Empire of the Moghuls – Raiders from the North

Warning – Long post ahead! But I had to be true to my review…. 🙂

In tow with the various “series” of books making their foray into our book shelves, this one from English author Alex Rutherford speaks about the rise of the Moghul dynasty. We are introduced to 12 year old Babur who grows up listening to the tales and conquests about his ancestors and most feared conquerors of the world, Gengis Khan and Timur. The untimely death of his father in an unexpected way turns the boy prince of Ferghana (modern day Uzbekistan and Kyrgyztan) into a King accelerating his growth from his carefree days as a boy to a man. Ably supported by his formidable grand mother and direct descendant of Gengis khan, Eshan Dawlat, his mother Kutlugh Nigar,  young sister Khanzada and aided by loyal friends and brave warriors he raises to become the founder of the Moghul dynasty in India, establishing the great Humayun at its helm.

The book which is based on the “Baburnama”, the actual diaries of Babur, describes the incredible life of a boy filled with courage and ambition whose only claim to the thrown was being the descendant of Timur. His journey from Ferghana, Samarkand, Kabul and finally Hindustan is riddled with failures, self doubt, injuries, conniving advisors, personal loss and natural calamities many times over, but he manages to rise like a phoenix from the ashes on every occasion to reclaim his own. Babur finally surpasses the dream of Timur which was to establish and conquer beautiful and mysterious Hindustan, and leaving behind a legacy that can still be seen and felt today.

For a few things I love about the book:

  • Babur’s ability to get back on track after every failure – He looses his beloved Ferghana thanks to his  dubious half brother Jehangir and his even more coveted Samarkand (also called the Fat City, owing to its fertile lands and beautiful gardens) leaving him a “King without a thone”. He looses Samarkand at least thrice before letting go and the loss of his beautiful sister to the barbaric Shabai Khan, is described very beautifully. The reader can actually sympathize with Babur and feel the emotions that he might have gone through. His immense strength and motivation to keep pushing reminded me of the story of Mohammed Gajini 🙂 A line which made an impression upon me was the advise Babur received from his grandmother before she breathes her last: “Have no fear of your ambitions. Stare them in the face, fulfil them. Remember nothing is impossible…”
  • Babur’s attitude and respect for women. Now this was an eye opener. In those ages, when a kingdom was conquered by warring tribes the city was usually plundered and the women were carried away as slaves or made to do things as the men saw fit. But this was not the case with Babur. His ability to see his sister, mother and grandmother in most women and his philosophy to treat women and children justly will find a special place in the hearts of the reader.
  •  His qualities as king – Babur always favored those with loyalty and courage even if they belonged to the enemy camp. This uncanny ability coupled with his courageous nature made sure that he was always surrounded by those he could trust.
  • Another important concept of his conquests was his implicit instructions to his soldiers not to plunder or torture the citizens of the city or kingdom that was being claimed by him. He believed that the city and its citizens needed to trust him, his advisors and their abilities to rule the kingdom and make it prosperous.
  •  The readers get an insight into the origination and meaning of the word “Moghul”
  •  Babur’s friendship with Baburi, a market boy whom he befriends during his teenage years, who later on becomes his trusted and loyal adviser and of course the strong bond shared by Babur and Khanzada have been penned classically.

 Now, aspects about the book that confused / disturbed me about the nature of these conquests, not just Babur’s but the ones starting from the times of Gengis Khan.

  • It seems that most of these conquests originated out of sheer boredom and the fanatical nature of kings who believed that every other nation, race or country that did not follow the rules of Islam did not have the right to exist! An actual sample from the book which described Timurs speech to his soldiers really disturbed me:

 “The prize is great. Hindustan is full of riches – gold, emeralds and rubies. It has the only mine in the word known for the bright diamond. But its inhabitants do not deserve such jewels. Although some of the rulers follow our God, most of the people are cowardly infidels, worshipping idols of distorted half-human, half animal deities. God will take any who die for them to Paradise. He will grant us great victories over them and their rulers who weakly tolerate unbelief among their subjects. We will take immense booty

 Here is one more: “All of my previous campaigns have been against armies that included at least some men who shared our faith. This time our opponents are all Hindus – that is to say infidels. We will declare holy war – jihad

 It seems that their concepts of Jihad and the fanatical madness which accompanies it has always been a part of their culture and mind sets. The very fact that they never believed in the concepts of live and let live will send chills down the spines of readers.

  •  Most parts of the book seem like a battle plan. It describes the city layouts and the battle tactics used with great detail that the reader’s attention is distracted. At least mine was, and I just wanted to skip those sections.
  • The gore – the results of plundering, royal punishments and other murderous details are described to the ‘T’ or at least it seems that way. The very thought of a human skull being converted to a wine goblet or heads of slain kings and soldiers put being displayed on the city walls or the skin of  a slain king being used for a drum, made it very hard for me to get through the chapters. It seemed like these kings or conquerors who prided themselves on carrying Gods work for their place in paradise were ruthless barbarians with an unquenchable lust for blood.

 To round up this review, the book was a good. The research of the author is simply mind boggling. Per his notes, he has visited all places mentioned in the book and has tried to be as close to the facts as possible.

I am definitely looking forward to the other books in the series to understand how exactly the Moghuls established themselves in our country but then I need a break after the violence of this one!

Rating: 4/5



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