Legends and Legacy

In 1502, invading Uzbek forces routed Babur from his territory. Forced on the run, Babur looked to the mythical Persian king Jamshid. Here, the gold-robed Jamshid writes a poem onto a rock face about the impermanence of life. Even though fleeing, Babur imitated the fabled monarch by carving his own poem into a mountain pass. Jamshid’s Timurid crown and Indian attendants—like the musicians in the lower right—further connect his story with that of the Mughals.

Jamshid Writing on a Rock
By ‘Abd al-Samad (active late 1530s–ca. 1600)
India, Mughal dynasty, painting 1587–1588; borders ca. 1605
Opaque watercolor, ink, gold, and mica on paper
Purchase—Charles Lang Freer Endowment
Freer Gallery of Art F1963.4


In the words of Babur…
In winter 1502, Babur and his few loyal soldiers were forced to camp in the Tien Shan foothills, lacking the manpower to move against the Uzbeks. At this emotional low point, pondering the nature of power and fame, Babur writes of how he relates to the mythical king Jamshid:

“Because Dakhkat was flat, we went through the Oburdan pass up to the Matcha hills. Oburdan is the lowest village in Matcha. A bit down from Oburdan is a spring, next to which is a shrine. What is above this spring is inside Matcha. Below belongs to Palghar. I had this poetry carved in a rock next to the spring:

‘I have heard that the glorious Jamshid wrote on a stone at a spring
Like us many have spoken over this spring, but they were gone in the twinkling of an eye.
We conquered the world with bravery and might, but we did not take it with us to the grave.’

In those mountains it is customary to carve poetry and other sayings on the rocks.”

Thackston, Wheeler M., trans. The Baburnama: Memoirs of Babur, Prince and Emperor. New York: Oxford University Press in association with Smithsonian Institution, Freer Gallery of Art, Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, 1996. 114.