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AKBAR THE GREAT
Akbar’s conception of universal toleration was indeed a noble one, and is a brilliant testimony to his national idealism. Relying on the evidence of Badauni, an uncompromising critic of Akbar, and on the writings of the Jesuits, who must have been dissatisfied with the Emperor for their failure to convert him to their faith, Smith wrongly remarks that “the Divine Faith was a monument of Akbar’s folly, not of his wisdom. The whole scheme was the outcome of ridiculous vanity, a monstrous growth of unrestrained autocracy”. Von Noer, the German historian of Akbar, gives a correct estimate of the Divine Faith when he writes: “Badauni certainly takes every opportunity of raking up the notion of Akbar’s apotheosis for the purpose of renewing attacks upon the great emperor. He, however, was never in intimate relation to the Din-i-Ilahi ;he repeats his misconceptions current among the populace, marred and alloyed by popular modes of perception. Akbar might justly have contemplated the acts of his reign with legitimate pride, but many incidents of his life prove him to have been among the most modest of men. It was the people who made a God of the man who was the founder and head of an order at once political, philosophic and religious. One of his creations will assure to him for all time a pre-eminent place among the benefactors of humanity–greatness and universal tolerance in matters of religion.”
Akbar has been charged by Badauni and the Jesuit writers, with having renounced Islam in his later years. It is, of course, true that, with a view to commanding the “indivisible allegiance of his subjects”, Akbar sought to check the undue influence of the Ulemas, who, like the Popes in medieval Europe, exerted “a parallel claim to the obedience of the people”; and proceeded, step by step, to establish his position as the supreme head of the Church (Imam-i-Adil). Thus in June, 1579, he removed the chief preacher at Fathpur Sikri and read the Khutba in his own name, and in September, 1579, he issued the so-called Infallibility Decree, which made him the supreme arbiter in matters of religion. This must have caused profound resentment among the Ulemas and their supporters, but Akbar remained fearless. “He did not mean to assume the spiritual leadership of the nation without having spiritual attainments. . . . From start to finish from ascending the pulpit at Fathpur Sikri to the propagation of Din-i-Ilahi, Akbar was intensely sincere.” It is unfair to denounce a man of such rational and liberal sentiments as having contempt for other religions or being an enemy of any of these. He never denied the authority of the Quran, not even in the so-called Infallibility Decree. His ideal was a grand synthesis of all that he considered to be the best in different religions—an ideal essentially national, for which he is justly entitled to the gratitude of posterity.
An intrepid soldier, a benevolent and wise ruler, a man of enlightened ideas, and a sound judge of character, Akbar occupies a unique position in the history of India. We know from Abul Fazl, and even from the hostile critic Badauni, that he had a commanding personality and looked every inch a king. Jahangir remarks in his Memoirs that his father “in his actions and movements was not like the people of the world, and the glory of God manifested itself in him “. Like other princes of the house of Timur, Akbar was endowed with remarkable courage and uncommon physical strength. He was fearless in the chase as well as in the fields of battle, and, “like Alexander of Macedon, was always ready to risk his life, regardless of political consequences”. He often plunged his horse into the full-flooded rivers during the rainy season and safely crossed over to the other side. Though a mighty conqueror, he did not usually indulge in cruelty for its own sake. Affectionate towards his relatives, he was not revengeful without cause, and his behaviour towards his brother, Hakim, shows that he could pardon a repentant rebel. On some rare occasions his temper got the upper hand and then the culprits were summarily dealt with, as in shown by his behaviour towards his maternal uncle, Mu’azzam, and his foster-brother, Adam Khan. But he usually maintained perfect self-control. His manners were exceedingly charming and his address pleasant, for which he had been highly praised by all who came in contact with him. He was able to win the love and reverence of his subjects, who considered the Ruler of Delhi to be the Lord of the Universe. Extremely moderate in his diet, he was fond of fruit and had little liking for meat, which he ceased to take altogether in his later years. Though Akbar probably did not learn how to read and write, he was not uncultured. Possessed of a fine literary taste, a profound intellectual curiosity and a marvellous memory, he took interest in the different branches of learning, such as philosophy, theology, history, and politics. He maintained a library full of books on various subjects, and was fond of the society of scholars, poets and philosophers, who read books to him aloud, and thus enabled him to be conversant with Sufi, Christian, Zoroastrian, Hindu and Jaina literature. Smith writes that “anybody who heard him arguing with acuteness and lucidity on a subject of debate would have credited him with wide literary knowledge and profound erudition and never would have suspected him of illiteracy”. He possessed also a fair taste for art, architecture and mechanical works, and is credited with many inventions and improvements in the manufacture of matchlocks. Gifted with indomitable energy and indefatigable industry, he erected a vast administrative machinery on a comprehensive plan. He looked, as we know from the Ain-i-Akbari, “upon the smallest details as mirrors capable of reflecting a comprehensive outline”.
Though ambitious of territorial conquests, through which the limits of the Mughul Empire were extended almost to the furthest limits of Northern India, Akbar was not a selfish and unbridled autocrat. He did not ignore the feelings of the conquered and trample on their rights and privileges with an eye only to self -interest. His ideal of kingship was high. “Upon the conduct of the monarch,” said he, “depends the efficiency of any course of action. His gratitude to his Lord, therefore, should be shown in his just government and due recognition of merit; that of his people in obedience and praises.” Endowed with the farsightedness of a genius, he built the political structure of the Mughul Empire and its administrative system, on the co-operation and goodwill of all his subjects. He truly realized the unsoundness of ill -treating the Hindus, who formed the overwhelming majority of the population, or of relegating them permanently to a position of inequality and humiliation. This shows the transcendental ability of Akbar as a statesman. He not only meted out fair treatment to the Hindus and appointed them to high posts, as Sher Shah and his successors had done, but also tried to remove all invidious distinctions between the between the Muslims and non-Muslims. Thus he abolished the pilgrim tax in the eighth year and the jizya in the ninth year of his reign, and inaugurated a policy of universal toleration. In fact, he chalked out a rational path for anyone who would aspire to the position of a national ruler of India. Akbar tried to introduce humane social reforms. He was a patron of art and literature. From all points of view, his reign forms one of the most brilliant periods in the history of India. Akbar, remarks Smith, “was a born king of men, with a rightful claim to be one of the mightiest sovereigns known to history. That claim rests securely on the basis of his extraordinary natural gifts, his original ideas, and his magnificent achievements”.