Zahiruddin Muhammad Babur was born in 1483 in Andijan in what is now Uzbekistan. His father was Umar Sheikh Mirza, ruler of Ferghana in Afghanistan, and his mother was Qutlugh Nigar Khanum. On his father’s side, he was fifth in direct line of descent from Timur-i-Lang (Timur the Lame), the infamous Uzbek conqueror of Delhi and the founder of the Timurid empire comprising large parts of Iran and Central Asia. On his mother’s side, he was fourteenth in line of direct descent from Genghis Khan. On both sides therefore, he had military legends as direct ancestors. Babur’s father Umar Sheikh Mirza died when a balcony he was sitting on plunged into the ravine it fronted. As he picturesquely puts it in his famous autobiography, the Baburnama, his father became a falcon in death. Babur was twelve and now ruler of Ferghana. His troubles began almost immediately.
From the age of twelve till his death in India at the age of forty-seven, Babur was almost continuously engaged in fighting, an apprenticeship which stood him in good stead when he faced the armies of Ibrahim Lodi and Rana Sangram Singh (Sanga) of Mewar. He was not always successful. The Baburnama frankly records the vicissitudes he faced. At least five times he was bereft of all his possessions, down at heel with no followers at his back. But he managed to make a comeback thanks to his staying power, ability to attract loyal followers and magnanimity to friends and followers. One can say that as far as warfighting was concerned, he was a worthy descendant of his forefathers, always willing to try new tactics and strategies.
Babur was invited to India by Daulat Khan Lodi, a disgruntled Lodi clan member who was then governor of the Punjab and wanted to dethrone Ibrahim Lodi, the sultan. Babur had made four earlier raids on Hindustan, all unsuccessful, but his fifth was crowned by success. At Panipat in 1526 with an army of only 12000 horsemen and artillery, reinforced by some local recruits, he defeated the ponderous Lodi army of around 100,000 with the usual array of elephants. Later facing a formidable Rajput confederation led by Rana Sanga, ruler of Mewar, Babur took an oath to abjure the use of intoxicants — wine and hashish, to both of which he was addicted and which the Quran forbade, in order to secure the favour of Allah. He faithfully kept the pledge.
At the Battle of Kanva in 1527, Babur again through his skilful use of enfiladed carts, artillery and cavalry defeated the massed Rajput levies. That was the last time the Rajputs united under a single leader. Rana Sanga died a few days after the battle of injuries received.
However the battles for the control of North India were not over. A brother of Ibrahim named Mahmud Lodi had seized Lucknow when Babur was busy with Sanga. He was soon driven into Bengal and finally routed in 1529 at the Battle of the Ghagra. Babur was now master of north India. But he had very little time left. He died the next year of a fever he is said to have contracted in exchange for his son Humayun’s life.
But this is not about all that, but about the building of the Babri Masjid.
As a devout Muslim and the ruler of a heathen or kaffir population as the holy book describes them, Babur had to impress on his subjects the futility of resistance to himself as sultan and to Islam. Further as a good Muslim, it was his duty to save all these benighted souls from the peril of hellfire that the holy book promised to all those who did not embrace Islam. In this humanitarian enterprise Babur was greatly aided by an adviser called Mir Baqi.
Mir Baqi was a crusader in the true spirit of the earliest followers of the prophet — you are either with us or against us. If against, you lose your heads, otherwise, your foreskins. Should have been an easy choice to make, but these Hindus were stubborn folk who did not understand demand-side economics.
Looking around for a suitable symbol of Islamic supremacy which would duly impress the locals, Baqi lighted on Ayodhya. Why Ayodhya? Because that was said to be the birthplace of the god Rama, the incarnation of Vishnu revered by Hindus all over India. It was said that there was a temple at the spot he was born called the Ram Janmabhoomi.
Jahanpanah, said Baqi to Babur, I have an idea to convert these heathens to the true faith.
Shoot, said Babur, according to Romila Thapar and Irfan Habib, both historians whose words cannot be doubted. They were there at the time and recorded everything on HQ video. That’s how we know what actually happened. For ease of transcription I will refer to them as Romila Habib or RH in short, henceforward.
But if you ask me, I doubt that he said “Shoot.” He may said “Go ahead” or words to that effect. “Shoot” would have been an open invitation to his many hair-trigger fingered followers to take him at his word and do so, always a temptation for any ambitious retainer. So there I beg to differ with RH.
Go right ahead, said Babur. Anything for the true faith.
Oxford histories record that at this period, the average UP and Bihar peasant besides being a farmer, was also well trained in the use of traditional weapons. The area was extremely restive and the Mughals had a hard time putting down rebellions in the region. As was standard Mongol and Timurid practice, pyramids of the heads of executed rebels were made all over the area. One Mughal commander is said to have boasted on his deathbed about killing five lakh rebels in this region in order to spread the true faith.
So to continue. Baqi sent out his spies to recce the region. They soon came back to report to him.
Mansabdar sahab, the area is a kaffir den. No mosques there at all. But there is a place which the kaffirs call the Ram Janmabhoomi.
Accha, accha (OK, OK). Dikhta kaise hai? What does it look like?
Thik se dekha nahin. We couldn’t see it properly. It was after sunset. The streetlights were not working (Clearly things haven’t changed much in India in this respect since then).
We’ll soon sort that out, said Baqi.
Reporting to Babur, he said, Jahanpanah, our recce team has returned from Ayodhya.
What do they say?
The conversation was interrupted by the band of jihadis who had earlier accompanied the recce party to Ayodhya singing, “Masjid vahin banayenge, masjid vahin banayenge. We’ll make the mosque there itself, we’ll make a mosque there.”
Baqi, can you make these idiots shut up? I am not deaf.
Quiet now, you chaps. But Jahanpanah, we must build a masjid there.
OK, OK, if you feel so strongly about it. But take a look there first.
Ji huzoor (Yes, Majesty)
And so Mir Baqi arrived at Ayodhya for the first time.
As they saw the structure, Mir Baqi’s companions intoned, Allahu Akbar, masjid yahin banayenge. God is great. Inshallah, God willing, we shall make the masjid here. That is the will of God.
Masjid yahin banayenge, masjid yahin banayenge, masjid yahin banayenge. Mandir yahin banayenge! (We shall build a mosque here, the mosque shall be built here, the mosque shall be built here. We shall build a temple here).
Who talked of building temples here? Who said that? Who said that?
Sir, it was him.
Who are you?
Ram Singh, sorry Rahim Khan, your honour.
How come you have two names?
Sir, he was Ram Singh, but now is Rahim Khan, after he saw the light and became a true believer.
Not really, if he still forgets. Why did he say Mandir yahin banayenge? We shall build the temple here?
Just a slip of the tongue, your Lordship. I was so used to saying “Mandir yahin banayenge” as an ABVP activist.
What’s this ABVP bullshit?
Its a group these Hindus have in their madrassas. They have different groups who fight each other in elections to their madrassa unions.
Elections! What a ridiculous idea! They’ll be having a constitutional monarchy next or even socialism. Nonsense. Behead him. We cannot have too much of this crap spreading around. It’s prejudicial to good order and discipline.
Ram Singh alias Rahim Khan is taken out to be chopped. The executioner enters again with his blood dripping head.
Here it is, Sahib (showing the head).
OK, OK throw it away. Can’t have him dirtying the carpets.
But we can’t build a pyramid of heads with just one head. We have to impress the locals.
OK, go around to the nearest village, get hold of a hundred heathen and build your pyramid. Happy?
Yes, Sahib! Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar (God is great, God is great)! Masjid yahin banayenge, masjid yahin banayenge (we shall build a mosque here, we shall build a mosque here).
OK, will you guys pipe down? I cannot hear myself think.
But Mansabdar sahib, masjid yahin banna chahiye. Sir, we should make a mosque right here.
But we already have a temple here on the spot.
How can you compare a temple with a mosque, sahib? We can demolish that in no time. From the looks of it, a CPWD construction. Shouldn’t take too long.
This is a bloody huge temple, said the Mir. It will take some demolishing.
According to Romila Habib, temple demolition was a pastime resorted to even by Hindu kings. You must understand that a temple is only incidentally a religious structure. Its actual purpose is to symbolise the power and prestige of the king who has built it. So again according to Romila Habib, Indian, i.e. Hindu kings, routinely resorted to temple demolitions in order to disgrace or dishonour the king who had built it. In support of this assertion, she has adduced precisely one example of this and that too from South India. It seems that a Pallava king destroyed a Chalukyan temple in the sixth century. (The deity was relocated to Pallavan territory and housed in a temple built for the purpose. However, RH have extrapolated this stray incident into a routine activity essentially in order to account for the hundreds of ancient temples clearly destroyed by the Arab, Afghan and Turk invaders all over North India). So according to RH, this was a routine activity all over India with temples perhaps destroyed by Prithviraj Chauhan, Harshavardhan, Raja Anangpal and all those heroes you read about. But believe you me, according to them, not a single temple was destroyed by any Muslim ruler. In fact they are recorded as having built temples. Really?
Yes, sahib. Shall we get the demolition team ready?
Hold on, hold on. I’ll need the sultan’s permission first. And where is the media? We cannot do anything without Arnab around. Get him.
Yes Majesty, I am on the line. He’s in a debate.
Tell him its Breaking News — the Mandir is going to be demolished, but not immediately. He has a couple of days. But he heard it first.
What about the secular media? Maybe Barkha…..
She doesn’t have a channel these days, only YouTube.
That’ll do. Call her too. But we need to get the sultan updated. Faujdar Khan, get on horse to Agra and inform His Majesty of what we have discovered.
And so Faujdar Khan arrived tired and sweating at Agra.
He found Babur in the zenana. Faujdar waited outside.
As usual Babur was in his cups.
Jahanpanah, Faujdar is outside and awaiting audience. He has the latest from Ayodhya.
Babur clapped his hands. The ladies discreetly withdrew.
Jahanpanah, what is this I see? Are you drinking? What of your oath abjuring alcohol? You promised before the Battle of Kanva never to drink again.
I know, but I have consulted Sayyad sahab. He agrees that this is not wine, which I promised not to drink. In fact he has suggested that all true believers sample this.
What is it then?
This is Scotch, specifically Laphroaig.
Maulana Sahib, what nonsense is this? This is Haraam.
No, not Haraam, beta, that’s another brand of desi Scotch, fake as they come. Dharavi I believe. This is the real deal, Scotland’s finest. They call it Laphroaig. Just smell the bouquet. The scent of peat, aah, how smoothly it rolls on the tongue. I dream of cloudy skies, mountain surrounded lochs and bonny lasses.
Bonny lads more likely.
As a colleague of long standing and one who stood by me in my travails, Faujdar, I forgive you that quip. But as punishment, you shall have a peg.
No, not that master, anything but…..
Pouring a shot into Faujdar’s throat… Have that and..
Could I have some more, Jahanpanah? Who are these Scots? Surely they must be of the true faith to produce such a drink.
Could be. It seems they live some distance away. But we may see more of them in future. (A prediction that came sadly true a couple of centuries later with adverse effects for the later Mughals, but Babur was not to know that.)
So tell me, what’s happening in Ayodhya?
Jahanpanah, there’s a huge temple there, which they call Ram Janmabhoomi. They say the god Rama was born there.
I see, I see.
Sir, I think we should build a masjid in its place. Might bring all these heathen into the true faith and raise you to the right hand of Allah.
It’s a good idea, but I’ll have to think about it. We can’t upset these locals so soon after we have taken over. Maybe in time.
But unless we start, how can we ever find out?
You have a point. Maybe I should go have a look first. But who’s this walking into the darbar? Guards, have them thrown out. Have you no tameez (manners)? Who are they?
Sir, they say they are historians from JNU.
What’s that? Never heard of it.
Sir, they say that it’s a madrassa in New Delhi and they are ulema there. Apparently its very famous.
What are their names?
Sir, they say they are Irfan Habib and Romila Thapar.
So one of the true faith and the other a kaffir, from the name at least.
Sir, she says she’s a Marxist historian, whatever that is
You there, Habib, do you pray five times a day? And why do you associate with this kaffir?
No, Your Highness, don’t mind the name. She’s as much of the true faith as I am. We are both Marxists.
OK, as long as you are of the true faith, the rest doesn’t matter, Marxist Varxist or whatever you call yourself. But you’re not Shia, are you? That would be a serious matter.
No, no, Your Highness, only Marxist.
That’s good. I wouldn’t want any Shia around here, the bloody heretics. Will you have some Laphroaig?
With pleasure, Your Highness. A wee dram of Scotch once in a while is not against our Marxist principles. And it’s a privilege to associate with a ruler so civilized. I would also recommend some single malts like Glenfiddich or Glenmorangie.
Hmmm, I think I have heard of you types. In Ferghana we called them freeloaders.
Ha, ha, ha Highness, you have a good sense of humour. Could we have a bottle of whatever it is to carry to the room, so we can drink to your health?
Wazir, give these two a couple of bottles. Not the Laphroaig, mind you. Some Contessa rum should do. We should have some Canteen Stores Dept stuff in the store.
Whatever Your Majesty pleases. Your kindness be praised.
But stay, did you just come for the rum or did you have something else in mind?
We almost forgot, thanks to your kindness and the Laphroaig. Actually we heard some mention of Ayodhya, so we came.
What about Ayodhya?
Highness, actually there’s a temple there which these Hindus consider the birthplace of Ram.
We believe that you wish to build a mosque in place of the temple, but are hesitant. We just wanted to tell you that that should not be a problem. This is the done thing.
How do you know here will not be any problems?
Because Hindu kings do this all the time.
Why should we believe you? Can you show us some temple ruins?
We can, but these are camouflaged. Actually these rulers are very cunning. They demolish temples and then build a new temple exactly like the old one on top of the ruins. So you cannot make out.
I see, I see. So there should be no problem building a mosque there, you think.
Absolutely not. In fact you would be in good company, with Chandragupta II, and all of them.
OK, then let’s go ahead.
Baqi go ahead. Build your mosque.
Yes, Your Honour, and we’ll call it the Babri Masjid.
So be it.
And so it was until the sixth of December 1992.