BABAR VANI (Babar\’s command or sway) is how the four hymns by Guru Nanak alluding to the invasions by Babar (1483-1530), the first Mughal emperor of India, are collectively known in Sikh literature. The name is derived from the use of the term in one of these hymns: “Babarvani phiri gai kuiru na rod khai Babar\’s command or sway has spread; even the princes go without food” (GG, 417). Three of these hymns are in Asa measure at pages 360 and 41718 of the standard recension of Guru Granth Sahib and the fourth is in Tilang measure on pages 72223. Zahir-ud-Din Muhammad Babar, driven out of his ancestral principality of Farghana in Central Asia, occupied Kabul in 1504.

Having failed in his repeated attempts to reconquer the lost territory and unable to expand his new possessions in the direction of Khurasan in the west (which had once formed part of his grandfather\’s dominions), he turned his eyes towards India in the east. After an exploratory expedition undertaken as early as January/May 1505, he came down better equipped in 1519 when he advanced as far as Peshawar. The following year he crossed the Indus and conquering Sialkot without resistance, marched on Saidpur (now Eminabad, 15 km southeast of Gujranwala in Pakistan) which suffered the worst fury of the invading host. The town was taken by assault, the garrison put to the sword and the inhabitants carried into captivity.

During his next invasion in 1524, Babar ransacked Lahore. His final invasion was launched during the winter of 1525-26 and he became master of Delhi after his victory at Panipat on 21 April 1526. Guru Nanak was an eye witness to the havoc created during these invasions. Janam Sakhis mention that he himself was taken captive at Saidpur.

A line of his, outside of Babarvani hymns, indicates that he may have been present in Lahore when the city was given up to plunder. In six pithy words this line conveys, “For a pahar and a quarter, i.e. for nearly four hours, the city of Lahore remained subject to death and fury” (GG, 1412). The mention in one of the Babarvani hymns of the use of guns by the Mughals against the Afghan defence relying mainly upon their war elephants may well be a reference to the historic battle of Panipat which sealed the fate of the Afghan king, Ibrahim Lodhi.Babarvani hymns are not a narrative of historical events like Guru Gobind Singh\’s Bachitra Natak, nor are they an indictment of Babar as his Zafarnamah was that of Aurangzeb.

They are the outpourings of a compassionate soul touched by scenes of human misery and by the cruelty perpetrated by the invaders. The sufferings of the people are rendered here in accents of intense power and protest. The events are placed in the larger social and historical perspective. Decline in moral standards must lead to chaos.

A corrupt political system must end in dissolution. Lure of power divides men and violence unresisted tends to flourish. It could not be wished away by magic or sorcery. Guru Nanak reiterated his faith in the Almighty and in His justice.

Yet so acute was his realization of the distress of the people that he could not resist making the complaint: “When there was such suffering, such killing, such shrieking in pain, did not Thou, 0 God, feel pity? Creator, Thou art the same for all!” The people for him were the people as a whole, the Hindus and the Muslims, the high caste and the low caste, soldiers and civilians, men and women. These hymns are remarkable for their moral structure and poetical eloquence. Nowhere else in contemporary literature are the issues in medieval Indian situation comprehended with such clarity or presented in tones of greater urgency. In spite of his destructive role Babar is seen by Guru Nanak to have been an unwitting instrument of the divine Will.

Because the Lodhis had violated God\’s laws, they had to pay the penalty. Babar descended from Kabul as God\’s chosen agent, demonstrating the absolute authority of God and the retribution which must follow defiance of His laws. Guru Nanak\’s commentary on the events which he actually witnessed thus becomes a part of the same universal message. God is absolute and no man may disobey His commands with impunity. Obey Him and receive freedom.

Disobey him and the result must inevitably be retribution, a dire reckoning which brings suffering in this present life and continued transmigration in the hereafter. The hymn rendered in free English verse reads: Lord, Thou takest Khurasan under Thy wing, but yielded India to the invader\’s wrath.Yet thou takest no blame; And sendest the Mughal as the messenger of death. When there was such suffering, killing, such shrieking in pain, Didst not Thou, 0 God, feel pity ? Creator, Thou art the same for all ! If one tyrant attacketh another, it troubleth not the heart;But when a lion falleth upon a herd of cattle, The master will be questioned for not protecting it.

The miserable dogs (the corrupt rulers of India) have lost their priceless jewel; No one will remember them after they are gone. But mysterious are Thy ways, Thou alone makest and Thou alone severest. Whosoever arrogateth unto himself greatness tasting pleasure to satiety is in the eyes of the Lord but a puny worm for all the grains he eateth. Saith Nanak: True achievement is his Who dieth unto his self And uttereth the holy Name.

In a touching 8 stanza poem, Guru Nanak portrays the tragic plight of women, both Hindu and Muslim, who lost their husbands and suffered ignominy at the hands of the invaders: They whose hair made them look fairer by far and who touched it lovingly with sacred vermilion, Have had their heads shorn with scissors, and their throats choked with dust. They who stirred not out of their private chambers are now denied shelter even on the roadside. Praise, praise be unto Thee, 0 Lord! We understand not Thy ways; Everything is in Thy power and Thou seest Thyself in diverse forms at Thy Will. When they were married, their handsome bridegrooms added to their splendour; They came seated in palanquins with ivory bangles asport on their arms; They were awaited with ceremonial pitchers full of water and with fans arabesqued in glass.

Gifts of money were showered on them as they sat, and gifts of money showered as they stood: They were given coconut and dates to eat, and they joyed on the bridal bed. Halters are now around their necks, and broken are their strings of pearls. Riches, youth and beauty they formerly relished have turned into their enemies; Minions at the conqueror\’s behest drag them to dishonour. The Lord, if it pleaseth Him, bestoweth greatness, and sendeth chastisement if He so desireth.

Had they contemplated in advance, they might have escaped punishment, But the rulers had lost their sense in their fondness for levity and frivolity; [now that ] Babar\’s sway hath spread; even the princes go without bread.Some, the Muslims, miss the timings of namaz, others, the Hindus, of their puja; Hindu ladies, without their ritually cleansed cooking squares, go about without a vermilion mark their foreheads; They never remembered \’Rama\’ here to fore, and are allowed to utter even \’Allah\’ no more. Some, after the carnage, have returned home and are enquiring about the well being of their kin; Others, in whose destiny it was so recorded, sit wailing over their sufferings. Saith Nanak: what He desireth shall happen; who is man Him to question? In another hymn in the series, Guru Nanak describes the desolation which followed Babar\’s invasion ending in the battle of Panipat: Where is that sport now, where those stables and steeds, and where are the drums and where the flutes? Where are the sword belts and where the chariots; and where are those scarlet uniforms? Where are those finger rings studded with mirrors; and where are those handsome faces? This world is Thine, Thou art its Master, 0 Lord ! In one moment Thou settleth and in another unsettleth.

The lure of gold sunders brother from brother. Where are those houses, those mansions and palaces; and where are those elegant looking serais? Where are those snug couches and where those beautiful brides a sight of whom made one lose one\’s sleep? Where is the chewing leaf, where the leaf sellers and where those who patronized them? All have vanished like a shadow. For this gold many were led astray; many suffered ignominy for it. Without sinning one doth not gather it, and it doth not go with one in the end.

Whomsoever the Creator would confound, He first for feiteth his virtue. Countless pirs tried their miraculous powers to halt the Mir (Babar) as they heard of his approach. He burned ancient seats and houses strongly built and cast into dust princes after severing their heads.Yet no Mughal became blind and no magic of the pirs worked.

The Mughals and the Pathans were locked in battle, and they wielded their swords relentlessly, They fired their guns; they attacked with their elephants. They whose writ is torn in the Lord\’s court must perish, my brethren. Of the wives of Hindus, of Turks, of Bhatt is and of Thakur Rajputs, Some had their veils torn from head to foot, others lay heaped up in cemeteries; How did they pass their nights whose husbands returned not home? The fourth Babarvani hymn is probably addressed to Bhai Lalo, one of Guru Nanak\’s devotees living at Saidpur itself. It ends on a prophetic note, alluding perhaps to the rise of Sher Khan, an Afghan of Sur clan, who had already captured Bengal and Bihar, defeated Babar\’s son and successor, Humayun, at Chausa on the Ganga in June 1539 (during the lifetime of Guru Nanak), and who finally drove the Mughal king out of India in the following year.

The hymn in Tilang measure is, like the other three, an expression of Guru Nanak\’s feeling of distress at the moral degradation of the people at the imposition by the mighty. It is a statement also of his belief in God\’s justice and in the ultimate victory of good over evil. In an English rendering: As descendeth the Lord\’s word to me, so do I deliver it unto you, 0 Lalo: [Babar] leading a wedding array of sin hath descended from Kabul and demandeth by force the bride, 0 Lalo. Decency and righteousness have vanished, and falsehood struts abroad, 0 Lalo.

Gone are the days of Qazis and Brahmans, Satan now conducts the nuptials, 0 Lalo. The Muslim women recite the Qur\’an and in distress remember their God, 0 Lalo. Similar is the fate of Hindu women of castes high and low, 0 Lalo.They sing paeans of blood, 0 Nanak, and by blood, not saffron, ointment is made, 0 Lalo. In this city of corpses, Nanak proclaimeth God\’s praises, and uttereth this true saying: The Lord who created men and put them to their tasks watcheth them from His seclusion.

True is that Lord, true His verdict, and true is the justice He dealeth. As her body\’s vesture is torn to shreds, India shall remember my words. In seventy-eight they come, in ninety-seven shall depart; another man of destiny shall arise. Nanak pronounceth words of truth, Truth he uttereth; truth the time calls for. The words “seventy-eight” and “ninety-seven” in the penultimate line are interpreted as 1578 and 1597 of the Indian calendar, corresponding respectively with 1521 and 1540 which are the dates of Babar\’s invasion and Humayun\’s dethronement by Sher Khan/Shah.