Taj Mahal, Mughlai kebab, Qawwali or Urdu- the Mughal Dynasty has always attracted attention, be it of Indians or historians around the world. Their grandeur, food, dressing style, music, architecture, language, you name it and you would know that each and every facet of the Mughal dynasty spells royalty. Over decades of their rule in India, the emperors have been famous for one thing or the other, but the most famous of them all was Jalal-ud-din Muhammad “Akbar”, better known as Akbar – The Great. Despite being illiterate, Akbar managed to leave an indelible mark on history and continues to raise curiosity till today. There are various facts about Akbar which interest all of us in general. We bring to you a list of the top 10 ones!
Yes, we know it’s a double negative, but you know what we mean! As portrayed in the famous movie Jodhaa Akbar, Akbar remained illiterate and uneducated all his life. He had to occupy the throne at the early age of 13 years after the untimely death of his father Humayun. The responsibilities of the Great Mughal Empire never allowed him the time to educate himself. Even though he was extremely interested in the growth of literature and languages in his court and kingdom, he remained illiterate himself.
Although hunting was a very popular hobby amongst all emperors of Medieval India, Akbar is known to be a great hunter who went on his hunts alone. His hunts were accompanied only by loyal trustees, and more often than not, Akbar went alone. At the age of 19, Akbar came across a tigress and 3 cubs in a forest and killed the tigress with nothing but a sword. He hunted frequently during peace time in his empire. His hunts included: cheetahs, lions, tigers, black buck and even elephants. It is said that, in one of such hunts, Akbar was mortally wounded and recovered miraculously; but many still believe it could have been a major reason for Akbar’s mysterious death at the age of 63. This picture depicts his hunting in the biography – Akbarnama. Akbar made it a point that his passion for hunting was suitably recorded as text or images in his biography.
8) Din-i-illahi – The Hindu-Muslim Religion
Akbar was extremely tolerant of all religions in India and intended to unite India under a single rule – The Mughal Rule. His predecessors had introduced various laws and systems that benefited the Muslims and were prejudiced against the Hindu population in the kingdom. This not only created a distance between the ruler and the countrymen, but also sparked hatred against the “foreign rule”. Akbar overstepped all these lacunae by practicing immense religious tolerance. He employed Hindu intelligentsia in his court and abolished laws that were disadvantageous to Hindus. He was an admirer of Meera Bai and visited the Krishna Temple in disguise to listen to her sing Bhajans. Born to a Turkish-Mongolian father and Persian mother, Akbar was closely related to different religions at once. He learnt enormously about all the religions that he could, but realized that each of these religions had some incompetence and hence, propounded a new religion called the “Din-i-ilahi” in 1582 AD. He intended to merge the best elements of the religions in his empire and thereby reconcile the differences in his subjects. The elements were primarily drawn from Islam and Hinduism but also included some parts from Zoroastrianism, Jainism and Christianity. The name of the religion literally means the “Religion of God”. There are neither sacred scriptures nor a priestly hierarchy in this. As Akbar was tolerant about all religions, he never forced his religion on his subjects or family but the early disciples include Birbal, Prince Salim, Qasim Khan, Sufi Ahmad and others.
Unlike other Medieval India Emperors, Akbar believed that the real gems of any kingdom are its intelligence and skill, rather than jewels, gold coins or materialistic resources. In order to establish the importance of intelligence and skill, Akbar inducted a council of 9 most learned men in his darbar and they were known as the Navratnas. All of us are aware of the famous Navratnas – Birbal, Tansen, Todar Mal, Abul Fazl, Raja Man Singh etc. but what most of do not know is that one of the Navratnas was Abdul Rahim Khan-i-Khanan who is famous for his couplets and is commonly known as Rahim. Rahim was infact Akbar’s stepson, the son of Akbar’s general Bairam Khan, who was assassinated when he was proceeding to Mecca pilgrimage.
It is very well known that Bairam Khan was the guardian of Akbar during the early years of his reign. As he was too young to handle the empire himself, Bairam Khan was in-charge of it, on behalf of Akbar. Akbar managed to win several wars with his help, including the Second Battle of Panipat, which later led to Bairam Khan’s assassination. 5 years after coming to power, at the age of 18, Akbar dismissed Bairam Khan and ordered him to go on the holy Mecca pilgrimage. What most people do not know is that after the dismissal, the loyal Bairam Khan turned into a rebel and waged a war against Akbar. Akbar managed to defeat Bairam Khan but forgave him. As Bairam Khan was travelling through Gujarat in order to depart on the Mecca pilgrimage, he was assassinated by King Hemu’s men, in order to seek revenge of Hemu’s death in the Second Battle of Panipat, which the Mughals had won under the leadership of Bairam Khan. As Bairam Khan’s wife and son were set free, they returned to Akbar, and that is when Akbar married Bairam Khan’s wife.
5) Akbari Architecture
The architecture under Akbar’s reign epitomizes his style of ruling – elegant, strong, rich and graceful. The architecture is often refered to as secular, because it draws elements from both Muslim and Hindu architecture. The capital town of Fatehpur Sikri has been declared as a World Heritage Site in 1986 and is known to house the famous Diwan-e-khas, the palace of his beautiful Rajput wife – Jodha Bai, and the residence of his confinate – Mahesh Das or Birbal. The Buland Darwaza and Jama Masjid personify the strength of Mughal Empire under Akbar, but the Agra Fort continues to remain the ambassador of Akbar’s reign. He also built the lesser known structures like Arab Sarai (guesthouse at Humayun’s tomb) and forts in Delhi, Agra and Lahore.
4) Polygamy ain’t that fulfilling!
It is a well-known fact that Akbar married multiple number of times. But what is less known is that Akbar had around 300 official wives and over 5000 concubines, leading the harem to consist of over 5000 women. In the beginning of his reign, Akbar used marriage alliances with various royal houses as a way of expanding his empire, to accomplish his dream of conquering the whole of Hindustan. The political advantages of this steady stream of princesses were incalculable. Many of these were older women, but there were also young servant girls, or Amazons of Russia or Abyssinia as armed guards, all with the status only of slaves. It was these who, if so required, were the emperor’s concubines. The three hundred were technically wives, even though the Koran limits the number to four. Akbar wanted religious sanction of all these 300 wives. Later, Akbar regretted marrying many times and wrote that “Ideally a person should marry only once and second marriage only if he is childless”. This was made into a law for people in his reign later on. Wasn’t it too late to realize? Well, he pretty much had all his fun during his reign.
Despite the cinematographically spectacular movies Mughal-e-Azam and Jodha Akbar, most historians have still not been able to resolve the real relationship of Akbar and Jodha. Most are apprehensive of the fact that they were even related in any way. As history says, Akbar had over 300 official wives, but the documentary evidences of Akabr’s time including Tabqat-i-Akbari, Mutakhabutawarikh, Akbar Namma and Ain-i-Akbari, none of them mentions Jodha Bai as Akbar’s wife. Some historians believe that during the translation of Ain-i-Akbari into English by a British historian, he messed up Jodha Bai’s name with some other Rajput princess who married Akbar. Some sources also say that Jodha was infact Akbar’s mother or maybe his daughter-in-law, while others stubbornly quote that Jodha was Akbar’s wife and the only queen to bear him a royal kin. It is said that none of the other royal queens could bear Akbar a son, and his other sons were from his concubine wives. Hence, the story of Jodha and Akba remains a mystery till date.
He had around 1000 cheetahs as his pets in his kingdom. After all women were not the only objects of fascination for him. His favorite cheetah was Madan Kali, whose arrival was announced by drummers. Akbar would feed him with his own hands while his ministers were afraid of it. His favorite dog was Mahuwa. He would visit the stables of his pet every day without fail to check on them, which angered his religious teachers.
Akbar led a very disciplined and healthy life unlike his successors. He would sleep only for 4.5 hours a day – 3 hours at midnight and 1.5 hours in the afternoon. He believed that he would not want to waste his precious life by sleeping as he was a workaholic. He would have food only once a day, which he would inform his servants one hour prior. He later gave up non vegetarian food after middle age and ate only vegetables and fruits during his later life. He would walk from Mathura hunting grounds to the Agra fort, approximately 60 kms, in a few hours, in such high speed that only 2 men would be left along with him when he reached the fort. Intoxication and luxury were definately not a part of his schedule!
Akbar definitely has garnered interest, be it for his ingenious ideas or his harem of women. From Bollywood to literature, every sphere talks about him in some reference or the other. How can we ignore Akbar-Birbal comics? What irks most historians and histroy lovers is the fact that details of Akbar and his reign are still clouded with confusion despite his biography Ain-i-Akbari by Abul Fazl. This has also lead to two schools of thought. One which portrays Akbar as a tolerant, kind-hearted lover of Indian land and the other which talks about him as a womanizer and gruesome foreigner. Well, what you think of him is your conclusion after reading about him, but history would continue to refer to him as “Akbar – The Great”.