AKBAR THE GREAT
We may call them as, “Mughals” but the fact remains that Babur and his descendants were not Mughals, in fact Babur did not like to be addressed as, “Mughal”. Babur the founder of the so called “Mughal Dynasty” was actually a prince who descended from the lines of Timur and Chenghis Khan. He from his father’s side belonged to the line of Timur while from his mother’s he was a Mongol. Babur therefore was actually a “Turk” who was much refined in taste, habit and culture than the Mongols, whom he despised. Babur’s eternal dream was not to capture India and settle here, but to liberate his own state Fergana from the oppressions of invaders. A dream that never came true in his lifetime, India he attacked only by some serious turn of events. However before passing on the reigns of his Empire he had got an idea about the nature and character of the Indian subcontinent.
Babur was by no means an ordinary man; on the contrary he had a highly reformed character which was seldom seen in the period he lived. He was educated, experienced general in war, connoisseur of art, and in later years had become an altogether a different man. His death bed instruction to Humayun, the crown prince, was full of insight and the views quite ahead of his time.
“You should not be affected by religious bias, you should take care of the feelings of each community and religion; you should administer impartial justice; you should not pull down places of worship of any people; you should be judicious minded so that the relations between the ruler and the ruled be pleasant and that there be the reign of peace and tranquility in the State.”[i]
The desert nomad, who had wandered through the rough and rugged terrains of Afghanistan and Pakistan in search of home, had already made a home not for himself but for his generations to come and that was not in Fergana but here in India. Humayun like his father was also a very learned man, fond of sports, books, art and culture, to some extent pleasure loving, easy going which perhaps was not a great trait if you are looking to consolidate a baby Empire. He faltered and was exiled out of India but yet another visionary and genius Sher Khan the Afghan better known as Sher Shah Suri. Another genius was rising from the horizon, only in good time he would begin a journey and reach the centre sky to shine above his people.
In 15th October 1542, Akbar the Great was born to an Indian father and Persian Mother Hamida Banu Begum. His birth took place in the house of a Hindu King Raja Virsal of Amarkot, at that time his father was running around from place to place like a fugitive. He was a very restless boy since his childhood; he liked sports than reading and learning. Through sports he attained two qualities which are prerequisites to become a great ruler, intelligence and leadership.
Akbar’s tutor cum family friend Bairam Khan was exceptionally loyal to his father Humyaun and made all necessary arrangements to secure the throne of India for this boy of fourteen. The second battle of Panipat followed the last of the Lodhi’s, Ibrahim Lodhi was killed and Akbar ascended the throne. Although Akbar became the master of India much of the royal duties were performed by Bairam Khan. At a point when Bairam Khan’s audacity increased its height such that the Emperor had to hear complains about him in home and away, he finally decided to free himself from Bairam Khan. He issued a notice to Bairam Khan and apparently pushed him to take a voyage to Mecca where accidentally he was killed. With Bairam out of the scene a great impediment was gone, now he could rule freely. But here again during his youth he had to listen much to his nurse-mother Maham Anga. Maham Anga had great influence on Akbar, the Emperor could not refuse her pleas and advice. Maham Angas’s wicked son Adham Khan was a direct threat to Akbar, in one occasion he killed the prime minister and even assaulted the Emperor himself. The Emperor was so furious that he ordered Adham Khan to be tied hand and foot and thrown off from the roof of the Imperial palace until he died. Adham Khan was killed, and her mother Maham Anga out of grief and shock died forty days later.
Akbar now had no one who could tie him down because of past favors; he was free like a bird. Although, he had number of issues to be resolved, but above all was the conquest of total North India and the consolidation of the Mughal Empire. The Great conquest started, on some occasions he himself led from the front. In September 1567 his army marched towards Chitore and laid siege on the impregnable fort of Chitore, the heart of Rajput homeland. The fall of Chitore was brought by an accident when the commander of the defense army fell down to a bullet wound and the Rajputs charged out to fight the last battle of life. After a weary battle the Rajputs of Chitore were defeated and Akbar ordered a massacre of the population. In fact he had energized his army by calling, “Jihad”, whether Akbar really believed this to be a fight against infidel is a legitimate question, and unfortunately there can be multiple answers. I think given the shrewd nature of Akbar, his tactics was perhaps similar to that of Babur’s when the latter roused his army against Rana Sanga before the battle of Khanwa. I do think that the Mughal strategy of calling, “Jihad” was only a plan to lift the morals of the army and not because of religious animosity.
His advance against Rani Durgabati of Chunargarh was also because of Akbar’s military ambition which ultimately resulted in the death of the Rani after her valiant fight with the Mughal army. Looking at these facts in Akbar’s life one would be inclined to think that Akbar was no good than plundering, subjugating, and butchering common people in the name of expansion. It would not be wrong to think that in this case he was way ahead than Lord Dalhousie or Lord Wellesley. But with the course of time the Emperor changed and this change what I am going to discuss about.
Akbar was the first Muslim ruler in India to realize that merit and loyalty are the most important credentials required for occupying the important positions in Imperial office. He understood that before him dynasties had been pulled down because of internal feuds and conspiracies. And the main players of these feuds were actually Muslims who had divided themselves according to personal greed, ambition, sect and racial status. In the broader arena, the Shias hated the Sunnis, at racial level, Afghans resented the Turks, the Turks hated the Indian Muslims, and the Indian Muslims mocked the native Hindus, the Hindus fought against each other, so the political structure was rotten with people hating each other for greed and social status. Akbar was quick to realize this and brave enough to work out a plan to encounter this problem.
He judged quite rightly that to counter a strong force another force of equal nature is necessary. He therefore thought it necessary to bring the Rajputs to his side by establishing matrimonial alliance or by imposing his suzerainty upon Rajput rulers. He was practical enough to provide certain liberties to the Rajputs even if it was against the trend of Muslim rulers of that time. Akbar allowed quite a lot of liberties or relaxations to the ruler of Bundi, a pinhead size state compared to Akbar’s Empire. Some of these relaxations are worth noticing, 1) The women of Bundi would not be sent to Mughal Harem, 2) The royal horses of Bundi would not bear Mughal insignia, 3) The King of Bundi would be allowed to present himself in Akbar’s court with full armour, 4) The women of Bundi would not be sent to royal festival of Nowroj (New Year), 5) abolition of Jizya in the province. So here you see Akbar was eager enough to have Rajputs at his side to counter the insurrections of Afghans or any other rebel vassal.
By these reforms, relaxations whatever you call it Akbar ensured steady supply of gallant Rajput generals and soldiers into his army. Man Singh is a leading example of this, this man would be Akbar’s right hand, he was as Malik Kafur was to Allauddin Khilji but unlike Malik Kafur, Man Singh knew his limits and was aware of it. As a matter of fact Man Singh gave Akbar half of his total Empire through his brilliance in conquest. So with Man Singh and company on his side, Akbar could well meet any rebellion, mutiny or insurrection. Akbar also wanted to have Maharana Pratap to his side but the latter was too independent to submit. Ultimately he was defeated in the battle of Haldighati yet he remained unconquered and unvanquished, and free till he breathed his last.
This intermingling with the Hindus in the political as well personal front might have well shaped the nature of Akbar as a man. As his reign progressed he became more and more respectful and tolerant towards other religion. Though he could not read and write he enjoyed the association of learned men who discussed religion and science. In the beginning he called the Islamic clerics to discuss the tenets of Islam, but later he became curious to know the philosophies and messages of other religions too. Akbar was never satisfied with one answer and one perspective only it was his in his nature to look around for more perspectives into any matter and then find the truth himself. He convened Jesuits priests to understand Christianity, Brahmans Pundits to know Hinduism, and Jain scholars to learn about Jainism. He was somewhat taken aback on observing that every one flattered about their own religion and were too proud to accept or even respect other’s view.
Ultimately Akbar chose not to be biased in case of religion as well. He liberated himself and the administration from the influence of Ulemas, thereby sending a clear message that religion would not decide administration. That was sixteenth century and this concept in itself was by and large quite revolutionary. I do not see any of his contemporary in Europe or in Central Asia take such bold step. In fact Akbar’s brilliant state policy had established a strong back up in case he had to face any odds by the orthodox. At some point of time his Islamic brethren started to consider Akbar as a danger against Islam, but the Emperor stood his ground. There were some petty revolts which he crushed immediately there was a never a rebellion which had the strength to shake the foundations of Akbar’s Empire.
Akbar’s views on religion were visible in his personal appearance and habits too. He liked to keep long hair, shaved beard, and occasionally wore the tilak on his forehead. When he dined he always drank the water of the Ganges which he regarded as holy and pure. Later he became kind of vegetarian, whether it was because of problems related to stomach or because of secular views that we don’t know but he became like that. He advised his people not to take beef and passed law to stop killing the holy animal. He also encouraged scholars to translate the Sanskrit classics Ramayana and Mahabharata into Persian. Not only thiese, he granted funds to Man Singh and Raja Todar Mal to construct Hindu temples, he also gifted the land where the pool in Amritsar stands to Guru Ramdas, the fourth preceptor of the Sikh faith. It would be imprudent to think that in doing all these secular works he did not inflict wounds into the heart and minds of orthodox Islamic clergy.
Akbar was opposed to child marriage, and also was against the vicious norm which did not permit widows to remarry. Akbar logically asserted that “the object that is intended” in marriage “is still remote and there is immediate possibility of injury.”[ii]He despised the act of Sati and took strong stand against it, in fact he passed laws to prevent Sati. In one occasion Akbar personally intervened to rescue a Rajput princess, widow of his friend Jai Mal, who refused to die as a Sati. But her son Uday Singh forced her onto the pyre; Akbar sent his agents for the rescue operation who saved her life from the burning pyre. [iii]
Akbar’s curiosity and learning by reason had made him a ruler who could see things in a logical and wide perspective. This separated him not only from his contemporaries like Elizabeth I but also earned him the rare distinction of being someone who was quite ahead of his time. If he had audacity and strength for free thinking he also had the capacity and power to ensure”peace for all” (Sulahkul) is maintained throughout. I have stated already that in conquest and annexation he was even better than Wellesley or Dalhousie. I must also say now that he had the vision of Rammohan and Vidyasagar put together, the remarkable point in this is that Akbar lived 300 years before them.
After the Independence of India many of his ideas were included in the Constitution of India. That we see in the form of Right to Religion, Equality for law and so on. He started as a great conqueror but ultimately he became a champion of secular thinking. We can better understand Akbar’s greatness by looking at the time before and after him, and then perhaps we will reassess Akbar’s competence and achievement. In doing this we might even place him as one of the greatest Indian ruler ever, perhaps not only for India but for the world.
Photo Courtesy- Wikipedia and (Prtihvi Raj’s)Tribune India.