In this article we will discuss about Babur’s description of Hindustan.
The Memoirs of Babur have started from his accession to the throne of his father. He wrote- “In the month of Ramzan of the year 899 (Hijra), in the twelfth year of my age, I became ruler in the country of Farghana.” Babur wrote his autobiography titled Tuzk-i-Baburi (titled Baburnama in Persian) in his mother-tongue Turki.
It has been accepted meritorious work both from the point of view of literature and history. Payanda Khan and Abdur Rahim Khan- i-Khana translated it separately in Persian. It has been translated into several European languages as well particularly in English and French.
The translation done by Mrs Beveridge has been regarded as the best among all its translations as it has been done from the original Turki-script. There are certain gaps in the manuscript. Babur could not add to his biography between the year 1508- 1519, 1520. 1525 and 1529-1530.
The autobiography is the best source of knowing the events of the life of Babur. The description of Babur is clear, impressive and quite near the truth. Of course, he misunderstood many things particularly in case of India and therefore, has given wrong versions but the attempt was not deliberate.
We get a fairly good idea about his knowledge, his virtue and vices, his pleasures and sufferings, political circumstances which he faced, the climate, flora and fauna of the countries which he visited, his tastes and desires and description of those people with whom he came in contact or ruled.
Lane-Poole regards it as an important historical document. He says- “If ever there was a case, when the testimony of a single historical document, unsupported by other evidence should be accepted as sufficient proof, it is the case with Babur’s Memoirs.”
Elphinstone has also remarked about it thus- “Almost the only piece of real history in Asia.” Besides, the description of Babur regarding friends and foes, his emotional reaction to individuals and circumstances, natural beauty of mountains, rivers, forests and flowers is very much absorbing which credits his biography as a piece of literature.
Babur gave a description of India as well in his biography. He has written about the kings and political events in India. He wrote- “Hindustan is situated in the 1st, 2nd and 3rd climates. No part of it is in the 4th.” He wrote- “Once you cross the river Indus the country, the trees, the stones, the people and their customs are all Indian.” His first contact with India and Indians affected him adversely.
He wrote- “Hindustan is a country of a few charms. Its people have no good looks, no good manners, no genius or capacity. There are no good horses, no good dogs, no grapes, muskmelons or good fruits, no ice or cold water, no bread or cooked food in the markets, no hot baths, no colleges, no candles, torches or candle sticks. In places of candle and torch they keep lamp-men to carry oil-lamps from place to place. There are no running waters in their gardens or residences. Their residences have no charm, air, regularity or symmetry. Peasants and poor people move about mostly naked. The males use mostly languta and the females covered their body only with one cloth.”
However, he wrote- “Pleasant things of Hindustan are that it is a large country and has masses of gold and silver.” Babur liked the rainy season in India very much.
He wrote- “Its air in the rain is very fine. Sometimes it rains 10, 15 or 20 times a day; torrents pour down all at once and rivers flow where there had been no water. However, it creates dampness which spoils everything. A bow of those (Central Asia) countries is ruined and not only the bow, everything is affected, armour, book, cloth and utensils; even a house does not last long. The airs are excellent not only in the rains but also in the cold and the hot seasons. Before the rains there is always strong wind with much dust what people call here Andhi.”
He wrote- “Another good thing in Hindustan is that it has numberless workers of every kind. There is a fixed caste for every sort of work and for everything. Six hundred and eighty men worked daily on my buildings in Agra while 1491 stone-cutters worked daily on my buildings in Agra, Sikri, Bayana, Dholpur, Gwalior and Koil. In the same way there are numberless artisans and workmen of every sort in Hindustan.”
Describing the political condition of India he wrote- “The capital of India is Delhi . . . when I conquered that country there were five Muslim and two Hindu rulers there.” Babur also described something about the kingdoms of Malwa, Gujarat, Bahamani kingdom, Mewar and Vijayanagra.
The description of Hindustan by Babur is neither complete nor entirely correct. He made no mention of the states of Orissa, Khandesh, Sindh and Kashmir in his Memoirs. Besides, as he got very little time to assess the Indian conditions and remained busy mostly in conducting wars, his description cannot be regarded accurate as well.
If Babur would have got more time and would have got the opportunity to come in contact with the cultured people of India, probably, he would have revised his opinion about the Indian people. Besides, Babur viewed Indian people from the eyes of a conqueror. If he would have remained alive till the political condition of India would have stabilised, his opinion would have been certainly different.
It cannot be believed that the Indian people lacked culture at the time of his invasion. Thus, the description of Hindustan by Babur, certainly, provides us useful historical source material yet, it is neither possible nor desirable to accept it as it is. We have to be watchful in assessing the judgement which he passed about the Indian people and their culture.