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Saturday, October 22, 2016

Contemporary account of reaction of people & Aftermath of Death of Akbar | Rise of Islamic Orthodoxy | Obituary of the Jesuit Priests | With 14 Mughal Miniatures| Death of Mughal Emperor Akbar - Last Part of a 3 part series


"Although I am the master of so vast a kingdom, and all the appliances of government are to my hand, yet since true greatness consists in doing the will of God, my mind is not at ease in this diversity of sects and creeds; and apart from this outward pomp of circumstance, with what satisfaction in my despondency, can I undertake the sway of empire? I await the coming of some discreet man of principle, who will resolve the difficulties of my conscience."

-- Mughal Emperor Akbar, as quoted by Abu'l Fazl  




Folks,

Here is the third and final installment in the tri-part series of articles related to the death of Mughal Emperor Akbar  in 1605 and the sudden and surprising accession of Prince Salim as the next Mughal Emperor.

The first part of this series set the ball rolling with a miniature of Mughal Emperor Akbar along with his grandsons Khusrau and Khurram and his personal physician Ali Gilani during his last days, intricately and expressively captured by the royal Mughal artist Manohar. It included translations of the partially surviving Persian inscriptions on the painting, inscriptions which vividly captured Akbar's despair at being laid low by a minor ailment as well as his utter loneliness in spite of being one of the greatest and longest ruling monarchs of all times. 

The second part of this series covered details from various accounts - Persian, Rajput and Portuguese - that touched upon events pertaining to the death of Akbar from different perspectives. It also contained a short biography of the historical personalities who were of paramount importance towards the end of Akbar's reign and the beginning of Salim / Jahangir's, like Raja Man Singh, Mirza Aziz Koka, Prince Khusrau, etc.

Those who missed these earlier posts, can read them here:

- Link of Part 1 of 3:
The LAST Portrait : Tragedy of a dying emperor | With English translation of surviving Persian Inscriptions | Death of Mughal Emperor Akbar - Part 1 of a 3 part series

- Link of Part 2 of 3:
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

It is suggested that this series be read in a chronological order without missing any of the parts so as to have a clear idea of the main characters who played their roles effectively in the high drama surrounding the passing away of Akbar as well as the events leading up to and post Akbar's death. 


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The present article contains 4 sections. 

The first section analyzes an extract from the autobiography of a Jain merchant who lived during the reign of Akbar. In his autobiography, the merchant described vividly the reactions of the common people upon hearing the news of the death of Akbar. This account, though personal, is of great historic value because it is contemporary in nature. It can be used to extrapolate the feelings of sadness and despair among the masses when Akbar died.

The second section is an attempt to understand the reasons behind the swift accession of Salim to the throne and the failure of the most powerful nobles at the Mughal court - Mirza Aziz Koka and Raja Man Singh - in rallying support for Prince Khusrau.

The third section is about the religious orthodoxy at the time, which was overjoyed by the death of Akbar and aimed at reviving orthodox Islam in Hindustan. This section also discusses the bigoted point of view of the orthodox ulema and clerics, which they were not able to put into practice while Akbar was ruling. This section serves as a mirror, and gives us an inkling of the strong orthodox sentiment which was resisted by the liberal Mughal Emperor Akbar.

The fourth section contains a laudatory obituary notice for Akbar, which was written by the Portuguese priests present at the Mughal capital. The same Portuguese letter which was included in the previous post is referred to in this section too.

This is followed by the Conclusion, which should not be missed, which contains the impact of death of Akbar in 1605, on the future of Hindustan.


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While Arjuna and Tamradhvaja fight against each other for seven days, the gods see the spectacle, watching safely from the sky. Episode from the 14th book, the Ashvamedhikaparva
Painting attributed to Paras. From the Mahabharata of Mughal Emperor Akbar.

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Section I 
A Contemporary Account 
of 
The Reaction of the Masses upon Hearing the News 
of 
Akbar's Death


Let us start with an extract from the autobiography of Shri Shrimal Banarasidas - a Jain businessman and poet from the Mughal era. He is known for his autobiography, Ardha Kathanak (Half a Story), composed in Braj Bhasha, an early dialect of Hindi linked with the region around Mathura. It is perhaps the first 'proper' autobiography written in an Indian language.

His father Kharagsen was a jeweller in Jaunpur. He spent his childhood in Jaunpur but later shifted to Agra. He is one of the leading proponents of the Adhyatma movement, which eventually led to the Terapanth sect of the Digamber Jains.

Banarasidas appears to have been a better poet than a businessman; at one stage he relates how after incurring several business losses, he had to borrow twenty rupees from his wife's savings. At times, a friend of the Nawab of Jaunpur persecuted him and he had to flee to other cities.

Banarasidas died just two years after writing his autobiography, in 1643. The work is notable for many details of life in Mughal times - Banarasidas lived during the reign of Akbar, Jahangir and Shah Jahan. But in our present post, we explore only the part which is related to the death of Akbar. It describes the effect of Akbar's sudden death in 1605 in the Mughal empire - the uncertainty of succession induced widespread fear among the masses. What is noteworthy is that he did not mention the death of Jahangir causing any such dejection among the masses.

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The Ardhakathanaka / biography of Banarasi Das
Published from Bombay

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Only 750 copies published for the first time in July 1943 from Mumbai (erstwhile Bombay)

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Contents

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Now, we see the English translation of this text :
  1. Story behind publishing
  2. Background
  3. Language of Ardha Kathanak
  4. List of Important Events
  5. Ardha Kathanak (Main Chapters)
  6. Epilogue
    1. Glossary
    2. List of Characters
    3. Introduction to Important Places
    4. Introduction to Important Jains - (Muni Bhanuchandra, Pandey Roopchand, Pandit Roopchand, Rajmall, 5 people, Bhagwatidas, Kunjarwal, Jagjivan, Hiranand, Mukim)
    5. Shrimal Community
    6. Estate of Narwar
    7. History of Jaunpur (kings of Jaunpur, business, Chin Qulin Khan, Jaunpur's Vigrah, etc.)
    8. Suleiman Sultan
    9. Disease (Plague)
    10. Mrigawati and Madhumalti
    11. Forms / Incarnations of Yuktiprabodh
    12. Errata




In the year, Vikram 1662 ( 1605 in the Gregorian calendar), during the month of Kartik, after the monsoon was over, the great Emperor Akbar took his last breath in Agra. The alarming news of his death spread fast and soon reached Jaunpur. People felt suddenly orphaned and insecure without their sire. Terror raged everywhere; the hearts of men trembled with dire apprehension, their faces became drained of colour.

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I was sitting up a flight of stairs in my house when I heard the dreadful news, which came as a sharp and sudden blow. It made me shake with violent, uncontrollable agitation. I reeled and, losing my balance, fell down the stairs in a faint. My head hit the stone floor and began to bleed profusely, turning the courtyard red. Everyone present rushed to my help. My dear parents were in utter agony. {He was then around 19 years old.}

My mother put my head in her lap and applied a piece of burnt cloth to my wound in order to stop the flow of blood. I was then quickly put to bed with my sobbing mother at my side. The whole town was in a tremor. Everyone closed the doors of his house in panic; shop-keepers shut down their shops. Feverishly, the rich hid their jewels and costly attire underground; many of them quickly dumped their wealth, took their assets and rushed i
n their carriages to safer, secluded places. 

Every householder began stocking his home with weapons and arms. Rich men took to wearing thick, rough clothes such as are worn by the poor, in order to conceal their status, and walked the streets covered in harsh woollen blankets or coarse cotton wrappers.

Women shunned finery, dressing in shabby, lustreless clothes. None could tell the status of a man from his dress and it became impossible to distinguish the rich from the poor. There were obvious signs of panic everywhere, although there was no reason for it, since there were really no thieves or robbers about.

The commotion subsided after ten days, when a letter arrived from Agra bringing news that all was well in the capital. Let me give you the gist of the news the letter carried. Akbar had died in the month of Kartik, in the year 1662 Vikram, after a reign of 52 years; now Akbar’s eldest son Prince Salim had been enthroned as King to rule from Agra, like his father.

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Salim had assumed the title of Sultan Nur-ud-din Jahangir; his power reigned supreme and unchallenged throughout the land. This news came as great relief and people heartily hailed the new king. To the joy of my parents, I, too, soon regained my health.

We celebrated the end of the days of gloom with much festivity, distributing alms to the poor and gifts to friends and relations.


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A "temple token" minted by Akbar, and used for giving donations to temples.


Related Posts :




"Temple  Token" of Mughal Emperor Akbar (1556-1605 AD), Persian inscriptions on both sides. Dated to 988 AH = 1580 AD. Struck to rupee weight of 10.7 grams, made of high silver content; used for Hindu temple donations.

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Section II 
The Anatomy of the Invisible Support 
to 
Salim / Jahangir in His Race to the Mughal Throne


The invisible support to Salim/Jahangir in his race to the Mughal throne came from :
 

1. Salim's own friends and supporters
2. The religious orthodoxy

Let us see how these two factors merged at the right time and worked in Salim's favour.

A. Strong Circle of Loyal Officers at Allahabad (1599 - 1604)


Salim’s five-year rebellion and his stay (1599–1604) in Allahabad resulted in his firmly establishing his own circle of loyal officers. He set up a parallel government at Allahabad. In other words, the Mughal Empire functioned from 2 power centres during this period - Agra and Allahabad.

In early 1600, he declared himself sultan (king) to assert his independence from Akbar. In the summer of 1602, he appropriated the even more exalted title of Padshah and began issuing coins in the name of "Sultan Salim Padshah Ghazi".

Now, his court attracted those people who could not find patronage at the Mughal court of Akbar in Agra.

After the death of Prince Murad in 1599, his secretary joined Salim at Allahabad, instead of going back to Agra, which strengthened the administrative hold of Jahangir. Khan Jahan Lodi who was serving under Daniyal also wanted to join Salim, but retracted when more gifts and favours were bestowed upon him.


During this period, Salim extended his authority between the cities of Patna in the east and Kannauj in the west.

 
B. Close Ties with Religious Scholars of Various Communities & Influential Bundelas

The most important aspect was the coming together of various religious scholars and administrators to his court. People who were tied to various shaikhzada communities in Fatehpur, Mau, Kairana, Gopamau, Khairabad, Daryabad, Bihar Sharif, and Mustafabad joined him. The mass desertion of pro-Akbar imperial officials at the outset of Salim’s rebellion strengthened the hand of the Muslim zamindar and qasba elites in Salim’s domain, since their main competitors in local patronage systems had left. Most of these went on to become high ranking nobles under Salim's rule.

Salim’s success with Muslims was replicated with groups of regionally powerful Bundela Rajputs and Purabiyas also. Based on their support for the prince during his rebellion, many individuals – most notably Bir Singh Bundela* – rose to become high-ranking imperial noblemen after 1605.

{* - He helped carry out the murder of Abu'l Fazl.}


Salim also actively reached out to local shaikhzada notables and religious figures by issuing numerous new land grants and confirming many older ones. In some cases, the prince reached out to individuals who had received prior favours from the Mughal state, which helped to forge new relationships.

Among the recipients of the prince’s largesse were local figures such as Sheikh Jahan, Sheikh Muhammad, and Sheikh Nasir – descendants of Hazrat Makhdum Abkash Daryabadi who had originally founded the important settlement of Daryabad. Pir Jalil, the founder of a large Suhrawardi khanaqah in Awadh and a member of a very distinguished religious family, was similarly honoured with large tax-free land given in charity for religious purposes.

On account of Salim’s willingness to issue extensive land grants to both religious personalities and disparate sheikhzada groups, a powerful new class of Muslim landholders in the countryside of Awadh and Allahabad was formed in the early 1600s.




"Akbar With Lion and Calf", Folio from the Shah Jahan Album
Painting by Govardhan (active ca. 1596–1645)
Calligrapher: Mir 'Ali Haravi ( ca. 1650)
Medium: Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper

This posthumous portrait of Akbar incorporates the Elizabethan-derived motif of a lion and calf living in peace under the emperor’s benign rule. Govardhan, a master of psychological portraiture, has given the calf an air of meek nervousness, as expressed in its sideways glance and lowered ears, due no doubt to the proximity of the lion’s visible teeth. Cherubs above and a Netherlandish background add cosmopolitan touches in vogue at the time.




C. Salim Reached Out to People Who Suffered Due to Akbar/ Despised Akbar

i. Afghans


Salim reached out to groups who had long opposed Akbar. In this regard, Salim’s recruitment of Afghans was especially significant. Steadily displaced as the dominant political and military group in northern India with the spread of Mughal rule after the 1550s, most Afghans deeply resented the Mughals.

Akbar largely refused to incorporate Afghans into the Mughal nobility, but Salim drew prominent Afghans to himself through the 1590s, offering them honour and rewards. One such person was Sheikh Rukn-ud-Din Rohilla. He was mentioned in part 2 of this post. He went to calm a fearful Salim, ready to flee Agra in the cover of darkness, during the last days of Akbar, when Salim felt isolated and powerless. Murad Ragini described him as a person with a strong army and formidable status.

ii. Kashmiri Muslims Also Joined the C
amp of Salim

Salim also brought the Kashmiris to his camp. It may be noted that they resented Akbar after he conquered Kashmir in 1586. 

After 1599, Salim attracted an influential core of Kashmiris into his service in Allahabad. One of them was Amba Khan who was the descendant of the Chak royal family of Kashmir that had been displaced by the Mughals.

Amba Khan proved to be a boon to Salim. He mobilized a network of supporters for Salim in Kashmir and in the Eastern parts of the Mughal Empire (where a large number of Kashmiris had been exiled by Akbar during the 1590s).
 

 
D. Strong Ties with the Influential Naqshabandis / Saiyids of Barha

Salim also established connections with notable religious leaders from the Naqshbandi order, as well as dons of locally embedded ethnic groups such as the militarily powerful Saiyids of Barha* and the learned shaikhzadas of Kairana in Uttar Pradesh.

* - They played a great role, during the last days of Akbar, in securing Salim's accession to the throne, as we saw in part 2 of this article.

We have already read about the importance of the Saiyids of Barha in the account of Murad Ragini. Saiyid Ali Barha was Salim’s childhood friend and confidante who remained by the prince’s side even during his rebellion against Akbar. Saiyid Ali was the son of Saiyid Mahmud Barha – the first Barha figure to join the Mughals in the 1550s and a high-ranking imperial noble during Akbar’s reign.

Salim greatly valued his association with Khwaja Abdullah, a nephew of Khwaja Hasan Naqshbandi, who was Mirza Hakim’s Prime Minister from 1565 to 1582. Khwaja Abdullah's recruitment to Salim's camp created a link to the prominent Naqshbandi order that Akbar had largely ignored in favour of other rival Sufi orders, such as the Chishtis. Sure enough, nobles* with ties to the Naqshbandis provided critical military support during Salim’s struggle to succeed his father in October 1605 and in his 1606 conflict with his son Khusrau.

* - We have read about these nobles of Akbar in the part-2 of this series.
 

Sheikh Hasu of Sirhind was another childhood friend of Salim. His clansmen were the sheikhzadas of Kairana (in present-day western Uttar Pradesh). They were firmly allied with various other sheikhzada lineages in the region through marriage.

In the early 1590s, on Sheikh Hasu's suggestion, Salim immediately recommended tax-free religious lands to be granted to Hasu's men. The Sheikhs founded madrassas (Islamic religious schools) in Kairana and became useful conduits of influence.

 

To put it in a nutshell :

A powerful household such as that built by Salim depended on casting a broad and inclusive network for recruitment and also on building a cohesive inner core. The continuous efforts of Salim in this direction finally bore fruit that fateful day when he succeeded in becoming the Mughal emperor. The ladies of the harem prevented Akbar from taking any strict step against Salim. Everything, it seems, ultimately worked in favour of Salim.



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A symbolic miniature painting of Mughal Emperor Akbar in Rajput Dress, with bagalbandi and mukut
From Rajasthan, Now in the Allahabad Museum


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Section III 
Death of Akbar : Rise of Religious Orthodoxy
An Insight into the Thought Process of Orthodox Elements
Their Reasons for Despising Akbar


The socio-cultural and religious conditions during Akbar's period had been an eyesore for the orthodox ulema of the court as well as those who were outside the court circle. Initially, Akbar's court was a place where the orthodox ulemas found a safe haven. However, the condition began to change just after his marriage to a Hindu princess for the first time in 1562. The first point of discontentment was the provision of allowing idol worship of Hindu Gods in the palace, followed by the policy of revocation of pilgrim tax, abolition of Jaziya, etc.

A large section of the ulema adapted themselves to this new socio-religious milieu in the court. While a few of them adopted an attitude of indifference towards these new developments, a section of the ulema who were uncomfortable with these changes, responded to it. They tried to curb the after-effects of these developments. They attempted to resist it, though their methods of resistance were different.

There were 3 bitter critics of the religious policies of Akbar who adopted different methods to express their criticism. However, the most impactful was Sheikh Ahmed Sirhindi because he mobilised a sort of pan - Hindustan movement which aimed at the revival of orthodox Islam in the country with complete adherence to the tenets of the Sharia't. 


His sons/successors were a powerful force too and the supporters of Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb in his war against his brother Dara Shikoh for the Mughal throne! 

Sheikh Ahmed had great knowledge of esoteric sciences and was a great 'Sufi' scholar, and had studied the Hadis from a close friend of Badayuni. This post mainly discusses his views on the socio-religious policies of Mughal Emperor Akbar.


Akbar receives Farid Bhukhari / Murtaza Khan. 
Shuja' al-Dawla Album. Manohar c. 1600



Disillusionment & Dissatisfaction with Akbar's Innovations in Islam  


Sheikh Ahmed had a prolonged contact with the Mughal court for over 20 years and was well aware of the developments which took place there. He was in contact with the 2 brothers at the Mughal court - Abu'l Fazl and Abu'l Faizi, with whom he conducted religious debates, and was dissatisfied with their liberal views, which, according to Sheikh Ahmed, were anti Islamic. He wrote letters to Mughal nobles like Sheikh Farid Bukhari and Mirza Aziz Koka, etc, telling them about the need to establish Islamic supremacy in Hindustan, and the kufr which Akbar was committing. Sheikh Farid Bukhari, who was his close disciple, was also a patron of Sheikh Ahmed's teacher Sufi Baqi Billah.

Sheikh Ahmed wrote letters to various Mughal nobles and lamented about the anti-Islamic activities which were promoted by Akbar. Most of his letters were written to Sheikh Farid Bukhari (Farid supported Salim in the race leading to the Mughal throne, as we saw above).

To get a glimpse of the intolerant views of the Sufi
Sheikh Ahmed, we will see a few letters written by him. His letters are compiled in a work in 3 volumes in Persian, called Maktubat-i-Imam-i-Rabbani. I could not get the English translation of this work but only selected excerpts. Also, most of the letters are about his religious views only and, hence, i did not think it profitable to do a thorough analysis of those huge volumes.


I. Letter to Farid Bhukari 

The following is a letter which Sheikh Ahmed wrote to his disciple-cum-friend Farid Bhukari after the death of Akbar, in 1605, when Jahangir assumed the crown. Here, he lamented the miserable plight of Islam because of the rule of Akbar (he calls Akbar the ruler who prohibited Islam) and expressed satisfaction that Jahangir (the king of Islam) had come to the throne. Below each picture, a brief explanation has been provided.  


The King is to mankind (his subjects) what the heart is to the body. If the heart is healthy, the body is also healthy.

In the same manner, reform of the world depends upon the reform of king and his unhealthiness becomes a cause of unhealthiness of the world.

The writer asks Bukhari, "You know what calamity had passed on Muslims in the past age* when Islam was helpless. In the early years of Islam, when Muslims were few, calamity did not strike them so much. Muslims followed their religion and non-Muslims theirs."

* - the word Qaran means past ages, normally refers to the last few decades, which means he is referring to the period when Akbar ruled.


But in the near past non-Muslims (which implies the Rajputs as they were the ruling non- Muslims in the reign of Akbar) have obtained supremacy, and issue orders of heresy in the land of Islam, but Muslims cannot dare to issue the orders of Islam.

And if they did, they were put to death. What a pity it was that the testifiers of the beloved of God, the holy Prophet were down trodden and insulted whereas those who disbelieved him were honoured.

The Muslims mourned with wounded hearts on the decay of Islam and their enemies' sprinkled salt on their wounds with ridicules and sarcasm. The sun of guidance and the light of truth were covered by the veils of falsehood.


The good news of the death of that King (Akbar) who was prohibiting Islam  / creating a feel of hindrance to the religion of Islam and the accession of the throne of a King of Islam (Jahangir) has reached to ears of all Muslims.

All of them have considered it obligatory to help the new king in enforcing the law of Islam (Sharia't).


The greatest of all virtues is to strive for enforcement of Sharia't, and revive its commands, specially in the present age when the signs of Islam have been adversely affected. Or, some other innovator (like Akbar) may create more problems.


II. Letter to Lala Beg 

Lala Beg was an old and senior Mughal noble. His father was a a librarian of Humayun. One month after his accession, Jahangir raised the rank of Lala Beg, from 1,500 to 4,000. He was also promoted to govern the province of Bihar along with a gift of 2,000 rupees. 

In his letter to Lala Beg, the Sheikh strives to revive the practice of cow slaughter and enforcing Jaziya on the Hindus. He also aims at the elimination of the Kufr which, according to him, had spread in Hindustan during the reign of Akbar. He was eager to get these proposals accepted as early as possible, when Jahangir came to the throne.





III. Letter to Miran Sadr-i-Jahan 

The Sadr was another supporter of Salim, in the fight for the throne. We read about him in the last post. Salim called him "one of the genuine Sayyids of India" . For a long time, he held the high office of sadr (ecclesiastical officer) under Akbar. 

After coming to the throne, Jahangir raised his rank from 2,000 to 4,000. Salim knew him since childhood. Salim says - "From those early days till now,  Miran Sadr Jahan has acted towards me with single-minded loyalty, and I regard him as my preceptor in religious matters (khalifa). Whilst I was prince and before my revered father's illness, and during that time, when the ministers (pillars of the State) and the high nobles had become agitated (referring to Raja Man Singh and Mirza Aziz Koka), and each had conceived some idea of gain for himself and wished to become the originator  of some act which could only bring ruin on the State, he had not failed in the activity of his service and devotedness (towards me). "

There is a proof of Sheikh's interest in the downfall of the faction of Prince Khusrau, which is clear from his letter to Miran Sadr-i-Jahan in 1605, just after death of Akbar. He repeats the same demand, which he made in the above letter, to enforce "Islamic practices" as soon as possible. The Sheikh writes -

" Now that the government has changed (after the death of Akbar) and the resistance of the opposing parties has given way (neutralization of Khusrau, Man Singh and Aziz Koka)  then it is the duty of the followers of Islam, be they ministers of state or religious scholars, to strive to their utmost for the propagation of the Sharia and restoration of the fallen pillars of Islam.


It is not wise to delay. The Muslims are perturbed and they remember the hard times they have undergone (
under Akbar). Do not let the change slip and add to the misery of Islam. When the king is not concerned for the propagation of the holy Prophet's way and the courtiers excusing themselves from this task, seek after their earthly good, then how shall the matters of the Muslims not be ruined."


 
Leaf from a Harivamsa Manuscript, The Legend of Hari (Krishna), Illustrated detached folio, ca. 1590-95; Mughal. Ink and colors on paper. This painting is one of the finest results of Akbar's court. The god Krishna protects the people of Braj against the destructive rain sent by the god Indra.

As part of his policy of reconciliation between Muslims and Hindus, Mughal Emperor Akbar had the Hindu classics translated into the Persian language of the court and illustrated by his court artists.

To protect his followers from the wrath of the rival God Indra, who has conjured up a holocaust, Sri Krishna lifts Mount Goverdhan like some huge umbrella. The villagers and their herds evoke today's India and must have been even more familiar to sixteenth-century viewers. Such pictures were intended by Akbar to explain Hinduism to his Muslim courtiers, and thereby instil 
religious tolerance in them. The artist, therefore, has made every effort to lend credibility to God's miracle.

Amusingly, Akbar assigned one of his most orthodox Muslim men of letters to translate the Harivamsa --Badayuni. Badayuni strongly disapproved of Akbar's religious policies, and it is remarkable that the emperor suffered him so leniently. In as much as Badayuni's work on history of Akbar is a rich source of his personal views of Akbar, it seems likely that the Emperor found him as amusingly informative as we do. :-P


 
IV. Another letter to Farid Bhukhari 

The following is a self-explanatory extract, which describes the contents of another letter which the Sheikh wrote to Farid Bhukhari. At any cost, Islam and Hinduism (Kufr) were two separate entities, which could never be conjoined, according to him.


To honour Islam, the dishonour of Hindus was required. Honouring Hindus / idolators / kafirs was equivalent to dishonouring Muslims. Hindus could not be engaged in any business, and had to be kept at arm's length.



The real purpose behind levying all these restrictions on the Hindus was to isolate them and to ensure that they did not have any wealth. The ultimate motive was to keep them terrorised and to uphold the "honour and might of Islam" - according to the "Sufi" Sheikh.


V. Another letter to Lala Beg 

In this letter, the Sheikh expressed his disapproval of the banning of cow slaughter and also demanded re-imposition of Jaziya. In some of the letters, he displayed strong anti-Hindu sentiments. He expressed anguish when Akbar prohibited cow slaughtering. According to the Sheikh, slaughtering of cows was a noble Islamic practice which was going on in Hindustan, but had been banned by Akbar :


The views clearly show that Sheikh Ahmed was against the very idea of Hindus and Muslims living together. He insisted on re-starting the slaughter of cows, and then a re-imposition of Jaziya. However, he was not able to win the mind of Jahangir, who was the son of a Hindu mother and a Muslim father.



Personal Anti-Islamic Practices / Kufr of Akbar 
(According to Religious Orthodoxy at the Time)


Akbar was a rationalist - a man far ahead of his times in terms of his thinking and vision. He always looked for reason in every action that bore his stamp, whether in his personal life, at the court or in his empire. He believed in a personal God unrelated to any specific faith, and while he invited and listened to religious preachers from all faiths, none impressed him enough to submit himself completely to it. In particular, Akbar strongly subdued the voice of the orthodoxy in religious jurisprudence. This nature of his was distasteful to the orthodox elements in his court and outside. 

Let us look at some of the aspects of Akbar's religious practices that the orthodox clerics found objectionable and and straying away from Islam.


1. Akbar was persuaded by his Hindu courtiers and wives to -


 - worship the cow and the sun,
 - adopt the sacred thread*,
 - participate in havan (a fire ritual performed in a havan kund) with his Hindu wives and
 - adorn a sectarian mark (saffron tilak) on his forehead.

* - It is called Zunnar / Janeyu / Upavitam. Almost all Hindu men traditionally used to wear a white-coloured sacred thread on their upper body. Akbar also adorned it!


Related Post:
Mughal Emperor Akbar - The Sun Worshipper



Coin with Mughal Emperor Akbar and Sun, Inscribed with "Allahu Akbar"
Minted by Mughal Emperor Jahangir, c. 1605


2. Akbar allowed his Hindu wives to worship boars in the palace !

Akbar also invited the wrath of orthodox elements when he allowed his Hindu wives to worship pigs in the palace. According to Hinduism, Lord Vishnu incarnated on Earth in the form of a boar and was known as Varaha in that form. Hence, his Hindu wives used to worship the boar, along with Akbar! Pigs are considered unholy or impure in Islam.

According to Badayuni's testimony, (Akbar) "rejected Prophetship and the miracles which were attributed to the Prophet of Islam, and even the whole of Sharia't**". Further, Badayuni stated that Akbar also expressed disbelief over the existence of angels.

** - Rejection of the Sharia't in totality MAY BE an exaggeration by Badayuni, but we do know for sure that Akbar did not follow the Sharia't completely. The practices mentioned here go against the Sharia't.




Painting fitted in a gilt wooden frame representing Mughal Emperor Akbar seated on a rectangular seat with his Hindu Wife ( known in common memory as Jodha Bai) in front and an attendant standing at his back, in a landscape. Palace painted at the background.

Miniature Painting from the Salar Jung Museum, Hyderabad
Copyrights @Salar Jung Museum, Ministry of Culture, Government of India



3. Idol Worship

Sheikh Ahmed also expressed his resentment at Akbar's worshipping of the idols of Sri Rama and Sri Krishna. He mentioned - "the last Prophet has explicitly stated that whoever introduces something new which was not originally a part of our religion, it shall be rejected". This was in contradiction to Akbar's "innovative methods / approaches," which some view as his liberalism, but which Sheikh Ahmed termed as anti-Islamic practices.


Coin with the words "Rama Siya" written in Devanagari across upper field.

Issued by Mughal Emperor Jalal-ud-din Mohammad Akbar. From Agra mint. Dated Amardad Ilahi year 50 (AH 1013/4 / AD 1604/5). "Ilahi 50 Amardad" in Persian in two lines surrounded by floral vine; all within linear and pelleted border / Lord Rama, crowned and in royal dress, standing right, holding arrow in right hand and bow in left, quiver over shoulder; behind, Siya (Sita), his consort, also standing right, holding a lotus in each hand.



4. Consideration Shown to Hindus

Sheikh Ahmad was convinced that the considerations shown to Hindus in Akbar's reign had emboldened them, and that this policy had to be reversed. He expressed regret at the abolition of Jaziya and urged for its revival. He demanded the abolition of the ban on cow slaughter, as seen from his letters earlier in the post. He called upon the Muslim nobles of Akbar not to associate with non-Muslims and tolerant / unorthodox Muslims, including Shias.

In a letter (which we saw above) to Farid Bukhari, one of the chief nobles of Akbar and a friend of Jahangir, Sheikh Ahmed went so far as to say that the company of Muslim non-conformists was worse than that of non-Muslims.

Some historians have given an interesting reason for such a zealous reaction of Sheikh Ahmed against Akbar. The Bhakti movement was reviving traditional Hinduism (which had become subdued by centuries of Islamic rule in India) in the country in the 16th century, and was viewed 
with great contempt by Sheikh Ahmed. On one side, he was perturbed by the "watering down" of Islam by Akbar with his liberal practices and, on the other side, he was alarmed by the growing religious freedom of the Hindus!  

The Bhakti movement commenced in Bengal, but, under the spiritual leader Chaitanya Mahaprabhu's successors, Mathura in northern India became the great center of Gaudiya Vaishnavism. Temple re-building had started in earnest and a lot of temples were constructed and patronized by Akbar's own officers Raja Man Singh and Raja Bhagwan Das.

The historian S M Ikram gives evidence of a great crisis connected with this, where a Brahmin of Mathura had  constructed a temple from the material which was meant for the construction of the mosque! The orthodox ulemas could not bear such an audacity of a Brahmin, and he was executed without the knowledge of Akbar. The matter was confounded by the fact that the executed Brahmin was the personal priest of Mariam-Uz-Zamani and this development led to a great brawl. {A separate post will be made to explain this event.}

The orthodox elements might have felt that the "defiant" spirit of the Hindus
, as seen in the Brahman's action, had been inculcated by the liberal policies of Akbar.

Moreover, Akbar patronized a famous Brahman saint of Mathura - Goswami Vithal Rai, and had granted him a lot of favours. Even his mother Hamida Banu Begum held the saint in high regard. There are various farmans which were given by the Mughal Emperor and his mother to the saint for his safe stay and uninterrupted worship at the Goverdhan in Mathura. The links of the blog articles detailing some of these farmans are shared below.


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Related Posts :





This is a double page from the personal copy of Ramayana, which was made for the mother of Mughal Emperor Akbar - Mariam Makani Hamida Bano Begum. 
Before she died, she asked for her copy of Ramayana to be brought to her, near her death bed!

The religious tolerance of the third Mughal emperor, Akbar was, in the eyes of his contemporaries, excessive. He commissioned translations
from the Hindu religious epics and held religious debates between Hindus, Jains, Muslim clerics and Jesuit missionaries, etc . The copy from which
these pages are taken – a simplified version of the original text of the Hindu epic, the Ramayana – bears two inscriptions in the name of 
Mariam Makani Hamida 
Banu Begum, wife of Humayun, the second Mughal emperor, who died in August, 1604.

The supernatural messenger in the manuscript on left : a giant messenger, ‘bright as the flame of a lighted brazier’, appears with a dish of miraculous
 food, which blesses the three queens of the childless King Dasaratha of Ayodhya to conceive. Of the four sons born
 to them, the noble child Rama is especially godlike. King Dasaratha is shown surrounded by his Brahmin counsellors, who are drawing up the princes' horoscopes.

In the mansucript on right, Sri Rama, Maa Sita and Laksmana bid farewell : when Sri Rama has grown to manhood, faced with the demands of King Dasaratha’s
 queen, Kaikeyi, that her own son should become ruler of Ayodhya, Sri Rama retires into the forest, accompanied by his wife Maa Sita and his brother
Lakshmana, leaving his father, King Dasaratha, desolate with grief and the people of Ayodhya bereft.

From L. York Leach, Paintings from India, The Nasser D. Khalili Collection of Islamic Art, volume VIII, London 1998, cat.8 and 9, Page 40–49.

Copyrights @ J.M. Rogers, The Arts of Islam. Masterpieces from the Khalili Collection, London 2010, cat.314, Page- 272–3.

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The revival of Hinduism and the loss of stature / power of Islam in the Mughal empire led to extreme reactions in orthodox Muslims like Sheikh Ahmed, which came out in the open at the time of Akbar's death. Sheikh Ahmed's wrath was not just limited to the religious beliefs of Akbar or the role of his Hindu wives and ministers. It was also directed at the common Hindu who worshipped idols and those Sufi saints who did not practice the Sharia't, as desired by him. He demanded a total separation of non-Muslims and non-conformist Muslims from the Muslim community. The execution of the Sikh Guru Arjan Dev during the reign of Jahangir was celebrated by him.
 

He and many like him felt the need to undo these measures of Akbar, after his death, and to restore Islam to its pristine glory.

It is also worth mentioning that historians contest each others' claims while discussing the quantum of the role played by orthodox elements in the accession of Jahangir. But, what cannot be denied is that - A promise was taken from Jahangir to safeguard Islam, before giving him their support to be the next Mughal emperor! The extent of the involvement of orthodox elements can be debated, but not the very existence of a religious angle in the victory of Jahangir.



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A symbolic miniature painting shows Mughal Emperor Akbar seated in his court along with his nine jewels (Navratna). They are Abu'l-Fazl, Abdul Rahim Khan-I-Khana, Birbal, Mulla Do-Piyaza, Faizi, Raja Man Singh, Raja Todar Mal, Fakir Aziao-Din and Tansen.

The things worth noting are the "Rajputisation" of Akbar. Akbar is seen wearing bagalbandi, kamarbandh and mukut. Some nobles are wearing bagalbandi and pagree & some the jama.

From 18th century Rajasthan, Now at the Allahabad Museum.
Copyrights @Allahabad Museum, Ministry of Culture, Government of India



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Section IV
Obituary Notice at the Death of Akbar 
By the Portuguese Priests at the Mughal Court
Letter of Jesuit Xavier (Lahore) to the Provincial of Jesuits (Goa) 
Dated : 25th September, 1606

From:
British Library, London, MS 9854
Missoes Jesuitas NIndia, 1582 - 1692, F. 38-52
Ed. da Silva (Portuguese)
Scan of letter taken from Portuguese archives:
DocumentaĆ§Ć£o UltraMarina Portuguesa, III
Contents of the Letter of the Jesuit Xavier (Lahore) to the Provincial of Jesuits (Goa)

The author was present in Agra during the last months of Akbar's life and the early days of the reign of Jahangir. He was a part of the 3rd Christian Mission which came to the court of Akbar in 1595* and stayed till 1605. But Xavier stayed in the Mughal court for over 20 years, till his death in June 1617.

* - The capital of the Mughal empire was at Lahore in 1595.

The account of the death of Akbar, as noted in this letter, serves as a very important testimony because this is neither an official history nor based on hearsay / gossip. The author was present in the Mughal court as a religious-cum-political agent of the Portuguese crown, and it was his duty to report all important matters without any mistake, to his superiors in Goa. Additionally, he could record what the official court chronicler would hesitate in recording, as he was not bound by loyalty to the Mughal empire nor had any need to be afraid of the emperor. 

We have already seen those contents of this letter, which were related to the events surrounding the death of Akbar in part -2 of this series. The present post refers to the remaining contents of the same letter, which include an obituary to Akbar.


Jesuit Xavier's Letter to His Superiors in Portuguese 

The starting line talks about the event when Sheikh Farid Bhukhari met Salim and promised him all support for the throne, if he (Salim) agreed to enforce the "law of Mohammad" / Sharia't in the Mughal empire. Now, we start with the English translation. My explanations are given in purple in brackets :::

The leading noble (Sheikh Farid), having been sent by the others as their representative, came to the Prince (Salim) and promised, in all their names, to place the kingdom in his (Salim's) hands, provided that he would swear to defend the law of Mohammad, and to do no ill or offence either to his son (Khusrau), to whom the King wished to leave the kingdom*, or to those** who had sought to secure his son's succession. 

{

* - In the obituary, the Jesuits yet again highlight the fact that Akbar wanted Prince Khusrau to inherit the Mughal throne.

** - People in the camp of Khusrau, like Raja Man Singh and Mirza Aziz Koka. 
}

All these conditions he swore to fulfil, and, accompanied by a strong guard, went to  see his father. The latter had already lost the power of speech*, but retained sufficient consciousness to direct his son by signs to place the royal toque on his head ; then, indicating his sword, which lay at the foot of his bed, he signified in a like manner that he should gird it on. The Prince made the Sijdah, that is, the  adoration, touching the ground with his head, then rising, after which the King signed to him with his hand to withdraw. This he did with alacrity, and assured of his kingdom, returned to his quarters, followed by the acclamations of the people. Meanwhile, the King suffered the last agonies attended only by a few of his most faithful retainers, who remained constantly near him. They sought to put him in mind of their Mohammad; but he made no sign of assent**; only it seemed that, from time to time, he tried to utter the name of God. 


{
* - The Jesuits make it clear that Akbar had already lost his power to speak when Prince Salim came to meet him. This was also proposed in the concluding remarks of the Part -2 post.

** - Akbar refused to speak the Kalimah (the customary prayer, which Muslims utter at the time of death). He only tried to utter the name of "God". As readers are aware, he worshipped Sun and his "God".
}

The death of this great and powerful monarch took place on the 27th of October, in the year 1605. He died as he had lived ; for, as none knew what law he followed in his lifetime*, so none knew that in which he died. This was the just judgement of God ; for when he had the means of learning and recognizing the truth, he refused to make use of them. Hence he was unworthy of God's grace**; so that, at this hour, none was at hand to take the bandage of unbelief from his eyes, or to offer him the means of dying in the law of Jesus Christ ; the holiness of which he had so often admitted and extolled.


{
* - The Jesuit states that no one knew whether Akbar died (or lived) as a Muslim or a Hindu. 

** - These lines tell us about the frustration of the Jesuits, when they were unable to convert Akbar to Christianity. Hence, they call him "unworthy of God's grace."
}


Jesuit Xavier's Letter to His Superiors in Portuguese


Thus died Akbar ( they call him Echebar / Aquebar in the original text ), but now the master of the East. And indeed he was a great King ; for he knew that the good ruler is he who can command, simultaneously, the obedience, the respect, the love, and the fear of his subjects. He was a prince beloved of all, firm with the great, kind to those of low estate, and just to all men, high and low, neighbour or stranger, Christian, Saracen*, or Gentile** ; so that every man believed that the King was on his side. He lived in the fear of God, to whom he never failed to pray four times daily, at sunrise, at sunset, at midday, and at midnight, and, despite his many duties, his prayers on these four occasions, which were of considerable duration, were never curtailed.

{

* - It means a Muslim.
** - It can mean many things, bu Jesuits use this word as a reference to the Hindus.
}

Towards his fellow-men he was kind and forbearing, averse from taking life, and quick to show mercy. Hence it was that he decreed that if he condemned anyone to death, the sentence was not to be carried into effect until the receipt of his third order. He was always glad to pardon an offender if just grounds for doing so could be shown.

Amongst his great nobles he was so predominant that none dared lift his head too high* ; but with the humbler classes he was benevolent and debonair, willingly giving them audience and hearing their petitions. He was pleased to accept their presents**, taking them into his hands and holding them to his breast (which he never did with the rich gifts brought to him by his nobles), though often with prudent dissimulation he pretended not to see them. At one time he would be deeply immersed in slate affairs, or giving audience to his subjects, and the next moment he would be seen shearing camels, hewing stones, cutting wood, or hammering iron, and doing all with as much diligence as though engaged in his own particular vocation. He ate sparingly, taking flesh only during three or four months of the year, his diet at other times consisting of milk, rice, and sweetmeats. With great difficulty he spared three hours of the night for sleep.


{
* - There were a few exceptions like Raja Bhagwan Das and Raja Man Singh who could be firm with Akbar. See this post : Akbar tries to injure himself, but Raja Man Singh stops him = An Angry Akbar | The Fight of Mughal Emperor Akbar and Raja Man Singh

** - This is an interesting observation about Akbar's humility. The Jesuits say that Akbar happily accepted the gifts which were brought to him by the common people and would hold them close to his heart. However, he did not accept the gifts of the rich people with such enthusiasm.
}

Twice at least in each day he gave audience to his subjects, showing himself at a window, from which he listened to all who sought speech with him. He had a wonderful memory. He knew the names of all his elephants, though he had many thousands of them, of his pigeons, his deer, and the other wild animals which he kept in his parks, and of all his horses to which names had been given. Each day, a certain number of these animals were brought before him for his inspection. He watched these from his window; and as each animal passed him, its name and that of the person responsible for feeding it was read out to him. He noticed if it had grown fat, or become thin, and increased or decreased the salary of its keeper accordingly.


Though he could neither read nor write, he knew everything that took place in his kingdom; for from every quarter his captains wrote to him monthly, informing him of anything new they had seen or heard of. These letters were read to him after he had finished his other business, or before he retired to sleep. After the lights had been lit, he used to sit in a great hall, surrounded by numerous people whose duty it was to read books to him, or narrate stories.

Here, too, he received strangers, who came for the first time to his court, questioning them concerning their King or Prince, the nature of their country, customs, trade, and similar matters, and remembering all that they told him. Amongst other books which he had read to him was the life of our Saviour, which we had composed in Persian; for he had a great admiration for Jesus-Christ, of whom he always spoke with reverence, and whose images he treated with profound respect. But he would sometimes say that he believed our Saviour performed His miracles, giving sight to the blind, raising the dead, etc, by human means, since He was a great and wonderful physician. This idea was put into his mind by the Saracens. 



Mughal Emperor Akbar holding a religious assembly in the Ibadat Khana (House of Worship) in Fatehpur Sikri; the two men dressed in black are the Christian missionaries Rodolfo Acquaviva and Francisco Henriques. 
From the Akbarnama, miniature painting by Nar Singh, ca. 1605

Echebar was one of the most fortunate monarchs of his time. Everything came to him that he wished for. He greatly extended the territories which his father had bequeathed to him; for he conquered the new kingdoms of Caxemir(Kashmir), Sinde(Sindh), Guzarate(Gujarat), Xischande (Khandesh), a great part of the Deccan, and the whole of the country of Bengala, Scarcely ever did he engage in an enterprise which he did not bring to a successful conclusion; so that " as fortunate as Echebar " became a common saying throughout the East. But he missed the greatest thing of all : the knowledge of the true God and His only Son Jesus-Christ, who came to save mankind ; so that, in spite of all his worldly prosperity, he was unable to escape everlasting torment.
 

He was some sixty-three years old when he died, having reigned for about fifty years. When all was over, his son and successor arrived, and the body was at once wrapped in a winding-sheet. Some wished to pray for him in the Saracen (Muslim) manner; others did not dare to ; and in the end neither Saracens (Muslims) , nor Gentiles (Hindu), nor Christians would claim him as theirs, so that he had the prayers of none. His body, having been placed on a bier, was carried on the shoulders of the King (Salimand his son (Khusrauwithout the fortress in which he died, a new exit having been made, as is the custom, by breaking down a portion of the wall. It was then conveyed to a garden about a league away, where it was buried. Of the small company that followed, a few only wore mourning; for neither the King nor his courtiers were in mourning dress, but only his son and some of those with him, who wore it for that evening alone. Thus does the world treat those from whom no good is to be hoped, nor evil feared. 

So ended the life and reign of King Echebar.


The respect that the Jesuit priests had for Akbar and his qualities shines through the letter in spite of their disappointment that Akbar did not convert to their faith. Scarcely anyone can write a better tribute to Akbar - one of the greatest emperors in world history and an equally charismatic personality in his personal life.


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This illustration to the Akbarnama depicts Mughal emperor Akbar on horseback, inspecting a wild elephant captured from a herd during a royal hunting expedition near Malwa in north central India. The elephant is shown tethered to a tree to start its training process, and two trained elephants can be seen in the foreground being led away. The manuscript describes in detail the process of training a wild elephant. 
 C. 1586 - ca. 1589 (made). Painted in opaque water colour and gold on paper. 
At V and A Museum.





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Conclusion

We have seen at length the events surrounding the death of Mughal Emperor Akbar. We are now also in a position to say that Akbar never expected his death to arrive so early. In fact, even while he was unwell, he continued his normal routine, believing that he would be well soon. But providence had different plans for him, and events moved at a very fast speed in his last days.

As we saw above, in Section - 2, Salim, knowingly or unknowingly, created a very strong and powerful support base for himself at Allahabad during his rebellion from 1599 to 1604. His support base was not only strong but wide too, running across the Mughal dominions from the affected Kashmiri Muslims and the Afghans, to the Rajputs of Bundelkhand with whom he had very good relations. He also had in his coterie a wide array of the religious families and the shaikhzadas of Uttar Pradesh, who wielded a lot of local support. The Saiyids of Barha* were especially known for their religious (Islamic) zeal and martial valour and were a source of great moral support to Salim.

{
* - We discussed the origin and related information about the Saiyids of Barha in depth in part-2 of this series.
}

The deterioration of Akbar's condition was the golden moment that the Islamic fundamentalists were waiting for and it signalled the turn of the tide in their favour. Despite their loyalty to Akbar, it can hardly be denied that his senior officials, like Sheikh Farid Bhukhari,  were in favour of taking the state from the system of governance built by Akbar back to the system of governance dictated by the Sharia't. They wished to superimpose Islamic jurisprudence over the equality of all religions that Akbar had dreamt of.

Various charges of dishonouring Islam were made against Akbar by bigots like Badayuni and the highly vocal Sheikh Ahmed Sirhindi, whose caustic views about Hindus have been mentioned in Section 3. 

According to Professor A.L. Srivastava (Head of the Department of History, Punjab University, Lahore), the real issue that bothered the orthodox Muslim clergy was:

" the downgrading of Islam from its place of supremacy as the religion of the state to one of equality with other religions was an unpardonable sin in the eyes of the bigoted mullahs, who believed that everything Islamic was good and everything non-Muslim was evil. When Akbar tried to reform the Indian society and tried to incorporate in it, some practices of Hindu, Jain, Parsee, Christian customs, these mullahs took it to be an insult to Islam. Badayuni might have been sincere in his views that Akbar really insulted Islam but he was not totally correct." 

By conviction and temperament, the mullahs were totally against Akbar's policy of sulh-i-kul / mutual tolerance / peaceful co-existence of all, as they could not see non-Muslims being viewed with the same respect as Muslims. According to them, even treating a Hindu with equality was a sin. Snippets about their views in this regard have been posted above.


Sri Krishna defeats the thousand-armed demon Bana.
Illustration from a royal manuscript of the Harivamsa made for Mughal Emperor Akbar.


Here, it is important to note that Akbar was not born great. He had his own share of flaws. But, what makes him different from others and sets him in a different league, was his ability to learn from his mistakes, accept them, and rise above them. Abu'l Fazl quotes Akbar:

" Formerly I persecuted men into conformity with my faith and deemed it Islam. As I grew in knowledge, I was overwhelmed with shame. Not being a Muslim myself, it was un-meet to force others to become such. What constancy is to be expected from proselytes on compulsion? " 

Akbar accepted his folly, clearly recorded by Abu'l Fazl, and made amends. Later, he passed an order according to which all the Muslims who had been converted from Hinduism were free to go back to their original religion, as recorded by Badayuni, much to his chagrin. Some other acts of Akbar, which were not liked by the religious orthodoxy, have been listed in section-3.

While Akbar was in power, the fundamentalists did not have the courage to openly dissent against his tolerant policies. They came out into the open only when Akbar became ill and was on his death bed. By means of letters and by generating fear about the degradation of Islam, they rallied support for Salim as the future emperor. Sirhindi exhorted the nobles through his letters to use their influence in changing the atmosphere at the court and to put an end to the 'heretical innovations' which were percolating through the court due to Akbar. It can be said that the hatred for & the non-acceptance of Akbar's policy of sulh-i-kul was a boon for Salim, because the fundamentalists supported him in the hope that he would return the status of Islam as the foremost religion of the Mughal empire. They feared that Prince Khusrau was a chip off the old block and would continue the liberal policies of Akbar. Salim was merely a tool for them to bring an end to the policies of Akbar. 

It is said that Indian history took a fatal turn when Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb won the war of succession after eliminating his brother, Dara Shukoh. However, the death of Akbar in 1605 was also of no mean significance. It marked the revival of orthodox Islam, as opposed to the Sufi movement, in the subcontinent. Sheikh Ahmed deputed his Khalifas to important cities and towns in the Mughal empire and outside the Indian frontiers to revive orthodox Islam. His efforts in this direction were so deeply effective that it not only influenced the common people, the ullema, sufis and scholars of the time but enabled his religious mission to be introduced at the Mughal Court as well, though its success is debatable. A gradual change in the religious life and attitude of the Mughal rulers cannot be contradicted. The results of Sheikh Ahmed's revivalist efforts were undoubtedly far reaching and durable, and likely to have hastened the quick and quiet death of Akbar's liberal policy in Mughal Empire.



Vanaras helping Sri Rama in building the bridge to reach Lanka.
From the Ramayana of Mughal Emperor Akbar.
 
While Akbar may have been denounced as a kaafir by the fundamentalists of his time for his tolerant policies, he was considered nothing less than the shadow of God and a father-figure by the common people in his empire - Hindus and Muslims alike. The account of Banarasidas, seen in Section-1, says that people felt as though they had been orphaned, and deeply mourned the death of their king. They were not aware of the political drama taking place in the Agra Fort and were highly relieved when Salim became the new emperor and the situation of turmoil and uncertainty in the country subsided. This account is quite valuable from a historic perspective because it gives an eye-witness narration of how Akbar was viewed by his subjects.

It is alleged by some that Akbar's religious policy was motivated by his political considerations and lacked sincerity. But this statement is unsubstantiated by serious corroboration and analysis of facts. Things might have been so during his initial years of reign, when he was fighting for the extension and stability of the empire. But, after he had achieved that objective, he persevered in carrying out his policy to a logical conclusion, which was religious equality for all. Had political motive been the only consideration with Akbar, there was nothing to prevent him from revising the policy of universal tolerance or deviating from it on occasions, according to the exigencies of the situation. However, i have not found any flagging of of his interest in religious catholicity and tolerance so far in my reading. 

Akbar was truly one of the earliest liberal rulers of medieval India, who never disclosed his own religious leanings to anyone publicly, who respected all faiths equally but none too much, and who was rational enough to let no one come between him and his God. 

As Abu'l Fazl remarked : 

Heresy to the heretic, and Religion to the Orthodox
But the Dust of the Rose Petal belongs
To the heart of the Perfume Seller


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Thanks to Radhika for her inputs.

This is the concluding part of this exhaustive 3-part series, which covered the death of Mughal Emperor Akbar. Do share your views. It is your feedback which keeps me going!

Article Category : Mughals (Akbar)


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