Alberuni [AD 973- AD 1048] Abu Rayhan Muhammad Ibn Ahmad

Alberuni, short for, Abu al-Rayhan Muhammad ibn Ahmad al-Biruni, was a renowned philosopher, mathematician, historian and one of the jewels in the court of sultan of Mahmud of Ghazni. He travelled to the Indian subcontinent and authored a study of Indian culture Kitab-ul-hind or Tahqiq-i-Hind (History of India) after exploring the Hindu faith practiced in India.

This article aims to share the facts related to Abu Rayhan Alberuni’s personal life and his visit to India for candidates preparing for the IAS Exam

Information on Alberuni’s visit to India is relevant for Civil Services aspirants under the Indian History part of the UPSC Prelims exam.  

Given below are the links that give information on the account of various foreign travellers who visited India – 

Alberuni’s Visit to India – UPSC Prelims Facts

    1. Alberuni was born in 973 AD in Khiza region in Kath, the capital of the Afrighid dynasty of Khwarezm in Central Asia (Uzbekistan). 
    2. He spent the first twenty-five years of his life in Khwarezm where he studied Islamic jurisprudence, theology, grammar, mathematics, astronomy, medicine, philosophy and most other sciences.
    3. In AD 1017, when Mahmud of Ghazni was the ruler, most scholars, including Alberuni, were taken to Ghazni, the capital of the Ghaznavid dynasty. 
    4. Abu Rayhan Muḥammad was made a court astrologer and accompanied Mahmud of Ghazni on his invasions into India in the 11th century (probably in Punjab), living here for a few years. Check out the details on Muslim Conquest of North India, Ghaznavids and Ghurids on the linked page.  
    5. Alberuni was 44 years of age when he came to India with Mahmud of Ghazni. Read more about Arab and Turkish Invasion in India on the given link.
    6. He became acquainted with everything related to India. He liked the Indian culture and learnt Sanskrit, Indian philosophy and Socio-Economic condition of this land. 
    7. He was a Shi’ite Muslim, but with agnostic tendencies. His poetical works seek to combine Greek wisdom and Islamic thought
    8. In his book Tahqiq-i-Hind, he described the social, political, religious and economic condition of India. In his account he highlights choice parts of the Gita, the Upanishads, Patanjali, Puranas, the four Vedas (Check out the types of Vedas and their features), scientific texts (by Nagarjuna, Aryabhata, etc.), relating stories from Indian mythology to make his point. 
    9. Alberuni unreservedly praised In­dian philosophy. He was particularly impressed by the Upanishads and the Bhagavad-Gita.
    10. He also compared Indian thought to the Greek thought of Socrates, Pythagoras, Plato, Aristotle, Galen and others, and at times with Sufi teaching. His book is a survey of India’s life based on his studies and observations in India between 1017 and 1030. 
    11. After deep immersion in Brahmanical texts and society, Alberuni begins with India with several general remarks about the Hindus and their society. Alberuni said a lot about India, the land, its people, its religion, its philosophy, its sciences, and its literature. Let us see Alberuni’s description of India – 
  • Destructive effects of Mahmud’s invasion –
    • Mahmud ended the prosperity of India and so cruelly exploited and penalized the people that the Hindus became disgruntled like the dust particles. There came the downfall of Hinduism and the feeling of hatred prevailed in the hearts of remaining Hindus.
    • Hindus suffer from some defects such as they desire to live in isolation from other countries. They considered the foreigners as untouchable and boycotted them.
    • The educational centres were subjugated by Mahmud, which led to the disintegration of education. As a result the educational centres were concentrated in Kashmir, Banaras and other places due to their distance from Islamic centres.
  • Social Condition – 
    • Indian society was cast-ridden. 
    • Several evil prac­tices like child marriage, prohibition of widow marriage, ‘Sati’ and ‘Jauhar’ existed in the Hindu society. 
    • He does not mention the system of dowry but he writes about the StreeDhan which the relatives of girls present to her in-laws.
  • Political Condition – 
    • The entire country was divided into small states which occasionally used to quarrel among themselves. These states were jealous of each other and constantly engaged in fights against one another. Malwa, Sindh, Kannauj and Kashmir were prominent states among them. 
    • The feeling of nationalism among the Indians was almost absent.
  • Religious conditions – 
    • The Hindus of the rural regions worshipped many gods and goddesses.
    • Idol worship was prevalent. Brahmans had the sole privilege of reading the Hindu scriptures.
    • Only the Brahmans had the right to attain salvation.
  • Legal rules and condition of Laws and Judicial system- 
    • It was necessary to write applications that mention points against the accused in order to get justice. Justice depended upon the witnesses and before conducting witnesses, it was necessary to take oaths. Also, there were arrangements for oral justice. 
    • Criminal law was very mild in India. The limbs of serious offenders were amputated. The Brahmanas were exempted from death punishment. If a Brahman murdered someone, he was required to repent through fasts, prayers and charity.
  • Taxation system – 
    • King was not the owner of the land. He took land tax from the peasants at 1/6th of the produce. The Brahmans were exempted from the burden of paying taxes. 
  • Alberuni believed that people of Indian sub-continent were excellent philosophers, good mathematicians and astronomers but criticised the hypocrisy of Brahmins Scholars that despite of explaining the scientific values of ancient text they preferred misleading the masses and keep them steeped in ignorance and superstitious.

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Candidates can check out the following links to prepare comprehensively for Indian history for upcoming UPSC Civil services Examinations – 

Additional Notes on Alberuni For UPSC Prelims

  1. Some scholars have mentioned him as ‘first Anthropologist’ for Alberuni’s keen observation on Indian society and the cultural ethos of the time.
  2. He translated two books into Arabic:
    1. Samkhya of Kapila
    2. Book of Patanjali 
  3. He also rendered the Puranas and the Bhagavad Gita into Persian.
  4. Alberuni is considered the founder of Indology. He was an impartial writer on the customs and creeds of different nations and most of his work is in Arabic.
  5. He was a polymath and a man of encyclopedic learning. In addition to Arabic,  Alberuni was conversant with Turkish, Persian, Sanskrit, Hebrew, and Syriac (Armenian).
  6. Alberuni was a pioneer in the study of comparative religion. He studied Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Hinduism, Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, and other religions.
  7. One of the specific aspects of Hindu life that Al-Biruni studied was the Hindu calendar. He developed a method for converting the dates of the Hindu calendar to the dates of the three different calendars that were common in the Islamic countries of his time period, the Greek, the Arab/Muslim, and the Persian.
  8. Al-Biruni’s “Chronology of Ancient Nations” attempted to accurately establish the length of various historical eras.
  9. Alberuni’s Book on the Pharmacopoeia of Medicine lists synonyms for drug names in Syriac, Persian, Greek, Baluchi, Afghan, Kurdi, and some Indian languages.
  10. Al-Biruni was proud of the fact that he followed the textual evidence of the religion without being influenced by Greek philosophers such as Aristotle.

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Frequently asked Questions about Al Biruni

How well-learned was Al Biruni?

Al-Biruni was well versed in physics, mathematics, astronomy, and natural sciences, and also distinguished himself as a historian, chronologist and linguist.[9] He studied almost all the sciences of his day and was rewarded abundantly for his tireless research in many fields of knowledge.

What made Al Biruni different from his contemporeries?

Al-Biruni was, for his time, an admirably impartial writer on the customs and creeds of various nations, his scholarly objectivity earning him the title al-Ustadh (“The Master”) in recognition of his remarkable description of early 11th-century India.

Aspirants can visit the UPSC Syllabus page to familiarise themselves with the topics generally asked in the exam. For further assistance visit the following links –

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