The fifteenth century was the age of change and empire building in Central and West Asia. From the ruins of Mongol and Timurid empires, three great empires were in the making again.
In the north of Trans-Oxiana (present Uzbekistan) were the Uzbeks,
in the West it was the Safavid dynasty in Iran and
Ottoman Turks in present day Turkey.
Remarkably, Babur laid the foundation of the Mughal Empire in the Indian subcontinent. Babur was the founder of the Mughal empire which was established in 1526 after Babur defeated Ibrahim Lodi in the first battle of Panipat.
Thus a new epoch and a new empire in India began, lasting for nearly three centuries beginning from 1526 to 1857.
Six major rulers of this dynasty, Babur, Humayun, Akbar, Jahangir, Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb, known as the “Great Mughals”, left their mark on Indian history.
The empire declined after the death of Aurangzeb in 1707.
Babur was a descendent of the Mongol Emperor Genghis Khan and Timur, thus a Timurid Prince. Zahir-ud-din Muhammad, known as “Babur” or “Lion,” was born on February 14, 1483, into the Timurid royal dynasty in Andijan, now in Uzbekistan.
Babur’s father, Umar Sheikh Mirza, was the Emir of Ferghana, and his mother, Qutlaq Nigar Khanum, was the daughter of Moghuli King Yunus Khan.
The last Mongol forebears intermarried with Turkic and Persian people and became assimilated into local culture by the time Babur was born. They had converted to Islam after being greatly influenced by Persia. The majority favoured the mystic Sufi-infused style of Sunni Islam.
In 1494, the Emir of Ferghana died unexpectedly, and 11-year-old Babur ascended to the throne of Ferghana, a small state in Trans-Oxiana.
To expand his kingdom, he made several attempts to acquire Samarqand, which had great prestige in the entire Islamic World, from his uncle.
However, this infighting among the Timurid Princes, ultimately led to the Uzbek Chief, Shaibani Khan overrunning their kingdoms. This forced Babur to move towards Kabul which he conquered in 1504.
When the Herat province was also overrun by Shaibani Khan, it led to a direct conflict between the Uzbeks and the Safavidsas both coveted the Khorasan area (Herat and the surrounding area).
In a famous battle in 1510, Shah Ismail, the Shah of Iran, defeated and killed Shaibani Khan. This enabled Babur to become ruler of Samarqand with Iranian help.
However soon, the Uzbeks recovered from their defeat and retook Samarqand thus forcing Babur to return to Kabul.
Finally, Shah Ismail himself was defeated by the Ottoman Sultan in 1514, thus leaving the Uzbeks as the masters of Trans-Oxiana. These developments forced Babur to look towards India.
Conquest of India
Babur’s conquest of India was influenced by the following factors:
Lure of wealth and resources of India:
Like countless other invaders from Central Asia, Babur was drawn to India by the lure of fabulous wealth and resources.
Since early childhood, Babur had heard stories of the ransacking and plunder of Delhi by his ancestor Timur during the reign of Nasir-ud-Din Mahmud Shah Tughluq in 1398.
After the Delhi massacre, Timur had carried away a vast treasure and many skilful artisans who helped him to consolidate his Asian Empire and beautify his capital.
He also annexed some areas in Punjab. When Babur conquered Afghanistan, he felt that he had a legitimate right to these richly endowed areas of Punjab.
Meagre resources of Kabul and the ever-present Uzbek threat:
Kabul yielded a meagre income as it was not resource-rich like Punjab. With these meagre resources in areas that he ruled (Badakhshan, Qandhar and Kabul), Babur could not provide well for his begs (noblemen) and kinsmen. Moreover, the Uzbek threat was always present on Kabul.
So Babur considered India to be a good place of refuge with immense wealth and thus, a suitable base for operations against the Uzbeks.
Chaotic political situation in North India:
The political situation in northwest India was suitable for Babur’s entry into India as it was chaotic.
In the beginning of the sixteenth century, India was a confederacy of a number of small independent states which could easily fall prey to any strong and determined invader.
After the death of Sikandar Lodi in 1517, Ibrahim Lodi succeeded him. Ibrahim Lodi’s plan to create a strong, centralised empire had alarmed the Afghan chiefs and the Rajputs. The chief among them were Daulat Khan Lodi, who was governor of Punjab and Rana Sanga, the chief of Rajput confederacy.
At various times, they sent embassies to Babur to invite him to India and suggested that he should displace Ibrahim Lodi since he was a tyrant.
Finally, in 1525, after multiple attempts, Babur became the master of Punjab.
Beginning with the Battle of Panipat in 1526, Babur had fought a couple of battles, which paved the way for establishment of Mughal Empire in India.
First Battle of Panipat (1526)
In Panipat, near Delhi, a war took place between Babur and the ruler of Delhi, Ibrahim Lodi. Babur was a master strategist and battle hardened. He used gun powder in artillery to his great advantage. He strengthened his position by resting one wing of his army in the houses of the city of Panipat and protected the other by means of a ditch filled with branches of trees and a defending wall.
He created a device called as Ottoman (Rumi) device which was a combination of defence and attack positions. Moreover, Babur had two Ottoman master-gunners, Ustad Ali and Mustafa, in his ranks to operate the artillery attacks.
At the same time, Ibrahim Lodi was unaware about Babur’s war strategy and his strongly defended position.
After a week of war, the two extreme wings of Babur’s army attacked Ibrahim’s forces from the side and rear. Babur’s gunners used their guns with good effect from the front. Lodi was caught in between and was attacked from all sides by Babur. Babur gives a huge credit to his bowmen for the victory.
The battle of Panipat is regarded as one of the decisive battles of Indian history. Its real importance lies in the fact that it opened a new phase in the struggle of domination of North India.
It broke the back of Lodi power, and brought under Babur’s control the entire area upto Delhi and Agra. The treasures stored by Ibrahim Lodi at Agra relieved Babur from his financial difficulties.
Battle of Khanwa (1527)
It was a battle in which the Mughal Emperor Babur defeated a confederacy of Rajputs and Afghans which was headed by Rana Sanga of Mewar.
Babur’s decision to stay in India invited the hostility of Rana Sanga who began his preparations for a showdown with Babur. Rana Sanga had domination over Eastern Rajasthan, Malwa. Thus the establishment of an empire in the Indo-Gangetic Valley by Babur was a threat to Rana Sagha. At the same time, Babur accused him of breach of agreement. He says that Sanga had invited him to India and promised to join him against Ibrahim Lodi, but made no such move.
It is not known what precise promises Rana Sanga had made. However, Babur’s decision to stay on in India completely changed the situation.
Rana Sanga receivedwidespread support. Almost all Rajput rulers sent contingents to serve under him. Many Afghans, including Mahmud Lodi, a younger brother of Ibrahim Lodi, Hasan Khan Mewati, the Ruler of Mewat etc. rallied to him. The reputation of Rana Sanga and his early success against some of the outlying Mughal posts such as Bayana, further demoralised the war – weary soldiers of Babur.
To inspire them and rally them together, Babur solemnly declared the war against Sanga to be a Jihad. On the eve of the battle, he emptied all the wine jars and broke the wine flasks to demonstrate what a staunch Muslim he was. He banned the trade in wine and abolished custom taxes on Muslims.
The battle of Khanwa was fiercely contested and was an example of astute military strategy. Babur carefully selected a site and entrenched himself at Khanwa, near Agra. Like in battle of Panipat, Babur greatly strengthened his position by combination of defence and offence. He lashed together a number of wagons as an outer bastion and dug a trench in front for double protection. Gaps were left in the defences for his musketeers to fire and advance behind wheeled tripods. The masterful usage of cavalry, artillery and flank attacks by Babur hemmed the Rana Sanga forces and they were defeated after a great slaughter.
Rana Sanga escaped and wanted to renew the conflict with Babur but he was poisoned by his own nobles. Thus, died most valiant warriors produced by Rajasthan. With his death, the dream of a united Rajasthan upto Agra also suffered a serious setback.
It was a decisive victory of the first Mughal Emperor Babur and it consolidated Mughal power in India. It affirmed Babur’s superior generalship and organizational skills and exposed the outdated warfare strategy and technology of India. The cannon and gun powder artillery of Babur played a critical role in his victory.
The victory secured Babur’s position in the Delhi-Agra region and led to expansion of Mughal Empire in the north East and central India.
Battle of Chanderi (1528)
After the battle of Khanwa, the power of Rajputs was only crippled but not crushed. To further consolidate the gains and strengthen his position, Babur conquered a chain of forts-Gwalior and Dholpur towards east of Agra. He also annexed large part of Alwar from Hasan Khan Mewati.
On receiving news that Rana Sanga had renewed war preparations to renew the conflict with him, Babur decided to isolate Rana by inflicting a military defeat on one of his staunchest allies Medini Rai of Chanderi in Malwa.
Chanderi was a stronghold of Rajputs. The Rajputs decided to fight till the end and it was captured after the Rajput defenders had died fighting to the last man and their women burnt themselves by performing Jauhar.
After the battle of Chanderi,Babur’s authority was not challenged by the Rajputs.
Battle of Ghaghra (1529)
It was fought between the forces of Babur and the Eastern Afghan Confederates under Sultan Mahmud Lodi and Sultanate of Bengal under Sultan Nusrat Shah. Although the Afghans had been defeated, they had not been reconciled to the Mughal Rule, especially in Eastern UP. They had ousted the Mughal officials in Eastern UP and had reached up to Kannauj. The Afghan Sardars were being backed by Nusrat Shah, the ruler of Bengal, who had married a daughter of Ibrahim Lodi. However, they lacked a popular leader. After some time, Mahmud Lodi, brother of Ibrahim Lodi, who had fought against Babur at Khanwa, reached Bihar. The Afghans hailed him as their leader and mustered strong support under him.
This was a threat which Babur could not ignore. After crossing the Ganga near Banaras, he faced the combined forces of the Afghans and Nusrat Shah of Bengal at the crossing of the river of Ghaghra. Although Babur crossed the river and compelled the combined forces of Bengal and Afghan armies to retreat, he could not win a decisive victory. Being ill and anxious about the situation of Central Asia, Babur decided to patch up an agreement with the Afghan Chiefs. He also patched up a treaty with Nusrat Shah of Bengal. The Battle of Ghaghra was important to the extent that it finished the challenge of last of the Lodis.
Challenges Faced by Babur in India
Many of his begs (Nobles) were not prepared for a long campaign in India. They longed for their kinsmen and the cool climate of Central Asia in this strange and hostile land. With the onset of the hot weather, their misgivings had further increased. However, Babur knew that the resources in India alone would enable him to build a strong empire and satisfy his begs.
Thus, he proclaimed his intention to stay on in India, and granted leave to a number of begs who wanted to return to Kabul.
He also faced remarkable hostility from the common citizenry who had bitter memories of genocide of Timur. Moreover, he had to continuously wage battles to lay foundation of his nascent kingdom.
Significance of Babur’s Advent
His expedition led to the establishment of an all India empire. In north India, Babur smashed the power of the Lodis and the Rajput confederacy led by Rana Sanga, thus destroying the balance of power. This was a step in the direction of the establishment of an all-India empire.
Security from External invasions from North West:
Babur and his successors were able to give to India security from external invasions for almost 200 years. It was for the first time since the downfall of Kushan empire, that Kabul and Kandhar became integral parts of an empire comprising north India, hence staging of attacks from North West could be prevented.
Trade and Commerce:
India could take a greater share in the great trans-Asian trade. The control of Kabul and Kandhar strengthened India’s foreign trade since these two towns were the starting points for caravans meant for China in the east, and the Mediterranean seaports in the west.
Military Strategy and Modern Warfare technology:
Babur showed to the Indian Chiefs and soldiers a new method of warfare. Through his ‘Tulugma‘ strategy, Babur started the system of dividing the army into sections in the battlefield and keeping some army in reserve. Gradually, horses took the place of elephants in the battlefields.
Before Babur’s advent, gun-powder was not widely used in wars in India. However, after the First Battle of Panipat, machinegun and gun-powder came to be used widely in India. He introduced new mode of warfare and showed what a skilled combination of artillery and cavalry could achieve. His victories led to rapid popularisation of costly gunpower and artillery in India. Since, artillery and gun powders were expensive, it favoured rulers with large resources thus introducing an era of large kingdoms.
Foundations of Secular State in Medieval India:
Babur was the first Muslim ruler of India to do away with the practice of owing allegiance to the Caliph, the Head of the Islamic World. It enhanced the prestige of the crown. It was Babur who declared himself to be ‘Padshah’. He thus severed all his connections from the Khalifa and made himself independent of all theocratic influence both in principle and practice.
In this way we can say that Babur was the first Muslim ruler who thought of laying the foundations of a secular state in Medieval India. He endeared himself to his begs and army by his personal qualities also. Babur was not bigoted or led by the religious divines. He declared the war against Rana Sanga as jihad for political reasons and not on religious grounds.
He was deeply learned in Persian and Arabic, and is regarded as one of the two most famous writers in the Turkish language. His autobiography, Tuzuki-Baburi is regarded as one of the classics of world literature.
He was in touch with famous poets and artists of his time and was a naturalist. He set up many gardens with running water and thus established a trend.
He was deeplyinspired by Persian Culture. Thus, Babur introduced a new concept of State which was to be based on the strength and prestige of the Crown, absence of religious and sectarian bigotry and the careful fostering of culture and the fine arts. Hence, he provided a precedent and a direction to his successors.
Babur’s Succession and End of Life
Babur Mughal Empire became unwell in the autumn of 1530. His brother-in-law plotted with certain Mughal court nobility to usurp the throne following Babur’s death, bypassing Humayun, Babur’s eldest son and designated heir.
Humayun rushed to Agra to defend his claim to the throne, but he soon became severely ill. According to mythology, Babur begged God to spare Humayun’s life in exchange for his own.
After Babur’s death at the age of 47 on December 26, 1530, Humayun inherited a shaky empire besieged by internal and external adversaries.
Humayun, like his father, would fall from power and be thrown into exile, only to return and lay his claim to India. By the end of his life, he had established and enlarged the empire, which would reach its pinnacle under his son Akbar.
Although Babur’s Mughal Empire governed India for barely four years, his love of nature inspired him to design gardens of great beauty that remained an integral component of every Mughal fort, palace, and imperial structure in the decades that followed.
In the Battle of Ghagra in 1529 AD, Babur defeated the Afghans from Bengal, Bihar, Assam, Orissa, and other states, who had established a formidable alliance with Mahmud Lodi. It temporarily crippled anti-Babur measures, allowing the young Mughal dynasty to survive.
The Mughal Empire grew from Kabul in the west to Ghagra in the east, from the Himalayas in the north to Gwalior in the south, thanks to Babur’s conquests.