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The First Mughal Emperor’s Towering Account of Exile, Bloody Conquest, and the Natural World

At the end of 1525, Zahiru’d-din Muhammad Babur, a Timurid poet-prince from Farghana in Central Asia, descended the Khyber Pass with a small army of hand-picked followers; with him he brought some of the first modern muskets and cannons seen in India. With these he defeated the Delhi Sultan, Ibrahim Lodhi, and established his garden-capital at Agra.

This was not Babur’s first conquest. He had spent much of his youth throneless, living with his companions from day to day, rustling sheep and stealing food. Occasionally he would capture a town—he was 14 when he first took Samarkand and held it for four months. Aged 21, he finally managed to seize and secure Kabul, and it was this Afghan base that became the springboard for his later conquest of India.

But before this he had lived for years in a tent, displaced and dispossessed, a peripatetic existence that had little appeal to him. “It passed through my mind,” he wrote, “that to wander from mountain to mountain, homeless and houseless . . . had nothing to recommend it.”

William Dalrymple on the 16th-Century Memoir, Babur Nama: More here.

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