Jalaluddin Muhammad Akbar who becomes famous as Akbar, the Great was the son and successor of the Mughal emperor Humanyun and the grandson of Zahir-ud-din Muhammad Babur who laid the foundation of Mughal empire in India.
What ever Babur had conquered and possessed in India was lost by his son Humayun.
By the time Akbar was about to be born, Humayun had already lost his empire to Sher Shah and was wandering here and there as a fugitive with a small number of his followers. His wife Hamida Banu Begum, a Persian Shia lady, was also with him. She was by that time in the advanced stage of her pregnancy and was unable to move with her fugitive husband.
Fortunately she got a shelter in the house of the king Rana Virsal of Amarkot who being moved by humanity and generosity assisted a king at his darkest hour of life. Rana Virsal also assisted Humayun with men and material to enable him to lead an expedition against Thatta and Bakhar. When he was on the way of the expedition and while camping somewhere on the way, we got the news of the birth of his son from a trusted follower named Tardi Beg Khan. The child was born on 15th October 1542. It was joyful news for Humayun and his followers. He thanked the Almighty for his blessing. But as he was in a destitute condition he could not reward his followers in a befitting manner.
He called for a China plate and broke on it a pod of musk and, distributed it among his men, and said. ‘This is all the present I can afford to make you on the birth of my son, whose fame will, I trust, be one day expand all over the world, as the perfume of the musk now fills this tent”. Humayun’s hope in-fact turned into reality when his son Akbar became one of the great monarchs of the world. But Akbar’s childhood was utterly neglected.
He was detached from his parents for some years. He did not get literary education. He spent his childhood in adversity. His father was again unsuccessful against Thatta and Bhaskar. Some of his foolish followers picked up a quarrel with Rana Virsal, the generous host. Owing to this, Hamida Banu Begum had to quit Rana Virsal’s house with her baby son and went to the town of Jun, 75 miles from Amar Kot where Humayun had encamped.
Humayun was not helped by his brothers at this greatest hour of his misfortune, rather they were very much jealous of him and even some of them had started quarrelling with him. He waited for six months there at the town of Jen to attack and capture Sindh but he became unsuccessful in his endeavor. He then decided to go to Persia to implore help from the Shah of Persia. On the way near Mustan (Mustang) in Afghanistan, he was attacked by his own brother Askari who by then was ruling over Afghanistan and Kandahar. His another brother was Kamaran who was the ruler of Kabul. Both the two younger brothers were against their elder brother.
Humayun, not being in a position to challenge his brother Askari fled away with his wife on his horse back leaving behind his son Akbar. Askari picked up the child from hands of a nurse and took him to Kandhar where he was looked after properly by his wife. Humayun went away to Persia and sought the help of Shah of Persia against his brothers. In 1545 when Humayun marched against Kandhar, Akbar was sent to Kabul. In the course of Humayun’s fight with Kamran, the little prince Akbar was threatened to be exposed to the fire of the guns on the battlements of the Kabul fort, but the gunners of the army of Humayun noticed it and changed the direction of the artillery fire.
Hence the survival of Prince Akbar was a chance and luck. The early life of Akbar passed through adverse circumstances. But he was not born to blush unseen. Humayun got back his son while capturing Kandhar and Kabul. Akbar’s early education was utterly neglected. He was imparted a little education after the resettlement of his father Humayun.
He did not take interest in literary education. Rather he was fond of martial arts and military education. Under the guidance of his teacher Bairam Khan, Akbar achieved skill in the display of sword and horse riding. Humayun had given Bairam Khan the entire responsibility of his son and had asked him to act as his guardian. Bairam Khan in-fact rendered this responsibility very honestly with a great sense of respect and devotion to his master Humayun.
Akbar was appointed as the Governor of Ghazani in 1551 after the death of his uncle Hindal. At Kabul, Humayun was waiting for an opportunity to score his goal in Hindustan. Sher Shah was succeeded by his son Islam Shah who died in 1553. After his death the Shah domain was divided by some powerful aspirants such as Muhammad Shah Adil, Ibrahim Sur and Sikandar Shah who were in possession of Agra, Punjab and Delhi respectively.
This division and disunity among them provided an opportunity to Humayun to materialize his hopes in Hindustan. He left Kabul in November 1554 with a mission to reconquer his Indian possessions. He met Sikandar Ser’s army at Sirhind and defeated them easily. In this war of the conquest Humayun was strongly supported by his son Prince Akbar who deserved the credit of this victory. After this Humayun restored his Imperial throne of Delhi. On 23rd July, 1555 he entered the capital and ascended the imperial throne. Akbar was assigned the governorship of Punjab and was also declared as the heir-apparent.
However, Humayun did not live long to enjoy the throne of Delhi. On 24th Jan. 1556 he met an accident while coming down the steps from his two-storeyed Library and died. Mean while Akbar was at Punjab with his guardian Bairam Khan and was busy in chasing the Sur emperor Sikandar Shah who was creating fresh problems to Mughals. When the news of the emperor’s death reached, Bairam Khan, who was an politician, declared Akbar as the new emperor and performed his accession ceremony in the garden of Kalanaur in Punjab on 14th February, 1556.
This accession ceremony simply registered Akbar’s claim on the throne of Delhi. At Delhi, the news of the emperor’s death was not disclosed to public for seventeen days as the prince Akbar had not reached the capital. A man named Mulla Bekasi who resembled Humayun was asked to appear from the Jharokha till Akbar was formally declared Emperor of Delhi.
Early Problems of Akbar:
Humayun died leaving the throne of Delhi insecure and unstable. The Afghan ascendency was at its high point and Delhi passed to their hands when Hemu, the able prime minister of Adil Shah of Bengal attacked and captured Delhi sometimes in October 1556. By this time Akbar was at Jalandhar and was watching the fall of the Mughal control over its empire.
Mughal states like Bayana, Etawah, Sambhal, Kalpi and Agra were not under strict control. Even situation at Kabul, Kandahar and Badakhshan was not in favour of the Mughals. Aghans like Sikandar Shah, Ibrahim Shah and Adil Shah were still aspiring to establish their supremacy. Adil Shah was already successful in establishing his supremacy over the throne of Delhi through his able Commander Hemu. The Rajput States like Mewar, Ambar and Jaisalmer were still powerful and posing threat to the rise of Mughals.
In addition to his political adversity, the economic condition of the country was quite deplorable due to widespread famine and drought in and outside Delhi and Agra. It was in-fact a distressful situation for young Akbar. His only saviour and solace at this critical situation was Bairam Khan, his regent who had already saved him from various problems with his cleverness and worthiness. In-fact he was the man who made Akbar the emperor of India.
The Second Battle of Panipat (Nov. 2, 1556):
The loss of Delhi was a great blow to Akbar and the Mughals. Hemu after capturing Delhi assumed the title of Vikramaditya and had established his control over a vast territory spreading from Gwalior to the river Sutluj. Akbar was advised by his terrified Mughal nobles and officers that it would not be wise to encounter an enemy like Hemu and we should return to Kabul for safety and reorganization. But Bairam Khan did not agree to this advice and decided to measure swords with Hemu.
Akbar also agreed with his regent. As a result the armies of the Mughals and the Afghans met each other on the historic battlefield of Panipat on the 5th November, 1556. This is known as in history as the Second Battle of Panipat. Although Akbar had a small number of army about 20,000 under his command, it was a crucial battle for him. But the army of Hemu was more than five times than that of Akbar.
It was not the strength but courage and confidence that made Akbar to face his greatest enemy boldly. It is said, fortune favours the brave. Hemu on the other hand in-spite of a huge army was not favored by fortune. In the thick of the battle an arrow struck him in his eye which pierced his brain. He fell unconscious in the battlefield.
His army being headless dispersed in confusion. Akbar won the battle and recovered the throne of Delhi. Hemu was captured and beheaded. Thereafter came an end to Afghan ascendency. The sun of the Mughal empire began to ascend in the political horizon of India.
Regency of Bairam Khan:
Bairam Khan as the guardian of Akbar continued as the de facto administrator of the Mughal empire. But being power drunk he grew proud, heedless and autocratic. His high-handedness also came to the notice of the Akbar on many occasions. The harem party under the emperor’s foster mother Maham Anaga put pressure on the emperor to out him. At last Bairam Khan was dismissed in spite of his life long record of loyalty to the Mughul House.
He was instructed to surrender all his powers and go on a pilgrimage to Mecca. Subsequently, he was killed on the way by some of his enemies in 1561. The fall of Bairam Khan did not make Akbar all powerful. Mughal administration was still under the control of the Harem party which was called the petti coat Government. Some influential women of the harem including Maham Anaga had kept the administration under their control. But when Akbar realized this he tried to get-rid of them and became successful by reducing and curbing their powers.
Even he murdered Adam Khan the reprobate son of Mahama Anaga to score his goal. A few days after the death of Adam Khan, the broken hearted Mahama Anaga passed away. However, Akbar became successful to start his rule in the real sense of the term.
Conquests of Akbar:
It was Akbar who had built a vast empire in India whose boundary had touched the great Himalayas in the north and Kanya Kumari in the south, the Hindu Kush in the west and the river Brahmaputra in the east. It was possible due to his aggressive policy of expansion. Commenting on his policy of imperialism, Mrs. A.S. Beveridge has written that Akbar was a strong and stout annexationist before whose sun the modest star of Lord Dalhousie paves.
During the time of Bairam Khan States like Gwalior, Jaunpur, Benaras, Ajmer and Malwa were added to the Mughal empire. In 1564 Akbar waged a war against the state of Gondwana which was ruled by Rani Durgavati on behalf of her minor son, Bir Narayan. Akbar’s general Asaf Khan attacked Gondawana and the heroic Rani fought the battle till she breathed her last in the battle field. Her young son, Bir Narayan, also died a hero’s death. Thereafter Gondwana was annexed to the Mughal empire.
In 1572, Akbar conquered Gujarat. Next year, he occupied Surat. With these conquests his empire extended to the Western Coasts. In 1574 Akbar drove the son of Suleiman Karrani and the ruler of Bengal in two encounters. Thus Bengal was annexed to the Mughal empire.
In 1581 Akbar led his army to Kabul and defeated its ruler Mirza Hakim who was ambitious enough to conquer Delhi. He was one of Akbar’s step brothers. When he died in 1585, the territory of Kabul was annexed to the Mughal empire.
Akbar next conquered Kashmir in 1586 and Sindh in 1591. In 1592 Orissa was conquered by Raja Man Singh, the Mughal general. Akbar annexed Baluchistan and Kandhar to the Mughal empire in 1595. After subjugating the whole of northern India, Akbar diverted his attention towards the Deccan. By that time, the vast Bahmani kingdom of the south was broken into five independent kingdoms. They were Berar, Ahmad Nagar, Bijapur, Golkonda and Bidar. Apart from these, there was another kingdom named Khandesh on the way to the Deccan. The kingdom of Berar was by that time under the control of the kingdom of Ahmad Nagar.
Akbar’s first target was Ahmed Nagar which was ruled by a heroic lady named Chand Bibi. She was ruling on behalf of her minor son. In 1595, the Mughal army entered in Ahmad Nagar and Chand Bibi fought desperately and finally was defeated and killed. Of course, the campaign continued for long five years and in 1600 the kingdom of Ahmad Nagar was conquered. Akbar also occupied Berar and Khandesh and captured the fort of Sirgarh in 1601. It was the last victory of Akbar. He died in 1605. Akbar’s Deccan policy was continued by his successors throughout the Mughal period.
Rajput Policy of Akbar:
Akbar was not only an aggressive imperialist but also a wise Statesman of his time. He knew that the conquests of States without their consolidation would not serve any purpose. For the consolidation and conquests of his empire, he adopted a novel policy, famous as the Rajput policy of Akbar. The Rajput’s at that time were a prestigious warrior class in the Hindu society who was famous for their heroism and sense of duty and devotion to their mother-land. Akbar knew the importance of this class. He also knew that it was impossible to conquer the Rajput’s by force. Therefore he changed his policy and extended his hand to them for friendship. He knew that the friendship with the Rajput’s would mean much.
Rajput’s were most loyal as friends, as also most dangerous as enemies. He tried to bring the Rajput’s to his fold. He made all possible efforts to establish cordial relations with Rajput’s. He even stressed upon establishing matrimonial alliances with the Rajput rulers. As a result, the Rajput rulers of Ambar, Bikaner, Jaisalmer gave their daughters to the Mughal Emperor in marriage and earned his favour. He also offered respectable and high posts to the Rajput’s who joined the Mughal service.
Raja Bhagwan Das and Raja Mansingh for example were given high posts of office for their loyalty and faithfulness to the emperor. Akbar’s liberal attitude inspired a large number of Rajput’s to join the Mughal service in different capacities of Mansabdars and they even were prepared to shed their blood for the conquests and consolidation of the Mughal Empire.
Mewar was the only state which did not submit to the Mughal empire. Her famous ruler Rana Pratap Singh considered it as a stigma on the Rajput character. He hated the Rajput’s who had submitted to the Mughal emperor Akbar by accepting his Rajput policy. He faced the Mughal army very bravely in the battle of Haldi Ghati in A.D. 1576. Although he was defeated but his spirit of independence did not make him to surrender to the Mughals. It was only after his death, the state of Mewar during the rule of his son Amar Singh passed into the hands of Mughals completely.
However Akbar’s Rajput policy was proved completely a success. Rajput’s as seen had rendered valuable service even at the cost of their lives for the expansion and consolidation of the Mughal empire. He also got the support of the Rajput’s against any nefarious designs of some Afghan rulers and leaders. Akbar’s Rajput policy in-fact was a proof of his great statesmanship.
Religious Policy of Akbar:
If Akbar is remembered today, it is due to his famous religious policy. His real fame rests on his liberal religious policy. His knowledge on the essence of different religious philosophies at a later stage made him to promulgate a new religion famous in history as Din-i-Ilahi under whose banner Akbar had tried to unite Hindus and Muslims. For the vast Mughal empire to be enduring Din-e-Ilahi was probably the only alternative. However time, proved it as Akbar’s ‘Monument of Folly’.
A child of his time:
Akbar was born and brought up at a comparatively liberal religious society. Indian society by then had witnessed the Sufi and the Bhakti movement. As a result of which the religious animosity between the Hindus and Muslims in India had been reduced to a very lower point. They had come nearer as a result of better religious understanding. The intellectuals of both the communities realized that the inner essence of all religions was the same.
The Hindu and Muslim saints created a peaceful spiritual atmosphere in the country in contrast to the hatred and violence of the earlier days. When Akbar ascended the throne, the influence of the Sufi and Bhakti movement was at its height. Akbar was greatly influenced by that liberal spirit of the time. Not merely he was the child of his time, but also he became the representative as well as the leader of that time.
Akbar inherited Mughal legacies in the matters of religion. His father Humayun and his grandfather Babur were not fanatics. They had not conquered India with a religious motive. Their motive was purely political. Though Babur had declared Jehad on the eve of certain important wars, his motive was only to unite and encourage the Muslim soldiers. Babur and Humayun were no doubt men of learning and liberal outlook.
Akbar’s mother Hamida Banu Begum was a Shiha Muslim and the daughter of a Persian scholar. She taught her son Akbar the fundamentals of religious toleration. As the descendant of liberal ancestors, Akbar maintained the religious toleration and Akbar maintained the family legacies of liberal outlooks. Further his tutor Abdul Latif was a man of broad ideas who taught him sublime conceptions of divine and spiritual realities.
Akbar’s father Humayun during his extreme distress as a homeless wanderer had kept his pregnant wife Hamida Banu Begum under the protection of the Hindu king of Amarkot. The Hindu king being sympathetic at his misfortune had given shelter to Hamida Banu Begum in his own house where Akbar was born. The gesture of that Hindu king even at the dangerous hours during the rule of Sher Shah was really an unforgettable memory of Akbar. This incident might have inspired the future emperor to adopt some liberal policy to Hindus.
Influence of Sufi friends:
Akbar had come in close contact with two of his Sufi friends known as Faizi and Abul Fazal who were highly cultured and thoroughly liberal in their outlook. They influenced Akbar to show respect towards different faiths and cults.
Influence of Rajput Queens:
Akbar married the Hindu princess of Ambar, Bikaner, and Jaisalmer and established matrimonial and cordial relations with Rajput’s. Though this matrimonial alliance was for a political motive, yet it had its religious results. With the presence of the Hindu women in the Mughal harem, Hindu religious ceremonies and festivals entered into the Mughal Palace. Almost all the great Hindu festivals like Diwali, Dussehara, and Holi were observed in the Mughal Palace. The emperor used to participate in all the festivals wearing the Hindu dresses. This also made the emperor Akbar liberal towards Hindu religion.
Influence of Contemporary Religious thinkers:
Akbar constructed a House of worship or Ibadatkhana at his capital city of Fatehpur Sikri and invited religious thinkers and preachers of different religions and faiths to that house for religious discussions. Religious leaders of various religions such as Hindu, Muslim, Jain, Parsi and Christian were invited for learned discourses. Akbar acquired knowledge by associating himself with the wise men of the country with the result he was far away from orthodox beliefs.
Akbar’s personal convictions:
Akbar, though illiterate, was a genius. He had possessed a tremendous spiritual insight to know the divine matters. Though he acquired knowledge by listening to others, he had his own way of thinking of the divine matters. His mystic experiences made him to realize that no single religion contained the absolute truth of everything. Out of all these factors he developed his religious policy which had universal values and which helped to remove religious hatred from the minds of various people of our country.
Akbar’s liberal religious policy brought the people of divergent communities into the fold of one nation. He made it possible by paying respect to all religions and by accepting to the sameness of their inner meanings.
Secondly he gave the Mughal government a secular colour by bringing a change in the traditional Muslim administration.
Thirdly, Akbar abolished the pilgrim tax and Zaziya imposed earlier on his Hindu subjects. It pleased the Hindus everywhere. As a result of mass support of Hindus, the foundation of the Mughal empire got strengthened. He also gave full freedom to the Hindus to observe their festivals.
At last in a spiritual mission to assimilate the substance of all religions he invented a new cult known as Din-i-Ilahi.
Akbar promulgated a new religion known as Din-i-Ilahi in 1582. It means divine faith. It was a collection of the finest principles of all the religions. Being an amalgamation of all religions the new religion aimed at uniting people of all religious sects. It aimed to establish the oneness of God. Instead of superstitions, men were asked to follow a code of moral conduct. To lead a pure and principled life and the worship of the Lord were the cardinal tenets of the new religion. The religion was simple and its principles were easily intelligible. Din-i-Ilahi was also known as Tahid-o-Ilahi.
Principles of Din-i-llahi:
1. According to Din-i-Ilahi feasts served after the death of a person for the liberation of his soul is meaningless. A man should give such feasts in his life time. So, that his journey after death becomes smooth.
2. A man should arrange community feasts on his own birthday. He must also distribute alms on that day which brings better in his next life.
3. The followers of the Din-i-Ilahi should address a co-religionist with Allah-o-Akbar and the other should respond with ‘Jalla Jallalhu’.
4. A follower of Din-i-Ilahi should not eat flesh, onion and garlic. Dining with executioners, fishermen and untouchables was not permissible.
5. According to Din-i-Ilahi a man’s marriageable age was 16 years and that of a woman was fixed at 14 years.
6. Marriage with widows, old women and pre-puberty girls were forbidden.
7. All should lead a life of purity and good moral character.
8. People must sleep with their heads towards the east and legs towards the west.
9. A man must take a vow to sacrifice four essentials for the emperor. Such as life, wealth, religion and honour.
10. No one should grow beard.
11. Followers of Din-i-Ilahi should believe in one God and should be tolerant towards all religions.
12. When a follower of Din-Ilahi dies his neck should be tied with a brick and some grains and set afloat in a river. Afterwards the brick and the grains were to be removed from his neck and submerged in the water and the dead body should be consigned to flames at a place where there was no water.
Propagation of Din-i-ilahi and its analysis:
Din-i-Ilahi was not propagated properly. Akbar did not move any efforts for its propagation. He did not even force anyone to accept this religion. Among the Hindus only Raja Birbal accepted this religion. Raja Bhagwan Das and Man Singh refused to accept this religion. Muslims also did not take any interest in Din-i-Ilahi.
Among the Muslims the Din-i-Ilahi was extremely unpopular. The women also secretly incited the people not to accept this religion. During Akbar’s lifetime this religion never gets any popular acceptance. It was totally eclipsed after the death of Akbar.
Akbar’s Din-i-ilahi has been criticised by different historians. V.A. Smith says, “Din-i-Ilahi was a monument of Akbar’s folly and not of his wisdom. According to Professor S.R. Sharma, Din-i-Ilahi was a vivid manifestation of Emperor Akbar’s nationalist spirit. Prof. Ishwari Prasad Summarises the Din-i-ilahi as a unique combination of mysticism, philosophy and nature worship. However, the religion was an exposition of Akbar’s liberal trait. In order to preserve the unity of India and to maintain religious harmony between Hindus and Muslims, Akbar promulgated the Din-i-Ilahi.
As an administrator Akbar was second to none among the Muslim rulers of India. The basic principles on which his administration rested were nationalism, liberalism and impartiality. He abandoned the traditional Muslim policy of administration and ruled the country on a number of sound principles. According to him, the state being a secular institution should not spend on religious foundations. To him religion is purely a personal matter and it has nothing to do with state administration. That is why Akbar did not allow the Ulemas or the orthodox Muslims to interfere in politics.
Akbar’s administration was completely impartial. All subjects irrespective of their different religious background were treated equally. Akbar gave appointments to the people on the basis of their merit and talent but not on the basis of their religion. Raja Man Singh, Raja Todar Mai and Birbal being Hindus enjoyed high offices during Akbar’s rule. His administration presented a national colour. These had made the foundation of his government very strong and stable.
Abul Fazl’s Ain-i-Akbari gives a detailed account of his administration. However in brief it could be said that his administrative arrangement was known as Mansabdari System. Officers of different categories were in this system. High officials were Dewan, Mir Bakshi, Khan-i-Jahan and Sadar-i-Sadar. Akbar divided his empire into 15 Subas (provinces) and each Suba was under the charge of a Subedar. Different departments such as military, judicial and revenue performed their duties well.
Akbar’s revenue administration was a continuation administration of that of Sher Shah. But it had received a sea change by the Todar Mai’s Bandobast System. It was infact a very popular measure in the direction of Land-settlement. Some of his other measures were also very popular. The liberality and utility of his administration was enjoyed by each Indian.
Place of Akbar:
Akbar was one of the greatest monarchs of the world. The time of Akbar like the Elizabethan era of Great Britain was also a glorious epoch in the history of India. He was a great conqueror and was the second or real founder of the Mughal empire. He saved the Mughal rule at Delhi which had gone to the hands of the Afghans with the death of his father Humayun. In a crucial battle against Hemu, he had to exhibit tremendous courage and ability to re-occupy the throne of Delhi.
After that he had not looked back. As a conqueror of high repute he had conquered almost a major part of the country to his credit. His empire extended from the Himalayas in the north to the Vindhyas in the south and from Hindu Kush in the west to the river Brahmaputra in the east.
As an administrator, he excelled all the Muslim rulers of the history of India. Alauddin Khilji and Sher Shah may be compared with him as administrators of high repute. His military, economic and revenue administration was out and out excellent. He brought a drastic change by introducing Mansabdari System in administration. His Land revenue system under the able guidance of his revenue minister Todar Mai was a mile-stone. As a far-sighted administrator, he looked into the interest of the people of all communities.
His Rajput policy was an act of clever statesmanship. He knew without the support of the Rajput’s his dream of a vast and prolonged empire could not be materialized. He made Rajput’s his friends instead of his enemies.
His real greatness was seen in his religious achievements. In a land of multi-religions like India, he adopted a liberal policy and allowed the people of all religions to profess their faith independently. He abolished certain objectionable taxes like Jaziya and pilgrim tax imposed on Hindus.
He respected the saints of the religions and invited them to his Ibadat Khana for religion discourses. To Hindus he was a great liberal. To him, the Hindus and Muslims were the sons of the same soil and children of the same God. They were given equal status before law, equal rights in administration and equal freedom in matters of religion.
Akbar was far away from the narrow circles of his time. Through his Din-i-Ilahi he thought of establishing spiritual unity among the people of different communities of India. Though he did not succeed in his mission but his attempt for spiritual unity among the people of India was a praise worthy step. Akbar was a great patron of learning and had men like Abul Fazl, Faizi, Todar Mai, Birbal, Man Singh and Tansen at his court. He himself though illiterate had developed tremendous passion for learning in association with the wise men.
He was also a patron of art and architecture. He laid foundation of many majestic edifices. He was a great conqueror, administrator, diplomat and a statesman of high repute. He was also a lovable husband, affectionate father and an obedient son. Above all he was one of the greatest menorahs of history.