Babur’s Early Career & Campaigns

Babur’s grandfather, Abu Sa’id Mirza was a great politician. He held Samarqand and had subdued Mawra-un Nahr. His rule extended up till Khurasan & Afghanistan. On his death his dominions were divided amongst his four sons & some others. His eldest son, Sultan Ahmad Mirza, secured the largest share viz. Samarqand & Bukhara. Mahmud Mirza got Badakhshan & the surrounding regions of Hindukush, Tirmiz & Hisar in the Amu Darya basin. The 3rd son Umar Shaikh Mirza, the father of Babur continued to rule the small kingdom of Farghana or Andijan, lying on both sides of the upper courses of Sair Darya. The last son, Ulugh Beg, got Kabul & Ghaznin. The fertile lands of Khurasan were taken up by Sultan Husain Mirza, another great grand-son of Taimur.

Babur says, his father’s nature was poetic & was a just ruler. Babur’s mother, Qutlugh Nizar Khanum was also a pious lady. Her father, Yunus Khan, the ruler of Tashkent was a descendant of Chingiz Khan. To these two, Babur was born in 1483. Zahiruddin Muhammad was named Babur (the Tiger) by his grandfather, Yunus Khan.

Till Yunus Khan was alive, Umar Shaikh Mirza would invoke his help in every expedition. After his death, Sultan Ahmad, the eldest brother of Umar Shaikh, and his brother-in-law, Sultan Mahmud of Tashkent, entered into an alliance to divide Farghana amongst themselves. In 1494 the two marched to Farghana, but an accident thwarted the attempt. Umar Shaikh Mirza died in an accident and at an age of 12 yrs Babur became the King of Farghana. News of this was sent to Sultan Ahmad with the message on behalf of Babur that Babur regarded himself as ‘his son & servant’ who would be glad to govern the country as Sultan Ahmad’s regent. However Sultan Ahmad continued his march. He was stopped by another accident: A bridge over a river collapsed killing many of his army & horses. Then an epidemic of distemper broke out among the animals & thus Sultan Ahmad was compelled to abandon his plans of attack over Farghana. While returning back, he himself fell ill & died.

With his death, the affairs of Samarqand fell into disorder.

In 1497, a 14yr old Babur led an army towards Samarqand and captured many towns & forts. The siege of Samarqand lasted for 7 months after which Baisunghar, the son of Sultan Ahmad fled from the city. Babur was welcomed by the Begs & chief townsmen of Samarqand.

However, after some time, when Babur could not bestow much on his officers & soldiers, he soon faced desertion from the Mongol soldiery. His own troops returned to Farghana & proclaimed his younger brother Jahangir as the ruler of Farghana.

On being apprised of the situation, Babur left Samarqand [‘Hundred days Rule’] with his small army. Now he was a homeless exile having lost both Samarqand & Farghana. Meanwhile Farghana came in the control of Syed Ali Mirza.

After sometime, with some help from his relatives (esp. Sultan Mahmud of Tashkent), he regained Andijan, the capital of Farghana.

In May 1497 Babur again decided to march towards Samarqand. In 1500 a siege of Samarqand was laid. But due to the intervention of Shaibani Khan, the leader of the Uzbeks, Babur had to make a retreat. After a short retreat, Babur again decided to attack the town which was now being held by the Uzbek chief. Babur’s party consisting of 240 men entered Samarqand and the Uzbeks in confusion fled to Bukhara. This second conquest of Samarqand was one of the most daring exploits of Babur which earned him much fame.

Shaibani Khan, after some time returned from Bukhara. Babur, aware of his preparations, tried to warn other Timurid princes of Central Asia, but none came to his side. Shaibani Khan’s army turning flank attacked Babur’s troops from rear & routed them.

The author of Tarikh-i Rashidi, Mirza Haider Dughlat, informs us that after 5 months siege of Samarqand, Shaibani agreed to accept Babur’s capitulation. He says that Babur’s eldest sister Khanzada Begum was married to Shaibani Khan as part of the treaty. Later Shaibani divorced her & married her to one of his chiefs.

In 1502 Babur went to Tashkent to the court of his maternal uncle Mahmud Khan. From here a confederate of Mahmud Khan, Ahmad Khan & Babur once gain attempted to take on Farghana. Andijan was to be captured but Mahmud Khan now intended to give Farghana to his younger brother Ahmad Khan.

Sultan Ahmad Tanbol of Farghana on seeing the army of Mahmud & others solicited the help of Shaibani Khan who marched to his aid & defeated the Timurid princes. The two Khans, Mahmud & his brother were however set free.

Babur somehow escaped the capture & for about a year went on wandering as fugitive along with his family. His band of followers also kept on diminishing day after day. The territories which he had once occupied – Samarqand, Bukhara & the Kingdom of Farghana was with the Uzbeks.

His sole hope now was Sultan Husain Baiqara, the Timurid ruler of Herat. He was also the most powerful Timurid ruler at that time. But he also reacted unfavourably to Babur. Babur now resolved to go towards Kabul which was separated from the other Timurid kingdoms by the Hindukush. The ruler of Kabul, Abdul Razzaq, a cousin of Babur also appealed to come to his aid. Babur soon captured Ghazni after Kabul.

After consolidating his rule at Kabul, Babur soon realized that his new kingdom was too poor to provide for his numerous relatives & followers. In the meanwhile, he received a message for help from Sultan Husain Baiqara of Herat who was now being threatened by Shaibani Khan. Babur positively responded to his appeal, & decided to go towards Herat. This was in 1506. Leaving Kabul & Ghazni in the charge of some of his untrustworthy officers he set forward. But while on his way, news came of the death of Sultan Husain. After his uncle’s death, Babur now considered himself as the senior-most Timurid prince.

After some times’ stay at Herat, Babur having heard of some disturbing news of Kabul, started for Kabul in December & attacked the rebels, most of whom were his own relatives.

In the meanwhile, the Uzbek ruler Shaibani suffered a debacle at the hands of Shah Ismail of Iran. This happened in 1510. In the battle of Merv, between the Uzbeks & the Persians, Babur’s sister, Khanazada Begum fell into the hands of Shah Ismail, who very honourably was sent to Babur.

Babur in return entreated Shah Ismail for assistance & support. In the meanwhile the territory of Farghana had also been cleared of the Uzbeks by Shah Ismail.

Babur was at Hisar when the Persian army reached to assist him. Thus along with 60,000 Persian troops Babur marched to Bukhara & then to Samarqand, which he entered in October 1511. According to Fazlullah Ruzbihan Khunji (Tarikh i Alam Ara, & Suluk ul Muluk) and Mirza Haider Dughlat (Tarikh i Rashidi), Babur this time was constrained to read the khutba & strike coins in the name of Qizilbashs which was not liked by the people of Samarqand.the coins, some of which survive till date [BM], gave Babur’s title merely as Sultan Babur Bahadur. His name was followed by the shi’i shahadat, ‘Ali Wali Allah’ and the names of the 12 Imams inscribed on the edges. Iskandar Beg Munshi in his Tarikh-i Alam Ara-i Abbasi gives a brief but matter of fact account of the re-occupation of Samarqand and the Shii khutba recited in Shah Ismail’s name. Dughlat claims this act of Babur as an ‘expediency’, which however led to betrayed.When an Uzbek army marched their in 1512, the lack of local support made Babur once again loose the area of Samarqand. Although another Persian army was sent to help Babur but to no avail.

By now Babur had realized the futility to try to hold any position of the Timurid Empire. He had occupied Samarqand thrice, but had failed to retain it each time. Yet he had full control of Kabul – but the resources of this country were not enough to sustain him. In order to augment his material resources, he had to turn towards India.

With this objective, he over-awed & in some cases reconciled the tribal belt between the mountainous country & Indus. During his stay in the region of Trans Oxiana, Babur had also come to the knowledge of gunpowder, which he now put to good use. It was in 1519, at the siege of Bajaur that he used the fire-arms for the first time. His gunner, Ustad Ali Quli used the matchlock with much effect. Babur mentions him in his memoirs as a Turkish gunner who used the farangi canon.

Babur appears to have obtained the European firearms from Turkey which included matchlocks & canons. Secondly Babur now no longer depended on the Mongol troops who had abandoned him time & again. He now depended on the Afghans whom he now freely recruited in this army. He followed a policy of reconciliation towards the Yusufzais & Afridis. He also tactically married Bibi Mubarika (later known as Haji Begum & Bega Begum) the daughter of Shah Mansur, the Yusufzai Malik. He thus became a son-in-law of that tribe and gained social acceptability to rule the Afghan tribesmen. He thus cleared his way to India.

After consolidating his position in Kabul, Babur undertook 5 expeditions to India: In 1504 he marched through Khyber Pass to Kohat. In Sept.1507 he came as far as Adinapur (Jalalabad). In 1519 after Bajaur Babur decided to cross the Indus and attack Bhera, a frontier district of the Lodi empire in the Punjab. Why did he decide to cross over to this side? There are 3 probable reasons: (1) After the conquest of Bajaur, he was in need of supplies; (2) in fact he had intended to do so since 1505, but got an opportunity now; (3) He was instigated to do so by Langar Khan Niazi, whose maternal uncles ruled the hill country near Bhera. As far as the attack at Bajaur was concerned, Babur had called it a chapqun (raid) and yurush (expedition). But now at Bhera he claimed sovereignty and stated having imperial ambitions (mulkgirliq) and calls this expedition as almaq – that is taking or seizing. He also wrote that he had a claim over this territory as it had ‘long been held by the Turks’!

His intentions further become clear from the fact that now in 1519 at Bhera he decided to tax rather than pillage. He ordered that no sacking or plundering should take place. This was in contrast to his treatment given to the people of Kabul region: towers of human skulls had been constructed there. Thus this may be considered as the first phase of the foundation of the Timurid-Mughal Empire in India.

Babur writes that it was after taking the fort of Bajaur and Bhera, he ‘devoted’ himself ‘particularly to the affairs of Hindustan’. The fact that he named his son Hindal [the taking of Hind] shows very much that Hindustan was on his mind. Abul Fazl too mentions Babur’s plans on India after his rule over Kabul.

Why did he decide so at this juncture? Was it the relative ease with which he subjugated the peasants and merchants on the flat alluvial Punjab plain? Or was it that the geography and population of this area resembled Ferghana, his home town?

Whatever the reason, he demanded 400,000 shahrukhis as māl-i amān (protection money). Bhera was a frontier town of the Lodis. It was from here that Babur sent a message to the newly enthroned Ibrahim Lodi through Daulat Khan Lodi, the governor of Lahore. He demanded all territories earlier held by Turks (read Timur) to be handed over. Ibrahim, Babur tells us, neither mobilized to oppose him nor attempted to establish friendly relations. In 1522-24 it was the same Daulat Khan who was to turn to Babur for an alliance against Ibrahim.

Bhera however could not be retained for long as in 26 April he got news from Hindu Beg, his governor, that Bhera was lost. In May he reports that Sultan Begim, Mirza Husain Baiqara’s eldest daughter arrived at Kabul: a sign that by now Babur and his rule at Kabul was beoming a haven for the Timurid Refugees. In July he mentions seeing pushkāl, the monsoon clouds – an allusion / evocative reference to the transition he was now making in 1519 from a Central Asian to a South Asian ruler.

Next year  he advanced to Sialkot. As the town submitted, it was not plundered. At Saiyyidpur resistance was offered & thus bloodshed occurred after which Babur returned back to Kabul. In 1522 he once again came to India. This time he came on the invitation of Daulat Khan Lodi of Lahore. It was a time when civil war had broken in India. Daulat khan Lodi wanted to overthrow Ibrahim in favour of his uncle Alauddin. Daulat Khan expected that Lahore would be bestowed upon him. However he was given some minor districts of Jullandar & Sulatanpur. Dipalpur was given to Alauddin. Daulat Khan thus fled to the hills only to return once Babur left for Kabul. He kept on pestering his uncle who now left for Kabul to seek Babur’s assistance.

  Finally the last expedition was launched in Nov.1525. Daulat Khan surrendered. In April 1526 he came face to face with the army of Ibrahim Lodi at Panipat. Ultimately the battle of Khanwa was fought between him and Rana Sanga on 16March 1527.

This victory was more significant than the victory at Panipat: the Rajput soldiers were demoralised & dispersed. Rana escaped but was badly wounded. Hasan Khan Mewati was slain & Sultan Mahmud Lodi took to flight. The result was the establishment of the Mughal Empire in Hindustan.

The fleeing Rajputs now assembled under Medni Rai of Chanderi. The fort of Chanderi was also taken. And with this the back of the Rajput resistance was broken.

Now Babur turned towards Awadh. Shamsabad & Kannauj were invested. Next to fall was Bihar. In May 1529 was fought the Battle of Ghagra in which Mahmud Lodi was defeated. The whole of Hindustan was now under Babur.

Syed Ali Nadeem Rezavi