The Great Moghuls Babar Emperor Of India

A.D. 1519 TO A.D. 1530

These eleven years are all that India really can claim of Babar's

life; yet ever since the day when, after a fatal battle in 1503, he

had taken refuge in a shepherd's hut on the Kuh-i-Suliman hills, and

(as he sate eating burnt bread like another Alfred, and looking out to

where in the dim distance the wide plain of Hindustan rose up like a

sea ending the vast vista of
mountains) an old woman, ragged,

decrepid, had told him tales of her youth when the earth trembled

under Timur--ever since then the idea of India had been part and

parcel of his adventurous mind.

To do as his great ancestor had done; that became his ambition. At

thirty-six he tried to make that ambition a reality.

How the last twelve years from A.D. 1507 had passed, we have no

record. The Memoirs are silent, the Diary has ceased to be written.

Why, it is impossible to say. Perhaps Babar felt his life too tame and

commonplace for record, especially after his melodramatic youth.

We left, therefore, a young man of four-and-twenty, inclined to be

shocked at a wine party, we find him again a man of thirty-six and an

inveterate toper. Anything and everything is an excuse for the

wine-cup. "Looking down from my tent on the valley below, the

watch-fires were marvellously beautiful; that must be the reason, I

think, why I drank too much wine at dinner that evening." For Babar is

still translucently frank. "I was miserably drunk," is an oft

confession, and he does not hesitate to record the fact that he and

his companions "sate drinking wine on the hill behind the water-run

till evening prayers; when we went to Tardi-Beg's house and drank till

midnight--it was a wonderfully amusing and guileless party."

It was the vice of his age. He had resisted it apparently until he was

six-and-twenty, and he had every intention of giving it up at a stated

time, for he writes in 1521: "As I intended to abstain from wine at

the age of forty, and as I now wanted somewhat less than a year of

that age, I therefore drank copiously."

One thing may be said in his favour: he never let wine interfere with

his activities, either of body or of mind. He was ready, as ever, to

detail the flowers he saw in his marches, to expatiate on a beautiful

view, to turn a ghazel or quatrain, to rise ere dawn, to spend

arduous days in the saddle or on foot.

The portraits of him belong to this period, and they show us a man

tall, strong, sinewy, with the long straight nose of his race, a broad

brow, arched eyes, and a curiously small, sensitive mouth.

Such was the man who conquered India, and in the beginning of his

conquests set Timur before himself as an example to such purpose that

it is hard to believe that the ardent and bloodthirsty Mahomedan of

his first campaign is our sunny, genial Babar.

In fact the taking of Bajaur is sad reading. "The people," writes

Babar, "had never seen matchlocks, and at first were not in the least

afraid of them, but, hearing the reports of the shots, stood opposite

the guns, mocking and playing unseemly antics."

By nightfall, however, they had learnt fear, and "not a man ventured

to show his head."

This was, nevertheless, not the first time that we hear of guns and

matchlocks in Indian warfare, although it is the first absolutely

authentic mention of them. But a hundred and fifty years before this,

Mahomed-Shah Bhamani, King of Guzerat, is said to have employed them.

As a digression, it may be observed that Babar's Memoirs give us an

interesting account of the casting of a big gun by one Ustad-Ali, "who

was like to cast himself into the molten metal" when the flow of it

ceased ere the mould was full! Babar, however, "cheered him up, gave

him a robe of honour," and "succeeded in softening his humiliation."

Which, by the way, was unnecessary, since when the mould was opened

the mischief was found to be reparable, and the gun, when finished,

threw over 1,600 yards.

To return to Bajaur. The influence of Timur was strong upon Babar, and

though women and children were spared, the less said about the fate of

the town the better. Once or twice in his life the Tartar which lay

beneath his culture showed in Babar's actions; but only once or twice.

Ere he arrived at the next town he had found an excuse for clemency.

He claimed the Punjab as his by right of inheritance. "I reckoned," he

writes, "of the countries which had belonged to the Turk as my own

territory, and I permitted no plundering or pillage." An admirable

compromise, which allowed him to read his great ancestor's account of

his campaign with a clear conscience.

After a short expedition he returned to Kabul, having set a faint

finger-mark on the extreme north of India. In the next five years he

is said to have made three more expeditions into the Punjab, but the

Memoirs are again silent as to these, and they appear to have been

insignificant. But the idea of Indian conquest was not dead, and in

A.D. 1524 it burst forth again into sudden life. The cosmic touch

which roused it being the appeal of the rightful heir to the Kingdom

of Delhi for help against his nephew Ibrahim Lodi, who, he said, had

usurped the throne. At the same time Babar's governor in the Punjab

begged the emperor to come to his aid.

It was the psychic moment, and Babar was prepared for it. He marched

instantly on Lahore, and finding affairs unsatisfactory, paused ere

going further to return to Kabul, and beat up reinforcements with

which to secure his line of retreat. Coming back, he found it

necessary to settle the governor, an old Afghan, who had broken into

rebellion, and who, girding on two swords, swore to win or die. He did

neither, for Babar, catching him red-handed in rebellion with the two

swords still hanging round his neck, forgave him--as he was inclined

to forgive all men.

So, free at last, he set his face towards Delhi. What the state of

India was at this time we know. It was one of countless jealousies,

seething rebellions, open disunion--on all sides conquest seemed

possible; but Delhi had been the goal of Timur, so it must be the goal

of his descendant.

Curiously enough, this last, and in all ways most decisive attack from

the North-West on India did not come as those of Mahomed of Ghuzni, of

Mahomed Shahab-ud-din Ghori, and of Timur had come, with the returning

flight of migratory birds from the summer coolth of the high Siberian

steppes. The birds were winging westward in this April A.D. 1526, when

Babar, choosing with the eye of a general the old battle-field on the

plain near Paniput, set to work entrenching himself in a favourable

position. This was a new method of battle to the Indians. So was the

laager which he made out of his seven hundred gun-carriages linked

together by raw cow-hide to break a possible cavalry charge, and

strengthened by shield shelters for the matchlock men. For a whole

week, though the army of Delhi--consisting of a hundred thousand

troops and a thousand elephants--lay before him, Babar, whose total

force numbered twelve thousand, was neither let nor hindered in his

work. But then Sultan-Ibrahim, who commanded the enemy himself, is

briefly dismissed by the man whose whole life had been one long fight,

as being "inexperienced, careless in his movements, one who marched

without order, halted or retired without method, and engaged without


It was on the 21st that Babar accepted the challenge which followed on

a repulsed night-attack which he attempted in order to draw the enemy.

It is interesting to note the formation Babar adopted. The laagered

guns in front; behind them--the line broken at bowshot distances by

gaps through which a hundred horsemen could charge abreast--the right

and left centre, right and left wing. Behind that again the reserve,

and the cavalry left over from the flanking parties at the extreme

right and left.

On came the Indians at quick march, aiming at Babar's right; finding

the enemy entrenched, they hesitated, and pressure from behind threw

them into disorder. In an instant the Mongol cavalry charged through

the gaps, took them in rear, discharged their arrows, and galloped

back to safety. This is their national man[oe]uvre, and proved once

more of deadly effect, as it had done in the days of Timur.

But the battle waged fiercely, uncertainly. At one time Babar's left,

over-rash, might have been overwhelmed, but for his watchful eyes, his

instant support.

So as the sun rose high, the wavering victory chose the side of the

Northerners. The Southerners, driven into their centre, were unable to

use what strength they possessed, and by noon Sultan-Ibrahim himself

lay dead, with fifteen thousand of his finest troops. The rest were in

full flight. It had been "made easy to me, and that mighty army in the

space of half a day was laid in the dust."

So wrote the victor modestly, though there can be no question that the

battle was won by superior generalship.

The way was now clear before him. He seized on Delhi and Agra without,

apparently, much bloodshed, and immediately distributed the treasures

gained amongst his followers, only reserving sufficient for the State

to send a silver coin to every living soul in Kabul, bond or free, and

to pay the army and the Government.

He kept nothing for himself; he was not of those to whom gold brings

pleasure. Yet in Hindustan he found few things for which he cared.

There can be no question that it was a disappointment to him.

"It is a country," he writes, "that has few pleasures to recommend it.

It is extremely ugly. All its towers and its lands have a uniform

look. Its gardens have no walls; the greater part of it is level

plain. And the people are not handsome. They have no idea of the

charms of friendly society. They have no good horses, no good

flesh, no good grapes, or musk-melons, no ice or cold water, no good

food or bread in their bazaars, no baths or colleges, no candles or

torches--never even a candlestick!"

Poor Babar! It was now the hottest of the hot weather, and the heat in

the summer of 1526 "chanced to be unusually oppressive." Hitherto

these northern invaders had sought relief from discomfort in return to

their cooler climes; but Babar had other aims. He wished to establish

himself Emperor of India, and all around him in Mewar, in Marwar, in

Gwalior, everywhere save in the line of his victorious march, lay


He determined to remain, but had to meet as determined an opposition

on the part of his troops.

It irritated even his placid good-temper.

"Where is the sense of decency," he writes, "of eternally dinning the

same tale into the ears of one who had seen the facts with his own

eyes, and formed a calm and fixed resolve in regard to the business in

hand? What use was there in the whole army, down to the very dregs,

giving me their stupid, uninformed opinions?"

What indeed!

He gave them his in return at a full review.

"Are we to turn back from all we have accomplished and fly to Kabul

like men who have been discomfited! Let no man who calls himself my

friend ever again moot such a thing, but if there be any of you who

cannot bring himself to stay, let him go!"

Needless to say, this appeal to personal friendship was effectual,

though apparently pleasantry passed between the comrades-in-arms.

One wrote on the walls of the fort:--

"Could I but cross the river Sind,

Damned if I would return to Hind."

To which Babar sent the following reply:--

"Babar thanks God who gave him Sind and Ind,

Heat of the plains, chill of the mountain cold.

Does not the scorch of Delhi bring to his mind

Bitter bite of frost in Ghuzni of old?"

He was always writing verses; always, as he puts it, "wandering into

these follies. For God's sake, do not think amiss of me for them."

His determination to stick by what he had won proved a great factor

for peace. Many of the Mahomedan governors and petty kings

acknowledged him as suzerain; he forced others to submission, and, ere

the rains fell, bringing a welcome cessation to the fiery heat, he

found himself with only Hindus to conquer. He attempted this at first

by generosity and kindness. The son of Hassan-Khan, Rajah of Mewat

(who from his name must have been a converted Hindu), was a prisoner

of war. Babar returned him to his father with a friendly message; but

the overture failed. No sooner at ease about his son than the chief

overtly joined the enemy, and with Rajah Sanga of Mewar (sixth in

succession from Hamir, whose widow-wife won back Chitore), marched to

attack Babar. They met at the ridge of Sikri, about 20 miles from

Agra, where in after years Babar's grandson, the great Akbar, was to

found his city of victory.

We can imagine the meeting, for Rajah Sanga, though an old man, was,

in his way, Babar's double in chivalry and vitality. Both knew it was

war to the death. And the old "Lion of the Rajputs," minus an eye and

an arm, lame of leg and with eighty scars of battle on his body, must

have taken stock of his foeman with inward admiration.

Here was no weakling, unnerved by luxury, but a man after a Rajput's

heart. A man who swam every river he crossed for sheer joy in

breasting a strong stream, who lived in the saddle, who, if

challenged, would snatch up a comrade in either arm, and run round the

battlements of a fort, leaping the embrasures in laughing derision; a

man, too, well versed in warfare, better armed, if with a far smaller

force at his disposal.

But if Babar had advantages he had also disadvantages. The hot weather

had told on his troops, a preliminary reverse at Byana had unsteadied

their nerves, which broke down absolutely when an astrologer, arriving

unseasonably from Kabul, talked about the aspect of Mars and loudly

presaged disaster. It needed all Babar's marvellous vitality, all that

self-confidence which is the very essence of genius, to keep his

followers in hand. For he recognised the virtues of his enemies. He

saw that they were animated by one all-vivifying spirit of devotion,

of national pride.

To match this, if he could, in his own rough-and-ready hordes of

horsemen, he proclaimed a "Jehad," or Holy War. Yet something more was

needed to "stiffen their sinews, and summon up the blood." His own

mind reverted, despite his courage, to many a sin of omission and

commission. It was a time for repentance, for vows, for anything which

would, as it were, bring the fourth dimension into life. So one

evening he assembled his troops; before them he broke his jewelled

wine-cups and beakers, he emptied the wine of Shiraz, the wine of

Tabrez upon the dust, and solemnly made his confession of sin, his vow

of total abstinence. His manifesto began well--"Gentlemen and

soldiers! Whoso sits down to the feast of life must end by drinking

the cup of death."

It was an inspiration! Wine-cups poured on to the pile, oaths were

sworn, from that moment the army plucked up courage. There was no good

in further delay. Babar had staked his all on this chance, he was

eager to try conclusions. On 12th March he marched his army in battle

array for 2 miles, he himself galloping along the line encouraging,

giving special orders how each division was to act, how each separate

man was to proceed and engage. But it was not until Saturday, the 16th

March 1527, that the second great fight between the west and the east,

between Mongol and Aryan, Islamism and Hinduism began, this time on

the plains of Kanwaha. What the force of the imperial troops was is

unknown; most likely less than one-half of the two hundred thousand

said to have been ranged on the Rajput side. In truth, there were

almost too many there, and their interests were too divided.

So suspicion of some treachery is not lacking. Be that as it may, both

sides fought bravely; but Babar's unusual disposition of his troops,

by which fully one-half of his force was held in reserve, seems to

have turned the tide of fortune in his direction, and by evening (the

battle began at half-past nine in the morning) the last lingering

remnant of concerted Rajput resistance was swept away, and Babar was

unquestioned Emperor of India. Had he then pressed his victory home,

the Rajput power would have been shattered absolutely. But he

preferred to take the task in detail. It is a thousand pities that

Babar's desire to do justice to this great battle induced him to give

it in the grandiloquent and elaborate despatch of his Secretary,

instead of in one of his own inimitable descriptions, but we have at

least the satisfaction of reading the torrent of abuse with which he

greeted the astrologer who--"most unwisely"--came to congratulate

him on his victory. "Insufferable evil-speaker" is one of the mildest

of his epithets; but he gave him a liberal present, and bid him quit

the presence and the dominions for ever.

He spent the next few months in attempting to restore order to the

Government, and when winter brought the fighting season once more, he

marched on the town of Chanderi, which had become a stronghold of the

remaining Rajputs. Here he saw, almost contemptuously, the final

sacrifice of the Johar. It did not impress him, possibly because he

held the previous defence of the fortress to have been poor,


About this time prolonged attacks of fever warned him that he could

not in India trifle with his health as he had trifled with it in the


He thought once that he had hit on a marvellous febrifuge--the

translation of religious tracts into verse!--and he records with

interest how one bout ended before he had finished his task; but the

effect was not lasting. Still, nothing crippled his extraordinary

energy, and so late as March 1529 he writes in his diary:

"I swam across the Ganges for amusement. I counted my strokes, and

found that I swam over in thirty-three; then I took my breath and swam

back. I had crossed by swimming every river I met, except (till then)

the Ganges."

He was very happy, apparently, in these days. India was at peace under

stern military control. At Agra, where he had settled, beautiful

gardens were growing up, in which flourished many a flower he had

loved in the wild adventurous days of his youth. Nor did he confine

himself to old favourites. We read of a wonderful red oleander, unlike

all other oleanders, which he found in an ancient garden at Gwalior.

His old love of Nature, too, finds expression in a detailed account of

the fauna and flora of his new possessions.

Finally, he was happy in his domestic relations. In the Memoirs

of his daughter, Gulbadan, we read of the joyful evening when news

came to him that the long-expected caravan from Kabul was within six

miles of the city, when, without waiting for a horse, bareheaded, in

slipper-shoon, he had run out to meet his "Dearest-dear," had met her,

and walked the weary miles along the dusty road beside her palanquin.

In Babar's Memoirs this stands in a single sentence, pregnant with


"On Sunday at midnight I met Mahum again"--

Mahum being the pet name for the wife who had borne him the three

daughters whom he loved so well, the son Humayon of whom he was so


Concerning the latter he writes:--

"I was just talking to his mother about him when in he came" (from

Badakhshan). "His presence opened our hearts like rosebuds, and made

our eyes shine like torches. The truth is, that his conversation has

an inexpressible charm, he realises absolutely the ideal of perfect


Brave words these; but Babar was ready to stand by them to the death.

The story is a strange one, but it is well authenticated. In October

A.D. 1530 Humayon was brought back to Agra, sick. The physicians

despaired of his life, the learned doctors declared that nothing could

save him save the Mercy of God, and suggested some supreme sacrifice.

Babar caught at the idea. "I can give my life," he said, "it is the

dearest thing I have, and it is the dearest thing on earth to my son."

And in spite of remonstrance--the learned doctors having apparently

intended a present to God (through them!) of money or jewels--he

adhered to his decision. He entered his son's room, he stood at the

head of the bed in prayer, then walked round it three times, solemnly

saying the while: "On me be thy suffering."

Was it the extreme nervous, tension acting on a constitution weakened

by fever, by hardships of every kind, which made his prayer effectual?

Who can say? Certain it is that he died in his forty-ninth year, and

Humayon lived on to die at the same age.

Babar, by his own request, was buried beside his mother in the Garden

of the New Year at Kabul. He rests there within hearing of the running

streams, within sight of the tulips and roses which he so dearly

loved, for which he had so often longed with a "deep home-sickness and

sense of exile."

So the most romantic figure of Indian history vanishes from our ken.