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The Mughal Emperor Akbar

Updated on November 23, 2017
Akbar
Akbar
Akbar
Akbar

Akbar The Great

Babur laid the foundation of Mughal Empire in India and his grandson, Akbar, consolidated the Mughal Empire which brought political, social, and economic stability in his reign. Akbar was the one of the most powerful rulers of the Mughal Dynasty in Medieval India, with his great military skills and diplomacy, Akbar built a vast empire expanding over most of the Indian subcontinent. Just at the tender age of 13, he took over the reins of the Mughal empire. Being ambitious in spirit, and unfettered by surrounding rival atmosphere, he dauntlessly conquered and subjugated territories and states in the northern, eastern and western regions of India. Main regions of his conquests were Punjab, Delhi, Agra, Rajputana, Gujarat, Bengal, Kabul, Kandahar, and Baluchistan. He also re-organised revenue system and other taxation systems. He introduced reforms in military administration too, provided an institutional framework to his army. Moreover, he established foreign relations with the West. Akbar was not a literate person, although he possessed an exceptional knowledge and great understanding in different subjects and matters which inspired him to adopt liberal policies towards his non-Muslim subjects. His liberal outlook brought him praise and high respects from all people in his diverse empire. Furthermore, Akbar patronised art and culture, promoted art, literature, scriptures, and encouraged scholars of different religions. He got a number of literature books written in different languages. He showed interest in architecture too, got constructed numerous architectural buildings such as Buland Darwaza, Fatehpur Sikri, Humayun Tomb, Allahabad Fort, Agra Fort etc. He started a new sect ‘Din-i-Ilahi’. It was an experiment to merge best concepts of different religions. He created a fusion of Hindu and Islamic culture in society and also accepted other religions and culture, tried to bring unity in diversity.

Early Life

  • Akbar was born on October 14,1542 at the Rajput fortress of Umarkot in Sindh (in present-Pakistan), to Mughal emperor Humayun and his teenage wife, Hamida Banu Begum. His full name was Abu'l-Fath Jalal ud-din Muhammad Akbar.
  • The conditions at the time of Akbar's birth were not normal. It was not possible to anticipate that he would be a great empire builder and leader one day. Since, Humayun lost his empire and he had to move constantly to secure his very life and existence when Akbar was born. He had been driven from the throne by Afghan, Sher Shah Suri. Although, Akbar was a direct descendent of Ghengis Khan and his grandfather Babur, the first emperor of the Mughal dynasty, he had to struggle a lot in regaining his sovereignty. He was raised by his paternal uncles, Kamran Mirza and Aksari Mirza, in Afghanistan. He spent most of his time in hunting, running, horse riding, playing sword and other weapons. All this activities made him a trained and skillful warrior.
  • He did not receive any formal education, but Akbar had a profound interest in acquiring knowledge and having intellectual discussions, so he got texts on history, religion, science, philosophy, and other topics recited. He would like the company of intellectual persons.

Accession and Expansion of Empire

Soon after Humayun’s death in 1556, Akbar ascended the Mughal throne. Akbar was at Kalanaur in Gurdaspur district of Punjab. After Humayun' s death Bairam Khan acted as not only Akbar's regent and childhood guardian but also as a skillful warrior and general. He managed to crown Akbar at Kalanaur. Akbar was just 13 years old then. Before his death, Humayun had succeeded in regaining the control of some of the prominent areas such as Delhi, Punjab, and Agra in 1555. But the Mughal rule in these areas looked uncertain. Agra and Delhi were reconquered by Surs following the death of Humayun.

Decisive victory at second battle of Panipat, 1556

When Akbar's army decided to march against Sikandar Shah Suri in Punjab and moved ahead, Hemu, a minister and general of Adil Shah Suri (an Afghan) of Suri dynasty in northern India, had proclaimed himself Hindu emperor and took possession of Delhi. He defeated the the Mughals in battle of Tughlaqabad, also known as battle of Delhi ( 7 October 1556) and drove them away from his capital and nearby places. Sikandar Shah Suri, in fact, didn't prove a major concern to Akbar. Actually, Hemu was a great threat to the Mughal army. On the advice of Bairam Khan, Akbar's regent and general, Mughal army marched towards Delhi. The Mughal army led by Bairam Khan defeated Hemu and the Sur army on November 5,1556 at the second battle of Panipat, Haryana. Hemu was shot in his eye and later captured and executed. Thereafter, Akbar captured Agra and Delhi, where he stayed for a month before travelling to Punjab to deal with resurgent Sikandar Shah Suri. He was pursued, but fled to Bengal and Akbar occupied Lahore and then captured Multan in Punjab.

Policy of conquest and expansion

  1. After defeating Sur forces, he also conquered Ajmer, a small entrance to Rajputana, and Gwalior Fort in North India, where Sur forces were driven away in 1558. Gwalior fort was a great stronghold to the North of Narmada river.
  2. In 1561, the Mughal army led by Adham Khan and Pir Muhammad Khan invaded Malwa. They defeated the army of Baz Bahadur, the Sultan of Malwa, in the battle of Sarangpur on March 29,1561. Although he succeeded in invading Malwa under his foster-brother Adham Khan and Mughal commander Pir Muhammad Khan, he had to wait for one year to conquer the province as Adham Khan betrayed Akbar, misused the powers and treasures of empires. Adham khan was dismissed and done away with.
  3. In 1564, Asaf Khan led the Mughal forces and raided the kingdom of Gondwana, ruled by a female, Rani Durgavati and her minor son Raja Vir Narayan. She was defeated at the Battle of Damoh and later committed suicide to save her honour. Vir narayan was also executed.
  4. In northern Rajputana, Akbar conquered Ajmer and Nagor. Soon, he established his control over the entire Rajputana by forcing the states to accept his suzerainty except the Mewar ruler, Rana Udai Singh.
  5. Now his eyes were on Mewar. In 1567, he attacked Chittorgarh Fort and captured it after four months. Then he raided Ranthambore Fort in 1568 which surrendered in the next couple of months.
  6. In 1569, he established a new capital to the west of Agra to celebrate his victory over Chittorgarh and Ranthambore, which was named Fatehpur Sikri (‘City of Victory’) in 1573 after the conquest of Gujarat.
  7. The next target of Akbar was Gujarat. He conquered Gujarat in second attempt in 1573, thus marking his decisive victory over Gujarat. Annexation of Gujarat led Mughals to open sea route for trade in western coast with Africa and Asia. In order to commemorate his victory over Gujarat, Akbar got built Buland Darwaza, a great architecture, at Fatehpur Sikri. However in 1573, Akbar signed a treaty with the Portuguese, under which the Portuguese retained their power on the western coast while the Mughals were allowed to send pilgrim (devotees) ships for Hajj (pilgrimage) to Mecca and Medina. As he was concerned over the presence of Portuguese in Indian ocean so he maintained friendly relations with them and accepted the offer of diplomacy.
  8. Like Gujarat on the west coast, Bengal on the eastern coast of India was also an important territory to gain access to the sea route. So, Akbar defeated Daud Khan Karrani, the ruler of the only Afghan haven in India i.e. Bengal, at the Battle of Tukaroi in 1575, who was captured and killed by the Mughal forces in another battle, thereby annexing Bengal and parts of Bihar.
  9. He defeated Maharana Pratap, Rana Udai Singh’s son and successor, at the Battle of Haldighati in 1576. However, Rana pratap escaped from the battlefield and continued his struggle through guerrilla warfare tactics. Rana Pratap recovered most of his territories under Mewar except Chittorgarh. Rana Pratap died in 1597.
  10. In 1581, Akbar captured Kabul and defeated his step brother, Mirza Muhammad Hakim. as being ambitious Hakim had invaded Punjab and this annoyed Akbar. However, following the death of Hakim in 1585, Kabul became the part of Mughal Empire.
  11. Then, Akbar conquered Kashmir in 1589, Sindh in 1591, and Kandahar and Baluchistan in 1595.
  12. During the period of 1595 - 1605, Akbar concentrated on Deccan areas. His first target was Ahmadnagar, Chanbdbibi was ruling there on behalf of his minor son. She gave a very tough fight to Mughals and was finally defeated. The campaign took about 5 years. Finally Ahmadnagar was included in Mughal empire.The last victory of Akbar was in 1601, he occupied Berar and Khandesh and also captured the fort of Asirgarh.

During his reign, the Mughal Empire extended to most of the Indian subcontinent, stretching from the Himalayas in the North to the Vindhyas in the South and Hindukush (mountain ranges) in the North-West to Brahmaputra River in the East.

Fall of Beram Khan

As Akbar was getting mature and powerful enough, he didn't like unnecessary interference in his political decision and administration. He wanted to set himself free from Bairam Khan, his childhood regent. Till now, Bairam Khan acted as a real administrator of Mughal empire, however, his arrogance, and political influence of Akbar's foster mother Maham Anga made up his mind to relieve Bairam Khan of his duties. Bairam Khan was dismissed in 1560 and forced to go to Mecca for Hajj. Later, he was assassinated by one of his enemies on the way.

End of Petticoat government

Mere fall of Bairam Khan was enough as Mughal administration was still under the control of Harem party, influential ladies of Harem kept administration under their control. This was called petticoat government. So, Akbar also set free himself from undue political interference of Harem ladies, specially, Maham Anga. Actually, Akbar got a pretext for this too. Son of Maham Anga, Adham Khan, was executed as he murdered Ataga Khan, the favourite general of Akbar. The news of Adham's Khan death profoundly affected Maham Anga and she died shortly afterwords, in 1562.

Administrative reforms

Akbar carried out various experiments and reforms in his administrative system to bring out the best in running the empire smoothly. From central and provincial government to village panchayat level, he introduced reforms. He covered land revenue, military, civil, legislative, executive, and judicial, almost, all branches of administration.

......... Read More

Currency System

Akbar's coinage system with various denominations was based on scientific basis and it provided uniformity to his vast empire. ............Read More.

Agra Fort, Uttar Pradesh
Agra Fort, Uttar Pradesh
Buland Darwaza, Fatehpur Sikri
Buland Darwaza, Fatehpur Sikri
Adaham Khan's Tomb, Mehrauli
Adaham Khan's Tomb, Mehrauli
Saint, Muhammad Ghaus's Tomb, Gwalior
Saint, Muhammad Ghaus's Tomb, Gwalior
Nasim Bagh, Srinagar
Nasim Bagh, Srinagar

Architecture during Akbar's reign

He got built magnificent buildings, provided a great architecture to India. He got built the follwing structures:

  • Humayun's Tomb, Delhi (1560s)
  • Arab Sarai, Delhi (1560-61), guesthouse at Humayun’s tomb
  • Khair-ul Manazil Masjid, Delhi (1561) by Maham Anga (Akbar's foster mother)
  • Adham Khan's Tomb, Delhi (c. 1562)
  • Ataga Khan's Tomb, Delhi (1566)
  • Afsarwala Mosque and Tomb, Delhi (1566-1567)
  • Agra Fort, including Amar Singh Gate and Jehangiri Mahal, Agra (1565-70)
  • Ajmer Fort and Pavilion, Ajmer (1564–73)
  • Lahore Fort and Palace, Lahore (1586–1618)
  • Shaikh Salim Chishti's Tomb, Fatehpur Sikri (1580-81)
  • Palace, Fatehpur Sikri (1571-85)
  • Buland Darwaza, Fatehpur Sikri (1575-6)
  • Allahabad Fort and Palace, Allahabad,(1583–84), now largely dismantled.
  • Muhammad Ghaus's Tomb, Gwalior
  • Nasim Bagh, Srinagar, Later improved by Jehangir

Social and Religious Reforms:

  • He annulled the special tax payable by Hindus for making pilgrimages in 1563 and completely abolished the Jaziya in 1564 C.E., or the annual tax, paid by non-Muslims in 1564, thus earning respect from his subjects.
  • He started celebrating Hindu festivals such as Diwali, Holi, Basant Panchami, etc. along with the Parsi festival of Nauroz, at his court.
  • He appointed Hindus to public services and important positions. Raja Mansingh served as the Governor of Kabul; Raja Todarmal was appointed as the imperial Dewan. Birbal was one among the Navratnas in his court.
  • A great change came in the religious policy in 1581 C.E. Akbar attempted to establish a new faith, religion or order known as Din-i-Ilahi. He built a spacious hall in Fatehpur Sikri known as the Ibadat Khana means house of worship, where he could hold religious and philological discussions. Akbar invited scholars of all religions to take part in the discussions. After listening to their views , he established Din-i-Ilahi. It was not a religion but a code of conduct. It had no holy book. Its followers believed in one God. It was not imposed on any individuals. People were free to join at will. Akbar was its eminent member.
  • The new faith forbade killing of animals and eating meat whoever joins it. It encouraged Akbar to introduce social reforms.
  • Akbar also tried to stop the practice of Sati. Child marriage was discouraged and female-infanticide was forbidden in his reign. Widow-marriage was also encouraged.
  • Akbar was not in favour of second marriage (having two wives at the same time) unless the first wife was barren.
  • He raised the age of marriage,14 for girls and 16 for boys.
  • The sale of wines and spirits were restricted.
  • He brought changes in education system too. Akbar revised the syllabus of education, emphasised more on moral education and mathematics, and on secular subjects including agriculture, geometry, logic, history, astronomy, rules of government, etc.

Development of Art and Culture

Literature:

  • Akbar gave patronage to artists, poets, painters, writers, and musicians. His court was infused with famous and scholarly persons, more popularly known as the ‘navaratna.’ These navratnas were a group of nine intelligent people - Faizi, Mian Tansen, Birbal, Raja Man Singh, RajaTodar Mal, Abdul Rahim Khan-I-Khana., Abul Fazl, Mulla Do-Piyaza, and Fakir Aziao-Din.
  • Persian prose and poetry reached its peak during Akbar’s reign. Many biographies and historical works were composed during his reign. Some of the important historical works included the Ain-I-Akbari by Abul Fazl, Muntakhab-ul-Tawarikh by Badaun, Tabaqat-I- Akbari by Nizamuddin Ahmed.
  • Besides original works, works in other languages were also translated into Persian during Akbar’s time. Hindu books like Mahabharata, Ramayana, Atharvaveda, Rajatarangini, Panchatantra, Lilavati etc., were translated into Persian.

Tulsidas in Akbar's lifetime
Tulsidas in Akbar's lifetime
Kabirdas in Akbar's lifetime
Kabirdas in Akbar's lifetime
Surdas in Akbar's lifetime
Surdas in Akbar's lifetime
  • During Akbar's lifetime, Hindi literature also made progress. Among the notable scholars were Abdul Rahim Khan-i-Khana, Surdas, Tulsidas, and Kabir. The dohas (verse) written by Kabir and Abdul Rahim Khan-i-Khana are popular to this day. Tulsidas's Ramcharitmanas is revered by Hindus till date.

Music and Painting:

Akbar was fond of music too, it was but natural that his court adorned with famous musician. Tansen was one among them, he was among Navratnas. Tansen is said to have created some ragas. Other famous musicians of Akbar's time were Baba ramdas, Baiju Bawra and Surdas. Akbar also gave patronage to painters. There were many Indian and foreign painters in his court. Most famous among them were Abdusamad, Jamshed, Farrukh Beg, Daswant And Basawan. They mostly painted miniature paintings to illustrate the books. They also painted scenes from Persian and Indian stories such as Laila Majnu, Radha-Krishna, etc., and depicted vignettes from Akbar's life about hunting and his court.

Akbar’s empire was essentially secular, liberal, and a promoter of cultural integration. It was enlightened with social and cultural matters.

Personal Life

  • He got married to his first cousin, Ruqaiya Sultan Begum, in 1551. Ruqaiya Begum was his first wife. Akbar had soon realised that political alliance with the Rajputs was necessary to keep the empire stable and intact. This policy culminated in his marriage to Heer Kunwari (also called Harka Bai or Jodha Bai) in 1562, who became one of his main queens. In 1569, she gave birth to a son, Salim, later known as Jahangir. Akbar is said to have had more than 35 wives from different ethnic and religious backgrounds.
  • In October 1605, Akbar fell seriously ill with an attack of dysentery. He didn't recover and died three weeks later. His body was buried in a mausoleum at Sikandra, Agra. He was succeeded by his son Jahangir.

Conclusion:

From all the above description about the Mughal ruler Akbar, he could not be said as biased towards a particular religion, he was a broad minded ruler and carried out experiments with great sincerity. Even after his death in 1605, the Mughal empire continued till 1857. In this sense, Akbar can definitely be called as a great ruler. Bringing stability to an empire with prosperity in a country, full of diversity, is really a great thing.

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