Zahiruddin Mohammed Babar

Zahiruddin Mohammed Babar

(1483-1530)

Zahiruddin Mohammed Babar, whose name means “tiger” in the Mongol tongue, was a Chugtai Turk, born in present-day Turkestan. On his father’s side, he was a fifth- generation descendant of Tamerlane (see no. 36) and on his mother’s side, he was 14 gen¬ erations removed from Genghis Khan (see no. 30). Babar was the son of Omar Shaikh, who ruled the small central Asian principality of Fergana.

Babar inherited the throne from his father at the age of 12. He wanted to conquer and hold the city of Samarkand, which had been the city of Tamerlane and the Timurid dynasty. Seeking to fulfill that goal, Babar fought relentlessly, and futilely, against Shaibani Khan, leader of the Uzbek Turks. Babar entered Samarkand three times in 1497, 1301 and 1511. Each time he was driv¬ en off by the Khan’s troops after a short occu¬ pation. After his second failure in 1301,

Babar turned south, yielding his kingdom of Farghana. He led his followers across the Hindu Kush Mountains and arrived in Kabul (present-day Afghanistan) in 1504. Following a last entry to Samarkand, and quick defeat by the Uzbek Turks, he returned to Kabul and spent five years pondering his next move.

Having studied the paintings of Tamerlane’s campaign against Delhi in 1398, Babar decided to move into northern India.By 1520, he had acquired some European matchlock shoulder muskets and a few pieces of artillery. Babar had the only cannons east of the Caspian Sea region.

Babar and his troops entered the Khyber Pass in December 1525. They entered the area known as Hindustan (the Ganges Plain of northern India) and soon were confronted by the forces of Ibrahim Lodi, the sultan of Delhi. The two armies met on the plain of Panipat on April 20, 1526.

The sultan had 40,000 men to Babar’s 25,000, but Babar’s entrenched infantry beat back attack after attack. Then, using their few firearms for shock value, Babar’s men left their trenches and attacked. The sultan’s army was routed and Ibrahim himself was killed.

Babar went on to defeat the forces of eight Rajput princes collected against him on the battlefield of Kanwaha (March 16, 1527). Then and there he broke the power of the Rajput confederacy.

Having already subdued Delhi, he marched on to the confluence of the Gore River with the Ganges, where he defeated the Afghan rulers of Bihart and Bengal in May 1529. By the end of that year, Babar ruled the entire area from the highlands of Badakhishan to the Ganges River, much of present-day northern India.

Having acquired Persian tastes during his years in Kabul, Babar ordered a new capital built at Agra, and imported Persian architects to design the city. He died at Agra on December 26, 1530. Tuzuk, his autobiogra¬ phy, reveals him as an intelligent and humor¬ ous man, one given to literary pursuits and philosophy as well as the art of conquest.