Baburnama – Autobiography of Babur

Quick Facts

  • Author:  Babur
  • Year: 1508 to 1519

Introduction

The book named Baburnama in persian/Chagatai language means “History of Babur” or “Letters of Babur”. It is also known as Tuzk-e Babri which is the autobiography of Zahir-ud-Din Muhammad Babur. He founded the Mughal Empire. Originally he was a great-great-great-grandson of Timur.

Baburnama is originally written in Chagatai language which is the spoken language of the Andijan-Timurids. However, the work was translated to Persian language during the emperor Akbar‘s reign by the Mughal courtier Abdul Rahim (1589–1590).

Babur was an educated emperor and he had lost of interest in nature, politics and society which can be observed in his biography. His biography has the information related to his life, places where he lived and events which he covered as well as the people whom he met. His book has all the information related to astronomy, statecraft, geography, military affairs, family chronicles and biographies, battles, poetry, music, artists and courtiers, paintings, wine parties and historical monument tours.

Miniatures in different locations

However, Babur himself didn’t commission any illustrated versions, his grandson, Akbar commissioned as soon as his biography was translated in Persian language in November 1589. The first four pictorial copies were completed under Akbar which took around a decade and finally it was presented for sale in 1913.

There were around 70 miniatures which were dispersed among various collections. Around 20 miniatures were displayed in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. The other three versions which were the partial copies of the first are available in the National Museum, New Delhi. They were completed somewhere around 1597 to 1598). 143 out of 183 miniatures are present in the British Library completed in early 1590s along with a miniature of more than two pages in the British Museum. There is a copy which is lacking mostly the text is available in the largest portions in the State Museum of Eastern Cultures, around 57 folios in Moscow and 30 miniatures in the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore. Other collections have isolated miniatures derived  from these versions. Later illustrated manuscripts were not made on a grand scale.

Akbar’s manuscript where Babur is visiting a Hindu cave in Baltimore | Image Source

Depiction of Babur in his memoir

In most of the pictures, Babur is at the centre of the scenes. There is no present time images of Babur survive. However, Akbar’s artists portrayed a fairly consistent depiction of him having a round face and droopy. Babur in his depiction has a moustache with a Central Asian style of turban and a short-sleeved coat along with a robe with long sleeves. Akbar’s workshop developed a new style of Mughal painting and thus the illustrated Baburnama has the landscape views with recession which show the influence of Western art seen at the court.  Though the scenes are less crowded in comparison to the earlier miniatures of historical scenes.

Illustration of Fauna of India in Baburnama | Image Source

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