Categories Medieval India



  • In the period between 1517 and 1519, two apparently unconnected events took place which profoundly affected the history of India.
  1. The death of the Afghan ruler, Sikandar Lodi, at Agra towards the end of 1517 and the succession of Ibrahim Lodi.
  2. The conquest of Bajaur and Bhira, by Babur in the frontier tract of north-west Punjab in the beginning of 1519.
  • The death of Sikandar Lodi gave an opportunity to the Afghan nobles, many of whom still had strong tribal affiliations, to try to regain some of the power and influence they had lost under his strict rule. The nobles first proposed the partition of the empire between Ibrahim Lodi, the eldest son of Sikandar Lodi, and his younger brother, Jalal, with the latter being assigned the eastern part of the empire consisting of the territories comprising the former Sharqi kingdom of Jaunpur.
  • Ibrahim Lodi reluctantly agreed to the partition, but took steps to undo it as soon as he assumed the crown. Jalal was captured, and killed soon after. However, these events created a wall of suspicion between the young Sultan and the older nobility. Harsh punishments meted out to them by the Sultan only led to further distrust and disaffection.
  • There were a series of rebellions in east U.P. and Bihar in which not only a rival Lodi claimant to the throne was put up, but a noble, Darya Khan Nuhani who was the governor of Bihar, proclaimed himself as king.
  • Another Lodi scion repaired to the camp of Rana Sanga. Rana Sanga had established his control over eastern Malwa, and was in competition with the Lodis for control over eastern Rajasthan and the rest of Malwa. At the battle of Ghatoli between the Lodis and Rana Sanga, a number of leading Afghan sardars had crossed over to the side of the Rana.
  • Another claimant to the throne, Alam Khan, the son of Bahlol Lodi, was being supported by the ruler of Gujarat. Some Afghan nobles had proclaimed him king, under the title of Alauddin.
  • Ibrahim Lodi was young and energetic. Although lacking in tact in dealing with old, well -established nobles, he would, in all probability, have been able to establish his control over the Afghan nobles, and overcome the Afghan tendency of each powerful leader considering himself a junior partner in the kingdom rather than the servant of the ruler.
  • A drastic change came about with the appearance of Babur on the scene. In 1519 Babur captured the forts of Bajaur and Bhira, the latter being situated on the river Jhelum. He put forward a vague claim that the areas which had once belonged to Timur be surrendered to him, and despatched an envoy to Ibrahim Lodi for the purpose.
  • The governor of Lahore at that time was Daulat Khan Lodi, an old noble whose father had supported Bahlol Lodi, and whose family had dominated Punjab for 25 years. Daulat Khan treated Babur’s envoy with contempt, neither giving him an interview nor allowing him to proceed to Ibrahim Lodi’s court. He dismissed Babur’s envoy when Babur returned to Kabul. He also expelled Babur’s officials from Bhira.
  • In 1519-20, Babur recovered Bhira, and advanced to Sialkot which was considered one of the gates of India. However, before he could advance further, he received news of an invasion of his territories by the ruler of Qandahar, and returned to Kabul.
  • But his appearance at Sialkot was regarded as a declaration of Babur’s intention of expanding his empire over the entire Punjab. This led to a flurry of diplomatic activity. Daulat Khan Lodi, who was in arrears in settling the accounts of his charge with Ibrahim Lodi, and was apprehensive of action against him by the young Sultan, sent his son, Dilawar Khan, to Babur at Kabul in 1521-22. He invited Babur to invade India since, he said, the ruler, Ibrahim Lodi, was a tyrant, and had maltreated Sikandar’s nobles and killed many of them without cause. He asserted that he had been sent to Babur by many nobles who were ready to obey. Alam Khan Lodi, despairing of success against Ibrahim Lodi, also visited Kabul.
  • It seems that it was at this time that Babur also received an envoy from Rana Sanga who, according to Babur, proposed that while Babur attacked Delhi, he (Sanga) would attack Agra.
  • While Babur needed no invitation to attack India, the arrival of these envoys convinced him that the situation was ripe for undertaking the conquest of India.
  • The motives of the various elements which invited Babur to invade India can only be guessed at. They apparently expected Babur to withdraw, like Timur, after setting up a titular ruler at Delhi who would be weak and would depend on him. They hoped this would enable them to continue to rule as before, and extend their control over the areas they coveted. Daulat Khan Lodi’s predominant motive was to maintain his hold over the Punjab, ceding to Babur some of the areas which Babur considered his own.(
  • However, events showed Daulat Khan Lodi to be totally lacking in realism. Babur expanded his claims and ambitions as his position became stronger. He was no longer content with a part of the Punjab but wanted the whole of it. This inevitably entailed a struggle to the death with Ibrahim Lodi who was not prepared to surrender Punjab to Babur. Thus, the struggle for Punjab expanded to a struggle for the mastery of north India.
  • Daulat Khan Lodi who had invited Babur, could not see the logic of the situation. Nor could he see that in this struggle, he could only be the sacrificial goat. His sons realised this and chose their sides: Dilawar Khan joined Babur, and Ghazi Khan opposed him. Daulat Khan kept oscillating between support and opposition to Babur, and came to a bad end.

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The Struggle between Ibrahim Lodi and Babur, the battle of Panipat (20 April,1526):

  • The battle of Panipat (20 April, 1526) between Ibrahim Lodi and Babur was not a sudden development, but was the culmination of the struggle between the two which had started earlier.
  • Learning of the intrigues of some of the Afghan nobles at Kabul, Ibrahim Lodi sent a large army towards the Punjab under Bahar Khan to reduce Daulat Khan and his sons to obedience, and to repel any foreign invasion.
  • The imperial forces drove away Daulat Khan Lodi from Lahore, and occupied it. However, before they could consolidate their position, Babur entered India again and, early in 1524, he appeared before Lahore. The Lodi forces came out of the city and gave a good fight, but were routed. In retaliation, Babur burnt the city for two days, and then marched to Dipalpur where he received Alam Khan and Daulat Khan Lodi. Babur ignored the claims of Daulat Khan for Lahore, and posted his own men at Sialkot, Lahore and Kalanaur before returning to Kabul. He assigned Dipalpur to Alam Khan. However, Ibrahim Lodi ousted Alam Khan from Dipalpur. Alam Khan now fled to Kabul, and asked for further help which was promised to him. It was agreed that while he should take Ibrahim’s place on the throne of Delhi, Babur in full suzerainty would hold Lahore and all the areas to the west of it.
  • Thus, Babur threw a spanner among the Afghans. Alam Khan was furnished with a body of troops, and was given a royal order to the Mughal begs at Lahore to assist him. Babur promised to follow swiftly.
  • However, on reaching Lahore, Alam Khan found that the begs were reluctant to support him. He was also approached by Daulat Khan Lodi. Hence, he withdrew from the alliance with Babur. Alam Khan and Daulat Lodi collect a force and besieged Delhi. But Ibrahim Lodi defeated and dispersed their forces.
  • It is clear that an open fight between Ibrahim Lodi and Babur was now inescapable. Ibrahim Lodi was clearly not willing to leave Punjab to Babur, conscious that would enable Babur to prepare a base for future advance to the Gangetic valley, as in the case of the Ghurids earlier. Babur had also thrown a challenge to Ibrahim Lodi by espousing the cause of a rival claimant, Alam Khan.
  • However, Babur’s success was by no means assured. If Daulat Khan Lodi had thrown in his lot with Ibrahim Lodi even at this late stage, Babur’s position would have become very difficult. In preparation of this conflict, Babur had consolidated his position in Afghanistan by capturing Balkh from the Uzbeks. He had also captured Qandahar. Thus, having secured his rear and flank, in November 1525, Babur marched from Kabul for the conquest of Hindustan. After a delay caused by Humayun’s tardiness in coming from Badakhshan, the Indus was crossed by the middle of December.
  • According to Babur, the strength of his forces at the time “great and small, good and bad, retainer and non-retainer” was 12,000. Marching by way of Sialkot which yielded to him without opposition, Babur reached Lahore which was being besieged by Daulat Khan Lodi and his son, Ghazi Khan. Daulat Khan had girt two swords to his waist, to fight both Babur and Ibrahim Lodi. At Babur’s approach, his army melted away. Ghazi Khan fled to the hills while Daulat Khan surrendered to Babur who imprisoned him and sent him to Bhira. But he died on the way. Thus, all that Daulat Khan achieved was to facilitate Babur’s entry into Punjab.
  • Having conquered Punjab in a span of three weeks after crossing the Indus, Babur moved slowly towards Delhi, sending out reconnoitring parties in every direction to learn the movements of Ibrahim Lodi.
  • Ibrahim Lodi made no move to contest Babur’s position in Punjab, waiting upon him to make the next move. The first skirmish took place between Humayun and Hamid Khan, the shiqdar of Hisar-Firuza, who had moved towards Babur with a small army. Humayun worsted him. Babur says that the matchlockmen were ordered to shoot all the prisoners by way of example.(
  • A little later, Babur learnt that Ibrahim was advancing leisurely, marching two or four miles, and stopping at each camp for two to three days. The two sides came together near Panipat.

Planing of Babur

  • Considering that Ibrahim Lodi’s army was much larger than his own, and in order to avoid being surrounded by it, Babur chose the ground carefully. He protected his right by resting it on the city of Panipat, and on the left, dug a ditch with branches of felled trees so that the cavalry could not cross it.
  • In front, he put together 700 carts, some from his baggage train, and some procured locally. These carts were joined together by ropes of raw hide, and between every two carts short breastworks were put up behind which matchlockmen could stand and fire. Babur calls this method of stringing carts the Ottomaa (Rumi) devise because, along with cannons it had been used by the Ottoman Sultan in the famous battle with Shah Ismail of Iran at Chaldiran in 1514. But Babur added a new feature. At a bow shot apart, gaps were left, wide enough for fifty or hundred horses to charge abreast.
  • This was a very strong defensive as well as offensive arrangement. Babur had a very poor opinion of Ibrahim Lodi as a strategist. He says, “he was an unproved (i.e. inexperienced) brave; he provided nothing for his military operations, he perfected nothing, nor knew how to stand, nor move, nor fight.”

First battle of Panipat

  • The battle which was followed proved to be a triumph of generalship over numbers. Babur placed Ibrahim’s army at 100,000 and 1000 elephants. According to Afghan sources, the effective strength of Ibrahim Lodi at Panipat was only 50,000. Even then it was much larger than Babur’s.
  • Apparently, Ibrahim Lodi had not carefully studied Babur’s defensive formation even though the two armies stood face to face for almost a week, and daily skirmishes went on. When Ibrahim Lodi came out to fight on the fateful day, he found that Babur’s front was too narrow. He hesitated, and while he was trying to adjust his armies to the narrow front, Babur seized the opportunity. He sent his two flanking parties (tulghuma) to wheel around in the Uzbek fashion, and attack Ibrahim’s army from the side and rear. From the front, Babur’s cavalrymen shot off arrows, and his matchlockmen poured a deadly fire on the huddled mass of Afghans.
  • Babur had earlier hired two Ottoman gunners, Ustad Ali and Mustafa, and appointed Ustad Ali as master of ordnance. Babur says that Ustad Ali and Mustafa made good discharge of field cannons from the centre. However, in those days, the rate of firing of field cannons was painfully slow. Babur was primarily a cavalryman, and he makes his victory at Panipat primarily a victory of cavalry and bowmen.
  • Surrounded from all sides, Ibrahim Lodi fought on bravely and died fighting. Babur paid a tribute to his  bravery by burying him on the spot with honour.
  • More than 15,000 men were killed in the battle. Vikramajit, the ruler of Gwaliyar, was among those who died fighting in the battle.

Significance of the battle of Panipat

  • The battle of Panipat was undoubtedly one of the decisive battles of Indian history. Its political significance, however, needs to be assessed carefully. It smashed the power of the Lodis, and opened up the entire territory upto Jaunpur to Babur’s control. The rich treasures stored by the Lodi Sultans at Agra relieved Babur of his financial difficulties. However, Babur had to wage two hard-fought battles, one against Rana Sanga of Mewar, and the other against the eastern Afghans before he could consolidate his position. Thus, politically the battle of Panipat was not as decisive as it was militarily.
  • However, it marks a new phase in the struggle for the establishment of a hegemonic political power in north India.

Babur’s problems after the battle of Panipat — struggle with Rana Sanga

Lavish gifts by Babur

  • Babur had many serious problems to face after his victory at Panipat. His first concern was to seize the rich treasures hoarded by the Lodis at Delhi and Agra. He sent parties to ride fast and light to occupy Delhi and Agra, and mount guard over the treasures located there. Humayun headed the party sent to Agra. After having the khutba read in his name at Delhi, Babur also reached Agra. His first act after seizing the treasures hoarded there was to make lavish gifts to Humayun and his brothers. Some of his begs were given 10 lakh tankas, others 8 or 7 or 6 lakhs. Suitable money-gifts were bestowed on the whole army, the various tribesmen — Afghan, Hazara, Arab and Biluch, and even to the traders, students and others who had come with the army. His relations in Samarqand and Khurasan, and holy men as far afield as Mecca and Medina received valuable gifts. A silver coin (shahrukhi) was given to, every soul—men, women, children, bond or freemen in Kabul and the Badakhshan valley.
  • This generosity was a part of Babur’s character, and also a part of his philosophy. He believed that Ibrahim Lodi could not keep his nobles on his side because he was miserly, and more concerned with collecting a treasure.

Problems faced by Babur

  • However, the immediate result of these lavish gifts was contrary to what Babur might have expected. Many of his begs and armymen thought that their struggles had been amply rewarded, and it was time to return home. As it was, they found little in India to attract them. Babur says, there was “remarkable dislike and hostility” between the people near Agra and his men. Apparently, the memories of Timur’s sacking and plundering were still fresh in their minds. Worse, every fortified town strengthened its defences, and would neither obey nor submit. Thus, the areas from Etawah and Sambhal to Bayana, Mewat, Dholpur, Gwaliyar etc. came under the control of their local commanders. Nor were the Afghans cowed down. The entire area from Kannauj to the east was held by Afghans who had proclaimed Muhammad Khan as their king.
  • At Agra, neither grains for human beings, not corn for the horses was available since me inhabitant’s had run away. The villagers had taken to thieving and highway robbery so that there was no moving on the roads. Worse, the hot season was on, to which neither his men nor his begs were accustomed. Hence, “masses began to die off.”
  • Finally, his begs found India to be a foreign land in every respect. Neither (baked) bread, nor the hamams (public baths), or social intercourse of the type they were accustomed to were available in India. As Babur says, “once the water of Sind is crossed, everything is in the Hindustan way: land, water, tree, rock, people and horde, opinion and custom.” In this situation, the greater part of Babur’s begs wanted to have nothing to do with India.

Steps taken by Babur

  • Babur took firm steps to quell this discontent. He called a Council, and roundly declared that they had not endured the hardships for years, deadly slaughter in battle to abandon without cause the countries taken. He refused to return to Kabul, “the spot of harsh poverty,” and sternly forbade his well -wishers to raise the matter again. However, he permitted those who were determined to leave to do so.
  • Ultimately, only one of his leading begs, Khwaja Kalan, a favourite of Babur, left for Kabul. To save appearances, he was asked to look after Kabul and Ghazni, and a pargana in the Punjab was also assigned to him for his expenses.
  • This cleared the air. Babur now took steps to bring the country upto Jaunpur under his control. Unconquered areas were assigned to individual begs who were asked to exert themselves to bring them under imperial control. This was the only way in which they could find money for the expenses of their forces, the hoarded treasure having been emptied out.

Two biggest danger for Babur

  • The two biggest dangers Babur faced was, first, from the side of Rana Sanga and second, from the eastern Afghans. Babur was a little uncertain which of these to tackle first. In a Council, it was felt that the Afghans represented the bigger danger. They had taken Kannauj, and were two to three miles this side of the river Ganga. Although Rana Sanga has captured the powerful fort of Qandahar near Ranthambhor, he was still far away. Hence, Humayun was sent with an army to the east against the Afghans, while Babur remained at Agra. (
  • Babur soon had to drastically revise his plans. Rana Sanga’s conflict with Ibrahim Lodi for the control of Malwa and eastern Rajasthan was the cause of the negotiations between Sanga and Babur for collusion against Ibrahim Lodi. The lead in these negotiations seems to have been taken by Sanga who had greater reason than Babur to fear the gradual consolidation of Ibrahim’s power. Babur accuses the Rana of breach of agreement for he had invited him to attack Ibrahim Lodi, and proposed “If the honoured Padshah will come to near Delhi from that side, I from this side will move on Agra.” While Babur beat Ibrahim, and took Delhi and Agra, Rana Sanga made no move.
  • Perhaps, Sanga had visualized a long drawn out tussle between Babur and Ibrahim Lodi, during which he (Sanga) would be able to seize the areas he coveted. Or, Sanga may have imagined that like Timur, Babur would withdraw once he had seized the treasures of Delhi and Agra. But the entire context charted once he realized that Babur intended to stay in India and establish a new empire. Such an empire, from Sanga’s point of view, was an even bigger danger for him than the Lodis. Hence, after the battle of Panipat, Sanga began to make efforts to gather together a grand coalition which would either compel Babur to leave India, or confine him to Punjab.(
  • By early 1527, Sanga’s preparations had been more or less completed, and Babur began to hear reports of his advance towards Agra. Hence, Babur hastily recalled Humayun from the east, and sent detachments for the conquest of Dholpur, Gwaliyar and Bayana. These powerful forts, which formed the outer bastion of Agra, and also guarded the routes to Malwa and Eastern Rajasthan, were under the control of independent Muslim commanders. Hearing of Sanga’s advance, the commanders of Dholpur and Gwaliyar accepted the generous terms offered by Babur, and surrendered the forts to him.
  • However, Nizam Khan, the commander of Bayana, opened negotiations with both sides. In an effort to forestall the Rana, Babur sent a detachment to Bayana which was defeated and scattered by the Rana’s forces. Babur’s forces was already demoralized, hearing news of the valour of  the Rajputs, and the formidable force he had collected.
  • This set back further disheartened them.The forces under the command of Rana were far larger than those commanded by Babur.
Battle of Khanwa:
  • The battle was faught between Babur and Rana Sanga at Khanwa, near Fatehpur-Sikri, on 16 March, 1527.
  • The Rana was joined by almost all the leading Rajput Rajas from Rajasthan — such as Harauti, Jalor, Sirohi and Dungarpur from South and West Rajasthan, and Dhundhar and Amber from the east. Rao Ganga of Mewar did not join himself, but sent a contingent. Rao Medini Rao of Chanderi in Malwa also joined, including Mahmud Lodi, the younger son of Sikandar Lodi, whom the Afghans had proclaimed their Sultan. Hasan Khan Mewati, who was the virtual ruler of Mewat, had also joined.
  • Babur denounces the Afghans who opposed him as kafirs and mulhids (i.e those who had apostasized from Islam). This shows that these words were often used in a political as well as a religious sense.
  • Thus, Sanga represented a Rajput-Afghan alliance, the proclaimed objective of which was to expel Babur, and to restore the Lodi empire. Hence, the battle at Khanua can hardly be seen as a religious conflict between Hindus and Muslims, or even as a Rajput bid to establish a Rajput hegemony over North India.
  • However, it was Babur who tried to give a religious colour to the conflict in order to raise the flagging spirit of his soldiers. Addressing the officers and men on the eve of the battle, he tried to fire their military ardour, and also tried to use their religious susceptibilities by declaring the war against the Rana to be a jihad or holy war. The begs and the men were made to swear on the Quran that they would not turn away from the battle but fight to the last. To emphasize that he was a good Muslim, Babur also renounced wine, breaking flasks of choice Ghazni wine. He also promised to remit the tamgha (toll) on all Muslims if he gained a victory over the Rana. Finally, he declared that after the war, whoever wanted to return to Kabul would be permitted to do so. Thus, Babur was able to infuse a new spirit into his men. It was only logical that after the battle Babur assumed the title of ghazi.
  • Planing of Babur: Before the battle, Babur had carefully inspected the site. As at Panipat, he strengthened his front by getting constructed carts which were fastened by iron chains (not leather straps as at Panipat) in the Ottoman fashion. These were meant to provide shelter to the artillery and the horses. Gaps were kept between carts for the horses to charge at an opportune moment. To lengthen the line, ropes of raw hide were stretched on wheeled tripods of wood. Behind these tripods, matchlockmen could fire and advance. The sides were protected by ditches. Along with the usual array of forces, contingents were set apart on the left and front for the flanking (tulghuma) tactics. Thus, he prepared a strong defensive offensive formation.
  • It does not seem that Sanga had learnt anything from the tactics adopted at Panipat by Babur. He was proud of his elephants and swordsmen and, in the usual fashion, delivered a furious attack on Babur’s right. He would have broken through but for timely reinforcements despatched by Babur. Once the advance of the Rajputs and their Afghan allies had been contained, Babur’s wheeling parties came into play. The carts and matchlockmen were also ordered to advance. The Rana and his allies were hemmed in. Despite gallant resistance, the Rana suffered a disastrous defeat.
  • It was demonstrated once again that mere bravery was not sufficient to counter superior generalship and organization. As Babur observed:”Swordsmen though some Hindustanis may be, most of them are ignorant and unskilled in military move and stand, in soldierly counsel and procedure.” This statement, though made in the context of Afghans, is equally applicable to the Rajputs.
  • Sanga escaped to Chittor but the grand alliance he had built collapsed as quickly as it had been built. The powerful confederacy which depended so largely for its unity upon the strength and reputation of Mewar, was shattered by a single defeat and ceased henceforth to be a dominant factor in the politics of Hindustan.”(
  • After his victory, Babur thought of marching to Chittor, but gave it up on account of heat and lack of water on the way. He than marched on Mewat whose ruler, Hasan Khan, had sided with Rana Sanga.
  • Although earlier, Babur had been prepared not to disturb Hasan Khan whose family had ruled over Mewat for a hundred years, as a punishment most of the country, including its two capitals, Tijara and Alwar, were annexed, but parganas worth several lakhs were bestowed on Nahar Khan, the son of Hasan Khan.
  • Babur then returned to Agra. Khanua completed to battle of Panipat, and Babur’s position in the Gangetic doab was made largely secure.

Battle with Chanderi:

  • However, as a successor of the Lodis, Babur soon began to caste his eyes on Malwa. Babur also wanted to isolate Rana Sanga who was reputed to have begun war-like preparations in order to renew the conflict with Babur. Leaving Agra early in December 1527, and marching by unfrequented ways, Babur reached Chanderi whose chief, Medini Rao, had been a close ally of Sanga.
  • Babur offered to Medini Rao Shamsabad in exchange of Chanderi. But Medini Rao spurned the offer, and preferred to die fighting, after performing the fearful jauhar ceremonial. However, two of Medini Rao’s daughters fell in Babur’s hands, and he gave them to Humayun and Kamran.
  • Babur declared the siege of Chanderi also to be a jihad. In both places, Khanua and Chanderi, he ordered towers of pagan skulls to be erected. This was a practice adopted by Timur against his opponents. (
  • After Chanderi, Babur had plans of campaigning against Raisin, Bhilsa and Sarangpur. He also wanted to march against Rana Sanga in Chittor, not knowing that the Rana had died earlier (30 January 1528), apparently poisoned by his own sardars who considered his plans to renew conflict with Babur to be suicidal.
  • Meanwhile, Babur was receiving alarming news about the activities of the Afghans in east U.P. Hence, he gave up plans for further campaigns in Malwa and Rajasthah, and, in February, 1528, started his return journey.
Problems of the eastern areas and the Afghans:
  • Although the Afghans had been defeated, they had neither reconciled themselves to Mughal rule, nor were they prepared to give up the idea of Afghan suzerainty. The Afghans formed a large segment among the Muslims of India, and were spread over not only in the towns but the countryside in different regions. They were particularly strong and numerous in the eastern parts of modern U.P., and Bihar. They were a martial people, and could quickly organize themselves into a military force under a good leader. Their close contact with the people of the country at various levels, including the local Hindu rajas, had given them a wide base of support.
  • However, their mutual differences, often on a tribal basis, as also their allergy to obeying a single commander were sources of weakness. (
  • After Panipat, Babur was face to face with the problem of dealing with the powerful body of Afghans in the country. In order to understand Babur’s policy towards the Afghans, four aspects need to be kept in mind:
  1. First, there were the Afghan iqtadars or commanders of forts, towns and the countryside. They assumed full control of the forts and the surrounding areas after the fall of Ibrahim Lodi. Babur adopted a policy of force and conciliation towards them. Military forces were despatched to oust them from the forts, especially those located in the doab, or the neighbourhood of Agra. These included areas such as Etawah, Rapri, Kalpi etc. as also forts such as Dholpur, Bayana, Gwaliyar etc. Simultaneously, terms were offered to many of them to vacate the places they held by offering them other parganas in grant. An effort was made to win over some of the leading Afghan nobles of Ibrahim Lodi. These included Shaikh Bayazid, younger brother of Mustafa Farmuli, of Awadh, and a number of others who had fought the rebel Afghans of East U.P. during the reign of Ibrahim Lodi. To demonstrate that he had no rancour against Ibrahim Lodi’s family, Babur even gave parganas worth seven lakhs, and a place to live to Ibrahim Lodi’s mother. However, she tried to poison him. This increased Babur’s distrust of the Afghan nobles. As it was, Shaikh Bayazid, who had been awarded parganas in Awadh by Babur, defected to the Afghan rebels of the area. A few other Afghans behaved likewise, although it would be wrong to think that this was the case with all of them. In fact, tracts comprising one-fourth of the total jama of the Empire in India were assigned by Babur to Afghan nobles.
  2. Second were the Afghans of eastern U.P., around Jaunpur. These elements had been in rebellion during Ibrahim Lodi’s reign, and Ibrahim Lodi had sent forces against these elements under Bahar Khan Lodi, Mustafa Farmuli and others.Therefore, they had little sense of loyalty towards his descendants. In fact, after the battle of Panipat, these elements had invited Prince Bahadur Shah of Gujarat to assume the crown at Jaunpur. At the time these elements were in possession of the country upto Kannauj, and the areas beyond it two to three marches away from Agra. Since Babur considered that he had inherited the entire Lodi kingdom upto Bihar by virtue of his victory over Ibrahim Lodi, he was not prepared to give any quarter to these rebels. Right at the beginning, Babur had sent Humayun against the eastern Afghans. They were not able to withstand Humayun who quickly occupied the area upto Jaunpur. However, before the Afghan rebels could be decisively defeated, Babur recalled Humayun in order to deal with Rana Sanga’s threat.  In Humayun’s absence, the Afghan rebels quickly reoccupied the area upto Kannauj.
  3. Third aspect was Bihar. Bihar had for long been a kind of a no-man’s land between the kingdoms of Bengal and the Sharqi kingdom of Jaunpur. The position had become even more uncertain after the fall of the kingdom of Jaunpur. The Lodis had not been able to stabilize their position in Bihar. The governor of Bihar, Darya Khan Nuhani, had at first fought against the Afghans of east U.P., but later he turned a rebel. After his death, his son Bahadur Khan had declared himself independent under the title Sultan Muhammad, and had the khutba read in his own name and  issued coins. Some time after the battle of Khanua, Mahmud Lodi, the younger son of Sikandar Lodi, found his way into Bihar, and was accepted as king by all the Afghans including Biban and Bayazid of eastern U.P.
  4. Fouth aspect was Bengal. Nusrat Shah, of Bengal, who was an ambitious ruler, was also keen to extend his rule over Bihar. Taking advantage of Babur’s preoccupation with Sanga, he had extended his dominion from Tirhut to Ballia and placed it under his brothers-in-law, Alauddin, and Makhdum-i-Alam. The latter established himself at Hajipur across the Ganga near the then non-existing Patna. He expanded his rule on both sides of the river Ghagra upto Azamgarh.
  • There was little in common between Nusrat Shah and the Afghans of Bihar, and those of east U.P. However, Nusrat Shah maintained good relations with Biban, Bayazid and Maruf Farmuli, the leaders of the Afghans of east U.P., since they were a shield between him and the Mughals. These Afghan rebels, though based mainly on Jaunpur, looked upon Bihar as a sanctuary into which they could retreat in case of Mughal pressure.
  • This was the situation Babur was faced with while he was in Malwa. He quickly returned, and marched straight on Kannauj. Despite the opposition of the Afghans, he built a bridge on the Ganges, using his cannons, mortars and matchlocks to meet the Afghan opposition. Fording the river, he occupied the area upto Jaunpur. But the Afghan rebels slipped across the Ghagra. Babur was not inclined to stay in the area any longer, and putting it under the charge of  Askari, returned to Agra. He had been further reassured by the arrival of envoys from the Bengal king, Nusrat Shah, assuring his neutality. This was in 1528.

The Battle of Ghagra

  • Next year, Babur decided to quell the rebellion in the eastern areas once for all. Marching by way of Prayag and Banaras, he reached Chunar and Buxar which were the gateways to Patna. In the meantime, he had received envoys from Nusrat Shah, the ruler of Bengal. Babur offered him terms, details to which we do not have because, unfortunately, in a storm, some of the pages of his Memoirs covering this period were scattered and lost. Babur wanted to detach Bengal from the side of the eastern Afghans, and wanted free passage across the river Ghagra. However, no agreement could be reached, the point at issue being Bihar. Perhaps, the Bengal ruler wanted recognition of his existing position in Bihar which Babur was reluctant to concede.
  • On reaching the elbow formed by the junction of the Ghagra with the Ganges, Babur was surprised to find a joint force of the Bengal king and the Afghan rebels on the other side of the rivers. The Bengal ruler had put up as many as twenty-four points of defence to prevent Babur from crossing the river. He also had a flotilla of boats to prevent Babur crossing the Ganges.(
  • Despite this, Babur effected the crossing, while a force of 20,000 under Askari crossed upstream, thus taking the Bengali and Afghan forces on two sides. The battle of Ghagra, fought on 5 May, 1529, gave a complete victory to the Mughals. Large numbers of Afghans surrendered to Babur, including seven to eight thousand Nuhanis. Maruf Farmuli also surrendered, but Biban and Bayazid escaped across the Ghagra along with Mahmud Lodi, and besieged Lucknow.

Agreements with Bihar and Bengal

  • Meanwhile, Babur made a settlement of Bihar. Unwilling to involve himself in the day to day affairs of Bihar, he restored it to the Nuhani chiefs, withdrawing Khan-i-Zaman who had earlier been appointed Governor of Bihar. The chief among the Nuhanis was Jalal Khan, son of Sultan Muhammad who had died. Jalal had approached Babur earlier and despite Bengali opposition, came and submitted to Babur. Babur asked him to pay a lump sum of one krore tankas as tribute, and reserved one krore annually as khalisa. Another Nuhani chief, Mahmud Khan Nuhani, who had been iqtadar of Ghazipur, was granted territory worth fifty lakhs in Bihar.
  • Babur then made an agreement with Nusrat Shah of Bengal. His position in Bihar was left intact. This led to a good deal of conflict between Bihar and Bengal later on.
  • After these agreements, Babur retracted his steps. He ousted Biban and Bayazid from Lucknow, and they fled to Mahoba in Kalinjar. Babur knew that he had not solved the Afghan problem. Bearing in mind the nature of the Afghan social set up, and their military potential, the solution of the Afghan problem needed considerable time and effort. Also, to dislodge the Afghans from Bihar extended campaigning including possible conflict with Bengal would have been necessary. Babur was not inclined to embroil himself in Bihar at the moment. It seems that he felt that the problems of Bihar and Bengal needed to be tackled together because, as he notices, Bengal was the only country with treasure. Also, Babur wanted to free himself for possible intervention in Central Asia, the position there having become favourable after the defeat of the Uzbek ruler, Ubaidullah, by Shah Tahmasp. Finally Babur was keen to consolidate his empire in the doab.
  • Thus, by all accounts, the agreements made by Babur in Bihar and Bengal were the best under the circumstances.

Babur’s Contribution and Significance of his Advent into India

  • Babur died at Agra on 30 December 1530 after a short illness. Although a romantic web has been woven around his death, linking it to his offer to sacrifice his life for the sake of Humayun’s recovery, Babur’s health had been failing for the past several years due to hard campaigning, and the hot climate of India to which he was not accustomed.
  • Although Babur greatly missed Afghanistan, and found many aspects of India to be distasteful, he was clear that henceforth India was not only the base of his empire, but his home. All those of his begs who thought otherwise, were given leave to depart.
  • The inclusion of Afghanistan in an empire based on India was a development of capital importance. Although Afghanistan was considered an integral part of India in antiquity, and was often called “Little India” even in medieval times, politically it had not been a part of India after the downfall of the Kushan empire, followed by the defeat of the Hindu Shahis by Mahmud Ghazni.
  • Since ancient times, Afghanistan had been the staging place for an onslaught on India. By keeping control of Afghanistan, and its two doors to India, Kabul and Qandahar, Babur and his successors safeguarded India from foreign invasion for 200 years.
  • The control of Babur and his successors over Afghanistan made India a player in Central Asian politics. Powerful rulers of the area — Turan, Iran, Ottoman Turkey, and others kept close diplomatic contact with India, and also sought its support on occasions. On their part, Babur and the succeeding Mughal rulers kept a close watch on political developments in Central and West Asia by means of a constant exchange of envoys. (
  • Thus, with the arrival of Babur, a new phase begins in India’s foreign policy and strategic perception. Babur not only tried hard to maintain Mughal influence on Badakhshan beyond the Hindukush mountains, but even upto river Oxus.
  • Following the defeat of the Uzbek ruler, Ubaidullah, by Shah Tehmasp at Jam in 1528, Babur even instructed Humayun to recover Samarqand with Iranian help, but had to give up when such help was not forth-coming.
  • Economically, control over Kabul and Qandahar strengthened India’s foreign trade. As Babur says in his Memoirs, “There are two trade-marts on the land-route between Hindustan and Khurasan; one is Kabul, the other, Qandahar.” To Kabul came caravans from Kashgar which was the trade mart to China, Transoxiana, Turkistan etc., and to Qandahar from Khurasan, i.e. Iran and West Asia. He goes on to say, “In Kabul can be had the products of Khurasan, Turkey, Iraq and China, while it is Hindustan’s own market.” Thus, the inclusion of Kabul and Qandahar in the empire created a favourable opportunity for the increase of India’s share in the great trans-Asian trade.
  • By his victories over Ibrahim Lodi and Rana Sanga, Babur paved the way for the emergence of a new Indian empire, sweeping away the balance of power which had gradually emerged in the country during the 15th century. However, many steps were necessary for the emergence of such an empire. Humayun carried forward the task bequeathed to him by Babur, but a long step in this direction was taken by Sher Shah Suri, followed by Akbar.
  • The introduction of cannon and muskets in India has generally been ascribed to Babur. Although gunpowder which is of Chinese origin was introduced into India from China, and was used for mining under the walls of the forts from the middle of the 13th century, its use for cannons and muskets was of European origin. Their use in Iran and Central Asia is generally dated back to the Ottomans at the battle of Chaldiran in 1514 against Shah Ismail. Babur quickly look it up by employing two Ottoman mastergunners in 1516, and mentions their first use at Bajaur in 1519. It was then used in the battles of Panipat and Khanua, and other battles fought by Babur.
  • The use of artillery further strengthened the position of large states or empires against local petty rulers and zamindars who did not have the financial resources and means to employ them in a meaningful manner. It strengthened the process of centralization to that extent. But it made battle between states more destructive.
  • Babur also introduced new military tacticsin India, borrowing them from the Ottomans and the Uzbeks. These were the carts lashed together by iron-chains and protected by ditches, and the flanking parties (tulghuma).
  • However, Babur’s victories cannot be ascribed only to the new weapons and tactics he employed, but equally to his skillful generalship, organization, care in choosing the battle ground, and deploying his men in the best manner.
  • The arrival of the Mughals helped to re-establish the prestige of the Crown in India. Although Sikandar Lodi and Ibrahim Lodi had tried to strengthen the position of the Crown, they had only limited success because of the strong Afghan tribal traditions of independence and equality. As a descendant of the two greatest warriors of Asia, Chingiz and Timur, Babur not only had high personal prestige, but he was a beneficiary of the Mongol-Persian traditionthat the begs were merely the servants of the Great Khan who had a divine mandate to rule. Thus, none of his begs could challenge his position or aspire to rule. Babur was surprised when he learnt that in Bengal hereditary succession was rare, and that if any person kills the padshah and seats himself on the throne, armies, wazirs, soldiers submit to him at once and recognize him as the rightful ruler.
  • The difference between the Timurids and their begs was emphasized by the rigid etiquette followed in their courts. Thus, all the begs, irrespective of status or age, had to stand.
  • Although the differences in status and position between the ruler and his begs were clearly defined, Babur treated his begs well. Babur consulted his leading begs whenever any important decision was taken, and adviced Humayun to do likewise. He was liberal in his grant of stipends and gifts to his begs. His personal relations with them were also cordial. They were invited to share Babur’s wine parties where music and dance, witticism and recital of poetry were common. Even when Babur had given up wine, which he sorely missed sometimes.The begs were invited to parties where opium was eaten. He even indulged in horse-play with his begs.
  • At the same time, Babur was prepared to share hardships with his begs and soldiers. Thus, as ruler of Kabul, when Babur visited the Mirzas in Herat, and decided to return to Kabul in winter, his party lost its way in the mountains. The snow was so deep that people had to trample the snow to make a path, sinking to the waist or the breast. Without hesitation, Babur joined. Following his example, many begs also joined.
  • However, Babur was also a stern disciplinarian. Begs who did not show their mettle in battle could lose their ranks and positions, their parganas taken away, and disgraced publicly by having their beards shaved.
  • As a pious Muslim, Babur was regular in his prayers, and observed the fast of Ramzan without fail. He was also a devotee of Shaikh Ubaidullah Ahrar, the Naqshbandi saint, who was considered the patron saint of the Timurids, and placed considerable emphasis on the strict observance of the sharia. However, Babur was not concerned with narrow sectarian differences. The atmosphere in Transoxiana was not one of narrow orthodoxy but of considerable freedom to individuals in religious matters. Wine-bibbling was common, even women indulging in it on occasions. Babur mentions Baba Quli who was made Babur’s guardian but “he prayed not; he kept no fasts; he was like a heathen..” It was this atmosphere which Babur imbibed. This explains why he did not hesitate to wear the dress of the Kizilbash (Persians, who were Shiis) at Tashkend, although it was considered almost heresy, since it suited him politically at the time to do so. (
  • Regarding the Hindus, it is true that Babur declared the war against Sanga a “jihad’, and assumed the title of “ghazi” after the victory, forbade wine, and broke the wine-jars. These, obviously, were probably politically motivated actions. The campaign against Medini Rao of Chanderi, a close associate of the Rana, was also declared a “jihad” .
  • Regarding the erecting of pagan skulls at Khanua, Babur adopted this Mongol and Timurid practice on occasions. It was meant not only to record a great victory, but to strike terror among the opponents. Babur used it for the same purpose against the Afghans of Bajaur.
  • There are no references to Babur having destroyed temples in large scale. Although Mathura was near Agra, and Babur passed it a number of times, no temples were broken there. Babur visited the royal buildings and the temples in the fort of Gwaliyar, and notes the images there, but no effort was made to damage or destroy them. It was only the Jain deities in the Urwa valley which were ordered to be destroyed because they were completely naked.
  • Both at Sambhal and at Ayodhya, which were provincial head -quarters, mosques were built by destroying Hindu temples at the instance of Babur. The inscriptions at both these places give the credit of building the mosques to the local governors, Mir Hindu Beg at Sambhal and Mir Baqi at Ayodhya, mentioning that this was done at the instructions’ of Babur who is mentioned as the ruler.
  • That Babur was probably moderate in religious affairs, and had no prejudice against the Hindus, is also borne out by his attitude towards the autonomous Hindu rajas. Thus, in the Punjab, Hati Gakkhar, the chief of the Gakkhars, was allowed to rule over his ancestral lands after he accepted Babur’s suzerainty. Adam Gakkhar accompanied Babur to Agra with a large number of Gakkhar troops, and fought for him at Khanua. Sangur Gakkhar died fighting for Babur in this battle. Babur was even prepared to strike a political deal with the successors of Rana Sanga. Thus, Rani Padmavati, the widow of Rana Sanga, sought Babur’s support for her son, Vikramajit, who was being harassed by his brother. She offered to surrender Ranthambhor and the crown and belt of Mahmud Khalji to Babur in return for parganas worth 70 lakhs. Although no agreement was forthcoming, Babur received the Rani’s envoy with honour, and offered Shamsabad in place of Bayana which the Rani had asked for.
  • Babur’s liberalism in matters of religion is also attested to by his fondness of painting, music and dance, and poetry which were all frowned upon by the orthodox elements. Babur praises Bihazad, the master painter at the court of Baisanqar Mirza at Herat. In addition to the verses interspersed in his Memoirs, he wrote a Diwan in Turkish. He also prepared a versified version of the famous work Waladiyah Risala of Shaikh Ubaidullah Ahrar. He was also in touch with famous poets of the time, such as Ali Sher Navai.
  • Babur’s Tuzuk or Memoirs is rightly classified as a classic of world literature. Written in Chaghtai Turkish, his chaste style made him, along with Ali Sher Navai, the founder of modern Uzbeki Turkish.
  • Babur wrote his memoirs and these form the main source for details of his life. They are known as the Baburnama and were written in Chaghatai Turkic, his mother-tongue, though his prose was highly Persianized in its sentence structure, morphology and vocabulary. Baburnama was translated into Persian during the rule of Babur’s grandson Akbar.
  • Culturally, he was greatly influenced by the Persian culture and this affected both his own actions and those of his successors, giving rise to a significant expansion of the Persianate ethos in the Indian subcontinent.
  • Not only do the Memoirs throw a flood of light on contemporary affairs, but they show Babur as one who was keenly interested in nature. Thus, he depicts in detail the fruits, flowers, animals and products of India, and comments on its social life and customs. He provides similar information about the other countries he spent time in — Farghana, Samarqand, Kabul etc. He draws skilful, thumbnail sketches of contemporaries, including their good and bad points. He does not spare himself in the process. Thus, he depicts his father, Umar Shaikh Mirza, as “short and stout rounded bearded and fleshy-faced” with a tunic so tight it was ready to burst. Another was Shaikh Mirza Beg, Babur’s first guardian. There was no greedier Shaikh than him in Umar Mirza’s presence, but “he was a vicious person and kept catamites (gay).” He says that this vicious practice was very common in his times. Babur was free from it, but he admits that when he was in Samarqand in 1499, he was maddened and afflicted for a boy in the camp bazar.
  • Babur also freely recounts how on occasions he returned to camp dead drunk. But Babur always took the task of rulership very seriously. As he wrote to Humayun towards the end of his life, “No bondage equals that of sovereignty; retirement matches not with rule.” (
  • Thus, Babur introduced a new concept of the state which, resting on the Turko-Mongol theory of suzerainty, based itself on the strength and prestige of the Crown, absence of religious and sectarian bigotry, and the fostering of fine arts and the promotion of culture in a broad perspective. This included the hamams (public and private baths), and gardens with running water of which he was very fond.
  • Thus, he set an example, and provided a direction of growth for his successors.

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