1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Akbar, Jellaladin Mahommed

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1911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 1
Akbar, Jellaladin Mahommed
1930701911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 1 — Akbar, Jellaladin Mahommed

AKBAR, Akhbar or Akber, JELLALADIN MAHOMMED (1542–1605), one of the greatest and wisest of the Mogul emperors. He was born at Umarkot in Sind on the 14th of October 1542, his father, Humayun, having been driven from the throne a short time before by the usurper Sher Khan. After more than twelve years’ exile, Humayun regained his sovereignty, which, however, he had held only for a few months when he died. Akbar succeeded his father in 1556 under the regency of Bairam Khan, a Turkoman noble, whose energy in repelling pretenders to the throne, and severity in maintaining the discipline of the army, tended greatly to the consolidation of the newly recovered empire. Bairam, however, was naturally despotic and cruel; and when order was somewhat restored, Akbar found it necessary to take the reins of government into his own hands, which he did by a proclamation issued in March 1560. The discarded regent lived for some time in rebellion, endeavouring to establish an independent principality in Malwa, but at last he was forced to cast himself on Akbar’s mercy. The emperor not only freely pardoned him, but magnanimously offered him the choice of a high place in the army or a suitable escort for a pilgrimage to Mecca, and Bairam preferred the latter alternative. When Akbar ascended the throne, only a small portion of what had formerly been comprised within the Mogul empire owned his authority, and he devoted himself with great determination and success to the recovery of the revolted provinces. Over each of these, as it was restored, he placed a governor, whom he superintended with vigilance and wisdom. He tried by every means to develop and encourage commerce; he had the land accurately measured for the purpose of rightly adjusting taxation; he gave the strictest instructions to prevent extortion on the part of the taxgatherers, and in many other respects displayed an enlightened and equitable policy. Thus it happened that, in the fortieth year of Akbar’s reign, the empire had more than regained all that it had lost, the recovered provinces being reduced, not to subjection only as before, but to a great degree of peace, order and contentment. Akbar’s method of dealing with what must always be the chief difficulty of one who has to rule widely diverse races, affords perhaps the crowning evidence of his wisdom and moderation. In religion he was at first a Mussulman, but the intolerant exclusiveness of that creed was quite foreign to his character. Scepticism as to the divine origin of the Koran led him to seek the true religion in an eclectic system. He accordingly set himself to obtain information about other religions, sent to Goa, requesting that the Portuguese missionaries there should visit him, and listened to them with intelligent attention when they came. As the result of these inquiries, he adopted the creed of pure deism and a ritual based upon the system of Zoroaster. The religion thus founded, however, having no vital force, never spread beyond the limits of the court, and died with Akbar himself. But though his eclectic system failed, the spirit of toleration which originated it produced in other ways many important results, and, indeed, may be said to have done more to establish Akbar’s power on a secure basis than all his economic and social reforms. He conciliated the Hindus by giving them freedom of worship; while at the same time he strictly prohibited certain barbarous Brahmanical practices, such as trial by ordeal and the burning of widows against their will. He also abolished all taxes upon pilgrims as an interference with the liberty of worship, and the capitation tax upon Hindus, probably upon similar grounds. Measures like these gained for him during his lifetime the title of “Guardian of Mankind,” and caused him to be held up as a model to Indian princes of later times, who in the matter of religious toleration have only too seldom followed his example.

Akbar was a munificent patron of literature. He established schools throughout his empire for the education of both Hindus and Moslems, and he gathered round him many men of literary talent, among whom may be mentioned the brothers Feizi and Abul Fazl. The former was commissioned by Akbar to translate a number of Sanskrit scientific works into Persian; and the latter (see Abul Fazl) has left, in the Akbar-Nameh, an enduring record of the emperor’s reign. It is also said that Akbar employed Jerome Xavier, a Jesuit missionary, to translate the four Gospels into Persian.

The closing years of Akbar’s reign were rendered very unhappy by the misconduct of his sons. Two of them died in youth, the victims of intemperance; and the third, Salim, afterwards the emperor Jahangir, was frequently in rebellion against his father. These calamities were keenly felt by Akbar, and may even have tended to hasten his death, which occurred at Agra on the 15th of October 1605. His body was deposited in a magnificent mausoleum at Sikandra, near Agra.

See G. B. Malleson, Akbar (“Rulers of India” series), 1890.