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The Baburnama – Emperor Zahiruddin Muhammad Babur


The Baburnama – Emperor Zahiruddin Muhammad Babur


Title: The Baburnama
Author: Zahiruddin Muhammad Babur, Introduced by J. P. Losty and Salman Rushdie, Design by Neil Gower
Publisher: The Folio Society, 2014
Condition: Hardcover, Quarter-bound in leather with Modigliani paper sides and gilded top page. New and perfect – still in shrink wrap. Big book, 11″ tall, 608 pages. With 49 exquisite illustrations.

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About the book (from the publisher):

Zahiruddin Muhammad Babur (1483–1530) was the founder of the Mughal Empire in India. He was also the author of the earliest known work of autobiography in Islamic literature. In frank and candid prose Babur describes his accession to the throne at the age of 12; fleeing his birthplace of Fergana to avoid murderous relatives; his dramatic capture of Kabul, the city he would love all his life; and his conquest of Hindustan. This is both a classic memoir and a fascinating insight into the foundation of one of the world’s great empires.

Babur was born the prince of Fergana (present-day Tajikistan and Uzbekistan). He was the scion of a warlike dynasty whose ancestors included Temür-i-Lang – also known as Tamerlane – and Genghis Khan. In 1494, his father, Umar-Shaykh Mirza, fell into a ravine while tending his doves, and died. Babur vividly describes hearing the news and going into hiding from his uncle’s army. After some years in exile, Babur rode southwards to conquer Samarkand in Uzbekistan, at the age of just 19. Yet he held it only briefly, and after running out of supplies he and his relatives were forced to make an exhausting retreat. ‘Late that afternoon we stopped in Ilan Otï, killed a horse and cooked the meat on skewers. After giving the horses a moment’s rest we remounted.’ After a period of exile, Babur rode south with only a few hundred ill-equipped men on foot, ‘in search of a quest wherever the opportunity might present itself’.

After a break of five years, the manuscript picks up in 1525 with Babur’s defeat of Sultan Ibrahim and entrance into Delhi. Although he founded a great empire there, he never took to his new home, comparing it most unfavourably with the airy mountains of Kabul: ‘There is no beauty in its people, no graceful social intercourse … There are no good horses, meat, grapes, melons or other fruit. There is no ice, cold water, good food or bread in the markets. There are no baths and no madrasas.’ He did however concede that Indians had ‘an excellent system of numbering’ as well as vast wealth – a wealth that he and his descendants would exploit as the Mughal emperors.

Throughout the narrative, Babur’s personality emerges: shrewd, valiant, pleasure-seeking and occasionally melancholy. He describes great events such as battles and journeys of exploration, and also the details of everyday life: drinking parties, hunting, illness, composing poetry. His concerns can seem oddly contemporary; he is frank about his fears of being unable to give up alcohol, and about his lacklustre feelings for his first wife. As the historian and novelist Robert Irwin put it: ‘He anticipated in literary form the astonishing achievements of the naturalistic school of Mogul miniaturists who were to paint under the patronage of Babur’s magnificent descendants in India.’

This Folio Society edition features 49 of the magnificent series of miniatures commissioned to illustrate The Baburnama by Babur’s grandson, Akbar. The greatest of the Mughal dynasty, Akbar was a major patron of the arts, with a library of 24,000 manuscripts. His court artists developed a classic miniature-painting style that was highly distinctive, combining delicate Persian draughtsmanship with vibrant Indian colours and sculptural forms. The binding is based on intricate designs from the same manuscript, now in the collection of the British Library. With exquisite gold blocking on the leather spine and sides, and gilded top page edges, this fine edition is a tribute to the beauty and artistry of the Mughal empire.

J. P. Losty was curator of Indian paintings at the British Library for 35 years, and co-wrote the catalogue to the major British Library exhibition, ‘Mughal India’. He has written a new preface to the illustrations for this edition describing this unique family tribute. ‘As the revered ancestor who made possible the Mughal takeover of India and its wealth, Babur is shown in situations which emphasise his personal qualities of bravery, dignity, physical prowess, intellectual curiosity, and his love of gardening and of his family.’ As well as the translator’s introduction, this edition features an introduction by the novelist Salman Rushdie from a 2002 edition, in which he discusses Babur’s legacy in modern India and the way in which he evokes landscapes: ‘Muskrats scuttle and partridges rise. A world leaps into view.’ The translation by Wheeler M. Thackston, first published in 1996, perfectly captures Babur’s beautiful descriptive writing and his colloquial turn of phrase. As Rushdie comments, ‘In Thackston’s translation, one of the classic works of world literature arrives in English like a marvellous discovery.’