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Chapter 2 – Akbar’s Reforms – The Divine Faith – 1566–1605 A.D.

This assimilation of the Hindu chiefs was the most conspicuous feature of Akbar’s reign. His wars were like other Indian wars, only mitigated by his sovereign quality of mercy to those who submitted, and by his scrupulous care that the peasants should not suffer by the passage of his troops. The empire was gradually extended till it stretched from Kandahar to the Bay of Bengal, and included the whole of Hindustan down to the Narbada. But the remarkable points about this expansion to the old limits of Ala-ad-din’s realm were, first, that it was done with the willing help of the Hindu princes, and, secondly, that expansion went hand in hand with orderly administration. This was a new thing in Indian government, for hitherto the local officials had done pretty much as it pleased them, and the central authority had seldom interfered so long as the revenue did not suffer. Akbar allowed no oppression by his lieutenants, and not a few of his campaigns were undertaken mainly for the

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purpose of punishing governors who had been guilty of self-seeking and peculation. Much of the improvement was due to his employment of Hindus, who at that time were better men of business than the uneducated and mercenary adventurers who formed a large proportion of the Mohammedan invaders.

No Moslem served Akbar more zealously or with more far-reaching results than the great financier, Raja Todar Mal, a Khatri Rajput, who had served in his youth under the able administration, of Sher Shah, and had thus gained priceless experience in the management of lands and revenues. He assisted Akbar’s first chancellor of the exchequer, Muzaffar Khan, in settling the newly acquired kingdom, and in 1566 took a leading part in suppressing the revolt of Ali Kull. It was the first time, in Moghul rule, that a Hindu had been sent against a Moslem enemy, and his employment was doubtless due to Akbar’s suspicion that the Mohammedan generals might act in collusion with their old comrade, the rebel. After this he was employed in settling the revenue system of Gujarat, and then again took military command in the conquest of Bengal in 1574–7 and its reduction in 1581, when he distinguished himself by his firm courage. He was rewarded soon afterwards with the office of vizir, and in 1582 became chief finance minister, introducing the famous reforms and the new assessment known as Todar Mal’s rent-roll, the Domesday Book of the Moghul empire. He died in 1589. “Careful to keep himself from selfish ambition,” writes Abu-l-Fazl, “he devoted himself to

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the service of the state, and earned an everlasting fame.”

There is no name in mediaeval history more renowned in India to the present day than that of Todar Mal, and the reason is that nothing in Akbar’s reforms more nearly touched the welfare of the people than the great financier’s reconstruction of the revenue system. The land-tax was always the main source of revenue in India, and it had become almost the sole universal burden since Akbar had abolished not only the poll-tax and pilgrims’ dues but over fifty minor duties. The object was now to levy a fair rent on the land, which should support the administration without unduly burdening the cultivators. Mr. H. G. Keene, an able modern Indian administrator, thus describes the system: “The basis of the land-revenue was the recognition that the agriculturist was the owner of the soil, the state being entitled to the surplus produce. Sometimes an official or a court favourite obtains an alienation of the state’s demands on a township or group of townships; but the grant, even if declared to be perpetual, is usually treated as temporary, in the sense that it is liable to be resumed at the death of the grantee or at the demise of the crown. That being the normal conception in systems like that of the Moslems in Hindustan, the agriculturists – especially if they were Hindus – were taillables et corvéables à merci1. It was Sher Shah who, first among these rulers, perceived the benefit that might be expected from leaving a definite margin between the state’s demand and the expenses

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of cultivation. The determination of this margin, and the recognition of the person who should be secured in its enjoyment, formed the basis of the system which, under the name of ‘settlement,’ still prevails in most parts of India.

“A fixed standard of mensuration having been adopted, the land was surveyed. It was then classified, according as it was waste, fallow, or under crop. The last class was taken as the basis of assessment, that which produced cereals, vetches, or oil-seeds being assessed to pay one-third of the average gross produce to the state, the other two-thirds being left to the cultivators. This was a complete departure from the law of Islam, for it made no difference between the revenue raised from Moslems and that raised from unbelievers. Sher Shah’s demand was in no case to be exceeded. It is very noticeable that Akbar added to his policy of union the equally important policy of continuity of system. He aimed at securing to the peasant the power of enjoying his property and profiting by the fruit of his labours. The needy husbandman was furnished with advances, repayable on easy terms. The assessments when once made were assessed for nineteen years; and after the twenty-fourth year of the reign, the aggregate collections of the past ten years having been added together and divided by ten, the future collections were made on the basis of this decennial average.

“Care was taken to provide easy means of complaint when undue collections were exacted and to punish

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severely the guilty exactors. The number of minor officials employed in realizing the recorded dues was diminished by one-half. The cultivators were to be made responsible, jointly as well as severally; the cultivators of fallow land were to be favoured for two years; advances of seed and money were to be made when necessary, arrears being remitted in the case of small holdings. Collectors were to make yearly reports on the conduct of their subordinates. Monthly returns were to be transmitted to the imperial exchequer. Special reports were to be sent up of any special calamities, hail, flood, or drought. The collectors were to see that the farmers got receipts for their payments, which were to be remitted four times in the year; at the end of that period no balance should be outstanding. Payments were if possible to be voluntary, but the standing crops were theoretically hypothecated, and where needful were to be attached. Above all, there was to be an accurate and minute record of each man’s holding and liabilities. The very successful land-revenue system of British India is little more than a modification of these principles.”

One special feature of Todar Mal’s system was the enactment that all government accounts should be kept in Persian, instead of in Hindi, as heretofore. As Blochmann well says, “He thus forced his co-religionists to learn the court language of their rulers – a circumstance that may be compared with the introduction of the English language in the courts of India. The study of Persian therefore became necessary for its pecuniary

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advantage. Todar Mal’s order, and Akbar’s generous policy of allowing Hindus to compete for the highest honours – Man Singh was the first ‘Commander of seven thousand’ – explain two facts: first, that before the end of the eighteenth century the Hindus had almost become the Persian teachers of the Mohammedans; secondly, that a new dialect could arise in Upper India, the Urdu, which, without the Hindus as receiving medium, could never have been called into existence. Whether we attach more importance to Todar Mal’s order or to Akbar’s policy, which when once initiated his successors, willing or not, had to follow, one fact should be borne in mind – that before the time of Akbar the Hindus as a rule did not study Persian and stood therefore politically below their Mohammedan rulers.”

Such changes, which put the subdued Hindu absolutely on a level with the conquering Moslem, were naturally repugnant to Akbar’s more bigoted followers. The contemporary historian Badauni writes bitterly on the subject, and his cynicism is a useful corrective to the enthusiastic panegyrics of other writers of the time. Yet even when he wishes to make things appear in the worst light, he really shows the excellence of the intentions, at least, of the new measures, while exposing some of their defects. For instance, referring to one of the early attempts at land assessment, in 1574, he says:

“In this year an order was promulgated for improving the cultivation of the country and for bettering the

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condition of the rayats, or peasants. All the parganas, or fiscal unions of the country, whether dry or irrigated, in towns or hills, deserts or jungles, by rivers or reservoirs or wells, were to be measured, and every piece of land large enough to produce, when cultivated, one crore of tankas was to be divided off and placed under the charge of an officer called the crori, selected for his trustworthiness and without regard to his acquaintance with the revenue officials: so that in three years’ time all the uncultivated land might be tilled, and the treasury be replenished. The measurement was begun near Fathpur, and one crore was named Adampur, another Sethpur, and so on after prophets and patriarchs. Rules were laid down, but were not properly observed, and much of the land was laid waste through the rapacity of the croris; the peasants’ wives and children were sold and dispersed, and everything went to confusion. But the croris were brought to account by Raja Todar Mal, and many pious men died from severe beatings and the torture of rack and pincers. Indeed so many died after long imprisonment by the revenue officers that the executioner or headsman was forestalled.”

All this is intended by the writer to cast ridicule on the reforms, but it really shows that they were good, and that they were, moreover, strictly enforced. The same cynic can see no advantage in Akbar’s system of territorial commands. The Moghul officers, whether Hindus or Moslems, were spread over the land, and the state taxes were granted to them in certain districts (except the Khalisa, or exchequer lands) in return

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for military service. They had to bring a fixed number of men-at-arms, horses, and elephants into the field, and were rated, according to the number they brought, as mansabdars of ten, twenty, a hundred, a thousand, and the like. It was no invention of Akbar’s, for we have seen it at work in much earlier times, and of course it was liable to abuse, though Akbar did much to remove the old dangers and corruptions of the system. Badauni said that the laziness, license, extravagance, and greed of the mansabdars ate up all the grant, and that no money was left to pay the soldiers, so the amirs dressed their grooms and servants as men-at-arms and passed them off at the muster, and then sent them back to their duties. “The treasure, tax-gathering, and expenditure of the mansabdars remained unchanged, but in every way dirt fell into the plate of the poor soldier, and he could not gird up his loins. Weavers, cotton-dressers, carpenters, and Hindu and Moslem chandlers would hire a charger, bring it to the muster, obtain a mansab [or order on the land-revenue], and become a crori, trooper, or substitute for some one: a few days later not a trace would be found of the hired horse, and they became footmen again. This sort of trade was carried on to a great extent [and Akbar knew it]; nevertheless the emperor’s good luck was such that his foes were everywhere crushed, and soldiers were not so much wanted.” As the enemies could not be crushed without soldiers, the system, though abused, appears to have answered its purpose.

There were doubtless many imperfections and many

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cases of malversation in spite of Akbar’s efforts; but this is only to say that the best system in the world is open to abuse, especially in an Oriental country, where to cheat the government is a virtue and to grind the faces of the poor a venial fault. The real reason that Badauni is so severe upon these reforms is that they were but a part of a general tendency to lax views on the part of the emperor. It was not merely in his just and equable treatment of the Hindus that Akbar showed his broad and open mind. There were other influences at work besides those of his Hindu wives and friends, and they all made for what the orthodox Badauni denounced as latitudinarian. A king who was constitutionally unable to see why a Hindu should pay more taxes than a Moslem was also liable to equally deplorable liberality in matters of faith, and Akbar had been deeply moved by the mystical doctrines of the Persian Sufis as revealed to him by two brilliant brothers. From the time when Faizi, the mystic poet, joined the emperor’s suite at the siege of Chitor in 1568, and still more when seven years later he introduced his young brother, the gentle and enthusiastic scholar Abu-l-Fazl, Akbar’s mind had been unsettled in religion. He was essentially eclectic, and saw good in almost every form of worship. From his youth he had delighted in the conversation of scholars and philosophers and had shown the greatest deference to real learning; he had books read aloud to him daily from his rich library, and would go through them again and again; and now under the influence of the speculative

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The Divan-i-Khas, Fathpur-Sikri

mind of Abu-l-Fazl – a man of wide culture and pure spiritual ideals, who recognized his hero in his king, and devoted himself to him with his whole heart – he began to encourage debates on doctrinal and philosophical questions and displayed an eager curiosity in the discussions.

These debates took place in a hall called the Hall of Worship (Ibadat-Khanah – supposed to be identical with that now known as the Divan-i-Khas), founded in 1574 at the city of Fathpur, which had become the emperor’s favourite residence. The city itself was the offspring of faith. Akbar, at least in the earlier part of his reign, was a devout visitor of holy places, and frequented the tombs of Moslem saints. We read again and again how he made solemn pilgrimages to famous

Sheikh Salim Chisti’s Tomb at Fathpur-Sikri.

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shrines; and one of his objects was to secure an heir, for up to the fourteenth year of his reign none of the sons born to him had lived. He repaired to a holy man dwelling in a cave at the village of Sikri, not far from Agra; the hermit promised him a son, and Akbar placed his wife, the Princess of Amber, under the care of the saint till her time should be accomplished. Sikri, as well as its local prophet, waxed rich and populous by the numerous visits of the anxious king. Palaces began to rise by 1569, and the prophet, Salim Chisti, set up a new monastery and a noble mosque. The aristocrats built them mansions near the palace. Sikri knew itself no more, and its name was changed to Fathpur, “the town of victory.” Happily the seer was justified in the event, and Akbar’s son, named Salim after the holy man, but better known as the Emperor Jahangir, was safely ushered into the world. Fathpur derived fresh lustre from this auspicious event, and Akbar lavished all the taste and art of the age upon its adornment.

Nothing sadder or more beautiful exists in India than this deserted city, the silent witness of a vanished dream. It still stands, with its circuit of seven miles, its seven bastioned gates, its wonderful palaces, peerless in all India for noble design and delicate adornment; its splendid mosque and pure marble shrine of the hermit saint; its carvings and paintings – stands as it stood in Akbar’s time, but now a body without a soul. Reared with infinite thought and curious care, it was deserted fourteen years later. When William

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Finch visited it five years after its founder’s death he found it “ruinate, lying like a waste district, and very dangerous to pass through at night.” Ruinate it has remained ever since, desolate and abandoned. No later ruler of India has ever aspired to dwell in Akbar’s Versailles, just as none ever rose to the height of Akbar’s ideals. In the empty palaces, the glorious mosque, the pure white tomb, the baths, the lake, at every turn we recognize some memory of the greatest of Indian emperors. We may even enter his bedroom, the Khwabgah, or “home of dreams,” and see the very screens of beautiful stone tracery, the same Persian couplets, the identical ornament in gold and ultramarine on which Akbar feasted his eyes in the long sultry afternoons of the Indian plains. We may walk into the houses of Faizi and Abu-l-Fazl, the laureate and the premier of his empire, who sang his glory and chronicled his reign. We may stand in the audience-hall, with its pillar throne and galleries, where the keenest dialectic of Moslem schoolmen, Catholic priests, Pantheists, Zoroastrians, Brahmans, and Buddhists rose in heated battle for their creeds, till quarrels and coarse vituperation called up the bitter sneer of the puritanic Badauni and the regretful contempt of the royal seeker after truth.

Fathpur, with its beauty in desolation, has stirred the poetic vision of a Heber, and compelled the homage of the wisest critic of Indian art. Fergusson wrote of the “Turkish Sultana’s House,” which still overlooks the Pachisi Court where Akbar is said to have

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played his games of living chess with slave-girls as pieces moving on the checkered pavement, that nothing can be conceived so picturesque in outline, so richly and so marvellously carved, without one touch of extravagance or false taste. The five-storied Panch Mahal, a kind of Buddhist Vihara, and the house of Akbar’s witty Hindu favourite, Raja Birbal, have their individual charm; while the frescoes in “Miraim’s Kothi” are curious documents in the history of Indian painting, of which we obtain some glimpses in the albums of Moghul portraits, drawn by artists of the Panjab and now preserved in the British Museum and a few private collections. The presence of Jesuit Fathers at Agra, attracted by the liberal views of Akbar, accounts for some of the characteristics of these curious paintings. Aureoles and angels appear; a little later we find the Blessed Virgin represented in a kiosk of Jahangir; and scenes of Christian hagiography were favourite subjects with Moghul artists. The Annunciation is believed to be depicted in a fresco at Fathpur-Sikri, while another strongly resembles the fall of Adam. There are even traces of the work of Chinese artists in the Buddhist paintings in the “Home of Dreams.” Indeed this Indian Pompeii, with its unique and never iterative designs, is a museum of exquisite aesthetic genius. Akbar’s views on art were characteristic. One day he remarked to some friends: “There are many that hate painting, but such men I dislike. It appears to me as if a painter had quite peculiar means of recognizing God; for a painter, in sketching

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“The Turkish Sultana’s House.” Fathpur-Sikri

anything that has life, and in devising its limbs one after the other, must come to feel that he cannot bestow personality upon his work, and is thus forced to think of God, the giver of life, and will thus increase in knowledge.” He had always been fond of painting, and kept a number of painters at court, whose work was displayed before him every week.

“Hence the art flourishes,” wrote Abu-l-Fazl, “and many painters have obtained great reputations, while masterpieces worthy of [the famous Persian court painter] Bahzad may be placed beside the wonderful works of the European painters who have attained world-wide fame. The minuteness in detail, the general finish, the boldness of execution, and the like, now observed in pictures, are incomparable.” This was written in Akbar’s

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lifetime, and it is noteworthy that the historian distinguishes the Hindu painters as the best among the hundred famous masters of the age, though he mentions some great artists from Persia.

In this fairy city Akbar’s dream of a universal religion grew into definite shape. It was in the Hall of Worship that he sought wearily to elicit truth from the debates of professors. “The unity that had existed among the learned,” says Blochmann, “disappeared in the very beginning; abuse took the place of argument, and the plainest rules of etiquette were, even in the presence of the emperor, forgotten. Akbar’s doubts, instead of being cleared up, only increased; certain points of the Hanafi law, to which most Sunnis cling, were found to be better established by the dicta of lawyers belonging to the other three sects; and the Moral character of the Prophet was next scrutinized and found wanting. Makhdum-al-mulk [the head of the ultra-bigoted orthodox party] wrote a spiteful pamphlet against Shaikh Abd-an-Nabi, the Sadr [or chancellor] of the empire, and the latter retorted by calling Makhdum a fool and cursing him. Abu-l-Fazl, upon whom Akbar from the beginning had fixed as the leader of his party, fanned the quarrels by skilfully shifting the disputes from one point to another.” The heated discussions of the learned men whom he gathered on Thursday nights to defend the dogmas of their creeds only inspired him with compassion for the futility of their reasoning and contempt for the narrowness of their grasp. In Akbar’s eyes there was truth in all

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faiths, but no one creed could hold the master-key of the infinite As Abu-l-Fazl wrote:–

“O God, in every temple I see those who see thee, and in every tongue that is spoken, thou art praised.

Polytheism and Islam grope after thee.

Each religion says, ‘Thou art one, without equal.’

Be it mosque, men murmur holy prayer ; or church, the bells ring, for love of thee.

Awhile I frequent the Christian cloister, anon the mosque :

But thee only I seek from fane to fane.

Thine elect know naught of heresy or orthodoxy, whereof neither stands behind the screen of thy truth.

Heresy to the heretic – dogma to the orthodox –

But the dust of the rose-petal belongs to the heart of the perfume-seller.”

Tennyson has finely expressed Akbar’s dream of a pure and universal faith:–

“I can but lift the torch

Of reason in the dusky cave of Life,

And gaze on this great miracle, the World,

Adoring That who made, and makes, and is,

And is not, what I gaze on – all else Form,

Ritual, varying with the tribes of men.”

It had taken many years to develop this new religion of catholic comprehension. Akbar would often sit, in the first hour of dawn, on a stone in his palace court, watching the rising of the sun and meditating on the mystery of life. He was passing through a stage of earnest doubt. He listened eagerly to the words of the Christian fathers, to the Vedanta philosophy of ascetic yogis, and he must have known the Buddhist doctrine and the profound metaphysic of India. He had versions of the Sanskrit classics to be made for

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him and he ordered a translation to be made of the Gospels of Christ. Badauni, the Mohammedan writer, says:– “In the year 986 A.H. (1578 A.D.) the missionaries of Europe, who are called Padres, and whose chief pontiff, called Papa, promulgates his interpretations for the use of the people, and who issues mandates that even kings dare not disobey, brought their Gospel to the emperor’s notice, advanced proofs of the Trinity, and affirmed the truth and spread abroad the knowledge of the religion of Jesus. The emperor ordered Prince Murad to learn a few lessons from the Gospel and to treat it with all due respect, and Shaikh Abu-l-Fazl was ordered to translate it. Instead of the prefatory Bismillah, the following ejaculation was enjoined: O thou whose name is Jesus Christ.’ ”

Islam no longer satisfied him, though his instinctive devoutness still took him on pilgrimages to Moslem shrines, and as late as the twenty-first year of his reign he was contemplating a journey to Mekka. But Islam was too narrow for his expanding soul. The outward symbols went; the Moslem shibboleth vanished from the coinage, and the ambiguous formula “Allahu Akbar,” “God is most great” (or, as detractors construed it, “Akbar is God”), took its place. When Moslems met, instead of the customary salam, they were to say “Allahu Akbar,” and the reply, “Jalla Jalaluh,” “May his glory shine!” was construed as containing another suspicious reference to Akbar’s surname, Jalal-ad-din. While plainly declaring that he pretended to no divine incarnation, such as the Shi’as

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acknowledge, the emperor assumed a wholly new position in relation to matters of faith. He found that the rigid Moslems of the court were always casting in his teeth some absolute authority, a book, a tradition, a decision of a canonical divine, and, like Henry VIII, he resolved to cut the ground from under them; he would himself be the head of the church, and there should be no Pope in India but Akbar.

His first assumption of the role of priest-king was unintentionally dramatic. Following the precedents of the caliphs of old, he stood before the people in the great mosque of Fathpur one Friday in 1580, and began to read the bidding prayer (khutba), into which Faizi had introduced these lines:

“The Lord to me the Kingdom gave,

He made me prudent, strong and brave,

He guided me with right and ruth,

Filling my heart with love of truth;

No tongue of man can sum His State –

Allahu Akbar! God is great.”

But the emotion of the scene, the sight of the multitude, and the thought of his high office were too much for him. Akbar faltered and broke down, and the court preacher had to finish the prayer.

Soon afterwards Akbar promulgated a document which is unique in the history of the Mohammedan world. It was drawn up by the father of Faizi and Abu-l-Fazl, himself a Shi’a pantheist, and it was signed, sorely against their will, by the orthodox divines and lawyers of the court. It set forth in unmistakable

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terms that the authority of the just king was higher than that of a Mujtahid (or sublime doctor of the faith), and that, should a religious question arise regarding which the Mujtahids were at variance, the emperor’s decision should be binding on the Moslems of India, and any opposition to the imperial decrees should involve the loss of goods and religion in this world, and ensure damnation in the world to come. In other words, Akbar’s judgment was set above every legal and religious authority except the plain letter of the Koran. It was a promulgation of a doctrine of imperial infallibility.

After thus breaking sharply with the principles of Mohammedan tradition, Akbar went, as of old, on pilgrimage to a saint’s tomb. Badauni smiled grimly and said “it was strange that his Majesty should have such faith in the good man of Ajmir while rejecting our Prophet, the foundation of everything, from whose skirt hundreds of thousands of first-class saints had sprung.” With the same superstitious bent, oddly contrasting with his philosophic theory, Akbar is said to have varied the colours of his clothes in accordance with the regent planet of the day, to have muttered spells at night to subdue the sun to his will, to have prostrated himself publicly before the sun and the sacred fire, and to have made the whole court rise respectfully when the lamps were lighted. On the festival of the eighth day after the sun entered Virgo, the emperor came forth to the audience-chamber with his brow marked in

Hindu fashion and with jewelled strings tied by Brahmans

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on his wrists to represent the sacred thread. He was not above charms and sortileges. He studied alchemy as well as astronomy, and is reported to have exhibited the gold he had professedly transmuted, and he took boundless interest in the tricks and miracles both of the Hindu ascetics, or yogis, and of the Moslem fakirs.

The truth is that Akbar was singularly sensitive to religious impressions of every kind, and that his new religion, the Din-i-Ilahi, or “divine faith,” an eclectic pantheism, contained elements taken from very diverse creeds. While overthrowing nearly every ceremonial rule, whether of Islam or of Hinduism, and making almost all things lawful save excess, he took ideas from learned Brahmans as well as from Portuguese missionaries; he adopted the worship of the sun as the symbol of the Creator, and himself daily set the example of “adoring Him the Timeless in the flame that measures Time “; as the starting-point of his new Ilahi era he introduced the solar year which begins at the vernal equinox; he forbade cow-eating, in deference to Indians, and had himself ceremonially weighed in Hindu fashion on both his solar and his lunar birthday; he instituted the sacred fire adored of the Parsis, and encouraged the hem sacrifice of the Hindus in his palace. The new cult was cordially professed only by a small band of courtiers calling themselves “the elect,” and including Faizi, Abu-l-Fazl, and other Persians, chiefly poets, as well as one Hindu, Birbal, but the rest, even of the court, remained indifferent, when

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Darugha Pershad’s house, Fathpur-Sikri

not hostile. Some boldly refused to join the new faith, but the most part temporized for fear of losing favour. Of course an eclectic religion never takes hold of a people, and Akbar’s curiously interesting hodgepodge of philosophy, mysticism, and nature-worship practically died with him; but the broad-minded sympathy which inspired such a vision of catholicity left a lasting impress upon a land of warring creeds and tribes, and for a brief while created a nation where before there had been only factions.

With the promulgation of the emperor’s infallibility the debates in the Hall of Worship came to an end; the leading bigots Makhdum and Abd-an-Nabi were sent to refresh their fanaticism at Mekka, and the pantheists under Abu-l-Fazl and his brother enjoyed

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a brief triumph. Both held high rank, but Faizi prized his office of poet-laureate above any political power, while Abu-l-Fazl became Divan, or Treasurer, of the Province of Delhi. These two brilliant and sympathetic brothers were now Akbar’s chief intimates, and he found in their devotion more than compensation for the solitary elevation that is the inevitable fate of a reforming sovereign born centuries before the accepted time. Probably they encouraged him in the fancies and extravagances which somewhat marred his later life. One of these fancies was a belief that the religion of Islam would not survive its millennium, and that its collapse would be accompanied by the advent of the Mahdi, the Lord of the Age, in whom Akbar was easily induced to recognize himself. He ordered a “History of the Millennium” (Tarikh-i-Alfi) to be compiled by a company of scholars, including the reluctant Badauni, to put a seal, as it were, upon an extinct religion. The events of the thousand years of doomed Islam were related from a Shi’a point of view, and, to add to the confusion, the chronology was reckoned from the death of the Prophet instead of from his flight (Hijra).

This was an example of Akbar’s love of innovation, and it is impossible to deny that he was fond of experiment and novelty for their own sake. “All good things must once have been new,” he remarked, and accordingly he tested the novel habit of smoking tobacco, which was first introduced in India in his reign. As Dr. Holden has said, “He experimented in all departments, from religion to metallurgy,” and some

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of his changes appear to have been dictated by mere whim and restless curiosity, rather than by reason and judgment. His experimental spirit was displayed in the way he endeavoured to ascertain the natural religion of the untaught child. He separated a score of hapless babies from their mothers, and shut them up in a house where none might speak to them, in order to see what faith they would evolve. After three or four years the children were let out, and they came forth – dumb! The emperor’s experiments were not always wise.

Nevertheless, he had wise counsellors, and it was an age of great literary abundance. Faizi was one of the most exquisite poets India has ever produced, and Abu-l-Fazl’s “Book of Akbar” (Akbarnamah), written in 1597, the third volume of which forms the celebrated Ain-i-Akbari, or “Acts of Akbar,” will always retain its fascination as a minute record of the customs and institutions of the greatest age of the Moghul empire. As Col. H. S. Jarrett, one of its translators, has said, “it crystallizes and records in brief for all time the state of Hindu learning, and, besides its statistical utility, serves as an admirable treatise of reference on numerous branches of Brahmanical science and on the manners, beliefs, traditions, and indigenous lore, which for the most part still retain and will long continue their hold on the popular mind. Above all as a register of the fiscal areas, the revenue settlements, and changes introduced at various periods, the harvest returns, valuations and imposts throughout the provinces of the

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The Tomb of Akbar the Great at Sikandra

Five miles northwest of Agra stands the magnificent tomb in which the dust of the great Moghul emperor Akbar reposes. The approach to the mausoleum is beneath a grand portal and up a handsome pathway lined on either side with trees and fragrant shrubs. The building itself is of red sandstone, except the upper story, which is of the finest white marble. In the midst of this upper tier is a superb white marble cenotaph resting upon a tessellated pavement and standing directly above the place where, in a vaulted chamber, three stories below, lie the remains of him who was India’s noblest king.

empire, its originality is as indisputable as its surpassing historical importance.”

While Akbar was busy in enlarging the boundaries of faith, his material empire had not stood still. The conquests of Gujarat and Bengal, though requiring more than one repetition, had brought the empire to the normal limits of Hindustan. Kabul and the Afghan country, ruled by his disloyal brother Hakim, had repeatedly revolted; Badakhshan was finally lost in 1585, and the merry Raja Birbal fell in a disastrous attempt to coerce the wild Yusufzais in 1586. But after Hakim’s death Kabul was pacified, and Kashmir was annexed in 1587, while in 1594 Kandahar was included in the empire. These were small changes, but more important conquests were attempted in the south. Again and again in Indian history we find in the Deccan the bane of Delhi kings. Nature never intended the same ruler to govern both sides of the Vindhya mountains, for people, character, and geographical conditions are dissimilar. Nevertheless, to conquer the Deccan has been the ambition of every great King of Delhi, and the attempt has always brought disaster. Akbar was not immune from the Deccan fever, but it seized him late in life. Up to the last decade of his reign his power had scarcely been felt south of the Satpura range, and although he had taken Burhanpur and made the rajas of Khandesh and Berar his tributaries as early as 1562, their tribute was intermittent and their fealty barely nominal.

A viceroy of the Deccan was eventually appointed

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to consolidate authority, but in the hands of the emperor’s bibulous son Murad, and his equally intemperate successor, Prince Daniyal, the office became contemptible. Murad’s incompetence to subdue open rebellion in Berar led to his recall and the appointment of Abu-l-Fazl to the command of the army which in 1599 resolutely set about the re-conquest of the Deccan. Akbar himself arrived at the seat of war, and success soon followed. Ahmadnagar, formerly strenuously defended by the Princess Chand Bibi, had again fallen after six months’ siege, and Asirgarh, the strongest fortress in Khandesh, opened its gate in 1600. An inscription on that glorious gateway, the Buland Darwazah at Fathpur, records how “His Majesty, King of Kings, Heaven of the court, Shadow of God, Jalal-ad-din Mohammad Akbar Padishah conquered the Kingdom of the South and Dandesh, which was heretofore Khandesh, in the Ilahi year 46, which is the year of the Hijra 1010. Having reached Fathpur he went on to Agra. Jesus (on whom be peace!) hath said: ‘the world is a bridge; pass over it, but build no house there: he who hopeth for an hour may hope for eternity: the world is but an hour – spend it in devotion: the rest is unseen.’ ”

In these last sad years the great heart of the emperor was weighed down with grief. He had lost his beloved friend, the poet Faizi, in 1595, two of his own sons were sinking to their dishonoured deaths; the eldest, Salim, was little better and had shown flagrant insubordination. And now the closest of his

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friends, the inspirer of many of his best thoughts and acts, was to be sacrificed. Prince Salim, jealous of Abu-l-Fazl’s influence and impatient of his censure, caused this upright and faithful servant of his father to be murdered on his return from the Deccan in 1602. It was the last and crowning sorrow, and Akbar never recovered from the shock. The quarrels and intrigues of his worthless family hastened the end. At an elephant fight there was a scene of jealous disputing in his presence; the weary king gave way to ungovernable fury, as he too often did in this stricken period of his decay, and was led away sick unto death. Round the bed of the dying Akbar the intrigues for the succession went on shamelessly, but at the last he received his only surviving son, Salim, and invested him with the sword of state. He died in October, 1605, the noblest king that ever ruled in India.


1. “Ready to do a man’s bidding.” Literally, taillable means malleable, and corvéable means coercible.

This collection transcribed by Chris Gage
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