BABAR VANI (Babar’s command or sway) is how the four hymns by Guru Nanak alluding to the invasions by Babar (1483-1530), the first Mughal emperor of India, are collectively known in Sikh literature. The name is derived from the use of the term in one of these hymns: "Babarvani phiri gai kuiru na rod khai Babar’s command or sway has spread; even the princes go without food" (GG, 417). Three of these hymns are in Asa measure at pages 360 and 41718 of the standard recension of Guru Granth Sahib and the fourth is in Tilang measure on pages 722-23.
Zahir-ud-Din Muhammad Babar, driven out of his ancestral principality of Farghana in Central Asia, occupied Kabul in 1504. Having failed in his repeated attempts to reconquer the lost territory and unable to expand his new possessions in the direction of Khurasan in the west (which had once formed part of his grandfather’s dominions), he turned his eyes towards India in the east. After an exploratory expedition undertaken as early as JanuaryMay 1505, he came down better equipped in 1519 when he advanced as far as Peshawar. The following year he crossed the Indus and conquering Sialkot without resistance, marched on Saidpur (now Eminabad, 15 km southeast of Gujranwala in Pakistan) which suffered the worst fury of the invading host. The town was taken by assault, the garrison put to the sword and the inhabitants carried into captivity. During his next invasion in 1524, Babar ransacked Lahore. His final invasion was launched during the winter of 152526 and he became master of Delhi after his victory at Panipat on 21 April 1526.
Guru Nanak was an eye witness to the havoc created during these invasions. Janam Sakhis mention that he himself was taken captive at Saidpur. A line of his, outside of Babarvani hymns, indicates that he may have been present in Lahore when the city was given up to plunder. In six pithy words this line conveys, "For a pahar and a quarter, i.e. for nearly four hours, the city of Lahore remained subject to death and fury" (GG, 1412). The mention in one of the Babarvani hymns of the use of guns by the Mughals against the Afghan defence relying mainly upon their war elephants may well be a reference to the historic battle of Panipat which sealed the fate of the Afghan king, Ibrahim Lodhi.
Babarvani hymns are not a narrative of historical events like Guru Gobind Singh’s Bachitra Natak, nor are they an indictment of Babar as his Zafarnamah was that of Aurangzeb. They are the outpourings of a compassionate soul touched by scenes of human misery and by the cruelty perpetrated by the invaders. The sufferings of the people are rendered here in accents of intense power and protest. The events are placed in the larger social and historical perspective. Decline in moral standards must lead to chaos. A corrupt political system must end in dissolution. Lure of power divides men and violence unresisted tends to flourish. It could not be wished away by magic or sorcery. Guru Nanak reiterated his faith in the Almighty and in His justice. Yet so acute was his realization of the distress of the people that he could not resist making the complaint: "When there was such suffering, such killing, such shrieking in pain, did not Thou, 0 God, feel pity? Creator, Thou art the same for all!" The people for him were the people as a whole, the Hindus and the Muslims, the high caste and the low caste, soldiers and civilians, men and women. These hymns are remarkable for their moral structure and poetical eloquence. Nowhere else in contemporary literature are the issues in medieval Indian situation comprehended with such clarity or presented in tones of greater urgency.
In spite of his destructive role Babar is seen by Guru Nanak to have been an unwitting instrument of the divine Will. Because the Lodhis had violated God’s laws, they had to pay the penalty. Babar descended from Kabul as God’s chosen agent, demonstrating the absolute authority of God and the retribution which must follow defiance of His laws. Guru Nanak’s commentary on the events which he actually witnessed thus becomes a part of the same universal message. God is absolute and no man may disobey His commands with impunity. Obey Him and receive freedom. Disobey him and the result must inevitably be retribution, a dire reckoning which brings suffering in this present life and continued transmigration in the hereafter.