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
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?"
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)
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.