Though very few memorials of Babar’s short but brilliant reign still exist at Agra, the life of this remarkable man is so important a part of the Mogul dynasty that it must not be passed over by the intelligent tourist or student of Mogul art. It was Babar’s sunny disposition, and the love of nature characteristic of his race, that brought back into Indian art the note of joyousness which it had not known since the days of Buddhism. Babar is one of the most striking figures in Eastern history. He was descended from Tamerlane, or Timur, on his father’s side, and, on his mother’s, from Chinghiz Khan. In the year 1494, at the age of twelve, he became king of Farghana, a small kingdom of Central Asia, now known as Kokand. His sovereignty, however, was of a very precarious tenure, for he was surrounded on all sides by a horde of rapacious, intriguing relatives, scrambling for the fragments of Timur’s empire. With hardly a trustworthy ally except a remarkably clever and courageous old grandmother, he struggled for three years to retain his birthright. Then, acting on a sudden inspiration, he made a dash for Samarkand, the ancient capital of Timur, and won it. In his delightful memoirs Babar describes how, with boyish glee, he paced the ramparts himself, wandered from palace to palace, and revelled in the fruit-gardens of what was then one of the finest cities of Asia. But in less than a hundred days, most of his shifty Mongol troops, disappointed in not finding as much booty as they expected, deserted and joined a party of his enemies, who straightway attacked Andijan, the capital of Farghana, where Babar had left his mother and grandmother. Before he could come to their rescue Andijan had fallen, and at the same time Samarkand, which he had left, was occupied by another of his numerous rivals. This double misfortune caused still more of his followers to leave him, and he found himself without a kingdom, except the little town of Khojend, and with only two hundred men. For almost the only time in his life he gave way utterly to despair. “I became a prey to melancholy and vexation; I was reduced to a sore distressed state and wept much.”
Before long, however, Babar, rejoined by his mother and grandmother, whom the captors of Andijan had spared, taking advantage of another turn in the wheel of fortune, recovered his kingdom of Farghana, but lost the greater part of it again through another desertion of his “Mongol rascals.” A second time, with only a handful of men, he surprised and captured Samarkand (A.D. 1500). In the following year he rashly sallied out against Shaibani, the most formidable of his adversaries, was defeated, and, after vainly trying to hold the city against the victors, was forced to fly under cover of the night. This time he did not weep, but consoled himself next morning by riding a headlong race with two of his companions. Reaching a village, where they found “nice fat flesh, bread of fine flour well baked, sweet melons, and excellent grapes in great abundance,” Babar declared that in all his life he never enjoyed himself so much or felt so keenly the pleasures of peace and plenty.