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BarburIT IS TIME TO CELEBRATE. For Babur, who has been on conquests since the age of twelve, celebrations have always taken backseat. This time he has taken pause and seen how close he has come to being outplayed off the battlefield. Enjoy, he tells himself, for the world is not to be had a second time.

This feast is to be his first since his momentous conquest of Hindustan. The carpets will be heaped with his Central Asian favourites: breads, samosas, dried meats, grilled meats, pilafs, rice studded with nuts and grapes. It would also feature the culinary marvels of Hindustan and inventive creations at the overlap of both cultures – an irresistible stew made from brinjal and okra; a rich, intriguing preparation of lamb cooked in lentils and his favourite caramelised banana snacks.

There will be a vast spread of fruits including many varieties of the highly regarded local delight – the mango, and of course the fragrant melons of Samarkand, both fresh and dried. The melons, Babur knew, took credit for lifting the gloom of exile from his home territories in Central Asia.

The diplomatic envoys, princes, military officials and other dignitaries begin streaming in from the break of day. They seat themselves upon the many carpets and cushions that have been laid upon the floor of the cool Mahal. In due course, each rises and places their gifts at the front. Then it is time to settle down to enjoy the entertainment lined up for the day.


Though the feast described here takes places in the 16th C, this painting from three centuries later showing awnings outside a hall gives an idea of the shape of preparations. Image: Hall of Private Audience, attributed to Ghulam Ali Khan, 1817.

The preliminary act pits camels against elephants. The next segment sees a more conventional match – between wrestlers. Some guests take sides and put on a show of their own in response to the swinging fortunes of the contestants they are backing.

Once the food is laid out, guests are treated to another programme of entertainment: feats of balance and flexibility performed by troupes from various countries. There is a display of somersaults and finally a colourful local dance that Babur too has the pleasure of witnessing for the very first time.