The recently released Disney +Hotstar series “The Empire” has been in the news for obvious reasons. A lot of people seem to be complaining that it glorifies Babur. Does it? Yes it does. Is there a problem with that? There shouldn’t be.. unless the series that claims to or being advertised/marketed as to depict history, the history about the all political, popular, Mughal Empire ends up depicting pure fiction with real historical people, places and timelines.
As a matter of fact, the series is indeed interesting. All the actors justified their roles. I did not get bored at any point in time. The only thing that bothers me is that the show that claims to depicting the rise and fall of the Mughal Empire, starting from Babur shows pure fiction but uses real names of the people, real names of the places and also the correct timelines. It narrates a story that is a work of imagination, which, in a country like India where a very large section of society does not care about the veracity of the facts, is extremely dangerous.
I would not have figured this out unless it was for Muhammad Shaybani, the Uzbek leader character played by Dino Morea. Indian media does not talk much about Shaybani. There is an important reason behind that. Talking about him doesn’t go well with the narrative i.e. doesn’t add stars in the Mughal stardom. Shaybani humiliated Babur (played by Kunal Kapoor) and his tribe in different ways and at different points in time. He not only took Babar’s elder sister Khanzada (played by Drashti Dhami) as hostage and later married her, but also took Samarkand, Farghana, Herat, Bukhara and many more from the Timurid Dynasty(Babar’s lineage). Yeah, Babar was not the first emperor, history existed before him. Infact he was the first of his lineage who was thrown out of his own land.
The series surreptitiously makes us believe that Babur reclaimed Samarkand from Shaybani and Shaybani was killed while trying to escape. Unfortunately for Mughal fans, Shaybani did die, but Babar had noting to do with that. Shaybani died in the year 1510 during the Battle of Marv. Marv was the name of a place near Afghan Iran border, it is called as Mary now. It is definitely not Samarkand as the series portrays. Shah Ismail I of Iran killed him owing to their Sunni-Shiya rivalry. Shah Ismail who converted the entire Iran from Sunni Islam to Shia Islam was alarmed by the rising power of Shaybani, Sunni Islam promoter. Babar had absolutely nothing to do with that battle. Infact Babur failed to reclaim Smarkand from the Uzbeik dynasty in 1511-12 without Shaybani as well. Babur and his dynasty never had Samarkand on their side ever again.
The series that insinuates that Babur and Shaybani had an encounter only two times, first when the armed conflict was averted owing to the Khanzada trade off and second which lead to an armed conflict where Khanzada was reclaimed. However, this is not true. They fought another war in 1501, called as Battle of Sar-e-Pul where Shaybani again attacked Samarkand and beat Babur like a whipped cream. Documents say- “no defeat could be more complete. Babur’s army was destroyed, many of Babur’s bravest and most experienced officers with numbers of his best soldiers perished. The Officers that survived persuaded that nothing could now resist Muhammad Shaybani, scattered in various directions. Qamber Ali and others after reaching Samarkand hastily removed their families from it as from a place doomed to destruction.” Qamber Ali character played by Naved Aslam, is the same person that the series shows as the one who betrayed Babur, but in reality he remained loyal to Babar. If we go by The Babur-Nama in English (Memoirs of Babur), Qamber Ali was dismissed by Babur when they fled to Kabul. The same Babur-Nama also claims that Babur didn’t lift his pinky finger to get back Khanzada. Khanzada with her born son reunited with Babar only because Shah Ismail made a good will gesture.
Babur who is considered kind hearted ruler by certain sections in India, when thrown out of Farghana by Shaybani, raised havoc in the surrounding, unprotected villages. And after each round of massacre, his NaniJaan (played by Shabana Azmi) would pat his back and bask in the glory of her grandson’s bravery. You could possibly imagine it as West Pakistan’s trained army slaughtering more than three million of civilians in East Pakistan and raping more than four hundred thousand civilian women. But surrendering its 93,000 soldiers in front of a professional army.
Babur, who has serious fan following in India, public property and roads named after him, ran away from the battle leaving the most loved and revered Khanzada behind and did not look behind, took a sigh of relief when was far away (not my words, Babur-Nama).
You could possible imagine it as some Afghans doing the same in Kabul today, leaving their loved ones, wives and daughters behind when Taliban has taken control of the city. I some time seriously fail to understand, how people define love and affection.
While writing this blog, researching and reading the relevant sections of Babur-Nama(English translation), I ended up with an even worse image of him. The reel portrayal of Babur, at least for the events in consideration in the first season do not match with the real story. What I am more interested in are the upcoming seasons for this web series. It would be interesting to see how it goes, especially when it is extremely political and we always have one or the other elections in India.
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