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Guru Nanak and Babur

Babur was fourteen years younger than Nanak. He became king of Farghana almost in the same year in which Guru Nanak received the call and the apostolic sovereignty of God at Sultanpur. When Babur conquered Kabul in 1505 and aspired to conquer India Guru Nanak left Punjab for the moral conquest of the world. The Qadihya Dastgir Pir of Baghdad called Nanak, intoxicated dervish with a rare charm. In a downright earthly way Babur, who like Nanak, loved music and poetry wrote:

A Book of verses underneath the bough,

A jug of Wine, a loaf of bread, and Thou

Beside me singing in the wilderness,

Oh ! wilderness were Paradise enow.

Man, being reasonable must get drunk;

The best of life is but intoxication.

The reign of Ibrahim Lodhi had been an unvaried scene of confusion and revolts. His haughty and cruel temper, joined to the impolitic arrogance with which he had treated the Afghan nobles, who considered themselves as having raised his family to the throne, and as being still placed not very far below it, had completely alienated their affection. Many of his discontented nobles had retired beyond Ganges and the whole of the eastern provinces were in the hands of the rebels. The Punjab was held by Daulat Khan, and his sons Ghazi Khan and Dilawar Khan, who Afghans themselves, were alarmed at the fate of the Afghan nobles in other parts of the empire and were eager to deliver themselves from the power of the emperor. They felt it was safer to rebel than to continue in subjection to a prince whose violent and unrelenting disposition added new terrors to the harsh maxims of his government. All these things had destroyed their confidence in him. Guided by their fears, they sent envoys to offer their allegiance to Babur to beseech him to march to their succor. No circumstances could have been more in unison with the wishes of Babur.

Guru Nanak had time and again warned the rulers that nemesis would overtake them. His warning given again and again had gone unheeded. His reflections on the times speak volumes on the political and cultural degradation:

Nanak: such are the blasphemers,

Who set themselves up,

As the leaders and rulers of the world;

They consume daily the forbidden fruit of falsehood,

And yet they preach to others,

What is right and what is wrong.

Themselves deluded, they delude others also,

Who follow them in their path.

If one smear of blood pollutes a garment,

And renders it unclean, to be worn at prayer,

How can they that like vampires suck human blood pass, as pure,

(Guru Nanak : Var Majh p. 140)

Unfortunately we have no reference to Guru Nanak in Babur’s Memoirs as five gaps occur in the period1 when Guru Nanak possibly met him. But we find from the writings of Guru Nanak, that he was an eye witness to the third, fourth and fifth invasions. He roundly condemned Babur's cruelty and treatment of innocent citizens, particularly women of the conquered cities. The first song of Guru Nanak is about the sackage of Syedpur (now known as Eminabad), the second is about the rape of Lahore in the fourth invasion, and the third is about the terrible slaughter and aftermath of the battle of Panipat, which the Emperor of Delhi lost in spite of the assurances of astrologers and miracle working pirs. Guru Nanak points out that it was a battle between arrows of Afghans showered from the backs of elephants by the Afghans and the artillery of Mughal army. Daulat Khan claimed to be the disciple of Guru Nanak and apostle Bhai Gurdas, who helped Guru Arjan in the compilation of Adi Granth, places him among prominent disciples.2 It is a strange thing that while Daulat Khan Lodhi welcomed Babur, Guru Nanak severly condemned his invasion.

All attempts of Babur to capture Khurasan failed. “Khurasan had been occupied by the Safari dynasty of Persian kings, who were now in the height of power and glory, while the provinces of Hindustan, which in all ages have been an easy prey to the rapacity of every invader, offered the prospect of a rich and splendid conquest. The moment was very favourable to such an attempt.3 Babur deemed it a favourable opportunity to establish himself as the conqueror of India.

Ravage and Plunder of Syedpur

In 1919 when Guru Nanak was with Lallo at Syedpur on his third tour of Punjab, Babur came like a whirlwind in his third attempt to conquer and subdue India. “He advanced to Sialkot, the inhabitants of which submitted and saved their possessions; but the inhabitants of Syedpur, who resisted, were put to the sword; their wives and children carried into captivity, and all their property plundered”4 Streams of innocent blood flowed in the city and the whole of Syedpur was a city of corpses. Guru Nanak sang this song of protest and lamentation and even poignantly blamed God, for this sufferings of the iambs in the hands of wolves, though he felt God would not take any blame on H imself. God had saved Khurasan, but terrorised poor Hindustan of Guru Nanak. The Master beheld the city in flames, and witnessed the agonizing sight of the fiendish slaughter, and young Hindu and Muslim women torn from their homes and dragged like captured slaves in the streets. Agonising shrieks of terror rose out of the smoke of desolation caused by Babur wanton destruction. Guru Nanak sang the following death-dirge over this horrible massacre:

Thou hast shielded Khurasan,

Thou hast struck terror in Hindustan,

Yet Thou takest no blame on Thyself.

You have sent Yama in the guise of Babur,

Terrible has been the slaughter,

Loud have been the cries of innocent sufferers,

Did not this awaken pity in Thee, O Lord.

Thou art part and parcel of all, 0 Creator,

Thou must feel for all men and all nations;

If a strong power attacks another strong power,

No one would grieve, none would complain;

But when fierce tigers prey on helpless cattle,

Thou Herdsman must answer for it.

A kingdom that was a jewel,

Has been brought to ruin by these dogs (Afghans)

No one would mourn their passing

Glory, glory unto God,

Who bringeth people together and parteth them.

(Guru Nanak: Asa p-360)

Men and women that were found alive were rounded up and taken prisoners. If Guru Nanak wished, he could safely stay away. He identified himself with the sufferers and found himself in the prison. But this prisoner who had come to give solace to every sufferer was recognised. Daulat Khan Lodhi, his sons Dilawar Khan and Ghazi Khan knew him. Not a miracle but these Afghan nobles who had great respect for Nanak and treated him as an apostle of God must have spoken to Babur and secured his release. It is said Babur on meeting the Guru even accepted his request to release the prisoners. Babur might have heard of the Guru earlier, because when Babur occupied and ruled Kabul, Guru Nanak passed through Kabul and the major cities of Afghanistan.5 The line “Thou hast saved Khurasan” indicates that Guru Nanak knew about the early military adventures of Babur also. The Guru might have come to know about them when he was in the Middle East or on the way back to the Punjab.

The Rape of Lahore

Babur here received the news that his capital Kabul had been captured by an army from Kandhar. He rushed back to save his own stronghold on Indian border.” Soon after the occupation of Kandhar, Daulat Khan Lodhi, apprehensive of treachery on the part of Ibrahim Lodhi, King of Delhi, sent a deputation to wait on Babur at Kabul, offering to place Lahore in his hands. According to Tarikhe-Salatin-i-Afghanah (p:4), Dilawar Khan was the envoy of his father. Babur having augmented his army advanced through the territory of the Gukkars to within six kos of Lahore, where he was opposed by Behar Khan Lodhi, and Mubarak Khan Lodhi. On Behar Khan’s approach Daulat Khan had abandoned Lahore and fled to the country of Baluchis.

Babur gave a stunning defeat to the Afghan nobles. “When he entered Lahore in triumph he set fire to the bazars, a superstitious practise common among the Mughals. Babur remained only four days in Lahore, before he proceeded against Dipalpur. The garrison having forced him to risk an assault, he put the whole to the sword, as he did at Syedpur.6

For four days destruction, plunder, molestation of women in the most barbaric manner continued. Guru Nanak arrived in Lahore only to witness the most horrifying spectacle of women of noble families and great beauty being dragged in the city. Their lovely hair was cut to humiliate them. Some who resisted ill-treatment were shaven and dust was put in their heads. Those who were used to being carried in palanquins were dragged like tamed beasts in the streets crying for help. Earlier Guru Nanak had already warned the people of Lahore that nemesis would take over this city immersed in vice and vicious cruelty.7 They were robbed of their precious possessions, stripped naked and molested. Their beauty which was an asset to them became their greatest enemy.

The tresses that adorned those lovely heads,

And were parted with vermilion,

Have been shorn with cruel shears;

Dust has been thrown on their shaven heads,

They lived in ease in palace,

Now they must beg by the roadside,

Having no place for shelter.

Hail to Thee, Hail to Thee, Lord Who can understand Thy ways, God ?

Strange are Thy ways, strange Thy dispensation.

these, whose heads are shorn, were married,

Fair indeed seemed their bridegrooms beside them.

They were brought home in palanquins carved with ivory.

Pitchers of water were waved over their heads,

In ceremonial welcome given to them.

Ornate fans glittered waving above them.

At first entry into the new home,

Each bride was offered a gift of a lakh of rupees;

Another lakh when they entered the bridal room,

Coconuts shredding arid raisins and delicious fruits were served to them on tables.

Their beauties lent charms to the couches they reclined on,

Now they are dragged away, with ropes round their necks;

Their necklaces are snapped and their pearls scattered.

Their beauty and wealth were once their greatest assets,

Their beauty and wealth are their greatest enemies now;

Barbarous soldiers have taken them prisoners,

They have disgraced and molested them,

God exalteth, God casteth down whomever He willeth:

(Guru Nanak : Asa p. 417)

The sensitive mind of Guru Nanak vividly brought the miserable lot of the women prisoners of noble families contrasting it in tragic contrast to their normal life before capture. Many times he had warned that someday this city of wanton lust and destructive revelry would suffer from the inevitable results of utter moral degradation. The point to be noted is that Guru Nanak does not accuse Babur of any iconoclast zeal, nor particularly of any anti-Hindu crusade. Both the Hindu and Muslim women were the tragic victims. Their men had been put to the sword, or were away in some other battle. In the whole of this hymn the most touching and pitiable condition of the women of high families is brought to the fore. They had lost their character. They had lost their courage. They lost their freedom and were treated worse than captive slaves were ever treated. Guru Nanak adds:

If these folks had taken heed to the future,

Need they have been reduced to such plight?

Pursuing worldly love and sensual pleasures’,

Desecration and desolation follow in the footsteps;

Of the great Mughal Babur.

None, none in Hindustan can eat his supper in peace.

For the Muslim women the hour of prayer is past,

For the Hindu, women, time of worship is gone;

How can they that were proud of their caste

And punctilious in ceremonial performance worship now',

They who never thought of their own Rama,

Cannot even utter the name of Allah.

Few, some very few,

From this havoc return home.

And others enquire of them.

About their lost dear ones;

Many are lost forever,

And weeping and anguish are their lot who survive,

Ah, Nanak, how completely helpless mere men are.

It is God's Will that is done for ever and ever.

(Guru Nanak Asa p 417)

After the Battle of Panipat

Daulat Khan Lodhi’s son Dilawar Khan convinced Babur that his father and brother Ghazi Khan might betray him. Both of them were imprisoned but Babur released them conferring Sultanpur for his subsistence. Babur conferred on Dilawar Khan the title of Khanan Khan and gave over into his hands the family estates. But the dissertation of Daulat Khan greatly affected Babur’s interest in Hindustan; so he deemed it inadvisable to plan any attack on Delhi this year. Babur returned to Kabul. During his absence Daulat Khan Lodhi found means to sieze his son, Dilawar Khan who had betrayed him and put him in chains; he then marched to Dipalpur and attacked Alla-ud-din Lodhi, brother of King Ibrahim Lodhi and defeating him occupied his country.

Babur again crossed the Indus on December 15, 1525 A.D. He again easily occupied Lahore, as Daulat Khan Lodhi retreated. Some time earlier Daulat Khan had put on two swords and boasted of the manner in which he would crush Babur. Daulat Khan was compelled to surrender himself with two swords still hanging round his neck. It was the last appearance of the Nawab. After severe upbraiding his life was spared. Soon after this incident he died.

From Lahore Babur marched rapidly to Panipat, capturing the Lodhi posts on the way and defeating two detachments sent by Ibrahim in advance of himself, one north-west of Delhi and the other eastward in Doab. Against such a swift-paced compact enemy force Ibrahim Lodhi moved in the lordly Indian fashion, making one march of two or three miles and halting for two days. His camp was one vast disorderly moving city.”8

Babur’s forces according to Wolsely Haig were estimated to be 25,000 men. Ibrahim Lodhi is said to have moved with one thousand war elephants and one lakh men. Later historians have given lesser figures. Babur used artillery, which Jadunath Sarkar calls light guns mounted on carts. Afghan nobles felt secure on the howdahs of their elephants and fired arrows and spears. Giving a vivid portrayal of this study on contrast of the modes of fighting Guru Nanak writes about the battle of Panipat thus;

Mughal pathana bhai ladal ran meh tegh vagai,

oni tupak tan calai Oni hast cadhdai.

Ferocious battle raged Between Mughals and Pathans

The sword flashed and clashed in the battle-field,

The Mughals fixed and fired their guns,

The Pathans fought riding their elephants.

(Guru Nanak : Asa Asht p 417)

If there was one single material factor which more than any other conduced to his ultimate triumph in “Hindustan” writes Rushbrook Williams, it was his powerful artillery.” Describing this battle Jadunath Sarkar writes: “The elephants on which the Indians chiefly relied proved of no use; their drivers were shot down or galled with arrows and the beasts wounded and forced to turn back, treading down their own men. The matchlockmen of Ustad Ali Quli (centre front) and the carted guns of Mustafa Khan Rumi (left of the centre) worked havoc among the densely crowded Afghan ranks. The Indian army was now entirely surrounded and pushed back into a disordered circle. The Afghans fought with desperate fury of trapped beasts; some of their captains even attempted counter charges here and there. But it was all in vain; the mischief of wrong tactics and inferior arms could not be remedied, though six thousand of their men fell in circle round their dead king Ibrahim Lodhi. Then their host broke up in flight; a relentless pursuit followed in which slaughter, plunder and abduction were carried to the very gates of Delhi. Pyramids were built with the heads of the slain; Timur’s example was followed by his great grandson’s grandson.”9

Convinced of the Pathan victory many miracle working pirs had assured Emperor Ibrahim that their spells against the Mughal invader, Babur, would work wonders. All the Mughals would be rendered blind. Once again, giving, a study of contrast of the tragic fate of Pathans against the false hopes and assurance of charlatans and magic mongering pirs and astrologers, Guru Nanak Says;

Hearing Babur was coming,

Pirs and divines used spells;

Assuring they would blind the invader;

Babur came all the same,

He burnt and razed to the ground their mansions;

He cut the nobles to pieces,

Their heads rolled in dust.

The spells and charms of pirs did not work.

They whose hour had come,

Fell and lost the battle.

Wives of the Hindu, Turk, Bhatti, Rajput Soldiers, Tore down their veils in despair,

And went in search for their dead.

How would they, whose husbands would never return Pass their days and nights ?

Lord's Will is such,

He alone knows the cause of all that.

Thus, in spite of the assurance of the astrologers and miracle working pirs, the Afghans were not only routed but they were cruelly treated. Their rocklike mansions were destroyed, their palaces set ablaze. Princes were hacked to pieces and trampled under dust. Guru Nanak clearly points out that wealth and luxury, the pursuit of physical pleasures sapped the vitality of the Indians and weakened their will and strength to defend themselves. Nations and political powers are born stoic but they die epicurian. So thorough was the destruction, and so complete the route, that Babur could now make up his mind to live and rule India.

It appears that after the battle Guru Nanak went to the battle field. He saw the spectacle with his own eyes. Out of his deeply moved heart came the poignant cry and a question to the generation that lives in disgraceful luxury and dies in despair and humiliation. It is a question he put to the civilization of his own times. It is a question that can be asked on the battle-fields of any war of wanton destruction;

Where are the stables and steeds ?

Where are bugles and drums that beat ?

Where are the buckled sword and arms ?

Where are the scarlet uniforms ?

Where are the mirrors and handsome faces ?

Thou, O Lord of the earth,

In a moment Thou createst,

In a moment Thou destroyest.

Where are those palaces and mansions,

Where are those luxurious seraglios ?

Where are those warm beds Seeing which sleep departs ?

Where are those damsels With red lips, chewing beetles ?

All has vanished and become dust.

Wealth has consumed so many,

It cannot be amassed without sinning.

It accompanies not any one when he dies.

(Guru Nanak Asa Asht 417)

Babur is said to have met Guru Nanak and held some serious talks. At the first meeting Babur offered him a cup of wine and bhang. Guru Nanak refused saying that I have taken such intoxicating wine, that I need no more intoxicants. “And may I know what wine or intoxicant is that?" To this Guru Nanak is said to have replied: “My heart is the cup, His Love and reverence is the Wine and intoxicant I have forgotten myself in utter dedication to him”10 History has not recorded more than the fact that Babur after this meeting was a completely changed man. Bhai Gurdas hints at this incident saying: Babur and his Nawabs bowed reverently to Baba Nanak, and acknowledged him to be a great divine.11

About this meeting between Babur and Guru Nanak, Mufti Ali-ud-din in his Ibrat-nama says “When Zahir-ud-din Babur Badshah invaded India, Baba Nanak fell into the hands of his troopers. It was a practice with Baba Nanak to describe things in verse and then to recite them. The sayings and deeds of a person who is advanced in spirituality and religious understanding are liked by everybody and this led people to liking Nanak. So much so that the news about Nanak reached Babur Badhshah. When the rulers are confronted with campaigns, they are generally inclined towards saintly people. In this way Baba Nanak met the Badshah who requested him for a blessings. Nanak blessed him conditionally saying “So long as the descendants of the ruler would not perpetrate oppression and cruelty on his (Nanak’s) saintly followers, his sovereignty would exist in magnificence. The Padshah Babur consented and did not consider it proper to oppose Nanak. By virtue of this, whatever commands and deeds transpired in his army, no body objected to them.12

This truth is further borne by the fact that Hamayun met Guru Angad when he was in trouble, Akbar met Guru Amar Das and Guru Ram Das for blessings. This respect for the Gurus was instilled in the hearts of his successors by Babur. The moral and spiritual influence of Guru Nanak on Babur is summed up by a writer as follows: “Needless to say that Babur did value and follow all this (advice given to him) in his future life and history bears abundant testimony to this. But for those who have read of Babur’s power, influence and formidableness, the patriotic part played by the Guru does not stand in need of comments. He met the most terrible man on earth, a wink of whose brow was a sufficient order for putting millions to sword, and by his able intercession, turned him into the kindest ruler. This was the service that the Guru rendered to his country and countrymen.”13

Notes and References

  1. The five gaps in Babur's Memoirs are (1) 1853-84 A.D. (2) 1508-9 A.D. (3) 1520-25 (4) April to September 1528 A.D. (5) 1529-30 A.D.
  2. Daulat Khan Lodhi bhala hoya jind pir abinasi (Bhai Gurdas: Var 11: 13)
  3. Erskine: Babur's Memoirs p. 150
  4. Erskine: Babur's Memoirs p 149
  5. The author of Mehma Prakash suggests that Babur met Guru Nanak at Kabul when he was returning from Mecca and Baghdad tour. He says: “proceeding on, Nanak reached Kabul and there met Mir, Babur. Placing bhang wallet in front of the Baba, Mir Babur said: “O deivish, take some bhang” Baba Nanak replied: “Mirji, I have already taken a kind of bhang which induces permanent intoxication. Babur elapsed his hands and said “Grant me kingship over Hindustan” You shall receive kingship over Hindustan.” promised Baba ji.

It is highly improbable that Nanak met Babur at Kabul. It is equally improbable in the face of Guru Nanak’s devastating comments on Babur’s invasion, that he blessed him with the kingdom of Hindustan at such a meeting. Guru Nanak’s deep feelings for the freedom of his helpless country, and the misery they had alreay suffered under Afghan misrule is quite apparent.

  1. ibid
  2. Lahore sehar, kehar, sava pahar (Guru Nanak: Slok Vadhik: p 1412)
  3. Jadunath Sarkar: Military History of India p. 49 William Irvine: The Army of the Indian Mughals p. 114
  4. Jadunath Sarkar: Military History of Indian p 52.
  5. Babar ne kahya: he dervis, eh bhang tusl pivo tan guru jl ne kehya “ he Mir jl, mai aisl bhang pit! hai jis d! khumarl kade utardi nahl, tan Babar ne kiha: hedervis: oh bhang kaisi hai, jis di khumarl kade nahl utardi; tan guru ji ne Sabad kiha: bhau tera bhang khaldl mera cit, mai diwana bheya atit,” (J.B. (all versions) According to Janam Sakhis Babar offered bhang,)
  6. Babar ke Babe mile niv niv sabh nabab nivaya. (Bhai Gurdas: Var 26:21)
  7. Mufti Ali-ud-din: lbrathnama (Mss copy)

In one of Babur’s expeditions into Punjab Nanak with a number of his followers, among whom was Mardana, was apprehended at Emnabad and brought before the emperor. Babar who was himself a very good Arabic and Persian scholar and also a poet, was much pleased with the conversation which he held with Nanak, and with the information given to him on many topics. The emperor ordered rich presents to be bestowed on the faqir but Nanak refused them, observing that his best reward was the pleasure derived from worshipping the Creator, and as his aim in life was to please the Lord of Lords, he had no concern with the kings made by Him, A drug richly prepared was brought to the emperor by his slave. His majesty partook of it and ordered some to be given to the faqir but Nanak requested to be excused saying,” On a man who is ever intoxicated with the recollection of God, this drug can have no effect. (S.M. Latif: History of Punjab p.)

  1. Ramananda to Ram Tirath: Natesan, Madras.