Illustration sourced: Humayun rides back from Persia accompanied by a 14,000 Persian army. Humayun’s mongoloid features, evident of his Mongol origins. Like his father Babur, Humayun was a distant descendant of the Mongol Genghis Khan, and is described by the Persian historian Firishta (Muhammad Qasim Hindu Shah, 1560-1620), who lived during the time of his son the emperor Akbar, as a cultured and mild mannered man of bronze complexion. The word Mughal (that has widely come to describe Babur and Humayun’s bloodline)is in reality a misnomer. In ancient times Mughals represented any ruthless adventurer, the emperors referred to themselves as the Gurkani. Illustration soured, Wikipedia.
In the spring of 1553, somewhere in the region of Rothas, now in present day Punjab, Pakistan, an emperor had started long and hard into the distance contemplating the fate of a royal prince who had been his prisoner for a while. The treacherous prince had turned against him when he had been down and out on his luck, plotted to have him arrested and assassinated, and repeatedly tested and punished him for the promise he made to his father come what may he would not shed the blood of his own kin.
But instead of the smoldering fury of vengeance that his Mongol ancestors had been notorious for and bestowed with the supreme power to order his death with a wave of the hand, the emperor had wondered if he had the power to pardon the prince one last time against the advice of his ministers – and even if it had not been the first time the prince had so grievously wronged him and he had forgiven the prince.
What had stopped the emperor in his tracks from spontaneously pardoning the prince this time round had been the murderous rage he had seen in the eyes of his loyal commanders. To teach a lesson to the soldiers who had sided with the emperor, the prince had committed numerous atrocities against their families when they had not been in a position to defend them, and they in turn had been furious with him.
Listening to their heated words for what had seemed like an eternity, and realizing how precariously close he was to having his own men desert him, the emperor had weighed his options carefully and after a while, swallowing the lump that swelled in his throat pronounced with a heavy heart: Let my brother’s life be spared but blind him and send him to Mecca so he may not trouble us anymore.
Humayun, the second
Mughal Emperor. Born, 1508 – Death by accident, 1556.
Largely remembered today as an unfortunate emperor who lost his empire, Humayun was a lesser known regent of world history whose fame lies largely restricted to India, Pakistan and Gurkani history. He is credited with the construction of Din Panah (Old Fort, New Delhi, India) and heavily influencing the Gurkani empire (wrongly cited as the Mughal empire) with Persian customs and ideas that would lead to the development of Gurkani art and architecture. The historian Elphinstone described him as a man who was by nature neither cunning nor cruel and in the event had he been a limited monarch in Europe would have been no more treacherous or bloody than Charles II.
Race: Turko-Mongol – a Mongol people settled in parts of the present day countries of Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and (more specifically) Uzbekistan who subsequently adopted Islam and Turkish customs while retaining their Mongol identity.
Ancestry: Genghis Khan – Chagtai Khan – Qarchar Barlas – Timurlane – Miran Shah – Umar Shaikh Mirza II- Babur
Direct lineage: House of Timur
Born: 6th March, 1508. Died: 27th January, 1556
Personality: A cultured gentleman.
Trait: Soldier emperor.
Strength: Compassion, Courage, Endurance.
Weakness: Lack of foresight, trusting nature, inexperience.
Siblings: Kamran Mirza (brother), Askari Mirza (brother), Hindal Mirza (brother), Suleiman Mirza (cousin), Yadgar Nasir Mirza (cousin), Masuma Sultan Begum (sister), Gulbadan Begum (sister), Gulrukh Begum (sister), Gulchehra Begum (sister).
Seraglio: Hamida Banu Begum, Gulbarg Begum and four lesser wives.
Chief consort: Bega Begum.
The Turco-Mongol regent that was Mirza Nasir-ud-din Baig Muhammad Khan Humayun more commonly known as the second Mughal emperor was a remarkable man of his age, even if many of the events that happened in his short and tragic life turned out to be no different from what was already a part and parcel of the brutal and barbaric times of the medieval world – an era so besotted with violence, treachery and wars of successions that its vast web of interlocking years, lies thick with stories of brother betraying brother, king losing their kingdoms and political intrigues.
Chivalrous, gallant and compassionate in equal measures and known among his Turki peers as the Insan-e-Kamil or the perfect gentleman owing to his stress on etiquettes, manners and fair play at all times, this strongest and ablest of all his father’s sons had been nothing short of a fairy tale prince and a fighting emperor of his time by the end of whose short reign the Gurkani empire of the Turco-Mongols had once more been entrenched into the soil of Hindustan after their complete annihilation as a power at the hands of their arch rivals the Pashutan Afghans.
Ascending the throne at the age of twenty three with neither the gifted qualities of a natural conqueror or the hard gained wisdom of an experienced statesman the mild mannered Mongol regent who had once expressed his desire to retire even before his career stared, had been embattled right from the beginning with events that had sapped his energy and found him wanting in several departments.
In his short lifetime, that eventually came to an abrupt end with a tumble down the staircase of his favourite study tower at the young age 47, (see Farbound.Net story: Was the emperor Humayun murdered?) he had faced the age old problems of medieval kings in keeping feudal age nobles appeased and in his favor, fended off invasions, put down rebellions, put up with treachery from unexpected corners at the most vulnerable moments, yet surprisingly, done a commendable job of keeping much of his father’s expansive domain and his principles of government intact for a good part of his reign till he had been pushed out of his inheritance by an opponent wiser, older and more favored by fortune on the field of battle.
Then when it had seemed a cruel fate stood poised to turn him into an obscurity, made his comeback after a long period of fifteen years in exile to leave behind an incredible story of the courage and endurance of a regent who despite suffering the worst of indignities and treachery to befall a man, had held fast to his greatest virtue of mercy, as much as for the goodness in his heart, as for the promise he made to his father.
Though often regarded as a weak link that bridged two great regents of the Gurkani Empire, namely his warrior father Babur and his more illustrious son Akbar, Humayun none the less occupies a very important place in the line of kings. Reigning during a turbulent time when the Turcko-Mongol’s hold over their unconsolidated domain had been a shaky one and every bitter step an experience to learn from, his successes and failures would eventually form the foundation for his son Abkar to build his vast realm and leave his legacy as the greatest of the Gurkani regents. Suffice to say, had Humayun ceased to exist after his eviction from power, Akbar’s empire in Hindustan would never have come to be.
Humayun story is perhaps one of the most poignant and touching of all the five noted Gurkani emperors who struggled, fought and defended their right to rule with varying degree of success while suffering their brunt of misfortunes. Warm with sentimental bonds that exists between parents and children, between siblings and between spouses, Inspiring with heroic displays of courage and unselfish generosity. And ultimately heart breaking with its many sorrows and pains, his story is human drama at its tragic best as it recaptures the journey of a young prince with loft ideals of gallantry, virtue and honor, who slowly but surely is transformed by the realities of his time.
Humayun and Babur: Humayun shared a very close bond with his father Babur. The older regent may not only have influenced much of his character as per his desire to create a worthy heir but Humayun while growing up may have idolized his warrior father to the point of inheriting several of his traits including his love of opium. Describing the similarity between Humayun and Babur, the historian Lane Poole remarked: “The young prince was indeed a gallant and lovable fellow, courteous, witty and accomplished like his father (Babur), warm hearted and emotional, almost quixotic in his notion of honor, magnanimity, personally brave and capable of great energy on occasions. But as a king he was a failure. Click on the painting to know more.
“His presence opens our hearts like rosebuds and makes our eyes shine like torches. His conversations have an ineffable charm, and he realizes absolutely the ideals of perfect manhood.”
– the First Mughal emepror Babur, describing his son Humayun, memoirs of Babur
Born in the ancient city of Kabul, now the capital city of war torn Afghanistan, Humayun was the lady Maham and the Turki chieftain Babur’s first born and a proud descendant of the Timurid dynasty with a lineage that through his father could be traced back to Timurlane of Samarkhand, and farther beyond to the great Mongol warlord Genghis Khan himself.
Babur had first met Maham, the descendant of a pious saint in 1506 at the prosperous city of Herat some 662 modern miles west of Kabul, and possibly wed her the very same year as he had been a widower for a while and keen on getting on with his life with the beautiful and equally educated Maham – his fourth wife in a line of three other Timurid women who died early in his life having left him no heir, and later his chief and favorite queen as he wed other women in accordance to the custom of polygamy that prevailed in the patriarchal Timurid society at the time, allowing men to live with multiple partners. A practice that had been a key feature of many ancient societies in the east, notably among regents, where it had been common for several reasons including high mortality rates of both infants and mothers, political alliances and sometimes as the irrefutable sign of wealth and power.
On the 6th of March, 1508, the day of Humayun’s birth, Babur is recorded to have been a small time chieftain of not much historic importance ruling over a territory that may likely have included Kabul and Ghazni in eastern Afghanistan. Although he had proved his worth as a capable warrior and earned his fame as the only man in history to conquer the large and fabled city of Samarkhand, Persia (present day Iran) with a far inferior force than any other conqueror ever would, he none the less at this stage had been an insignificant figure uncertain of the future ahead and the appearance of a son in his life had quickly become an unrivaled cause of rejoicement erupting not just from the sentiments of becoming a father but also the statesman that he was, for one very significant reason.
For as an ambitious and determined man with dreams of living behind a mark in history, it had been crucial for Babur to ensure his hard earned achievements did not end with his death but could be carried forward and built upon by an heir apparent and there could have been no better candidate than one of his own bloodline that too a male heir which Humayun simply by being born into his household had accomplished.
Thus at the prince’s birth, observed Dr. S.K Banerjee (a reader at the Lucknow University, India, called upon by his educated knowledge of the emperor to write a book describing the Humayun Padshah by the same name, a literary composition that emerged out of his thesis approved by the London university in 1927), an elated Babur had named his infant boy as the fortunate one (which in Persian meant Humayun) and organizing a lavish celebration granted permission to his kinsmen and nobles to address him as Padshaha or King of Kabul (an elevated status from his previous title of Mirza ).
“In March, 1508 A. D., the birth of a son established his position considerably. He was not to be looked upon as a mere adventurer who conquered, established peace and order for a while, and then sank into oblivion. The birth of a son ensured the continuity of his line and the principles of his government.”
– Dr. S.K Banerjee, in his book, Humayun Padshah.
Inspite of having three more sons from other wives later in his life, and to a large degree remain impartial to them all, Babur continued to fondle a deep affection for Humayun for not just had he been the son of his chief and favorite queen Maham but the son who heralded in his fortunes. A learned and cultured regent much fascinated with Persian customs, the dotting Babur, not only ensured his eldest received grooming in etiquettes and manners befitting a prince of his house but also the required education of his time (which likely as per Islamic traditions begun at the age of four) in the disciplines of languages, primarily that of Turki, Persian and Arabic – a language in which the holy Quaran was compiled and deemed important for that very purpose with Turki being the prince’s household language and Persian the language for court and diplomacy.
Humayun is also known to have picked up the native language of Hindustan, presumably an older version of the present day language of Hindi and Urdu (language of the Hindustani Afghans), as well as developed interest in mathematics, philosophy, astronomy and astrology later in his life. His passion for astronomy comes to the fore in the design of a large and lavish tent with twelve divisions corresponding to the twelve signs of the Zodiac, each with a lattice to let in the light.
Then being the passionate bibliographer, natural writer, voracious reader and great collector of books that he was, strived to see his son pick up his educated habits by gifting him with volumes from captured libraries, his own compositions and like a wiser older indulgent father taken to correct spellings, offer suggestions and his frank honest opinions – a glimpse of which has come down to us as a reference in the autobiography of this great regent (see Farbound.Net snippet: Baburnama) where he can be observed guiding his son in letter writing.
“You certainly do not excel in letter writing, and you fail chiefly as you have too great a desire to show off your acquirements. In future write unaffectedly, clearly and use plain words. So will the trouble to writer and thy readers be less.“
– Babur instructing his son Humayun, Baburnama – Memoirs of Babur.
Molded by the heavy influence of this educated warrior king during the formative years, and then, after a point of time growing up idolizing him as many sons do even today, the mild and obedient by nature young prince, had inherited many of his father’s traits – including his tolerant view towards religions (particularly that of Islam), his deverish like generosity, as well as his virtue of clemency for which the prince has come to be better known (albeit, he lacked the older regent’s determination to some extent).
Indication of Humayun idolizing his warrior father, materializes in many forms during his lifetime, but perhaps the one that attests to the deep love and attachment he felt for his father, even years after Babur had died, is a small embed in the Baburnama, describing the first day the prince’s beard was trimmed along with his father’s. The example though of a very negligible nature stands out for the fact that though it seems to have been that of Babur, it was actually inserted by Humayun in pious imitation of his father’s writing style in 1554, as he (now a grown man himself having faced his own turmoils) was about to set out for Hindustan to recover his lost empire, one his father had struggled to built. The sentimental bond may also explain why, Humayun’s as emperor, himself, hardly made any changes to Babur’s policies of government or neglected his father’s wish regarding his brothers – leading Dr. S.K Banerjee (author Humayun Padshah) to believe, his domestic role was pre-determined by Babur.
Babur’s chief consort and Humayun’s mother.
A Shia by birth, Maham was an exalted lady of her time, highly educated and of distinguished lineage. Related to Sultan Husain Bai-qara, the Timurid ruler of Herat, and a descendant of Ahmad Turbat-i-Jam, a famous saint of Khurasan, she was an influential figure in both Babur and Humayun’s life. Read more
A strong willed, influential and highly educated woman of her time, Maham may very likely have been of Persian origin evident by her education, disposition, linage and her presence at Herat where Babur had first met her. Compared to his other wives, she was his equal in status and lineage, and a match for him in his educated habits and passions.
Her power is attested by the fact, that of all the Gurkani queens she was the only one to sit on the throne of Delhi beside her husband (Babur) and exercised considerable influence in his largely Sunni Timurid court, and later during the reign of Humayun by her involvement in all important domestic affairs including the administration of the realm. In fact it was on her advice Humayun organized grand festivities to impress his neighboring kingdoms and keep his detractors quiet, as these festivities were a subtle reflection of his power, wealth and status, and went a long way in impressing Bhadur Shah of Gujarat with whom Humayun was trying to maintain diplomatic relations, though it was of a fragile nature and later resulted in a war.
Besides this, Maham’s distinguished lineage and high birth also gave Humayun considerable mileage as a regent, for in his time a mother’s status (like the father’s) mattered when it came to gaining the loyalty of his subjects – the people were more accustomed to be ruled and commanded by men of high birth than of common origin. Something Humayun’s half brother Kamran did not posses, for in the initial part of this governorship in Kabul there were dissensions, speculated to be due to his mother’s (Gulrukh Begchik) low birth. However, Maham was a Shia and her considerable influence among Babur’s large group of Sunni nobles is often stated to be one of the reason behind the Khalifa’s (Babur’s trusted friend and advisor for 35 years) objection to Humayun’s coronation and instead preferring the noble Mahdi Khwaja who incidentally was a Sunni like him. A hint the Shia Sunni rivalry that dominated most of the Islamic world was very much part of the Timurid society as well.
Regarding Humayun’s eventually ascension to the throne one of the earliest translators of the Humayun-Nama, Annette. S. Beveridge, seems to have firmly held the opinion Maham had a hand in Humayun’s return to Agra from Badakhshan and his eventual coronation – although her view has been opposed by other scholars and historians, who deny any involvement on the part of Maham. Other than Humayun, Maham also had three other children, all of whom are believed to have expired in their infancy and a fact that reveals itself in the act of Babur declaring her to become the mother and caretaker of Hindal and later Gulbadan, who yet were expected (their mother was pregnant at the time) and even though their biological parent Dildar Agacha had been very much alive and wedded to him. In her relation to Humayun who was her only and eldest child, Maham was the typical dotting mother and greatly fussed over him, highly apparent from her famous discourse with Babur, during the time of Humayun’s life threatening fever, in which she hotly accused her husband of not doing enough for their son as he had other sons to bear the loss, unlike her, whose only child was Humayun.
Also like all mothers she had been eager to see her son get wed at the right age and welcomed the birth of a grandson who would become his successor, and in this regard is known to have been frequently involved in finding suitable women for him. Although she did not live to see the event she most desired, the birth of Humayun’s male successor (Akbar was born roughly ten years after her death).
Maham is believed to not have ventured outside Agra much after the passing away of her husband Babur, other than on a pilgrimage to Mecca as per the customs of the time. Her illness towards the end stage of her life, persuaded Humayun to hastily return from his stay in Gwalior and busy himself in organizing the best physicians for his mother and caring for her. Maham is believed to have expired on the 8th of May, 1532 – ailing from some form of abdominal problems.
The compatible and happy married life of Maham and Babur had once led Annette. S. Beveridge to compare the relation with that of Ayesha and Mahammad. Babur’s liberal view towards religion, one that Humayun inherited is evident by his marriage to Maham. Babur was a Sunni while Maham, a Shia.
Making his debut in the battle of Hisar Firoza, at the age of eighteen, Humayun had progressed his career as a commander, by volunteering to ease his father’s burden by undertaking campaigns in the east.
From Babur too, Humayun picked-up not just his love for opium but, maturing under the physically tough regent accustomed to personally lead men in battle, acquired the skills for combat and the endurance of a hardened solider, and as his father had gradually begun to expand his footing in Hindustan, he, as a responsible son and prospective heir, had stepped in to share his father’s burdens.
Some sixteen years after the birth of Humayun, Babur receiving a plea of help from the Afghan nobles Daulta Khan and Alam Khan Allauddin Lodi, to support their cause against their Sultan, the Pashutan Ibrahim Lodi in Hindustan had invaded the Punjab in 1524. His first time stay in Hindustan was short but he returned again in 1526 to subdue Daulat Khan who had turned against Alam Khan Allauddin, and ended up warring against Ibrahim Lodi, and on the later’s subsequent defeat taken to successfully establishing his supremacy in what is now the northern parts of modern India and Pakistan.
Making his debut in the battle of Hisar Firoza at the age of eighteen with a decisive win over the Afghan noble Hamid Khan, Humayun had progressed his career in war as commander of the inner right wing of his father’s army in the hard fought first battle of Panipat, (instrumental in paving the way for Gurkani supremacy in Hindustan). Besieging the second Afghan capital at Agra, during which he is known to have defeated the forces of the King of Gwalior Vikamrajit (an ally of the Afghans) and acquire the Kohinoor diamond in gratitude for sparing the slain king’s family. Participating in the desperate battle of Kanwah against the formidable Rajput Rana Sunga (one the Gurkanis nearly lost after suffering an initial defeat). Then volunteering to ease his father’s pressure by heading east to subdue the enemy in what is now present day Kanpur.
Once the newly conquered provinces had become somewhat stable, Babur faced with the unwillingness of his hardy Badakhshani soldiers to linger around in Hindustan and in order to retain their services, had transferred him, their commander, to the remote outpost of Badakhshan in Afghanistan that had been his fief since the age of twelve. Returning to the region after an absence of two to three years, Humayun had resumed care of its administration and at one point of time organized an expedition into Persian territory, conquering Hisar and Qabadian, north of the Amu Darya (Oxyus river, Afghanistan) – becoming the only Gurkani regent among his long line of descendants to extend the borders outside India.
But the remote outpost of Badakhshan this time around had also made him despondent and in the vicinity of 1528, heartbroken over the death of his own first born son, Alam Shah, the prince had expressed his desire to retire from the political scene in a letter to his father, who, naturally concerned over his sudden moroseness, as any father would, after watching his son come of age to take over the reigns of his work, had chided him immediately to bar such thoughts from his mind, and in his own fashion taken to reviving him out of his gloomy state by offering some practical advice – explains Dr. S.K. Banerjee (author Humayun Padshah), retirement was a fault of sovereignty and Babur a weary adventurer with a thirty year record of constant warfare under his belt at this late hour had undoubtly been eager to hand over the reigns to a successor, speculated to be Humayun.
Babur’s letters to Humayun.
Babur writes: “The world is his who exerts himself. Fail not to commit yourself strenuously to meet every emergency…and through God’s grace you will defeat your enemies, take their territory and make your friends happy by overthrowing their foes. Do not fail to make the most of an opportunity that presents itself. Indolence and ease agree ill with kingship”.
And in response to Humayun’s desire to retire to a life of solitude: “In your letter you talk of being alone. Solitude is a flaw in kingship, as has been said. If you are fettered, resign yourself, but if you are a lone rider, your reins are free. There is no bondage like the bondage of kings. In kinship it is improper to seek solitude.”
Humayun’s visit to Agra, however, has often been a matter of contest between scholars. Annette. S. Beveridge, one of the earliest translators of the Humayun-nama, believed the prince’s arrival had been unexpected and so sudden, the surprised older regent had explode in anger over his son’s irresponsible act of leaving the frontier unguarded and jeopardizing his master plan that incidentally had not been the conquest of Hindustan alone but Central Asia with Kabul in the center, for which he had placed his son Humayun in Badakhshan and Kamran in Kabul to prepare a base for mounting operations. Beveridge, held the opinion, Humayun’s return may likely may been orchestrated by his mother Maham. Babur had been ailing for a while, and in the event of his death, Humayun’s presence nearby, ensured him successor. Percontra to the opinion, Dr. S.K. Banerjee (author Humayun Padshah) supporting the documents of Haider Mirza, a contemporary chronicler, purports Humayun was not irresponsible. He had made adequate preparations for the defense of the frontier province as well as allied the realm with the local inhabitants before his departure – and his arrival had been much appreciated by Babur. Further more when the time for Humayun’s return to Badakhshan came, he had bluntly refused to which his father never objected.
“The feasts given by the king on the arrival of Humayun whom he acclaimed an incomparable companion is proof, if any further proof be needed, of Babur’s approval of his son’s return.”
– Dr. S.K. Banerjee, Humayun Padshah.
Babur performing the transfer of illness: Perhaps no other event in the life of the father and son amplify the closeness more than the medieval practice of transferring illness by prayer that Babur is said to have undertaken by offering his own life in exchange for his son. Click on the painting to know more.
In exchange for the lonely outpost in the midst of the snowy hills of Afghanistan, Humayun for a while had happily settled for the governorship of Sambhal, a region that lay not far from Agra, where his father resided, and which housed the Babri Masjid, a historic mosque constructed by Babur that stands to this very day. But within six months of taking up his new residence chronicles of the era indicate the prince had been taken gravely ill with a high fever that by the anxiety of his parents, may very likely have been quite life threatening.
The fever, likely brought about, by the hot and unhealthy climate of the Indian plains, the Turcko-Mongols with roots dug deep into the cold and harsh regions of Afghanistan so often complained about, had refused to subside even when placed under the care of the royal physicians at his father’s citadel in Agra, and perhaps as the medieval texts suggest, may indeed have been the end of him, had not occurred one of most endearing acts to come out of medieval times.
Ever the deverish, the bereaved father, Babur, at this hopeless juncture had prayed for a miracle by staking his own life in exchange for his son’s recovery.
The Humayun-nama, a biography of Humayun penned by his half sister Gulbadan Begum describes the poignant scene in detail which begins with Maham hotly accusing her husband with the words: “Do not be troubled about my son. You are a king, what grieves have you? You have other sons. I sorrow because I have only this one”. To which, Babur replies: “Maham, although I have other sons, I love none as I love your Humayun”. Then circling the deathbed of Humayun three times, which the Humayun-nama recalls, in extremely hot weather, and with his own heart and liver burning from his ongoing illness, utter: “If a life may be exchanged for a life. I who am Babur, give my life and being for Humayun”.
Coincidence or an actual blessing, while Babur had withered (the older regent is said to have been in bad health for quite some time) Humayun had gradually recovered, and upon regaining his strength within a few days of his feverish ordeal, overcome with the light hearted spirit of his youth, the prince had embarked on the conquest of the impregnable fortress city of Kalinjar (Uttar Pradesh, India) that many times in the past had thwarted the ambitions of conquerors with its battlements and defenses – perhaps with a mind, to cheer-up his father with a new acquisition and reciprocate the love the older regent had so generously showered upon him not long before.
However, within a few days into the siege, word had reached him, his father’s health instead of becoming better had denigrated for the worse and his presence immediately required. Rushing back to Agra to find his father paler than before and on his very deathbed, he had broken down into tears, heavy with the feeling of guilt of having left his side (both Babur and Humayun are known to have been very free with their emotions). But Babur happy to not mourn his eldest and favorite son, had welcomed him back and gathering his trusted nobles around him as eye witnesses, abdicated the throne in his favor (Humayun was actually coronated on 23rd December, 1530). His iconic last words. Do nothing with your brothers even if they may deserve it (Babur died on 26th December, 1530).
The Timurid custom of primogeniture.
Babur’s act of choosing a successor has often been regarded as a break in traditions. For centuries the Timurids had adhered to the custom of primogeniture, in which the domain of a regent had been divided among all male issues. While in theory this custom may likely have sprouted from the worries of anxious parents hesitant of watching their sons decline into an abyss of intrigue, bloodshed and slaughter for kingship, for most of its known span of existence seems to have created the opposite effect with researched history revealing the custom had only once been honored that too right at its start during the time of the sons of Genghis Khan, where a peaceful division of an empire had come to be.
Despite being selected by his own father as successor, Humayun’s ascendancy had been opposed by his father’s long time friend and trusted advisor the Khalifa – a man who had pledged his support by Babur’s bedside, then even as the older regent lived, retracted his word.
The Khalifa, a powerful and influential personage of the Timurid court, highly decorated in valor and conduct, was Babur’s trusted friend and advisor for a great many years and fulfilled his duties in the role of prime minister as well as the head of the religious order of the medieval Islamic kingdom – where, like most other realms of its time, state and religion happened to be intertwined, and on many occasions regents themselves required to beget the approval of these heads to further their ambitions.
The grizzled old man had not only been quick to retract his support to Babur of having his eldest and beloved son proclaimed emperor, inspite of being present during the private ceremony, but taken the matter further ahead by eliminating all his other sons as candidates, in preference of the lesser known noble Mahdi Khwaja who had been Babur’s brother-in-law, and the Khalifa’s close friend for many years.
A capable commander and a man of good connections, the Sayyid noble was a staunch Sunni like the Khalifa himself and his marriage to Babur’s sister Khanzada Begum had made him a possible candidate for the throne in the eyes of the Khalifa, even though he did not directly belong to the Timurid line, and Babur at this stage had three more sons to succeed him in the event of Humayun’s death as well as nephews and in-laws of Timurid blood.
Not surprisingly Mahdi Khwaja, while heartily agreeing to the prospect, may very likely have seen the Khalifa’s decision as an act of treachery for after one particular meeting in his quarters with the minister, he is believed to have expressed his desire to have the old man flayed alive on becoming regent in the presence of an observer (possibly to prevent his own usurpation in the future by the old man). Though the disclosure had prompted the Khalifa to once again back Humayun within four days of his decision, and for very prudent reasons, his eccentric choice at this crucial hour has remained a puzzle with speculations ranging from the plausible to the absurd.
Some of the theories regarding the bizarre decision of the Khalifa has been stated to have stemmed from the Turki-Iranian rivalry that existed in the court at the time specially between Humayun’s mother, Maham, a Shia Islamist who as Babur’s chief queen exercised considerable influence among the large Sunni nobles of which the Khalifa was the head. Humayun’s irresponsible act of plundering the treasury of Delhi on his way to Badakhshan – an act that compromised the high moral value displayed by the Gurkanis for both consolidating their rule in the newly conquered territories and proving their superiority over their early foes the Afghans. And Humayun’s leave from his father’s side as Babur had been bedridden. Though the simple act of usurping the throne with a puppet regent, is also a strong contender.
The coronation had eventually come to be in December, 1530, with Humayun signaling his ascension with a lavish display of generosity- treating both the Khalifa and Khawaja with kindness, who are known to have lived their full lives, without any kind of reprisal from the new emperor.
Four day after the death of Babur, on the 30th of December, 1530, Humayun had begun his reign with a prudent display of generosity, mirroring the deverish spirit of his own father Babur, with a boat loaded with gold, lavish distributions, retainment of old hands in their official posts, hike in the salaries of his loyal followers, and newly minted coins proclaiming his rule as emperor.
To quell the fears of his half brothers, as traditionally the ascendancy of a new regent to the throne besides breeding insecurities also came with new rules, especially in this case were they all had been Timurid princes with a long history of primogeniture, and there existed the chance, Humayun right upon his coronation may have done away with them or in the least reduced their status, he, on the contrary, had generously showered titles and territories upon them, an act that is believed to have flowed out of his brotherly affections reinforced with Babur’s last words of preventing dissensions among the brothers and keeping the realm united.
His half brothers, Kamran and Askari, born of the same mother, Gulrukh Begchik (Babur married her in 1510, two years after Humayun’s birth) were both high born Timurid princes and being the sons of the same king father no less deserving of their shares and due privileges, even if their mother Gulrukh Begchick was not as exalted as Humayun’s mother Maham, and may very likely have been of ordinary lineage – for Babur does not mention much of her in his memoirs.
During the reign of Babur, a father with a non preferential attitude when it came to dividing privileges among his sons, Kamran, six years younger to Humayun, as per his rank in the royal hierarchy, had been bestowed Kabul and Khandhar in Afghanistan by the father who had further expressed his intentions of enlarging the prince’s territories with other additions but had been unable to do so due to his critical illness and eventual death.
Thus upon his ascendancy to the throne, Humayun, partly out of his brotherly sentiments and to fulfill his father’s unrequited acts (the person he continued to honor through out his life) had raised no objection to Kamran’s hold over his provinces and most certainly intended to enlarge his domains. But for close to two long years, as he had let the formal proceedings linger in a state of dormancy, embroiled as he was in his own problems of sovereignty, the prince growing impatient with the delay (possibly insecure too over his brother’s intentions), and letting his restless Timurid spirit get the better of his wisdom, had taken matters into his own hand by forcibly acquiring possession of Lahore and evicting the region’s governor Mir Yunas Ali. (1532).
Though to Mir Yunas Ali, the region’s governor, (and perhaps to many other loyal nobles of the court) Kamran’s action had been a clear violation and an act of aggression, which by his right as emperor, Humayun, should have punished by having the prince imprisoned right there and then, he, upon returning to Agra had responded in just the opposite manner, by officially transferring the regions to his half brother, who greatly relieved at the outcome had reciprocated the generosity by immediately minting a set of coins commemorating the day (a set of coins that proclaimed Humayun to be the greater of the two) – and shortly also received the third addition of Hisar Firoza, (Humayun’s former fief, now in present day Haryana ) as a sign of Humayun’s goodwill to sooth his brother’s insecurity, and as per his new status of successor (in the absence of a son, Kamran had become Humayun’s next in line successor as per Timurid law) the permission to use the title Badshah.
Likewise to Askari, (Kamran’s blood brother), and his junior by eight years, Humayun bestowed his former fief of Sambhal and to Hindal, his youngest half brother by ten years, born of his stepmother, Dildar Agacha, (Babur’s third wife and also mother to Gulbadan Begum, later author of the Humayun-Nama, a history of Humayun’s reign) who he previously had left in charge of his fortress at Badakhshan, he conferred Babur’s favorite retreat of Alwar in modern day Rajasthan.
Humayun’s lavish display of generosity and the cessation of strategic territories to Kamran, particularly Hisar Firoza, has often been criticized by historians as a blunder that weakened his own position in terms of revenues and manpower. However, it is to be also noted, at the stage, future events that turned the brothers into bitter rivals had been unforeseen and unexpected as their bond since childhood had been very cordial, and the brothers much like in any family, reserved no ill will against one another.
Humayun’s brother Kamran Mirza: Born, 1514 – Died, 1557. Six years younger, the prince Kamran Mirza and Humayun may have shared the same father but each had displayed completely different character traits. Unlike Humayun, Kamran is thought to have been a haughty, cruel and impatient prince. Although his relationship with Humayun has often been painted wrong. Click on the painting to know more.
Contrary to the infamous image of Asiatic princes, notorious for waging wars among themselves, Humayun’s half brothers, had stood united with him for a long part of his reign, exhibiting no sign of hostility or a desire to usurp his throne.
If Babur’s impartial upbringing and the close relationship of the mothers in the harem who may very likely have discouraged intrigues (Hindal’s mother, Dildar Agacha is a noted example) had fostered a warm and sentimental bond between the siblings in their childhood, Humayun’s good natured brotherly feelings combined with his tactful handling of their spirited dispositions, had ensured its survival for a long time in their adulthood with neither Askari, Hindal or the most ambitious of the three, Kamran, exhibiting any sign of animosity or desire for a war of succession. Continuing with Babur’s policy, as Humayun had treated his siblings with respect and bestowed upon them their due rights and privileges according to their positions in the royal hierarchy, giving little ground for disaffections to grow, they in turn had fulfilled their duties and stood united with him against intriguing nobles, scheming relatives and external enemies.
While Kamran, as governor of the empire’s northern frontiers, had relieved Humayun of the additional pressure mounting out of the administration and defense of those far flung provinces, Askari and Hindal, had accompanied him on his many battles, supporting his endeavors with heroic display of gallantry and generalship.
Though the bond had eventually dissipated over irreconcilable misgivings later in their lives (specially between Kamran and Humayun), the relationship had indeed been a remarkable one of its time, and may likely have endured longer had it not been for intriguing nobles who successfully swayed Hindal, a disillusioned young man of nineteen ignorant of court politics, to rebel against Humayun, and pressure of the Afghan Sher Shah Sur, who ultimately can be said to have been the catalyst, instrumental in rupturing the Timurid family.
In fact even when their relationship had become bitterly strained in later years, there still remained heart warming instances of brotherly affection. Of the relationship of the brothers, noted the Indian historian Dr. Tripathi:
“Kamran during the first ten years of Humayun’s reign was not at all hostile. It was only after the battle of Kannuj, he appears to have lost faith in his brother and decided to sever ties to ensure his own survival. Askari never rebelled, he served his brother to the best of his ability. And Hindal was only a half hearted rebel. He left Humayun for some time but joined him as soon as he could, and thereof stayed loyal to the end of his life”.
– Dr. Tripathi, historian.
Even if, Humayun’s brother’s, defying their Asiatic impulses, had stood fast in his support, and ensured the continuity of Babur’s government vital for keeping the empire intact during his initial years as emperor, his reign still had not been free of dissensions and undisguised rebellions.
One of the primary problems that plagued Humayun at home, remarked Dr. S.K. Banerjee (author of Humayun Padshah) was the haughty and arrogant attitudes of the nobles of his court, particularly his high born relatives. Proud of their prowess and lineage, they disdained any form of authority over them, loved power above everything else, and preferred to act on their own accord – eager to command but not being commanded.
Petty with no larger ambitions than holding full autonomous power solely over their provinces, the powerful Timurid and Uzbek nobles of his court, no different from the Afghan courtiers of medieval Hindustan (whom they ironically disdained for the same vices), had been quick to intrigue and rebellion on the slightest grievance, especially in the reigns of untested regents – who if strong curbed their power and if weak suffered the loss of large domains from under their rule or worse their very thrones and lives.
Thus, if the objection of his father’s long time friend of thirty five years, the Khalifa, had been a sign of troubles to come even as the older regent lived, Babur’s death in 1530, had paved the way for other formerly loyal commanders to express their disdain and raise their standards in rebellion – chief among whom had been Humayun’s own brother-in-law Muhammad Zaman Mirza and his cousin Muhammad Sultan Mirza.
High borns and restless for power, the two bonafide Timurid princes of good standing and direct lineage that ran parallel to Babur’s family had openly rebuked Humayun’s ascendancy within a few months of his coronation, perhaps due to their reluctance to take orders from a younger man, but their first attempt had failed outright as they had eventually found themselves alone in the rebellion with no other nobles supporting their cause for the strong reason, Humayun was Babur’s legitimate successor and his generosity at the time of his coronation had won him their loyalty – a wise and prudent policy, Humayun continued throughout his reign, to keep his lesser nobles loyal and on his side. The policy only failed when it came to placate the high princes and his relatives.
Related to Humayun through his sister Masuma Sultan Begum, Zaman Mirza was Humayun’s brother in law, elder to him in age, and commander of Babur’s left wing – the bonafide Timurid noble of high lineage, thwarted Humayun’s expectations of a united family with his implacable hostility.
Of the two nobles, Humayun had been particularly found of Zaman Mirza, who was the husband of his elder sister Masuma Sultan Begum and by relation his brother-in-law. Drawing his lineage directly from the Timurid mainline, Zaman, an experienced noble of high standing, during Babur’s reign, had commanded the Gurkani army’s left wing, as Humayun had commanded the right, and just as Humayun had been rewarded for his meritorious gallantry so had Zaman been amply rewarded by the older regent who had not only given his daughter’s hand in marriage to the noble to cement the bond between the two Timurid lines but after his conquest of Hindustan allotted him with territories and privileges befitting his rank. Likewise, till Babur had been king, Zaman had remained loyal but with Humayun’s ascendancy, he had overlooked the family tie and taken to asserting his independence.
Zaman’s rebellion had come as a rude shock for Humayun, since the noble had been a relation but none the less, and possibly not wanting to offend his sister Masuma Sultan and stain his reign right at the start with the blood of his own relations, he had pardoned Zaman’s impetuous act (along with the other noble Sultan Mirza) without any punishment of kind, and far from even a mild expression of condemnation, allowed them to retain their ranks and privileges – further bestowing upon Zaman (on his surrender and plea of forgiveness) many gifts one of which had been the costliest tents of the time.
Yet when four year later in 1534, Zaman once again in cahoot with his former accomplice Sultan Mirza rebelled again this time drawing in another Timurd prince to their side, Humayun likely realizing the danger from the implacable nobles, had prudently imprisoned all three and sentenced them to be blinded – a fate Zaman is stated to have evaded by bribing the jailer and making his escape to the court of the Afghan king Bhadur Shah of Gujarat, a powerful enemy of the Gurkani realm.
Later in an attempt to avenge his sentence, Zaman Mirza, had instigated the Gujarat wars between Humayun and Bhadur Shah, destroying the young emperor’s diplomatic efforts at maintaining friendly relations, and eventually at the battle of Chausa, abandoned his post as commander of night watch, that led to the slaughter of the Turcko-Mongol army. While his accomplice Muhammad Sultan Mirza, Humayun’s cousin and the second traitorous noble, inspite of being blinded, had continued to plague Humayun’s reign through his sons, eventually deserting him for his arch rival Sher Shah Sur at Kannuj. Zaman Mirza is attested to have drowned at Chausa while trying to escape the Afghan onslaught. His presence in the battle field attests Humayun had forgiven his brother-in-law a third time, possibly at the behest of Masuma Sultan Begum.
Wars of Humayun: From 1531 to 1540 Humayun spend nine exhausting years sprinting from one corner of his domain to the other, putting down rebellions and defeating external enemies – a period that gradually saw him increase his intake of opium. Skeptical of enrolling men from Hindu kingdoms and having bestowed the province of Hisar Firoza to his brother Kamran (a region via which a military road connected his capital of Delhi to Afghanistan – from where the early Gurkani regents recruited most of their manpower), the wars steadily reduced his well trained army of veterans till its annihilation at the battle of Chausa. Forcing him to hastily recruit men from an inexperienced stock, leading to the second route at Kannuj. Humayun’s policy of warfare appeared to have been defensive other than offensive. He awaited a pretext for aggression then made his move – a typical strategy of many Islamic kingdoms of the time specially when warring among themselves. View the list of battles.
Quick to realize, he needed to consolidate his ascendancy to the throne with a military win to keep his detractors quiet and neighboring kingdoms from encroaching his territory, Humayun had looked towards the loyal army at his disposal and found its support.
Hailing from Central Asia, the mixed contingents of Chagtagis, Badakshanis, Uzbegs and Persians, Humayun inherited from his father along with the throne, were a hardy people whose martial prowess had not only been a great advantage over that of their Hindustani opponents at the stage but trained by the older regent himself to unleash havoc with a mix of ancestral Mongol cavalry techniques complimented with Persian artillery fire had forged them into an unstoppable fighting machine, that since the first victory at the battle of Panipat (that had paved the way for Gurkani supremacy), had repeatedly proved its valor not only against the larger numbers of Pashutan Afghans but the formidable Rajputs, a martial race who preferred death over surrender and whose women boldly sacrificed themselves on burning pyres after the death of their husbands.
High in morale and experienced commanders, during the time of Humayun, the reputation of the Gurkani war machine was such, that if in 1528 at the battle of Kanpur, their mere appearance had scattered an eastern confederacy of Afghans without a minor skirmish, at the battle of Chausa that would take place at the future date of 1532, even at their most deplorable state, a wise and qualified commander like Sher Shah Sur with tactically superior numbers had hesitated from launching a full frontal assault.
At the helm of this army, Humayun, a wise and competent commander himself for most of his reign, had practically overran his opponents.
In 1531 with a mind to take care of unfinished business and consolidate his rule with a military win to keep both his detractors quiet and neighboring kingdoms from encroaching his realm, Humayun had once more besieged the fortress city of Kalinjar that he not long before left subdued due to Babur’s illness and within a short span of time successfully forced the ancient and royal bloodline of the Chandel kings stationed within the impregnable fortress city to sue for peace, gaining political mileage, prestige and wealth inspite of not having actually conquered the fortress – for hitherto the marital Chandels had successful managed to thwart off the advances of almost all powerful invaders.
Then in the following year of 1532, he had dashed to meet a huge coalition of eastern Afghans drawn together in the name of national honor, under the banner of the warlord Mahamud Lodi, and soundly defeat them at the battle of Dadrah – stamping out once and for all the Bihari regent’s burning quest to oust the Turco-Mongols from power and bring back the supremacy of the Pashutan Afghans.
Mahamud Lodi, a brother of the late king Ibrahim Lodi, who Babur had defeated at Panipat, had been relentless in his plans of avenging his brother’s defeat. In 1526 few days after Panipat, he had formed an alliance with the Rajput Rana Sunga to stop the Gurkani (battle of Khanwa) but the death of the Hindu monarch later, had laid waste to his plans of following-up his aggressive policy with other military offenses and for a while he had disappeared from the scene. Then suddenly, after a spell of years, he had reemerged and created much disturbance in the newly conquered Gurkani territories till Babur had met him at the battle of Ghaghra in 1529 (the battle was fought on the banks of Ghaghra river, in present day Saran district, Bihar, India) and driven him into obscurity once again, temporarily pacified but not crushed.
In 1530 as Babur had expired and Humayun ascending the throne had found himself overwhelmed by a sea of administrative troubles, like all clever opponents quick to take advantage of the distractions of their foes, Mahamud had seized the opportunity to once again rally under his banner a huge army of Afghans (probably numbering around 30,000 – 35,000 men equipped with horses and amour) and marched out for the conquest of Gurkani lands. The invasion originating from the present day state of Bihar (India) had been so rapid, that in a short frame of time, the powerful army of Afghans under noted commanders like Sher Shah Sur had penetrated some 250 miles into Gurkani territory unchecked and unopposed – after forcing the garrison of the frontier outpost in Janpura, under the charge of Babur’s brother-in-law Junaid Barlas, an experienced commander, to retreat without giving battle.
Eventually at Dadrah, a village in the present day Barabanki district of Uttar Pradesh India, that lies some 39 kms from the modern city of Lucknow, Humayun (perhaps traveling from Kalinjar in Banda, Uttar Pradesh, India approximately 224 kms away) had met Mahamud in a battle that may have lasted a few hours, and so utterly routed his forces, that thereafter the Bihari regent is recorded to have relinquished his lead and retired to Patna (capital city of the Indian state of Bihar) where he spend his remaining twelve years in blissful isolation from prevailing events, living long enough to take some joy in the Gurkanis’ expulsion from power in 1540.
Qutb-ud-Din Bahadur Shah: Born, 1505- Murdered, 1537. Credited by historians as one among the most distinguished regents in the history of the Gujarat Sultanate, Bahadur’s 11 year reign prior to his wars with Humayun had ushered in a golden period for the region, witnessing some remarkable military successes against his fellow Afghans, martial Hindu Rajputs and the Portuguese. In his war against Humayun, Bahadur initially lost his domains of Gujarat and Malwa suffering a series of military defeats but later recaptured the regions after Askari’s mismanagement and Humayun’s departure. The war started due to Bahadur’s refusal to hand over the political exile, Muhammad Zaman Mira, deemed traitor by Humayun. Click on the painting to know more.
The hors concours of Humayun’s prowess, as a commander and solider, however, was his Gujarat wars against the formidable and warlike ruler Bahadur Shah, whose domain of Gujarat and Malwa he annexed within a year.
Roughly 10 years before the commencement of the Gujarat wars, Bahadur Shah had been a young and ambitious prince of energy and ability who had succeeded his father as the regent of the fertile and prosperous kingdom of Gujarat in 1526, shortly a few months after the historic battle of Panipat, in which he had not participated but watched the proceedings from the sideline, greatly awed by the valor of the Gurkani army that within hours had routed the forces of the powerful Afghan king Ibrahim Lodi, then proceeded to subdue a major part of Hindustan under their banner within a matter of months.
So great had the impression been on the young Gujarati regent at the time, that for many years like his political allay Sher Shah Sur, he had been reluctant of being drawn into a conflict with the Gurkani veterans, and instead taken to expanding and strengthening his kingdom far from their borders with a spree of conquests that had begun in 1531, a year after the coronation of Humayun, and by 1534 brought under his fold enormous territory and treasures tagged with honorable military achievements that included beating off a naval invasion by the Portuguese (a rising European power of its time contesting its right to rule the high seas with the Ottoman empire), the annexation of the large kingdom of Malwa that co-existed on his southern border, and huge territories in Rajputana proper (modern day Rajasthan) – that not only boosted his prestige but forced even the Gurkani Humayun (who with haughty contempt had thought little of the Hindustani Afghan’s military prowess) to admire his energy and abilities.
Bahadur’s battles had not been his only achievements, desirous of being seen as a champion of his people, he had turned his court into a sanctuary for his fellow Afghans of all ranks and stature to congregate and flourish – and here had arrived the two men, responsible for beginning the hostilities.
Alam Khan Allauddin Lodi, was an Afghan noble who for many years had not forgotten his desire to sit on the throne of Delhi. In 1489, as a son of Bahlol Lodi, (founder of the Lodi dynasty) he had contested his right for the kingdom of his father but had been forced to submit to his brother Nizam Khan, later known as Sikander Lodi (see Farbound.Net story: The mausoleum of Sikander Lodi) who had completely removed him from the pages of history till in 1524 he had reemerged from his obscurity with the coming of Babur, as a candidate for kingship, in place of his nephew Ibrahim Lodi.
Babur too, after a point of time, finding him unworthy had cast him aside and instead established his own rule – and far from allotting him some minor role in his government, imprisoned him in the fortress of Qila-e-Zaffar in the distant land of Badakhshan for many years. Till he had escape and retracing his path back to Hindustan, had made his way to the court of the Gujarati regent where his son Tatar, an ambitious young man and commander of some repute, is believed to have been on favourable terms with Bahadur.
Since his arrival Tatar, had campaigned his father’s cause at Bahadur’s court pleading for assistance and war on Humayun but the Gujarati regent had avoided the matter on one pretext or another for having over the years witnessed the destructive power of the Gurkani army, Bhadur had in no way been eager to embroil himself in an open war and bring out his own destruction – firmly upholding the belief, his recruits from Hindustan, eastern Africa, Egypt, and Arabia were no match for the Chagtagis, Uzbegs, Persians, Kabuli and Badakshani Afghans under Humayun’s command.
But, in later months, with the arrival of the Timurid rebel prince Zaman Mirza (Humayun’s brother-in-law, who Humayun had imprisoned and sentenced to be blinded on his second rebellion) and his own band of Chagtagi soldiers, Bahadur had begun to sprout a glimmer of hope, the enterprise could indeed turn out to be reality, as his own ranks had begun to swell with experienced soldiers. Thus finally after some preponderance over the matter, Bahadur had acquitted in favour of Tatar and donated a speculated crore from his own treasury to help the young commander recruit an army and get on with his independent endeavor without endearing his own realm in an open conflict, yet had anxiously awaited the outcome – for if Tatar succeeded, he had plans for following with his own army to challenge whatever was left of the Gurkani forces.
Wasting little time with the funds at his disposal, Tatar had turned Bahadur’s newly conquered fortress at Ranthambore (present day Rajasthan) into his base of operations, and within months launched an aggressive invasion with an army of probably 40,000 men – quickly overwhelming the stronghold of Biana (a Gurkani controlled region, north west of Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India) and penetrating to almost the very gates of Agra.
Humayun upon hearing rumors of such an invasion had returned quickly from his excursion at Kanar (Kalpi district, Uttar Pradesh, India) and send Askari and Hindal accompanied by veteran generals to counter the incursion with a force of 18,000 men. The Gurkani army under the two princes and retaken the Gurkani stronghold at Biana. Forced Tatar back. And finally at Mandrayal (Karauli district, modern day Rajasthan, India) some 155 kms South East of Agra deserted by his hastily recruited troops lured into his service for the love of gold, the Afghan commander had met his end fighting Hindal’s forces, effectively bringing to an end Alam Khan Allauddin Lodi’s royal pretensions.
The invasion of Tatar had not been the only one that year. Alam and Burhan-ul-Mulk, two other Afghan commanders had also penetrated deep into Gurkani territory in the military operation that had bee originally planned to be a coordinated three pronged attack but the Gurkanis prompt response had beaten them back with little reinforcements required, and disheartened Bahadur to wisely abandon sponsoring subsequent activities – contrary to Tatar’s boast the Gurkani veterans had turned soft and lost their fighting spirit, the defeats had proved they yet were invincible, and smartly Bahadur had backed out, hoping Humayun would overlook the invasions and not retaliate with one of his own.
Humayun and Bahadur’s relation had been cordial before the invasion, and again after the incident, diplomatic relations had resumed between the two regents. In the string of diplomatic letter exchanged, Humayun had politely overlooked Tatar’s mad adventure but instead solely focused on the extradition of Zaman Mirza, who he knew well had been provided sanctuary.
Possibly towards the end of 1531, Humayun with a mind to boast his power and prestige without embarking on a path of open hostilities too often, had taken to the subtle art of political propaganda with the hope the lavish display ensured peace in his reign and kept his hostile neighbors at bay, and prior to the invasions from Gujarat they seemed to have had some effect on Bahadur.
For after subduing the fortress of Kalinjar, at the behest of his mother, Maham, as Humayun, had held a series of festivities at Agra (boasting his victory), repeated the same at Gawalior (present day Madhya Pradesh India) for many months, then in 1533 (after his mother’s death), founded the fortified city of Din-Panah with a citadel inside, (now known as the old fort, Purana Quila, in New Delhi) clearly sending out the message, he was here to stay in Hinudstan, unafraid and ready to defend his claim, but preferred peace instead, Bahadur had stopped his own aggressive expansions in Rajputana (modern day Rajasthan, India), and opened a diplomatic discourse with Humayun in which both rulers had congratulated each other and agreed to maintain friendly ties – a part of which had been an understanding neither would shelter the enemy of the other.
A pact Bahadur, not only violated by sheltering Zaman Mirza, a pretentious noble who had rebelled against Humayun, but further damaged by adamantly refusing to hand over the noble after the invasions – eventually prompting Humayun to invade Gujarat and Malwa with a retaliatory invasion of his own that is considered to be a highlight of his military career.
Humayun’s addiction to opium has often been stated to be one of the causes behind his failure as a regent and lost battles. But the theory has been not found universal acceptance by all scholars. The historian Dr.Tripathi for instance did not consider his love for opium to be any greater than that of Babur. Strengthening his theory is the fact that Humayun had been heavily addicted at the onset of the Gujarat wars but his victories proved his mental and physical stamina had not deteriorated. Like Babur, Humayun preferred opium over wine. Babur may have picked up the addiction in Afghanistan, were the poppy seeds are still grown locally.
In 1534 as Bahadur inspite of a former treaty with Chitor had taken to besieging the Rajput stronghold once more determined to reduce it to rubble with his heavy cannons, Rajput chronicles state, the queen mother of the city, had requested Humayun for aid. But Humayun unable to directly intervene due to religious sentiments of the day, instead thinking like a tactician, occupied Bahadur’s territories in eastern Malwa, gaining a hold on his resources, and applying pressure.
Humayun’s war with Bahadur had begun with rapid speed. As the Gujarati regent had besiged the Rajput fortress of Chitor a second time, Humayun thinking like a tactician, and realizing the religious sentiments of his day did not allow him to attack an Islamic kingdom engaged in war with a non-Islamic kingdom, had instead invaded and boldly occupied Bahadur’s newly conquered territory of eastern Malwa (present day Madhya Pradesh), befriended its people as well as the Rajputs in the region, who in turn is thought to have provided him with provisions during the war, and placed himself at Ujjain and Sarangpur – two strategic locations that had put him within striking distance of Bahadur’s capital city, Ahmadabad, in Gujarat and Mandugarh, his second capital at Malwa (Madhya Pradesh, India), then waited for Bahadur to finish his war with the Rajputs, without violating the Islamic code of the day.
The invasion had been so unexpected, that an alarmed Bahadur at a point of time is cited by historians of the era to have contemplated withdrawing from Chitor and returning to his home base to raise a larger army but assured by his nobles the Gurkani emperor would not violate the religious convention that existed between Islamic kingdoms, he had persisted with the siege and after subjugating the fortress (where Bahadur is believed to have killed 32,000 Rajputs) turned around to confront Humayun at Mandsaur (Malwa region in present day Madhya Pradesh, India), probably arriving at the rendezvous point nearly 117 kms away at forced march.
Stated to have been fought at the side of a huge fish pond that existed at the time, Mandasor had been the kick off to the Gujarat wars in which Humayun had defeated Bahadur in skirmishes and forced him to flee from his entrenched camp after a possible month long siege then chased him down to the colossal fortified city of Mandugarth (Dhar district, western Madhya Pradesh), defeated him there, and as Bahadur had kept fleeing after successive defeat followed him to Champaner (47 kms from Vadodara, Gujarat), Cambay (present day Khambhat, Gujarat) ultimately evicting him to the island of Diu (Daman and Diu Islands of the coast of Gujarat) and subsequently capturing the capital of his kingdom, Ahmadabad within the span of a year.
Although Humayun had in the end not been able to retain his hold over the distant regions for long, the Gujarat wars was undoubtedly the apex of his military career, witnessing his remarkable capabilities as a regent, commander and solider. Besides his practically unhindered victories, his conquest of the virtually impregnable Mandugarh (a ruined city in present day Madhya Pradesh) said to have been a colossal fortress city with a 23 mile circumference and heavily garrisoned during the siege is a noted achievement in the military campaign (Humayun captured the fortress by using 700 ladders to scale the fortress city at night), as is his conquest of the fortress of Champaner in which he proved his fabled bravery by being the forty first man (out of a handpicked detachment of 300) to climb into the fortress with nails driven into the walls to serve as a ladder.
His reversal of fortunes is largely attributed by historians to his inability to make an impression on the people (due to his short stay) and his half brother Askari’s mismanagement – Askari had depleted the military funds at his disposal leading a life of extravagance (infuriating the people), evacuated towns and cities of military presence, quarreled with other commanders, and even considered declaring himself regent of the provinces for a while before being defeated in a minor skirmish by Bhadur’s forces and pushed out. On his return he had been hell bent on creating unrest in the realm forcing Humayun to overtake him and bring the wayward prince back to his senses.
Humayun’s Gujarat wars is also noted for revealing his rare acts of brutality, contrary to his gentle and good natured image. At Mandu he ordered a general massacre of its populace possibly to demoralize the entrenched garrison there (it is said the butchery continued as long as Humayun wore a red robe and only stopped when he had changed into a green garb). At Cambay he again ordered a massacre of its inhabitants in response of a surprise attack that violated his good intentions of peace. And at Champaner he mutilated a band of 400 soldiers who against orders embarked on a conquest of the Deccan, and then a few days later had an Imam trampled to death for reading a verse from the Quaran in which the emperor apparently found a mention of his act – though the mutilation of soldiers most certainly a result of disciplinary action for maintaining order in the army.
Farid, Sher Shah Sur, the lion king: Born, 1486 – Death by accident, 1545. Possibly past 44 at the time of Humayun’s coronation, and older to him by a good 22 years, the self taught Afghan was of Babur’s generation, and a man Babur thoroughly detested and once expressed his desire to imprison for his outspoken views. A veteran statesman and highly qualified commander regarded by historians as an energetic and very capable regent, Sher Shah secured the trust of the Gurkanis after the first siege of Chunar (they thought of him as a trusted noble) and for five unhindered years gathered resources and manpower, strengthening the power of the Afghans without rousing Humayun’s suspicions. A national hero for the Afghans and the last great king of the Pashutans, the lion king was the primary reason for the eviction of Humayun from power. Click on the painting to know more.
“The Afghan is not to be disconcerted by trifles, but may come up to be a great man yet. Keep an eye on Sher Khan. He is a clever man and the marks of royalty are visible on his forehead.”
-The emperor Babur describing Sher Shah Sur during his early wars in Hindustan
Though the Afghan Sher Shah had once served with the Gurkani army and offered commendable service to Babur (incurring his displeasure as well), Humayun most likely had met him in person at his stronghold of Chunar, a fortress that jutted out from the top of a craggy hill (in present day Uttar Pradesh, India) with a commanding view of the surrounding countryside and in the medieval times known as the key to Bengal and Bihar.
Speculated to be past forty four at the time of Humayun’s coronation and with years of experience under his belt, the shrewd Afghan commander had been born a commoner but by his will and determination wended his way up the Afghan nobility to the rank of minister and protector of the boy king Jallaudin Shah of Bihar. Then becoming disenchanted with the Afghans and their dismal performance against the Gurkanis had severed ties to choose his own path to greatness. By any definition, vicious, ruthless and unscrupulous when it came to dealing with his enemies, Sher Shah endowed with an excellent spy network, had possibly known more about Humayun (at the time of their first meeting) than the Gurkani could ever hope to learn about him.
In 1532 flush from his victory at Dadrah and a short few years away from his Gujarat wars, Humayun encountered Sher Shah as he had besieged his fortress of Chunar for a period of four months, and the wily Afghan himself had come forward to propose his vassalage with the condition of supplying the imperial army with a contingent of 500 soldiers when need beckoned under the command of his son Qutb Khan (Humayun had asked for Jalal Khan as commander but Sur had negotiated for another son. He had needed Jalal for his conquests. Jalal, later Islam Shah Sur, succeeded Sher Shah and was an equally competent military commander like his father).
For Sher Shah, still a minor chieftain then with no larger ambition that ensuring his own survival, the treaty had been a small price to pay for getting into the good books of the emperor, and for Humayun the end of the matter – at this stage perhaps no one, in the least Humayun, and certainly not Sur himself, aware of the potent force he was to become in the near future that emerged in his war with the king of Bengal, Sultan Ghiyasuddin Mahmud Shah Hussain.
But in 1537, free of his Gujarat entanglements that had gone awry at the last hour, Humayun watched Sher Shah’s relentless expansion across Bengal with some apprehension and disgust: Sher Shah had not only failed to honor the treaty of Chunar but it was crystal clear he was building up a formidable Afghan kingdom against the Gurkani realm.
Humayun’s second campaign against Sher Shah had begun with the conquest of his stronghold at Chunar in a siege of six months then grinded to a halt as both sides realizing a prolonged conflict might inevitably tax their resources and time had settled for diplomacy to arrive upon a quick win-win situation and await some future pretext that possibly could lead to a faster decisive outcome.
The pretext had come sooner than anticipated, and as it had eventually turned out, not to Humayun’s advantage.
In 1538 Sher Shah’s successful conquest of Gaur, the capital city of Bengal (now in ruins on the India -Bangladesh border in Malda district, West Bengal and Nawabgang district, Bangladesh respectively), had goaded its injured and disposed ruler Ghiyasuddin Mahmud Shah Hussain to limp into Humayun’s tent begging assistance and involvement. A plea of help, Humayun out of his chivalrous and gallant nature had been quick to respond to – an act believed to have sprouted out of the emperor’s genuine intention of restoring the region to its disposed ruler, and perhaps as a secondary objective, if the opportunity presented itself, a decisive victory over Sher Shah’s Afghans.
Believe historians, a strong reason for Humayun’s change of stance that made him nullify his second treaty (one that had been arrived upon after Humayun’s conquest of Chunar and stated Sher Shah could keep his territories in Bengal for an annual sum of 1,00,000) with Sur may have been the realization Sher Shah would no more honor the new treaty the as the earlier one. However, it is also agreed Humayun had generously offered to invade Bengal for reinstating Ghiyasuddin Mahmud. His primary motive never being its acquisition.
Thus making up his mind to invade Bengal, Humayun like an experienced commander had methodically paved his way down to the region, subjugating towns, cities and fortress enroute, and garrisoning them with his own men for reinforcements and defense. Leaving his brother Hindal in charge at Tirhut (Tirhut Commissionary, Bihar, India) and his general Nuruddin at Kannuj (also Bihar) to secure his rear (both deserted later), he after a long march, had arrived at his destination, on August 1538, to find Gaur devastated and its treasury evacuated. Worse, with the region’s disposed ruler Ghiyasuddin Mahmud Shah Hussain succumbing to his wounds on the way and his children murdered by Jalal Khan, Humayun had found himself an unlikely caretaker of a region wracked in misery and pain .
Records of the times indicate Sur had so thoroughly plundered Gaur, that upon entering the region the Turco-Mongols had been greeted with a line of corpses that her citizen reduced in wealth and energy had made no effort to clear – which Humayun had generously taken upon himself. Unlike Gujarat, the region remained loyal till conquered back by Sher Shah.
During the initial days of Humayun’s occupation that ultimately lasted a good eight months and tarnished his image as a dreadful debauchee and unashamed reveler who remained inundated with opium and frivolities as his own men succumbed each day to sickness and disease, Humayun arranged for the honorary burial of its deceased ruler and learning from his mistake in Gujarat, where brute force had ousted the Gurkani within a year, put in place a rudimentary government for getting its people back up on their feet. A few days later he is recorded to have also changed the name of the city to Jannatabad (the abode of heaven) as in Persian the word Gaur came close to connoting a graveyard.
The tarnished image of Humayun comes largely from the works of Islamic writers of the time (mainly Afghan chroniclers) but is supported in the translated version of the Humayun-Nama by Annette. S. Beveridge which hints the idleness resulted from corruption and Humayun’s sinking into sloth and opium. However, the writings may perhaps have been intentional in debasing the character of Humayun for political reasons. For shortly it had led to Hindal’s rebellion. Besides scholarly speculations the exact reason for Humayun’s stay in Gaur for eight months is not known – although it has been suggested the prolonged stay may likely have been due to heavy rains and subsequent flooding of rivers and streams that forced Humayun to suspend military operations till the situation changed. The heavy rain is also suspected to the reason behind Hindal’s desertion of his post.
Whatever the reason for Humayun’s idleness at Gaur, eight months later, news reached him, his brother Hindal and general Nurudin had not only abandoned their posts of protecting his rear, allowing Sur to surround him, but Hindal swayed by intriguing nobles had picked this moment to proclaim himself emperor.
As Humayun had remained penned up at Gaur possibly waiting for the rains to stop and deciding his next course of action against Sur now that his original motive to reinstate Sultan Ghiyasuddin Mahmud or his sons had failed and he had become the caretaker of a province he never in the first place intended to acquire, heavy rains in Bihar had dampened the spirit of Hindal, and within possibly four months he and the general Nuruddin had evacuated their posts for Agra.
Hindal, the youngest brother of Humayun and much beloved by him, was a strapping young man of nineteen at the stage, exuberating with courage and ambition of proving his valor and capabilities, and the prolonged stay in the dampening weather of North Bihar coupled with the inaction of Humayun at Gaur from where had come hideous tales of his succumbing into sloth and opium, may perhaps have left him disillusioned and confused for upon meeting a squad of disgruntled nobles among whom was the noble Zahid Khan (who Humayun is believed to have threatened to kill for revoking the governorship of Bengal), he had successfully been swayed to rebel against his brother and proclaim himself emperor.
Humayun not made aware of the desertion of the commanders and the rebellion of Hindal for possibly a month or two of the occurrence, (for which Dr. S.K Banerjee, author Humayun Padshah, blames the faulty information system of the Gurkani), had likewise failed to act immediately but upon learning of the calamity and realizing the impeding danger had acted straightway. Sending his spiritual guide to bring the wayward prince Hindal back on track and reinforce him. He had within days garrisoned Gaur with a handpicked contingent of 5,000 soldiers (Sur assassinated each one after reoccupying Gaur ) and splitting his army into three divisions, winded his way back to Agra at the head of the main column, this time through enemy controlled territory, who harassed him at every turn.
The Mughal Harem: The large and complex harems of the ancient eastern courts were a political power house in their own rights. They could either break-up empire and families by intrigue and inseminating suspension in the minds of their men or bandage situations and bring cohesiveness by donning the role of diplomats. Click on the painting to know more.
On his way back, at Chasua, a region that now falls in the present day Indian state of Bihar, close to the banks of the river Ganges, Humayun had found his path blocked by Sher Shah’s superior Afghan number – emboldened by the rupture in the Timurid family and well aware of Humayun’s deplorable state.
For five years after their meeting at Chunar, the ambitious Sher Shah, lacking the strength and resources, had played a dangerous game of pretension and espionage, as he had intentionally mislead Humayun into believing he was a trusted vassal and a Gurkani noble working with his welfare in mind while he had under the cover of disguises gone about strengthening his position, expanding his influence and gathering both resources and manpower without pushing his luck too far when unexpected confrontations had occurred.
During his Bengal campaign, as Humayun had conquered his fortress at Chunar with a second siege, and shortly afterwards followed him to the region of Banaras (present day Varanasi, India) to make him submit, he had wisely accepted a new treaty in which it had been agreed he could keep his new conquests in return for an annual tribute of 1,00,000. A treaty he actually never intended to honor but found most useful when Humayun at the behest of Sultan Ghiyasuddin Mahmud invaded Bengal.
Sher Shah had tactfully used Humayun’s invasion of Bengal, after the treaty, as a breech of faith and honor to rally more Afghans under his banner and further incite their animosity towards him.
Now, when he had both, the rupture in the Timurid family had been an additional blessing, and for a while Sher Shah, himself, may perhaps have found it difficult to believe how his fortunes were changing for the better each passing day. Not long ago he had conquered Bengal and Bihar expanding his domain beyond his wildest dreams, and then fate had presented him with the opportunity to perhaps dislodge the formidable Gurkanis themselves, something the hereditary Afghan kings themselves had not been able to do – a win over Humayun’s veterans could not only enhance his prestige and power but beget him the throne of Hindustan, and to accomplish it he had gathered tactically superior numbers (Sur’s army may have numbered somewhere around 70,000 at Chausa ).
On the other hand, for Humayun, things couldn’t have been more grim. Disease and sickness at Gaur had not only worn-out his forces and left them exhausted but Hindal’s rebellion had meant his chances of getting reinforcement were practically none.
He had sent Shaik Bulhul, a spiritual man and a Sufi saint, as his envoy to bring the wayward prince back to his senses but Hindal had assassinated the holy man and laid siege to Delhi instead. To top it, the Afghans had constantly irritated him with their unceasing guerrilla style hit and run tactics, as he had wended his way towards Agra and on more than one occasion he had lost both his boats and provisions. The attacks had been so frequent that the strain on the men had begun to show and, at Chausa, as Sher Shah had appeared before him with his army, he had been determined to make a stand and fight. But a quick inspection of his men had made him realize their demoralized state and curbing his instinct for an immediate battle, he had dug into a defensive formation, awaiting Sher Shah to make his move.
For close to three weary months both armies had skirmished and glared hesitant to begin the assault. The Afghans afraid of another defeat at the hands of their opponents, inspite their deplorable state, and the Gurkanis depleted in numbers and sapped in strength by the heat, malarial climate and starvation, lacking the vigor. During the three months that had passed by with agonizing slowness fraught with tension and strained nerves, Humayun, recognizing his growing vulnerable state and the formidable strength of Sher Shah had looked for ways to come out of his predicament.
Anxious to return to Agra and stop the rebellion at home, and hesitant to order a retreat with Sur eager for contest and so close by, he had send his diplomats into the enemy camp to arrive at some sort of arrangement, and at one point of time, out of sheer desperation even proposed a treaty in which Sur could keep all territories in Bengal and Bihar in exchange for ceding him a victory for the sake of appearances, to keep his prestige intact and quell the rebellion at home – the negotiations had ultimately proved to be futile.
States Dr. S.K. Banerjee,(author Humayun Padsha) Sher Shah had refused to honor Humayun’s treaties when he was weak, now that he was strong, there was hardly any chance of his doing so.
On the 26 of June, 1539, close to midnight, Sher Shah launched a surprise attack overwhelming the Gurkani camp from three sides and letting the river hem them in on the forth.
The deadlock had ultimately come to an end approximately three months later as Sher Shah studying the situation for a while had made up his mind to take the initiative. Expressing his bold plan of slaughtering the Gurkani with a stealth attack at night amidst much cheer from his Afghan nobles, he had put his daring plan in motion by having his trusted general Khawas Khan head out of the camp with a large part of the army on the pretext of conquering the distant land of the Chero Marathas (an aboriginal people, believed to have predated the coming of the Aryans, Afghan chroniclers referred to them as Marathas) in broad view of Humayun, then having him circle around and attack the enemy in the rear, while he and his son Jalal Khan had assaulted its flanks in a highly coordinated and well timed move – that had utterly destroyed Humayun’s veterans, as the exhausted soldiers dampened by the wet weather and heat had been asleep.
The battle of Chausa was a catastrophic defeat for the Gurkhani army (almost 8,000 soldiers is believed to have perished overnight). Caught off guard due to their own negligence and long arrogance in holding in contempt the Afghans as inferior foes, Sher Shah’s perfectly synchronized three pronged surprise attack at midnight practically wiped out Humayun’s veterans within a matter of hours. As confusion and panic prevailed, those same men who had won so many battle so many times before had drowned themselves trying to escape, perished in their sleep, or hacked to pieces with Humayun’s loss including not just his trusted officers, soldiers and battle winning artillery but several members of his harem as well.
The Humayun-nama mentions the deaths of several ladies of the court, Humayun’s infant daughters, and the capture of Humayun’s chief queen, Bega Begum (Sur would later escort her back to Humayun). Many of the lives lost, remained unaccounted for in Gurkani chronicles. Traditionally, it is believed, the slaughter of the unprepared Gurkani army, was largely due to the negligence of the Timurid noble Muhammad Zaman Mirza (Humayun’s rebellious brother in law). Assigned the duty of commander of the night watch, Zaman Mirza and his men had retired for the night, inspite of being aware a large bulk of Sur’s forces had detached itself from the main army and ridden off. Zaman Mirza presence at Chausa indicates Humayun may have forgiven him a third time, possibly at his sister’s intervention. The noble drowned while trying to escape.
Yet Chausa on that night also witnessed Humayun’s courage and daunting. Inspite of begin surrounded by Afghans in superior numbers, the emperor in the midst of his prayers at the time of the attack had at once rushed to ensure the safety of his harem, then returning quickly had ordered the bridges to be destroyed (though his order had come too late –the Afghans had already taken possession of what probably was some kind of a pontoon flotilla, bridging the banks) and taken to the field in an effort to rally his men to stand and fight (only 300 answered) till in the end, completely overwhelmed and wounded in the melee, he had been persuaded by loyal soldiers to escape by floating across the flooded river with the help of a lowly water bearer by the name of Nizam – who he later, in gratitude, and with his characteristic magnanimity, allowed to sit on his throne for a whole day and opened the doors of the royal treasury to make his pick.
“Sher Shah displayed utter lack of scruples. He felt no qualms of conscience in breaking his word and sanctioning arrangements which were contrary to his declared intentions. Matched against a foe like this kind, Humayun who was used to act even in critical situations with fairness and generosity was thrown off his guard and over powered.”
-Dr. Ishwari Prasad, historian
Humayun’s chief consort.
Born, 1511 – Died, 1582.
An educated lady with a profound knowledge of medicines and a great patron of promoting education, Bega was Humayun’s first cousin and his chief consort wedded during Humayun’s second tenure in Badakhshan in 1529 when she was 18 and Humayun 21.
Babur had heartily congratulated the two during the nuptial ceremony, and also expressed his concern over naming their first child Alam (as he had considered it an inauspicious name).
Bega was outspoken, bold and craved her husband’s attention as much as any partner in a loving relationship, and is known to have complained to Humayun of neglecting her for his older relatives. Though there is very little information about Bega (the Humayun-nama also does not mention much of her), it is known she was present with Humayun at the battle of Chausa and was captured by Sher Shah during the route, persuading an emotional Humayun to attempt and rescue her with a small band of men (later Sher Shah having observed Humayun’s desperation had her escorted back to him by his trusted general Khawas Khan).
Bega’s motherhood was an unhappy one, her first child Alam expired in his infancy and her second, a daughter, died at Chausa (Humayun also lamented the death of his daughter and is stated to have regretted bringing her to the front as per the traditions of the time).
After the death of Humayun, Bega is believed to have grieved her husband the most among all his wives. She undertook a pilgrimage to Mecca, (coming to be also known as Hajji Begum), perhaps on behalf of her husband (Humayun had once expressed his desire to visit Mecca but had been unable to do so) and shouldered the responsibility of constructing his mausoleum that is a world heritage site today. She is believed to have hired the architect, paid from her own purse, and started the trend of commissioning monuments by ladies of the Gurkani court.
In later years, Bega was highly revered by her foster son, the third Gurkani regent Akbar and her non participation in the court politics, particularly orchestrated by the petty court government (after the expulsion of Akbar’s mentor and Humayun’s loyal friend Baihram Khan) is testament of her noble character.
The destruction of the veteran army at Chausa had far reaching consequences, more than Humayun at the time may have realized as he wounded in the battle and torn apart by his anger and grief had marched back to Agra, evading marauding Afghan forces and waylaying tribes eager to make a rich picking of whatever was left of his men, while simultaneously trying to maintain discipline among the nobles who had already begun to show their disrespect – a recorded incident that highlights his diminishing stature, was the behavior of one Qasim Qaracha, whose son is believed to have acquired numerous gifts to present to Humayun on his return to Agra but on the insistence of the father had reduced the numbers considerably after being persuaded to not waste expenses on a defeated emperor. Humayun too, probably judging by the lesser numbers and sensing the reluctance with which they had been offered had declined the gifts politely, other than an embroidered saddle which he had presented to Kamran, upon his return.
In essence the loss of the veteran army had not only weakened the very foundation of Humayun’s sovereignty that maintained itself on the strength of the well trained forces, and cast a shadow of doubt over Humayun’s capability as a commander (to be used by his detractors to undermine his role as regent), but the loss had tilted the balance of persuasion in favor of Kamran and later turned the prince hostile towards Humayun.
Hindal is my strength and my spear, the desirable light of my eyes, the might of my arm, my desired and beloved, what shall I say to Mirza Muhammad Hindal about the affair of my Shaikh Buhlul? What was to be has been! Now there is no anger in my heart against Hindal.
-Humayun pardoning his younger brother Hindal for his rebellion and assassination of Shaikh Bhuhlul, Humayun-Nama
Back in Agra, upon being reacquainted with Hindal, he had displayed an incredible strength of mind and maturity and pardoned his younger brother for the treacherous act and rebellion had that cost him more than just Babur’s experienced war veterans and shaken the foundation of the very Gurkani realm.
In the night attack at Chausa, his chief queen Bega Begum had been captured by Sur, many of his lesser wives had disappeared, and he been deeply anguished by the death of his new born daughter. Yet letting go of misgivings and reprisals, he had looked forward to stem future events and spend the next seven months pleading with the prince Kamran for his army of 20,000 experienced men to counter Sur at the earliest possible hour. But his desperate situation and eagerness to regain his lost prestige had made him temporarily blind to Kamran’s own precarious position – who hitherto had stepped in to preserve Humayun’s sovereignty by quelling Hindal’s rebellion (commanders loyal to Humayun and asked Kamran for his assistance).
Faced with Persian attacks on his own borders, Kamran had been hesitant of handing over this own troops and weakening his own position, and in the midst of the negotiations as the brothers had begun to quarrel, an illness had gripped Kamran’s intestines, making him come to see it as Humayun’s attempt to have been poisoned for possession of the troops. Finally after much persuasion, Kamran, weak from his illness and enable to make use of his limbs had grudgingly agreed to cede 3,000 of his auxiliaries before leaving for Lahore with several members of the royal family in his entourage.
The Humayun-nama and other records of the era indicate, Kamran had at one point of time during the negotiations agreed to fight Sher Shah with his own battle hardened troops but had been skeptical of handing them over to his brother. Humayun had rejected Kamran’s offer on grounds of lost prestige but respecting his brother’s rights had not by force tried to acquire his army (possibly because Kamran commanded their loyalty and not Humayun). Both, it can be said, had been selfish in realizing the other’s dilemma and failed to arrive at a mutually beneficial agreement. Although historians believe, the fault is largely of Kamran – as a prince under the sovereignty of Humayun, it was his duty to support his brother during the calamity.
Abandoned by Kamran in his hour of need and having lost his only readily available option of trained manpower to bolster his own army of which practically nothing remained, Humayun had been forced to recruit men from an inexperienced stock, and towards the end of April 1545, set out to counter Sher Shah at the distant region of Kannuj that today lies 258 modern kilometers east of Agra, allowing one to make the journey in less than four hours via the Agra-Lucknow expressway.
Covering the long and arduous distance over several days with his meandering lines of regiments, artillery pulled by slow moving teams of bovine, bags and baggage, on uneven terrain and in the sweltering heat of summer, he had finally arrived at his destination sometime in the month of May to find his opponent Sher Shah comfortably camped on the other side of the river Ganges, rested, energized and eager for contest.
Upon his arrival Sher Shah send word that since both desired a contest as to who was the rightful ruler of Hindustan either he Humayun come over to his side of the river or make room for him, so the battle could commence.
Never lacking in courage or daunting, and keen on avenging his defeat at Chasua that had stained his prestige and honor specially coming from the hand of his Afghan foes whom he detested as inferior, Humayun, very likely overcome by a mad rush to prove his superiority had crossed the Ganges on a flotilla of boats, (joined together to form a bridge), and pitched his tent right opposite Sher Shah, with the river guarding his back and his sentinels keeping a keen eye on every move of the enemy – wary of another surprise attack.
The battle, however, had not commenced immediately as both sides had taken time to judge each other’s strengths and weaknesses with specially Sur awaiting the return of his trusted general Khawas Khan who at the time is stated in Afghan chronicles to have been conducting an extensive campaign in the land of the Chero Marathas. But during this interim lull, that had come about between the opposing armies, Humayun’s misfortunes far from receding had gradually started to worsen.
Inspite of Sher Shah upholding his promise and not attacking the Gurkani during the river crossing (eager as he was to prove his might in a straight fight) and gaining a strong and even ground to fight the Afghans on an equal footing on the other bank of the Ganges, the crossing had not stopped the desertions Humayun had hoped for (one of his reasons for crossing the river is speculated to have been mass desertions that had plagued him since his departure from Agra), and then, on the 15th of May, 1540, an unexpected thunder shower had flooded his camp in knee deep water, impeding military maneuvers, increasing the discomfort of his troops, and forcing him to consider relocating his entire army encumbered with heavy cannons and baggage – right in front the Afghans, who were encamped barely a few meters away and anxious for war.
Haider’s plan was safe, practical and militarily sound: Use troop movement to gauge Sur’s reaction. Then migrate to a new campsite.
Haider Mirza, Humayun’s cousin and commander-in-chief of the Gurkani forces on the occasion is believed to have come up with a solution that on any other day, any other place and against any other opponent may perhaps have proved to be effective. Haider’s plan had been safe, practical, militarily sound and likely at the stage the best course of action available to the Gurkanis to come out of the colossal dilemma that had swamped them from all sides – for within minutes of its disclosure from Haider’s lips, it seems to have met with unanimous consent from other Gurkani nobles and generals including the emperor Humayun who had authorized its immediate implementation.
To prevent the Afghans from attacking during the vulnerable migration, what Haider had fundamentally proposed was two days of military demonstrations to test Sher Shah’s reaction and possibly beguile him of their intentions to ensure an unhindered transfer. The plan had essentially involved staging troop movement on the frontline to produce an impression of a readiness for battle, if the Afghans exhibited little alertness on the first day (17th May), the demonstration was to be repeated again the next day (18th May) to be sure, and if they still remained confined to their camp, with the combatants in front providing a screen, the orderlies were to commence the transfer of equipment and supplies to the newly designated campsite believed to have been on higher ground. But Haider most certainly appears to have overlooked two major aspects of his master plan: A contingency plan in case it backfired and more importantly Sur’s enthusiasm for a fight – the Afghan warlord had ultimately reacted with such frightening alacrity and brute force, the first demonstration had within minutes turned into a full fledged battle.
At Kannuj Humayun is stated to not have been personally involved in overseeing every aspect of the campaign, incapacitated as he was by mental problems (possibly an after effect of his opium use or the long strain he had suffered) – during the pitched battle he is recorded to be most certainly hallucinating – seeing an invisible army of Darveshes (the Persian word refers to a class of holymen who guide Sufi saints on the right path) striking at the mouth of the Gurkani horses. He had appointed Haider commander-in-chief of the Gurkani army, handed over the command of the army on the battlefield, and relied on his decisions.
The early Gurkani army.
The Gurkani army of Babur, one that Humayun inherited, was a cohesive fighting machine combining central Asian fierceness with Persian tactics. The composition of the army mainly include cavalry, matchlockmen, archers and artillery (cannons). Much like in other central Asian and eastern hosts of its time, the cavalry was considered to be the backbone for its mobility and speed. Armoured in hide or chainmail (possibly possessed by wealthy and high ranking nobles and royalty), troopers carrying a combination of weapons (either a mix of bows, swords, maces, axes and lances) played a pivotal part in flanking and attacking manoeuvres. Horse archers may very likely have been a core component considering the Gurkani’s Mongol origins. Also recorded is the use of pontoon bridges during river crossings. Elephants at this stage may have only been used for transportation purposes. Among the Gurkani’s many offensive and defensive formations, the Tulghama, was the most famous. Invented by Babur it was an enveloping manoeuvre that could surround and slaughter an enemy.
On 17th May, 1540 was fought the battle of Kannuj. A battle in which the Afghans ironically used Babur’s own Tulghama formation to slaughter Humayun’s army almost to the last man and stamp out the empire of the Turcko-Mongols for a period of fifteen years.
Later described by Haider Mirza, as a battle that was lost even before it had begun, the clash at Kannuj takes center stage for being the worst military defeat in Humayun’s military career and Sher Shah’s finest hour. If the loss of the veteran army at Chausa, had occurred from an unexpected sneak attack and saved him some honor, the drubbing at Kannuj harbored no excuses – here he was beaten without trickery or guile and by those he held in contempt (Humayun is said to have once sneered at Sher Shah’s common origins, referring to him as one who smelled of a lowly soldier).
“Records Haider in the Tarikh-i-Rashidi: On the right Sher Shah advanced in battle array; but before an arrow was discharged, the camp-followers fled like chaff before the wind, and breaking the line, they all pressed towards the center. The Chaghtais were defeated in the battle-field where not a man either friend or foe was wounded; not a gun was fired, and the chariots were useless”. And then contradicting himself also wrote “Out of one contingent of one thousand retainers, only eight arrive safe on the opposite bank”.
Modern day historians, however, discredit much of Haider’s statement and instead suggest a pitched encounter had indeed taken place in which the Afghans had worsted the Gurkanis with a full frontal assault and in broad day light using Babur’s own encompassing Tulghama formation, and the loss of the battle had stemmed from the Gurkani army’s inability to turn the tide of the battle in their favor.
The picture that emerges after reconstructing the long ago combat from the pages of both Afghan and Gurkhani documents of the era, depicts a conflict in which the first demonstration of the Gurkani army held on the 17th of May, 1540, had been met by the Afghans in force and as both armies had gradually become more embroiled, the tide had begun to turn against Humayun – so sure had Haider been Sher Shah would not take the bait, the cannons had all been left behind.
As the Afghan’s had begun the attack, Haider had hastily organized the Gurkani army into three huge divisions, drawn out in a single line with matchlock men positioned between the regiments, to oppose Sher Shah’s Afghan army split into seven divisions with its left and right wing gradually working forward followed by the vanguard in the center.
In the ensuring battle that the Afghans had begun by attacking the left flank coordinated by assaults on the right and center. The prince Hindal stationed on the Gurkani left had repelled the first offensive by, Sher Shah’s son, Jalal Khan but fresh reinforcements had gradually pushed him inwards and towards the center from the left with other Afghan detachments wheeling around and reaching the very camp of the Gurkani.
On the right, the nobles Yadgar Nasir Mirza (a paternal cousin of Humayun related to him through Babur) and his fellow co-commander Quasim Husian Sultan right from the very onset unable to overcome the forces of the Afghan commanders Adil Khan and Sarmast Khan had given way, suffering heavy causalities, as the Afghan divisions had not only pushed them inwards, and towards the center from the right but also got behind their rear.
While in the center the prince Askari commanding the Gurkani vanguard had simultaneously given ground under the relentless pressure of Sher Shah’s trusted general Khawas Khan, who had pushed him inch by inch towards the center, and into the mass of the 5,000 matchlock men, Haider had placed between the front and center to check the enemy with a volley of gunfire, rendering them useless – for fear of hitting their own troops, they had ceased to operate their weapons.
Thus slowly but surely the Gurkani combatants on that day had found itself mothballed into a confused mass of men and as the Afghans had steadily enveloped them from all sides, the orderlies and camp helpers (non-combatants), had merged into the hard pressed fray further frustrating the soldiers and turning the battle into a complete slaughter – states Dr. S.K. Banerjee in the pages of Humayun Padasha, the discipline of the hastily got-up army of the Gurkanis was not up to the mark and now the panic of being surrounded made it worse. Neither could the soldiers play their part, nor the matchlock men theirs for at his wit’s end Haidar Mirza had ordered the non-combatant crowd of Gulams (camp helpers and slaves) to mingle with the soldiers and also to press forward by unloosening the leather chains which had secured the gun-carts in front.
To begin with it was Humayun haste to regain his lost prestige that pitted inexperienced new recruits against an army of battle tested Afghans. Then it had been the choice of the first camp site. Two days prior to the main battle (17th May, 1540), unexpected rains had swamped the Gurkani camp in water and mud – forcing them to consider relocating to higher ground. Then it had been the ill planned diversionary tactics. To prevent Sur from attacking the army during the massive relocation to higher grounds, Haider had convinced Humayun, to stage military maneuvers to test the Afghan’s reaction and possibly confuse him. Sur had likely seen through the tactics held on 17th May, 1540 and responded with such alacrity and brute force that he had reversed the tables with Haider holding no contingency plan up his sleeve to counter the reversal. Ultimately, it had been Humayun’s decision to hand over the command of the army to Haider Mirza – considering he had at Agra rejected Kamran’s proposal as commander-in-chief which inevitably would have also gained him the prince’s 20,000 well trained army.
“Kannuj was more than a lost battle. It was a defeat from which no quick recovery was possible. With all his artillery and equipment in the hands of Sher Shah, Humayun could not even think of defending his capitals or forts.”
-Michael Prawdin, historian.
The massacre and eventual rout at Kannuj was the exordium of Humayun’s famous fifteen year exile and a span of time that witnessed his remarkable fortitude and endurance in tackling with his adverse situations without falling too far from grace or bewailing his miserable fate, no matter how worse his path twisted or turned out to be. For a long period of this exile as he with a cheerful bravado and a fierce optimism had wandered from one part of the world to another, journeying across what today are the countries of India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran, buffeted by the winds of misfortune and relentlessly hounded by Sher Shah at every step (the Afghan king had pursued him till he had left the borders of Hindustan), he had quickly become acquainted with the harsher side of royalty, and the indignities that befalls a fugitive king without a kingdom.
Experiencing during this phase, humiliating indignities, miseries and hardships as allegiance swearing nobles under his banner, plagued by their own hardships mocked his authority and eventually deserted him for greener pastures. Once friendly allies, fearful of Sher Shah’s vengeance shunned him or betrayed his trust by scheming to capture or execute him. Detractors, who always bore him grudge but failed to cause him harm during his time of power with unconcealed glee added to his misfortunes by revealing his movements, plan of action and open hostility. While his own brother Kamran, refused him passage through his domain, lest by his right of emperor he acquired the city he so once out of his benevolence allowed the prince to keep, and then planned on having him arrested to prevent Sur from attacking Kabul, after ceding the entire Punjab without a struggle.
Escaping Kannuj on an old and wounded elephant as Humayun had reached Lahore, barely stopping at Agra or Delhi, he had found an adamant Kamran in open rebellion. The prince ceded the Punjab to Sher Shah, and then had violently barred Humayun from passing through Kabul.
As Humayun reached Lahore (present day Pakistan), reveals the Humayun-nama, there had been a mighty gathering of Timurid nobles and the city overwhelmed with thousands of frightened refugees fleeing from the victorious army of the Afghan Sher Shah. Here the four brothers had met to discuss their next course of action now that the Gurkani realm had fallen apart and from the midst of the discussions had emerged a Kamran, far different from the one, Humayun had known as a brother all his life.
Hostile and paranoid over his own survival and hold over Kabul, Kamran had violently objected to every course of action Humayun had proposed for the restoration of the Gurkani realm their father had founded, and upon learning that an Afghan army was nearing the city, he had ordered the evacuation of all territories in the Punjab, and then barred Humayun from passing through his domain of Kabul for Badakhshan.
Though Kamran’s attitude had bordered on the rims of high treason and nearly escalated into a war between their men, and many a time during this growing animosity between the brothers, nobles loyal to Humayun had strongly suggested he put the prince to death, Humayun even in this volatile situation had refused and observing the reluctance of his brother to grant him passage, instead conceded to move on to Multan and from there on to the region of Sindh, bypassing both Kabul and Badakhshan – near the banks of the Jehlum, close to Khushab, a historic region, that now falls in the present day country of Pakistan, where a rough road forked towards Sindh and Kabul respectively, the brothers had parted ways, bitter and resentful of each other.
In Lahore the growing boldness of Kamran and his open defiance had prompted many of Humayun’s supporters to strongly advice him to put the prince to death but Humayun had outright refused. Other than his natural brotherly sentiments and rigid stance of maintaining the promise made to his father, Humayun may also not have been keen on starting a civil war with Sher Shah close at his heels. Kamran at this stage is believed to have possessed a stronger army and a following that outnumbered him.
Perhaps the scholar who best captured the pathos and the soul of Humayun’s expulsion was, Annette. S. Beveridge. Going through the pages of the Humayu-nama during her translation of the chronicle, Beveridge remarked during her time (early nineteenth century) in the opening chapter pertaining to Humayun’s reign:
“When we in Britain have to lament a reverse of arms, we do it in safe homes and we brace ourselves to what will come next, in the familiar surroundings of the daily tradesman, the usual postman, and the trivial comforts of the hearth. Even Colonials had a refuge under the flag at measurable distance from their outraged homes but when the Timurids were defeated and driven from Agra, Delhi and Lahore, there was no refuge open to all. Their head, Humayun, had none, for a brother took his last. And like the Israelites, he and his followers wandered in deserts. Hungry and thirsty. Dwelt in strange lands, pursued and attacked, exiled and humiliated. The course of events was less historic than biographical, was more individual and not national. There were no nations behind Babur and Humayun, but only ruling families who came and went as they could or could not get the upper hand of other houses, and then there was the dumb mass of common people the earth nourished, and the labour of whom fed the luxury of life and strength of alien arms, whatever dynasty had just struck hardest”.
Discourse between Humayun and Kamran indicating the growing rift between them.
Says Kamran: In his lifetime the Emperor Firdaus-makani (Babur) gave Kabul to my mother (Gulrukh Begam). It is not right for you (Humayun) to go to Kabul.
To which Humayun is supposed to have replied: His Majesty Firdaus-makani often used to say, my Kabul I will give to no one. Far from it let none of my sons covet it. There God gave me all my children, and many victories followed its capture. Moreover, this expression of opinion is recorded many times in his Waqi a-nama. What was the good of my showing kindness to the Mirza (Kamran) from civility and brotherliness, if he now keeps on talking in this way!
Conversation between Humayun and Kamran mentioned in the translated version of the Humayun-Nama by Annette. S. Beveridge. Humayun’s first part of the reply seems to be a bit misleading, for Babur is known to have bestowed Kabul to Kamran and he in turn had sanctioned the same during his reign – Humayun may possibly have been desperate to find a new home.
Barred from entering Kabul by his brother Kamran and driven out from his own kingdom, Humayun, seldom stopping in one location for long, wandered the blistering and arid desert of Thar in the regions of Sind and Rajasthan, practically living on the road, fruitlessly trying to build up an army, allay tribes to his banner and claim a part of the world to call home.
In the expansive region of Sind that now falls in the modern country of Pakistan where lies the nation’s financial hub, Karachi, and its two commercial sea ports of Bin Quasim and Port Karachi, Humayun in 1541 had marched for the lands of the Arguhns, a branch of the Timurids themselves, with the hope of subjugating the clan and establishing a new base to reorganize his position after his exodus from Lahore – for in his train had not only been soldiers but entire families. Men, women and children who had followed their emperor in his exile after his defeat at Kannuj had uprooted them from their homes.
Husen Arguhn, the powerful chieftain of the Arguhn clan, naturally, had been stubborn in his resistance, and perhaps not just because like all independent rulers, he had been reluctant to relinquish his authority and supremacy to Humayun, who he most certainly during the time abhorred for his audacity to even dare think of supplanting him but also likely for the history between the two lines of the Timurids, that in the past had been marred by bloodshed, bitterness and rivalry.
Prior to his invasion of Hindustan, Babur a wandering chieftain without a kingdom after his eviction from Samarkhand, had come across the Arghuns entrenched in Kabul and Khandhar and by force defeated and supplanted them, then rubbed salt in their wounded pride by marrying an unwilling high born Arghun woman to his foster brother Quasim as spoils of war. The Arghun elite and the woman had hated him for it, yet with the sullen obedience of the conquered had reluctantly accepted the alliance, having little choice in the matter. Husen’s present wife Mahchuchak had been that Arghun woman (Mahchuchak had later married Husen who was her cousin, after the death of Quasim) and present at his side during Humayun’s invasion. To complicate matters more, in Humayun’s seraglio had been one Gulbarg Begum (daughter of the Khalifa) who had once been married to Husen but as the wedding alliance within two years of its nuptial ceremony had turned sour and strained the relation between the couple, had parted ways, to later become one of Humayun’s minor wives – and during his exile in Sindh was present by his side, along with her mother, as he had taken to besiege Husen’s stronghold.
Thus, even if Humayun’s plan of action may very likely not have been to evict the Arghuns and imprison Husen but to assert his authority over him with a show of strength, then unite the two lines of Timurids to bolster his strength, and perhaps contest Sher Shah, now that Kamran had turned hostile, the complicated situation that existed between the two, had strained his plans right from the start, and thwarted any hope of conciliation.
For as Humayun had besieged Husen’s stronghold at Bhakkar, a fort that is said to have been located in the middle of a river and his second fortress at Swehan, with the hope of bringing the matter to a quick conclusion, Husen had cleverly evaded Humayun’s summons for a talk (probably and rightly fearing Humayun in his desperate times had plans of imprisoning or assassinating him) and instead ordered his men to lay waste to the country denying Humayun provisions and grains, starving his men, speeding their desertion and then massacring the remaining forces – at Swehan he had forced Humayun back with boats equipped with cannons and at Bhakkar within days of losing the fort to the Gurkani had reacquired its possession. Then to strengthen his position against Humayun, offered his daughter’s hand in marriage to the prince Kamran whose hostile attitude towards Humayun had now become widely known among his enemies.
Humayun is believed to have left Lahore with a substantial population of 2, 00, 000 men, women and children including soldiers. At Khushab, Kamran had parted with his loyal followers while in Sind, Hindal and Yadgar Mirza had left him with their troops, then during his wanderings and wars, the numbers had further dwindled due to deaths and desertions. By the time he had embarked for Persia, it is speculated, his following may have numbered around 40 or even less.
in the Thar desert
Records of Humayun’s exile in the Thar desert of Sindh and Rajasthan are rife with examples of exhaustion and break down in morals and discipline that comes about in extreme times of desperation and suffering, perhaps more so in Humayun’s case who was a fugitive king plagued with misfortunes holding on to the loyalty of his men by a thread.
Encompassing the modern regions of Sindh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Punjab and Haryana, the Thar (also known as the Great Indian Desert) stretching 77,000 sq.km. with a surface populated by constantly shifting sand dunes and a peak temperature of 79 degree Fahrenheit in summers, can be a grueling test of stamina and endurance even well in modern times.
In 1543 as Humayun and his small band of followers had marched their way through the inhospitable terrain at the worst time of the year, their suffering had been immense and painful from exhaustion, scarcity of food and lack of water resulting in a complete break down of morals and character. At a particular grueling stretch Humayun’s young wife Hamida Begum, pregnant with his son, had been forced to dismount by an officer who previously and chivalrously had offered her the mount, prompting Humayun to lend her his own horse and walk on foot, a good long distance till he had found a camel. Humayun himself is said to have fallen from his otherwise high moral standing.
At one point of time during the desert march, he had refused to offer a thirsty and exhausted money lender with a drop of water till the poor man had acquitted him of all debts.
Perhaps the lowest point of his life, during the exile in Sindh and Rajasthan, Humayun had been subjected to the insubordination and disrespect of his own men with written chronicles of the era mentioning the fugitive emperor himself had been many times refused a horse and in one instance a boat he had procured for his own use had been seized by one of his nobles, at Amercot under the protection of the king of the region, Humayun in turn is known to have ripped open the saddles of his followers and taken possession of a part of their belongings.
Finding his options exhausted in Sind, several months after, Humayun had then journeyed to the neighboring kingdom of Marwar in Rajasthan, to procure the alliance of the Rajput king Maldeao, as in the past he had cordial relations with the Rajput clans.
Maldeo Rathore, Rana of the powerful kingdom of Marwar was a strong and capable Rajput king who after taking over the reigns from his father, the Rana Rao Ganga, had enhanced the realm’s prestige by building-up her armies, conquests and annexations, and defending her independence from Islamic powers with a mix of both diplomacy and military force. Within eight years of his accession the kingdom of Marwar had become a complete Hindu state governed by Hindu laws and customs. Maldeo had not only abolished the Islamic law of Jizya (introduced during the time of the Delhi sultanate, Jizya was a form of tax levied by Islamic states from non-Islamic states and subjects under their direct control, vassalage, or in return for their independence), without being challenged, but had maintained the Hindu kingdom’s individuality by remaining neutral in the war between the Afghans and Gurkani – and likewise Humayun’s entry in 1541, had poised a complicated situation for him, especially with the ruthless Sher Shah now having merged the erstwhile splintered Afghans into a powerful empire.
Although sources hint the Rana at one time may have offered Humayun some kind of assurance for the Gurkani to have entered his territory to ask for sanctuary, his ensuing course of action tend to suggest Maldeo had considered the entry more as an undesired trespassing, and taken to discourage Humayun almost immediately. Close to Jaisalmer (modern day state of Rajasthan, India), the Rana’s forces had harassed Humayun, then again as he had reached Sitalmir, and as he overcoming the obstacles had reached Pahludi (Jodhpur district, Rajasthan, India), Humayun is believed to have been informed of the Rana’s negotiations with Sher Shah for his capture and handover, leaving him little choice but to turn back almost at once, and not without solid proof of Maldeo’s animosity.
At Pahludi, likely, as two of Maldeo’s spies had been apprehended and brought forth for questioning, they had lashed out with swords and dagger killing Humayun’s horse and injuring several other nobles before been eventually cut down. Then enroute to the kingdom’s borders, more trouble had followed. Desperate for food and water, as the retreating party had made its way back, the refusal of the local inhabitants to spare even a drop had forced them to resort to bloodshed, and for which Maledo had further chastised them by sending in his warriors to tear them apart till they had by hard fighting and a bit of luck, escaped into the Thar.
When leaving Marwar (for the kingdom’s borders), the Gurkani party had been denied food and water by the local inhabitants, possibly on the orders of Maldeo. In desperation as they had ultimately resorted to force, specially to obtain water to quench their thirst, (the sojourn indeed must have been grueling for the Turcko-Mongols unused to the heat and dryness), the provoked hostility had given Maldeo solid reason to further continue his assaults, and keep hounding the retreating party with his warbands, till they had very nearly perished. From this episode in Marwar comes the tales of the Gurkani living on berries and Humayun’s supposed fall from grace – he had refused to share water with a dying money lender till the helpless man had acquitted him of his debts.
Amercot was a beautiful place where food was cheap and in abundance. Rana Prasad, its king held a deep grudge against Husen for having killed his father and had befriended Humayun who had been at odds with Husen.
In 1542 after losing many of his followers to heat and exhaustion, on his journey through the Thar during the blistering summer months, (sources of the era indicate many, including women and children, walked the distance on foot) Humayun had reached Amercot with his young wife Hamida in the last months of her pregnancy, greatly relieved to find both sanctuary and the patronage of its king.
Amercot (present day town of Umerkot, Sind, Pakistan) was a small desert kingdom thriving in the sands of Thar under the rule of Rana Prasad, a Rajput king of the Sisodia dynasty, bitterly opposed to Husen Arghun for killing his father and acquiring by force the eastern half of his kingdom. And having heard of Humayun’s tryst with the uncanny Uzbeg had been most willing in his hospitality and armed support to conquer and settle in what may likely have been Thatta or its vicinity. Inside this fortress whose architecture can still be seen today, Humayun and his men had not only been well taken care of with whatever little luxuries the Hindu regent could afford, but his son Akbar had been born, and to his great embarrassment he found himself borrowing 80,000 in money from his noble Tardi Beg at what is believed to have been at a 20% return rate, for a suitable return gift for Prasad, now that the royal treasury was completely exhausted.
The birth of Akbar the Great.
The third Gurkani regent Abu’l-Fath Jalal ud-din Muhammad Akbar was born in Umarkot on 15th October 1542, during Humayun’s exile. It is believed at the time of his birth, Humayun was so broke in money and resources, that failing to honor the occasion by distributing gifts among his followers as was the tradition, he had shared a pod of musk with the hope his son’s fame spread in the world as the fragrance. Abkar’s mother was Hamida Banu Begum, the Shia daughter of perhaps Hindal’s preceptor, wedded to Humayun at the age of fourteen at Pat (now Sindh Pakistan) also during his exile. As a young unmarried girl, she is known to have objected to the wedding alliance as Humayun was much older to her and much married.
Nevertheless, inspite Humayun’s abject state, the good king of Amercot, Rana Prasad, had upheld his part of the bargain, and after a seven week breather, an army of a speculated 10,000 (comprising of Prasad’s forces thought to be around 3,000 in addition to other Hindu allies) had set out for the conquest of Husen’s lands in Sindh and by the autumn of 1542 found initial success at Jun, a spot by the banks of the river Indus, barely six days away from the city of Thatta (Sindh, Paskistan). But the invasion like Humayun’s previous attempt had ultimately turned out to be failure.
Possibly in December 1542, an unaddressed quarrel between the Hindus and the Gurkani nobles had resulted in Prasad’s desertion with his other Hindu allies, forcing Humayun to counter Husen (who had taken the opportune moment to attack) with his own diminished number of combatants. In the hard fought battle of Haji-Khan (Sindh, Pakistan), the remaining Gurkani forces had put up a gallant fight – attested by the death of one loyal noble Ali Beg, who is stated to have fought to the last, perishing with all his men – but had ultimately been beaten and in the naval invasion that had followed, more Gurakani soldiers had been killed, and once again had begun a string of desertions, this time not even sparing his eminent nobles.
In the years that had followed his defeat at Kannuj, fate had dealt him one blow after another, and unable to suffer longer, even his closest men had taken to deserting.
In the three years that followed the disastrous defeat at Kannuj, Humayun had lost battles in a row, exhausted the royal treasury and failed the countless men, women and children whose loyalty had made them follow their fugitive emperor in his exile, braving both the hostiles of unknown tribes and the waterless perils of even the Thar. But now observing no end to their sufferings, many had become disenchanted with his leadership, and taken to slip away in the night, including his long time nobles, who one by one had begun to defect to Husen – reducing his already diminished resources and ultimately making him realize his plans for the conquest of Sindh was a lost cause. Thus when given a chance to withdraw by Husen, with whatever little men he commanded and with whatever little honor he was left, Humayun had decide to make his way to Khandhar where his brother Askari was governor, with the intention of leaving his new born son in his care and taking on a pilgrimage to Mecca.
However at Khandhar too things had turned out to be bleak, as reaching near its borders he had been forewarned of a plot against him by Askari, and upon finally realizing his stay near his erstwhile empire was to bear no result and fraught with danger at every turn, in 1543, Humayun at the onset winter had made up his mind to set out for Persia (present day Iran) with a band of forty loyal men, the rest having deserted him long before.
On the orders of his elder blood brother Kamran, Askari had set out to arrest Humayun. By now Kamran had extended his sway over Khandhar, Badakhshan and Ghazni. He had besieged and wrested control of Khandhar from Hindal, (in his place put Askari in charge), Badakhshan from his cousin Sulaiman Mirza and put them under house arrest along with many other of his relatives. Kamran was an oppressive prince very different from Humayun. During Humayun’s expulsion and wanderings Kamran is believed to have proclaimed himself king of Kabul or at least tried. His alliance with Husen Arghun had bolstered his power, and it is possible after observing Hindal’s rebellion and the conduct of Zaman, and Sultan Mirza during Humayun’s first tenure of reign, he had begun suspected all his male relatives.
At Quetta, a region of mesmerizing meadows and pastures that sits at an elevated height of 1,680 meters above the sea level, and is presently known as the fruit basket of the modern day country of Pakistan (Balochistan province) Humayun had parted from his infant son Akbar (who he feared would not survive the journey), to traverse the frozen high highlands of the Hindukush in sub zero temperatures, living at one point of time on horse meat boiled in a soldier’s helmet, before crossing the river Helmand at a place known as Garmsir (Afghanistan), and then making his way on to Sistan where he had been greeted warmly by its Persian governor and sent to Herat once the home of his mother Maham.
Bairam Beg Baharlu: Born 1504- Murdered, 1561. Honored by Humayun as Yar-e-Wafadar (loyal friend) for his devoted friendship and Khan-i-Khana (Khan of all Khans) for his meritorious service in Humayun’s wars against Kamran, Bairam Beg (later Bairam Khan) was one of the most trusted and loyal lieutenants of the second Gurkhani emperor. Enlisting at the age of sixteen in Babur’s army and assigned to his son Humayun’s division, the hardy Badakshani served three generations of Gurkani regents with unfaltering loyalty – although after his much publicized removal from power by the emperor Akbar, his image today is of a cruel noble, bent on usurping power. Click on the painting to know more.
If Kannuj had taken away his pride, dignity and sovereignty, Kannuj had also returned to him, the loyal Baihram Khan.
Baihram Beg was to Humayun what the general Belisarius was to the Roman emperor Justinian, and perhaps a little more. A well educated and gallant Baharlu clansmen, born and brought-up in the harsh and frigid mountains of Badakhshan in present day Afghanistan (once the fief of Humayun), whose many poems in Persian has down to the modern age, Baihram Beg was the general, friend and trusted advisor instrumental in helping Humayun rebuilt his father’s empire and then enlarging and consolidating it as the guardian of his fourteen year old son, Akbar – serving with unfaltering loyalty three generations of Gurkani emperors in his lifetime.
A Shia by birth and possibly of common blood, the hardy Baharlu had enlisted with the Gurkani army at the age of sixteen during the reign of Babur and once being assigned to Humayun’s Badakhshani division had gone on to serve in all most all of Humayun’s wars and by meritorious conduct and valor risen to the rank of commander as well as through trials of strength and character proved himself to be Humayun’s devoted comrade in arms, more loyal and dependable than his brothers or relatives. In Humayun’s Gujarat wars he had been the fortieth man to scale the fortress of Champaner (just before Humayun who had been the forty first), in Chasua he possibly may have been one of the 300 who rallied around Humayun as he had taken to the field to stem his panicked men from fleeing and at Kannuj he had fought the losing battle till he had been taken prisoner.
Yet, escaping his captors at the disastrous battle of Kannuj (and the infallible proof of his devotion), this loyal soldier instead of trying his fortunes elsewhere had joined his fugitive and penniless emperor during his exile in Sindh, to share his burdens and grief just as other were beginning to desert and from there accompany him to Persia over the freezing mountains – where in the court of the rich and powerful Shah Tahmasp prone to violent outbursts for any minor objection of his commands he had bravely conveyed his master Humayun’s message as envoy at the peril of his own life, then, it is said, refused the Shah’s lucrative offer for governorship of a province to continue sharing the insecure future of his ill fated emperor.
Humayun’s indignities and humiliations had not ceased even in the cultured and enlightened land of ancient Persia, although the sanctuary and welcome offered to him by Shah Tahmasp, second ruler of the ruling Safavid dynasty, was magnanimous and one befitting an emperor.
Upon learning of Humayun’s arrival in his realm, Tahmasp had not only instructed his high ranking officials and own brothers to extend every possible courtesy and privilege upon the fugitive and penniless emperor, as he had wended his way deeper into Persia, passing through Sistan, Herat and many other places enroute to the Shah’s summer residence, but personally embraced him at his capital city of Qazvin with open arms, anointed him with living quarters complete with all the refined fineries of the time, and in his honor organized grand picnics, lavish banquets and hunts in the countryside, dazzling his young wife Hamida Banu Begam – who returned to inseminate Humayun’s royal concubine with incredible tales of hospitality at the Shah’s court.
Though Tahmasp, had been magnanimous in his welcome to Humayun, his hospitality may likely have been more towards displaying his own generosity, wealth and power than kindness and genuine goodwill to help an unfortunate fellow regent in distress, or for that matter in respect of Humayun’s high lineage to the crooked of gait Tamerlane of Samarkhand – Shah Tahmasp hospitality was a stark contrast to Humayun’s aid of the Sultan of Bengal, Ghiyasuddin Mahmud. Humayun had invaded Bengal at behest of Ghiyasuddin without being offered neither territory nor riches for his efforts. But for him at Persia, the hospitality had come with a price.
Humayun and Shah Tahmasp: Underneath the royal welcome, the second ruler of the Safavid dynasty, Shah Tahmasp humiliated and terrorized Humayun to renounce Sunni Islam and embrace the Shia sect of which the Shah was a fanatical apostle. But Humayun was still lucky. During his reign Shah Tahmasp also provided sanctuary to prince Bayezid, the estranged son of the Ottoman emperor Suleiman the Magnificent. On the conclusion of a treaty with Suleiman, Tahmasp allowed the Ottoman emperor’s assassins to murder Bayezid.
In private, the relation of the two regents had often turned bitter and many times Humayun left in dire straits. Shah Tahmasp, had humiliated him, coerced him, and ultimately forced him to renounce his Islamic sect of Sunni Islam.
Very likely hesitant right from the start to enter the realm of the Shah on account of the bitter rivalry that still exists between the two major sects of Islam, Humayun, a Sunni by birth, and forced to venture into Persia with no other course of action left, had eventually witnessed his fears come true in the court of Tahmasp who had not only professed himself to be a great patron of the Shia sect across the Islamic world but declared himself to be its true defender and champion, bent on obliterating the Sunnis in its favour.
Descending from a long line of dervishes and a devoted adherent, Tahmasp like his father Ismael, the first king of the dynasty, had entrenched Shiasim into the hearts and souls of Persians and turned the religious belief into a national sentiment. He had not only been indebted to the Islamic order for keeping his Safavid dynasty in power with its unfailing support, but indeed had been its genuine champion – in stark contrast to Humayun’s liberal view of religions, be that within Islam or any other, the Shah was an orthodox and fanatical apostle, headstrong in spreading its branches.
Thus after making Humayun loiter for several months before their first meeting, he had outright demanded the Sunni king renounce his sect, and on observing Humayun’s reluctance taken to terrorizing him at very opportune turn. Utterly disregarding his diplomatic refusals and his request for leaving Persia, even for a pilgrimage to Mecca, (unable to bear Tahmasp’s bigotry, Humayun had expressed his intention of leaving Persia) the Shah had taken great insult at every minor clash of idea, repeatedly expressed great disdain over their theological differences and clearly made Humayun’s reluctance to denounce his Sunni sect a matter of intense debate and violent hatred.
Then after a while, as the intimidation had continued, presented Humayun with a three paper contract by the hand of a Quazi, and in truth the price of his hospitality. A contract that is believed to have been devised to formally acknowledge besides Humayun’s acceptance of Shiaism, spread of its beliefs in Kabul and Hindustan, and the cessation of Khandhar to the Persians – a city long under Gurkani hold. Humayun had outright refused at first, but the Quazi had gently coaxed him into the formal agreement by making him realize it was not only his life at stake in the balance but that of his men, and his family.
Further inflaming the relation between the two and nearly jeopardizing Humayun’s position in Persia had been a theft of rubies from Humayun’s own purse by two of his conniving nobles. When apprehended the culprits had sowed discord in the mind of the Tahmasp with false tales of Humayun proclaiming himself to be better than the Persian monarch, seriously inciting his hatred, but on the occasion, Humayun, already subjected to the Tahmasp’s intimidation, is said to have soothed the mind of his aggressive and unscrupulous host by presenting the Kohinoor diamond.
Humayun is believed to have eventually embraced Shiaism by reading aloud the three paper contract which contained a section of prayer that was a dispute between Sunnis and Shias, and only recited by members of the Shia order. Then making a pilgrimage to the tomb of Safi-ad-din Is’haq Ardabili in Ardabil (present day Ardabil province, Azerbaijan)
of the Persian Cap.
The Persian cap was red in color from which the Persians derived their name Kazlbash. Wearing of the cap signified an acceptance of their customs and importantly their religion of Shia Islam. Humayun unaware of its significance had mounted the cap on his head, pleasing Tahmasp and his court but later during their discourses the Shah realizing Humayun’s mistake had taken great offence. The cap had also been offered to Baihram Khan and on his refusal, the Shah had ordered beheading on the spot to terrorize the envoy.
Once sending his most confidential officer, Behram Khan, on a mission to Shah Tahmasp, Humayun through a circumstance in the treatment of his envoy was reminded how completely he was in the power of another.
– Ephistone, historian
Observed, the historian Ephistone of Humayun’s stay in Persia: The Shah Tahmasp’s hospitality was well above reproach in its magnanimity and honor. He treated Humayun with the respect of his status as regent (though a fugitive king without a kingdom he was, and at the stage inferior in strength and wealth), gave him complete liberty to discourse on equal footing and spared no expense for his entertainment or comfort. But no sooner had the two met in private, the seasoned ruler and a great champion of Shiaism, had relentlessly demanded Humayun relinquish his Sunni sect – on one occasion revealing with his own lips, his determination to eradicate the Sunni order.
During the several months of wait outside the Shah’s capital city when Humayun had send Baihram as envoy to proceed his case, the Shah had desired Baihram (though a professed Shia he was) to don the national Persian cap but on his diplomatic refusal (Baihram is believed to said his master was Humayun and he was not at liberty to act without his consent), beheaded several offenders on the spot to subtly hint at the powerless situation of the Gurkani regent and his followers. A second evidence of the Shah’s bigotry was a particular heated discourse, most likely over theological differences, following which, Tahmasp had send Humayun a large stock of firewood with a message that it would serve for his pyre should be remain a Sunni longer.
Then when the proposed arrangements had forcibly taken effect, Tahmasp, after generously showering Humayun with expensive gifts and supplies for his journey back, had practically shooed him off his territory without letting him linger a day longer – the last episode likely because the Persians were anxious for the recovery of their treasure at Khandhar which was under the governorship of Humayun’s brother Askari and feared might be evacuated anytime soon.
The 14,000 Persian troops to accompany Humayun for the conquest of Khandar is mistakenly thought to have been a gift of Shah Tahmasp. The army remained under the command of Tahmasp’s son Murad, an infant boy, and after the conquest of the city returned back leaving behind a small garrison. Khandhar remained in charge of the Persians, till Humayun having regained much of his power reacquired it, avenging his insult at Tahmasp’s court and breaking his alliance with Persia. The Humayun-nama is silent on Humayun’s ill treatment by the Shah only revealing the public fanfare and royal reception.
But inspite Tahmasp’s crudity, that likely left a bad taste in his mouth, Persia deeply influenced Humayun as the country once had his father Babur. Touring the land and visiting its many places (including the homes and tombs of his own ancestors), her culture, customs, flower-gardens, palaces, mausoleums, and buildings of immense architectural marvels, eventually inspired him to inseminate his Gurkani realm in Hindustan with seeds of the land – perhaps the most monumental example of which is his grand mausoleum complex that is a UNESCO world heritage site today, constructed after his death by his chief consort Bega Begum.
On September 4th, 1545, Kamran hearing of Humayun’s approach at the helm of a Persian host, implored their paternal aunt, Khanzada Begum, to reconcile differences between the brothers, but Humayun, possibly, still bitter, by Kamran’s past behavior, refused.
Retracing his way back to Khandhar this time accompanied with the Persian army sent with the specific instructions to conquer the city and place upon its throne, Shah Tahmasp’s infant son, prince Murad, as per the conditions imposed by the Persians, Humayun, had besieged the city under the governorship of his second brother Askari for a period of forty days, forcing the garrison inside to realize their hopeless situation and in due course surrender – as besides the Persian army his own ranks had now begun to grow with deserters and local dwellers happy to serve under the legitimate emperor.
Handing over the city to the Persian, he had accepted his half brother’s submission (stated to be carried out in a humiliating manner), spared his life according to his father’s last wish, hosted a celebration to honor their reunion, then imprisoned him for a period of three years on charges of high treason. A month or two later as the infant Prince Murad, placed on the throne of Khandhar, had expired from natural causes (probably exhaustion), he had avenged his insult at hands of Tahmasp by breaking his alliance with his former Persian host and retaking possession of the city by guile, expelling the Persian garrison across the borders, then turned his attention to Kamran in Kabul.
Several instances during Humayun’s campaigning in Afghanistan during this time reveal the bitterness he felt towards Kamran and Askari (both were born of the same mother and full brothers) for their past behavior. He not only refused Kamran’s initial offer of peace but after the humiliating submission of Askari presented him with the letter he had in the past written for the arrest of Humayun in 1543, prior to his escape to Persia and had him imprisoned for nearly three years – although it was Askari who cared well for Humayun’s son Akbar and as many historians indicate, never really rebelled against him..
Humayun’s war with Kamran stretched for almost eight years from 1545 to 1553 with lulls in-between as Kamran fled, rebuilt his forces and continued his assaults as well as reconciled with his brother in-between.
The war between the brothers was the long delayed war of fratricide both Babur and Humayun had desperately wanted to avoid for the key reason of keeping the family united, and maintaining a powerful empire in the face of both external and internal enemies. Babur as a parent may likely have hoped with his non-preferential treatment and allowing the mature and benevolent Humayun to succeed him, his sons would be spared the misfortune that had shrouded the fate of so many of his ancestors who had ended up displaying the long entrenched habit of Asiatic princes of quarreling among themselves and splintering realms.
Inheriting this concern, Humayun had done his level best to keep his brothers together. He had displayed great patience and maturity, forgiven their wayward acts, no matter how serious and generously bestowed them with privileges and titles. But his brothers’ high spirited dispositions and selfish interests particularly that of Kamran had proved, the impulse of Asiatic princes to feud and fray, had been too deeply rooted in their lives to be changed overnight by two mortal visionaries, and if he hoped to regain his father’s lost empire, it had to be by subduing his brothers, though he still loved them dearly – and most certainly had no desire of having them assassinated.
Further more, he had been naturally bitter. When his own position had been weak and Kamran’s strong, the prince had insulted him, humiliated him, forced him to suffer exile and called him an incompetent general after his defeat at Chausa, leaving him begging for those twenty thousand men who perhaps could prevent his defeat at Kannuj.
Thus on his return to the neighborhood of Kabul, Humayun rejecting Kamran’s treaty for conciliation, and after imprisoning, Kamran’s blood brother, Askari for his impudence in conspiring against him, had marched on to Kabul to settle the matter once and for all with a show of force and prove he was the greater of the two.
Commencing with the battle of Guzargh, a place stated to be near Babur’s mausoleum in modern day Kabul, Afghanistan, that saw several nobles and soldiers of Kamran, deserting the prince for Humayun (in the first encounter Humayun’s virtue of clemency won over Kamran’s oppressive tactics), and ending with the battle of the Tangayha Pass (Afghanistan) famous for the death of Hindal (Humayun’s youngest brother) in battle, the series of contests between the brothers stretched eight years with neither side willing to settle for a compromise, and witnessed a very different Humayun – one who was more determined, less forgiving and bitterly ferocious.
Matching his brother Kamran’s ruthless tactics, Humayun had put to death captured nobles and soldiers in cold blood, ordered the execution of his cousin Yadgar Mirza on charges of treason, and perhaps may have also punished the city of Kabul for its infidelity as nobles had increasingly begun to shuttle between the occasional victors. Ultimately at the end of eight years, realizing Kamran’s had no intention of accepting his sovereignty over Kabul, persuaded by nobles and officers who suffered the most in the feud between the brothers, he ordered Kamran to be blinded (a common corporal punishment for treason in the Medieval age) – that is recorded to have been carried out by piercing the prince’s eyes repeatedly with the sharp end of a lance then having lime and salt rubbed into the wounds.
“Brotherly custom has nothing to do with ruling and reigning. If you wish to act as a brother, abandon the throne. If you wish to be king, put aside brotherly sentiment. Many a Chaghatai has perished through him, women and children have been made captive and lost honor. This is no brother! This is your Majesty’s foe!”
-Annette. S. Beveridge, Humayun-Nama.
Kamran, the prince who once as a young man, had come to be mentioned by their father Babur ‘as a worthy and correct young man’ and stepped in to preserve Humayun’s sovereignty at his most vulnerable hour, had gradually withered in honor, power and prestige, till he had been left running seeking asylum and shelter, even as far way as the court of Sikander Sur in Hindustan. In the final years, Kamran is believed to have grown desperate to ensure his own survival, frustrated by his repeated failures and perhaps become a victim of intrigue that had broken all his hopes of alliances, and reconciliation with Humayun. After the loss of his eyesight, Kamran spent four years at Mecca, attended by his faithful wife Chukha, the daughter of Husen Arghun – his death is recorded to be a year after Humayun’s.
The Humayun-nama mentions what possibly may have been a trick played on Kamran by one Tarkhan Begum during his stay in Kulab (a small fief in Afghanistan granted to him by Humayun after a temporary path-up between the brothers). The woman is said to have advised him to seduce Haram Begum, wife of Suleiman Mirza and his sister-in-law in relation, possibly to acquire her influence and the army of Badakhshan that the marital Haram is known to have commanded in the absence of her husband and son. Kamran likewise without suspecting a ploy had sent the lady a silk embroidered handkerchief (that may have been seen at the time as the gesture of an amorous kind). But the virtuous lady had been offended and infuriated. Bringing the matter to the attention of her husband and son at once, she had voiced her strong opinions and demanded Kamran be punished. Her indignation towards Kamran’s behavior not only spurring the reinforcement of Humayun’s troops with Badakhshani soldiers but making Kamran fall from grace.
Seek fortune from the auspicious phoenix, and the shadow cast by him, for the pinion of fortune is possessed neither by crow nor the kite.
– Verse from a poem had heartened Humayun to begin his reconquest of Hindustan
In the relatively peaceful year that followed Kamran’s blinding in 1553, Humayun had found himself as the sole guardian of his father’s realm in Afghanistan, the loyalty of its people, and all the resources of the hardy land at his discretion. For a good and long part of this period he had prudently built-up his treasury and army, securing men from the same hardy tribes that had proved instrumental in winning Babur his empire, then with the patience of a tried and tested ruler settled down to observe the prevailing conditions in his erstwhile domain of Hindustan – probing for weaknesses and signs to avenge his pride and regain back his empire from the Hindustani Afghans, his much hated foes.
During his fifteen years of exile, much had changed in Hindustan. Sher Shah the formidable Afghan commander who had ousted him from power and irrevocably ruptured the bond between his brothers had long been dead (Sher Shah had died in a freak gunpowder explosion in 1545, the same year Humayun returned to Kabul) and so had, his equally competent, son Jalal Khan, who he had once besieged long back in the fortress of Chunar, then faced as a commander of the Afghan army at Chasua and Kannuj.
Jalal had been a qualified king and in the short nine years of his reign kept much of Sher Shah’s empire and armies intact. In fact a brief excursion by the Gurkanis into Kashmir, had brought the ever vigilant Jalal to within 40 miles of Delhi, ready to meet them in battle should they have come closer. Humayun had no concrete plan up his sleeve to invade Hindustan then, as the Afghans had appeared still united and formidable, so he had turned back for Kabul and waited, just like Sher Shah had in his initial years before taking on the might of the Gurkani army.
Translated into English the names stood as empire, desire, good fortune, Humayun joining the names together had interpreted the meetings as an auspicious omen.
But since 1554, things had started to look bright. Jalal’s successors had turned out to be a squabbling bunch and their inter rivalry and warfare had splintered the Afghan armies and broken the empire into three kingdoms hostile towards one another, and before a strong ruler emerged to unit the Afghans once more as it had been during Sur’s age, Humayun had thought it wise to launch his invasion – and shortly, it is believed, while out enjoying the fresh air, a chance meeting with three men in quick succession whose names happened to be Daulat, Murad and Saddat, had encouraged him to put his plan into effect.
Crossing into the present day country of Pakistan with a speed mirroring that of his Gujarat wars in 1539, he had conquered Peshawar on 25th December, 1554, Lahore within the next few days, and then dispatched his divisions to bring under his yolk Rothas (where Sher Shah had constructed a fort), Jallandhar, Sirhind and Dibalpur (now cities in present day Punjab, India).
Near Sirhind, at a place known as Machiwara, a small fishing village near the Sutluj river, his forces led by the loyal Baihram Khan had met a formidable Afghan army of 30,000 men, scrambled by Sikander Sur to check the Gurkani advance. Inspite of being vastly outnumbered the Gurakani detachment had given battle at sunset, and in the ensuing fight routed the far superior force of the Afghans in what had been a very lucky break – the battle is believed to have been won by the use of incendiary arrows. In the darkness as the Gurkani archers had fired a volley of flaming projectiles at the Afghans who had gathered in the village of Machiwara (the village of fishermen), the village huts had caught fire (probably the roofs were made of grass), illuminating the Afghans while the Gurkani had made use of the darkness to shield their presence and pick them off at will.
Then in June 1555 as the Afghan ruler Sikander Shah (a grandson of Sher Shah) had led an army of 1, 00,000 to meet the invaders (the huge force is speculated to have comprised of elephants, artillery, infantry and cavalry), Humayun had personally arrived to reinforce the garrison of Sirhind with all available units at hand (investing nearly a month perfecting the defenses while his troops engaged in occasional combats) and in the following hard fought battle of Sirhind (22nd June, 1555) that erupted from an unexpected minor skirmish, defeated and routed the Afghans – inflicting heavy causalities on the retreating army, and forcing Sikander Shah to abandon Delhi for refuge in the Himalayas.
A month later, on the 23rd July 1555, he had entered Din-Panah, ending his fifteen year long exile.
The real character of Humayun, may be gleaned from the events of his reign. In the early part, seconded by the veteran officers and well-trained army which his father left him, he overran first the kingdoms of Malwa and Gujarat, and then Bihar and Bengal. But destitute of those powers, he was compelled to abandon them all and a greater part of his reign saw a series of reverses.
– William Erskine
The interpretations of Humayun since the beginning of the nineteenth century has been both vivid and varied with scholars and historians voicing their own opinion of the regent as per their times, believes and prejudices. For example if Lane Pool one of the earliest among his modern commentators found his virtues to be Christian, Havell, a second historian, thought of him as a weak diligent for his indulgence on astrology, while Dr. Tripathi, a third, considered him to be cool, clam , dignified and a victim of his fate.
Thus while to some Humayun has appeared as a failed regent whose misfortunes arised largely from his own blunders and defective character which in a lengthy list included his addiction to opium, his laid back attitude, his dependency on astrology and surprisingly his greatest virtue of clemency itself notably towards his brothers, to others he emerged as an unfortunate regent, among whose misfortunes, the greatest undoubtedly, was the unexpected rise of the Afghan warlord Sher Shah Sur, a veteran statesman and warrior who outmatched the younger man in all spheres including luck.
Much of Humayun’s life that has traditionally served as fodder for contemporary scholars and historians to form their own judgments has come down preserved in bits and pieces of literature composed during the reign of his father Babur, that of his own, and of his son Akbar – written by members of own his family as well as unrelated historians of his era, both friendly and hostile.
Chief among these written works that shed a great deal of light on his life has been the Babur-nama (memoirs of Humayun’s father Babur) which abounds with references of Humayun’s childhood, his young adulthood and is noted for revealing the love Babur felt towards his eldest son. The Humayun-nama, authored by Humayun’s half sister Gulbadan Begum, compiled many years after his death and based on her memories and experiences, (as well as interactions with other members close to Humayun, especially in the Harem) also reveals a great deal about Humayun (inspite its supposed inaccuracies and patronizing tone, Gulbandan after all was his half sister and very found of him). As does the Tarikh-i-Rashidi by his cousin Haider Mirza, the Tarikh-ul-Waqiat by his personal attendant Jahaur, the Akbar-nama by Akbar’s court historian Abdul Fazl ibn Mubarak, the Tabaqat-i-Akbari by Nizam-ud-Din Ahmed (another Gurkani era historian) and, works of other historians such as that of Sher Shah’s Afghan chroniclers in which mentions of Humayun can also be found.
How much content, in these written accounts, reveal the real Humayun is anybody’s guess but what can be said for certain is that unlike his modern day critics who indulged in the luxury of watching his life in replay as one does a detective thriller with all suspense revealed, in 1530 at the time of his coronation Humayun was no more aware of the future ahead as one does in the present century. He lived in the thick of the action, made his choices, waited for destiny to unfold often for the worse, then picking up the pieces struggled on. His love for his brothers was also very genuine, and not just because of the promise he made to his father. Kamran and Askari were sons of a mother of low birth, not as exalted as Humayun’s mother Maham, and he never once reminded them of the fact or made them feel any less inferior, and even though he appears to have been closer to Gulbadan and her full blood brother, Hindal.
Humayun did not live long after reaching his city of Din-Pana in present day New Delhi. Within a year he tumbled down the staircase of the Sher Mandal, one of the few buildings of historic importance not as yet demolished inside the fortified city, meeting his end at the age of forty seven, During the last few months of his life that he spent at Din Panah, it is said he had been planning to enhance the administration of his realm and often expressed his weariness with the life he had led, by reciting the following verse given below – Humayun had been a reluctant emperor, and many of his decisions as regent, particularly in his later years, had been in sharp contrast to his good nature.