The Position of Babar in Hindustan

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

Chapter 5

The Position of Babar in Hindustan

Master of the two great centres of power in the north-west, Babar, with the foresight of a statesman, ‘took stock’ of the actual situation of Hindustan. He realised at once that he was master of Northern India, and that was all. The important provinces of Oudh, Jaunpur, and Western Behar, had revolted against Ibrahim, and though that prince had sent an army against the revolters, it seemed but too certain that the two parties would make common cause against the new invader. Then, Bengal, under its King, Nasrat Shah; Gujarat, under Sikandar Shah; and Malwa under Sultan Mahmud, were three powerful and independent kingdoms. A portion of Malwa, indeed, that represented by the fortresses, Ranthambor, at the angle formed by the confluence of the Chambal and the Banas; Sarangpur, on the Kali Sind; Bhilsa, on the Betwa; Chanderi; and Chitor, very famous in those days, had been re-conquered by the renowned Hindu prince, Rana Sanga. In the south of India, too, the Bahmanis had established a kingdom, and the Raja of Vijayanagar exercised independent authority. There were, moreover, he found, a considerable number of Rais and Rajas who had never submitted to Muhammadan kings.

But the independence of these several princes did not, he soon recognised, constitute his greatest difficulty. That difficulty arose from the fact that the Hindu population, never conciliated by the families which had preceded his own, were hostile to the invader. ‘The north of India,’ writes Erskine, ‘still retained much of its Hindu organisation; its system of village and district administration and government; its division into numerous little chieftainships, or petty local governments; and, in political revolutions, the people looked much more to their own immediate rulers than to the prince who governed in the capital.’ In a word, never having realised the working of a well-ordered system, emanating from one all-powerful centre, they regarded the latest conqueror as an intruder whom it might be their interest to oppose.

The dread thus engendered by the arrival of a new invader, whose character and whose dispositions were alike unknown, was increased by the machinations of the Muhammadan adherents of the old families. These men argued that the success of the Mughal invader meant ruin to them. They spared no pains, then, to impress upon the Hindu population that neither their temples nor their wives and daughters would be safe from the rapine and lust of the barbarians of Central Asia. Under the influence of a terror produced by these warnings the Hindus fled from before the merciful and generous invader as he approached Agra, preferring the misery of the jungle to the apparent certainty of outrage.

To add to Babar’s troubles, there arose at this period discontent in his army. The men composing it were to a great extent mountaineers from the lofty ranges in Eastern Afghanistan. These men had followed their King with delight so long as there was a prospect of fighting. But Panipat had given them Northern India. The march from Delhi to Agra was a march through a deserted country, at a season always hot, but the intense heat of which, in 1526, exceeded the heat of normal years. Like the Highlanders of our own Prince Charlie in ’45, these highlanders murmured. They, too, longed to return to their mountain homes. The disaffection was not confined to the men. Even the chiefs complained; and their complaints became so loud that they at last reached the ears of Mar.

Babar had been greatly pleased with his conquest. Neither the heat nor the disaffection of the inhabitants had been able to conceal from him the fact that he had conquered the finest, the most fertile, the most valuable part of Asia. In his wonderful memoirs8 he devotes more than twenty large printed pages to describe it. ‘It is a remarkably fine country,’ he begins. ‘It is quite a different world compared with our countries.’ He saw almost at a glance that all his work was cut out to complete the conquest in the sense he attributed to that word. Henceforth the title of King of Kabul was to be subjected to the higher title of Emperor of Hindustan. For him there was no turning back.

He had noted all the difficulties, and he had resolved how to meet them. A thoroughly practical man, he proceeded first to take up that which he rightly regarded as the greatest – the discontent in the army. Assembling a council of his nobles, he laid before them the actual position: told them how, after many toilsome marches and bloody fights, they had won numerous rich and extensive provinces. To abandon these and to return to Kabul would be shame indeed. ‘Let not anyone who calls himself my friend,’ he concluded, henceforward make such a proposal. But if there is’ any among you who cannot bring himself to stay, or to give up his purpose of returning back, let him depart.’ The address produced the desired effect, and when the words were followed by action, by new encounters and by new successes, enthusiasm succeeded discontent.9

The firmness of the conqueror was soon rewarded in a different manner. No sooner did the inhabitants, Muhammadan settlers and Hindu landowners and traders, recognise that Babar intended his occupancy to be permanent, than their fears subsided. Many proofs, meanwhile, of his generous and noble nature had affected public opinion regarding him. Every day then brought accessions to his standard. Villagers and shop-keepers returned to their homes, and abundance soon reigned in camp. A little later, and the army which had been employed by Ibrahim Lodi to put down rebellion in Jaunpur and Oudh, acknowledged Babar as their sovereign. In the interval, judiciously employing his troops, he conquered a great part of Rohilkhand; occupied the important post of Raberi, on the Jumna; and laid siege to Rama and Dholpur. But troubles were preparing for him in Central India, from a quarter which it would not do for him to neglect.

These troubles were caused by Rana Sanga, Rana of Chitor. I have related already, how this great prince – for great in every sense of the term he was – had won back from the earlier Muhammadan invaders a great portion of his hereditary dominions. He had even done more. He had defeated Ibrahim Lodi in two pitched battles, those of Bakraul and Chatauli, and had gained from other generals sixteen in addition. Before the arrival in India of Babar he had taken the then famous fort of Ranthambor. But he had continued, and was continuing, his career of conquest, and the news which troubled Babar was to the effect that the great Rajput chief had just taken the strong hill-fort of Bandar, a few miles to the eastward of Ranthambor.

Towards the end of the rainy season Babar held a council to meet these and other difficulties. At this council it was arranged that, whilst his eldest son, Humayun,10 then eighteen years old, should march eastward, to complete the subjection of the Duab, Oudh, and Juanpur, Babar should remain at Agra to superintend there the general direction of affairs. As for Rana Sanga, it was resolved to march against him only when the enemy nearer home should have been subdued.

The expedition of Humayun was completely successful. He conquered the country as far as the frontiers of Bihar. On his return, January 6th, 1527, Babar subdued Biana and Dholpur, took by stratagem the fortress of Gwalior, received information of the surrender of Multan. Then, master of the country from the Indus to the frontiers of Western Bihar, and from Kalpi and Gwalior to the Himalayas, he turned his attention to the famous Rana of Chitor, Rana Sanga. On February 11 he marched from Agra to encounter the army of this prince, who, joined by Muhammadan auxiliaries of the Lodi party, had advanced too, and had encamped at Bisawar, some twelve miles from Biana and some sixty-two, by that place, from Agra. Mar advanced to Sikri, now Fatehpur-Sikri, and halted. In some skirmishes which followed the Rajputs had all the advantage, and a great discouragement fell on the soldiers of Mbar. He contented himself for the moment with making his camp as defensible as possible, and by sending a party to ravage Mewat.

Cooped up in camp, discouraged by the aspect of affairs, Babar, uneasy at the forced inaction, passed in review the events of his life, and recognised with humility and penitence that throughout it he had habitually violated one of the strictest injunctions of the Kuran, that which forbids the drinking of wine. He resolved at once to amend. Sending then for his golden wine-cups and his silver goblets he had them destroyed in his presence, and gave the proceeds of the sale of the precious metal to the poor. All the wine in the camp was rendered undrinkable or poured on the ground. Three hundred of his nobles followed his example.

Sensible at length that the situation could not be prolonged, Babar, on March 12th, advanced two miles towards the enemy, halted, and again advanced the day following to a position he had selected as favourable to an engagement. Here he ranged his troops in order of battle. On the 16th the Rajputs and their allies advanced, and the battle joined. Of it Babar has written in his memoirs a picturesque and, doubtless, a faithful account. It must suffice here to say that he gained a victory so decisive,11 that on the morrow of it Rajputana lay at his feet. He at once pushed on to Biana, thence into Mewat, and reduced the entire province to obedience. But the effects of his victory were not limited to conquests achieved by himself. Towns in the Duab which had revolted, returned to their allegiance or were recovered. When the Duab had been completely pacified Babar turned his arms, first, against the Hindu chiefs of Central India, the leader of whom was at the time the Raja of Chanderi. He had reached the town and fortress of that name when information came to him that his generals in the east had been unfortunate, and had been compelled to fall back from Lucknow upon Kanauj. Unshaken by this intelligence, the importance of which he admitted, he persevered in the siege of Chanderi, and in a few days stormed the fortress. Having secured the submission of the country he marched rapidly eastward, joined his defeated generals near Kanauj, threw a bridge across the Ganges near that place, drove the enemy – the remnant of the Lodi party – before him, re-occupied Lucknow, crossed the Gumti and the Gogra, and forced the dispirited foe to disperse. He then returned to Agra to resume the threads of the administration he was arranging.

But he was not allowed time to remain quiet. The old Muhammadan party in Jaunpur had never been effectively subdued. The rich kingdom of Behar, adjoining that of Jaunpur, had, up to this time, been unassailed. And now the Muhammadan nobles of both districts combined to place in the hands of a prince of the house of Lodi – the same who had aided Sanga Rana, against Babar – the chief authority in the united kingdom. The conspiracy had been conducted with so much secrecy that the result of it only reached Babar on the 1st of February, 1529. He was then at Dholpur, a place which he greatly affected, engaged with his nobles in laying out gardens, and otherwise improving and beautifying the place. That very day he returned to Agra, and taking with him such troops as he had at hand, marched the day following to join his son Askari’s army, then at Dakdaki, a village near Karra,12 on the right bank of the Ganges. He reached that place on the 27th, and found Askari’s army on the opposite bank of the river. He at once directed that prince to conform his movements on the left bank to those of his own on the right.

The news which reached Babar here was not of a nature to console. The enemy, to the number of a hundred thousand, had rallied round the standard of Mahmud Lodi; whilst one of his own generals, Sher Khan, whom he had distinguished by marks of his favour, had joined the insurgents and had occupied Benares with his division Mahmud Lodi was besieging Chanar, twenty-six miles from the sacred city.

Babar immediately advanced, compelled Mahmud Lodi to raise the siege of Chanar, forced Sher Khan to evacuate Benares and re-cross the Ganges, and, crossing the Karamnasa, encamped beyond Chausa, at the confluence of that river and the Ganges, and Baksar. Marching thence, he drove his enemy before him until he reached Arrah. There he assumed the sovereignty of Behar, and there he learned that Mahmud Lodi, attended by but a few followers, had taken refuge with the King of Bengal.

Nasrat Shah, King of Bengal, had married a niece of Mahmud Lodi. lie had entered into a kind of convention with Mbar that neither prince was to invade the territories of the other, but, despite this convention, he had occupied the province of Saran or Chapra, and had taken up with his army a position near the junction of the Gogra with the Ganges, very strong for defensive purposes. Mbar resolved to compel the Bengal army to abandon that position. There was, he soon found, but one way to accomplish that end, and that was by the use of force. Ranging then his army in six divisions, he directed that four, under his son Askari, then on the left bank of the Ganges, should cross the Gogra, march upon the enemy, and attempt to draw them from their camp, and follow them up the Gogra; whilst the two others, under his own personal direction, should cross the Ganges, then the Gogra, and attack the enemy’s camp, cutting him off from his base. The combination, carried out on the 6th of May, entirely succeeded. The Bengal army was completely defeated, and the victory was, in every sense of the word, decisive. Peace was concluded with Bengal on the conditions that the province, now known as Western Behar, should be ceded to Babar; that neither prince should support the enemies of the other, and that neither should molest the dominions of the other.

Thus far I have been guided mainly by the memoirs of the illustrious man whose achievements I have briefly recorded. There is but little more to tell. Shortly after his return from his victorious campaign in Behar his health began to decline. The fact could not be concealed, and an account of it reached his eldest son, Humayun, then Governor of Badakshan. That prince, making over his government to his brother, Hindal, hastened to Agra. He arrived there early in 1530, was most affectionately received, and by his sprightly wit and genial manners, made many friends. He had been there but six months when he was attacked by a serious illness. When the illness was at its height, and the life of the young prince was despaired of, an incident occurred which shows, in a manner not to be mistaken, the unselfishness and affection of Mar. It is thus related in the supplemental chapter to the Memoirs.13

When all hopes from medicine were over, and whilst several men of skill were talking to the Emperor of the melancholy situation of his son, Abul Baka, a personage highly venerated for his knowledge and piety, remarked to Babar that in such a case the Almighty had sometimes vouchsafed to receive the most valuable thing possessed by one friend, as an offering in exchange for the life of another. Mbar exclaimed that, of all things, his life was dearest to Humayun, as Humayun’s was to him; that his life, therefore, he most cheerfully devoted as a sacrifice for that of his son,; and prayed the Most High to vouchsafe to accept it.’ Vainly did his courtiers remonstrate. He persisted, we are told, in his resolution; walked thrice round the dying prince, a solemnity similar to that used by the Muhammadans in sacrifices, and, retiring, prayed earnestly. After a time he was heard to exclaim: ‘I have borne it away! I have borne it away!’ The Musalman historians relate that almost from that moment Humayun began to recover and the strength of Babar began proportionately to decay. He lingered on to the end of the year 1530. On the 26th December he restored his soul to his Maker, in his palace of the Charbagh, near Agra, in the forty-ninth year of his age. His remains were, in accordance with his dying request, conveyed to Kabul, where they were interred in a lovely spot, about a mile from the city.

Amongst the famous conquerors of the world Babar will always occupy a very high place. His character created his career. Inheriting but the shadow of a small kingdom in Central Asia, he died master of the territories lying between the Karamnasa and the Oxus, and those between the Narbada and the Himalayas. His nature was a joyous nature. Generous, confiding, always hopeful, he managed to attract the affection of all with whom he came in contact. He was keenly sensitive to all that was beautiful in nature; had cultivated his own remarkable talents to a degree quite unusual in the age in which he lived; and was gifted with strong affections and a very vivid imagination. He loved war and glory, but he did not neglect the arts of peace. He made it a duty to inquire into the condition of the races whom he subdued and to devise for them ameliorating measures. He was fond of gardening, of architecture, of music, and he was no mean poet. But the greatest glory of his character was that attributed to him by one who knew him well, and who thus recorded his opinion in Tarikhi Reshidi. Of all his qualities,’ wrote Haidar Mirza, ‘his generosity and humanity took the lead.’ Though he lived long enough only to conquer and not long enough to consolidate, the task of conquering could hardly have been committed to bands more pure.

Babar left four sons: Muhammad Humayun Mirza, who succeeded him, born April 5, 1508: Kamran Mirza, Hindal Mirza, and Askari Mirza. Before his death he had introduced Humayun to a specially convened council of ministers as his successor, and had given him his dying injunctions. The points upon which he had specially laid stress were: the conscientious discharge of duties to God and man; the honest and assiduous administration of justice; the seasoning of punishment to the guilty with the extension of tenderness and mercy to the ignorant and penitent, with protection to the poor and defenceless; he besought Humayun, moreover, to deal kindly and affectionately towards his brothers.

Thus died, in the flower of his manhood, the illustrious chief who introduced the Mughal dynasty into India; who, conquering the provinces of the North-west and some districts in the centre of the peninsula, acquired for that dynasty the prescriptive right to claim them as its own. He had many great qualities. But, in Hindustan, he had had neither the time nor the opportunity to introduce into the provinces he had conquered such a system of administration as would weld the parts theretofore separate into one homogeneous whole. It may be doubted whether, great as he was, he possessed to a high degree the genius of constructive legislation. Nowhere had he given any signs of it. In Kabul and in Hindustan alike, he had pursued the policy of the conquerors who had preceded him, that of bestowing conquered provinces and districts on adherents, to be governed by them in direct responsibility to himself, each according to his own plan. Thus it happened that when he died the provinces in India which acknowledged him as master were bound together by that tie alone. Agra had nothing in common with Lucknow; Delhi with Jaunpur.

Heavy tolls marked the divisions of territories, inhabited by races of different origin, who were only bound together by the sovereignty of Babar over all. He bequeathed to his son, Humayun, then, a congeries of territories uncemented by any bond of union or of common interest, except that which had been embodied in his life. In a word, when he died, the Mughal dynasty, like the Muhammadan dynasties which had preceded it, had shot down no roots into the soil of Hindustan.


  1. Babar’s Memoirs, pp. 312 to 335.
  2. To one of his friends, who found the heat unsupportable, and whom he therefore made Governor of Ghazni, Babar, when he was firm in the saddle, sent the distich, of which the following is the translation:

‘Return a hundred thanks, O Babar, for the bounty of the merciful God

Has given you Sind, Hind, and numerous kingdoms;

If, unable to stand the heat, you long for cold,

You have only to recollect the frost and cold of Ghazni.’

  1. In the famous Memoirs, pp. 302–3, is to be found the following note, inserted by Humayun: ‘At this same station,’ the station of Shahadabad, on the left bank of the Sarsuti, reached on the march to Panipat, and this same day,’ March 6, 1526, the razor or scissors were first applied to Humayun’s beard. As my honoured father mentioned in these commentaries the time of his first using the razor, in humble emulation of him I have commemorated the same circumstance regarding myself. I was then eighteen years of age. Now that I am forty-six, I, Muhammad Humayun, am transcribing a copy of these Memoirs from the copy in his late Majesty’s own handwriting.’

  2. Rand Sanga was severely wounded, and the choicest chieftains of his army were slain. The Rana died the same year at Baswa on the frontiers of Mewat.

  3. Karra is now in ruins. It is in the tahsil or district of the same name in the Allahabad division. In the times of Babar and Akbar it was very prosperous.

  4. This chapter was added by the translators. The same circumstance is related also by Mr. Erskine in his Babar and Humayun.

Categories: CIVIL