In this article we will discuss about the contribution of Babur towards Indian medieval history.
The character of Babur has been praised by all historians, both modern and contemporary. The author of Tarikh-i-Rashidi, Mirza Haidar described that he was “adorned with various virtues and clad with numberless excellences, above all which towered bravery and humanity.” Lane-Poole described Babur as “the most fascinating personality in the history of the East.”
The character of Babur as an individual was, thus, praiseworthy. He was a very strong man and could run on a rampart holding two men in his arms. He swam across every river he met in India and could ride a horse for eighty miles without any break. He was fond of drinking parties and took opium habitually.
Yet, his physique served him well till the end of his life. He even could overcome the ill-effects of the poison given to him by the mother of Ibrahim Lodi. Babur was an obedient son, affectionate father, reliable friend, lovable husband and a good relative. He respected all his elderly relatives and looked after the education and development of personality of his children. He advised his eldest son Humayun to improve his language and work hard to build up himself.
He said- “The world is his who exerts himself. Fail not to quit yourself strenuously to meet every emergency indolence and ease agree ill with kingship.” He helped all his relatives, loved all his sons, shared both pleasures and pains among his friends and though had a few wives, yet loved them all.
He was a dutiful person and did not forget to look towards his obligation even when he was in the habit of drinking liquor heavily. He was kind, generous, courageous, chivalrous, lovable and cultured man. He was a good judge of human nature and circumstances. He was fond of music and gardening and constructed many buildings in India.
Babur was a Sunni Mussalman and had complete faith in God. But he was not a bigot. He was liberal to Shias and had no hesitation when he entered into a treaty with Shia ruler of Persia. In India, Babur, of course, exhibited religious intolerance towards the Hindus, but it was only during the course of battles.
He declared Jihad when he fought against Rana Sanga and Medini Rai, massacred thousands of the Rajputs and assumed the title of Ghazi (slayer of infidels). He abolished Tamgha from the Muslims only and constructed a mosque at Ayodhya. However, Babur adopted these means to inspire his Muslim soldiers in times of war only. Therefore, his object was not religious but political.
In times of peace, he did not persecute the Hindus. Dr S.R. Sharma writes:
“There is no evidence of his ever having destroyed Hindu temple or otherwise persecuted the Hindus on account of their religion.”
The same way, Dr R.P. Tripathi has commented:
“As compared to what happened in the Near and Middle East between Shias and Sunnis and between Catholics and Protestants in the western countries these cases are simply insignificant.” Therefore, it is accepted by all historians that Babur was religious-minded but not a bigot and did not practise fanaticism in India.
Babur was a scholarly-king. He did not get time to receive proper education as he engaged himself in fighting right from the age of eleven. Yet, the knowledge he acquired and the command he had over Turki language has assigned him a place in the world of scholars. Babur possessed good knowledge of Arabic and Persian while he was a scholar of Turki. His Memoirs titled Tuzk- i-Baburi or Baburnama ranks among the best autobiographies of the world.
Mrs Beveridge described it “as one of those priceless records which are for all time.” Babur described the physical features, sceneries, climate, animals, birds, flowers, fruits, art, industries, life and condition of the people of those places which he visited. He described his own life, his habits, faults and virtues, the political and military conditions of his enemies and the character of his sons and relatives.
The description proves his command over the Turki language and also his keen insight of the geographical, social and political circumstances of which he came across. His collection of poems in Turki called the Diwan ranks among the best contemporary poetic works. He composed poems in Persian also and invented a style of verse. He also translated in Turki the Risala-i-Walidia written by Khwaja Ubaidulla.
He wrote a collection of Masnavis called the Mubayyin which is a treatise on Muslim law. He also wrote another treatise called Khat-i-Baburi in a new style. All these writings have been regarded meritorious from the point of view of language, style and knowledge. Among contemporary poets Babur ranks only next to Mir Ali Sherbeg.
One of the relatives of Babur and a contemporary writer, Mirza Haider Dagalata wrote. “Only Mir Ali Sherbeg was ahead of him in writings of Turki.” Therefore, Babur has been legitimately regarded as a scholarly king.
Lane-Poole has remarked- “Soldier of fortune as he was, Babur was nonetheless a man of literary taste and fastidious critical perception. . . His battles as well as his orgies were humanised by a breath of poetry.”
Babur was a determined soldier and an experienced general. Babur fought his own battles right from his early age like a soldier and displayed contempt for death. Dr S.R. Sharma described his qualities as a soldier thus- “An admirable horseman, a fine shot, a good swordman and a mighty hunter.” Babur developed the qualities of a capable general from his experience of fighting against people of different stocks in Central Asia.
He was not a born- general like Timur or Cenghiz Khan and was defeated in many battles in his early life. Yet, Babur became a successful commander. Babur never lost courage or determination to rise. He learnt from his defeats. He learned Tulghuma warfare from the Uzbegs, ambuscade from the Mongols and the Afghans, use of fire-arm and artillery from the Persians and effective use of mobile cavalry from the Turks.
Besides, he made a clever synthesis of all these tactics and systems of warfare. That made him a successful commander and therefore, he won every battle in India. Besides, Babur could inspire his followers, get their loyalty and command obedience from them. He never feared fighting against larger armies than that of himself, always tried to understand the weakness and also the strength of his enemy and utilised it fully in the battle.
Babur enjoyed hardships with his nobles and soldiers and was always one of them. That is why he was popular among them. The Mughul army became a well-organised, disciplined and effective fighting force under him.
Babur was quite successful as a diplomat. When he ascended the throne, his kingdom was threatened by his maternal uncles from all sides. It was his diplomacy which divided them and forced them to withdraw. His treaty with the Shia ruler of Persia and the consequent relations with him also justify his capacity as a shrewd politician.
In India, he successfully maintained a balance among his Mughul, Afghan and Indian nobles. Many Afghan nobles joined his standard and Nusrat Shah of Bengal preferred to make peace with him because of his diplomatic treatment, of course, backed by force. Nearly six Hindu rulers also joined him voluntarily because of his successful dealing with men and affairs.
As a ruler, Babur discharged his duties well. He tried to enhance the status of the ruler and believed in an all powerful monarchy. He, therefore, assumed the title of Padishah. His principle of monarchy was more akin to the Hindus and therefore, he believed in the divinity of the monarch.
Babur restored the respect of the emperor to its rightful place from which it had fallen after the death of Firuz Tughluq in India. Babur was both respected and feared among his subjects and that was the proof of his success as a king. Babur successfully maintained peace and order in his wide dominion which extended from Badakhshan to Bihar.
He believed that it was his duty as a king to look after the welfare of his subjects. He provided safety to the honour and property of his subjects, kept roads safe from robbers, ordered all officers and local governors to protect his subjects from tyranny, supervised the administration and tried to provide justice to his subjects.
He constructed many buildings at Agra, Fatehpur Sikri, Bayana and Dholpur and planted many gardens of fruits and flowers. Thus, as a ruler, Babur tried and succeeded in providing peace, security, patronage, justice and care to his subjects and therefore, got their respect and affection in return.
However, Babur was not a good administrator. He brought about no administrative changes either in India or in Afghanistan. He allowed the old machinery of the government to continue everywhere. In India, he divided his empire into jagirs and distributed them among his nobles for the purpose of administration.
While Babur being the head of the state, of course, provided unity to empire, yet the local governors were left virtually free to look after the administration of their territories. Babur did not try to provide a better and uniform system of administration in any field, viz., revenue, taxation, justice, etc. Besides, Babur was a bad financier.
He distributed the treasures which he captured at Delhi, Agra and Gwalior among his nobles and did not attempt to increase the financial resources of his empire. This created financial difficulties for him and for his successor, Humayun. That is why Dr R.C. Majumdar had commented- “Babur’s legacy to Humayun was of a precarious nature.”
During his own life-time, he was forced to impose additional taxes on his subjects and extract 30 per cent of the income of his nobles as price of their appointments. Even these measures could not supply him the required resources and he always felt shortage of money.
Humayun had to suffer from the ill-effects of this financial difficulty of the empire. Rushbrooke Williams has commented- “He bequeathed to his son a monarchy which could be held together only by the continuance of war conditions, which in times of peace was weak, structureless and invertebrate.”