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Ebba Koch’s The Planetary King | Fatal majesty

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Ebba Koch’s new book on Humayun unpacks the Mughal emperor’s complex personality and unconventional life

New Delhi,ISSUE DATE: Mar 20, 2023 | UPDATED: Mar 10, 2023 13:08 IST

Author Ebba Koch at Humayun’s Tomb; (Photo: Bandeep Singh)

History, they say, has not been kind to Humayun. The second Mughal king lost his fledgling kingdom to the Afghan, Sher Shah, in a decisive battle at Chausa—a place better known for its late-ripening and rather sweet mangoes; on the run, while crossing the Ganga in spate, he fell off his horse, only to be rescued and taken to the opposite bank by one Nizam, a water carrier, on an inflated hide (mashak), normally used to carry water. Ever grateful to the bhishti, Humayun put the lowly Nizam on his throne for half a day, a turning of the world upside down, an event illustrated in the majestic official account of the reign of his son Akbar. Building alliances and fighting battles against his brothers, Humayun sought refuge in the court of the Iranian king, Shah Tahmasp. Defeating the Afghans in a rematch, he returned to Delhi in 1555 and reclaimed the throne of Dinpanah, or Purana Qila as it is called today. He began to raise new buildings, among which was the fetching octagonal-domed pavilion, an observatory and his book-lined library. Negotiating its killer high steps (Koch provides a full-page view of the daunting stairs), Humayun stumbled to his death while rushing to catch the evening prayers.

The Planetary King by Ebba Koch | Aga Khan Trust for Culture, Mapin Publishing | Rs 3,950; 384 pages

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