Historical Introduction, Part One: Babar
*The Great Moguls* -- *Babar* -- *Babar's Connection with Agra*

The Great Moguls

Agra has two histories: one of the ancient city on the east, or left, bank of the river Jumna, going back so far as to be lost in the legends of Krishna and of the heroes of the Mâhabhârata; the other of the modern city, founded by Akbar in A.D. 1558, on the right bank of the river, and among Muhammadans still retaining its name of Akbarabad, which is intimately associated with the romance of the Great Moguls, and known throughout the world as the city of the Taj.

Of ancient Agra little now remains except a few traces of the foundations. It was a place of importance under various Hindu dynasties previous to the Muhammadan invasions of India, but its chequered fortunes down to the beginning of the sixteenth century are the usual tale of siege and capture by Hindu or Mussulman, and possess little historical interest.

In A.D. 1505 Sultan Sikandar Lodi, the last but one of the Afghan dynasty at Delhi, rebuilt Agra and made it the seat of government. Sikandra, the burial-place of Akbar, is named after him, and there he built a garden-house which subsequently became the tomb of Mariam Zâmâni, one of Akbar's wives. The son of Sultan Sikandar, Ibrahim Lodi, was defeated and slain by Babar at Panipat, near Delhi, in 1526, and from that time Agra became one of the principal cities of the Mogul Empire which Babar founded.


Though very few memorials of Babar's short but brilliant reign still exist at Agra, the life of this remarkable man is so important a part of the Mogul dynasty that it must not be passed over by the intelligent tourist or student of Mogul art. It was Babar's sunny disposition, and the love of nature characteristic of his race, that brought back into Indian art the note of joyousness which it had not known since the days of Buddhism. Babar [*Babur*] is one of the most striking figures in Eastern history. He was descended from Tamerlane, or Timur, on his father's side, and, on his mother's, from Chinghiz Khan. In the year 1494, at the age of twelve, he became king of Farghana, a small kingdom of Central Asia, now known as Kokand. His sovereignty, however, was of a very precarious tenure, for he was surrounded on all sides by a horde of rapacious, intriguing relatives, scrambling for the fragments of Timur's empire. With hardly a trustworthy ally except a remarkably clever and courageous old grandmother, he struggled for three years to retain his birthright. Then, acting on a sudden inspiration, he made a dash for Samarkand, the ancient capital of Timur, and won it. In his delightful memoirs Babar describes how, with boyish glee, he paced the ramparts himself, wandered from palace to palace, and revelled in the fruit-gardens of what was then one of the finest cities of Asia. But in less than a hundred days, most of his shifty Mongol troops, disappointed in not finding as much booty as they expected, deserted and joined a party of his enemies, who straightway attacked Andijan, the capital of Farghana, where Babar had left his mother and grandmother. Before he could come to their rescue Andijan had fallen, and at the same time Samarkand, which he had left, was occupied by another of his numerous rivals. This double misfortune caused still more of his followers to leave him, and he found himself without a kingdom, except the little town of Khojend, and with only two hundred men. For almost the only time in his life he gave way utterly to despair. "I became a prey to melancholy and vexation; I was reduced to a sore distressed state and wept much."

Before long, however, Babar, rejoined by his mother and grandmother, whom the captors of Andijan had spared, taking advantage of another turn in the wheel of fortune, recovered his kingdom of Farghana, but lost the greater part of it again through another desertion of his "Mongol rascals." A second time, with only a handful of men, he surprised and captured Samarkand (A.D. 1500). In the following year he rashly sallied out against Shaibani, the most formidable of his adversaries, was defeated, and, after vainly trying to hold the city against the victors, was forced to fly under cover of the night. This time he did not weep, but consoled himself next morning by riding a headlong race with two of his companions. Reaching a village, where they found "nice fat flesh, bread of fine flour well baked, sweet melons, and excellent grapes in great abundance," Babar declared that in all his life he never enjoyed himself so much or felt so keenly the pleasures of peace and plenty.

He now took refuge among the hills near Uratipa, finding amusement in observing the life of the villagers, and especially in conversing with the mother of the headman, an old lady of a hundred and eleven, whose descendants, to the number of ninety-six, lived in the country round about. One of her relatives had served in the army with which Timur had invaded India, and she entertained the future Emperor of Hindustan by telling him stories of his ancestor's adventures.

After several fruitless raids with the few troopers who remained faithful to him, he allied himself with his two uncles, Mahmud and Ahmad Khan, in an attack against Tambal, one of the powerful nobles who had revolted against him and set up Jahangir, his brother, on the throne of Farghana. At a critical moment his uncles left Babar to the mercy of his enemy, and he was again forced to fly for his life, hotly pursued by Tambal's horsemen. He was overtaken by two of them, who, not daring to pit themselves against Babar's prodigious strength and courage, tried to inveigle him into a trap. Babar gives a moving description of this great crisis in his life. Thoroughly exhausted, and seeing no prospect of escape, he resigned himself to die: --

"There was a stream in the garden, and there I made my ablutions and recited a prayer of two bowings. Then surrendering myself to meditation, I was about to ask God for His compassion, when sleep closed my eyes. I saw (in my dream) Khwája Yakub, the son of Khwája Yahya, and grandson of his Eminence the Khwája 'Obaid-Allah (a famous saint of Samarkand), with a numerous escort, mounted on dappled grey horses, come before me and say, 'Do not be anxious, the Khwája has sent me to tell you that he will support you and seat you on the throne of sovereignty; whenever a difficulty occurs to you, remember to beg his help, and he will at once respond to your appeal, and victory and triumph shall straightway lean to your side'. I awoke with easy heart, at the very moment when Yusuf the constable and his companions (Tambal's soldiers) were plotting some trick to seize and throttle me. Hearing them discussing it, I said to them, 'All you say is very well, but I shall be curious to see which of you dares to approach me'. As I spoke the tramp of a number of horses was heard outside the garden wall. Yusuf the constable exclaimed, 'If we had taken you and brought you to Tambal, our affairs would have prospered much thereby; as it is, he has sent a large troop to seize you; and the noise you hear is the tramp of horses on your track'. At this assertion my face fell, and I knew not what to devise.

"At this very moment the horsemen, who had not at first found the gate of the garden, made a breach in its crumbling wall, through which they entered. I saw they were Kutluk Muhammad Barlas and Babai Pargári, two of my most devoted followers, with ten or twenty other persons. When they came near to my person they threw themselves off their horses, and, bending the knee at a respectful distance, fell at my feet, and overwhelmed me with marks of their affection.

"Amazed at this apparition, I felt that God had just restored me to life. I called to them at once, 'Seize Yusuf the constable, and the wretched traitors who are with him, and bring them to me bound hand and foot'. Then, turning to my rescuers, I said, 'Whence come you? Who told you what was happening?' Kutluk Muhammad Barlás answered, 'After I found myself separated from you in the sudden flight from Akhsi, I reached Andijan at the very moment when the Khans themselves were making their entry. There I saw, in a dream, Khwája 'Obaid-Allah, who said, "Pádishah Babar is at this instant in a village called Karmán; fly thither and bring him back with you, for the throne is his of right." Rejoicing at this dream, I related it to the big Khan and little Khan.... Three days have we been marching, and thanks be to God for bringing about this meeting.'"/1/

After this exciting adventure Babar rejoined his time-serving uncles, but was forced into exile again in 1503, when at the battle of Akshi, the Khans were completely defeated by Shaibani. Then he resolved to depart out of Farghana and to give up the attempt to recover his kingdom. Characteristically, when foiled in one enterprise he entered upon another yet more ambitious. Joined by his two brothers, Jahangir and Nasir, and by a motley array of various wandering tribes, he swooped down upon Kabul and captured it.

The description of the new kingdom thus easily won, which fills many pages of the Memoirs, reveals another side of Babar's character-- his intense love of nature. He gives minute accounts of the climate, physical characteristics, the fruits, flowers, birds, and beasts, as well as of the human inhabitants. In the intervals between his battles, or between his rollicking drinking parties, which for some years of his life degenerated into drunken orgies, we often find Babar lost in admiration of some beautiful landscape, or collecting flowers and planting fruit trees. Wherever he came, Babar's first care was to dig wells and plant fruit and flower gardens. India owes much to the Great Moguls' love of horticulture.

When Babar had drilled his unruly Afghan subjects into something like order, he made, in 1506, one more unsuccessful attempt to crush Shaibani. However, in 1510, when that doughty warrior was defeated and slain by Ismail, Shah of Persia, Samarkand fell once more into Babar's hands, as a vassal of the Shah. Eight months afterwards he was driven out again. From that time Babar gave up all hopes of re-establishing the empire of his ancestor Timur, and turned his face towards India. In 1519 he gathered an army for his first expedition, which was, however, more of a reconnaissance than a conquest. Four more attempts he made, until at last, in 1526, with only 10,000 men, he defeated the hosts of Ibrahim Lodi, the last of the Afghan kings of Delhi, who, with 15,000 of his troops, were left dead on the field of Panipat.

Thus, after many struggles, Babar became "master and conqueror of the mighty empire of Hindustan," but he had to fight two more great battles before his sovereignty was undisputed-- one in 1527 near Fatehpur Sikri, with the great chief of the Rajputs, Raja Sanga of Chitore, and another in 1529 near Buxar, with the Afghans who had settled in Bengal. The next year Babar died in his garden palace at Agra. The nobility of his character was conspicuous in his death as it was in his life. He was devotedly attached to his eldest son, Humayun, who was seized with malarial fever while staying at his country estate at Sambhal. Babar had him removed by boat to Agra, but his physicians declared that the case was hopeless. Babar's own health had suffered much during his life in India, and he was terribly agitated by the news. When someone suggested that in such circumstances the Almighty sometimes deigned to accept the thing most valued by one friend in exchange for the life of another, Babar exclaimed that of all things his life was dearest to Humayun, as Humayun's was to him. He would sacrifice his own life to save his son. His courtiers entreated him to give up instead the great diamond taken at Agra, said to be the most valuable on earth. Babar declared that no stone could compare in value with his own life, and after solemnly walking round Humayun's couch, as in a religious sacrifice, he retired to devote himself to prayer. Soon afterwards he was heard to exclaim, "I have borne it away! I have borne it away!" Humayun began to recover, and, as he improved, Babar gradually sank. Commending his son to the protection of his friends, and imploring Humayun to be kind and forgiving to his brothers, the first of the "Great Moguls" of India passed away. He was buried at Kabul, in one of his beloved gardens, which, according to Tartar custom, he had chosen for his tomb, in "the sweetest spot of the neighbourhood."/2/

Babar's connection with Agra.

Babar's connection with Agra began immediately after the battle of Panipat. He sent forward Humayun, who occupied the town without opposition. The story of the great diamond referred to above is here recorded in the Memoirs. The Raja of Gwalior, slain at Panipat, had left his family and the heads of his clan at Agra. In gratitude to Humayun, who treated them magnanimously, and protected them from plunder, they presented to him a peskesh [*peshkash*], or token of homage, consisting of a quantity of jewels and precious stones. Among these was one famous diamond which had been acquired by Sultan Alaeddin. "It is so valuable that a judge of diamonds valued it at about half the daily expense of the whole world. It is about eight mikkals [*miskals*]" (or about 280 carats). This is generally supposed to be the celebrated *Koh-i-nur*.

Babar determined to establish the seat of his government at Agra, but was almost dissuaded by the desolate appearance of the country. "It always appears to me," he says, "that one of the chief defects of Hindustan is the want of artificial watercourses. I had intended, wherever I might fix my residence, to construct water-wheels, to produce an artificial stream, and to lay out an elegant and regularly planned pleasure ground. Shortly after coming to Agra I passed the Jumna with this object in view, and examined the country to pitch upon a fit spot for a garden. The whole was so ugly and detestable that I repassed the river quite repulsed and disgusted. In consequence of the want of beauty and of the disagreeable aspect of the country, I gave up my intention of making a charbagh (garden house); but as no better situation presented itself near Agra, I was finally compelled to make the best of this same spot.... In every corner I planted suitable gardens, in every garden I sowed roses and narcissus regularly, and in beds corresponding to each other. We were annoyed by three things in Hindustan; one was its heat, another the strong winds, and the third its dust. Baths were the means of removing all three inconveniences."

As I have mentioned above, there are very few vestiges remaining of Babar's city, of his fruit and flower gardens, palaces, baths, tanks, wells and watercourses. The Ram Bagh is one of the gardens laid out either by himself or by one of his nobles, and the Zohra, or Zuhara Bagh, near it, contains the remains of a garden-house, which is said to have belonged to one of Babar's daughters. Opposite to the Taj there are traces of the foundations of the city he built. Babar planned, and his successors completed, the great road leading from Agra to Kabul through Lahore, parts of which still remain. Some of the old milestones can be seen on the road to Sikandra. Babar's account of the commencement of it is very characteristic: "On Thursday, the 4th of the latter Rebia, I directed Chikmak Bey, by a writing under the royal hand and seal,/3/ to measure the distance from Agra to Kabul; that at every nine *kos* he should raise a *minar*, or turret [=tower], twelve gez [*gaz*] in height, on the top of which he was to construct a pavilion; that every ten kos he should erect a yam, or post-house, which they call a *dak*-choki, for six horses; that he should fix a certain allowance as a provision for the post-house keepers, couriers, and grooms, and for feeding the horses; and orders were given that whenever a post-house for horses was built near a khalseh, or imperial demesne, they should be furnished from thence with the stated allowances; that if it were situated in a pergunna [*parganah*], the nobleman in charge should attend to the supply. The same day Chikmâk Padshahi left Agra."

The promptness of Babar's administrative methods is a striking contrast to the circumlocution of present-day departmentalism. There still exist remains of many splendid *sarais*, or halting-places, built along this road by different Mogul Emperors for their convenience, from the time of Babar down to Aurangzîb. One of the finest is the Nurmahal Sarai, near Jalandhar, built by Jahangir and named after his favourite wife. Edward Terry, who accompanied Sir Thomas Roe, James the First's ambassador at Jahangir's Court, describes "the long walk of four hundred miles, shaded by great trees on both sides," and adds, "this is looked upon by the travellers who have found the comfort of that cool shade as one of the rarest and most beneficial works in the whole world."


/1/ Babar's "Memoirs," translated by Erskine.

/2/ For further particulars of Babar's history the reader is referred to the "Memoirs," or to Stanley Lane-Poole's admirable "Life of Babar," in the "Rulers of India Series" (Macmillan & Co.).

/3/ The State documents of the Mogul Emperors, "given under the royal hand and seal," were sometimes actually impressed by the royal hand. Plate I [of the print edition] reproduces part of a letter, addressed by Shah Jahan to an ancestor of the present Maharajah of Gidhour. In this letter the Raja Dalan Singh is informed that "the auspicious impress of the royal hand" is sent as a mark of royal favour, and he is commanded to proceed to Court to participate in the festivities and to pay homage to the Emperor.


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