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History of India

June 9, 2017

- Padma Mohan Kumar, freelance writer

The year 1526 was a very decisive one in Indian history as it marked the overthrow of the Lodi dynasty and the dawn of the Mughal dynasty. Babar, the founder of the new empire was a descendant of the Mongol conqueror Genghis Khan from his motherís side and of Timur, the Turkish invader, from his fatherís side. He was the son of the ruler of the principality of Fergana in present day Uzbekistan.  Born in February 1483, he inherited his fatherís kingdom at the age of eleven. It was his ambition to capture Samarkand and to rule Central Asia but he was thwarted in his attempts by the Persians and the Afghans. Hence he turned his ambitions towards the plains of Hindustan.

North India, at that time was under the rule of the Lodi dynasty which was Afghan in origin. Babar launched a series of attacks on the Lodi province of Punjab which culminated in his victory. It was in 1526 at Panipat that he met a much larger force under the command of Sultan Ibrahim Lodi.  Babarís superior military strategies involving the use of heavy artillery and cannons earned for him a decisive victory against Sultan Ibrahimís forces. It was for the first time that artillery and cannons were used in India.

However Babar was still in an extremely challenging situation. His forces were unused to the oppressive Indian weather and their base at Kabul was located about 800 miles away. Moreover they had to deal with formidable enemies, such as the Afghan chiefs who were a force to reckon with despite the lack of unity among them. No less intimidating were the kingdoms of Malwa and Gujarat which boasted of well-equipped armies and resources. Babar also had to match swords with a powerful confederation of Rajput kings under the leadership of Rana Sanga of Mewar.

Babar rallied his disheartened forces by means of threats and promises and he managed to put heart into them. His forces responded to his stirring exhortations and rallied behind him. His first conflict was with the Rajput confederation. Babar had to contend against an army which was numerically far superior to his. The two forces met at Khanua which was 37 miles west of Agra on March 16th 1527.  The Rajputs, despite their superior numbers found that they were no match for Babarís military strategy. His artillery charges created panic among the elephants of the Rajputs and many of the Rajput soldiers were crushed to death by the frightened animals. Babarís forces won a decisive victory after a conflict lasting for ten hours.

However the Afghans and the Rajputs were not completely suppressed. The Afghans who were in power in the east had captured Lucknow while Babar was engaged in the conflict with the Rajputs at Khanua in the west of Agra. Meanwhile, Mahmud Lodi, the brother of Ibrahim Lodi, had taken Bihar with the support of other groups of Afghans.

The Rajputs were no less persistent in their defiance. Chief among these was the ruler of Chanderi. Babar marched against him and captured his fort in 1528. He now turned his attention towards the Afghans. He marched towards the east, crossed the Ganges and retook Lucknow from the Afghans who were forced to flee towards Bengal. Babarís next conflict was with those Afghans who had united under the leadership of Mahmud Lodi the brother of Ibrahim Lodi. The two forces met near the Ghaghara, a tributary of the Ganges, on May 6th 1529. Once again Babarís superior military strategies came to his aid and he was able to inflict a resounding defeat on his adversaries in the struggle.

Thus, Babar was able to establish his base in North India. His sway extended over some Central Asian territories, Kabul, the Punjab, Delhi and other parts of North India extending up to Gwalior, and Bihar in the east. Nevertheless his empire had to be consolidated with a sound administration and the warring chiefs within the empire had to be pacified. In 1530, he nominated his eldest son Humayun as his successor. There is a very touching story about how Babar had offered his life in exchange for the life of his son Humayun.  Humayun had fallen seriously ill in 1530. Babar prayed to God asking Him to spare Humayunís life and to take his own life instead. It is said that he had walked seven times around Humayunís cot in order to complete a vow that he had undertaken. After that Humayunís health improved while Babar fell seriously ill. His condition deteriorated and on December 30th, 1530 he passed away at the age of 48.

Babar is considered as the founder of the Mughal Empire. His military genius and love for adventure earned for him this recognition. However he did not live long enough to consolidate his empire. This task was achieved by his grandson Akbar. During Babarís time considerable parts of his empire were ruled by his ministers with absolute authority.

Not only was this conqueror a soldier of note but he was gifted poet and writer too. His famous autobiography, the Babarnama written in his mother tongue Turki depict him as a generous ruler who was far ahead of his times in his outlook. This masterpiece was later translated into Persian during the reign of his grandson Akbar. He had mastered Persian too. His other passions were architecture and music. He had an eye for natural beauty and constructed gardens wherever he went. He was among the most magnanimous personalities in history.