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Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Akbar and His Chosen Heir: A Battle of Succession - Salim, Murad, Daniyal & Khusrau

Hi Folks,

Before we start with this post, here's a tricky statement:-

"Akbar made Salim the Emperor, but he preferred Daniyal for the throne, and groomed Khusrau for it! "

Now, what do you make out of this statement? Actually, it is not such a confounding statement, after all. This statement was true at different time periods in the life of Mughal Emperor Akbar.

By now, you might have understood what this post is about. Yes, it's all about who Akbar wanted to succeed him as the next Emperor. We know that Salim eventually received the royal robe from the Emperor on his death-bed. But during his lifetime, Akbar kept changing his mind with time and circumstances and, at various times, preferred his other sons and even grandsons over Salim as his heir apparent. Just why this was so and who among all his sons and grandsons was Akbar's favorite can be inferred from this post. 

Now let's begin...

Akbar's sons rose to political prominence only after the demise of his step-brother Mirza Muhammed Hakim in 1585. But a few years before this, a major event happened which seemed to indicate whom Akbar considered more suitable to head the imperial army in the event of a major war.

Murad Leads the Imperial Army at 12!

In 1581, Akbar's forces attacked Kabul to punish Mirza Muhammed Hakim for invading Hindustan. Rather than commanding the imperial forces himself, Akbar took a surprising and momentous decision. He deputed his 2nd son, the 12-year-old Murad, to be the nominal commander of the troops in this battle. And justifying Akbar's confidence in him, Murad displayed an "exceptional urge" to fight in this battle.

Akbarnama, Vol-3, Pg-523, notes that:-
Akbar also proceeded to Kabul in July after dispatching his sons, before him, but he could not reach the field on time. Timely reports brought to him mentioned that the impending defeat had been repelled by the successful intervention of Raja Man Singh.

Akbarnama, Vol-3, Pg-536, further notes that:-
" Prince Murad, notwithstanding his extreme youth, took part in the fight and, jumping down from his horse, seized a lance and declared that he would not yield an inch of ground whatever might happen. " 

This event occurred on August 1, 1581. What a daring resolve for a 12-year old boy!

However, perhaps to nip any sibling rivalries in the bud, the grandmother of Murad and Salim, Hamida Bano Begum insisted on Prince Salim also being given the nominal command. 

Akbarnama, Vol-3, Pg-538, notes:- 
Prince Salim entered the Khyber Pass in advance of his father Akbar, halting at Ali Masjid, and reaching Jalalabad in safety. Prince Murad entered the city of Kabul, which Mirza Hakim had abandoned. 

This event occurred on August 3, 1581. The victory, which was attributed to Prince Murad, over his uncle signalled the emergence of a new imperial hierarchy. The question of Akbar's successor was now left open among Salim and Murad. Whoever was more able would become the next emperor, irrespective of whether he was the eldest or not.  

Note: Akbar left Kabul in the hands of the sister of Mirza Muhammad Hakim, Bakht-un-Nissa. She was the wife of Khwaja Hassan of Badakhshan (in present-day Afghanistan). This was clearly noted by the Christian missionaries who were present with Akbar at that time. However, she seems to have tacitly allowed her brother to resume his rule. 

Mirza Hakim's Sons Imprisoned to Keep Them Out of the Race for the Mughal Throne

This victory opened the way for Akbar to incorporate Kabul into the empire. This, he finally did in 1585, after Mirza Hakim’s death. Along with this, Akbar imprisoned the young sons of Mirza Hakim - Kaiqubad (aged 11) and Afhrasiyab (aged 14) in Hindustan. This act of Akbar went against the family practice till then that children would not be involved in the rivalries of the adults and would not be made to pay the price. Akbar himself was spared from being sacrificed at the altar of the rivalry among his father and his uncles.  

Akbar, however, now made it clear that only one of his DIRECT heirs would be his successor. This may be because Akbar faced innumerable troubles from his step-brother Mirza Hakim, and his brothers-in-law -- Mirza Sharif-ud-din and Abu'l Maali. Hence he wanted to safeguard the Mughal throne for his own heirs and eliminated possible threats in the form of the young sons of Mirza Hakim. 

Akbar and His Sons - Initially A Close Relationship...

It can be seen by carefully assessing the Akbarnama that Akbar was indeed very fond of his sons and always kept them close to him in the 1580s. He never sent them away from himself.  Only Daniyal was initially sent to Amer, to be under the care of the wife of Raja BharMal. 

Akbar Receiving His 3 Sons; The One Near Akbar's Feet is Prince Salim

All of his sons received good education. They all had good military training and were given some role or the other. All this happened in the Mughal capital only. Some of the roles given to the princes were quite significant. For instance, Prince Daniyal was deputed to visit Ajmer and pray at Khwaja Muin-ud-Din's shrine on his father's behalf in 1580-81.

Prince Murad and Prince Daniyal on a picnic, ca. 1900, Source: Wikimedia Commons

Akbar did not shy away from occasionally sending his sons to manage administrative or military duties away from the imperial court* , but he wished to remain intimately involved in their training. He surrounded each of his three sons with people of influence, but he focused especially on embedding Salim in several far-flung networks of symbolic and real imperial power. From this, it can be assessed that Salim was indeed the initial choice of Akbar and was groomed by him.

* Akbarnama, Vol- 3, Pg-485/487/491 provides the following details:

It was mentioned earlier that Akbar had given the nominal command of the campaign against Mirza Hakim in the early 1580s to Prince Murad. Later, Murad was also initially deputed to go against the Yousafzai tribe in 1586. The task was, however, quite dangerous for someone so young and Raja Man Singh persuaded Akbar not to send Murad on this campaign. Akbar agreed, but later decided to send his 3rd son Daniyal, but he was yet again persuaded not to send Daniyal as well for this was a dangerous campaign.  It was in this very dangerous campaign that Raja Birbal lost his life.

But, in the late 1580s, the wisdom of Akbar's decision to keep his sons at the Mughal court began to appear wrong. The close living areas, increasing conflicts over precedence and, most importantly, rising tensions among the princes' supporters created an environment of competition and hostility. Each prince had his own personal coterie of sycophants.

The marriage of Mirza Aziz Koka's daughter to Murad in 1587 almost placed him on a collision course with Salim in the coming years. 

Akbar Falls Sick; Salim Mobilises Support for the Throne...

But, this policy of favoring only his sons began to yield serious repercussions for Akbar. It became evident in 1591 when Akbar fell seriously ill. It is not clear whether Murad (then 21) was interested in gaining the throne, but Salim (then aged 22) began mobilizing his supporters for this purpose. The situation at the Imperial court became tense. Salim even appointed some of his close confidants to keep an eye on Murad and closely monitor his actions. 

It was fortunate that Akbar's health improved at the right time and the situation became normal. Murad and the ladies of the harem informed Akbar about Salim's actions, which must have shocked Akbar! He was now forced to concede the necessity of geographically separating his sons,  especially Salim and Murad. Over the next decade, each son was, in turn, moved out of the imperial court and sent to either govern a province or lead a military expedition. (Source:- Al-Badauni, Vol-2, Pg- 378. )

Beginning of Revolt by Salim / Murad...

This was the only MAJOR event, which hinted at some rivalry between Murad and Salim. After this event, Akbar sent Murad to Malwa in 1591. While Salim is known to be the one who revolted against his father, Murad comes across as a rigid and ambitious prince, who could be  easily flattered. He was surrounded by people who flattered him and fueled his "imperial ambitions" for their own benefit.

Note: Even Humayun had expressed slight unwillingness to heed Babur's decision when the latter sent him away from the "power centre" by sacking Delhi. But, Murad's removal from the capital was easily accepted by the prince without creating any trouble. 

In Akbarnama, Vol-3, Pg- 600, Abu'l Fazl has mentioned that:- 
"Akbar was delighted when he came to know that Murad had accepted his orders of going to Malwa without any refusal. " 

Murad's 'Passive' Rebellion...

But, the trouble was to come later. After being sent away from the Mughal Court of Lahore, Murad became less and less controllable. Although he never openly rebelled against Akbar, he showed "indirect disobedience".

After Malwa, Murad was sent to the Deccan in 1594, where he defied Akbar's writ more openly. Although he never openly challenged Akbar, Murad repeatedly had heated arguments related to battle strategy and war tactics with Abdu'l-Rahim Khan-i Khana and Shahbaz Khan, who were especially deputed by Akbar as mentors to Murad. They were experienced and leading noble commanders in the region.

The Mughal war campaign in the Deccan began to fail due to the infighting. Finally, Akbar had to bend and gave in to Murad's wish. Akbar removed Rahim from his command of the Deccan. But, even now Murad remained unwilling to continue the campaign in the Deccan according to Akbar's wish. He always found ways to secretly undermine imperial objectives by making overtures to various enemies, displaying a "deliberatedistinct lack of military initiative, and picking arguments with Akbar's other generals. In a final effort to reconcile with his son, Akbar sent Abu'l Fazl to Deccan in 1598-99 to bring Murad back to the Mughal Imperial court in Agra. But, Murad died in 1599 in Deccan only.

Salim Starts Asserting His Power; Akbar Decides to Clip His Wings..

Initially, Salim WAS the heir 'apparent'Although being the oldest son did tend to come with certain favors and advantages, it did not, in fact, guarantee the Mughal throne. After the elimination of Mirza Hakim's sons, the only contenders to the Mughal throne were the sons of Akbar. What was Salim to do if any of his brothers laid claim to the throne?

Instead of an advantage, then, the position of heir apparent was a burden to Salim. It came with added expectations of loyalty and service to the Emperor that conflicted with maintaining a personal and an independent and powerful household and cultivating networks of support to ward off future rivals, in case such a situation arose. Salim found this balance increasingly difficult to strike because his supporters were those who were in conflict with Akbar. 

Hence, starting in the early 1590s, Salim began to defy Akbar, initially on minor issues. It was also mentioned earlier in this post how Salim started gathering support in order to become the next emperor when Akbar fell sick in 1591. 

Akbar had "geographically distanced" Murad and Salim by sending Murad away from the court in 1591 to handle Malwa. Salim and Daniyal were the ones who were left in Lahore. As relations among his sons worsened, Akbar himself felt increasingly threatened by the eldest, Salim. In 1594, Akbar made a decision which was aimed at countering the increasing hegemony of Salim.

Khusrau - 'The Favorite' , the Grandson is Groomed as the Next Heir :

In 1594, disillusioned by Salim's rebellion, Akbar's mind turned to one who, by widespread consent, had all the requisite qualities to succeed him: Salim's eldest son Khusrau. Khusrau was born in 1587 to Salim and Man Bai, a Rajput princess from Amer, the daughter of Raja Bhagwan Das and sister of Raja Man Singh. Khusrau soon grew up to be a court favourite.

A European clergyman writes of Khusrau : “He had a pleasing presence and excellent carriage, was exceedingly beloved of the common people, their love and delight.

The following blog post provides more details about Prince Khusrau:
Khusrau - The Unfortunate Mughal Prince | Struggle for Power

Jehangir Receiving His 2 Sons - Khusrau and Parviz

A quick recapitulation has been provided here about Akbar's preference for Khusrau:
The following details have been taken from the Akbarnama (Persian), Vol-3, Page-651

On 28th March 1594, Akbar made a stunning decision, which had no precedent in the Mughal Empire (and nor was it ever repeated again.) He granted Khusrau a high imperial rank (mansab) of panch hazari, i.e., 5000, even though Khusrau was only six years old at the time.!

{In the Akbarnama, Abu'l Fazl praises Khusrau as the possessor of "great khird (wisdom) with a khurd (small)", meaning "a small kid with great wisdom".}

Along with the high ranking mansab, Akbar assigned the financial resources of the newly conquered province of Orissa to Khusrau. In addition, Khusrau was given charge of the seasoned Rajput and Afghan troops. Thus, political and military muscle was also added to Khusrau's clout. 

The emperor also appointed his maternal uncle, Raja Man Singh, as his ataliqRaja Man Singh was  made the governor of the neighboring province of Bengal, so that he could easily handle the political affairs in Orissa on behalf of Khusrau. 

Through his elevation of Khusrau, Akbar appears to have sought to impress on all concerned parties, especially Salim, that he (Akbar) was willing to supersede their (his sons) claims to the throne if they (his sons) questioned his (Akbar's) authority. In order to personally groom Khusrau for his future role as the Emperor, Akbar insisted that the young prince remain under his exclusive charge, and went as far as proclaiming, "I love my grandchildren more than my sons".

Inevitably, relations between Salim and Khusrau began to deteriorate in the same way as the relation between Akbar and Salim had.

Salim Sent Away from the Imperial Court; Daniyal Allowed to Use Red Tents

We have seen that, by 1594, Khusrau's elevation had started, in order to clip the wings of Salim. Now, in 1597, Akbar decided to send Salim away from the Imperial court. He faced stiff resistance from Salim in this regard. Salim argued that he should remain at court, as the Emperor was getting old. Nevertheless, in mid-1599, Akbar forced Salim to accept command of an expedition to Mewar. 

Prince Daniyal

After being forcefully sent away from the court, Salim came to know that Akbar had permitted his younger brother Daniyal to use red tents in his camp – an imperial prerogative that until then was exclusively reserved for the emperor himself and the heir apparent. Salim was displeased at this.  (However, there is no record of any rivalry between Salim and Daniyal. ) The meaning of this act of Akbar was clear. It may be noted that Murad had died in 1599. Soon after this act of Akbar, Salim reached the end of his cat and mouse game and broke up in open rebellion against Akbar in 1599.

Khurram - The Dark Horse

Another grandson that Akbar doted on was Khurram, who later went on to become Emperor Shah Jahan. Khurram was the third son of Salim and his birth was welcomed by lavish celebrations, festivities and fireworks, consistent with Mughal pomp, not only at Agra and Lahore but throughout the empire. 

On the 6th day after the child was born to Princess Jagat Gosain (more commonly known as Jodhbai),  the Hindu Chatthi ceremony was performed according to Rajput traditions. Salim requested his father to name the new prince on this occasion and Akbar named him Khurram, meaning "the joyous".

Khurram was born under the zodiacal sign of Libra and court astrologers predicted a great future for him. Initially, he was kept under the care of the childless - Ruqaiyya Sultan Begum. Khurram grew up in the emperor's palace and filled the emperor's heart with pride and pleasure with his budding promise of future greatness. In spite of the literary teachers assigned to him, Khurram exhibited a marked preference for more practical pursuits such as learning warfare strategies. 

Jehangir Weighing His Son, Prince Khurram, on a Weighing Scale, Tuzuk-i-Jahangiri, British Museum, London

Khurram was so attached to his grandfather that he stayed by the bedside of the dying emperor in October 1605, in spite of the entreaties of his mother that he leave the palace, as there may be a possible threat to his life from the aspiring contenders for the throne. 

Being yet a child, Khurram realised his potential only after Akbar's demise. 

It is interesting to note that while Khurram(Shah Jahan) writes about his good bonding with his grandfather Akbar - in his biography, but Akbarnama speaks of very good bonding between Khusrau and Akbar.


It appears that since 1591, Akbar was trying to eliminate rivalry between the princes. Hence, he first sent Murad to Malwa. Later, Khusrau was elevated to 5000 mansabdari in 1594. Daniyal was sent away to Allahabad in 1597 and he stayed away from the imperial court hereafter till his death. Salim was forced to go on a campaign against Mewar in 1599, following the death of Maharana Pratap in 1597. At the same time, Daniyal was allowed to use red tents in his camp, which was a privilege the Mughals only bestowed on the eldest son or the heir apparent.  

If we analyze the Akbarnama closely, we observe that Salim's rebellion was a part of his long-term effort to force Akbar to make political concessions and declare him the next Emperor. On the other hand, elevation of Khusrau was also a long-term effort of Akbar to contain Salim. In the end, Salim's tactics failed, as Akbar had made up his mind to appoint as the heir apparent, first Daniyal and then later Khusrau. 

It is worth noting here that Salim was a master politician, quite shrewd and astute, contrary to the common image of being a "soft-hearted, romantic and tragic figure". (Another dedicated post will examine the rebellion of Salim and the astute moves he made to ascend the throne.) 

Akbar's approach in dealing with the princes and their growing political ambitions give rise to some interesting questions:

- To what extent was it ethical to foster competition to the heir 'apparent' by giving significant roles to the other princes ?
- What could have happened when a 'favorite prince' turned hostile or was no longer a 'favorite' ?
- What degree of control might an Emperor exert over the succession politics ?
- What would be the fate of the remaining royal brothers, in case ill-will developed between them?

Related Posts : 

a. 2 HOURS that changed Mughal History | Death of Akbar - Victory of Jahangir - Defeat of Khusrau, Raja Man Singh & Mirza Aziz Koka | Story of treachery, loyalty & fluctuating fortunes - A detailed analysis from Portuguese account of 3rd Christian Mission at Mughal Court, Akbarnama, lesser known Persian histories & hitherto unknown Rajasthani (Jaipur) Manuscript | Part-2 of 3 part series

b. Khusrau | The unfortunate Mughal Prince - Struggle for Power - 1

Looking forward to your views in this regard!

Thanks to Abhay for his contribution to this post.

The article has been posted under the Mughals (Akbar) section of this history BLOG.

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