W.596: Memoirs of Babur

Recognized as one of the world’s great autobiographical memoirs, the Bāburnāma is the story of Ẓahīr al-Dīn Muḥammad Bābur (866 AH / 1483 CE – 937 AH / 1530 CE), who conquered northern India and established the Mughal Empire. Born in Fergana (Central Asia), Babur was a patrilineal Timurid and matrilineal Chingizid. Babur penned his memoir in Chaghatay Turkish, which he referred to as Turkic, and it was later translated into Persian and copied and illustrated under his Mughal successors. The present codex, being a fragment of a dispersed copy, was executed in the late 10th century AH / 16th CE. It contains 30 mostly full-page paintings that are representative of the Mughal court style under Akbar. Another major fragment of this work (57 folios) is in the State Museum of Eastern Cultures, Moscow.

Folio 8a

Folio from an Islamic Manuscript

Baburnama, with Babur Releasing Muhammad Husayn Mirza

The Baburnama is the autobiography of the first Mughal emperor of India, Zahiruddin Muhammad Babur (r. 1526–1530). Considered the earliest extant autobiography in Islamic literature, Babur’s memoirs describe in captivating detail the natural beauty of India, victorious of military campaigns, and kingly acts. This page depicts the releasing of Muhammad Husayn Mirza, a relative of Babur, who, in spite of his treachery, is being shown clemency by the emperor.

Paper with ink, paint, and gold
W.596, fol. 8a, acquired by Henry Walters

There are some marvelous flowers in Hindustan. One is the hibiscus, which some Hindustanis call gudhal. It is not a shrub but a tree with stems. It is somewhat taller than the red rose, and its color deeper than a pomegranate flower. It is as large as a red rose. The red rose blossoms all at once after budding, but when the hibiscus blooms, from the middle of the petals yet another slender stalk is formed, as long as a finger, from which still more hibiscus petals open.

—The Baburnama (The Memoirs of Babur), Kabul, Events of the Year A.H. 932/A.D. 1525-26
( Translated by W. Thackston )

Folio 27a

Folio from an Islamic Manuscript

Here we see small deer and cows called gīnī drawn in a naturalistic style. In the Baburnama, Babur describes the animals of Hindustan in detail. There was a great interest in such subject matter in Mughal court painting.

Folio 22b

Folio from an Islamic Manuscript

Babur and his warriors visiting the Hindu temple Gurh Kattri (Kūr Katrī) in Bigram.

Folio 15a

Folio from an Islamic Manuscript

During an attempt to defend the Akhshī fort, Sultan Muḥammad Vays offers Babur a healthy horse to replace his ailing one which he got from Ṣāḥib Qadam.