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Edited and translated by Wheeler M. New York: Oxford University Press. IN the month of Ramadan in the year [June ], in the province of Fergana, in my 12th year I became king," Babur, then the emperor of Hindustan, writes in the early 16th century.
He goes on to describe Fergana, the region just south of the Syr Darya river in Central Asia, as "situated on the edge of the civilized world.
From his obscure base in Fergana, the young Babur set out to conquer Samarkand, the splendid city that had been the capital of his great-great-great-grandfather, Timur, also known as Tamerlane, the terrifying would-be world conqueror. Babur did succeed in capturing Samarkand twice, but in the long run he was unable to hold it, and, while he was fighting for Samarkand, he lost Fergana to a treacherous relative.
The majority of his most dangerous enemies were relatives. After years of penury and exile, he conquered a new kingdom, centered on Kabul in Afghanistan, but he also lost this territory while he was away warring in India. Finally, as a result of a famous battle at Panipat in , he established what would become known as the Mogul Sultanate in northern India. However, what Babur is most famous for today is not his campaigns and kingdoms, but his book, "The Baburnama. It is also a rare example of an autobiography produced in Islamic culture in pre-modern times.
Why he wrote it remains a mystery. It has recently been suggested that it might have been meant as a sort of legitimizing document, drafted to present his case to rule over the lands once ruled by Timur.
An alternative theory has it that the book is an example of the mirrors-for-princes genre, intended to give guidance to a princely readership on how to conduct oneself as ruler. Or perhaps the book was intended as a meditation on the nature of destiny? None of these theories is remotely convincing, for they all neglect the freshness and the personal detail that abound in "The Baburnama.
His enthusiasm for melons and swimming does not really legitimize him as Timur's heir, while no previous example of an Islamic guide to princely conduct contains so much about vegetables, birds, landscapes, physiognomy, parties, songs or sex. Babur, who could claim descent not only from Timur but also from Genghis Khan and was of mixed Turkish and Mongol descent, nevertheless lived in a region where the aristocratic elite were perfectly conversant with Persian.
Persian was regarded as the language of civilization; poetry and a highly ornate artistic prose were normally written in it. Yet -- and here is another mystery -- Babur chose to write his memoir in Chagatai Turkish and in a style that is strikingly unaffected and modern in its feel. Although "The Baburnama" has not survived in its entirety, in its pages we are able to trace the parabola of Babur's life: we start with exciting night attacks, alarms, treasons and perilous journeys through snowbound mountain passes made by a young man who was intensely ambitious, optimistic and careless about risking his life.
In , when Babur was 17, he was married to a girl he had been betrothed to as a child. Later on I lost my fondness for her altogether.
Once every month or 40 days my mother the khanim drove me to her with all the severity of a quartermaster. He wandered about bareheaded and barefoot, deranged with passion, and, although he was too shy ever to speak to this boy, the first rush of sexual desire coincided with the onset of the poetic impulse. Writing poetry, together with fighting, hunting and eating fruit, was to remain a lifelong enthusiasm.
The last sections of "The Baburnama" are more melancholy. Babur was now master of Hindustan, but the "cities and provinces of Hindustan are all unpleasant. He was now in poor health, suffering from recurrent problems with his teeth, ears and stomach. He took opium for medicinal reasons. He occasionally ate majun, a concoction made from hashish, sometimes instead of wine, sometimes together with wine.
The story of his struggles with wine forms an important part of "The Baburnama. Babur's frank narration of both his vows to reform himself and of his repeated backslidings prefigure and challenge comparison with that of the great Scottish diarist James Boswell.
Thackston's translation reads well and is a great improvement on Annette Beveridge's version. However, the general reader should be warned that this is not a book to be dutifully read page by page.
Rather, parts of Babur's story should be rapidly skimmed, while others should be savored. On the other hand, Babur's visual sensibility had been trained by his profession of poetry and his connoisseurship of Persian miniature painting, and perhaps also heightened by occasional drug taking.
He could write like this: "Nothing but purple flowers were blooming in some places, and only yellow in other areas. Sometimes the yellow and the purple blossomed together like gold fleck.
We sat on a rise near the camp and just looked at the fields. There are other colors too. Since I do not remember exactly what they are, I haven't written them in detail. The red one is nicely shaped. It can be taught to talk, but unfortunately its voice is unpleasant and shrill as a piece of broken china dragged across a brass tray.
Books The Original Mogul. View on timesmachine. TimesMachine is an exclusive benefit for home delivery and digital subscribers. To preserve these articles as they originally appeared, The Times does not alter, edit or update them.
Occasionally the digitization process introduces transcription errors or other problems; we are continuing to work to improve these archived versions. Home Page World U.
As their most recent translator declares, "said to 'rank with the Confessions of St. Augustine and Rousseau, and the memoirs of Gibbon and Newton,' Babur's memoirs are the first--and until relatively recent times, the only--true autobiography in Islamic literature. After being driven out of Samarkand in by the Uzbek Shaibanids, he ultimately sought greener pastures, first in Kabul and then in northern India, where his descendants were the Moghul Mughal dynasty ruling in Delhi until The memoirs offer a highly educated Central Asian Muslim's observations of the world in which he moved.
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Born in in the Central Asian kingdom of Ferghana part of modern Uzbekistan , Babur was descended from two great conquerors: Genghis Khan and Timur known in the west as Tamurlane. After being edged out of his own kingdom, he conquered Samarqand when he was thirteen, lost it, conquered it again when he was nineteen, and lost it again a year later. He carved out a new kingdom for himself in the mountains of Afghanistan and then went on to conquer a large section of northern India. Much of what we know about him comes from his autobiography, the Baburnama Book of Babur. Historical accounts were popular in the Islamic world of his time, but there was no tradition of royal memoirs. His choice of language was also unusual.
The Original Mogul
It is written in the Chagatai language , known to Babur as " Turki " meaning Turkic , the spoken language of the Andijan - Timurids. His vivid account of events covers not just his own life, but the history and geography of the areas he lived in as well as the people with whom he came into contact. The book covers topics as diverse as astronomy, geography, statecraft, military matters, weapons and battles, plants and animals, biographies and family chronicles, courtiers and artists, poetry, music and paintings, wine parties, historical monument tours as well as contemplations on human nature. Though Babur himself does not seem to have commissioned any illustrated versions, his grandson began as soon as he was presented with the finished Persian translation in November The first of four illustrated copies made under Akbar over the following decade or so was broken up for sale in Some 70 miniatures are dispersed among various collections, with 20 in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
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