Babur Portrait

Babur: The First of the Mughals


Zahiruddin Muhammad Babur Mirza, the Timurid ruler of Ferghana, saw his royal lineage as the key to future greatness. His mother was a descendent of the greatest of the Mongol warriors, Ghengis Khan, while his father carried the blood of the legendary Timur the Lame (Tamerlane), who conquered and ruled the ancient city of Samarkand. While Babur would never expand his own land holdings to even a fraction of that of Ghengis' (his empire was the largest the world has ever known), Timur served as an excellent role-model, for he usurped a more modest, though still impressive kingdom including the lands of present-day Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Pakistan. Babur made three valiant attempts on Samarkand, but his sieges were ultimately futile, for each time he captured the city, he was unable to hold it for long. Ever determined to get a slice of his ancestral territorial pie, he chose the sultanate of Delhi as his next target.

From his base of operations in Kabul, Babur tried to commandeer Delhi through sheer will of his pedigree. Over a century earlier, Timur had raided Delhi and managed to place a new dynasty, the Sayyids, on the throne of the sultanate. Therefore, as a direct descendent of Timur, Babur convinced himself that he could claim the throne as his right. But the Turkish sultan of Delhi, Ibrahim Lodi, refused to give in so easily, for his family had thrown the Sayyids out of Delhi several generations back, and he would not recognize Babur's claim. This left Babur with little choice but to invade and hope his forces could defeat the well-entrenched defenders of Delhi.

It turned out to be a cakewalk. In 1526, Babur's forces crushed Ibrahim Lodi's army, largely due to Babur's access to artillery and gunpowder, both of which were in short supply on Lodi's side. After completing a mop-up campaign against several regional Hindu armies (including a formidable force of Rajputs from the west), Babur had the Delhi sultanate to himself, with no serious challengers. In doing so, Babur laid the groundwork for his own dynasty of Mongol warriors, known to the contemporary Persian world as Mughals.

Babur, unfortunately, never got the chance to take full advantage of his fledgling empire. He died suddenly in 1530, leaving the throne to his son, Humayun. He also left behind a handwritten memoir, penned in his native Chaghatay Turkish, that recounted almost 40 years of his adventures, ideas and opinions. This document, the Baburnama, is one of the earliest known autobiographical works in the Islamic world, and is perhaps the most detailed account of central Asian life of that period.

Babur's Architectural Legacy:

Madhi Masjid, Delhi
Shaikh Yusuf Qattal's Tomb, Delhi (1527)
Rambagh, Agra

The Mughal Dynasty:

Babur | Humayun | Akbar | Jehangir | Shah Jehan | Aurangzeb

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