The Mughals

Babur


   The founder of the Mughal dynasty was Babur, "The Tiger," who ruled from 1483 to 1530. Babur was not fully a Mongol: his mother was descended from Genghis Khan, but his father was descended from Timur. Like his ancestors, he rose from comparatively little to become one of the great conquerors of his time. He ruled over a small kingdom in Turkestan; he expanded his kingdom by attacking Afghanistan and capturing Kabul in 1504. From there he crossed over the mountains into Hindustan and attacked the Dehli Sultanate. With an army of only twelve thousand men, he defeated the Sultan at Panipat, captured Agra and Dehli, and established himself as Sultan. He then attacked a confederation of Rajput states. When he died in 1530 he had conquered all of Hindustan and controlled an empire that extended from the Deccan to Turkestan. Besides his fierce military genius, his conquest of this vast territory was aided by technological superiority. He was the first Islamic conqueror to employ muskets and artillery, and even though these weapons were somewhat primitive, they were more than a match for the armies of the Hindustan.

   India was no stranger to Islamic conquest. In the seventh century, just decades after the beginning of Islam, India was invaded by Muslims. In the tenth century, the Punjab was conquered by the Turkish chieftain, Mahmud. In the thirteenth century, the Turk Qutb-ud-din, invaded the Punjab and established the Dehli Sultanate which remained in power until Babur's invasion. Still, the Islamic Sultanate did not protect India from Muslim invasion. In 1398, Timur invaded from the west and utterly destroyed Dehli. Although the Sultanate survived, Timur's invasion left the entire area politically shattered.

   At the same time that Babur was aggressively expanding his territory, however, Europeans began their slow and steady invasion of India. Initially begun by the Portugese, the process would be brought to completion by the British who, in the 1850's, annexed India into the British Empire. The history of the Mughal Empire is intimately tied to the history of European expansion and territorial invasions. In 1510, the Portugese conquered the island of Goa off the Indian Coast and a few years later occupied territory on the Indian subcontinent itself. Babur was still in Afghanistan; it would be fifteen more years before he crossed the mountain paths and attacked the Dehli sultanate.

   Babur was succeeded by his son, Humayun, whose history walks the fine line between tragedy and farce. He inherited one of the largest empires in the world, and between 1530 and 1540, he managed to lose all of it to rebellions, from Afghanistan to India. He went into exile in Persia, and slowly put together an army to reconquer his lost territory. By 1555, he managed to do this, despite his inauspicious first decade in charge. Just as he was on the verge of complete reconquest, he fell down a flight of stairs and broke his neck. Despite his tremendous success at reconquest, both Islamic and Western history has marked him down as one of the major losers of history.

   Humayun's defeat, however, had a profound influence on Mughal culture. In his years of exile in the Persian court, Humayun developed a deep understanding and love for Persian culture, and instilled that in his son Akbar. After his and his son's reconquest of India, the culture that they built around themselves was based heavily on Persian models: philosophy, literature, painting, and architecture, all show deeply embedded Persian models.

   Humayun, you might say, almost made it. The task of finishing the reconquest fell to his son and successor, Akbar, whose name means in Arabic, "The Great."

Humayun's Tomb
Paul Brians


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Akbar


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1997, Richard Hooker
Updated 3-1-97