Babur the Tiger

...and on the eighth day God created the horse in perfect image, to romp, graze, gallop, play and make manure wherever it darn well pleases, in divine grace.

You can pick your friends but you can’t pick your family. From out of India this week, some history and art.

The lineage of Zahir-ud-Din Muhammad, also known as Babur, which is Arabic for "Tiger," directly descends from Genghis Khan, (circa 1162-1227) on his mother’s side.

Babur was the thirteenth generation of Mongol rulers, the infamous horsemen of the steppes, with Khan being the founder of one of the greatest dynasties the world has ever known.

On Babur’s father’s side, he was also directly related by blood, fifth generation, to Tamerlane, also known as Timur, ( 1336-1405). (1)

Tamerlane was a Turkish noble, lover of horses and an educated scholar. He was also a barbarian, who wiped out empires, plundered cities and towns, and was noted for cutting off quite a number of heads.

A hefty ancestry, with seemingly lots of treasure and swag. However, by the time Babur was born in 1483, there was little left over as an inheritance.

His family ruled the Fergana region, but this was a mere sliver of the former empires of his forefathers.

Baber’s father died in 1494, when he was only eleven years old, and straightaway, he had to confront his uncles on both sides of the family.

The Khan of Tashkent and the Sultan of Samarkand both wanted his tiny kingdom for their own.

Terrible battles were fought on horseback, and after ten years, Babur had lost everything. He left for Kabul, where he conquered the city in 1504, moving on to northern India afterwards, for more plundering. (2)

He rode into Delhi and formed the Mogul Dynasty, which lasted over two hundred years, the beginning of a very sophisticated civilization (3)

The Great Moguls were builders and creators, constructing luxurious palaces, beautiful mosques and sturdy fortresses. Their ancestors had destroyed the cities on their way to building new empires, the Moguls practiced a different for of conquering.

During the Mogul era, a new art form emerged, that of painting miniature portraits and scenes.

The artists covered a variety of topics, including hunting, religion, war and military, and love and animals.

They always included horses somewhere in the painting. The horses always wore beautiful saddlecloths or sheets, richly decorated, and their tails and legs were reddened with henna. The forelocks were topped with plumes. (4)

Even though the descendants of Tamerlane and Genghis Khan had delicious dinners flavored with both spicy and sweet, kept beautiful concubines, and lived in opulent palaces, they never forgot about the animal that had brought them riches and adoration.

The great French traveler, Francois Bernier, who was also a friend of Louis XIV, (1638-1715)noted this appreciation while he lived in India.

Bernier became employed by a Persian scholar who held a prominent position at the Mogul court. One of his duties was to make sure that all of the emperor’s 5,000 head of horses were being well-cared for.

Due to the prestige of his employer, Bernier had access to the inner workings of the Mogul palace, and was able observe the daily processes there.

Every day at noon, the emperor held court with his subjects, granting them audiences and listening to their needs.

During the last ninety minutes of the audience, the emperor had the most beautiful horses in his stables paraded before him, so as to ascertain that they were being treated well and being cared for. (5)

The Moguls kept horses throughout their ancestry, not only because they admired them, but because they needed them.

Conquering and traveling by horseback was made much easier, along with expansion, and some of the Hindu kingdoms that were defeated had strong and admirable cavalries themselves.

Circa 1500 BC, Aryan invaders arrived on horseback to conquer and expand. They may have come from the area near the Caspian Sea, and took over the Indus Valley. They felt the horse to be semi-sacred, and conducted animal sacrifices with horses.

The religious beliefs of the Aryans combined with the conquered peoples to form the basis of Hinduism.

Unlike the Bible, which barely mentions horses, the Hindu scriptures note their existence and capability.

In the Bhagavad Gita,[ 1, 14, ] the avatar (guise) of the god Vishnu, Krishna, is described as a young person with bluish-black skin who is driving two white horses and a cart. (6)

Krishna also kills the demon Keshi, who had shape-shifted into a horse. This is depicted in sculptures of terra cotta art, in graphic detail, with Krishna restraining the horse demon with his foot, while shoving his elbow down its throat. (7)

Another avatar, or guise, of Vishnu is Hayagriva, depicted as a centaur-like creature, with the head of a horse and the body of a man. He is draped in white, with radiance emanating outwards in a brilliant aura.

In Sanskrit, Haya means horse and griva means neck; Hayagriva is worshiped as the god of knowledge and wisdom. (8)

The graphic art is a reminder of the horse and animal sacrifices in early Indian Vedic cults.

There will be more about Hindu horses next week.

Closing with the immortal words of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, "Happy Trails to You."

1-6 : "Horses," by Yann Arthus-Bertrand and Jean-Louis Gouraud

7: web

8: web/ art