Autobiography of Babur: First of the Great Mughals552

Autobiography of Babur: First of the Great Mughals

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Autobiography of Babur: First of the Great Mughals

Post by Rashmun on Sat Apr 30, 2011 4:28 pm

Extract below taken from the first chapter of Stanley Lane-Pool's biography of Babur. Lane-Pool discusses, among other things, the famous autobiography Babur has left behind.

Babur is the link between Central Asia and India, between predatory hordes and imperial government, between Tamerlane and Akbar. The blood of the two great Scourges of Asia, Chingiz and Timur, mixed in his veins, and to the daring and restlessness of the nomad Tatar he joined the culture and urbanity of the Persian. He brought the energy of the Mongol, the courage and capacity of the Turk...his permanent place in history rests upon his Indian conquests; but his place in biography and in literature is determined rather by his daring adventures and persevering efforts of his earlier days, and by the delightful Memoirs in which he related them.

Soldier of fortune as he was, Babur was not the less a man of fine literary taste and fastidious critical perception. In Persian, the language of culture, the Latin of Central Asia, he was an accomplished poet, and in his native Turki he was master of a pure and unaffected style alike in prose and verse. The Turkish princes of his time prided themselves upon their literary polish, and to turn an elegant ghazal, or even to write a beautiful manuscript, was their peculiar ambition, no less worthy or stimulating than to be master of sword or mace.

In some of the boldly sketched portraits of his contemporaries which enliven the Memoirs, Babur often passes abruptly from warlike or administrative qualities to literary gifts; he will tell how many battles a king fought, and then, as if to clinch the tale of his merits, he will add that he was a competent judge of poetry and was fond of reading the Shah Nama...Of another dignitary he notes regretfully that 'he never read, and though a townsman he was illiterate and unrefined'; on the other hand 'a brave man' is commended the more because he 'wrote the nastalik hand,' though, truly, 'after a fashion'.

Wit and learning, the art of turning a quatrian on the spot, quoting the Persian classics, writing a good hand, or singing a good song, were highly appreciated in Babur's world, as much perhaps as valour...Babur will himself break off in the middle of a tragic story to quote a verse, and he found leisure in the thick of his difficulties and dangers to compose an ode on his misfortunes...

Hence his Memoirs are no rough soldier's chronicle of marches and countermarches...they contain the personal impressions and acute reflections of a cultivated man of the world, well read in Eastern literature, a close and curious observer, quick in perception, a discerning judge of persons, and a devoted lover of nature; one, moreover, who was well able to express his thoughts and observations in clear and vigorous language.

'His autobigraphy,' says a sound authority [H. Beveridge], is one of those priceless records which are for all time, and is fit to rank with the confessions of St. Augustine and Rousseau, and the memoirs of Gibbon and Newton. In Asia it stands almost alone.'....
the shrewd comments and lively impressions which break in upon the narrative give Babur's reminiscences a unique and penetrating flavour. The man's own character is so fresh and buoyant, so free from convention and cant, so rich in hope, courage, resolve, and at the same time so warm and friendly, so very human, that it conquers one's admiring sympathy.


The utter frankness of self-revelation, the unconscious portraiture of all his virtues and follies, his obvious truthfulness and fine sense of honour, give the Memoirs an authority which is equal to their charm. If ever there were a case when the testimony of a single historical document, unsupported by other evidence, should be accepted as sufficient proof, it is the case with Babur's memoirs. No reader of this prince of autobiographers can doubt his honesty or his competence as witness and chronicler.'


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Re: Autobiography of Babur: First of the Great Mughals

Post by Rashmun on Sat Apr 30, 2011 5:27 pm

From 'The Great Moghuls' by Bamber Gascoigne pg 37-38 and 42:

He[Mughal Emperor Babur] was occupied at this time in linking in narrative form the jottings which he had made throughout his life as a rough diary, but he also found time for a magnificent and very detailed forty page account of his new acquisition--Hindustan. In it he explains the social structure and the caste system, the geographical outlines and the recent history; he marvels at such details as the Indian method of counting and time-keeping, the inadequacy of the lighting arrangements, the profusion of Indian craftsmen, or the want of good manners, decent trousers and cool streams; but his main emphasis is on the flora and fauna of the country, which he notes with the care of a born naturalist and describes with the eye of a painter--an interest and a talent which would be very precisely inherited by his great grandson, Jahangir.

He separates and describes, for example, five types of parrots; he explains how plantain produces banana; and with astonishing scientific observation he announces that the rhinoceros 'resembles the horse more than any other animal' (according to modern zoologists, the order Perisodactyla has only two surviving sub-orders; one includes the rhinoceros, the other the horse). In other parts of the book too he goes into raptures over such images as the changing colors of a flock of geese on the horizon, or of some beautiful leaves on an apple tree. The sensitivity with which he observed his own reactions in love extends also to his observations of nature..........


The emperor died on December 26,1530. His progression with all its ups and downs from tiny Ferghana to Hindustan would in itself ensure him a minor place in the league of his great ancestors, Timur and Jenghiz Khan [note that from his mother's side Babur was a direct descendant of Jenghiz Khan, while on his father's side he was a direct descendant of Timur--Rashmun]; but the sensitivity and integrity with which he recorded this personal odyssey, from buccaneer with royal blood in his veins revelling in each adventure to emperor eyeing in fascinated amazement every detail of his prize, gives him an added distinction which very few men of action achieve.

And his book itself became a powerful and most beneficial source of inspiration to his descendants. Avid readers of family history, they found here the most personal expression of their own tradition. In certain respects they consciously imitated Babur; Jahangir wrote a very similar book about his own life, Shah Jahan deliberately copied Babur's gesture of pouring away his wine before a decisive campaign.

Even more important, for several generations the Great Moghuls instinctively followed Babur's concept of a ruler, which by the standards of the time was decidedly liberal. Again and again in his memoirs he demonstrates the belief that defeated enemies must be conciliated rather than antagonized if they are to be ruled effectively afterwards, and that one's own followers must be prevented by rigid discipline from victimizing the local population. It was a belief which would play an important part in the great days of the Moghul empire.


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Re: Autobiography of Babur: First of the Great Mughals

Post by Guest on Sun May 01, 2011 3:06 am

In Persian, the language of culture, the Latin of Central Asia, he was an accomplished poet, and in his native Turki he was master of a pure and unaffected style alike in prose and verse.

how can he say that? if i remember right, babur spoke only chagtai and was illiterate in the sense he could not write. baburnama was dictated by him. am i wrong in thinking so about babur?

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Re: Autobiography of Babur: First of the Great Mughals

Post by charvaka on Sun May 01, 2011 3:35 am

Huzefa Kapasi wrote:
In Persian, the language of culture, the Latin of Central Asia, he was an accomplished poet, and in his native Turki he was master of a pure and unaffected style alike in prose and verse.

how can he say that? if i remember right, babur spoke only chagtai and was illiterate in the sense he could not write. baburnama was dictated by him. am i wrong in thinking so about babur?
I don't think there's a contradiction there. Babar could well have been illiterate but at the same time capable of composing poetry and prose in Turki. I didn't know about his knowledge of Farsi. I thought the Mughal fascination with Farsi originated from his son's exile in Safavid Persia. He may have picked up some Farsi after his move from Ferghana to Kabul, but I doubt if it was literary Farsi of the style used by Firdausi; it's likely that it was everyday, conversational Dari variant of Farsi.

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Re: Autobiography of Babur: First of the Great Mughals

Post by Guest on Sun May 01, 2011 4:15 am

charvaka wrote:
Huzefa Kapasi wrote:
In Persian, the language of culture, the Latin of Central Asia, he was an accomplished poet, and in his native Turki he was master of a pure and unaffected style alike in prose and verse.

how can he say that? if i remember right, babur spoke only chagtai and was illiterate in the sense he could not write. baburnama was dictated by him. am i wrong in thinking so about babur?
I don't think there's a contradiction there. Babar could well have been illiterate but at the same time capable of composing poetry and prose in Turki. I didn't know about his knowledge of Farsi. I thought the Mughal fascination with Farsi originated from his son's exile in Safavid Persia. He may have picked up some Farsi after his move from Ferghana to Kabul, but I doubt if it was literary Farsi of the style used by Firdausi; it's likely that it was everyday, conversational Dari variant of Farsi.


i don't think babur knew farsi (despite the fact that fasrsi was spoken or understood in ferghana because it fell on the silk route). and i think you are right -- it was through humayun's years in exile in iran that the patronage of farsi started.

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Re: Autobiography of Babur: First of the Great Mughals

Post by Guest on Sun May 01, 2011 4:17 am

ya, it might have been a mixed sort of farsi that babur might have been familiar with (like dari as you say).

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Re: Autobiography of Babur: First of the Great Mughals

Post by Rashmun on Sun May 01, 2011 11:30 am

charvaka wrote:
Huzefa Kapasi wrote:
In Persian, the language of culture, the Latin of Central Asia, he was an accomplished poet, and in his native Turki he was master of a pure and unaffected style alike in prose and verse.

how can he say that? if i remember right, babur spoke only chagtai and was illiterate in the sense he could not write. baburnama was dictated by him. am i wrong in thinking so about babur?
I don't think there's a contradiction there. Babar could well have been illiterate but at the same time capable of composing poetry and prose in Turki. I didn't know about his knowledge of Farsi. I thought the Mughal fascination with Farsi originated from his son's exile in Safavid Persia. He may have picked up some Farsi after his move from Ferghana to Kabul, but I doubt if it was literary Farsi of the style used by Firdausi; it's likely that it was everyday, conversational Dari variant of Farsi.

1. He knew both Persian and Turki. I don't recall now when he picked up persian but the possibility of persian being one of the languages spoken in his native Ferghana should not be ruled out. In fact some of his biographers have expressed surprise at his choice of using Chagatai Turki to compose his memoirs.

2. Babur was not illiterate--with respect to writing-- to the best of my knowledge. At least i have not come across this fact in whatever i have read about Babur.

3. One of Babur's cousins has left behind a memoir in which this cousin claims that Babur was the second best contemporary Turki poet.

4. In his autobiography, Babur gives the complete text of one letter he had written to his son Humayun. In this letter he berates Humayun for using certain highfalutin words in his own letter to Babur when a simpler word would have sufficed. It reminded me of the Mimansa phlosopher Kumarila Bhatta who criticized some philosophers for being pedantic. To illustrate his point, Kumarila wrote that in order to create a pedantic air one can start using highfalutin words, like for instance vaktrasava (literally, mouth wine) instead of the simpler word lala, meaning saliva.

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Re: Autobiography of Babur: First of the Great Mughals

Post by charvaka on Sun May 01, 2011 12:43 pm

Rashmun wrote:2. Babur was not illiterate--with respect to writing-- to the best of my knowledge. At least i have not come across this fact in whatever i have read about Babur.
I wonder if at that time and in that society, writing was seen to be a nerdish job performed by professional scribes and calligraphers, not an activity suitable for manly warriors.

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