Akbar the great
Jalal-Ud-din Muhammad Akbar was the third Mughal ruler of the sub-continent. The advent of the Mughal rule in sub-continent had started when Zahir-UD-din Muhammad Babar won the decisive battle of Panipat on 21st April 1526, and he expanded his kingdom to sub-continent. However, the Mughal rule was firmly entrenched in sub-continent by Babar’s grandson, Akbar. However, as fate would have it, Babar died only four years after establishing his vast empire in sub-continent. According to some legendary versions, when Babar returned to Agra in 1930, he saw that his son Humayun was critically sick. He was advised by one of the court theologians that if Babar prayed to God to take his life, then God would spare Humayun’s life (Ballhatchet).
Babur’s legacy was passed to Humayun, who was not as strategically and militarily genius as his father was. Thus most of Babur’s empire was captured by Sher Shah Suri, who was an Afghan, in battle at Kanauj in 1540. Humayun had to run from Afghans, and his brothers and Akbar was born in Umarkot in 1942 when Humayun was still on run (“Akbar the Great”). Humayun failed to recover his father’s empire from the Afghans, but this task was achieved by Akbar. Thus he was given the title of Akbar the Great.
Akbar was looked after by Askari Mirza, Humayun’s brother when Humayun was on the run. Though Askari Mirza considered Akbar a valuable hostage to threaten Humayun. In 1551, Akbar was reunited with his father, and he was appointed by his father as governor of Kabul. Akbar became king of his father’s domain at the age of thirteen due to his father’s sudden death. According to Ballhatchet, Akbar was born an intellectual despite being illiterate. Bahram Khan, a capable general in Humayun’s army, played a significant role in Akbar’s training as a military and strategic leader. It was Bahram Khan who proclaimed Akbar as the king after Humayun’s death and marched with him to Delhi to reclaim their throne from a Hindu general named Hemu. Although Akbar could return to Kabul, the capital of his Central Asian Kingdom or get the capital of sub-continent empire back from Hemu. Akbar called a meeting of his loyal generals and decided to choose to Delhi, which set the foundation of Mughal Empire. Akbar reclaimed his empire in sub-continent from Hemi at Battle of Panipat in 1556, the same place where his grandfather had won first in sub-continent thirty years ago.
Akbar was fourteen years old when he recovered Mughal Empire from Hemu though he stayed under the influence of his military teachers for another five years. Akbar faced opposition from three power centers in Sub-continent which included Marathas in the south-west, Rajputs in North and Vijayanagar in South. The most potent threat to Akbar’s empire was from Rajputs, which he tackled by marrying a Rajput princess and making Rajputs his allies through this diplomatic marriage. The upper caste Hindus considered this marriage as a derogatory act as it was against the traditions and norms of their caste system but Akbar allowed his Hindu wife to freely practice her religion at his palace and placed many Rajputs in government positions.
Akbar’s permission to his Rajput wife to practice her religion manifests secular outlook of his empire. Akbar was aware of the fact that most of his subjects were non-Muslims, so he organized a pluralistic system wherein he appointed Hindus along with Turks, Afghans, and Persians to prominent positions in his empire (Bose and Jalal 32). Raja Mansingh was one of Akbar’s top military officer, and Raja Todar Mal was his revenue minister.
- Metcalf and R. Metcalf wrote about Akbar’s glorious expansion of Mughal Empire, according to them “Akbar’s half-century of rule established the dynasty as an empire, brought about by conquests that moved the frontiers of Mughal control north of Kabul and Kashmir, east to Bengal and coastal Orissa, south to Gujarat and part of the Deccan and, most important of all, south-west from Delhi to Rajasthan” (15). Akbar’s state policies were diverse and inclusive. Akbar was described by his chief historian as a very curious and intellectual. He was very fond of Arts as well. Akbar tried to create harmony between different religions prevailing in sub-continent by propagating din-e-Elahi, which was a new religion comprising of practices of different faiths. To appease his Hindu subjects, he abolished Jizya tax, which was imposed by previous Muslim rulers on non-Muslims in sub-continent as an exemption from participation in the military. Akbar tried to understand teachings of different religions. He invited preachers of various religions like Jains, Zoroastrians, and Jesuits, to his court for discussion and he tried to learn from them. Some Muslim scholars considered him an apostate due to these reasons. However, Akbar was firm in conviction to learn from different sources.
Akbar is also praised for his administrative policies which helped in consolidating his power and the strengthened Mughal Empire. He awarded different ranks, called mansabs, to his nobles for efficient administration. Even British Empire followed Akbar’s administrative policies for effective management in sub-continent. Hence there is no wonder that Akbar earned the title of “Akbar the great.” The Mughal Empire was at its zenith during the rule of Akbar. Hindus remember him as the most generous and kind Muslim ruler due to his tolerance toward their religion. Mughal rule prevailed in sub-continent until the advent of East India Company which supplanted Mughal rule with British rule. The Mughal kings had become complacent with their vast empire and became indolent. On the other hand, British were progressing due to their scientific and industrial revolutions. British acquired modern weapons which gave them advantage over Mughal kings and they exiled the last Mughal king, Bahadur Shah Zafar to Burma when they formally proclaimed their rule in sub-continent.
“Akbar the Great.” Cultural India, www.culturalindia.net/indian-history/akbar.html. Accessed 5 May 2017.
Ballhatchet, Kenneth A. “Akbar MUGHAL EMPEROR.” Encyclopedia Britannica, www.britannica.com/biography/Akbar. Accessed 5 May 2017.
Bose, Sugata, and Ayesha Jalal. Modern South Asia: History, Culture, Political Economy. London: Routledge, 1998. Print.
Metcalf, Barbara D, and Thomas R. Metcalf. A Concise History of Modern India. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006. Print.