Biography of Babur, Founder of the Mughal Empire

Emperor Babur

Wikimedia Commons 

Babur (born Zahir-ud-din Muhammad; February 14, 1483–December 26, 1530) was the founder of the Mughal Empire in India. His descendants, the Mughal emperors, built a long-lasting empire that covered much of the subcontinent until 1868, and that continues to shape the culture of India to this day. Babur himself was of noble blood; on his father's side, he was a Timurid, a Persianized Turk descended from Timur the Lame, and on his mother's side he was descended from Genghis Khan.

Fast Facts: Babur

  • Known For: Babur conquered the Indian subcontinent and founded the Mughal Empire.
  • Also Known As: Zahir-ud-din Muhammad
  • Born: February 14, 1483 in Andijan, Timurid Empire
  • Parents: Umar Sheikh Mirza and Qutlaq Nigar Khanum
  • Died: December 26, 1530 in Agra, Mughal Empire
  • Spouse(s): Aisha Sultan Begum, Zaynab Sultan Begum, Masuma Sultan Begum, Maham Begum, Dildar Begum, Gulnar Aghacha, Gulrukh Begum, Mubarika Yousefzai
  • Children: 17

Early Life

Zahir-ud-din Muhammad, nicknamed "Babur" or "Lion," was born into the Timurid royal family in Andijan, now in Uzbekistan, on February 14, 1483. His father, Umar Sheikh Mirza, was the Emir of Ferghana; his mother, Qutlaq Nigar Khanum, was the daughter of Moghuli king Yunus Khan.

By the time of Babur's birth, the remaining Mongol descendants in western Central Asia had intermarried with Turkic and Persian peoples, and assimilated into local culture. They were strongly influenced by Persia (using Farsi as their official court language), and they had converted to Islam. Most favored the mystic Sufism-infused style of Sunni Islam.

Taking the Throne

In 1494, the Emir of Ferghana died suddenly, and 11-year-old Babur ascended his father's throne. His seat was anything but secure, however, with numerous uncles and cousins plotting to replace him.

Evidently aware that a good offense is the best defense, the young emir set out to expand his holdings. By 1497, he had conquered the famous Silk Road oasis city of Samarkand. While he was thus engaged, however, his uncles and other nobles rose in rebellion back in Andijan. When Babur turned to defend his base, he once again lost control of Samarkand.

The determined young emir had regained both cities by 1501, but the Uzbek ruler Shaibani Khan challenged him over Samarkand, and dealt Babur's forces a crushing defeat. This marked the end of Babur's rule in what is now Uzbekistan.

Exile in Afghanistan

For three years, the homeless prince wandered Central Asia, trying to attract followers to help him retake his father's throne. Finally, in 1504, he and his small army turned to the southeast, marching over the snow-bound Hindu Kush mountains into Afghanistan. Babur, now 21 years old, besieged and conquered Kabul, establishing a base for his new kingdom.

Ever optimistic, Babur would ally himself with the rulers of Herat and Persia, and try to take back Fergana in 1510 to 1511. Once more, however, the Uzbeks utterly defeated the Mughul army, driving them back to Afghanistan. Thwarted, Babur began to look south once more.

Invitation to Replace Lodi

In 1521, a perfect opportunity for southern expansion presented itself to Babur. The sultan of the Delhi Sultanate, Ibrahim Lodi, was hated and reviled by his citizens. He had shaken up the military and court ranks, installing his own followers in place of the old guard, and ruled the lower classes with an arbitrary and tyrannical style. After just four years of Lodi's rule, the Afghan nobility were so fed up with him that they invited the Timurid Babur to come to the Delhi Sultanate and depose him.

Naturally, Babur was quite happy to comply. He gathered an army and launched a siege on Kandahar. The Kandahar Citadel held out for much longer than Babur had anticipated. As the siege dragged on, however, important nobles and military men from the Delhi Sultanate such as Ibrahim Lodi's uncle, Alam Khan, and the governor of Punjab allied themselves with Babur.

First Battle of Panipat

Five years after his initial invitation to the subcontinent, Babur finally launched an all-out assault on the Delhi Sultanate and Ibrahim Lodi in April 1526. On the plains of Punjab, Babur's army of 24,000—mostly cavalry—rode out against Sultan Ibrahim, who had 100,000 men and 1,000 war elephants. Although Babur appeared to be terribly outmatched, he had something that Lodi did not—guns.

The battle that followed, now known as the First Battle of Panipat, marked the fall of the Delhi Sultanate. With superior tactics and firepower, Babur crushed Lodi's army, killing the sultan and 20,000 of his men. Lodi's fall signaled the beginning of the Mughal Empire (also known as the Timurid Empire) in India.

Rajput Wars

Babur had overcome his fellow Muslims in the Delhi Sultanate (and of course, most were happy to acknowledge his rule), but the mainly-Hindu Rajput princes were not so easily conquered. Unlike his ancestor, Timur, Babur was dedicated to the idea of building a permanent empire in India—he was no mere raider. He decided to build his capital at Agra. The Rajputs, however, put up a spirited defense against this new, Muslim, would-be overlord from the north.

Knowing that the Mughal army had been weakened at the Battle of Panipat, the princes of Rajputana gathered an army even larger than Lodi's and went to war behind Rana Sangam of Mewar. In March 1527, at the Battle of Khanwa, Babur's army managed to deal the Rajputs a huge defeat. The Rajputs were undaunted, however, and battles and skirmishes continued all over the northern and eastern sections of Babur's empire for the next several years.

Death

In the autumn of 1530, Babur fell ill. His brother-in-law conspired with some of the Mughal court nobles to seize the throne after Babur's death, by-passing Humayun, Babur's eldest son and appointed heir. Humayun hurried to Agra to defend his claim to the throne but soon fell gravely ill himself. According to legend, Babur cried out to God to spare Humayun's life, offering his own in return.

On December 26, 1530, Babur died at the age of 47. Humayun, 22 years old, inherited a rickety empire, beset by internal and external enemies. Like his father, Humayun would lose power and be forced into exile, only to return and stake his claim to India. By the end of his life, he had consolidated and expanded the empire, which would reach its height under his son, Akbar the Great.

Legacy

Babur lived a difficult life, always battling to make a place for himself. In the end, however, he planted the seed for one of the world's great empires. Babur was a devotee of poetry and gardens, and his descendants would raise all kinds of arts to their apogee during their long reign. The Mughal Empire lasted until 1868, when it finally fell to the colonial British Raj.

Sources

  • Moon, Farzana. "Babur: the First Moghul in India." Atlantic Publishers and Distributors, 1997.
  • Richards, John F. "The Mughal Empire." Cambridge University Press, 2012.