WHAT WAS BABAR REALLY LIKE?
Babar too tolerant to destroy a temple?
In the pantheon of Indian Secularist heroes, Zahiruddin Muhammad Babar
(1483-1530), the founder of the Moghul Empire of India, occupies a uniquely
important place. Apart from his obvious importance to history, he has left us
his Memoir containing a first hand
account of his life and experiences — from his failures in his struggles to
hold on to his ancestral kingdom in Central Asia, to his founding of an empire
in Hindustan. But what interests us today is that the Baburnama
gives us an intimate look at the man and his methods, allowing us to contrast
this with the sanitized version found in history books. And this has now
acquired additional significance in the light of the Ayodhya dispute.
Indian students for several generations have been fed the story that
Babar was a highly cultured and charming prince who went on to found an empire
that epitomized secularism and tolerance. For instance, Pandit Nehru — that
High Priest of Indian secularism wrote:
was one of the most cultured and delightful persons one could meet. There was no
sectarianism in him, no religious bigotry, and he did not destroy as his
ancestors used to.
And Akhilesh Mithal, a modern day fiercely secular admirer of Babar
The Prince Charming is seen as a horror and the expression Babur kee aulad (offspring of Babur) is meant to be the worst form of abuse which can be heaped upon a Muslim head.
tragedy of India today is that people today do not have time to read history and
judge characters like Babur for themselves. Instead of enjoying his many
splendoured being and the achievements of his short (47 years only) life people
are misled into the belief that he was a mere iconoclast.
This extravagant praise of Babar by our modern Secularists is put in
question by the observations of the great Guru Nanak, a contemporary and an
eyewitness to Babur's invasion; in his Babur
Vani, Nanak denounced him in no uncertain terms, giving a vivid account of
Babur's vandalism in Aimanabad. But no matter;
thanks to a superb new edition of the Baburnama,
we are in a position to judge for ourselves whether Babur was indeed a prince
charming, or if the abuse Babur ki aulad has
any basis in fact. I will only present a few highlights from this outstanding
new edition of Babar's Memoir.
This brings up a point of primary importance: What does the Baburnama
have to say about the Babri Masjid? Unfortunately nothing, for the work as
it exists today is incomplete. It has a gap of about five-and-half months —
from April to September of 1528 — precisely the period during which the temple
was demolished and the mosque built. Babar tells us that he had reached Awadh in
March, and on 28 March, we find him camped a few miles downstream of the town,
reconnoitering the area for suitable hunting grounds. Then on April 2, the Memoir
breaks off abruptly and picks up again on September 18, 1528. But, as
previously detailed, we know from other sources that the Ram Temple was
destroyed and the mosque built during Babar's stay in Oudh.
This point is important to note: the part of the Memoir
describing Babar's stay at Ayodhya is missing from all
extant copies of the Baburnama. Thus,
the claim made by some Secularist historians that the Baburnama does not record the destruction of the Ramjanmabhumi
Temple is entirely fradulent, as it is based on a non-existent source.
(Even if the part did exist, and did not mention the destruction, it
still does not follow that the temple was not destroyed, but only that he failed
to mention it. For a man like Babar, destroying a temple would be an event of no
great consequence — certainly nothing like the demolition of the Babri Masjid
in our own time! All this is immaterial anyway since archaeology confirms the
The Baburnama is a voluminous work. A third of it is concerned with
India, containing detailed descriptions of the land, its flora, fauna and his
experiences. But the parts that are of particular interest are those that shed
light on Babar's personality and character. Was he tolerant and 'secular' as
Nehru (and his followers) describe him, a delightful person without any
religious bigotry? The picture of Babar that we get from his Memoir
is the exact opposite of this. He was cruel and bigoted even by the
standards of a Medieval Turk. He thought nothing of massacring even those who
had surrendered to him — hardly the mark of a chivalrous soldier. He writes of
some Afghan prisoners:
Those who were brought in alive [having surrendered] were ordered
beheaded, after which a tower of skulls was erected in the camp.(p 188)
These were unarmed men who had already surrendered to him! Not for
nothing did the great Guru Nanak call him a butcher. How about his tolerance of
other religions, especially Hinduism? Here is Babar speaking:
Chanderi had been in the daru'l-harb [Hindu rule] for some years and held
by Sanga's highest-ranking officer Meidini Rao, with four or five thousand
infidels, but in 934 [1527-28], through the grace of God, I took it by force
within a ghari or two, massacred the
infidels, and brought it into the bosom of Islam ... (p 331; emphasis
This should give some idea of the magnitude of the distortion involved in
turning Babar into a tolerant person, let alone a prince charming. And when in a
particularly happy mood, he composed the following dirge:
the sake of Islam I became a wanderer;
I battled infidels and Hindus.
determined to become a martyr.
God I became a holy warrior.
And what did he find interesting in India? "Hindustan," he
wrote, "is a place of little charm. ... The one nice aspect of Hindustan is
it is a large country with lots of gold and money."
All told, a reading of the Baburnama
fails to impress one with the author's charm or chivalry. He comes across as
dour, pragmatic, calculating, and yes, bigoted and cruel, without a touch of
warmth or spontaneity in him. He speaks so often, and with obvious glee of
having made 'a tower of skulls', that one soon begins to sicken at the
expression. It is not hard to see why Babur
ki aulad is considered the worst form of abuse in North India.
He was beyond dispute a soldier of ability, but his being a 'Prince
Charming' is a modern Secularist myth of which one finds not a trace in his own
Babar saw ruthlessness as a virtue, and terror as a useful tactical tool.
In this he was a true descendant of Timur and Chengiz Khan — both of whom were
his ancestors. Babar was fully capable of destroying temples. Nanak was
eyewitness to many such destructions: temples as strong as thunderbolt were set
on fire, said Nanak. "Than mukam jale bij mandar muchhi muchhi kuir rula'ia" — in Nanak's own words.
His destruction of the temple at Ayodhya was no isolated case, but just
routine — all part of a day's work as a Ghazi
— a religious warrior. Guru Nanak's eyewitness account of Babar's
campaigns gives a far more accurate picture of Babar and his methods than almost
any modern history book. The same holds true for the Baburnama:
it is a primary source of great historical importance that goes to demolish
romantic tales about him.
At the same time, Babar was successful because he was pragmatic. He
pushed the practice of Jihad — total war in the name of Islam — to its
limit, but within the bounds of possibility. He negotiated with Hindu rulers and
made deals with them when he needed to. His own string of defeats in the early
part of his career had taught him to be prudent. So, in dealing with the Hindus
he was being practical, and not showing tolerance for its own sake. He prided in
being a Ghazi — a holy warrior for
Islam — but never allowed himself to be drawn into a reckless venture. He was
anything but foolhardy. All in all, he was a practical soldier, who by no
stretch of the imagination was a tolerant prince charming as our Secularists
would have him. He himself would have laughed at any such notion.
So Babar was not only capable
of destroying temples, but considered it his sacred duty to do so. Such is the
truth. It is the height of self deception if not an outright falsehood to
describe him as anything else.