HISTORY OF THE MOGHUL EMPIRE
Babur in Kabul: 1504-1525
Babur, founder of the Moghul dynasty in India, is one of history's more endearing conquerors. In his youth he is one among many impoverished princes, all descended from Timur, who fight among themselves for possession of some small part of the great man's fragmented empire. Babur even captures Samarkand itself on three separate occasions, each for only a few months. The first time he achieves this he is only fourteen.
What distinguishes Babur from other brawling princes is that he is a keen oberver of life and keeps a diary. In it he vividly describes his triumphs and sorrows, whether riding out with friends at night to attack a walled village or mooning around for unrequited love of a beautiful boy.
Babur's 'throneless times', as he later describes these early years, come to an end in 1504 when he captures Kabul. Here, at the age of twenty-one, he is able to establish a settled court and to enjoy the delights of gardening, art and architecture in the Timurid tradition of his family.
With a powerful new Persian dynasty to the west (underIsmail I) and an aggressive Uzbek presence to the north (under Shaibani Khan), Babur's Kabul becomes the main surviving centre of the Timurid tradition. But these same pressures mean that his only chance of expanding is eastwards - into India.
Babur feels that he has an inherited claim upon northern India, deriving from Timur's capture of Delhi in 1398, and he makes several profitable raids through the mountain passes into the Punjab. But his first serious expedition is launched in October 1525.
Some forty years later (but not sooner than that) it is evident that Babur's descendants are a new and established dynasty in northern India. Babur thinks of himself as a Turk, but he is descended from Genghis Khan as well as from Timur. The Persians refer to his dynasty as mughal, meaning Mongol. And it is as the Moghul emperors of India that they become known to history.
Babur in India: 1526-1530
By the early 16th century the Muslim sultans of Delhi (an Afghan dynasty known as Lodi) are much weakened by threats from rebel Muslim principalities and from a Hindu coalition of Rajput rulers. When Babur leads an army through the mountain passes, from his stronghold at Kabul, he at first meets little opposition in the plains of north India.
The decisive battle against Ibrahim, the Lodi sultan, comes on the plain of Panipat in April 1526. Babur is heavily outnumbered (with perhaps 25,000 troops in the field against 100,000 men and 1000 elephants), but his tactics win the day.
Babur digs into a prepared position, copied (he says) from the Turks - from whom the use of guns has spread to the Persians and now to Babur. As yet the Indians of Delhi have no artillery or muskets. Babur has only a few, but he uses them to great advantage. He collects 700 carts to form a barricade (a device pioneered by the Hussites of Bohemia a century earlier).
Sheltered behind the carts, Babur's gunners can go through the laborious business of firing their matchlocks - but only at an enemy charging their position. It takes Babur some days to tempt the Indians into doing this. When they do so, they succumb to slow gunfire from the front and to a hail of arrows from Babur's cavalry charging on each flank.
Victory at Panipat brings Babur the cities of Delhi and Agra, with much booty in treasure and jewels. But he faces a stronger challenge from the confederation of Rajputs who had themselves been on the verge of attacking Ibrahim Lodi.
The armies meet at Khanua in March 1527 and again, using similar tactics, Babur wins. For the next three years Babur roams around with his army, extending his territory to cover most of north India - and all the while recording in his diary his fascination with this exotic world which he has conquered....
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