Here we detail about the top seven most powerful Mughal Emperors of India.
The Emperors are: 1. Babur 2. Humayun 3. Sher Shah 4. Akbar 5. Jahangir 6. Shah Jahan 7. Aurangzeb
Emperor # 1. Babur:
Zahir-ud-din Muhammad Babur, better known in history as Babur was the son of Umar Shaikh Mirza, ruler of Farghana a small kingdom in Russian Turkestan. He was born in 1483 (Feb. 14). He carried in his veins the blood of two Central Asian warriors, namely Timur the Turkish hero and Chinghiz Khan the hero of the Mongols.
True to his blood Babur also grew into the traditions of his forebears and became a valiant warrior, adventurous and boundlessly ambitious. He was a descendant of Timur from his father’s side and Chinghiz from his mother’s. But he and his dynasty is known in history as Mughal perhaps derived from Mongol thereby showing preference to the maternal line.
Babur’s childhood was spent under the influence of his wise, learned grandmother and mastered his mother tongue Turki as also Persian even in his childhood. He developed unusual power of appreciating significance of political events and judge human character. Umar Shaik Mirza and some other contemporary writers who saw Babur in his childhood have spoken highly of his keen intelligence and insight into men and things. He had military training, experience of administration and of war and diplomacy.
Babur succeeded to the throne of Farghana at the age of eleven in 1494 when his kingdom was invaded by enemies from two directions. His grandmother Aisan-i-Daulat Begum hurriedly performed the coronation ceremony of her grandson and set his house in order.
Two enemies were Babur’s paternal uncle Ahmad Mirza and meternal uncle Mahmud Khan. Babur first reconciliation with Ahmad Mirza by offering to hold Farghana as his vassalage. But this offer was rejected and in the war that followed Ahmad Mirza was routed and he had to retreat to his country Samarqand.
Mahmud Khan also was disheartened at the determination of Babur and the strong resistance put up by him. Mahmud Khan also retired to his country; Farghana was thus saved from the invasions of two enemies. Babur turned his attention to administration of the country and the honesty and efficiency that he breathed in the administration, of Farghana as also his lovable personality won him popularity of his subjects.
Samarqand with its mosques, colleges, baths palatial buildings and charming gardens and particularly, its being the capital of Timur, the ancestor of Babur, had always fascinated him and he harboured an ambition to occupy it. In 1494 Ahmad Mirza died which was a signal for a civil war between his sons.
Babur took advantage of the situation and attacked Samarqand in 1496 but the attempt failed. He repeated the attempt in 1497 and succeeded and sat on the throne of Timur thus fulfilling his life’s ambition. But after three months when he fell sick at Samarqand, a rebellion broke out in Farghana. Babur hurried to Farghana; he found most of Farghana had already fallen into the hands of the rebels.
He hastened back to Samarqand to find it had also slipped from his hands. Babur was now left with no territory except a small hilly district of Khojend. His followers also began to desert him and he had only two to three hundred men with him. He was a wanderer. In his diary the entry of the time was that “It came very hard on me. I could not help crying a good deal.” His attempts to recover Samarqand and Farghana failed.
In 1498 he won back Farghana only to lose it within a short time. In 1500-1 he tried to conquer Samarqand which was under Shaibani Khan, defeated him and took possession of Samarqand but could not keep hold on it for long. Shaibani Khan defeated Babur and took him prisoner. He had to purchase his freedom by giving his sister in marriage to Shaibani Khan and become a wanderer again with a handful of followers. He was in utter distress, although he always retained buoyancy of spirit and never gave in to despair.
After his defeat at the hands of Shaibani Khan by a sudden turn of events Babur’s fortune began to smile on him. Shaibani Khan had defeated the governor Khusrav Shah of Qunduz and disbanded his army about four thousand of whom joined Babur. Babur now proceeded against Kabul to wrest it from Muqim who had seized it from Babur’s uncle.
In 1504 Babur succeeded in occupying Kabul and Ghazni with their dependent districts without a fight. Next few years he spent in strengthening his army and consolidating his conquests. In 1507 Babur assumed the title of Badshah or emperor and his eldest son was born to him next year (1508).
Babur, although a Badshah now, could not reconcile himself to the loss of Samarqand. He sought the assistance of Sultan Hussain Mirza of Herat to deliver a blow to Shaibani, but he returned disappointed. In 1511 Shaibani Khan died. This gave Babur an opportunity to regain his ancestral dominions. He entered into an alliance with Shah Ismail Shafavi of Ivar and recovered Samarqand, and occupied Bukhara, and Khurasan.
Babur’s territories now included Tashkhent, Qunduz, Hisar, Samarqand, Bukhara, Farghana,’ Kabul and Ghazni. In the following year (1512) the Uzbegs under their leader Ubaid-Ullah Khan defeated Babur and he had to abandon the whole of Trans-Oxiana. The only territory that still remained in possession of Babur in central Asia was Badakshan.
From the early age Babur learnt the art of defensive and offensive war. He had occasions to fight against the Turks, Mongols, Uzbegs, Persians as also Afghans. He in his great military acumen learnt their peculiar military tactics and modes of fighting. From the Uzbegs he learnt to attack the enemy in the flanks, in the rear and in the van with break-neck speed.
He also learnt the tactics of laying ambuscade luring the enemy to a place of danger, only advantageous to himself. Babur evolved a system of warfare of his own which was the result of a synthesis of various modes of fighting known to the central Asian people. It meant an effective combination of highly trained mobile cavalry, scientific artillery, use of brilliant tactics such as tulghuma, as well as use of balista.
Babur used the period from 1514 to 1519 for raising a strong artillery under Ustad Ali, a Turkish artillery-man. Ustad Ali also raised a considerable body of musketeers. Babur acquired the knowledge of the use of fire-arms, from the Persians who had learnt in form Constantinople. Babur got a number of pieces of cannon cast and muskets manufactured for his army. This powerful artillery was largely responsible for Babur’s success against Hindustan.
In 1503 when Babur was the guest in the house of a village headman in the course of his wanderings in Tans-Oxiana, he heard from the hundred and eleven years old mother of the headman, the story of Timur’s invasion of India. This kindled in him the ambition of repeating the exploits of his great ancestor Timur.
Babur led his first expedition against India in 1519 which was in the nature of a reconnaissance. He subjugated the Yusufzai tribe, then occupied the fort of Bajaur and proceeded upto the town of Bhera on the Jhelum. Babur believed that Punjab belonged to him as it was conquered by Timur in 1398-99. Babur wrote in his memoirs, “As it was always in my heart to possess Hindustan and as these several countries had once been held by the Turks, I pictured them as my own, and was resolved to get them into my hands, whether peacefully or by force.”
Babur sent his envoy to Delhi to demand the countries that once belonged to the Turks. Daulat Khan Lodi detained the envoy at Lahore. Babur waited for some time but received no reply to his demand. He placed Bhera under his follower Hindu Beg and returned to Kabul.
Soon after his departure Hindu Beg was driven out of Bhera by the people. This necessitated Babur’s second expedition. Toward the latter part of 1519 he reduced the Yusufzai Afghans to submission and was about to attempt at fortification of Peshawar. But he had to return to Kabul on receipt of the news of rebellion in Badakshan.
Next year (1520) Babur led his third expedition to Hindustan and recovered Bhera and Bajaur. He next occupied Sialkot. The people of Sayyidpur refused Babur’s supremacy without a fight and Babur had to subdue them by force. As trouble started at Qandahar babur had to return to recover Qandahar. The rebel governor of Qandahar abandoned Qandahar no doubt, but set himself up as the ruler of Sind.
Now Babur made himself secure in the rear and the strong fort of Qandahar was in his possession. When he was thus free from internal troubles, Daulat Khan Lodi, governor of the Punjab being dis-contended with Ibrahim Lodi for the cruel treatment meted to his son Dilwar Khan, joined hands with Alam Khan, an uncle of Ibrahim Lodi and a pretender to the Delhi throne, went to the extent of inviting assistance of Babur to invade India.
Babur who had been cherishing the ambition of invading India, finding the opportunity coming of its own to him, readily accepted the invitation and marched towards Lahore with a formidable force in 1524. This was exactly the time when Ibrahim Lodi, the Delhi Sultan had despatched imperial army to punish Daulat Khan Lodi who was defeated and expelled from Lahore.
The imperial army now tried to obstruct Babur’s progress and met him when he had reached within a few miles of Lahore. Babur attacked the imperial army and succeeded in scattering it. Next Babur captured Lahore, entered the city, plundered and burnt it. He then occupied Dipalpur, the modern Montgomery district and put the imperial garrison to sword.
Practically the whole of Punjab was now under Babur. Daulat Khan Lodi now emerged from his exile and joined Babur who kept Punjab for himself giving Jullundar and Sultanpur to Daulat Khan Lodi as fiefs. Both
Daulat Khan and Alam Khan now realised their mistake that in inviting a friend, they had brought in a new master. They turned against Babur who was compelled to retire to Kabul but to reappear with a more formidable force, next November (1525). In the meantime Daulat Khan and Alam Khan proceeded against Ibrahim Lodi who, however, succeeded in defeating them.
Babur began his march from Kabul in November and having occupied the Punjab; he compelled Daulat Khan Lodi to submit and was sent to Bhera to be imprisoned there. Daulat Khan died on the way. The Lodi pretender came to Babur in the mood of a supplicant and he was taken care of by Babur to take political advantage of his presence with him.
As Babur advanced towards, Delhi, he was receiving encouraging offers from a number of court nobles of Delhi. Perhaps it was at this stage that Rana Sanga of Chitor proposed to Babur to make a joint assault on Delhi. Ibrahim Lodi collected a large force and proceeded towards the Punjab sending two advance parties towards Hisar one of which was routed by Humayun. The other was also beaten back. Babur then reached Panipat and set up his camp. Ibrahim met him on the historic field of Panipat on April 21, 1526 with an army of 100,000 men. Babur had a large park of artillery and an army of 12,000 men.
While Babur had the strength of character and experience of a veteran general, Ibrahim Lodi, in the words of Babur himself “was an inexperienced man, careless in his movements who marched without order, halted or retired without method and engaged without foresight.”
After a desperate fight, fell on the field of the battle with the flower of his army yielding victory to inferior number but superior strategy and generalship and the use of artillery. Babur quickly occupied Delhi and Agra, thus the sceptre of Delhi passed into the hands of the Mughals from those of the Lodis i.e. the Afghans.
Emperor # 2. Humayun:
Nasir-ud-din Muhammad Humayun was born in Kabul in 1508 (March 6) and although he had received education due to the arrangements made by Babur and acquired knowledge of Turki, Arabic and Persian he does not seem to have developed any scholarly interest in anything. He learnt Hindi after Babur’s conquest of northern India.
He acquired experience of battle in Panipat and Khanua when he was barely eighteen. In 1526, he was assigned Hisar Firuza and afterwards he was given Sambhal as Jagir. After the battle of Khanua, he was put in charge of Badakshan where he fell sick and was brought to Agra. Babur nominated him as his successor while on death bed.
Humayun’s accession to the throne was delayed by four days (Babur’s death Dec. 26, Humayun’s accession Dec. 30), during which attempts were made to set aside his claim and place Mahdi Khwaja on the throne. Situation at the time of his accession was not an easy one as there were hostile forces on all sides and as these were disguised, so were more dangerous.
Prime Minister Nizam-ud-din Muhammad Khalifa had sustained a very poor opinion of Humayun and preferred to support Mahdi Khwaja, brother-in-law of Humayun to the throne. What prevented the prime Minister to place Mahdi Khwaja, at the last moment was, according to Tabakat-i-Akbari, that the loud thinking of Mahdi Khwaja .”God willing my first act (as king) would be to flay you (meaning Prime Minister Nizam-ud-din) and other traitors” was overheard by the Prime Minister himself. The situation therefore, was intriguing. There was also no unity in the royal family and Humayun’s cousins Muhammad Zamari and Muhammad Sultan were pretenders to the throne.
Among the Muslims, the theory of primogeniture was not strictly followed which made Humayun’s three brothers Kamran, Hindal and Askari aspirants to the throne. “The sword was the grand arbiter of right, and every son was prepared to try his fortune angainst his brother” (Erskine). Humayun’s court was full of nobles who were busy in engineering plots for occupation of the throne. His empire which included the provinces of Balk, Qunduz, Badakshan in Central Asia, and Multan, the Punjab, the modern Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Gwalior, Bayana, Dholpur and Chanderi in India was not completely reduced to submission and was ill organised.
The Afghan chiefs within the empire were not subdued. Mahmud Lodi, brother of Ibrahim Lodi, the last Sultan of Delhi was still a claimant to the Delhi throne. Sher Khan was trying to weld the Afghans into a powerful community in order to set up an independent kingdom with their help. Bibban and Bayazid were looking for the opportunity to recover the territories from which they had been expelled.
Nusrat Shah, Sultan of Bengal was trying hard to organise an Afghan confederacy to contain the Mughals. Alam Khan who along with Daulat Khan had invited Babur to invade India, collected an army with the help of Bahadur Shah of Gujarat, sent his son Tarta Khan to invade Agra. Humayun’s near relations, the Mirzas were his rivals. Besides, his brothers Kamran, Askari and Hindal were all ambitious to occupy the throne. Kamran who was in charge of Kabul and Qandahar turned his covetous eye on the Delhi throne.
The situation demanded a ruler of much political wisdom, military skill and diplomatic ability. But Humayun lacked all these qualities. His lack of these qualities proved to be the major cause of his undoing. He was no doubt a man endowed with intellectual taste and love of culture, but he hopelessly lacked the determination, perseverance, practical wisdom and above all, discretion which were the need of the hour.
Humayun, immediately on accession to the throne, took a step which showed some brotherly feeling and liberality of mind, but no political wisdom. He divided his empire between his brothers, thinking that it would be possible for him to disarm his brothers by making them partners of his empire. Kamran was not only confirmed in his possession of Kabul and Qandahar but was allowed to keep in his possession the Punjab and Hisar Firuza which had been forcibly seized by him.
Askari was given Sambhal in assignment. Hindal was given jagir in Mewat instead of Badakshan. Mewat comprised the extensive territories of Gurgaon, Mathura and part of Agra and Alwar which was his capital. Humayun’s cousin Sulaiman Mirza was given Badakshan.
Possession of Kabul and Qandahar by Kamran who was openly hostile to Humayun, deprived the latter of excellent recruiting grounds for his army. Further, by confirming Kamran’s forceful occupation of the Punjab and Hisar Firuza Humayun not only revealed his weakness but also sturck at the root of the integrity of the empire. Possession of Hisar gave Humayun command of the road connecting Delhi and the Punjab. Apart from dividing the empire between his brothers, Humayun also increased the jagi of every Amir.
Emperor # 3. Sher Shah:
Panipat and Gogra or Ghagra humbled, but did not annihilate the Afghan chiefs. They needed a personality of ability and imagination, diplomatic skill and military acumen who could coalesce their isolated efforts into a national resistance. This they found in Sher Khan, who succeeded in recovering the Delhi throne for the Afghans, at least, temporarily.
Sher Shah’s career is as fascinating as that of Babur and as instructive as that of Akbar the great. About his administration, some three decades ago, scholars of medieval Indian history would regard Sher Shah essentially as a soldier and only secondarily an administrator of average ability.
But as early as mid nineteenth century Erskine in his History of India under the First Two Sovereigns of the House of Timur (Vol. ii) called Sher Shah more a legislator and the guardian of his people as a successful military adventurer. Dr. K. R. Qanungo went to extent of calling him a greater constructive genius and better nation builder than even Akbar.
But other writers such as Dr. Tripathi and Dr. Saran argue that Sher Shah’s achievements as administrator have been highly exaggerated and he was, to speak the truth, a reformer but not an innovator. But it must be said without fear of contradiction that Sher Shah is regarded, by and large, as one of the greatest administrators of medieval India.
He retained much of the old system but breathed a new spirit in it and transformed the medieval administration into an instrument of service to the people. Sher Shah’s character showed a unique mixture of military genius and administrative efficiency.
“His reign of five years was marked by introduction of wise and salutary changes in every conceivable branch of administration. Some of these were by way of revival and reformation of the traditional features of the old administrative systems of India, Hindu as well as Muslim, while others were entirely original in character, and form, indeed a link between ancient and modern India.” According to Keene “No Government not even the British has shown so much wisdom as this Pathan.”
True, Sher Shah’s government was personal government but it was autocracy without despotism. He was the repository of all powers of the State but, in practice he exercised his powers for the benefit of his people. His was an “enlightened despotism” which did not give the people any share in the governance of the country but recognised their rights to be well governed. He “attempted to found an empire broadly based upon the peoples will.”
There were four ministers who were in change of daily routine work of administration, but they had no right to initiate any policy, which was within the power of the emperor only, to determine. These ministers were: Diwan-i-Wazirat, called Wazir, was in charge of revenue and finance. He held the status of Prime Minister and as such exercised a supervisory power over all other ministers.
The next minister was Diwan-i-Ariz under Ariz-i-Mamalik. He was the minister in charge of the armed forces. Recruitment, organisation and discipline of the soldiers, payment of their salaries, their deployment in the battle field wee the duties of Ariz-i-Mamalik. He fixed the salaries of soldiers and officers and looked after their welfare.
The next, was Diwan-i-Rasalat or Diwan-i-Muhtasib. He was the foreign minister and was to be in close touch with the envoys and ambassadors sent to or come from foreign countries. Diplomatic correspondences were carried on by him under instruction of the emperor.
The fourth minister was Diwan-i-Insha who would draft royal proclamations, despatches, communications to governors of provinces and maintain records. Other departments next to the above four, the heads of which were also sometimes called ministers, were Diwani-i-Qaza. Under the chief Qazi who would hear appeals from all provincial courts of Qazis; Diwan-i-Barid under Barid-i-Mamalik who was the head of the intelligence department.
It was the duty of Barid-i-Mamalik to report on every important incident happening throughout the empire, to the emperor. He would have a network of spies under him. There was also a high official who was in charge of the imperial household He would manage and superintend the work of the large number of royal servants and keep watch on them.
Emperor # 4. Akbar:
Jahangir in his Memoirs observes that his father Akbar “in his actions and movements was not like the people of the world, and the glory of God manifested itself in him.” Both Abul Fazl, a dear friend of Akbar and Badaoni who was definitely a hostile critic of the emperor, were unanimous on one point that Akbar possessed an extra-ordinary commanding personality and “looked every inch a king.” Contemporary writers both indigenous and foreign testify to Akbar’s uncommon dignity, and there was none who would be left unimpressed by his presence.
Father Monserrate who had the privilege of close association with Akbar writes that “he was in face and stature fit for the dignity of king, so that anybody even at the first glance, would easily recognise him as the king.” Physical description of Akbar given by father Monserrate tallies with that of Jahangir.
Akbar had a very charming personality yet possessed ‘extra-ordinary valour, remarkable courage and uncommon physical strength. “Like Alexander of Macedon, (he) was always ready to risk his life, regardless of political consequences.” “An intrepid soldier, a benevolent and wise ruler, a man of enlightened ideas, and a sound judge of character, Akbar occupies a unique position in the history of India.”
He was a good conversationalist, witty and frank, always willing to hear cases of the people and to respond graciously to their requests. Akbar was a dutiful son, a liberal brother, an indulgent father and a loving husband.
His food habits were very moderate. He avoided meat from his diet at first on Fridays, then on certain months of the year. Writers saw influence of Jainism on his food habits.
Akbar was a truant child and was illiterate. Recent discoveries have, however, shown that Akbar was not altogether unlettered. But on the evidence of Jesuit Missionaries Monserrate and Jerome Xaviere as well as Jahangir’s Memoirs, although Akbar was illiterate, yet he was so intimately connected with various branches of knowledge that no one could imagine that he was illiterate.
He was not ignorant. He had acquired deep knowledge of theology, literature, poetry, history and some other sciences by coming into touch with learned men. Akbar had a wonderful memory which largely compensated his illiteracy.
Abul Fazl who was always a close companion of Akbar says that he wrote daily with his own pen in numerals the number of pages read to him and to whom he paid accordingly. Abul Fazl also says that Akbar took special interest in calligraphy and the several modes of writing then prevalent.
All this leads to one conclusion that Akbar must have not been illiterate. There is evidence that he could compose poetry, recite poems of Hafiz and fables of India. Lastly, Jahangir observed that although his father was ummi i.e. unlettered, “he himself wrote on the front page of Zafarnamah, a work treasured by the Mughals, testifying to the signature of Akbar on that page.” “There are references to the specimens of Akbar’s handwriting in the manuscripts preserved in the India office Library, London, and the Victoria Memorial Hall Calcutta” (Indian Historical Quarterly, Vol. 22, No. I, 81).
Akbar was deeply religious and as it often happens with such persons, he was at times torn between doubts and beliefs and to remove which he would spend days and nights in discussions with learned men. He came to a firm belief that God is omnipresent and each person according to his condition and understanding gives the Almighty a name but to name the “Unknowable” in vain, he would often say.
In his personal life, Akbar was not given to profligacy, but he did not rise completely above the standard of his age. His harem comprised 500 women and making allowances for the presence of female relatives, servants etc. the number of his wives must have been quite numerous. Although Akbar would burst out in violent paroxysm of rage, at times, such occasions were very rare and it will be only fair to credit him with amiability, moderation, gentleness as also to say that he was never a slave of any kind of weakness.
Akbar was out and out an imperialist and believed in a policy of conquest. It was his principle that “a monarch should always be intent on conquest otherwise his neighbours rise in arms against him.” His career was actually one of continuous conquest. By his indefatigable energy, soldierly skill, diplomacy and finesse he built an empire which comprised whole of northern India, a part of the Deccan.
He brought this vast empire under one uniform government and one political system. He gave the country one official language, a uniform administrative system, coinage, a common system of weights and measures. He introduced certain most modern systems in his government, such as transfer of officers from one place to another without upsetting the work of administration. Barriers of imposts, customs, tolls etc. between one Subah and the other were removed bringing down prices at the same time encouraging expansion of trade. “This led to a growing sense of oneness of territory and a common fountain of all authority.”
By giving the country one official language (Persian) Akbar attempted to give a sort of a cultural unity to the empire. His patronage of Sanskrit, Arabic, Persian and causing translation of the Sanskrit works like the Vedas, Persian, Arabic, Greek and works on Sciences showed his eagerness for cultural activities. His attempt to prevent child marriage as also the inhuman practice of Suttee and to restrict other social vices like prostitutions, overdrinking, drunken brawls etc. showed his highly reformed mind.
He was a great military organiser and he devised the mansabdari system with payment from the imperial treasury besides assignment in land, and his reliance on the Rajputs made his army an invincible force.
Akbar’s revenue system rivals in interest and merit the system under the British rule. Akbar’s spirit of toleration, his genial treatment of the Rajputs and the non-Muslims earned him the habitual allegiance of his subjects.
Akbar was also a great builder. His greatest architectural achievement was the new capital at Fathpur Sikri within which he built the Record office, Diwan-i-Am, Diwan- i-Khas, Panch-Mahal, Maryam’s palace, Birbar’s palace, emperor’s sleeping chamber, Library and Jodha Bai’s palace. Outside the enclosure of Fatpur Sikri stands the Jami mosque with its portal called Bulanddarwaja. Within the enclosure of the mosque in the tomb of Shaikh Salim Chisti. Most of the buildings of Akbar’s time betray a mixture of Hindu-Muslim architectural styles.
For the benefit of the people, we are told by Abul Fazl, Akbar built numerous sarais and dug many wells and tanks. “Every where also sarais have been built which are the comfort of travellers and asylum for poor strangers” (Abul Fazl). From the same source we know of the founding of schools by Akbar.
The internal peace and prosperity coupled with the benevolent patronage of Akbar led to the development of art and letters during his reign. It was a period when as many as fifty-nine top-ranking Persian poets flourished. The list had been given by Abul Fazl. Abul Fazl in his Insah-i-Abul Fazl—a collection of Persian letters set up a model of epistolary composition in Persian. The most important Persian poet of Akbar’s time was Abul Fazl’s elder brother Abul Faizi.
Akbar sought to effect a fusion of Hindu-Muslim cultures and to this end arranged for providing a common literature to the intelligentsia of the country by translating Persian, Arabic and Sanskrit works. For this purpose a translation department was opened which functioned under Akbar’s personal supervision.
Amir Fatehullah Shirazi, Mirza Abdur Rahim Khan Khana, Mullah Ahmad, Qasim Beg, Shaikh Munnavvar, Naqib Khan, Abdul Qadir Badauni, Haji Ibrahim Sarhindi, Shaikh Sultan, Faizi, Abul Fazl, Maulana Sheri etc. did the work of translation.
Of the renowned composition of the historical literature in Persian in Akbar’s time were Abul Fazl’s Ain-i-Akbari, and Akbar-Nama ; Nizam-ud-din Ahmad’s Tabqat-i- Akbari, Gulbadan Begum’s Humayun-Nama, Abbas Sarwani’s Tohfa-i-Akbar Shahi alias Tarikh-i-Sher Shahi and Jauhar’s Tazkirat-ul-Waqayat ; other works were Abdul Qadir Badauni’s Muntakhab-ul-Tawarikh, Faizi Sarhend’s Akbar-Nama etc.
Akbar’s reign was also a golden age of Hindi poetry. Many first-rate Hindi poets produced Hindi poetical works which became classics. The most notable of the Hindi poets were Sur Das, Tulsi Das, Abdur Rahim Khan Khana, Ras Khan, Birbar, Tulsi Das produced several works of high standard the most important and popular of which is Ramcharit-manas.
His other important work is Vinaya Patrika. Sur Das’s important work is Sur Sagar. It is supposed that Sur Das was one of the court poets of Akbar, his father Ram Das was also Akbar’s court poet. Muslim poet of Hindi, Ras Khan was a worshipper of Lord Krishna and a friend of Tulsi Das. He was responsible for a large number of first-rate Hindi poems.
Akbar was a lover of painting. He believed that painting far from making a person irreligious turns him to God. Like the Persian emperors of the Safavi dynasty Akbar liberally patronised painting disregarding the injunctions of Quran. Akbar’s patronage attracted a number of painters to his court of whom as many as thirteen were Hindus.
It is interesting to note that two styles—Persian and Indian styles of painting during Akbar’s time got gradually fused into one. Akbar opened a separate department for painting under Khwaja Abdus Samad, one of the best painters of his court.
Akbar was an emperor of diverse interests. He was not a literate person but he had a great taste for calligraphy. He appointed many skilled calligraphists in his court. There were eight kinds of calligraphic writings prevalent in Akbar’s time, the eighty variety called Nastaliq which was favoured by Akbar.
From Ain-i-Akbari we know that there were thirty-six top-ranking musicians in Akbar’s court. They were divided into seven groups; each group was to entertain the emperor on one day of the week. Akbar, early in his reign sent for Tansen the notable musician from Rewa and gave him a position of great honour in his court. According to Abul Fazl “a singer like him had not been in India for the last thousand years.”
Tansen received training in a school founded by Raja Man Singh Tomar at Gwalior. He is said to have invented a number of ragas. Baba Ram Das was next to Tansen. Another equally famous singer was Baba Hari Das.
Akbar by virtue of his rare personality, force of character, his achievements and lofty ideas occupies a place in the history of India which shines in its own brilliance making him forever as the first national emperor of medieval India. His high sense of patriotism, intellectual superiority and his liberal attitude to religion and his principle of universal toleration entitle him to a lofty place among the kings and emperors of all countries and of all time.
Emperor # 5. Jahangir:
Jahangir ascended the throne on November 3, 1605, a week after his father’s death. He assumed the title of Nur-ud-din Muhammad Jahangir Padshah Ghazi. We have seen how his impatience for the imperial throne made him a rebel and he was about to lose his inheritance as the successor to his father. But his father had ultimately pardoned him and declared him to be his heir to the throne. On his enthronement Jahangir granted general amnesty to his oppositions and released many prisoners and struck coins in his own name.
He promulgated twelve edicts which he ordered his subjects to obey:
(a) He prohibited the levy of cesses (Zakat),
(b) Ordered the building of mosques, sarais and hospitals along the roads and appointment of physicians to attend the sick,
(c) Prohibited the seizure of property and cutting of ears or noses of criminals,
(d) confirmed all mansabs and jagirs of Akbar’s time,
(e) Animal slaughter was prohibited on certain days, including Sundays and Thursdays for the former was Akbar’s birthday and the latter was Jahangir’s accession day,
(f) Prohibited manufacture and sale of wine and intoxicants,
(g) Prohibited forcible occupation of cultivator’s land,
(h) Aima land i.e. lands devoted to prayer and praise were confirmed,
(i) Free inheritance of property of the deceased was permitted and in case where there was no heir of the deceased, the property was to escheat to the state,
(j) Theft or robbery, was checked by passing of regulations, such as making opening of merchants bales without their knowledge punishable,
(k) No government collector or jagir was to inter-marry with the people of the pargana without royal permission, and
(l) Government hospitals were to be established in big cities for the treatment of the poor people.
Jahangir also caused a gold chain with bells to be hung, between the Shah Burz in the Agra Fort and a post on the bank of the Yamuna to enable the suitors seeking justice to pull the chain which would enable him to approach the emperor without any officers’ mediation.
The edicts promulgated by Jahangir do not seem to have had much practical effect. He now made certain changes in the official positions in order to ensure the support of a group of high officials. He made Bir Singh Bundela through whom he had caused the murder of Abul Fazl a commander of 300 horses, Abur Rahman son of Abul Fazl and Maha Singh, son of Man Singh were also placed in the rank of commander of 2000 horse each.
Father of Nur Jahan, famous as ltimad-ud-daulah was made a commander of 1500 horse. Both Man Singh and Mirza Aziz Koka who had backed the claim of Kushrav to the throne, were pardoned and allowed to retain their posts but they did no longer exercise the same influence on the court as under Akbar.
Further, out of a sense of gratitude which was innate quality in his character, Jahangir promoted to high offices those who supported him, but such persons did not really deserve such high appointment. Father of Nur Jahan Ghiyas Beg, later Itimad-ud-daulah and Zaman Beg later Mahabat Khan belonged to this category.
Emperor # 6. Shah Jahan:
Jahangir at the time of his death in October 1627 was survived by two of his sons. Prince Khurram or Shah Jahan the elder and Prince Shahryar the younger son. Both Shah Jahan and Shahryar were related to Nur Jahan, the former married Mumtaj Mahal daughter of Asaf Khan, Nur Jahan’s brother and the latter married daughter of Nur Jahan by her first husband Sher Afghan.
At the time of Jahangir’s death Shah Jahan was in the Deccan and Shahryar was at Agra. Shahryar hastened to Lahore where Nur Jahan was still staying after Jahangir’s death, and assumed imperial title. Shah Jahan took a few weeks to reach the capital from the Deccan, the advantage.of the delay was taken by Nur Jahan. But Asaf Khan, Shah Jahan’s father-in-law and brother of Nur Jahan wanted his son-in-law to inherit the imperial throne.
He placed Dawar Baksh, son of Khusrav on the throne as a stop-gap and was waiting for the arrival of Shah Jahan. Shahryar who was an worthless prince and no match for Asaf Khan was captured by the latter and blinded. Shah Jahan ordered for the execution of all male relatives who had any chance of putting up any claim to the throne.
As Khusrav, the eldest son of Jahangir lost favour with his father Shah Jahan was marked for the throne. In 1607 Shah Jahan was made a mansabdar of 8000 Zat and 5000 Sarwar and in 1611 he was raised to the status of 10,000 Zat and 5000 Sarwar. Next year he married Asaf Khan’s daughter Arjumand Banu Begum better known as Mumtaj Mahal. Later Shah Jahan became mansabdar of an unprecedented rank of 30,000 Zat and 20,000 Sarwar.
As a Prince Shah Jahan reduced Mewar to submission as also brought Ahmadnagar’s Abyssinian general Malik Ambar to return Balaghat, surrender the fort of Ahmadnagar and other forts. Jahangir bestowed the title of Shah on the Prince and added Gujarat to his viceroyalty.
Nur Jahan’s willingness to see her son-in-law Shahryar succeed to the imperial throne led to estrangement between Nur Jahan and Shah Jahan. This led to a fratricidal struggle referred to above and it was due to the astuteness of Asaf Khan that accession of Shah Jahan was secured on February 14, 1628, assuming the title of Abul Muzaffar Shihab- ud-din Muhammad Sahib-i-Qiran II, Shah Jahan Padshah Ghazi. Dawar Baksh the “sacrificial lamb” as described by the contemporaries was put into the prison.
To begin with everything appeared to move smoothly. Asaf Khan and Mahabat Khan the architects of Shah Jahan’s fortune were raised to high offices of the state. But soon clouds of disturbances began to gather. Several rebellions disturbed the reign of Shah Jahan, the first was that of Khan Jahan Lodi, a capable but turbulent officer who was appointed adviser to Prince Parvez who was placed in charge of the Deccan. The other rebellion was of Jujhar Singh Bundela.
Shah Jahan easily suppressed the two rebellions. Jujhar Singh was chased out of the country and was ultimately killed in a skirmish with the Gonds. Khan Jahan Lodi was likewise chased from place to place by the imperialists and was ultimately defeated near Kalinjar and cut to pieces along with his sons, Aziz and Aimal (1631).
Emperor # 7. Aurangzeb:
Towards the latter part of 1657 Shah Jahan fell ill and it was rumoured that he was dead. Shah Jahan when he had fallen sick, thinking that his end was near, called upon Dara Shukoh, his eldest son, to conduct the business of the state. Dara Shukoh was in the confidence of his father and he actually desired him to succeed to the throne.
By an irony of fate the war of succession among the four sons of Shah Jahan broke out even before his death, as soon as he fell ill in September, 1657. All of his four sons were of mature age at that time. Dara Shukoh (43) was the governor of Punjab and Delhi, but he usually stayed with his father at Agra, Shuja (41) was the governor of Bengal, Aurangzeb (39) was the governor of the Deccan, and Murad (33) governor of Gujarat. Of the two daughters, Jahanara sided with Dara, and Raushnara with Aurangzeb.
Although all the brothers had acquired enough experience of civil and military administration, yet there was considerable difference in their personal qualities, capabilities and mental make-up. Dara Shukoh was “a man of elective views, liberal disposition, and of scholarly instincts, Dara Shukoh mixed with the followers of other faiths and studied the doctrines of Vedanta, the Talmud, the New Testament and the works of Sufi writers….” But too much fondness that his father bestowed on him and his stay in-the court and particularly his scholarly pursuits prevented the development of the qualities of an astute statesman, political wisdom or diplomatic insight into men and things or any soldierly ability that made a good general. He grew somewhat Proud and intolerant of sane advice when it came from others. But he was tolerant to all religions and friendly to the Hindus and the Rajput aristocracy.
Shuja was a capable administrator, brave soldier, and an intelligent commander. But all these good qualities were given in him in vain, for he was excessively indolent and pleasure-loving, incapable of sustained effort, perseverance, and use of caution.
Murad, the youngest was no doubt brave, frank and liberal but too much drinking made him utterly incapable of action and often made him light, laughable and bereft of leadership.
Aurangzeb, the third son was the most capable as a soldier and a diplomatic, crafty and cruel about whose character we shall discuss in details in proper place.
When Shah Jahan fell ill (Sept. 1657) Dara Shukoh was in Agra and it was suspected by other three brothers that their father had actually died, but the news was purposely suppressed by Dara Shukoh. This gave rise to confusion within the empire and a fratricidal struggle began.
Shuja who had been the governor of Bengal and ruled the subah with success proclaimed himself emperor at Rajmahal, then capital of Bengal, and proceeded towards Agra at the head of a large army to fight Dara Shukoh and wrest the Delhi throne. Murad had in the meantime assumed the title of the Emperor at Ahmadabad on December 5, 1657 and struck coins in his name.
Murad entered into correspondence with Aurangzeb who cleverly concealed his real intention and made an agreement with Murad ultimately to overpower all the brothers and occupy the throne himself. According to the agreement, after the occupation of the Empire Afghanistan, Kashmir, Punjab and Sind would constitute an independent kingdom under Murad, one-third of the booty would go to Murad and two-thirds to Aurangzeb.
In the meantime Shuja having completed his coronation at Rajmahal proceeded against Dara at the head of a large army and advanced upto Banaras early in February, 1658. Dara planned to defeat Shuja and Murad first and then to proceed against Aurangzeb. He sent his eldest son Sulaiman Shukoh and Jai Singh of Amber against Shuja who was defeated at Bahadurpur (Feb. 24, 1658) and was hotly chased upto the borders of Bengal.
Aurangzeb having entered into the agreement with Murad, conciliated both Golconda and Bijapur as well as Shivaji. He also encouraged the Persian Shah to invade Afghanistan which was a Mughal province then, in order to distract Dara’s attention. He then proceeded against Dara and was joined by Murad at Dipalpur.
The combined army advanced upto Dharmat where Dara’s army under Jaswant Singh of Jodhpur and Qasim Khan met there. The imperial army badly led and organised was beaten back with great slaughter (April 25, 1658). Victory at Dharmat enhanced both the political and military prestige of Aurangzed. “The hero of the Deccan wars and the victor of Dharmat faced the world not only without loss but with his military reputation rendered absolutely unrivalled in India” (J.N.Sarkar). Aurangzeb founded the town of Fatehabad at the site of the battle.
Aurangzeb then crossed the Chambal and arrived at Samugarh where Dara had reached to give battle to his victorious brothers. He had with him an army of 50,000 soldiers formidable in number but weak in quality for the number was collected hastily from different localities and diverse classes and not trained to work in unison and discipline.
Dara Shukoh made the initial mistake of not attacking Aurangzeb’s troops immediately who were exhausted due to the long march, and postponed the battle for the next day. When the battle began next day, the 8th June. 1658, Dara seated on an elephant and commanded the army in person. He fought gallantly, but unluckily his elephant got severely wounded and Dara had to dismount from the elephant and ride on a horse.
According to V. A. Smith “That action settled the fate of the battle.” As the troops of Dara found the howdah of the elephant on which Dara was seated vacant, thought that he had fallen in the battle and dispersed from the battle-field in utter confusion. Dara, greatly dismayed escaped leaving 10,000 of his men dead on the battle ground, many more perished due to heat and exhaustion. He returned to Agra but did not meet his father out of shame and left for Delhi with his family and some followers to raise an army to oppose Aurangzeb and Murad.
It may be pointed out the political significance of the battle of Samugarh was that it decided the issue in the war of succession. Aurangzeb at once marched to Agra and seized the fort (June 8, 1658) defying Shah Jahan’s attempt to come to an amicable settlement with his son.
Shah Jahan was deprived of his throne and confined in the Agra Fort without even the most common conveniences.
Aurangzeb proved most unfilial to his old father and every effort made by Shah Jahan and Jahanara for conciliation went unheeded by him. Shah Jahan lived in the Shah Burj of the Agra Fort for long eight years as a prisoner, closely watched by Aurangzeb’s men and disallowed to have any contact with outsiders.
He was, however, attended by his favourite daughter Jahanara. On rare occasions he was permitted to correspond or allowed to meet with people from outside in presence of Aurangzeb’s agents. In the correspondence that passed between Aurangzeb and imprisoned Shah Jahan the former charged his father of partiality towards Dara Shukoh while the latter in anger and distress called Aurangzeb a robber, an usurper and a hypocrite.
The old Emperor was subjected to extreme humiliation and agony till his exit from the world. His life in the prison of his son was unhappy beyond measure and beggars description. “Like a child that cries itself to sleep, ceased to complain, he found solace in religion, and in a spirit of resignation, passed his last days in prayer and meditation.”
It is said that he kept on gazing at the Taj Mahal till his last moment which came at the age of seventy four on January 22 1666: He was denied the funeral due to an Emperor and his bier was carried by eunuchs and menials and interred by the side of Mumtaj Mahal in Taj Mahal at Agra.
In the meantime coldness developed in the relation between Aurangzeb and Murad who had by this time seen through the designs of Aurangzeb. Murad was enveigled into a trap. He was given some gold and was asked to advance against Dara who had fled to Lahore in the meantime. Before his departure Murad was invited to a grand feast allowed to drink heavily and imprisoned first in the fort of Salimgarh and then in the fortress of Gwalior (1659). He was put to death there in 1661.
After imprisoning Murad in 1658, Aurangzeb marched to Delhi and formally crowned himself Emperor on July 21, 1658. Aurangzeb now advanced against his remaining rivals, Dara and Shuja.
Shuja noticed with interest the defeat of Dara in the battles of Dharmat and Samugarh. He made a bid for power but was defeated by Aurangzeb at Khajwah on January 5, 1659. Mir Jumla persued him through West Bengal and Dacca and he fled to Arakan (May 1660). Prince Muhammad, son of Aurangzeb who joined Shuja was captured and imprisoned for life. Nothing was known of Shuja after his flight into Arakan and it is believed that he with his family had been done to death by the Arakanese.
Having failed to raise troops in Delhi Dara Shukoh fled to Lahore where also he could not rally any force against Aurangzeb. He went to Gujarat and was kindly received by the governor of Ahmadabad who gave ten lakhs of rupees to him with which he raised an army. His attempt to enlist the support of Jaswant Singh did not succeed as he had been won over through the intercession of Jai Singh of Amber.
Aurangzeb, now Emperor, sent the imperial army to pursue Dara. In the battle of Deorai near Ajmer Dara was signally defeated by the imperial force and was compelled to take refuge in Ahmadabad. But the governor who assisted him earlier now refused to give him shelter and Dara had no way out but to make for Afghanistan.
He took shelter at Dadar in the house of one Malik Jiwan whom he had once saved from Shah Jahan’s wrath. Nadira Begam wife of Dara and his second son Siphir Shukoh accompanied him. In Jiwan’s house Nadira died of illness and Dara was also ill due to the shock of the death of his wife. But Jiwan treacherously handed Dara and his second son to Aurangzeb’s men (Sept. 1, 1659).
Aurangzeb paraded Dara who was then in a dirty, wretched dress, in the streets of Delhi seated on an elephant. Bernier, an eye witness narrates the pity the tragic plight excited among the’citizens of Delhi. “The crowd assembled was immense, and everywhere I observed the people weeping, and lamenting the fate of Dara in the most touching language……… From every quarter I heard piercing and distressing shrieks…….. men, women, and children wailing as if, some mighty calamity had happened to themselves.” “But not a single hand could be raised to rescue the unfortunate prince, as he was girt round by cavalry and archers.”
Then a riot broke out which was particularly directed against Malik Jiwan, and Aurangzeb found it dangerous to keep Dara alive any longer. He was tired of apostasy by a special tribunal, found guilty and beheaded. Aurangzeb thus became the unquestioned master of Hindustan.