Babur, the founder of the great Mughal Empire in India, was a direct descendant of the two greatest conquerors of the world: Timur and Chengiz Khan-from the former from father’s side and from the latter from mother’s side.
Born in 1482 at Farghana, a small town situated in a charming country of vales and mountains, enclosed by the Amu Darya and Syr Darya, abounding in roses, melons and pomegranates, and reputed for all sorts of games and sports, Zahiruddin Muhammad, surnamed Babur “the Tiger” was a Chagatai Turk by race.
His father, Sheikh Umar, was a pleasant brave man whose generosity was large and who possessed great humour and eloquence. Babur’s uncle, a great soldier, was the King of Samarkand.
Babur himself, a true child of the race, was handsome, affable and fearless, an expert polo player and a deadly shot with the bow. He could swim across mighty rivers and could climb mountains with two men under his arms.
In 1494 A.C. Sheikh Umar died in an accident. Immediately anarchy broke out in Samarkand and Babur had to flee for his life. Three years later, he captured Samarkand. But his stay there was shortlived. His enemy seized it again when he was out on an expedition. Being driven once more into exile, he wandered for three years and in 1500 A.C. he swooped down on Samarkand with a handful of men and recaptured it. The boy King was seated on the throne of his world-famous ancestor-Timur-in Samarkand, the glorious city of orchards and pleasure gardens, adorned with a magnificent Friday Mosque, Colleges, Observatory and the Famous Palace of the Forty Pillars.
Babur was not destined to stay there for long. The following year, Shahi Beg, the great Khan of the Uzbeg expelled him from Samarkand. Young Babur once again found himself a fugitive. He wandered for four years and turned towards the south to Kabul which was ruled by one of his uncles.
His uncle died, leaving the state of Kabul in disorder, Babur occupied Kabul in October 1504 and henceforth he embarked upon a meteoric career.
He liked Kabul and the country surrounding it, known for variegated luscious flowers and fruits. In 1512 A.C., he again got a chance of capturing Samarkand but his triumph was short-lived, lasting for eight months only.
Finally returning to Kabul, he thought out a plan of conquering India, a land of gold, watered by the mighty Indus and Ganges.
On Friday, November 17, 1525, A.C., Babur set out for India with a force of 12,000 men. The Lodhi Governor of Lahore, Daulat Khan, promised to help him against his master Ibrahim Lodhi, King, of Delhi. When Babur reached Lahore the treacherous Daulat Khan changed his mind but was easily defeated.
Babur marched upon Delhi, Capital of the Afghan Empire, ruled over by Ibrahim Lodhi.
The two armies met on April 21, 1526, on the historic plain of Panipat Babur’s force was hardly a tenth of his enemy’s but it was better disciplined and equipped with a number of firearms unknown in the East.
Babur followed the traditional Mongol maneuver to camouflage the bound wagons, and while the enemy was attacking them, to counter-attack simultaneously on both flanks with swift masses of cavalry.
The unskilful young Ibrahim Lodhi was tempted to make a frontal attack led by his war elephants. This was what Babur desired. Withholding his fire till the elephants came at point-blank range, he suddenly opened fire. The savage brutes stampeded and turned around on their own men. Babur, thereafter, made a fierce cavalry charge which totally routed the enemy.
By midday the battle was over, Sultan Ibrahim Lodhi was killed and lost 20,000 men. Immense spoils including the famous Koh-i-Noor diamond fell into the hands of Babur’s men. Babur marched on Delhi, which capitulated without any resistance. He was proclaimed as the Emperor of Hindustan from the pulpit of the Friday Mosque in Delhi.
Babur settled down to rule over India. He had a very poor opinion of India and its inhabitants. He set to work to make India more tolerable for himself and for that purpose he laid out gardens and orchards containing fruit trees and flower plants of his choice. He built palaces of his choice dotted with fountains and aqueducts.
But a vital danger still loomed large over the horizon. He had to face a greater challenge thrown by the veteran Rajput Ruler, Rana Sangram Singh, the “Sun of Mewar“, better known as Rana Sanga. The Rajput army, comprising 80,000 horse and 500 elephants and commanded by 120 Chieftains of ancient lineage, was the flower of Hindu chivalry. The Rana himself, a mere “fragment of a man”, who had lost an arm and an eye on the battlefield had fought 18 pitched battles against the Afghans.
Babur advanced from Agra to a place called Kanua, where he awaited the approach of Rajput forces. He adopted the Mongol tactics. “His waggons were bound together with iron chains, with the cannons at intervals, and, in addition, he had mounted his matchlocks on wheeled tripods which could be moved quickly to the threatened point. His flanks were protected by deep ditches and entanglements”.
The Mughal army became somewhat nervous at the arrival of the mighty Rajput force. But their leader was not a man to lose heart. He took a vow that if God gave him the victory he would never taste the wine again. He made a memorable speech before his men :
“Noblemen and soldiers! Every man who comes into the world is subjected to death. When we pass away and are gone, God only survives, unchangeable. Whoever comes to the feast of life must, before it is over, drink from the cup of death. He who arrives in the inn of mortality must one day inevitably take his departure from this house of sorrow, the world. How much better it is to die with honour than to live with infamy!”
“The Most High God has been propitious to us, and has now placed us in such a crisis, that if we fall in the field we die the death of martyrs; if we survive, we rise victorious, the avengers of the cause of God. Let us then, with one accord, swear on God’s Holy Word that none of us will even think of turning his face from this warfare, nor desert from the battle and slaughter that ensues, till his soul is separated from his body.”
The army electrified by these noble words swore to fight till death. On March 16, 1527, the Rajput army appeared on the scene. Babur divided his army into three portions, with a strong reserve. The attack started soon. Wave after wave of Rajputs threw themselves against the gallant Mughals and Babur’s artillery did a terrible slaughter. When the Rajputs were exhausted, Babur ordered a simultaneous attack on the centre and on either flank. The Rajputs were routed with terrible losses and were pursued relentlessly to their camp. A minaret of Rajput heads was erected on the battlefield. Babur, with his small force, hardly one-ninth of the mighty Rajput force, had smashed the Hindu power in India forever.
The next year Babur captured the stronghold of Chanderi. The same year his forces overthrew the Afghan kingdom of Bihar and Bengal and he became the undisputed Emperor of India, and the foundations of the great Mughal Empire were laid firmly on the Indian soil.
But Babur was not destined to live long to enjoy the fruits of his labour and administer his vast Empire. He undertook the task of beautifying his new Capital, Agra, with gardens, palaces and buildings. In December 1529, he held a grand Durbar, attended by ambassadors from Persia, Herat and Bengal.
In December 1530, his most beloved son, Humayun fell seriously ill. All medical treatment proved ineffectual. Some wise men suggested the life of the Crown Prince could be saved only if the Emperor sacrificed his most precious thing. He at once offered to sacrifice his most precious thing, life, to save Humayun. Walking thrice round the sick Prince’s bed, he prayed, “On me be the sickness”. Then he cried out ecstatically, “I have succeeded! I have taken it”. From that moment Humayun gradually recovered and Babur sickened and died on December 26, 1530 A.C.
He was buried in a beautiful garden on the hillside of Kabul, where he once delighted to sit and gaze on the beautiful and panoramic world around.
Babur, a great warrior General, was a litterateur of repute. He was well versed in Persian and Turkish languages. Besides being an accomplished poet, he was a well-known writer of Persian prose and his Memoirs bear an immortal testimony to it.