Emperor Akbar, also known as Akbar the Great or Jalaluddin Muhammad Akbar, was the third emperor of the Mughal Empire, after Babur and Humayun. He was the son of Nasiruddin Humayun and succeeded him as the emperor in the year 1556, when he was only 13 years old. One of the most successful emperors of the Mughal Empire, Akbar also made significant contribution in the field of art. Apart from commencing a large collection of literature, he also commissioned a number of splendid buildings during his reign.
Akbar was 13 years old when he ascended the Mughal throne in Delhi (February 1556), following the death of his father Humayun. During his reign, he eliminated military threats from the powerful Pashtun descendants of Sher Shah Suri, and at the Second Battle of Panipat he decisively defeated the newly self-declared Hindu king Hemu. It took him nearly two more decades to consolidate his power and bring all the parts of northern and central India into his direct realm. He influenced the whole of the Indian Subcontinent as he ruled a greater part of it as an emperor. As an emperor, Akbar solidified his rule by pursuing diplomacy with the powerful Hindu Rajputcaste, and by marrying Rajput princesses.
Shahzada (son of the emperor) Akbar was born on 15 October 1542 (the fourth day of Rajab, 949 AH), at the Rajput Fortress of Umerkot in Sindh (in modern day Pakistan), where Emperor Humayun and his recently wedded wife, Hamida Banu Begum, daughter of Shaikh Ali Akbar Jami, a Persian Shia, were taking refuge. After the capture of Kabul byHumayun, Badruddin’s circumcision ceremony was held and his date of birth and name were changed to throw off evil sorcerers and he was renamed Jalal-ud-din Muhammad by Humayun, a name which he had heard in his dream at Lahore.
Humayun had been driven into exile in Persia by the Pashtun leader Sher Shah Suri. Akbar did not go to Persia with his parents but grew up in the village of Mukundpur in Rewa (in present day Madhya Pradesh). Akbar and prince Ram Singh I, who later became the Maharajah of Rewa, grew up together and stayed close friends through life. Later, Akbar moved to the eastern parts of the Safavid Empire (now a part of Afghanistan) where he was raised by his uncle Mirza Askari. He spent his youth learning to hunt, run, and fight, made him a daring, powerful and a brave warrior, but he never learned to read or write. This, however, did not hinder his search for knowledge as it is said always when he retired in the evening he would have someone read.
Following the chaos over the succession of Sher Shah Suri’s son Islam Shah, Humayun reconquered Delhi in 1555, leading an army partly provided by his Persian ally Tahmasp I. A few months later, Humayun died. Akbar’s guardian, Bairam Khan concealed the death in order to prepare for Akbar’s succession. Akbar succeeded Humayun on 14 February 1556, while in the midst of a war against Sikandar Shah to reclaim the Mughal throne. In Kalanaur, Punjab, the 13-year-old Akbar was enthroned by Bairam Khan on a newly constructed platform, which still stands. He was proclaimed Shahanshah (Persian for “King of Kings”). Bairam Khan ruled on his behalf until he came of age.
The first battle fought by Akbar was against Sikandar Shah Suri of Punjab. However, when Akbar was busy leading assault against Sikandar Shah, Hemu, a Hindu warrior, launched an attack on Delhi, which was then under the regency of Tardi Beg Khan. Tardi fled from the city and Hemu claimed the capital. On the advice of his general, Bairam, Akbar launched an attack on Delhi and reclaimed the city. On 5th November 1556, ‘Akbar the Great’ fought the Second Battle of Panipat against General Hemu.
Following soon after was the battle with Sikandar Shah at Mankot. In 1557, Adil Shah, who was the brother of Sikandar, died in a battle in Bengal. Along with fighting against the other rulers, Akbar also solidified his support by revoking the jizya tax on non-Muslims. At the same time, he started wooing the favor of the powerful Rajput caste, at times by marrying Rajput princesses. He expanded the Mughal Empire by including Malwa, Gujarat, Bengal, Kabul, Kashmir and Kandesh, amongst others. In no time, the rule of Akbar was firmly established over the entire Hindustan (India).
Akbar was greatly troubled in the last few years of his life due to the misdemeanors of his sons. Especially his third son, Salim, was frequently in rebellion against his father. The last conquest of Akbar comprised of Asirgarh, a fort in the Deccan. Thereafter, he faced the rebellion of his son and breathed his last on 12th October 1605. His body was entombed in a magnificent mausoleum at Sikandra city, near Agra.
Akbar’s court had Navaratnas (Nine Jewels), meaning a group of nine extraordinary people. They included:
- Abul Fazel (Akbars’s chief advisor and author of Akbarnama)
- Faizi (Akbar’s poet laureate)
- Mian Tansen (a Hindu singer who converted to Islam)
- Birbal (a noble known for his wittiness)
- Raja Todar Mal (Akbar’s finance minister)
- Raja Man Singh (trusted general of Akbar)
- Abdul Rahim Khan-I-Khana (a noble and a renowned poet)
- Fakir Aziao-Din
- Mullah Do Piaza