Peerless emperor

54Akbar Illustration: Deni Lal

Akbar, the greatest of the Mughal emperors, was born in Umerkot in 1542. This was when his father, Humayun, was still in the wilderness as an ousted Mughal emperor. At 13, when Akbar was proclaimed the successor, the Afghans were still strong and were grouping against him under the leadership of Hemu. At this time, Bairam Khan, a tutor and a favourite officer of Humayun, took Akbar under his wing. Later, Akbar assumed control and expanded the rule of the Mughals, who had reappeared after the Sur empire interregnum.

Akbar’s qualities surfaced early and lasted his lifetime. As a military leader, he was noted for his personal bravery and stamina, and for his lightning marches. He established dominion through peaceful means, a quality rare in his time. He abolished the Jizya and pilgrimage taxes imposed on the Hindus, and also the practice of forcible conversion of prisoners of war. Akbar’s Rajput policy proved beneficial to the Mughal state as well as for the Rajputs. Rajputs and Mughals had matrimonial alliances and Rajput princes became generals who led Mughal armies to victory.

Akbar was a statesman and a brilliant administrator. Among his notable achievements was the creation of the imperial services based on merit and graded according to military rank. Called Mansabdars, these officers held direct appointments with the emperor and drew salaries in cash rather than inheritable land grants.

Another important achievement was the assurance of regular revenue flow without military conquests. He was fond of horses and elephants and also maintained a strong artillery. It is not known whether Akbar had any plans of building a navy, the lack of which was a key weakness of the Mughal Empire.

Akbar’s attitude towards his Hindu subjects was closely linked with his views of how a sovereign should behave towards his subjects. These views, carefully explained by his biographer Abul Fazl, were an amalgamation of Timurid, Persian and Indian ideas of sovereignty. According to Fazl, the office of a true ruler depended on Farr-e-Izadi (divine illumination). A true ruler was distinguished by his unprejudiced paternal love towards his subjects, a large heart to attend to the wishes of the great and the small, and a daily increasing trust in God, the real ruler. All these constituted Akbar's policy of Sulah-Kul (peace to all). Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas statement, if truly practised, can be considered close to Akbar's policy.

As he was deeply interested in religion and philosophy, Akbar gathered a band of talented people with liberal ideas. Among them were Mian Tansen, Raja Todar Mal, Raja Birbal (a Brahmin) and Raja Man Singh (a Rajput).

The greatest analyses of Akbar’s religious ideas could be done through a visit to Fatehpur Sikri, the capital city he built to commemorate his victories in west India. He built the Ibadat Khana or hall of prayers, which was open to people of all religions, including Christians, Zoroastrians, Jains and Hindus, and even atheists. This broadened the discussions in the Ibadat Khana. In 1580, he initiated a court religion called the Din–i-Ilahi, which demanded no more than loyalty to the emperor. This offended orthodox Muslims. A number of fatwas, declaring Akbar a heretic, were issued by the qazis. None of this, however, had an impact on his broadmindedness.

Akbar is credited with many social and educational reforms, too. He spoke against Sati and encouraged widow remarriage. The age of marriage was raised to 14 for girls and 16 for boys.

Fazl's compendium of data remains the major source of information on Mughal administration. Bada'uni, another historian, wrote a critique of Akbar’s policies, which was more representative of the orthodox Muslim opinion in the aristocracy. It is believed that Akbar himself did not know how to read and write. But, under him, the state became secular, liberal and enlightened in social matters. Undoubtedly, Akbar is the Baahubali of all sovereigns of Indian history.
Syed Mubin Zehra is a historian, social analyst and columnist.

Complete devotion

Mirabai's devotion to Krishna gave birth to hundreds of bhajans, many of which are still sung in temples in north India. The 16th century poet was one of the famous figures of the Bhakti movement and is said to have given up a life of luxury to become an ascetic.

Born into a Rajput family, she had no interest in the royal lifestyle. Instead, she chose to spend her time before an idol of Krishna. After she was married to a Rajput prince, she continued her isolation in her husband's home. For this she was frequently berated, but she never left Krishna's side.

The stories of her life are unauthenticated, but a common strain in most of them is her fearless disregard for social conventions. Later, Mahatma Gandhi promoted her as a symbol of a woman who has the right to choose her own path.

It is said that once, a travelling mendicant with a small idol of Krishna came to her house. Mirabai, then a child, was smitten and cried for the idol as soon as he left. The mendicant was then told in a vision to return and give the idol to the little girl. He did so. That day on, Mirabai kept the idol with her at all times. Thus began the fabled love story.

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