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The Memoirs of Babur

The “Memoirs of Babur” or Baburnama are the work of the great-great-great-grandson of Timur (Tamerlane), Zahiruddin Muhammad Babur ) 1483-1530). who dreamed of fulfulling his destiny as a descendent of Genghis Khan and Mongol Princes atop Salaiman Mountain in Osh and if fact conquered India and created the Mughal Dynasty.
(See my post for his life story .

Babur (14 Feb 1483 – 26 Dec 1530), born Zahīr ud-Dīn Muhammad, was the ultimate founder and first Emperor of theMughal dynasty in the Indian subcontinent. He was a direct descendant of Emperor Tamerlane the Great (Timur) and  Genghis Khan himself.

Babur was born in Andijan, today in Uzbekistan and ruled the Fergana Valley from nearby Osh .  He pondered his future on Salaiman Mountain atop which he constructed a mosque and concluded that the confines of the Fergana would cramp his aspirations as a descendant of famous conquering warrior princes. He wrote of the Osh:

“There are many sayings about the excellence of Osh. On the southeastern side of the Osh fortress is a well-proportioned mountain called Bara-Koh, where, on its summit, Sultan Mahmud Khan built a pavilion. Farther down, on a spur of the same mountain, I had a porticoed pavilion built in 902 (1496-7)

Illustration of Babur
Illustration of Babur

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.”

The Baburnama tells the tale of the prince’s struggle first to assert and defend his claim to the throne of Samarkand and the region of the Fergana Valley. After being driven out of Samarkand in 1501 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 1858.

The Memoirs of Babur

 

The memoirs offer a highly educated Central Asian Muslim’s observations of the world in which he moved. There is much on the political and military struggles of his time but also extensive descriptive sections on the physical and human geography, the flora and fauna, nomads in their pastures and urban environments enriched by the architecture, music and Persian and Turkic literature patronized by the Timurids.

The selections here–all taken from his material on Fergana–have been chosen to provide a range of such observations from the material he recorded at the end of the 1490s and in the first years of the sixteenth century. I

This translation is based on that by Annette Beveridge, The Babur-nama in English, 2 v. (London, 1921),  a modern translation is that by Wheeler M. Thackston, The Baburnama: Memoirs of Babur, Prince and Emperor (Washington, D. C., etc., The Smithsonian Institution and Oxford University Press, 1996).

Interspersed in the text are illustrations, some being contemporary views of places Babur describes; the others (which may be enlarged by clicking on the thumbnails) taken from the miniatures of an illustrated copy of the Baburnama prepared for the author’s grandson, the Mughal Emperor Akbar. (The title page is here on the right.)

It is worth remembering that the miniatures reflect the culture of the court at Delhi; hence, for example, the architecture of Central Asian cities resembles the architecture of Mughal India.

Nonetheless, these illustrations are important as evidence of the tradition of  exquisite miniature painting which developed at the court of Timur and his successors.  Timurid miniatures are among the greatest artistic achievements of the Islamic world in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

The main sections of what follows may be accessed directly by clicking on them in the Table of Contents. At the end of each section, clicking on the symbol

Memoirs of Babur

1. Description of Fergana.   (See my Fergana Valley Page)
2. Description of Samarkand. (See my Samarkand Page)
3. Babur leaves Kesh and crosses the Mura Pass.
4. Babur takes Samarkand by surprise, July 28, 1500.
5. Babur in Samarkand.
6. Ali-Sher Nawa’i, the famous poet.
7. Babur leaves Samarkand, July 1501.
8. Babur in Dikhkat.
9. Shabaq (Shaibani) Khan’s campaigns; winter conditions and mountain springs.
10. The acclaiming of the military standards according to Mongol tradition.
11. Babur’s poverty in Tashkent.

Source:

The Memoirs of Babur –  1999 Daniel C. Waugh – Silk Road Seattle –  an ongoing public education project using the “Silk Road” theme to explore cultural interaction across Eurasia from the beginning of the Common Era to the Seventeenth Century.

Their principal goal is to provide via the Internet materials for learning and teaching about the Silk Road. Much is available here already: historical texts, well illustrated web pages on historic cities and architecture and on traditional culture of the Central Asian nomads, extensive annotated bibliographies of resources, an electronic atlas, and a virtual art exhibit drawing on museum collections from around the world.

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