BAYRAM (or BAYRĀM) KHAN, Moḥammad Ḵān(-e) Ḵānān, an illustrious and powerful Iranian noble at the court of the Mughal emperors Homāyūn and Akbar, who may be called the second founder of the Mughal empire after Bābor. The Mughal era might have ended when Emperor Homāyūn (d. 963/1656) was defeated by Šīr Shah Sūrī (d. 950/1543) and fled to Iran, disappearing from the Indian scene for a number of years, were it not for Bayram Khan, who inspired and assisted Homāyūn in reconquering the subcontinent and reestablishing Mughal rule, which lasted up to 1274/1857.
While Bayram represented an amalgam of Iranian and Turkish traditions, his son ʿAbd-al-Raḥīm Ḵān-e Ḵānān also incorporated the Indian traditions, thus becoming an ideal representative of the composite Iranian, Turkish, and Indian culture.
Bayram Khan belonged to the Bahārlū clan of the Qara Qoyunlū Turkmen (Nehāvandī, I, p. 11), whose descendants still live in the Dārābjerd region of Fārs province (Ṣafā, IV, p. 13). The Qara Qoyunlūs established their independent rule under Qarā Yūsof (d. 823/1420) in Azerbaijan and the adjoining areas, expanding in later years into Kermān and Fārs, but they were overthrown by the Āq Qoyunlūs led by Uzun Ḥasan in 973/1468 (Nehāvandī, I, pp. 16ff.; Ṣafā, Adabīyāt IV, pp. 13ff.).
Bayram Khan was descended from ʿAlī Šokr Bīg, the ruler of Hamadān and Kurdistan (Nehāvandī, I, p. 46) through his father Sayf-ʿAlī Bīg, son of Bayram Bīg, son of Sultan Maḥmūd Mīrzā, a Timurid prince and governor of Badaḵšān (Nehāvandī, I, p. 61), who married the daughter of ʿAlī Šokr Bīg, himself married to the daughter of Qarā Sekandar (r. 823-39/1420-35). The uncertain political conditions after the overthrow of the Qara Qoyunlūs compelled Bayram Bīg to migrate to Badaḵšān. Sometime after 911/1505 his son Sayf-ʿAlī Bīg was appointed governor of Ḡazna by Bābor after his conquest of Kabul and Ḡazna. Sayf-ʿAlī then led an unsuccessful campaign to Khorasan but seems to have died shortly afterward and was buried at Ḡazna (Nehāvandī, I, pp. 62-63; Dīvān, introd., p. 2).
Bayram Khan was born at Badaḵšān about 910/1504 (Dīvān, introd., p. 2, n. 3). He studied there and later at Balḵ. By the age of sixteen, he had reputedly mastered the sciences and arts of the day, including sports like čowgān (polo) and qabaq (marksmanship; Nehāvandī, I, p. 592; Akbar-nāma, p. 218). Bābor developed a strong liking for Bayram Khan and treated him almost like his son. He attached him to Prince Homāyūn in 926/1520, when the prince was appointed governor of Badaḵšān (Nehāvandī, I, p. 64), Bayram came to India along with Homāyūn in 936/1529 (Dīvān, p. 2, n. 3). During the first phase of Homāyūn’s rule, 937-47/1530-40, Bayram played a vital role in the expansion of the Mughal empire. After Homāyūn was defeated and was fleeing to Iran, Bayram joined him in 950/1543 in Sind (Akbar-nāma, p. 185; Nehāvandī, I, p. 558) and escorted him to the court of Shah Ṭahmāsb, who issued a firman to the governor of Herat that a royal welcome should be accorded to Homāyūn and his entourage and that Bayram Khan should be treated with due respect (Akbar-nāma, p. 208; Nehāvandī, I, p. 581). At the reception in the Jahānārā garden of Herat the famous singer Ṣāber Qāq sang a ḡazal of Amīr Šāhī in the Se-gāh dastgāh, for which Homāyūn rewarded him lavishly (Akbar-nāma, p. 214; Nehāvandī, I, p. 588). Bayram and Homāyūn then proceeded to the Safavid capital, Qazvīn, passing through the following places: Torbat-e Jām, where they paid a visit to the tomb of the Sufi Shaikh Aḥmad Jām Zanda-Pīl (d. 536/1141) and inscribed Persian verses on a stone at the shrine; Mašhad, where they paid their respects at the tomb of Imam Reżā; Nīšāpūr, where they visited the famous turquoise mines; Sabzavār; Besṭām, where they paid a visit to the shrine of Shaikh Bāyazīd; Dāmḡān; and Semnān, where they went to pray at the tomb of the celebrated Sufi Shaikh ʿAlāʾ-al-Dawla Semnānī (d. 736/1336), which shows Bayram’s devotion to Sufism (Akbar-nāma, p. 215; Nehāvandī, I, pp. 588-89).
Bayram Khan, who served as a link between Shah Ṭahmāsb and Homāyūn, went to see the Iranian monarch at his summer resort in order to arrange the meeting of the two rulers and was accorded a worthy reception (Nehāvandī, I, p. 590). At the Safavid court, he was given precedence over the Safavid and Mughal nobles. Shah Ṭahmāsb invited Bayram to join the Safavid court and offered him the government of Azerbaijan as held by his ancestors, the Qara Qoyunlūs (Nehāvandī, I, p. 594). Even after he left Iran, the shah spoke highly of him in his letters to the Mughal court (Riazul Islam, p. 49). During their stay in Iran, Bayram and Homāyūn paid a visit to Tabrīz and then to Ardabīl and the shrine of Shaikh Ṣafī-al-Dīn, the ancestor of the Safavids (Akbar-nāma, p. 219; Nehāvandī, I, p. 593).
When Homāyūn returned to India, Shah Ṭahmāsb provided a force to accompany him (Nehāvandī, I, pp. 592-93; Akbar-nāma, p. 218). For his role in the conquest of Qandahār Homāyūn appointed Bayram governor of the city, a position be held from 952/1545 to 961/1554 (Dīvān, introd., pp. 8-9). Bayram celebrated the victory in one of his Persian poems in his dīvān (p. 38).
The reconquest of India by Homāyūn in 963/1555 is attributed to the strategy and sagacity of Bayram Khan, and after the death of Homāyūn, Bayram supported the young emperor Akbar and was able to place him firmly on the Mughal throne (Nehāvandī, I, pp. 644ff.). In the end, however, Akbar became suspicious of Bayram’s growing influence and decided to remove him from office. He had to flee and was finally killed by an Afghan called Mobārak Khan Lāḥūnī in 968/1561. In 985/1577 his bodily remains were transferred to Mašhad and a mausoleum was built over his grave (Dīvān, introd., pp. 14-15).
Bayram’s high status at the Mughal court is borne out by the titles bestowed on him: yār-e wafādār (loyal friend), barādar-e nīkū-sīar (good-natured brother), farzand-e saʿādatmand (fortunate son), and ḵān-e ḵānān (khan of khans; Maʾāṯer al-omarāʾ I, pp. 370-71). Emperor Akbar, for whom Bayram Khan served as atālīq (tutor) addressed him as Khan Bābā and raised him to the post of wakīl-al-salṭana (prime minister). Bayram Khan was married to Salīma Solṭān Bīgom, a daughter of Homāyūn’s sister, who composed Persian poetry under the pen name Maḵfī (Nehāvandī, I, p. 658; Jahāngīr p. 132; Ḥasan-ʿAlī Khan, p. 394).
Bayram Khan’s accomplishments were recognized both in Iran and India. He was a perfect master of the sword and the pen. His liberal patronage attracted men of letters and masters of fine arts (Riazul Islam, p. 67). Among them were Mīr ʿAbd-al-Laṭīf Qazvīnī, an eminent scholar who later on became the tutor of Akbar, and Taḏarvī Abharī, a Persian poet (Badāʾūnī, III, p. 220). The famous musicians Rām Dās of Gwalior, Yūsof Tanbūra, his son Mīrqolī, and Ḡawḡāʾī the singer were also attached to Bayram Khan (Dīvān, introd., p. 16 nn. 6, 7; Āʾīn-e akbarī, tr. p. 681 n. 2).
Bayram Khan has left a small dīvān of Persian and Turkish verses. The Persian section contains 618 verses, the Turkish 357 verses. However, an earlier copy of his dīvān preserved in the library of his son ʿAbd-al-Raḥīm consisted of about 2,000 couplets. Bayram Khan, a Shiʿite, praises the imams ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭāleb and ʿAlī al-Reżā in his Persian poetry. He also wrote panegyrics glorifying the emperors Homāyūn and Akbar. The few ḡazals included in the dīvān are lucid and sweet and bespeak the deep emotional fervor of the poet. There is also a pungent qeṭʿa in which Bayram satirizes a noble who had engraved on his seal ʿazza man qanaʿa (an honorable person is the contented one) but he himself usurped the belongings of widows and orphans (Dīvān, p. 34). In a robāʿī Bayram expresses a desire to visit the tomb of Pīr-e Herāt Ḵᵛāja ʿAbd-Allāh Anṣārī (Dīvān, p. 35).
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(N. H. Ansari)
Originally Published: December 15, 1989
Last Updated: December 15, 1989
This article is available in print.
Vol. IV, Fasc. 1, pp. 3-5