Babur was the founder of the largest dynasty India has ever seen– the Mughal Dynasty. His actual name was Zahir-ud-din Muhammad Babur. His name is derived from the Persian word ‘Babr’, which means tiger.
He was born on February 14, 1483. He was the eldest son of Umar Sheikh Mirza, a direct descendant of the Turk-Mongol conqueror Timur. His mother was a direct descendant Genghis Khan.
Babur succeeded in securing the dynasty’s position in Delhi after a series of Sultanates failed to consolidate their seats and his empire went on to rule for over 300 years in India. He passed away on December 26 in 1530. He was 48.
In 1504, he conquered Kabul, which was an important citadel in Central Asia. Babur was invited by Daulat Khan Lodi, a rebel of the Lodi dynasty, in 1524, to invade North India and fight the dynasty and their enemies in Rajputana. Rajputana was ruled by the Mewar King Rana Sanga.
In 1526, Babur won the Battle of Panipat against Ibrahim Lodi. He captured Delhi and founded the greatest dynasty of North India — the Mughal Empire.
Babur claimed to be very strong and physically fit. He also claimed to have swum across every major river he encountered, including twice across the Ganges River.
He was well-known for his oratory and literary skills. Although a religious person, Babur indulged in drinking. Till date, he is considered a national hero in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. He wrote his autobiography, Baburnama, in Chaghatai Turkic. It was translated to Persian during the reign of his grandson Akbar.
Bābur, though called a Mughal, drew most of his support from the Turks, and the empire he founded was Turkish in character. His family had become members of the Chagatai clan, by which name they are known. He was fifth in male succession from Timur and 13th through the female line from Genghis Khan.
Bābur’s father, ʿUmar Shaykh Mīrzā, ruled the small principality of Fergana to the north of the Hindu Kush mountain range. Because there was no fixed law of succession among the Turks, every prince of the Timurids—the dynasty founded by Timur—considered it his right to rule the whole of Timur’s dominions. Those territories were vast, and, hence, the princes’ claims led to unending wars.
The Timurid princes, moreover, considered themselves kings by profession, their business being to rule others without observing too precisely whether any particular region had actually formed a part of Timur’s empire.
Bābur’s father, true to that tradition, spent his life trying to recover Timur’s old capital of Samarkand and Bābur followed in his footsteps. The qualities needed to succeed in that dynastic warfare were the abilities to inspire loyalty and devotion, to manage the turbulent factions often caused by family feuds, and to draw revenue from the trading and agricultural classes. Bābur eventually mastered them all, but he was also a commander of genius.
In 1501 Bābur was decisively defeated at Sar-e Pol and within three years had lost both Samarkand and his principality of Fergana. There was always hope at that time, however, for a prince with engaging qualities and strong leadership abilities. In 1504 Bābur seized Kabul (Afghanistan) with his personal followers, maintaining himself there against all rebellions and intrigues.
His last unsuccessful attempt on Samarkand (1511–12) induced him to give up a futile quest and to concentrate on expansion elsewhere. In 1522, when he was already turning his attention to Sindh(now a province in Pakistan) and India, he finally secured Kandahār, a strategic site (now in Afghanistan) on the road to Sindh.
Victories in India
Setting out in November 1525, Bābur met Ibrāhīm at Panipat on April 21, 1526. Bābur’s army was estimated at no more than 12,000, but they were seasoned followers, adept at cavalry tactics, and were aided by new artillery acquired from the Ottoman Turks. Ibrāhīm’s army was said to number 100,000 with 100 elephants, but its tactics were antiquated and it was dissentious.
Bābur won the battle by his use of artillery, and effective Turkish wheeling tactics on a divided, dispirited enemy. Ibrāhīm was killed in the battle. With his usual speed, Bābur occupied Delhi three days later and reached Agra on May 4.
His small force was surrounded by powerful foes. All down the Ganges valley were militant Afghan chiefs, in disarray but with a formidable military potential. To the south were the kingdoms of Malwa and Gujarat, both with extensive resources, while in Rajasthan Rana Sanga was head of a powerful confederacy threatening the whole Muslim position in northern India.
Bābur’s first problem was that his own followers, suffering from the heat and disheartened by the hostile surroundings, wished to return home as Timur had done. By employing threats, reproaches, promises, and appeals, vividly described in his memoirs, Bābur diverted them.
He then dealt with Rana Sanga, who, when he found that Bābur was not retiring as his Turkish ancestor had done, advanced with an estimated 100,000 horses and 500 elephants. Bābur was virtually surrounded. But he used his customary tactics and bewildered the Rajputs, who after 10 hours broke, never to rally under a single leader again.
Bābur now had to deal with the defiant Afghans to the east who had captured Lucknow while he was facing Rana Sanga. Other Afghans had rallied to Sultan Ibrāhīm’s brother Maḥmūd Lodī. Bābur turned to the east. Crossing the Ganges, he drove the Afghan captor of Lucknow into Bengal. He then turned on Maḥmūd Lodī, whose army was scattered in Bābur’s third great victory, where that river joins the Ganges. Artillery was again decisive, helped by the skillful handling of boats.
Bābur’s dominions were now secure from Kandahār to the borders of Bengal. There was no settled administration. An empire had been gained but still had to be pacified and organized. It was thus a precarious heritage that Bābur passed on to his son Humāyūn.
In 1530, when Humāyūn became deathly ill, Bābur is said to have offered his life to God in exchange for Humāyūn’s, walking seven times around the bed to complete the vow. Humāyūn recovered and Bābur’s health declined, and he died the same year.