Also known as Shahanshah Akbar or Akbar the Great, Jalal-ud-Din Muhammad Akbar was the third Mughal Emperor. He was one of the notable rulers of the Mughal Empire. Akbar is known in the history of India as an able administrator, emperor and ruler.
Life of Akbar:
Akbar was born on 15th October 1542 in the Rajput fortress of Umerkot in Sindh, where Emperor Humayun and his recently wedded wife, Hamida Banu Begum were taking refuge. Akbar grew up in the village of Mukundpur in Rewa. Akbar and prince Ram Singh I, who later became the Maharaja of Rewa, grew up together and stayed close friends throughout his life. Later, Akbar moved to the eastern parts of Safavid Empire where he was raised by his uncle Mirza Askari. Akbar spent his youth learning to hunt and fight. He came out to be a powerful and a brave warrior. Akbar however, never learned to read or write. Though his quest for knowledge never died down and when he retired for the evening, he would have someone read to him.
When Humayun died, his death was concealed by Bairam Khan in order to prepare for Akbar’s succession. Akbar later succeeded Humayun in the year 1556 in the midst of a war against Sikandar Shah to reclaim the throne. Akbar was thereafter enthroned by Bairam Khan in Kalanaur Punjab and was proclaimed ‘Shahanshah’. Bairam Khan ruled on the behalf of Akbar until he came of age.
On 3rd October, 1605, Akbar fell ill and he never recovered. He is believed to have died on
or before 27th October 1605 and his body was buried in a mausoleum in
Sikandra in Agra.
Reign and Achievements of Akbar:
Akbar was 13 years old when he ascended the Mughal throne in Delhi following the death of his father Humayun. Akbar was known for his military powerfulness. Akbar used different new armors and combat devices for his army. He used the Kitar and Machlocks which were produced by the finest craftsmen and effectively employed during various conflicts. He also ordered the manufacture of the finest chain plate armors and other protections that made his war elephants and Sowars invincible in combat. Akbar also utilized the metal cylinder rockets known as bans particularly against war elephants during the Battle of Sanbal. He believed that war elephants were the keys to military success. He personally owned 5000 well trained elephants war elephants were used to carry out executions of those who fought against the Mughal Emperor. Akbar was the first to place advanced swivel guns and cannons atop the Howdahs. He used to distribute crescent military standards and kettledrums to his finest servicemen.
In the initial reign days, Akbar decided to conquer the threat of Sher Shah’s dynasty. As such, he left Delhi under the regency of Tardi Baig Khan to lead an army against the strongest of the three, Sikandar Shah Suri. During that time, the Hindu king Hemu defeated Mughal Army to capture Delhi. Thereafter, urged by Bairam Khan, Akbar met the larger forces of Hemu on the Second Battle of Panipat and captured and executed Hemu. Sikandar Shah too surrendered before Akbar and as a result, Punjab was annexed to the Mughal Empire. Before returning to Agra, Akbar sent an army to Jammu which defeated Raja Kapur Chand and captured the kingdom. Akbar then further expanded his empire by capturing and annexing the kingdoms of Gwalior, northern Rajputana and Jaunpur. Akbar also dismissed Bairam Khan for Mecca after a dispute in the court. Akbar then further expanded his empire by subjugating local chiefs and annexing neighboring kingdoms. His conquests include that of Malwa, Chittorgarh fort, Ranthambore among the many. He built the city of Fatehpur Sikri as a sign of his victory. The Ramthambore Fort was the most powerful fortress in Rajasthan and was conquered by the Mughal army in the year 1569 during the Siege of Ranthambore. This made Akbar the master of almost the whole of Rajputana. This led to many of the Rajputana rulers submitting themselves to Akbar. After the Rajputs, Akbar turned to Gujarat and conquered Ahmadabad and Surat and established hi authority over Gujarat.
Administration of Akbar:
Akbar’s administration was divided into different categories each headed by different supervisors and wazirs. Akbar developed a unique way of taxation system. He created the dahsala system of taxation and revenue and under the system; the revenue was calculated as one-third of the average produce of the previous ten years, to be paid to the state in cash. This system was later however, refined taking into account the local prices and grouping areas with similar productivity into assessment circles. Under this system, remission was also given to the peasants when the harvest failed during times of flood and drought.
Akbar’s army and nobility were organized by means of a system called the mahasabdari. In this system, every officer was assigned a rank, i.e. a mansab and cavalry. There were different sections which divided the different categories of army. The mansabdars were required to maintain a certain number of cavalrymen and twice that number of horses. Akbar also made sure that the quality of the armed forces was maintained at a high level and the horses were inspected. He normally employed only Arabian horses in his militia. The mnansabdars were remunerated well for their services and this militia was constituted as the highest paid military service during that time.
The practice of giving Hindu princesses to Muslim kings in marriage though was popular from times before Akbar, but it took a new perspective from Akbar’s time. According to Akbar policy of matrimonial alliances marked a new order of relations where the Hindu Rajputs who married their daughters or sisters to Akbar would be treated as par with his Muslim fathers-in-law and brothers-in-law in all respects except being allowed to dine or pray with him and take Muslim wives. The Rajput rulers were also made members of the court and the Hindu princesses’ marriage to a Muslim weren’t seen as a sign of degradation. One such matrimonial alliance is the marriage of Akbar to Jodha Bai. The matrimonial alliances allowed interchange of thoughts among the two religions.
Relations with different rule:
Akbar had an amicable relation with the Portuguese. Though he could not develop his navy by the Gujarat coast due to the strong hold of the Portuguese, he sought permits from the Portuguese to allow his people to go on Hajj to Mecca through the Indian Ocean. The relation was good, though, however, it later collapsed due to the continuing pressure by the Mughal Empire’s prestigious vessels at Janjira. Akbar also had good relations with the Jains owing to the inspiration he had from the Jain scholar Acharya Harivijaya Suri. His relations with the Shias and Islamic clergy were different from the other rulers. From an early stage, Akbar adopted an attitude of suppression towards Muslim sects which were condemned by the orthodoxy as heretical. He gradually came under the influence of Sufi mysticism which caused a great shift in his outlook and culminated in his shift from orthodox Islam transcending the limits of religion. During the latter half of his rule, he adopted a policy of tolerance towards the Shias and declared a prohibition on Shia-Sunni conflict and the empire remained neutral in matters of internal sectarian conflict. In the year 1580, a rebellion broke out where a number of ‘fatwas’ declaring Akbar to be a heretic were issued by the Qazis. Akbar suppressed the rebellion and handed out severe punishments to the Qazis. In order to strengthen his position, he issued a mazhar or declaration that was signed by all major ulemas in 1579.
Akbar was very much interested in religious and philosophical matters. He also built a hall called the Ibadat Khana in Fatehpur Sikri to which he invited theologians, mystics and selected courtiers renowned for their intellectual achievements and discussed matters of spirituality with them. He also opened the Ibadat to people of all religions, though the effort of setting up a meeting point of people of all religions didn’t prove successful. However, the interaction with various religion theologians had convinced him that despite their differences, all religions had several good practices which he sought to combine into a new religious movement called the Din-i-Ilahi. However, it has been argued over time that the theory of the Din-i-Ilahi being a new religion was a misconception.
Akbarnama, the Book of Akbar:
This book is an official biological account of Akbar written in Persian. The works were commissioned by Akbar and written by Abul Fazl, one of the nine jewels of Akbar’s court.
Portrayals of Akbar:
In the year 2008, Ashutosh Gowariker released a film portraying the story of Akbar and his wife Jodha Bai titled ‘Jodhaa Akbar’. Akbar was also portrayed in the award winning 1960 Hindi movie ‘Mughal-e-Azam’. Akbar is also a major character in Slaman Rushdie’s 2008 novel ‘The Enchantress of Florence’. There have also been portrayals of Akbar in different television serials and plays. "Jodha Akbar" is a television series on played on Zee TV.