NEW DELHI :
A Babur-focussed Uzbeki cultural project is using a common heritage to create a dialogue.
In July 1501, the great-great-greatgrandson of Timur (Tamerlane), Zahiruddin Muhammad Babur — the founder of Mughal empire — left his home in Fergana Valley in present day Uzbekistan. Five hundred years on, the Uzebki government is tracing his journey to India and his Indian connections as part of Cultural Legacy of Uzbekistan in Art Collections of the World project which began last year.
An effort to piece together the country’s history, researchers are connecting with international museums documenting the antiquity and artifacts connected to them. Till date, the Uzebki government has released 10 volumes and several short films on the cultural legacy of Uzbekistan with the help of information from leading museums in Russia, North America and Australia. “What they are doing is a first. They are not raising a dispute or demanding return of any antiquity. Instead, they are taking a holistic approach — using the common heritage to create a dialogue instead of stoking controversy,” says independent commentator Shashtri Ramachandaran, who participated in a two-day congress on the study organised by the Uzbek government.
An average Indian will be more familiar with United Kingdom, having followed their parliamentary and administrative methods or would be familiar with the cultural milieu of the United States, having developed an appetite for American TV shows. But barring academics, few are aware of the shared heritage between India and Uzbekistan that spans across centuries. A team of researchers from Uzebkistan visited the National Museum this April to piece together this lost history. “Their aim is to document material related to the Mughal era primarily. Once they present a formal proposal which is vetted by the Ministry of External Affairs and Ministry of Culture, they can start documenting work,” said Dr BR Mani, Director General, National Museum, who met with the Uzbekistan’s Ambassador last week to discuss the project.
The Uzbeki interest in the founder of the Mughal dynasty comes at a curious time, given that Babur’s successor Aurangzeb’s name was removed unceremoniously off Delhi’s roads for being an “invader”. Union Minister V K Singh even suggested that his grandfather Akbar should meet with a similar fate. In February this year, the BJP-led government in Rajasthan backed a proposal to rewrite history taught at the university level to attest that Rajput warrior-king Maharana Pratap won the Battle of Haldighati against Akbar’s Mughal army led by general Man Singh, despite historical evidence suggesting otherwise. In the same vein, RSS ideologue Indresh Kumar recently suggested that Babur and his army general Mir Baqi should be tried in court for destroying Ram Mandir in Ayodhya.
History suggests that Babur lived in India for only four years and died at the age of 47 in 1530 after successfully ousting Ibrahim Lodhi (in the Battle of Panipat in 1526). But his legacy lived on. The Babri Masjid demolition in December 1992 triggered the campaign to decry the Mughals as invaders. “Labeling the Mughals as “invaders” is bogus, historically. But Hindu nationalists do not use this label as a historical claim,” says Professor Audrey Truscke, who received severe backlash over her recent book Aurangzeb: the Man and the Myth. She adds that maligning Mughals is only a means to fuel “anti-Muslim sentiment in the present”. “It is a shameful business, especially at a time when vigilante violence against Muslims is on the rise,” she adds.
Babur was not Indian, even less an Uzbeki. He tried at least thrice to win Samarkhand but failed. “Babur took Samarkand one last time with help from the Safavids of Persia in 1513. However, as he had to publicly acknowledge his support for Qizilbash Shiism, his subjects turned against him,” explains Professor Ali Anooshahr from the History Department of the University of California.
During his time in India, Babur influenced architecture, culture, warfare and even introduced Indians to the sweet melons of Fergana. When Babur reached India, he was disappointed that the only fruit available was mango. It is said that he personally monitored planting of watermelons and musk melons. “In Babarnama, Babur writes about the apricots and pomegranates of Marghilan, fruit trees of Isfara, the melons of Bukhara, and the apples of Samarkand. He also recalled with pleasure, the various flowing rivers and brooks in that region,” adds Prof Anooshahr.
At the museum, the Uzbeki experts are particularly interested in manuscripts of the Holy Quran, scribed in Uzbekistan, which were presented to the Mughal emperors, as is evident from the royal seals on the cover page. Also of interest are 15 illustrated folios of the Baburnama. He wrote his autobiography in Chagatai language, the spoken language of the Andija-Timurids. It was during the reign of Akbar that the work was completely translated in Persian. According to Prof Anooshahr, the most comprehensive copy of the original is the Hyderabad manuscript. “Although I do not know where exactly that copy is located right now,” he adds.
The Uzbeki researchers are now looking at sources beyond the National Museum. “It is gratifying to realize that the culture of such a great country is connected with ours. We are planning to publish a couple of albums in India, depending on the results of our work,” said Professor Andrey Zybkin, the Uzbeki project coordinator.
Few sites of the Babur era have stood the test of time. Some of them include, West Delhi’s Babur era mosque, the Babri Masjid and Ram Bagh in Agra. But it is not just the Mughal era that is of interest. India and Uzbekistan go as far back as the Kushan Dynasty. The Kushan Empire, spanning an area of 37 lakh kilometres, extended from Bihar to southern Uzbekistan. It was an era when the Indian sub-continent saw extraordinary exchange of art and ideas. “At present we do not have first-hand information on the Kushan period artifacts found in Uzbekistan. It will be interesting to see how the pottery, social behaviour and culture changed from Fergana valley to Mathura,” Dr Mani added.
Apart from the Mughals and Kushans, there are other points of convergence between the two nations. Gujaratis had close trade ties with Uzbekis, so did Parsis and Armenian Christians. Professor A K Pasha from JNU explains that somewhere this search for their history is part of a “resurgence of old identity”. “For years, the Uzbeki culture was subjugated and overpowered by Russians. The Islamic feeling is growing which is why they want to resurrect their old identity,” explains Pasha.
source: http://www.mumbaimirror.indiatimes.com / Mumbai Mirror / Home> Others> Sunday Read / by Sobhana K Nair, Mumbai Mirror / June 18th, 2017