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The Planetary King: Humayun Padshah, Inventor and Visionary on the Mughal Throne

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Item Code: HAG997
Author: Ebba Koch
Publisher: Mapin Publishing Pvt. Ltd.
Language: English
Edition: 2022
ISBN: 9789385360985
Pages: 384 (Throughout Color Illustrations)
Other Details 12.00 X 10.00 inch
Weight 2.28 kg
Book Description
About The Book

Humayun, the son of Babur and the second Mughal ruler, reigned in Agra from 1530 to 1540 and then in Delhi from 1555 to 1556. Until now, his numerous achievements, including winning back the throne of Hindustan, have not been well recorded. Humayun neither wrote an autobiography nor had a historian to glorify him; the eccentric accounts of his historian Khwandamir elude general comprehension.

The Planetary King follows Humayun's travels and campaigns during the political and social disturbances of the early sixteenth century. It delves into Humayun's extraordinary social and intellectual life; demystifies his magico-scientific world view, draws attention to his deep involvement with literature, poetry, painting, architecture, mathematics, astronomy, astrology, occultism and extraordinary inventions; and offers a new analysis of Humayun's mausoleum as the posthumous sum of his visions and dreams.

Bringing this fascinating exploration to life in vivid detail, this volume includes hundreds of beautifully reproduced photographs and illustrations-from reconstructions of Humayun's buildings to depictions of live events. The book accompanies the new site museum at Humayun's tomb created by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture upon the culmination of two decades of conservation work on the World Heritage Site.

About the Author

Ebba Koch, pre-eminent art and architectural historian, has been a professor at the Institute of Art History in Vienna, Austria and has taught at the universities of Oxford and Harvard. She specializes in the art and culture of the Great Mughals of South Asia and their artistic connections to Central Asia, Iran and Europe and is considered a leading authority on Mughal architecture. In 2016, Koch became the advisor to the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, India. She has published numerous papers in journals and volumes on Indian and Islamic architecture and art, which also address cultural issues of interest to political, social and economic historians. Her volume The Complete Taj Mahal (2006/2012) has become the standard work on the subject. She recently edited together with Ali Anooshahr the collective volume The Mughal Empire from Jahangir to Shah Jahan (2019).


The incentive to write this book came from my involvement in the project of a site museum for the tomb of Humayun in Delhi. In November 2014, Ratish Nanda, Director of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC), India, asked me to join a group of conservation architects, historians, a photographer and a cultural activist, who were to conceptualize a programme for the museum beyond explaining the architecture of the amazing mausoleum and the buildings and sites around it. From our discussions, it emerged that a major focus should be on the ruler for whom the tomb was created, and that a substantial part of the museum should be dedicated to shedding light on this still-enigmatic and least-understood figure, second of the six Great Mughals, to make his life and achievements clearer to the general public and the historically minded visitor. To achieve this, Ratish Nanda assembled a team of dedicated young people, conservation architects, museologists and researchers, and invited me to be the advisor. Once set on the path of Humayun, I realized I had to lay aside once more my work on the palaces and gardens of Shah Jahan, the fifth ruler of the Mughal dynasty, and return to my research and thinking about his ancestor.

Humayun had previously occupied me in the context of my participation in the 'Network of Comparative Empires: Romans, the Ottomans and Mughals in the Pre-Industrial World from Antiquity till the Transition to Modernity, a pan-European academic initiative organized by the Danish historian of the Roman Empire Peter Bang and the British historian of India Christopher Bailey, between 2005 and 2009. Our meetings took place in various capitals of Europe and, in the last workshop at Rome in April 2009, I presented a paper on cosmic kingship jointly with Claire Sotinel, a French historian on the late Roman empire, in which I drew attention to Humayun's inventions, his concept of sun-rulership and how they affected his successors. Reviving these ideas and trying to find out what made Humayun the great 'other' in Indian history led me to embark on an intellectual adventure that resulted in writing this book.

Geographically, it meant following the padshah's travels and campaigns during the political and social disturbances of the early sixteenth century, which took him from his birthplace Kabul and from Badakhshan, the administrative district assigned to him in his youth, to large parts of the Indian subcontinent, to his exile in Iran (which turned out to be much briefer than generally assumed) and from there again back to Afghanistan, from where, after ten years of campaigning against his brothers, he was able to re-take the Mughal throne at Delhi. Trying to understand Humayun's personality and works meant exploring and demystifying his extraordinary social and intellectual life; engaging with his magico-scientific world view, his deep involvement with the knowledge systems of his time, with literature, poetry, painting and architecture and with the sciences of mathematics, astronomy, astrology and occultism.


The founder of the Mughal dynasty, Babur, descended from the Asian conquerors Chingiz Khan and Timur. He and his successors were always prouder of their descent from the latter and saw themselves as Chaghatai-Timurids. For the people of India, however, they were 'the Mongols' (variously spelled Muggula, Mugila and Mudgala).2 The Europeans followed suit and called them Grao Mogor, Groote Mogul, Great Moghul, Grand Mogol, or Großmogul.

The Mughal dynasty was perhaps one of the most glamorous and charismatic in the history of mankind (Fig. 2).3 It was a driving concern of the first six padshahs, usually translated as emperors, the Great Mughals, to construct their image for posterity and be remembered as great rulers. They were quite successful in this. Even in the twentieth century, there were voices that praised the Mughal emperors in the manner of their court eulogists: to the world-traveller, philosopher and enthusiastic interculturalist Count Hermann Keyserling, who was in India in 1911-12, they were 'the grandest rulers brought forth by mankind. Keyserling came to this conclusion because the Mughals 'combined in their personalities so many diverse talents: they were men of action, refined diplomats, experienced judges of the human psyche, and at the same time aesthetes and dreamers. He thought that such a 'superior human synthesis' (grossartige Menschheitsynthese) had not been manifest in any European king. And the art historian Stuart Cary Welch (1928-2008), who taught Indian painting at Harvard, exclaimed: 'What would our lives be without those fascinating Mughals!"

A few achievements for which the Mughals were widely acclaimed and endeared themselves to their admirers can be singled out. Babur (1483-1530, r. 1526-30) wrote his memoirs, which acquired the status of a dynastic textbook, a mirror of princes for his descendants.

Book's Contents and Sample Pages

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