Humāyūn Inherits the Throne in India Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Mughal emperor Humāyūn faced multiple political and military crises that demonstrated the precarious nature of the Mughal possessions in Transoxiana and Hindustan. He also bequeathed a culturally vibrant and politically secure kingdom that was unified by his son and successor Akbar.

Summary of Event

Humāyūn was born in Kabul to Bābur, the founder of the Mughal Empire of India, and Maham Begum, daughter of a distinguished Shīՙite saint. At Bābur’s death in 1530, the Mughal Empire comprised part of north and north-central Asia, including parts of what are now Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Afghanistan. Mughal Empire Humāyūn Shēr Shāh Sūr Bahādur Ṭahmāsp I Bābur Bābur Shēr Shāh Sūr Bahādur Askari Ṭahmāsp I Islām Shāh Sūr Sikandar Sur Humāyūn

During Bābur’s terminal illness, Humāyūn’s wazir(prime minister) hatched a plot atĀgra to get the dying emperor’s brother-in-law, captain of a division of the Mughal army, declared successor. Luckily for Humāyūn, the wazir changed his mind at the last moment and had the heir presumptive proclaimed on December 30, 1530, four days after Bābur’s death.

For the twenty-three-year old emperor, the throne of Hindustan Hindustan was far from secure because of the machinations of his three ambitious and unruly brothers—Kamran, Askari, and Hindal—on one hand, and the dangers posed by the indomitable Rājputs, the Afghan adventurer Shēr Shāh Sūr of Bengal and Bihar, and Bahādur of Gujarat. The young emperor’s habits and hobbies—some lamentable and some laudable—such as opium, art, and books, did not help him cope with the political and military exigencies plaguing his reign, which was made up of a series of military campaigns interspersed with short intervals of respite.

Humāyūn not only maintained his father’s arrangements but even added the Punjab and Multan to Kamran’s jurisdiction, giving the province of Sambhal to Askari, and Alwar to Hindal. Provincial administration, as devised by Bābur, consisted of a governor, a diwan, a sikdar, and a kotwal, supported by the local jagirdars (feudal landlords). The Hindus and the Muslims had accepted the Mughal supremacy as a matter of course.

The emperor’s brothers and kinsmen, especially the Mirzas of Herāt, all coveted the throne of Hindustan and conspired against him, though the softhearted Humāyūn dealt with most of them with unusual and dangerous leniency. Then, the Afghans, who had lost their hegemony in Hindustan to the newcomers from north-central Asia, remained resentful and mindful of any opportunity to overwhelm the new masters. Especially in the regions of Bihar Bihar and Bengal Bengal , they began consolidating their hold and preparations for attacking the Mughal headquarters atĀgra and Delhi. Moreover, the redoubtable Rājputs were yet to be subdued. Lastly, Bahādur, sultan of the prosperous region of Gujarat and an avowed enemy of the Mughals, was aiming to conquer the whole of Rājputana, lying dangerously close to the western borders of Mughal territory in northern India.

Humāyūn was successful in his first campaign against the Afghan ruler of Bihar and Bengal, Shēr Shāh Sūr. In the Battle of Dourah Dourah, Battle of (1532) in October, 1532, he defeated the Afghans, and he besieged the fort of Chunar in November. Humāyūn, however, had to abandon his eastern campaign and move west, where he was triumphant as well.

Following his victories in the west, the emperor installed (1536) his brother Askari as the ruler of Gujarat Gujarat and passed a considerable period of time at Mandu feasting and frolicking in celebration of his military victory. The appointment of Askari as the governor of Gujarat proved to be unwise because the heedless royal sibling was emboldened to make a bid for the imperial throne, though he was restrained by his elder brother and pardoned subsequently. Meanwhile, the people of Gujarat had risen in support of their former king Bahādur, who soon recovered his territories lost to the Mughals. Humāyūn submitted to the fait accompli and returned toĀgra in March, 1537.

The emperor lost not just Gujarat; he almost lost his empire in India when he confronted the rising Afghan power in the east. Since 1536, Shēr Shāh had been gathering strength in the east. An astute administrator and military commander, he recovered his territories in Bengal and Bihar. Humāyūn, along with his brothers Askari and Hindal, attacked the Afghan headquarters at Chunar in November of 1537 and captured the fort there in March of 1538. He was decisively defeated by Shēr Shāh at the Battle of Chausa, Chausa, Battle of (1539) however, in 1539. While retreating toĀgra, the emperor was pursued by the Afghans and was beaten by them again, at Kannauj, in 1540. Humāyūn fled to Amarkot (Sind), and Shēr Shāh assumed the title of sultan-i-ՙĀdil, king of Hindustan. From Sind, the fugitive emperor wandered for three years seeking help from his brothers Kamran and Askari to retrieve his throne, but to little effect. He moved farther west and sought shelter under the Ṣafavid emperor of Persia, Ṭahmāsp I, on December 28, 1543.

Shēr Shāh died in 1545 and was followed by his son Islām Shāh Sūr, who ruled until 1553. The Sūri Dynasty Sūri Dynasty[Suri Dynasty] disintegrated after Islām Shāh Sūr’s death. Meanwhile, Humāyūn had strengthened his position with Persian help, and between 1545 and 1555, he conquered Kandahar and Kabul, marched to Peshawar, and occupied Lahore. On May 29, 1555, he defeated the last Sūri usurper, Sikandar Sur, at the Battle of Sirhind Sirhind, Battle of (1555) . On July 4 of the same year, Humāyūn ascended the imperial throne of Delhi. Unfortunately, he did not live long enough to enjoy his hard-won restoration and died after an accidental fall on January 24, 1556.

Emperor Humāyūn was neither a great military strategist nor an astute statesman, but personally he was magnanimous, generous, and benevolent. He was well educated in Arabic, Persian, and Turkic languages and composed ghazals, masnavis, and rubaisa. He was an aesthete who admired the Ṣafavid school of painting and invited a number of Persian painters to Hindustan, who then laid the foundation of the Mughal style. Similarly, he was fond of Persian poetry and appointed a number of Persian scholars and poets to his court. A pious Muslim, Humāyūn constructed a citadel named Din Panah (refuge of religion) in Delhi.

Significance

Humāyūn’s reign demonstrated the volatile political situation of northern, western, and eastern India that the Mughal rulers had to confront while seeking to consolidate their hold over what were to them a strange land and strange people. Yet Humāyūn regained Hindustan for the Mughals, facilitated the triumph of Mughal cultural influence in Hindustan, and facilitated its political unification under Akbar.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Banerji, Sukumar. Humāyūn Badshah. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1938. A scholarly study that examines Humāyūn’s confrontation with Shēr Shāh in 1540.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Begum, Gul-Badan. Humāyūn-nama (The History of Humāyūn). Translated by Annette S. Beveridge. Lahore, Pakistan: Sang-e-Meel, 1974. An important contemporary history by Humāyūn’s sister.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Eraly, Abraham. The Last Spring: The Lives and Times of the Great Mughals. New Delhi, India: Viking Press, 1997. A long narrative of the lives and times of India’s Mughal emperors, including Humāyūn.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Jauhar. The Tezkereh al Vakiat: Or, Private Memoirs of the Mughal Emperor Humāyūn. Translated by Charles Stewart. Reprint. New York: Augustus M. Kelley, 1969. An account by an intimate servant of Humāyūn. A major primary source.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Ray, Sukumar. Humāyūn in Persia. Kolkata: Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal, 1948. An authoritative account of a little known but significant phase in Humāyūn’s life.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Wolpert, Stanley. A New History of India. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. This readily accessible and well-written text examines Mughal India and Humāyūn’s reign.

1451-1526: Lodī Kings Dominate Northern India

Early 16th cent.: Fuzuli Writes Poetry in Three Languages

Apr. 21, 1526: First Battle of Panipat

Mar. 17, 1527: Battle of KhĀnua

1540-1545: Shēr Shāh Sūr Becomes Emperor of Delhi

1556-1605: Reign of Akbar

Feb. 23, 1568: Fall of Chitor

Feb., 1586: Annexation of Kashmir

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