Akbar (1542-1605), was the third and greatest of the Mughal emperors of India. During his 49-year reign from 1556 until his death, he controlled most of northern and central India and Afghanistan. Akbar was a great patron of architecture, art, and literature. His court was rich in culture as well as material wealth. Its fame persuaded Queen Elizabeth I of England to send out her ambassador, Sir Thomas Roe. Many of Akbar's buildings still survive, including the Red Fort at Agra and the city of Fatehpur Sikri, with its encircling wall 10 kilometres long.
Akbar could not read or write. But he collected thousands of beautifully written and illustrated manuscripts. He also surrounded himself with writers, scholars, musicians, painters, and translators. Although Akbar never abandoned his Muslim beliefs, he enjoyed religious debates, and eventually founded a new faith which he called Din-e-Ilahi (Divine Faith). To him, it represented the essential oneness of all religious beliefs.
He was born in Umarkot, Sind (now a province of Pakistan). His father, Emperor Humayun, died when Akbar was only 13. Akbar became the ruler of parts of northern India at an early age. He was particularly proud of two of his famous ancestors, the Mongol conquerors Genghis Khan and Tamerlane.
Akbar was trained as a military leader from childhood. At the age of 10, he was given his first military command. Although he was not tall, Akbar was strong and fit. He looked impressive dressed in his splendid robes.
Akbar was the first of the Mughal emperors to identify himself completely with India. His grandfather, Babur, invaded the Indian plains and took whatever land he could by force. In order to keep the loyalty of his commanders, Babur bribed them with large estates. The commanders ruled these regions with their own armies, collecting taxes, and seizing whatever wealth they could. Akbar's father, Humayun, fled the country when challenged by the Afghan ruler, Sher Shah Sur. Humayan regained the throne at Delhi with the help of the Shah of Persia. But Humayun remained a monarch who ruled by conquest. At that time, these Mughal rulers did not see themselves as being permanent residents of India, or as having any responsibility toward the country and its people. Akbar was born in India and did not live anywhere else. As a result, he knew the land and its people. Although he was a Muslim, he married a Hindu Rajput princess, and allowed her to worship in her own way in the palace.
When Akbar came to the throne in 1556, his kingdom did not stretch much further than the Punjab and the Delhi region. His chief minister, Bayram Khan, guided the young king well, and Akbar soon began to conquer neighbouring Hindu kingdoms. In 1561 he conquered Malwa. This opened up the rich lands of western India. The Hindu Rajput princes were powerful and militarily skilful. Akbar handled them diplomatically. He allowed them to keep their kingdoms, provided they acknowledged him as their overlord by paying tribute and supplying him with soldiers. He sealed such agreements by marriages with princesses of the Rajput royal clans.
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