XI. The Age of Akbar
*Writers and Scholars*
who had ruled eighteen centuries before, vies with Akbar for the title
of the greatest of Indian kings, and if weight is given to initial
encountered and overcome, the claim must surely go to Akbar. The great
Mauryan had received intact a great heritage from his predecessor; what
Akbar had received from his father was little more than a disputed
as emperor of Hindustan. Akbar, who had been born in 1542 while his
was in flight from the victorious Surs, was only thirteen when he was
emperor in 1556. In the eight months he had spent in India before his
Humayun had succeeded in regaining control of the Punjab, Delhi, and
but even in these areas his hold was precarious, and when the leaders
the Sur family recovered Agra and Delhi, the fate of the boy king
Akbar had a great
the regent, Bairam Khan, who had been Humayun's faithful friend in his
days of adversity. One of the ablest soldiers of the time, he was the
ruler of the Mughal inheritance for the first four years of Akbar's
His first great triumph came at Panipat on November 5, 1556, when he
the Sur armies under the command of their Hindu general, Himu. He led a
vigorous pursuit of the enemy, and recaptured Delhi and Agra, the key
of the north; then he moved on to extend control over the rest of
Having reduced the great fortress of Gwalior and annexed the rich
of Jaunpur, he was planning the conquest of Malwa when he suddenly fell
While the young
his time hunting and watching elephant fights, Bairam Khan had extended
his authority in the kingdom. In so doing, he had antagonized many of
nobles, and when he appointed a member of the Shia sect as sadr-ul-sadur,
the chief religious post in the government, he became even more
to them. Furthermore, the young emperor, at the age of eighteen, wanted
to take a more active part in managing affairs. Urged on by his foster
mother, [] Maham Anaga, and his relatives, Akbar decided
dispense with the services of the great minister. He sent a suitably
message to Bairam and fixed a jagir for him, but Bairam Khan, after a
show of defiance, left for Mecca and was murdered on the way by a man
bore him a private grudge. Akbar married his widow, and his son, Abdul
Rahim eventually became one of the chief nobles.
During the next
Akbar's foster mother and her family were supreme. This tutelage came
an end, however, in 1562, when Akbar, enraged at the repeated excesses
and cruelty of Maham Anaga's son, Adham Khan, had him thrown from the
terrace. Maham Anaga did not long survive her son's death, and
the emperor was master of his affairs.
Meanwhile some of
for which Akbar's reign was famous were becoming manifest. The policy
vigorous conquest started under Bairam Khan was maintained. In 1560
was annexed, and four years later Akbar conquered Gondwana. Even more
than these victories was his policy toward his Hindu subjects, which
adopted practically from the beginning of his active assumption of
The first of his marriages to Rajput princesses (one of the landmarks
the development of his religious policy) took place early in 1562.
is nothing to show that the Rajput princesses had to renounce Hinduism;
presumably, as in the case of a Muslim marrying a Christian or a Jew,
marriages were considered valid without change of religion. These
were only one aspect of broadening religious horizons, for far-reaching
administrative changes accompanied them. One of these was that the
of the Rajput wives, like Raja Bhagwan Das and Raja Man Singh, were
to high posts and became partners of the Mughals in the administration
of the country. Then in 1564 Akbar abolished the pilgrim tax, earning
gratitude of the large number of Hindus who flocked to various places
pilgrimage. The following year he took a more important step—the
of the jizya. These measures enabled Akbar to gain the active
of the fighting classes of Hindu India and the goodwill of the Hindu
Akbar now turned
to the conquest of Rajputana. In 1567 he reduced the fortress of
and this was soon followed [] by the surrender of
Gujarat was annexed in 1573. Akbar now was free to turn his attention
Bengal, which since the days of Sher Shah had been the happy hunting
of Afghan adventurers driven out of northern India. Although Tanda,
the capital of Bengal, was occupied early in 1574, and the Afghan ruler
of Bengal was decisively defeated in March, the Mughal conquest of the
area was not complete for several years.
from this time on could be carried out by his commanders under his
direction, and he was able to indulge his personal interests nearer the
seat of his government, including the building of his new capital. His
children had died in infancy, and he approached Shaikh Salim, a saint
lived at Sikri, near Agra, to pray for a male child and his long life.
Early in 1561 he sent his pregnant wife to the monastery of Shaikh
and it was here that his successor to the throne was born, and was
Salim after the saint. Akbar was so grateful to the saint that in 1571
he started building a capital at Sikri, known as Fathpur, or "Victory
In 1575 he erected the famous House of Worship near the tomb of Shaikh
Salim, who had died in the meanwhile. It was in this building that
spent his time in religious pursuits. He remained preoccupied with
controversies for many years, and did not leave the capital on a
campaign until 1581, when the Punjab was invaded by his brother, Mirza
Hakim, to whom the territories centering on Kabul had passed at their
death. Akbar pursued Mirza Hakim to Kabul, but left him in control of
area until his death in 1585.
was the beginning
of a long period of concern over the northern marches of the empire.
thirteen years Akbar had to remain in the north, with Lahore as his
capital, dealing with a threat from beyond the mountains. This came
the Uzbegs, the tribe that had driven Babur out of his home in Central
Asia. They had been organized under Abdullah Khan, a capable leader,
were a danger to the northwestern frontiers of Akbar's empire. The
on the border were also restless, partly on account of the hostility of
the Yusufzais of Bajaur and Swat, and partly owing to the activity of a
new religious leader, the founder of the Raushaniya sect, []
who preached that plundering the property of those who did not believe
in his doctrines was lawful. Mughal forces sent against the Yusufzais
with disaster in February, 1586, when the inept commander, Raja Birbal,
lost his life. It took two years to pacify the area.
Akbar was not
able to leave
Lahore until the death of Abdullah Khan in 1598 removed the Uzbeg
but the long stay had been fruitful. Kashmir was added to the Mughal
in 1586; Sind followed in 1593. There Mirza Jani Beg, the ruler of
after his defeat at the hands of Abdul Rahim, became a Mughal mansabdar
and was appointed governor of his old territory. In 1594 Baluchistan,
the coastal region of Makran, was added to the empire, and in the
year Qandahar was surrendered by its Persian governor.
the whole of the northwest under Mughal rule, greatly reduced the
of invasion from Central Asia. Akbar was free, therefore, to extend his
empire to the Deccan. The opposition to Mughal expansion came from the
Muslim rulers of the regional kingdoms established in the fourteenth
fifteenth centuries. Akbar sent envoys to them in 1591, asking them to
recognize his suzerainty; and when they refused, the imperial troops
upon Ahmadnagar, the capital of one of the important sultanates. For
time the heroic leadership of a princess, Chand Bibi, saved the city,
in 1599 Akbar appeared in person and Ahmadnagar fell. In January, 1601,
after the key fortress of Asirgarh had capitulated, the conquered
of Ahmadnagar and Khandesh were organized as a province of the Mughal
Akbar returned to
May, 1601, his career of conquest over. His last years were troubled by
unhappy relations with his son, Prince Salim, who had the royal
Abul Fazl, assassinated by the robber chief, Bir Singh Bundhela, in
Akbar fell ill in August, 1605, and the physicians were not able to
the disease properly. There was a strong suspicion that his illness was
due to a secret irritant poison, possibly diamond dust. He died on
Akbar was the
of the Mughal empire, and he laid down the principles and policies
but for occasional modifications and minor adjustments, remained the
of the Mughal administrative system. This will be dealt with in a
chapter, but a few []
THE DEATH OF AKBAR IN 1605*
[] of the policies particularly associated with
be mentioned here.
his treatment of the Hindu population. For understanding the
of his policy of toleration, it is important, however, to see his
against the background of previous movements in the same direction, and
not as a complete innovation. Hindus had long been employed in
of responsibility—even Mahmud of Ghazni, the great "destroyer of
had a contingent of Indian troops under Indian officers—and no Muslim
had succeeded in dispensing with the services of Hindu officials on the
level of local administration. There were, however, great difficulties
to be overcome before general participation was possible. From the side
of the early Turkish rulers, there had been prejudice not only against
Hindus, but even against Indian converts to Islam. Under the Khaljis a
change took place, and henceforth converts found employment in high
This change led to a more general employment of Hindus, and during Sher
Shah's reign (1538–1545) a number of Hindus held important military
But this exclusion of Hindus had not been entirely the result of
attitudes: many Hindus had strong objection to service under a Muslim
Furthermore, until Hindus were willing to learn Persian, the court
their widespread employment in government was not possible. By the
century, when it was apparent that the Muslim rule was permanent, many
Brahmans had begun to learn Persian, and their movement into government
Thus by Akbar's
of the traditional difficulties had been removed, and he was able to
full advantage of the changes in outlook on both
sides. One example of
this was his enunciation of the principle of sulah-i kul, or
tolerance, by which he accepted responsibility for all sections of the
population, irrespective of their religion. Through his marriages with
leading Rajput families, Hindus became members of the ruling dynasty,
Hindu women practiced their faith within the palace confines. The
of jizya was a more widespread indication of his policy, making the
people aware of the changing climate of opinion. That two of his most
officials, Man Singh, viceroy of Kabul and Bengal, and Todar []
Mal, his revenue minister, were Hindus, was an indication
not of his
desire to show his tolerance but his freedom to choose able associates
wherever they might be found. Beyond these administrative acts, Akbar
his sympathies with Hindu culture by patronizing the classical Indian
providing scope once more for painters, musicians, and dancers of the
tradition. Perhaps the most striking of his activities in this area is
the creation of the post of kavi rai, or poet laureate, for
poets. The adaption of Hindu elements in architecture is demonstrated
many of Akbar's buildings, notably at Fathpur Sikri. There and
he showed regard to Hindu religious leaders.
Akbar took to build up an efficient system of administration are no
indicative of a great constructive genius. He adopted what was vital in
Sher Shah's administrative system and greatly increased its
He insisted on maintaining a high level of administration, and for this
purpose drew on talent from all available sources—the Mughals, the
the Rajputs, and other Hindus like Raja Todar Mal, and, of course, the
Turanis and the Persians. By a judicious selection of personnel, their
training in different fields, and by providing suitable opportunities
them, he was able to build up an efficient officers' cadre.
arrangements for assessment and recovery of land revenue, and their
in the general administrative system set the pattern for revenue
which has been followed ever since. Akbar also preferred payment of
salaries to the grant of jagirs. These measures, coupled with the
improvement in education and a brilliant spurt of expansion and
enabled him to build up an efficient administrative machinery,
administration, and unify the country to an extent which had not been
hitherto for any length of time.
In an earlier
have outlined the basis of Indo-Muslim polity as laid down by
and its transformation at the hands of Balban, who introduced elements
of the ancient Iranian concept of monarchy and centralized system of
The pattern adopted by Balban became the norm for Muslim India (with
minor changes of policy), and was adopted by subsequent rulers.
theory of kingship as it emerged under Akbar, while rooted in the basic
pattern laid down by Balban, has important features of its own. In the
Mughal system the king remained all-powerful, but he was not an
of Balban's type. The most authoritative exposition of the Mughal
of rulership is that provided by Abul Fazl, Akbar's closest companion,
in his introduction to Ain-i-Akbari. The first two paragraphs
with the need for a king to maintain order and suppress crime and
echo Balban's views on the subject. Then Abul Fazl emphasizes the
elements in kingship:
Royalty is a light emanating from God, and a ray
from the sun,
the illuminator of the universe, the argument of the book of
and the receptacle of all virtues. Modern language calls it farr-i-izidi
(the divine light), and the tongue of antiquity called it kiyan-i-khura
(the sublime halo). It is communicated by God to kings without the
assistance of anyone, and men, in the presence of it, bend the forehead
of praise toward the ground of submission./1/
He lists these further requisite elements of Mughal kingship:
A paternal love toward the subjects. Thousands find
the love of the king and sectarian differences do not raise the dust of
strife. In his wisdom, the king will understand the spirit of the age
shape his plans accordingly.
A large heart. The sight of anything disagreeable does not
him nor is want of discrimination for him a source of disappointment.
courage steps in. His divine firmness gives him the power of requittal,
nor does the high position of an offender interfere with it. …
A daily increasing trust in God. …
Prayer and devotion.
There is much that is
rhetorical in the analysis of the court historian, but the course of
Mughal history and pronouncements of various rulers show that during
rule an attempt was made to approximate to this ideal, with the concept
of paternal government constantly emphasized by Akbar and his
This concept of kingship was similar to the old indigenous notion of
ruler being the Mai Bap (Mother and Father) of the people, and it is
impossible [] that Akbar and Abul Fazl were influenced by
political ideas. Akbar's views were also supported and strengthened by
references in Muslim philosophical and mystical writings to the ruler
"the shadow of God," and Abul Fazl makes repeated use of these sources.
But whatever the origin of their inspiration, by softening the
of the absolute monarch, Akbar and Abul Fazl transformed its very
The Mughal badshah (emperor) was not an autocratic sultan, or even a
Commander of the Faithful; in theory at least he was a father of his
and a trustee of their welfare. The ideal was obviously not always
and Aurangzeb's reign was marked by far-reaching deviations, but by and
large the Mai Bap concept was accepted by the rulers and the ruled.
Writers and Scholars
While Akbar's own
go far in explaining his success as a ruler, he was fortunate in the
high quality of the men who surrounded him. Among these were such
administrators as Amir Fathullah Shirazi, Man Singh, Todar Mal, Khwaja
Mansur, and scholars like Nizam-ud-din Bakhshi and the historian
The persons who most vividly represent the caliber of his servants,
were Abul Fazl (1551–1602) and his elder brother, Faizi (1545–1595).
were members of a distinguished family of scholars, and were held in
esteem by Akbar because of their intellectual gifts, their loyalty to
and the similarity of their views on religion. Abul Fazl was the court
chronicler, the drafter of the emperor's correspondence, and his
confidant. The animosity of the other courtiers because of his favored
position was given a religious coloring when he became the spokesman
Akbar's unorthodox religious policy, and in his last years they
in keeping him away from the capital.
of distinction, but Abul Fazl clothed his ideas in an ornate and
style. It is Faizi's writings that give us more indication of the
of the conflict which tore the hearts and minds of the intellectuals of
the age. He was introduced at the court in September, 1567, when he was
a young man of twenty. He gave [] expression to his
in the first Qasida which he wrote in praise of Akbar:
How shall I write of the time when the barge of my
His inner conflicts form a recurrent theme in Faizi's poetry. In a
quatrain he says:
Was tossing on the billows of the tempest?
A quickening spring visited my word-garden,
A youthful morning came to my spirit's tulip,
While I was disturbed, thinking by what argument
I could remove doubts about absolute verities.
Why is this diversity practiced in Islam?
Wherefore ambiguities in the words of the Quran?
Why did false witness shoot out the tongue in the tribunal
Of pride and hypocrisy, and claim belief?
If such be the religion of Islam in this world,
Scoffers can have a thousand smiles at the Musulman faith.
O God! What can I do, except lament on your path.
One particle did not receive illumination, what can I do?
I long to move towards the heights
But You Yourself have given me a feeble might, what can I do!
O God, through Your grace, grant me hope untainted
Teach me that knowledge, in which lies your pleasure.
The darkness of intellect keeps me in conflict;
Give me the light of resignation from the lamp of raza
His other common theme
was exultation in the joy of living and in the new possibilities
before men. Here he was mirroring the hopes and ambitions of a great
In one of his ghazals he cries:
Glad tidings for the world that a new day has
And one who shines brighter than the sun has been born.
The luckless ones of the night of separation have awakened
As an auspicious dawn beautified the world.
You who want a glimpse of the sun of good fortune,
Open your eyes and see, a new sun has arisen.
The wanderers of the path of taqlid [tradition] were perplexed;
Thank God that a guide has appeared for this caravan! []
Faizi! How long can there be the distant gloom of the night of
Wake up, glimpses of the auspicious dawn are visible.
In these verses the purport
of the poet is unmistakable but his language is vague. Elsewhere he is
more direct. In a poem he rejects the literal acceptance of the Quranic
verses relating to heaven and hell and endorses the Mutazila viewpoint
treating them as metaphorical. The idea that there is need for a new
approach finds expression in such verses as these:
Come, so that we may turn our faces toward the arch
We lay the foundation of a new Kaba with the stones from Sinai.
It is not surprising
that some of Faizi's contemporaries accused him of heresy. Yet if as a
restless intellectual, aware of the new currents moving within Indian
he expressed dissatisfaction with the rigidities of orthodoxy, in his
commentary on the Quran he is completely orthodox.
a high place for Abul Fazl and Faizi in the cultural history of Islamic
India, but the greatest scholar of the age was Amir Fathullah Shirazi.
Badauni called him "the most learned man of his times," and Abul Fazl
"If the books of antiquity should be lost, the Amir would restore
Only Abul Fazl, Faizi, and Birbal had a higher place in Akbar's esteem.
was born and
educated in Shiraz at a time when it was witnessing a revival of
after the effect of the Mongol holocaust and Timur's invasion had spent
itself. His teachers included Amir Ghiyas-ud-din Mansoor Shirazi, the
philosopher, and Jamal-ud-din Mahmud, a pupil of the celebrated
Dawwani./2/ Hearing of
reputation as a sage and an intellectual, the ruler of Bijapur invited
him to come to his capital, and from there in due course Akbar took him
to Fathpur Sikri. Among [] other assignments, he
with Todar Mal in the creation of a system of revenue administration.
eventually became the head of the department for religious affairs,
responsibility for making grants to religious schools and seminaries.
was "thoroughly versed in all those sciences which demand the exercise
of the reasoning faculty, such as philosophy, astronomy, geometry,
geomancy, arithmetic, the preparation of talismans, incantations, and
and in this department of learning he was such an adept that he was
to draw up an astronomical table as soon as the emperor demanded one
him. He was equally learned in Arabic traditions, interpretation of the
Quran, and rhetoric, and was the author of some excellent works."/3/
He completed Dawwani's commentary on the important work of logic, Tahzib-ul-Mantaq,
and wrote an exegesis of the Quran. His lasting contribution, however,
was as an educator. He brought about extensive changes in the
of the schools by introducing the works of recent Iranian scholars,
Dawwani, Sadr-ud-din, Ghias-ud-din Mansur, and Mirza Jan. Some works of
the later Iranian philosophers and scholars had been introduced earlier
in the days of Sikandar Lodi, but they did not gain general currency.
the fruits of the new philosophical era of Iran were sponsored by
who had studied them under the Iranian masters and who was in charge of
the department dispensing state patronage to educational institutions.
This dual advantage played an important part in the success of the new
factors which facilitated the new trends in education. In Akbar's time
there was a general emphasis on reason, intellect, and philosophy, and
works connected with these subjects were encouraged. Furthermore, there
were a number of other scholars besides Fathullah who had migrated from
Persia. Among these was Hakim Abul Fath Gilana, Akbar's court
who wrote a commentary on Avicenna. Scholars from Samarqand and Bukhara
also encouraged the study of logic. The efforts of these scolars and
own preferences combined to give an impetus to the spread of []
education which placed learning on a new footing in Islamic India.
or mental sciences, became so important in the Mughal empire that a
later, when the educational curriculum was standardized, these
studies, and not the Islamic subjects such as tafsir and hadith,
the place of honor in the syllabus. These new disciplines were formal
nature, but their study in the Mughal period stimulated intellectual
facilitated mental discipline of the pupils, and provided the
basis for the splendid Mughal cultural life.
N O T E S
/1/ Abul Fazl, Ain-i-Akbari,
trans. by H. Blockmann et al. (Calcutta, 1927–1941), I, 3.
occupies an important place in the intellectual history of the
His pupils included Abul Fazl Gazruni, under whom Shaikh Mubarik, the
of Abul Fazl and Faizi, studied at Ahmadabad, as well as Fathullah
teacher. Many of his religious works became textbooks and the subject
commentaries during the Mughal period. His most famous work is
which is still prescribed as a textbook for certain examinations in
and Pakistan. It has been translated into English by W. F. Thompson
the title, The Practical Philosophy of the Muslim People. It
considerable elements of Greek thought and ethics.
/3/ Abdul Qadir
Muntakhab-ut-Tawarikh, trans. by G. S. A. Ranking, W. H.
Sir Wolseley Haig (Calcutta, 1884–1925), III, 216.