When Did Akbar Build His Empire?
Jalal-ud-Din Mohammad Akbar (1542-1605), the greatest of the Mogul emperors of India, was a ruler only in name when he came to the throne in 1556. His Mongolian grandfather, Baber, had established a Mohammedan empire in northern India through a combination of daring, luck and military skill. But his father had been driven from the capital, Delhi, by a usurper.
With able generalship, Akbar overthrew all his rivals and embarked upon a career of conquest which, by 1562, gave him domain over the Punjab and Multan, the basin of the Ganges and Jumna Rivers, Gwalior to the south and Kabul in Afghanistan in the north-west.
Subsequently he crossed the Narbada River into the Deccan and extended his dominion southward. By 1605, his empire contained 15 provinces or subahs, and stretched from the Hindu Kush Mountains to the Godocari River and from Bengal to Gujarat.
He was not only a great general, but also a great statesman. He established an excellent administrative system and came to be on friendly terms with the former Hindu rulers, respecting their religion and marrying two of their princesses. Under his rule, art and literature flourished, while scholars from all over the world were invited to court and encouraged to discuss with Akbar all aspects of philosophy and religion.
Akbar appointed the great Hindu Rajput chiefs to an active partnership in his government. Eventually, it became accepted practice for high-profile Hindus, like Amber or Jodhpur, to be governors of a major province or commander-in-chief of an army composed largely of Muslims. The Hindus were able to practice their own religion without disturbance.
Akbar, who was born at Amarkot in Sind in 1542, had spent most of his childhood as an Afghanistan. From his Persian mother, he inherited his princely manners, his love of literature and the arts, and a characteristically Persian delight in philosophical discussion. From his Turkish father, he inherited his fierce energy, his love of war and his ability to command.
During the early part of his life, Akbar took the greatest joy in hunting, in elephant fights, and in intellectual games. Akbar reveled in all the varied pleasures of the chase, from facing charging tigers and leopards to pursuing the wild ass in the Rajasthan desert.
Akbar became unhappy with the increasing criticism of his relaxed attitude regarding non-Muslims in his government. Akbar’s attitude was undoubtedly related to his vision of an empire with a diversity of faiths and cultures. Akbar’s ire also reflected a hardening of his iron will and his fiercely individualistic personality. The establishment of a new religion, Din-i llahi (Divine Faith), was a result of Akbar’s consistent confrontations with his orthodox opponents.
After 1582 he formed a religious sect with himself as spiritual leader, but did not force his subjects to become members. He died at Agra on October, 16, 1605 and is remembered as a wise, sincere and generous leader. Because of his ideal of cultural synthesis and religious diversity, Akbar reserved a unique place for himself in Indian history.
The court of Akbar fostered a lively literary culture and encouraged translations of all kinds. Massive numbers of classics were rendered into Sanskrit and Hindi. Also, religious literature was translated into Persian from other languages like Chaghatai Turkish, Sanskrit and Arabic. Akbar’s school of translation made a valuable contribution to the Indianization of the Mughal ruling class.
Akbar’s vigorous personal influence over the life of his court was paralleled in his patronage of painting. During Akbar’s reign, early Safavid style — which had been introduced into India by Humayun — began to merge and blend with indigenous Indian elements, and a genuinely original Mughal style evolved. The new style brought a change of emphasis in subject matter. Traditional Persian painting had been concerned mainly with the illustration of literary classics such as the shahnameh,
Nizami’s Khamseh and Jami’s Yusuf va Zulaykha. Mughal painters — many of whom were Hindus — shifted their focus from illustrating the great classics of Persian literature to new subjects such as the life of Akbar and his court, as well as the representation of nature, landscape and portraiture.
The most distinctive work in Akbar’s ateliers was the series of illustrations commissioned for Abdul Fazl’s Akbarnameh. This series demonstrates the unique and superb qualities of the nascent Mughal School and set it far apart from its Safavid or Timurid precursors. In this series, crowded and bustling scenes of men and animals are full of vigor and movement; the use of color is uninhibited; and detail is finely observed. The languid is rejected.
Unlike Babur or Humayun, Akbar had both the time and the resources to build on a monumental scale. Most of the monuments were constructed in or near Agra rather than in Delhi. Akbar did not have great affection for Delhi, although most important Mughal structures had been built there. For Akbar, Delhi must have been a city of unhappy memories — the scene of his father’s death and his own narrow escape from an assassination attempt.
Moreover, the principal landmarks in Delhi — the Purana Qila, the city walls and gateways — commemorated the greatness of Shir Shah whom Akbar considered as the usurper of his father’s kingdom. Since Delhi was the capital of both the Lodi Sultanate and the Shir Shah Sur dynasty, the city was always restless and hostile to the Mughals. In light of these circumstances, Akbar must have found Agra a more attractive residence.
Akbar initially ruled from Delhi, but two years later he moved to Agra. The city was renamed Akbarabad in his honor and became the greatest city in the empire. The main part of the city lay on the west bank of the Yamuna and was provided with a drainage system to control the flow of rainwater. A new city wall was erected, and the old mud-brick fortress used by the Lodis was built again in 1565 of sandstone. The building’s red color, gives rise to its modern name, the Red Fort, the fort follows the irregular, semicircular plan of its predecessor.
On the city side, it is enclosed by a moat and a double wall that is broken by the Delhi Gate on the west and the Amar Singh Gate on the south. The two massive gates are distinguished by rows of arched niches and stunning veneer in red and white marble with highlights in blue glazed tile.
According to the historian Abdul Fazl, construction of the fort was supervised by Muhammad Qasim Khan, who is credited with various feats of civilc engineering and who bore the dual titles, Master of the Land and Sea (mir-I barr wa bahr) and Master of Pyrotechnics (mir-Iatish).
Two palaces are located to the southeast of the Red Fort, the Akbar Mahal and the Jahangiri Mahal. Like the gates, the outer facade of the Jahangiri Mahal is articulated with an orderly series of blind niches and panels filled with geometric motifs. In contrast to the calm austerity of the exterior, many of the interior surfaces are extravagantly decorated in carved stone, painted and carved stucco, and tile. The geometric patterns on screens and flat panels in the Jahangiri Mahal derive from Timurid designs.
A similar synthesis of diverse architectural traditions could be seen on a larger scale at Fatehpur Sikri founded in 1571. The city was known as Fathabad (City of Victory), a Persian name which was soon supplanted in popular usage by the Indianized form, Fatehpur Sikri. Most of the major constructions at Fatehpur Sikri date to the 14 years when the city served as Akbar’s principal residence.
The city contained imperial gardens, rest-houses, residences for the nobility, and an experimental school dedicated to the study of language acquisition in childhood. Within the city, the buildings are set in two distinct ways. The service buildings — such as the caravanseri, the mint or factory, and a long bazaar (chahar-suq) — are set perpendicular to the southwest/northeast axis of the ridge. The imperial section of the city, which includes one of the largest congregational mosques in India, as well as a residential and administrative area known as the palace (dawlatkhana), is set at an angle to the ridge and aligns with the qibla.
Akbar’s tomb in Sikandara is set in a vast garden (about 760 square yards) enclosed by a high wall and divided by water channels. The red sandstone gateway on the south side, is crowned by four white marble minarets. It is boldly decorated in white, gray and black marble that is set in panels with geometric designs and large-scale floral arabesques which resemble the patterns on textiles.
The numerous Persian verses in the frame around the arch, compare the tomb and its garden to paradise. They were designed by Abd al-Haqq Shirazi who was awarded the title Amanat Khan (Trustworthy Noble) and who was responsible for many of the inscriptions on the Taj Mahal.
The tomb is a pyramidal arrangement of three tiers of red sandstone pavilions with domed pavilions (chatris) at the corners. On top is an open court containing the emperor’s marble cenotaph surrounded by pierced marble screens. The white color of the marble, contrasts sharply with the red sandstone used elsewhere. The play of light and shadow over the increasingly delicate superstructure contrasts with the powerful massing of the basement.
With its receding stories of pillared galleries, Akbar’s tomb belongs to the indigenous tradition of trabeate construction used for palaces, while the podium, with its vaulted bays, vestibule decorated with painted plaster, and high portals whose strong intarsia reproduced the effect of tile, maintains the Timurid tradition of vaulted masonry.