The Great Moghuls Humayon

A.D. 1530 TO A.D. 1556

Humayon was practically the only son of his father. There can be no

doubt that Babar regarded Mahum, the mother of the four children of

whom he was so passionately fond, Humayon, Rose-blush, Rose-face,

Rose-body, from a different standpoint from his other wives, of whom

he seems to have had four. This, however, did not prevent there being

three other princes, Kamran, H
ndal, and Askari, in the direct line of

succession. Apparently they must have been somewhat troublesome before

Babar's death, since one of his last words to his beloved heir was the

hope that kindness and forgiveness should ever be shown to them. And

right well did Humayon keep his promise. Had he been less

affectionate, less tender-hearted, he had been a better and a more

successful king. His patience was early tried. Almost before the deep

and sincere mourning for the kindly dead, which Lady Rose-body

describes in her Memoirs, was over, he had to decide between fraternal

war and Kamran's claim to supremacy in the Punjab. He chose the

latter, an initial mistake which cost him dear. There must, indeed,

have been some impression abroad that the new king had less fibre than

his father, for from the very first Humayon found himself enmeshed in

a perfect network of revolt and conspiracy. He was now a young man of

three-and-twenty, tall, extremely handsome, witty, and of the most

charming manners. Unfortunately, he had already contracted the opium

habit, which, though as yet it had not set its mark on his vitality,

undoubtedly disposed him to be more easy-going than even Nature had

intended him to be; and that is saying much, for his sweetness of

temper is surprising. His whole life appears to have been spent in

forgiving injuries which, by all the rules of justice and expediency,

he should not have forgiven. Succeeding to his father in A.D. 1530, he

was instantly engaged in war--fruitless war. Brave to a fault, not

without intelligence, something always seemed to stand between him and

success. The story of his failure to relieve Chitore is typical of

him. Its widowed Rani, in sore straits to save it for her infant son

from the hands of Bahadur-Shah, King of Guzerat (one of the many

kings who snatched at every opportunity of enlarging their borders),

sent a Ram-Rukhi, or Bracelet-of-the-Brother, to Humayon. Now this

Brother-Bracelet is in Rajasthan what a lady's glove was to chivalry.

Only in greater degree, for the recipient becomes a brother--a

bracelet-bound brother. There is no value in the pledge. It is generally

a thin silk cord, to which are attached seven differently-coloured

tassels; but once given and accepted by the return of a tiny silken

bodice, called a kachli, it is an inviolable tie. In her extremity

Kurnatavi sent hers to Humayon, whose fame as a puissant knight had

reached her ears. He was enchanted with the romance of the idea, and

instantly left the campaign on which he was engaged to go to her rescue.

And then? Then he dallied. Then he became involved in a wordy, witty,

pedantic war in verse with Bahadur-Shah, in which much point was laid on

the resemblance of the name Chitore to some other word; in the midst of

which the city fell, and suffered yet one more sack.

But the most memorable event of the early years of his reign was,

however, the siege of Chunar, where he found himself first matched

against the man who was eventually for a time to wrest his kingdom

from him, and send him out a wanderer on the face of the earth for

twelve long years.

This siege, which Humayon felt compelled to carry through before

marching on Bengal, was in reality a deep-laid plan of the rebel

Sher-Khan. It was a method--often adopted in modern warfare, but until

then unheard of in the East--of holding up his enemy's forces until

such time as he had consolidated his own powers. It answered

admirably. The rock of Chunar, detached outpost of the Vindhya

mountains which frowns over the Ganges, engaged all Humayon's

attention for months, and when, after reducing it, he pushed on,

Sher-Khan once more met brute-force by guile, and leading Humayon on,

left him to stew for the rainy season in the delta of the Ganges, a

prey to flood and fever, while he himself looked down on him from the

low hills of Northern Berars. It was a bitter beating! A prey to

mosquitoes, to malaria, it was with difficulty that Humayon's troops

managed to preserve their communications with their base. Every tank

was a lake, every brook a river. Their spirits sank, and no sooner

were the roads opened than they deserted in hundreds; Prince

Hindal--who, despite the virtue of being nearly always faithful to his

brother, appears to have been of little good to him--setting the

example by leaving ere the rains had stopped.

So when the dry season brought the possibility of campaign, Humayon

had no choice but to retreat from the now daily increasing boldness of

his enemy, and try to force his way back to Agra. In this he was

stopped by the river Ganges, which it was necessary to cross in order

to avoid an entrenched camp which he could neither pass nor hope to


The bridge of boats took close on two months to complete, and then, a

night or two before retreat became possible, the imperial camp was

surprised about daybreak by the watchful enemy. It must have been a

very complete surprise, for the emperor himself had only time to mount

his horse, and after a vain appeal to his officers for one effort at

least to repel the attack, accept their advice and ride for his life

to the river-side. The bridge was not finished, there was no time for

hesitation, so Humayon urged his horse into the stream. It sank ere it

could reach the shore, and the emperor would undoubtedly have done so

likewise, but for the intervention of a water-carrier who was crossing

with his skin bag, inflated with air, doing duty as a float.

It proved enough to support two; Humayon's life was saved, but his

queen was left in Sher-Shah's hands. The whole story has a smack of

opium about it, and it seems more than probable that the young king,

roused out of a drugged sleep, had not his wits about him. Nothing

else can explain the fact of Babar's son running like a hare, and

leaving his womenkind behind him. His wife appears, however, not to

have suffered thereby in any way, not even in her affection for her

handsome, thriftless king, for it was she, a childless widow, who

after his death erected the splendid mausoleum at Delhi which bears

his name.

There is also something of opium in the promise which Humayon made to

the water-carrier, that if he came to Agra, and if he found

Humayon alive, he might, as a reward, claim to be king for a day.

He did come, so we are told, and for a day sate on the throne of the

Emperor of India. Humayon, always fond of a joke, made merry over this

one, and had prime fun in cutting up the water-carrier's skin bag into

wads (which were duly stamped as coin in the mint), and in other merry

antics, for he was light-hearted like his father. Nevertheless, the

jest cost him dear, for it drew down on him the wrath of his sour

brother Kamran, who always nourished the secret belief--not an

unfounded one--that he would have made a better king than his brother.

This, however, was after Humayon's generous condonation of both his

brothers' grievous faults, and should have closed their lips from

criticism. For both Kamran and Hindal, seizing the opportunity of this

disaster, claimed the throne, and marching on Agra from different

sides, fell out over the question, until recalled to a sense of their

common danger from the Bengal enemy.

Then the three royal brothers made friends, Humayon, as ever, eager to

clasp hands with those of whom he used to say: "How can I quarrel with

them? Are they not monuments of my dear, dead father?"

Practically this defeat on the banks of the Ganges was Humayon's

Waterloo. He held his head above water for a while, attempted another

campaign next year, lost once more on the banks of the Ganges near

Kanauj, and was, with his army, absolutely driven into the river.

Thence he escaped with difficulty, and but for the timely aid of two

turbans knotted and thrown out to him, would undoubtedly have been

drowned under the high bank which was too steep for his elephant to

climb. Joined by his brothers Hindal and Askari, he fled to Agra,

thence with his women and part of his treasures to Delhi, and so,

gathering what he could at the latter place, to Lahore. But he was no

welcome guest to Kamran, who, fearing to be embroiled in the quarrel

with Sher-Shah, withdrew to Kabul, leaving Humayon helpless. He turned

then to Sinde as a refuge, and after two and a half years of many

adventures, found himself a mere wanderer in the desert.

It was, then, at the lowest ebb of fortune, that Fate interfered to

make him--which is, indeed, his only real claim to remembrance--the

father of the greatest king India has ever known.

The story is romantic in the extreme. His brother Hindal was over the

Indus-water, in the rich province of Sehwan, and Humayon, who from

bitter experience had reason to doubt the former's loyalty, was

keeping an eye on his proceedings. He therefore crossed the river for

an interview at the town of Patar. He found Hindal in the midst of

festivities; for what purpose history sayeth not, but from what

followed it seems likely that it was preparatory to a marriage. His

mother, at any rate, gave an entertainment to all the ladies of the

court, and at this Humayon saw, and instantly fell in love with, a

girl of sixteen, called Hamida-Begum. Hearing she was not as yet

betrothed, he instantly said he would marry her. Then ensued a violent

quarrel between the brothers, from which it seems likely that

Humayon's fancy had chosen the bride-elect. The girl wept at both

brothers. They stormed; but finally Hindal's mother counselled her son

to yield, and the thirty-eight-year-old Humayon carried off the prize.

Their honeymoon cannot have been cloudless, for they spent it in

danger of their lives; but Humayon must from his temperament have been

a most beguiling bridegroom, and the little bride's tears soon dried.

She followed him bravely, early in the next year, through the Great

Desert of India, where horse and man nearly died of thirst.

That ceaseless marching from fresh enemies by day and night must have

been a terrible experience for the young wife, soon to become a

mother; but she had at least the consolation of her husband's deep,

absorbing devotion. Once when her palfrey fell never to rise again,

the king put her on his charger, and walked beside her bridle rein all

through the long, weary night-march. The stars must have looked down

kindly on them as they toiled along, hand fast in hand.

It is a pretty picture, anyhow. So, after unheard-of miseries, they

gained the quaint, stern old fort of Amarkot, which rises bare and

square out of the desert sand. One can imagine that August day, with

the parching wind beating the fine, sharp sand of the desert against

the purple-stained bricks, and grinding them to grey frostiness.

Here the Pathan chatelain, taking pity on the outwearied princess,

offered her asylum. Humayon, however, must go on; there was no rest,

no shelter for such as he. It was four days after the sorrowful

parting that a courier rode post-haste after the wanderer, telling him

that a son was born to him-his first, his only son. There was no gold

in the camp to give the messenger. All of regal pomp that could be

found was a bag of musk, and this the proud father broke upon an

earthenware platter, and distributed to his followers as a royal

present in honour of "an event which diffused its fragrance over the

whole habitable world."

One historian gives a somewhat different version of the birth of

Akbar. In it he was born under a tree in the desert, and the little

sixteen-year-old mother wept with fear at the hard-featured village

midwife summoned hastily to her aid, then flung her arms round her and

cried for joy when the boy-baby was put into her young arms. Within a

month she and the child were back sharing her lover-husband's danger.

It increased day by day, hour by hour. When the young Akbar was but a

year old, it reached its climax. Compelled to quit Sinde, Humayon, his

wife and child with him, and some half a dozen followers, was on his

way to Kandahar, when news came that his brother Askari was marching

against him in force. There was nothing for it but swift, immediate

flight. But the weather was boisterous, the only safe road almost


How about the child? Rapidly calculating chances, they decided on

leaving the infant prince behind them. What tears, what forebodings

must not have been miserable Hamida's--what vain kisses and strainings

to her heart!

But when Askari entered the little camp, the deed was done. The baby

Akbar was there regal in his nurse's arms, with all his equipage, all

his poor mockery of state and service about him, but the two fugitives

were riding hard for the Persian frontier.

Humayon had lost all things, even his fatherhood.