Akbar Establishes The Mogul Empire In India
Author: Wheeler, J. Talboys
Akbar Establishes The Mogul Empire In India
Between the years 1494 and 1526 Baber, great-grandson of Timur
(Tamerlane), the Tartar conqueror, made extensive conquests in India. There
he laid the first foundations of the Mahometan Tartar empire of the Moguls, as
his followers are called. This empire reached its height under Akbar
(Jel-al-eddin Mahomet), who succeeded his father Humayun, son of Baber, in
1556. Humayun did little toward uniting the various territories which Baber
Akbar was the contemporary of Queen Elizabeth of England, and his reign
is as important in the history of India as is hers in the history of the
western world. He ascended the throne at the age of fourteen. At the time of
his accession he was in the Punjab warring against the revolted Afghans. The
commander of the Mogul armies was Bairam Khan, and when Humayun died that
general became Akbar's guardian.
Wheeler's account of this great ruler's achievements presents throughout
a most interesting portrayal of his personality and character, and is
especially remarkable for its simplicity and its oriental atmosphere.
The reign of Akbar bears a strange resemblance to that of Asoka. ^1
Indeed, the likeness between Akbar and Asoka is one of the most remarkable
phenomena in history. They were separated from each other by an interval of
eighteen centuries; the main features of their respective lives were
practically the same. Asoka was putting down revolt in the Punjab when his
father died; so was Akbar. Asoka was occupied for years in conquering and
consolidating his empire; so was Akbar. Asoka conquered India to the north of
the Nerbudda; so did Akbar. Asoka was tolerant of other religions; so was
Akbar. Asoka went against the priests; so did Akbar. Asoka taught a religion
of his own; so did Akbar. Asoka abstained from flesh meat; so did Akbar. In
the end Asoka took refuge in Buddha, the law, and the assembly. In the end
Akbar recited the formula of Islam: "There is but one God, and Mahomet is his
[Footnote 1: Asoka was an illustrious king of the Maurya dynasty in India, who
died about B.C. 225. He did much for the advancement of Buddhism, and has
been called the "Buddhist Constantine." - Ed.]
Some of these coincidents are mere accidents. Others reveal a similarity
in the current of religious thought, a similarity in the stages of religious
development; consequently they add a new chapter to the history of mankind.
The wars of Akbar are only interesting so far as they bring out types of
character. When the news reached the Punjab that Humayun was dead, other news
arrived. Hemu had recovered Agra and Delhi; he was advancing with a large
army into the Punjab. The Mogul force was very small. The Mogul officers
were in a panic; they advised a retreat into Kabul. Akbar and Bairam Khan
resolved on a battle. The Afghans were routed. The Hindu general was wounded
in the eye and taken prisoner. Bairam Khan bade Akbar slay the Hindu, and win
the title of "champion of the faith." Akbar drew his sword, but shrunk back.
He was as brave as a lion; he would not hack a wounded prisoner. Bairam Khan
had no such sentiment. He beheaded Hemu with his own sword.
This story marks the contrast between the prince and his guardian. Akbar
was brave and skilful in the field; he was outwardly gracious and forgiving
when the fight was over. Bairam Khan was loyal to the throne; he slaughtered
enemies in cold blood without mercy. It was impossible that the two should
agree. Akbar grew more and more impatient of his guardian; for years he was
self-constrained at Rama. He thought a great deal, but did nothing; he bided
Within four years Bairam Khan had laid the foundations of the Mogul
empire. Its limits were as yet restricted. The Mogul pale only covered the
Punjab, the northwest provinces, and Oude; it is only extended from the Indus
to the junction of the Jumna and Ganges. On the south it was bounded by
Rajputana. It included the three capitals of Lahore, Delhi, and Agra. So far
it coincided with the kingdom of Ala-ud-din, who conquered the Deccan and
At the end of the four years Akbar was a young man of eighteen. He
resolved to throw off the authority of his guardian. He carried out his
designs with the artifice of an Asiatic. He pretended that his mother was
sick. He left the camp where Bairam Khan commanded, in order to pay her a
visit. He proclaimed that he had assumed the authority of padishah; that no
orders were to be obeyed save his own. Bairam Khan was taken by surprise.
Possibly, had he known what was coming, he would have put Akbar out of the
way; but his power was gone. He tried to work upon the feelings of Abkar; he
found that the Padishah was inflexible. He revolted, but was defeated and
forgiven. Akbar offered him any post save that of minister; he would be
minister or nothing. In the end he elected to go to Mecca, the last refuge
for Mussulman statesmen. Everything was ready for his embarkation; suddenly
he was assassinated by an Afghan. It was the old story of Afghan revenge. He
had killed the father of the assassin in some battle: in revenge the son had
stabbed him to death.
Akbar was now free to act. The political situation was one of extreme
peril. The Afghans were fighting one another in Kabul in the northwest; they
were also fighting one another in Behar and Bengal in the southeast. When he
marched against one, his territories were exposed to the raids of the other.
Meantime his Mogul officers often set his sovereignty at defiance; when
brought to task they broke out in mutiny and rebellion. Two events at this
period will show the actual state of affairs.
Far away in the south of Rajputana lies the remote territory of Malwa. It
was originally conquered by Ala-ud-din. During the decline of the Tughlaks
the governor Malwa became an independent ruler. At the beginning of the reign
of Akbar, Baz Bahadur was ruler of Malwa. He was a type of the Mussulman
princes of the time; no doubt he went to mosque; he surrounded himself with
Hindu singing and dancing girls; he became more or less Hinduized. Akbar sent
an officer named Adham Khan to conquer Malwa. Adham Khan had no difficulty.
Baz Bahadur abandoned his treasures and harem and fled. Adham Khan
distributed part of the spoil to the Padishah. Akbar could not brook such
disobedience. Notwithstanding the distance he hurried to Malwa. He received
his rightful share of the plunder; he professed to accept the excuses of the
defaulter. When he returned to Agra he recalled Adham Khan to court; he sent
another governor to Malwa. Adham Khan obeyed; he went to Agra; he found that
he had lost favor. Commands were given to others. He could get nothing. He
was driven mad by delay and disappointment. He did not suspect Akbar; he
threw the blame upon the minister. One day he went to the palace; he stabbed
the minister to death in the hall of audience; he ran up to an outer terrace.
Akbar heard the uproar; he rushed in and beheld the bleeding corpse. He saw
the stupefied murderer on the terrace; he half drew his sword, but remembered
himself. Adham Khan seized his hands and begged for mercy. Akbar shook him
off and ordered the servants to throw him from the terrace. The order was
obeyed; Adham Khan was killed on the spot.
Another officer, named Khan Zeman, played a similar game in Behar. He
was warned that Akbar was on the move; he escaped punishment by making over
the spoil before Akbar came up. This satisfied Akbar; he returned part of the
spoil and went back to Agra. Henceforth Khan Zeman was a rebel at heart. Some
Usbeg chiefs revolted in Oudh; they were joined by Khan Zeman. Akbar was
called away to the Punjab by an Afghan invasion; on his return the rebels were
in possession of Oudh and Allahabad. Akbar marched against them in the middle
of the rains. He outstripped his army; he reached the Ganges with only his
bodyguard. The rebels were encamped on the opposite bank; they had no fear;
they expected Akbar to wait until his army came up. That night Akbar swam the
river with his bodyguard. At daybreak he attacked the enemy. The rebels heard
the thunder of the imperial kettle-drums; they could not believe their ears.
They fled in all directions. Khan Zeman was slain in the pursuit. The other
leaders were taken prisoners; they were trampled to death by elephants. Thus
for a while the rebellion was stamped out.
These incidents are only types of others. In plain truth, the Mussulman
power in India had spent its force. The brotherhood of Islam had ceased to
bind together conflicting races; it could not hold together men of the same
race. The struggle between Shiah and Sunni was dividing the world of Islam.
Moguls, Turks, and Afghans were fighting against each other; they were also
fighting among themselves. Rebels of different races were combining against
the Padishah. Meantime any scruples that remained against fighting
fellow-Mussulmans were a hinderance to Akbar in putting down revolts. The
Mussulman power was crumbling to pieces. The dismemberment had begun two
centuries earlier in the revolt of the Deccan. Since then the strength which
remained in the scattered fragments was wasted in wars and revolts; the whole
country was drifting into anarchy.
No one could save the empire but a born statesman. Akbar had already
proved himself a born soldiers. Had he been only a soldier he might still
have held his own against Afghans and Usbegs from Peshawur to Allahabad. Had
he been bloodthirsty and merciless, like Bairam Khan, he might have stamped
out revolt and mutiny by massacre and terrorism. But he would have left no
mark in history, no lessons for posterity, no political ideas for the
education of the world. He might have made a name like Genghis Khan or Timur;
but the story of his life would have dropped into oblivion. After his death
every evil that festered in the body politic would have broken out afresh.
His successors would have inherited the same wars, the same revolts, and the
same mutinies; unless they had inherited his capacity, they would have died
out in anarchy and in revolution.
Akbar had never been educated. He had never learned to write, nor even
to read. He had not gone with his father to Persia, where he might have been
schooled in Mussulman learning. He had spent a joyless boyhood with a cruel
uncle in Kabul; he had been schooled in nothing but war. But he had listened
to histories, and pondered over histories, until grand ideas began to seethe
in his brain.
The problem before him was the resuscitation of the empire, or rather the
creation of a new empire out of the existing chaos. Fresh blood was wanted to
infuse life and strength into the body politic; to enable the Mogul Shiahs to
subdue the Afghan Sunnis. Akbar saw with the eye of genius that the necessary
force was latent in the Rajputs. Henceforth he devoted all the energies of
his nature to bring that force into healthy play.
In 1575 Akbar was about thirty-four years of age. Twenty years had
passed away since the boy had been installed as padishah. He had not as yet
conquered Kabul in the northwest, nor Bengal in the southeast; he had not made
any sensible advance into the Deccan. But he had gained a succession of
victories. He had restored order in the Punjab and Hindustan. He had subdued
Malwa, Guzerat, and Rajputana. Many Rajputs were still in arms against him;
he had nothing to fear from them. He had fixed his capital at Agra; his
favorite residence, however, was at Fathipur Sikri, about twelve miles from
It is easy to individualize Akbar. He was haughty, like all the Moguls;
he was outwardly clement and affable. He was tall and handsome; broad in the
chest and long in the arms. His complexion was ruddy, a nut-brown. He had a
good appetite and a good digestion. His strength was prodigious. His courage
was very remarkable. While yet a boy he displayed prodigies of valor in the
battle against Hemu. He would spring on the backs of elephants who had killed
their keepers; he would compel them to do his bidding. He kept a herd of
dromedaries; he gained his victories by the rapidity of his marches. He was an
admirable marksman. He had a favorite gun which had brought him thousands of
game. With that same gun he shot Jeimal the Rajput at the siege of Chitor.
Akbar, like his father and grandfather, professed to be a Mussulman. His
mother was a Persian; he was a Persian in his thoughts and ways. He was
imbued with the old Mogul instinct of toleration. He was lax and indifferent,
without the semblance of zeal. He consulted soothsayers who divined with
burned rams' bones. He celebrated the Persian festival of the Nau-roz, or new
year, which had no connection with Islam. He reverenced the seven heavenly
bodies by wearing a dress of different color every day in the week. He joined
in the Brahmanical worship and sacrifices of his Rajput queens. Still he was
outwardly a Mussulman. He had no sons; he vowed that if a son was born to him
he would walk to the tomb of a Mussulman saint at Ajmir; it was more than two
hundred miles from Fathipur. In 1570 his eldest son Seli was born; Akbar
walked to Ajmir; he offered up his prayers at the tomb.
Meantime the Ulama were growing troublesome at Agra. The Ulama comprised
the collective body of Mussulman doctors and lawyers who resided at the
capital. The Ulama have always possessed great weight in a Mussulman state.
Judges, magistrates, and law officers in general are chosen from their number.
Consequently the opinion of the collective body was generally received as the
final authority. The Ulama at Agra were bigoted Sunnis. They hated and
persecuted the Shiahs. Especially they persecuted the teachers of the Sufi
heresy, which had grown up in Persia and was spreading in India. They had
grown in power under the Afghan sultans. They had been quiet in the days of
Humayun and Bairam Khan; both were confessedly Shiahs; the Ulama were too
courtly to offend the power which appointed the law officers. When, however,
Akbar threw over Bairam Khan and asserted his own sovereignty, the Ulama
became more active. They were anxious to keep the young Padishah in the right
Akbar and his vizier Abul Fazl were certainly men of genius. They are
still the bright lights of Indian history. They were the foremost men of
their time. But each had a characteristic weakness. Akbar was a born Mogul.
With all his good qualities he was proud, ignorant, inquisitive, and
self-sufficient. Abul Fazl was a born courtier. With all his good qualities
he was a flatterer, a time-server, and a eulogist; he made Akbar his idol; he
bowed down and worshipped him. They became close friends; they were indeed
necessary to each other. Akbar looked to his minister for praise; Abul Fazl
looked to his master for advancement. It is difficult to admire the genius of
Akbar without seeing that he has been worked upon by Abul Fazl. It is equally
difficult to admire the genius of Abul Fazl without seeing that he is
pandering to the vanity of Akbar.
When Akbar made the acquaintance of Abul Fazl he was in sore perplexity.
He was determined to rule men of all creeds with even hand. The Ulama were
thwarting him. The chief justice at Agra had sentenced men to death for being
Shiahs and heretics. The Ulama were urging the Padishah to do the same. He
was reluctant to quarrel with them; he was still more reluctant to sanction
their high-handed proceedings toward men who worshipped the same God, but
after a different fashion.
How far Akbar opened his soul to Abul Fazl is unknown. No doubt Abul
Fazl read his thoughts. Indeed, he had his own wrongs to avenge. The Ulama
had persecuted his father and driven him into exile. The Ulama were ignorant,
bigoted, and puffed up with pride and orthodoxy. Their learning was confined
to Arabic and the Koran. They ignored what they did not know and could not
understand. Abul Fazl must have hated and despised them. He was far too
courtly, too astute, to express his real sentiments. The Ulama were at
variance with the Padisha; they were also at variance among themselves.
Possibly he foresaw that if they disputed before Akbar they might excite his
contempt. How far he worked upon Akbar can never be ascertained. In the end
Akbar ordered that the Ulama should discuss all questions in his presence; he
would then decide who was right and who was wrong.
There is no evidence that Abul Fazl suggested this course. It was,
however, the kind of incense that a courtier would offer to a sovereign like
Akbar. The learned men were to lay their opinions before the Padishah; he was
to sit and judge. If he needed help, Abul Fazl would be at his side. Indeed,
Abul Fazl would ask questions and invite opinions. He, the Padishah, would
only hear and decide. Accordingly, preparations were made for the coming
The discussions were held on Thursday evenings. They were carried on in
a large pavilion; it was built for the purpose in the royal garden at Fathpur
Sikri. All the learned men at Agra were invited to attend. The Padishah and
all the grandees of the empire were present. Abul Fazl acted as a kind of
director. He started questions; he expounded his master's policy of
toleration. Akbar preserved his dignity as padishah. He listened with
majestic gravity to all that was said. Occasionally he bestowed praises and
presents upon the best speakers.
For many evenings the proceedings were conducted with due decorum. As,
however, the speakers grew accustomed to the presence of the Padishah, the
spirit of dissension began to work. One evening it led to an uproar; learned
men reviled each other before the Padishah. No doubt Abul Fazl did his best
to make the Ulama uncomfortable. He shifted the discussion from one point to
another. He started dangerous subjects. He placed them in dilemmas. If they
sought to please the Padishah they sinned against the Koran; if they stuck to
the Koran they offended the Padishah. A question was started as to Akbar's
marriages. One orthodox magistrate was too conscientious to hold his tongue;
he was removed from his post. The courtiers saw that the Padishah delighted
in the discomfiture of the Ulama with inconsistency, trickery, and cheating.
The law officers were unable to defend themselves. Their authority and
orthodoxy was set at naught. They were fast drifting into disgrace and ruin.
They had cursed one another in their speech; probably in their hearts they
were all agreed in cursing Abul Fazl.
By this time Akbar held the Ulama in small esteem. He was growing
sceptical of their religion. He had listened to the history of the caliphate;
he yearned toward Ali and his family; he became in heart a Shiah. Already he
may have doubted Mahomet and the Koran. Still he was outwardly a Mussulman.
His object now was to overthrow the Ulama altogether; to become himself the
supreme spiritual head, the pope or caliph of Islam. Abul Fazl was laboring
to invest him with the same authority. He mooted the question one Thursday
evening. He raised a storm of opposition; for this he was prepared. He had
started the idea; he exerted all his tact and skill to carry it out.
The debates proved that there were differences of opinion among the
Ulama. Abul Fazl urged that there were differences of opinion between the
highest Mussulman authorities; between those who were accepted as infallible,
and were known as Mujtahids. He thus inserted the thin edge of the wedge. He
proposed that when the Mujtahids disagreed, the decision should be left to the
Padishah. Weeks and months passed away in these discussions. Nothing could
be said against the measure excepting that it would prove offensive to the
Meantime a document was drawn up in the names of the chief men among the
Ulama. It gave the Padishah the power of deciding between the conflicting
authorities. It gave him the still more dangerous power of issuing fresh
decrees, provided they were in accordance with some verse of the Koran and
were manifestly for the benefit of the people. The document was in the
handwriting of Sheik Mubarak; Abul Fazl, Abdul Faiz, and probably Akbar
himself had each a hand in the composition. The chief men among the Ulama
were required to sign it. Perhaps if they had been priests or divines they
might have resisted to the last. But they were magistrates and judges; their
posts and emoluments were in danger. In the end they signed it in sheer
desperation. From that day the power of the Ulama was gone; they had
abdicated their authority to the padishah; they became mere ciphers in Islam.
A worse lot befell their leaders. The head of the Ulama and the obnoxious
chief justice were removed from their posts and forced to go to Mecca.
The breaking up of the Ulama is an epoch in history of Mussulman India.
The Ulama may have been ignorant and bigoted; they may have sought to keep
religions and the government of the empire within the narrow grooves of
orthodoxy. Nevertheless, they had played an important part throughout
Mussulman rule. As exponents of the law of Mahomet they had often proved a
salutary check upon despotism of the sovereign. They had forced every
minister, governor, and magistrate to respect the fundamental principles of
the Koran. They led and controlled public opinion among the Mussulman
population. They formed the only body in the state that ever ventured to
oppose the will of the sovereign.
The Thursday evenings had done their work. Within four years they had
broken up the power of the Ulama. Abul Fazl had another project in his brain;
it combined the audacity of genius with the mendacity of a courtier. He
declared that Akbar was himself the twelfth imam, the lord of the period, who
was to reconcile the seventy-two sects of Islam, to regenerate the world, to
usher in the millennium. The announcement took the court by surprise. It
fitted, however, into current ideas; it paved the way for further assumptions.
Akbar grasped the notion with eagerness; it fascinated him for the remainder
of his life; it bound him the closest ties of friendship and confidence with
The religious life of Akbar had undergone a vast change. He was testing
religion by morality and reason. His faith in Islam was fading away. Mahomet
had married a girl of ten; he had taken another man's wife; therefore he could
not have been a prophet sent by God. Akbar disbelieved the story of his
night-journey to heaven. Meantime Akbar was eagerly learning the mysteries of
other religions. He entertained Brahmans, Sufis, Parris, and Christian
fathers. He believed in the transmigration of the soul, in the supreme
spirit, in the ecstatic reunion of the soul with God, in the deity of fire and
the sun. He leaned toward Christianity; he rejected the trinity and
The gravitations of Akbar toward Christianity are invested with singular
interest. He had been impressed with what he heard of the Portuguese in
India; their large ships, impregnable forts, and big guns. He sent a letter
to the Portuguese viceroy at Goa inviting Christian fathers to come to his
court at Fathpur Sikri and instruct him in the sacred books. The religious
world at Goa was thrown into a ferment at the prospect of converting the Great
Mogul. Every priest in Goa prayed that he might be sent on the mission.
Three fathers were despatched to Fathpur, which was more than twelve hundred
miles away. Akbar awaited their arrival with the utmost impatience. He
received them with every mark of favor. They delivered their presents,
consisting of a polyglot Bible in four languages and the images of Jesus and
the Virgin Mary. To their unspeakable delight the Great Mogul placed the
Bible on his head and kissed the images. So eager was he for instruction that
he spent the whole night in conversation with the fathers. He provided them
with lodgings in the precincts of his palace; he permitted them to set up a
chapel and altar.
Akbar had ceased to be a Mussulman; he still maintained appearances. He
set apart Saturday evenings for controversies between the fathers and the
mollahs. In the end the fathers convinced Akbar of the superiority of
Christianity. They contrasted the sensualities of Mahomet with the pure
morality of the Gospel; the wars of Mahomet and the caliphs with the
preachings and sufferings of the Apostles. The Mussulman historian curses the
fathers; he states that Akbar became a Christian. The fathers, however, could
never induce Akbar to be baptized. He gave them his favorite son Amurath, a
boy of thirteen, to be educated in Christianity and the European sciences. He
directed Abul Fazl to prepare a translation of the Gospel. He entered the
chapel of the fathers, and prostrated himself before the image of the Saviour.
He permitted the fathers to preach Christianity in any part of his empire; to
perform their rites in public, in opposition to Mussulman law. A Portuguese
was buried at Fathpur with all the pomp of the Roman Catholic ritual; the
cross was carried through the streets for the first time. But Akbar would not
become a Christian; he waited, he said, for the divine illumination.
"He hated the Mussulman religion. He overthrew the mosques and converted
them into stables. He trusted and employed the Hindus more than the
Mussulmans. Many of the Mussulmans rebelled against him; they stirred up his
brother, the Governor of Kabul, to take up arms against him; but Akbar
defeated the rebels and restored order.
"It is uncertain what really was the religion of Akbar. Some said that
he was a Hindu; others that he was a Christian. Some said that he belonged to
a fourth sect, which was not connected with either of the three others. He
acknowledged one God who was best content with a variety of sects and
worshippings. Early in the morning, and again at noon, evening, and midnight,
he worshipped the sun. He belonged to a new sect, of which the followers
regarded him as their prophet."
Akbar was no fanatic. He was not carried away by religious craze. His
religion was the outcome of his policy; it was political rather than
superstitious; it began with him and ended with him. Probably the lack of
fanaticism caused its failure. Abul Fazl speaks of the numbers who joined it;
the list which he has preserved only contains the names of eighteen courtiers,
including himself, his father, and his brother. Only one Hindu is on the
list; namely, Bir Bar, the Brahman.
Akbar tried hard to improve the morals of his subjects, Hindus as well as
Mussulmans. He placed restrictions upon prostitution; he severely punished
seducers. He permitted the use of wine; he punished intoxication. He
prohibited the slaughter of cows. He forbade the marriage of boys before they
were sixteen, and of girls before they were fourteen. He permitted the
marriage of Hindu widows. He tried to stop sati among the Hindus, and
polygamy among the Mussulmans.
There was much practical simplicity in Akbar's character. It showed
itself in a variety of ways. It was not peculiar to Akbar; it was an instinct
which shows itself in Moguls generally. His emirs cheated him by bringing
borrowed horses to muster; he stopped them by branding every horse with the
name of the emir to which it belonged as well as with the imperial mark. He
appointed writers to record everything he said or did. He sent writers into
every city and province to report to him everything that was going on. He
hung up a bell at the palace; any man who had a grievance might ring the bell
and obtain a hearing.
Akbar was very inquisitive. He sent an expedition to discover the
sources of the Ganges. He made a strange experiment to discover what language
was first spoken by mankind. This experiment is typical of the man. The
Mussulmans declared that the first language was Arabic; the Jews said it was
Hebrew; the Brahmans said it was Sanskrit. Akbar ordered twelve infants to be
brought up by dumb nurses; not a word was to be spoken in their presence until
they were twelve years of age. When the time arrived the children were
brought before Akbar. Proficients in the learned tongues were present to
catch the first words, to decide upon the language to which it belonged. The
children could not say a word; they spoke only by signs. The experiment was
an utter failure.
The character of Akbar had its dark side. He was sometimes harsh and
cruel. His persecution of Mussulmans was unpardonable. He had another way of
getting rid of his enemies which is revolting to civilization. He kept a
prisoner in his pay. He carried a box with three compartments - one for
betel; another for digestive pills; a third for poisoned pills. No one dared
to refuse to eat what was offered him by the Padishah; the offer was esteemed
an honor. How many were poisoned by Akbar is unknown. The practice was in
full force during the reigns of his successors.
Akbar required his emirs to prostrate themselves before him. This rule
gave great offence to Mussulmans; prostration is worship; no strict Mussulman
will perform worship except when offering his prayers to God. Abul Fazl says
that Akbar ordered it to be discontinued. The point is doubtful. It was
certainly performed by members of the "divine faith." It was also performed
during the reign of his son and successor.
The Mogul government was pure despotism. Every governor and viceroy was
supreme within his province; the Padishah was supreme throughout his empire.
There was nothing to check provincial rulers but fear of the Padishah; there
was nothing to check the Padishah but fear of rebellion. All previous
Mussulman sovereigns had been checked by the Ulama and the authority of the
Koran. Akbar had broken up the Ulama and set aside the Koran; he governed the
empire according to his will; his will was law. The old Mogul khans had held
diets; no trace of a diet is to be found in the history of Mogul India prior
to the reign of Aurungzeb. There may have been a semblance of a diet on the
accession of a new padishah; all the emirs, rajas, and princes of the empire
paid their homage, presented gifts, and received titles and honors. But there
was no council or parliament of any sort of kind. The Padishah was one and
Akbar dwelt many years at Lahore. There he seems to have reached the
height of human felicity. A proverb became current, "As happy as Akbar." He
established his authority in Kabul and Bengal. He added Cashmere to his
dominions. His empire was as large as that of Asoka.
During the reign of Burhan, Akbar sent ambassadors to the sultans of the
Deccan to invite them to accept him as their suzerain. In return he would
uphold them on their thrones; he would prevent all internecine wars. One and
all refused to pay allegiance to the Mogul. Akbar was wroth at the refusal.
He sent his son Amurath to command in Guzerat; he ordered Amurath to seize the
first opportunity for interfering in the affairs of Ahmadnagar.
The moment soon arrived. Burhan died in 1594. A war ensued between
rival claimants for the throne. The minister invited Amurath to interfere.
Amurath advanced to Ahmadnagar. Meantime the minister and queen came to
terms; they united to resist the Moguls. The Queen dowager, known as Chand
Bibi, arrayed herself in armor; she veiled her face and led the troops in
person. The Moguls were driven back. At last a compromise was effected.
Berar was ceded to the Padishah; Amurath retired from Ahmadnagar.
About this time a strange event took place at Lahore. On Easter Sunday,
1597, the Padishah was celebrating the Nau-roz, or feast of the new year, in
honor of the sun. Tented pavilions were set up in a large plain. An image of
the sun, fashioned of gold and jewels, was placed upon a throne. Suddenly a
thunderbolt fell from the skies. The throne was overturned. The furious
horders. Two hours after royal pavilion was set on fire; the flames spread
throughout the camp; the whole was burned to the ground. The fire reached the
city and burned down the palace. Nearly everything was consumed. The
imperial treasures were melted down, and molten gold and silver ran through
the streets of Lahore.
This portentous disaster made a deep impression on Akbar. He went away
to Cashmere; he took one of the Christian fathers with him. He began to
question the propriety of his new religion; he could not bring himself to
retract, certainly not to become an open Christian. When the summer was over
he returned to Lahore.
In 1598 Akbar left Lahore and set out for Agra. He was displeased with
the conduct of the war in the Deccan. His son Amurath was a drunkard. The
commander-in-chief, known as the Khan Khanan, who accompanied Amurath, was
intriguing and treacherous; he had probably been bribed by the Deccanis. Abul
Fazl was still the trusted servant and friend; he had been raised to the rank
of commander of two thousand five hundred. Akbar had already recalled the
Khan Khanan. He now sent Abul Fazl into the Deccan to bring away Amurath, or
to send him away, as should seem most expedient.
Abul Fazl departed on his mission. He arrived at Burhanpur, the capital
of Khandesh. He soon discovered that lukewarmness of Bahadur Khan, the ruler.
He insisted that Bahadur Khan should join him and help the imperial cause.
Bahadur Khan was disinclined to help Akbar to conquer the Deccan. He thought
to back out by sending rich presents to Abul Fazl. Abul Fazl was too loyal to
be bribed; he returned the presents and went alone toward Ahmadnagar.
Meanwhile Amurath was retreating from Ahmadnagar. He encamped in Berar;
he drank more deeply than ever; he died very suddenly the very day that Abul
Fazl came up. The death of Amurath removed one complication, but it led to
the question of advance. The imperial officers urged a retreat. Abul Fazl
had been bred in a cloister; he was approaching his fiftieth year; he had
never before been in active service, but he had the spirit of a soldier; he
refused to retreat from an enemy's country; he pushed manfully on for
Ahmadnagar. His efforts were rewarded with success. The Queen-regent was
assailed by other enemies, and yielded to her fate. She agreed that if Abul
Fazl would punish her enemies, she would surrender the fortress of Ahmadnagar.
Tidings had now reached Akbar that his son Amurath was dead. He resolved
to go in person to the Deccan. He left his eldest son, Selim, in charge of
the government. He sent an advance force under his other son, Danyal,
associated with the Khan Khanan. The advance force reached Burhanpur. There
the disloyalty of Bahadur Khan was manifest; he refused to pay respects to
Danyal. Akbar was encamped at Ujain when the news reached him. He ordered
Abul Fazl to join him; he ordered Danyal to go on to Ahmadnagar; he then
prepared for the subjugation of Bahadur Khan.
The story of the operations may be told in a few words. Danyal advanced
to Ahmadnagar. Chand Bibi was slaughtered by her own soldiers. Ahmadnagar
was occupied by the Moguls. Meanwhile Bahadur Khan abandoned Burhanpur and
took refuge in the strong fortress of Asirghur. Akbar was joined by Abul Fazl
and laid siege to Asirghur. The siege lasted six months. At last Bahadur
Khan surrendered; his life was spared; henceforth he fades away from history.
So far Akbar had prospered; he had conquered the great highway into the
Deccan - Malwa, Khandesh, Berar, and Ahmadnagar. He raised Abul Fazl to the
command of four thousand. He resolved on conquering the Deccan. He was about
to strike when his arm was arrested. His eldest son Selim had broken out in
revolt. He had gone to Allahabad and assumed the title of padishah.
Akbar returned alone to Agra; he was falling on evil days. He effected a
reconciliation with Selim; he saw that Selim was still rebellious at heart;
that his best officers were inclining toward his undutiful son. In his
perplexity he sent to the Deccan for Abul Fazl. The trusted servant hastened
to join his imperial master. But Selim had always hated Abul Fazl. He
instigated a Rajput chief of Bundelkund to waylay Abul Fazl. This chief was
Bir Singh of Urchah. Bir Singh fell upon Abul Fazl near Nawar, killed him,
and sent his head to Selim. Bir Singh fled from the wrath of the Padishah; he
led the life of an outlaw in the jungle until he heard of the death of Akbar.
Akbar was deeply wounded by the murder of Abul Fazl. He thereby lost his
chief support, his best trusted friend. Henceforth he seemed to yield to
circumstances rather than to struggle against the world. Other misfortunes
befell him: his mother died; his youngest son, Danyal, killed himself with
drink in the Deccan; his own life was beginning to draw to a close.
The last events in the reign of Akbar are obscure. Outwardly he became
reconciled to Selim. Outwardly he abandoned scepticism and heresy; he
professed himself a Mussulman. At heart he was anxious that Selim should be
set aside; that Khuzru, the eldest son of Selim, should succeed him to the
throne. It is impossible to unravel the intrigues that filled the court at
Agra. At last Akbar was smitten with mortal disease. For some days Selim was
refused admittance to his father's chamber. In the end there was a
compromise. Selim swore to maintain the Mussulman religion. He also swore to
pardon his son Khuzru and all who had supported Khuzru. He was then brought
into the presence of Akbar. The old Padishah was past all speech. He made a
sign with his hand that Selim should take the imperial diadem and gird on the
imperial sword. Selim obeyed. He prostrated himself upon the ground before
the couch of his dying father; he touched the ground with his head. He then
left the chamber. A few hours had passed away and Akbar was dead. He died in
October, 1605, aged sixty-three.
The burial of Akbar was performed after a simple fashion. His grave was
prepared in a garden at Secundra, about four miles from Agra. The body was
placed upon a bier. Selim and his three sons carried it out of the fortress.
The young princes, assisted by the officers of the imperial household, carried
it to Secundra. Seven days were spent in mourning over the grave. Provisions
and sweetmeats were distributed among the poor every morning and evening
throughout the mourning. Twenty readers were appointed to recite the Koran
every night without ceasing. Finally, the foundations were laid of that
splendid mausoleum which is known far and wide as the tomb of Akbar.
World History Center