Jalal-ud-din Mohammed Akbar

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Jalal-ud-din Mohammed Akbar

Jalal-ud-din Mohammed Akbar (1542-1605) was the third Mogul emperor of India. The administrative system that he built was copied by the British, and it is discernible in contemporary India.

On Nov. 23, 1542, Akbar was born at Umarkot, Sind, while his father, the emperor Humayun, driven from the throne of Delhi, was escaping to Persia. Humayun died in 1556 soon after his return to Delhi, and Akbar was proclaimed emperor on February 14, under the regency of Bairam Khan. The regent wrested control of northern India from the Afghans, who had defeated Humayun, but in 1560 Akbar rid himself of the regent and assumed full imperial powers. By 1605 Akbar had made himself the master of the Indo-Gangetic Basin, Kashmir and Afghanistan in the north, Gujarat and Sind in the west, Bengal in the east, and part of the Deccan to the Godavari River in the south.

The Emperor presided over a Hindu-Moslem cultural synthesis which culminated in a golden age of culture. Though he never learned to read or write, he was a cultivated man, and surrounded himself with the best minds of his generation. He patronized liberal Moslem intellectuals such as Shirazi, Faizi, and Abul Fazl, the author of Ain-i-Akbari and Akbar Nama, two important Mogul historical works. Akbar welcomed to his court mystics such as Salim Chishti and engaged in dialogues with Jesuit priests. He also invited Abul Fatah Gilana, who had written a commentary on Avicenna, to his court.

Committed to the policy of universal tolerance (sulahkul), Akbar considered himself the ruler of all his subjects and the Commander of the Faithful. Through his marriages with Rajput princesses, he brought Hindus to the ruling dynasty and gave three of the highest positions in his cabinet to Hindus. He abolished taxes such as the jizya, a poll tax, that discriminated against non-Moslems. Akbar patronized Indian music and arts, and in many buildings, notably at Fatehpur Sikri, near Agra, he adopted Hindu elements in architecture. Every week he appeared in public, and he held an open court.

Akbar participated in the religious festivities of all groups, allowed the Jesuit fathers to establish a church at Agra, and discouraged cow slaughter. In 1575 at Fatehpur Sikri he built a house of worship to which Moslem, Hindu, Jain, Christian, Parsi, and other theologians were invited for dialogue. In 1582 he promulgated a new religious movement, din-i-ilahi, which did not attract many converts.

In administration Akbar introduced far-reaching changes in revenue collection. To achieve balance of power, he separated revenue collection in each province from military administration, thereby using the collector to check the power of the commander. He built up a military cadre, preferring to pay cash salaries rather than award land grants. The emperor died on Oct. 17, 1605.

Further Reading

The best biography of Akbar is Vincent A. Smith, Akbar, the Great Mogul: 1542-1605 (1917; 2d ed. 1958). The fullest information on Akbar's reign is provided by Abul Fazl in Ain-i-Akbari, edited by S. L. Goomer (trans., 3 vols., 1871; 2d ed. 1965), and in Akbar Nama (trans., 3 vols., 1897-1921); see also Laurence Binyon, Akbar (1932). There is a chapter on Akbar in Bamber Gascoigne's The Great Moghuls (1971), a scholarly and beautifully illustrated work. Histories of the Moguls include Michael Prawdin (pseudonym for Michael Charol), The Builders of the Mogul Empire (1963), and A. B. Pandey, Later Medieval India: A History of the Mughals (1963). □