We all know about the great Mughal Empire that ruled over the Indian Subcontinent from 1526 AD to 1857 AD. The first emperor and the founder of the Empire was Zaheeruddin Babur. Before winning the battle at Panipat in 1526, he was the ruler of Kabul. He was fascinated by the diversity of the Indian Subcontinent. He tried in 1519 to conquer it but didn’t succeed. He ultimately got success in 1526.
Babur was a great patron of art and architecture. He also composed 600 poems. He lived a very dramatic life where he spent most of his youth with the intention to conquer and reconquer various places – particularly Samarkand. He used to derive pleasure from the high arts: elegant calligraphy, fine cuisine, song and dance.
In order to rule and ensure his dynasty’s security, Babur needed legal wives to bear legitimate male heirs.
While in Kabul, he had 20 children from his legal wives, which included his four surviving sons. Through his official marriages, we can divide the life of Babur into three stages.
During his early life, as a Central Asian Timurid, he married two of his double cousins, but these two marriages were political in nature. These marriages were with Ayesha Sultan Begum and Zaynab Sultan Begam. He got divorced from Ayesha while Zaynab died of smallpox – and that is how these marriages ended prematurely.
Babur’s next marriage was with his Timurid relative Masuma Sultan Begum. They first met at the wedding of their common relative in Herat. According to Babur, Masuma got attracted to him first – and then Babur also liked her. Both of them married with the will of their families. Masuma died during their first childbirth, although their daughter survived. Babur’s next Timurid wife was Saliha Sultan Begum, who bore him a daughter.
Babur still needed a male heir in order to sustain his dynasty. He was now the ruler of Kabul. His next three marriages were not with Timurid princess. They were from respectable families of Kabul, who spoke Persian. Of these three, Babur’s main wife was Maham Begum. She was highly respected and in 1508, she bore his first surviving son, Mirza Humayun. She also bore four more children, but they did not survive.
Babur’s next marriage was with Gulrukh Begum, who bore him four sons and a daughter. Out of four, only two, Mirza Kamran and Mirza Askari, survived. Gulrukh meant “Rosy Face.” After Gulrukh, Babur married Dildar Begum. She bore two sons and three daughters. In these two sons, one was Mirza Hindal, who served as a commander and administrator – and one of the three daughters, Gulbadan Begum, remained a leading figure in the court of Humayun later on.
While he was a ruler of Kabul, he wanted to maintain good relations with the locals in order to sustain his dynasty. The last marriage of Babur was political in nature. In 1519, he got married to Bibi Mubarak, also known as Afghan Begum. Her father, Malik Shah Mansoor was a chief of the Yousafzai Pashtuns. She spoke Pashto and Dari. Since Babur was too old and she was a young lady, they didn’t bear any child.
In his last stage of life, as the ruler of India, he didn’t marry further. When he established his rule in north India, he then called the women of his household to join him in India, from Kabul.
Such were the beginnings of a South Asian dynasty, which was later just as well-known for producing illustrious women as it was for its men.