Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Great Historical Figure of Uzbekistan - Zahiriddin Muhammad Babur

Zahiriddin Muhammad Babur

One of the last Timurids, Zahiriddin Muhammad Babur was a great poet and writer, public figure, scholar, lexicographer, linguist and literary critic. His father, Umar Sheikh Mirza, Amir Timur’s grandson, was the ruler of Ferghana region. His mother, Kutlugh Nigarkhanum, was the daughter of Yunuskhan the ruler of Tashkent. Babur was born on February 14, 1483 in Andijan and died on December 26, 1530 in Agra. Educated at the court at an early age he developed a strong interest in science and poetry. His mentor was Khoja Mavlono Kalon, the famous scientist and thinker.

In June 1494 twelve-year-old Babur was proclaimed ruler of Farghana, after his father died in a freak accident. During this time, two of his uncles from the neighbouring kingdoms, who were hostile to his father, and a group of nobles who wanted his younger brother Jahangir to be the ruler, threatened his succession to the throne. His uncles were relentless in their attempts to dislodge him from Farghana as well as many of his other territorial possessions to come. At the time most territories around his kingdom were ruled by his relatives, who were descendants of either Timur or Genghis Khan, and were constantly in conflict .

Babur himself had a great ambition to capture Samarkand which was ruled by his paternal cousin and in 1497, he besieged Samarkand for seven months before eventually gaining control over it. He was fifteen years old and for him, this campaign was a huge achievement. His army was able to hold it despite desertions, but soon he fell seriously ill. Meanwhile, a rebellion amongst nobles who favoured his brother, back home approximately 350 kilometres away robbed him of Farghana. As he was marching to recover it, he lost the Samarkand to a rival prince, leaving him with neither Farghana nor Samarkand. He had held Samarkand for 100 days and he considered this defeat as his biggest loss and would obsess over it, even later in his life after his conquest of India.

In 1501, he laid siege to Samarkand once more, but was soon defeated by his most formidable rival, Muhammad Shaybani, Khan of the Uzbeks. Samarkand, his lifelong obsession, was lost again. He then tried to reclaim Farghana but was unsuccessful and he escaped with a small band of followers. Being left without an army and his throne, he and a few loyal followers tossed between Djizzakh and Uratepa, Mastchakh and Tashkent, Pskent and Angren, Parkent and Kokand, Osh and Akhsikent.  By 1502, Babur had resigned all hopes of recovering Farghana and was forced to try his luck someplace else.
In 1504 Babur crossed the Hindu Kush mountains and conquered Kabul (a timurud domain) forcing the remaining Arghunids to retreat to Kandahar. Babur undertook the first of his many expeditions across the Kyber Pass into India in 1505.

A portrait of Babur, from an early illustrated manuscript of the Baburnama 1589-90

North India was at that time ruled by Afghan chieftains known as the Lodis. Babar invaded the Lodi-governed Punjab several times from his capital at Kabul before winning a decisive victory in 1526, at the battle of Panipat, only a few miles from Delhi. Babar's small but well-trained army of 12,000 men defeating a much larger force of 100,000 under the command of Ibrahim Lodi, the Sultan of Delhi.

In the following year, Babar led his army to victory over a confederacy of Rajput kings headed by Rana Sanga, ruler of the state of Mewar of Rajasthan. Babar's small force defeating the eighty thousand strong army of the Rajputs. These brisk victories gave Babar, who had extraordinary military acumen, a base from which to consolidate his rule in Northern India.

His guns and his long-practiced use of the enveloping tactics of Central Asian cavalry proved to be effective against the Rajputs as well as restless Afghans tribes.

He moved his capital to Agra, laying the foundation of the future mighty empire that included Central Asian territories, Kabul, the Punjab, Delhi, and other parts of North India as far south as Gwalior and as far east as the Bihar. His descendants known as the Moghul (Mughal) dynasty ruled for about 300 years losing their last outpost of Delhi only in 1858. It can be argued he is responsible along with the British for the unified India of today. (ED: This was the era that my grandmothers family first went to India).

Along with his military and political activities that laid the basis for the Great Mughal Dynasty in India, Babur was a great literary figure and poet. He believed in creating a state where there was harmony among his people and believed strongly in spreading education among the general population. (ED: The Muslim leaders of the Golden age strongly believed in education for all).

Memoirs of Babur

His most famous work was the Tuzk i Baburi  or as it is more commonly known the “Baburnama”  and was a  memoirs made up of a series of the personal letters which he kept throughout life and collected in one work. 

Covering some 36 years in the life of one of Central Asia and India’s most powerful figures, Babur’s detailed and insightful autobiography presents vivid picture of his life and times, the peoples he ruled, and the lands they inhabited. Alongside accounts of military conflicts and strategies, there are well-observed descriptions of landscapes and cities, local economies and customs, plants and animals. Subjects discussed by the Emperor Babur and illustrated in this manuscript include Hindu ascetics at Bagram (today in Afghanistan); the elephant, rhinoceros and buffalo; the peacock, parrot, and stork; the water-hog, and crocodile; trees and shrubs such as the plantain, tamarind, and oleander; and the author supervising work on his own gardens in Kabul. Babur also provides what is probably the first reliable record of the famous diamond known as Koh-i-Noor, the ‘Mountain of Light’.

Read more of his remarkable life see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Babur

It is considered to be the world's first encyclopaedia and is still a valuable source for studying the flora and fauna, history, culture and life of the people of Central Asia, Afghanistan, India in the late XV- XVI centuries.

Other works include the Risolai harb  a treatise on his military campaigns, the Divani Babur a collection of his poems, the Mubayyin – a treatise on Fiqh, the Aruz  a treatise on poetic metrics and the Hatti Boburi  on of the variants in the Arabic alphabet for use in the Chatagai language (his own), the ancient literary language of Uzbekistan. Also the Risolai Musiqa a treatise on music and the Risolai volidiya a translation of philosophical and Sufi writings by Khoja Ahrar.

Babur is today considered a national Hero in Uzbekistan, the Government in Uzbekistan  declaring his birthday the 14th February as a day of national celebration.

ED: A nice contemporary article on Babur entitled Wine and tulips in Kabul (Economist) see http://www.economist.com/node/17723207 

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