AKBAR THE GREAT
When Akbar became king he was only thirteen years old. No one could have then guessed that he would be the greatest of the Mughal emperors and one of the best kings the world has ever known. Young Akbar had his share of troubles at the start. A general called Hemu marched to Delhi and took it by force. There were many others who likewise thought this was the time to become independent. There was rebellion and disorder all over the land.
Akbar was lucky in having a guardian called Bairam Khan who had served his father and grandfather, and was very loyal to his young master. Bairam Khan quickly got together his army, and with Akbar at its head marched towards Delhi. Hemu marched out of Delhi to meet the attack. He rode his favourite elephant named Hava because it was as swift as the wind. The two armies clashed near Panipat. The battle was as fierce as the first one fought on the same field between Akbar's grandfather Babar and Ibrahim Lodi. Hemu was defeated and killed. Akbar became emperor of India with the faithful Bairam Khan as his chief adviser.
When Akbar was about eighteen years old, he decided to take the Government into his own hands. Bairam Khan was old and left on a pilgrimage to Mecca. He did not reach the holy city as he was stabbed to death on the way by an enemy.
Akbar turned his energy towards making his empire bigger. He was a daring and able commander. He decided not to rest until his empire extended from Burma in the east to Persia in the west, and until his throne was safe from enemies. This took him twenty years of hard work.
The Rajputs had never been happy with the Muslim kings and looked upon them as foreigners. Akbar made up his mind to win them over to his side.
One of the strongest forts of the Rajputs was Chittor. It was built on the top of a hill. Rana Sanga's son, Udai Singh, was at that time the ruler of Chittor. But he was a weak man. Akbar decided to attack this famous fort. It was not an easy task. Again and again the Mughal armies had to fall back. Jaimal was an important Rajput general who had been charged with the defence of Chittor. During an attack, Akbar saw him behind the battlements. He fired a shot at Jaimal and killed him. Udai Singh fled the city. The Mughal armies climbed up the hill and rushed into the fort. The 8,000 Rajputs inside fought till the last one of them had fallen. From a distance, Akbar saw black smoke curling over the towers of Chittor. He knew that the brave Rajput women had jumped into the fire as was their custom so that they may not fall into the hands of the victor. The next morning, he rode into the fort on an elephant. All the wealth of the city was taken to Agra and Chittor became a ruin.
A small band of valiant Rajputs led by Maharana Pratap, the son of Udai Singh, decided to defy the Mughal armies. From the hills and valleys of Rajasthan they kept up a heroic resistance for twenty-five years. They slept in the open on hard rocks and ate the wild fruit of the forest. At long last, Maharana Pratap's lone battle against the might of the Mughal Empire was lost and the power of the Rajputs was broken.
One of Akbar's great qualities was that he could make friends of his enemies by being kind to those he had defeated. He married a Rajput princess and gave high positions to Rajput noblemen in his court. In his eyes, there was no difference between them and the Muslim officials.
After Rajasthan, Akbar also conquered Gujarat, Bihar, Bengal and Orissa. His foster-brother, Adham Khan, was sent to conquer Malwa for him. He attacked the fortress of Mandu where Baz Bahadur, the king of Malwa, lived with his beautiful Hindu wife Rupmati. He loved her very much. After defeating Baz Bahadur, Adham Khan wanted Rupmati for himself. One evening, when he went to the palace he found her lying on her couch. When he came close to her, he discovered that she had poisoned herself and was dead. When Akbar heard of the way in which Adham Khan had behaved he was very angry.
For many years Akbar's armies fought against the tribes of the northwest. Kashmir was also conquered. Akbars empire was now much bigger than his grandfather's had been. But there was one thing, which still worried Akbar. The kingdoms of the Deccan had not accepted him as their master.
The sultanates, after uniting to defeat Vijayanagar, had begun quarrelling amongst themselves. This gave the Portuguese traders a chance to settle down at a number of places on the west coast. Akbar felt that the Portuguese were a danger to his empire. He wanted the Deccan to be in his own control. One of the sultanates was Ahmadnagar. When Akbar's army invaded Ahmadnagar, Chand Bibi, a valiant queen, fought bravely against the invaders. But in the end she was forced to make a treaty with the Mughals.
A big empire alone does not make a king great. It is what he does for his people that really matter. Akbar was always very concerned about the poorest of his subjects. He took great trouble to make sure that everyone was treated fairly. He divided his empire into fifteen provinces, so that each part might be properly governed. As Sher Shah Suri had done before him, he ordered all lands to be correctly measured. Each farmer knew how much he had to pay in taxes. When there was no rain, or crops were destroyed by storm, the farmers were let off from paying. Akbar's dealings with the peasants were even better than Sher Shah's. For this the credit goes to Raja Todar Mal, who organized Akbar's system of land taxes.
Akbar organized his army just as well as the land system. The best part of the Mughal army was its cavalry. There were also elephants on which archers and musketeers rode.
There were many cruel customs in India in Akbar's time. One was that of Sati. According to this custom, the widow of a dead person burnt herself along with him. Another was the marriage of children who were much too young to know the meaning of marriage. A third bad thing was that Hindus and others who were not Muslim had to pay a tax called Jazia. Another very bad thing some rich people did was to take defeated soldiers and keep them as slaves for the rest of their lives. Akbar passed laws against all these evil practices.
Akbar was a very religious man. Ever since his boyhood he had a great longing to discover a way of worship which would give him peace. When he was only fourteen years old, Akbar rode away into the forest to be by himself and to try and find God. This great longing never left him all his life. The first thing he did every morning was to pray quietly for some time. He ate only one meal a day and very rarely ate meat. I do not want to make my body a tomb for beasts, he used to say. He did not like the killing of animals for sport or for food. He was once out hunting on the banks of the Jhelum. He was filled with sadness to see animals being shot just to provide amusement for a little while. He passed an order that hunting was to stop.
One of the things that made Akbar especially sad was that people of different religions quarrelled and fought amongst themselves. He believed that every religion had some good in it and he was always eager to learn more about other religions. He used to call holy men of all faiths to his palace and have long talks with them every Thursday. Sometimes these talks went on all night. Akbar also started a new religion of his own called Din-i-Ilahi, which means Divine Religion. Many of his nobles took to it. Akbar did not do this just to add a new religion to the many that there already were in India. He thought the Din-i-Ilahi was a religion that all people could follow, and he hoped that it would end religious quarrels. Unfortunately not many of the common people were attracted by Akbar's religion.
You have already learnt something of the Bhakti movement. Akbar was very much moved by this simple religion of love. In his time, there lived in India two very great people who followed the way of Bhakti.
TULSIDAS AND SURDAS
One of them was the famous Tulsidas. He wrote the Ramayana in simple Hindi, which everyone could understand. You can hear his book called Ramacharitamanas sung or recited even today.
The second Bhakta of this time about whom you must know something is the blind poet Surdas. He composed thousands of poems. The most famous of them describe the childhood of the Lord Krishna and the pranks he played on the gopis and cowherds of Braj.
The most important thing about these two poets of Bhakti is that the common people could understand their language. And the language they wrote was not only simple but also very beautiful. Akbar wanted this language of the people to become better and better. And so, he favoured those who wrote it and spread it all over the land. The songs of these saints, along with those of Mira, are still the most popular songs in large parts of India today.
You will be surprised to know that as a boy, Akbar was not good at his studies. His teachers tried very hard to make him read and write, but they had to give up. The result was that the emperor could hardly sign his name! Nevertheless Akbar had a hunger for knowledge, and he respected books and learned men above all things. He was always happiest when scholars, artists, or men who were skilled at something surrounded him. There were nine such men at his court. He called them his Nine Gems. His chief minister Abul Fazl was one of them; he encouraged Akbar to spread the Din-i-Ilahi. Faizi, the poet who translated the Bhagvad Gita into Persian, was another. The famous musician Tansen was a third. The witty Birbal, whose clever jokes you must have heard, was also one of Akbar's most prized gems. Another was Raja Todar Mal without whose able help Akbar could not have improved the system of land revenue.
Beautiful things, whether they were buildings or paintings or music, gave Akbar great joy. He planned his lovely city at Fatehpur Sikri near Agra with much care. He laid gardens, and planted flowers. At the same time he was also a great warrior. He could be the most daring of men whenever the need arose. He rode wild horses that no one else dared to ride, and tamed dangerous elephants of whom even their keepers were afraid. He was full of energy and he loved sport. One of the games he invented and liked very much to play was night polo. It used to be played in the dark with burning balls.
You must wonder how we know so much about Akbar. Much of it we know from Abul Fazl who wrote a book about the reign of this remarkable ruler. This book is called Akbar Nama.
Akbar is remarkable for many things. He took what was best in the Hindu religion, and what was best in Islam, and followed both. This gave the people of India a feeling of unity, as though they were all together in the same boat. Nor was Akbar ever discouraged by the difficulties he had to face. Many narrow-minded people did not like his reforms and his new ideas; but Akbar did not care. If he believed that what he was doing was best for the country he simply did it.