Though only 13 when he ascended to the throne, he is widely considered the greatest of the Mughal emperors. During his reign, he eliminated external military threats from the Afghan descendants of Sher Shah (an Afghan who was able to temporarily oust Humayun from 1540-1555), and at the Second Battle of Panipat defeated the Hindu leader Hemu. In addition to his military gains, the emperor solidified his rule by repealing the jizya tax on non-Muslims and courting the favor of the powerful Rajput caste, to the extent of marrying Rajput princesses.
However, Akbar's most lasting contributions were to the arts and to Indian religion. He initiated a large collection of literature, including the Akbar-nama and the Ain-i-Akbari, and incorporated art from around the world into the Mughal collections. He also commissioned the building of widely admired buildings, including the Panj Mahal. Having a greatly tolerant attitude toward religion, Akbar preserved Hindu temples. He also began a series of religious debates where Muslim scholars would debate religious matters with Sikhs, Hindus, Carvaka atheists and even Jesuits from the Vatican. He founded his own religion, the "Din-i-Elahi" or the "Divine Faith"; the religion, however, amounted only to a form of personality cult for Akbar, and quickly dissolved after his death.
Akbar was born at the Rajput Fortress of Umarkot in Sind where the Mughal Emperor Humayun and his recently wedded wife, Hamida Banu Begum were taking refuge. In 1540, Humayun had been driven into exile, following decisive battles, by the Afghan leader Sher Shah. Akbar did not go to Persia with his parents, and was raised for a time instead by his uncle Askari and his wife in the rugged country of Afghanistan rather than in the splendor of the Persian court. He spent his youth learning to hunt, run and fight, but he never learned to read or write, the sole exception in Babur's line. Nonetheless, Akbar matured into a well-informed ruler, with refined tastes in the arts, architecture and music, a love for literature, and a breadth of vision that tolerated other opinions.
Following the chaos over the succession of Islam Shah (Sher Shah's son), Humayun reconquered Delhi in 1555, leading an army partly provided by his Persian ally Shah Tahmasp. Only a few months later, Humayun died from an accident. Akbar succeeded his father on February 14, 1556, while in the midst of a war against Sikandar Shah for the reclamation of the Mughal throne. Here, in Kalanaur the 13 year old Akbar donned a golden robe and Dark Tiara and sat on a newly constructed platform, which still stands, and was proclaimed "Shahanshah" (Persian for "King of Kings")
Clash with Hemu
Early into Akbar's career, he decided that he should eliminate the threat of Sher Shah's dynasty, and decided to lead an army against the strongest of the three, Sikandar Shah Suri, in the Punjab. He left the city of Delhi under the regency of Tardi Beg Khan.
Sikandar Shah Suri presented no major concern for Akbar, and often withdrew from territory as Akbar approached; however, back in Delhi Hemu, a low-caste Hindu warrior, succeeded in launching a surprise attack on the unprepared Tardi Beg Khan, who promptly fled the city. Hemu, who had launched the attack on behalf of Adil Shah Suri, one of Sikandar's brothers, had won 22 successive battles and appointed himself ruler, or Raja Vikramaditya, instead Adil Shah.
Word of the capitulation of Delhi spread quickly to the new Mughal ruler, and he was advised to withdraw to Kabul, which was relatively secure. However, Bairam Khan differed and urged Akbar to fight the invaders and reclaim the capital. Akbar sided with Bairam, and began to march on Delhi. In order to bolster troop morale, Akbar took the curious step of ordering that someone "prepare fireworks as a treat for the soldiers" and that one should "make an image of Hemu, fill it with gunpowder, and set it on fire". On the march forward, he was joined by Tardi Beg and his retreating troops, who also urged him to retreat to Kabul, but Akbar refused again; later, Bairam Khan had the former regent executed for cowardice, though Abul Fazl and Jahangir both record that they believed that Bairam Khan was merely using the retreat from Kabul as an excuse to eliminate a rival.
On November 5, 1556 Akbar's Mughal army defeated the numerically superior forces of General Hemu at the Second Battle of Panipat, fifty miles north of Delhi, thanks to a chance arrow into Hemu's eye. Hemu was brought before Akbar unconscious, and was beheaded. Some sources say that it was actually Bairam Khan who killed the man, but Akbar certainly did use the term "Ghazi", warrior for the faith, a term used by both Babur, his grandfather, and Timur when fighting the Kafir (non-Muslims) in India. Hemu's head was sent to Kabul while his body was displayed on a type of gallows specially constructed to display this dead body. Even more gruesomely Akbar followed an old Khanate tradition, one which pre-dates even Genghis Khan, and constructed a "victory pillar" made from the heads of the dead soldiers.
The victory also left Akbar with over 1,500 war elephants which he used to re-engage Sikandar Shah at the siege of Mankot. Sikandar surrendered and so was spared death, and lived the last remaining two years of his life on a large estate granted to him by Akbar. In 1557 the only other threat to Akbars rule, Adil Shah, brother of Sikandar, died during a battle in Bengal. Thus, by the time Akbar was 15 his rule over Hindustan was secured.
Akbar was only 13 years old when he became emperor, and so his general ruled on his behalf till he came of age. The regency belonged to Bairam Khan, a Shia Turkoman noble who successfully dealt with pretenders to the throne and improved the discipline of the Mughal armies. He ensured power was centralised and was able to expand the empires boundaries with orders from the capital. These moves helped to consolidate Mughal power in the newly recovered empire.
Respect for Bairam's regency was not, however, universal. There were many people plotting his demise in order to assume the apparent absolute rule they saw in him. Much was written, critically, of his religion. The majority of the early court were Sunni Muslims, and Bairam's Shia'ism was disliked. Bairam knew about this, and perhaps even to spite that, appointed a Shia Sheikh, Gadai to become the Administrator General, one of the more important roles in the empire. Further Bairam lived a rather opulent lifestyle, which appeared to be even more excessive than that of Akbar.
The most serious of those opposed to Bairam was Maham Anga, Akbar's aunt, chief nurse and mother of his foster brother, Adham Khan. Maham was both shrewd and manipulative and hoped to rule herself by proxy through her son. In March 1560 the pair of them urged Akbar to visit them in Delhi, leaving Bairam in the capital, Agra. While in Delhi Akbar was bombarded by people who told him he was now ready to take full control of the empire and to dismiss Bairam. He was persuaded to fund an excursion for Bairam to go on Hajj to Mecca, which was to act, essentially, as a form of ostracism. Bairam was shocked at the news from Delhi, but was loyal to Akbar, and despite Akbars refusal to even meet with the General, refused the suggestions by some of his commanders to march on Delhi and "rescue" Akbar.
Bairam left for Mecca, but was quickly met by an army sent by Adham Khan, but approved by Akbar, which was sent to "escort" him from the Mughal territories. Bairam saw this as the last straw, and led an attack on the army, but was captured and sent as a rebel back to Akbar to be sentenced. Bairam Khan, whose military genius had seen the Mughals regain their lands in India, who had served both Humayun and Akbar loyally, and laid the foundation for a strong empire, was now before the emperor as a prisoner. Maham Anga urged Akbar to execute Bairam, but Akbar refused. Instead, in defiance of Anga, he laid down full honours to the General, and gave him robes of honour, and agreed to fund him a proper Hajj excursion. However, shortly after Bairam Khan's Hajj journey got underway, just before he reached the port city of Khambhat (then known as "Cambay") he encountered an Afghan whose father had been killed five years earlier in a battle led by Bairam. The Afgan saw a chance to reap vengeance, and promptly stabbed Bairam, who died on January 31, 1561.
Adham Khan and Maham Anga
With the demise of Bairam Khan, Maham Anga saw an opportunity for herself, and attempted to wrest the control that Bairam had. Her attempts at absolute rule, however, were not particularly successful.
In February 1561, her son Adham was sent to capture Malwa, which was being incompetently ruled by Baz Bahadur. Baz Bahadur was a talented musician but had no ability to govern an area, and many of the people of the area had fled to Mughal territories, alerting the Mughals to the possibility of taking the area. As the army of Adham Khan approached Baz Bahadur fled, leaving behind his wealth and his wives in their Harem, and instructions that they were to be killed if the city of Sarangpur (now a part of the Rajgarh District) fell to the Mughals. However, despite the best attempts by the Eunuch in charge of the Harem, many of the women survived; even Rupmati, who was famed through many of Baz Bahadurs songs for her beauty, survived multiple slash wounds to be captured by the invading Mughals. However, when Adham Khan came to claim his prize, Rupmati drank poison rather than be raped by Akbar's brother.
However, aside from this instance when he was thwarted, Adham engaged in some thoroughly grotesque abuses of the captured Harem and populace. The least attractive members of the women were brought before the senior members of the invading army and killed, as they drank alcohol, took opium pellets, and generally treated the event as if it were a festive occasion. Badauni records that on at least one occasion members present tried to stop the slaughter but were shackled. The slaughter was not only of the women in the harem, and Badauni records that "Sayyids and Sheikhs came out to meet him with their Qur'ans in hand, but Khan put them all to death and burnt them". Besides, Adham kept the vast majority of the wealth and captives for himself and sent a mere three elephants to his Emperor. Along with the elephants, Akbar received word of what Adham had done, and became enraged. He decided to ride out to Malwar himself, along with a small band of loyal soldiers, racing and beating a group of courtiers sent by Maham Anga to warn Adham of Akbar's rage.
Adham became terrified and quickly begged for Akbar's forgiveness. Akbar forgave him, and received the booty he had seized. However, Adham secretly kept two of the women he decided were the most attractive in his own Harem. When Akbar found out about this, Maham Anga killed the women, fearing what they might reveal about Adham to Akbar.
These events left Akbar with no option but to begin assuming absolute control for himself. The conflict came to a head when in 1562, Atkah Khan, an Afghan appointed by Akbar to be the equivalent of Prime Minister, was dealing with affairs of his position when Adham burst forth, had Atkah Khan stabbed, and tried to storm the Harem of Akbar. The Eunuch who guarded the section went in, closed the door and locked it from the inside. Akbar became aware of the disturbance, and entered the room. Here Adham laid his hand on his foster brother's arm, a sign of apparent disrespect, to which Akbar responded by punching him in the face, possibly knocking him unconscious. Seeing his Prime Minister stabbed, Akbar had had enough of Adham and ordered that he be thrown from a height, over a parapet. This failed to kill him, so Akbar ensured that the second attempt succeed by ordering he be dropped head first. Akbar then went straight to Maham Anga and informed her that her son was dead. With this act, the 19 year old Akbar assumed complete control over his empire.
While previous Muslim rulers, in particular the Mughal founder Babur, allowed freedom of worship for Hindus and other religious groups, Akbar engaged in a policy of actively encouraging members of the varying religious groups to enter his government. In one instance, he persuaded the Kacchwaha Rajput rulers of Amber (modern day Jaipur) into a matrimonial alliance: The King of Amber's daughter, Hira Kunwari, became Akbar's queen. She took the name Jodhabai, and was the mother of Prince Salim, who later became the Mughal emperor Jahangir. Further, while other Muslim rulers had married Hindu wives, he was the first one to allow to fully practise their religion, not just without hindrance but with everything they needed in that regard. During his reign more than in any other Mughal ruler's, Hindus were employed in the Civil Service. He also married a Christian woman from Goa, Maryam.
The other Rajput kingdoms also gave their daughters' hands to Akbar, until only two Rajput clans remained against him, the Sisodiyas of Mewar and Hadas (Chauhans) of Ranthambore. The Rajputs were a famed group of Hindu warriors, who, like the Afghans took opium prior to battle to ward off fear. Entering into an alliance with these groups helped to secure Akbar's control, as for the next 100 years Rajput soldiers served on behalf of the Mughal empire.
Finally Raja Man Singh of Amber went with Akbar to meet the Hada leader, Surjan Hada, to effect an alliance. Surjan grudgingly accepted an alliance on the condition that Akbar did not marry any of his daughters. Surjan later moved his residence to Banaras.
Akbar is recorded as saying "A monarch should be ever intent on conquest, lest his neighbours rise in arms against him", and he went on to expand the Mughal empire to include Malwa (1562), Gujarat (1572), Bengal (1574), Kabul (1581), Kashmir (1586), and Kandesh (1601), among others. Akbar installed a governor over each of the conquered provinces, under his authority.
Akbar did not want to have his court tied too closely to the city of Delhi. He ordered the court moved to Fatehpur Sikri, near Agra, but when this site proved untenable, he set up a roaming camp that let him keep a close eye on what was happening throughout the empire. He developed and encouraged commerce, in part by abolishing religious restrictions on the conduct of business between Muslims and Hindus.
Akbar's tax reforms were an especially noteworthy achievement, and formed the basis of the Mughal Empire's immense wealth in succeeding generations. His officials prepared a detailed and accurate cadaster (land register) noting each land parcel's soil quality, water access, etc., and then converted those characteristics to money, taking account of the different prevailing prices for various crops in each region of the Empire. This was a distinct improvement on earlier land tax systems, including the Egyptian and Roman ones, which had levied land taxes as an in-kind share of the harvest. By making land tax payments more accurately reflect the economic rent of the land in money rather than the actual harvest, Akbar's innovations had the effect of stimulating both investment in improvements and more productive use of the land. He also abolished the jizyah (a discriminatory tax on non-Muslims) and gave strict orders to prevent extortion by tax collectors. The salutary economic effect of these reforms was such that the revered Qing emperor Kang Xi adopted similar measures a century later in China, with similar success.
Akbar is said to have been a benevolent and wise ruler, a man of new ideas, and a sound judge of character. As a ruler, he was able to win the love and reverence of his subjects.
Abul Fazal, and even the hostile critic Badayuni, described him as having a commanding personality. He was fearless in the chase as well as in the field of battle, and, "like Alexander of Macedon, was always ready to risk his life, regardless of political consequences". He often plunged his horse into the full-flooded river during the rainy seasons and safely crossed over to the other side. Though a mighty conqueror, he did not usually indulge in cruelty. He is said to have been affectionate towards his relatives. He pardoned his brother Hakim, who was a repented rebel. However, on some rare occasions, he dealt cruelly with the offenders, as is shown by his behavior towards his maternal uncle, Muazzam, and his foster-brother, Adam Khan.
He is said to have been extremely moderate in his diet. According to records, he was fond of fruits and had little liking for meat, which he ceased to eat altogether in his later years.
Many of the historians are of the opinion that Emperor Akbar possessed inordinate "lust" for women. It is also believed that he was an alcoholic as well. He had a harem of over 5000 women.
... Akbar habitually drank hard. The good father had boldly dared to reprove the emperor sharply for his licentious relations with women. Akbar instead of resenting the priests audacity, blushingly excused himself.
Views on religion
At the time of Akbar's rule, the Mughal Empire included both Hindus and Muslims. Profound differences separate the Islamic and Hindu faith. When Akbar commenced his rule, a majority of the subjects in the Mughal Empire were Hindu. However, the rulers of the empire were almost exclusively Muslim. In this highly polarized society, Akbar fostered tolerance for all religions. He not only appointed Hindus to high posts, but also tried to remove all distinctions between the Muslims and non-Muslims. He abolished the pilgrim tax in the eighth year and the jizya in the ninth year of his reign, and inaugurated a policy of universal toleration. He also enjoyed a good relationship with the Catholic Church, who routinely sent Jesuit priests to debate in his court, and at least three of his Grandsons were baptized as Catholics (though they did become Muslim later in life).
Akbar built a building called Ibadat Khana (House of Worship), where he encouraged religious debate. Originally, this debating house was open only to Sunnis, but following a series of petty squabbles which turned ugly, Akbar encouraged Hindus, Catholics and even atheists to participate. He tried to reconcile the differences of both religions by creating a new faith called the Din-i-Ilahi ("Faith of the Divine"), which incorporated both 'pantheistic' versions of Islamic Sufism (most notably the Ibn Arabi's doctrine of 'Wahdat al Wajood' or Unity of existence) and 'bhakti' or devotional cults of Hinduism. Even some elements of Christianity - like crosses, Zoroastrianism- fire worship and Jainism were amalgamated in the new religion. Akbar the Great was particularly famed for this. Akbar was greatly influenced by the teachings of JainAcharyaHir Vijay Suri and Jin Chandra Suri. Akbar gave up non-vegetarian food by their influence.Akbar declared "Amari" or non-killing of animals in the holy days of Jains like Paryushan and Mahavir Jayanti. He rolled back Zazia Tax from Jain Pilgrim places like Palitana. This faith, however, was not for the masses. In fact, the only "converts" to this new religion were the upper nobility of Akbar's court. Historians have so far been able to identify only 18 members of this new religion.
He also married several Hindu princesses, though many consider that to be politically motivated rather than a genuine attempt at religious reconciliation.
His moves from Islam, while welcomed by the Hindu majority, were not appreciated by the Muslim faithful. Rumours were rife that Mosques were being closed and destroyed, that those who entered his Harem were required to say "There is no God but Allah, and Akbar is his messenger" a bastardised version of the traditional Muslim Shahada, or declaration of faith. When Akbar opened a wine shop, it was believed he also ordered pigs blood to be mixed with the mixture. Many members of the ulema began to protest his actions, and Ahmad Sarhindi (who had been nick-named "Mujaddid" or "Renovator" of islam) wrote tracts rejecting the Shirk that he believed Akbar was guilty of. He was to be arrested by Jahangir upon his successon. Ultimately, despite Akbar's attempts at reconciling the two major faiths, by the end of the 16th century community relations would be worse than when Akbar ascended to power.
Akbar passed decrees against child marriage and sati.
Patron of arts and literature
Although Akbar was illiterate, he had a fine literary taste. He took interest in philosophy, theology, history, and politics. He maintained a library full of books on various subjects, and was fond of the society of scholars, poets and philosophers, who read books to him aloud, and thus enabled him to be conversant with Sufi, Christian, Zoroastrian, Hindu and Jain literature. He used to invite scholars from different religions for discussions with him.
In his book, "Akbar, The Great Mogul" Vincent Smith wrote that "anybody who heard him arguing with acuteness and lucidity on a subject of debate would have credited him with wide literary knowledge and profound erudition and never would have suspected him of illiteracy". He was a patron to many literary figures, including the brothers Feizi and Abul-Fazel. The former was commissioned by Akbar to translate a number of Sanskrit scientific works into Persian; and the latter produced the Akbarnama, an enduring record of the emperor's reign. It is also said that Akbar employed Jerome Xavier (nephew of Francis Xavier) , a Jesuit missionary, to translate the four Gospels of the New Testament into Persian. He commissioned the Tarikh-i-Alfi, or "The History of a Thousand Years" to celebrate the year 1000 (1591-92CE) on the Muslim calendar, though only about thirty of the original hundreds of paintings and pages of the manuscript now remain.
Akbar also possessed a fair taste of art, architecture and mechanical works. Many pieces, including the magnificent Hamzanama, were produced under Akbar. Akbar is also credited with many inventions and improvements in the manufacture of matchlocks. He built a vast administrative machinery on a detailed plan. He looked, as we know from the Ain-i-Akbari, "upon the smallest details as mirrors capable of reflecting a comprehensive outline.
As with many Indian rulers Akbar's court had Navaratnas ("Nine Jewels"), a term denoting a group of nine extraordinary people. Akbar's Navratnas were:
• Abul-Fazel - Akbars's chief advisor and author of Akbarnama, Akbar's biography
• Mian Tansen - known for his voice and music
• Birbal - known for great wit
• Raja Todar Mal
• Raja Man Singh
• Abdul Rahim Khan-I-Khana
• Fakir Aziao-Din
• Mullah Do Piaza
• Baiju Bawara
The last few years of Akbar's reign were troubled by the misconduct of his sons. Two of them died in their youth, the victims of intemperance. The third, Salim, later known as Emperor Jahangir, was frequently in rebellion against his father. Asirgarh, a fort in the Deccan, proved to be the last conquest of Akbar, taken in 1599 as he proceeded north to face his son's rebellion. Reportedly, Akbar keenly felt these calamities, and they may even have affected his health and hastened his death, which occurred in Agra. His body was interned in a magnificent mausoleum at Sikandra, near Agra.
| Grandson of Zahir ud-Din Muhammad (Bâbur)|