Incredible India - Part 10 - Babur – The start of Mughal Empire

Updated: Dec 31, 2020


The Mughal Emperors, Moghul, from the early 16th century to the mid-19th century, built and ruled the Mughal Empire on the Indian subcontinent, mainly corresponding to the modern countries of India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh. The Mughals emerged as a branch of the Timurid dynasty of Turco-Mongol origin from Central Asia. Their founder Babur, a Timurid prince from the Fergana Valley (in modern Uzbekistan), was a direct descendant of Timur (generally known in western nations as Tamerlane) and also affiliated with Genghis Khan through Timur's marriage to a Genghisid princess.

Babur was born in Andijan in the Fergana Valley (in present-day Uzbekistan): the eldest son of Umar Sheikh Mirza (1456–1494, governor of Fergana from 1469 to 1494) and a great-great-grandson of Timur (1336-1405). Babur ascended the throne of Fergana in its capital Akhsikent in 1494 at the age of twelve and faced rebellion. He conquered Samarkand two years later, only to lose Fergana soon after. In his attempt to reconquer Fergana, he lost control of Samarkand. In 1501 his attempt to recapture both the regions failed when Muhammad Shaybani Khan defeated him. In 1504 he conquered Kabul, which was under the putative rule of Abdur Razaq Mirza, the infant heir of Ulugh Beg II. Babur formed a partnership with the Safavid ruler Ismail I and reconquered parts of Turkistan, including Samarkand, only to again lose it and the other newly-conquered lands to the Sheybanids.

After losing Samarkand for the third time, Babur turned his attention to India. At that time, the Indo-Gangetic Plain of the Indian subcontinent was ruled by Ibrahim Lodi of the Afghan Lodi dynasty, whereas Rajputana was ruled by a Hindu Rajput Confederacy, led by Rana Sanga of Mewar. Babur defeated Ibrahim Lodi at the First Battle of Panipat in 1526 CE and founded the Mughal empire. He faced opposition from Rana Sanga, who at first promised to help Babur defeat Ibrahim Lodi; however, he later backed out upon realizing that Babur had plans to stay in India. The Rana prepared an army of Rajputs and Afghans to force Babur out of India, however, the Rana was defeated in the Battle of Khanwa (1527) after which he was poisoned to death (1528) by his men. 

Ousted from his ancestral domain in Central Asia, Bābur turned to India to satisfy his appetite for conquest. From his base in Kabul (Afghanistan) he was able to secure control of the Punjab region, and in 1526 he routed the forces of the Delhi sultan Ibrāhīm Lodī at the First Battle of Panipat. The following year he overwhelmed the Rajput confederacy under Rana Sanga of Mewar, and in 1529 he defeated the Afghans of what are now eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar states. At his death in 1530, he controlled all of northern India from the Indus River on the west to Bihar on the east and from the Himalayas south to Gwalior. 


Babur married several times. Notable among his sons are Humayun, Kamran Mirza, and Hindal Mirza. Babur died in 1530 in Agra and Humayun succeeded him. Babur was first buried in Agra but, as per his wishes, his remains were moved to Kabul and reburied. As a patrilineal descendant of Timur, Babur considered himself a Timurid and Chagatai Turkic. He ranks as a national hero in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. Many of his poems have become popular folk songs. He wrote the Baburnama in Chaghatai Turkic; it was translated into Persian during the reign (1556-1605) of his grandson, Emperor Akbar.

Babur still wanted to escape from the Uzbeks, and he chose India as a refuge instead of Badakhshan, which was to the north of Kabul. He wrote, "In the presence of such power and potency, we had to think of someplace for ourselves and, at this crisis and in the crack of time there was, put a wider space between us and the strong foeman”. After his third loss of Samarkand, Babur gave full attention to the conquest of North India, launching a campaign; he reached the Chenab River, now in Pakistan, in 1519. Until 1524, he aimed to only expand his rule to Punjab, mainly to fulfill the legacy of his ancestor Timur, since it used to be part of his empire. At the time parts of north India were under the rule of Ibrahim Lodi of the Lodi dynasty, but the empire was crumbling and there were many defectors. He received invitations from Daulat Khan Lodi, Governor of Punjab and Ala-ud-Din, uncle of Ibrahim. He sent an ambassador to Ibrahim, claiming himself the rightful heir to the throne, but the ambassador was detained at Lahore and released months later.

Babur started for Lahore, Punjab, in 1524 but found that Daulat Khan Lodi had been driven out by forces sent by Ibrahim Lodi. When Babur arrived at Lahore, the Lodi army marched out and his army was routed. In response, Babur burned Lahore for two days, then marched to Dibalpur, placing Alam Khan, another rebel uncle of Lodi, as governor. Alam Khan was quickly overthrown and fled to Kabul. In response, Babur supplied Alam Khan with troops who later joined up with Daulat Khan Lodi, and together with about 30,000 troops, they besieged Ibrahim Lodi at Delhi. He easily defeated and drove off Alam's army and Babur realized Lodi would not allow him to occupy Punjab.


It is generally agreed that, as a Timurid, Babur was not only significantly influenced by the Persian culture, but also that his empire gave rise to the expansion of the Persianate ethos in the Indian subcontinent.


Part 11 – The Mughal Empire

Part 9 - The era of Rajputs | The Rajputana


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