On this day in 1542, one of the greatest Mughal emperors in history, Akbar the Great, was born.
Son of Humayun, grandson of Babur, and descendant of the Turks, Mongols, and Persians, Abu al-Fath Jallal ud-Din Muhammad Akbar, also known as Shahanshah Akbar-e-Azam, was born on the night of a full moon in the Rajput Fortress of Umarkot in Sindh, in modern-day Pakistan. He was raised by his uncle in modern-day Afghanistan, where he learned the skills that would make him a brave warrior–hunting and fighting–but he never learned to read or write and remained illiterate throughout his life.
Upon the death of his father Humayun, Akbar ascended the throne at the tender age of 13, when he was made third Mughal emperor of India. His guardian, Bairam Khan, ruled on Akbar’s behalf until the young boy came of age. When he came of age, Akbar oversaw the expansion and consolidation of a vast, glorious empire that became a fount of religious tolerance and a center for cultural and artistic riches.
In his early years, Akbar led a series of military campaigns to extend his empire’s influence, starting with the conquest of Malwa in 1561, as well as present-day Rajasthan, Gujarat, Bengal, Chittor, Kabul, Kashmir, Kandahar, and Kandesh. A natural warrior, Akbar was known to be a brave, fearless strategist.
He was also a skilled ruler who reformed and centralized his empire’s administration to encourage loyalty to the emperor and discourage the formation of factions. He also introduced a centralized financial system to collect revenues and distribute wages.
But Akbar’s greatest legacy is considered to be his promotion of the arts and of religious tolerance throughout the Mughal Empire. A Muslim, Akbar encouraged religious debate between Muslims, Christians, Hindus, and Parsis in his court. His reign gave rise to a period of religious tolerance, Hindu-Muslim communal harmony, and a more secular, liberal atmosphere. In fact, Akbar was so interested in different religions and their merits he created his own religion, Din Ilahi, that merged the “best” elements of the disparate religions of his empire, in an attempt to reconcile the differences that divided his subjects.
A lover of the arts, Akbar also oversaw a flourishing period of Mughal art, architecture, painting, poetry, philosophy, and literature.
On 3 October 1605, Akbar fell sick with dysentery, from which he later died. His body was buried in a mausoleum in Sikandra, Agra. He was known to be wise, strong, benevolent, tolerant, and enlightened—a model ruler. He left behind a rich legacy and a shining example of military, cultural, and religious excellence.
Credit: © Lebrecht Music and Arts Photo Library / Alamy
Caption: “March of the Grand Mughal,” depicting Akbar the Great.