Humayun and the Early Days of Akbar

Akbar and the Rise of the Mughal Empire: G. B. Malleson-1896

Chapter 6

Humayun and the Early Days of Akbar

Brave, genial, witty, a charming companion, highly educated, generous, and merciful, Humayun was even less qualified than his father to found a dynasty on principles which should endure. Allied to his many virtues were many compromising defects. He was volatile, thoughtless, and unsteady. He was swayed by no strong sense of duty. His generosity was apt to degenerate into prodigality; his attachments into weakness. He was unable to concentrate his energies for a time in any serious direction, whilst for comprehensive legislation he had neither the genius nor the inclination. He was thus eminently unfitted to consolidate the conquest his father had bequeathed to him.

It is unnecessary to relate in detail a history of the eight years which followed his accession. So unskilful was his management, and so little did he acquire the confidence and esteem of the races under his sway, that when, in April, 1540, he was defeated at Kanauj, by Sher Khan Sur, a nobleman who had submitted to Babar, but who had risen against his son – whom he succeeded under the title of Sher Shah – the entire edifice crumbled in his hand. After some adventures, Humayun found himself, January, 1541, a fugitive with a mere handful of followers, at Rohri opposite the island of Bukkur on the Indus, in Sind. He had lost the inheritance bequeathed him by his father.

Humayun spent altogether two and a half years in Sind, engaged in a vain attempt to establish himself in that province. The most memorable event of his sojourn there was the birth, on the 15th of October, 1542, of a son, called by him Jalal-ud-din Muhammad Akbar. I propose to relate now the incidents which led to a result so important in the history of India.

In 1541, Humayun, whose troops were engaged in besieging Bukkur, distrusting the designs of his brother Hindal, whom he had commissioned to attack and occupy the rich province of Sehwan, appointed a meeting with the latter at the town of Patar, some twenty miles to the west of the Indus. There he found Hindal, surrounded by his nobles, prepared to receive him right royally. During the festivities which followed, the mother of Hindal – who, it may be remarked, was not the mother of Humayun – gave a grand entertainment, to which she invited all the ladies of the court. Amongst these Humayun especially noted a girl called Hamida, the daughter of a nobleman who had been preceptor to Hindal. So struck was he that he inquired on the spot whether the girl were betrothed. He was told in reply that, although she had been promised, no ceremony of betrothal had as yet taken place. ‘In that case,’ said Humayun, ‘I will marry her.’ Hindal protested against the suddenly formed resolution, and threatened, if it were persisted in, to quit his brother’s service. A quarrel, which had almost ended in a rupture, then ensued between the brothers. But the pleadings of Hindal’s mother, who favoured the match, brought Hindal to acquiescence, and, the next day, Hamida, who had just completed her fourteenth year, was married to Humayun. A few days later, the happy pair repaired to the camp before Bukkur.

The times, however, were unfavourable to the schemes of Humayun. All his plans miscarried, and, in the spring of 1542, he and his young wife had to flee for safety to the barren deserts of Marwar. In August they reached Jaisalmer, but, repulsed by its Raja, they had to cross the great desert, suffering terribly during the journey from want of water. Struggling bravely, however, they reached, on August 22nd, the fort of Amarkot, on the edge of the desert. The Rana of the fort received them hospitably, and there, on Sunday October the 15th, Hamida Begam gave birth to Akbar. Humayun had quitted Amarkot four days previously, to invade the district of Jun. His words, when the news was brought to him, deserve to be recorded. ‘As soon,’ wrote one who attended him, ‘as the Emperor had finished his thanksgivings to God, the Amirs were introduced, and offered their congratulations. He then called Jouher (the. historian, author of the Tezkereh al Vakiat) and asked what he had committed to his charge. Jouher answered: “Two hundred Shahrukhis” (Khorasani gold coins), a silver wristlet and a musk-bag; adding, that the two former had been returned to their owners. On this Humayun ordered the musk-bag to be brought, and, having broken it on a china plate, he called his nobles, and divided it among them, as the royal present in honour of his son’s birth.’ … ‘This event,’ adds Jouher, ‘diffused its fragrance over the whole habitable world.’

The birth of the son brought no immediate good fortune to the father. In July, 1543, Humayun was compelled to quit Sind, and, accompanied by his wife and son and a small following, set out with the intention of reaching Kandahar. He had arrived at She, when he learnt that his brother, Askari, with a considerable force, was close at hand, and that immediate flight was necessary. He and his wife were ready, but what were they to do with the child, then only a year old, quite unfit to make a rapid journey on horseback, in the boisterous weather then prevailing? Reckoning, not without reason, that the uncle would not make war against a baby, they decided to leave him, with the whole of their camp-equipage and baggage, and the ladies who attended him. They then set out, and riding hard, reached the Persian frontier in safety. Scarcely had they gone when Askari Mirza arrived. Veiling his disappointment at the escape of his brother with some soft words, he treated the young prince with affection. had him conveyed to Kandahar, of which place he was Governor, and placed there under the supreme charge of his own wife, the ladies who had been his nurses still remaining in attendance.

In this careful custody the young prince remained during the whole of the year 1544. But soon after the dawn of the following year a change in his condition occurred. His father, with the aid of troops supplied him by Shah Tahmasp, invaded Western Afghanistan, making straight across the desert for Kandahar. Alarmed at this movement, and dreading lest Humayun should recover his child, Kamran sent peremptory orders that the boy should be transferred to Kabul. When the confidential officers whom Kamran had instructed on this subject reached Kandahar, the ministers of Askari Mirza held a council to consider whether or not the demand should be complied with. Some, believing the star of Humayun to be in the ascendant, advised that the boy should be sent, under ‘ honourable escort, to his father. Others maintained that Prince Askari had acted so treacherously towards his eldest brother that no act of penitence would now avail, and that it was better to continue to deserve the favour of Kamran. The arguments of the latter prevailed, and though the winter was unusually severe, the infant prince and his sister, Bakhshi Banu Begam, were despatched with their attendants to Kabul. After some adventures, which made the escort apprehend an attempt at rescue, the party reached Kabul in safety, and there Kamran confided his nephew to the care of his great-aunt, Khanzada Begam, the whilom favourite sister of the Emperor Mbar. This illustrious lady maintained in their duties the nurses and attendants who had watched over the early days of the young prince, and during the short time of her superintendence she bestowed upon him the tenderest care. Unhappily that superintendence lasted only a few months. The capture of Kandahar by Humayun in the month of September following (1545) threw Kamran into a state of great perplexity. A suspicious and jealous man, and regarding the possession of Akbar as a talisman he could use against Humayun, he removed the boy from the care of his grand-aunt, and confided him to. a trusted adherent, Kuch Kilan by name. But events marched very quickly in those days. Humayun, having established a firm base at Kandahar, set out with an army for Kabul, appeared before that city the first week in November, and compelled it to surrender to him on the 15th. Kamran had escaped to Ghazni: but the happy father had the gratification of finding the son from whom he had been so long separated. The boy’s mother, Hamida, Begam, did not arrive till the spring of the following year, but, meanwhile, Kuch Kilan was removed, and the prince’s former governor, known as Atka Khan,14 was restored to his post.

For the moment splendour and prosperity surrounded the boy. But when winter came, Humayun, who meanwhile had recovered Badakshan, resolved to pass the coldest months of the year at Kila Zafar, in that province. But on his way thither he was seized with an illness so dangerous that his life was despaired of. He recovered indeed after two months’ strict confinement to his bed, but, in the interval, many of his nobles, believing his end was assured, had repaired to the courts of his brothers, and Kamran, aided by troops supplied by his father-in-law, had regained Kabul, and, with Kabul, possession of the person of Akbar. One of the first acts of the conqueror was to remove Atka Khan from the person of the prince, and to replace him by one of his own servants.

But Humayun had no sooner regained his strength than he marched to recover his capital. Defeating, in the suburbs, a detachment of the best troops of Kamran, he established his head-quarters on the Koh-Akabain which commands the town, and commenced to cannonade it. The fire after some days became so severe and caused so much damage that, to stop it, Kamran sent to his brother to declare that unless the fire should cease, he would expose the young Akbar on the walls at the point where it was hottest.15

Humayun ordered the firing to cease. He continued the siege, however, and on the 28th of April (1547) entered the city a conqueror. Kamran had escaped the previous night.

Kamran had fled to Badakshan. Thither Humayun followed him. But, in the winter that followed, some of his most powerful nobles revolted, and deserted to Kamran. Humayun, after some marches and counter-marches, determined in the summer of 1548 to make a decisive effort to settle his northern dominions. He marched, then, in June from Kabul, taking with him Akbar and Akbar’s. mother. On reaching Gulbahan he sent back to Kabul Akbar and his mother, and marching on Talikan, forced Kamran to surrender. Having settled his northern territories the Emperor, as he was still styled, returned to Kabul.

He quitted it again, in the late spring of 1549, to attempt Balkh, in the western Kunduz territory. The Uzbeks, however, repulsed him, and he returned to Kabul for the winter of 1550. Then ensued a very curious scene. Kamran, whose failure to join Humayun in the expedition against Balkh had been the main cause of his retreat, and who had subsequently

gone into open rebellion, had, after Humayun’s defeat, made a disastrous campaign on the Oxus, and had sent his submission to Humayun. That prince, consigning the government of Kabul to Akbar, then eight years old, with Muhammad Kasim Khan Birlas as his tutor, marched from the capital to gain possession of the person of his brother. So careless, however, were his movements that Kamran, who had planned the manoeuvre, surprised him at the upper end of the defile of Kipchak, and forced him to take refuge in flight. During the flight Humayun was badly wounded, but nevertheless managed to reach the top of the Sirtan Pass in safety. There he was in comparative security. Meanwhile Kamran had marched upon and captured Kabul, and, for the third time, Akbar found himself a prisoner in the hands of his uncle. Humayun did not submit tamely to this loss. Rallying his adherents, he re-crossed the mountains, and marched on the city. Arriving at Shutargardan he saw the army of Kamran drawn up to oppose him. After some days of fruitless negotiation for a compromise Humayun ordered the attack. It resulted in a complete victory and the flight of Kamran. For a moment Humayun feared lest Kamran should have carried his son with him in his flight. Put, before he could enter the city, he was intensely relieved by the arrival in camp of Akbar, accompanied by Hasan Akhta, to whose care he had been entrusted. The next day he entered the city.

This time the conquest was decisive and lasting. In the distribution of awards which followed Humayun did not omit his son. He bestowed upon Akbar as a jaghir the district of Chirkh, and nominated Hail Muhammad Khan of Sirtan as his minister.

During the year that followed the causes of the troubles of Humayun disappeared one by one. Kamran indeed once more appeared in arms, but only to be hunted down so vigorously that he was forced to surrender (August, 1553). He was exiled to Mekka, where he died four years later. Hindal Mirza, another brother, had been slain some eighteen months before, during the pursuit of Kamran. Askari Mirza, the other brother, in whose nature treachery seemed ingrained, had been exiled to Mekka in 1551,16 and though he still survived he was harmless. Relieved thus of his brothers, Humayun contemplated the conquest of Kashmir, but his nobles and their followers were so averse to the expedition that he was forced, unwillingly, to renounce it. He consoled himself by crossing the Indus. Whilst encamped in the districts between that river and the Jehlam he ordered the repair, tantamount to a reconstruction on an enlarged plan, of the fort at Peshawar. He was contemplating even then the invasion of India, and he was particularly anxious that he should possess a point d’appui beyond the passes on which his army could concentrate. He pushed the works so vigorously that the fort was ready by the end of the year (1554). He then returned to Kabul. During the winter and early spring that followed, there came to a head in Hindustan the crisis which gave him the opportunity of carrying his plans into effect.


  1. His real name was Shams-ud-din Muhammad of Ghazni. He had saved the life of Humayun in 1540, at the battle of Kanauj, fought against Sher Shah.
  2. Abulfazl relates in the Akbarnana, that the prince actually was exposed, and Haidar Mirza, Badauni, Ferishta, and others follow him; but Bayazid, who was present, though he minutely describes other atrocities in his memoirs, does not mention this; whilst Jouher, in his private memoirs of Humayun, a translation of which by Major Charles Stewart appeared in 1832, states the story as I have given it in the text.
  3. He died there in 1558.


Categories: CIVIL