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Emperor Akbar and his Mughal Empire

The establishment of the Mughal Empire took place in two phases: 1526 and 1556. The Mughal rule actually was uprooted in 1540 when Sher Shah Suri decisively defeated emperor Humayun in two battles leaving him with no option but to flee towards Persia.

His return was the outcome of successful diplomacy carried out by his able Persian courtier Bairam Khan who succeeded in obtaining assistance of the Persian monarch and spearheaded the reinforced Mughal troops back to the subcontinent.

It was actually Bairam Khan who was primarily instrumental in winning the second battle of Panipat for the Mughals. Quite naturally the 13-year-old Akbar had no option but to acquiesce in the tutelage of Bairam Khan making Bairam Khan the main force in the fledgling Mughal state.

Akbar however soon grew out of the influence of Bairam Khan and after a brief struggle succeeded in winning back his authority and soon began exercising it in earnest. He ruled for more than 45 years as an absolute monarch and consolidated his hold over the domains he gradually increased with the passage of time.

As a monarch Akbar possessed a natural charisma and was known as every inch a king. He was of middling stature, of wheatish complexion, rather inclining to dark than fair, black eyes and eye-brows, stout body, open forehead and chest, long arms and hands.

He had a very loud voice and a very elegant and pleasant speech. His manners and habits were quite different from those of other persons and his visage full of dignity.

Bairam Khan
A still from Indian film ‘Jodha Akbar’ showing an actor playing Bairam Khan’s character

He was extremely polite in dealing with people and was reported to be very happy when he was in the company of the common people.

His character and conduct revealed that he was a driven, possessed man and what distinguished him was energy, physical and intellectual, in equal measure. Akbar’s energy was prodigious and once he walked from Mathura to Agra, a distance of nearly sixty kilometers but only three of his companions could keep up with him. He knew no fear and was intrepid in extreme compelling his courtiers to plead for ensuring his personal safety.

He was also in the vanguard of his troops and took tremendous risks in battles. His invincibility in battlefield was legendary and things came to him easy. Throughout his rule Akbar rode on a crest of unending success and became a legend in his lifetime. His successes were simply amazing and even his successors could not justify for his unparalleled success.

It was simply not luck and good fortune as Akbar worked very hard to be a good ruler. His day was long beginning early at about three hours before daybreak. He slept little and passed his nights in wakefulness and took a short nap in the afternoon.

For a man of his energy Akbar’s diet was frugal and gradually led a Spartan life mostly devoted to work. Towards the end of his life he virtually gave up eating meat and vegetables and fruits became his main diet.

Though Akbar had frugal eating habits but he was very particular about water and he drank only water from the river Ganges and painstakingly arranged for its procurement to the farthest limits of his domains he traveled to. Though his ancestors were known for their liking for intoxicants but Akbar eschewed heavy drinking and was conscious of its ill effects on his father and sons.

Akbar changed the sartorial style and designed clothes that soon became part of the general trend of attire.

His sense of dress was simple and suited the warm climes of the subcontinent. He covered his head with a simple turban that was usually adorned with pearls and gems though it appeared simple and more a piece of apparel than imperial diadem.

Against the prevailing custom he wore no jewels except a string of pearls around his neck. Also unconventionally he kept long hair reflecting his tilt towards Sufism and was also in line with the vast majority of his subjects. He was fond of perfume and always wore it heavily.

Akbar was known to be an enigmatic person and, despite all his grandeur, was ridden by melancholy, a deep sense of futility of everything termed as life. His greatness was hidden in his natural compassion but his compassion was not of character, which essentially was violence-prone owing to the age he lived in but of intelligence.

Throughout his life Akbar pursued perfection beyond limits of human endeavour and tried hard to glue
together diverse peoples of his vast domains. By employing unconventional religious and cultural syncretism he ventured to let his people live in peace and amity. Ahead of his time, Akbar was treated rather skeptically by his contemporaries and also by subsequent generations who failed to fathom his original pursuits.

With his age Akbar’s character grew in stature as his grip over the affairs of Mughal Empire increased and he became well-versed in matters of governance.

As head of a military government he paid special attention to matters related to warfare and was known to have invented new forms of weaponry and ammunition. He was a hands-on worker and was often found in his workshops physically working on machines with tools.

He had tremendous intellectual curiosity and dabbled in almost every aspect of life. He was generous with his vassals and continuously tried to strengthen his bonds with them. The pacts he entered with them proved their long-term worth as his successors built upon these relationships.

The nature of his job compelled Akbar to remain secretive and the result was that he never opened up fully with anyone. He was therefore everything to everyone but the best part was that he kept a credible balance between his multifarious functions and vast list of people he interacted. His functionaries grew in number and his genius turned them onto a well-ordered civil service known as
mansabdari system that was followed for a long time and was adopted by many successive ruling powers.

Akbar’s charismatic personality radiated awesome power having mesmeric affect on his subjects and he took full advantage of this quality and ringed himself with worthy nobility that ensured the continuity of the Mughal state. He maintained that the noblest quality of princes is the forgiveness of faults.

Akbar was a strong personality with a natural flair for empire building for which he was particularly suitable. He built from scratch the vast material resources of the Mughal Empire that lasted for generations. The regulations and laws he devised became the central characteristic of his dynasty and were scrupulously followed.

He was known to be careful with money and filled the Mughal coffers to the brim that lasted for a long time and adequately supported the state. His internal and external policies proved to be a success
and his relations throughout the subcontinent survived long after his departure from the scene.

His policy of creating an inclusive society that was opened up for the first time after centuries of Muslim rule. Akbar left an enduring mark on the subcontinent and he became a beacon of progress and development.

This article originally appeared in The Weekender and has been reproduced with permission


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