Akbar The Great (1542 – 1605)
Akbar was the greatest of the Moghul emperors, consolidating a large empire across India, and establishing a culture promoting the arts and religious understanding.
Short Biography of Akbar
Akbar was the son of Humayun, grandson of Babur. He became the third Moghul Emperor. Although the first part of his reign was taken up with military campaigns, Akbar displayed a great interest in a wide variety of cultural, artistic, religious and philosophical ideas. Akbar was also known for his religious tolerance and, although a Muslim, took an active interest in other religions.
Akbar was born 5 October 1542 in Umerkot, Rajputana (present-day Pakistan) His father was Humayun and his mother Hamida Banu Begum. During his father’s exile, Akbar was brought up in Kabul by his extended family. At a young age, he was betrothed to Ruqaiya – his first wife.
As a child, Akbar was trained in hunting, sports and the arts of war. He was short, but strong, powerful and skilful. However, despite athletic prowess, he also had a lifelong interest in literature, learning and religion. As a young man, he reported having a mystical experience whilst wandering alone. He returned to his military and political duties, but the spiritual side of life always remained with him.
Akbar came to the throne, aged 14, on the death of his father, Humayun. For the next 20 years, he had to fight to defend and consolidate the Moghul empire. He faced threats from the Afghans in the North and from the Hindu King, Samrat Hemu. Akbar became known as a great military commander and remained undefeated in major campaigns in India. Akbar strengthened the administration of the Moghul Army, introducing a non-hereditary military unit known as Mansabdar. Akbar promoted officers who impressed
As Akbar was very young on ascending to the throne, the running of Moghul Kingdom was initially left to Bairam Khan an Afghan Shia Muslim. Bairam was a great military leader and helped secure the Moghul Empire. However, he was not liked by many for the absolute power he wielded and also the fact he was not a Sunni Muslim. At one point he was encouraged to go on a pilgrimage to Mecca. Akbar sent an army to escort Bairam Kham, but Bairam was annoyed at the ostracism of being sent on pilgrimage. Therefore, he turned on Akbar’s army and was later captured. Bairam was taken to Akbar where many wanted him to be executed. However, Akbar refused to execute Bairam because had done much for him in the past. He forgave Bairam and allowed him to live at the expense of the court. Throughout his life, Akbar often showed mercy and forgiveness to his enemies – not least to his own brother who plotted against him.
Akbar proved skilful in uniting conquered areas in India, through reconciliation with defeated princes. He abolished the hated sectarian tax on non-Muslims and encouraged Hindus to serve in his administration. Akbar also maintained good relations with the Jain community and was influenced by their arguments against killing animals. Akbar issued proclamations which banned animal slaughter and he himself became vegetarian.
Akbar was known to have many good qualities. He was fearless in battle and willing to risk his life. He was generous to friends and rewarded loyalty. In his diet he was quite frugal, preferring a vegetarian diet.
Akbar had a great interest in religion and encouraged representatives of different religions to come to his court to debate great religious ideas. Akbar felt that the different religions were compatible with each other – offering different approaches to the same goal. Towards the end of his life, he tried to create his own religion – an amalgamation of different religious traditions. However, it never extended beyond his personality and soon faded away after his death.
Akbar’s court was renowned for a place of arts, culture and learning. He employed and promoted those with a flair for learning, wisdom and understanding. Within his own Royal Court he had ‘Nine Jewels’ including his court historian and biographer, Abu’l-Fazl ibn Mubarak who wrote the Akbar Nama – a vivid account of his life. The favourite of Akbar was Birbal – his court jester. Akbar loved Birbal’s wisdom, sense of humour and willingness to enlighten the emperor even if his suggestions appeared to contradict the judgement of Akbar himself.
When Birbal died on a military campaign, Akbar was distraught
Akbar died in around 1605 and was buried near Agra. He was succeeded as emperor by his son, Prince Salim, later known as Jahangir.
Akbar, Emperor of India
- Akbar, Emperor of India by Richard Von Garbe at Amazon.com
- Akbar, Emperor of India by Richard Von Garbe at Amazon.co.uk
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