Zoya Ansari talks about the founder of Emperor Babar’s rich intellectual antecedents
Emperor Babar’s rich intellectual antecedents were sui generis amongst the annals of kings as he was blessed with the qualities of head and heart that were exceptional in every respect. To begin with, along with his martial tendencies, he possessed profound civilian instincts that made him a genuine author and penman, the layer of gardens, artist, craftsman and sportsman. His personal dynamism was honed in a fertile soil of family tradition and his home-milieu favoured excellence in the arts and set before its progeny high standard and example of proficiency. The family moorings bred in him obedience to the law as well as planting in him some of art’s essentials, self-restraint and close attention. Amongst primal influences on him was his mother Qutluq Nigar Khanum who was well-born and a scholar’s daughter certainly educated in Turki and Persian.
From his maternal grandmother Aisan Daulat he learnt respect for the attainments of his wise old grandfather Yunas Khan. Aisan Daulat herself brought to her nomad-born and sternly-bred grandson much that goes to the making of an exceptional man. She practically remained Babar’s ruling counselor through his early struggle to hold Farghana. With these two sturdy influences was added Khanzada, his five-years elder sister who from his birth to his death proved her devotion to him. On his paternal side Babar’s father Umar Shaikh Mirza’s own mother Shah Sultan Begum brought in a type of merit widely differing from that of Aisan Daulat Begum and as a town-lady of high Tarkhan birth used to the amenities of life in a wealthy house of Samarkand and she was certainly an accomplished and cultured woman.
Babar’s father Umar Shaikh Mirza was also an accomplished scholar though Babar rated him fond of sports and rather fat enamoured of pigeon-flying. Umar Shaikh Mirza appears to be a restless soul widely known for his intellect and good manners that Babar duly inherited. It must be noted that Umar Shaikh Mirza’s environment was dominated for many years by two great men, the scholar and lover of town-life Yunas Khan, who was also his father-in-law, and the saintly Ahrari, Khwaja Ubaidullah who were frequently with him in company and came at Babar’s birth and assisted at his naming. For young Babar it was good fortune to witness the three friends holding social session in high converse that sowed in him the seed of reverence for wisdom and virtue along with his high regard for legendary poet Jami.
Most of Babar’s high ideals he inherited from his maternal grandfather Yunas Khan whose attainments in the gentler arts were rated formidable and are attested to be by his wife Aisan Daulat under whose warm company Babar grew up. Aisan Daulat narrated the high-minded disposition of Yunas Khan to Babar who duly imbibed the breadth of his exemplary influence. Yunas Khan was many things—penman, painter, singer, instrumentalist and a past master in the crafts. He was an expert in good companionship, having even temper and perfect manners, quick perception and conversational charm. His intellectual distinction was attributed to his twelve years of ward-ship under the learned and highly honoured Sharafuddin Ali Yazdi who is remembered as the author of valuable book Zafarnama.
Zafarnama greatly influenced Yunas Khan as it was the basis of Amir Taimur’s Turki Malfuzat or annals. What Yunas Khan learned of either book he would carry with him into Umar Shaikh’s environment thus magnifying the family stock of influence of the creed and achievements of Amir Taimur. Yunas Khan lived to the ripe age of seventy-four, a long life that must have bridged the gap between Taimur’s death in 1404 and Babar’s birth in 1483. It was said that no previous Khan of Yunas’s Chaghatai line had survived his 40th year but his exceptional age earned him great respect and would deepen his influence on his restless young son-in-law Umar Shaikh Mirza. It appears to have been in Umar Shaikh Mirza’s 20th year that Yunas Khan began the friendly association with him that lasted till Yunas Khan’s death, a friendship which, as disparate ages would dictate, was rather that of father and son than of equal companionship.
Babar’s broad-minded view of life and his eclecticism definitely came from the impressions conveyed to him by the exalted company he grew up in. It must have been clear in Babar’s memory that Yunas Khan broke the law against intoxicants, repented and returned and Babar would do exactly the same. Babar repented while fighting against Rana Sanga but then was reported to have gone back to the pleasures given by intoxicants. This eclecticism remained one of the strong traits of the Mughals till Shahjahan and Aurangzeb reversed the trend. However, in the case of Umar Shaikh Mirza the influence of Ahrari and Yunas Khan remained great and gave fragrance of goodness to his name.
Babar mentioned that his father Umar Shaikh Mirza possessed high sense of justice and generosity that his son greatly inherited. Babar also ascribes to him the quality of reading great books with the Quran and the Masnawi being amongst his favourites. This choice, it may be, led Babar to describe him as darwesh-minded. Babar was old enough before Umar Shaikh Mirza’s death to profit by the sight of his father enjoying the perusal of such books. As with other parents and other children, there would follow the happy stilling to a quiet mood, the piquing of curiosity as to what was in the book, the sight of refuge taken as in a haven from self and care, and perhaps, Babar being intelligent and of inquiring mind and his father a skilled reciter, the boy would marvel at the perennial miracle that a lifeless page can become eloquent—gentle hints all, pointers of the way to literary creation.
Babar was also very proud of his Timurid inheritance and Taimur proved a great exemplar not only as a soldier but as a chronicler. Taimur cannot have seemed remote from that group of people so well-informed about him and his exploits particularly in civil affairs. To Babar Taimur will have been exemplary through his grandson Aulugh Beg who has two productions to his credit, the Char-ulus (Four Hordes) and the Kurkani Astronomical Tables. Babar’s intellectual antecedents adequately came to fore through his dictum that whatever work a man took up, he aspired to bring it to perfection. Babar’s life is an epitome of the tune of equality of excellence that gives a high notion of the time to find and described along with the learned and great of the age.
Babar’s excellence of spirit is manifested through his love of nature and his admiration for great architectural creations. In this respect he took his inspiration though Taimur’s endeavours who adorned Samarkand by magnificently laying down out stately gardens and Babar did the same by adoring Kabul and Agra with spectacular gardens. Babar’s eclecticism, generosity, open-mindedness and bonhomie added lustre not only to his life but also to his dynasty. Babar also initiated a string of architectural buildings, an activity that was duly followed by his ancestors proving to the world the aesthetic brilliance of Babar’s high-minded perceptions and uniquely inherited antecedents to whom he stayed true throughout his life. TW