Richard M. Eaton

American historian
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Richard Maxwell Eaton (born 1940) is an American historian, professor and author. His primary interest is the social and cultural history of pre-modern India (1000-1800).


  • Much of the contemporary evidence on temple desecration cited by Hindu nationalists is found in Persian materials translated and published during the British occupation of India. Especially influential has been the eight-volume History of India as Told by its Own Historians, first published in 1849 and edited by Sir Henry M. Elliot, who oversaw the bulk of the translations, with the help of John Dowson. But Elliot, keen to contrast what he understood as the justice and efficiency of British rule with the cruelty and despotism of the Muslim rulers who had preceded that rule, was anything but sympathetic to the “Muhammadan” period of Indian history.
  • The notion that Babur’s officer Mir Baqi destroyed a temple dedicated to Rama’s birthplace at Ayodhya and then got the emperor’s sanction to build a mosque on the site – the Babri Masjid – was elaborated in 1936 by S.K. Banerji. However, the author offered no evidence that there had ever been a temple at this site, much less that it had been destroyed by Mir Baqi. The mosque’s inscription records only that Babur had ordered the construction of the mosque, which was built by Mir Baqi and was described as “the place of descent of celestial beings” (mahbit-i qudsiyan). This commonplace rhetorical flourish can hardly be construed as referring to Rama, especially since it is the mosque itself that is so described, and not the site or any earlier structure on the site.
  • When Firuz Tughluq invaded Orissa in 1359 and learned that the region's most important temple was that of Jagannath located inside the raja's fortress in Puri, he carried off the stone image of the god and installed it in Delhi 'in an ignominious position'.
  • One often hears that between the thirteenth and eighteenth centuries, Indo-Muslim states, driven by a Judeo-Islamic “theology of iconoclasm,” by fanaticism, or by sheer lust for plunder, wantonly and indiscriminately indulged in the desecration of Hindu temples. Such a picture, however, cannot be sustained by evidence from original sources for the period after 1192. Had instances of temple desecration been driven by a “theology of iconoclasm,” as some have claimed, such a theology would have committed Muslims in India to destroying all temples everywhere, including ordinary village temples, as opposed to the highly selective operation that seems actually to have taken place.
  • An inscription dated 1455, found over the doorway of a tomb-shrine in Dhar, Madhya Pradesh [mentions] the destruction of a Hindu temple by one Abdullah Shah Changal during the reign of Raja Bhoja, a renowned Paramara king who had ruled over the region from 1010 to 1053. ... Goel does, however, consider it more likely that the event took place during the reign of Raja Bhoja II in the late thirteenth century rather than during that of Raja Bhoja I in the eleventh century.
  • [T]he demonization of Mahmud and the portrayal of his raid on Somnath as an assault on Indian religion by Muslim invaders dates only from the early 1840s. In 1842 the British East Indian Company suffered the annihilation of an entire army of some 16,000 in the First Afghan War (1839-42). Seeking to regain face among their Hindu subjects after this humiliating defeat, the British contrived a bit of self-serving fiction, namely that Mahmud, after sacking the temple of Somnath, carried off a pair of the temple's gates on his way back to Afghanistan. By 'discovering' these fictitious gates in Mahmud's former capital of Ghazni, and by 'restoring' them to their rightful owners in India, British officials hoped to be admired for heroically rectifying what they construed as a heinous wrong that had caused centuries of distress among India's Hindus. Though intended to win the latters' gratitude while distracting all Indians from Britain's catastrophic defeat just beyond the Khyber, this bit of colonial mischief has stoked Hindus' ill-feeling toward Muslims ever since. From this point on, Mahmud's 1025 sacking of Somnath acquired a distinct notoriety, especially in the early twentieth century when nationalist leaders drew on history to identify clear-cut heroes and villains for the purpose of mobilizing political mass movements. By contrast, Rajendra Chola's raid on Bengal remained largely forgotten outside the Chola country.

Sufis of Bijapur 1300-1700Edit

Sufis of Bijapur 1300-1700: Social Roles of Sufis in Medieval India. Princeton University Press: New Jersey, 1978.
  • Although we often hear the rather glib assertion that medieval Indian Sufis were primarily responsible for converting Hindus to Islam, the issue has not been at all closely examined. (...) In sum, the Warrior Sufi may be seen as one of the earliest products that arose from the contact between Arab Islamic and Indie civilizations. In their psychological appeal, philosophical underpinnings, and historical development, these two civilizations are diametrically opposed. Where the one is ardent, dogmatic, and austere, the other is reflective, syncretic, and sentimental. Where Arab Islam centers upon the submission to a single discipline and perceives society, the universe, and the divine principle in terms of unity, Indie Hinduism diffuses into an elusive aggregate of metaphysical systems, folk beliefs, customs, symbols, and traditions that collectively perceive society, the universe, and the divine principle in terms of plurality. By the early fourteenth century the Arab Islamic and Indie traditions had only just begun their long and tortuous process of fusing into what later was to become “Indian Islam.” Hence the Warrior Sufi did not represent a synthesis of the Islamic and Indie traditions, but only a transplant of the former into the world of the latter. (...) More than that, the phenomenon of Sufis using their prestige to lead, or as was more likely the case, to legitimize a jihad spelled the ultimate breakdown of relations between landed Sufis and non-Muslims. There is no record of any landed or orthodox Sufi in the kingdom at this time urging the policy of “peace with all” ( suhl-i kitll), a slogan that many writers have attributed to Indian Sufis generally. (...) Some of [the Sufis of Bijapur] wielded a sword, others a pen, others a royal land grant, and still others a begging bowl... Some were orthodox to the point of zealous puritanism, others unorthodox to the point of heresy. Indeed, this study demonstrates that the stereotyped conception of medieval Indian Sufis as pious and quietistic mystics patiently preaching Islam among Hindus is no longer valid. It is simply not possible to generalize about the Sufis of medieval Bijapur, much less of India as a whole, as any unitary group relating in any single or predictable way to the society in which they lived. They clearly played a variety of social roles.
  • ‘During the period of Ala al-Din Khalaji (Alauddin Khilji, d. 1316), the Shah of Delhi, he (Pir Ma’bari) accompanied the camp of the army of Islam in the year A.H. 710 (A.D. 1310–11) when buried treasures of gold and silver came to the hands of Muslims and the victory of Islam was effected.’
    • Quoting Muhammad Ibrahim Zubairi’s Rauzat al-Auliya (1825–26), p. 28.
  • (Pir Ma’bari) came here and waged Jihad against the rajas and rebels (of Bijapur). And with his iron bar, he broke the heads and necks of many rajas and drove them to the dust of defeat. Many idolaters, who by the will of God had guidance and blessings, repented from their unbelief and error, and by the hands of (Pir Ma’bari) came to Islam.
    • Quoting hagiographic record, p. 30.

Quotes about Richard EatonEdit

  • One Western author who has become very popular among India's history-rewriters is the American scholar Prof. Richard M. Eaton. Unlike his colleagues, he has done some original research pertinent to the issue of Islamic iconoclasm, though not of the Ayodhya case specifically. A selective reading of his work. focusing on his explanations but keeping most of his facts out of view, is made to serve the negationist position regarding temple destruction in the name of Islam.
  • Regardless of this change in emphasis, it is important to note that not all Western Sufi scholarship of the last half century avoids discussing Sufi support of and active involvement in the martial jihad; in fact, there are some notable exceptions. In particular, Richard Eaton’s study of Sufi s in the Deccan region of India, The Sufi s of Bijapur: 1300–1700: Social Roles of Sufi s in Medieval India (Princeton, 1978) stands out in Western Sufi scholarship, in that it argues convincingly in the chapter “Sufi s as Warriors” that Sufi s were at the forefront of the conquest that brought Islam to the Deccan region of India. Eaton makes an important point in his book with regard to the methodology necessary for studying the social roles of Sufi s in that he critiques the “classical approach to Sufi studies.”... Eaton also points out the error of most Western scholarship in assum- ing that mysticism necessarily precludes martial endeavors. 10 Eaton’s book was the first significant Western study of Sufis to discuss at length the phenomenon of Sufis as warriors and to make use of sources from the popular tradition, such as vernacular hagiography; however, it concentrates solely on Sufi s in India and does not pretend to be a monograph on the history of Sufi jihad. Though Eaton’s book was well received, it was not without its critics.
    • Neale, Harry S. (2017). Jihad in Premodern Sufi Writings. Chapter 2

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