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Jalal-ud-Din Muhammed Akbar
Potrait of Akbar by Manohar.jpg
Flag of the Mughal Empire.svg 3rd Mughal Emperor
Reign 1556–27 October 1605
Predecessor Humayun
Successor Jahangir
Regent Bairam Khan (1556–1561f)
Spouse Ruqaiya Sultan Begum
Salima Sultan Begum
Other 27 wives
Jahangir, Murad, Daniyal, 6 daughters others
Full name
Abu'l-Fath Jalal ud-din Muhammad Akbar I
Dynasty Timurid
Father Humayun
Mother Hamida Banu Begum
Born (1542-10-14)14 October 1542
Umerkot, Sind
Died 27 October 1605(1605-10-27) (aged 63)
Fatehpur Sikri, Agra
Burial Sikandra, Agra

Abu'l-Fath Jalal-ud-Din Muhammad Akbar ( Hindi: जलालुद्दीन मुहम्मद अकबर, Persian: جلال الدین محمد أکبر ‎ - Jalāl ud-Dīn Muḥammad Akbar), also known as Shahanshah Akbar-e-Azam or Akbar the Great (14 October 1542  – 27 October 1605), was the third Mughal Emperor. He was of Timurid descent; the son of Emperor Humayun, and the grandson of the Mughal Emperor Zaheeruddin Muhammad Babur, the ruler who founded the Mughal dynasty in India. At the end of his reign in 1605 the Mughal empire covered most of northern and central India. He is most appreciated for having a liberal outlook on all faiths and beliefs and during his era, culture and art reached a zenith as compared to his predecessors.

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 Rajput caste, and by marrying a Rajput princess.

Akbar's reign significantly influenced art and culture in the country. He was a great patron of art and architecture He took a great interest in painting, and had the walls of his palaces adorned with murals. Besides encouraging the development of the Mughal school, he also patronised the European style of painting. He was fond of literature, and had several Sanskrit works translated into Persian and Persian scriptures translated in Sanskrit apart from getting many Persian works illustrated by painters from his court. During the early years of his reign, he showed intolerant attitude towards Hindus and other religions, but later exercised tolerance towards non-Islamic faiths by rolling back some of the strict sharia laws. His administration included numerous Hindu landlords, courtiers and military generals. He began a series of religious debates where Muslim scholars would debate religious matters with Hindus, Jains, Zoroastrians and Portuguese Roman Catholic Jesuits. He treated these religious leaders with great consideration, irrespective of their faith, and revered them. He not only granted lands and money for the mosques but the list of the recipients included a huge number Hindu temples in north and central India, Christian churches in Goa.

Early years and name

Akbar was born on 14 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 by Humayun, 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. Part 10:..the birth of Akbar Humayun nama, Columbia University.

Akbar as a boy

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. In November 1551, Akbar married his first cousin, Ruqaiya Sultan Begum at Jalandhar. Princess Ruqaiya was the only daughter of his paternal uncle, Hindal Mirza, and was his first wife and chief consort.

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.

Military achievements

Military innovations

Akbar was known in his own time as a military genius. Due to the constant state of war between the Hindu Rajputs and the Mughal Empire, particularly after the wounding of the Mughal commander Khan Kilan by Rajput nobles in the year 1572, Akbar began to utilize the Kitar alongside the Mughal Talwars in battle. The latest Matchlocks were mass-produced by the finest craftsmen and effectively employed during various conflicts. Akbar also ordered the manufacture of the finest chain-plate armors and other protections that made his war elephants and Sowars invincible in combat. Akbar also began to utilize metal cylinder rockets known as bans particularly against war elephants, during the Battle of Sanbal.

Akbar also began to believe that war elephants were the keys to military success, he believed that a single "Armored Elephant" was equal to 500 Sowars at the centre of the battlefield. Akbar also noted that elephants have the ability to move through the densest of forests clearing through woods and paving way for both the Mughal Sepoys, Sowars and Cannons. Akbar personally owned 5000 well trained elephants and recorded the use of almost 40,000 across his Mughal Empire. Akbar is also known to have replaced pairs of elephant tusks with a pair of double-curved Tusk Swords. War elephants were also used to carry out executions of those who fought against the Mughal Emperor. Akbar was the first to place advanced swivel guns and cannons atop of Howdahs, thus combining firepower and mobility on the battlefield and sieges.

The Mughal Emperor Akbar also distributed crescent military standards and kettledrums to his finest servicemen.

Early conquests

The court of young Akbar, age 13, showing his first imperial act: the arrest of an unruly courtier, who was once a favorite of Akbar's father. Illustration from a manuscript of the Akbarnama

Akbar decided early in his reign that he should conquer the threat of Sher Shah's dynasty, and decided to lead an army against the strongest of the three, Sikandar Shah Suri, in the Punjab. He left Delhi under the regency of Tardi Baig Khan. Sikandar Shah Suri presented no major concern for Akbar, and often withdrew from territory as Akbar approached.

The king Hemu, however, commanding the Afghan forces, defeated the Mughal Army and captured Delhi on 6 October 1556. Urged by Bairam Khan, who remarshalled the Mughal army before Hemu could consolidate his position, Akbar marched on Delhi to reclaim it. Akbar's army, led by Bairam Khan, met the larger forces of Hemu on November 5, 1556 at the Second Battle of Panipat, 50 miles (80 km) north of Delhi. The battle was going in Hemu's favour when an arrow pierced Hemu's eye, rendering him unconscious. The leaderless army soon capitulated and Hemu was captured and executed.

The victory also left Akbar with over 1,500 war elephants which he used to re-engage Sikandar Shah at the siege of Choopa. Sikandar, along with several local chieftains who were assisting him, surrendered and so were spared death. With this, the whole of Punjab was annexed to the Mughal empire. Before returning to Agra, Akbar sent a detachment of his army to Jammu, which defeated the ruler Raja Kapur Chand and captured the kingdom. Between 1558 and 1560, after moving the capital from Delhi to Agra, Akbar further expanded the empire by capturing and annexing the kingdoms of Gwalior, northern Rajputana and Jaunpur.

After a dispute at court, Akbar dismissed Bairam Khan in the spring of 1560 and ordered him to leave on Hajj to Mecca. Bairam left for Mecca, but on his way was goaded by his opponents to rebel. He was defeated by the Mughal army in the Punjab and forced to submit. Akbar, however forgave him and gave him the option of either continuing in his court or resuming his pilgrimage, of which Bairam chose the latter.

Mughal Empire at death of Akbar.
The third Mughal Emperor Akbar leads his armies during the Siege of Ranthambore in the year 1569, against Rai Surjan Hada.
The Mughal Emperor Akbar shoots a Rajput leader, using a Matchlock, during the Siege of Chittorgarh.

After dealing with the rebellion of Bairam Khan and establishing his authority. Akbar went on to expand the Mughal empire by subjugating local chiefs and annexing neighbouring kingdoms. The first major conquest was of Malwa in 1561, an expedition that was led by Adham Khan and carried out with such savage cruelty that it resulted in a backlash from the kingdom enabling its ruler Baz Bahadur to recover the territory while Akbar was dealing with the rebellion of Bairam Khan. Subsequently, Akbar sent another detachment which captured Malwa in 1562, and Baz Bahadur eventually surrendered to the Mughals and was made an administrator by Akbar. Around the same time, the Mughal army also conquered the kingdom of the Gonds, after a fierce battle between Asaf Khan, the Mughal governor of Allahabad, and Rani Durgavati queen of the Gonds. However after the victory of the Mughals, Asaf Khan allegedly misappropriated most of the wealth plundered from the kingdom and later Akbar subsequently ordered him to restore some of the wealth, apart from installing Durgavati's son, a convert to Islam, as the local administrator of the newly conquered region.

Over the course of Akbar's conquest of Malwa, he brought most of present-day Rajasthan, Gujarat and Bengal under his control, but Akbar believed that Chittorgarh Fort was a major threat to Mughal Empire because it housed Rajputs who were considered sworn enemies of the Mughals, in the year 1567 Akbar began to gather his forces who were briefly interrupted during the Battle of Thanesar, but by autumn Akbar was prepared to mount his siege. Chittorgarh Fort was ruled by Udai Singh who often gave refuge to the enemies of the Mughal Emperor Akbar. Udai Singh's kingdom was of great strategic importance as it lay on the shortest route from Agra to Gujarat and was also considered a key to central Rajasthan. Fearing Akbar's impending assault Udai Singh retired to the hills, leaving two warriors Jaimal and Patta in charge of the fort.

In October 1567, the Mughal army of approximately 5000 men led by Akbar surrounded and besieged 8000 Hindu Rajputs during the Siege of Chittorgarh and within a few months Akbar's ranks expanded to over 50,000 men. After an arduous siege Akbar ordered his men and augmented them to lift baskets of earth in order to create a hill in front of the fort by which the Mughal Cannons could be placed. As the Mohur Hill was completed Akbar placed his cannons and mortars near its tip, he then organized his sappers to plant mines under the heavy stone walls of the fortress of Chittor, but the mines exploded prematurely during an assault killing about a hundred Mughal Sowars, as the siege continued it is believed that a shot from Akbar's own Matchlock wounded or killed the commander of the already demoralized Hindu Rajputs. The fortress of Chittor finally fell on February 1568 after a siege of four months. The fort was then stormed by the Mughal forces, and a fierce resistance was offered by members of the garrison stationed inside. When the Rajput women were ordered to commit Jauhar (self immolation), Akbar had realized that victory was near and the Mughals launched their final assault over 30,000 inhabitants of Chittorgarh Fort were killed by the victorious Mughal army. Akbar then ordered the heads of his enemies to be displayed upon towers erected throughout the region, in order to demonstrate his authority.

The total loot that fell into the hands of the Mughal was distributed throughout the Mughal Empire. Akbar then ordered the statues of two of the "armored elephants" that led the Mughal assault be carved and erected at the chief gate of the Agra Fort. Akbar then built similar spiked-gates throughout his fortresses in order to deter elephant attacks. It is said that the brass candlesticks taken from the Kalika temple after its destruction were given to the shrine of Moinuddin Chishti in Ajmer, a shrine that Akbar vowed to rebuild after his victory. Akbar then celebrated the victory over Chittor and Ranthambore by laying the foundation of a new city, 23 miles (37 km) W.S.W of Agra in 1569. It was called Fatehpur Sikri ("city of victory").

In the year 1568, the 26 year old Mughal Emperor Akbar reigned supreme, bolstered by his success, he was looking forward to widespread acclamation as one of the greatest Muslim conquerors, within and beyond his realm, and was given the honorific title Zill-e-Ilahi (Shadow of Allah). He gathered miniature painters, who illustrated the Mughal forces that fought during the Siege of Chittorgarh in the Fatahnama-i-Chittor issued by him after the conquest of Chittor at Ajmer, where he stayed for some time and then returned to Agra, on Ramadan 10, 975.AH/March 9, 1568AD. After Akbar's conquest of Chittor, two major Rajput clans remained opposed to him - the Sisodiyas of Mewar and Hadas of Ranthambore.

Akbar's entry into the fort of Ranthambhor in 1569.

Ranthambore Fort was reputed to be the most powerful fortress in Rajasthan, was conquered by the Mughal army in 1569 during the Siege of Ranthambore, making Akbar the master of almost the whole of Rajputana. As a result, most of the Rajput kings, including those of Bikaner, Bundelkhand and Jaisalmer submitted to Akbar. Only the clans of Mewar continued to resist Mughal conquest and Akbar had to fight with them from time to time for the greater part of his reign. Among the most prominent of them was Maharana Pratap who declined to accept Akbar's suzerainty and also opposed the marriage etiquette of Rajputs who had been giving their daughters to Mughals. He renounced all matrimonial alliances with Rajput rulers who had married into the Mughal dynasty, refusing such alliances even with the princes of Marwar and Amer until they agreed to sever ties with the Mughals.


Having conquered Rajputana, Akbar turned to Gujarat, whose government was in a state of disarray after the death of its previous ruler, Bahadur Shah. The province was a tempting target as it was a centre of world trade, it possessed fertile soil and had highly developed crafts. The province had been occupied by Humayun for a brief period, and prior to that was ruled by the Delhi Sultanate. In 1572, Akbar marched to Ahmedabad, which capitulated without offering resistance. He took Surat by siege, and then crossed the Mahi river and defeated his estranged cousins, the Mirzas, in a hard-fought battle at Sarnal. During the campaign, Akbar met a group of Portuguese merchants for the first time at Cambay. Having established his authority over Gujarat, Akbar returned to Agra, but Mirza-led rebellions soon broke out. Akbar returned, crossing Rajasthan at great speed on camels and horses, and reached Ahmedabad in eleven days - a journey that normally took six weeks. Akbar's army of 3000 horsemen then defeated the enemy forces numbering 20000 in a decisive victory on 2 September 1573.


Political government

Young Abdul Rahim Khan-I-Khana son of Bairam Khan being received by Akbar

Akbar's system of central government was based on the system that had evolved since the Delhi Sultanate, but the functions of various departments were carefully reorganised by laying down detailed regulations for their functioning

  • The revenue department was headed by a wazir, responsible for all finances and management of jagir and inam lands.
  • The head of the military was called the mir bakshi, appointed from among the leading nobles of the court. The mir bakshi was in charge of intelligence gathering, and also made recommendations to the emperor for military appointments and promotions.
  • The mir saman was in charge of the imperial household, including the harems, and supervised the functioning of the court and royal bodyguard.
  • The judiciary was a separate organization headed by a chief qazi, who was also responsible for religious beliefs and practices


Akbar set about reforming the administration of his empire's land revenue by adopting a system that had been used by Sher Shah Suri. A cultivated area where crops grew well was measured and taxed through fixed rates based on the area's crop and productivity. However, this placed hardship on the peasantry because tax rates were fixed on the basis of prices prevailing in the imperial court, which were often higher than those in the countryside. Akbar changed to a decentralized system of annual assessment, but this resulted in corruption among local officials and was abandoned in 1580, to be replaced by a system called the dahsala. Under the new system, revenue was calculated as one-third of the average produce of the previous ten years, to be paid to the state in cash. This system was later refined, taking into account local prices, and grouping areas with similar productivity into assessment circles. Remission was given to peasants when the harvest failed during times of flood or drought. Akbar's dahsala system is credited to Raja Todar Mal, who also served as a revenue officer under Sher Shah Suri, and the structure of the revenue administration was set out by the latter in a detailed memorandum submitted to the emperor in 1582-83.

Other local methods of assessment continued in some areas. Land which was fallow or uncultivated was charged at concessional rates. Akbar also actively encouraged the improvement and extension of agriculture. The village continued to remain the primary unit of revenue assessment. Zamindars of every area were required to provide loans and agricultural implements in times of need, to encourage farmers to plough as much land as possible and to sow seeds of superior quality. In turn, the zamindars were given a hereditary right to collect a share of the produce. Peasants had a hereditary right to cultivate the land as long as they paid the land revenue. While the revenue assessment system showed concern for the small peasantry, it also maintained a level of distrust towards the revenue officials. Revenue officials were guaranteed only three-quarters of their salary, with the remaining quarter dependent on their full realisation of the revenue assessed.

Military organization

An Emperor shall be ever Intent on Conquest, Ohterwise His enemies shall rise in arms against him.

Jalal-ud-Din Muhammad Akbar,

Akbar organized his army as well as the nobility by means of a system called the mansabdari. Under this system, each officer in the army was assigned a rank (a mansabdar), and assigned a number of cavalry that he had to supply to the imperial army. The mansabdars were divided into 33 classes. The top three commanding ranks, ranging from 7000 to 10000 troops, were normally reserved for princes. Other ranks between 10 and 5000 were assigned to other members of the nobility. The empire's permanent standing army was quite small and the imperial forces mostly consisted of contingents maintained by the mansabdars. Persons were normally appointed to a low mansab and then promoted, based on their merit as well as the favour of the emperor. Each mansabdar was required to maintain a certain number of cavalrymen and twice that number of horses. The number of horses was greater because they had to be rested and rapidly replaced in times of war. Akbar employed strict measures to ensure that the quality of the armed forces was maintained at a high level; horses were regularly inspected and only Arabian horses were normally employed. The mansabdars were remunerated well for their services and constituted the highest paid military service in the world at the time.


Diwan-i-Khas (Hall of Private Audience) in Fatehpur Sikri

Akbar was a follower of Salim Chishti, a holy man who lived in the region of Sikri near Agra. Believing the area to be a lucky one for himself, he had a mosque constructed there for the use of the priest. Subsequently, he celebrated the victories over Chittor and Ranthambore by laying the foundation of a new walled capital, 23 miles (37 km) west of Agra in 1569, which was named Fatehpur ("town of victory") after the conquest of Gujarat in 1573 and subsequently came to be known as Fatehpur Sikri in order to distinguish it from other similarly named towns. Palaces for each of Akbar's senior queens, a huge artificial lake, and sumptuous water-filled courtyards were built there. However, the city was soon abandoned and the capital was moved to Lahore in 1585. The reason may have been that the water supply in Fatehpur Sikri was insufficient or of poor quality. Or, as some historians believe, Akbar had to attend to the northwest areas of his empire and therefore moved his capital northwest. Other sources indicate Akbar simply lost interest in the city or realised it was not militarily defensible. In 1599, Akbar shifted his capital back to Agra from where he reigned until his death.


Akbar was a great innovator as far as coinage in concerned. The coins of Akbar set a new chapter in India's numismatic history. The coins of Akbar's grandfather, Babur, and father, Humayun, are basic and devoid of any innovation as the former was busy establishing the foundations of the Mughal rule in India while the latter was ousted by the Afghan, Farid Khan Sher Shah Suri, and returned to the throne only to die a year later. While the reign of both Babur and Humayun represented turmoil, Akbar's relative long reign of 50 years allowed him to experiment with coinage.

Akbar introduced coins with decorative floral motifs, dotted borders, quatrefoil and other types. His coins were both round and square in shape with a unique 'mehrab' (lozenge) shape coin highlighting numismatic calligraphy at its best. Akbar's portrait type gold coin (Mohur) is generally attributed to his son, Prince Salim (later Emperor Jahangir), who had rebelled and then sought reconciliation thereafter by minting and presenting his father with gold Mohur's bearing Akbar's portrait. The tolerant view of Akbar is represented by the 'Ram-Siya' silver coin type while during the latter part of Akbar's reign, we see coins portraying the concept of Akbar's newly promoted religion 'Din-e-ilahi' with the Ilahi type and Jalla Jalal-Hu type coins.

The coins below represent a few of these innovative concepts introduced by Akbar that set the precedent for Mughal coins which was refined and perfected by his son, Jahangir, and later by his grandson, Shah Jahan.


Akbar leads the Mughal Army during a campaign.

Matrimonial alliances

The practice of giving Hindu princesses to Muslim kings in marriage was known much before Akbar's time, but in most cases these marriages did not lead to any stable relations between the families involved, and the women were lost to their families and did not return after marriage.

However, Akbar's policy of matrimonial alliances marked a departure in India from previous practice in that the marriage itself marked the beginning of a new order of relations, wherein the Hindu Rajputs who married their daughters or sisters to him would be treated on par with his Muslim fathers-in-law and brothers in-law in all respects except being able to dine and pray with him or take Muslim wives. These Rajputs were made members of his court and their daughters' or sisters' marriage to a Muslim ceased to be a sign of degradation, except for certain proud elements who still considered it a sign of humiliation.

The Kacchwaha Rajput, Raja Bharmal, of Amber, who had come to Akbar's court shortly after the latter's accession, entered into an alliance by giving his daughter Harkha Bai (also called Jodhaa Bai) in marriage to the emperor. She died in 1623. A mosque was built in her honour by her son Jahangir in Lahore. Bharmal was made a noble of high rank in the imperial court, and subsequently his son Bhagwant Das and grandson Man Singh also rose to high ranks in the nobility.

Other Rajput kingdoms also established matrimonial alliances with Akbar, but matrimony was not insisted on as a precondition for forming alliances. Two major Rajput clans remained aloof – the Sisodiyas of Mewar and Hadas of Ranthambore. In another turning point of Akbar's reign, Raja Man Singh I of Amber went with Akbar to meet the Hada leader, Surjan Hada, to effect an alliance. Surjan accepted an alliance on the condition that Akbar did not marry any of his daughters. Consequently, no matrimonial alliance was entered into, yet Surjan was made a noble and placed in charge of Garh-Katanga. Certain other Rajput nobles did not like the idea of their kings marrying their daughters to Mughals. Rathore Kalyandas threatened to kill both Mota Raja Rao Udaisingh and Jahangir because Udai Singh had decided to marry his daughter to Jahangir. Akbar on hearing this ordered imperial forces to attack Kalyandas at Siwana. Kalyandas died fighting along with his men and the women of Siwana committed Jauhar.

The political effect of these alliances was significant. While some Rajput women who entered Akbar's harem converted to Islam, they were generally provided full religious freedom, and their relatives, who continued to remain Hindu, formed a significant part of the nobility and served to articulate the opinions of the majority of the common populace in the imperial court. The interaction between Hindu and Muslim nobles in the imperial court resulted in exchange of thoughts and blending of the two cultures. Further, newer generations of the Mughal line represented a merger of Mughal and Rajput blood, thereby strengthening ties between the two. As a result, the Rajputs became the strongest allies of the Mughals, and Rajput soldiers and generals fought for the Mughal army under Akbar, leading it in several campaigns including the conquest of Gujarat in 1572. Akbar's policy of religious tolerance ensured that employment in the imperial administration was open to all on merit irrespective of creed, and this led to an increase in the strength of the administrative services of the empire.

Another legend is that Akbar's daughter Meherunnissa was enamoured by Tansen and had a role in his coming to Akbar's court. Tansen converted to Islam from Hinduism, apparently on the eve of his marriage with Akbar's daughter.

Foreign relations

Relations with the Portuguese

Death of Bahadur Shah of Gujarat at Diu, in front of the Portuguese in 1537.

At the time of Akbar's ascension in 1556, the Portuguese had established several fortresses and factories on the western coast of the subcontinent, and largely controlled navigation and sea-trade in that region. As a consequence of this colonialism, all other trading entities were subject to the terms and conditions of the Portuguese, and this was resented by the rulers and traders of the time including Bahadur Shah of Gujarat.

In the year 1572 the Mughal Empire annexed Gujarat and acquired its first access to the sea, the local officials informed Akbar that the Portuguese have begun to exert their control in the Indian Ocean. Hence Akbar was conscious of the threat posed by the presence of the Portuguese, remained content with obtaining a cartaz (permit) from them for sailing in the Persian Gulf region. At the initial meeting of the Mughals and the Portuguese during the Siege of Surat in 1572, the Portuguese, recognising the superior strength of the Mughal army, chose to adopt diplomacy instead of war, and the Portuguese Governor, upon the request of Akbar, sent him an ambassador to establish friendly relations. Akbar's efforts to purchase and secure from the Portuguese some of their compact Artillery pieces were unsuccessful and that is the reason why Akbar could not establish the Mughal navy along the Gujarat coast.

Akbar accepted the offer of diplomacy, but the Portuguese continually acknowledged their authority and power in the Indian Ocean, in fact Akbar was highly concerned when he had to request a permit from the Portuguese before any ships from the Mughal Empire were to depart for the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina. In 1573, he issued a firman directing Mughal administrative officials in Gujarat not to provoke the Portuguese in the territory they held in Daman. The Portuguese, in turn, issued passes for the members of Akbar's family to go on Hajj to Mecca. The Portuguese made mention of the extraordinary status of the vessel and the special status to be accorded to its occupants.

In the year 1579 Jesuits from Goa were allowed to visit the court of Akbar, and he had his scribes translate the New Testament, and granted the Jesuits freedom to make converts and raise one of his sons. The Jesuit did not confine themselves to the exposition of their own beliefs, but reviled Islam and the Prophet in unrestrained language. Their comments enraging the Imam's and Ulama, who objected to the remarks of the Jesuit, but Akbar however ordered their comments to be recorded and observed the Jesuits and their behaviour carefully. This event was followed by a rebellion of Muslim clerics led by Mullah Muhammad Yazdi and Muiz-ul-Mulk, the chief Qadi of Bengal in the year 1581, when these rebels wanted to overthrow Akbar and insert his brother Mirza Muhammad Hakim ruler of Kabul on the Mughal throne. Akbar however successfully defeated the rebels and had grown more cautious about his guests and his proclamations, which he later checked with his advisers carefully.

Relations with the Ottoman Empire


In the year 1555, while Akbar was still a child the Ottoman Admiral Seydi Ali Reis visited the Mughal Emperor Humayun. Later in the year 1569, during the early years of Akbar's rule another Ottoman Admiral Kurtoğlu Hızır Reis arrived on the shores of the Mughal Empire. These Ottoman Admirals sought to end the growing threats of the Portuguese Empire during their Indian Ocean campaigns. During his reign Akbar himself is known to have sent six documents addressing the Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent.

In 1576 Akbar sent a very large contingent of pilgrims led by Khwaja Sultan Naqshbandi, Yahya Saleh, with 600,000 gold and silver coins and 12,000 Kaftans of honour and large consignments of rice. In October 1576, the Mughal Emperor Akbar, sent a delegation including members of his family including his aunt Gulbadan Begum and his consort Salima, on Hajj by two ships from Surat including an Ottoman vessel, which reached the port of Jeddah in 1577 and then proceeded towards Mecca and Medina. Four more caravans were sent from 1577 to 1580, with exquisite gifts for the authorities of Mecca and Medina.

The imperial Mughal entourage stayed in Mecca and Medina for nearly four years, and attended the Hajj four times. During this period Akbar even financed the pilgrimages of many poor Muslims from the Mughal Empire and also funded the foundations of the Qadiriyya Sufi Order's dervish lodge in the Hijaz. The Mughals eventually set out for Surat and their return was assisted by the Ottoman Pasha in Jeddah. Due to Akbar's attempts to build Mughal presence in Mecca and Medina, the local Sharif's began to have more confidence in the financial support provided by Mughal Empire, this lessened their dependency upon Ottoman bounty. Mughal-Ottoman trade also flourished during this period, in fact merchants loyal to Akbar are known to have reached and sold spices, dyestuff, cotton and shawls in the Bazaars of Aleppo after arriving and journeying upriver through the port of Basra.

According to some accounts Mughal Emperor Akbar expressed a desire to form an alliance with the Portuguese, mainly in order to advance his interests, but whenever the Portuguese attempted to invade the Ottomans, the Mughal Emperor Akbar proved abortive. In 1587 a Portuguese fleet sent to attack Yemen was ferociously routed and defeated by the Ottoman Navy, thereafter the Mughal-Portuguese alliance, immediately collapsed mainly due to the continuing pressure by the Mughal Empire's prestigious vassals at Janjira.

Relations with the Safavid Dynasty

The Akbari Mosque, overlooking the Ganges.

The Safavids and the Mughals had a long history of diplomatic relationship, with the Safavid ruler Tahmasp I having provided refuge to Humayun when he had to flee the Indian subcontinent following his defeat by Sher Shah Suri. During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the two empires, along with the Ottoman Empire to the west, were the site of major power struggles in Asia. However, the Safavids differed from the Mughals and the Ottomans in following the Shiite sect of Islam as opposed to the Sunni sect practised by the other two. One of the longest standing disputes between the Safavids and the Mughals pertained to the control of the city of Qandahar in the Hindukush region, forming the border between the two empires. The Hindukush region was militarily very significant owing to its geography, and this was well-recognised by strategists of the times. Consequently, the city, which was being administered by Bairam Khan at the time of Akbar's accession, was invaded and captured by the Persian ruler Husain Mirza, a cousin of Tahmasp I, in 1558. Subsequent to this, Bairam Khan sent an envoy to Tahmasp I's court, in an effort to maintain peaceful relations with the Safavids. This gesture was reciprocated and a cordial relationship continued to prevail between the two empires during the first two decades of Akbar's reign. However, the death of Tahmasp I in 1576 resulted in civil war and instability in the Safavid empire, and diplomatic relations between the two empires ceased for more than a decade, and were restored only in 1587 following the accession of Shah Abbas to the Safavid throne. Shortly afterwards, Akbar's army completed its annexation of Kabul, and in order to further secure the north-western boundaries of his empire, it proceeded to Qandahar. The city capitulated without resistance on April 18, 1595, and the ruler Muzaffar Hussain moved into Akbar's court. Qandahar continued to remain in Mughal possession, and the Hindukush the empire's western frontier, for several decades until Shah Jahan's expedition into Badakhshan in 1646. Diplomatic relations continued to be maintained between the Safavid and Mughal courts until the end of Akbar's reign.

Relations with other contemporary kingdoms

Akbar receives an embassy sent by Queen Elizabeth.

Vincent Arthur Smith observes that the merchant Mildenhall was employed in 1600 while the establishment of the Company was under adjustment to bear a letter from Queen Elizabeth to Akbar requesting liberty to trade in his dominions on terms as good as those enjoyed by the Portuguese.

Akbar was also visited by the French explorer Pierre Malherbe.

Religious policy

Portrait of the Mughal Emperor Akbar invocation of a Dua prayer.

Akbar, as well as his mother and other members of his family, are believed to have been Sunni Hanafi Muslims. His early days were spent in the backdrop of an atmosphere in which liberal sentiments were encouraged and religious narrow-mindednness was frowned upon. From the 15th century, a number of rulers in various parts of the country adopted a more liberal policy of religious tolerance, attempting to foster communal harmony between Hindus and Muslims. These sentiments were earlier encouraged by the teachings of popular saints like Guru Nanak, Kabir and Chaitanya, the verses of the Persian poet Hafez which advocated human sympathy and a liberal outlook, as well as the Timurid ethos of religious tolerance in the empire), persisted in the polity right from the times of Timur to Humayun,(the second emperor of the mughal empire), and influenced Akbar's policy of tolerance in matters of religion. Further, his childhood tutors, who included two Irani Shias, were largely above sectarian prejudices, and made a significant contribution to Akbar's later inclination towards religious tolerance.

When he was at Fatehpur Sikri, he held discussions as he loved to know about others' religious beliefs. On one such day he got to know that the religious people of other religions were often bigots ( intolerant of others religious beliefs ). This led him to form the idea of the new religion, Sulh-e-kul meaning universal peace. His idea of this religion did not discriminate other religions and focused on the ideas of peace, unity and tolerance.

Association with the Muslim aristocracy

The Mughal Emperor Akbar welcomes his son Prince Salim at Fatehpur Sikri, ( Akbarnameh).

During the early part of his reign, Akbar adopted an attitude of suppression towards Muslim sects that were condemned by the orthodoxy as heretical. In 1567, on the advice of Shaikh Abdu'n Nabi, he ordered the exhumation of Mir Murtaza Sharifi Shirazi - a Shia buried in Delhi - because of the grave's proximity to that of Amir Khusrau, arguing that a "heretic" could not be buried so close to the grave of a Sunni saint, reflecting a restrictive attitude towards the Shia, which continued to persist till the early 1570s. He suppressed Mahdavism in 1573 during his campaign in Gujarat, in the course of which the Mahdavi leader Bandagi Miyan Shiek Mustafa was arrested and brought in chains to the court for debate and released after eighteen months. However, as Akbar increasingly came under the influence of pantheistic Sufi mysticism from the early 1570s, it caused a great shift in his outlook and culminated in his shift from orthodox Islam as traditionally professed, in favour of a new concept of Islam transcending the limits of religion. Consequently, during the latter half of his reign, he adopted a policy of tolerance towards the Shias and declared a prohibition on Shia-Sunni conflict, and the empire remained neutral in matters of internal sectarian conflict. In the year 1578, the Mughal Emperor Akbar famously referred to himself as:

Emperor of Islam, Emir of the Faithful, Shadow of God on earth, Abul Fath Jalal-ud-din Muhammad Akbar Badshah Ghazi (whose empire Allah perpetuate), is a most just, most wise, and a most God-fearing ruler.
Silver coin of Akbar with inscriptions of the Islamic declaration of faith, the declaration reads: "There is none worthy of worship but Allah, and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah."

In 1580, a rebellion broke out in the eastern part of Akbar's empire, and a number of fatwas, declaring Akbar to be a heretic, were issued by Qazis. Akbar suppressed the rebellion and handed out severe punishments to the Qazis. In order to further strengthen his position in dealing with the Qazis, Akbar issued a mazhar or declaration that was signed by all major ulemas in 1579. The mahzar asserted that Akbar was the Khalifa of the age, the rank of the Khalifa was higher than that of a Mujtahid, in case of a difference of opinion among the Mujtahids, Akbar could select any one opinion and could also issue decrees which did not go against the nass. Given the prevailing Islamic sectarian conflicts in various parts of the country at that time, it is believed that the Mazhar helped in stabilizing the religious situation in the empire. It made Akbar very powerful due to the complete supremacy accorded to the Khalifa by Islam, and also helped him eliminate the religious and political influence of the Ottoman Khalifa over his subjects, thus ensuring their complete loyalty to him.

Throughout his reign the Mughal Emperor Akbar was a patron of influential Muslim scholars such as Mir Ahmed Nasrallah Thattvi and Tahir Muhammad Thattvi.

Whenever the Mughal Emperor Akbar would attend congregations at a Mosque the following proclamation was made:

The Lord to me the Kingdom gave, He made me wise, strong and brave, He guides me through right and ruth, Filling my mind with the love of truth, No praise of man could sum his state, Allah Hu Akbar, God is Great.


Akbar holds a religious assembly of different faiths in the Ibadat Khana in Fatehpur Sikri.

Akbar was deeply interested in religious and philosophical matters. An orthodox Muslim at the outset, he later came to be influenced by Sufi mysticism that was being preached in the country at that time, and moved away from orthodoxy, appointing to his court several talented people with liberal ideas, including Abul Fazl, Faizi and Birbal. In 1575, he built a hall called the Ibadat Khana ("House of Worship") at Fatehpur Sikri, to which he invited theologians, mystics and selected courtiers renowned for their intellectual achievements and discussed matters of spirituality with them. These discussions, initially restricted to Muslims, were acrimonious and resulted in the participants shouting at and abusing each other. Upset by this, Akbar opened the Ibadat Khana to people of all religions as well as atheists, resulting in the scope of the discussions broadening and extending even into areas such as the validity of the Quran and the nature of God. This shocked the orthodox theologians, who sought to discredit Akbar by circulating rumours of his desire to forsake Islam. Akbar's choices, decisions, decrees, discussions and regulations on religious matters even caused some of his brilliant courtiers like Qutb-ud-din Khan Koka and Shahbaz Khan Kamboh to criticize the emperor in the court.

Akbar's effort to evolve a meeting point among the representatives of various religions was not very successful, as each of them attempted to assert the superiority of their respective religions by denouncing other religions. Meanwhile, the debates at the Ibadat Khana grew more acrimonious and, contrary to their purpose of leading to a better understanding among religions, instead led to greater bitterness among them, resulting to the discontinuance of the debates by Akbar in 1582. However, his interaction with various religious theologians had convinced him that despite their differences, all religions had several good practices, which he sought to combine into a new religious movement known as Din-i-Ilahi. However, some modern scholars claim that Akbar did not initiate a new religion and did not use the word Din-i-Ilahi. According to the contemporary events in the Mughal court Akbar was indeed angered by the acts of embezzlement of wealth by many high level Muslim clerics.

The purported Din-i-Ilahi was more of an ethical system and is said to have prohibited lust, sensuality, slander and pride, considering them sins. Piety, prudence, abstinence and kindness are the core virtues. The soul is encouraged to purify itself through yearning of God. Celibacy was respected, chastity enforced, the slaughter of animals was forbidden and there were no sacred scriptures or a priestly hierarchy. However, a leading Noble of Akbar's court, Aziz Koka, wrote a letter to him from Mecca in 1594 arguing that the discipleship promoted by Akbar amounted to nothing more than a desire on Akbar's part to portray his superiority regarding religious matters To commemorate Din-e-Ilahi, he changed the name of Prayag to Allahabad (pronounced as ilahabad) in 1583.

Silver square rupee of Akbar, Lahore mint,struck in Aban month of Ilahi

It has been argued that the theory of Din-i-Ilahi being a new religion was a misconception which arose due to erroneous translations of Abul Fazl's work by later British historians. However, it is also accepted that the policy of sulh-e-kul, which formed the essence of Din-i-Ilahi, was adopted by Akbar not merely for religious purposes, but as a part of general imperial administrative policy. This also formed the basis for Akbar's policy of religious toleration. At the time of Akbar's death in 1605 there were no signs of discontent amongst his Muslim subjects and the impression of even a theologian like Abdu'l Haq was that close ties remained.

Relation with Jains

The Mughal Emperor Akbar triumphantly enters Surat.

Akbar regularly held discussions with Jain scholars and was also greatly impacted by some of their teachings. His first encounter with Jain rituals was when he saw a Jain shravika named Champa's procession after a six month long fast. Impressed by her power and devotion, he invited her guru or spiritual teacher Acharya Hiravijaya Suri to Fatehpur Sikri. Acharya accepted the invitation and began his march towards the Mughal capital from Gujarat.

Akbar was greatly impressed by the scholastic qualities and character of the Acharya. He held several debates and discussions on religion and philosophy in his courts. Arguing with Jains, Akbar remained sceptical of their atheistic views on God and creation, and yet became convinced by their philosophy of non-violence and vegetarianism and ended up deploring the eating of all flesh. Akbar also issued many imperial orders that were favorable for Jain interests, such as banning animal slaughter. Jain authors also wrote about their experience at the Mughal court in Sanskrit texts that are still largely unknown to Mughal historians.

The Indian Supreme Court too has cited examples of co-existence of Jain and Mughal architecture. Terming Mughal emperor Akbar as "the architect of modern India", a bench said that Akbar, who had great respect for Jainism, had declared "Amari Ghosana" banning the killing of animals during Paryushan and Mahavir Jayanti. He rolled back the Jazia tax from Jain pilgrim places like Palitana. These farmans were also issued in 1592, 1584 and 1598. Akbar developed such fondness for the Jain ideology that he repeatedly requested Suri to send his itinerary one after another. At the request of the Emperor he left behind his brilliant disciple Santichandra with the Emperor, who in turn left his disciples Bhanucandra and Siddhicandra in the Royal court. Akbar again invited Hiravijaya Suri’s successor Vijayasena Suri in his court who visited him between 1593 to 1595.

Historical accounts


Akbar hunting with cheetahs, c. 1602
Akbar on an elephant

Akbar's reign was chronicled extensively by his court historian Abul Fazal in the books Akbarnama and Ain-i-akbari. Other contemporary sources of Akbar's reign include the works of Badayuni, Shaikhzada Rashidi and Shaikh Ahmed Sirhindi.

Akbar was an artisan, warrior, artist, armourer, blacksmith, carpenter, emperor, general, inventor, animal trainer (reputedly keeping thousands of hunting cheetahs during his reign and training many himself), lacemaker, technologist and theologian.

Akbar was said to have been a wise emperor and a sound judge of character. His son and heir, Jahangir, wrote effusive praise of Akbar's character in his memoirs, and dozens of anecdotes to illustrate his virtues. According to Jahangir, Akbar was "of the hue of wheat; his eyes and eyebrows were black and his complexion rather dark than fair". Antoni de Montserrat, the Catalan Jesuit who visited his court described him as follows:

"One could easily recognize even at first glance that he is King. He has broad shoulders, somewhat bandy legs well-suited for horsemanship, and a light brown complexion. He carries his head bent towards the right shoulder. His forehead is broad and open, his eyes so bright and flashing that they seem like a sea shimmering in the sunlight. His eyelashes are very long. His eyebrows are not strongly marked. His nose is straight and small though not insignificant. His nostrils are widely open as though in derision. Between the left nostril and the upper lip there is a mole. He shaves his beard but wears a moustache. He limps in his left leg though he has never received an injury there."

Akbar was not tall but powerfully built and very agile. He was also noted for various acts of courage. One such incident occurred on his way back from Malwa to Agra when Akbar was 19 years of age. Akbar rode alone in advance of his escort and was confronted by a tigress who, along with her cubs, came out from the shrubbery across his path. When the tigress charged the emperor, he was alleged to have dispatched the animal with his sword in a solitary blow. His approaching attendants found the emperor standing quietly by the side of the dead animal.

Abul Fazal, and even the hostile critic Badayuni, described him as having a commanding personality. He was notable for his command in battle, and, "like Alexander of Macedon, was always ready to risk his life, regardless of political consequences". He often plunged on his horse into the flooded river during the rainy seasons and safely crossed it. He rarely indulged in cruelty and is said to have been affectionate towards his relatives. He pardoned his brother Hakim, who was a repented rebel. But on rare occasions, he dealt cruelly with offenders, such as his maternal uncle Muazzam and his foster-brother Adham Khan, who was twice defenestrated for drawing Akbar's wrath.

He is said to have been extremely moderate in his diet. Ain-e-Akbari mentions that during his travels and also while at home, Akbar drank water from the Ganges river, which he called ‘the water of immortality’. Special people were stationed at Sorun and later Haridwar to dispatch water, in sealed jars, to wherever he was stationed. According to Jahangir's memoirs, he was fond of fruits and had little liking for meat, which he stopped eating in his later years. Akbar also once visited Vrindavan, the birthplace of Lord Krishna in the year 1570, and gave permission for four temples to be built by the Gaudiya Vaisnavas, which were Madana-mohana, Govindaji, Gopinatha and Jugal Kisore.

To defend his stance that speech arose from hearing, he carried out a language deprivation experiment, and had children raised in isolation, not allowed to be spoken to, and pointed out that as they grew older, they remained mute.

Akbar is also said to have thrown a man out of a window, then grab his body and proceed to throw him out again to make sure he was dead.


During Akbar's reign, the ongoing process of inter-religious discourse and syncretism resulted in a series of religious attributions to him in terms of positions of assimilation, doubt or uncertainty, which he either assisted himself or left unchallenged. Such hagiographical accounts of Akbar traversed a wide range of denominational and sectarian spaces, including several accounts by Parsis, Jains and Jesuit missionaries, apart from contemporary accounts by Brahminical and Muslim orthodoxy. Existing sects and denominations, as well as various religious figures who represented popular worship felt they had a claim to him. The diversity of these accounts is attributed to the fact that his reign resulted in the formation of a flexible centralised state accompanied by personal authority and cultural heterogeneity.

Akbarnāma, the Book of Akbar

Abu'l-Fazl ibn Mubarak presenting Akbarnama to Akbar, Mughal miniature

The Akbarnāma ( Persian: اکبر نامہ‎), which literally means Book of Akbar, is an official biographical account of Akbar, the third Mughal Emperor (r. 1542–1605), written in Persian. It includes vivid and detailed descriptions of his life and times.

The work was commissioned by Akbar, and written by Abul Fazl, one of the Nine Jewels ( Hindi: Navaratnas) of Akbar’s royal court. It is stated that the book took seven years to be completed and the original manuscripts contained a number of paintings supporting the texts, and all the paintings represented the Mughal school of painting, and work of masters of the imperial workshop, including Basawan, whose use of portraiture in its illustrations was an innovation in Indian art.


Gate of Akbar's mausoleum at Sikandra, Agra, 1795

On 3 October 1605, Akbar fell ill with an attack of dysentery, from which he never recovered. He is believed to have died on or about 27 October 1605, after which his body was buried at a mausoleum in Sikandra, Agra.

Seventy-six years later, in 1691, a group of austere Hindu rebels known as the Jats, rebelling against the Mughal Empire robbed the gold, silver and fine carpets within the tomb, desecrated and broke open Akbar's mausoleum, dragged out his remains and burnt it with disregard.


Akbar left behind a rich legacy both for the Mughal Empire as well as the Indian subcontinent in general. He firmly entrenched the authority of the Mughal empire in India and beyond, after it had been threatened by the Afghans during his father's reign, establishing its military and diplomatic superiority. During his reign, the nature of the state changed to a secular and liberal one, with emphasis on cultural integration. He also introduced several far-sighted social reforms, including prohibiting sati, legalising widow remarriage and raising the age of marriage.

Citing Akbar's melding of the disparate 'fiefdoms' of India into the Mughal Empire as well as the lasting legacy of "pluralism and tolerance" that "underlies the values of the modern republic of India", Time magazine included his name in its list of top 25 world leaders.

In popular culture

  • The violin concerto nicknamed "Il Grosso Mogul" written by Antonio Vivaldi in the 1720s, and listed in the standard catalogue as RV 208, is considered to be indirectly inspired by Akbar's reign.
Films and television
  • In 2008, director Ashutosh Gowariker released a film telling the story of Akbar and his wife Hira Kunwari (known more popularly as Jodha Bai), titled Jodhaa Akbar. Akbar was played by Hrithik Roshan and Jodhaa was played by Aishwarya Rai.
  • Akbar was portrayed in the award-winning 1960 Hindi movie Mughal-e-Azam (The great Mughal), in which his character was played by Prithviraj Kapoor.
  • Akbar and Birbal were portrayed in the Hindi series Akbar-Birbal aired on Zee TV in late 1990s where Akbar's role was essayed by Vikram Gokhale.
  • A television series, called Akbar the Great, directed by Akbar Khan was aired on DD National in the 1990s.
  • A fictionalized Akbar plays an important supporting role in Kim Stanley Robinson's 2002 novel, The Years of Rice and Salt.
  • Akbar is also a major character in Salman Rushdie's 2008 novel The Enchantress of Florence.
  • Amartya Sen uses Akbar as a prime example in his books The Argumentative Indian and Violence and Identity.
  • Bertrice Small is known for incorporating historical figures as primary characters in her romance novels, and Akbar is no exception. He is a prominent figure in two of her novels, and mentioned several times in a third, which takes place after his death. In This Heart of Mine the heroine becomes Akbar's fortieth "wife" for a time, while Wild Jasmine and Darling Jasmine centre around the life of his half-British daughter, Yasaman Kama Begum (alias Jasmine).
  • In Kunal Basu's The Miniaturist, the story revolves around a young painter during Akbar's time who paints his own version of the Akbarnamu
  • Akbar is mentioned as 'Raja Baadshah' in the Chhattisgarhi folktale of " Mohna de gori kayina"
  • Akbar is the main character in Empire of the Moghul: Ruler of the World by Alex Rutherford, the third book in a quintet based on the five great Mughal Emperors of the Mughal Dynasty.
  • Akbar is the protagonist in Dirk Collier's historical novel The Emperor's Writings, Memories of Akbar the Great (Delhi, 2011), a fictional autobiography in which Akbar speaks to his son Jahangir, via a series of posthumous letters.
  • Akbar features prominently in David Davidar's 2007 novel, The Solitude of Emperors.
Video games
  • Akbar is featured in the video game Sid Meier's Civilization 4: Beyond the Sword as a "great general" available in the game.
  • Akbar is also the AI Personality of India in the renowned game Age of Empires III: The Asian Dynasties.
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