Humayun was the second Mughal ruler of territories in the Indian subcontinent including what is now Afghanistan, Pakistan, and parts of northern India. He was the son and successor of Babur, the founder of the Mughal dynasty. He became the Mughal emperor at the age of 23. He was inexperienced at the time of ascending to the throne and faced bitter rivalry from his half-brother Kamran Mirza who ruled over Kabul and Lahore. Even though Humayun was a brave soul and an adventurous ruler, he lost several territories to his rivals over the ensuing years. However, he was not someone to accept defeat so easily and he successfully won back his territories after a few years. Many years of his reign were spent in defending territories from his rivals, and he was even forced to seek refuge in Persia for some time. When he returned to his kingdom as the undisputed Mughal leader after the death of his rivals, he set about consolidating the empire for the generation to come. He embarked on several campaigns to expand the Mughal territories and at the time of his death, the Mughal Empire spanned almost one million square kilometers. Even though not counted amongst the greatest Mughal emperors, Humayun ensured that he left behind a rich legacy for his son Akbar.
CHILDHOOD & EARLY LIFE
>> Humayun was born on 17 March 1508, in Kabul, Mughal Empire (present-day Afghanistan), to Babur, the founder of the Mughal dynasty and his wife Maham Begum. He had several siblings; many of his brothers and half-brothers would become his bitter rivals in future.
>> He received an upbringing typical for princes of his stature. He learned Turki, Arabic, and Persian and was interested in mathematics, philosophy, and astrology. He also received military training and was appointed governor of Badakhashan at the age of 20.
>> He proved his bravery as a young governor and fought at Panipat and Khanwa, two decisive battles in Indian history. His father ensured that he was trained as an administrator and a warrior.
ACCESSION & REIGN
>> Babur died and Humayun ascended to the throne on 26 December 1530 as the second emperor of the Mughal dynasty. He faced bitter rivalry from his brothers, and also faced threat from other rulers such as Sultan Bahadur and Sher Shah Suri (Sher Khan). His half-brother Kamran treacherously took the Punjab and the Indus Valley.
>> During the initial years of his reign, both his major rivals extended their territories. Sultan Bahadur planned to attack Humayun’s territories, but Humayun acted quickly and went on to capture the forts of Mandu and Champaner, forcing Bahadur to take up refuge with the Portuguese. Bahadur eventually died in 1537.
>> Meanwhile Sher Shah Suri was consolidating his power in Bihar and Bengal and was emerging as a powerful ruler. He challenged the Mughal rule and even though Humayun was able to temporarily oust Sher Shah from Bengal, he could not defend his territories from Sher Shah for long.
>> Sher Shah successfully defeated the Mughals at Chausa in 1539 and over 8,000 Mughal troops were killed in the bloody battle. This considerably weakened Humayun’s strength, and to add to his miseries, his own brothers were also plotting against him. Sher Shah Suri continued his attacks on the Mughals and drove Humayun to the west.
>> The Mughals faced the growing army of Sher Shah at the Battle of Kanauj in 1540 where once again the Mughals were defeated. Further defeats followed the Mughals and the emperor Humayun was compelled to quit the battlefield. Sher Shah also captured Agra, the capital city of the Mughals, and forced Humayun to flee from India.
>> Humayun fled to Persia with his wife and a few companions. There Shah Tahmasp not only offered him refuge, but also treated him as a royal visitor. With military support from Shah Tahmasp, Humayun proceeded to claim Kandahar and Kabul.
>> Meanwhile Sher Shah Suri died in 1545, and his son and successor also died within a few years of his father in 1554. The ensuing political chaos provided Humayun with the perfect opportunity to reclaim his empire. He gathered a large army which he placed under the leadership of Bairam Khan, a great military strategist. Bairam Khan led the army and successfully laid claim to the throne for the Mughals. Once again Humayun claimed Babur’s throne on 23 July 1555.
>> After becoming the Mughal emperor once again, he embarked on a series of military campaigns to extend his reign over areas in eastern and western India. At the time of his death, the Mughal Empire spanned almost one million square kilometers.
>> Humayun was not well known for being a great military leader. However, he recognized his limitations and therefore placed his army under the leadership of Bairam Khan while attempting to reclaim the throne of Delhi from the descendants of Sher Shah Suri. This proved to be a wise move as Bairam Khan was successful in recapturing the capital for Humayun.
PERSONAL LIFE & LEGACY
>> Humayun had several wives and concubines, the most notable ones being Hamida Banu Begum, Mah Chuchak Begum, Bibi Gunwar Begum, Khanish Aghacha, Shaham Aghacha, and Maywa Jan Aghacha. He fathered a number of children including son Akbar who would one day become known as one of the greatest Mughal emperors.
>> He was descending the staircase from his library with his arms full of books when the muezzin announced the Azaan (the call to prayer). The emperor tried to kneel in reverence on hearing the summons, but tripped and fell down the stairs. He was seriously injured as a result and died three days later on 27 January 1556. He was succeeded by his son Akbar.
>> Humayun was known for his peaceful personality and patience which earned him the title ’Insān-i-Kamil (Perfect Man), among the Mughals.