World History

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Friday

+- Mughal Emperor Akbar the Great (1542-1605)

Akbar, the third Mughal emperor, the true founder of the Mughal Empire reigned from Afghanistan to the Bay of Bengal and from the Himalayas to the Godavari River in south. He was the most powerful face on Earth in the 16th century.

Just at the age of 13 an illiterate prince was crowned emperor who proved himself a skilled conqueror and administrator. Not only did he expand his empire’s peripheries but also explored the various fields of art and patronized them. It were those ‘nine jewels’ (nau-ratna) coveting various fields, which pillared his vast empire for almost half a century. His valor definitely played the lead in expanding boundaries but equally true is the fact that no sword can suppress revolt this long however mighty if it had not penetrate the mind and soul of lay-man.

Akbar ruled, when conspiracies were common in every walk of life.

The span for which an emperor ruled depended on the failure or success of various conspiracies at the time. Above all the reforms he made, like removal of Jizya tax; marital alliance with Hindus; acknowledging good art; reflected his desire to propogate harmony and peace. The solid proof was Din-i-illahi, which was the compilation of the best things from every religion.

The Reign of Akbar, 1556-1605
Akbar was only 14 years of age in 1556 when he succeeded his father Humayun. That year, a formidable anti-Mughal coalition, consisting mainly of Afghanis, tried to recapture northern India but lost its battle against the Mughals at Panipat. Mughal control over northern India was finally established.

Akbar pursued a policy of vigorous expansion until his empire reached the greater part of the sub-continent north of the Godavari, writes Hambly. Akbar proved himself as sophisticated a commander and leader as any of his ancestors. Akbar's far-sighted policies also included the employment of talented Hindus in senior administrative positions in a regime that previously had been exclusively Muslim.

In 1566, an attempt was made on Akbar's life. An assassin, posted on the roof of Khair al-Manzel, a madrasah built by Maham Anka near the Purana Qala, shot an arrow at the emperor as he rode back into Delhi. The arrow wounded Akbar's shoulder. This incident changed Akbar's method of rule, notes Hambly. Akbar now took into his own hands the supervision of the entire administration of the empire.

Akbar was an ambitious and noble commander who built the largest army ever in the history of the Mughal empire. By the end of the 16th century, a Mughal army in the field resembled a city on the move. Not all of Akbar's military expeditions were of an expansionist nature. Akbar also was compelled to quell formidable uprisings among his own subjects, especially the Uzbeks and the Afghans. The Afghans in India were the most turbulent and dangerous of the emperor's subjects, especially those who had been born in the time of the Lodi Sultans and still remembered the great era of Shir Shah Sur and his son Islam Shah.

Akbar annexed Malwa, Gondwana, and Bengal to the empire, and the Mughal troops made their first appearance in the Deccan. Khandesh, Berar and Ahmadnagar became Mughal subahs (provinces). According to Hambly, the annexation of the formerly independent Sultanate of Gujarat provided the empire with: enormous additional revenue from the area's rich commercial centers; access to the Gulf of Cambay, and hence, to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina in the Arabian Peninsula; and opportunities for trade with the Portuguese and the Ottoman Empire.

Akbar was well aware of the structure and stratum of the society of his empire. His bold and imaginative approach to the problems of his heterogeneous empire may have reduced some of the long-standing, although generally passive, Hindu antagonism toward an administration which was entirely Muslim in spirit.

Akbar appointed the great Hindu Rajput chiefs to an active partnership in his government. Eventually, it became accepted practice for high-profile Hindus, like Amber or Jodhpur, to be governors of a major province or commander-in-chief of an army composed largely of Muslims. The Hindus were able to practice their own religion without disturbance.

Akbar's policy toward Hindus must be seen in its proper perspective. There was consistent contact between Hindus and Muslims in many areas of social life. Not only Muslim sovereigns but the entire Muslim ruling class recruited Hindus into their services, often in positions of great responsibility such as the case with Todar Mal and his staff. Hindus also served as craftsmen, artisans, entertainers, concubines, soldiers and servants. The two communities acknowledged and respected each other's rights in all aspects of social and religious life, notes Hambly.

Akbar, who was born at Amarkot in Sind in 1542, had spent most of his childhood as an Afghanistan. From his Persian mother, he inherited his princely manners, his love of literature and the arts, and a characteristically Persian delight in philosophical discussion. From his Turkish father, he inherited his fierce energy, his love of war and his ability to command. During the early part of his life, Akbar took the greatest joy in hunting, in elephant fights, and in intellectual games. Akbar reveled in all the varied pleasures of the chase, from facing charging tigers and leopards to pursuing the wild ass in the Rajasthan desert.

Akbar became unhappy with the increasing criticism of his relaxed attitude regarding non-Muslims in his government. Akbar's attitude was undoubtedly related to his vision of an empire with a diversity of faiths and cultures. Akbar's ire also reflected a hardening of his iron will and his fiercely individualistic personality, writes Hambly. The establishment of a new religion, Din-i llahi (Divine Faith), was a result of Akbar's consistent confrontations with his orthodox opponents.

The court of Akbar fostered a lively literary culture and encouraged translations of all kinds. Massive numbers of classics were rendered into Sanskrit and Hindi. Also, religious literature was translated into Persian from other languages like Chaghatai Turkish, Sanskrit and Arabic. Akbar's school of translation made a valuable contribution to the Indianization of the Mughal ruling class.

Hambly writes that Akbar's vigorous personal influence over the life of his court was paralleled in his patronage of painting. During Akbar's reign, early Safavid style -- which had been introduced into India by Humayun -- began to merge and blend with indigenous Indian elements, and a genuinely original Mughal style evolved. The new style brought a change of emphasis in subject matter. Traditional Persian painting had been concerned mainly with the illustration of literary classics such as the shahnameh, Nizami's Khamseh and Jami's Yusuf va Zulaykha. Mughal painters -- many of whom were Hindus -- shifted their focus from illustrating the great classics of Persian literature to new subjects such as the life of Akbar and his court, as well as the representation of nature, landscape and portraiture.

The most distinctive work in Akbar's ateliers was the series of illustrations commissioned for Abdul Fazl's Akbarnameh. This series demonstrates the unique and superb qualities of the nascent Mughal School and set it far apart from its Safavid or Timurid precursors. In this series, crowded and bustling scenes of men and animals are full of vigor and movement; the use of color is uninhibited; and detail is finely observed. The languid is rejected.

Unlike Babur or Humayun, Akbar had both the time and the resources to build on a monumental scale. Most of the monuments were constructed in or near Agra rather than in Delhi, Hambly writes. Akbar did not have great affection for Delhi, although most important Mughal structures had been built there. For Akbar, Delhi must have been a city of unhappy memories -- the scene of his father's death and his own narrow escape from an assassination attempt. Moreover, the principal landmarks in Delhi -- the Purana Qala, the city walls and gateways -- commemorated the greatness of Shir Shah whom Akbar considered as the usurper of his father's kingdom. Since Delhi was the capital of both the Lodi Sultanate and the Shir Shah Sur dynasty, the city was always restless and hostile to the Mughals. In light of these circumstances, Akbar must have found Agra a more attractive residence.

Akbar initially ruled from Delhi, but two years later he moved to Agra. The city was renamed Akbarabad in his honor and became the greatest city in the empire. The main part of the city lay on the west bank of the Yamuna and was provided with a drainage system to control the flow of rainwater. A new city wall was erected, and the old mud-brick fortress used by the Lodis was built again in 1565 of sandstone. The building's red color, write Blair and Bloom, gives rise to its modern name, the Red Fort. Blair and Bloom note that the fort follows the irregular, semicircular plan of its predecessor. On the city side, it is enclosed by a moat and a double wall that is broken by the Delhi Gate on the west and the Amar Singh Gate on the south. The two massive gates are distinguished by rows of arched niches and stunning veneer in red and white marble with highlights in blue glazed tile.

According to the historian Abdul Fazl, construction of the fort was supervised by Muhammad Qasim Khan, who is credited with various feats of civilc engineering and who bore the dual titles, Master of the Land and Sea (mir-I barr wa bahr)and Master of Pyrotechnics (mir-Iatish).

Two palaces are located to the southeast of the Red Fort, the Akbar Mahal and the Jahangiri Mahal. Like the gates, the outer facade of the Jahangiri Mahal is articulated with an orderly series of blind niches and panels filled with geometric motifs. In contrast to the calm austerity of the exterior, many of the interior surfaces are extravagantly decorated in carved stone, painted and carved stucco, and tile. The geometric patterns on screens and flat panels in the Jahangiri Mahal derive from Timurid designs.

A similar synthesis of diverse architectural traditions could be seen on a larger scale at Fatehpur Sikri founded in 1571. The city was known as Fathabad (City of Victory), a Persian name which was soon supplanted in popular usage by the Indianized form, Fatehpur Sikri. Most of the major constructions at Fatehpur Sikri date to the 14 years when the city served as Akbar's principal residence.

The city contained imperial gardens, rest-houses, residences for the nobility, and an experimental school dedicated to the study of language acquisition in childhood. Within the city, the buildings are set in two distinct ways. The service buildings -- such as the caravanseri, the mint or factory, and a long bazaar (chahar-suq) -- are set perpendicular to the southwest/northeast axis of the ridge. The imperial section of the city, which includes one of the largest congregational mosques in India, as well as a residential and administrative area known as the palace (dawlatkhana), is set at an angle to the ridge and aligns with the qibla, write Blair and Bloom.

Akbar's tomb in Sikandara is set in a vast garden (about 760 square yards) enclosed by a high wall and divided by water channels. The red sandstone gateway on the south side, write Blair and Bloom, is crowned by four white marble minarets. It is boldly decorated in white, gray and black marble that is set in panels with geometric designs and large-scale floral arabesques which resemble the patterns on textiles. The numerous Persian verses in the frame around the arch, write Blair and Bloom, compare the tomb and its garden to paradise. They were designed by Abd al-Haqq Shirazi who was awarded the title Amanat Khan (Trustworthy Noble) and who was responsible for many of the inscriptions on the Taj Mahal.

The tomb is a pyramidal arrangement of three tiers of red sandstone pavilions with domed pavilions (chatris) at the corners. On top is an open court containing the emperor's marble cenotaph surrounded by pierced marble screens, write Blair and Bloom. The white color of the marble, continue Blair and Bloom, contrasts sharply with the red sandstone used elsewhere. The play of light and shadow over the increasingly delicate superstructure contrasts with the powerful massing of the basement.

With its receding stories of pillared galleries, write Blair and Bloom, Akbar's tomb belongs to the indigenous tradition of trabeate construction used for palaces, while the podium, with its vaulted bays, vestibule decorated with painted plaster, and high portals whose strong intarsia reproduced the effect of tile, maintains the Timurid tradition of vaulted masonry.

Because of his ideal of cultural synthesis and religious diversity, Akbar reserved a unique place for himself in Indian history.

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