The last great sacking and burning of Lahore by a foreign invader was undertaken by the first Mughal emperor Babur. The approximate date of this sacrilege which was spread over four days and nights, took place on the 15th of January, 1524. Many think of this a ‘Day of Infamy’.
But to me the day Mahmud of Ghazni ransacked and looted Lahore in 1021 AD is the biggest ‘infamy’. That ended Punjab’s rule over itself and foreign rule started, which lasted till 1769 when after over 750 years the Punjabis returned to ‘self-rule.’ We all know that that ended in 1849 when the British took over, only to leave 98 years later on the 14th of August, 1947. But by then communal differences meant that nearly half of all Punjabis – and Lahoris - were forced out towards the other sub-continental State of Bharat, from where a slightly larger number settled in the new State of Pakistan.
That ‘Greatest Exodus in Human History’ in 1947 even today determines the ‘negative’ mindset of the people of the northern portion of the sub-continent. Amazingly the people in South India are less communal than those in the north. In a way the fallout of what Mahmud did, or the Mongol Taimur did, or the Mughal Babur did, lives in one form or another in our collective sub-conscious memory, just as 1947 impacts our current communal mindset. Today even thinking out of this ‘box’ is considered a treacherous act, let alone other gross laws that titillate our vengeful ways.
In this piece it would be interesting to see how Babur, the invader, as well as one prominent invaded person, recorded the sacking of Lahore. Thanks to his ‘Babarnama’, whose original manuscript in the ‘Turki’ language bears his name as ‘Zahiruddin Muhammad Babur Badshah Ghaznvi’, we see how he views his world. Then we have the amazing ‘Babarvani’ which constitute four hymns by Guru Nanak which are part of the Guru Granth Sahib. This depicts the way the poor felt about the ways of Babur. Both are original sources, and both depict how they felt about this episode in their lifetimes.
Babur narrates how malcontents against Ibrahim Lodi helped in the defeat of the Delhi forces. History certainly does teach us that when the rot sets within, the edifice does collapse. From Kabul we see Babur crossing the Indus and following a semi-mountainous route “through Kakar country”. They crossed the Jhelum and Chenab and stopped ten miles from Lahore. In those days the Governor of Lahore was Daulat Khan who on seeing the approaching army fled southwards from Lahore.
Babur mentions that “Daulat Khan fled towards the south to a colony of Baluch.” He describes Ibrahim’s army, led by Bihar Khan Lodi, facing the deserters and defeating them. Some deserters fled towards Lahore. A cunning Babur followed them and entered Lahore, where he not only slaughtered every deserting soldier, but entered every house, burning bazaars as they went along. Four whole days and nights were spent looting and killing, and, as was Mongol tradition, raping any woman they could lay their hands on, and after the act slitting their throats, because the woman had been ‘shamed’.
Once Lahore was emptied it was set on fire. The destruction was complete. From Lahore the Mughal invader moved to Dipalpur, where again the horror was repeated. But most important was the collection of food grains, of slaves for sale and gold and silver to accumulate wealth. He moved towards Sirhind and then returned to Lahore again. Here he posted Mir Abdul Aziz as his ‘Master of the Horse’ and head of the Lahore garrison. It was the Lahore garrison that time and again assisted him in difficult times as he set about conquering the sub-continent.
All through his memoirs we see Babur time and again returning to Lahore, often to battle dissidents, with each time the opposing forces taking flight in fear. The sheer ferocity of Babur’s army led to large swathes of countryside around Lahore being emptied of not only inhabitants, but also of wheat and grains.
From this brief description of the sacking of Lahore by Babur, let us see how Guru Nanak described the feelings of the poor and the ‘attacked’. The basic description comes in four hymns that are part of the Guru Granth Sahib. They are collectively titled ‘Babarvani’ (the sway of Babar) and the title is part of one of the hymns which says: “Babarvani phiri gal kuiru na rot khai” which translated reads: ‘Babar’s sway has spread; even princes are without food.’
In his first invasion Babar captured and ransacked Peshawar. The next year he conquered Sialkot and unleashed his fury on Eminabad near Gujranwala. As the local population resisted, refusing to give up their stored wheat and other grains and cattle, he ordered that everyone be butchered and healthy young males and females be taken back to Kabul as slaves to be sold in the Central Asian slave markets. All soldiers and elderly were put to the sword.
The ‘Janam Sakhi’ of Nanak tells us that Guru Nanak was taken prisoner at Eminabad along with his Muslim partner Bhai Mardana the ‘rababi.’ Nanak was given a heavy bundle to carry while Mardana led a horse. Sikh tradition states that soldiers reported to Babar that Nanak’s bundle was floating on air while Mardana’s horse followed him without being led. Babar allegedly, as Sikh tradition goes, summoned both, and after talking to them allegedly kissed the guru’s feet. This seems a highly improbable happening. Mind you there is no mention of such a major happening in his own ‘Babarnama’. What we do know is that Nanak and Mardana were freed, but that Babar took away two years of grain for his army and for the population of Kabul, with enough slaves and precious metals to sell to double his wealth.
Then came 1524 and Babar again invaded Punjab. He was aware of Lahore’s well-stocked granaries and cotton fabrics and that the population had returned to resume ‘normal’ life. By this time the defences of Lahore were improved and local farmers promised to join in the defence. But the Turkish and Afghan horsemen were pitiless. Nanak describes the burning of Lahore in the following few words: “A ‘pehr’ and a quarter the city of Lahore was aflame and death met everyone” (Guru Granth: verse 1412).
The army of Babar “emptied each and every house, taking away all healthy males and females for sale as slaves and food-grains and even pots and pans and clothes.” Along the way back the Mughal army was to stop every second day, then attack and ransack every nearby village and town and return to the main train that then carried on towards Kabul. Punjab was actually emptied and its population reduced dramatically.
The plight and pain of the common man is clear in another hymn of Guru Nanak, which translated says: “Oh our Lord, our Creator, when there is such killing, such suffering, such pain, so much flow of blood, so much shrieking, do You not feel pity on the poor”.
In 1526 Babar again returned and after his victory at Panipat took over Delhi. In this battle guns were used for the first time and the forces of Ibrahim Lodi fled when they found not arrows hitting them “but holes in their chests which bled and soldiers died”. The panic of this mysterious weapon was enough to make the entire army of Ibrahim Lodi take flight.
It was this fear that resulted in the consolidation of Mughal India. There were successful uprisings like Sher Shah Suri, but nothing to throw the Mughals out. It is ironic that from Kabul the invasions after the Mughals continued, which suffering and pain have been captured by the great Punjabi poet Waris Shah, who on Ahmad Shah Abdali wrote: “The morsel in your mouth is yours, the rest belongs to Ahmad Shah”. Such untold atrocities from Babar right up to Ahmad Shah resulted in the rise of the Sikhs.
It is not without reason that in the world of academia there is a great interest in researching and writing the world of the ‘people’. This is what matters more, not kings and conquerors and corrupt officials. In the end the people matter.
Published in Dawn, December 9th, 2018