Who was Al biruni ?

Al-biruni was a famous historian, mathematician, astronomer, linguist, philosopher, and a genius of early medieval world who came to India along with Mehmud of Ghazni during 1026 AD, in whose court he was a historian and chronicle writer. 

He was greatly influenced by the Indian society and recorded his experiences and observations of them in a book called Kitab-ul-Hind in Arabic language.

He gave a detailed, factual and unbiased account of various aspects of contemporary Indian society.

Al-biruni's arrival in India 

In 1017 AD Mahmud of Gazhni conquered Khwarizm and with that many of the scholars and learned men under Persian rule like Firdausi Utbi shifted to capital Gazhni which became new seat of learning. 

Al biruni Kitab al hind
Al biruni the author of Kitab Al-hind

The sultan of ghazni invaded contemporary Hindostan(Present day South east Afghanistan+Pakistan+Northern India) 17 times from 1001 AD to 1026 AD and during these invasions he took along with him a number of Indian intellectuals and Pandits to Gazhni. Al-biruni's interest towards India and it's culture grew after interacting with such intellectuals in Ghazini. 

Later due to his in-depth knowledge of stars and astrology Mehmud and later his son Masud appointed him as a state astrologer in their royal court. 

This gave him several opportunities to visit Lahore,Kannauj,Mathura and various other cities of Hindostan along with his patron. During these visits he befriended with Indian Pandits/Brahmins  learned their language, Scriptures and made an account of all the observations about the people and culture of Hindostan in the first chapter of his book Tahqiq-i-hind or Kitab-Al-Hind.

Importance of Al biruni and his book Kitab ul hind in Indian history

His book Kitab ul hind  is an important document on early mediaeval Indian history as it gives a first hand account of India, its People, Society , religion, Culture,Science, knowledge of astronomy and many other details which help us in learning about the Indians of early mediaeval period.

Al biruni 

According to al-biruni
The land of Hindostan is a plain surrounded on three sides by mountains in North East and West by a chain of high and wide mountains. Which extended in East from China to Europe and passes through Tibbet, Kabul, Azerbaijan Roman empire and Turkey.
In South the country is surrounded by sea from 3 sides. However his knowledge abt peninsular India seems to be meagre. He talks about big rivers rising from the northern mountains flowing southwards towards plains.
This account of Al-biruni provided a great detail of Indian geography to Arabs and other westerners.

What comments did Al biruni made about  Indian society in his book Kitab ul Hind? 

According to al-biruni's first hand observations.
Hindus believe that their is no country but theirs, no nation like theirs, no kings like theirs, no religion like theirs, no science like theirs. They are haughty, foolishly vain, self-conceited , and stolid. They by nature niggardly in communicating that which they know, and they take the greatest possible care to withhold it from men of another caste among their own people,still much more of course , from any foreigner. Their haughtiness is such that if you tell them of any science or scholar in khurasan and persis, they will think you to be both an ignoarmus and a liar. If they travelled and mixed with other nations, they would soon change their mind, for their ancestors were not as narrow-minded as the present as the present generation is ...
Among hindus there are four kind of categories based on the occupation and mode of life and this system is so rigid that nobody is allowed to change his caste and class. If somebody tries to do that then in order to maintain the balance in society it's duty of the King to punish that person.

Society & Four Varnas

al-biruni has written in detail about Hindu society and customs his descriptions are mainly based on Mahabharat,Geeta and Manusmriti. He has described the four Varnas that were Brahamana, Kshatriya,Vaisya and Shudra. He has also mentioned about Antyajas (Untouchables).
According to him the Hindu law books give highest status to Brahamanas stating purush suktafrom 10th mandal of Rigveda which says Brahmanas were created from the head of the Universal purush(Brahma). The universal duties of Brahmanas throughout his life was to give alms and receiving them.Normally they were indulged in teaching Vedas and conducting holy ceremonies as Purohita for rest of the Varnas.
They were exempted from paying taxes and from providing mandatory service to king like any other caste.
The next Varna in Hierarchy was Kshatriyas. Who were created from the Arms of Universal man according to Purusha sukta. They were a privileged class like Brahamanas.
According to al-biruni "the Kshatriyas reads the Vedas and learn it but does not teach it. His duty was to protect the men of other three Varnas" .
The third Varnas were Vaishyas created from the thigh of Universal man . They were inferior to Brahmanas and Kshatriyas but they were the ones on whose shoulders entire burden of society was fell. Their work was Agriculture,trade etc. Therefore they had to pay charity to Brahamanas, taxes to Kshatriyas and salary to Shudras.
However Al-biruni could not find difference between the Vaishyas and Shudras. As they were not allowed to recite Vedas if any Vaishya would do that his tongue would be cutoff.
Many ancient and modern writers have contradicted his claims though.
Al-biruni's says that Sudras were created from the feet of Universal man . They were considered non Aryan and were not considered dwija(twice born) like other Varnas. According to law if the members of other three higher Varnas could not follow their orthodox customs and practices were pushed into the rank of the shudra.
Al-biruni quoted a shloka from Gita "the duty of sudra is to endeavor to render services to rest of the three classes in order to make himself liked by them" .
The last class mentioned by Al-biruni was Antyajas they are not included inany of the Varna and were indulge in providing services to the four Varnas . Al-biruni mentioned 8 classes of them they could freely intermarry and some of them even eat Cow's flesh. They were organised into guilds like guilds of Shoemakers, the basket makers,fishermen,hunters of wild animals and weavers.
He further says
One more category was their who were called apariah these were Hadi, Doma, chandala, and Badhatau are not reckoned into any varna or guilds. They were classified according to their occupation and were considered illegitimate children born out of intercaste alliance. Chandalas were instructed to live outside the villages. His duty was to clean the dirt of the villages. Before entering the village they had to make a sound from their sticks so that the other caste may get aware and avoid pollution. Domas prepared articles of Bamboos and were experts in beating drums and dancing.

Varna Ashrama system as explained by Al biruni

After going through a number of Smriti, He explains that in Hindu religion life of a man is considered to have hundred years of life span and is further divided into four stages with 25 years each .
  • The first ashram  
Brahmacharya was important which was meant for pursuits of education and learning.
  • Second Ashrama was  
Grihastha Ashrama which formed the basis of social and economic life. From 25 to 50 years he must marry with a woman establish a family and produce a male hier .
  • The third Ashrama was 
Vanprastha that starts from 51 years to 75 years. During this the twice born had to leave his family and village. They went to forest and practice control over senses and desires. This stage was where one used to practice austerity no roof no house sleeping in earth feeding on roots and wild fruits, wearing bark of trees,let grow their hairs and live a saintly life.
  • The last and fourth Ashrama was   
Sanyasa Al-biruni says "people in this stage This stage was where people not indulge in any conversation or friendship and enmity. They wear red robes with sticks in hand always dipped in meditation and thrive for moksha".


A very dominant feature of Hindu society . According to Hindu law books Al-biruni mentions 16 sanskaras among hindus which start long before the birth of the child and continued throughout the life. These were important for the religious and material development of an individual.
He also mentioned some names like Garbhadana, Simantonnayanam, Jatakarma, Naamkarma (naming of child),Chudakarma (cutting of child hairs) and so on .

Marriage and Family life of hindus

Marriage was considered a sacred bond of union between a male and a female for their eternal progress through the performance of their dharma(duty).
According to Al-biruni Hindus marry at young age and marriage is arranged by their parents and Brahamanas perform the rites and sacrifices. Both male and female surrender their wills and alms to each other and take seven rounds around the fire altar after which they become husband and wife and can only be seperated by death as their is no divorce among hindus.

Did Polygamy or Polyandry existed in mediaeval India?

This was generally founded among the kings,chiefs,nobles,wealthy me and some of the Brahamanas.
al-biruni states "No one exceeds four" but if one wife dies a man can remarry to complete the allotted quota of 4 wives.
This was not always true though as many kings used to marry more than 4 to maintain friendly relations with their neighbors.


Whether or not it existed is a matter of debate as al-biruni spoke about it after quoting story of Draupadi and pandvas from Mahabharata. Widow remarriage was not generally allowed but al-biruni mentions that in case a man died without a heir women can remarry but not otherwise.

Al-biruni on social status of women in early medieval India.

  • According to al-biruni women is very much respected in all kinds. She has strong faith on her Husband and can perform religious duties according to the sacred religious laws.
  • al-biruni also mentions practice of Devdasi in the temple .
  • Prostitution was allowed as a profession to fullfill the expenditure of army at the time of war.
  • Law of inheritance was there and a daughter was allowed to inherit 1/4th of the share of a son.
  • Practice of Sati was prevalent,when husband was died by natural or accidental death,the wife was forced to commit Sati.
  • Practice of committing Jauhar among Rajput women was prevalent in case of defeat against foreigners.

Al-biruni's comments on religion of Indians.

Al biruni explained the concept of religion in Hindu society by dividing society into educated and common classes. The educated class concept of god was strictly monotheistic 'God is one,eternal without beginning and end,acting by free will and on the other hand there was the widely prevalent practice of idol worship among the masses. 

Somnath was a famous holy place and an important harbour too. Cow slaughter was prohibited due to manifold utility of the cow for agriculture and domestic purposes. Prostitution was officially recognized and Kings use them as an attraction for their cities and even for their own subjects to fetch revenue to state.

Description of prevailing Education system in early Mediaeval India by Al biruni.

Sanskrit was the language of elites and Brahamanas. Common masses used to speak many other languages with different sounds . The children in the school used the slates or chalks for writing. Writing material was prepared by using bark and leaves of different kinds of trees and by a special method palm leaves with written matter was preserved. Apart from that silken cloth was also used for writing .
The Hindus used to write from left to right like Greeks and they used to write between the lines. Course of education was moral cultural and basic medicinal knowledge was also provided. Religious education was basic.

Al biruni's description of Manners and personal habits of Hindus in Kitab ul hind.

According to Al-biruni
  • Hindus keep thin mustache. Do not cut hairs of genital. Allow left hand nails to grow. Apply kajal on their eyes to enhance their looks . Most men wear turbans and style of turban differs from place to place. They bath in a unique manner first they wash feet and gradually move towards head. Before having sex with their wife. On festive days they massage their body with cow dung instead of perfumes.
  • During meetings they seated in cross legged position while shaking hands they grasp the hand from opposite side (back side of palm).
  • Before entering inside the house they never seek permission.
  • They prefer things to be thrown towards them and not handed over.
  • In All consultations and emergencies the advice of women is sought and honoured. Digging and blowing the nose is not considered bad manners. Most Hindus were vegetarians however on special occasions the flesh of Ganda (rhino) was relished by even Brahamanas.
  • Meat of Cow,horse,mules,asses,camels, elephants,crows, parrots, nightingales were forbidden. All kinds of eggs were also prohibited. They drink the urine of Cow. Killing of animal for eating purpose was done by strangulation. Wine was used before meal.
  • Betel leaves with areca nut and lime (Paan) was very popular among hindus. It often discolour their teeth.
  • Dining habits of hindus differ from that of Arabs as they never done together they take their seperate dishes and take food one after another. They clean their kitchen with the spread of moist cow dung and then sit their and take their food. After having food they throw their dishes which are earthenware.
  • Dresses- poor men wear a single cloth over their loin while common men wear cotton trousers. Also a white plain sheet of cloth which can be wore in different styles called dhoti. Women wear one single cloth called sari with a seperate cloth for covering their bossom. They used to wear wooden and leather shoes .
  • For entertainment their favourite game was chess (shatranj) which was played with the help of dice.

Al-biruni's observations on Indian advancement in science.

Science and mathematics was his favourite fields and it's not possible to share each and every detail in this blog about various sciences followed by Indians of that time as he had covered it in much detail but I'll cover only few of them here.

According to al-biruni Hindus are good astronomers and mathematicians. In astronomy he has mentioned
  • Varah mihir's Panch siddhantika dealing with Romak,Pulisa,Vasishtha,Pitamaha and Surya Siddhanta.
  • Brahmagupt's Brahma Siddhanta.
  • Aryabhatt's Dasagitika,and Aryastasta
  • Brahamgupta’s Khandakhadyaka, karansara and krantilika. 
According to Albiruni universe is spherical and the earth is at the centre of the universe and is globular in shape. Earth is fixed and whole universe moves around it from east to west. According to Albert I the Indian astronomers had divided zodiac into 27-28 nakshatras. He also calculated the hindu concept of kalpa. He also mentions the value of pie given by both Brahamgupta and Aryabhatta.

In Indian philosophy he studied about Kapila’s theory and Nyaya Vaisheshika. He also mentioned about the 5 elements of Panchbhootani.

In Chemistry he says hindu does not give much importance to this science or rasvidya. But their interest is entered around chemistry of minerals. They use it for purifying minerals and precious stones. He has also given a brief account of weights and measures used by Indians which he found mentioned in Varahmihir’s ,charaka, sripala’s works.

Festivals of Hindus 

According to him Hindus keep occasional fast for their gods.
For eg. to celebrate Krishna’s victory over his devil uncle Kansa. They call it the festival of Puhai. They observe pitri-paksh and on 15th day of donate alms in the name of fathers.
Divali was celebrated on the first day of kartik month. People dressed well, present gifts to each other , do shopping , and in night illuminate lot’s of lamps everywhere . Holi surprisingly was not mentioned but Mahashivaratri was celebrated on 16th of falguni month. People give alms in honour if their fore fathers on  purnima and amavasya to Brahmanas.

Status of art and architecture in early mediaeval India.

During his stay in north India he talked abt presence of many Viharas or Buddhist temples. He also mentioned about cities like mathura, Kannauj and Varanasi and their beautiful buildings which included majestic temples where beautiful idols adorned with jewels rubies diamonds and precious stones were placed.

Analysis of Al biruni's Kitab-ul-hind

Albiruni’s history writing was very much different from other court historians in fact he was not even writing a historical account.It was more like an encyclopedia on the customs and habits of Hindus(people of Hindostan) or in other words he was just recording his observations about the people,their culture,religion,sciences and lifestyle in contemporary India.

In the world of history writing It was quite a different concept because prior to that the history writing was mostly limited to the political history of kings .In his opinion people of hindustan didn’t have a sense of history writing as in the name of history they would tell stories about kings and hardly maintained a proper chronological record of their rulers. However this is not true Indian History writing approach was totally different to the approach used by contemporary western writers.

Due to several years of aggression and wars many important documents got lost we do hear the name of kings in many medieval accounts who once ruled during ancient times which clearly indicates there must be some documents written though not as factual as we saw in ancient greek and medieval arab world, which must have been acted as the source of information to the later writers.

As a writer he seems to be quite honest in his observations, on one hand has praised Indians for their scientific knowledge and on the other hand he has criticized them for being narrow minded and for being too proud and arrogant. His well researched account has immensely helped us in understanding  the social situation of Hindostan at the time of attacks of Mahmud of Gazhni and in analysing the success of frequent turk attacks over the contemporary Hindostan.


(Special Tags) 
Early Hinduism, Albiruni ka bharat vivran, Mehmud Gaznavi k samay ka bharat,  madhyakalin bharat. 

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