It is generally held that the guns and the gunpowder were introduced in India by Babur. Guns and gunpowder are sometimes also held as a primary reason for Babur’s conquest of Hindustan.
Recent researches have however shown that guns and gunpowder were known to Indians even before the coming of Mughals in India.
We have at our disposal sufficient evidence for its use in India prior to 1526. Prof. Iqtidar Alam Khan took up this question in great detail in a number of his articles. We have evidence that fire-arms of a particular kind were known in Hindustan and used by the regional states like Gujarat, Malwa, Mewar, Bahmanis & even by the Lodis for the preceding 50 – 75 years.
This evidence is derived by Iqtidar A. Khan from such sources as the Travels of Duarta Barbosa, who in the early years of the 16th C (1515-18) noticed fire-arms in Gujarat & the Bahmani Kingdom of the Deccan. He also noticed at the time of his visit, the King of Calicut using a number of Portuguese prisoners in producing a new kind of guns, cast in bronze which were not known to Indians before this.
Then we have another Portuguese chronicle, Faria de Souza which can be dated around 1506. In this there is a specific mention of the fact that according to the estimates of the Portuguese experts of artillery, the artillery pieces possessed by the Deccani kingdoms of Ahmadnagar & Vijayanagar were much superior to the artillery of the Portuguese! Might be this was an exaggeration, but still the fact remains.
Duarta Barbosa, the Portuguese admiral who visited India between 1515-18 mentions arquebus-wielding infantrymen who charged from the back of the elephants.
There is other information as well to indicate that the fire-arms were present in the land-locked states also. One of the most important source of this nature is an illustrated manuscript of Aranyak Parvan, a section of the Mahabharata, which was written and illustrated sometime during the reign of Sikandar Lodi, i.e., 1498-1516. It is preserved in the Asiatic Society at Bombay. In this ms, one illustration depicting the siege of Dwarka by Krishna are shown two small canons mounted on the ramparts. One of them is being fired by a man trying to hide behind the battlement.
Thus as early as the reign of Sikandar Lodi, some kind of canons were so known that the painter living in the vicinity of Agra shows them in a scene of a siege operation. This means that the canon was being used for at least 20-25 years and was witnessed even by an artist.
Then we should also take note of a few references in a 15th C chronicle, Ma’asir-i Mahmudshahi, compiled by Shahab Hakim sometime around 1566-68 at Malwa. As the title indicates, it is a history of Malwa down to the reign of Sultan Mahmud Khalji whose military campaigns against the Rajput chief of Mandalgarh, Chitor & Raisen are mentioned.
In this account we come across a description of a missile-throwing weapon in which only round pieces of stones (golas) could be used as projectiles. This suggests that this weapon was fitted with a barrel of some kind. It was known as kamān-i ra’d. Ra’d means ‘thunderbolt’. It is also true that during the earlier phase, the term ra’d applied to a particular kind of munjaniq, a mechanical device for throwing missiles. But then in the manner in which the reference is made to this in the text go to suggest that kamān-i ra’d was something different from the mechanical device of munjaniq:
“By the impact of the balls of ra’d [gola-i ra’d] and stones of munjaniq [sang-i munjaniq], the ramparts of the fort was demolished.”
In this passage one point emerges: that is, the distinction between munjaniq, used for throwing pieces of stones of irregular shape [sang], and the other weapon in which only a ball [gola] could be used. One uses ball only when it has to pass through a barrel.
The second point, in addition to this is the name of the weapon, ra’d. The impression emerges that this used by Malwa was some kind of a primitive canon which is depicted in the earlier cited illustration where it is shown short & crudely made.
In addition to this, we have repeated references in latter sources like Tarikh-i Firishta , Tabaqat-i Akbari of Nizamuddin Ahmad , and the Mirat-i Sikandari of Sikandar bin Manjhu . They refer repeatedly to the use of fire-arms by the Indian powers including Malwa and Gujarat of the 15th C. In all these sources, while mentioning the earlier campaigns, there is the use of the term top-wa tufang.
Still we can not deny that the kind of fire-arms used by Babur was something new for the Indians. It also cannot be denied that the way and manner in which he used them was also new. The novelty of fire-arms and the tactics employed for use was something which gave him military and strategic advantage.
One very great advantage was that by the time Babur invaded the Lodi Empire, the rulers & common people had not yet become familiar with the handguns: they were familiar with the canons but Babur’s soldiers were equipped with some kind of handguns, the arquebuses & matchlocks. The arquebus was a gun which fired by putting the burning object in touch with the hole in the barrel held in the hand.
Thus the new innovation brought by Babur was not the gun & gunpowder, but the use of handguns in open battles. This was an innovation which in Hindustan had not yet become common outside Gujarat in 1526. It seems that the arquebus was not fully known outside Gujarat & certainly not in the North-western region. Babur in the siege of Bajaur describes the reaction of the local garrison to his use of handguns in a manner which goes to indicate that most probably the Bajauris were not familiar with this particular kind of firearms:
“As the Bajauris had never before seen tufung, they at first took no care about them; indeed they made fun when they heard the report and answered it by unseemly gestures. On that day Ustad Ali Quli shot at, and brought down five men with tufung; Wali the treasurer, for his part, brought down two; other matchlock men (tufungchis) were also very active in firing and did well shooting through shields, through armour, and brought down one man after another. Perhaps seven, eight or ten had fallen to tufung fire (zarb-i tufung) before night. After that it so became that not a head could be put out because of the fire.”
This account dates back to 1519, around the same time that Barbosa says that handguns were used in Gujarat.
These tufungs were evidently matchlocks whose use had spread rapidly east from the Ottoman-Iranian borderlands. Venetians sent firearms to north-western Iran to the Turkic Aq Quyunlu enemies of the Ottomans in the late 15th Century. They may have spread further east then – and perhaps with even greater speed following the Ottoman use of firearms when they shattered the Safavid army at the Battle of Chaldiran in 1514.
At Bajaur Ustad Ali Quli twice used a weapon which was called “Farangi”. Babur says the weapon used fired farangi tāshi (farangi stones). The Safavids use the term top-i farangi for the weapon they used in a battle in 1528-29.
The second point is that Babur introduced the handgun in the open battle where it was used by infantrymen who would fire their guns while standing on the ground. Other on the coast, were used to firing from the back of the elephants. In the case of Babur, the handgun wielders were made to stand on the ground & fire: this was a great advance in the technique.
Thirdly, it seems, Babur not only brought with him the most advanced guns which he borrowed from the Ottomans, but he also, for the first time utilized them in an open battle. Before this all reference in Hindustan which we have are either for the use of canons as shore battery against ships or their use in siege operations from fixed positions. We don’t come across the use of canons or handguns before 1526 in an open battle.
• Syed Ali Nadeem Rezavi