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The Garden of the Eight Paradises: Babur and the Culture of Empire in Central Asia, Afghanistan and India (1483-1530)

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This the first critical biography of Zahīr al-Dīn Muhammad Bābur, the founder of one of the great premodern Islamic empires, the Timurid-Mughul empire of India. It contains an original evaluation of his life and writings as well as fresh insights into both the nature of empire building and the character of the Timurid-Mughul state. Based upon recently published critical ed This the first critical biography of Zahīr al-Dīn Muhammad Bābur, the founder of one of the great premodern Islamic empires, the Timurid-Mughul empire of India. It contains an original evaluation of his life and writings as well as fresh insights into both the nature of empire building and the character of the Timurid-Mughul state. Based upon recently published critical editions of Bābur's autobiography and poetry, the book examines Bābur's life from the time he inherited his father's authority in the Ferghanah valley, east of Samarqand, in 1494, until his death in Agra, India in 1530. The book is written in an alternating series of thematic and narrative chapters. The thematic or analytical chapters examine his major writings, discuss his cultural personality and his reaction to Indian culture, while the narrative chapters relate the story of his life while critically commenting on his autobiographical intent. The book contributes to the history of the Timurid period, the study of early modern Islamic empires and the nature of autobiographical literature in Islamic and Asian societies. It is illustrated with fifteen colour plates and four maps."


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This the first critical biography of Zahīr al-Dīn Muhammad Bābur, the founder of one of the great premodern Islamic empires, the Timurid-Mughul empire of India. It contains an original evaluation of his life and writings as well as fresh insights into both the nature of empire building and the character of the Timurid-Mughul state. Based upon recently published critical ed This the first critical biography of Zahīr al-Dīn Muhammad Bābur, the founder of one of the great premodern Islamic empires, the Timurid-Mughul empire of India. It contains an original evaluation of his life and writings as well as fresh insights into both the nature of empire building and the character of the Timurid-Mughul state. Based upon recently published critical editions of Bābur's autobiography and poetry, the book examines Bābur's life from the time he inherited his father's authority in the Ferghanah valley, east of Samarqand, in 1494, until his death in Agra, India in 1530. The book is written in an alternating series of thematic and narrative chapters. The thematic or analytical chapters examine his major writings, discuss his cultural personality and his reaction to Indian culture, while the narrative chapters relate the story of his life while critically commenting on his autobiographical intent. The book contributes to the history of the Timurid period, the study of early modern Islamic empires and the nature of autobiographical literature in Islamic and Asian societies. It is illustrated with fifteen colour plates and four maps."

32 review for The Garden of the Eight Paradises: Babur and the Culture of Empire in Central Asia, Afghanistan and India (1483-1530)

  1. 4 out of 5

    Imran

    Stephen Dale’s, The Garden of the Eight Paradises, is indeed a tome of a book. Written in 2004, it demonstrates the kind of scholarship that, according to our previous class discussion, relies on alternative sources of history besides state records. However, as Dale notes, most major empires in the early 1500s did not pay attention the imperial ambitions of the Timurid emperor, Zahir al-Din Muhammad Babur (1483 – 1530 CE), so the only significant sources we have are of the vagabond ruler. As a r Stephen Dale’s, The Garden of the Eight Paradises, is indeed a tome of a book. Written in 2004, it demonstrates the kind of scholarship that, according to our previous class discussion, relies on alternative sources of history besides state records. However, as Dale notes, most major empires in the early 1500s did not pay attention the imperial ambitions of the Timurid emperor, Zahir al-Din Muhammad Babur (1483 – 1530 CE), so the only significant sources we have are of the vagabond ruler. As a result, Babur’s account of his life’s events as well as his reactions to them provide more intimate details than any state record could. The book is arranged thematically, relying heavily on Babur’s autobiography, the Vaqa’i‘, his poetry, letters to rulers, and his Indian gazetteer and presents itself as a critical biography of the Mughal Emperor. Chapters 1, 3, 5, and 7 analyze the geopolitics of Transoxiana, Babur’s autobiography, cultural personality, poetry, and Indian gazetteer, while chapters 2, 4, 6, and 8 trace the Central Asian, Afghan, and Indian phases of his career. There are definitely better ways the author could have organized the work, and it wasn’t until I read a few introductory articles on Babur’s life that I realized that Dale repeatedly investigates the same events through different analytical lenses. He oscillates between insightful thematic analysis and chronological narrative, creating a great deal of confusion for the reader. The book is more for the reader who is already deeply familiar with Babur’s life and is curious to reflect on the various dimensions of this eclectic character. Each chapter can be treated as a book on its own. Notwithstanding my lack of readiness for the book, it offers powerful insights to the student of history. Regarding biography as a genre of historical inquiry, I realized in this reading that a biographer must be extremely in tune with his subject: so much so that we could assert the two being psychologically one. In writing a biography, the author argues that his subject is worth paying attention to because he or she is a significant causal agent of history or an archetypal example of a certain people. For that reason, the biographer must be intimately familiar with what others have said about the subject as well as their own writings. In the case of writing a biography on Babur, Dale achieves this feat by critiquing Babur’s self-portrayal of events. Many times, Dale makes claims about Babur such as his internal struggles to uphold religious piety, his disappointment to Mongol desertion, his shifting Turko-Islamic identity, or the personal anguish he felt as an emperor in search of an empire (sort of like Queen Daenerys from Game of Thrones). These claims could only come from a deep reading of Babur’s writings. Dale attempts to make Babur’s autobiographical content more “accessible” by contextualizing his narrative in its social, political, religious, and cultural milieu. In this sense, Dale’s book can be interpreted as a commentary on Babur’s writings. Again, in so far as Dale possesses a mastery of his subject, his commentary will be hailed according to that degree of expertise. Regarding autobiography, Dale presents the Vaqa’i‘ as being the first of its kind. Never had a Muslum-Turko-Afghani ruler offered to posterity such insight into his or her own reactions to events. For this reason alone, we know so much about Babur. Additionally, we know a lot about his environment despite a lack of state records. Perhaps this precedent established by Babur explains why later Mughal history is so well documented. It is important to note that Babur was intent on presenting his narrative to an audience. And this is probable reason to accuse him of embellishment. He explicitly mentions how he hoped to teach his sons the topography of the lands he ruled. Still, Dale’s analysis presents a truly multi-layered personality. I personally enjoyed learning about Babur the literary genius who, despite his perpetual military campaigns, found time to reflect on nature, religion, current events and express his thoughts through Turkic, Persian, and Urdu poetry. The most important lesson I took from Dale’s analysis is that an autobiography represents a subject’s interpretation of his or her life in that specific moment of their life. Babur’s attitude towards India changed significantly after he conquered it. It is clear that he hoped to conquer Samarqand but because of the power vacuum in India due to the declining Lodi sultanate, he took control swiftly. After writing his Indian gazetteer, he praises the nation’s rich resources and has a generally positive attitude toward the land. Dale highlights numerous such examples such as his relationship with alcohol, his view of the Mongols, and his experience with love. My questions mainly revolve around Babur’s amazing mind. How could someone who took on the responsibility of empire at age 12 receive the kind of education that made his literary output possible? There is no doubt that Babur had natural scholarly aptitude, but the fact that he only received tutoring from Sufis leads me to wonder how closely religion and education were considered to be in his time. What kind of education did his tutors possess? The second question I have is who or what motivated Babur to write so profusely? Did he at some point realize the importance of recording his narrative or did the education he received inculcate that value? Lastly, regarding his homo-erotic tendencies, the fact that he could openly write about it leads me to wonder about what Islam looked like in his time.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Moin Ahmed

  3. 4 out of 5

    Dhanak

  4. 4 out of 5

    Fahad Nahvi

  5. 5 out of 5

    Artur Olczyk

  6. 5 out of 5

    Ercan Akyol

  7. 4 out of 5

    Bmojaddidi

  8. 5 out of 5

    Jbondandrews

  9. 4 out of 5

    Yasmin

  10. 5 out of 5

    Ercan

  11. 4 out of 5

    Mattias

  12. 5 out of 5

    Ravyn

  13. 4 out of 5

    Waqas

  14. 4 out of 5

    Daniel Cunningham

  15. 4 out of 5

    Prithvi Shams

  16. 4 out of 5

    Gabrielle

  17. 4 out of 5

    Munisa Khamrakulova

  18. 4 out of 5

    Shannon

  19. 5 out of 5

    Paras Nanavati

  20. 5 out of 5

    Dеnnis

  21. 5 out of 5

    Sue

  22. 4 out of 5

    Jheelam

  23. 5 out of 5

    Kaustubh Gaurh

  24. 5 out of 5

    Abdullah Karaer

  25. 5 out of 5

    Sarvar N

  26. 4 out of 5

    Aim0o

  27. 4 out of 5

    aneez

  28. 4 out of 5

    Rubab

  29. 5 out of 5

    Iroda Iminova

  30. 5 out of 5

    Siddartha

  31. 4 out of 5

    Divyani Dutt

  32. 5 out of 5

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