A Place in History

The Akbarnama begins with events leading to the formation of the Mughal empire. This folio represents Babur’s capture of Kabul—his first major victory—at the age of twenty-one. Wearing a gold robe, Babur is presented as the central figure in a historical turning point, much like Akbar is depicted in scenes of his own rule. The vibrant palette and energetic gestures of the crowd are typical of Mughal painting during Akbar’s reign.

Babur at the Capture of Kabul in 1504
Folio from an Akbarnama
By Mahesh and Basawan
India, Mughal dynasty, 1586–1590
Opaque watercolor, ink, and gold on paper
Purchase—Charles Lang Freer Endowment
Freer Gallery of Art

In the words of Babur…

Later in life, Babur lost Kabul but won India. Toward the end of his life, he spoke longingly of Afghanistan:

“I was on the boat when Sultan-Muhammad Bakhshï brought in Khwaja Kalan’s liege man, Shamsuddin Muhammad, who brought letters and reports from which I ascertained the situation in Kabul. Mahdi Khwaja also came while I was on board. Before noon I got out at the garden on the other side of the Jumna at Etawah, performed my ablutions in the river, and discharged the noon prayer. From the place we performed the prayer we went a bit in the direction of Etawah, sat down on a hill overlooking the water in the shade of some trees in a garden, and set the young men to joking. The food Mahdi Khwaja had ordered was served here. That evening we crossed the river and came to the camp late that night. We halted at this site for two or three days to assemble the army and to write letters for Shamsuddin Muhammad to take to those in Kabul. [. . .]

Since several particulars are made known in the letter I wrote to Khwaja Kalan, it is reproduced here without change.

‘To Khwaja Kalan, peace. Shamsuddin Muhammad arrived at Etawah. Affairs have been learned. Our concern for going thence is limitless and overwhelming. Affairs in Hindustan are getting into shape. It is hoped from God Almighty that soon, by God’s grace, things will be consolidated. Immediately upon completion of this affair, if God brings it to fruition, I will set out. How can one forget the pleasures of that country? Especially when abstaining from drinking, how can one forget a licit pleasure like melons and grapes? Recently a melon was brought and as I cut it and ate it, I was oddly affected. I wept the whole time I was eating it.’”

Thackston, Wheeler M., trans. The Baburnama: Memoirs of Babur, Prince and Emperor. New York: Oxford University Press in association with Smithsonian Institution, Freer Gallery of Art, Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, 1996. 433–34.