Bābur, (Persian: “Tiger”) also spelled Bābar or Bāber, original name Ẓahīr al-Dīn Muḥammad, (born February 15, 1483, principality of Fergana [now in Uzbekistan]—died December 26, 1530, Agra [India]), emperor (1526–30) and founder of the Mughal dynasty of northern India. Bābur, a descendant of the Mongol conqueror Genghis Khan and also of the Turkic conqueror Timur (Tamerlane), was a military adventurer, a soldier of distinction, and a poet and diarist of genius, as well as a statesman.
Bābur came from the Barlas tribe of Mongol origin, but isolated members of the tribe considered themselves Turks in language and customs through long residence in Turkish regions. Hence, Bābur though called a Mughal, drew most of his support from Turks, and the empire he founded was Turkish. His family had become members of the Chagatai clan, by which name they are known. He was fifth in male succession from Timur and 13th through the female line from Genghis Khan. Bābur’s father, ʿUmar Shaykh Mīrzā, ruled the small principality of Fergana to the north of the Hindu Kush mountain range.
Because there was no fixed law of succession among the Turks, every prince of the Timurids—the dynasty founded by Timur—considered it his right to rule the whole of Timur’s dominions. Those territories were vast, and, hence, the princes’ claims led to unending wars. The Timurid princes, moreover, considered themselves kings by profession, their business being to rule others without observing too precisely whether any particular region had formed a part of Timur’s empire. Bābur’s father, true to that tradition, spent his life trying to recover Timur’s old capital of Samarkand (now in Uzbekistan), and Bābur followed in his footsteps. The qualities needed to succeed in that dynastic warfare were the abilities to inspire loyalty and devotion, to manage the turbulent factions often caused by family feuds, and to draw revenue from the trading and agricultural classes. Bābur eventually mastered them all, but he was also a commander of a genius
For 10 years (1494–1504) Bābur sought to recover Samarkand and twice occupied it briefly (in 1497 and 1501). But in Muḥammad Shaybānī Khan, a descendant of Genghis Khan and ruler of the Uzbeks beyond the Jaxartes River (ancient name for the Syr Darya), he had an opponent more powerful than even his closest relatives. In 1501 Bābur was decisively defeated at Sar-e Pol and within three years had lost both Samarkand and his principality of Fergana. There was always hope at that time, however, for a prince with engaging qualities and strong leadership abilities.
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In 1504 Bābur seized Kabul (Afghanistan) with his followers, maintaining himself there against all rebellions and intrigues. His last unsuccessful attempt on Samarkand (1511–12) induced him to give up a futile quest and to concentrate on expansion elsewhere. In 1522, when he was already turning his attention to Sindh (now a province in Pakistan) and India, he finally secured Kandahār, a strategic site (now in Afghanistan) on the road to Sindh.
When Bābur made his first raid into India in 1519, the Punjab region (now divided between the Indian state and the Pakistani province) was part of the dominions of Sultan Ibrāhīm Lodī of Delhi, but the governor, Dawlat Khan Lodī, resented Ibrāhīm’s attempts to diminish his authority. By 1524 Bābur had invaded the Punjab three more times but was unable to master the tangled course of Punjab and Delhi politics sufficiently enough to achieve a firm foothold. Yet it was clear that the Delhi sultanate was involved in contentious quarreling and ripe for overthrow. After mounting a full-scale attack there, Bābur was recalled by an Uzbek attack on his Kabul kingdom, but a joint request for help from ʿĀlam Khan, Ibrāhīm’s uncle, and Dawlat Khan encouraged Bābur to attempt his fifth, and first successful, raid.
Victories in India
Setting out in November 1525, Bābur met Ibrāhīm at Panipat, 50 miles (80 km) north of Delhi, on April 21, 1526. Bābur’s army was estimated at no more than 12,000, but they were seasoned followers, adept at cavalry tactics, and were aided by new artillery acquired from the Ottoman Turks. Ibrāhīm’s army was said to number 100,000 with 100 elephants, but its tactics were antiquated and it was dissentious. Bābur won the battle by coolness under fire, his use of artillery, and effective Turkish wheeling tactics on a divided, dispirited enemy. Ibrāhīm was killed in battle. With his usual speed, Bābur occupied Delhi three days later and reached Agra on May 4. His first action there was to lay out a garden, now known as the Ram Bagh, by the Yamuna (Jumna) River.
Establishment of the Mughal Empire
Bābur’s dominions were now secure from Kandahār to the borders of Bengal, with a southern limit marked by the Rajput desert and the forts of Ranthambhor, Gwalior, and Chanderi. Within that great area, however, there was no settled administration, only a congeries of quarreling chiefs. An empire had been gained but still had to be pacified and organized. It was thus a precarious heritage that Bābur passed on to his son Humāyūn.
In 1530, when Humāyūn became deathly ill, Bābur is said to have offered his life to God in exchange for Humāyūn’s, walking seven times around the bed to complete the vow. Humāyūn recovered and Bābur’s health declined, and Bābur died the same year.