devise some means of passing over the river. One of the soldiers urged his horse into the water, and it was found fordable to the distance of a bow-shot. A cry arose in the army that a fordable passage was found, and all threw themselves into the stream. The Hindus in their rear took possession of the banks. When the Muhammadans reached the middle of the stream, the water was found to be very deep, and they nearly all perished. Muhammad Bakhtiyar with some horse, to the number of about a hundred, more or less, crossed the river with the greatest difficulty, but all the rest were drowned….
    • page 312 ff [12]
    • Desires to take Turkistan and Tibet, worsted in Kamrup, Minhajus Siraj . Elliot and Dowson, vol. II, The History of India, as Told by Its Own Historians, also quoted in Jain, M. (editor) (2011). The India they saw: Foreign accounts. New Delhi: Ocean Books. Volume II Chapter 11