Mughal Afghan – The history of India from A.D. 1526 to 1556 is mainly the story of the Mughal-Afghan contest for supremacy in this land.
The previous Mughal (Mongol) inroads into India did not produce any tangible result except that they added, through the settlement of the “New Musalmans”, a new element to the Indian population and at times harassed the Turko-Afghan Sultans.
But the invasion of Timur who occupied a province of the Empire, the Punjab, accelerated the fall of the decadent Sultanate.
One of his descendants, Babur, was destined to attempt a systematic conquest of Northern India and thus to lay here the foundation of a new Turkish dominion, which being lost in the time of his son and successor, Humayun, in the face of an Afghan revival, was restored by the year 1556 and was gradually extended by Akbar.
In fact, there were three phases in the history of the Mughal conquest of India
- The first phase (1526-1530) was occupied with the subjugation of the Afghans and the Rajputs under Rana Sanga.
- The second phase (1530-1540) commenced with the reign of Humayun, who made unsuccessful attempts to subjugate Malwa, Gujarat and Bengal, but was expelled from India by Sher Shah, which meant the revival of the Afghan power.
- The third phase (1545-1556) was marked by the restoration of the Mughal dominion by Humayun and its consolidation by Akbar.
Babur, a Chagatai Turk, was descended on his father’s side from Timur, and was connected on his mother’s side with Chingiz Khan.
The so-called Mughals really belonged to a branch of the Turks named after Chagatai, the second son of Chingiz Khan, the famous Mongol leader, who came to possess Central Asia and Turkestan, the land of the Turks.
The establishment of the Mughal dominion in India can very well be regarded as “an event in Islamic and world history” in the sense that it meant a fresh triumph for Islam in India, at a time when its followers were gaining success in other parts of the world.
Constantinople had been captured by the Turks in A.D. 1453, Suleiman the Magnificent (1520-1566) extended the authority of the Turkish Empire over South-eastern Europe; and in Persia, Isma Safavi (1500-1524) laid the foundation of the famous Safavid Empire.
Suleiman the Magnificent
- In 1494 he inherited from his father, at the age of eleven, the small principality of Farghana, now a province of Chinese Turkestan.
- But his early life was full of difficulties, which, however, proved to be a blessing in disguise by training him adequately to fight with the vicissitudes of fortune.
- Suleiman cherished the desire of recovering the throne of Timur, but was thwarted by his kingsmen and near relatives at Farghana and the rivalry of the Uzbeg chief Shaibani Khan.
Suleiman’s two attempts to take possession of the coveted city of Samarqand in 1497 and 1503 ended in failure. To add to his misfortunes, he was deprived of his own patrimony of Farghana and had to spend his days as a homeless wanderer for about a year. But even in this period of dire adversity, Suleiman formed the bold design of conquering Hindustan like his great ancestor Timur, the story of whose Indian exploits he heard from an old lady of one hundred and eleven, mother of a village headman with whom he had found shelter for some time. Thus taking advantage of a rebellion in another part of the dominions of the Uzbeks, whose rising power had kept off the Timurids from their principalities, Babur occupied Kabul in A.D. 1504.
Being able to secure the help of Shah Isma’il Safavi of Persia against Shaibani Khan, the Uzbeg chief, Babur tried once again to occupy Samarqand in October, 1511, but the Uzbeks under. Shaibani successor finally defeated him in 1512, Babur’s ambitions towards the north-west being thus foiled, he decided to try his luck in the south-east, and led several expeditions in this direction, which were in the nature of reconnaissances, before he got an opportunity to advance into the heart of Hindustan after twelve years.This opportunity came to Babur when he was invited to India by a discontented party. It has already been pointed out how India was then distracted by the ambitions, disaffections and rivalries of the nobles, and the Delhi Sultanate existed in nothing but in name.
- The last nail in its coffin was driven by the ambition and revengeful spirit of some of its nobles.
- Two of them, Daulat Khan, the most powerful nobles of the Punjab, who was discontented with Ibrahim Lodi because of the cruel treatment he had meted out to his son.
- Dilawar Khan, and ‘Alam Khan, an uncle of Ibrahim Lodi and a pretender to the throne of Delhi, went to the length of inviting Babur to invade India.
Probably Rana Sanga had some negotiations with Babur about this time. Babur had for some time been cherishing the ambition of invading Hindustan. His early training in the school of adversity had implanted in him spirit of adventure. He at once responded to the invitation, entered the Punjab and occupied Lahore in 1524. But his Indian confederates, Daulat Khan and Alam Khan, soon realised their mistake. When they saw that Babur had no desire to give up his Indian conquests, they turned against him. This compelled Babur to retire to Kabul, where he began to collect reinforcements with a view to striking once again.
The blow was not long in coming. He marched from Kabul in November, 1525, occupied the Punjab, and compelled Daulat Khan Lodi to submit. The more difficult task of conquering Delhi, which was certainly within the horizon of Babur’s ambition, was still to be accomplished. So, he proceeded against Ibrahim Lodi, the nominal ruler of the shrivelled Afghan Empire, and met him on the historic field of Panipat on the 21st April, 1526.
He had with him a large park of artillery and an army of 12,000 men, while the numerical strength of the troops of Ibrahim was vastly superior, being 100,000 according to Babur’s estimate. But Babur had the strength of character and experience of a veteran general, while his enemy, as we are told by Babur himself, “was an inexperienced man, careless in his movements, who marched without order, halted or retired without method and engaged without foresight”.
Thus by superior strategy and generalship and the use of artillery Babur won a decisive victory over the Lodi Sultan, who, after a desperate resistance, fell on the field of battle with the flower of his army. “By the grace and mercy of Almighty God,” Babur wrote, “this difficult affair was made easy to me, and that mighty army, in the space of half a day, was laid in the dust.”
Babur quickly occupied Delhi and Agra.But the Mughal conquest of Hindustan was not an accomplished fact as a result of Babur’s victory over Ibrahim. It did not give him the virtual sovereignty over the country, because there were other strong powers like the Afghan military chiefs, and the Rajputs under Rana Sanga, who also then aspired after political supremacy and were thus sure to oppose him.
As a modern writer has aptly remarked, “the magnitude of Babur’s task could be properly realised when we say that it actually began with Panipat. Panipat set his foot on the path of empire-building, and in this path the first great obstacle was the opposition of the Afghan tribes” under a number of military chiefs, each one of whom exercised almost undisputed power within his domains or jagirs. Nevertheless, the battle of Panipat has its own significance in the sense that it marked the foundation of Mughal dominion in India. We have already pointed out that this was not the first occasion when artillery was used in India. Shortly after occupying the Doab, Babur suppressed the Afghan nobles in the north, south and east of it.
He sent his own nobles to the unconquered parts of the country to expel the Afghan chiefs therefrom, while he engaged himself at Agra in organising his resources with a view to meeting the brave Rajput chief, Rana Sanga, a collision with whom was inevitable. As a matter of fact, it took place almost before the task of subduing the Afghan nobles had been completed. Rana Sanga, a veteran and intrepid warrior, marched to Bayana, where he was joined by Hasan Khan Mewati and some other Muslim supporters of the Lodi dynasty. Thus the Rajputs and some of the Indian Muslims allied themselves together with the determination to prevent the imposition of another foreign yoke on India.
But all the Afghan chiefs could not combine with the Rajputs at this critical moment, and thus Babur’s task became comparatively easy. The course of Indian history might have taken a different turn if he had had to encounter the united strength of the Hindus and all the Muslims of India. Rana Sanga, the hero of Rajput national revival, was certainly a more formidable adversary than Ibrahim. He marched with an army, composed of 120 chiefs, 80,000 horse and 500 war elephants, and the rulers of Marwar, Amber, Gwalior, Ajmer, and Chanderi, and Sultan Mahmud Lodi (another son of Sultan Sikandar Lodi), whom Rana Sanga had acknowledged as the ruler of Delhi.
Joined him. Moreover, the Rajputs, being “energetic, chivalrous, fond of battle and bloodshed, animated by a strong national spirit, were ready to meet face to face the boldest veterans of the camp, and were at all times prepared to lay down their life for their honour”. Babur’s small army was struck with terror and panic, and he himself also fully realised the magnitude of his task.
Bue he possessed an indomitable spirit, and without being unnerved tried to infuse fresh courage and enthusiasm into the hearts of his dismayed soldiers. He broke his drinking cups, poured out all the liquor that he had with him on the ground, vowed not to take strong drink any longer, and appealed to his men in a stirring speech. This produced the desired effect, and all his soldiers swore on the Holy Quran to fight for him. The Mughals and the Indians met in a decisive contest at Khanua or Kanwa, a village almost due west of Agra, on the 16th March, 1527. The Rajputs fought with desperate valour, but Babur, by using similar tactics as at Panipat, triumphed over them.
The defeat of the Rajputs was complete. The Rana escaped with the help of some of his followers, but died broken-hearted after about two years. Babur followed up his success at Khanua by crossing the Jumna and Storming the fortress of Chanderi, in spite of the gallant opposition of the Rajputs. The battle of Khanua is certainly one of the decisive battles of Indian history. In a sense, its results were more significant than those of the first battle of Panipat.
The battle of Panipat marked the defeat of the titular Sultan of Delhi, who had in fact ceased to command sovereign authority, while that of Khanua resulted in the defeat of the powerful Rajput confederacy. The latter thus destroyed the chance of political revival of the Rajputs, for which they had made a bid on the decay of the Turko-Afghan Sultanate. It is, of course, far from the truth to say that the Rajputs “ceased henceforth to be a dominant factor in the politics of Hindustan”. In fact, their retirement from the field of politics was only temporary. They revived once again after about thirty years and exercised profound influence on the history of the Mughal Empire.
Even Shah had to reckon with Rajput hostility. But the temporary eclipse of the Rajputs after Khanua facilitated Babur’s task in India and made possible the foundation of a new foreign rule. Rushbrook Williams is right when he says that before the battle of Khanua, “the occupation of Hindustan might have been looked upon as a mere episode in Babur’s career of adventure; but from henceforth it becomes the keynote of his activities for the remainder of his life. His days of wandering in search of a fortune are now over ; the fortune is his and he has but to show himself worthy of it. And it is significant of the new stage in his career, which this battle marks, that never afterwards does he have to stake his throne and life upon the issue of a stricken field.
Fighting there is and fighting in plenty to be done ; but it is fighting for the extension of his power, for the reduction of rebels, for the ordering of his kingdom.
It is never fighting for his throne. And it is also significant of Babur’s grasp of vital issues that from henceforth the centre of gravity of his power is shifted from Kabul to Hindustan”.
We have already noted how Babur hurried to meet the Rajputs by leaving the task of thorough subjugation of the Afghan chiefs incomplete. But he could now turn his undivided attention to it. He met the allied Afghans of Bihar and Bengal on the banks of the Gogra, near the junction of that river with the Ganges above Patna, and inflicted a crushing defeat on them on the 6th May, 1529. Thus, as a result of three battles, a considerable portion of Northern India was reduced to submission by Babur, who became the master of a kingdom extending from the Oxus to the Gogra and from the Himalayas to Gwalior, though there remained certain gaps to be filled in here and there.
But Babur was not destined to enjoy for long the fruits of his hard-won victories. He died at Agra at the age of forty-seven or forty-eight, on the 26th December, 1530. The Muslim historians relate a romantic anecdote regarding his death. It is said that when his son, Humayun, fell ill, Babur, by a fervent prayer to God, had his son’s disease transferred to his own body, and thus while the son began to recover, the father’s health gradually declined till he ultimately succumbed, two or three months after Humayun’s recovery. A modern writer argues that Babur’s death was due to the attack of a disease and that “there is no reason to believe the fantasy told by ‘Abul Fazl that Babur died as the result of the sacrifice he performed for his son”.
Babur’s body was first laid at Aram Bagh in Agra, but was afterwards conveyed to Kabul, where it was buried in one of his favourite gardens.
During the four years that Babur spent in Hindustan, the Punjab, the territory covered by the modern United Provinces, and North Bihar, were conquered by him, and the leading Rajput state of Mewar also submitted to him. But he could effect nothing more than conquests, which alone do not suffice to stabilise an Empire, unless the work of administrative consolidation goes hand in hand with, or immediately follows, them. Thus, as a modern writer has remarked, “what he had left undone was of greater importance” than what he had done.
Though his military conquests gave him an extensive dominion, “there was”, writes Erskine, “little uniformity in the political situation of the different parts of this vast empire. Hardly any law could be regarded as universal but that of the unrestrained power of the prince. Each kingdom, each province, each district, and (we may almost say) every village, was governed, in ordinary matters, by its peculiar customs. . . . There were no regular courts of law spread over the kingdom for the administration of justice. . . . All differences relating to land, where they were not settled by the village officers, were decided by the district authorities, the collectors, the Zamindars and Jagirdars.
The higher officers of government exercised not only civil but also criminal jurisdiction, even in capital cases, with little form or under little restraint”. In fact, after his conquests, Babur had hardly any time to enact new laws, Sri Ram Sharma, “Story of Babur’s Death”, Calcutta Review, September, 1936. As Babur himself tells us, he had a special liking for Kabul. “The climate is extremely delightful,” he writes, “and there is no such place in the known world.” or to reorganise the administration, which continued to retain its medieval feudal nature with all its defects. He could not build a sound financial system. He spent much wealth in offering presents and gifts to his followers, and remitted certain duties for the Muslims. Nor could he leave behind him any “remarkable public and philanthropic institutions” to win the goodwill of the governed.
Thus, taking these defects of Babur’s work into consideration, it can very well be said that he “bequeathed to his son a monarchy which could be held together only by the continuance of war conditions, which in times of peace was weak, structureless and invertebrate”. Nevertheless, he occupies an important place in the history of India, as he was the first architect to lay the foundation stone of the edifice of the Mughal Empire in India, on which the superstructure was raised by his illustrious grandson, Akbar.
Babur is one of the most romantic and interesting personalities in the history of Asia. A man of indomitable spirit and remarkable military prowess, he was no ruthless conqueror exulting in needless massacres and wanton destruction. An affectionate father, a kind master, a generous friend and a firm believer in God, he was an ardent lover of Nature and truth and “excelled in music and other arts”.
He probably inherited from his father the restless spirit of adventure and geniality of temperament that he did not lose even in the most troublesome period of his life, and derived his literary tastes from his maternal grandfather. As Lane-Poole observes: “He is the link between Central Asia and India, between predatory hordes and imperial government, between Timur and Akbar. The blood of the two great scourges of Asia, Chingiz and Timur, mixed in his veins, and to the daring and restlessness of the nomad Tartar he joined the culture and urbanity of the Persian.
He brought the energy of the Mongol, the courage and capacity of the Turk, to the subjection of the listless Hindu ; and, himself a soldier of fortune and no architect of empire, he yet laid the first stone of the splendid fabric which his grandson Akbar completed. . . . His permanent place in history rests upon his Indian conquests, which opened the way for an imperial line ; but his place in biography and in literature is determined rather by his daring adventures and persevering efforts in his earlier days, and by the delightful Memoirs in which he related them.
Soldier of fortune as he was, Babur was not the less a man of fine literary taste and fastidious critical perception. In Persian, the language of culture, the Latin of Central Asia, as it is of India, he was an accomplished poet, and in his native Turki he was master of a pure and unaffected style alike in prose and verse.” His Memoirs, which deservedly hold a high place in the history of human literature, were translated into Persian by ‘Abdul Rahim Khan-i-Khanan in the time of Akbar in 1590, into English by Leyden and Erskine in 1826, and into French in 1871.
Annette Susannah Beveridge has published a revised English version of these. There is also a small collection of his fine Turki lyrics.