Final Words

Perhaps Babur had lost patience with those shifty, rebellious begs in Mewat. Perhaps he had not expected to empty the allegedly inexhaustible Lodi treasury. Perhaps he longed to trade jokes in the company of his friend Khwaja Kalan in Kabul. There must have been a reason the emperor suddenly ended his memoirs, almost mid-sentence:

On Tuesday the third of Muharram [September 7, 1529], Shihabuddin Khusraw came from Gwalior with Shaykh Muhammad Ghaws to intercede on behalf of [the commander] Rahimdad. Since the shaykh was a dervish and a powerful spiritual man, I forgave Rahimdad’s crime for his sake. Shaykh Guran and Nur Beg were sent to Gwalior so that Gwalior could be turned over to them.… (Baburnama, f. 382)

These are the final words of the Baburnama, which breaks off so abruptly, Annette Susannah Beveridge assumed the folios had been lost. She rejected the suggestion that Babur had simply stopped writing. His last diary entry suggests that he was plagued by rebel begs in the Mewati districts. But avoiding his problems—for example, by heading for Kabul—would have been out of character for Babur. Despite his various illnesses, all mentioned in the memoirs, he continued to meet the challenges he’d set for himself: swimming across all of India’s rivers and covering more miles on horseback in a shorter time than seemed possible. Mrs. Beveridge was right; Babur was not the type to give up.

In a long and detailed translator’s note, Mrs. Beveridge described her attempts to determine Babur’s activities after he wrote that final diary entry. She explained how difficult it was to find reliable material about the fifteen months before his death on December 26, 1530. It is clear that the not-quite-established Mughal court was rife with rumors and intrigue. Still, credible sources have Babur visiting Lahore early in 1530, troubled about Badakhshan, an important northern frontier post abandoned by his son Humayun, and, in the same year, Agra and Dholpur. Mrs. Beveridge considered histories, archives, reports, and rumors when she researched the events of 1530, much as I would do in my own research more than fifty years later.

Final Days

According to Mrs. Beveridge, the earliest original source on Babur was Haydar Mirza Dughlat, the emperor’s Mongol cousin; as a teenager, he had sought sanctuary with Babur in Kabul. Haydar Mirza ended his career governing Kashmir for Humayun, where he wrote his epic history of the Mongols, the Tarikh-i-rashidi.

The Humayunama by Gulbadan is an invaluable source for information about Babur’s final days. When Akbar instructed her to record her memories of Babur and Humayun, Gulbadan seems to have gone about it systematically. Her writing is intelligent, cheerful, and, like her father’s, quite direct. She had a great advantage; she had access to all the women and to the men in power, so her account is credible. She was almost six years old in September 1529 when she arrived in Agra with her adoptive mother Mahïm, Babur’s senior wife, whom she always called “my lady.” Gulbadan’s birth mother was Dildar, another of Babur’s wives, who bore him five children. After Humayun was born, four of Mahïm’s children died in childbirth or infancy, but as the senior wife and mother of the heir, she had a special place and authority in the household, and she used it.

Among the family members who arrived in Agra shortly after Gulbadan and Mahïm was the young Alwar, Babur and Dildar’s son, born after Babur left Kabul to take Hindustan. The boy was apparently a great favorite in the extended family, and everyone mourned deeply when he became ill and died in early 1530. Alwar was Gulbadan’s full brother, and she remembered how Babur tried to comfort the grieving women:

His majesty was very sad and sorry, and Alwar’s mother Dildar Begim was wild with grief for the child, who was a rarity of the world and unique of the age. As her lamentation passed due bounds, his majesty said to my lady and the begims: “Come let us make an excursion to Dholpur.” He himself went comfortably and pleasantly by water, and the begims also begged to go by boat.

There is no record of the date they went to the Lotus Garden or how long they were there, but as Gulbadan explained, a message arrived for Mahïm soon after their arrival:

“Humayun Mirza is ill and in an extraordinary state. Her highness the begim should come at once to Dihli [Delhi], for the mirza is much prostrated.”

My lady was very much upset on hearing this news, and started for Dihli, like one athirst who is far from the waters.

Humayun was moved to Agra, where he continued to grow weaker and then lapsed into unconsciousness; this was probably in the summer of 1530. Gulbadan painted the intimate family scene that occurred when Babur arrived at his son’s bedside:

When His Majesty came and saw how it was, his light-revealing countenance at once became sad and pitiful, and he began more and more to show signs of dread. On this my lady [Mahïm] said:

“Do not be troubled about my son. You are a king; what griefs have you? You have other sons. I sorrow because I have only this one.” His Majesty rejoined: “Maham! although I have other sons, I love none as I love your Humayun.”

Final Moments

After anxious days at Humayan’s bedside, recalled Gulbadan, Babur suddenly felt his son’s fever sweep over him, and he cried out, “I have borne it away! I have borne it away!” and collapsed. Her description of his subsequent dramatic death scene is the basis of all other accounts, including this moving interpretation by E. M. Forster:

Nothing in his life was Indian, except possibly, the leaving of it. Then, indeed, at the supreme moment, a strange ghost visits him a highly unexpected symptom occurs—renunciation. Humayun, his son, lay sick at Agra, and was not expected to recover. Babur, apprised that some sacrifice was necessary, decided (who told him?) that it must be self-sacrifice. He walked ceremonially three times round the bed, then cried, “I have borne it away.” From that moment strength ebbed from him into his son, a mystic transfusion of the life-force was accomplished, and the five senses that had felt and discriminated so much blended together, diminished, ceased to exist, like the smoke from the burning ghats that disappears into the sky. Not thus had he faced death in the past. Read what he felt when he was nineteen, and his enemies closed round the upland garden in Ferghana. Then he was rebellious and afraid. But at fifty, by the banks of the sacred Jumna, he no longer desired to continue, discovering, perhaps, that the so-called Supreme Moment is after all, not supreme, but an additional detail, like a cup that falls into the water, or a game of chess played with both hands or the plumage of a bird, or the face of a friend.
—E. M. Forster, Abinger Harvest (New York: Harcourt, Brace, and World, 1964), p. 304.

For several weeks the emperor lingered, steadily weakening, but he still attended to some important family matters, like the arranged marriages for two of his daughters. His most important action was to confirm Humayun as his chosen successor, calling on all assembled at his bedside to be loyal to his son.

The Garden of Rest

Mrs. Beveridge described what happened next:

In accordance with the directions of his will, Babur’s body was to be conveyed to Kabul and there to be laid in the garden of his choice, in a grave open to the sky, with no building over it, no need of a door-keeper. The body was laid in the Garden-of-rest (Aram-bagh), which is opposite to where the Taj-i-mahall now stands.

Since 1973, I have thought, as Mrs. Beveridge did, that the garden opposite the Taj Mahal could have been Babur’s burial site, possibly the Garden of Rest. Although Babur gave lyrical names to some gardens, such as the Garden of Eight Paradises and the Gold-Scattering Garden, he frequently referred to others by the general term charbagh. He also occasionally used different names to identify the same garden. This has added to the difficulty of identifying where he was buried in Agra before his body was moved to Kabul.

While working with the Archaeological Survey of India and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery from 1995 to 1998 to document Shah Jahan’s Mehtab Bagh (Moonlight Garden) on the Jumna (Yamuna) River opposite the Taj Mahal, I spent so much time onsite, I became convinced the site included a Baburi garden. Like his ancestor Timur, Babur lived in his charbagh, where he received guests, planned his military campaigns, readied his troops, returned to after his trips to Sikri and Dholpur. The Jumna riverside garden, south of the village of Kachhpura was large enough and well placed to have been his charbagh. It could have extended from the river north to the garden surrounding Humayun’s mosque in Kachhpura. When I was there in 1973, I thought there were two wells Babur could have built. One, roughly halfway between the river wall and the center of the Mehtab Bagh, had disappeared by the mid-1990s, when it was mysteriously filled in. The other well remains in Kachhpura, where villagers refer to it as Babur’s well. In the 1970s, it was in fair condition and still used, but in recent years it has been badly damaged and is now apparently unused.

In her notes to the Humayunama, Mrs. Beveridge pointed out that Babur’s army was not territorial, but personal and inherited. We know this from the Baburnama; his begs were not men from Kabul, but men attracted to his character and dynastic legitimacy. His stay at the Bagh-i-Wafa (Garden of Fidelity), when he assembled his troops for the invasion of Hindustan, illustrates his relationship with his men. He rode with them and lived among them, and they followed him from Transoxiana to the Gangetic Plain in North India.

Several of Babur’s old friends were buried in the garden of Humayun’s Kachhpura mosque; one of them had built a madrasa and garden there. How fitting that his old friends remained near him in death as they had in life. His friend Khwaja Kalan spoke for all of them when he mourned Babur in a funeral ode:

Alas! that time and the changeful heaven should exist without thee;
Alas! and Alas! that time should remain and thou shouldst be gone.
—Abd al-Qadir ibn Muluk Shah Badauni, Muntakhab al-Tawarikh (late 16th century).

Babur ran out of time. He died four and a half years (fifty-five months) after his victory at Panipat. He’d never really felt at home in India. Things had not fallen into place for him: his hold on outlying states was still tentative, and the number of his dependents grew due to military pressure from the Uzbeks and Safavids. He was too generous and emptied the Lodi treasuries by showering his friends and followers with gifts. However, he did manage to hang on to Kabul and longed to return there. He apparently drafted his will on his deathbed, named Humayun as his successor, and chose to be buried in his large, unfinished garden in Kabul. Humayun had been brave in battle when he was young, but he lacked character and was a weak ruler; scorned by his brother, he eventually was driven into exile. He had barely regained control of Babur’s empire when he died as a result of a fall.

It was Humayun’s son, the great Akbar, who completed what Babur had begun. Akbar was brave, brilliant, and wise beyond his fourteen years when he succeeded to the Mughal throne. He greatly admired his grandfather and strengthened the fragile dynastic legitimacy by emulating him. He was also a successful general, healthy and lucky, and ruled sixty-one years. He had the will and enough time to create Mughal India.

In her praise of Akbar, Mrs. Stuart called him: “the great Peacemaker and Statesman, Akbar, who had the gift which wins all hearts.” Such a gift, she said, was the precious talisman he had inherited from his grandfather Babur.


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