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History of India

August 28, 2017

- Padma Mohan Kumar, freelance writer

Babar had nominated his eldest son Humayun as his successor while he was still on his deathbed. The prince was born in Kabul in 1508. He was highly educated and had learnt Turki, Arabic and Persian. After Babar's conquest of North India he had acquired knowledge of Hindi. He was interested in mathematics, philosophy and astrology. He was barely eighteen when he gained proficiency in military matters during Babar's conflicts with the Afghans and Rajputs at Panipat and Khanua. After the battle of Panipat in 1526 he was given Hisar Firuza and later on Sambhal as jagir. He was 20 when Babar made him governor of Badakshan. Humayun fell ill while at Badakshan and he was brought to Agra. He recovered but Babar's health deteriorated. He nominated Humayun as his successor during his last days. Babar advised Humayun to treat his brothers with the utmost kindness and consideration. Babar passed away on December 26th, 1530 at the age of 48.

Humayun's Challenges
The new emperor Humayun had to face opposition to his accession right at the very outset. His position as heir to the throne was extremely precarious as the law of primogeniture was not followed among Muslims. All the princes had equal claims to the throne and this factor led to bitter fraternal wars. Humayun's cousins Muhammad Zaman and Muhammad Sultan also had aspirations to the throne. To add to his troubles, the nobles at his court were plotting against him. His hold on his empire was shaky as the provinces had not been completely reduced to submission. His territories included the provinces of Balkh, Badakshan and Qunduz in Central Asia; the Punjab, Multan, the modern Uttar Pradesh; Bihar, Gwalior, Bayana, Dholpur and Chanderi in India. To make matters worse, Humayun made the most unwise move of dividing his empire among his brothers. His intention was to follow his father's advice and to win them over to his side. He also felt that this measure would help him to get their cooperation in ruling the empire. Kamran was not only allowed to keep Kabul and Kandahar but was permitted to keep the Punjab and Hisar Firuza which he had occupied by force. Sambhal was assigned to Askari. Mewat, which comprised the extensive territories of Gurgaon, Mathura and a part of Agra, was given to Hindal. He also received Alwar which was his capital. Humayun's cousin Sulaiman Mirza was given Badakshan.

Kamran took no pains to conceal his hostility towards Humayun. Owing to his possession of Kabul and Kandahar, Humayun was deprived of excellent recruitment centres for his army. Moreover Humayun meekly accepted Kamran's forcible occupation of Punjab and Hisar Firuza, which not only revealed his weakness but also threatened the integrity of the empire. However Humayun's possession of Hisar enabled him to command the road between Delhi and Punjab. Emperor Humayun increased the jagir of every amir.

The Afghan menace was another thorn in Humayun's side. Mahmud Lodi, the brother of Ibrahim Lodhi the last Afghan Sultan of Delhi had already staked his claims to the throne. Sher Khan, the Afghan governor of Bihar aimed to set up an independent kingdom. He was trying to unify the Afghans into a single community so that he could get their help in realizing his ambition. Nusrat Shah, the Sultan of Bengal also was trying to unite the Afghans into a confederacy against the Mughals. Moreover, Humayun could expect no help from his kith and kin. The Mirzas who were his near relations, were his rivals too. Humayun lacked the political wisdom, military skill diplomatic ability to deal with the situation. He wasted his time in merry making when the circumstances at that time needed firm handling. He had no plan in hand to deal with the situation.

Humayun besieged the fort of Kalinjar in Bundelkhand as he suspected that the ruler's sympathies were with the Afghans. However the Afghan threat in the east compelled him to suspend the operations against Kalinjar. He defeated the Afghans and drove Sultan Mahmud Lodi from Jaunpur. He next besieged Chunar which was at that time held by the Afghan chief Sher Khan. Chunar is an ancient town located in Mirzapur district in Uttar Pradesh. The Afghan chief made a show of submitting to Humayun's authority and the emperor lifted the siege of Chunar. He neglected the important task of suppressing Sher Khan and allowed him to develop his resources and power. Humayun had to ultimately pay a heavy price for this oversight.

Meanwhile he marched against Bahadur Shah, the ambitious ruler of Gujarat in the west. He inflicted a defeat on the Gujarat ruler in the conflict of 1535. The death of Bahadur Shah ushered in internal confusion in Gujarat as there were many pretenders to the throne. Humayun meanwhile had idled away the long months at Agra before assembling an army to lead a campaign against the rising power of Sher Khan in the east. The Afghan chief had established himself as an independent ruler and was now ready to confront the Mughals. He claimed Bengal in 1536 but Humayun succeeded in ousting him from Gaur, the capital of Bengal. The Mughal emperor's victory however proved to be a temporary one. He lost a good proportion of his army owing to the adverse monsoon of Bengal. Sher Khan took advantage of Humayun's setback and inflicted a defeat on him at Chausa in 1539. Chausa is located in Buxar district in Bihar. The Mughals suffered major casualties in this conflict. Sher Khan now assumed the title of Sher Shah.

He imposed yet another defeat on Humayun at Kanauj in Uttar Pradesh on the banks of the Ganges in 1540. At the battle of Bilgram near Kanauj the same year, the Mughals could not face the Afghan attack and many of them began to flee. Humayun tried to rally them but it was an exercise in futility. He had no choice but to flee the battlefield and take refuge in Agra. However it was not long before Sher Shah followed him to Agra. Humayun was compelled to flee to Lahore in the north- west where he received the news that his Afghan adversary had taken Agra. Sher Shah meanwhile had reached the Punjab and sent his general in pursuit of Humayun, entrusting him with the task of driving the unfortunate emperor out of India. To further compound his difficulties, Humayun's own brother Kamran blocked his escape route to the Punjab.

The royal fugitive was compelled to turn towards Sindh. He tried to conquer Sindh with the help of Rana Virsala, a Hindu ruler, but he failed in his efforts. It was at this point that his young wife Hamida Banu Begum gave birth to Akbar who later on became the most illustrious emperor in Indian history. Owing to his straitened circumstances Humayun could just afford to divide a fruit among his followers in celebration of the occasion.He managed to give the slip to Kamran's forces and escape to Persia. His fall from the position of an emperor to that of a refugee was largely due to the wrong choices that he had made. His first mistake was in having trusted his treacherous brothers and divided his empire among them. They had no hesitation in turning against him when he was facing adverse circumstances. Secondly he had underestimated the strength of his Afghan adversary Sher Shah and looked on him as no more than a mere upstart. Then on reaching Gaur and ousting Sher Shah , he had wasted eight months in leisure and merry making while the Afghan had occupied the territory between Teliagarhi and Kanauj. Humayun did little towards challenging Sher Shah. After Humayun's exile to Persia Sher Shah had established a vast empire sustained by an efficient system of administration.

Meanwhile Shah Tahmasp, the ruler of Persia, welcomed Humayun and sheltered him.

Sher Shah died in 1545. His son and successor Islam Shah could not assert his authority over the Afghan nobles and hold them in check. After Islam Shah's death in 1553, the Afghan empire had disintegrated even further. Islam Shah was succeeded by Sikandar Shah. Humayun was now eager to return to India and reclaim his lost empire. The Persian monarch offered him a force of 14,000 men on condition of his accepting the Shia creed. Humayun readily accepted this condition and set out for India at the head of this army. He crossed the Indus river and he was now joined by Bairam Khan, the most efficient and faithful officer of his. Apart from Bairam Khan, many other commanders from Qandahar came forward to help. Humayun's position was now greatly strengthened. He was able to occupy Punjab in 1554 without any serious hindrance. The Afghan ruler Sikandar Shah now sent detachments against the Mughals but the Afghans were beaten at every encounter. In 1555 they were finally defeated by the Mughals under the leadership of Bairam Khan. In the same year, Humayun retook Punjab, Delhi and Agra and recovered his throne. He made his young son Akbar the governor of Punjab and entrusted Bairam Khan with the task of assisting and guiding him. Humayun carried out this measure as a precaution against Sikandar Shah who was now leading military actions in the Punjab. He also rewarded Bairam Khan with the title of Khan-i-Khanan or lord of lords.

Humayun had recovered his throne but a major part of his former dominions remained unconquered. However his major challenge was that of setting up a stable administrative system and thereby winning the faith and confidence of the people. During the reign of his late Afghan adversary, Sher Shah, the system of provincial administration and revenue collection had greatly improved. Humayun intended to retain the administrative system of Sher Shah while dividing his dominions into provinces, each with its own capital.

During this time he also planned to set up several observatories and he had even selected the required sites. He brought in some reforms. It was during his reign that the glory of the court was greatly enhanced. A lot of importance was given to the rituals and ceremonial aspects of the court which were influenced by Humayun's association with Persia. This served to attract scholars from neighboring countries. The emperor wrote Persian poetry and he also encouraged intellectual discussions which took place in the Sher Mandal. Persian became the court language. The Sher Mandal was turned into a library where Humayun's valuable manuscripts were safely stored. Both he and his young son Akbar learnt drawing.

The foundations for the Mughal school of art were laid during Humayun's reign. Indian artists created the Dastan-i-Amir-Hamzah, the first great series of paintings under the supervision of two Persian masters, Mir Sayyid Ali and Khwaja Abdus Samad. He was deeply interested in architecture too. During his earlier reign in 1533 he had founded a new city which was to be named Din-panah. This monument is known as Purana Qila or the Old Fort. Din Panah was to be the capital of a new empire where scholars of all Islamic sects would be welcome.

However Humayun's second reign lasted only for seven months till January 1556. His life came to a tragic end as a result of a fatal fall down the steps of his library. Though Humayun is perceived as a failure when compared to his illustrious son, he left his mark on Mughal history. The restoration of Mughal power after the fall of the Sur dynasty enabled his illustrious son Akbar to build up a powerful empire, thereby ushering in a glorious chapter in Indian history. Humayun's encouragement of Indo-Persian cultural relations had a far-reaching impact on Indian history.