The Mughals- Conquerors of India 1: Babur

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Today, we look at the Mughals – known to be the most famous of all the imperial families of India. Established when Babur, founder and first emperor, demolished the power of the Delhi Sultanate forever, he brought the Mughals up as a major power in South Asia. The Mughal emperors were Central Asian Turks who claimed direct descent from the Mongols Genghis Khan (through his son Chagatai Khan) and Timur. Generally, some textbooks believe that the last emperor to ascend the throne was Aurangzeb when it was indeed Bahadur Shah II; exemplifying the fact that the history of these conquerors is controversial.

Babur on his throne

Zahir-ud-din Muhammad Babur was born on February 23 [O.S. February 14] 1483 in the city of Andijan, in Namangan Province in Fergana Valley in contemporary Uzbekistan. He was the eldest son of Omar Sheykh Mirzā, ruler of the Fergana Valley, the son of Abū Saʿīd Mirza (and grandson of Miran Shah, who was himself son of Timur) and his wife Qutlugh Nigar Khanum, daughter of Yunus Khan, the ruler of Moghulistan.

He was a direct descendent of Timur through his father, and also a descendent of Genghis Khan through his mother, though he called himself a Turk and spoke and wrote Turkish. Regardless of being hailed from the Barlas tribe, which was of Mongol origins, his tribe embraced Turkic and Persian culture while also converting to Islam.

A painting from Babur’s Baburnama depicting a festival in a garden

To be positive that he would be remembered in great words, Babur embarked on writing a personal account about himself and his work (autobiography), which would be known as the famous Baburnama. Stated in his Babuarnama, he claimed to have been physically fit; claiming to have swam across every major river he encountered, including twice across the Ganges River in North India. His passions could be equally strong. In his first marriage, he was bashful to Aisha Sultan Begum, later losing his affection for her. Babur also had a great passion to kill people, cut off their heads and create pillars out of the cut off heads. He claimed to have created several such pillars in his autobiography.

While he may seem violent, dangerous, an assassin and maybe even a psychopath, he was surely an intelligent tactician, brave, courageous and had the ability to motivate his troops, let alone showing that his Baburnama displayed his intelligence (which will be depicted later).

In 1495, at the age of twelve, Babur succeeded his father as ruler of Farghana, a city in present-day Uzbekistan. His uncles were relentless in their attempts to dislodge him from this position as well as many of his other territorial possessions to come. Thus, Babur spent a large portion of his life without shelter and in exile, aided by friends and peasants. His main aim as a young man was to win the capital of Timur, Samarkand – twice he was successful and twice he was unsuccessful. In 1497, he unleashed his first attempt to claim Samarkand; he besieged the city for about seven months until gaining control of it. Meanwhile, a rebellion amongst nobles back home approximately 350 kilometres (220 mi) away robbed him of Farghana. As he was marching to recover it, Babur’s troops deserted in Samarkand, leaving him with neither Samarkand nor Fergana.

A painting depicting the battle scene at Panipat and Sultan Lodhi’s death

In 1501, he laid siege on Samarkand once again, but only to be defeated by his most formidable rival, Muhammad Shaybani, khan of the Uzbeks. In 1504, after crossing the snowy terrain of the Hindu Kush mountain, he captured Kabul. Babur could not be satisfied with Kabul, however. He had lost everything, both his original throne at Fergana and Samarkand. But there were far greater prizes than those, and it was there that Babur set his eyes.

Writing in retrospect, Babur suggested his failure in attaining Samarkand was the greatest gift Allah bestowed him. He had now reconclied all hopes of winning back Ferghana and also turned towards India and its lands in the East, mainly focusing on the powerful Delhi Sultanate. Prior to the battle of Panipat in 1526, Babur besieged Kandhar for about three years until he attained control of it.

In 1526, Babuar and Ibrahim Lodhi met each other on the battlefield on April 21st 1526. Known to history as one of the earliest battles including gunpowder and firearms, Babuar fiercely destroyed the power of the Delhi Sultanate forever; he estimated to have had 15,100 troops while the opponent had about 100,000, which included camp followers (the real combat force of Lodhi consisted of only 30,000 – 40,000 troops) and 1000 war elephants. Using the deafening sound of the canons and guns to his advantage, the war elephants were frightened and simultaneously, Babur hid his cavalry forces and cannons behind carts leashed together. Through it, his cavalry was able to charge, confusing Lodhi, since he had no idea where they were charging from; Babur had won the Battle of Panipat.

It was then, during the campaign of Panipat in 1525 where Babuar’s son, Humayun (who was later to succeed him as emperor), found the Koh-i-noor Diamond, which would help Humayun to rescue the empire from major crisis in his reign (later, it would end up in the British crown jewels).

Entering the time after the first battle of Panipat, Babur was faced with an even worse situation. He had claimed possession of Delhi and Agra after stating himself as representative of Timur Lang; a new power had appeared: the Rajputs. The Rajputs were led by Rana Sanga, a chief of Mewar, who invited the Mewatti chief, Hasan Khan, to aid the nation from which he had sprung in resisting the new horde of Musalmans from the north. As struggles and frivolous ascensions took their toll, Babur was convinced and confident that he could overcome the Rajputs and take complete control of Hindustan, but his troops were not interested in further warfare as they hated the weather conditions and supplies of water were dribbling further and further. Seeing this, Babur boosted the morale of his troops with an inspiring religious speech regarding Islam and Hinduism.

Mughal men with matchlocks

The Battle of Khanwa was fought near the village of Khanwa, about 60 km west of Agra on March 17, 1527. The battle began around 9:30 in the morning when the Rajputs unleashed a desperate charge. After several hours of bodies sprawling here and there, Babur decided to fire his cannons and guns while the cavalry stationed near the cannons were ordered to gallop out on right and left of the matchlockmen in the center who also moved forward and continued their fire hastening to fling themselves with all their fury on the enemy’s center. Following a couple of hours of Babur’s advance, a stampede from Sanaga’s side broke in, but to keep up with the game, Babur fired another round of bullets and cannon shots thus, the Battle of Khanwa was won by Babur.

After Babur fell seriously ill, Humayun was told of a plot by the senior nobles of Babur’s court to bypass the leader’s sons and appoint Mahdi Khwaja, Babur’s sister’s husband, as his successor. He rushed to Agra and arrived there to see his father was well enough again, although Mahdi Khwaja had lost all hope of becoming ruler after arrogantly exceeding his authority during Babur’s illness. Upon his arrival in Agra, it was Humayun himself who fell ill, and was close to dying.

Babur died at the age of 47 on January 5 [O.S. 26 December 1530] 1531, and was succeeded by his eldest son, Humayun. Though his final will was to be buried in a garden in Kabul, he was buried in a mausoleum in the capital city of Agra. His remains were later moved to Bagh-e Babur (Babur Gardens) in Kabul, Afghanistan. The Persian inscription on his tomb there translates as “If there is a paradise on earth, it is this, it is this, it is this!”.

Unlike in India, Babur is considered a national hero in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, and is held in high esteem in Afghanistan. In October 2005, Pakistan developed the Babur (cruise missile), named in his honour.

F. Lehmann has said that

His origin, milieu, training, and culture were steeped in Persian culture and so Babur was largely responsible for the fostering of this culture by his descendants, the Mughals of India, and for the expansion of Persian cultural influence in the Indian subcontinent, with brilliant literary, artistic, and historiographical results.
The Mughal Empire at the time of Babur’s reign

Next week, we’ll be looking at the second emperor, Humayun. During his reign, the empire weakened and was forced to retreat from its expanded area as Humayun was someone who wasn’t at all interested in ruling. Instead, he was interested in astrology, but when he realized what mistakes he had made, he was quick to recover the most important parts of the empire.




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