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Home > 2023 > Mysterious missing pages of Babarnama | Sankar Ray

Mainstream, VOL 61 No 3, January 7, 2023

Mysterious missing pages of Babarnama | Sankar Ray

Saturday 7 January 2023, by Sankar Ray

The Baburnama, English (Memoirs of Babur), memoir of a poet-prince from Central Asia and the founder of Mogul empire in India , Zahiru’d-din Muhamad Babur (1483–1530), translated by Annette Susannah Beveridge from the original Turki and published in 1922. It was originally written in Chaghatai Turkish which is different from Turki. Mrs Beveridge’s version, mysteriously spiked pages of the diary between 3 April and 17 September 1528 . Mrs Beveridge was the wife a British ICS officer Henry Beveridge who translated Akbar-Nama from Farsi into English, published in 1921, after his retirement. During those five and a half months, Hindutvavadis claim that Babar’s army general Mir Baqi Tashkhandi demolished the so-called Ramjanmabhoomi Mandir in Ayodhya.

A new edition, published by Everyman’s Library in 2020, running into 1032 pages with a lengthy introduction by noted journalist and historian William Dalrymple, too excluded the missing portion. Strangely enough, this mysterious omission did not strike Dalrymple who casually wrote, “Babur, in short, was at once the most refined of aesthetes—personally warm and loyal, with a sophisticated and sensitive mind—and also what we today might regard as a war criminal: casually violent and quite capable, when necessary, of overseeing acts of mass murder. As (Salman) Rushdie concludes, ‘Who then was Babur—scholar or barbarian, nature-loving poet or terror-inspiring warlord? The answer is to be found in the Baburnama, and it’s an uncomfortable one: he was both.’ ”

The perception that a Ram temple was demolished by Babur’s general Mir Baqi Tashqandi to build a mosque was a construct of the aforementioned 522-page English text (plus 61 page preface and appendix). The imperative before scholars, historians and archaeologists is to decipher the original version, of Tujuk-i-Baaburi, a copy of which is preserved at the Uzbek Academy of Sciences in Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan. There are French, modern Turkish and Russian versions which are all unabridged, unlike Mrs Beveridge’s text .

The debate on the existence of Ramjanmabhoomi Mandir in Ayodhya remains inconclusive, the verdict by the Supreme Court of India notwithstanding. None of the respected judges who delivered the verdict were archaeologists. They did not care to at least have a look at the report of the Archaeological Survey of Ayodhya and adjoining areas between 1889-91, undertaken under the then director-general of ASI, Alois Anton Führer . The survey found no statue, sculpture or pillars that marked the sites of other ancient cities. According to Führer, Mir Baqi had built the Babri mosque in 930 Hizri (1523 AD), not 1528, as claimed by Mrs Beveridge. Doubts creep in here as Baqi entered the scene in 932 Hijri (January or February 1526 AD. ASI surveys in the latter half of 20th century fund no trace of Hindu shrines in and around Ayodhya and Jaunpur.

Among several unabridged or uncut version of Baburnama (actually Babur Name) is a Russian translation by Academician Mikhail Alexandrovich Salye , published in 1958, as a project of the Uzbek Academy of Sciences, is available. Dr Salye’s mother tongue was Chaghatai Turkish. He was a senior researcher at the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Academy of Sciences of the Uzbek SSR, a very erudite philologist who knew three European and three Eastern languages. Babur-Name (https://ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/%D0%91%D0%B0%D0%B1%D1%83%D1%80-%D0%BD%D0%B0%D0%BC%D0%B5 ) is a pleasant read (deciphered mainly through google translate), beginning from Babur’s Ferghana days when he was 12, but already a powerful monarch. He is recorded as ‘a highly educated native of Central Asian culture’ having ‘interest in the history, life, flora and fauna of the countries visited by him’, that imparted considerable historical and literary value to the memoirs. The Russian text describes the movement Babur’s army in its imperial adventure that captured fortresses (like Chanderi) but not involved at all in demolishing religious shrines. Had he been committed to pull down non-Muslim shrines to build mosques, today’s Mathura would not been in existence as Agra, Babur’s capital, was close to Mathura.

The confusion on Babri Masjid deepens as one goes through the findings of Ayodhya, Jaunpur and around by the Archaeological Survey of India in 1889-91, led by the then ASI director general Alois Anton Führer. The ASI team found no statue, sculpture or pillars that marked the sites of other ancient cities. But Führer too wrote that Mir Baqi, Babur’s general, had built the Babri mosque at the place of Janmasthanam temple in 930 Hizri (1523 AD) without any archaeological evidence. But Baqi was not 1528, claimed by Mrs Beveridge. However Führer’s words are not free from doubts. Baqi’s presence in Jaunpur or Ayodhya is not noted in the memoirs.

Was it possible for Akbar’s general to cross the turbulent Saryu River during the monsoon with horses, elephants, canons and foot-soldiers to reach Ayodhya? Was the omission of pages of diary over five and a half months deliberate? Answer lies in deciphering those pages.

The foreword to Babur-name, Tashkent, Home Edition Encyclopedias. 1992 (http://www.vostlit.info/Texts/rus7/Babur/framepred.htm) describes Babur as “a talented writer, connoisseur of art, literature and science, an original memoirist” , with “a broad outlook and an inquiring mind, left a significant mark in many areas of life of the peoples of Central Asia, Afghanistan and India.” He left a rich creative literary and scientific heritage in the field of Muslim jurisprudence (Mubayin), authored original lyric works (gazelles, rubyes), poetics (Aruz Risolasi), music, military affairs, as well as the special alphabet ‘Hatt-i Babur.’

The merit of Babur as a historian, geographer, ethnographer, prose writer and poet is now recognized as a world oriental science. His legacy is studied in almost all major oriental centers of the world (in the CIS, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Germany, Turkey, Italy, France, USA, England, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan). Actual evidence of this is the new French translations of Babur-name, published under the auspices of UNESCO in Paris in 1980 and 1985. The prominent French orientalist Louis Bazan, in his introduction to the French translation (1980), wrote that "autobiography (Babur) is an extremely rare genre in Islamic literature. Could such a rare breed connoisseur have ordered destruction of a Ram temple?

Uzbek academician Salye’s translation into Russian was published in the early 1960s. Here in India, there were experts in Russian language like Benoy Roy and Kalpana Joshi, both having been faculty at the School of Languages, Jawaharlal Nehru University and both prominent functionary of the Communist Party of India as also polymath Dr Gangadhar Adhikari, a central executive council member of CPI having known Russian very well. But why didn’t Dr Salye’s work remain unread to them? Had it not been so, the Left historians and archaeologists who question the existence of ramjanmabhoomi Mandir had an academic weapon to confidently refute the claim of Hindutva-wallahs.

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