Akbar “The Great”
1542 - 1605 A.D.
Most powerful Mughal Ruler of Indiaby Rit Nosotro First Published:: 2003
Akbar “The Great” was the most powerful Mughal Caliph to
ever rule India. He achieved a widespread level of prosperity and peace
in India that was never seen to that extent again. His court housed many
famous philosophers, Persian poets, Muslim and Hindu scholars and thousands
Akbar unified India and created a well-organized bureaucracy. Besides this he constructed many great buildings including the Red Fort in Agra. Akbar’s reign was a Golden Age in Indian history that came at a bloody price.
Akbar came from a line of distinguished warriors and rulers. Akbar’s grandfather, Babar, was related to both Genghis Khan and Timur the Turkish conqueror. Babar defeated the Sultan of Delhi and took over much of northern India. His son, Humayun, ruled the empire until it was invaded by an Afghan named Sher Shah. Thus Akbar’s childhood was filled with fighting and he was raised to be a warrior. By the time he was 13, his father had died and he was the successor to the Mughal throne. For a time he was advised by Bairam Khan, the man who helped his father regain certain territories lost to Sher Shah. With his help, Akbar successfully destroyed the Afghan threat and ushered in a period of peace and prosperity.
This destruction that Akbar brought as a Muslim ruler over his reluctant Hindu populace included the massacre of over 30,000 captive Hindus after taking the Chitod in 1568. Like the ancient Assyrians, Akbar was found of making a tower of severed heads as a reminder to his conquered subjects. As his heart was turned from Islam by his hundreds of non-muslim wives, he either became less violent or there was less violence available to him.
One of the great accomplishments Akbar made was the formation of a centralized bureaucracy and well-organized government. As the padshah ("ruler of the empire"), he appointed mansabars (“military governors”) to be put in charge of provinces in his empire. These governors were responsible for their region and were severely punished and killed if they misused their power to hurt the peasants. Besides this, Akbar imposed a tax on land which applied to everyone equally. This was an important innovation because the wealthy landowners were usually not taxed before. Akbar also dropped the tax on non-Muslims and appointed several Hindus to high positions in his court. He married a Hindu princess in order to cement his relationships with the neighboring Hindu kingdoms. Akbar’s kingdom was the only kingdom to allow Hindus to live under their own laws and form their own courts instead of having Muslim laws imposed on them. He believed that all religions should be tolerated and that the ruler should treat all beliefs equally. Because of Akbar’s lenience towards non-Muslims, the Mughal Empire enjoyed a time of opulence and relative harmony.
Akbar’s court consisted of scholars, poets, philosophers and great thinkers as well as wives. Because he was raised a warrior, he was illiterate and never learned how to read. This disability did not stop him from learning from manuscripts, however, for he had them read out loud to him. In this way, he was able to learn from written material and kept him as knowledgeable as most scholars. Akbar and his successors all contributed to Indian music and had many talented musicians. In attendance at his court, were famous Persian poets who made many advances in Persian literature. Indeed, during this time, Persian literature experienced a renaissance. Akbar married thousands of women, most for political reasons. However, his favorite wife was a Hindu, and it was through her that he had his first son.
Akbar embraced tolerance of all beliefs and formed his own universal religion called Din-i Ilahi ("The Religion of God"). He consulted followers of Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, Jainism and Zoroastrianism and his religion represented a mixture of all these beliefs. The most important part of his religion was the fact that “God is one thing and is singular and unified.” He also infused the idea of “Imam”, the belief that God has created a “Divine Light” and passed it through the generations of people, into his religion, and claimed that he was the Imamate (the one who had Imam). With this “Mandate of Heaven”-like belief, he was considered to be the Perfect Man and free from all sin.
Akbar constructed many beautiful and huge buildings. Thankful for the birth of his first son, Jahangir, he constructed the city of Fatehpur Sikri in 1578. It was built on a ridge nearby Agra in honor of Allah and the Sufi mystic Shayk Salim Chishti who prophesied his son’s birth. In this city, he constructed a beautiful palace complete with gardens and worship hall for followers of Din-i Ilahi. This city was built with red sandstone and many masons and artisans were employed to build it. On the summit of the ridge, Akbar constructed the world’s second largest mosque called Jami Masjid. All of these buildings were built in an architectural design which has been called Akbari.
Akbar died on October 7, 1605 due to slow poisoning. His last years were spent crushing a rebellion started by one of his sons. He was buried in a tomb near Agra, in a place called Sikandra.
Queen Elizabeth I was so impressed by the reported splendor and culture that Akbar had achieved that she sent Sir Thomas Roe, her ambassador, to meet him. From a Christian perpective, Akbar seemed to be a seeker who desired to know God. His desire for learning propelled him to gather great philosophers and writers together in his court. Yet he ended up rejecting the God presented by the Roman Catholic Jesuit priests and formed his own religion. Desiring to be free from sin, he embraced the lie that he was the Imamate and therefore sinless. In the area of human affairs, discounting spiritual realities, one can say that Akbar was India’s most powerful Mughal ruler.
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