Historical Introduction, Part Three: Akbar
*Akbar* -- *Akbar's connection with Agra*
*Akbar*, "the Great," was born at Amarkot, on the edge of the deserts of Marwar, about three years after the battle of Kanauj, when his father Humayun was a fugitive, driven from place to place by the adherents of Shere Shah. At this time the treasury of the royal house was so reduced that when Humayun indented on it for the customary presents to his faithful followers, the only thing procurable was a single pod of musk. With the cheerfulness which was the saving grace of Humayun, he broke up the pod, and distributed it, adding the pious wish, which seemed like prophetic insight, that his son's fame might fill the world like the fragrance of that perfume. Trained in the hard school of adversity, and inheriting the best qualities of his grandfather, Akbar was not long in restoring the faded fortunes of the Mogul dynasty. Like Babar, he succeeded to the throne at a very early age, and found himself surrounded by difficulties which would have overwhelmed a weaker character. Humayun had, indeed, fought his way back to Delhi and Agra, but he had by no means settled with all the numerous disputants for the sovereignty of Hindustan, which Sultan Islam's death had left in the field; and his departure from Kabul had been the signal for revolt in that quarter.
Akbar, accompanied by Bairam Khan, the ablest of Humayun's generals, was in Sind when he received at the same time the news of his father's death and of the revolt of the Viceroy at Kabul He was then little more than thirteen years old, but, like Babar under similar circumstances, he was prompt in decision and in action. Adopting Bairam's advice, which was contrary to that of all his other counsellors, he left Kabul out of account, and pushed on to Delhi against the forces of Himu, a Hindu general and the most powerful of his foes, who had assumed the title of Raja Bikramajit, with the hopes of restoring the old Hindu dynasty. On the historic plains of Panipat Akbar completely defeated Himu's army, and thus regained the empire which his grandfather had won on the same field thirty years before. This great battle was the most critical point in his career, and though Akbar had to undertake many other hard campaigns before he was absolute master of the empire, his position from that time was never seriously endangered.
Until his eighteenth year Akbar remained under the tutelage of Bairam, an able general, but unscrupulous and cruel. The high-minded, generous disposition of Akbar revolted against some of his guardian's methods, but he recognized that, for some years at least, Bairam's experience was necessary for him. In 1560, however, he took the administration entirely into his own hands. Bairam, in disgust, took up arms against his young master, but was soon defeated and taken prisoner. With his usual magnanimity, Akbar pardoned him, and sent him off to Mecca with a munificent present; but the revengeful knife of an Afghan put an end to the turbulent nobleman's life before he could leave India.
Akbar spent the rest of his long reign in elaborating the administrative reforms which have made him famous as the greatest ruler India has ever had. With the aid of able ministers, both Hindu and Muhammadan, he purified the administration of justice, keeping the supreme control in his own hands; enjoined absolute tolerance in religious matters; abolished oppressive taxes, and reorganized and improved the system of land revenue introduced by Shere Shah. A minute account of Akbar's reign, of his policy, habits, and character, is given in the "Akbar-nama," the history written by his devoted friend and Prime Minister, Abul Fazl. No detail of state affairs was too small for Akbar's personal attention. Ability and integrity were the only passports to his favour, while bigotry and injustice were anathema to him. Like Babar, he was fond of horticulture, and imported many kinds of fruit trees and flowers into India. Though he could neither read nor write, he had a great library of Hindi, Persian, Arabic, Greek, and other books, and Abul Fazl relates that every book was read through to him from beginning to end.
The most remarkable of all this remarkable man's intellectual activities were his attempts to bring about a reconciliation of all the discordant religious elements of his empire. Badâyuni, one of his contemporary historians, but, unlike him, a bigoted Musalman, comments thus on Akbar's religious views: "From his earliest childhood to his manhood, and from his manhood to old age, his Majesty has passed through the most various phases, and through all sorts of religious practices and sectarian beliefs, and has collected everything which people can find in books, with a talent of selection peculiar to him and a spirit of inquiry opposed to every (Islamite) principle. Thus a faith based on some elementary principles traced itself on the mirror of his heart, and, as the result of all the influences which were brought to bear on his Majesty, there grew gradually, as the outline on a stone, the conviction on his heart that there were sensible men in all religions, and abstemious thinkers and men endowed with miraculous powers among all nations. If some true knowledge were thus everywhere to be found, why should truth be confined to one religion, or to a creed like Islam, which was comparatively new, and scarcely a thousand years old; why should one sect assert what another denies, and why should one claim a preference without having superiority conferred upon itself?"
Near to his palace at Fatehpur Sikri he built an Ibâdat Khana, or Hall of Worship, for the discussion of philosophy and religion. There he received representatives of all religious sects, Muhammadans, Brahmans, Jains, Buddhists, Parsis, Jews, and Christians, and listened attentively to their arguments. He studied deeply religious books, and had the New Testament translated into Persian. He also invited Jesuit priests from Goa, and not only allowed them to build a church at Agra, but even attended a marriage service and interpreted the words of the sermon to the bride. Badayuni says that "his Majesty firmly believed in the truth of the Christian religion, and wishing to spread the doctrines of Jesus, ordered Prince Murad (his son) to take a few lessons in Christianity by way of auspiciousness." The Jesuits, however, did not succeed in making Akbar a convert, for when his religious convictions were at last settled, he proclaimed as the state religion a kind of eclectic pantheism called Din-i-ilâhi, or "Divine Faith," with himself as the chief interpreter. Dispensing with all forms of priesthood, he simply recognized One God, the Maker of the Universe, and himself as God's vicegerent on earth. He rejected the doctrine of the Resurrection, and accepted that of the transmigration of souls. The Islamite prayers were abolished, and others of a more general character were substituted for them. The ceremonial was largely borrowed from the Hindus.
The "Divine Faith" had no hold on the people, and its influence ceased with the death of its founder. It is even said that Akbar, on his death-bed, acknowledged the orthodox Muhammadan creed, but the evidence on this point is unreliable. Akbar's religious system had an important political bearing, for the keynote of his whole policy was the endeavour to unite with a bond of common interest all the diverse social, religious, and racial elements of his empire. He overlooked nothing which might further the object he had in view. He chose his ministers and generals indiscriminately from all his subjects, without distinction of race or religion. He allied himself in marriage with the royal Hindu families of Rajputana. He sat daily on the judgment seat to dispense justice to all who chose to appeal to him, and, like the famous Harun-al-Rashid, he would at times put on disguises and wander unattended among the people, to keep himself informed of their real condition and to check the malpractices of his officials.
Though Akbar unavoidably had bitter enemies among the more bigoted of his Muhammadan subjects, his wise tolerance of all beliefs and the generosity of his policy for the most part disarmed hostility from all sides. Certainly no ruler of India before or since succeeded so far in carrying out his object. He is still one of the great popular heroes of Hindustan; his mighty deeds in war and in the chase, his wise and witty sayings, the splendour of his court, his magnanimity and his justice, still live in song and in story.
Akbar died in the Fort at Agra on October
13, 1605, in the fifty-first year of his reign, aged 63. He was buried
at Sikandra, in the mausoleum commenced by himself, and finished by his
son and successor, Jahangir.
The modern city of Agra, as stated previously, was founded by Akbar in 1558, opposite to the old city on the left bank of the river. He built the Fort, on the site of an old Pathan castle, and part of the palace within it. Agra was the seat of government during the greater part of his reign. He also built the great mosque and the magnificent palaces and public buildings of Fatehpur Sikri, which are among the most famous of the antiquities of India.
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