Humayun and His Nobility

So far as the problem of the nobility is concerned, one important development took place during the last one year of Babur’s reign. This development was apparently the withdrawal of almost the entire set of the Indian nobles (i.e., the Afghans & the Shaikhzadas) from the Mughal service, which naturally once again created a situation in which the Timurid ruler in Hindustan had to administer Hindustan with the help of Turani nobles exclusively, i.e., those who came with Babur from Kabul including Khurasan etc.

This is suggested by two kinds of evidence from Humayun’s reign: One are those which go to positively indicate that many shaikhzadas & Afghan nobles were now in rebellion against Humayun. The whole Nauhani clan controlling Bihar, Shaikh Bibban & Shaikh Bayazid, who had earlier joined Babur’s service were in rebellion. Most probably, a majority of these nobles had left in the last year of Babur’s reign, a period when we have no detailed contemporary account.

This is also borne out partly by the negative evidence to the effect that most of these Afghans and Shaikhzadas mentioned by Babur holding wajh are not mentioned in the accounts of this period.

Putting together both these positive and negative evidences, it appears that most of the Afghan and shaikhzada nobles had withdrawn. Net result was that the Mughal ruler had again become dependent on Turanis who had their own limitations. They had no roots in the Indian society. Secondly, they had great pretensions about their privileges and perquisites. They were very sensitive of these: some privileges, as we have earlier seen, were underlined by the influence of the Mongol traditions in the working of the Timurid polity.

Babur was able to tackle them and use them effectively in Hindustan. Most of the Turani nobles who came to Hindustan with Babur were devoted to his person and had served him in very difficult conditions. Further, as a result of the successful leadership of Babur, they had great faith in his person.

Then, they had been raised to high positions by Babur himself. Out of the senior nobles, whom Babur inherited from Umar Shaikh Mirza, most had been eliminated by a variety of reasons. By the time Babur had established himself at Kabul, the majority were those raised to high positions and office by Babur himself. Babur himself observes that before setting out for Hindustan in 1525, he had given enmass promotions to his troopers and petty officers (yikitlars & ichikis) so that he was able to overcome the problem of paucity of high nobles (begs) in his party. Thus they were Babur’s creatures and thus remained loyal to him when certain measures of Babur (like 30 % reduction of wajh) hurt them.

Under Humayun some nobles did not show the same kind of loyalty as shown to Babur. Humayun found it difficult to control, manage or discipline them. In addition, this problem was further complicated on account of Humayun’s extreme unpopularity with an influential section of the Turani nobility.

That Humayun wa unpopular, is borne out by the evidence we have regarding the so-called Mir Khalifa’s Conspiracy. The evidence to this conspiracy is provided by Nizamuddin Bakhshi who says that his father Mohd.Muqim Harvi, who was in Babur’s service as a diwan-i buyutat, told him that when Babur was lying critically ill, his wakil, Mir Khalifa, decided to put up Babur’s son-in-law Mahdi Khwaja as the possible successor. But one day, while Mahdi Khwaja was talking in a menacing manner about Mir Khalifa in private, it was heard by Muqim Harvi, who reported it to the wakil. Thereupon Mir Khalifa changed his view and withdrawing support from Mahdi Khwaja, invited Humayun and assured him of support in succession.

This narration of Nizamuddin Bakhshi on the authority of his father is a centre of controversy amongst modern historians.

Important point is that at one point of time, just before his coming to the throne, Humayun was not looked upon with favour by a section of senior nobility represented by Mir Khalifa.

This story is borne out by Abu’l Fazl in an oblique manner in his Akbarnama.

Another indication of this lack of support between Humayun and an influential group of Turani officers, was a revolt of Muhammad Zaman Mirza which took place according to Tarikh-i Ilchi-i Nizam Shah preserved in Persia. The author, Khawr Shah bin Qibad al-Husaini, was an ambassador of Bahmani Kingdom to the Safavid court sometime before 1565-70.

In this work, it is pointedly mentioned that Muhammad Zaman Mirza revolted just after Humayun’s accession. This is at variance with time given in other sources where mention is made to this incident in 1533-34. But a much earlier source mentions it as the first important event after Humayun’s accession.

Thus the clans of Mirzas were also alienated from Humayun and they revolted. This development assumes significance if seen in the background of total support which Turani nobility gave to Babur.

This is the first case of the revolt of Turanis against the Mughal emperor. This again, is an indication of a change in the attitude towards Humayun.

This should be before us when we say that Humayun had no complete command and thus complicated his position with his nobility as such.

To begin with, this was the nature of the problems with nobility.

Probably it was as a result of this that Humayun initiated a number of steps to re-organise his nobility. These measures, as mentioned by Khwand Amīr would be discussed separately elsewhere. Possibly these administrative steps were not sufficient to solve the issues, but to escalate the ensuing conditions further.

If the post-1535 period is any indication, this type of re-organization further complicated the situation by provoking the nobles further. It further widened the cleavage between him and the senior nobles whose privileges he was trying to curtail.

We find that as the military pressure against Humayun increased, the tendency on the part of the Turani nobles to defy his authority, to disown him and to think in terms of setting up his brothers against him went on steadily increasing. This process became quite manifest from 1536 onwards.

In 1536, or the close of 1535, we come across an incident of gross indiscipline and disobedience by a considerable number of officers in Gujarat. In fact at Champaner, when Humayun camped, 400 Mughal (petty) officers deserted him and proceeded towards Ahmadnagar. They were pursued and arrested. All of them were put to death in a most savage manner.

Humayun’s perturbed mind can be seen from the fact that the very next day of execution, he also put to death the imam of the royal camp on the charge that the imam had recited in the evening prayers a verse from the Holy Quran in which a general disapproval of cruelty to servants and sub-ordinates is conveyed.

This indicates anxiety of Humayun on this development as desertion had taken place while on march to Gujarat. It is also an indication of the great cleavage between Humayun and his nobility. Before, under Babur, nobles would stand like rock even in the most difficult situations. Now even minor officers were defying Humayun in a difficult situation.

Next year in 1536, one of the senior nobles in Gujarat, Ghazanfar Koka deserted. He was a Turani. He deserted with 300 horsemen and joined Bahadurshah in his counter-offensive against the Mughals.

One further matter took place the same year at Champaner. When Bahadurshah had evicted the Mughal officers from the coastal region, the Mughal officers greatly panicked and all of them led by Mirza Askari came to Champaner. There Mirza Askari was adviced by some of his trusted nobles that he should declare himself an independent king of Gujarat. Argument was that the Mughal hold over Gujarat could be maintained only if Askari declared as king otherwise the local chiefs would not be reconciled and they would rally around Bahadurshah. Humayun at this time was at Malwa.

There was a tussle between Tardi Beg and Mirza Askari. Tardi Beg was guarding the fort and the treasury. Askari asked for it on pretext of organizing an army. Tardi Beg was ready and finally Askari and Yadgar Mirza proceeded to Agra without working for Humayun. General suspicion was that Askari would be declared as the rival king and fore-stall Humayun’s coming back.

Thus with the increase in military pressure, Humayun’s complications with the nobility was increasing. This alienation came to a point of no return during the Bengal campaign. It was this crisis with nobility which resulted in Humayun’s defeat against Sher Khan. At Chausa in 1539 and then at Qannauj in 1540 Humayun was routed due to his bad relations with his nobles.

We find that when Humayun was still in Bengal, some of his highly placed nobles whom he had stationed for guarding the route connecting Gaur with Agra deserted Humayun at a very critical juncture. They were according to Abul Fazl, Khusrau Beg Kokaltash, Haji Muhammad Koki, Zahid Beg and Mirza Nazar. They came to Koil which was in Zahid Beg’s jagir. From here they sent a message to Mirza Hindal who at that time was at Alwar:

“Henceforth we do not serve the king, if you, as you have already proposed, will have the khutba read in your name, we will enter your service and render you faithful allegiance; otherwise we shall go to Mirza Kamran where happiness and a welcome are awaiting for us.”

Then we also know about the behaviour of nobles at Agra and Delhi during Humayun’s absence. Both Gulbadan and Mirza Haider Dughlat inform that it was because of the pressure of nobles present at Agra and Delhi that Kamran did not proceed to Chausa to rescue Humayun. They thought that if the king returns in victory, he would take them to task, otherwise he woud deal with them leniently.

This shows the loss of confidence and faith in Humayun by a large section of noble’s community. Nobility had reached a point by 1539 that when Humayun offered the governorship of Bengal to Zahid Beg, he contemptuously turned down the offer and retorted back in the presence of other nobles that: “Couldn’t you find a better place to get me killed”. After making this impolite reply, he deserted Humayun and went to Loil.

If this is taken along with another independent piece of evidence, the picture becomes clearer.

Masum Bhakkari in his Tarikh-i Sind  says two of Shah Husain Arghun’s emissaries, whom he had sent to Bengal (Gaur) to congratulate Humayun for his success, started from Humayun’s camp for Sind on the eve of Humayun’s decision to withdraw from there. The report which these two brought of the condition in the Mughal camp testify that almost the entire nobility was in a rebellious mood and the king had lost all control over the army. They predicted that Humayun would soon meet catastrophe.

Thus this independent source also points in the same direction that the nobles were completely alienated from Humayun.

These evidences put together also indicate that the measures of Humayun as given in Khwandmir’s account remained un-accounted and that by 1535 the position reached a point of no return. 

Now the question arises: why this crisis of Humayun accentuated in such a dramatic manner during this period?

One fact was the failure of the scheme he worked out. This utopian scheme further added to the confusion due to loss of trust between nobles and the king.

Then Humayun’s own erratic behaviour in post-1538 period was also responsible for the loss of confidence in his leadership on the part of the nobles. During this time we find on the one hand Humayun insisted upon divine origin of his power or Jalwa-i Quds: shutting himself for months with no social meetings with nobles.

On the other hand he was gradually very lenient with the nobles and was not taking any stern action or measure for disciplining them. The episode in Gujarat is an exception. This is borne out by the fact that none of the high nobles who rebelled by 1535, as well as those who deserted him in Bengal or Agra, or who behaved in an insolent manner like Zahid Beg at Gaur, were given any punishment. They would be pardoned and restored. This lenient attitude was in contrast to the high claims he made. This was a contradiction which convinced the nobles that Humayun would not provide a right leadership.

Ther is also evidence to suggest that in 1535-40 Humayun had developed a psychic problem. For example, he claimed that his defeat at Chausa was the result of Divine intervention on Sher Shah’s side: “I saw myself horsemen wearing green garments descending from the sky and joining Sher Shah’s forces.”

Again, his behaviour during his 6 – 7 months that separated the battle of Chausa from that of Kannauj was erratic. He was not able to devote himself to mobilize forces. During this time he resorted to gimmicks which were censored by Kamran & others. One was placing on throne Nizam Saqqa, the water carrier for three days. Kamran protested these frivolous orders. He said this is the time of war.

So this erratic behaviour was an important factor for the complete loss of faith among the nobles. That is why in the final battle at Kannauj, the issue was decided in favour of the Afghans not due to the inherent weakness of the Mughals but as a direct result of the dis-integration of the Mughal army organization which had become totally demoralized due to the absence of any rapport between the emperor and his nobles.

A few passages of the account of the Battle of Kannauj, given by Mirza Haider Dughlat in Tarikh-i Rashidi, show that the Mughal defeat was not a military defeat, but a collapse of the organization.

Referring to the behaviour of the nobles at Kannauj, Dughlat writes:

“Now (at Kannauj) having colluded with Sher Khan, he (Muhammad Zaman Mirza) deserted. A new way was thus opened. Every body began to desert and most surprising point of it was that many of those who deserted did not go over to Sher Khan ans so could expect no favour from him.

An excited feeling ran through the army and the cry was ‘Let us go and rest in our homes’. A number of Kamrani auxiliaries also abandoned the king and fled to Lahore.

Between me and the river (Ganges) there was a force of 27 Amirs, all of whom carried the tugh (banner). In this position also, were the other components of the left wing, and they must be judged by the others. On the day of the Battle, when Sher Khan, having formed his divisions marched out, of all these 27 tugh not one was to be seen, for the great nobles had hidden them, in the apprehension that the enemy might advance upon them. The soldiership of the Amirs may be conceived from this exhibition of courage.

Before the enemy had discharged an arrow the whole army had scattered and defeated. I had estimated the Chaghtais as numbering 40,000 men excluding the camp followers and workmen. They fled before 10,000 men and Sher Shah gained a victory while the Chaghtai were defeated in this battlefield where not a man, either friend or foe, was wounded; not a gun was fired and the chariots were useless.”

These passages more than support the contention that this was not a defeat but the disintegration of the Timurid nobility due to a deepening crisis in 1542.

In 1541 Kamran proclaimed himself a rival king. This led to a radical shift in the situation. Henceforth there existed a state of civil war between Humayun and Kamran for possession of the Timurid territories especially in the Kabul, Qandahar and Badakhshan region. This civil war came to an end only with Mirza Kamran’s defeat and blinding in 1553. the Mughal nobility tried to use this situation for extending its own area of privileges by playing up one brother against the other. They were repeatedly changing sides throughout this time which actually was the basic factor behind the prolongation of the civil war for such a long time.

In 1541 the nobles rallied around Kamran which reduced Humayun to the desparate position of a wanderer in the Sind region and later a fugitive at Shah Tahmasp’s court.

But the same nobles, once they joined Kamran, started conspiring against him also. One additional factor making impossible to keep the nobles contended was the paucity of resources in this region, which were not sufficient for keeping all the nobles in service employed gainfully and paid properly for the services. This was additional to the high claims to privileges and benefits which these nobles had from early period. It was also in addition to the fact that they had become habitual conspirators. That is why we find that when Humayun returned in 1545 to Kabul, they deserted Kamran and joined Humayun. But they deserted Humayun again in 1547 and again tried to bolster Kamran’s position by joining him. Once again they revolted in 1550. This was possible for them because of the situation created by Kamran as a rival king. 

Before 1540 Kamran had no claim of being a rival of Humayun. He ruled before as a semi-independent ruler. He would also mention Humayun as Sultan-i Azam and Khaqaz-i muazzam. He refused to do so only after 1541. Coins issued now did not include Humayun’s name, but his own name had titles of khaqan and sultan.

Relations after Humayun’s Return from Iran

After his return from Persia, from 1545, he did not resort to the gimmicks as before. Now jalwa-i quds is not referred to nor his insistence of nobles standing at a long distance from him. Now he organized festivities and mixed with nobles on a social plain.

Gulbadan says that on the occasion of Akbar’s circumcision in 1545, Humayun organized a wrestling bout where he wrestled with Imam Quli Quchi who was one of his nobles. This was un-imaginable in 1540!

He came in drinking parties and played cards in sharp contrast to the early period. But he had also become very exacting on his demands upon the nobles. He dealt with, particularly the Abbysinian nobles who were comparatively prominent, in a most stern manner. During this period Humayun had the tendency to punish these nobles severely even on slightest suspicion of disaffection. During this period he was also responsible for executing a large number of senior nobles. He made the beginning in this regard with a prince of royal blood – Mirza Yadgar Nasir who was put to death in 1546 on the suspicion that he was planning to cross over to Kamran. Similarly 14 other highly placed nobles were also put to death. Amongst them were Qarachar Beg, Dindar Beg, Haji Muhammad Khoki and his brother Shah Muhammad Khoki. They were punished for crimes committed not only in the present time but also those committed before 1540. Thus a mention was also made of disloyalties which they had committed before 1540.

Most interesting case is that of Haji Mohd Khoki who had instigated Kamran to proclaim, rebelled in Gujarat, but remained with Humayun after 1541 and had accompanied him to Persia. In 1551 when Haji Muhammad was suspected of having links with Kamran, he was arrested from his charge of Ghazni and personally interrogated by Humayun. During his interrogation, Haji Mohd argued of being loyal and the charge being false. To this Humayun replied that alright, I want to take final decision on this but I would ask one known enemy to prepare a list of insubordination to me, while you prepare a list of distinctive services you did to the emperor. If the lsit of crimes is larger than your list, you would be put to death. Eventually the crimes were more than the services and he was put to death. His brother was also executed.

Jauhar Aftabchi says that at one occasion, Humayun was on the march, he came across a water channel near Qipchak:

“His Majesty drove his horse into the channel, but nonr of the troops accompanying him followed his example. All the troops remained on the bank of that rivulet. HM said to them ‘Ill-mannered ones [ay be tamizan] at one occasion Shah Ismail had dropped his handkerchief from the top of the hill. His ten thousand Qurchi’s jumped after that handkerchief and then got themselves killed. On the other hand, not even one soldier amongst you thought it fit to go along with his king. With this sort of troops how can things improve?”

Thus we find that Humayun tried to impose the model way rigorously. He meant business this time. This changed mood of Humayun and the model relationship was a very important new factor which accounted for the elimination of high placed nobles between 1549-51.

His struggle with Kamran was by proxy a struggle with his nobility. In the course of this struggle, senior nobles gradually were eliminated from the scene – some were executed by Humayun, some by Kamran, others fell to natural death, while some became casualties in the civil war. Net result was that the entire senior group was eliminated from the scene. Those who remained were devoted to him. In fact only two survived Humayun – Bairam Khan and Tardi Beg. Tardi Beg had also eclipsed between 1547-53 and regained again in the last one year of Humayun’s reign (1554).

In place of this group, Humayun promoted a new group of younger officers to the top-most positions. They were mainly Turanis promoted from the ranks of petty nobles. A number of Iranis were also recruited in the nobility during his stay in Persia. In fact we can give a whole list of such officers: Munim Khan Chaghtai, Khwaja Jalaluddin Beg, a Khurasani, Ali Quli and Bahadur, the two Uzbeks recruited in Persia. Husain Quli sultan of Persia in 1545 and then a number of new Turani names not mentioned earlier or who were petty officers, e.g., Balku Beg, Haider Muhammad Khan etc.

Thus now in his new nobility:

1) Some were Iranis

2) Majority were Turanis who hade been raised by Humayun from low ranks to high during this period.

This set of nobles was a composite set of very young nobles who remained throughout loyal to him.

It was with the help of this new section that after his return from Persia, Humayun was able to crush Kamran and the senior nobles conspiring for him.

These nobles had an entirely different outlook in the sense that being Humayun’s own creation, they were loyal to him.

Another important aspect is that as a result of their experiences during the period of Humayun’s exile & civil war, they had come to the conclusion that their own interest would be served only if the Mughal Empire was re-established on a firm footing. Humayun had tried to get Balkh, but had failed.

If they had to survive as a group, they had no option but to help Humayun. This is fully borne out by the manner in which these nobles behaved.

We know that when in 1553 Humayun decided to invade Kashmir, these loyal nobles went to him en mass and pleaded that he should not allow the Mughal resources to be wasted in expeditions like that. They insisted for the conquest of Hindustan. They were so determined that when he tried to make them go to Kashmir, they flouted his orders and forced him to withdraw them.

It was this section which helped in re-establishing the Mughals and survival of the Mughals in India. The case in point can be Bairam Khan and his regency.

• Syed Ali Nadeem Rezavi