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WHAT WAS BABAR REALLY LIKE?

 

Was 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:

            Babur 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 recently lamented:

           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.

      The 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 temple destruction.)

            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 added.)

            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:

For the sake of Islam I became a wanderer;

I battled infidels and Hindus.

I determined to become a martyr.

Thank 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 writing.

            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.