Illustration sourced, Wikipedia: A 16th century Mughal miniature painting depicting Kamran Mirza fleeing the forces of Humayun during their war in Kabul.

Humayun’s half brother: Kamran Mirza.

The portrait of Kamran Mirza, today may perhaps be one of a haughty, cruel and traitorous prince, who turned against his emperor and brother Humayun when he was down and out on his luck, but in reality the prince may very likely not have been the archetype villain he has so often been made out to be by the hands of his early critics. Quick to view him in the same light as his high spirited Mongolian predecessors and later Gurkani descendants who practically set in motion the trend of rebelling against their fathers and murdering their own brothers for power and glory. Starting with the reign of Akbar and cascading down the generations to the era of Aurangzeb, the emperor who gained immense notoriety for putting under house arrest his own father and murdering his own brother for the throne.

Born in the year 1504, possibly behind the fortified walls of the ancient city of Kabul in Afghanistan, Kamran was a proud Timurid prince with the blood of Timur flowing through his veins and as much the son of Babur as his six years elder half brother Humayun, even though his mother Gulrukh Begchik may possibly not have been of as exalted birth as Humayun’s mother, Maham. For Babur mentions very less of her in his journals and chronicles of the era reveal the prince had to contend with a great deal of unrest during his initial years of governorship. Believed to have stemmed less from administrative mishaps and more for his mother’s parentage as common men, nobles and kings of his time where typically more inclined towards princes’ of higher birth – a good fortune Humayun enjoyed to a considerable degree.

Yet, Gulrukh’s status in the royal harem does not appear to have affected Kamran’s standing in the eyes of his father, Babur, for as a caring parent with an impartial attitude when it came to the upbringing of his children, the regent is chronicled to have treated Humayun and Kamran with equal consideration. Not only ensuring like Humayun, Kamran too received the proper grooming befitting a prince of his bloodline and the privileges that came along with his royal birth, but is also known to have gone to the extent of personally writing out a verse of the Quran for his early education, and thereafter as in the case of his elder brother, gifting him with valuable manuscripts to inculcate in him a passion for literature and the arts. With perhaps the strongest indication of the regent’s growing respect for the prince expressing itself in an entry he left behind in his memoirs, the Baburnama (see Farbound.Net snippet: Baburnama) that describes Kamran as a worthy and correct young man, and a prince Humayun could depend on.

In 1526 as Babur with Humayun in his entourage set out for the conquest of Hindustan, Kamran, age fifteen, was appointed governor of Kabul, a role in which he continued till Babur’s death in 1530 and thereafter under Humayun’s reign as emperor.

Though Kamran and Humayun’s relationship was to eventually splinter over irreconcilable differences in their adult years and lead to a civil war, Babur’s impartial attitude towards them in their childhood and proclivity in treating them as equals did indeed foster a strong bond between the brothers that lasted for a good many years – strengthened more by the friendship of the mothers in the harem who earnestly discouraged rivalry to keep the royal household united both domestically and as a political entity.

Among several historical facts of the period that asserts the view, perhaps the most promising happens to be Babur’s decision of eventually doing away with the long standing tradition of primogeniture that had been strictly observed by Timurid regents from the time of their ancestor Genghis, and instead of dividing his realm between his four sons, favour the coronation of Humayun as the heir and successor of a consolidated empire. A decision that in essence robbed Kamran of inheriting his own independent kingdom yet a decision the prince then close to eighteen years of age had accepted gracefully and waited on his elder brother for over two years to enlarge his territories – as willed by their father who a few days prior to his death had obtained from the soon to be future emperor, Humayun, the promise he would not only carry out his last wish but also not harm or mistreat his other brothers on acquiring absolute power.

While, in turn Humayun, a priggish and obedient son, was to indeed honor his part of the bargain and on becoming king in 1530 A.D., lavishly allot territories and honor to his younger brothers, both out of  the respect he reserved for his father and brotherly sentiments. A course of action that let Kamran retain his former hold over the Gurkani dominions in Afghanistan and rule with an independent hand. Embroiled in defending his own realm from external threats, the new emeperor would leave the matter of expanding the prince’s territories unaddressed till 1532 A.D.

A lengthy delay that in the same year would spur an impatient twenty year old Kamran to take matters into his own hands leading to his annexation of the city of Lahore in Punjab, a potentially rich province of the fledgling Gurkani realm in Hindustan – and an act that earned him eternal damnation from both chroniclers of his era and nineteenth century historians including the British author William Erskine, one of the prince’s most hostile critic, who interpreted his actions as that of an impulsive warmonger eager to test his sword against his brother for the throne of Delhi, just after the death of their father.

Yet on close introspection the unauthorized acquisition in reality, possibly might not have been a bold and calculated move at all but one the prince had undertaken without fear of reprisal with advance knowledge of his inheritance and trust in the brotherly relations he shared with Humayun. Who likewise is recorded to have later made amends for his negligence by officially transferring the region to the prince as his rightful share without a moment’s thought along with the neighboring city of Multan and his own former fief of Hisar Firoza, in present day Haryana, India.

The peaceful transfer of territories is evident from a series of coins  minted by the grateful Kamran between 1532-1539 which bear the inscription: The justice of Muhammad Kamran Badshah-i-Ghazi and ‘Muhammad Humayun Ghazi, Sultan the Great and Illustrious. May God bless his territory and Sultanate.

The series of coins Kamran was to ultimately produce for publicly announcing his governorship and gratitude is generally accepted by modern day researchers in support of the cordial relationship that existed between the two princes since childhood and a fact well upheld by scholars such as the late Dr. S.K Banerjee, a leading authority of his day and author of the book Humayun Badshah (see Farbound.Net snippet: Humayun Badshah) who was to explain the inscription on the coins as the revelation that brought to light the true relationship that existed between the two brothers during the period, and more importantly Kamran’s acceptance of Humayun as the greater of the two by his use of the prefix Badshah before his own name and suffix of Sultan after Humayun’s name.

Dr. Banerjee, scouring through medieval manuscripts during his research was to further arrive on the second obvious conclusion that Kamran in his lifetime neither wanted to contest nor usurp Humayun’s throne. A fact that finds credibility by the harmonious relationship that prospered between the two brothers after the transfer of territories with no record indicating any further reckless adventure from the side of Kamran. And later Kamran’s path of hostilities that most certainly indicate the prince’s intentions till the end of his life remained in preserving of what he considered to his rightful inheritance of the territories of Kabul and its vicinity in Afghanistan, as willed by Babur.

In 1539 A.D as Humayun’s youngest brother Hindal swayed by nobles opposed to Humayun’s rule rebelled and besieged the city of Delhi, Kamran at forced march arrived from Kabul at the head of a 20,000 strong army to preserve his brother’s sovereignty. A gratitude Humayun expressed by gifting the prince with a beautifully embroidered horse saddle.

The rift in their relationship appears to have begun after the disastrous battle of Chausa in 1539 that witnessed the destruction of Humayun’s veteran army and a major defeat largely made possible by the series events that had preceded the fateful battle. Beginning with Humayun’s prolonged occupation of the city of Gaur in Bengal, disease and starvation suffered by his army there, and ultimately the rebellion of his youngest brother Hindal that forced the Gurkani emperor to rashly make his way back home in haste only to find himself surrounded and cornered on the banks of the Ganges at Chausa, leading to a near complete annihilation of his veteran forces, in a well planned and coordinated night attack by the Afghan warlord, Sher Shah Sur.

To his credit and one that speaks of Kamran’s goodwill towards Humayun at the stage, the prince had marched down from Kabul to curb Hindal’s rebellion but by the time he achieved success, it had been too late to reinforce Humayun at Chausa.

Although Kamran definitely did march down from Kabul to preserve his brother’s sovereignty by bringing to an end Hindal’s siege of Delhi which may likely have been the city of Din Panah (see Farbound.Net story: Din Panah, the city of Humayun) and effectively curb his rebellion. On his return to Agra as Humayun anxious to avenge his defeat at the hands of Sur had adamantly demanded the command of the prince’s 20,000 battle hardened soldiers to win back lost Gurkani pride, it had slowly but surely strained their relation.

If in the initial days of their discourse, Kamran may have readily agreed to fight his brother’s war on the condition the army he had worked hard to build and maintain remained under his command, Humayun’s persistence in personally commanding the troops, had eventually led to a heated argument between the princes and made the prince increasingly reluctant to hand over his troops, specially in the light of Humayun’s recent defeat and addiction to opium.

Kamran, perhaps irritated and feeling pressurized, had continued to forcibly object till the verbal argument between the two brothers had gradually developed into a bitter stream of hurtful words as the prince most certainly in an attempt to retain the command of his troops, had embarked on criticizing Humayun’s battle tactics and inability to command – much to the chagrin of the members of Humayun’s court, privy to the argument.

To further complicate matters, in the midst of their heated discourse, the prince had been  griped by a severe pain in the intestine and fully aware of the nature of court politics that prevailed in his era, had naturally assumed it be a plot by Humayun to have him murdered for the possession of the troops – though towards the end in a weakened condition and barely able to speak he had eventually parted with 3,000 of his auxiliary before returning back to Lahore with a large part of his royal family.

A major reason for Kamran’s unwillingness to hand over his troops at this crucial juncture of Gurkani history is often stated to be his war with the Persians. The Kannuj conflict could have inevitably reduced his numbers or worse resulted in the loss of his whole army leaving his own territories vulnerable as well as increased the distance for an effective counter strike in the event the Persians had invaded.

Humayun himself is believed by many scholars to have further soured the relationship when in the initial stages of his negotiations with Kamran, blinded by his own pride, he  had rejected the prince’s proposal to command the combined armies then at the last minute appointed, Haider Mirza, a lesser prince and his cousin as the supreme commander. A desperate but careless decision that may have further incised Kamran’s hostility towards Humayun and degraded the brotherly bond that ultimately reached its breaking point in the city of Lahore after Humayun’s route at Kannuj.

At Khushab where a road forked for Kabul and Sindh, the two brothers had parted, bitter and resentful.

Penning down her memories years later at the behest of the emperor Akbar who wished to chronicle the era of his father, Gulbadan Begum, Babur’s youngest daughter and an eye witness to the feud that developed between the brothers, was to write in detail of very minor incidence that started the civil war between the princes and left the royal family itself divided.

On reaching Lahore, narrates Gulbadan, a city overflowing with Gurkani refugees fleeing from the forces of the victorious Sher Shah, after the battle of Kannuj had made the Afghans overlords of Hindustan once more in 1540 A.D., Kamran and Humayun in those desperate times with the danger of the Afghans looming large over their heads, had argued intensely about the future of the Gurkani nation yet unable to come to terms had ultimately decided to part ways with their respective followers very near to exchanging blows with one another.

Militarily and financial more strong than his brother at the time, Kamran had violently objected to Humayun’s plans for taking up residence in Badakshan or venturing anywhere near his territory of Kabul – fearful by his right as emperor Humayun would dislodge him from his rightful inheritance and invite an invasion of the territories by the Afghan Sher Shah Sur, hell bent on eradicating Humayun from the face of the earth.

Notes the historian Dr. Tripathi who viewed Karman’s growing hostility not as treachery on the part of the prince but that of a statesman out to appease a strong enemy:

“Kamran was not all hostile to Humayun during the early ten years of the latter’s reign. It was only after the prince had lost all hope in his brother, did he decide to part ways to save whatever was left of the Gurkani realm”.

Dr. Tripathi’s view, however, is not shared by other scholars who on the contrary see Kamran’s motives no matter how practical they might have appeared at the time as self centered, conceited and completely in the wrong. For as a prince it had been his solemn duty to support his emeperor and brother in the moment of a national crisis – and in the same tone blame Humayun for not heeding the words of his advisers and ordering Kamran’s execution there and then as a traitor to the throne, which perhaps may have saved him many years of his exile.

Insecure over losing his own territories, Kamran had opposed Humayun at every turn from venturing near  Kabul. During Humayun’s war with Husen Arghun in Sindh he allied himself with the chieftain by wedding his daughter Mah-chuchak.

Kamran’s unfounded insecurity of losing his own territories was to ultimately become pivotal for inflaming the hostility between the brothers and a fear that witnessed him embark on a series of corrupted acts in an attempt to keep Humayun away from his inheritance.

During Humayun’s exile in Sindh, historical records indicate, the prince had joined forces with Husen Argun, a powerful chieftain at war with Humayun (see Farbound.Net snippet: 15 years of Humayun’s exile on a Google Map) and in the same time frame attempt to proclaim himself emperor of what remained of the Gurkani realm in Afghanistan.

Later, he had virtually forced an exhausted and broken Humayun to flee to Persia and with his departure put under house arrest Hindal and several other members of his relatives, reducing their privileges and taking possession of their properties. His rule had increasingly becoming more oppressive towards his nobles and subjects – many of whom on Humayun’s return had readily change sides in the war that had been fought between the brothers from 1545 A.D. to the closing of 1551 A.D.(see Farbound.Net snippet: Wars of Humayun).

A eight year long feud that had eventually seen, Humayun, as the chosen heir and successor of Babur gradually wining over the Gurkani people of Afghanistan making Kamran’s position increasingly difficult. Yet a war that the prince exhibiting an enormous tenacity and power of attracting nobles and commoners to fight under his banner had continued to wage against his brother’s larger forces, reclaiming back the city of Kabul thrice, before his final defeat and capture.

Describing the long feud between the brothers in picturesque detail, the Humayun Nama by Gulbadan Begum, recounts several encounters and the numerous atrocities committed by both sides as Humayun at one point had matched Kamran’s brutal tactics inch for inch. Pages from 16th century manuscript specifically reveal Kamran’s desperate attempts and cruelties, his murder of Humayun’s paternal uncle, his daring escapes and raids, his scandalous proposal to Haram Begum and his temporary reconciliation with Humayun during which the prince had submitted to his brother’s proposed terms of surrender but finding his privileges greatly curtailed as punishment had initiated another bout of resistance till finally had come about the accidental death of their youngest brother Hindal by the hands of a solider of Kamran – turning the sentiments of the royal family against him.

Under pressure from nobles and soldiers whose families had suffered grievously from Kamran’s violence in the eight year long feud, Humayun ultimately ordered the blinding of Kamran – a common punishment reserved for traitors in the medieval age.

Towards the end of the eight year long feud as Humayun had gained the upper hand, alienating Kamran from both resources and allies, in a final desperate attempt the prince had fled to the court of Salim Shah, the successor of Sher Shah Sur, seeking refuge and aid, however scorned by the indifferent king who reserved no love for the Timurids, he had been forced to make his way back leading to his betrayal and capture enroute by the local chieftain Adam Ghakkar who had brought him back to Humayun practically bound in chains.

In the military trial held to ascertain the prince’s fate, Kamran’s brutal tactics of punishing the families of nobles and soldiers in an attempt to stem their desertion to Humayun during the war between the brothers, had ultimately become a critical factor demanding his immediate execution as a traitor to the throne.

Humayun precariously close to losing the support of his nobles yet possibly still attached to the brotherly sentiments he once felt towards Kamran had negotiated and ordered his blinding instead – a punishment that had been carried out by piercing Kamran’s eyes with the sharp end of a spear and then pouring salt and lime into the wound.

Captured and blinded as a traitor to the throne, Kamran is believed to have lived out his remaining days with his young son and wife, Mah-chuchak Begum Arghun, far from the Gurkani court. Breathing his last a year after the death of his brother, Humayun, in 1556.

What can be said of Kamran’s character gleaning facts from his discourses and actions as he is appeared in the different stages of Humayun’s life and with a degree of certainty is that prince by nature was not born to be deceitful or cunning nor was he even remotely ambitious enough to be interested in usurping his brother’s throne.

Like Humayun, Kamran had felt a deep attachment towards his brothers and family evident from Gulbadan’s recollection of his breaking down into tears on hearing of the accidental death of the youngest brother Hindal and the care and sanctuary he had extended to Humayun’s son and his nephew, Akbar, during his father’s exile, barring aside the one incident in which he supposedly had him exposed on the battlements to prevent his father’s artillery from bombarding the fortifications.

Although Kamram’s behavior towards the common nobles and his subjects is considered to have been just the opposite of Humayun’s liberal and clement policies, growing up alongside Humayun and as his brother, Kamran true intentions in the feudal Gurkani times, very likely had been to govern his own domain independently under the imperial banner. An arrangement Humayun had been content with and never objected to. In fact true to Babur’s words, Kamran had indeed proved himself to be the prince Humayun could depend, on when he had marched down from Kabul to curb Hindal’s rebellion.

However, the turn in Gurkani fortunes at the hands of Sher Shah, the loss of territory and shrinking resources meant Humayun may likely have superseded Kamran’s rule over Kabul to which the prince had objected. Kabul and Khandhar had been bestowed to him by his father Babur, and he seems to have a deep and selfish attachment over his territories – the complex situation had put pressure on the brotherly bond that had eventually led to the splintering of the Timurid family.

Given amiable circumstances, there is a good chance both Humayun and Kamran may have likely coexisted peacefully, reigning supreme in their individual realms. In her translation of the Humayun Nama by Gulbandan Begum, Annet.S. Beveridge was to remark: Kamram never made his own memoirs or else we may have come to know of how be viewed the events that unfolded during a stormy phase of his life.


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