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Early Modern India
The Mughals: Babar
by Abhijit Rajadhyaksha, 1 June 2009
Zahiruddin Muhammad Babur, or just simply 'Babar',
is attributed with laying the
foundations for the rule of a new dynasty, the Mughals, in India in
Babar was the first Mughal to invade
India, entering some time in 1519. He
hailed from a small principality called Farghana in Badakshan
(which cuts through the borders of modern Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and eastern
Uzbekistan). He is said to have descended from the lineage of the
great conqueror, Timur or Tamerlane, the founder patriarch of the
Timurid dynasty of Central Asia, and Chagatai Khan, the son of
Genghis Khan. However, his father's kingdom had been reduced to
successive defeats. He succeeded his father, Umar Sheikh Mirza at the
tender age of twelve, and spent his early life as a king thwarting
moves by his feuding relatives to dislodge him.
Babar, who was always fascinated by the conquests of
the Uzbek city of Samarkand in 1494, and captured it in 1497, when
he was just seventeen years of age. But, just as he was about to consolidate
his rule in Samarkand, a rebellion arose in his home
province of Farghana. He had to return, but his troops deserted him
along the way, losing him both Farghana and Samarkand.
Babar soon found himself
threatened by the Uzbek chief, Shaibani Khan, whom he had encountered
in Samarkand. Babar spent his life between 1494 and 1503 as a
fugitive, avoiding capture by the Uzbeks.
Meanwhile in Kabul, a young boy who had been made king was displaced
by one of his nobles, an unpopular man called Muquim the Arghun. Destiny beckoned
to interfere. In 1504, he managed to cross the Hindu Kush
mountains and capture Kabul, followed later by Gazni (modern
An early illustrated edition of the Babur-namah carries this portrait of Babur
In 1507, Babar assumed the title of padishah, or emperor in
Persian (later filtered as badshah in Urdu). He made many attempts
to capture Samarkand, but failed miserably. Eventually, with
assistance from the Persian king, Ismail, Samarkand did fall,
but Babar was able to rule it only under Ismail's suzerainty.
Nevertheless, Babar already had the kingdom of Kabul under his
In 1513, he shifted his focus towards India. Since
childhood, Babar had been taught of the immense riches of India, stories of the loot
amassed in the raids conducted by his ancestor, Timur.
Babar now had an army of
Uzbeks, Tajiks, Afghans and Turks rallied behind his banner, and he
had learnt many military tactics during his conquests. He
learnt the tulghuma  from the Uzbeks, the art of the ambuscade from the
Mongols, the use
of firearms from the Afghans, the use of artillery from the
and the effective use of cavalry from the Turks. Putting all this
together stood Babar in good stead for his subsequent battles
There was a rebellion taking place in
Delhi. Despite being sultan, many of Ibrahim Lodhi's
courtiers were conspiring against him, including his own uncle, Alam
Khan Lodhi. Sangram Singh, otherwise known as Rana
Sanga, ruler of Mewar in Rajputana, was also conspiring
to attack Delhi.
Babar decided to take advantage of this situation.
 With the tulghuma, artillery
is arrayed at the front, and behind it are the mounted troops,
divided into centre, right wing and left wing, with flanking
parties on the extreme right and left of the main line. The
commander takes his place in the centre.
He led many raids against Ibrahim
Lodhi's Delhi sultanate between 1519 and 1526, along with his Turkish officers, Ustad
Ali and Mustafa. He captured Bajaur, Berar, Sialkot, and Sayyidpur,
and proceeded further to capture Lahore in the Punjab. The Afghan governor of
the Punjab, Daulat Khan Lodhi, had displayed a flip-flop attitude
towards Babar. For that, Babar decided to punish him. He
captured the province of the Punjab, but later decided to revert his
attention to Delhi. So he placed the Punjab under the care of Dilawar Khan Lodhi, the son of the former governor. But
Daulat Khan managed to recapture Punjab himself.
In 1525, Babar attacked Punjab again, with a view to conquering it. He
defeated Daulat Khan Lodhi again, making him a prisoner and sending
him away to Bhera, but he died on the way.
On 21 April 1526, Babar met the army of Sultan
at the Battle of Panipat (in present day Haryana state). Sources
say the Lodhi army had almost 100,000 soldiers (a 'lakh' in India), and a thousand elephants
in comparison to Babar's twelve thousand. But Babar's superior
military tactics and far better artillery proved to be the deciding
factor in the battle. Babar defeated Ibrahim Lodhi's army
conclusively, with Ibrahim himself being killed in the battle.
Lodhi's rebel courtiers and Rana Sanga tacitly
supported Babar against the Lodhis, hoping that Babar, like his predecessors, would loot Delhi,
weaken it and then turn back, leaving Delhi open and vulnerable for a
Rajput attack under Rana Sanga from neighbouring Rajputana. But Babar had
other ideas. He established his rule in Delhi, making it the capital
of his vastly expanded kingdom.
After consolidating his rule in Delhi, he decided to try his luck in
its neighbouring territories. This, of course, included Rajputana (or
Rajasthan). The Rajputs are warrior clans belonging to the land of Rajasthan, and
the word 'rajput' itself literally means 'the son of the king', with
the people being known for their valour. When Babar attacked, he met
with stiff resistance from the Rajputs under Rana Sanga. Rana Sanga
was the veteran of a hundred battles who, having been disappointed
by Babar's intentions towards Delhi, had
decided to take him on in battle.
Very rare early coins from Babur's short reign over the principality
The Rajput army was almost twice the size of Babar's
army, which itself was sceptical of its chances against the Rajputs. But
Babar motivated his army in the name of Islam. He even announced
that he was giving up alcohol until the submission of the Rajputs
could be achieved. So Babar's army came face to face with the rana's
army at the Battle of Khanua in 1527. Luck again sided with him when Rana
Sanga was severely wounded
in the battle. His army panicked in the absence of leadership and
Babar had surmounted the Rajputs.
Next, Babar defeated Medini Rai, a vassal of Rana
Sanga, at the Battle of Chanderi in 1528. This gave him control of
Malwa, which opened the trade routes for Babar to the western parts of
Mahmud Lodhi, the nephew of Ibrahim Lodhi was plotting a
return of the dynasty to the Delhi throne. He rallied the Afghans under him and
challenged Babar in Bihar. He was promised help by Nusrat Shah, the
Afghan ruler of Bengal. But Babar was on a winning spree. He
defeated Mahmud Lodhi at the Battle of Ghagra in 1529. Mahmud Lodhi agreed to Babar's suzerainty. So did
Babar had by now captured most of northern India.
Babar the ruler
He was fifty years old when he was taken seriously ill. There is a story
that Humayun, his son, had become ill first. That's when Babar
prayed to Allah to exchange his life for Humayun's. But many
historians have refuted this story as apocryphal.
They have concluded that Babar became ill almost six months after
Humayun's illness had occurred and that Babar's long and tiring lifestyle and his
addiction to alcohol and opium had taken their toll on him.
Babar sets out with his army in this depiction by the artist Auguste
Racinet from the 19th century
Babar died on 26 December 1530, after
nominating Humayun as his successor to the Delhi throne. He was buried at
Aram Bagh in Agra, but
was later reburied in Kabul as per his last wishes.
Babar's character has been praised by many
Muslim historians. He is said to have been a good son, an affectionate father, a caring
relative and a very good friend. He was brave and chivalrous. He had a very strong physique and could run
along a rampart holding two adults. He swam across all the rivers of India that he encountered. He
was considered a great swordsman and horseman.
Babar is also said to have been a good diplomat, but was a
laissez faire administrator. He left the day-to-day affairs of his kingdom to his
officers. Moreover, no administrative reforms were introduced by
him, and he just continued to use the administrative style of the
Also, his kingdom was always short of finances due to his constant
campaigning. He lavished much of his captured lands and wealth
on his satraps and courtiers, but this munificence very often placed him
in financial difficulties. His son, Humayun, had later to face the
problems caused by Babar's fiscal indiscipline.
Persian culture and customs were said to have left an indelible mark
on Babar. Later, he introduced this culture into India in a big way.
He constructed Persian gardens, monuments, statues, fountains, and
buildings reflecting the Turko-Persian culture and architecture that
he'd left behind him in Khorasan and Transoxiana.
Babar was very scholarly. He is credited
with having penned several poems in Persian and Chagatai Turkish.
He wrote books, the Mubayyin and Khat-e-Baburi',
indicating Muslim law. He also translated a
famous work, Risala-i-Walida from the Turkic. His memoirs,
the Baburnama, are considered to be a great work by many
historians. In the Baburnama, Babar wrote about his time in India,
its wealth, its artisans, its climate. He also made many disparaging remarks
about India and its inhabitants, but this can be attributed to the fact that
he viewed India with the eyes of a conqueror.
The title page of the Baburnama as prepared for Babar's
Moreover, he hadn't stayed in India for long enough to study all its
regions and people. His view was more myopic and his perspective was
that of a foreigner.
Babar was a Sunni Muslim, but was said to be very lenient towards
the Shias. That is evident from his closeness to the shah of Persia,
who was a Shia. Babar had also willingly accepted the suzerainty of
Shia Persians over Samarkand. He was not a bigot, but he was very severe
against non-Muslims, something that was very much the norm with
Islamic invaders at the time, all of whom viewed all non-Muslims (kafirs, infidels, pagans), as prioritised enemies who had to be converted to the fold.
had proudly assumed the title of 'gazi' (slayer of the infidels),
after mercilessly slaying thousands of Rajputs during his campaigns.
He had also destroyed a temple in Ayodhya (in modern Uttar Pradesh),
which was revered as the
birthplace of Lord Rama by Hindus, and had constructed a mosque over
the ruins. This is still a political and proprietary dispute between
the Hindus and Muslims of modern India.
The Bagh-e Babur in Kabul contains the tomb of Babur, where
he was laid about nine years after his death, by Sher Shah Suri no less
Prasad, L - Studies in Indian History,
Cosmos Bookhive, Gurgaon, 2000
Spear, Percival - The History of