The Mughals- Conquerors of India 4: Akbar (Part II)

Jalal-ud-din Mohammad Akbar’s reign was one of the most prosperous and equal bidding reigns in not only the history of the Mughal Empire, but his reign is also well-known for the circumstances of the peasantry; it is the only reign where peasants never faced hardships etc. In fact, Akbar’s reign was one the most tolerant reigns regarding non-Muslim subjects and even created his own religion (as what some say) called Din-i-Ilahi (Divine Faith). But because of his tolerance, religious rebellions broke out to and fro, but for the mainline, only one resulted in a serious challenge to overcome. As there’s much to talk about Akbar, I will only be writing about the main points about his expansion, ruling style (government), and followers of various religions as well as his final years.


Kandahar was the name given by Arab historians to the ancient Indian kingdom of Gandhara. It was intimately connected with the Mughals since the time of their ancestor, Timur, the warlord who had conquered much of South, Central, and Western Asia in the 14th century. However, the Safavids considered it as an appanage of the Persian ruled territory of Khorasan and declared its association with the Mughal emperors to be a usurpation. In 1558, while Akbar was consolidating his rule over northern India, the Safavid emperor,Tahmasp I, had seized Kandahar and expelled its Mughal governor which ended up under Persian rule for the next thirty years. And in 1593, Akbar received the exiled Safavid prince, Rostam Mirza, after he had quarreled with his family who was granted the rank of mansab (commander).

Young Abdul Rahim Khan-I-Khana son of Bairam Khan being received by Akbar

After his final major conquest, we will look into Akbar’s government and personality.

Akbar’s system of central government was based on the system that had evolved since the Delhi Sultanate, but the functions of various departments were carefully reorganized by laying down detailed regulations for their functioning

  • The revenue department was headed by a wazir, responsible for all finances and management of jagir and inam lands.
  • The head of the military was called the mir bakshi, appointed from among the leading nobles of the court. The mir bakshi was in charge of intelligence gathering, and also made recommendations to the emperor for military appointments and promotions.
  • The mir saman was in charge of the imperial household, including the harems, and supervised the functioning of the court and royal bodyguard.
  • The judiciary was a separate organization headed by a chief qazi, who was also responsible for religious beliefs and practices

In order to reform his empire’s land revenue, Akbar adopted a system that had been used by Sher Shah Suri. A cultivated area where crops grew well was measured and taxed through fixed rates based on the area’s crop and productivity. However, this placed hardship on the peasantry because tax rates were fixed on the basis of prices prevailing in the imperial court, which were often higher than those in the countryside. He then shifted to a decentralized system, but caused corruption and was abandoned in 1580 to be replaced by another system called dahsala. Under the new system, revenue was calculated as one-third of the average produce of the previous ten years, to be paid to the state in cash.

Akbar organized his army as well as the nobility by means of a system called the mansabdari. Under this system, each officer in the army was assigned a rank (a mansabdar), and assigned a number of cavalry that he had to supply to the imperial army. The mansabdars were divided into 33 classes. The top three commanding ranks, ranging from 7000 to 10000 troops, were normally reserved for princes. Other ranks between 10 and 5000 were assigned to other members of the nobility. The empire’s permanent standing army was quite small and the imperial forces mostly consisted of contingents maintained by the mansabdars. Persons were normally appointed to a low mansab and then promoted, based on their merit as well as the favor of the emperor. Each mansabdar was required to maintain a certain number of cavalrymen and twice that number of horses.

Diwan-i-Khas (Hall of Private Audience) in Fatehpur Sikri

Akbar was a follower of Salim Chishti, a holy man who lived in the region of Sikri near Agra. Believing the area to be a lucky one for himself, he had a mosque constructed there for the use of the priest. Subsequently, he celebrated the victories over Chittor and Ranthambore by laying the foundation of a new walled capital, 23 miles (37 km) west of Agra in 1569, which was named Fatehpur (“town of victory“) after the conquest of Gujarat in 1573 and subsequently came to be known as Fatehpur Sikri in order to distinguish it from other similarly named towns. Though major construction took place in order to redefine the area, the capital was later moved to Lahore in 1585. The reason may have been shortage of water supply and in 1599, Akbar returned back to Agra until his death.

Akbar’s reign also encouraged trading and provided protection and security for transactions, and levied a very low custom duty to stimulate foreign trade. Furthermore, it strived to foster a climate conductive to commerce by requiring local administrators to provide restitution to traders for goods stolen while in their territory. In order to minimize such incidents, bands of highway police called rahdars were enlisted to parol roads and ensure safety of traders. Other active measures taken included the construction and protection of routes of commerce and communications. Akbar would strive to facilitate areas around the Khyber Pass and The Grand Trunk Road etc. Akbar was also fond of coins and introduced coins with decorative floral motifs, dotted borders, quatrefoil and other types to the empire.

Akbar holds a religious assembly of different faiths in the Ibadat Khana in Fatehpur Sikri.

In the year 1579, Jesuits from Goa were allowed to visit the court of Akbar, and he had his scribes translate the New Testament, and granted the Jesuits freedom to make converts and raise one of his sons. The Jesuit did not confine themselves to the exposition of their own beliefs, but reviled Islam and the Prophet in unrestrained language. Their comments enraging the Imam’s and Ulama, who objected to the remarks of the Jesuit, but Akbar however ordered their comments to be recorded and observed the Jesuits and their behavior carefully. This event was followed by a rebellion of Muslim clerics.

Akbar, along with his mother and other family members, were believed to have been Sunni Hafani Muslims, but this did not interfere with his tolerant practices regarding religious matters in his reign unlike in Aurangzeb’s. In respect of the Mughal emperor a proclamation was made whenever he attended congregations in Mosques. An example is the following:

The Lord to me the Kingdom gave, He made me wise, strong and brave, He guides me through right and truth, Filling my mind with the love of truth, No praise of man could sum his state, Allah Hu Akbar, God is Great.

Akbar, being deeply interested in religious and philosophical matters, created a new religion called Din-i-Ilahi. What seemed to many as a new religion which opposed their own religion and was thought to have incited corruption resulted in yet another religious rebellion, but was soon solved by Akbar and peace was restored. Akbar also decreed that Hindus who had been forced to convert to Islam could reconvert to Hinduism without facing the death penalty.

Akbar’s reign was chronicled extensively by his court historian Abul Fazal in the books Akbarnama and Ain-i-akbari. Other contemporary sources of Akbar’s reign include the works of Badayuni, Shaikhzada Rashidi and Shaikh Ahmed Sirhindi.   According to Jahangir, Akbar was “of the hue of wheat; his eyes and eyebrows were black and his complexion rather dark than fair”. Antoni de Montserrat, the Catalan Jesuit who visited his court described him as follows:

One could easily recognize even at first glance that he is King. He has broad shoulders, somewhat bandy legs well-suited for horsemanship, and a light brown complexion. He carries his head bent towards the right shoulder. His forehead is broad and open, his eyes so bright and flashing that they seem like a sea shimmering in the sunlight. His eyelashes are very long. His eyebrows are not strongly marked. His nose is straight and small though not insignificant. His nostrils are widely open as though in derision. Between the left nostril and the upper lip there is a mole. He shaves his beard but wears a moustache. He limps in his left leg though he has never received an injury there.

On 3 October 1605, Akbar fell ill with an attack of dysentery, from which he never recovered. He is believed to have died on or about 27 October 1605, after which his body was buried at a mausoleum in Sikandra, Agra.

Seventy-six years later, in 1691, a group of austere Hindu rebels known as the Jats, rebelling against the Mughal Empire robbed the gold, silver and fine carpets within the tomb, desecrated Akbar’s mausoleum.

The Mughal Empire at the time of Akbar’s death

Akbar left behind a rich legacy both for the Mughal Empire as well as the Indian subcontinent in general. He firmly entrenched the authority of the Mughal empire in India and beyond, after it had been threatened by the Afghans during his father’s reign,establishing its military and diplomatic superiority. During his reign, the nature of the state changed to a secular and liberal one, with emphasis on cultural integration. He also introduced several far-sighted social reforms, including prohibiting sati, legalizing widow remarriage and raising the age of marriage. Folk tales revolve around him and Birbal, one of his navratnas are popular in India.

Stephanie.

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