BABUR (1483–1530), founding emperor of the Mughal dynasty in India. A Chaghtai Turk, Zahir-ud- Din Muhammad, known as Babur (“the Tiger”), was a fearless soldier, adventurer, poet, and diarist. His Tuzu-i- Babri (Memoirs of Babur), written in Turki, the diary he kept throughout his life, is one of the great works of historical literature. Babur’s father was a petty chief of Farghana, one of five principalities of Central Asia; he was descended from Genghis Khan and Timur. In 1494, when his father died, Babur, aged eleven, became king of Farghana. He immediately came under attack, but survived the assault, and in November 1487 captured Samarkand, the heart of Central Asia. Driven out of Samarkand the next year, Babur recaptured it in 1499, lost it again in 1501, held it briefly in 1511, and for the rest of his life dreamed of reconquering it and ruling Central Asia.
After losing Samarkand in 1501, he found refuge with his uncle and wandered around Central Asia seeking his fortune before capturing Kabul in 1504. He held Kandahar briefly in 1507. In Kabul, Babur adopted Ottoman firearms and became a powerful ruler, although the struggle for power in the region between the Ottomans, the Persians, and the Uzbeks prevented his recapture of Samarkand. Thus, he turned to India. In 1519 he marched over the Khyber Pass, down across the Indus to the Punjab, as far as the River Chenab, before returning, richly laden, to Kabul a few months later.
In 1520 he captured Badakhshan and in 1522, Kandahar. In 1524 he briefly controlled Lahore. Then, on 20 April 1526, Babur won his first great battle of Panipat against the mighty army of Sultan Ibrahim Lodi, achieved through superior cavalry tactics and Central Asian artillery, establishing Mughal rule over North India. Delhi and Agra were captured, and on 27 April, in Delhi, the Khutba prayer was read in Babur’s name as ruler. He crippled the Hindu Rajput confederacy after breaking his wine cups and vowing that he would never drink again, rallying his outnumbered troops. His days of wandering were over; he was now the dominant power in northern India. In January 1528 he finally crushed the Rajputs. His last great battle was on 6 May 1529, when he won the Battle of Ghagra.
As the first Mughal ruler, Babur substituted the Afghan confederacy with divine right absolutism, acting through a prime minister and introducing Persian language and manners into his court. He was renowned for his alcohol- and opium-laced parties and for his cruelty to his victims. Though not a good administrator or organizer, Babur built a large number of palaces, baths, gardens, and daks (postal stations), through which he maintained contact with distant regions, and he was recklessly generous to his soldiers and officers, bankrupting the state. He practiced religious tolerance, marrying his sons to Hindu Rajput princesses, and brought the Rajputs into his government.
In 1530 Babur died, after walking around his sick son Humayun’s bed praying that the seemingly fatal illness would be transferred to him. Humayan recovered, and Babur fell ill and died. A king for thirty-six years, he was just forty-eight years old. At Ayodha, the Babri Masjid (Babur Mosque) was erected to commemorate the founder of India’s mightiest pre-British empire.
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Thackston, Wheeler M., ed. and trans. The Baburnama: Memoirs of Babur, Prince and Emperor. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, 1996.