Akbar the Great
In 1542, Akbar, the greatest of the Mughal rulers, was born at Amarkot.
When Humayun fled to Iran, Kamran (brother of Humayun) captured young Akbar. Kamran treated the child well; however, Akbar was re-united with his parents after the capture of Qandhar.
When Humayun died, Akbar was in Punjab, commanding operations against the Afghan rebels.
In 1556, Akbar was crowned at Kalanaur at the age of merely thirteen years and four months.
When Akbar succeeded, the Afghans were still strong beyond Agra, and were reorganizing their forces under the leadership of Hemu.
Kabul had been attacked and besieged. Sikandar Sur, the defeated Afghan ruler, was forced to loiter in the Siwalik Hills.
Bairam Khan, the tutor of the prince Akbar and a loyal and favorite officer of Humayun, became the wakil (advocate) of the kingdom and received the title of ‘khan.i.khanan;’ . He united the Mughal forces.
The threat from Hemu was considered the most serious for Akbar. Further, the area from Chunar to the border of Bengal was under the domination of Adil Shah, a nephew of Sher Shah.
During Islam Shah’s reign, Hemu had started his career as a superintendent of the market, but soon promoted under Adil Shah. Surprisingly, Hemu had not lost a single one of the twenty-two battles in which he had fought.
Adil Shah had appointed Hemu as wazir, gave the title of ‘Vikramajit,’ and entrusted him with the task to expel the Mughals.
Second Battle of Panipat
Hemu first seized Agra, and with an army of 50,000 cavalry, 500 elephants and a strong park of artillery marched towards Delhi.
In a well-contested battle, Hemu defeated the Mughals near Delhi and captured the city. But Bairam Khan took an energetic and smart step to meet the critical situation. Bairam Khan strengthened his army marched towards Delhi before Hemu could have time to consolidate his position again.
On 5 November, 1556, the battle between the Mughals (led by Bairam Khan) and the Afghan forces (led by Hemu), took place once again at Panipat.
Though Hemu’s artillery had been captured by a Mughal force, the tide of battle was in favor of Hemu. Meanwhile, an arrow hit in the eye of Hemu and he fainted. Hemu was arrested and executed. Akbar had virtually reconquered his empire.
Since Akbar held the throne at his teen age; he had been supported by a group of nobles.
Bairam Khan’s Conquest
Bairam Khan remained at the helm of affairs of the Mughal Empire for almost next four years and during this period, he kept the nobility fully under control.
The territories of the Mughal Empire were extended from Kabul (in the north) to Jaunpur (in the east) and Ajmer (in the west).
Mughal forces captured Gwalior and vigorous efforts were made to conquer Ranthambhor and Malwa.
Bairam Khan’s Downfall
Over a period of time, Akbar was approaching the age of maturity. On the other hand, Bairam Khan became arrogant and had offended many powerful persons and nobles of Mughal court (as he held supreme power). Many of the nobles complained to Akbar that Bairam Khan was a Shia, and that he was appointing his own supporters and Shias to high offices, while neglecting the old nobles.
The charges against Bairam Khan were not much serious in themselves, but he (Bairam Khan) became egoistical, and hence failed to realize that Akbar was growing up. In fact, there was friction on a petty matter, which made Akbar realize that he could not leave the state affairs in someone else’s hands for any more.
To control Bairam Khan, Akbar played his cards cleverly. He left Agra on the pretext of hunting, and came Delhi. From Delhi, Akbar issued a farman (summon) dismissed Bairam Khan from his office, and ordered all the nobles to come and submit to him personally.
The farman made Bairam Khan realize that Akbar wanted to take power in his own hands; so, he was prepared to submit, but his opponents were keen to ruin him. They heaped humiliation upon him until he was goaded to rebel.
The rebellion distracted the empire for almost six months. Finally, Bairam Khan was forced to submit in Akbar’s court; Akbar received him cordially, and gave him the option of serving at the court (anywhere), or retiring to Mecca.
Bairam Khan chose to retire to Mecca. On his way to Mecca, he was assassinated at Patan near Ahmadabad by an Afghan who bore him a personal grudge.
Bairam Khan’s wife and a young child were brought to Akbar at Agra. Akbar married Bairam Khan’s widow (who was also his cousin), and brought up the child as his own son.
Bairam Khan’s child later became popular as Abdur Rahim Khan-i-Khanan and held some of the most significant offices and commands in the Mughal Empire.
During Bairam Khan’s rebellion, some groups and individuals in the nobility became politically active. The group included Akbar’s foster-mother, Maham Anaga, and her relatives. However, Maham Anaga soon withdrew from politics.
Maham Anaga’s son, Adham Khan, was an impetuous young man. He assumed independent airs when he had been sent to command an expedition against Malwa. He claimed the post of the wazir, and when this was not accepted, he stabbed the acting wazir in his office. His tyrannical act enraged Akbar. In 1561, Adham Khan had been thrown down from the parapet of the fort and he died.
Much before Akbar’s maturity and establishing his full authority, the Uzbeks formed a powerful group. They held important positions in eastern Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and Malwa.
Between the period of 1561 and 1567, the Uzbeks rebelled many times, forced Akbar to take the field against them. Every time Akbar was induced to pardon them. However, 1565 rebel exasperated Akbar at such a level that he vowed to make Jaunpur his capital till he had rooted them out.
Encouraged by Uzbeks’ rebellions, Akbar’s half-brother, Mirza Hakim, who had seized control of Kabul, advanced into Punjab, and besieged Lahore. As a result of this, the Uzbek rebels formally proclaimed him as their ruler.
Mirza Hamim’s attack was the most serious crisis Akbar had to face since Hemu’s capture of Delhi. However, Akbar’s bravery and a certain amount of luck enabled him to triumph.
From Jaunpur, Akbar directly moved to Lahore, forced Mirza Hakim to retire. Meanwhile, the rebellion of the Mirza’s was crushed, the Mirzas fled to Malwa and thence to Gujarat.
In 1567, Akbar returned back to Jaunpur from Lahore. Crossing the river Yamuna nearby Allahabad (at the peak of the rainy season), Akbar surprised the rebels led by the Uzbek nobles and completely routed them out.
The Uzbek leaders were killed in the battle; likewise, their protracted rebellion came to an end.
Expansion of Mughal Empire
During Akbar’s initial period, Malwa was being ruled by a young prince, Baz Bahadur. Baz Bahadur’s accomplishments were a mastery of music and poetry. Besides, the romantic story of Baz Bahadur and Rani Rupmati is also very famous. Rani Rupmati is known in history because of her beauty.
Because of Baz Bahadur’s interest in music and poetry, Mandu (Baz Bahadur’s capital) had become a celebrated center for music. The army, however, had been neglected by Baz Bahadur.
In March 1561, the expedition against Malwa was led by Adham Khan, son of Akbar’s foster-mother, Maham Anaga. Baz Bahadur was badly defeated (in the battle of Sarangpur) and the Mughals took valuable assets, including Rupmati. However, she refused to go with Adham Khan and preferred to commit suicide.
After defeating Malwa, Adham Khan ruled with cruelties, because of this, there was a reaction against the Mughals, which supported Baz Bahadur to recover Malwa.
In 1562, Akbar sent another expedition to Malwa (led by Abdullah Khan). Baz Bahadur defeated again and he had to flee west. He took shelter with the Rana of Mewar.
After wandering about from one area to another, Baz Bahadur, finally approached to Akbar’s court and was enrolled as a Mughal mansabdar. Likewise, the extensive territory of Malwa came under Mughal rule.
Kingdom of Garh-Katanga
In 1564, Mughal arms (led by Asaf Khan) overran the kingdom of Garh-Katanga. The kingdom of Garh-Katanga included the Narmada valley and the northern portions of present Madhya Pradesh.
The kingdom of Garh-Katanga consisted of a number of Gond and Rajput principalities.
In 1542, Aman Das (also known as Sangram Shah), ruler of Garh-Katanga married his eldest son Dalpati Shah with Rani Durgawati (daughter of famous Rajput Chandel Emperor Keerat Rai of Mahoba) and strengthened his position.
Dalpati Shah died soon after his marriage and the princess Durgavati became a widow. But she made her minor son king and ruled with great courage.
Princess Durgavati was a good markswoman with both guns and bow & arrow. She fought many successful battles against her neighbors, including Baz Bahadur of Malwa.
Asaf Khan, the Mughal governor of Allahabad moved towards Garh-Katanga with 10,000 cavalries. Some of the semi-independent rulers of Garha-Katanga found it an opportune moment to throw off the Gond supremacy.
The Rani Durgavati was not supported by her nobles rather left with a small force. She fought bravely but defeated. Once finding that she lost the battle and was in danger of being captured, she stabbed herself to death.
Over a period of time, Asaf Khan also became despotic; however, when Akbar had dealt with the rebellion of the Uzbek nobles, he forced Asaf Khan to expel his illegal games.
Akbar restored the kingdom of Garh-Katanga to Chandra Shah, the younger son of Sangram Shah and took ten forts to round off the kingdom of Malwa.
In 1572, after defeating Rajputs (namely Chittoor, Ranthambhor, Jodhpur, etc.), Akbar advanced towards Ahmadabad via Ajmer; however, Ahmadabad surrendered without a fight.
After Rajasthan expedition, Akbar turned his attention towards the Mirzas who held Broach, Baroda, and Surat (regions of Gujarat).
During the Gujarat expedition, Akbar saw the sea for the first time at Cambay, he rode on it in a boat.
In 1573, when Akbar returned back, after defeating Gujarat, a fresh rebel broke out all over Gujarat. Immediately after hearing the news, Akbar moved out of Agra and traversed across Rajasthan in merely nine days.
On the eleventh day, Akbar reached Ahmadabad. In this journey, which normally took six weeks, only 3,000 soldiers were accompanied with Akbar. But with only 3,000 soldiers, Akbar overcame the 20,000 rebellions.
In 1576, Akbar defeated Daud Khan (the Afghan ruler) in Bihar and executed him on the spot. Likewise, ended the last Afghan kingdom from northern India.
Akbar’s Administrative System
Though Akbar adopted Sher Shah’s administrative system, he did not find it that much beneficial hence he had started his own administrative system.
In 1573, just after returning from Gujarat expedition, Akbar paid personal attention to the land revenue system. Officials called as ‘karoris’ were appointed throughout the north India. Karoris were responsible for the collection of a crore of dams (i.e. Rs. 250,000).
In 1580, Akbar instituted a new system called the dahsala; under this system, the average produce of different crops along with the average prices prevailing over the last ten (dah) years were calculated. However, the state demand was stated in cash. This was done by converting the state share into money on the basis of a schedule of average prices over the past ten years.
Akbar introduced a new land measurement system (known as the zabti system) covering from Lahore to Allahabad, including Malwa and Gujarat.
Under the zabti system, the shown area was measured by means of the bamboos attached with iron rings.
The zabti system, originally, is associated with Raja Todar Mal (one of the nobles of Akbar), therefore, sometimes, it is called as Todar Mal’s bandobast.
Todar Mal was a brilliant revenue officer of his time. He first served on Sher Shah’s court, but later joined Akbar.
Besides zabti system, a number of other systems of assessment were also introduced by Akbar. The most common and, perhaps the oldest one was ‘batai’ or ‘ghalla-bakshi.’
Under batai system, the produce was divided between the peasants and the state in a fixed proportion.
The peasants were allowed to choose between zabti and batai under certain conditions. However, such a choice was given when the crops had been ruined by natural calamity.
Under batai system, the peasants were given the choice of paying in cash or in kind, though the state preferred cash.
In the case of crops such as cotton, indigo, oil-seeds, sugarcane, etc., the state demand was customarily in cash. Therefore, these crops were called as cash-crops.
The third type of system, which was widely used (particularly in Bengal) in Akbar’s time was nasaq.
Most likely (but not confirmed), under the nasaq system, a rough calculation was made on the basis of the past revenue receipts paid by the peasants. This system required no actual measurement, however, the area was ascertained from the records.
The land which remained under cultivation almost every year was called ‘polaj.’
When the land left uncultivated, it was called ‘parati’ (fallow). Cess on Parati land was at the full (polaj) rate when it was cultivated.
The land which had been fallow for two to three years was called ‘chachar,’ and if longer than that, it was known as ‘banjar.’
The land was also classified as good, middling, and bad. Though one-third of the average produce was the state demand, it varied according to the productivity of the land, the method of assessment, etc.
Akbar was deeply interested in the development and extension of cultivation; therefore, he offered taccavi (loans) to the peasants for seeds, equipment, animals, etc. Akbar made policy to recover the loans in easy installments.
Akbar organized and strengthened his army and encouraged the mansabdari system. “Mansab” is an Arabic word, which means ‘rank’ or ‘position.’
Under the mansabdari system, every officer was assigned a rank (mansab). The lowest rank was 10, and the highest was 5,000 for the nobles; however, towards the end of the reign, it was raised to 7,000. Princes of the blood received higher mansabs.
The mansabs (ranks) were categorized as:
The word ‘zat’ means personal. It fixed the personal status of a person, and also his salary.
The ‘sawar’ rank indicated the number of cavalrymen (sawars) a person was required to maintain.
Out of his personal pay, the mansabdar was expected to maintain a corps of elephants, camels, mules, and carts, which were necessary for the transport of the army.
The Mughal mansabdars were paid very handsomely; in fact, their salaries were probably the highest in the world at the time.
A mansabdar, holding the rank of:
o 100 zat, received a monthly salary of Rs. 500/month;
o 1,000 zat received Rs. 4,400/month;
o 5,000 zat received Rs. 30,000/month.
During the Mughal period, there was as such no income tax.
Apart from cavalrymen, bowmen, musketeers (bandukchi), sappers, and miners were also recruited in the contingents.
Akbar followed the system of the Subhah, the pargana, and the sarkar as his major administrative units.
Subhah was the top most administrative unit, which was further sub-divided into Sarkar. Sarkar (equivalent to district) was constituted of certain number of parganas and pargana was the collective administrative unit of a few villages.
The chief officer of subhah was subedar.
The chief officers of the sarkar were the faujdar and the amalguzar.
The faujdar was in-charge of law and order, and the amalguzar was responsible for the assessment and collection of the land revenue.
The territories of the empire were classified into jagir, khalsa and inam. Income from khalsa villages went directly to the royal exchequer.
The Inam lands were those property, which were given to learned and religious men.
The Jagir lands were allotted to the nobles and members of the Royal family including the queens.
The Amalguzar was assigned to exercise a general supervision over all types of lands for the purpose of imperial rules and regulations and the assessment and collection of land revenue uniformly.
Akbar reorganized the central machinery of administration on the basis of the division of power among various departments.
During the Sultanate period, the role of wazir, the chief adviser of the ruler, was very important, but Akbar reduced the responsibilities of wazir by creating separate departments.
Akbar assigned wazir as head of the revenue department. Thus, he was no longer the principal adviser to the ruler, but an expert in revenue affairs (only). However, to emphasize on wazir’s importance, Akbar generally used the title of diwan or diwan-i-ala (in preference to the title wazir).
The diwan was held responsible for all income and expenditure, and held control over khalisa, jagir and inam lands.
The head of the military department was known as the mir bakhshi. It was the mir bakhshi (and not the diwan) who was considered as the head of the nobility.
Recommendations for the appointments to mansabs or for the promotions, etc., were made to the emperor through the mir bakhshi.
The mir bakhshi was also the head of the intelligence and information agencies of the empire. Intelligence officers and news reporters (waqia-navis) were posted in all regions of the empire and their reports were presented to the emperor’s court through the mir bakhshi.
The mir saman was the third important officer of Mughal Empire. He was in-charge of the imperial household, including the supply of all the provisions and articles for the use of the inmates of the harem or the female apartments.
The judicial department was headed by the chief qazi. This post was sometimes clubbed with that of the chief sadr who was responsible for all charitable and religious endowments.
To make himself accessible to the people as well as to the ministers, Akbar judiciously divided his time. The day started with the emperor’s appearance at the jharoka of the palace where large numbers of people used to assemble daily to have a glimpse of the ruler, and to present petitions to him if required so.
In 1580, Akbar classified his empire into twelve subas (provinces) namely:
o Malwa and
Each of these subah consisted of a governor (subadar), a diwan, a bakhshi, a sadr, a qazi, and a waqia-navis.
Integration of States
By adopting a liberal policy of religious toleration and, in some cases, by giving important jobs, including service at the court and in the army, to the Hindus, Akbar successfully attempted to integrate all religious people.
The contemporary popular saints, such as Chaitanya, Kabir, and Nanak, (resided in different parts of the country) emphasized on the essential unity of Islam and Hinduism.
One of the first actions, which Akbar took, after coming into power, was to abolish the jizyah (tax), which the non-Muslims were required to pay in a Muslim state.
Akbar also abolished the pilgrim-tax on bathing at holy places such as Prayag, Banaras, etc. Further, Akbar abolished the practice of forcibly converting prisoners of war to Islam.
From the beginning, Akbar successfully attempted to gather a band of intellectual people with liberal ideas at his court. Abul Fazl and his brother Faizi were the most recognized scholars of that time. However, both of them were persecuted by the mullahs for having sympathy with Mahdawi ideas.
Mahesh Das (a Brahman), who is more popular as Raja Birbal was one of the most trustworthy nobles of Akbar’s court.
In 1575, Akbar built a hall known as Ibadat Khana (or the Hall of Prayer) at his new capital, Fatehpur Sikri (nearby Agra), which Akbar kept open for all religious people including Christians, Hindus, Zoroastrians, Jains, and even atheists.
Akbar’s Ibadta Khana horrified many theologians, and various rumors spread i.e. Akbar about to forsake Islam. However, Akbar was less successful in his effort to find a meeting place between the votaries of different religions in his territory.
The debates in the Ibadat Khana had not led to a better understanding among the different religions, but rather lead to bitterness, as the representatives of each religion criticized the other and tried to prove that their religion was superior to others. In 1582, by understanding the conflicting situation, Akbar withdrawn the debates in the Ibadat Khana.
Akbar invited Purushottam and Devi (Hindu philosophers) to explain the doctrines of Hinduism. He also invited Maharji Rana to explain the doctrines of Zoroastrianism.
To understand the Christian religion, Akbar also met with some Portuguese priests, he sent an embassy to Goa, requesting them to send learned missionaries to his court. Two Portuguese saints namely Aquaviva and Monserrate came and remained at Akbar’s court for almost three years.
Akbar also met with Hira Vijaya Suri, the leading Jain saint of Kathiawar, he also spent a couple of years at Akbar’s court.
Abd-ul-Qadir Bada’uni (an Indo-Persian historian and translator) asserted that as a result of knowing different religious views, Akbar gradually turned away from the Islam and set up a new religion, which was compounded many existing religions. However, there is very little evidence to prove that Akbar intended or actually promulgated a new religion of such kind.
The word used by Abul Fazl and Bada’uni for the so called new path was “tauhid-i-ilahi.” The literal meaning of tauhid-i-ilahi is “Divine Monotheism.”
Akbar initiated ‘Pabos’ (or kissing the floor before the sovereign), a ceremony which was previously reserved for God.
Akbar tried to emphasize the concept of ‘sulh-kul’ (or peace and harmony) among different religions in other ways as well. He set up a big translation department for translating works in Sanskrit, Arabic, Greek, etc., into Persian. Most likely, it was the time when the Quran was also translated for the first time.
Akbar introduced a number of social and educational reforms. He stopped sati (the burning of a widow), unless she herself, of her own free will, determinedly desired it. Further, Akbar made a strict rule that widows of tender age who had not shared the bed with their husbands were not to be burnt at all. Akbar also legalized Widow Remarriage.
Akbar was not in favor of second marriage (having two wives at the same time) unless the first wife was barren.
Akbar raised the marriage age, 14 for girls and 16 for boys.
Akbar restricted the sale of wines and spirits.
Akbar revised the educational syllabus, emphasizing more on moral education and mathematics, and on secular subjects including agriculture, geometry, astronomy, rules of government, logic, history, etc.
Akbar gave patronage to artists, poets, painters, and musicians, as his court was infused with famous and scholar people, more popularly known as the ‘navaratna.’
Akbar’s empire (as many historians claim) was essentially secular, liberal, and a promoter of cultural integration. It was enlightened with social and cultural matters.
Akbar was apprehensive because of the growing power of the Portuguese, as they had been interfering the pilgrim traffic (to Mecca), not sparing even the royal ladies.
In their territories, Portuguese were practicing the proselytizing activities, which Akbar disliked. Akbar apparently felt that the coordination and pooling of the resources of the Deccani states under Mughal supervision would check, if not eliminate, the Portuguese danger.
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