Nasiruddin Muhammad Humayun (Kabul, March 6, 1508 – Delhi, January 27, 1556) was emperor (“padishah”) of the Mogul Empire in northern Pre-India between 1530 and 1540 and again in 1555 and 1556. He was the son and successor of Babur, the founder of the Mogul Empire and the Mogul dynasty. Under his father”s command, he played a role in the conquest of his empire. When his father unexpectedly died of an illness in 1530, many of the Afghan nobles revolted, recognizing the authority of the Moguls after a long struggle. Chief among them was Sher Shah Suri, the governor of Bihar. He managed to defeat Humayun several times and finally expel him from India, who in the meantime was also dealing with rebellions by his brothers. After wandering through Punjab, Sind, Baluchistan and finally Afghanistan, Humayun arrived in Persia, where he lived as an exile at the court of Shah Tahmasp I. Thanks to the shah”s support, he managed to defeat his rebellious brothers and eventually, remarkably, after 15 years of exile, recapture the northern part of the West Indies from the Suridynasty (successors of Sher Shah). After his death, Humayun left a greater empire to his son Akbar than he had ever inherited from his own father. Humayun”s stay at the Persian court caused great Persian influence on literature, art, and architecture at the Mogul court, creating the typical Mogul style that flourished under his successors.
Conquest of Hindustan
Humayun”s father Babur was a Central Asian warlord who claimed to be descended from the great conquerors Dzhengis Khan and Timur Lenk. However, he had been driven from the Fergana Valley, where his father had been a local ruler. Babur, however, proved to be a capable leader and in 1504 he captured the city of Kabul and used it as his headquarters. Humayun was born here on March 17, 1508. His mother was Babur”s favorite wife Maham.
Babur brought the east of Afghanistan firmly under his control in the years 1510 – 1520 and now began to look further, to the east. There lay the legendarily rich India, a wonderful target for plunder. The area was ruled by the unpopular sultan of Delhi, Ibrahim Lodi. Because the sultans of Delhi had been vassals of Timur Lenk a century earlier, Babur called on the sultan to recognize him as his rightful overlord. Naturally, the sultan refused to do so. However, he was betrayed by some of his nobles, who invited Babur to attack Delhi.
A brilliant strategist, Babur had also equipped his army with revolutionary weapons. Through the Persian Safawids, Babur had heard of the use of muskets and cannons in the Ottoman Empire. He hired Ottoman advisers and blacksmiths who could supply him with these weapons. In the battle of Panipat (1526), Babur, despite facing enormous odds, managed to crush the army of Ibrahim Lodi. He now controlled the entire western part of the Indus-Gang Plain.
Babur”s victory, however, was not complete. The Afghan elite, unwilling to recognize the new Central Asian rulers, allied with the Hindu Rajput prince of Mewar, Rana Sanga. The figurehead of the resistance was the brother of the fallen sultan, Mahmud Lodi. However, during the battle of Khanwa (1527), Babur was able to achieve another great victory over his opponents. Humayun, then 19 years old, commanded the right flank of his father”s army in this battle. Now that the empire seemed consolidated, Babur had his harem, including his three younger sons, transferred from Kabul to Delhi in 1528.
Mahmud Lodi had once again escaped. He had found a new ally in the Sultan of Bengal, Nusrat Shah. At the Battle of the Ghaghara (1529), the Moguls again managed to inflict a crushing defeat on their opponents. Once again Humayun played an important role. Babur was able to add Bihar to his empire afterwards; the main Afghan insurgents submitted to his authority and a peace treaty with Bengal was drawn up.
In 1530 Humayun became seriously ill. His distraught father prayed that he would give his life if his son recovered. Strangely, the prayer was answered: Humayun healed but Babur himself fell ill, dying on December 21.
After Babur”s death, it was not obvious that his eldest and favorite son would succeed him. Among the Mongols and Timurids, whose heirs Babur had claimed to be, the principle of primogeniture – the right of the firstborn – did not apply. Instead, it was customary to divide the empire of a deceased ruler among his heirs.
Although Humayun was recognized as the overlord, his three brothers were assigned some territory. Kamran, Babur”s second son, was assigned Kabul and Kandahar, Mirza Sulaiman, a cousin, was given Badakhshan, and the remaining two brothers, Hindal and Askari, were each given governorships in India. Babur, according to the Akbarnama, had urged Humayun on his deathbed not to do anything against his brothers, even if they deserved it.
The main source of information about Humayun”s character is the biography written by his sister Gulbadan Begum, the Humayunnama. Humayun had an extremely forgiving character. Even when people deliberately tried to provoke him, he remained calm and composed. Although Humayun is described as a gentle and humane man for his time, his forgiveness of his brothers would get him into serious trouble.
Although not as gifted a writer and poet as his father, poems by Humayun”s hand have also survived, usually in Persian. He was also a great collector of books. He studied mathematics and astrology and had an awe-inspiring knowledge in those fields. He especially took astrology very seriously, for he was a very superstitious man even by the standards of his time. Whenever someone walked into a room with the wrong foot first, Humayun would order the person to turn around and re-enter the room. He had arrows with his name and that of Shah Tahmasp shot into the air, to infer from the flight who of two would become the more powerful.
Humayun”s superstition went so far that he constantly had astrologers consult him in his decisions. The court and the administration were organized according to the positions of the planets and on the basis of the elements water, fire, earth and wind.
Humayun was addicted to opium, a craving that his grandson Jehangir would inherit from him. At times the addiction caused him, instead of taking necessary action, to do nothing. Although he was a highly intelligent and literate ruler, as well as a brilliant strategist like his father, he was more inclined to be guided by personal convenience or pleasure.
First reign (1530 – 1540)
Humayun”s rule, immediately after his accession to the throne, was threatened from all sides. In the northwest, his brothers plotted against him. With the help of Askari, Kamran managed to oust Humayun”s governor in the Punjab. He now demanded that Humayun recognize his rule over this area. Typical of Humayun, he immediately complied with this demand.
More dangerous, however, was the rebellion of the Afghan nobility to the east, in Bihar. Sher Shah Suri, who only a year earlier had recognized Babur as overlord, was now openly rebelling against the Moguls. In 1531 Humayun won a victory over Mahmud Lodi, whose role was then played out. He did not get the chance afterwards to subdue Sher Shah as well, for in the south the Sultan of Gujarat, Bahadur Shah, had become powerful enough to pose a serious threat thanks to conquests in Rajputana and Malwa. The sultan had a considerable treasury and employed Portuguese advisers who provided him with cannons and muskets. As he sheltered some fleeing Lodis and sought contact with Afghan insurgents, Humayun decided to take action.
In 1535, Humayun invaded Gujarat. Bahadur Shah, who at that time had laid siege to Chitogarh, was forced to turn around and driven back. Within a short time, the Moguls had taken the main cities of Gujarat, Champaner and Ahmedabad. Humayun subsequently also took Mandu, the capital of Malwa. Opium addiction meant that after this successful start, Humayun then remained indecisive and did not pursue his enemy. Bahadur Shah managed to escape and took refuge in the Portuguese colony of Diu. When Humayun and his brother Askari, who had stayed behind as governor in Ahmedabad, returned to Delhi, Bahadur Shah returned to Ahmedabad. However, he was assassinated by the Portuguese in 1537.
Sher Shah Suri, meanwhile, had not been idle. He invaded the sultanate of Bengal in 1537 and besieged the sultan, Mahmud Shah, in Gaur. Humayun rushed to the aid of the Bengalis but came too late to relieve Gaur. In addition to Humayun”s tardiness, the onset of the monsoon caused morale in his troops to drop further. Subsequently, Sher Shah managed to take the fortress of Chunar, forcing Humayun to retreat from Bihar to the vicinity of Varanasi. At that point Humayun”s brother Hindal, who was in charge of the rearguard, left his captured positions and returned to Agra. The abandoned positions were quickly taken by Sher Shah, so that Humayun”s army was virtually surrounded. Hindal, meanwhile, was clearly intent on seizing power. Humayun sent the Grand Mufti, Sheikh Buhlul, to Agra to negotiate. However, the mufti was assassinated by Hindal. Only when Kamran, the other brother who ruled the Punjab, threatened to intervene was Hindal forced to relent.
On June 26, 1539, the armies of Humayun and Shah Suri clashed in the Battle of Chausa. Because both armies had dug in, Humayun could not make good use of his cannons, which had always been decisive in his father”s battles. Prior to the battle, both sides came to an agreement. Shah Suri would recognize Humayun as overlord and be able to retain Bengal and Bihar. However, he decided not to honor the agreement and unexpectedly attacked the Mogul army camp at night. It turned into a real slaughter. Humayun escaped by swimming across the Ganges and fled back to Agra.
In Agra, in addition to Hindal, his other brothers, Kamran and Askari, turned out to be present. Humayun forgave Hindal for his rebellion. With Sher Shah advancing on Agra, the whole family was in danger, but Humayun and Kamran could not agree on what tactics to follow. Kamran then left with his troops for Lahore, to gather a larger army. Humayun and his remaining two brothers set out to face Sher Shah only to be defeated in the battle of Kannauj (May 17, 1540). They then fled to Lahore, leaving Agra and Delhi in the hands of Sher Shah. The latter proclaimed himself sultan in Delhi.
Flight from Hindustan
In Lahore, Humayun and the two younger brothers rejoined Kamran to await Sher Shah”s arrival. When Sher Shah arrived at Sirhind, Humayun sent him a message:I have left you all of Hindustan. Leave Lahore alone and let Sirhind be the border between your territory and mine.Sher Shah, however, replied with:I leave you Kabul. That is where you must go.Kamran then approached Sher Shah with a proposal to deliver Humayun to him, in exchange for rule over the Punjab. Sher Shah did not accept this and the proposal leaked out, upon which Humayun was advised to have his brother executed. However, he refused to punish his brother.
Lahore was untenable and Humayun fled with his court to Alwar in Rajputana. Here he met Hamida Banu Begum, the 13-year-old daughter of a Persian Shiite nobleman, with whom he fell in love. After initially refusing to see him, the girl agreed to a marriage under pressure from her parents. They married in September 1541. Hamida would faithfully accompany Humayun on his further wanderings.
Humayun fled with his entourage during the hot season further southwest, through the Thar Desert towards Sindh. He now had only a handful of followers around him. It became a journey of hardship, suffering hunger and thirst and being plagued by the heat. The Rajputs filled the wells in the area with sand to prevent the expelled Mogul prince and his entourage from drinking. When the horse of the heavily pregnant Hamida succumbed Humayun lent his wife his own horse. He himself had to ride a camel for 6 km, which he would later call the low point of his life.
Arriving in Umarkot in October 1542, Hamida gave birth to a son, Akbar, who would later become one of India”s greatest rulers.
The amir of Sindh, Hussein Umrani, had remained loyal to Humayun and granted him shelter. On Hindal”s advice, Humayun now began to make plans to reoccupy Gujarat. Hussein Umrani, however, appeared to have no intention of lending his lordship soldiers for this purpose. Thereupon Humayun received word from Maldeo Rathore, the prince of Marwar and an enemy of Sher Shah, inviting him to return to Rajputana. Humayun, however, turned back on the way when a warning reached him that treachery might be involved.
Humayun stayed in Sindh for a total of 9 months. Sometimes he managed to gather soldiers, but after a long and fruitless siege of the city of Sehwar, these also left him again. Humayun”s former general Bairam Khan, who had escaped from Sher Shah”s captivity, reached Sindh in June 1543. On his advice, Humayun decided to march north toward Kandahar in July 1543 to meet his brothers. He hoped to recapture the lost empire with a joint force. Kamran and Askari, however, had no intention of serving Humayun. Faced with his brothers” animosity, Humayun had no choice but to flee further west. However, his first wife and infant son Akbar were taken hostage by Askari. Akbar would spend the first years of his life under the supervision of his uncles in Kandahar, and later in Kabul. Humayun, now completely distraught, fled further west toward Persia. The Persian Safawids had been his father”s old allies against the Uzbeks, and Humayun saw them as his last hope. In his entourage was the Persian commander Bairam Khan, who advised Humayun on how to approach the Persians.
Exile in Persia
Humayun reached the city of Herat in the Persian Safawid Empire in January 1544. He was accompanied by a group of about 40 followers, including his wife Hamida. Along the way they had suffered various hardships. Because of hunger, they had had to eat their horses, roasting the meat in helmets. However, the shah allowed Humayun to receive a royal welcome and, upon their arrival in Herat, offered the party an armed escort, new clothes, and a large banquet. For a year Humayun and his entourage were feted by the shah, who insisted that his royal guest be able to maintain a court of his own.
In Herat, Humayun spent much time viewing and studying Persian architecture and art. He viewed the structures that his ancestors Husain Baiqarah and Gauhar Shad had built and met famous painters like Kameleddin Behzad. Later, when he returned to Hindustan, he brought with him in his wake a bevy of artisans and artists.
In July, Humayun traveled on to the Safawid capital of Qazvin, where he met Shah Tahmasp in person. In honor of his arrival, the shah organized a big party. Tradition has it that during his flight from Agra, Humayun had brought a large diamond with him, which he gave to the shah as a gift. Nevertheless, Persian hospitality was not alone. Shah Tahmasp went through an emotionally unstable period in which he devoted himself to religious fanaticism. He urged Humayun to convert to Shiism. Humayun felt he had no choice and reluctantly agreed, leaving him and his few hundred followers in the Shah”s favor. Incidentally, his father Babur had also converted to Shiism – temporarily – under pressure from Shah Ismail I, when he needed the Shah”s support against the Uzbeks.
Humayun and the shah then toured Persia together, including visits to the cities of Esfahan and Tabriz and pilgrimages to the tombs of Sufi saints, including Ahmad-i Jam, an ancestor of Humayun”s wife Hamida. Then the shah provided his guest with an army of 12,000 men on the condition that if Humayun succeeded in defeating his brothers, the city of Kandahar would belong to the Safawids. The tide now began to turn in favor of Humayun.
Coincidentally, in the Pre-Indies around the same time, Sher Shah died in an accident. He was succeeded by his much less capable son, Islam Shah Suri. Sher Shah had proved an excellent ruler during his five years in power. He had thoroughly reformed the administration of the empire and had its infrastructure improved, measures from which the Moguls would later reap the financial benefits.
Reclaiming the empire
In September 1545, Humayun at the head of his army marched against Askari in Kandahar. The city fell into his hands without much difficulty. In his memoirs, Humayun wrote how as soon as he seemed to be on the winning side, the Moguls defected to him “like sheep.” His army grew steadily on the march eastward. In December 1545, Kabul was also taken without opposition. Kamran”s troops simply defected to Humayun. Kandahar was handed over to the Safawids as promised. The shah sent his one-year-old son as viceroy, but this boy soon died, whereupon Humayun himself took over the administration again.
Upon the capture of Kabul, Humayun and Hamida were also reunited with their infant son Akbar. They had a big party set up to celebrate the boy”s circumcision. Humayun, however, pardoned his brother Kamran again. This was a serious error of judgment, because in the same year Kamran took up arms to recapture Kabul. Two more times Humayun had to expel his brother from Kabul. In the conflicts between Humayun and Kamran, the younger brother Hindal died fighting at Humayun”s side. Humayun”s patience with Kamran was now coming to an end anyway. In 1553, his advisors convinced him to blind the captured Kamran. Humayun, however, would not let his brother be killed. Kamran nevertheless died during a pilgrimage to Mecca the following year.
In Hindustan, after the death of Islam Shah Suri, the successor of Sher Shah, a struggle for power had broken out between the various descendants and relatives of the Suri clan. In 1555, Sikandar Suri, the governor of Punjab, had rebelled against Sultan Ibrahim Shah Suri of Delhi. He had moved with his troops to the east, where he would defeat the sultan. Sikandar Suri, however, had not reckoned with Humayun”s Moguls, who now finally saw their chance to recapture the lost territory. The Punjab was taken almost without opposition and in February 1555 Humayun took Lahore. Sikandar Suri returned in haste to avert the new danger but was defeated in the battle of Sirhind (June 22, 1555) by a Mogul army under Bairam Khan.
On July 23, 1555, Humayun rode into the gates of Delhi, where he was received by the people as a victor. Also riding in the victory march was 12-year-old Akbar, the hyperactive and still very young heir to the throne. To the disappointment of the well-read Humayun, no teacher had succeeded in teaching the prince to read or write. Today it is assumed that Akbar was dyslexic.
Death and inheritance
Since his rivals were all dead or had fled, Humayun could now finally devote himself to governing the empire. He left the pursuit of the remaining pretenders from the Suri clan to his generals.
Humayun, however, could not enjoy the remarkable reconquest of his empire for long. On January 27, 1556, he died after falling down a flight of stairs in the Sher Mandal, ironically a building that his enemy Sher Shah Suri had commissioned in the Purana Qila, the fortress of Delhi. Humayun was walking down the top stairs with a stack of books in his arms when the muezzin (prayer call) from the nearby mosque sounded. Humayun had made it a personal habit as soon as he heard the muezzin to sit or kneel, but his foot became entangled in his cloak and he fell down. He sustained serious head and arm injuries. Three days later he died, presumably without regaining consciousness.
After Humayun”s death, Akbar was crowned emperor. However, the succession was not without problems. The former vizier of the Suris, Hemu, also proclaimed himself emperor. Thanks to Bairam Khan, who assumed the regency of the 13-year-old Akbar, Hemu was defeated and killed in the second battle of Panipat (November 5, 1556). Bairam Khan managed to put the young emperor firmly in the saddle. Akbar would thereafter emerge as one of the most important rulers to ever rule the East Indies. He thoroughly reformed administration and taxation and developed a religious philosophy that allowed an Islamic emperor to remain in power in the multi-ethnic empire. So strong was the foundation Akbar laid under the Mogul Empire that the first cracks would not appear until a century and a half after Humayun”s death.
The artists and performers Humayun brought with him from Persia ensured the creation of the philosophy, art, literature, and architecture of the Mogul Empire, which fused Central Asian, Persian, and Indian ideas and styles. One of the first structures to bear the hallmarks of the new style was the massive tomb that Hamida had built for her husband in Delhi, in 1562.